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I Ran (I Ran So Far Away)

Chapter Text

James T. Kirk had expected the mission to be easy. Just a diplomatic conference with a species that wanted in on the Federation, and if it went well, then they'd sign the contract. What could possibly go wrong?

He really should've learned by now that whenever he said or thought things like that, things went awfully wrong.

The Ohk-Pallas were a kind race with the ability to do amazing things with their minds. They freaked out most of the crew though, so Jim went down to the planet with a security detail of two of the five people in all of security who weren't weirded out by the Ohk-Pallas.

They were rather fragile, as smart and as mentally advanced as they were, so they lived in caves deep inside mountains. The females came up to Kirk's chest, and the males to Kirk's waist. They had small, frail looking bodies but rather bulbous heads. Their skin was nearly translucent, green veins clearly visible all over their bodies. Large, green, owl-esque eyes took up most of their face, and a small razor toothed mouth took up some of the rest of it.

Jim was set to have dinner with their ha'karr, a queen-like figure that ruled over them. After dinner, they would talk, and, if everything went well, the ha'karr would sign the contract. Then the Enterprise would be on her merry way, and the Federation would have another addition.

When they beamed down to the planet, right outside of the main entrance, they were greeted by an Ohk-Palla who introduced herself as Karrea.

"You are Captain James Tiberius Kirk?" She quipped. Her voice was high and reedy, like all of the Ohk-Pallas. Owlish eyes blinked at him as she awaited a response.

"I am," he said. "But you can call me Captain Kirk." Karrea nodded and turned away, beckoning for them to follow.

Follow they did, and for a good fifteen minutes, walking through a maze of winding tunnels that kept branching off until Jim was sure that if they got separated from Karrea, they'd all die before they found a way out. They were unable to be beamed up from inside the mountain, and despite how friendly the Ohk-Pallas were, that fact made Jim feel just the smallest bit unsettled.

The tunnels were beautiful, though. Bioluminescent rocks cast a soft purple light over everything, and they were shot through with glittering black streaks of some foreign mineral. Eventually, Jim could hear the sound of running water from somewhere up ahead. Karrea seemed to be following the sound, and they eventually emerged into a massive chamber.

The chamber was the same rock as the rest of the mountain, with a stream running through the center of it. Trees were scattered throughout the chamber, fed by the eddies that branched off of the main stream. Although maybe trees wasn't the right word. The (also glowing, but light blue this time) vegetation looked more like massive ferns than trees. A path ran the circumference of the chamber.

Karrea didn't seemed fazed by the ethereal beauty of the cavern, and of course she wouldn't. She had grown up knowing this place; the awe would've worn off long before now. But for Jim and his two security officers, they were craning their necks for a better look around as Karrea led them farther into it. They crossed over a small arched bridge, and Jim could see that the water glittered like quicksilver in sunlight as they passed over it, with diamond-like rocks lying at the bottom of the stream.

"Do you enjoy the rocks in the river?" Karrea asked. Her Standard was rudimentary, but her message was easily understood. They all nodded.

"The rocks are very beautiful," Jim said.

"You can take one if you would like that," Karrea said. "They can be a symbol of our appre... appreciation." Jim smiled at her.

"You are very kind," he said. "Laurens? Mulligan? Would you like some rocks?" Laurens and Mulligan tried not to look too enthusiastic about that, and both stooped down to pluck a stone from the stream. Jim himself bent down and picked one from the side of the river, one of the smaller stones. He didn't know why he had chosen it over all the others so easily, but if he had to explain, he would've said something along the lines of "it called to me."

After they had each chosen their stones, they continued to follow Karrea to the other side of the chamber. Eventually they found themselves in a clearing, in the center of which stood a throne crafted from the same stone as the rest of the mountain. Beside it stood two guards in full armor, long baton-like weapons included. On the throne sat a female Ohk-Palla, clearly the ha'karr. Thin billowing robes of vivid colors surrounded her small figure, and a circlet of what looked like the stones from the water rested upon the top of her bulbous head.

"Esteemed ha'karr," Jim said, bowing. Laurens and Mulligan followed his lead. "We are pleased to be in your presence." The ha'karr tittered, her laugh like a jingle bell.

"We are pleased to have you in turn, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, and your companions as well. Rise, we are all friends here." So she spoke fluent Standard. That was good. They rose, and Jim aimed his most charming smile at the ha'karr.

"Your territory is a very wonderful place," Jim said. "It is an honor to be witness to this beautiful place."

Sulu and Spock would love this place, Jim thought absently as he glanced around again. The fern trees along would probably have Sulu near tears, and Spock would probably collapse from exhaustion before he would let himself be dragged away from everything in this room, even if it was illogical to neglect bodily needs.

"We are honored to share it with you," the ha'karr said, rising from her throne. "Please, follow me to the dining chamber." She stepped down from the throne and walked towards the path circling the chamber, guards flanking her. Jim stepped forward to walk beside her when she beckoned for him, and his guards fell into step behind them, next to the ha'karr's guards.

"If I may ask," Jim started as they strolled. "How did you learn such fluent Standard? We only sent you a transmission to help with learning standard a week or so ago. You almost sound like you speak it natively." The ha'karr's eyes glittered with amusement.

"You are aware that we are considered highly intelligent by your standards, but I think you may have underestimated just how intelligent we are."

"It seems I have. I understand that you can communicate telepathically, though. Why bother speaking with us?"

Because it is often unwelcome and frightening for psi-null individuals. I feel that this is not the case with you, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Her voice was cool and soothing inside his head, and he could feel her presence in the back of his head, at the edge of his mind. It is also perceived as invasive and rude to enter someone's mind without permission, as humans and many other species regard the mind as a sacred, private place. I feared crossing the border of propriety.

As long as you ask before entering their mind, and do not do not do anything other than converse, I believe it would not be rude. It depends on the individual, though. I'd suggest asking the person before you enter their mind so you can get their permission.

A very wise policy, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. One I will teach my people so that they may abide by it.

Please, you can call me Captain Kirk.

Of course, Captain Kirk.

"We hope you will find the dining here to your liking," the ha'karr said as they approached a tunnel.

They turned into the tunnel, walked about fifteen feet, and found themselves in another large table, this one containing a large stone table with stools of the same material. At the head of the table sat two chairs. One fancy backed chair that Jim assumed was for the ha'karr, and one simple backed chair to the right of the first chair.

"If your food is anything like the rest of this place, I'm sure we'll love it."

Jim and the ha'karr were ushered to the head of the table. The ha'karr sat in the more elaborate chair, and Jim in the more simple one. Both pairs of guards sat in the first two chairs on either side, each pair closest to the person they were supposed to protect.

Not a moment after they had sat down, six male Ohk-Pallas swept out of a small side hall, each carrying a bowl of food. The Ohk-Pallas did not eat smaller coursed meals during forms events, as a surprising amount of other cultures did, but one larger meal. The plate set down in front of him, accompanied soon after by a goblet of water, was some sort of soup-like food. The broth was pale green, with foreign vegetables and meat.

"This is a delicacy among our people," the ha'karr said, gesturing to the meal. "Please enjoy." Jim waited until the ha'karr had picked up her spoon until he picked up his own. His nose wrinkled at the smell, but he took a bite anyways, hoping it tasted better than it smelled. It did. It tasted a lot like chicken soup, but with a southwestern Asian twist that nearly had Jim shoveling more into his mouth instead of taking neat bites, as one would expect of a diplomat.

In no time at all, everyone had emptied their bowls and sat back in their chairs. Or at least, Jim and the ha'karr sat back. The others didn't have backs on their chairs. Jim felt pleasantly full, and a warm feeling was beginning to spread. He could easily take a nap right now.

"Come now, Captain Kirk. We have a treaty to discuss." Kirk rose, and the security guards stood to follow the two of them. They left the dining chamber, leaving the Ohk-Palla servants to clear the table, and continued along the path for another fifty feet in a comfortable silence.

"Guards are not necessary beyond this point- it is only the two of us." The ha'karr said. The ha'karr's guards moved to stand on either side of the entryway. Laurens and Mulligan looked wary, but Kirk nodded at them and they moved to each join an Ohk-Palla guard. So Jim and the ha'karr continued into the chamber.

It was a rather small room, with only a rounded table surrounded by simple backed chairs. The ha'karr sat in one, and gestured for Kirk to sit in the chair next to her. The treaty sat on the center of the table. Jim did, and the first couple seconds were spent in silence.

"Tell me, Captain Kirk," the ha'karr said quietly. "What does the Federation mean to you?" Jim blinked at her for a moment, confused. He had been prepared to spew economic benefits and moral righteousness, not answer personal questions.

"Well," he said as his brain frantically scrambled to organize a response. "It's... It's supposed to be a peacekeeping organization, but it really represents family to me. One large, cohesive unit. My crew have connected, grown bonds with people they never thought they'd befriend due to cultural differences all because of the Federation." The bridge crew flashed through his head, Uhura and Sulu and Chekov and Spock and even Scotty, and his next words came out unfiltered. "I myself have a family because of the Federation, one that I love and would do anything to protect. After all, family isn't just blood.

"The Federation, to me, also represents how humans have grown as a species. We used to kill each other over things such as religion and skin color and sexuality. We couldn't even stop killing each other long enough to see how much damage we were doing to our planet. But we've grown. We've progressed so far from there, from that dark point. We've been able to go from a species that couldn't even refrain from killing each other to a species that talks and befriends and even falls in love with entire other species from different planets, and that's just such an amazing thing to me."

Jim looked up from his hands, where his eyes had wandered, to the ha'karr's face. She merely blinked at him, giving nothing away. Unease twisted Jim's stomach. Had he failed? Succeeded amazingly? Done mediocre?

"Alright," the ha'karr said. "We will join the Federation." Now it was Jim's turn to blink. Was that really all it had taken to convince the Ohk-Pallas to join the Federation?

"I see you are confused," the ha'karr said. "Why? Did you not expect us to join?"

"No, I just... I don't mean to say that you shouldn't join the Federation, or that my opinion isn't good, but why are you basing your entry to the Federation on one person's review of them?"

"Well," the ha'karr said. "If the members of the Federation to not like or respect the Federation, what reason is there to join? It is clearly a sub-par organization. But you are honest, I can see it in your face, and you have given quite a nice review. I trust you." Jim nodded.

"Okay," he said. "That sort of makes sense." The ha'karr's eyes glittered with amusement.

"You are an entertaining human, Captain Kirk, and a most pleasant guest. I would like to grant you a gift, if you would accept it." Jim thought for a moment, then decided that one: it would be very undiplomatic of him to refuse a gift, and two: gifts were always cool.

"Of course," Jim said. The ha'karr smiled, or more accurately bared her teeth at him, as she slid the treaty towards her and signed it before passing it to Jim. He signed it as well before turning back to the ha'karr.

"This gift," he said. "Is it physical? Mental?" After all, he should probably know the nature of the gift, lest it end up being a nasty surprise.

"It is mental," the ha'karr said. "I sense a great tragedy in your past, the details of which are shared with none of your friends or family. Harboring such a great secret does nothing good for the mind. If you would permit me, I can help relieve the stress that secret causes you."

Jim knew instantly what 'tragedy' she was talking about, and was too surprised to even question how she knew.

"Can you really help?" Jim asked quietly. "Without... Y'know, without going inside my head and bearing witness to it all?" The ha'karr nodded.

"Indeed I can," she said. "But in the end, you must know that the actual task of relieving your stress, of sharing that secret, will fall to you to accomplish. The gift cannot be completed until you do that." Jim nodded, slightly too overwhelmed by the idea of being free of all that pain to really pay attention to what she was saying.

"Okay," Jim said, and then followed it up with the phrase commonly used to accept a gift in the Ohk-Pallas society. "I accept your gift."

The ha'karr raised her hands to his face, placing the middle of her three fingers on each of his temples. She began to whisper what sounded like nonsense to Jim, sounds like old rustling paper and whispery scratches. After a moment, she retracted her hands, looking him in the eyes and nodding.

"It is done," she said. "Live well, Captain Kirk." Jim smiled at her.

"Live well."

They both stood and exited the chamber, and the ha'karr accompanied them back as far as her throne. Karrea escorted them the rest of he way back to an area where they could be transported up. At this point, Jim made a mental note to tell Bones about this gift in case something bad happened.

"Beam us up, Scotty," Jim said, but the world around him didn't swirl and reappear as the transporter room. No, the world swirled and Jim descended into blackness before they appeared back on board.

Chapter Text

Leonard McCoy was having an excellent day. He had received far less than usual people in sick bay that day, had actually woken up feeling refreshed instead of groggy and cranky, and was planning on relaxing in his quarters with some bourbon and an old book when his shift was over.

Of course, leave it to Jim to screw up Bones' whole plan.

"Uhh, Doctor McCoy?" Scotty said. Bones couldn't be sure through the comm, but it sounded like someone was yelling in the background, and someone was trying to clam the first person down. "There's a bit of a situation in transporter room one, ya might want ta get down here, sir."

Bones sighed, wondering how Jim had screwed something so simple up this time, and grabbed a standard first aid kit. He left the sick bay with a rather bored looking Nurse Chapel, and began his journey to the transporter room. As he approached the transporter room, muffled shouts could be heard from inside.

When the doors opened and he stepped inside, the scene that met him was one of chaos. A teenaged boy was crouched on a corner of the transporter pad, while two security officers and a concerned engineer stood near him, hands raised. The boy was yelling, and the others were yelling so that he could hear them over his own yelling, making for an instant headache.

"What the hell is going on here!" Bones yelled. Everyone froze, looking over at him.

"Oh, thank the lord," Scotty said. "I was wonderin' when you'd get here."

"Who's that?!" The teenager said, eyes boring into Bones. "Does he work for Him too?!" His voice was suspicious and afraid, laced with hysteria. Bones frowned.

"Work for who? Listen kid, I'm a Starfleet doctor. You seem pretty banged up, so I'm just going to take you to sick bay and we can figure out what happened to you there." The kid just looked at him, and the three others in the room seemed to relax slightly now that he wasn't yelling.

Bones took the time before the kid spoke to really look at him. He couldn't have been older than 14 or 15, from Bones' estimate. He looked familiar, somehow, even though Bones didn't know any young teenagers. There was something in his eyes that looked like Jim, but surely Jim had never had such a wild look as this kid did. His hair was scraggly and unkempt, and so filthy it could've been blond or brown and Bones wouldn't have been able to tell.

"What's your name, Doctor?"

"I'm Lenoard McCoy, but you can call me Len if you'd like. What's your name? I can't very well just keep calling you 'kid.'" The kid looked around the room, his eyes finally falling back on Bones.

"James," he said quietly. "My name is James Kirk, but you can call me Jim."

Bones felt as if he'd been punched in the gut, and from the looks of it, so did Scotty and the two security officers. This was Jim? This scrawny, terrified teenager was James Tiberius Kirk? Bones tried to look for similarities- trying to find a way to relate this boy to the charming, badass captain of the Enterprise. His eyes were the same, but other than that Bones would be hard-pressed to find any similarities between this boy and Bones' friend.

"Okay, James," Bones started. He couldn't bear to call this boy by his friend's name, even if they were the same person. "Why don't you come with me down to the medical bay, and I'll give you a check up? You look pretty beat up." He hadn't even realized he'd been using the voice he used with children until James' eyes narrowed.

"I'm not a little kid," he said. "So don't treat me like one."

"Of course not, my mistake. But I do need you to come with me." He, while not using the tone commonly used with children, did try to keep his face out of its usual scowl. Jim- no, this was James, this wasn't Jim, he couldn't think of him as Jim- slowly stood up on shaky legs, casting suspicious looks at the security officers.

"They're not coming with us, right?"

"No, not unless they're hurt. Are either of you hurt?" The two security officers shook their heads no.

Tentatively, Bones placed a hand on James' upper back as they walked through the corridors. Crewmembers spared an odd glance or two at the filthy teenager that somewhat resembled their captain, which made James tense up uncomfortably several times.

"Are you alright?" Bones asked quietly as they neared the med bay. James simply nodded, and Bones noted another similarity. His eyes were full of the same first determination that could always be found in Jim's eyes. When they stepped into the med bay, James looked around, clearly curious.

"It's very white," he commented. "Don't you get migraines?" Bones nearly laughed at how very Jim that comment was, but just half-smiled instead.

"Not really, you stop noticing at one point." Bones lead James to a bio bed and sat him down, pulling out a medical tricorder to scan him. Bones, desperate to take his mind off of the fact that his best friend was now a traumatized teenager, decided to make small talk as he scanned him.

"So," Bones said. "What's the last thing you remember?"

He tried to pretend that the question solely for medical purposes, and not for an extreme curiosity that was itching at him. As Jim's primary physician, he knew all of Jim's history, both medical and general, except for a period around the time Jim was 14. All of the history of 14 year old Jim had been totally obliterated by a sixteen or seventeen year old Jim, a fact Bones only knew because Jim could be a bit loose-lipped when wasted.

"I..." James seemed to struggle with getting words out. His mouth worked, but he wasn't speaking. "I was trying to steal some food for the other kids." Stealing? Other kids? What had happened to Jim during that time? He should never have asked; now he wanted to know everything. "I got cocky, and I got caught in the act. Some guards chased me, and so I ran. The last thing I remember was running. They must've shot me and knocked me unconscious, but that doesn't make any sense. If they'd shot me, they would've taken me back to... To Him." The final word was full of such absolute loathing and distaste, Bones almost physically recoiled. He'd never heard Jim sound like that. But then again, this was James, not Jim.

"Him? Who is this Him?" James tensed, perhaps in the realization that he had said too much.

"Nobody," he said hurriedly.

"And these other kids, this food..?" James just shook his head, and Bones knew better than to press.

The scans finished and Bones looked them over with a frown. "You're pretty beat up there, James. Broken ribs, lots of bruises, a sprained wrist, you're severely dehydrated and undernourished, especially with how athletic you seem to be." Bones looked up from his tricorder to James only to find the kid shifting and deliberately avoiding his eyes.

Jim had always been somewhat secretive about his past, Bones knew. He wasn't the kind of person to let just anyone know anything about him, but there was one time, in his early teens, that he never, ever spoke about.

A couple of years ago, while Jim was totally plastered, Bones had tried to coax Jim into telling him what had happened during that blank time. Jim had just shaken his head and mumbled that his early teens had been 'a rough time.' Coming from Jim, that meant some serious shit had gone down then, but he never got my more out of Jim, no matter how drunk he was.

But now, here was this kid, here was Jim in the middle of that 'bad time,' and Bones finally had a chance to figure out what had happened during that time so that he could actually help when Jim came stumbling into his quarters at oh three hundred after a nightmare, demanding a drink and terrified halfway to mutism.

As much as it pained him to admit it, seeing Jim like that hurt. Bad. It made Bones' chest ache as he offered to talk about it so he could help, as he was refused as asked for another shot of whiskey or bourbon or some other strong spirit. Watching Jim suffer was painful, and now here he was, potentially able to help his best friend.

"Look, kid," Bones huffed. "I can't help you as much as I'd like to if you don't tell me what happened to you." James' jaw flexed as he avoided Bones' eyes.

"You can fix my injuries without me telling you, though, right?" Their stubbornness was another similarity Bones noticed. The more similarities he found, Bones knew, the harder it would be to treat James and Jim like different people.

"I can fix your physical injuries, sure, but you might have to tell me if your mental scans don't check out okay." James finally looked Bones in the face, lips pressed tightly together.

"Fine," he said. "Fix my physical injuries, but I'm not telling unless it's absolutely necessary."

It was at this moment that Spock decided to make an appearance in sick bay, the doors swishing open with a soft hiss. Bones had yet to imagine Spock's reaction to finding out his captain had been turned into a teenager, as he'd been too preoccupied with said teenager. Spock stood just inside the doorway, seemingly totally ignoring James as he focused his full attention on Bones.

"Doctor, where is the captain? Lieutenant Mulligan informed me that there was a mishap. I assume he is here, and that the young man you are inspecting is a part of the mentioned mishap?"

"Yeah, where is the captain? I'd assume he'd want to see me, considering how I randomly appeared on his ship," James said, eyes fixed on Spock, full of curiosity. "I've got a few questions for him. Like, why is a Vulcan on board a Federation ship, for example?" Bones pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

"Spock, this is James. James, this is Spock, the Enterprise's first officer." When he looked up, he found Spock blinking quite rapidly, looking between James and Bones.

"James as in our captain?"

"James Kirk," James said. Spock fixed his gaze solely on Bones now, nearly making Bones shift uncomfortably.

"Is there anything you can do to restore the captain to his normal state?" Spock asked. Bones sighed, waving his tricorder around as he gestured uselessly.

"I don't know yet. I'm a doctor, dammit, not a psychic."

"Wait, I'm the captain?" James said, looking between Bones and Spock. "I'm a Starfleet captain?" Spock dipped his head.

"Yes, you are the captain of the Enterprise, but as you are in no condition to lead at the moment, I am now acting captain." James scoffed and shook his head.

"I call bull," he said. "There's no way in hell you're ever getting me on a 'Fleet ship, much less getting me to be the captain of one. The Federation's never done anything for me." Bones froze, but Spock seemed totally unaffected by James' words.

In all of his time as Jim's friend, he'd never heard him express clear distaste for the Federation. He'd never idoled the figureheads, the perfect captains and grinning crews, and he's certainly been less than pleased with a few of their rules, but Jim had never talked about the Federation with that tone of bitterness in his voice. After all, if he hated the Federation so much, why would he ever join Starfleet?

"And yet I must 'call bull' on your statement," Spock said. "You are, or indeed will be, the captain of the Enterprise." James scoffed, earning a reprimand from Bones, who was in the process of using the dermal regenerator to heal his injuries.

"Yeah, okay there, Pointy. Show me the proof, and maybe I'll believe you." Even in the short amount of time Bones had known James, he'd changed. He'd gone from panicked, to quiet and reserved, to snarky and rude. The shock of what had happened must be wearing off, Bones thought, and cursed inwardly. Jim was enough trouble as an adult, and as much as Bones wanted to learn those secrets, he really didn't want to deal with a moody teenaged Jim.

"How about this," Bones said, still focused on healing James. "You go clean yourself up, and live with Spock for the time being, so that someone can keep an eye on you without you having to be in the sick bay all the time, and he'll show you around the ship and give you that proof you'd like. All you have to do is check in with me once a day."

Bones pretended not to notice the sharp look that Spock sent him, which probably translated to 'Who the hell let you decide where James is staying,' 'Why the hell are you throwing me under the bus like this,' or maybe even both.

"Okay, fine," James said. "As long as it gets me out of here, then I'm down." And before Bones could stop him, he had hopped off the table and was walking out of sick bay, Spock trailing just behind him as always.

Some things never change, Bones thought, and sighed.

Chapter Text

The teenaged James was a rather interesting human, Spock noted. He had given at least a wink to every moderately attractive crewmember he passed in the corridors back to Spock's quarters, and most of them had blushed, despite James' ragged appearance.

As to how he had gotten like that in the first place, Spock was extremely curious. But, having respect for basic human decency during social interactions, he had waited until James had cleaned himself up and was in state that was considered generally acceptable for a public appearance. When James was finally sat on the sofa, dressed in a pair of standard Starfleet pajamas and finishing off the last of a dietary supplement that the doctor had programmed into Spock's replicator, Spock sat down by him.

"Tell me," he began, trying to sound a bit more human than normal. If he did, the statistical likelihood that James would talk to him was higher than if he didn't. "You arrived on this ship filthy and clearly in severe distress. May I inquire as to were you before you appeared on the Enterprise that contributed to your appearance?" James just blinked at him before laughing. If Spock had been human, he might have frowned in confusion. What in his statement had been so humorous to the young captain?

"You seriously think I'm gonna, what, just spill my secrets because you asked, Pointy?" He finally said. "No way in hell. Besides, what's it to you? Not like you really care, anyways. You're Vulcan." Spock raised his eyebrows at the statements.

"I do not expect you to simply 'spill your secrets' because I inquired about your past, no, but I do hope to gain your trust so that you feel comfortable telling me about what so obviously distresses you. You are, or will be, my friend, James. I do care about you, as unfeeling and purely Vulcan as I may seem." James merely stared at him.

"Friends?" He repeated. "Me, friends, with a Vulcan?" His face turned red, and he seemed to be repressing the urge to laugh again. "That's absolutely ridiculous. I didn't even think Vulcans could have friends. It seems kind of illogical."

"I am not entirely Vulcan," Spock said. "My mother was human." James seemed to catch the implications of the word 'was,' and his mouth pursed.

"Sorry," he finally said, and then, "What about that proof that I'm- or will be, anyways- the captain of a Federation ship? I'd like to see that now." Spock tipped his head in acknowledgement, standing and crossing the room to retrieve his PADD. When he returned it to James, there were files open detailing the achievements of Captain Kirk and the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Spock watched as James read, as his eyes widened and he repeatedly checked to make sure that the files were genuine. He watched a multitude of emotions flick across his face, watched as James finally accepted that he was indeed going to one day captain the Enterprise.

"I... I don't want to believe it," James said, tossing the PADD aside. "It just doesn't make sense, but it happened, so..." He was silent for a moment before some great epiphany must have occurred to him. His spine straightened, eyes brightened, and his hand reached for the PADD. Spock watched all of this silently, neither judging nor comforting.

"What are you searching for?" He asked. James' fingers flew over the keypad, his eyes deadly focused.

"My friends," he said. "I'm searching for my friends." Connecting the state he arrived in to him searching for his friends, it was easy for Spock to determine James' true intentions. He was checking to see if they were still alive.

"I am not sure that is wise-" Spock began, reaching for the PADD, but James had already found what he was looking for. He swayed, his face paling and crumpling with grief as he surveyed the information.

"Oh, God," he mumbled. "Oh, God, no, not Annalise." Sagging back into the sofa, he surveyed the rest of the information. By the time he'd finished, his eyes were full of unshed tears, electric blue swamped by sorrow. His grief was tangible in the air even from here, assaulting Spock's senses. Such sorrow coming from one of his friends was enough to cause even Spock to feel genuine sympathy. He knew all too well what it was like to lose a loved one.

"I grieve with thee," Spock said quietly, and James' lips twitched.

"No you don't," he whispered. "But thanks for the show of sentiment." James shut down the PADD and handed it back to Spock, who placed it on the coffee table. James let Spock help him to his feet, but resisted when Spock tried to lead him to the bed.

"No," he said, voice still thick. "I'll take the couch, you don't have to give up the bed. It's yours."

"The doctor would insist that you have the bed," Spock pressed.

"Well the doctor isn't here, is he?" James shot back, aggressive now. "I'm taking the couch."

"You are not," Spock said. "It would be illogical for one still recovering from various wounds to take the less comfortable surface."

"Who cares about logic, I'm taking the couch."

"I will not allow you to rest on the couch."

"You can't 'allow' me to do anything."

"These are my quarters, James. I am telling you not to choose the couch."

"Well tough luck, I'm taking it anyways."

"I apologize, James," Spock said, and reached up to pinch James' neck. James, exhausted from the day, wasn't fast enough. He slumped into Spock's arms, feeling unnaturally light. His head lolled against Spock's shoulder, arms hanging limp.

If Spock looked closely, he could see multiple similarities between this teenaged James and his Jim. It was in their eyes, the line of their brows, their body language. It was in the soft exhale as he was deposited into the bed, glad that someone had taken care of him despite his protests.

He pulled the blankets down to the bottom of the bed, aware that the warmth of his room was a higher than humans normally preferred, and took a blanket and pillow for himself, placing them on the couch.

"Lights to twenty percent," Spock said quietly.

After getting ready for bed, Spock lay on the couch, unable to sleep. It was not due to lack of comfort, although his own bed was certainly more comfortable than the couch. It was more the fact that he was feeling odd emotions in Jim's absence.

James was here, yes, but he was not Jim. Jim, whose smile and jokes could relieve tension on the bridge with ease; Jim, who bested him in chess nearly every Tuesday; Jim, who was so frighteningly illogical that at some points he was logical; Jim, who could read Spock and his emotions like no other could; Jim, his friend. James was none of these things. James was a frightened pubescent boy.

He missed Jim, he found, and wanted him back quite badly.

The only logical thing to do when he couldn't sleep was to meditate, and so meditate he did.


 

James woke up from his dreamless sleep in a bed, which confused him, because the last thing he remembered had been Spock standing next to him... That damn Vulcan. He'd done something telepathic to make James sleep, there was no other logical answer.

James opened his eyes, blearily looking around the room. It was dark, but not too dark that he couldn't see. Spock sat in the common criss-cross meditation pose in an open area of the room, back perfectly straight and hair glinting in the low light.

He was actually rather pretty, James noticed, a fact that had escaped him yesterday. The couch seemed untouched, blanket perfectly folded with a pillow on top, and James wondered if Spock had even tried to sleep or had gone straight to meditation.

His eyes were heavy, and he burrowed his face farther into the soft pillows in the hopes of falling back asleep. That, sadly, didn't happen. The only thing that doing that did was bring to light how nice the pillow smelled. How nice Spock smelled. James groaned silently and rolled over.

This was ridiculous. He was not going to develop a schoolgirl crush on the man- the Vulcan- he was staying with while they figured out how to fix him, or send him back where he came from, or both. Where he came from...

His discoveries from the previous evening came back to him, and his throat constricted, eyes beginning to burn. Annalise, the others, their fate. How had Annalise not managed to escape? She was the Renaissance girl- fast, stealthy, smart. How had she been caught, been killed?

Had she been in pain when she died? Had it been a simple headshot, had she bled out, had she been tortured to death? Had she thought of everyone and everything she was leaving behind when she left? A sister, a cousin, a group of ragtag kids who needed her leadership. Had she thought of him? What of the dreams she had, to be a xenobiologist, to help cure and save others? To move to the country someday, and adopt a couple kids because she couldn't have any? What of those?

He wasn't aware that he was sobbing, huge sounds that wracked his chest, until there were hands on his arms and he was blinking up at Spock's blurred face and the bright light behind it, until he tried to speak and found he could barely breathe. He did the first thing he could think of in his half-delirious state, which was reach up and pull the Vulcan down into a hug. His entire body was trembling and all he needed was support, to know that somebody was there, that somebody cared-

But Spock didn't care, of course he didn't care, he had just been checking up on James because he'd been crying. Spock was tense in his arms, clearly uncomfortable. James pushed him away with the same ferocity that he'd dragged him down with, sitting up and bringing his knees up to his chest.

He didn't want to be here, God, he wanted this all to be a dream. He wanted to wake up near Annalise in their small camp because even if he did end up back on that rotting planet at least she'd be alive, there'd be a chance at saving her, at saving all of them.

"James-" Spock started in what James might consider a soothing voice if he had been listening.

"I want to be alone," he blurted, standing up and ignoring the way the world spun and changed color as his blood pressure plummeted. Before Spock could finish reprimanding him for violating his Vulcan personal space or something, James staggered to the bathroom and locked the door behind him.

Leaning back against the door, James let his legs give out. He slid down the door, made easy by his slightly slippery pajamas, and just sat there, eyes closed, until he thought he might be able to face Spock again.


Spock's meditation had been disrupted by a ragged, painful sound. Coming to in his quarters, he looked around for the source of the sound and found it to be coming from his bed, where James lay.

"Computer, lights to seventy percent," Spock said, unfurling from his position and heading towards the bed. There, James lay sobbing. His eyes were open but unseeing, his chest giving massive heaves. Seeing the younger version of his friend in such a state 'tugged at his heartstrings' as the doctor would say. He had to do something to help James.

Sitting down next to James, Spock grabbed him by the upper arms and gave him one, two good shakes. That seemed to bring James back to himself, somewhat. His eyes locked on to Spock with an odd intensity, and then suddenly there were arms around him and a damp face tucked into the hollow between his shoulder and his neck. James was clinging to him like Spock was was water and James was a drowning man. Full body tremors wracked James' skinny frame, and paralyzing grief and fear and longing were all assaulting Spock's senses.

Then just as suddenly as he had initiated the hug, James pushed him away. He curled in on himself, knees brought up to his chest like a small child. The echoes of James' emotions were still wreaking havoc on Spock's mind, and he knew that he should say something comforting to James, to move at the least, but he was entirely frozen.

"James-" Spock eventually said. James, I am here to help. James, what do you need? James, I was not rejecting you. James, you are not alone. James, even Vulcans grieve, let me help.

"I want to be alone," James said, interrupting him. He launched himself to his feet, staggering towards the bathroom before Spock could process what was happening, his mind still muddled.

The door closed behind him, and Spock was left to yet again wonder what had happened in his past that could send a younger version of his best friend into such a state.

Chapter Text

"The doctor commed and asked me to bring you down to the medical bay for your daily examination after breakfast," Spock said. James had finally come out of the bathroom, looking almost sheepish. Spock had never seen Jim look sheepish, never thought he would ever see Jim looking sheepish, and yet here he was, fiddling with his hands and shifting on his feet, avoiding eye contact.

This isn't Jim, Spock had to remind himself, this is James. It was a very illogical idea, defining James and Jim as two separate people when they were in fact one, but they were different in so many ways that Spock found that it actually helped him to deal with the fact that Jim had been reduced to a frightened teenaged boy. 'If it works and it's stupid' he knew Doctor McCoy would say, 'it a'int stupid.'

"Alright," James said, body language betraying the confident tone in his voice. "I can do that. And, uh," he seemed to struggle getting words out. He did manage to get his eyes to meet Spock's, but they flew away as soon as they met. "I'm sorry about invading your personal space," James finally managed. "I know Vulcans have things about personal space, being touch-telepaths and all."

"Is is of no consequence, James," Spock said. "You are my friend. If I can help you in an way, do not hesitate to ask. I will gladly assist you if possible." James gave him such a look that he was sure he had said something terribly wrong, but his face eventually broke out into a half smile.

"Thanks," he said, and then laughed quietly, shaking his head. "Man, it's so weird. My future self managed to befriend a Vulcan, of all people."

"How is it weird that you have befriended me?" James shrugged, and his mouth opened and closed as he tried to find the words he needed.

"Well, I mean, it's just," he began haltingly. "Vulcans aren't very expressive with their emotions, and it's kind of hard to befriend someone who doesn't show any emotion, because relationships of any kind are based off of emotion." Spock considered that logic for a moment.

"As hard as it may be to believe," he said. "I have, in fact, displayed emotion before. You purposefully insulted me soon after meeting me in the hopes of aggravating me and succeeded. I succumbed to my rage and attempted to kill you, as I had recently been emotionally compromised by a massive personal loss." James looked the smallest bit uncomfortable at that admission, but just gave him a grin.

"Not exactly the type of emotion to build a friendship on, but I'll take it," James said. "Now, I'm starving, what's for breakfast?"

"I would not be adverse to dining in the mess hall if that is where you would prefer to take your breakfast."

"That'd be great, I'd be able to talk with some crew members!" Spock gave James a dry look.

"Please refrain from harassing any members of your future crew, James. They are no doubt unaccustomed to being propositioned by underaged boys, and it will put them in an uncomfortable position." James sighed dramatically as they left Spock's room.

"Does everyone think I'm a slut?"

"I do not consider you a 'slut,' James, I am merely acting based off of my observations of your interactions with crew members in the corridors last night." James nodded thoughtfully.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Oops."


 

When they arrived at the mess hall, the conversation abruptly cut out. It was clear that rumor had spread about how their perfect captain had been turned into a troubled teenager. It felt like an eternity that they stood in the doorway, Spock and James, before a gorgeous dark-skinned woman in a red uniform stood up and smiled at them.

"Spock, James," she said, smiling. "Why don't you two go get your food and then come sit over here?" The two of them began their journey to the replicator and then to her, and conversation slowly started back up again.

"Thanks," James said, sliding into a seat across from the woman with a plate full of nutritional supplements. "That could've been really awkward. What's your name?"

"Lieutenant Uhura."

"What's your first name?" She gave him a sad smile that suggested something like this had happened when they first met, wherever and whenever that had been.

"Just Uhura," she said.

"What, do they not have last names on your planet?"

"Uhura is my last name."

"So they don't have first names on your planet?" James liked this woman, with her glossy hair and dark eyes.

"You don't need my first name, Farmboy," she teased gently, and her eyes widened slightly at the slip of a nickname.

"I'm lieutenant Sulu," the man sitting next to Uhura said, probably to draw the attention away from the mistake that, yes, James had indeed noticed. He wasn't as dumb as they treated him. The man seemed to be East Asian, and was wearing a gold shirt. "Hikaru Sulu."

"Hey, Sulu," James said jovially, shoveling a forkful of nutritional supplement into his his mouth. He was glad that the nutritional supplements actually didn't taste very bad. "Nice to know someone around here has a first name. Susan doesn't feel inclined to tell me hers."

"Not my name," Uhura said.

"I'll get it eventually."

"I am ensign Pavel Chekov," said a kid who couldn't have been over twenty five, with bronze curls and a Russian accent. James liked him instantly.

"Hey, Pav," he said. "Nice to meet you."

"Scotty would be here too, but he is fixing a mistake someone made in engineering. He is our chief of engineering." Pav said.

"Lieutenant-Commander Scott was also in control of the transporter room you arrived in yesterday. You might remember him." Spock said. James tilted his head, lost in thought for a moment.

"Oh, the Scottish dude? Yeah, I remember him. He was really loud." James said. The Scottish man in the transporter room had been quite memorable, bellowing into his comm to he heard above the other yelling.

"Mr. Scott is indeed quite loud."

"Hey, James," Sulu said. "Would you have any interest in visiting the botany labs? You're not allowed on the bridge and such, but the botany labs are good. I've got six of this one type of sentient plant that sprays pollen when you tickle it."

"Seriously?" James had little to no interest in botany, but if Sulu had plants like that in his botany lab, then James was damn well going to check them out.

"Sure," he said, flashing the smile that had grandmas cooing and pinching his cheeks.

"He will report to the botany labs later, Mr. Sulu. He has an appointment with Doctor McCoy directly following breakfast."

"Is ze Doctor going to try and fix you?" Pavel asked.

"Yeah," he said. "I mean, I'm the captain. Or, you know, I will be. The ship kind of needs me." Uhura gave him a small smile at that, but Pav still looked a little bit concerned.

"C'mon man, Amy thinks I'm funny." He said.

"Also not my name."

"If you are finished with your meal, Alpha shift is nearing its start and you are still required by the Doctor." Spock said. James looked down at his plate, which still had some supplements left on it.

"I'm not done with my meal, though." He said, and looked over at Spock's plate. "And neither are you."

"I am 'pleasantly full' as I have heard it described. I have no need for further nutrients."

"Well don't waste your food, give it to me. I'll eat it."

"You are only to consume the nutritional supplements the Doctor gives you until he gives you permission to do otherwise."

"But you'll be wasting it," James protested. Something was building up in his chest, some sort of anxiety and disgust.

How could he sit there and waste food while people somewhere were starving? If he wouldn't eat it, there had to be someone else who would. If they had had all the perfectly good food people carelessly discarded in one day on just planet Earth on Tarsus, they probably would have been able to survive without killing anyone until the Federation arrived to help. All that wasted food and nobody seemed to care about starving people.

"The food will be recycled, James," Spock said. "It will not go to waste." James noticed absently that the table had fallen silent, but he was too focused on Spock to really care.

"Fine," he said finally. "Let me finish my rations."

"Well," Sulu eventually said. "Pavel and I have to get to the bridge. Alpha shift is about to start."

"So do I," Uhura said.

"Okay," James said, swallowing another bite of rations. "Bye guys." They all gave him small waves as they left, until it was just him and Spock left at the table. He scarfed down the rest of the supplements, and they dropped off their trays before beginning their trip to the med bay.

"What prompted such a reaction when I informed you I would not be finishing my food? Were you in a location with a multitude of starving people before you appeared on board the Enterprise?" Spock asked. James shook his head and kept walking. He didn't plan on telling anyone about the horrors he'd witnessed. They didn't need to know.

"None of your business."

"James, you are my friend. If something has happened that negatively impacted your health and mental well being, I would like to know so I can assist you." James stayed silent. What could he say to that? 'Thank you' seemed woefully inadequate considering that a Vulcan was saying all of this. Too soon, they had reached sick bay, where Leonard was waiting with a hypospray.

"There you two are," he said. "I've been waiting with some news."

"I am sure you can compile this information into a report and send it to my PADD, Doctor," Spock said. "I am overdue on the bridge." Leonard sighed and grumbled something under his breath.

"I can, but I want a meeting with the goddamn woman who did this to him." Leonard said. "I'm not able to do anything about this. There's no virus in his system, no weird alien mojo screwing up his brain. He's just... He's just fourteen. I can't do anything to help him any more than I could to make an old man young again." He sounded genuinely distressed by the information he was sharing, and James wondered whether or not they had been close or if it was simply concern for his captain.

"I will be attempting to contact the ha'karr and arrange a meeting today," Spock said. "If you would like, I could try to persuade the ha'karr to meet with both of us instead of just me."

"That sounds acceptable," Leonard said. "Now shoo, I'll send the report to your PADD as soon as I finish with James." Spock dipped his head and left without another word.

"Can I ask you a question?" James asked as Leonard pulled out a tricorder to scan him with. Leonard glanced up at him, but continued to scan James.

"Shoot, kid."

"Were... Were we friends?" James asked. "Before I got turned back into a fourteen year old." Leonard stayed silent, and James began to think that he wasn't going to answer at all.

"Yeah," he finally said. "Yeah, we were friends. Best friends, actually." James looked away from him, the immense sadness of Leonard's face too much for him to bear.

"Sorry," he said quietly.

"Don't worry, kid," Leonard said gruffly, shaking his head slightly to clear the sadness from his face. "It wasn't your fault." And although James wanted to believe him, he wasn't entirely sure that he did.

Chapter Text

"So," Ensign Santiago said. "There are only a few places you can go as a guest on this ship, but how about the rec room? There are some games you might enjoy in there." As it was Alpha shift and everyone he knew so far was on duty, James was being monitored by a gorgeous British security ensign who was on Gamma shift. She was probably getting a small bonus or something, he thought, for babysitting him during her free hours.

"The rec room sounds good," James said, hands in the pockets of the jeans that had been replicated for him. Jeans and a t-shirt, instead of a Starfleet uniform. He felt like he was naked, sticking out like a sore thumb against the rest of the people on board.

"Pardon me for asking, but why did you keep your hair long instead of cutting it short again?" James shrugged as they continued down the corridor, contemplating the matter. His hair was definitely long, just about at shoulder length. He had been told his hair grew rather quickly for human standards.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess it just didn't seem important to cut it off. And it's actually pretty cool long when it's not all tangled and dirty. Leonard gave me a hair tie, but I can't really use it that well." He glanced over at her. "Do you know how to put your hair up in a ponytail or a bun? It looks like your hair is in a bun under your headscarf, which is really pretty by the way." And it was; the golden headscarf with a pattern of small Starfleet symbols set off the hints of gold in her eyes, complimenting her darker skin.

"Why thank you," she said, flushing. "And yes, my hair is in a bun under my hijab." She hesitated, probably still seeing the echoes of her captain in him. "I could... I could put your hair in a bun for you if you'd like." James beamed at her.

"That would be great! It'd finally stay out of my face." When they got to the rec room, James looked around at what was there. There wasn't anything he was really interested in at first glance, but he was sure he'd find something. A couple of officers sat around the room, and looked up when they walked in. Their glances weren't very subtle, and James felt naked all over again.

"Oh my god," someone said, and James expected the weirdly familiar voice to finish with something along the lines of 'It's the captain! He really did get turned into a teenager!' but it didn't. "It's... Oh my god. JT?"

James froze, turning slowly to look at the young woman who had commented. She looked familiar too, long brown hair and gray eyes, a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose...

Oh.

Oh.

"Julianne?" James got out around the rapidly growing lump in his throat. She stood up, and for a moment the two of them just stood there, staring.

"Oh, God, JT." And she rushed forward, pulling him into a massive hug. James clutched at the back of her uniform, a gold one, and tried not to cry as waves of emotion swamped him. When she stepped back, her cheeks held tear tracks but her eyes shone with emotions other than sadness, too numerous to name.

"I thought you had all died," he rasped. "I didn't check. I saw Annalise, and..." Julianne pulled him back into a hug, and let him bury his face in her shoulder as he tried and failed to keep the tears at bay.

He was vaguely aware that Ensign Santiago was still standing by him, shifting uncomfortably, and that everyone else in the room was 'not-looking' at them, which meant glances out of the corner of their eyes every two seconds.

"I'm sorry you had to find out like that," she said quietly. "It... It must've been hard." James nodded against her shirt.

"It was," he said, voice muffled. "I... How did it happen? All that her bio said was that she'd died." Julianne stilled.

"They found our camp," she said softly. "There were multiple soldiers, too many for us to fight off. She promised you she'd be right behind us, but we didn't figure it out until it was too late. I guess she knew it was the only way you'd let her stay behind at all, and that if someone didn't stay behind then none of us would make it."

They were both silent for a moment, Julianne remembering and James trying to comprehend the information. Finally he stepped back, looking up at the brilliant young woman Julianne had grown into.

"I can see her in you, now that you're grown and don't have a baby face anymore," James said, pulling off a watery grin. "You guys have similar faces. But you're so different, too." He compared and contrasted Annalise and Julianne in his head. Annalise had had short, lighter hair when they'd first met- practical, she'd said- before it had grown out and gotten filthy along with everyone else's, whereas Julianne had always had long hair. Their eyes were different, too. Julianne's had always held more hope, more optimism, and Annalise's had always been more blue than gray anyways. Annalise had never had freckles, and had had a more lean, slender build than Julianne.

"I see her every time I look in the mirror," Julianne said, and then, "Did you look at whole else survived, or did you just see Annalise?" James shook his head.

"I just saw Annalise. Who else?"

"Well, Kevin lived," Julianne said. "He's on the Enterprise too. He's a lieutenant in communications." James let out a sharp breath at that, relieved. Kevin had been so curious about everything, so optimistic even when they were freezing at night and close to starving every day. It would've killed him if Kevin had died.

"That's good," he said shakily. "That's really good. And Marian? Thomas? What about Grace, and Louis, and Erin, and Allen?" Julianne sighed, mouth pursing.

"We should probably talk about this with Kevin, later. Maybe in my quarters after dinner tonight? I'd rather not do this in public." And she was right. James suddenly recalled that everyone was staring at him like something out of an ancient carnival freak show. His skin began to crawl, and he nodded, stuffing his hands in his pockets and shifting uncomfortably.

"Okay," he said. "Yeah, that makes sense, but... How many of the nine of us survived?"

"Seven of us survived Tarsus," she said quietly enough so no one else could hear, and James heard the hidden message in the way she'd phrased her response. Seven had survived Tarsus, but not necessarily the aftermath. The thought made him sick- any of them managing to survive that horror show of a planet, but later dying.

Ensign Santiago coughed awkwardly behind him, and James turned to her, setting a charming smile back on his face.

"Sorry," he said. "She's, ah, an old friend."


Spock, meanwhile, was on the bridge. The captain's chair felt too big for him, and the bridge felt cold, dark, quiet, and all-around too empty without Jim's presence. Humans may be illogical most of the time, but they certainly knew what they were talking about when they said that a certain person's presence could brighten up a room. The atmosphere on the bridge was tense and uncomfortable without Jim's absentminded humming and the occasional crude joke.

"Commander," Uhura said from her station, a hand on her ear. "Incoming transmission from Rydell IV." The entire room's mood shifted to something not quite angry, but definitely not warm and welcoming.

"On screen, Lieutenant."

The ha'karr appeared on screen, large green eyes blinking at him, as innocent as a young child. Her teeth bared in a smile, setting the entire bridge on edge.

"Commander Spock," she tittered. "An unexpected surprise. I take it that the captain has received his gift?"

"If you mean to inquire that his physical and mental age has been regressed to that of when he was fourteen years old, then yes, he has indeed 'received his gift.'" Spock hoped that the impatience he felt was not seeping into his voice.

"Has something gone wrong?" she asked. Doctor McCoy chose this exact moment to step on to the bridge, and scowled deeply at the ha'karr.

"Well other than the fact that the captain has turned into a half-dead fourteen year old who won't tell me a damn thing about how he got half-dead in the first place, no, there's nothing wrong." The doctor snapped, crossing his arms across his chest and narrowing his eyes.

"Doctor," Spock said warningly, but the ha'karr waved him off.

"It is not a problem," she said. "I am sure he is concerned for his friend. If you would like an explanation for my actions, I would be glad to talk with both of you tomorrow. You two will be an integral part of his return to his previous state, I believe." Spock and the doctor exchanged looks, then transferred their gazes back to the ha'karr.

"That would be acceptable. If we could beam down at 1300 hours?" The ha'karr nodded.

"We await your arrival," she said, and cut the connection.

"Damn aliens give me the heebeejeebees," the doctor muttered, and Spock was inclined to agree.

Chapter Text

After Alpha shift, Spock met up with James and Ensign Santiago in the rec room. James seemed oddly subdued, yet filled with a new sort of energy Spock had yet to see in him. While James chatted with another crew member, Ensign Michelson, Ensign Santiago approached him to talk.

"I brought him to the rec room a while ago, and before we could see what games there were to play, Ensign Michelson recognized him. They clearly know each other. I think she's from the same place he came from, because they were talking about people who did and didn't survive for a while, but they didn't say what they survived. Lieutenant Kevin Riley was mentioned a few times as well." She glanced back over her shoulder at the two, who were totally oblivious. "I thought you might want to know, in case you didn't already know where he came from and were trying to find out." Spock dipped his head in gratitude.

"Thank you, Ensign. I have been attempting to discover where James was before he appeared on the Enterprise, but I have been unsuccessful so far, as he has not been exactly forthcoming with any information."

Spock turned over this information on his head, and made a mental note to look into Lieutenant Riley and Ensign Michelson's profiles to see if he could gather any more clues about where James came from, though he already had a disturbing idea that he hoped would go unfounded.

"Hey, Spock!" James said, finally noticing him. "This is-"

"Ensign Michelson," Spock said. "An old friend of James', I presume?" Ensign Michelson shrugged, but did not respond with either a clear yes or no.

"I guess you could call it that, sir." She said. If Spock had been human, he would have narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously, but he was not. He turned his attention to James, standing by her side.

"I'd say we're friends, yeah," James said, nodding. Ensign Michelson looked down at her watch, eyes widening.

"Oh, man, I have to go. I promised Michelle I'd take half of her Beta shift while she was on light duty because of her cold. Bye, JT!" And she was gone, with only a hiss as the door shut behind her. James shifted on his feet.

"Ensign Santiago," Spock said, looking over at her. "Thank you for taking care of James while I was on duty. You are dismissed, if you please." She nodded and left with nothing more than a 'Yes, sir.'

"So, what're we doing until dinner?" James said. "I have plans with Julianne after dinner to catch up and stuff, but we've got a couple hours until then."

"I did not have a concrete plan," Spock said. "Do you have any thoughts on ways to entertain yourself until then?" James looked around the room, not answering his question quite yet.

"How about chess?" James said, nodding at a chess set on a table hidden away in the far corner. "I don't know how to play, but it seems like a very logical game, so you probably know how to play it. You could teach me, if that's not too much trouble." Spock was taken aback for a moment, but then mentally shook himself. It made sense that James had not yet learned chess. Human children did not normally play games as advanced as chess, and James had most likely learned how to play at some point during his time at the academy.

"I do, in fact, play chess," Spock said. "It is a logical game, as you pointed out. I believe I can tutor you in chess, if you are interested." James brightened, and it was the same grin that Jim gave him when he was pleased.

"Awesome! You can be white." Spock was surprised at the strike of longing that shot through him. Jim always chose white, and he felt like the fact that James was giving him white meant something on a philosophical level that Spock could not quite understand, full of idioms and metaphors that were so purely human that a Vulcan could not begin to comprehend them.

The human in him, the part that was so attached to Jim and his self-sacrificing tendencies, wanted to grab James by the shoulders and shake him, to demand to know what had happened to him, because he didn't know much about human culture but he did know that humans told their friends when they needed help, when something went wrong.

"Of course," he said instead. "Please sit."


 

James ate with Julianne that night instead of Spock, and Kevin joined them as well. It took immense effort for Jim not to start crying- again- and wrap Kevin in a bear hug when he first saw him, but he managed, giving Kevin a slightly watery-eyed nod and a grin instead. They didn't talk much as they ate, all of them wanting to talk but wary of speaking of Tarsus in public.

James could see Spock from where he sat. He was sitting with Uhura, whose first name he still didn't know, and they were talking quietly. Every once in a while she'd glance over Spock's shoulder at him, and he'd look away and pretend that he didn't know they were talking about him.

"So," James said, poking at the offending rations that were on his plate. Leonard had said that he would probably be able to eat things like applesauce or other soft foods tomorrow, provided they were healthy. When he had explained his frustration to Kevin and Julianne, they had given him knowing looks but no sympathy. "Did you guys really not know I was your captain?" They both shook their heads.

"I just couldn't connect James T. Kirk to JT," Kevin said. "You were just so different from how I remembered you. There were moments when you would say or do something and I would almost do a double take because what you'd done was such a JT thing to do, but I just couldn't believe that it was you." When James looked over at Julianne for her response, she nodded.

"It's basically the same story with me," she said. "I just couldn't believe that Captain James T. Kirk and JT were the same person, although you acted similar sometimes." She glanced over to where Spock and Uhura were sitting, and her lips thinned.

"That's probably similar to what they're going through, too," she said. "Except reversed. You seem so different, yet occasionally you'll do something that's so uniquely Jim or Captain or whatever they call you." James looked over now, and felt what seemed a lot like guilt settle in his chest. He knew it wasn't his fault that he was causing people who seemed to be his friends pain, but he couldn't help but feel responsible.

"Yeah," he found himself saying distantly. "Probably."

When they had finished dinner and found themselves sitting in Julianne's quarters, they sat in silence for a moment. James was the first to break it, his curiosity making him impatient.

"So," he said, wanting to get straight to the point. "I heard your emphasis in the rec room, Juli. You said seven of us made it off Tarsus. Who died between making it off the planet and now?"

"Grace and Allen," Julianne said. "Allen snuck his food to Marian without anyone noticing to keep her healthy,!and by the time we got off the planet, he was too weak. They couldn't save him.

"Grace seemed fine during rehab, didn't seem to be any more depressed than anyone else. But after we got home... Well, she had always had a better relationship with Annalise, anyways. I think she thought it was her fault, too, for inviting us to stay with her and our aunt. She committed suicide a week or so after leaving the hospital and the brief time we all had to spend in rehab."

James found himself blinking back tears again. Allen, the ten year old boy, had always been kind. He'd never allowed the destruction to callous him. It seemed that his kindness, taking care of his little sister, had been his downfall. Then Grace, Julianne and Annalise's twelve year old cousin, who had been the one to invite them and whose guilt ended up killing her.

Ten and twelve.

Ten.

Twelve.

He was sure he would be a mess by the time their meeting was over, but he had to know what had happened.

"Who else besides Annalise didn't make it off Tarsus?" He got out through a rough throat. His heart was aching inside his chest, grief threatening to overwhelm him.

"Thomas did the same thing as Allen, trying to keep Louis alive, except he started sooner, and didn't make it off the planet. He died a month or so before help came." Kevin said. None of them were looking at each other. Kevin stared at the floor, Julianne at the stars through the windows in her quarters, and James at his hands, clasped tightly in front of him.

Thomas had been twelve, like Grace, and had always been too kind for his own good. It seemed to James that the good traits everyone had possessed had been turned against them, a cruel twist of fate.

"How are the others?" James asked, refusing to acknowledge the fact that tears had begun to leak from his eyes. Kevin and Julianne both ignored his tears if they saw them, but perhaps they themselves were too close to tears to notice his.

"Marian, Louis, and Erin ," Julianne said, listing their names almost absently. "After we all spent a month or two in rehab and hospitals, after they sent us home and Grace killed herself, we lost touch. I didn't even know what had happened to Kevin until I walked right into him in the hall one day, and I didn't know you were you until earlier today. After Kevin and I found each other, we researched them to see what had happened to them. We couldn't search for you, since you never gave us your full name, but we found the others.

"Marian went into agricultural science and became a leading expert in that field. She went to Starfleet, too, and was on some planet near the Denobulan system last we heard. She's single with no children. Louis is a child psychiatrist in New York City, with a wife and three kids. He didn't want anything to do with space after Tarsus. Erin became a biochemist, and was actually on the Enterprise during the Narada Incident, but then left Starfleet afterwards. She's got a wife, I think, but no kids. We haven't tried to contact any of them. I don't think they'd appreciate it." James frowned.

"The Narada Incident?" He asked. Kevin blinked at him.

"Right," he said. "You don't know about that. Uh, there was a time and space traveling Romulan who destroyed Vulcan for some reason. Spock might know if you want to ask him, but it's a bit of a touchy subject. Vulcans are actually an endangered species now."

So that was the massive personal loss Spock had been talking about...

"Oh," he said.

"Yeah," Julianne said. "Do you have any other questions or are we going to get to the nitty-gritty emotional stuff now? Because I need to brace myself before the emotional stuff."

"I still have a couple more questions," James said.

"Then shoot, JT," Kevin said.


 

After dinner, Spock retired to his quarters. He had planned on meditating until James returned, but information he had acquired over the day and his conversation with Nyota at dinner had changed his plans. He was sure he had enough information to figure out where James had come from, but he just needed to put all of the information together.

Sitting down at his computer terminal, Spock pulled up the file of Julianne Michelson. He scanned through until he found what he was looking for, under her list of achievements.

Survivor: Tarsus IV Massacre.

Spock recalled both Jim's year of birth and the year of the Tarsus IV Massacre. During the Massacre, Jim would've been thirteen, just about the age he had been reverted to just a couple days ago.

He had been sitting with Kevin Riley at dinner, as well, and Ensign Santiago said his name had been mentioned. Pulling up his file, he scanned his achievements, and was not surprised to find the same message.

Survivor: Tarsus IV Massacre.

A dark feeling had been building in his chest, one he had only felt perhaps thrice before, but would never admit to feeling. Worrying was inconvenient, and yet he had been worrying about James ever since the incident in the cafeteria, and James' reaction to him not eating his entire meal.

Now that he knew Jim had been on Tarsus, some of his odd habits made sense. Never leaving extra food on his plate or anyone else's, his intense response to missions of theirs that involve any kind of famine, his avoidance of talking about childhood and teen years, his ability to calm frightened children. They had all simply been things that Spock had brushed aside the traits, dismissing them as his human passion to care for others, his love for food, and a simply rocky childhood, not unlike his own.

He knew that at some point he would have to confront James about the horrors he had faced on Tarsus. He would have to tell James that he knew.

The only problem was how he was going to do that without scaring James away.

Chapter Text

"What happened to Kodos?" James asked, and Julianne let out a huff of air, as if she'd been waiting for him to ask that question.

"He's dead," she said shortly. It was clear that she wasn't going to talk about him any more, and James didn't need her to. He already had all the information he needed. It would've been nice to know who killed him, but he didn't need to know in order to sleep at night.

"How many people made it off Tarsus?"

"I'm not sure," Kevin said. "I don't think an actual number was ever released, and if it was I didn't look at it. I know that the number will be too small." James agreed; the number would definitely be too few if he ever found it, but he wasn't about to go looking for it.

"Okay," he said. "I think I've exhausted all of my questions for now. Let's get to the emotional stuff." A heavy silence fell over the room as each of them took a deep breath to prepare themselves. "Is this like an emotional confessional or something? Just blurt out how we feel?"

"Essentially," Julianne said, and she looked like she was bracing herself to say something.

"Let's get the survivor's guilt out of the way, because we all have it," Kevin said, and looked down at the plain carpet as if it held something endlessly fascinating.

"I know that I have survivor's guilt," James said. "But it's not that strong. I guess it's because I didn't witness the whole thing."

"It's definitely that," Julianne said. "You were one of the worst after Tarsus. You barely passed muster for them to let you leave the hospital. Afterwards, you were so depressed, so guilty. I was wondering why you weren't in bad mental shape, but that's probably it. You didn't witness the whole thing."

"It could also be that I know that I make it out alive, and that he dies, and that everything is going to be okay."

They were all silent for a moment, and then words were spilling out of Julianne like she couldn't stop them.

"I hated Annalise after she died," Julianne blurted, and James gave her a shocked look. She must have never admitted this to Kevin, either, because he looked as shocked as James felt. "I felt betrayed, like she'd abandoned me without a thought of what it would do to me. I thought she was selfish, because she was leaving the pain behind for all of us to continue to deal with." The silence hung heavy in the air between them, and James could tell that she had never told that to anyone before.

"Someone else go," she said quietly, face reddening under their gazes.

"I was furious at myself when I read that Annalise had died," James said. "I felt that I'd failed her. Before- Before my memory cuts off, I promised her that I would get all of us off this planet, but I couldn't. I couldn't get her off, I couldn't get Thomas off, I couldn't keep Allen and Grace alive once we'd gotten off the planet..." His throat tightened, but he blinked back tears, refusing to cry. "I failed her. I failed all of you."

"I was furious with you, too, when Annalise died," Julianne said. "You don't remember, but you just... Shut down. The responsibility to keep everyone alive fell to me, and I didn't have any of my own time to grieve. It was almost as if you gave up. I hated you for shutting down with grief and denying me the ability to mourn her. Eventually, though, I realized that you had shut down because you had really loved her, and I guess I kind of stopped hating you then." James drew in a jumpy breath, and tried not to let his voice break when he next spoke.

"God, I really am a selfish bastard," he said. "I'm so sorry." His chest was beginning to ache with sorrow and guilt, making it hard to breathe.

"It's okay," Julianne whispered. "I forgave you a long time ago."

"I've denied this until I'm blue in the face every time I'm asked," Kevin said. "But I vividly remember every detail of the day we made it off Tarsus." Julianne blinked at him, and then almost laughed.

"I barely remember a thing about that day," she said. "I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing."

"Definitely good," Kevin said. "I couldn't- For weeks afterwards, I could barely sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, that was all I could see. For the first week they had to heavily drug me so I could sleep. Then they moved to simple sedatives, then stuff that just made me drowsy, and then finally I could sleep on my own. I still have nightmares, occasionally; I still remember every little detail."

"Weirdly enough, I haven't had any nightmares. Although I suppose whatever telepathic thing Spock did to knock me out the first night probably meant I couldn't dream."

"He nerve-pinched you?" Julianne asked, incredulous. James frowned. Now that he thought about it, he had felt something pinch between his neck and shoulder before he blacked out.

"Apparently," James said. "In his defense, I was being a bit of an asshole." Kevin snorted and Julianne gave a faint smile.

"I don't doubt it," she said. "You were an asshole to the psychiatrists and doctors, too. It was actually kind of impressive. They had to sedate you multiple times, but you never stopped giving them attitude."

"Sounds about right," James said, nodding his approval. Kevin gave a watery laugh, shaking his head.

"I never could quite understand you, JT."


Spock, in his curiosity, had almost completely forgotten the medical report that the Doctor had given to him that morning. When he finally remembered it, he pulled it out and began to read. Afterwards, Spock admitted to himself that coming to the conclusion of Tarsus IV would have been much easier if he had read the report.

In the report, it was said that James had been suffering from dehydration, starvation, and lack of proper medical care. His mental scans showed signs of trauma and depression, and his adrenaline and cortisol levels were high, as was his blood sugar. Trauma, depression, fear, dehydration and starvation, and filthiness. Tarsus was a logical jump from the medical report alone, and Spock inwardly cursed himself for not reading it earlier. It would have saved him time that could be used coming up with ways to inform James that he knew where he had come from.

At the bottom of the report, the Doctor had written his recommended treatment. An updated diet consisting of rations and liquid-based foods of sufficient nutritional value, and anti-depressants to be taken once daily. If nightmares were to occur, a dose of sedatives could be administered. There was no official psychiatrist on board, but the Doctor had sufficient degrees, so James was to stay for an extra hour each morning after his check-up for a mental therapy session.

All of this was good information, but there was still no hint of how to revert James back to the man that the Enterprise crew knew and loved.

The door hissed open and Spock looked up as James entered. He was clearly tired, rubbing his eyes and more shuffling than walking. His hair was in disarray, as if he'd been running his hands through it, and his eyes were red-rimmed. He glanced blearily at Spock as he entered.

"Hey," he said, sounding exhausted. "I'm just gonna hit the sack."

"I am unfamiliar with that idiom."

"It means I'm going to bed." After spending about half of a second contemplating the illogic of most human idioms, Spock stood and handed the medical report to James.

"Here is your medical report," Spock said. "It has recommended treatments for your symptoms, effective immediately." James scanned the report, a scowl appearing on his face as he read.

"This is bullshit," he announced when he was done, handing the PADD back to Spock. "I'm perfectly fine."

"This medical report would beg to differ."

"That medical report doesn't know the specifics of what I've been through, and neither do you." James spat.

Well, this time was rather inopportune, but the sooner he told James, the better off they'd both be.

"That is incorrect. While Doctor McCoy may not know where you were, I believe I do." James raised his eyebrows in a challenge, but Spock didn't miss the fear in his eyes.

"Oh? And where was I? Do tell, Mr. Vulcan." Spock wondered, somewhere in the back of his mind, just how dangerous James could be. Jim could be plenty dangerous if he so chose, but he was Starfleet trained. This was a wild teenager who had learned to be dangerous in order to survive. There was no telling how he would react to finding out that Spock knew he'd been on Tarsus IV. Well, it was too late too back off now.

"You were on Tarsus IV."

James paled, swallowing hard. His hand twitched, as if he was going to reach out to balance himself on something. Spock thought he saw James' eyes flick towards the door as if he was contemplating running.

"So you know," was all he said.

"If you require any assistance in dealing with-"

James scoffed and threw his hands in the air, turning away. His eyes were shining.

"I don't need any damn pity," he said roughly. "I'm not some charity case, I'm not fragile, and I don't. Need. Any. Pity." The last words were spat at him, poisonous and meant to drive him away. Human behaviors may be illogical, but he'd been around humans long enough to understand that this was James' way of screaming and begging for help.

"I am not going to give you pity. I want to help because I am your friend, James. No other reason is necessary." James stared at him for a second before letting out a small chuckle, shaking his head.

"Man, do you have to put up with shit like this from older me?"

"Repeatedly," Spock said, and James laughed again, but his hands trembled as he crossed his arms and his eyes were fixed on the floor.

"And you're still his- my- friend?"

"Indeed. It is quite puzzling." James gave a real laugh this time, watery aqua eyes turning upwards to fix on him.

"Who ever said Vulcans don't have a sense of humor?" He said.

"James," Spock said quietly. "My offer, as you would put it, 'still stands.' If you require my assistance with anything, do not hesitate to ask for it."

"Thanks, Spock," James said, giving him a small, sad smile. "I'll keep that in mind." He yawned, then, and stood there nearly swaying afterwards, clearly exhausted.

"I think it is time you retire for bed, James." He nodded blearily and turned to shuffle towards the bathroom.

"James," Spock said. James stopped and turned, hand on the side of the door.

"Hmm?"

"Doctor McCoy and I am meeting with the ha'karr, the alien who did this to you, tomorrow afternoon. I estimated that it was information you would wish to know." James gave a huff of a laugh.

"It is, thanks," he said. "And Spock?"

"Yes, James?"

"Give them hell for me."

Chapter Text

Everything is dying.

James stands in a field, but all the grain has rotted and died. The wind blows gently, and the vile smell nearly brings James to his knees, his stomach lurching inside of him. Far in the distance, there is a shipyard, the beginnings of a ship rising inside of it.

"She's beautiful, isn't she?" A voice from behind him says. He turns.

"Annalise," he says quietly, breathless. She's beautiful, brown hair in a bob and blue eyes shining. Her appearance exactly matches the one in the meager file that detailed her short life.

"She'll be yours one day, James," as if she never heard him speak. "It's what you've always wanted, right? To leave it all behind?" As she's speaking, she's deteriorating, starving. Eyes sinking in, limbs growing thin, hair growing long and filth gathering until she's hardly recognizeable.

"Annalise," he manages a second time, voice ragged. She continues to smile at him like he's the best thing she's ever seen, like he deserves her love and praise.

"Running from your past, running from family, running from trust and love." Her eyes grow sad, smile wilting like all of the life around them. "When will you stop running?"

He takes a step towards her, but his legs buckle and he falls to his knees in front of her, shaking hands raised as if to take her between them and hold her close. She finally collapses next to him, eyes full of tears as she gazes up at him. He feels his own eyes welling up, and tries to blink back the tears.

"Stop running," she whispers. "Please, stop running." His breaths begin to catch, her face blurring below him. When he finally manages to blink the tears away, determined not to cry, there's a different person below him.

It's Spock, of all people. James wonders what's wrong with him, until he sees the dark green stain in the side of his uniform. He's been stabbed by something, and is in real danger of dying.

"Captain," Spock says, "Jim, I am your friend. Why don't you trust me?"

Trust.

The word sings like poison in his blood, rings hollowly in his ears. It all comes down to trust, doesn't it?

"I do, Spock, I do," James finds himself saying, hands pressing over the wound in a desperate attempt to keep the emerald blood inside, so alien and frightening. Spock shows no signs of pain. "Damn it man, don't die on me." But Spock doesn't respond, and when James looks up, his eyes are shut. James pushes down harder on the wound, trying to keep the blood inside where it belongs, but he can feel Spock's heartbeat flutter and still under his hands.

When James sits back, his hands drenched, he can only tremble and stare at Spock's unmoving body. No, he's not trembling, he's being shaken. Who's shaking him? What's going on?

James woke up with Spock inches from his face, and someone was screaming. That someone turned out to be him, and he clamped his mouth shut as soon as he realized who it was, breaths whistling through his nose as his chest heaved. Spock was still inches from his face, but he wasn't shaking him anymore.

"James," Spock said, eyes seeming very human and emotive. "Are you all right?" James could still feel the phantom blood on his hands, slick and wet.

"I'm fine," James said, shrugging off Spock's arms and sitting up. "Just a nightmare." Spock had a hand on his back to support him, and must have been telepathically projecting calm through it, because James began to calm down much sooner than he normally would after such a nightmare.

"Would you be adverse to talking about your nightmare? I have read that it is beneficial to share the contents of nightmares with others."

James' first instinct was to say no and go back to sleep, but Spock's still face flashed through his mind before he could.

Why don't you trust me?

"Yeah, okay," he said quietly, bringing his knees to his chest and dropping his head down on them. Maybe this was stupid, and maybe he'd regret being so open later, but then was not later, and right then he needed someone to just listen for once.

"I was on Tarsus again," he began quietly. "I was standing in the middle of a field of rotten grain, and in the distance, there was the Riverside shipyard, the beginnings of the Enterprise inside of it. And then... And then Annalise was there, talking about how I run from everything, and she was dying as she spoke, and we both collapsed and she was dying and she begged me to stop running with her last words. Then you were there, and you had a nasty wound on your right side and you were bleeding- is your blood really green?" Here he paused, looking up at Spock for an answer.

There was no disgust in Spock's gaze, no judgement, but he did look a bit surprised. Could Vulcans even look surprised? Was it too much of an emotion? James wrenched himself off of that path of questioning, still looking for an answer.

"Vulcan blood is, indeed, green," he said. "And if I am correct, a memory came back to you in that nightmare. In our attempt to defeat Krall, I was at one point impaled in the right side."

"But you didn't die," James near-whispered, and Spock stilled.

"No," Spock's voice was equally as hushed, as if their conversation was taboo or intimate. "I did not."

"You died in my dream," James continued. "There was so much blood, and I was trying to stop it but I felt your heart stop, and your last words were about trusting you." James peered down his nose at his toes, wiggling them in order to do something other than just sit there and wait for Spock to respond. "I'm not good at trusting people."

"That sounds like quite a distressing dream," he eventually murmured.

"I woke up screaming for a reason."

"Indeed." They sat in silence for a time, Spock warm by James' side. It felt nice, and his eyes began to droop as Spock began to rub small circles into his back.

"Spock," James mumbled., remembering something. "What happened with that... God, what did Kevin say... time traveling Romulan?" Spock tensed, and if he hadn't been in physical contact with him he never would have noticed.

"I am unsure as to what you wish me to say," Spock confessed.

"Kevin said something about a Narada Incident involving the destruction of Vulcan. What happened?" Spock was quiet for a moment, and James was beginning to think he wouldn't answer when he finally spoke.

"In another universe, many years in the future, the star by Romulus began to expand. The Vulcan Science Academy sent an older version of my counterpart with red matter, a substance capable of creating black holes, to control the star. I- He- was too late, and Romulus was destroyed.

"Enraged, a Romulan called Nero chased after my counterpart. The red matter my counterpart launched into the star erupted, and both Nero and my counterpart were drawn into the black hole. Nero, who went through first, was deposited..." Spock trailed off, and James gave him a concerned look.

"Spock?"

"Nero was deposited on March 22, 2233, where it encountered and destroyed the U.S.S. Kelvin." The words hit James like a sucker punch, and he flinched. Spock's hand stilled on his back.

"So you're telling me that the time-traveling bastard that destroyed your planet also killed my father?" Exhaustion was making his emotions muddled, but hatred and grief were easily identifiable.

"Yes."

"So the other me, the one from the timeline the other you came from, he knew his father?" He could tell that Spock didn't want to answer.

"He did." A deep longing for something he would never know and could never have sliced through him so bitterly that it became hard to breathe. He found shapes blurring together in front of him and squeezed his eyes shut against the hot tears that threatened to come again.

"I'm sorry," he managed. "You can continue". Spock's hand began the small circular motions once again.

"When my counterpart came through, over twenty years later, Nero was waiting. He captured and stranded him on a planet where he could see Vulcan, and made him watch as he destroyed it. Several Federation ships tried to assist, but the Enterprise was the only one not to be destroyed, because Nero wanted me as well as my counterpart to watch as my planet was destroyed. You and Lieutenant Sulu destroyed the laser he was using to breach the planet's core, but it was too late. He had ejected red matter into the heart of Vulcan, creating a black hole.

"I beamed down to collect the Vulcan High Council, where my mother and father were. As we were beamed up, the cliff crumbled below my mother and she fell to her death. Captain Pike had been kidnapped by Nero, leaving me as Acting Captain and you as First Officer. You were abrasive and belligerent, and in a lapse of emotional control, I nerve-pinched you and demanded you be stranded on the nearest planet, Delta Vega; where my counterpart was, to my lack of knowledge.

"With the assistance of Mr. Scott, or 'Scotty,' you beamed back to the ship while we were at warp, and then confronted me on the bridge. You insulted me and took advantage of my fragile emotional shields until I entered a fit of rage. I then removed myself as acting captain, and you took command of the ship.

"Under your command, the ship managed to save Earth from suffering the same fate as Vulcan. With my assistance, you also created a black hole at the center of his ship, which destroyed him." James looked up at him.

"It doesn't seem real, me doing that. It's just too... story book hero." He blinked. "Are Vulcans really endangered now? Kevin said you are."

"Vulcans are, indeed, classified as an endangered species. Attempts to repopulate are being made, but it will be a very long time before we are back to the numbers we once were."

"That sucks," James mumbled, finding his eyes slipping shut. "That bastard really affected a lot of people, didn't he?"

"He did indeed," Spock said, but his voice was growing fuzzy and distant, and James found himself sagging against Spock. He was very warm...

"Goodnight, James," he thought he heard Spock say, but he was too far gone to be sure.


It was evident in the way that James slumped against him that he was asleep. Looking down at him, Spock was almost surprised to see how unguarded James' face was. He was not snarling and spitting cruel words, not fighting back tears or flaunting his smile to impress people.

Gently disentangling himself from James, who was quickly becoming clingy, he laid him back on the bed. He pulled the blankets up to James' chin, careful not to wake him, and then just sat back and stared for a moment.

He was still thin, with prominent cheekbones and stringy hair. It was still long, spread out around his face like a halo as he slept. He looked young and innocent, and Spock wondered how that could be. It was not as if he had two faces; this was the same face James smiled and cried and said cruel words with. Perhaps it was that he was doing nothing with his face, or maybe the lighting.

Before he knew what he was doing, before he could stop himself, he was reaching forward and stroking James' hair. It was the same gesture his mother had used with him as a child when she read him to sleep, or comforted him after a particularly bad day with bullies. It was a gesture of comfort, of reassurance, of love and safety. James sighed and relaxed into the touch, still sleeping.

Slowly, Spock stilled his hand and drew it away. Standing up, he turned for the couch, but he had a feeling that he would not get much rest that night. Pulling the blankets up around him, he stared at the ceiling trying not to think about James and his nightmare. It didn't work.

Chapter Text

The next morning, James peeled his eyes open to find Spock sitting at his desk, a stack of PADDs sitting next to him, one in his hands. He propped himself up on one elbow, blinking hard several times to clear them.

"Did you sleep, like, at all?" James asked. Spock glanced over his shoulder.

"I slept until 0127, and then attempted to meditate. I was unable to fully submerge my mind in to a meditative state, and have been working since 0234." James wasn't sure when he'd woken up, but he had a feeling it was around that first time. A small trace of guilt wormed its way into his chest at the thought that his nightmare had disturbed Spock so badly.

"Sorry about last night," James muttered, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"It is of no consequence, James. I am your friend, it is not troubling for me to assist you when you require it." The word 'friend' coming from Spock made James feel special, although he tried not to let the happiness bloom inside of him like he wanted it to. Spock, who was half Vulcan, who found it difficult to process emotions, felt strongly enough towards James to call him his friend. It felt like a major honor, something to privately cheer about.

At a bit of a loss for words, James simply stood up and headed to the bathroom to begin his morning routine. When he returned, Spock was still sitting at the desk. At the woosh of the door sliding open, he turned and stood, hands behind his back.

"We are due in the mess hall in approximately five minutes for breakfast with the senior bridge crew." James grinned crookedly at him.

"Do I get to meet Scotty today? I've been wanting to meet him."

"If Mr. Scott is at breakfast, you will be able to become acquainted with him."

"If not, I could go down to engineering later, though, right?" Spock seemed to consider this.

"If time permits, I am certain that Mr. Scott would be glad to make your acquaintance." James beamed at him. He'd heard a couple things about the Scotsman, and was excited at the prospect of meeting him.

"Let's go, then."

When they got to the mess hall, Chekov had yet to show up. Sulu and Uhura were there, though, and James sat next to the helmsman, grinning at the woman across from him.

"Hey Sulu, hey Leslie."

"Not my name," Uhura said, cutting up her omelette.

James turned to Sulu as Uhura and Spock began talking about the linguistic dialects of one of the last planets they had visited. He had no interest in that line of conversation, but it seemed to entertain the two of them.

"So I've heard you fence?" Sulu nodded, taking a bite of his waffle.

"It's not the swishy, prissy kind, just so you know," he said. "I can wield several types of Japanese and other blades." James' eyebrows raised.

"Really? Awesome," he said around a mouthful of applesauce. It wasn't much, but it wasn't those rations, so it was heavenly to him.

"Oh, hey Chekov!" Sulu said, effectively halting all conversations for a few moments. The small Russian was accompanied by a larger, slightly balding man that James recognized as Scotty.

"Hey, Scotty!" He said, waving. "I've been wanting to meet you."

"Ye have?" The man looked surprised.

"Yeah," James said. "I've heard about you, but I haven't exactly met you." Scotty grinned as he sat down on James' other side.

"I've got to admit, I've been looking forward to seein' you as well, lad." His accent, like Chekov's, was rather likable, adding to his charm.

"We were friends before I changed, right?" Scotty grinned.

"We were indeed," he said. "Oh, I remember this one time in a bar during shore leave with that Andorian..." He trailed off, giving James an odd look. "But that's, ah, not any kind o' story for today."

"I'm not a little kid," James protested, interested in how that story ended.

"No, but..."

"Please tell me you aren't actually going to tell him about the Andorian Incident," Sulu said. At those words, the heads of everyone else at the table turned towards them.

"Scotty, there's no way in-"

"Scotty, vhy vould you-"

"Mister Scott, it is extremely irresponsible of you to-"

All three of the others spoke at once, then stopped, exchanging glances with each other.

"What was so memorable about this Andorian Incident!" James demanded.

"Nothing," Sulu said. "Nothing at all." And that was that.


Leonard was putting in his only visit that morning into the computer- Ensign Marshall, who had been the victim of a faulty conduit that had exploded as she tried to fix it- when James walked in. He looked healthier than when he'd seen him last, brighter eyes and a stronger gait, but he was still far from a healthy teenage boy.

"Hey, Leonard," he said conversationally, dropping on to a bed.

"Hey, kid. How're you doin'?"

"Okay, I guess. I still can't eat real food yet, though." The last sentence was said with a pointed look at Leonard, who scoffed as he emerged from his office.

"Sorry for tryin' to keep your digestive system from committing suicide by pizza," he said, sarcasm clear in his voice. Leonard walked over to where James sat, pulling out his tricorder to run some scans.

"I met Scotty earlier today," James said conversationally. Leonard glanced up, then back to his tricorder.

"I hope he didn't defile you too badly," Leonard said.

"I wish. They mentioned an Andorian Incident, but wouldn't tell me what it was when I asked about it." Leonard paused for only a moment, but it was enough. "You know about it too! What happened?"

"That is not a story for me to tell," Leonard said, and James scoffed.

"C'mon, Bonesy," he teased. Leonard froze, and James stilled too, knowing he had said something wrong.

"Where... Where did you hear that?" His voice caught at the end of the sentence, and he gripped the tricorder so hard it groaned in protest.

"I don't know, nobody," James said. "It just sort of slipped." Bones said nothing, and James gave him what could almost be considered a guilty look. "Was that my nickname for you?"

"Bones," Leonard said quietly. "You... You called me Bones. Sometimes when you were being playful or trying to annoy me, you'd call me Bonesy."

"Well, I mean, it must be a good sign, right? If I'm calling you by old nicknames then it must mean that I'm close to reverting to the me that everyone knows." Leonard found it in him to nod. James made sense, it was probably a good thing, but it didn't lessen the ache in Leonard's chest.

"Hopefully," he said. "But let's not get our hopes up." He continued to scan James, nodding approvingly at how James was getting along. "You're doin' good, kid."

"So I can go? I want to see engineering."

"You still have a psychiatric session with me, so no." James groaned, sliding off the bed.

"I was hoping you'd forget about that."

"Not a chance, kid." They walked to Leonard's office together, James half a step behind.

"So how does this work?" James asked once he'd gotten himself comfortable in the chair on the other side of Leonard's desk. His legs were slung over one of the armrests, one arm over the back of the chair. He was a bit too gangly too look suave or elegant, but James didn't seem to know or care.

"We just talk about what's bothering you, essentially," Leonard said, sitting down in his own chair. "And you answer my questions so I can help you instead of avoiding serious questions like you normally do."

"No promises." Leonard sighed and resisted the urge to put his head in his hands. This wasn't going to be easy, but he'd hoped that James would at least try to cooperate.

"You aren't going to make this easy, are you?" James gave him a shit-eating grin and, if possible, relaxed further into the chair.

"Not a chance in hell, buddy. You may be my friend and I may share most of my secrets with you, but you'll have a hell of a time getting this one out of me."

Well, Leonard thought, I've faced down worse things than a stubborn teenaged boy. I can do this. But the look James was giving him was making him think that maybe, this once, James could out-stubborn him.

He prayed to God he wasn't right.

Chapter Text

"Okay, fine, let's start with something simple. Have you had any nightmares? They'd probably be about whatever trauma you won't tell me about." James' eyes flicked away, and there was a delay before he finally answered.

"No."

"Why do I think you're lying?" James met Leonard's eyes, but quickly looked away again.

"Fine, yes, I've had a nightmare. Only one though." He sounded resigned, like something terrible was about to happen and he had no way of stopping it.

"Last night?"

"Yeah." The answer was short and clipped, a sure sign that James didn't have much patience.

"What was it about?" James shook his head, looking down at his lap and reaching up to scratch at his right cheek.

"Nothing. It wasn't about anything. I don't really remember." Leonard could tell that he did remember; the telltale signs of lying were everywhere.

"Kid," Leonard said so softly that James looked up in what seemed to be mild surprise. "I can't help you if you don't tell me what happened. What was your nightmare about?" James sunk back in to his chair, picking at the side of his thumb, and spoke, not looking at Leonard as he did. It was interesting, Leonard thought, how James had gone from nearly arrogant to quiet and reserved. James stayed silent, and Leonard sat back in his chair, waiting until James was ready.

Leonard's eyes were beginning to slide shut- his chair was too comfortable for this- when James finally spoke. His voice was so quiet at first that Leonard had to strain to hear, but gradually got louder as he spoke.

"I was on... I was on this planet in the middle of some field, and all the plants were rotting. The Riverside shipyard was off in the distance, and I could see the Enterprise being built inside of her.

"Then someone said my name, and I turned to find this girl I fell in love with a while ago. She was dying as she spoke, though, and her last words were for me to- to trust my friends and family." Here he frowned, just slightly.

"Then Spock was there, in her place, and he was dying from a stab wound in his side, and he was asking me why I didn't trust him. He died, and I woke up."

"That's it?" Leonard asked. "There was nothing else, nothing you avoided telling me?" James cleared his throat and pursed his lips, not looking up, although he had stopped picking at his thumb.

"Nothing else." Now it was Leonard's turn to frown.

"Okay then." He wouldn't press, he'd just ask tomorrow.

"Okay," James said. "Can I go?" Leonard looked at the clock. Only 47 minutes had passed- how long had James stayed quiet?- but Leonard sighed and gestured towards the door.

"Sure," he said. "You did good, kid. See you tomorrow."

James stood and left without a word, and Leonard figured he was probably supposed to ignore the way James' hands shook as he walked away.


When Spock met up with the Doctor in the transporter room at 1255 hours, the human looked extremely agitated.

"After today's therapy session I'm even more tempted than I was before to rip that bitch a new one," McCoy growled, arms crossed over his chest and a scowl fixed on his face. Spock raised an eyebrow, intrigued as to how the therapy session had progressed.

"May I inquire as to the events of the therapy session? James has been escorted to engineering by Ensign Santiago, so I have not had the opportunity to converse with him."

"The poor kid..." McCoy trailed off, and then shook his head before continuing to speak. "The kid was lying through his teeth the whole time. Gettin' the truth out of him about his nightmare an' what happened to him is gonna be harder than gettin' a rock to bleed." Spock noted that when McCoy was frustrated, his accent was stronger and he used more confusing human idioms, and wondered briefly why humans were so confusing. But one part of McCoy's speech was standing out to Spock.

"You are not aware of where he was?" Spock asked. McCoy looked at him like he had asked him a complex quantum physics expression and asked him to solve it in under ten seconds.

"Why the hell would I know where he was if he didn't tell me?"

"I would believe that you could, as it is commonly phrased, 'put all the pieces together.'" McCoy frowned and lapsed into silence as he tried to figure out where James had been.

"I don't..."

"James displayed signs of starvation, dehydration, and mental trauma, all because of an event that happened around the time James was thirteen, in 2246." Spock waited ten seconds. Fifteen. Finally, the scowl on McCoy's face began to soften as horrifying realization settled upon him, displayed by his eyes.

"Dear God," he breathed, eyes finding Spock's own. "The... The damn kid was on Tarsus?" Spock merely blinked, and his lack of an answer must have been answer enough for McCoy, because a haunted look came over him, and if there had been anything but air behind him Spock was certain he would've sagged against it.

"I found my way to that solution yesterday and found a place during conversation last night to mention it. I was correct." McCoy scrubbed his hand over his face, just standing there and breathing for a moment.

"Sorry I'm late, Doctor, Commander," Scott said, walking into the room. "There was a wee malfunction with the warp core tha' I had to fix up."

"It is inconsequential," Spock said. "We still have ample time to arrive on the planet's surface." He turned and went to stand on the transporter platform, with McCoy following behind him. There was no usual complaints about the dangers of transporters from McCoy, and when Spock looked over he found why. McCoy still seemed dazed and shocked by the fact that James was on Tarsus, with a vacant gaze and a slightly open mouth.

"Energize, Mr. Scott," Spock said, and watched as the world dissolved.


Leonard was still trying to comprehend that James had been on Tarsus when they were beamed down to the planet. The world disappeared around him, and when he reappeared, he was surrounded by the foreign, almost turquoise trees of the Ohk-Pallas' planet.

Right, he told himself. Right, I have a job to do here.

Turning around, he found the main entrance to the Ohk-Pallas' cave system. In the center of the archway stood a female Ohk-Palla, and she bared her teeth at them in a smile when she saw them.

"Lieutenant-Commander Leonard McCoy, Commander Spock. We are happy to meet with both of you. Come with me, please, the ha'karr is waiting."

Spock followed after the Ohk-Palla as she turned and disappeared into the cave, and Leonard trailed after him, mind still foggy with muted horror. If he noticed his hands were trembling and gripped them tight behind his back as he walked, well, that was his own business.

They followed the Ohk-Palla for quite some time- Karrea, he thought she said her name was- and Leonard didn't even have to be entirely aware of his surroundings to tell that Spock was in scientist heaven just by looking at the walls.

When they finally emerged into the main cavern, Leonard forgot about Tarsus for a moment. Soaring ceilings with glittering stalactites made of something that looked like crystal or diamond hung over a miniature forest of massive blue bioluminescent ferns, and a creek could be heard burbling from somewhere inside.

They followed Karrea through a path, over a bridge that crossed the creek, and to a clearing where a throne of glowing purple stone sat. The Ohk-Palla who sat upon it, adorned in colorful flowing robes and a crown of stones from the creek, was clearly the ha'karr.

"Greetings," Spock said, hand up in the traditional Vulcan greeting. The ha'karr grinned, and now that he had a clear mind from setting aside Tarsus, he found it rather disturbing. She looked like she wanted to eat him.

"Greetings Commander Spock, greetings Lieutenant-Commander Leonard McCoy." Leonard frowned.

"You can call me Doctor McCoy," he said. "There's no need for you to be so formal." The ha'karr nodded.

"Greetings Doctor McCoy," she amended, and then spoke to address both of them. "You wish to speak to me about your captain's gift?"

"That is our intention," Spock said smoothly, as Leonard bit back an angry retort. The ha'karr smiled again, and a cold prickle ran down Leonard's spine at the sight of her teeth.

"Very well," she said. "If you would follow me to the conference room?" She stood, and the guards snapped to attention, but she waved them off, saying something in her own language, sounds like rustling paper and soft breezes. The guards stood down, and the three of them continued alone.

The cavern really was quite breathtaking, and they all walked in silence, just appreciating the beauty of it. When they eventually turned left into a small cave branching off of the main cavern, Leonard dragged himself back to reality. Jim had been on Tarsus IV, this alien had reverted Jim back to that time, and Leonard wanted answers as to why she'd done it. When they were sat around the table, Leonard was the first to speak.

"I know giving gifts is a very diplomatic thing and all," he started. "But I'm not entirely sure yours qualifies. What the hell does he gain by bein' forced back to the worst time in his life?" The drawl was back, and if Jim was there Leonard knew he would've poked fun at him while the ha'karr wasn't looking. Jim wasn't there, though; that was a big point to the meeting.

The ha'karr was thankfully unfazed by his rather blunt line of questioning. "Captain Kirk kept the tragedy in his past secret from all he trusted and loved. It was harmful to his mental health to continue in such a way. My gift will help him."

"Forgive me for being so dim, but I still don't see how it's supposed to help."

"I believe I do, Doctor." Spock said, and Leonard gestured towards him impatiently.

"Well if you know, then please enlighten me, because I'm about as lost as a toddler in a peach orchard."

"A curious meta-" Leonard's glare cut him off, and he cleared his throat before continuing. "I hypothesize that the gift will be complete once James shares his experiences with enough people that our Jim cares about and trusts to improve his mental health once he is reversed. Is that true?"

"That is correct," the ha'karr said. "Captain Kirk must share his experience with people that the Captain Kirk you know trusts and cares for. Once a yet unknown number has been reached, he will change back into the man he was before, but his mental health will have improved."

Leonard opened his mouth to- What, yell at her? Now that he had heard what the intentions of the gift had been, and that the gift could really help Jim, he couldn't find it in him to be as mad with her as he wanted to be. He sighed and slumped in his chair, defeated.

"Well I can't blame you for tryin' to help," he said. "But you've got to tell people before you go screwin' around in people's heads and turnin' them into fourteen year-olds, because it was a hell of a shock when we beamed James up."

"I apologize for my miscommunication," the ha'karr said, and damn, she even admitted to making mistakes. It was growing ever harder for Leonard to be mad at her. If she could really make the nightmares stop...

"We all make mistakes, ma'am," Leonard heard himself say.

"Indeed we do," The ha'karr said, eyes glinting. "Indeed we do. I can sense difficulties in both of your pasts as well, although Doctor McCoy's is more mild and would not affect his health. I do not think a second gift would be accepted, so I will not offer, but simply talking to people you trust will help, Commander Spock."

"I believe you would be surprised, ha'karr, at how few people I trust," Spock said with finality, and with that, the meeting was over.

Chapter Text

"So how'd the meeting go?" James asked as soon as Spock entered the room. He had been full of curious energy all day, and was eager to know how the meeting had turned out.

"She cannot revert you to your previous state, if that is what you are inquiring." It had been, and James' face fell as he sighed.

"Damn, I'd been hoping she could do some voodoo and turn me back into a captain." Spock gave him what could be considered a disapproving look.

"Voodoo is a false-" A shot of amusement ran through him, and he resisted the urge to smile.

"It doesn't exist, yeah I know. It's a figure of speech. What did she say if she can't turn me back?"

"She said that you should share your experiences with those you trust, and after an uncertain number has been reached, you will revert back to the captain." James bristled, drawing himself up.

"Well, then, let me just get on the ship wide comm and spill my life story, why don't I? Just tell everyone how poor little Jimmy Kirk got stuck on Tarsus, and isn't that just a damn shame? Because that's what's going to happen. I'm going to get pity, and that's got to be the worst-" He cut himself off, taking a deep breath to try and reign in his fury. It was difficult, though, his anger blistering hot and demanding to be released.

"Who died and have that alien the right to go digging around in my head? Screw their 'good intentions,' I want to know why they thought it was okay. Didn't they consider what reverting someone to the worst time in their life will do to them, to the people around them? I know for a fact that it's hard on Leonard, all you need to do is look at him. I mean, I called him 'Bonesy' earlier today and I thought he was going to burst into tears." James sighed, pushing a hand through his hair. "I just don't understand."

"I confess, I do not entirely understand either," Spock said. "If their first gift had been received well, they might have given me the same gift they gave you as well. I do believe they want to help, but their grasp on social customs is rather lacking." James looked at him curiously.

"They offered you the same gift?" Him and Spock couldn't be so different, if they had. Both of them had terrible secrets, ones that they didn't trust anybody to know. Some small part of him wanted Spock to have been offered the gift, but he quickly and guiltily crushed that desire.

"They did not, if only because your gift was not received well. In any case, she gave me advice on how to deal with the issue she sensed in my own past." So they really weren't that different, after all.

"Well, then, do you want to talk about it?" He didn't realize he'd spoke until afterwards, and then he mentally slapped himself. Of course Spock wouldn't want to talk about it.

"Your condition is much more pressing than mine, but if you would wish to talk after you have been reverted back to your previous self, I would not necessarily be adverse to it. Talking about troubling matters is a universal remedy." James simply sat there in shock for a moment. Spock, closed off and private Spock, was really offering to talk about personal secrets with him once he was back to his old self? The universe must surely be ending.

"Okay," he said. "Sure, yeah." Spock simply stood there, staring at him until he squirmed in discomfort. "What?"

"Are you currently willing to talk about your time on Tarsus?" James thought for a moment, then shook his head.

"Not now," he said. "But... maybe later." Spock lowered his head the smallest bit in acknowledgement, and James could've sworn his eyes were smiling.

"Very well."


Leonard joined them at dinner, for the first time since James had shown up on board. James stopped mid-comment to Sulu as Leonard walked in the door before smiling and patting the seat next to him.

"Hey, Leonard!" He said. "Sulu and I are discussing who would win in a fight: Jackie Chen or Sulu's grandma?"

"Sulu's grandma, hands down," Leonard grunted, sliding in next to James. "I met that woman once, and she could probably take down a battalion of Klingon soldiers if she wanted to."

"You're probably right, to be entirely honest," Sulu said.

"I'm going to get something to eat." Leonard said, and stood up, absently ruffling James' hair as he did so. He didn't pause, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he'd done anything out of the ordinary. James stared after him, surprised at the warm feeling that blossomed in his chest at the fatherly action.

"Does he do that a lot?" Sulu asked.

"This is the first time he's done it," James said, and had to fight hard to keep a goofy grin off of his face.

"He's been pretty fiercely protective of you, you know," Sulu said. "I went down to sickbay later the day you showed up. I was there for routine vaccinations, and when I asked about you I thought he was going to stab me with his hypospray in an entirely non-medical way." James laughed a bit at that, imagining it.

"He really does care about you," Uhura said from the other side of the table. "I've never seen him like this." James shrugged awkwardly at the sudden attention of everyone at the table.

"Yeah, well, I've been told I grow on people, most often in terms of a fungus."

"It's sort o' true," Scotty said. "I heard Uhura hated ye' at first, but look at ye' both now, gettin' along right as rain." This earned Scotty a look that was equals parts amused and exasperated from Uhura.

"I did hate you while we were at the Academy," Uhura said. "But only because you were always in my business. I couldn't go anywhere without seeing you or even hearing your name from one of your 'conquests.'" James blinked.

"My... My 'conquests?'" He asked, and it was Uhura's turn to blink before she flushed.

"Ah, right," she started. "You sort of slept around at the Academy. In fact, the last time I saw you before the sequence of events that lead to you becoming captain, you were hiding under my roommate's bed because I'd come back from the labs early." James laughed at that, trying to envision it.

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"Seriously what?" Leonard asked, coming back to the table, tray in hand.

"One of the many conquest stories of our beloved Jim," Sulu said. "And this one involves Uhura and her roommate."

"I don't need to hear it, I remember being told about it as soon as Jim got back to our room."

"Wait, we were roommates at the Academy?" James asked, and Leonard nodded. This had to be the most information about his past- or future- he'd gotten out of anyone so far.

"Yeah, but we knew each other before that from the shuttle to the Academy. You were sporting bruises from a bar fight the night before and I was drunk. It's been said that the magical moment that started our friendship was when I threw up on you during the shuttle ride."

"No way."

"Way, kid."

"I was sitting near you guys," Uhura chimed in. "I saw the whole thing."

"Are you telling me we're friends because you threw up on me?"

"To be fair, I did warn you." James scoffed, shaking his head.

"I can't believe this," he muttered into his chicken broth, but he was smiling.


After the door to their room closed behind them, James turned to Spock.

"Chess?" He asked. "I'm still interested in learning how to play, and unfortunately one session isn't exactly enough to make me any sort of opponent." It was only 1934 hours, late enough for one round before they had to get ready for bed.

"I would not be opposed to a round of chess." James beamed at him, and Spock was stunned for a moment at how he'd grown over the past few days.

"Same colors as last time?" The words gave Spock that sting in his chest again, the one that happened when James did or said something that reminded him that Jim and James were really quite different.

"Of course," he said, more prepared for the blow than last time. Emotions were strange, he decided. Something as small as game piece color shouldn't cause any emotional distress. It was illogical. "I will assemble the board." James wandered to the bathroom, and he returned as Spock finished assembling the board.

"So about the aliens not giving you the gift even though they wanted to," James said as he moved his first piece, seemingly at random. "Did they want to offer Leonard the same gift?" Spock paused, and moved his first piece before he spoke again.

"The ha'karr said that she saw darkness in Doctor McCoy's past, but that there was not enough to warrant a gift, nor a recommendation to talk about it." James moved another piece, nodding as he did. After he moved, he looked up at Spock.

"Well that's good," he said, and then, "Was that an okay move, or a really shitty one?" Spock glanced at the board.

"It is acceptable."

"Okay, good." As Spock moved his next piece, James sat back in his chair, speaking to a point in the middle distance. "Leonard doesn't deserve something shitty enough happening to him to warrant one of their gifts." Sensing how bad what he just said had sounded, he straightened and hastily continued. "Not that you deserve anything bad, either, because you seem like a great person, even though I don't really-"

"Neither do you deserve what happened to you, James," Spock said quietly, cutting James off. He froze halfway through his sentence, mouth still open and a confused look on his face.

"What do you mean?" He asked. "I've done plenty of terrible stuff. I mean, I drove my stepdad's car off of a cliff, for Christ's sake." Spock stared at him, giving him a look that clearly said 'you're dumb as hell.'

"And you truly believe that you deserve the suffering you have endured for that one act?" Their chess game was forgotten, barely started. James squirmed in his seat, avoiding Spock's piercing gaze.

"I mean, it wasn't just that," he said. "I was a pretty bad kid. Disrespectful and all that. Frank was right; I acted like a spoiled brat, and I guess I got punished for it."

"I have heard mentions in passing of your stepfather, but from what I have heard, he was a rather cruel man." James was closing off now, hands fiddling in his lap and head bowed.

"I guess he could be a jerk sometimes. I don't know. Can... Can we not talk about this?" Spock could tell how difficult it was for James to asked that, so he conceded.

"Of course," he said quietly. "Do you want to continue our game?" James cast a glance at the board, as if considering, but then shook his head.

"No," he said. "Maybe tomorrow?"

"That would be acceptable." James pushed back from the table, rubbing his eyes. "Are you retiring for the night?"

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'm gonna go to bed. You sure you don't want the bed? I could just as well sleep on the couch."

"I am certain. I do not require as much sleep as humans, therefore it would be illogical for me to claim the softer surface."

"Illogical," James huffed, smiling softly. "Okay, Spock, goodnight."

"Goodnight, James." And if Spock felt any empathy for James and his less-than-ideal childhood, he ignored it.

Chapter Text

He's on the rotting planet again, but the Riverside shipyard is nowhere to be found. The stench is still there, though, and he nearly vomits once more. The sky is overcast, bleak and ominous and devoid of birds. The whole planet is devoid of birds; they've all died.

He doesn't want to be here. Why is he here? What did he do to deserve it?

A car; a cliff; feeling so alive when he was so close to death and loving it.

Oh, right.

"Neither do you deserve what happened to you, James." Spock's words from earlier, but it's not an echo. James turns to find Spock behind him, the landscape blurring as he spins.

They now stand in a barren red desert, rocky cliffs soaring in the distance. The sky is a brilliant blood orange, twin suns casting punishing light and heat upon the landscape. Tarsus is gone, taking he stench with it, and James can finally breathe again. Spock isn't bleeding, but he's covered in dust and his eyes are so emotive- soft and sad and everything you'd think a Vulcan could never be.

"Spock," he says, relived and confused and happy, but that's not what comes out.

"You never loved her." His voice is cold and icy and cruel, a tone he can't imagine ever using on Spock. The Vulcan is impassive, doesn't move an inch, but his eyes are full of such grief that James wonders how he could ever come to that conclusion or say those words when Spock looks so helpless and lost.

But wait, who doesn't Spock love? Why is he saying this?

The world cracks, dissolves around them, cliffs crumbling and the space between him and Spock stretching wider, wider...

"JT!" He turns, and he's on Tarsus again, in their small camp in the woods where they can all starve in peace. Grace, Allen, Thomas, and Annalise stand behind him, starved and scared. It's Allen who speaks, the youngest of the four who died.

"JT, you promised you would get us off Tarsus," he says, voice still so young and yet lacking any innocence or hope. "Why did you lie to us, JT?" Their eyes are sharp- cold and angry and disappointed, all the blame on him.

"I tried," James rasps, eyes watering, because Annalise is right there and she's giving him that look and he's wondering what she ever did to deserve to die. What he did to get to live.

"Did you really, though?" Annalise asks in that tone of voice that lets him know just how disappointed and furious she is, and he'd rather have her scream because he can deal with that, but she's not screaming. "Did you really do everything possible to save everybody? Because I know you know it would be easier to survive if some of us died, and I also know that you're selfish. You've always been selfish."

Then everything is melting, and he stands filthy and injured in the living room of the small, broken down house in Iowa after driving a car off of a cliff, and it's Frank who's talking. Cruel words fly from his mouth and James can do nothing but stand there and listen to them, like knives in his chest.

"You're no better than your adrenaline junkie of a father!" He spits, and he smells like alcohol and cigarettes and the stench makes James' eyes water, but he can't let the tears escape. If he lets them escape then Frank will just get worse. "Hero? Like hell he was a hero, he went and got himself killed. What a heroic move there, huh? Selfish, it was. Left this world before you could disappoint him, and rightly so. Hell, with how badly you screw everything up, it wouldn't surprise me if you turned out to be a faggot! Hopefully being out on that Tarsus colony in the middle of nowhere will teach you a lesson, you selfish, disrespectful, waste of space."

The world is blurring through a mask of tears, and James tries savagely to blink them back, but it's no use. He can see Frank's face twist with disgust, and he raises his hand to slap James. He twists away, shutting his eyes and bracing for it, always bracing, but it never comes.

"James, James wake up. You are dreaming."

James opened his eyes to find Spock hovering above him, concern clear in the extreme slant of his eyebrows. His face was wet, and he could feel himself shaking violently. Spock's hands were tight around his upper arms, and they loosened and finally released him as he managed to slow his breathing so it didn't come in sobs.

"Sorry," James said, voice scratchy. He reached up to wipe at his eyes, sniffling. "I didn't mean to wake you up." He could at least maintain some sense of personal pride that he didn't attach himself to Spock like some sort of octopus.

"It is no issue, James." There was a bit of an awkward pause as James sat up, but then Spock placed his hand between James' shoulder blades in a comforting touch. "Would talking about your nightmare assist you?"

He almost said no, at first. He didn't want to burden anybody with Tarsus, with Frank, but Spock's open gaze and the ha'karr's words made him rethink. It would turn him back into the captain that everyone knew and loved faster if he just opened up.

All he had to do was talk.

"Yeah." He felt naked under Spock's eyes, and curled up into a ball to imitate some sort of defense.

"I can wait, if you require time to gather yourself." Spock was warm, and James leaned against him, the heat soothing him.

"No," he said quietly. "No, I'm fine." He took a deep breath before he began.

"It started on Tarsus again, but the shipyard and the Enterprise were gone. It was just a barren, rotten field. But then I heard you talking, telling me that I didn't deserve to be on Tarsus. I turned around, and you were standing there, and I didn't recognize our surroundings. We were in some sort of red desert- I think we were on Vulcan, actually.

"You were covered in red dust, and your eyes were super sad, which didn't make sense because you're Vulcan. I went to say your name, but I ended up saying something like 'you never loved her.' I don't know why I said that or even who you supposedly never loved. You didn't react physically, but your eyes got even sadder, and then there was some sort of earthquake and a big chasm opened up between us." Spock had tensed at some point, and James looked up at him curiously.

"What did I say?" James asked. Spock turned his head to look down at James. His eyes were shadowed, invisible and unreadable.

"It seems that your subconscious is beginning to remember details about your future. You have said those same four words to me before."

"What, 'you never loved her?'"

"Yes."

"What? Why? When? I sounded so harsh and cold then. Have I really spoken to you like that?"

"In order to take control of the Enterprise and save Earth, you needed to relive me of command. I had just lost my planet and my mother, so you chose to prey on the latter of the two wounds. Those words were the finale of a spiel designed to make me lose emotional control."

"So I didn't mean them?"

"No, James, you have assured me multiple times that you did not mean them."

"Okay, good, I almost thought older me was an asshole for a sec there."

"You can be... challenging at times."

"I'm sure I can. I guess I should continue now, huh?" He tightened his arms around his legs and sighed.

"You do not need to continue if you do not wish to," Spock said.

"No, I know. It's just, well, better not to keep shit like this bottled up."

"An interesting analogy."

"I've never really thought about it before. Anyways, let's keep going.

"The chasm opened up, and I heard someone shout my name. Well, my nickname anyways. JT. I turned around and I was back on Tarsus, in the little camp. The four people who didn't survive, either dying on planet of afterwards, were there, and it was the youngest one who had called for me. His name was Allen. He was only ten." James was proud that his voice didn't shake or crack there, but he pushed on before it could. "The four of them looked so angry and disappointed, and Allen asked me why I had lied to them when I'd said I'd get them all off of Tarsus.

"Annalise was there, too. I'm- I was- in love with her, but apparently she died before she could get off of the planet. Her little sister is on board. Ensign Michelson, that 'old friend' of mine." He could feel himself choking up now, and fought against the lump in his throat. He had to get to the end of the dream, and he wouldn't be able to do that if he started crying now.

"But anyways, Annalise was there, and she accused me of not trying hard enough to get everyone off of Tarsus because I knew it would be easier for me to survive if there were less people. It's true, I know it would've been easier if there'd been less people, but I sure as hell didn't want any of them to die. I'm not selfish, something that Annalise said I was.

"Then the scenery changed again, and I was standing in my living room, with Frank screaming at me because I wrecked his car. He... he said terrible things about my father, and called me selfish and disrespectful and a waste of space, among other things." Spock's hand tensed for a moment on his back before it continued the small circles that it had previously been doing. "I started crying, and he was about to slap me when I woke up." They were silent for a moment before anyone spoke.

"Your stepfather seems like a highly unpleasant man," Spock said, and James huffed, chest warming at Spock's words and support.

"He's worse when he's drunk."

"That does not excuse his actions while sober." Spock seemed pissed, and James briefly wondered what a confrontation between Spock and Frank right then would look like.

"I guess not," James said into his knees. They sat in a comfortable enough silence for a few moments before Spock deemed James well enough to go back to sleep. He stood to go walk away, but the thought of Spock leaving made James feel scared and cold.

He reached out and caught Spock's wrist, the irrational fear taking hold of him. He was trembling slightly, he noticed, because it sure as hell wasn't Spock who was shaking. Spock stilled and looked back at him, more parental than James had yet seen him.

"Yes, James?" Spock's voice was quiet, kind and slightly concerned if you really looked past the monotone. James' own voice when he spoke was far from that, seeming small and helpless in the vast silence.

"Could you stay?" God, he sounded like a five year-old, but there wasn't much he could do about that now that he'd already spoken. He knew Spock wouldn't accept anyways, which made his needy tone even more embarrassing. Besides, didn't Vulcans have things about personal space?

"Of course, James," came Spock's response, and James was nearly shocked speechless.

"Thanks," he said quietly. He slid back under the covers and scooted over to make room for Spock, who followed suit and laid on his back, arm out. He look a bit uncomfortable, but then again James didn't think Spock had ever actually cuddled with someone. With Spock in position, James crawled up close and made himself comfortable, head pillowed on Spock's chest. It was less awkward than he thought it would be.

Something was wrong, though. There was something missing, but the warmth surrounding James made it hard to concentrate. What was off?

"Heartbeat," James mumbled, eyes heavy with exhaustion. "Where's your heart? I can't hear it."

"Vulcan hearts are not in the same location as human hearts," Spock said from above him. "It is located approximately where the human liver is found."

"Oh," James slurred,  satisfied with the response. "M'kay. G'night, Spock."

"Goodnight, James," Spock responded quietly, and James drifted off to sleep.


When Spock woke the next morning, he was unsure as to what was wrapped around him. It was warm, and breathing, and only a second or two later, Spock realized that it was James. His legs were tangled around one of Spock's own, arms wrapped tight around him and face buried in his chest.

Spock tried to gently remove him, but desisted when James simply pouted and buried his face farther into Spock's chest, his arms and legs tightening like a vice. Spock supposed he could pass as 'adorable' if he used such terms, but he could also pass as what Doctor McCoy would most likely call a 'clingy teddy bear.'

"James," Spock said quietly. It was nearly time for him to get ready for his shift. James shifted and mumbled something unintelligible, but didn't wake.

With how bad James' nightmare had seemed, Spock was loathe to wake him, but he needed to get up. He gently shook James, but that didn't do anything to wake him.

"James," Spock repeated, louder, and James blinked blearily, letting out a soft, sleepy noise.

"Wha..." he slurred, eyes unfocused.

"I must ready myself for my shift. You are welcome to stay in bed, but it is necessary that you release me."

"Release..." James was more awake now, and seemed to suddenly realize that he was wrapped around Spock. He sat up quickly, face flushing red.

"Thank you."

"Sorry," James mumbled, not meeting Spock's eyes.

"It is not a problem, I simply needed to be able to leave the bed. If you are still tired, you need not attend breakfast with me."

"I can stay in bed?" James asked, yawning.

"Indeed." Spock stood and went to his dresser, pulling out a clean uniform.

"Oh, okay." There was shifting and then a muffled thump from behind him, and Spock turned to see James inhabiting the hollow he had left in the mattress, blankets pulled up to his chin. Within seconds, Spock could tell James was asleep once more.

Spock began to get ready for his shift, careful not to wake James, and pondered over how his life had changed so much in such a short amount of time. And if, while he stood in the doorway looking back in on James before leaving, the smallest of smiles graced his lips, nobody needed to know but him.

Chapter Text

"So, James, I don't mean to be the bad guy, but you can't lie to me if you want to get better." They sat in Leonard's office, James cross-legged on his chair. His eyes snapped up to Leonard's, comically wide. "Yeah, kid, I knew you were lying last time. You displayed a lot of typical signs, and even if you hadn't, I've known you for, God, over five years now. I can tell when you're lying."

"Sorry," James mumbled, looking down at his lap in embarrassment.

"It's nothing to be sorry about, kid, I know that opening up to people about what happened to you must be difficult, especially as you're staying with the hobgoblin."

"Hobgoblin?" James looked up at him again, and Leonard realized that he must not have called Spock that before in front of James. For some reason he felt guilty, and he wondered if it was the look in James' eyes, confused and defensive.

"Spock," Leonard clarified, and James frowned at him. The guilt in his stomach grew, and Leonard wondered why he felt like a child being chastised when he was the adult and the psychiatrist.

"That seems rude."

"It's a nickname," Leonard explained, wanting to get rid of the look in James' eyes. "I don't actually think of him like that. I'm actually kind of fond of him, I guess, if I think about it." James looked surprisingly doubtful, and it hurt Leonard more than he would admit to see James looking at him like that.

"Does he know?" James asked, and Leonard frowned, confused.

"What?"

"That you don't actually mean it; that it's a friendly nickname. Does Spock know?" Why was James so defensive of Spock? He'd only known him for a few days.

"I mean, I haven't explicitly told him, but..." Leonard trailed off, realizing what James was doing. "But this session isn't for me, it's for you, you little manipulator. So, did you have another nightmare last night?"

James nodded, cheeks flushing slightly due to being caught.

"Okay, do you want to tell me what it was about?" James stayed silent for a moment.

"Okay," he said quietly. "After all, sharing is supposed to get me back to normal, right?"

"It should, yeah." Was James going to tell him where he'd been? It didn't matter than Leonard already knew, the fact that James was telling him was what was important.

"Well, before I tell you about my nightmare, you've got to know where I was before I appeared on board. I, um, I was..." James huffed out a parody of a laugh, shaking his head. "God, its five fucking words, they shouldn't be this hard to say." If the matter hadn't been as important as it was, Leonard would've chided him for using the f-word, but he didn't. "I..." He took a deep breath before speaking again, and the words tumbled out over each other as if they couldn't escape fast enough. "I was on Tarsus IV."

"I know," Leonard said quietly, and James looked up in shock.

"You knew? How?"

"Our hob- Spock made me think. He was actually surprised when I told him that I hadn't figured it out yet before we beamed down to meet with the ha'karr, and he gave me a couple pokes in the right direction. He didn't tell me, so don't get pissed at him for it." James shook his head.

"I'm not pissed at him." James said. Leonard gave him another 'c'mon, kid, don't lie to me' look, and James sighed. "Okay, fine, maybe I'm a bit pissed. But only a little bit."

"Okay," Leonard said mildly. "So, you said you had a nightmare last night?"

"Yeah," James said, his voice quieter than it had been before. "It started on Tarsus- I could smell it, still, the rotting grain, and I almost threw up. But then I heard words that Spock had said earlier that night, and turned around, and he was behind me. As I turned, the landscape changed so that when I was facing him, we were in an entirely different place."

Leonard was making notes as James spoke, but kept an eye on his bodily motions as he spoke, too. He was eerily still, except for his right leg, which was bouncing at a rapid pace, and was staring resolutely at the desk instead of Leonard.

"I think we were on Vulcan. There was a desert, and cliffs, and two suns, and everything was some shade of red or orange. Spock looked super sad, which doesn't make sense because he's Vulcan, and he was covered in dirt. I went to say his name, but instead of saying that, I ended up saying 'you never loved her.'"

Those words, those goddamn words. The ones that had nearly gotten Jim killed so long ago. You never loved her. Perhaps his memory was coming back, slowly and in little, fragmented pieces. That was good, then, but it didn't help Leonard's anger at hearing those words again. His fingers tightened around the stylus and the PADD. James didn't notice.

"I sounded so cruel," he continued. "But Spock looked so helpless. Then the desert crumbled, and this huge chasm opened between me and Spock. Someone called my nickname, JT, and I turned around, and the landscape changed again." He swallowed heavily, and the next words came out as if forced.

"I was on Tarsus again, in the little camp that me and the... the other kids had made." Leonard looked up at that.

"Other kids? You were there with other kids?" James smiled ruefully.

"There with them? Leonard, I was responsible for them. I was trying to protect them, and get them food, and keep them alive until help came." He shook his head. The thought of James having to suffer such a burden so young made Leonard's heart ache, but he stayed quiet so James could continue.

"I failed. The four kids there were the ones who either didn't make it off of Tarsus or died afterwards. Grace, Allen, Thomas, and Annalise." His voice cracked on the last name, but Leonard didn't comment. "They blamed me, in the dream. They told me that it was my fault that they died. That I hadn't tried to save them because I knew it would be easier for me to survive if they died, and I'm a selfish person."

"You aren't," Leonard said, quietly and firmly, and maybe he wasn't the best person to do this. James looked up.

"What?"

"You're not a selfish person." Leonard shook his head. "Hell, you're one of the most selfless people that I know. Do you know how many times I've had to patch your ass up because of some scheme you cooked up on the fly to save a crew member? They could be a low-level ensign or Spock for all it matters to you. You are one of the best people I've ever met, and don't let any damn dreams convince you otherwise." James just stared at him from across the desk, mouth slightly open and eyes full of tears, before one managed to escape. It ran down his cheek, and Leonard realized that the office had become very very silent.

"Leonard," James said, mangled, and Leonard realized that his own eyes were  stinging with the onset of tears.

"C'mere, kid," Leonard said gruffly, holding out his arm. James stood and came around the desk, where Leonard stood and pulled him into a tight hug. James stifled small sobs into Leonard's shirt, and as Leonard pressed his lips to the top of James' head and tried to blink away his own tears, he wondered who he was really comforting. James, or himself?


"I've got you, kid, I've got you," Leonard was murmuring into the top of his head, and James couldn't be bothered to do anything but let Leonard hold him. He could feel himself trembling, and twisted his hands into the back of Leonard's shirt in an attempt to stop their shaking.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Leonard pulled back to arms length, a frown on his face. He looked extremely fatherly and concerned, despite his red-rimmed eyes.

"What d'you got to be sorry for?" He said. "You haven't done anything that you should apologize for."

"I'm being an emotional mess." James sniffed and reached up to wipe at his eyes, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm himself. It worked, somewhat, and when he looked up again it seemed that Leonard was angry at something.

"That's nothing to be ashamed of," Leonard said intensely, squeezing James' arms. "We all need to be emotional messes sometimes. Even me." A half-smile pulled at Leonard's lips. "Well, I mean, I'm not sure about Spock, but the rest of us need to be emotional messes sometimes. Otherwise all of our emotions bottle up, and when they explode, it's bad for everyone. So be an emotional mess- nobody on board will think any less of you for it."

"But why not?" James asked. "I'm their captain. I'm supposed to be strong, to be in control. That's what they expect of me. Why wouldn't they look down on me?"

"Because they know you," Leonard said. "They know what a great man and a great captain you are, and so they could give a rat's ass whether or not you're emotionally upset right now. Hell, they're all pretty upset with the ha'karr for messing with you, to be honest. Looking down on you is the last thing any of them would do." The kind words were so far from what James had grown accustomed to that he felt his eyes tearing up again, and he moved forward to hide his watery eyes in Leonard's shirt.

"Thank you," James said, voice cracking, and he probably sounded pathetic but he couldn't care less. "I don't think I can believe you, not yet, but thank you." Leonard wrapped his arms around James again, and simply held him as he wept.


They managed to get through the rest of the session without another breakdown by either of them, which Leonard considered a small victory. After James was picked up by Ensign Santiago, Leonard headed up to the bridge. He received a few slightly shocked looks, but ignored them and settled behind the captain's chair.

It was weird to see it occupied by Spock, and the atmosphere on the bridge was nowhere near as jovial as it usually was. The bridge was quieter than usual, too- it was commonly full of Jim's voice and jokes and laughter, which coaxed gentle noise out of everybody else. Spock didn't seem interested in crew morale, and yet there was nothing else but the planet with the Ohk-Pallas nearby.

"Doctor," Spock said, turning the chair enough to look at Leonard. "Hello."

"Hey," Leonard said. "Spock, could I talk to you?" Spock opened his mouth, doubtless to refuse, but Leonard spoke again before Spock could decline. "It's about James."

He probably could've said that more quietly, as every head on the bridge turned when he mentioned James. Damn.

"Of course," Spock said, standing. "Jim's ready room?"

Leonard noticed absently as he followed Spock the way that had been phrased. Not 'my' ready room, suggesting that Jim wasn't still their captain, and not 'the captain's' ready room, suggesting that it was no longer Jim's and yet not his either. Jim's ready room. Because everyone on board knew that Jim was the only rightful captain of the Enterprise.

"What is the issue?" Spock asked as soon as the door shut behind them. "Is James unwell?"

Ah. His appearance on the bridge and then asking for a word about James had probably given that impression not only to Spock, but to everybody else on the bridge. Well, he'd leave reassuring them up to Spock.

"James is fine, don't get your panties in a twist. I'm not gonna let him die anytime soon."

"To borrow a human phrase, 'I'm sensing a but.'" Leonard would've laughed or poked fun if the matter wasn't so serious.

"But," Leonard continued. "He's got some pretty bad self-worth issues. He broke down crying in my office today because I told him that he wasn't a selfish person." Leonard left out the part about him crying, too. He didn't need Spock accusing him of being a highly emotional human any more than necessary.

"I am thankful to learn of this, Doctor."

"I didn't just tell you to tell you, Spock. I told you because you're the only other person who he feels really comfortable around. He's gonna need your help if we're gonna try and get him over the self-worth issues he's facing."

"I am uncertain as to what you are asking, Doctor. Please be less vague."

"Help him!" Leonard said, slapping his hand down on the desk next to him. He sighed afterwards and dropped into the chair behind him. "Just... help him, Spock. God knows I can only do so much to help him- he's closer to you than to anybody else on this damn tin can." Spock merely stared, blinking.

"Doctor, you know I am unsuited to deal with emotional issues. Perhaps-"

"No, Spock, you're the only one who can do this. You don't need to have a long talk about his feelings, you just need to express your fondness of him more often. Give him a hug before he goes to bed, pay him small compliments when you can, little things. They'll add up, especially with me and the rest of the bridge crew around. But you need to be his main provider."

"I will try," Spock said, and Leonard let out a breath of relief.

"That's all I ask, Spock. That's all I ask."

"If that is all that you needed to talk with me about, I must return to the bridge."

"Of course," Leonard said, waving Spock off. "Go, I'll just stay here for a couple minutes."

Spock left, and Leonard looked around the room, vacant apart from himself. He could practically see Jim sitting behind the desk, legs propped up and a crooked smile on his face, eyes twinkling and a 'Bones' hanging just behind his lips. It was a sight Leonard hadn't realized he'd miss if Jim ever died or disappeared, along with friendly drinks, and hounding him about medical treatment, or even just coming to hang out on the bridge.

"Well," Leonard said to the empty office, and somewhere in the back of his mind he wondered what Jim would say if he saw Leonard like this. "We'll get him back soon enough."

The walls said nothing. Leonard sighed and left, nodding to Spock on the way out. He had a sickbay to run, after all.

Chapter Text

"How many more people do you think I need to tell?" James asked. "Y'know, about Tarsus."

He sat cross-legged on the side of the bed and was talking to Spock, who sat at his desk. It was almost dinner, and Spock was finishing up some reports before they left.

"I do not know," Spock said. "The ha'karr said that the number was undetermined."

"Yeah, but, like, if you had to estimate. How many people?" Spock turned to face James, and he just grinned.

He hadn't told Spock about the therapy session, but he had a feeling that Leonard had already told Spock. With how concerned Leonard seems to be about his mental health, it didn't seem very unlikely.

"You are an outgoing person, and have many friends," Spock began, and James felt himself warm at the praise. He looked down at his lap and fiddled with his fingers, unsure how to respond. "But you are the closest with the bridge crew, Mr. Scott, and Doctor McCoy. I would hypothesize that if you inform most or all of them, you would return to normal."

"That's a lot of people," James said, a heavy anxiety stealing the warm place in his chest.

"They will not judge you," Spock said. "As I have said, they are your closest friends."

"Well, yeah," James said, shifting. "But still. I don't..."

"I understand that it is hard for you to trust in people," Spock said. "I myself have found it hard to trust others at times."

"You have?" Spock nodded.

"Indeed. I found it extremely difficult to trust others with my doubts and concerns, but I have grown more trusting since joining this crew."

The anxiety was slowly dissipating, replaced by a sense of wonder that Spock, so foreign and different to anyone he'd ever met, actually had things in common with him. Trust, diseased sections of their pasts, he was sure there was more.

"What happened?" James asked. "You know, to make you more trusting." Spock just looked at him for a long moment, an unreadable expression in his eyes, before he finally responded.

"I befriended your future self." James shook his head.

"I don't understand," he said. "Everyone talks about the future me like I'm some saint or hero, but look at me. I'm just a kid. How am I supposed to become some galactic champion?"

"I have been told that you joined Starfleet on a dare," Spock said. "And I have been told that you were paid to join, and I have been told you joined to escape a torrid affair with a married woman. But you joined, nonetheless, and that is the only thing that truly matters.

"You strived to live up to your potential, up to your father's legacy, and although you endured several challenging years before you tried, you did indeed try. You chose not to let your past control you, to excel in everything you did and to think in unorthodox ways because you do not believe in no-win scenarios.

"I have been informed by a reliable source that captaining a Starfleet vessel is your first, best destiny. Whether or not you choose to believe that is up to you, but I have had no reason to ever doubt that so far."

By the time Spock had finished talking, James was blinking back tears. There were so many kind words, things he was so unused to- it was overwhelming. The warm had bubbled up, was threatening to spill over.

"I... I don't know how to respond to that." James said.

"You do not need to," Spock said. "I am merely speaking a truth."

James really didn't know how to respond to that, so he focused on blinking back tears instead. There was a tight, anxious feeling in his chest despite all of the positive emotions rushing through him from the praise, and he suspected that the anxiety was something he was definitely not supposed to be feeling, but he tried his best to ignore that. He'd tell Leonard tomorrow.

"Are you alright?" Spock asked, moving from his desk to sit beside James. James shrugged.

"I guess? I mean, I just don't- I don't really know how to accept compliments. Is that normal? Probably not."

"Most people have trouble accepting compliments, but your case is most likely more severe than others."

James sighed and turned to Spock, dropping his head so that his forehead connected with Spock's upper arm. He shut his eyes and focused on the warmth coming from Spock, a testament to the fact that this wasn't all some fever dream, and he wasn't going to wake up at any second back on Tarsus.

"I just want to be back to normal," he said quietly. "You guys need your captain, and I need... I need..."

"You need to be loved," Spock said, and James bit his lower lip to keep tears back.

"I need to be loved," he whispered, softly and intensely, and tried to make himself believe it.


Leonard managed to join the senior crew and James for dinner, and James' face lit up like the sun when he saw Leonard's approach. Nyota gave him a look, which Leonard very pointedly ignored as he sat down next to James with his his dinner.

"How has your day been?" Sulu asked, to make polite conversation. Leonard sighed.

"It was normal. Not too busy, just a couple engineering ensigns with burns from some project that's probably illegal and highly unsafe." All eyes turned to Scotty at that, who shrugged.

"I did tell 'em t' wear gloves!" He protested.

"What are you working on?" Uhura asked.

"We're tryin' t' improve the warp core, but we're havin' some wee difficulties."

"Yeah, just a couple of burns, no biggie." Leonard shot back.

"I didn' see until i' was too late!" Scotty said in defense, and Leonard rolled his eyes.

"Ladies, ladies, you're both pretty," James said, grinning crookedly. Uhura smiled into her drink, Sulu and Chekov ducked their heads, and even Spock pursed his lips just enough to let Leonard know that he was amused.

"Traitors, all of you," Leonard stated, stabbing at his salad with malicious intent. James snickered into his chicken soup.

"So, Chekov," Uhura started, a mischievous grin playing across her lips. "I hear Sulu's been trying to teach you fencing?" Chekov grinned.

"Da, Hikaru haz been trying to teach me zhe ways of fencing," Chekov said, and then flushed slightly. "Eet has not been going vell."

"That's one way to put it," Sulu said jokingly, grinning at Chekov. "You almost took my head off yesterday."

"Well, at least we'd have our lovely doctor here to sew his head back on," Uhura commented.

"You wish," Leonard grumbled, albeit in good humor. "I don't help the dead."

A heavy, sudden silence fell over the table at Leonard's words. Looking up from his salad, Leonard met Spock's eyes from across the table, and he knew that they were both thinking the same thing, both had the same pit in their stomachs.

Khan. Marcus. Their silver lady, Jim's own darling silver lady betraying him.

"Leonard?" James asked, the sound booming in the odd, ringing silence that hung in Leonard's head. "Spock?"

"I apologize, James," Spock said, and snapped everyone else out of their melancholy reverie. "Leonard's statement aroused unpleasant memories in all of us." Leonard could see James try his hardest to remain serious, but a little snicker slipped out anyways.

"You said 'aroused.'" James giggled, and the remaining tension disappeared.

Jim had always been able to get rid of awkwardness or tension with ease, and it seemed that James was similar in that way. Maybe it was a natural gift.

"You're such an infant," Uhura said, laughing, and everyone else laughed as well.

"And you're so mature, aren't you, Michelle?"

"Still not my name, hotshot."


"What happened at dinner?" James asked that night. "What led to all of you guys getting quiet when Leonard commented that he didn't help dead people?" Spock had just finished meditating, and looked up at James from his position on the floor with something akin to a resigned expression, if a Vulcan could have such a thing.

"I was expecting you to inquire about that matter," Spock mused. "And yet I find myself reluctant to speak of it." James frowned. Whatever had happened, James pondered silently, it must have been pretty bad in order to make Spock so reluctant to talk about it.

"Well, I mean, you don't have to talk about it if it's that bad." Spock stood, and then settled down on the bed beside James.

"No, this is something that I feel is important for you to know." James blinked up at Spock.

"Well then I'll shut up and you can just talk," James said. "I won't interrupt." Spock looked at him with what looked like gratitude, and then turned away.

"Do you remember the incident involving a man named Khan and Admiral Marcus? It would have been in the file detailing the Enterprise's more popular missions." James nodded; he did remember, had been curious about Admiral Marcus and his actions.

"Yeah, I remember reading about that."

"Then you will also remember that it is never explicitly stated how the engines managed to restart. Most people assume Mr. Scott is to praise, but that is not the case. It was you, James, who fixed the ship, saving hundreds, perhaps thousand of lives.

"You climbed inside of the radiation chamber to realign the damaged parts of the ship. You needed to render Mr. Scott unconscious to do so, and he commed me as soon as he awoke. I arrived in engineering as soon as possible, but there was nothing that could have been done." Here, Spock began to sound frighteningly close to choked up, which was incredibly alarming. "You died of radiation poisoning. I was helpless to do anything to save you."

James opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. What could he possibly say to something like that? But wait, he wasn't supposed to interrupt. Spock had more to say, he was sure of it.

"Khan's blood had restorative properties," Spock finally said, so long later that James was beginning to think that there wasn't more to the story after all. "I assaulted and brought him back to the Enterprise after we landed. When I returned, Doctor McCoy had placed the ship under quarantine, and used Khan's blood to save you, despite his actions going against countless medical codes. In his official report, he claimed that you were simply suffering from radiation poisoning.

"When the quarantine was lifted and you were still in a coma, you were moved to a hospital until you woke. Doctor McCoy worked tirelessly in order to save you. Multiple times, I had to use force in order to persuade Doctor McCoy to address his own basic needs."

James was helpless to do anything other than stare. He had been brought back from the dead? Leonard had gone against almost all medical codes to save him? To save him? It was nearly incomprehensible.

"What?" He finally managed to say. "I... I died?"

"Affirmative." Spock didn't make any move to comfort James, and James assumed that he was just allowing the information to sink in.

"And Leonard went against all sorts of medical codes to... to save me?"

"James," Spock said quietly. "I do not think that you understand just how much Leonard cares for you. Everyone on this ship cares deeply for you, myself included, and yet I know that Leonard cares more for you than any other person on board. You are his best friend, a brother to him. There is nothing that either of you would not do for the other."

James found himself blinking back tears, and Spock's hand, which settled between his shoulder blades, did nothing to calm him. It didn't make sense, it didn't make sense, it didn't make sense.

"James?"

"Sorry," he mumbled, wiping at his eyes. "I guess I just... didn't think that anyone could or would ever feel that strongly about me."

"Believe me, James," Spock said quietly, as if it was a scientific fact; something that couldn't be disputed. "There are plenty of people who feel strongly about you. The only action you need to take is opening your eyes to see that."

Chapter Text

He has to be in hell, because there's no way this has actually happened. There's no way. He won't allow it. Jim is too bright of a flame, too strong and kind and good to be snuffed out like this, to bow to such a terrible fate. Terrible fate, terrible day, a terrible man that caused this.

Jim's lifeless eyes are staring up at him, more gray than blue, and Leonard didn't even think it was possible for Jim's eyes to look anything other than vibrant cerulean, but apparently he was wrong.

No breath, no life, I must not play at God. I must not play at God. Playing at God and not giving a damn and knowing he never would because Jim was worth it, would be worth it every time. He's been worth it since they locked eyes on that first shuttle ride, one of them half drunk and the other wearing a shirt stained with blood and assorted booze.

Garish red suits that everyone but Jim looks like shit in, because of course he can pull of that uniform. Blue eyes, bluer than the sky and hair the color of golden wheat. Jim Kirk, the tomcat, Jim Kirk, the hero's son, Jim Kirk, the savior, Jim Kirk, the captain. He's been there all along, plans to be there until the end because he got stuck with this insufferable idiot for a friend and he could never dream of letting him down.

"Bonesy," Jim croons, and oh, God, he's not dead but he is. His eyes still aren't blue, they're vacant and empty, but Jim is speaking and Bones can't look away.

"Jim," he rasps.

"Bones, you let me down." His voice is cold and hard, the little grin that had previously been twisting his lips transformed into a snarl. The words are like a punch to Leonard's gut, and his fingers tighten against the edge of the cold slab that Jim is laid out on.

"I tried," he gasps, and he can't get enough air, why can't he get enough air?

"You didn't." It's not Jim's voice anymore, though, it's Khan's, and Leonard never wanted to hear that voice again but now it's coming out of Jim's mouth and he still can't breathe.

"I did," he tries to say, but his head is swimming and his limbs are leaden and nothing's coming out. His heart is pounding in his chest and he can't get enough air.

"What's wrong, Doctor?" Khan's voice coos, and it's not even Jim's body anymore but Khan standing over him in all his cruel glory, and when did he collapse to his knees?

He brings his hands up to his throat and he can feel his pulse in his whole body. He can't see, his vision is tunneling and is this what Jim felt like when he was dying, all alone in that radiation chamber, locked away and betrayed by his silver lady?

His vision is darkening around the edges, shrinking and shrinking and shrinking...

Leonard lurched upward with a scream caught in his throat, covered in sweat with his blanket tangled around him. Gasping for air and blinking away tears, he brought his hands up to his throat. He could still hear Khan's cold drawl, still see Jim's vacant eyes.

He pinched himself to ensure that he was really awake, and was gratified by the sharp pain. Laying down gently, he readjusted the blankets and draped one arm across his face as he evened out his breathing and trembled from leftover adrenaline.

It took several hours for him to fall back asleep, and even then, it was restless.


"Jim?" The voice comes from nowhere and everywhere, slipping past him like quicksilver and hitting him like a wall. He can't see, why can't he see? What's going on?

But no, wait, he can see. There's a light in the distance, small and blue, and he needs to get to it. He needs...

Does he really need to get to the light? What's so important about it anyways? What's worth struggling to get there? It's so far away, and he knows it'll be so, so difficult.

"Jim." The voice comes again, and he thinks he recognizes it. Maybe.

Bones.

Of course it's Bones.

When hasn't Bones been there for him? It seems as if he's melded seamlessly to Jim, sliding into place as if he'd always been there. He was there for every Kobayashi simulation, he was there with a bottle of something strong every time Jim needed a distraction from school and tests and finals. He was there every year at the Academy on Jim's birthday, to collect him from bars when a bottle of bourbon or whiskey wasn't enough to satiate his pain. He was there during Nero, during Khan. He was there on that first shuttle ride with a flask of some liquor and an 'All I got left is my bones.'

"Jim." And that's not Bones, not anymore, so it must be Spock.

Ever steady, ever patient, ever loyal Spock. A child of two worlds, so soft inside that emotionless exterior. Still guilty, despite the endless words of forgiveness, because he lost control and he harmed Jim and he admitted that he doesn't think he'll ever be able to forgive himself for it.

A rock, two rocks. They're his rocks, Bones and Spock, and they're what's on the other side of the door. His crew, his family is there, too, Uhura and Chekov and Scotty and Sulu and everyone else, and he has to get to the door.

But there's a rope holding him back, slippery and vile and whispering that it would be so easy to just let go, to let it take him where it wants to go. It'll take good care of him, it promises, if he just lets go...

He doesn't let go, he can't. His rocks are on the other side of the door, his family. It'll be near impossible to get there, the rope hissing fiercely and tugging at him, and the closer he gets to the door the worse he hurts and aches.

But James T. Kirk does not believe in no-win scenarios, so he fights.

When James snapped open his eyes, the door was nowhere to be found. Blinking, he realized that there was no door because he was staring up at the ceiling. He sat up, blankets pooling around his waist, and frowned as he tried to recall his dream.

There had been a door, that he was certain of, blue and glowing. There had been a rope, and... rocks? Leonard and Spock had been there, too, but he didn't know when or how. There were more details just beyond his conscious haze, but they were like fog and disappeared when he tried to recollect them. Slippery, almost. Hadn't something in his dream been slippery, too?

He hadn't woken up screaming or crying, though, so he supposed it was probably better that he didn't remember his dream. The dimmed lights were soothing, and James felt oddly awake for it being almost two in the morning.

A glance at Spock showed that he was still sleeping, and it struck James that this was the first time that he'd seen Spock asleep. It was different than meditation, but he couldn't place his finger on just how it was different, almost like the details of his dream. Just out of reach, but right there.

James pursed his lips in mild frustration, laid back down, closed his eyes, and was soon asleep again.


"Captain, I still maintain the belief that I should be the leader of this away mission. The Ohk-Pallas are highly telepathic, and you have no psychic ability. I would be better suited to this mission due to my Vulcan heritage and telepathic abilities."

They're walking down the hallway to the transporter room, Jim and Spock, and Spock absolutely does not want Jim down on that planet. Something's going to go wrong, he knows it, but Vulcans do not have gut feelings or any other sort of emotional intuition, and so he is reduced to attempting to sway Jim's opinion with logic. Perhaps if Jim was not Jim, it would work.

It does not work, because quite obviously, Jim is and always will be Jim.

"Spock, relax. I'll be fine. Maybe I'll even make it back in time for a chess game, wouldn't that be nice?"

Jim is so blind, despite those sparkling blue eyes currently fixated on Spock. He cannot see, why can he not see that Spock is apprehensive about this mission? Why can't he see that if Spock were not Vulcan, he would have grabbed Jim's arms and begged him not to go by this point?

"Captain-"

"Spock, trust me." Spock bites down his frustration, ensures that his hands don't tremble with rage or nerves.

"Of course."

He's not walking with Jim anymore, his friend and captain, but a scared teenage boy that he calls James because his friend and this boy are so, so different. This boy is scared and sick and suffers from survivor's guilt and nightmares, and Spock doesn't know how he could ever make it long enough to get to the Academy but he can, he does, because this is James Tiberius Kirk, in the end.

James is looking at him for guidance, for help and reassurance, and Spock has been given the role of parent and he has never done this before, so he calls upon memories of his mother. Kind hands and warm smiles, trust and affection. How can he do this? He can't do this.

"You can do this, Spock," his mother says. She stands before him in the same clothes she wore when she died that day on Vulcan, but her eyes carry no fear, no sadness.

"I cannot."

"You can. You already are. Do you not see? You are the person on this ship that he trusts the most. You have helped him after his nightmares, have given him gentle guidance, have told him kind truths."

James says nothing, just looks up at him with eyes that are beginning to brighten once more to the healthy, happy shade that Spock knows.

"You're doing great," he says. "Spock, trust me."

Trust me.

Spock blinked awake, not a muscle twitching to betray his state of consciousness. Vulcans do not dream, but humans do, and so, occasionally, he does as well.

The chronometer read 0530, time for him to begin to get ready for his shift, and to his surprise, James did not wake him in the night.

He was asleep when Spock looked, hair ruffled and sticking up in places, face slack and eyes shut. Spock felt fondness and protectiveness spread throughout his chest, and realized that his mother was right- he had already been parenting James in all the ways that truly matter.

Perhaps James felt a similar way about him? He knows that there was not any real fatherly figure in Jim's life until he met Captain Pike, far in James' own future. Who knows- James did not seem like he would be open to discussing father figures.

Spock set an alarm for James, and left him a note telling him when Ensign Santiago would come to bring him to the sick bay for his session with Doctor McCoy. James slept through it all, snoring softly to accompany the shuffling noises of Spock preparing for the day.

Spock tugged the blanket back up to James' chin from where it had slid down to about his waist before he left, and tried not to think too much about it.

Chapter Text

"Vhere is James?" Chekov asked, that morning at breakfast.

Leonard had previously been scowling into his coffee and thinking about his nightmare from earlier that morning, but looked up at the comment. Sure enough, Leonard found Spock alone, walking towards the table where the rest of them sat.

"James is resting. I saw no need to wake him."

Well, Leonard thought, Khan's cold face flashing through his mind, at least one of us got some rest.

Leonard returned to looking at his coffee as if it had done him some great wrong. Chekov and Sulu chatted quietly about fencing, and Uhura and Spock had a low conversation in Vulcan, which Leonard thought was a bit rude. If they didn't want anyone hearing what they were talking about, they probably shouldn't have the conversation in public. Maybe it was just the lack of sleep making him so irritable. He shook off the misplaced hostility with a subtle, physical shake of his head. Scotty was oddly quiet for a moment, but Leonard could feel the Scotsman looking at him.

"What's the ma'er wit' ye?" He asked, loud enough to halt the other conversations. Leonard peeled his eyes from his coffee to turn the glare on to Scotty. The other man didn't back down, only narrowed his own eyes. Leonard sighed, knowing that he'd never win a staring contest with Scotty, and looked back at his coffee.

"I just didn't sleep well last night, is all."

"Nightmare?" Uhura asked gently. Leonard shrugged.

"Yeah. Thank God for coffee, though."

"And whiskey, and bourbon," Scotty began, and Leonard guessed that the next liquor out of his mouth would be 'moonshine,' but he was cut off.

"And wodka," Chekov piped up. "Wodka cures many things, colds and also nightmares."

"And it was invented in Russia, right?" Sulu asked teasingly. Chekov looked offended.

"It vas," he protested. "Many great things vere inwented in Russia."

"Of course, Chekov," Uhura said, smiling.

An Orion science officer passed with her breakfast, a stack of pancakes, and Chekov's eyes followed her.

"Pancakes vere inwented in Russia," he commented. "And pancakes are wery great."

"Well," Sulu said, spearing his own pancakes "I may not believe the whole Russia part, but I can definitely agree with the second half of that statement."

"Can't we all?" Leonard said, and took a sip of his coffee.


James woke up to an annoying beeping, and floundered for a moment before pulling himself from the haze of sleep to look around the room. The alarm clock on the small bedside table was the source of the noise, a small note resting beside it.

"Go away," James muttered sourly, hitting the off button, and grabbed the note. It was Spock's handwriting, neat and precise.

James,

Ensign Santiago will arrive at approximately 0730 to deliver you to Doctor McCoy for your therapy session. Use the time before she arrives to ready yourself for the day. There are breakfast options programmed into the replicator, as it is necessary for you to eat.

Spock.

James blinked at the chronometer, eyesight still hazy from sleep, and found it to read 0700, figures glaring red in the darkness of the cabin. He sighed, and flopped back onto the bed. It was so comfortable, how did Spock ever managed to get out of bed? Probably that famous Vulcan discipline.

Groaning, James flipped back the blankets and sat up, thankful that the room was warm. Spock's blankets were precisely folded at the end of the couch, pillow resting neatly on top of them. It was very Spock-like, James mused as he swung himself out of bed. Neat, orderly, precise. Logical.

James got dressed first. It would be better for Ensign Santiago to catch him brushing his teeth than getting dressed. He still mourned the fact that he couldn't get a uniform, because they looked pretty cool, but at least his clothes were comfortable, despite how standard and civilian they were.

James was thankful for his caution when the door buzzed as he was halfway through pulling a brush through his hair. He scowled at his reflection and abandoned the brush, which remained in his hair due to an impressive array of tangles.

"Enter," he called, and listened to the Ensign's soft footsteps cross the floor.

"James?" He turned and sighed as her shadow appeared in the doorway, and narrowed his eyes at her stifled giggle.

"Would you, ah, like some help with that?" James slumped in defeat, tossing up his hands.

"Sure. It doesn't seem to be doing anything that I want it to do, maybe it will listen to you." She stepped closer, removing the brush from his hair, and gestured for him to turn around. He did, and she began to gently run the brush through his hair, somehow managing to untangle it.

"You're really good at this," James commented, and she smiled.

"Most girls are, especially ones with long hair."

"Makes sense. Hey, what's your name? I just realized that I don't know it." Ensign Santiago glanced up from his hair.

"It's Hannah," she said.

"Well, Hannah, would you mind putting my hair up in a bun afterwards?"

"Of course," she said. The brush was going smoothly through his hair now, and he had no idea how she had managed to do it.

"How do girls manage to do fancy hairstyles by themselves? I can't even put my own hair up in a simple bun." Hannah laughed as she pulled up James' hair and twisted it into a small bun.

"Practice," she said. "Years and years of practice."

"Clearly," James said, turning his head to admire he small bun. "Man, it's so weird not having my hair in my face anymore."

"I can't relate," Hannah said, gesturing to her hijab. "My hair isn't exactly able to fall into my face."

"Clearly," James said, laughing as he turning around. "Let me grab some food from the replicator before we head down to sick bay."

"I don't want to be intrusive," Hannah started as James plucked his granola bar from the replicator. "But how have your sessions with Doctor McCoy been going?" They stepped out of Spock's quarters, and James shrugged as he took a bite of his food.

"They've been going fine," he said. "I was reluctant at first, but they've been pretty helpful. I've gotten some of my memories back, vaguely." Hannah smiled.

"Well, that's good. Progress is progress, right?"

"Yeah. And I think the sessions have done Leonard some good, too, actually."

"Well, if my best friend got turned into a teenager I would think that some therapy would help me, too."

When they arrived at sick bay, they stopped outside the doors. The hallway was quiet and empty, the only sounds being their breathing and the quiet, constant humming of the ship's engines.

"Thanks for escorting me around the ship when you could be in the rec room or somewhere other than with me," James said. "I don't think I've said that yet."

"Well I know that if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't want some random security Ensign who had been forced to accompany me to be hanging out with me. I'd want someone who actually volunteered." James just stared at her as they entered the sick bay, doors hissing open.

"You volunteered? You weren't just chosen based on how much babysitting you'd done as a teen or something?" Hannah laughed and waved at a redheaded nurse as they passed. The Ensign waved back a bit shyly, and then blushed down at her PADD.

"You're funny. No, I wasn't randomly assigned to you. As soon as I heard that someone was going to be needed to show you around and accompany you when Commander Spock was on duty, I talked to Commander Spock about it. It doesn't exactly sit well with me when people are left in the care of someone who doesn't really care all that much for them."

"But it doesn't really matter in your case," she continued as they stopped outside Leonard's office. "There isn't anybody on this ship who wouldn't gladly take care of you."

"So I've been told," James said. "I still don't understand, though."

"Understand what?"

"How anyone could have so much loyalty and affection for me." Inside the office, Leonard raised his hand to beckon James in, and Hannah patted James on the back twice before she turned to leave.

"Trust me, James," she said. "Everyone on this ship would die for you without hesitation, and it's partly because we all know that you would do the same for us."

"Partly?" Hannah smiled, halfway to the door, and James could hear Leonard's footsteps as he approached the door.

"You're a damn good captain, too," she said. "So there's also that."

Chapter Text

If Leonard was surprised to find James' hair in a bun for once, instead of scraggly and hanging around his face like a staticky halo, he didn't comment. Leonard looked like he'd been in the middle of something, papers strewn across his desk, and he shuffled them into a disorganized pile by his computer.

"You look terrible," James commented as they sat down. Leonard scowled, but it was the truth. He had bags under his eyes, and his hair was slightly disheveled.

"Thanks, kid." James ignored the sarcasm.

"No problem."

"So," Leonard said, slumping back in his seat. "Any nightmares last night? Any dreams at all?"

"No nightmares, but I did dream," James said. "The only problem is that I don't remember what I dreamed about."

"One of those, huh? Where you wake up and it's all on the very edge of your consciousness, but just slips away." Leonard sounded almost bitter, or jealous, but he was probably just tired.

"Exactly."

"Wish I coulda had one of those last night," Leonard said, yawning widely. "But anyways, do you remember anything about it?" James frowned in concentration.

"There was a door," James said. "It was glowing with... a blue light, I think. It was really dark, and I remember something about a rock? Maybe? Um..." All of the thinking was giving him a headache, but the information could've been important, so he continued to think.

"Take your time, kid, there's no rush. We've got plenty of time."

"You were there!" James nearly yelled, almost five minutes later. "Well, maybe. You may not have been there, but I might have thought about you during the dream. I think." He let out an exasperated sigh. "I don't know, you had something to do with the dream, and so did Spock."

"Anything else you can think of?"

"Um, I think there was a rope? It was gross and slippery. Maybe it was a tentacle or something." Leonard blinked.

"A tentacle?"

"Yeah, maybe. Hey, why do you think I didn't remember the dream I had last night?" Leonard frowned.

"Perhaps it had something to do with you remembering something that you shouldn't remember right now. Your subconscious remembers everything, so you might have dreamed about something that your conscious mind doesn't remember. When you woke up, your conscious mind would shove the memories back into your subconscious."

"Really?" James asked, fascinated. Leonard shrugged.

"Hell if I know, kid. This has never happened before, I don't know if normal amnesia treatment and science would work here. It's unexplored territory, that's just my best guess." James felt the bit of hope that had blossomed in his chest fizzle out, and frowned.

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Although being out here you probably deal with unexplored territory a lot, so you've probably gotten pretty good at guessing the solutions to problems, right?" Leonard shrugged.

"I guess. I don't exactly think about it too often. Back to you, though. How have you been feeling lately?" James sighed, thinking.

"A little overwhelmed, I guess."

"Overwhelmed? How?"

"It's just... everyone sees me as some hero or golden captain, and it's intimidating, knowing that I need to live up to that, at some point. And everyone is showing me so much affection, too. I've never had to deal with this much affection from so many people."

"Well, kid, for all your flaws, you do end up being a damn good captain, despite how much some of the brass might not like you." James raised an eyebrow, and Leonard grimaced.

"Oh dear god, don't do the eyebrow thing. Spock is turning you into his own small Vulcan, isn't he?" The statement was so absurd and amusing that James burst out laughing.

"He isn't doing anything of the sort," James reassured him. "I still am, and plan on staying, totally human."

"Thank heaven for small mercies," Leonard grumbled good naturedly. "But back to the original topic, I'd say that it's perfectly normal for you to feel overwhelmed."

"Not just overwhelmed," James said, shifting in his seat. "Spock was talking to me recently about how I was a great person, and I felt really... anxious, actually. Nervous." Here, Leonard gave a genuine frown.

"That could be a sign of emotional neglect." There was an nervous churning sensation in James' stomach, and he tried not to let the truth show on his face.

He failed pretty epically, if he had to guess. Leonard's mouth opened slightly, and the furrow began his brow began to look even more severe.

"James," he said quietly, as if he were ether trying to soothe James or calm himself down. He was ready to put money on it being the second one. "Were you... emotionally neglected?"

"I didn't think so," James muttered, shrinking back in his seat. Leonard's gaze was deadly, daring him to lie. "But, uh, maybe, now that I think about it. I don't know." Leonard looked about ready to kill someone, most likely Frank, Hippocratic oath be damned. A muscle in his temple twitched dangerously.

"Who emotionally neglected you?"

"Frank, my stepfather," James said. "...And I don't know, maybe... maybe my mother. She wasn't exactly around much." The confession of his mother's possible neglect hurt to voice, but he knew that it was true. She hadn't been around, and even when she had, she's been mentally absent and totally willing to ignore whatever Frank did.

Leonard's lips were thin and bloodless from keeping them pinched shut, and his fury was terrifying, although James knew that the anger was not for him.

"And nobody noticed?" He finally asked. "No teachers, nobody?" James shrugged, looking down at his hands, tightly clapped between bouncing legs.

"I was a delinquent," he said, ignoring the pain of payattentiontomeplease, a wound still fresh in his mind. "Nobody cares about delinquents."

"Well people should," Leonard said. "Most of the time, delinquency comes from neglect or being an unrecognized genius."

"Which one would you consider driving a car off of a cliff being a symptom of?" James said dryly, and the air in the room seemed to freeze.

When James looked up, Leonard was perfectly still, eyes unreadable and trained on James.

"You drove a car off of a cliff?" Leonard asked, and James swallowed hard.

"Did I not... Did I not tell you about that?" Leonard scowled.

"No, James, you failed to ever mention that."

"Ah."

"Ah indeed."

"So, uh, yeah," James said lamely, shifting in a fruitless attempt to avoid Leonard's gaze. Leonard simply put his head in his hands and started muttering under his breath.

"Honestly, you've done worse," he sighed after removing his head from the cradle of his hands. "I guess I can't be too mad at you, seeing as you didn't die and didn't need my help not to die."

"I mean, I jumped out of the car before it went off of the cliff," James said.

"I can see that," Leonard said dryly, and James gave a weak smile in the hopes of appeasing Leonard.

"You can't be too mad at me for it, though," James said lightly. "You did say that I've done worse." Leonard shook his head, laughing quietly.

"Unbelievable," he muttered. "You're unbelievable, kid."

"So I've been told," James said teasingly, and then sobered. There was something else on his mind that he wanted to discuss. "Hey, Leonard?" The grin slipped from Leonard's face, and his eyes become somber.

"Yeah, kid? What is it?"

"Spock estimated that I'd have to tell most of the bridge crew and Scotty in order to return to normal, because they're the people closest to me. What do you think?" Leonard seemed to consider Spock's words.

"He's normally never far off from a correct answer," Leonard finally said. "And it does make sense, the bridge crew and Scotty are the ones closest to you, apart from me and Spock, who already know. I'd say that he's right, but don't ever let him know that I said that." James nodded.

"Okay," he said, and opened his mouth to speak again, but closed it, lips pinched tight.

"What did you want to say, kid? It's okay, let it out."

"I'm... I'm scared." He said finally.

"Scared of what?"

"Of letting the others know. I should, obviously, but whenever I think about doing it, my stomach churns and my throat closes up."

"Why do you think you're scared of letting the others know? Do you know?"

"Yeah, I know." James said quietly. "It's the fact that I don't know how they'll respond. I don't know them, and I can't help but think that they'll judge me, even though everyone says that they won't." Leonard leaned back in his chair.

"It sounds to me like you'd have an easier time telling them if you knew them better. Do you think that would help?" James paused, and then nodded.

"Probably, yeah."

"So get to know them."

"How, though?"

"Ask them. They all want to hang out with you- they wouldn't eat meals wth you if they didn't. I've heard Sulu's got plants that spray pollen when you tickle them, he'd love to show you. Take the time to get to know him, it'll make telling him much easier." James nodded, still nervous, picking at the side of his thumb.

"Okay," he said. "I'll try that. Plants are cool, I guess."

"That's the spirit, kid."

Chapter Text

That night at dinner, James sat next to Sulu. Leonard and Scotty had been unable to join them, but Uhura, Spock, and Pavel were there. Pavel, on Sulu's other side, was chattering excitedly about something related to astrophysics, but due to his accent and James' lack of knowledge about astrophysics, James had no clue what he was saying. Sulu seemed to understand him, though, so he supposed that was all that mattered.

"Hey, Sulu," James said during a lull in the conversation. Sulu looked over at him.

"Yes?"

I can do this.

I can't do it I can't do it I can't-

Shut up! I can do this...

"You said you had plants that sprayed pollen when you tickled them?" James blurted. Sulu's face lit up.

"I did! You haven't come by to see them, yet, have you?" Sulu sounded really excited about his plants, and James wondered why he was in command instead of the botany department in sciences.

"No, I haven't. Could I come by after dinner, maybe? They sound really cool."

"Of course!" Sulu began an enthusiastic, one sided conversation about the rest of his plants, with James merely listening and nodding amusedly. Apparently, apart from the ticklish plants, he had plants that resembled daffodils with actual razor sharp teeth, except they were so small that they couldn't do more than give you a paper cut; vines that changed colors based on the weather; and neon green tulip-like flowers that dispersed a mild aphrodisiac when the air around it reached exactly 77 or 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

"How do you even find plants like that?" James asked, awestruck.

"By exploring places that I probably shouldn't," Sulu said.

"Like that cave on Ariia II?" Uhura asked. "You got that pink cotton-like plant, but you also had that rash on your hands and arms that turned your skin blue for three weeks."

"Exactly," Sulu said. "It was totally worth it, though. That plant helped cure Rigelian Shingles."

"Ze rash looked wery uncomfortable." Chekov said.

"It was," Sulu said. "But I still think that it was worth it."

After dinner, Sulu showed James to the botany labs. It was warm, and the rows of bright flora sprawled out across the entire room, which was quite large.

"Wow," James said, peering around. "This is a lot of plants."

"There's more," Sulu said. "This is just the room with that ticklish plant I was telling you about."

"Are the aphrodisiac plants still on board?"

"No," Sulu said, laughing. "They were needed for some research on the Olympia, so we gave them away."

"What did they need it for?"

"Something about the Orion slave trade? It was a while ago, I don't really remember."

"Interesting." To James' left, what looked like a red glowing potato hung from a thin, opalescent vine.

"What the..." Sulu saw where James was looking, and smiled fondly at the plant.

"Yeah, we still don't know much about that plant. It was picked up from a planet we visited about a week ago."

"Is it radioactive?" James asked, repressing the urge to poke at it. "It looks radioactive."

"Only mildly," Sulu said. "It's not radioactive enough to actually hurt anybody."

"Dude, cool," James said. "Do I normally hang out here? This seems like a place that I'd spend a lot of time in."

"No, actually," Sulu said. "You don't come down here very often. You're enthusiastic when you do, but being a captain is a lot of work."

They passed another odd plant, which resembled a stereotypical cactus, but waved back when Sulu wiggles his fingers at it.

"Hey, Sprinkles," he said, and the plant squeaked in response.

"Sprinkles?" James asked, laughing.

"I didn't name it," Sulu said. "My daughter, Demora, did. I talked about this plant in a transmission home, and she came up with the nickname for it."

"Sounds like a cute kid," James said, eyeing Sprinkles as they passed. "How old is she?"

"Seven. She already wants to be a 'space gardener' like me, despite all the times I've told her that I'm technically a pilot, not a botanist."

"That's adorable." Sulu's family sounded great, and it was obvious in the way that he spoke that he loved them a lot.

"I know, Ben was so upset that she thought ground gardeners weren't as cool as space gardeners."

"Ben?"

"My husband."

"Oh, is he in botany?" It didn't surprise him that Sulu was gay, which surprised James, considering how homophobic Frank was. He ignored the little voice in the back of his head, whispering because you are like him, like Sulu, and kept walking.

"Yeah, he runs a botany exhibit in Yorktown."

"So you both love plants, huh?" Sulu had a goofy smile on his face as they continued to walk.

"Yeah," he said. "We met at a plant store, actually. I was buying my mother a birthday gift and he helped me pick it out for her." James smiled, and they stopped by a small plant that reminded him of a budding bean stalk, except it was a creamy white color.

"Hey, Louis," Sulu said, and the plant wiggled a little leaf in greeting.

"Is this it?" James asked excitedly, leaning in a bit to get a better look at the plant.

"Yeah, you can tickle the base, right above the soil." The soil was a turquoise color, and almost resembled clay.

James reached out a finger and began to tickle the little plant where Sulu had said to. Louis let out a small sound that reminded James of a parrot screeching, except quieter and much higher pitched. The little buds scattered over Louis' vines opened, and sprayed a puff of neon pink powder all over James' face.

He sputtered and reeled backwards, crashing into Sulu, who had begun to laugh like he'd never seen anything more amusing. James tried to glare at Louis, and then Sulu, but the powder made it hard to see so he rubbed his eyes instead.

"Oh, man, I think he likes you," Sulu gasped, trying to clam himself down. He managed to do so, but then made the mistake of looking at James, who looked like he had bright pink freckles all over his face, and burst out laughing again. A botanist several rows over peered over the top of the plants curiously. James glared, and they disappeared.

Before James could come up with an appropriately scathing remark, there was a call of "Lieutenant Sulu! Come look at this!" from a few rows down. Sulu managed to pull off a straight face again, and pointedly not looking at James, he went to go see what he had been called over for. James, with nowhere else to go and no desire to loiter, followed.

It was a young Hispanic man, with bronzed skin and dark curls, and he seemed to be extremely excited about something. He gestured for Sulu and James to follow and began to head for the door, chattering with a subtle accent that made his quick speech difficult to understand.

"I was in the agricultural bay," he chattered, waving his hands as they entered another room, with a couple rows of assorted grains and lab stations in the back. "And I was working on a small project of mine when I looked over to see how our fungus repellant was working, and it was a miracle! It works! We have finally managed to create a broad fungus repellant to protect crops!"

The words hit James like a wall, and he tripped over his own feet, body going numb for a moment. His shoe squeaked loudly on the floor, and Sulu half glance diver his shoulder at James, still focused on the botanist.

"That's great, Ensign," Sulu said. The world was still spinning around James, and he had to reach out and place his hand on a table beside him to steady himself. Sulu looked entirely over his shoulder now at James, and frowned.

"...and I would never have thought that this strain would be the one to work, but..." The Ensign was still talking in the background, the words hitting James and bouncing off incomprehensibly, like water off of a duck.

"You okay?" Sulu asked. James nodded.

"I'm fine," he said, entirely unconvincingly. His voice sounded echoey in his hears, head swimming. Sulu's frown deepened, but he turned back to the Ensign.

God, Sulu had been working on a fungus repellant for plants, like grain. Like the rolling fields on Tarsus, which had been so beautiful until they were a personal embodiment of hell for James. He had to know all about Tarsus in order to be undertaking this project, didn't he? Sulu had to know more about Tarsus than Leonard, even.

What would Sulu think? He'd have to pity James, knowing so much about the disaster. It was the look he got most often, the other being disgust. He could tell what they were thinking when it was disgust.

You, the delinquent Kirk, you made it off that planet? Of all the children, why you?

Shit, shit, shit, why did he ever let Leonard talk him into doing this? He'd be better off staying as a teenager.

Leonard's sad eyes. 'Best friends, actually.' Ruffled hair and a warmth in his chest.

'I befriended your future self.' Spock's warmth against his side. 'Neither do you deserve what happened to you.'

No, he couldn't stay a teenager. His friends needed him, missed him. He couldn't cower away from telling Sulu that he'd been on Tarsus because of a single experiment.

The Ensign's words were still nonsensical to James, and it seemed to be an eternity before Sulu was taking James arm and gently leading him towards the exit. He didn't need to be a telepath to know that Sulu was concerned.

"What happened back there?" Sulu asked quietly as they walked through the halls back to Spock's quarters. James shook his head as an engineering Lieutenant passed them.

"Not here," he whispered. His hands began to shake.

When they arrived at Spock's quarters, Spock had yet to return from wherever he had gone off to after dinner. Sulu and James stood awkwardly just inside the door. James knew he needed to talk to Sulu, but the anxiety was building in his chest, making it hard for him to breathe.

"Are you going to tell me what happened back there?" Sulu finally asked, concerned. "Did we do something to trigger you? Something that reminded you of whatever happened to you?"

"Yeah, actually, but it's okay. I planned on telling you what happened tonight, so it won't happen again." Sulu lifted a hand halfway as if to set it on one of his shoulders, but dropped it.

"Okay," Sulu said. "I won't interrupt."

James took a large, fortifying breath.

I can do this, I can do this, I can do this...

"I was on Tarsus," he said firmly, as if he couldn't say it any other way lest there be consequences. Sulu's eyes widened almost comically.

"Oh dear gods," he said. "And then the experiment in the lab..."

"You didn't know."

"But I know now. I'm so sorry, James, I can't imagine how hard it must've been for you to tell me this after what just happened." He didn't sound pitying, just guilty. James felt some of the tension in his body melt away at the positive reaction. It felt like more tension disappeared than he had originally had about this, like there was an invisible chunk of something in his chest that was melting with each confession. Perhaps that was the mental damage that the ha'karr wanted to fix.

"It's really oka-" James didn't get to finish his sentence because he found himself with a face full of gold shirt, but that didn't really matter.

It seemed that Sulu was more upset than James himself was, with the way that Sulu's was crushing James against him. Perhaps it was because he had a child, James thought.

"I'm so glad you made it off of Tarsus, and not because a lot of other people and I would all be dead if you hadn't."

"Why, then?" Sulu gently pushed James back until he was at arms length and stared at him quizzically.

"Because you're one of my best friends," Sulu said. "And you're a good man, and a better captain. You deserve all of the praise and love you receive, and you never would have gotten any if you had died on that planet."

James, at the confession, felt tears well up behind his eyes. Sulu's reaction was better than he could have expected, and he wondered how could ever have doubted him, or how he could continue to doubt any of the bridge crew.

"Thank you," be said quietly, and Sulu crushed him back into a hug, most likely to hide his own tears.

They stood like that for a moment until Sulu pulled away, eyes red-rimmed.

"Who else knows?"

"Leonard and Spock. Spock found out first, and then helped Leonard figure it out. Leonard convinced me to tell others, because that's the only thing that'll help me change back. You're the first one I've told."

Sulu looked stunned.

"You told me first? Before Uhura or Scotty?" James nodded, and Sulu broke out into a big smile.

"Thank you," he said, sounding choked up, and James smiled back at him.

"Of course."

Chapter Text

James is falling.

The ground beneath him- far, far, beneath me why the hell did I do this oh god I'm going to die- is red and cracked, and approaching at a rapid pace. His target, a flailing body, is quickly approaching.

The hot wind buffets him from side to side, bitterly sharp. His body aches from the fight he was just engaged in, and his stomach is roiling in his body- I don't even know him why am I doing this oh god- as he plummets.

He's rapidly approaching the spiraling figure, but the ground is approaching fast,- is this what it would've been like if I'd kept going kept driving off of the cliff- too fast for James' liking. He doesn't think he can catch them, and even if he can, how will they be beamed out?

Closer, closer, there!

His arms wrap around the body, and the ground is still approaching, but they're no longer freefalling towards a scarlet desert. They're on board an ancient ship, and it's plummeting towards a formation of rocks. The same dark haired figure he'd saved from falling to his death is at the helm, and he seems to know what he's doing.

Underneath the tension that has him strung so tightly he fears he'll snap into a million pieces, there's an blanket of trust. The ground keeps on approaching, and he digs his fingers into the seat like it's the only thing that can save them.

"You can, you know, fly this thing, right?"

"Are you kidding me, sir?"

The echoey voices disperse the second plummet like a splash in a puddle, rippling waves disturbing and contorting the image. The view screen disappears, and in its place is a platform suspended in an orange sky, a chain leading upwards to a starship.

The same man is sword fighting with a Romulan and it's Sulu, of course. Sulu, who has a husband named Ben and a little girl named Demora back in Yorktown. Sulu, who was the first of his bridge crew, of his family, besides Bones, to treat him like a friend.

"C'mon, Jim," Sulu calls, laughing as he triumphs easily over a faceless man in a fencing suit. They're in the gym now, and James is mildly concerned that Sulu wants him to join, because he has no idea how to fence.

"C'mon, kid, you've got this," Leonard says, slapping him hard on the back, and James stumbles to his feet. When someone tosses him a sword, he barely manages to catch it.

"En garde!" Sulu says jovially, and they begin.


Spock's project had taken longer than he anticipated, and so James was already asleep when he returned. He had been anticipating hearing about how James' confession to Lieutenant Sulu had progressed, but it seemed that that was a story for tomorrow.

He did not seem to be suffering from any negative dreams, Spock noticed as he readied himself for sleep. That was a positive sign. In fact, he seemed to be smiling lightly as he dreamt, a sight that Spock had not previously borne witness to.

Spock delayed as long as he could, to give James more time to sleep, but eventually Spock was entirely prepared for his day. Gently, Spock sat down on the side of the bed and shook James' shoulder once, twice. James frowned as he woke, eyes still firmly shut.

"What do you want." He grumbled, prying his eyes open, and then, "Oh, hey Spock. Time to get up already?"

"Affirmative. I have attempted to let you slumber for as long as I could, but you must ready yourself for the day ahead of you now." James grunted and sat up, sighing heavily.

"Your bed is really comfortable, you know that, right? I don't know how you ever get out of it."

"I get out of bed because I must," he said, and James laughed.

"Okay, but how often do you just want to stay in bed because it's comfortable?" Spock considered it for a moment.

"On occasion," he said. "But most often I find myself anticipating my work, because I enjoy what I do."

"Well," James said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "I don't even have a job to enjoy." He yawned widely and wobbled where he sat, eyes still vaguely unfocused.

"We must leave in fifteen minutes if we are to arrive to the mess hall at our planned time," Spock reminded him, and James groaned and stood up.

"I hate you," he said, completely insincerely. "And your damn bed."

"So noted," Spock replied dryly, and James' laugh lingered as he entered the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, Spock and Jim were on their way to the mess hall. James seemed happier than Spock had ever seen the boy, swinging his arms and whistling unthinkingly. His hair was pulled back in what might be considered a bun if you looked from the right angle, and his eyes were bright with happiness.

"May I presume that the conversation with Lieutenant Sulu last night went well?" Spock inquired, and James' eyes brightened even further.

"It did! I totally forgot to tell you since we were hurried to leave or whatever, but I remembered him!" Spock tipped his head in question.

"You remembered him?"

"Yeah, I remember a lot of memories with him in them, where he's the focus of them."

"I would be interested in hearing which memories have returned to you, but I am certain that Sulu would like to hear about them as well. I suggest that you refrain from sharing these memories until we have met Lieutenant Sulu in the mess hall." James laughed quietly.

"Very logical, Mr. Spock," he teased.

"Indeed," Spock said, and only the subtle glint in his eyes betrayed his amusement.


Sulu was already there when James and Spock arrived, an omelette set in front of him. They replicated their breakfasts, oatmeal for Spock and a smoothie for James, who's diet was still under the control of Doctor McCoy.

"So," James said, dropping loudly into the seat opposite Sulu. "I remembered you- or some things about you." Sulu looked up, an expression of giddy disbelief spreading across his face.

"Really?" He glanced to Spock for reassurance, and Spock nodded. "Oh my, that's great! What have you remembered?"

"I remembered the drill platform," James said. "When I jumped off of the edge to save you even though I didn't know you. I remember the incident with Krall, when we drove Jaylah's ship off of the cliff. I remember fencing with you, like seriously, how much fencing did we do?" Sulu laughed.

"I taught you how, we did a lot of it."

"I beat you a couple of times." Sulu nodded.

"You did, sadly."

"Sadly for you, at least. I take great pride in that."

Sulu looked past James for a moment and grinned at Chekov, waving him over.

"Pav! Pav, come here!" He called.

Chekov had pancakes on his plate, and a glass of orange juice on the side. It looked like he'd been in a rush to leave his room that morning, his curls awry.

"Vhat is it, Hikaru?"

"James remembered some things!" Chekov's face lit up, and he fixed his gaze on to James.

"Oh, zat is vunderful!" Chekov cried. "Perhaps soon you vill remember more and be back to normal!"

"Hopefully," James said. "I'd like to get back to being the captain before the officials decide that Spock is better at the job than I was and give it to him." It was a joke, but Chekov looked somewhat concerned.

"Zhey vould newer give Commander Spock your job!" He protested. "You are far too good at it, and he does not want to be a captain anyvays."

"It is true that I do not desire total command of a starship," Spock said. "I will gladly give you back your job as soon as is allowed. I find that I much prefer to be your first officer and chief science officer." James laughed, and then tipped his head questioningly.

"Are you not chief science officer anymore? Why?"

"Captaincy duties take up much of my time. I have found that I do not have enough time to effectively run the onboard science division, so for the time being I have passed on that responsibility to Lieutenant Taa'ka and now am only focusing on my own projects."

"If captaincy is really that difficult and life-consuming, why do people want to be captains?" James asked. "I mean, I don't really want to be a captain right now, but sometime in the future I guess I'm going to want to be."

"I suppose it's about power, responsibility, all those kinds of things," Sulu mused. "The desire for power is stronger in some than others, and those with the stronger desire for it are the people who enter the command division, if I had to guess."

"A reasonable hypothesis," Spock said. "I did not desire command, but instead the pursuit of scientific knowledge. That is why I joined the science division. If I had possessed a stronger desire for control and power over others, I would have joined the command division."

"Well I'm glad you didn't, you totally would've gotten my job if you'd been in command."

"Perhaps, but not necessarily."

"I, for one, am grateful that Commander Spock didn't take your job," Sulu said. "I don't think he'd pull half of the stupid stunts you do to save crew members. Hell, I wouldn't pull half of the stunts you do. You've got a special kind of luck, James."

"Indeed, you do beat slim odds far more often than is normal for even those who are generally considered to be 'lucky.'"

"It must be my smile," James said. "Nobody can resist my smile."

"Commander Spock can," Chekov piped up. "But he is Wulcan, and they can all resist your smile."

"Well, nobody but Vulcans can resist my smile, then," James amended.

"I'm certainly not immune to your smile," a voice said behind James. He turned to find Ensign Santiago standing there, grinning at him.

"Hannah!" James cried.

"Time to leave, kiddo," she said. "I've got to get you to sick bay."

For the first time, the words held no negative emotions. Sick bay meant Leonard, and Leonard was his friend. Besides, he was excited to tell Leonard about his success with Sulu.

"Alright, let's go."

Chapter Text

"You seem very chipper today," Hannah commented as they strolled down the hallway. James grinned up at her.

"Hell yeah I am. I talked to Sulu last night, and I remembered some things. Talking to my closest friends is definitely the way to go about curing myself." Hannah's face lit up.

"Oh, that's wonderful!" She said, and laughed. "Just don't go forgetting about us little people when you're the big, brave, bold captain again." Jim scoffed.

"As if I could, I don't think I'll ever forget this experience- unless of course I encounter amnesia or some other memory-altering alien." Hannah nodded as they approached sick bay, and stopped outside.

"I've got to go meet up with a friend," she said, "but have a good therapy, and a good day!" James smiled and waved as she began to walk away.

"You have a good day, too!" He hollered, and turned around only to run right into someone's chest.

"Oh," Kevin said, grabbing his arm to stabilize him, and then grinned. "Hey, JT! How are you?" James smiled.

"I'm good. Really good, actually- I think I've figured out how to get back to normal."

"That's amazing!" James grinned wider and nodded before his grin faded.

"Yeah, there's the catch though. In order to regain memories of someone and heal myself, I have to tell them about..." James trailed off, knowing that Kevin would understand. Kevin's face fell.

"Oh," he said. "Oh, James. I know that you don't remember them, but the people who work on that bridge are your best friends. They won't think anything less of you for telling them- trust me." James gave him a small grateful grin.

"Thanks, Kevin. I've got to go, but tell Julianne that I say hi if you see her, okay? We should get together again soon, talk about less depressing things."

"Absolutely. Have a good session, JT." With that, Kevin was gone, and James turned to go inside.

"There you are!" Nurse Chapel said, and shooed him towards Leonard's office. "He's waiting."

Leonard was indeed waiting when James entered his office and sat down across from him. He looked hopeful, probably in anticipation of how the previous night had gone.

"How did last night go?" Leonard asked.

"It went great!" James said. "I almost didn't tell him, but when I finally did he took it really well. And then I remembered a lot of memories with Sulu in them." Leonard's face lit up behind the mask of 'old grump' and then dimmed a bit with confusion.

"But you didn't remember much about Spock and I after confessing." James considered that, and frowned.

"Maybe it's because I was closer to you two than anyone else? Or because you two have been the people taking care of me and interacting with me the most?"

"Maybe," Leonard said. "Or maybe it has to do with the content of what you say. Just telling, say, Chekov, that you were on Tarsus might be enough, but with Spock and I you might have to spill some more gritty details. I won't force you to tell me the darker stuff, we'll see how it is after you've told Chekov, Uhura, and Scotty." The idea of having to tell anyone the specifics of what happened down there was nauseatingly terrifying, and James swallowed hard.

"You think so?" James croaked. Leonard gave him an unreadable look.

"I won't force you," he said again. "Hopefully it doesn't get to the point where we have to try you telling me or Spock the details of it, but I won't force you even if it does." James smiled weakly.

"Thanks."

"No problem, kid. Hey, why don't you tell me about the memories of Sulu that you recalled?" James gave Leonard a real grin this time, and started to talk.


"Who do you think I should tell next?" James asked near the end of their session.

"I dunno kid, who do you hang out with the most, besides me and Spock? Who do you talk the most with at meals? Who do you trust the most?" James shrugged, picking at the side of one thumb.

"I'm not sure. I talk with Pavel the most at meals, asides from Sulu, but I feel like I trust Uhura more, even though I still don't know her first name." Leonard laughed.

"She still hasn't told you her first name?"

"I wish. I'm determined to find out one way or another." If the fire in his eyes, so achingly familiar, was any indication, he was definitely going to find out her name somehow.

"So are you going to talk to Uhura?" James paused for a moment, and then nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, Uhura's next. Then Pav, and then Scotty."

"There's nothing to be worried about, kid," Leonard said, recognizing the look on James' face. James nodded.

"I know," he said, and smiled. "Thanks, Leonard."

"No problem, kid."

When James left, Leonard slumped back in his seat, running a hand down his face. Nurse Chapel poked her head into his office a few minutes later to find him staring off into the middle distance with an intense expression on his face. She stepped inside, and he still gave no implication that he even knew that she was there.

"Doctor?"

His head snapped up.

"Oh, hello, Chris. Was there something you needed?"

"I was just checking up on you," Christine said, stepping further inside. "James left ten minutes ago and your office has been oddly quiet." Leonard hummed, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair.

"Just thinking," he mused. "Just... thinking."

"Well, I'll leave you to your thoughts, then," Christine said, moving towards the door. "But Lieutenant Reeves has his physical scheduled for fifteen minutes from now, so don't think for too long." Leonard hummed- in acknowledgement? Dismissal? Christine took it as dismissal and left the room.

The drumming of his fingers, a constant, unthinking rhythm, was soothing. It helped him think. He didn't understand why James had regained memories of Sulu, but not of Spock and himself. Perhaps it was because they had both found out before James had told them himself?

If so, would that affect the end result of James telling the whole bridge crew? Would it force James to reveal deep parts of himself before he was entirely ready to? What would that do to him?

His mind drifted back to the original question. For half a moment, he considered the idea that maybe Spock and him weren't as important to James as they thought, and violently shook out his head to clear the idea. He was thinking of Jim- there was no way anyone could take precedence over Spock and himself.

He hoped.

"Doctor?" Christine asked, peering in. "You've got that physical now."

"Already?" There was no way that it could've been fifteen minutes already.

"Already, Doctor." Leonard sighed and pushed himself out of his chair, into the main room where Lieutenant Reeves sat on a biobed.

He delivered Reeves' physical just fine, but all the while the issue with James lurked in the back of his mind. The idea of forcing James to reveal the dark details of what happened on Tarsus was sickening, and he prayed that James wouldn't have to reveal that part of himself.

He was slightly off for the rest of his shift and both him and his staff knew it, but nobody said a word.

Chapter Text

James sat next to Uhura at dinner, a deviation from his usual spot next to Sulu. She seemed surprised, but pleasantly so, and smiled warmly back at him when he grinned at her. Sulu looked a bit disappointed, but James knew that he understood what James' plans for the night were.

Everyone chatted mildly throughout dinner, and James realized that he had no clue what to talk with Uhura about. She'd kept mostly to herself during conversation, and he didn't think they had any common interests besides space. He fiddling with his spoon as he ate his soup, desperately trying to think of something to say.

"Are you okay?" Uhura asked, and James nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah I'm fine." It was a desperate bid for conversation that kept him talking, unthinking. "So you're chief communications officer, right?"

"Yeah, I am."

"How many languages do you speak?" Uhura frowned in concentration.

"Geez, I'm not really sure. A lot. I speak six fluently, and am passable or rusty in maybe three or four more". James shook his head, laughing.

"That's ridiculous. How do you keep everything straight up in there?"

"Magic," she said, and grinned.

"Obviously."

"Do you speak any languages besides Standard, James?"

"I speak some French. Wouldn't you already know that?"

"I know," Uhura said. "I just never got the real story of when or how you learned to speak it. You kept insisting that you learned it during your stint with the Russian circus- which I'm still not sure is either true or false because you're increasingly flexible, but it's just such a bizarre explanation." James laughed, but Uhura's expression didn't change. James stopped laughing.

"Wait, are your serious? I actually told you that I joined the Russian circus?"

"Yeah, thats what you tell everyone," Sulu chimed in. James scoffed and shook his head.

"So I befriended my best friend by throwing up on him, nearly got strangled by another, and I supposedly joined the Russian circus?"

"Yeah, pretty much." James laughed.

"Damn, my future sounds so bizarre. I love it."

The table drifted back to idle chatter, and James felt the anxiety grow tight around his chest once more, making it hard to breathe. Yet the memories that he had recalled of Sulu drifted back, a soothing source. He wanted to remember the woman sitting next to him, the one who teased him like a brother and who was absolutely brilliant. James took a deep breath and turned back to Uhura.

"What do you do in your spare time?" He asked. Uhura tipped her head, ponytail spilling over her shoulder like a dark waterfall.

"Why do you ask?" James shrugged, glancing down at his plate.

"I want to get to know you better. I don't know you all that well."

"Well," Uhura said. "I normally hang out with Christine or Janice in the rec room. Sometimes we sing, sometimes we play instruments, sometimes we just talk. Although I doubt you'd be interested in any of that."

"Are you any good?" James inquired. He did enjoy music, perhaps that would be a way for them to bond.

"I like to think we are," Uhura said, laughing. "Otherwise we wouldn't play or sing."

"I suppose that's fair. Are you going to be performing tonight?" Uhura beamed.

"We are! We'll be singing some old Earth music, and taking requests for other music afterwards."

"Can I come?" James asked. Uhura smiled at him.

"Of course you can! I'm sure Christine and Janice would love to see you."

"Janice?" He knew Christine, because she worked in the sick bay, but he didn't know any Janice. Yet the name brought to mind the smell of coffee.

"Oh, that's right," Uhura said. "You haven't met her. She's your yeoman- or the captain's yeoman, so she's currently Spock's, I guess. She'll be glad to see you again- everyone is."

"I'll be glad to re-meet her. Are you guys the only ones who play the instruments?" Uhura shook her head.

"No, sometimes Spock plays his Vulcan lute, and sometimes Kevin Riley plays guitar-"

"Kevin?" James asked. "He plays guitar? I didn't know that."

"He's actually pretty good. He normally comes on Tuesdays, so he should be there tonight."

"Do you think it would be weird if I came? Would people stare?" Uhura shook her head.

"Everyone would be delighted to see you, they wouldn't make it weird. They know and care about you, they would never do anything to make you feel awkward."

"No, I've been told that, but wouldn't me being there kind of... dampen the mood?"

"Why would it?" Sulu said from across the table. "Pardon me for intruding."

"I don't know, I feel like having some amnesiac kid with major issues hanging out would dampen the mood."

"James," Sulu said. "We're the crew of the Enterprise. We have faced down far, far worse things than your company."

"Ve are wery used to bizarre circumstances," Chekov added, the nodding of his head making his curls bounce.

"Thanks?" James asked, and Chekov beamed.

"You are wery velcome, little keptin."

James didn't know where the nickname had come from, but it made him feel warm inside. Loved and cared for. He wanted to bask in that feeling forever, and for half a moment the world clicked into perfect clarity. He could see these people not as strangers or friends or old acquaintances, but as family. His family. He smiled again.


"James!" Came a delighted cry as he entered the rec room. It was a few minutes before Uhura, Christine, Janice, and apparently, Kevin, came on. Julianne was sitting by the door, and gestured to the empty seat next to her.

"Juli, hey! Here to see Kevin?"

"I am, and you?"

"Uhura. I didn't know that Kevin was going to be here until Uhura mentioned it at dinner." James sat down beside Julianne and turned to face her.

"Oh, yeah, he never mentioned his musical talent, did he?"

"No, we were too busy reliving traumatizing memories." Juli nodded.

"We should hang out sometime, me and you and Kevin. Do something other than that." James smiled at her.

"That would be great." The lights dimmed and then brightened again to signal that the show was about to begin, and the room fell quiet. James turned his attention to the small platform at the front of the room, where Uhura, Christine, Janice, and Kevin sat, and leaned back in his seat to enjoy the show.


As it turned out, Uhura could sing really well. Christine played the piano, Kevin played the guitar, and a blonde woman who James assumed was Janice played the drums. They worked well together, and sang some early 21st century Earth music, like Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, and a 'Panic at the Disco.' He had been informed that there was an exclamation point somewhere in the name, but he wasn't sure where. They had also played an old Andorian folk song, and a couple other culturally related songs.

"That was great!" James said, when he approached Uhura after the show. She smiled.

"Thank you!" Uhura gestured to someone beyond James, and he turned to see Janice walking towards them.

"Hello, captain," she said. "It's good to see you again." James smiled politely. She hasn't meant to do anything wrong, he knew, but the use of that title felt... wrong. Bad. It didn't feel like him, like James. Instead, it like Starfleet's golden boy, someone on a pedestal, above things like genocides or abuse.

"Hello," he said. "Janice, right? Uhura mentioned you at dinner." Janice nodded, smiling.

"What did you think of our show?"

"It was good! You're a great drum player, I never wouldn've suspected it." Janice blushed.

"Oh, thank you." Janice glanced over James' shoulder and then back at him, smiling apologetically.

"I've got to go, but it was great seeing you, sir!" She was gone before James could formulate a polite response, and he turned to Uhura.

"You could've told her not to call you captain." Uhura said. James blinked.

Had he been obvious in his dislike of the title? He hadn't thought so, but he was getting a bit tired. If it had been obvious, how many others had seen how uncomfortable he'd been? Maybe he shouldn't have come. Perhaps Uhura was just perceptive, though.

"It wasn't obvious," Uhura said, as if reading his mind. "I'm just good at reading body language."

"Oh." The answer, now that he had it, felt stupidly obvious. "Right." Uhura laughed.

"It's nothing to be embarrassed about, James."

"Of course not." Now that he was actually talking with Uhura, James wondered how he was supposed to bring up Tarsus later. They were surrounded by so many people, and even if it was loud, James knew he'd be an emotional mess. Emotional messes didn't become captains.

"Is something wrong?" Uhura asked, frowning slightly. "You look kinda of... off."

"I'm okay," James said. "I do want to talk to you though, in a more private place. I wanted to get to know you better, and as great as this show has been, it hasn't helped me get to know you." Uhura smiled gently, obviously pleased.

"Of course," she said. "How about the observation deck? It used to be one of your favorite places."

"Sounds great."

Chapter Text

"Damn," James said. "I can see why I liked this place." They stood on the observation deck, side by side, staring out into the darkness beyond. The endless expanse was peppered with bright stars, a dazzling display.

"Less people enjoy the observation decks than you'd think," Uhura said. "And this is the one you prefer, because it's never used." James felt an irrational urge to defend the room, and chalked it up to his subconscious remembering his preference for this observation deck above all of the others.

"Why not?"

"It's the smallest one." The room was of a cozy size, a couple of small couches and tables scattered around it, but it felt homely and warm, not cramped.

"Do you enjoy the observation decks?"

"Not particularly. I prefer to be surrounded by other people, and the observation decks are usually pretty barren. There are times that I enjoy the observation decks because I can be alone, though."

"When do you prefer to be alone?"

"When an away mission has gone wrong and I've lost an acquaintance, or a work partner. When I've had an argument with someone. When I need to calm down and center myself."

"Isn't everyone on this ship a work partner?" Uhura half-smiled at him.

"Not necessarily. I wouldn't go to an observation deck if a recently transferred Ensign from engineering or sciences had died, but if one of the people under my command had died, then I'd go to one."

"To think?"

"Yeah, to think. To remember them." James turned back to the window.

"It's beautiful here," he said.

"It really is, isn't it?"

"Why did you come here?" James asked. "To space, I mean."

"To explore," Uhura said. "Nothing special- just like most others, I wanted to see what was out there, encounter new people, new civilizations, new languages. It's the thrill of discovery." She glanced at him, and smiled.

"If you weren't in the position you're in now, I'd ask you why you came up here, but you can't tell me something that you don't remember."

James thought for a moment. Why would he want to come up here, where every species they encounter could potentially be hostile? Where there are so many different ways to die or be injured?

Frank's sneering face came to mind, telling him he'd never be good enough for anyone, never come anywhere close to being as revered as his father was. A picture in the back of an old book, a smiling man who he never got the chance to see with his own eyes, as blue as the ones in the picture. The tears in his mother's eyes on his birthday, a day that was not happy, not in his family. Stories that his mother would tell when she was drunk and thought that he was his father- stories of young love and new discoveries.

Starving on a colony in the backwaters of space, praying to any deity out there and eventually knowing that he would have to be the miracle he needed so desperately if he wanted to live. Protecting those younger and weaker than himself and thinking yes, this, this is what I'm meant for. For protecting, for leadership, for helping those who cannot help themselves.

Not knowing where to apply that need, the desire. But standing on that observation deck, staring out into space with a woman who he would call family when he was older, he knew where he would eventually apply it.

"I think I have an idea of why I came up here," James said.

"Care to share?" Uhura asked.

"I'm not sure I can put it into words." They spoke quietly, as if the darkness beyond them was sleeping. "But if I had to... perhaps an ambitious desire to help."

"An ambitious desire to help," Uhura mused. "Yeah. Yeah, that sounds like you."

"Does it?" Uhura turned fully to face him at James' words. Her brows were furrowed with either confusion or concern, James couldn't tell which.

"It does. Does that surprise you? That I think 'an ambitious desire to help' summarizes you well?" James shrugged.

"Kind of," he said, and it was hard to admit that to a woman who thought so much of him, but it was true. "I mean, I've never really been seen as anything other than a troublemaker or George Kirk's son, and now I'm on this ship that I'm supposed to captain someday with all these people singing my praises? It just seems so unrealistic that I could ever come this far, that people could ever see so much goodness in me."

"We see goodness in you because you're a good person," Uhura said firmly. "Anyone on this crew could cite countless instances where you showed boundless kindness." James shook his head incredulously.

"I doubt that."

"Why?"

"Why? I've only ever been told that I'm not good enough. Why should I believe people when they begin to say that I am?"

"Because you are," Uhura said. "I don't know what I can do to make you realize the truth."

"Citations."

"What?"

"You said that anyone on this ship could cite countless instances. I'd like to hear a couple, instead of just being told that I'm a good person."

Uhura's eyes took on a peculiar gleam, and she turned out towards the window again. Her arms were crossed loosely over her chest, and she looked almost like a goddess, bathed in starlight like she was. She seemed the kind of goddess who was motherly and kind, but who would fight the strongest and the fastest warrior without hesitation to protect any of her children. She'd make a good captain, James thought, if she ever wanted to be one.

"No doubt you don't want me to tell you about the things you've done on the three missions that the Enterprise is popular for," she said. "Vulcan, Khan, Krall. So I'll give you some of my own citations.

"There was one mission we went on, where a landing party of you, Spock, and Ensign Connors beamed down to make first contact in the flesh." James wasn't sure if he was supposed to remember Ensign Connors, but he said nothing. "We had made first contact with them via a communications channel, and they had seemed perfectly kind. The only problem was that we weren't aware of some important cultural quirks of theirs.

"Red, in their culture, is a color symbolizing death and ill-intent. We didn't know that, of course, and not only is Ensign Connors a redhead, but she's an engineer. The aliens went absolutely ballistic, thinking that we had tricked them into allowing access to their planet so we could deliver them a declaration of war." James winced in sympathy for the poor Ensign, wherever she currently was.

"What happened next?"

"You were attacked, obviously," Uhura said. "The aliens tried to attack Ensign Connors first, but you pushed her out of the way. You ended up being shot, because you seem to be a magnet for injuries. Scotty beamed you all up to the ship, and because of where you were shot, Leonard had a pretty difficult time saving you. Spock did the math, and as it turned out, if you hadn't pushed her, she would've been shot directly in the heart and been killed. It was your ambitious desire to help that saved her." James blinked.

"Is she still on board?"

"Yeah, I think I saw her in the rec room at some point tonight."

"That's just... bizarre." James finally said. "It still feels like you're talking about another person."

"And why is that?" Uhura asked, frowning slightly. "You can't tell me you haven't done anything selfless in your life. And the story displayed the reason you told me you came up here- an ambitious, if more often than not reckless, desire to help."

"Taking bullets for people isn't exactly anything like the other selfless things I've done." James could see the starving bodies of his friends, his little family, in his mind's eye. He could see Annalise the moment he'd realized just how thin she'd grown, a skeleton draped in skin and hair and faded cloth. He could see Allen curled up, arms curled around his stomach. He could recall perfectly how the pain in his stomach had faded to numbness as he continued to give the others more food than he himself got.

"You don't always take bullets for people," Uhura said, turning to him and leaning against the window. "Sometimes you get kidnapped."

"Only sometimes?" Uhura laughed, the sound bright and high, cutting through the previous relative silence of the room.

"Only sometimes," she said. "There's plenty of other things- poisoning, being stabbed, natural disasters, all those allergies of yours, I could go on."

"Please don't," James said, laughing quietly. "I don't think I want to know how many ways I've almost died."

"Well then, we'll get back to the kidnapping. You, me, and Chekov were on an away mission on a planet that was, for the most part, peaceful. There were some radicals trying to topple the government, but they hadn't really done anything big in the past few months. Obviously, the first big attack in months was while we were having negotiations. The three of us were kidnapped by the attackers, but due to the composition of the mountain their base was in, the Enterprise couldn't beam us up.

"You came up with a harebrained, half-baked plan to escape, and somehow it worked, but there was a storm and we got stuck in a cave overnight. We had very limited food, and we were all starving, since we'd been there for nearly a day. We'd been given maybe half of a loaf of bread or something close to it right before we escaped, and that was all we had for the night, which lasted about fifteen hours on that planet."

James had a good idea of where the story was headed, and fought down the mild nausea. He crossed his arms over his chest and swallowed hard, but continued to listen.

"You refused to eat any of the bread, and threatened to order me and Chekov to split it between us. We finally did, after a long argument. When the storm was over and we could leave the cave, Scotty beamed us up immediately. Leonard verbally tore into you for refusing to split the bread, but you never apologized for it."

Well, James thought. I don't think there'll be a better time to do this.

"I'm used to being hungry," James said, shrugging. "I'm not surprised that I did that. Am going to do that." He tried to keep his voice level and nonchalant, but he was sure that Uhura caught on to the way that his voice wavered and breath came fast, how his arms trembled where they were crossed over his chest.

"You're used to being hungry?" Uhura asked, voice quiet and warm but worried. "Would you like to tell me why? You don't have to, but if you do..."

"Are you familiar with the Tarsus IV genocide?" James whispered, eyes trained on the floor by Uhura's boots. He had tried to speak stronger, but his voice was refusing to cooperate.

Uhura sucked in air on a soft gasp, hand rising to her mouth. James didn't look up at her face, but he could feel his whole body start to shake with tension and fear. The room was quiet for one second, two...

"Oh, James," Uhura said, and pulled him into a tight hug. She was warm, and soft, and smelled of cinnamon and floral shampoo. James felt tears sting in his eyes and dropped his head on to her shoulder, arms coming up to hug her back. His breath came in trembling gasps, and Uhura rubbed his back soothingly and she murmured reassurances in his ear.

"It's okay," she said. "I'm right here, I'm right here, James." James managed to bring himself under control and stepped away, wiping his eyes and sniffling.

"I'm sorry," he said. Uhura shook her head.

"Don't be sorry," she said. "Emotions are natural. Crying is natural." A pause. "I'm glad that you told me." James shrugged.

"It's the way to get back to being the older me. I need to tell people that I love and trust that I was on Tarsus in order to turn back." Uhura smiled at him, her eyes watery.

"I'm still glad you told me."

"Why wouldn't I? You're family, Emily." Uhura laughed loudly, shaking her head.

"Nyota," she finally said. "My name is Nyota, you stubborn little pain in the ass." And she dragged him into another hug, placing a kiss on his temple.

James felt warm and safe there, and truth be told, he didn't ever want her to let go. She did, eventually. She had to.

They moved the conversation to one of the couches, and turned the topic to Nyota. James learned over the course of the next hour that her favorite color was orange, her favorite language was Latin, and that her favorite candle scent was cinnamon. He learned that she grew up in San Francisco, and went to live with her grandmother in Sudan at the age of 15, after her parents both died on a mission for Starfleet. He learned that she had hated the mandatory navigation class that all cadets had to take, and that her biggest fear was snakes.

"Oh!" Nyota had finally gasped. "I need to get you back to your room before Spock comes hunting for us."

"Do you?" A glance at the chronometer hanging over the door gave the time as 2318, and James blinked.

"Huh. We've been talking for a while."

"Come on," Nyota said, laughing and standing from her seat. She gestured for him to do the same. "You don't want to see Spock when he's pissed."

"I'm sure I don't," James said, and stood as well.

Chapter Text

James is at a bar, sitting two seats down from a very attractive cadet. Her skin is dark, her long, sleek hair darker. The room is loud and James is drunk, skin itching for something unnamed.

"We're receiving a distress signal from the USS Kobayashi Maru," a female voice says. "The ship has lost power and is stranded. Starfleet command has ordered us to rescue them." The voice cuts through the racket of the bar, clear and authoritative and vaguely mocking. James turns around and the bar disappears. He finds himself in a dorm room at Starfleet.

There's a woman with green skin and vibrant red hair laying on one of the beds in her undergarments, and the same woman from the bar stands by the other bed, decidedly unimpressed. She is in her own undergarments, and James realizes that he's in his, as well.

"You," she says, glaring. It's the same voice he heard telling him about the Kobayashi Maru.

The room disappears in a swirl of light and color, and then James is laying on a biobed in an earthside medical facility, sunlight coming in from the window behind him.

"I sure hope you know what you're doing, captain." The same voice again, and then the door opens to reveal the same woman as before standing there.

She holds a bright bouquet of flowers that James doubts are from her. He knows that she's not the type to bring flowers, but comforting words. She is wearing casual clothing- leggings and a deep red cardigan- and the smile on her face is soft. James might say that it was fragile, if he didn't know this woman better.

"Jim."

"Can I call you Nyota now? I think I've earned the right." She laughs tearfully and shakes her head. James is slightly alarmed by that, because she's always so calm and collected, but he supposes that she's earned the right to be a little bit emotional. He has just died, after all.

"These are from Sulu," she says, handing him the bouquet. She takes a seat by his feet. "He couldn't make it today, something with his boyfriend, but he asked me to deliver these to you. Don't worry, Len made sure that they're safe." James smiles tiredly.

"My guardian angel." She laughs and whacks his leg lightly.

"Honestly, you don't give him enough credit." Her voice sobers, and she fixes him with a solemn look. "He did the impossible, Jim. For you."

"I know," James says softly, and yawns. "I know. I'll give him more credit when I don't feel like I'm about to pass out."

"Oh, would you like me to leave?"

"No, no," James mumbles, eyes sliding shut, and wonders if Bones has managed to drug him from another room or if he's just really tired, even after sleeping for what feels like weeks. "Don't like falling asleep alone right now."

"Of course," she says. "I can stay as long as you'd like."

He thinks he feels her press a sisterly kiss to his forehead as he drifts off, but he isn't quite sure.


James was, predictably, still asleep when Spock emerged from his morning meditation. He had been out quite late with Nyota the previous night, and so Spock decided to wait to wake him. Spock rolled up his mat, snuffed the meditation candle, and changed into his Starfleet uniform.

In the bathroom, as he readied himself, he pondered for a moment over the fact that his relationship with James would be irreparably changed after James was restored to his previous state. They could, if Jim so wanted to, pretend that this had never happened and attempt to return to what they had been before, but Spock knew that it would never truly work. Despite Jim's ability to ignore things such as injuries, memories, and statistics, they would both remember what had transpired. Even if Jim didn't, which Spock considered highly unlikely, Spock would, and did not plan on ignoring it.

Spock had thought he'd known James, but as time went on he was beginning to wonder if he really, truly did know the man he considered to be his best friend. Each day brought new surprises with James, and every time he remembered a friend, his mood and overall mental state seemed to improve. Perhaps it was because he was receiving more memories to place between him and Tarsus IV with every admission.

Spock was, admittedly, pleased that James was learning to trust his friends so rapidly. There was a two week deadline for lingering in situations where a crew member had been lost, and when Spock had told the admiralty about what had happened to Jim, they had placed him in that category. If James was not Jim again within that time frame, they would have to leave anyways. They still had time, of course, if everything went according to plan. But since when did plans ever gone according to plan when James Tiberius Kirk was involved?

Spock emerged from the bathroom to find James still asleep. He was sprawled out across the bed on his stomach, left arm and foot dangling off of the side. His head lay on the mattress, and Spock located the pillow by his waist. His hair was in disarray, face slack in his slumber.

"James," Spock said. James' face twitched slightly, but he didn't wake.

"James." Again, slightly louder, and James blinked his eyes open with obvious effort.

"Wha..."

"It is time for you to prepare yourself for the day ahead of you."

"And you're already ready, right?" James slurred, rolling over and propping himself up on his elbows. He blinked slowly, eyes still slightly unfocused.

"Indeed."

"Indeed," James said, sounding more awake now, and flopped back onto the bed, closing his eyes. "I am indeed going to need a lot of motivation to leave this bed."

"If I am correct, I believe that Doctor McCoy will be in attendance at breakfast today." James opened his eyes and sat up.

"He is?"

"If I am correct. James, did you recall any memories involving Lieutenant Uhura last night, as you did with Lieutenant Sulu?"

"Yeah, I did," James said, smiling. "I just figured that I'd wait until breakfast. Nyota should be the first to hear about what I remembered."

"Did you not remember that you do not call her by her first name?" James waved a hand and got out of bed. He wobbled a bit, presumably due to a change in blood pressure.

"She gave me permission to call her Nyota last night." Spock waited by the bed as James wandered to the bathroom to get ready. His PADD chimed as he waited, signaling a message, and looked down to see that it was from Nyota.

To: Commander Spock
From: Lieutenant Uhura
Hey Spock, I was wondering if I could have permission to work on a little project. I came up with an idea last night to help James with his... recovery. If that's even the right word. I don't want to give too much away, though.

From: Commander Spock
To: Lieutenant Uhura
If you believe that your project will help James, you have my permission to do as you wish.

As Spock finished typing, James emerged from the bathroom, ready to go. His hair was loose and beginning to curl at the base, where it reached his shoulders.

"Who're you chatting with?"

"Lieutenant Uhura sent me an inquiry. I was responding."

"Ooh, what'd she ask about?"

"Simply permission for a project. She did not give details, before you ask." James scoffed as they entered the hallway.

"You know me too well."

"I have been your first officer for multiple years, a friend for nearly as long. I would find myself ashamed if I did not know you well by now."

"Isn't shame an emotion?"

"Vulcans are not entirely emotionless, James. We simply suppress them."

"Leonard told me that that's, like, really unhealthy." Spock tipped his head in a sort of acknowledgement."

"If done incorrectly, yes. However, Vulcans undergo years of rigorous training in order to suppress emotions correctly. In fact, 'suppress' in an error in words. A more accurate term would be 'control.'"

"Is that what you do during meditation? You just sit down, analyze your emotions, and then box them up or something?"

"Perhaps a slightly rudimentary description, but a fairly accurate one nonetheless."

Uhura was already at the usual table when Spock and James arrived, and she smiled brightly at the two of them.

"James, Spock!"

"Hey, Nyota," James said. Uhura shook her head good-naturedly.

"You're never going to call me Uhura again, are you?"

"Nope."

"I thought as much. Hey, have you seen Chekov or Sulu yet? They're normally here by now."

"I don't think so," James replied.

"We did not encounter either of them in the hallways this morning."

"Sulu might be working on that project of his with the botanists. I heard he had a breakthrough a couple of days ago. I don't know where Chekov would be, though."

"Well whatever the case," James said, grinning at Uhura. "Is glad there you're here. I remembered you last night. Well, some memories of you, at least." Uhura smiled, obviously pleased, and instantly sat up just a bit straighter. James was grinning, too, next to him.

"Oh, that's wonderful! What did you remember?"

"Well, I remembered Gaila, and I remembered the Kobayashi Maru. I remembered when I first met you at that bar in Riverside, and I remember you coming to visit me in the hospital after I temporarily bit the dust."

"You remembered me visiting you in the hospital?" Uhura asked. She seemed surprised that he had remembered that particular event.

"Among other things, yeah. You brought some flowers from Sulu, and sat at the foot of my bed when I fell asleep again shortly after you came in."

"Yeah, I remember that." Uhura nodded as she spoke, eyes slightly unfocused. "It was a sunny Thursday afternoon, and the first time that I came to see you after..." She trailed off.

"You were wearing a really nice cardigan thingy," James added, almost absently.

Spock looked up towards the door as it opened to reveal Doctor McCoy, usual mild scowl in place. James noticed his entrance too, and waved jovially. McCoy's face seemed to lighten when he saw James, and Spock wondered for a moment if him and the Doctor were really so dissimilar.

"Hey, kid," McCoy said as he dropped into a seat next to Uhura. "Sorry I'm late, Ensign Labarte from Science spilled acid on her hand when a friend of hers snuck up on her."

"Ouch," James said, scrunching up his nose.

"Yep," McCoy said, taking a swig of his coffee. "Honestly, the kids they let on to flagships these days. It astounds me."

"You sound like an old man," James commented. Uhura smothered a grin with her orange juice. McCoy narrowed his eyes.

"You think you're so smart," he muttered, but he was smiling, too.

Chapter Text

Leonard escorted James to sickbay himself after breakfast, and James found it soothing to just walk side by side without talking. They'd have plenty of time to do just that soon enough. The hallway was bustling with crew members both coming off of Gamma shift and going on to Alpha.

"Hey," James said, curious. "Is there anyone on the ship who you haven't seen for anything other than physicals? Like, they've never come to sickbay for a cut or burn or headache..." Leonard glanced over at him before answering.

"Sure there is. There's a few, but most people have come to me at least once by now. There's five of them, and I can name them all."

"You've got a good memory, huh?"

"You've got to have a good memory to be a doctor, kid. We don't just perform surgeries off of the top of our heads, or throw ingredients together and hope for a miracle. It's all memorization. That, and an iron stomach."

"Yeah, you definitely can't be squeamish around blood and other stuff."

They fell back into a companionable silence until they reached sickbay. Nurse Chapel met them with a smile, and James returned the action.

"Good morning, James."

"Good morning, Nurse Chapel."

The sickbay was filled with quiet energy, unoccupied by patients but still very much active. When the door to Leonard's office slid shut behind them, it was as if the hubbub had been abruptly silenced. As if this section of the sickbay was entirely separate from anything and everything else.

"So," Leonard began, settling down in his chair. "Did you tell Uhura?"

James nodded and grinned.

"Did you remember her?"

"Yeah, she's pretty badass."

"The two of you are like siblings. She pretends that she doesn't most of the time, the two of you rib at each other constantly, but she readily does care about you."

"I gathered that from one of the memories. It was after the whole Khan thing, and she had come to visit me." James paused, and then looked Leonard directly in the eyes. "Did I ever thank you? For bringing me back, I mean. Saving my life."

Leonard looked contemplative for a moment, and the fact that he had to think made James a bit nervous and more than a bit guilty. Leonard finally shook his head, and James felt a flash of annoyance for his older self.

"No, you didn't, not verbally," Leonard said. He didn't sound upset, though. "You've never been the type of person to say thank you, really. You changed around Krall, got more in touch with your emotions, but Khan was well before Krall.

"You said it in other ways, though. You didn't complain, the entire time you were in the hospital after Khan. You were stuck with half a million damn needles, suffered through multiple psychological evaluations, but you never complained. It's the most obedient I've ever seen you."

"Well I am grateful," James said solemnly. "It's still a bit of a foreign topic, having people care about me, and I just... Thank you. For caring enough to bring me back."

Leonard bobbed his head and began to blink furiously, obviously emotional.

"No problem, kid," he said, voice rough. "You kind of did the same for me once, and you didn't even know me." James tipped his head.

"What do you mean?"

"When I first met you, drunk on that shuttle to the Academy, I was in a really bad place. I'd lost my marriage, and my little girl right along with it. You didn't know me, we weren't really even friends yet, but you... you we're damn determined to help me. And you did. I barely had time to think about Jocelyn and Jo because of the time I spent chasing you around."

"I'm glad to help?" Leonard laughed quietly.

"You sure did, kid." Leonard paused. "So," he said, changing the topic. "Back to Uhura. What else did you remember besides her visiting you in the hospital?"

"I remember meeting her for the first time in a bar in Riverside," James said. "And I remember the thing with Gailia, when she kicked me out of her room. I also remember some of the Kobayashi Maru, and more generic memories. Hanging out in the mess hall, the rec room. Y'know, generic stuff."

"Did you find it easier to tell her than it was the first time?" James nodded.

"Yeah. It might be because I'm growing more used to the idea that I won't be judged, or it might be because the more memories I recall of people, the more distance I can put between myself and... and Tarsus. I wasn't just there, in my mind, I have more experiences to but after it."

"I think it's both," Leonard said. "A healthy and loving environment helps your mind stay healthy, and time helps after traumatic experiences. You're getting both at the same time."

"I suppose I am."

"Who do you think you're going to tell next?" Leonard asked. James frowned at the desk.

"I'm not sure. I know Pavel more, so I feel like I should tell him first, but I don't want to leave anybody to be told last. That would suck, if a friend came to me with something like that and then told me that I was the last one to know. I'd feel less important."

"I understand," Leonard said. "It was a similar situation with you in the hospital once you'd woken up. Spock and I were there first, but then the other senior officers wanted to visit you, of course, and we had to decide who would be the first and the last allowed to see you. We didn't want you to think that one cared less than the other, but we also couldn't just unleash all of them on you at once."

"What did you do, then?" James said.

"We drew straws for visitation order, and then told you that we'd drawn straws." James laughed.

"You didn't."

"We did." Leonard sounded sincere, and that was even more amusing to James.

"You actually drew straws?"

"Of course. Nobody was willing to give up the chance to be the first one besides Spock, me, and the nurses to see you."

"Wow, that's just... wow." James shook his head, amused. The conversation stalled, and a rather concerning thought found its way into James' mind.

"Hey, Len?"

"Yeah?"

"We've been in orbit for a few days. Isn't there some sort of protocol about that? A limit?"

"Two weeks for a missing crewman, and then the ship has to leave. When Spock told command, they put you in that category."

"What if I don't get turned back into the older me before we have to leave? Does that mean that I'll be stuck like this?" Leonard shook his head.

"I don't think so. It's more about you confiding in family than the planet or ha'karr."

"I sure hope so."

"Have you had any nightmares recently?" Leonard asked. "I don't suspect it, but..."

"I haven't," James confirmed. "Just recalling memories."

"That's good, that's really good."

"Definitely," James said, laughing. "It's certainly sparing Spock the trouble of having to calm me down. I think what happened the first night could've been considered assault, with all of the negative emotions I threw at him when I hugged him."

"You hugged Spock?" Leonard said incredulously. James shrugged.

"I was pretty distressed, I hugged him before I even knew what I was doing. He didn't freak out that badly."

Leonard shook his head, but he was smiling. "Only you, kid," he said. "Only you."

Chapter Text

James hung out with Hannah in the rec room until Alpha was over. She taught him how to play checkers, and kicked his butt the first couple of times until James got the hang of it. They also talked, and James got to know more about her.

She had lived with her mother and younger brother as a child. Her father had died in Starfleet, an away mission gone wrong. Hannah and her younger brother, Jacob, had helped their mother out as much as they could, due to her major health issues. She died in a hovercar crash when Hannah was eleven and her brother was nine, and they had been sent to live with her grandparents.

Her Christian grandparents, who were particularly behind the times, had never been particularly fond of the Muslim man that their daughter had chosen to marry, and were therefore not particularly fond of his children. Her brother and her, Hannah explained, had been treated more like burdens than the children of their only daughter, the last things they had left of her.

"That's why you were so adamant that you take care of me instead of someone that was forced to," James said, realization dawning. Disgust at her grandparents still sat heavy in his stomach. Hannah nodded.

"It was awful. I didn't want you to have to go through anything similar." James had smiled at her gratefully.

"Thank you," he said. "Really."

"Of course."

"No, seriously. I'm... I'm really grateful."

"I wish someone had done the same for me," Hannah said. "Of course I was going to help you."

They resumed their game of checkers in a quiet, comfortable silence. Hannah proved to be a considerable opponent, and James enjoyed the challenge.


Spock helped James track down Chekov after the two of them got off of Alpha shift. As Spock had predicted, Chekov could be found in the botany labs with Sulu, helping out with the fungal protection as it began to be finalized.

James felt highly uncomfortable in the room, with the experience he had had the first time he visited, but he pushed the feeling aside as he began to sweat lightly. Chekov's curls and accent were immediately recognizable, in a back corner of the room.

"Pavel!" James called, and Chekov turned to locate him. Sulu glanced over his shoulder too, but quickly returned his attention to the experiment running.

"Hello, little keptin, hello, commander!" Chekov said, smiling brightly. The nickname continued to spark a warm feeling in him, like something that one might feel for a brother that had treated him better than Sam had.

Although, James mused, his relationship with Sam might have healed and strengthened over the years that he hadn't lived yet. Somehow, he doubted it.

"Ensign Chekov, Lieutenant Sulu," Spock said in greeting.

"Did you come to steal Pavel, James?" Sulu asked without looking up. James suspected that he knew exactly what James' plans for the night were.

"Yep."

Pavel looked absolutely ecstatic at the idea of getting to spend more time with James, and James felt a little bad. Pavel had probably felt a little bit neglected by him earlier.

"Really?"

"Yeah, man. I want to get to know you better." If Chekov was a kid, James suspected that he'd be bouncing on his feet, but he was technically a professional Starfleet officer despite his age, so he settled for smiling widely instead.

"I will stay and assist Lieutenant Sulu if necessary," Spock said.

"Oh, no, I don't need much help." Sulu said, waving a hand. "Pavel was just keeping me company. You can go do whatever you do when you're off duty, sir."

Spock didn't verbally respond, and James assume that he had nodded. Pavel walked over to James, smiling all the while.

"Vhere do you vant to go?" Pavel asked, and James shrugged.

"Where do you like to go?" James asked as they departed. "I don't particularly care- it's you that I want to talk to."

"I am normally in my cabin if I am not in zee botanic labs, on zee bridge, or in zee rec room."

"Ensign rooms are smaller than the captain and first officer's rooms, right?"

"Wery much so, little keptin."

"Can I see?"

"Of course!"


Chekov and James departed, the door hissing shut behind them. Spock remained in the lab, and stared after them for a moment. Sulu had stopped working on his project, perhaps he was waiting for results.

"I think Chekov'll be good with James. Easier to talk to than the rest of us." His voice was loud in the relative silence of the room, underlaid by the humming of machines and the starship itself.

"Why do you presume that?" Sulu looked at him from where he was leaning against a workstation, arms crossed.

"Chekov's the youngest out of all of us, he'll be able to better connect with James." Sulu paused, seemingly hesitant. "And," he said, with the tone of someone who wasn't sure they should be saying what they were. "Well, Pavel's life was fairly rough before he joined Starfleet."

Spock thought, with no small amount of surprise, of the young, bouncy Ensign. He hadn't had the slightest clue that Chekov's childhood was not the best. Of course, the same could be said of Jim, with his bright personality and overwhelming confidence.

"A regrettable fact." Sulu hummed in agreement and turned back to his project.

"I never would've guessed," Sulu said after a beat of silence. "About Pavel. Or Jim. They're just such happy people, you know? You don't expect happy people to have backgrounds like they do."

"Indeed." Spock didn't have much else to say. There weren't any appropriate words.

Spock's PADD dinged, and Spock held it up to see who had messaged him. It was Uhura again.

To: Commander Spock
From: Lieutenant Uhura
If you have free time, could you stop by my quarters? Any time between now and 2000 is good. I want to talk to you about that project I'm working on for James. Your input would be very helpful.

"If you will excuse me, I have something to attend to."

"Have fun," Sulu said. He sounded distracted, and so Spock excused himself without further speech.

He encountered no one that requested his attention during his journey, and when he arrived at Nyota's quarters, she opened the door immediately. Her smile was bright but tired when she stood to the side so he could enter.

"Spock," she said warmly.

"Nyota." He had not been in her room since they had terminated their relationship 6.43 months ago, and was unsurprised to find that it had not changed much.

"So I talked to Leonard last night after dropping James off about an idea for a project, and he agreed that it would probably help James' self esteem, even if it wouldn't necessarily help him recall any memories."

"What is this project?"

"Last night when I was talking with James, he told me that he didn't understand why people told him that he was a good person. When I asked how I could make him see otherwise, he said citations. So I want to collect a story or two from every crew member- or as many as I can- about Jim Kirk being a good person, and compile them for him."

"Do you require a story from me?"

"I do, yeah. Anything that stands out when you think of Jim? Any story, any favorite memory?"

Spock had abundant memories of Jim. He was with the captain almost constantly, and they had come to be good friends. Now the only task would be choosing only one or two memories showing that Jim was a good person.

"Perhaps," Spock said slowly. "I have many memories with Jim, it will be difficult to narrow them down."

"You can meditate on it if you want, come back tomorrow," Uhura suggested. "I'm not going to be finishing this tonight."

"I will supply my stories tomorrow."

"I should be free from 1800 to 1930 tomorrow, so you can stop by during that time frame."

"Of course," Spock said, and turned to leave.

"Spock," Nyota said. Spock turned.

"Yes, Nyota?"

"Do you think he'll be different when we get him back? Obviously changed?" From the look on Nyota's face, she had clearly spent some time thinking about this matter. Spock tilted his head slightly, thinking.

"I believe he will be different, yes," Spock said. "But I believe that he will be better."

"Better," Uhura echoed. "Hopefully."

Chapter Text

The Ensign quarters really seemed quite small. They were about the size of Spock's quarters, maybe a bit smaller, but with twice the items. Two small bunks, two times the amount of minimal personal clutter. The room was divided fairly neatly in two, with a door that James assumed led to a bathroom in the middle of the wall.

"I thought your rooms were just small," James said. "I didn't realize that you had to share quarters."

"I share with Ensign Barron, from zee science diwision. He spends much of his time in zee labs."

"So which half of the room is yours?" James said jokingly. It was obvious which half of the room belonged to Chekov- there were pictures of him as a little kid above his bed, the bronze curls unmistakable.

There wasn't really all that much personalization- James supposed that it was due to a lack of room. He did spot a woven basket at the end of Chekov's bed, though, with unidentifiable things inside of it. James tipped his head.

"What's that?" Chekov followed James's gaze, and flushed slightly.

"Zat ees supplies for knitting."

"You knit?"

"I do. It is common practice in Russia- ve need varm clothing."

"Could you teach me?" Chekov looked surprised, but pleased.

"I vould be wery happy to teach you, little keptin." Chekov paused. "You do not mind me calling you little keptin, no?"

"Little captain is fine, Pav." Chekov gestured to his bed, and James sat down cross legged on it. Chekov grabbed the knitting supplies and then sat down across from James, almost resembling a puppy in his excitement.

"First," he said, "you need zee needles."

James smiled. "Obviously. What next?"


"Spock," Jim says, one night. His tone is solemn, and dissolves the easy camaraderie of their nearly-abandoned chess game. They've gotten to talking, and let the game go idle.

"Jim." Their friendship and chess games are relatively new, but Spock has learned by now to call the captain Jim when they are off-duty. Jim swallows hard, lips pursed as if making a difficult decision. His eyes are fixed on some middle distance. They flick up to Spock's and hold, frighteningly blue for a moment in the slightly dimmed lights.

"You know I didn't mean what I said about your mom, right?" Jim sounds small and vulnerable when he says this, and the mention of his mother sends a wave of grief through Spock. He fights to keep it down. "You- the other, older you- told me to take command of the ship by proving that you were emotionally compromised. I could have just used your planet, I realize that now. Your mother- that was a low blow. I'm sorry, I really am. I've been feeling guilty about that ever since I had time to really think about it."

His heart and the surrounding area physically hurt with the grief, and the anger, and Spock pushes it aside.

Focus.

"I am aware that you did not mean what you said. It was an attempt to anger me, and no more." Jim shakes his head.

"I know, you've told me that before. But grudges don't bow to logic, Spock. Do you really think you can work with me? Be my friend? Because I want us to be friends, you know." Jim looks almost desperate, brows furrowed and worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. It is behvaior unbecoming of a Starfleet captain, a hero, but Spock knows that Jim is just a man underneath all that, and a young one.

"I do not harbor a grudge towards you, Jim. I, too, wish us to be friends." Jim smiles, but Spock doesn't think it's a happy one. His grasp on human displays of emotion is still lacking.

"Well, Mr. Spock," he says quietly. "It seems that you're the better man between the two of us. If I was in your position, I'm not sure I'd be able to forgive me."


Chekov had taught him the basics of knitting, and as James tried to knit what might turn into a baby blue scarf if he's lucky, Chekov pulled out a mass of bright pink yarn and unfolded it into a half-done sweater.

"What's that?"

"Eet ees a sweater for Hikaru's daughter. She likes pink."

"That's adorable. Who taught you how to knit?" Chekhov's fingers stilled for a moment before they continued to work.

"My mother." The reply was purposefully nonchalant, and James was curious.

"Not a big part in your life anymore?" James asked. "You can tell me to back off if I get too personal."

"Vhen I vanted to go to Starfleet Academy, my parents vere... not wery happy. Zhey wanted me to stay on Earth, avay from see stars. Zhey said eet was too dangerous."

"What happened next?" James asked. "You obviously ended up in Starfleet."

"I left vithout their permission."

"You ran away?"

Chekov blushed and ducked his head.

"I did too, once," James added. "Sort of. My brother ran away. I stole a car and drove it off a cliff."

"You vhat?!"

"Yeah, not my smartest decision. It got me sent to a boarding school for delinquents, and that..." James trailed off, his stomach suddenly feeling hollow. "That didn't really end well."

"You did not change much, after." Chekov said. "I vas alvays hearing about Cadet Kirk at zee Academy." James laughed.

"So I've been told. What was your favorite part about Russia? You had to have loved it, or else you wouldn't mention it so much."

"My family liwed on a farm, far from eweryone else. It vas wery beautiful in zee winter. Like a painting."

"I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere, too," James said. "Except I was surrounded by corn. I guess the fields were pretty when it snowed, but Russia was probably prettier."

"You could see zee Enterprise from zee fields, yes?" Chekov asked. "You talk about zat, sometimes."

"Yeah," James said. "I grew up in her shadow. It's kind of odd, knowing that the ship I watched grow year after year is the one I'm on right now."

"Technically, eet ees not. Zee original Enterprise ees gone."

"I suppose," James said. "But it's still got the same name."


Spock's head feels like it's about to split open, each rapid beat of his heart making his head pulse. His body is relatively intact- no more physical abuse was administered than was necessary. The aliens that have captured him are telepaths, after all. Their brutality affects not the body, but the mind.

He thinks he hears a noise, a grunt of pain or strain. His hearing seems to have improved with the headache, or maybe his ears have just gotten more sensitive. Then the sound of footsteps, familiar human ones, is approaching, and Spock drags his head up and squints against the low light. The hallway beyond his cell remains empty until it is not.

"Spock!" The captain exclaims, body posture relaxing for a moment. Spock flinches at the sound of his voice, too loud. Then, noticing Spock's condition, Jim's face looses its happy grin and falls serious. "Spock, I'm going to get you out of there. Just hang on, okay?" His voice is quieter, most likely picking up on the reason for Spock's distress.

"You should not have attempted a rescue," Spock whispers. "This planet is too dangerous for a psi-null individual." Jim's eyes glint happily as he sets to work on hacking into Spock's cell.

"Which is why I invited our lovely Betazoid security officer to join this rescue mission." His voice is soothing, and Spock takes comfort in it.

"Captain, you are well aware that Betazoids are empaths, not telepaths."

"Same difference." The lock chirps happily, the sound harsh and grating to Spock's ears, and Jim rushes into the cell.

"Can you stand? We only need to make it about a kilometer."

"Perhaps." Spock attempts to stand, but his legs buckle as soon as he releases the wall that he was using as support. Shame builds in Spock's gut. "No."

"Okay," Jim says. "I'll just have to carry you." Spock shakes his head.

"Captain, leave me. The higher gravity on Vulcan led us to be of a greater density than humans, and therefore, heavier. You cannot-"

"Well let me try," Jim whispers fiercely. "I'm not leaving you behind, Spock."

"Captain."

"Commander."

Spock suppresses a sigh and tries again.

"Jim," he starts, and is quickly cut off.

"Spock. I'm carrying you, and that's final." Spock sags against the wall, eyes sliding shut.

"Very well."


"You vanted to get to know me better, yes?" Chekov asked. Jim's scarf looked exceptionally sloppy, but Chekov assured him it was great for his first attempt. "Vhy ees zat?"

"It's supposed to help me with my recovery." James knew that that would be asked, but anxious nausea still caused his stomach to clench, and made his breath come just a little bit quicker.

"How?"

"The gift the ha'karr gave me, it's supposed to improve my mental health when I return to being the right age. The way to revert back to myself is to tell my family, people that I care about, that, uh..." James' throat seemed to close up, allowing no words to pass.

"You do not have to rush it, little keptin," Chekov said, setting down his knitting. "I am patient, vhen I need to be."

James set down his knitting, as well. It looked terribly pitiful next to Chekov's, but he supposed he didn't really expect it to look anything close to decent compared to Chekov's work anyways. The hot pink began to hurt his eyes, and so he looked at Chekov instead.

"Thanks, Pav," James said, and then laughed. "I think you're the easiest person to talk to so far, why did I not realize this sooner?"

"So far?"

"I've been going through my friends, telling them the thing that'll make me better. I put you off because I thought you would be one of the harder people to tell, but apparently I was wrong."

"Many other people do zee same thing."

"Do you get used to it? Being overlooked or underestimated?" Chekov looked thoughtful.

"Sometimes, little keptin," he said. "No attention is better than attention."

James thought about that for a moment. It was Frank paying attention to him that had gotten him sent to Tarsus, and Kodos' lack of attention that had allowed him to- at he beginning, before he'd gotten too thin and it was obvious that he was consorting with those deemed 'less fit'- occasionally go into the town in broad daylight and steal meager amounts of food for the others.

"I guess so," James said quietly, and picked up his knitting again.


"So I heard you died," Jim says from behind Spock. "Well- the other, older you."

They stand in a small observation deck on the edge of Yorktown, staring into the endless black. It is the first chance that Spock has had to truly rest and reorder himself since the disaster with Krall. Spock has been standing here for 1.503 hours, approximately, contemplating the life of his alternate self. He knew the white hot rage he felt when his mother had died, an angry grief that had consumed him. This is different, a blankness. Perhaps this is grief, too, but a different kind.

He did not hear Jim enter, and is almost startled enough to jump when Jim speaks, however quietly. Spock takes a deep breath and continues to gaze out the window. What should he say to that? He does not believe that there is a proper response. Spock does not have to respond at all, in the end, because Jim continues to speak.

"I... can't really imagine how you're feeling right now." Jim's voice is quiet and soothing. Spock feels his back loose some tension as Jim speaks. "There aren't proper words, are there?"

"I do not believe that there are," Spock responds quietly. His eyes are focused on nothing, and when he blinks, he finds his eyes focusing on Jim's reflection in the glass. He thinks that Jim is staring at Spock's own reflection, but he can't be certain.

"He was a good man. Or Vulcan, whichever you'd like to call him." Jim's hand finds a perch on his shoulder, the touch soft and concerned. "Do you want to talk about it? Or do you want to just stand here? Because I can do that too." A beat, and then, "I can also leave, if you'd like." Spock tips his head just the slightest bit to the side.

"I would not mind it terribly if you stayed," Spock says. "But I would rather not speak."

Spock can feel Jim nod from behind him, and a thumb begins to rub back and forth over his shoulder. The repetitive action is oddly soothing.

"I can do that," Jim says. "I can definitely do that."


James stared at his scarf disapprovingly. It looked like a mess, but Chekov seemed proud of him. He supposed that was what really mattered.

The atmosphere in the room was quiet and warm, and with his usual Kirk impulsiveness, James decided to talk before the atmosphere changed to one that was less kind. Or before Chekov's roommate returned.

"I was on Tarsus IV," James blurted out before he could think too hard about the words. Chekov froze, the lack of clicking needles sending ice into James' stomach.

Why did I do that oh god what will he think of me how-

"Zee planet with zee genocide and famine?" Chekov asked.

James nodded, avoiding Chekov's eyes. He could feel his hands shaking in his lap, and clenched them into fists. He thought that he might actually throw up for a moment.

"I had a cousin who vas on Tarsus IV, too."

James jerked his head towards Chekov in surprise. That was a first. No loving hug or reassuring words, but companionship. An acknowledgment of the impact that Kodos and the famine had. Chekov's eyes were darker than normal, and he set the knitting down in his lap.

"Was?"

"Alyona escaped. She vas one of zee people Kodos decided was 'better' than others. She died of Alwirian Flu four years later."

"One of the kids I managed to save died after making it off of Tarsus, too," James said. "I don't- it's almost funny. Surviving such a shitshow against impossible odds, only to die afterwards." James pulled in a deep, shuddering breath, and felt hot tears begin to build behind his eyes. Chekov set his knitting off to the side and pulled James towards him into a hug.

James clung to him and sobbed, pressing his eyes into Chekov's shoulder so his shirt could absorb the tears. Chekov rubbed James' back soothingly, murmuring Russian into James' hair.

"It's not fair," James rasped into Chekov's shirt. "I survived and so many- so many others died. I could've saved all of the kids I'd tried to protect if I'd just tried harder."

"I know you," Chekov said, in English again. "And I know that you tried your wery best to protect zee kids."

James shook his head, a harsh sob tearing its way out of his throat. "It wasn't enough. I could've done better, I should've- I should've done better."

"You did ewerything zat you could," Chekov said, voice firm. "Sometimes you just cannot protect ewerybody."

James continued to sob, and Chekov let him.

Chapter Text

Spock watches from a corner of the room as Doctor McCoy chats with Princess Ai'a of Tamaar. The Tama are generally relaxed and peaceful, except when dealing with courtship, and so Spock is especially watchful as the crew mingles with the Tamaaran court. Based on the report about their culture, it seems that Ai'a is preparing to make a move of courtship. Leonard says something, and Ai'a trills happily, placing a turquoise hand on his shoulder.

The Tama are lovely, the Princess one of the more attractive among her mother's court. Some of the Tama have turquoise skin, and some have lavender. Their hands are four fingered, and their heads adorned by ridges that become more elegant and extravagant the more closely related to royalty they are. Otherwise, they look rather humanoid.

Be that as it may, Spock knows that Leonard has no interest, and is in a very dangerous position right now. Courtship rituals are a central part of the Tamaaran culture, and are not to be taken lightly. Everything is highly elaborate, and a single misstep can lead to an explosive conflict. There is only one way to turn down a courtship invitation, but it contains a lengthy spiel of precise words, and Spock doubts that Leonard knows it. Ai'a will doubtlessly offer a courtship proposal sometime tonight, and Leonard will not know how to refuse.

Spock moves closer to the doctor, staying near the wall. He wants to help, but isn't quite sure how. Charisma is not his strong suit- that particular area of expertise belongs to Jim. Speaking of Jim, Spock thinks that he is talking with the Queen in the center of the room, the busiest area, but he cannot spot him.

"Do you have any offspring?" Ai'a is asking, her hand still on Leonard's shoulder. If Spock did not know Leonard by now, he would think that Leonard is perfectly at ease. His legs are tense beneath the formal slacks he's wearing, though, spine and shoulders just a bit tighter than usual.

"I have a daughter," Leonard says. "Her name is Joanna."

"Joanna," Ai'a repeats in the high, dreamy voice of her people. "What a lovely name. She must be as kind and passionate as her father, no?"

"I'm not sure. I haven't seen her in years."

Perhaps sensing that her subtle tactic isn't working, Ai'a lets her arm move from Leonard's shoulder down to his wrist, moving closer into his personal space. His shoulders tighten just a little bit further, but Ai'a either doesn't notice or doesn't care.

"Doctor Leonard McCoy," she begins, and if Spock was human he might flinch. That's the opening of a courtship proposal. "Would you do me the honor of entering into a romantic relationship with me, Princess Ai'a of Tamaar?"

Leonard's entire body tenses, and his mouth opens and closes soundlessly. He is clearly trying to remember the rejection phrase, something he probably only glanced at. He is trapped, and Spock feels awfully guilty for not stepping in to do something.

"There you are, sweetheart!" Jim says, emerging from the crowd and walking over to Leonard. He takes Leonard's hand as he stops next to him, as if it's the most natural thing he's ever done. Leonard looks over, and his posture relaxes just a bit. "What are we talking about over here?"

"Oh," Ai'a says, stepping away. "My sincerest apologies, Doctor Leonard McCoy. I was not aware that you were already engaged in a romantic relationship. He is a worthy choice."

"It was a simple misunderstanding," Leonard says, smiling tightly. He begins to relax into Jim's side, and Jim leans over to peck him on the temple.

"My apologies," Ai'a repeats, and disappears into the crowd. As soon as she's out of sight, Leonard scowls and pushes Jim away. He crosses his arms over his chest, but Jim just grins.

"What the hell," Leonard demands. "Was that."

"You clearly needed help, and it was obvious that you'd forgotten the only polite verbal way to refuse a courtship proposal. A universal way to get out of something like that, however, is to already be in a relationship." Jim wiggles his eyebrows. Leonard sighs and shakes his head, closing his eyes as if it's painful to look at Jim.

"Dammit, man," he says, and Jim only laughs.


Spock was meditating when Chekov returned James to Spock's room. They hovered awkwardly in the doorway for a moment before James turned to Chekov.

"I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow?" James whispered, so as not to disturb Spock. He didn't know how easy to disturb meditation was.

"Da, I vill see you then. Goodnight, little keptin," Chekov whispered back, and turned away. James entered the room, and when the door shut behind him he found himself momentarily blinded by the dimness. As his vision adjusted, James began to pick his way across the room to the bathroom to prepare for bed.

He wondered what it was like in Spock's head when he meditated. How exactly did he do it? Did he pick apart and analyze every moment of the day, then just... store it in some mental box? Did he just separate his emotions from all memories and then tuck them away?

Could humans meditate? James pondered over that question as he brushed his teeth. Humans were psi-null, so they definitely couldn't do the kind of meditation that Spock and Vulcans did, but did that mean that they couldn't meditate at all? Maybe they could reach shallower levels of meditation, with enough practice. He'd ask Spock tomorrow, if he remembered.

Spock was still meditating when James left the bathroom, which he had expected. There had been no sounds of life while he brushed his teeth. The bed looked comfortable and inviting, and James staggered towards it as softly as he could, eyes sagging with exhaustion. He was tempted to flop down on to the bed, but that would make a loud noise and could pull Spock from his meditation, so he just sat down and tucked himself under the covers instead. He was asleep within only a few minutes.


Spock is standing in a small conference room. It branches off of the Pure One's throne room, and is composed almost entirely of windows. The parts of the room that aren't glass are constructed from a pale rock. Two suns hang in the sky, giving the Pure One an ethereal look. Loose, light, flowing robes hang on a slender gray frame.

The Pure One's face would be aesthetically pleasing to Spock if it was not twisted in rage and disgust. The problem is, Xallia is a planet obsessed with blood purity, a fact that the Enterprise was unaware of. They are so obsessed with purity, in fact, that they evolved into five separate species due to interbreeding and taboos on 'impure' relations. The Pure One is the purest of all, the most perfect, and therefore one of the most judgmental when it comes to purity. They have also just discovered Spock's parentage.

"You dare set foot in the Great Hall?!" The Pure One screeches. Their lips are twisted with distaste, their nose slits fluttering rapidly and black eyes narrowed. "You are a sin, a crime, you do not deserve to lay eyes upon this palace of purity!"

Spock glances over at Jim, only to find him blinking in surprise. Spock himself is more shocked than offended at the moment- they had been so kind until just a moment ago. As the Pure One continues to speak, though, Jim's eyes begin to narrow.

"Your parents should be killed for such a crime, their appas never allowed to reach peace in the After! How dare they do such a thing as to bring a monster like you into this world, and how dare you disgrace our planet with your presence! You-"

"That is enough," Jim snaps in his most commanding tone, stepping forward to put himself between the Pure One and Spock. "You will not speak to my first officer like that." The Pure One looks at Jim in disbelief.

"But he is Impure, he is-"

"He is an exceptional first officer who has saved my lives and the lives of other crew members countless times." Jim's tone is like steel, and leaves no room for arguments. "As I presumed you were aware, the Federation preaches acceptance of all, whether they be purebred or a cross-species hybrid."

Spock does not pay any notice to how the rest of the conversation goes. He is aware that Jim holds him in high regard, of course. They are friends, as Jim has said many a time. But this is the first time in his memory that anyone has ever actually stood up for him against prejudice. He has always been left to deal with biting words and harsh looks by himself, but Jim-

Jim does not leave him alone.

Spock almost wants to smile, but that would be rather illogical, as the Pure One has just been insulting him. Besides, it would probably only serve to concern Jim, which is something that Spock doesn't want to do.


James is spiraling downward towards scarlet rocks, Sulu in his arms, and he's fairly certain that he's about to die. He squeezes his eyes shut as the ground continues to approach, and hopes that the end is painless.

The world dissolves around them, golden, and they land on a transporter platform. The Russian kid from the bridge is yelling something in his native language, probably celebrating his victory. James hurts all over, and from the groans, Sulu does as well.

The groaning turns to laughing and he's sitting in a bar, eyeing up an attractive Andorian at the bar counter. The bass of the music shakes James' chest, and the air is thick with the smell of sweat and alcohol. Someone jostles him, and it turns out to be Bones, cheeks flushed from alcohol. He gestures at Scotty and Chekov, who are having a drinking competition. It looks, somehow, like Scotty is losing. Chekov is only a couple of years past the legal drinking age, and yet James has the sneaking suspicion that he's been drinking for longer. Drinking like that takes a lot of practice.

"They're both going to end up in medbay with alcohol poisoning," Uhura says, from across the table, sipping her Cardassian Sunrise and shaking her head. "And our dearest doctor will be unable to help due to a hangover."

"Will not," Bones slurs, and then hiccups. "'M gonna be fine. 'M a dac- dictate-" Bones pauses and frowns. "Doctor," he says, as slowly, clearly, and loudly as he can.

Scotty slumps backwards in defeat, and Chekov laughs the laugh of a very drunk man, pumping his fists in the air and then sagging sideways into Bones. Bones then tips into James, who is left to support both of their weight. It looks like Chekov is already asleep or unconscious.

James looks over his shoulder and finds himself in an alien forest, Chekov standing behind him. The navigator is in a survival suit, and looks scared. Why is he scared? James is absolutely furious at... someone. Perhaps it's him that Chekov is scared of.

The light behind Chekov grows in intensity until it blinds him, and when James opens his eyes he's in the hospital back on Earth after he died. Chekov stands nervously in the doorway, and James smiles tiredly.

"Come on in," he says. Chekov steps closer to James' bed, a package under one arm. It's wrapped in simple brown paper, tied up with a string, and Chekov sets it down on James' lap.

"I had some free time recently," Chekov says. "And I thought zat you vould like some comfort. Hospitals are not wery comfortable." James smiles again.

"Thank you," he says quietly. Talking takes energy, and he still doesn't have much. The knots are fairly simple, but his fingers shake and he can't seem to get a strong enough grip to untie it. Chekov sees the problem, and reaches forward to help. Once the knot is untied, James can unwrap the gift the rest of the way by himself.

The paper falls away to reveal a blue knitted something, almost the color of his eyes. It's incredibly soft to the touch, and James can't seem to stop rubbing it. Chekov looks slightly embarrassed, but the proud kind.

"It's very lovely."

"Eet ees a blanket," Chekov said. "I keep hearing from others zat come to see you zat you are alvays cold. Russian blankets are designed to stop zee cold." Chekov says that last bit as thought it's indisputable, and James grins.

"Of course they are."

"Of course. Blankets vere inwented in Russia." Chekov's face is entirely serious when he says this, as per usual.

James laughs.


When the sickly blue of a Hapirian transporter dissipates, they find themselves in what seems to be the Hapirian equivalent of a tropical rainforest. Tall, gray barked trees extend far into the air, and Spock can only catch glimpses of a yellow sky through the indigo foliage. Around them, bushes adorn the ground so thickly that it's almost difficult to move. There's a skittering sound from ahead of them and a bush 20.3 feet directly ahead of them shudders.

"Well," Jim says from his right. "Shit."

"Indeed." Jim sighs, pursuing his lips.

"Do we know where we are?"

We are on Hapiria, Spock is tempted to say, if only to attempt to elicit one of the smiles that Jim gives when Spock says something that he finds particularly amusing. However he senses that this is not the time for dry wit.

"I would presume that we are in the forest surrounding Hapiria's capital city."

"But why?" Jim asks, scratching his head and turning to look in every direction. "Are we some sort of sacrifice?" His hand drifts to his phaser, only for his fingers to encounter thin air when it is not there. It has been confiscated, along with their tricorders, communicators, and other items.

"I believe so. I studied the rudimentary basics of their language before we arrived, and if I am correct, the High Priest was chanting something about appeasing a great beast before we were transported here."

Jim takes a deep breath and reaches up to rub at his temples. He looks tired, has looked tired since a mission last week where they failed to save a building full of children. Spock wishes to place his hands on Jim's face and ease his pain, but he knows that now is not the time.

"So, Mister Spock, what do you suggest we do?"

"The most logical course of action would be to attempt to contact the Enterprise, but we have no technology with which to do so." Jim nods, but he's not happy.

"And no supplies to build a beacon with, either.  Should we climb some trees and hope that the Enterprise notices the human and half Vulcan life signs in the middle of nowhere?" It sounds like a joke, and the glittering in Jim's eyes reveals it to be one.

"That would be highly illogical," Spock says in response. "The odds of one or both of us falling and injuring or killing ourselves is-"

Jim's eyes dart to a point behind Spock, and his face falls to an expression of horror, tan skin paling. Spock turns to see what has Jim so frightened, but before he can, Jim's hand are on his chest, shoving him down. A tremendous stinking mass takes up his entire vision for a moment, and then it is gone and Spock is left staring at the canopy.

There is the thud and oomph of a human being hit by a very large object, and then Jim is crying out in pain to his right. Spock struggles to sit up- he hit his head on something when he fell- and he believes his heart stops for a moment when he sees what is happening.

Jim is underneath a massive, snarling, dog-like creature whose gray and indigo spotted fur allowed it to remain almost invisible in the forest. The creature most certainly has claws, too, if the screams and growing pool of scarlet blood are anything to go by.

There! Laying just by Spock's left hand is a large branch. It's heavy, but nothing that Spock can't handle, and he brings it back over his head before swinging it down with all of his might on top of the creature's head. The animal staggers, moving off of Jim, and then collapses.

Jim lays on the ground, sickly pale and bleeding heavily from multiple gashes across his arms and torso. He's still conscious, and making small, constant vocalizations of pain. Spock's heart stutters in his side.

"Jim!" He's beside his captain in an instant, hands pressing down over wounds to try and stop the bleeding. Jim tries to smile at him, but it comes out as more of a grimace.

"Well," Jim gasps between shallow breaths. "Do you think we've found the great beast that the High Priest was talking about?"

"I find," Spock says, short and clipped. "That I do not particularly care at the moment."

Jim laughs, and then passes out from the pain as the glow of a Federation transporter envelops them.

Chapter Text

Jim laughs, and then passes out from the pain as the glow of a Federation transporter envelops them.

Stop.

Replay.

There's something there. Spock can sense something he missed before, right below the surface. What is it?

Jim tries to smile at him.

There.

Look closer- his eyes are filled with pain but there's something behind them. It's warm, and soft, and Spock almost wants to run away because he's not deserving of such light, but he has to stop Jim's bleeding. Jim's hands twitch at his sides, as if he wants to lift them. Spock has his head ducked, and he can still feel Jim's gaze on him.

What is it? The word is just beyond his tongue, and he's seen the look in Jim's eyes before, but he doesn't know where. Perhaps in his mother's eyes? Think harder, harder, where has he-

Oh.


James blinked awake, confused. Tarsus had made him a light sleeper. He frowned into the darkness, wondering what sound had roused him from sleep.

"Oh," Spock said quietly. James sat up, but Spock didn't acknowledge his presence. "Oh," Spock said again, as if the entire universe suddenly made sense.

"Spock?" He asked. Spock blinked and turned from his position on the meditation mat.

"Yes, James?"

"Are you okay?" Spock stood and turned to face James more fully before responding. He was little more than an outline in the dimness.

"I am... I am adequate. Go back to sleep, James." Spock looked fragile, from where James sat, and it kind of scared him.

"Okay, Spock," James said, and laid back down.


It was a couple of hours later when James woke to Spock gently shaking his shoulder. James grunted and looked up at Spock through heavy eyelids. The lights were dim, perhaps left as such for James.

"Uggggghhhh." James groaned, rolling over and planting his face back in the pillows.

"James," Spock chastised gently. Something in his voice made James pause, and he rolled back over to see Spock's face. He still looked slightly shaken, but the only reason that James could see it was probably because he had had time to really begin to understand Spock.

What, James wondered, could have managed to upset Spock so badly? Whatever it was, Spock probably wouldn't be willing to share it with James. However open Spock had been so far, Vulcans were still intensely tight-lipped about emotions. So if Spock wouldn't share, it was the least that James could do to make his life as easy as possible.

"Yeah, I'm up," James said, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. Spock stood, allowing James the ability to get out of bed, and picked up a PADD. It was probably related to work, and so James began to get ready.

He felt better rested and stronger each time he recalled memories of his friends and family, he noticed as he dragged a brush through his hair. That definitely wasn't a coincidence. He should probably bring it up with Leonard, later. James hissed as he caught a rather large knot, and began to brush more carefully. How people with long hair felt with this all the time, he didn't know.


To: Commander Spock
From: Lieutenant Uhura
Have you identified any memories of Jim yet? I don't mean to pressure you, but you're one of the last people I need to submit a memory. If you're having trouble choosing, you can submit multiple memories. The more memories, the better the gift will be!

To: Lieutenant Uhura
From: Commander Spock
I am indeed having difficulty choosing between certain memories. Should I include them in a message, or should I relay them to you verbally in your quarters later this evening?

Nyota responded almost immediately.

To: Commander Spock
From: Lieutenant Uhura
My quarters would be preferable. I'll make some tea, and you can tell me some of your favorite memories of Jim.

To: Lieutenant Uhura
From: Commander Spock
That would be agreeable.

"Ready to go?" James asked, emerging from the bathroom. Spock nodded, stepping back to give James a clearer path to the door.

When they arrived in the mess hall, everyone was already there, except for Leonard and Lieutenant-Commander Scott. James settled next to Ensign Chekov, across from Uhura. Lieutenant Sulu was on Chekov's other side, and so Spock sat next to Nyota, across from James.

"Where's Scotty?" James asked.

"He's in engineering, neck deep in some project that he procrastinated on. We probably won't see him until he's done, whenever that is." James' posture slumped slightly, obviously hoping to tell Scotty his secret and get restored to his previous self.

"Do not fret," Chekov said, bumping James with his shoulder. "Meester Scott is wery good, he vill not be occupied for too long."

"I remembered you," James said. "I don't know where that blanket you made is right now, but it looks extremely comfortable." Chekov's face brightened.

"You remembered zee blanket? I spent much time on zat."

"I do. It's probably somewhere in my quarters, except I have no clue where."

"But you still hawe the blanket, no?"

"I think so."

"They look like brothers," Nyota whispered to him. Spock paused.

"Indeed they do."


Leonard was working on scheduling physicals, as the quarter-year check ups were rapidly approaching, when his door slid open. Ensign Santiago stood there with James, who grinned at him.

"James, Ensign Santiago," he said. "Is it that time already?"

"Already, doctor." Hannah said.

"Well thanks for delivering him. I'll take it from here." Hannah nodded and began to turn away. "Oh, and Ensign, your quarterly physical is scheduled for next Tuesday at 1545, with Nurse Chapel."

"Oh, darn, already?"

"Already."

"Well, thanks for the notice. Goodbye, doctor. Bye, James."

"Goodbye, Ensign."

"Bye, Hannah!"

James sat down across from him, and Leonard took a moment in his own head before he spoke. James was scrawny, still, but he was nowhere near as skinny as he had been before. He could walk on his own with no trouble, and could digest solid foods. His cheekbones weren't scarily prominent anymore, and his hair looked healthier. James' eyes, too, displayed liveliness. They weren't dark and scared, as they had once been.

"How have you been feeling lately?" Leonard asked.

"Okay," James said. "Sometimes it's difficult, but it's kind of hard to let those thoughts overwhelm me when everyone around me is constantly drawing my attention away from that stuff."

Leonard's mind flicked to Uhura's project for a moment, and he almost smiled. James would sure be in for a surprise later. He had contacted Uhura earlier that morning to ask when the gift would be given to James, but Uhura had yet to respond.

"That's why we're here," Leonard said. "To keep you from thinkin' too much."

James smiled at him, and Leonard wondered how anyone had been able to find it in their hearts to hurt him. It hadn't only been Kodos, he knew, that had hurt James. He'd been hurt by his mother, his brother, his stepfather.

"Thanks, Len."

"No problem, kid. No problem at all."

Chapter Text

"So what do you do when you're not watching me?" James asked Hannah. They were sitting in the rec room, playing checkers. There was general hubbub in the background, the noise oddly soothing.

"I normally hang out with my friends in the rec room," Hannah said, moving a piece.

"Do I know these friends? Probably not, but I'lol ask anyways."

"Kevin Riley, mainly. Sometimes Julianne Michelson tags along with us, because her and Kevin are good friends."

"You know Kevin and Juli?" James asked, sitting up straighter.

"I knew you knew Juli, but you know Kevin too?"

"Oh, yeah," James said. "He was just a kid to me, it's really weird seeing him all grown up and serving onboard a starship."

"Did you grow up near each other?" Hannah asked, and James tensed a bit. He wasn't sure he was ready to reveal something like Tarsus to Hannah, despite how much he trusted her.

"No," James said. "But we, uh, we kind of met each other at a summer camp."

"Oh, how cute. I think Kevin has a scheduled vacation day today, would you like me to comm him and see if he could come down?" James smiled.

"Yeah, definitely."

"Ensign Santiago to Lieutenant Riley,"

"Lieutenant Riley here- what's up, Hannah?"

"You have a vacation day today, right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"James and I were wondering if you wanted to hang out in rec room two with us."

"James is there too? Of course, and I'll bring Juli if you don't mind. She's got today off as well."

"Not a problem," Hannah said, seeing James' grin. "We'll be waiting."

"How did you and Kevin become friends?" James asked.

"Oh, he dated my roommate at the Academy for a bit. I got to know him through her. He's an interesting person. Very optimistic."

A flicker of memory hit James like a sack of bricks. It was a cool night, a clear sky full of stars visible through the trees. Kevin was curled up next to Annalise, his head in her lap as she tried to soothe him to sleep by singing quietly. It was hard to fall asleep, wth how badly everyone's stomach ached. Kevin had shifted so he looked up at her, and has asked in that tone of voice that only a child his age could muster, "We're going to get help, Annie. You don't have to be sad."

Annalise had looked down at Kevin, her singing faltering. Her eyes had flickered to James' for a moment, teary, before she returned her gaze to Kevin and smiled. "Of course," she had said, stroking his shaggy hair and smoothing it away from his eyes. "I'm not sad. I'm just worried."

"Help will find us," he said, resolutely.

James and Annalise had both known how slim the odds were that help would arrive before they were all dead, but Annalise had nodded and said "I know," and that had seemed to please Kevin. Annalise started singing again, voice trembling, and Kevin was asleep within only a few minutes. James blinked away the memory and nodded at Hannah.

"Very optimistic," he agreed. "He was the kindest little kid."

"Him and Juli are both really nice."

The door slid open then, allowing Kevin entry. His eyes scanned the room until he found them and then he grinned. James smiled and waved as he headed over.

"Hey, guys," he said, sitting down next to them. "What's up? Juli will be here in just a minute."

"I can't believe you didn't tell me that you knew James," Hannah said.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me that you knew Hannah," James mimicked.

Kevin looked awfully trapped between the two of them, and grinned sheepishly. There was a yell in the background as someone lost a board game, distracting Hannah and James. It was then that Julianne entered the room, grinning widely when she spotted Kevin, Hannah, and James.

"Kev, Hannah, JT!" She said, sitting down next to Kevin. "What're you guys playing? Checkers?"

"Not anymore, since it's only a two person game, but we were," Hannah said.

"I didn't know that you two were friends with Hannah," James said, smiling. "This is great!"

"It is," Juli agreed, and then, "How's your therapy been going?" James shrugged and nodded.

"It's been going good," James said. "I'm pretty close to being returned to my original state or whatever- it should only take one more conversation if all goes well."

"And if all doesn't go well?" Hannah asked tentatively. James frowned and shrugged.

"Then I guess I'll keep talking. There were some abnormalities earlier with Leonard and Spock, which might pose a problem later."

"I hope they don't," Kevin said.

"Me too."

"It's a shame we don't have any holos of this," Juli said. "This would be a very interesting memory to look back on when the mission ends- the time when the captain got turned into a young teenager."

"No holos," James said laughingly.

"Not even one?"

"I was just surprised that the Commander took primary responsibility of him," Hannah said, reclining in her chair. "He doesn't seem like the type to know how to handle a human teenage boy."

"His mother was human," James said.

"Yes, but she was female, and I don't think she had any brothers to tell stories about." That was Kevin.

"I'm just upset on your behalf that you can't appreciate the miracle you caused," Juli interjected, pointing at James. "You, young mister, managed to get the Commander and Doctor McCoy to get along."

"It's amazing, and very unnerving," Hannah said, and laughed.

"What?" James asked.

"You wouldn't remember, of course," Kevin began. "But the Commander and the Doctor are always arguing."

"Always," Hannah added for emphasis.

"The only time they ever get along is when it comes to your health, and even then not for very long," Kevin continued.

"But they've been getting along for days," Hannah said, "There hasn't even been a single public argument!"

"Most everyone who is routinely around them is skittish, like they're waiting for it all to blow up," Juli said, nodding.

"Except for Nurse Chapel."

"Does anything unnerve Nurse Chapel?" James asked. From what he'd seen, Leonard's temper didn't ever seem to faze her. If his temper couldn't faze her, he didn't think anything could.

"Not that I know of," Hannah said. "My, uh, my friend Ensign Addams from the medical department says that Nurse Chapel is always calm and collected."

"Just ask her out, Hannah," Kevin said. "Everyone knows there's mutual affection there, and then you could say girlfriend instead of 'friend that I fawn over all the time.'"

"I do not fawn!" Hannah protested.

"Wait, is Ensign Addams that redheaded nurse that you waved at one day while escorting me to therapy?" James asked. Kevin laughed.

"It is," he confirmed. "It definitely is."

"Hannah," James said. "Ask that girl out. She blushed when you waved at her, the affection is so obviously mutual it hurts." Hannah covered her face with her hands.

"Leave me alone," she said through embarrassed laughter. "My love life is none of your business, guys."

"It kind of is," Juli said. "Since you clearly need help to address your feelings."

"What is my life," Hannah said into her hands. "I'm getting relationship advice from a child."

"I'm not a child!" James protested.

"Well," Juli said, "you kind of are."

The group continued to chat, laughing and joking, and James relaxed in his seat. The atmosphere of the room was warm, the sight of stars outside the window strangely soothing, and James felt more content than he had in a long time. If only the gift hadn't caused so much distress, then he might have thanked the ha'karr. 

Chapter Text

When Spock arrived at Nyota's door at 1800 precisely, she opened it up immediately. She wore an old faded cardigan that had belonged to her mother, once, and her hair was loose around her face.

"Spock." She sounded happy to see him.

"Nyota."

"How are you?" Nyota asked, stepping aside to allow Spock's entry. "You look terrible, no offense."

"I reached a startling conclusion last night while meditating." Nyota looked at him, scrutinizing, and then her mouth dropped open in shock.

"Did you figure it out?" Spock blinked.

"What is the 'it' to which you are referring?" Nyota opened and closed her mouth, as if debating speaking. She had to have seen something in his face, though, because she did speak.

"Your feelings for Jim." He must have looked shocked, because Nyota smiled and said, "Don't worry, Spock, it's not that obvious."

"If it is not obvious, then how did you discover before even I did?" Nyota laughed and led Spock to a small sitting area, where two cups of tea sat steaming.

"I'm around you and Jim all the time, and I know you, Spock. Besides, I'm trained in communication, body language included. I just happen to know how and where to look."

They sat, and Spock took his tea, clasping it between his hands to let it warm them. He took a moment before he spoke again, with Nyota sitting cross-legged near him in companionable silence.

"If I may ask, how is it obvious to you?" Nyota shook her head and smiled.

"Oh, it's all over your face. Your eyes... they soften when you look at him, and your posture relaxes just the tiniest bit, and you do that smiling with your eyes thing when he says something amusing. You allow him to touch you more than anybody else, and you do the craziest stuff for him. And when he gets kidnapped by hostile groups? You're absolutely terrifying until you get him back, entirely ruthless."

Spock absorbed this information for a moment. He stared down at his tea, the pleasant aroma rising to surround him. Had he really been so obvious? Had he really not noticed his change in behavior where Jim was concerned? It was concerning that he had not noticed it, truly a misstep.

"Does the captain seem to be aware of my behavior?" Nyota shook her head, and then took a sip of her tea.

"No," she said once she had moved the cup away from her face. "For someone so smart... He knows you almost as well as I do. I'm very surprised that he hasn't picked up on your feelings yet."

"He can indeed be particularly obtuse at times."

Nyota laughed into her tea. "But he's definitely interested. Stars, you're both geniuses and yet you're both so stupid. His affection for you is- to me, at least- so obvious. The way he looks at you, and how often he touches you, and the completely batshit stunts he pulls when you're the one who's kidnapped. Do you remember that time on Agarra V with the telepaths who kidnapped and tortured you?" Spock did remember that. It had been one of the memories of Jim had had recalled during meditation the previous night. "He was completely dedicated to getting you back, even snapped at Chekov for not working fast enough. Leonard had to pull him off of the bridge to calm him down. He cares so much for you, and it's so obvious to everyone who knows him."

"I was not aware of his affections," Spock finally said. Nyota smiled.

"That's how it seems to go."

"I was not aware of his affections," Spock repeated, and then elaborated. "Until last night. And now that they have been brought to my attention, the Jim who harbors those affections is no longer with us."

"He'll come back to us," Nyota said, sounding incredibly certain. "He will. He's Jim."

Spock had no answer for that. He wished to be optimistic, but optimism was illogical. Believing in an outcome that may not come to pass was illogical.

They sat in silence and sipped their tea for a couple minutes. Spock let the warmth comfort him, and the quiet helped him try to comprehend what Nyota had just told him. The stars outside the window gave comfort to him.

"Do you want to share any of those memories now?" Nyota asked. "I have a recording device that will copy down what you say into text."

"I find that I do not know which memory to begin with," Spock said as Nyota leant forward and pressed a button on an application that she had open on her PADD.

"You could go in chronological order," Nyota suggested. "And you can give as many memories as you want, as long as we're done by 1930. I'm meeting Scootty for an early dinner in his quarters, since he refuses to leave engineering for too long."

Spock took a sip of his tea, and began to speak.


Hannah stayed with James after Spock should have been by to pick James up. Confused, James asked Hannah about it.

"I don't know," Hannah said. "Commander Spock has a lot to do. You'll be with me until about 1930."

"Huh," James said. "I wonder what he's doing." Kevin and Juli had left earlier for their daily workouts, as James had been informed that routine was important out here in space. James would've thrown out the idea of him joining them, but he knew that he was still too weak for any sort of workout. Besides, Leonard would've thrown a fit if he found out.

"Running the ship, probably. Or conferring with the brass."

"How close were Spock and I before the whole tiny me thing?" James asked. They had gone back to playing checkers once their numbers had dropped to two.

"I mean, not that I really had much opportunity for observation, but you two seemed pretty close," Hannah said, moving a piece and taking one of James'. "You two were almost always together. Eating, working, playing chess together in your free time, too, if I'm correct. You really seemed to be inseparable. Until this anyways."

"Well, not even now," James said. "Spock's been the one taking care of me." Hannah nodded, humming in agreement. She frowned as James made his move and took one of her pieces.

"He's so protective of you," Hannah said. "It's kind of sweet."

"Sweet?"

"Yeah, you know, that he takes your safety so seriously."

"I mean, I was his captain. Of course he wouldn't want anything to happen to me, he doesn't want command anyways."

"You're also his friend." James shrugged.

"I seem to have been everyone's friend." Hannah smiled.

"You're a very friendly person, James."


Spock finished recounting his selected memories at 1921. When he concluded the memory involving Jim being maimed on Hapiria, Nyota stared at him oddly. Spock sat back and sipped at the little tea left in his cup, waiting for Nyota to speak.

"You figured out your feelings for Jim while meditating last night, right?"

"Affirmative."

"Was it during this memory?" Nyota was uncannily perceptive for a human.

"It was during review of this memory that I found reason to believe that Jim harbors affections towards me. While contemplating that information, I discovered that I harbor affections for him as well."

"Damn," Nyota said. "A double epiphany. No wonder you've been off all day. I was the only one to pick up on it, of course, but still." Spock nodded.

"I found that meditation was not as efficient as I had predicted."

"Of course not. You have James staying in your room." Spock looked down into his cup, trying to gather the courage to speak his mind.

"I find myself wishing that Jim be returned to me, and yet Jim was never mine to lose." Spock said quietly.

"It was never verbally acknowledged that he was yours," Nyota said. "But that doesn't mean that he wasn't. Spock, honestly, the way he looked at you... I've never seen anything like it."

"Never and always touching and touched," Spock murmured. "Belonging indeed."

"Why don't you go collect James," Nyota suggested, leaning forward and placing her hand on his arm. The weight of her hand was comforting. "I'm sure he probably misses you."

"Of course," Spock said, setting his mug down and standing. "Thank you, Nyota."

"It was my pleasure," Nyota said, standing as well. "The gift should be complete by tomorrow afternoon."

"I will come to collect it at 1600, if that is acceptable."

"It is. Have a good evening, Spock."

"And you, Nyota."

Spock gave a nod of his head, and departed.

Chapter Text

"Do you think Scotty will be available tomorrow?" James asked Spock. They were returning to Spock's quarters after dinner, where Scotty hadn't shown. Nyota hadn't been there either, which James had been disappointed about.

"I would not presume that he would be at breakfast, but with Mr. Scott's intelligence and determination, I would anticipate his presence at dinner."

"Good," James said. "That's good. I want to get this over with. The final confession, and all that." He gestured with his hands, a kind of nervous energy. Spock looked down at him.

"You are assuming that Mr. Scott will be the last individual you will be required to tell?" James looked at Spock weirdly.

"Yeah. Why wouldn't he be?"

"You have not recalled memories of the Doctor or I as of now. My hypothesis is that the triggering of memories related to those you reveal your secret to is a signal of your improving mental health. I could, however, be wrong. It is merely a hypothesis." He added that last part for the benefit of James, who paled slightly.

"I hope I wake up in two days as a full-grown man," James said as they entered Spock's room. "You guys- You and Bones don't need to know the details of what I went through. You shouldn't have to."

"I would rather understand what you have been through so I can better help you, and I believe that Leonard would agree."

James shook his head, sitting down on the couch. He clenched his jaw, clapping his hands tightly in front of him.

"You don't deserve to be burdened with it," James said. "The details, the terror, neither of you deserve it."

"You did not deserve to undergo that experience, either," Spock said in such a severe tone that James' head snapped up. The cracks in his Vulcan mask, however small, displayed anger, and it was really quite terrifying. His face relaxed before he continued to speak. "Your refusal to believe in your own self-worth is... highly aggravating."

"I'm trying," James said quietly. "I can't just... I can't just flip a switch or press a button and make everything okay."

Spock dipped his head and settled down next to James.

"I am aware of this. It took a good deal of time for me to realize my own self worth, as well. However, that does not mean that watching someone that I hold in high regard undergoing a similar process is not difficult for me. I believe I now understand your older self's frustration during my journey."

"It seems weird, thinking of you holding someone in high regard," James said. "You seem kind of... untouchable, or something. High regard seems to imply that you think they're better than you."

"I do believe that you are better than me," Spock said, and James turned to look at him in disbelief. "Because you are."

"I am not," he protested.

"James," Spock said. "You survived a genocide at the age of thirteen. I highly doubt I would have been able to keep myself alive, much less a group of other children. During the Narada Incident, you were able to see what needed to be done and find a way to save Earth. Had I been in charge, Nero would have destroyed Earth as well as Vulcan. During Khan's attack, you sacrificed yourself to save the rest of the crew and many, many civilians. I do not believe that I would have been able to do so with as little thought to my own mortality."

James took a breath to speak, but Spock kept going, delivering his final statement.

"In nearly every way that counts, you are indeed better than me."

"No way," James said, shaking his head. "The Narada Incident- if I had had my entire planet destroyed, I wouldn't be able to continue on. But you did."

"Perhaps, but it was extremely difficult. It was far easier than it could have been for my emotional control to shatter when you confronted me."

"But you did," James repeated. "Even if it was extremely difficult."

From the way that Spock's lips thinned, James guessed that he was very close to getting Spock to sigh. He tried not to look at that as a sign of achievement.

"Let us retire," Spock said. "I see that it will be very difficult to win this argument, and I do not have the time nor the energy."

James shrugged, and began to get ready for bed.


Spock found James' lack of self-confidence extremely frustrating, not that he'd ever say it out loud. He understood logically that things such as gaining self-confidence took time, but there was something so fundamentally wrong about a James Kirk who was not confident, even if just on the surface. It was the kind of wrong that resonated in Spock's bones, and lurked consistently in the back of his mind.

The familiar noises of his captain readying himself for bed made the disturbance even worse. To have something so normal happen while such conflict raged inside of Spock was unsettling.

Spock longed to ask his mother for advice, yet that was not possible. Who else could he turn to for help? Nyota?

She was most likely asleep, though, and so Spock did not contact her.

Perhaps Doctor McCoy could help, as their subject was James Kirk, but he would never admit having emotional trouble to the doctor. Even if he did not receive any variation of mocking or teasing, Spock would most likely receive a reply riddled in confusing colloquialisms.

Spock sighed internally and resigned himself to extra meditation.


"So that's- that's what happened. Down there. All the details." James fights his body, which is desperate to tremble with nerves, and ignores the nausea rising in his stomach.

Please, he thinks. Please, please, accept me.

Leonard and Spock stand next to each other, facing James. He sits on the couch in Spock's quarters, looking up at them. They do not move or speak or offer words of comfort. It doesn't seem to James that they're even breathing. James swallows hard, beginning to lose the battle as his hands start shaking.

"Guys?" James says quietly, voice small. "Len? Spock?"

"You're disgusting," Leonard says, at last, and the words hurt like a physical blow. James fights back tears and resists the urge to curl up into a ball. "You're right, too. We didn't want to know the details. You expect kindness from us after what you've done?"

"It is almost laughable," Spock says, and the pure malice in his voice is undeniable, Vulcan or not.

James gives up on the fight entirely, and his body begins to tremble like its five below instead of around 80. Leonard snorts derisively.

"Look at 'im, Spock. It's almost pitiful."

James' breath hitches with the effort to keep from crying. Frank's words, his taunts and insults, echo in James' mind.

"Do not attempt to search for pity from us," Spock says. "We know what a monster you truly are."

He really is a monster. That's why his mother left for space, isn't it? That's why his brother left for 'anywhere but here.' That's why Frank would beat him and curse at him, because Frank was the one who got stuck with him, stuck with the monster. He supposes that he can't blame Frank. Being stuck with a monster will drive anyone mad if given enough time.

He thought he had escaped to Tarsus, but he had just brought the suffering with him. It was his fault that those kids had died. Allen, Grace, Thomas, Annalise. They had all died because he was poisonous, corrupting and killing everything that he touched. And the things he loved? Well, those things would just hurt him in return for daring to think that a monster could be loved.

"His mind is on the right track," Spock says, turning to face Leonard.

"Is it now?" Leonard's eyes hold no warmth when they're turned back upon James. The hatred in them makes James nauseous, and his trembling increases.

"I believe so."

"Now, I'm not so sure. Look at his eyes. They're desperate. He wants someone to love him, tell him that it's all okay and that he's not a monster."

"Illogical." Spock's eyes are colder and harsher than James has ever seen them.

"Cute," Leonard amends. "But pathetic. He still wants to be loved." Leonard steps into his space, bending down and grabbing the collar of James' shirt. James grunts as he's tugged forward, and when his vision focuses back on Leonard, it's not even Leonard holding his collar.

It's Frank, he can see through the haze of tears, who snarls in Kodos' voice, "Monsters don't deserve to be loved."

They're in the living room of the farmhouse in Iowa, but the field outside is the rotted Tarsus grain instead of corn. Everything is faded and peeling, and the place stinks of death and beer.

His mother stands in the doorway, visible over Frank's shoulder, looking clean and put together in her formal grays. She seems entirely unaffected by the state of the house, or the dying grain, or even by the fact that her drunk husband has her youngest son by the collar just feet away.

"Mom," James tries to call. "Mom, please," but Frank slaps him, letting go of his collar. James collapses to the ground, blinking tears away. When he looks up, his mother is gone. He can hear a hovercar leave.

He can hear two boys talking on the front porch. Neither are visible from where James lies on the ground, Frank's boot beating blue and purple onto his back. James curls up and raises his arms to protect his head. He can hear the boys over Frank's enraged grunting.

"Sam, please," one boy says. "Where are you going?"

Pain shoots through him.

"Anywhere but here."

"Take me with you! Please! Don't leave me alone."

It's hard to breathe, and he thinks that Frank has cracked one of his ribs.

"I'm sorry, Jimmy."

There are footsteps, leading off of the porch. They disappear, the crunch of feet on the gravel driveway fading quickly.

"Sam! Sam, come back!"

Frank's kicks are becoming more violent, aimed higher, and James fights his hardest but a few tears leak out. They send Frank into a worse fury, and when James is grabbed by his collar again, he isn't expecting it. He isn't expecting the table corner to come for his head faster than he can brace, either.

The world goes black, but someone is calling his name.

"James!" There were hands on his shoulders, and James lurched upwards, eyes flying open. His breath came in shuddering gasps, his face wet and body aching with phantom pains. His throat felt raw, perhaps from screaming.

When he saw that it was Spock holding him, James jerked backwards. Spock let him go, looking alarmed, and James curled up. He wrapped his arms around his knees and ducked his head.

"James?"

"Leave me alone." James' voice cracked terribly, and he could feel himself shaking.

A hand laid itself gently on James' arm, and he tensed. The hand removed itself. For a couple of moments, there was only silence, apart from the hum of the ship.

"James," Spock whispered. "Please, tell me what is upsetting you."

James shook his head.

"Will you tell Doctor McCoy tomorrow, if you will not tell me?"

James didn't respond.

Spock must have taken James' silence for a yes, because eventually, he stood and returned to the couch.

"Goodnight, James."

James didn't sleep, and he didn't move until Spock roused himself from meditation to start his daily routine.

Monster.

Chapter Text

James didn't speak the following morning. He prepared himself for the day without a word, face closed off and body language timid. Spock watched him and wondered desperately what had gone wrong.

"James," Spock said quietly, before they left. They both stood by the door, James wth his hands in his pockets and head down. "James, how may I assist you? I cannot help if you will not tell me what is wrong."

James shook his head, scuffing his feet on the floor. His face was as impassive as a Vulcan's, giving away nothing. Spock was confused at this change. James had been getting better. What had caused this abrupt relapse? A nightmare? If so, what could the contents of the nightmare have been, to cripple James so badly?

He wasn't sure that he wanted to know.

And yet, as Jim's friend and James' caretaker, it was his duty to try and find out, wasn't it?

In the mess hall, Scotty didn't appear. Everyone else, however, was present. James sat next to Nyota and across from Ensign Chekov, on the end of the table. Lieutenant Sulu sat next to Ensign Chekov, and Doctor McCoy sat next to Lieutenant Sulu, leaving Spock to sit on Nyota's other side. James' isolation of himself from both Spock and Doctor McCoy unsettled Spock. He tried not to read too much into it, but as Doctor McCoy would say, Spock had a feeling that this wouldn't end well.


"Are you alright?" Nyota asked him quietly at breakfast. James shrugged and poked at his oatmeal before scooping some into his mouth. He could almost feel her frown.

James sighed heavily in preparation for the question that would ultimately follow.

"James, what happened? You can tell me."

"Just a nightmare," James mumbled, and took another spoonful.

"You've had nightmares before, and this hasn't happened," Nyota said. "James?"

James shook his head.

"It's nothing," he said. "It's stupid."

"If eet vas stupid, as you say, it vouldn't be causing you so much trouble," Pavel said, his tone also hushed.

"It's stupid," he said again, jabbing ruthlessly at his meal.

From the other end of the table, he could feel Leonard's gaze on him. The doctor seemed concerned, but James never met his gaze, keeping his head down.

He felt more than heard Uhura sigh silently, and ignored it. James believed that she more than any of the others would understand.

"You can talk to any of us at any time if you want or need to, James. You know that, right?" She said quietly. Pavel and Sulu nodded in agreement.

"I know," James murmured, and continued to poke at his food.


In his office, Leonard offered James a seat. The boy sat down, looking reluctant, and wouldn't look Leonard in the eyes. Leonard sat down across from him, but James kept his eyes trained on the desk between them. The atmosphere was much darker than Leonard was used to.

What had happened?

"James, would you like to tell me what's going on?" He kept his voice soft.

James shook his head and slumped in his seat, hands fiddling in front of him. Leonard frowned, but James didn't see it. The general hubbub of sickbay was barely audible beyond his office, and he sighed silently.

"Why not?"

He had been perfectly fine yesterday. Could a nightmare have caused this? But what kind of nightmare could strip him of his progress like that?

"Because I don't want to," James snapped, posture bristling.

"James, talking will only help. It's a step towards getting better."

"Telling you about any nightmares I have isn't what's going to reverse whatever the ha'karr did to me." James finally looked up at Leonard, fixing him with a harsh glare.

"I suppose not, but the better your mental state is, the easier it will be to share your secret, which will reverse you."

"Not like much for me has ever been easy," James muttered, crossing his arms across his chest.

"James," Leonard said. "There's no need to punish yourself." Across from him, James scoffed.

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really."

Frustration was building in Leonard's chest. James had come so far, and now it seemed that a nightmare had caused a relapse. He was so used to being able to get Jim to tell him almost anything without too much trouble. He had almost forgotten how stubborn Jim- or James, in this case- could be.

"What would you know?" James snapped, sitting upright and glaring. His eyes felt like ice wherever his gaze struck. "You have no idea- no idea what kind of monstrous things I've done."

"I don't know because you won't tell me!" Leonard snapped back, slapping his hand against his desk. "I can't help you if you don't tell me what to help you with!"

"Maybe you don't want to know!" James yelled.

"Well how do you know? Maybe I do!" Leonard said, challenging him. James sat back in his chair, visibly trying to calm down.

"You don't."

"You don't know that." Leonard tried to keep his tone calm.

"The shit I've done is horrible, Leonard, trust me."

"I've done some bad stuff to survive too, kid, don't be so quick to judge how I'll react."

It hit Leonard, suddenly, what his nightmare had been about. His heart ached, and Leonard sat back in his chair.

"James, I'm just guessing here, but in your nightmare last night, did you tell Spock and I all the nitty gritty details of what happened?" James had his head ducked, but it whipped up, shock written across it.

He nodded, the look on his face shifting to a wary one.

"And we didn't accept you, did we? In fact, we probably said some pretty nasty stuff."

James swallowed hard and nodded again, reluctantly. He was staring resolutely at anywhere other than Leonard.

"James, look at me. Please." A muscle in James' jaw twitched, but he did as Leonard said. When their eyes met, Leonard noted that James' eyes were red rimmed and shining with unshed tears.

Leonard took a deep breath before continuing, choosing his words carefully.

"We've been friends since I threw up in your lap on that damn shuttle ride-" James' lips twitched just slightly. "And I have seen you at some low lows. I've seen you blackout drunk and half dressed. I've seen you unconscious due to alcohol. I've seen you bleeding out, I've seen you after you've been held captive and tortured, I've seen you during that insane revenge mission that was the Khan incident. I've seen you dead.

"Some of the things I've seen you do have made me proud to even be alive at the same time as you, and some things have scared the shit out of me. But not once did I ever consider abandoning our friendship. You're the best friend I've ever had, if I'm being honest with myself, because you've seen the best and worst of me, too, and you haven't walked out either. So whatever happened in your noggin last night, it was about as far from reality as it could've been."

James seemed to be putting serious effort into keeping his tears from falling. He looked down at his lap, sniffing quietly and fiddling with his hands.

"What about Spock?" James finally said, voice scratchy. He sounded so small that it made Leonard's chest ache. "Can you speak for him?"

"I'd like to think I can," Leonard said. "We've both grown to not hate each other over the years. With Spock, his loyalty is very hard to lose. Once he's yours, he's yours completely. And he gave his loyalty to you a long time ago. The two of you have grown inseparable over the years. He's as close to you as I am, if not closer. He was there for Khan too, of course. When he went after Khan, until Uhura told him that Khan could be used to save you, his intent was to kill."

James looked a bit startled by this fact, blinking owlishly at Leonard.

"He loves you, he really does, in his own Vulcan-y way. He was there for you at every step during your recovery from Khan. If there's anyone whose dedication and affection you should doubt less than mine, it's Spock's."

James dragged in a long, slow, shaking breath. He finally raised his gaze to meet Leonard's, and for a moment the urge to hug James was so strong that Leonard's arms twitched.

"Thank you, Len," he whispered.

"Of course. D'you wanna tell me 'bout that nightmare now?" James laughed quietly, the tears in his eyes blinked away.

"Your accent is slipping."

"No it ain't," Leonard denied, knowing full well that it was. James let it slide, relaxing back in his seat.

"It started with me finishing telling you and Spock about everything. All the details. I was sitting on he couch in Spock's quarters, and you two were standing next to each other in front of me. You were both so, so quiet. I was terrified.

"You told me that I was disgusting." Leonard had to fight the nausea that hit him like a sucker punch, and gripped the edges of his desk tightly. "You said that I was right, that you didn't want to know what I'd done. You-" James' voice cracked, and Leonard felt the crack in his chest. "You asked me how I had expected kindness after what I'd done. Spock said the idea was laughable, and he sounded so cruel and malicious. Then you said that I was pitiful, because I was shaking." Leonard had to close his eyes for a moment, as if that would help block out the horror of what he was hearing.

"Frank's words starting echoing in my head, telling me how I was worthless and all sorts of other shit he told me over the years." The anger that Leonard felt towards Frank, at that point, was almost enough to scare him. He was a doctor, he shouldn't have been having such violent thoughts. "And on top of that, Spock told me not to go looking for pity because the two of you knew what a... what a monster I truly was." James' mouth opened and closed, unable to produce sound for a moment.

"James, breathe," Leonard reminded him gently. James nodded, gulping huge breaths of recycled air. A tear traced its way down his cheek.

"And then all I could think of was that you were right, Frank was right, Spock was right. That I really was a monster." James' voice sounded strangled, wrenched from his throat. "And then Spock told you that my mind was on the ri- right track."

"James, you don't have to force it," Leonard said, feeling slightly dizzy from nauseous terror and blinding hatred.

"No," James gasped out. "No, I've gotta get this out."

"Take your time, then," Leonard said in what he hoped was a soothing tone.

He had handled far worse than this, he knew, and managed to keep himself relatively together. Leonard had handled Jim laid out on one of his biobeds inches from death multiple times. He'd handled Jim actually dead. He had done some seriously sketchy work in the middle of nowhere, in war zones, with barely any supplies-

And yet one of James' nightmares secondhand was dragging him towards the tipping point at an alarming rate.

"You said you weren't so sure. You said that my eyes betrayed the fact I was desperate to love me and tell me that I'm not a monster." James closed his eyes for a moment and it looked like he was trying not to puke. He certainly didn't look well, pale and shaking in the too-big seat. "Spock said it was illogical, you responded that it was cute but pathetic.

"Then you- you crouched down and grabbed my collar and pulled me close to you." Leonard really thought he might throw up for a moment, or fall out of his chair, and noted where the nearest trash bin was. The thought of acting violently towards James was absolutely repulsive to Leonard. "But when I m-managed to blink enough tears away to clear my vision it was Frank who had me by the collar and told me in Kodos' voice that monsters don't deserve to be loved.

"We were in the living room of the farmhouse, and mom was standing in the doorway in her Fleet grays. I tried to cry out but Frank hit me and dropped me, and when I looked up she was gone." Leonard thought the desk might actually have dents in it by the time the session was over. He'd probably have to take himself off duty, too, to try and calm down. "From the ground, as- as Frank started kicking me, I could hear the conversation I had with Sam right before I ran away happening on the porch. I accidentally let some tears out and..." James looked up at Leonard for the first time since starting to talk, eyes red and tired, and tears streaming down his face. He turned his eyes away before he continued to speak. "He picked me up and tossed me, and I hit my head on the corner of a table. That's when I woke up."

The things that Leonard wanted to do to Frank for abusing James, to Winona and Sam for leaving him, were almost enough to make his vision tint red. He took a long, slow death to try and calm himself, and felt his famous, steady hands shake against the surface of his desk.

"You're not a monster," was all that Leonard could think to say. "You're not- don't ever think that way, James. You do deserve to be loved. You are loved."

A terrible thought struck Leonard.

"Spock was right there when you woke up, wasn't he?" James nodded. "And he tried to offer comfort and it scared he shit out of you because that dream." James met Leonard's eyes this time, and nodded again.

"James, can I give you a hug?" The boy in question looked like that was the last thing he'd been expecting Leonard to say, but he nodded.

On legs that he refused to acknowledge shook, Leonard stood and came around his desk to James. At the gentlest tug on his arm, James stood as well, and Leonard wrapped him in a massive hug. They were both shaking, and when James started to shake even harder and sob into his shirt, Leonard placed his chin upon James' head. His arms came up to stroke James' hair and back as James fisted his own hands in the back of Leonard's shirt.

"I love you, kid," Leonard murmured through his silent tears. "And I ain't going nowhere. You gotta know that."

James' only response was a tightening of his hands in Leonard's shirt, but that was all the response he needed.

Chapter Text

The turbo lift doors slid open approximately two and a half hours after the start of Alpha shift. Spock turned in the captain's chair to identify the visitor, and was correct in his assumption that it was Doctor McCoy. However, Spock immediately noticed that something was wrong.

The Doctor's usual scowl was missing, and he instead looked rather shaken. Instead of an angry or annoyed expression, his face was blank to the point of being sad.

"Doctor?" Spock said.

"I need to talk to you."

That brought some silence, as the bridge crew shared worried looks. They didn't seem to be covert enough for McCoy, who snapped at them all.

"James isn't dying, so go back to work."

The usual scowl appeared for a moment, but fell away as they all did as they were told.

"Doctor, if you would follow me," Spock said, standing up.

McCoy followed him into Jim's ready room, where McCoy sank into a chair. He seemed tired and frazzled, something that was highly unusual for the normally composed doctor.

"Leonard, are you well?"

McCoy laughed humorlessly and shook his head. "No. I'm pretty damn far from okay."

"Were the contents of James' nightmare truly so disturbing?"

When McCoy's eyes raised to meet Spock's, they were glittering with dark amusement, the kind that humans displayed when something was not very funny at all. Spock's concern grew. McCoy's eyes fell away and he sagged backwards in the chair.

"I've never wanted to murder anyone more than I did today, Hippocratic Oath be damned. What's James' monster of a stepfather did to him..." McCoy's gaze was distant.

"It was Frank?" McCoy huffed out an unamused breath through his nose.

"Not only."

"Doctor." Spock's tone was sharp. He didn't understand why McCoy couldn't simply say why he'd come here. "Please inform me of the reason why you came to the bridge."

"I need to take myself off duty." McCoy said. Spock paused, and McCoy grinned crookedly at him, seeming more exhausted than amused. Spock could not quite accurately remember the last time he'd seen Leonard smile.

"What was so disturbing that it caused James to recede and you to take yourself off duty?" Spock asked quietly.

"Us, Spock," Leonard said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. "It was us."

"Us? Why would James have a nightmare about us? He knows, surely, that we would never purposefully do anything to harm him in any way?"

"His subconscious is terrified, Spock. He knows rationally that we would never hurt him, but brains are weird things." McCoy sighed heavily and sat up. "Ask him yourself, Spock. See if he'll tell you. As for me, I'm going to take myself off duty because I've been trying to work for the past hour and a half or so and it hasn't been going too well. Chris kicked me out of my own sickbay!"

Spock ignored the last sentence.

"James is currently with Ensign Santiago, correct?"

"Yeah." McCoy stood up and made for the door. "See you at dinner, Spock."


Scotty was, as Spock had predicted, at dinner that night. When James smiled at Sulu when he sat down across from him, the entire table seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, the tense atmosphere dissolving. Scotty sat to James' left, a BLT on his plate.

"How 'ave you been, laddie?" Scotty inquired. James shrugged.

"I've been okay," he said. "I heard you were working on a project down in engineering?"

Scotty's face lit up, and he began to go on about the project. It had something to do with maximizing the energy output in the warp nacelles using methods that sounded legally dubious, James thought, but he couldn't follow along too well. Partially because he didn't know much about starship engineering, and partially because Scotty's accent got thicker and more unintelligible the more excited he got.

James listened, nodding at the appropriate times, and wondered if his older self, the one they all knew, would have been able to follow along. Sure, he was command and not engineering, but engineering did fascinate him to a degree. Perhaps he had expanded his knowledge of it at some point.

"There's not much o' that project to look at just yet, but if ye're interested, I could show ye around engineering." James smiled.

"That would be great! I've been interested in checking out engineering. Besides, I feel like I don't know you at all. I'd like to get to know you better."

"O' course! I've been wantin' te get ye down in engineering this whole time."

"Monty, please don't blow anything up while James is in your care," Uhura said, twirling some spaghetti on her fork.

"I would never! James' health 'ere will be top priority!"

"I'll hold you to that," Leonard said, waving a fork at him. He had heard from Hannah that Leonard had taken himself off duty early in the day for personal reasons. He knew it was related to their therapy session, and couldn't help but feel a bit guilty.

Nyota elbowed the doctor gently from where she sat on his right. Leonard looked at her, and she began to murmur to him in a voice just quiet enough so that James couldn't hear. Leonard shrugged, and responded just as quietly. Nyota whispered to him again, and Leonard nodded.

"What're you guys talking about?" James asked. They both looked over at him, startled. Nyota was the first to respond.

"Work," she said mildly. "I'm working on a project. I wanted Leonard's input, though, as it has to do with psychology."

"Sounds interesting," James said, and Nyota nodded.

"It is, very."

After dinner, James accompanied Scotty and they journeyed to engineering. He reminded James of his mom, in a way, so passionate about his job and the ship.

"You enjoy being the chief of engineering a lot, huh?" James asked. They had just entered the sprawling complex that was engineering, and James was almost afraid to touch anything. Scotty seemed more at home than James had ever seen him.

"Aye, I do. Always liked machines, ye see. Ne'er too complicated. Every part has a purpose, and there's certain ways to put stuff together, but it allows for creativity. People, though..."

"People are complicated." James finished, and Scotty nodded.

"Exactly! Yer pretty handy yerself, cap'n- er, ye don't mind me callin' ye that, do ye?"

"No, it's fine." He didn't mind when Chekov called him 'little keptin,' and it didn't bother him it as much as it had bothered him when Janice Rand called him captain. Perhaps it was because he was closer to Scotty and Chekov than he was to her.

"Alright. As I was sayin', yer pretty handy herself. Can help out right fine when we need ye to, or when yer bored."

"That's not normal for a 'Fleet captain, is it?" James asked. Scotty shook his head.

"No, but this ship is pretty far from normal, if I say so myself."

They had been wandering, James craning his neck to look around at everything. In their wandering, they had reached a rather quiet corner of the loud, bustling area. James stopped dead, a memory kicking back up. There's no visual, only voices.

"Wait, Jim! If we go in there, we'll die. D'ye hear me? The radiation will kill us! Will you listen to me! No, what the hell are you doing?!"

"I'm opening the door, I'm going in."

"That door is there to stop us from gettin' irradiated, we'd be dead before we made the climb!"

"You're not making the climb."

There's a vague sensation of feeling skin under his fist, as if he'd punched someone, and the memory breaks as Scotty shakes him.

"James!"

"I punched you," James says, surprised. "When you tried to stop me from going into the warp core to fix the ship and save everyone. I punched you."

There's a long pause before Scotty responds. When he does, his voice is serious.

"Aye, ye did."

"I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not. Not if it meant saving lives."

Scotty laughed quietly beside him. James turned to find his eyes teary, but the light inside of them was not the light of sadness.

"Ye told me that when I first got to see ye, after ye woke up. Used almost the exact same wordin', too."

They stood in silence for a moment, staring at the door. It wasn't the exact same door, of course. It was an entirely different ship. But it was still shaped the same, made of the same materials as the other one. It was, for all intents and purposes, the same door.

"Can I tell ye a secret?" Scotty asked.

"Of course."

"After seein' Mister Spock's reaction to yer death, I was terrified that he was goin' to try t' kill me."

"For what? You didn't let me waltz in there."

"No," Scotty conceded. "But ye still got in there."

James nodded slowly, understanding where Scotty was coming from. He wouldn't want a murderously angry Spock upset with him, either.

"Since we're sharing secrets, can I tell you one of mine?" James asked, heartbeat pounding in his ears and hands trembling.

This was as good a place and time as any, he thought. The location was tucked away from the hubbub of engineering, rather private. The conversation had gotten deep, too. Who knew if it would get deep again before the night was over if he didn't do it now?

"Of course ye can, laddie."

James kept his eyes fixed on the radiation symbol.

"I was on Tarsus IV."

Scotty slowly turned, and James looked over at him. He had paled, and his eyes were horrified. James looked back at the door, beginning to shake slightly.

"The Tarsus IV?"

James nodded.

"Oh, James. Ye didn't deserve that."

"So I've been told," James said mildly.

"So yer one of the Tarsus Nine. Ye weren't the oldest, though, right? Ye had someone to care for you?"

James scoffed and shook his head sadly. He continued to not look at Scotty, not wanting to see any pity in his eyes.

"Oh, God, James. Ye... Ye really cared for eight other kids?"

"More than eight," James rasped. "Some of them didn't make it."

"More than-" Scotty seemed to be unable to speak for a moment. When he continued, his voice was almost awed. "James, yer a better man than I am if ye could find it in herself durin' such a hard time."

"I didn't even think about not taking care of them," James murmured. "I just... told them to stick with me."

"I take it back," Scotty said. "Yer not just better, but a far better man than me."

They continued to stand in silence for another few minutes, and James wondered if over time, he'd be able to recall more memories of his death. Sure, remembering his death wasn't exactly high on his list of things he wanted to do, but it would be a memory, at the very least.

"D'ye want t' head back?" Scotty eventually asked. James looked over at him.

"Yeah," he said, tone shifting to one that was more amused. "And on the way back, I can get to know you better. That was part of the purpose of us talking."

"O' course, cap'n." Scotty stepped back and gestured grandly, a wide grin on his face. "Lead the way!"

Chapter Text

He's freezing, despite the coat, and there's an elderly Vulcan standing beside him. Spock, but not. There's a man in front of them, wearing multiple bulky layers and an old beanie. His expression is one of confusion.

"Are you from the future?"

"Yeah, he is, I'm not."

"Well that's brilliant! Do they still have sandwiches there?"

A gust of wind carries snow into his vision, and when he can see again, he's in a different place.

There's a ship, old but functional. The same man as before stands in front of him, but instead of a heavy jacket, he wears a red ops uniform. It's not nearly as cold as it was before.

"I have an idea, sir," The man's hand is raised, and he lowers it, looking slightly nervous. "But I'm gonna need yer permission."

"Why would you need my permission?"

"Because if I mess up, I don' want it to be just mah fault."

Ship's engines blast, so loud that James screws up hair face, closing his eyes. Over the noise, a clear voice in a familiar Scottish brogue can be heard.

"I like this ship!"

When James opens his eyes the man is standing in front of him, soaking wet and wearing the same massive jacket as he had been wearing in the first memory. His fave is jovial, a direct contrast to the serious mood in the room.

James' vision fades white and then returns, and each breath begins to scorch his threat. His skin burns, and he's tired, and he feels like he's dying. Oh, he is dying. Because he's in an irradiated chamber, with the man crouched on the other side. His face is distraught, terrified.

"Commander Spock will be 'ere soon, alright? Jus' hold on, laddie, hold on."

"'M sorry I punched you," James wheezes. "I needed to do this, and I know that you weren't gonna let me."

"It's okay, laddie, just hang on."

James tries, but he's tired and he hurts. His eyes slip shut, and the darkness surrounds him. There's vague shouting, and it's cold. James doesn't like it very much. But there's a beeping, growing slowly louder until it raises him from the state of consciousness he'd been in.

When he opens his eyes the man is standing at the bottom of the bed in his civilian clothing. He looks hesitant. James smiles at him, and some of the tension and hesitancy disappears.

"Cap'n. Glad t' see ya awake."

"I'm glad to be awake. I can never seem to stay awake for very long though."

"You've got good reason t' be, sir."

"I suppose."

James' eyes are growing heavy, and he has to fight to keep them open. He hates this tiredness, this exhaustion that seems to be in his very bones.

"Get some rest, Cap'n. I can come back when ye're feelin' better."

James nods absently and lets himself be dragged back into slumber.


When Spock shook James gently awake the next morning, it took only 1.64 seconds for James' mood to shift obviously from sleepy to disappointed. James shook Spock's hand off and sat up, frowning and bringing his knees up to his chest.

"I'm not older me."

"Indeed." Spock kept his hands folded in his lap, although he longed to reach out and comfort James.

"Which means... it means I'm going to have to..." James took a deep breath, lowering his head until his forehead bumped his knees. "I hate this."

"As do I. Watching you suffer is not a pleasant experience."

James sighed heavily and straightened up, unfolding his legs. He looked at Spock with a resigned expression, and Spock felt his own heart ache in sympathy.

"I'm going to have to tell you and Leonard the details of what happened down there," he said quietly. His gaze became distant.

"Yes," Spock said. There was no use in denying it. "However, I can assure you that neither Leonard nor I will think any less of you. If anything, we will think even better of you for knowing the details of the tragedy you managed to survive."

"Will you though?" James asked, voice shaking. "I've done some sketchy shit to survive."

"I would expect nothing less of you," Spock said gently. "You have an uncanny ability to survive any situation you may find yourself in."

"I'm glad you think so," James said, and peered up at Spock. "Should... Do you think..." He huffed, irritated, and paused for a moment before continuing. "Is telling Leonard during therapy a good idea? Get it out of the way, right?"

"If you believe that you are ready to reveal the details of your experience to Doctor McCoy, then I encourage you to. It is not my decision to make."

James nodded in a miserable fashion and then sighed, swinging his legs off the bed. Spock stood and stepped back to allow James the room he needed. While James prepared himself for the day, Spock pulled out his PADD and messaged Nyota.

To: Lieutenant Uhura
From: Commander Spock
You plan on giving James his gift tonight, correct?

She responded within moments, something that Spock was grateful for.

To: Commander Spock
From: Lieutenant Uhura
I do. He's still a kid, then? I suspected as much. I was worried that I hadn't been able to give him his gift in time for him to age up, but I guess I shouldn't have been.

To: Lieutenant Uhura
From: Commander Spock
He is indeed still a teenager. I believe that tonight would be the most opportune time to present his gift, as I believe he will face a most trying ordeal today.

To: Commander Spock
From: Lieutenant Uhura
Should everyone he's informed be present for it?

To: Lieutenant Uhura
From: Commander Spock
Affirmative.

To: Commander Spock
From: Lieutenant Uhura
Alright, I'll contact everyone and establish a time and place that works. I hope he'll like it!

To: Lieutenant Uhura
From: Commander Spock
I believe he will.

"Ready to go?" James asked, rocking back on his heels, hands stuffed into his pocket.

Spock nodded, and they left.


Leonard wasn't able to join the others for breakfast, but Christine did force him to eat a breakfast bar as he labored over the results of the physicals that had been performed yesterday. The overwhelming paperwork was most likely Christine's expression of showing him that she was pissed that he'd bailed.

Not like it was his fault, anyways.

He was almost surprised when James and Ensign Santiago entered his office. James grinned, but it was a nervous smile.

"Hey, kid," he said. "Good morning, Ensign."

"Good morning, Doctor."

"Hey, Len."

"You feeling okay?"

Hannah patted James on the back and left. The door slid shut behind her, leaving Leonard and James alone to talk.

"Yeah, yeah. I remembered Scotty last night."

"So that's everyone?" Leonard asked. "Besides Spock and I, of course."

Len looked on in sympathy as James ducked his head and shuffled his feet.

"Yeah," James whispered. "Which means details, right?"

"I'm afraid so, kid. Don't push it. If you don't feel ready to talk, then don't."

James was quiet for a moment.

"I don't think I'll ever feel ready to talk," James continued. "So getting it over with is probably a good idea."

"If you think so," Len said, and gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk.

James slumped into it, gaze haunted already. Len purses his lips.

"I don't even know where to start."

"Star from the beginning," Leonard suggested. "Or wherever the important stuff starts. It's up to you."

"I was on Tarsus for a couple of months by the time rumors of food shortages started," James said softly. "I was happy there. Everyone was nice, nobody looked at me as George Kirk's son, or a delinquent kid. I was just Jim Harrison- at that point, Sam and I still had Frank's last name. We thought it would help with the fame that came with the Kirk name, but it didn't. On the weekends or whenever I could spare time, I'd visit Hoshi Sato. She was the chief communications officer on the first Enterprise, under Admiral Archer. She taught me all sorts of languages- Vulcan, Andorian, some Tellarite...

"For the most part, the rumors of hunger went ignored. They were just rumors after all, and we thought that Kodos was a good governor. He would surely ask Starfleet for assistance if anything was amiss. So life continued.

"It was around December, I think, when food started being rationed. We all got nervous, but stayed calm. Kodos had to have called Starfleet. We all got a little bit thinner, but we trusted Kodos. After all, a governor wouldn't just let his people starve, would he?

"Maybe halfway through January he called an assembly. Half of the colony was instructed to report to the town square. Frank's sister and her husband were summoned, Hoshi, a lot of others, but not me. I followed them out of curiosity, hiding in the shadows. There were armed guards everywhere, and a makeshift stage on one end of the square, where Kodos stood and delivered his speech.

"I still remember the exact words."

Leonard's heart ached in his chest at the purposefully vacant tone that James was speaking in, obviously trying to detach himself from the memories. James wasn't looking at him, instead focusing on a splotch on the desk.

"As soon as he finished the speech, they started shooting." He swallowed hard. "I had kept an eye on my aunt and uncle, who were nearby. Hoshi was next to them. The three of them went down within seconds. Right near the edge of the crowd was a group of kids, five of them. They had their parents with them, but still. I attacked the guard near me and grabbed an arm of one of the kids.

"'Follow me,' I said. And he did. All of the parents just... they just shoved their kids at me. They knew they wouldn't be able to make it out with their kids, so they just trusted them to another, random kid. We ran as fast as we could towards my aunt and uncle's house. I knew that there would be leftover rations there that we could take.

"I hid them in the attic when guards came to the house. I thought for sure that they had found out and were going to kill me, but instead they just told me that my aunt and uncle were victims of a highly contagious virus and had been quarantined. It was bullshit, I knew, but I was to remain at the house, and a guard would be sent once a day to check up on me.

"We began rationing the measly rations that we had, trying to make them last. The guards that came to check up on me got suspicious, because I should have had enough food, but I couldn't hide the fact that I was getting skinnier forever. The next time the guards came to give me my monthly rations was the last. I saw the way he looked at me, and I just knew that we had to leave. So we did.

"I gathered all of us up, and we all carried some of the rations, and we headed to a cave I'd found in the woods behind the house. When we got to the cave, we found that there were already a few other kids there. The eldest of those, Annalise, and I took it upon ourselves to take care of the younger kids. I was the eldest of all of us, but Annalise wasn't too much younger than me. Annalise had managed to escape with her cousin Grace and her sister Julianne."

"Julianne?" Leonard interrupted. "You mean Julianne Michelson? Your old friend Julianne?"

James nodded. Leonard could only blink.

"And Kevin Riley, was he there too?"

James nodded again.

"He was one of the kids who followed me from the crowd. He was too young to be considered useful, so they were going to just... kill him." James looked sick. Leonard himself felt sick.

"I'm sorry for interrupting," Leonard said. "You can continue, if you want to."

James still wouldn't look at him, but he did continue speaking with little delay. "There were nine of us who saw Kodos' face and escaped the slaughter. Out of the nine of us, seven made it off of the planet. Annalise and Allen didn't make it. Of the seven who survived to be saved, five of us survived what came after. One of the kids was too far gone after we were saved, and the other one- Annalise and Julianne's cousin- committed suicide soon after being released from the hospital. The ones left alive are Kevin, Juli, Marian, Louis, Erin, and me.

"I was... God, I was so determined to get all of us out alive. We had a month's ration for one teenaged boy to last nine of us who knows how long. Annalise and I knew that it was going to be extremely difficult, if it was possible at all. I don't believe in no-win scenarios, though."

James' face was intense, the way it had been when he'd faced down Khan and Nero and Krall. It was the look he got when he stared the odds straight in the eye and said 'screw you.' But his eyes were haunted, too.

"It was okay, at first. We were all hungry all the time, but we weren't- we weren't starving. Not yet. We were able to hunt and gather, to an extent, before everything began to die. But when everything began to die, well... it didn't take long for us to realize just how slim the odds were that we'd all make it out of this alive.

"Grace and I would stray farther and farther from the camp each night, trying to find food. We broke into houses, we robbed people... I was stealthier on my own, though, so I started leaving Grace behind. It was during a food run that I have my most recent memory of Tarsus.

"We were getting desperate. It was maybe early March? We couldn't keep track of time too well. Every day blended into the next. Marian and Louis were getting sick, and I was trying to find medicine as well as food. It was..."

James' voice trailed off helplessly. Tears were visible in James' eyes, his throats bobbing with emotion.

"It was so hard," he finally managed to continue. "Seeing them waste away. They were... they were just children. Annalise and I, we became the parents of the group. We would forsake eating to make sure that the others got enough, we would sleep closest to the mouth of the cave, we took care of our kids the best we could. At the beginning, when we thought help would come any day, we didn't worry too much. We would sit outside in the morning, as the kids went to sleep, and talk about our dreams, our passions.

"I fell in love with her, Len. I really think I did." The overwhelming grief in his voice was almost enough to bring tears to Leonard's eyes. "I've never felt anything like this about any other girl. Julianne told me that when Annalise died- I don't... I don't remember that- I just shut down. If I shut down, I had to have really loved her, right?"

Leonard realized a moment after that James had been addressing him directly. He met James' eyes and sighed as he contemplated an answer.

"There's no handbook to love, kid," he said. "There's no common symptoms. All you can do is analyze your own emotions. I'm not gonna tell you that you're too young to be in love, or that it was too fast. That's all up to you to decide."

James nodded sullenly and looked down at his hands again. Leonard could tell by the deep breath he took that there was more still to come.

"I felt so weak and helpless," James whispered. "I felt like a failure. After all, I had been told all my life that I was George Kirk's son. My dad managed to save hundreds of lives, and I didn't think I'd be able to save eight. Turns out in the end I wasn't able to save eight.

"I tried so hard but... God, it was the most awful thing." His voice cracked, but James didn't seem to care. His gaze lay beyond Leonard's office, in some place Leonard would never truly be able to reach. "Annalise and I would try to stay positive, but it was so, so hard. Poor Kevin was so little. He didn't understand, but he kept us all positive. He... he really kept us going. On good nights we could make a fire, and sit around it, and Kevin would always ask me to tell stories, and it was the happiest thing to happen in that places. We were all hungry, and tired, and cold, and miserable, but it was like we could put that aside during stories."

James fell silent again.

"The hunter wasn't the worst, not really. It was awful, it made you feel weak and tired and cold and it consumed you until all you could think about was your next meal, no matter how small it may be, but the hunger was bearable. It was the lack of hope that wore away at us. I saw people murder each other over a potato peel, saw parents murder their children because it was quicker and neater than starving, saw those who Kodos deemed worthy of saving eat without care. Sometimes, rarely, if I acted pathetic enough and they weren't devoted to Kodos because he had saved them, they'd give me some spare rations. It was never enough, though.

"I'm still in shock that we survived. We lasted, what, another month before Starfleet showed? I don't... I don't know how we did it, but we did."

They sat in silence. Leonard knew that he needed to let James speak on his own. It was not his place here to speak- this was all about James. Eventually, James blinked and looked up, taking a deep, shaking breath.

"So that's- that's what happened."

"I don't know how you did it either," Leonard said once he was certain that his voice wouldn't shake. "But god damn, James. I'm-" Leonard's voice caught in his throat, and he felt tears welling up in his eyes, and shit, he wasn't supposed to be the one getting all emotional. "I'm beyond impressed, and I'm so, so proud of you, kid."

James sucked in an almost-gasp, and Leonard noticed a tear trace its way down his cheek. Leonard swallowed hard, and then opened his arms in an offer of a hug. James shot to his feet, and Leonard himself was barely able to stand before James was around the desk and crashing into him.

He was skinny, but he almost knocked Leonard off balance with the force of his impact. Leonard could feel a wet spot growing on his tunic, and tried his best to blink his own tears away as James inhaled shuddering breaths and sobbed against him. He could name the elements of the periodic table in the order from highest to lowest atomic mass, or list Jim's allergies in alphabetic order, but he couldn't- wouldn't- cry. James needed him to be stronger than he was, so God help him, he would be.

At some point all of the sobbing caused James' legs to give out, and Leonard lowered the two of them gently to the floor, pulling James halfway into his lap. James wrapped his skinny arms around Leonard's shoulders and let it all out, the fear and the anger and the relief, and Leonard listed the periodic table to keep himself calm.

Eventually, James lifted his head to rest his chin on Leonard's shoulder, and whispered a scratchy, "Thank you, Len." into his ear.

Leonard just tightened his grip, and began to recite the periodic table again.

Chapter Text

James had been escorted back to Spock's quarters for a nap by Ensign Santiago when the therapy session had ended. Crying was quite an exhausting thing. Leonard had given James one last tight hug before he'd left, and James had smiled at him with shining eyes. He looked happier and healthier than Leonard had yet seen him. When Leonard tried to return to work, Christine had stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm.

"Are you okay, Leonard?"

The fact that he had to think about it was a bit worrying, but he concluded that yes, he was okay. So he nodded, patting the hand that Nurse Chapel still had on his arm.

"I'm okay, Chris."

She narrowed her eyes. Leonard raised his eyebrows.

"If that changes, you'll tell me, right? It would be better for you to take rest if you need it than to power through and accidentally screw something up because you're not okay."

"I'm okay, really," he said. "And I promise to tell you if I need to take a break."

"If you're certain," she said, removing her hand and stepping back.

"I am. Thanks, Chris."

"Of course. Now go sulk over all of those physical reports you have, you bitter old man."

Leonard cracked a smile.

"Go hypo someone, whippersnapper."

"Oh, bite me."


The atmosphere on the bridge was the same as it had been for as long as James had been onboard. Not quite right, but not unsettling, as the crew adjusted to the changes. Spock sat in the captain's chair, posture perfect as he faced the viewscreen. The planet they hung in orbit around sat below them, vibrant and green.

"Commander," Nyota said, flicking a switch at her station and holding a delicate hand up to her earpiece. "We're receiving a message from the surface. It's the ha'karr." She frowned slightly, and the mood in the room darkened. Sulu and Chekov exchanged unhappy looks at the helm.

"Patch it through, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

Within moments, the ha'karr appeared on the screen. Her face was serene, eyes blinking in a way that could have been misconstrued as innocent. Spock felt anger tighten in his chest, and pushed it aside.

"Ha'karr."

"Commander Spock."

"May I inquire as to the reason you are contacting us?"

"I mean to ask of Captain Kirk. He has not yet been restored?"

"He has not. If you would wait a moment, this conversation is not one to be had in public." He turned to Nyota. "Lieutenant, please send the call to the Captain's ready room."

"Yes, sir."

The screen went blank, resuming its display of the planet beyond. Spock stood and exited the bridge.

The Captain's ready room felt cold with its disuse. It had always felt warm and homey, a relief for officers called inside. There was nothing worse, Spock had heard, than being called to a superior's office for an unknown reason. The homier the office felt, the less nervous the junior officer would find themselves. It was something Jim had explained to him over chess, at one point.

The ha'karr was onscreen when Spock sat down behind the desk.

"You inquire as to the health of the man whose affliction you caused," Spock stated.

The ha'karr nodded.

"Why do you hold concern? Is a part of his progress occurring oddly?"

"No," the ha'karr said. "I am sure that everything is as it should be. However, his progress is... slow. I have never seen the process take as long as it has."

"Then perhaps nobody who had ever undergone the procedure has endured as much as Captain Kirk."

"Perhaps. You are certain that he is making progress?"

Spock suppressed irritation. They had caused this, and then had the nerve to doubt the ability of Jim's own family to take care of him? The dark, violent, pre-Surakian part of Spock wanted to rear its ugly head, but Spock refused to let it.

"Indeed. He is rather close to full recovery, we believe."

"Then I am gratified. Please inform me when your Captain is restored."

The ha'karr cut off the message, and Spock was left staring at a rotating federation logo on a blue background.

"Why did the ha'karr call?" Sulu asked the moment Spock stepped out onto the bridge.

"Yes, vhy did zey call?"

"They merely wanted to know if James' progress has been going well. It seems that nobody has ever taken this long to be restored, and she was mildly concerned."

Nyota scoffed. Spock was fairly sure that Sulu rolled his eyes, but he could not see to be certain. Chekov shook his head in an irritated manner.

"We will have Captain Kirk back shortly," Spock said, settling back down in the captain's chair. "Until then, continue to perform as you are expected to perform."

"Yes, sir," the crew chorused, and returned to their stations.


James has a hangover, and the bruises and busted nose don't help. The fact that he'd hit his head just after boarding the shuttle doesn't help, either. The man sitting next to him, however, looks to be in worse shape than Jim. They were both clearly late in signing up, but the other man is scruffy and has an honest-to-God flask of alcohol.

James likes the man immediately.

The shuttle shudders, and James squeezes his eyes shut for a moment. When he opens them, he's standing in a dorm room. The man from the shuttle stands across from him, arms across his chest and a mighty scowl on his face.

"Guess we're roomies, huh?" James chirps, reaching out to slap the man on the shoulder. "Perks of signing up late, you get to room with me!"

"Oh, joy," the man shoots back, sarcasm oozing from the two simple words. James wonders what happened to him to make him so callous. Surely he hasn't always been like this?

"Aw, don't be like that. I'm sure we'll get along great."

The hangover returns, blindingly painful, and James finds himself over the toilet, retching into it. Everything is too bright and too loud, and he thinks there's muttering behind him. Over the sound of vomiting, James can hear the southern drawl of his roommate saying "All I've got left is my bones."

A hypospray is jabbed into his neck none too gently, and James finds himself being supported by his roommate- Bones, his nickname is Bones- about to board a shuttlecraft. He can't see out of his left eye, he's sweating profusely, and he feels like he's about to throw up, but he trusts Bones.

His vision fades completely for a moment, and when it returns, he's in a hospital bed in a very white room, Terran sunlight streaming into the room from behind him. Bones is there, in a fancy white uniform that the doctors on Terra wear, the usual scowl on his face.

"Don't be so melodramatic," Bones snarks, "You were barely dead."

James laughs, and the image shifts. Bones is standing behind a bar. Outside the window, stars blur as they pass them. Bones has a bottle of whiskey in his hand, and he's smiling devilishly.

"Besides," he says. "I found this in Chekov's locker."

The window shatters, but it lets in nothing more than a cool breeze. James watches, fascinated, as the stars spiral into the room. They dance around him, blindingly bright despite their small size. Soon enough it's just him and the stars, floating in an endless oblivion.

Almost, the stars whisper. You are almost there.


"Len!" Leonard's head jerked up at the cry, and he put down the hyposprays he'd been loading in preparation of a physical.

"James? Is something wrong?"

James nearly bounded into sickbay, grinning widely. The fear in Leonard's chest dissipated immediately, and he managed to open his arms before James barreled into him. Leonard squeezed and then released him, but kept a hand on his shoulder.

"What's goin' on, kid?"

"I remembered you!"

Leonard's face fell slack in shock.

"You did?"

"Yeah! I remember first meeting you, getting roomed with you, you sneaking me on to the Enterprise, waking up after Khan... And at the end, there was a voice that told me that I was almost done."

"Damn, kid, that's great!"

Ensign Santiago skidded through the sickbay doors, scowling deeply at James. Her face was flushed, breaths coming heavily.

"He should not be that fast," she panted. "That's ridiculous."

"Uh, sorry Hannah," James said, giving her a sheepish smile. "I just really wanted to get to Len."

"So I can see," she said drily. "Next time warn me before you take off?"

"Hopefully there won't be a next time," James said, "But sure."

"Well, I've got patients to attend to, James, so I don't have much time, but I'm glad that you're even closer to recovery."

"Me too," James said, and dove in for one last hug. "Thanks, Len."

"No problem, kid. Now try not to run Ensign Santiago too ragged, yeah?"

"I'll try my best," James said, giving him a cocky grin.

Leonard smiled and shook his head.


That evening, after dinner, James left the mess hall with Spock. They took the longer route to Jim's quarters, while Nyota, Leonard, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty took the shorter route and met them there. James was not aware of what was going to happen.

"So I told Len all the details," James said, "And I remembered him when I took a nap afterwards!" Spock turned and was met with James' own face staring up at him. "Now I need to tell you, and I'll be reversed!"

He was in such a jovial mood that Spock decided not to tell him that there was a chance that he would not be revered even after telling Spock. It was a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless. James' arms swung by his side, step livelier than it had been before.

"We will not be returning directly to my quarters," Spock informed him in the turbolift. "We are going to visit another place first."

"'Another place?' That's awfully vague."

"We will be visiting your older self's room, James." The turbolift door hissed open, and they stepped out.

"Why? Is there something in there that you need?"

"There is something that I believe may further assist you reversion."

"And you just thought of it?"

Spock glanced over at him. "Negative. It was an idea of Nyota's, several days ago."

"Huh. Okay, then."

They rounded the final curve, and Spock was relieved to find that Jim's room appeared undisturbed. Spock had spent his lunch break cleaning Jim's room to a degree where is was presentable, but was unsure whether or not the cleanliness was too clean or not clean enough by human standards. They were really rather confusing, at times.

"Did we hang out a lot in my quarters?" James asked.

"Indeed. We often played chess in your quarters, nightly if possible."

"Cool."

The door hissed open to allow them entry, and James faltered a bit when he saw everyone waiting for them. They all smiled at James, and perhaps it was the familiar gesture of kindness that removed the tension from his body as he stepped over the threshold.

"Spock?"

"This was Nyota's idea, James. You should ask her."

"Nyota?"

Nyota stood by the table that Jim and Spock routinely used to play chess. Behind her but off to the side stood Leonard, arms across his chest but a gentle expression on his face. Next to Leonard stood Sulu and Chekov, with Scotty behind them.

"Well," Nyota began, smiling. "You told me on the night when you told me about Tarsus that you would believe that you turn out to be an exceptional person if I gave you citations. So-" Nyota removed her arms from behind her back, revealing a PADD in her hands. "Here's your citations."

"What..." James stepped forward and took the PADD from her, laughing at the title which Spock knew to be: Why James Tiberius Kirk is a Good Person, Captain, etc. (Stories told by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and formatted by Nyota Uhura, CCO of the U.S.S. Entprprise.)

"Every single member of the crew had at least one story to tell us about how you were a good person, or captain, or anything else," Leonard said warmly. Spock did not think that he had ever heard Leonard speak so kindly when he was not addressing a child or a very ill person.

"Like a poker player," Chekov piped up.

"Or a fencer," Sulu said.

"Or an engineer," Scotty supplied.

"Or a ballet artist," Nyota said, smiling fondly.

"Or a friend," Spock murmured. James looked up at all of his friends, blinking shining eyes.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"Nyota put our stories in zee front of zee book. You can read zem first and zen we can leawe you to read zee rest, da?"

"Yeah, that sounds good," James said, wandering over to the couch and sitting down. Spock sat on his right, Leonard on his left. Nyota and Chekov stood behind James, with Sulu behind Spock and Scotty behind Leonard.

James swiped to the next page, the dedication before the content of the book actually began.

It read: To our beloved captain, an amazing person who we would follow to infinity and beyond.
-The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise

James placed the PADD in his lap and buried his face in his hands. Leonard placed a hand on James' back, and Spock placed a hand on his leg. The rest of the assembled also could not refrain from attempting to physically comfort him, and James laughed tearily.

"This is going to be a mess," he said, when he brought his face from the cradle of his hands. "But let's do it."

Chapter Text

S'chn T'gai Spock, XO and CSO

In the first memory that I am going to share, Jim and I were negotiating potential entry into the Federation on a planet named Xallia. The primary reason that Xallia had applied for entry to the federation was protection from enemies. We were unaware, however, that Xallian species was obsessed with purity. They were so devoted to blood purity that their one species had evolved into five species over the course of their evolution.

The Pure One, considered the purest of all, is the leader of the planet and therefore was the person with whom we were negotiating. When they discovered my hybrid nature, their attitude towards us and me in particular turned hostile. They felt betrayed and deceived.

The Pure One began a long and lengthy rant about my inadequacy. They stated that my soul, if a monster such as me could have one, would never be allowed peace. They accused me of being a sin, a crime, and said that my parents should be killed, their souls never allowed to find peace, among other things.

I had resigned myself to enduring their rant before returning to the Enterprise with an unsuccessful negotiation. It did not occur to me to defend myself, nor that I may be considered worthy of defending, because I had never been defended by anyone before. However Jim stepped forward, placing himself between the Pure One and myself. He forbade them from speaking to me in such a manner, and then defended me by telling them that I was an exceptional officer. He also reminded them that the Federation preaches acceptance of all, no matter their 'purity.'

Jim's actions were unprecedented. I had never before had anyone stand up to those who sought to ridicule me. It had never occurred to me that Jim, despite his respect for life, equality, and fairness, would ever attempt to defend me. His character was displayed excellently there, however, when he chose not to attempt to salvage negotiations, but to stand up for me. When I asked him later why he had done so, he gave me a quizzical look and informed me that he had defended me because I was his friend.

I had never had anyone address me as a friend before.

"And besides," Jim told me later. "If they're stupid enough to not see the beauty in a living, breathing example of love between two different species, then they really don't deserve to join the Federation anyways."

In the second memory, Jim and I were on a first contact mission, on a planet named Hapiria. We had met with their High Priest, who had told us that we were to be part of a ritual ceremony. Our database did not contain enough information for us to know if we would be able to refuse, and so we cooperated

The 'ceremony' was a trap. We were beamed into the forest surrounding Hapiria's capital city. Our weapons had previously been forfeited as a display of peace. Before we had been transported, I had managed to understand parts of the speech that the High Priest had given. He mentioned appeasing a 'great beast.'

We were in the middle of discussing potential ways to contact the ship and get ourselves beamed back to safety when we were attacked. A large, dog-like creature with extremely sharp claws pounced out of the woods. However, before I could be hit and injured, Jim pushed me out of the way. I retrieved a large branch and hit the beast on the head, after which it collapsed, but Jim had already been wounded badly.

Thankfully, the Entprprise managed to locate and beam us back on board before Jim could bleed out. Before we were beamed out, Jim asked if I thought that the beast that had attacked us was the 'great beast' mentioned by the High Priest. When I told him that I did not care at the moment, he laughed.

I found it peculiar that even while grievously injured and potentially dying, Jim was making jokes. I also did not expect him to sacrifice himself for me. Logically, I would have been the better choice to have been attacked. I am less important to the functioning of the ship, and with greater strength, would have been better able to fight back. However, despite the illogic, I found myself grateful that Jim cared enough to push me out of the way of danger.

Leonard "Bones" McCoy, CMO

I suppose the best story of Jim's ridiculous goodness would be Khan, so I'm not going to tell that story. God, there's so many stories to choose from, I don't know how I'm supposed to narrow it down to one.

You can tell more than one story, Leonard.

I can? Well then. I suppose I'll start with ordinary acts of goodness. After all, lots of people are going to be going with 'he saved my life.' He doesn't just take bullets for people.

It was the night after finals in our second year, and Jim and I were out at a bar. After all of the stress, I needed alcohol, and Jim needed both alcohol and sex.

Leonard, James is going to read this, you know.

He's not a child, I think he can handle the word sex.

As I was saying, we needed to de-stress. We were well on our way to getting wasted when Jim's eyebrows began to furrow instead of relax. I asked him what was wrong, and he gestured to the bar in the front of the room. I turned and instantly saw what had Jim all uppity.

There was a girl at the bar, looking barely legal and sure as hell not Academy. Leaning on the bar next to her was a big third year command track cadet that I'd had to patch up multiple times over the past year from 'sparring.' He was way in her space, lookin' real predatory.

"Watcha gonna do, kid?" I asked.

"Not sure yet," Jim replied, and stood up from his seat. I knew better than to try and stop him. He's awfully touchy about consent. I didn't know what he was going to do when he reached the girl, but I was prepared to have to split up a fight.

Instead of fighting, he put his arm around the girl, and turned to the other cadet with an almost frightening smile. I didn't hear what he said, the music was too loud, but the Vader lumbered off angrily after a minute or two. Once he was gone, the girl turned to Jim and gave him the biggest damn hug. He hugged her back, payed the bill, and then payed for her shuttle home before before returning to the table.

When I tried to speak to him about it, he just blushed and told me to shut up. I never did bring it up again, but I never forgot, either. That was a side of Jim that is never seen before- genuinely kind and caring instead of an endearing, cocky genius.

Then there was the first birthday of my daughter's that I ever missed. Jim came back from class to find me on the floor, leaning back against the couch with a bottle of whiskey in hand. I'm sure I looked a right mess, but he didn't even question it. He just dropped his bag and jacket and sat down next to me.

'Course, an hour later I was sobbing into his shirt about how much I missed my baby girl, totally wasted. Still, he didn't judge me. He just got wasted right alongside me and told me that he knew what I was going through.

I didn't understand at the time, hell, I barely remembered later, but now... Jesus, I think I know what he meant by that. And he didn't just lose one kid.

God, what a depressing thought. I want to find him and give him a hug, now. Dammit. Hey, how many stories can I tell?

As many as you'd like. Within reason, of course. This shouldn't be War and Peace.

Maybe it should. He deserves a book that long for all the good he's done.

Anyways, the third story takes place near the beginning of our third year at the Academy. Jim n' I were on our way to the bar for Friday night drinks, when we passed a house that had smoke billowing out of the windows. There was a woman and three children outside in their pajamas, and then suddenly the woman went batshit, screaming that one of her kids was still in the house. Two neighbors held her back, and Jim took off without a second thought.

He was in the house before I could stop him, and I figured if I wasn't running into a burning building after Jim, I could at least help make sure the children stayed calm. So I stayed on the sidewalk with the children as the fire trucks grew closer and talked to them. The mother, too, calmed down some after seein' Jim run in to the building.

He came out a couple of minutes later, cradling a newborn and coughing like hell. The mother began to wail in relief, and just as the fire trucks showed up, the building collapsed from the fire. Had we waited for the firemen to save the baby, the baby would've died.

In the hospital, when I was treating Jim for the smoke he'd inhaled, I asked him why he'd rushed into the building with no hesitation when he could've died. He told me, "The baby needed help. What kind of Starfleet officers do we expect to be if we can't even help humans who need it?"

That stuck with me for a long time. It was really the first time I realized just how selfless he was. He would risk his life to save anybody, and give the shirt off his back to those in need without hesitation. It was really the incident that finally hammered into my head just how good of a person Jim was.

I'm real proud to be his friend.

Hikaru Sulu, helmsman

I remember there was one time, a few months ago, where an away mission went really wrong. We had beamed down on to a planet, where of course the characteristics of Japanese humans were shared by that culture's 'hellbeasts', their equivalent of demons. Something in the planet's atmosphere disabled phasers, so those were useless. We were pretty quickly captured, and I was separated to be sacrificed later.

Which, honestly? It sucked.

I was tied to a post in the middle of the town square. They were going to burn me at sunset- only half a hour away. There was no sign from the away team, and I was terrified. Of all ways to go, burning was one of the ones that I really didn't want to experience.

On the planet, they had progressed to perhaps just beyond the Middle Ages. The population seemed to be mostly peasants with very poor hygiene, they were highly religious, and they used swords as their primary weapon. I had managed to hold off some attackers using my sword skills when we were attacked, but there were just too many of them in the end.

By the time it was five minutes before sunset, the only thing keeping me from crying was my Starfleet training. But then there was a commotion from one side of the square, and when I looked up to see what was going on, I found none other than Jim Kirk sword fighting his way through a crowd to get to me.

I had taught him how to fence, sometime between his captaincy and Khan. He had gotten good quickly, and at that point it was a real challenge to beat him whenever we sparred. Behind him was the rest of the away team, also with swords. They were competent, but Jim was by far the best one there.

He saved me, of course. Once we were back on the ship and I we were being checked over in sickbay, he just grinned at me and thanked me for teaching him, because what would he do without his favorite helmsman?

Of course, that's not the only time that Jim used his fencing skills to save lives on away missions, but that's the only time so far that he's used those skills to save me. I'm thankful to be his friend- he'd sacrifice or risk his life for me without hesitation. He did so just after we first met, on the drill over Vulcan, where he jumped off after me. I hope he knows that I'd do the same for him, with the same lack of hesitation.

Pavel Chekov, navigator

I remember a confrontation with zee Klingons soon after Nero. I was wery nerwous. After zee confrontation, we warped avay, and Alpha shift was allowed to go back to our rooms because it was almost zee end of zee shift.

In my bathroom, I had a panic attack. I was only sewenteen, after all. When I came back out of zee bathroom, I heard chiming from zee door. I was a bit nerwous because I was not wery presentable, but it could hawe been important! So I opened zee door and found zee Keptin outside of my room.

I was wery embarrassed, because I did not know Jim well yet, but I asked what I could do for him. He shook his head and said "I'm not your Captain right now. You looked unwell when you left the bridge. Are you okay?" I vas surprised zat he had noticed and cared enough to come ask me.

I told him zat I was okay, but I must not hawe looked okay, because he asked if I had suffered a panic attack. I could not lie- I told him zat I had. He asked if he could come in, zen, and of course I let him. My roommate was not in zee room, so zee Keptin sat on his bed. He looked me in zee eyes and asked me what zee issue was.

I told him zat zere was a lot of pressure because I was so young but so smart, and zee Keptin nodded and said zat he knew what zat felt like. I knew zat zee Keptin was smart, but I did not know zat his IQ was almost as large as mine. He had always felt zat he needed to be better zan others, and his father's legacy did not help.

Zat confession made it much less shocking when zee Keptin said zat he had much experience with panic attacks. He asked if I needed anyzing or if zere was anyzing he could to do help me.

I ewentually told him zat when I was stressed or didn't feel good as a child my mother vould make me borscht and wrap me in a blanket. When zee Keptin asked if he could help with zat, I vas surprised, but I said yes. I did not want him thinking zat I was weak, zough, so I told him as he was wrapping a blanket around me zat I was not weak.

He just smiled and told me zat he knew zat I was strong, because I stayed calm during Nero, and zen stayed in zee Fleet afterwards. He also told me zat ewen professionals and strong people needed help sometimes. "Strong people," he said as he handed me replicated borscht, "Cannot always be strong. Sometimes they need to be weak, too."

"Does zat mean zat you allow yourself to be weak sometimes, Keptin?" I asked.

"Jim," he said. "Call me Jim when we're off duty." His smile was gone, zough, and I did not need to ask again to know what his answer would be. He stayed with me until I felt better, and zen left, telling me to get some rest.

Ewer since then, whenever I see zee Keptin in zee corner of the rec room doing paperwork and looking stressed- I can tell because zee corners of his eyes get tight, and his eyebrows furrow zee tiniest bit, and his mouth gets a little bit frowny- I order some decaf coffee with lots of sugar, zee way he likes it, and bring it to him.

Because, as a friend told me, strong people need help too. And people like zee Keptin, who are so kind and selfless that zey will ensure everyone else's safety and comfort before taking care of zemselves, zey need help more often zan they will ever admit.

Nyota Uhura, CCO

I can't believe that I'm temporarily abandoning my 'I don't really care about him' façade, but of course only Jim Kirk could get himself into a situation like this, so I guess I can't complain. I'll give him shit later.

I've seen or heard countless examples of Jim's generosity and goodness by now, but this is the last one to add to this collection. It's a bit difficult now to find a story to tell, because it seems most stories I could think of have already been told my someone else. But I believe that I've found a good citation.

We were overseeing a potential entry into the Federation. They were called the A'tah-pon, and lived on A'tah, an orbitally locked planet with one side permanently ice covered, and the other side covered in lush forests and beautiful mountain ranges, with a desert in the area closest to their sun. The A'tah-pon themselves were tall and lanky due to the lower gravity of their planet, with three fingered on each of their four hands with hoof-like appendages instead of feet. They were covered in indigo fur, and had a bear-like face. They were warp capable, as non dilithium-rich places have to be, but their society was rather backwards by our standards.

In charge of the planet was a close approximation to a royal family. They lived in splendor, waited upon by servants, and were basically celebrities. They did have a council to approve laws that the 'royal family' created before they were put into action, but the council was all essentially nobility. There was a small city, with the palace at its center, where some nonroyals lived. There were scientists and science labs, museums and restaurants. There were schools, too. One was closer to the center of the city, and the other was close to the outskirts.

The outskirts.

It was like something out of Earth's past, except magnified drastically. There dwelled the common people, and those who weren't deemed important enough to be able to live in the city. The people there lived in mere shacks, and the streets were strewn with garbage. There was no plumbing, but massive, stinking outhouses strewn throughout. There was no electricity, no heat. These people were treated as no better than mutts by those deemed superior.

When I was little, my grandmother told me stories of old Earth when I was being ungrateful. She told me about how the area that we lived in had, at one point, had been outskirts. We lived where others had once lived in shacks, and without electricity or plumbing because they were too poor, but nobody wanted to help them. She told me about how, just beyond the shacks, there had been a city where people had lived and not cared about the people in the shacks who starved, sometimes. The lack of care about others had disgusted me when I was a child, and it disgusted me then.

We stayed in the palace, as guests. We were pampered all throughout the proceedings. I could barely bring myself to eat, knowing that there were others who needed it far more than me. Knowing that there were children who the royals were allowing to starve because they had not proved themselves in school to be worthy of assistance. I could tell that Jim felt the exact same way- I realize why, now, and wonder how hard it must have been for him to sit and eat while the king told us that those on the outskirts went unassisted because they did not prove themselves useful enough.

During a free day in the middle of discussions, the captain just... disappeared. He wasn't in the palace, and he wasn't on the grounds, and he wasn't in any of the more popular place in the city. The whole team split up to try and find him. I was supposed to check the city's library, but I had a feeling that he wasn't there.

I found him in the outskirts. He was playing a game similar to soccer with some children, and they were all laughing and smiling because the alien man had come to visit them. On the sidelines, mothers held young children who were chewing on some bread from the palace. Everyone there looked at Jim like he'd performed magic. Jim himself looked happier and less stressed than I'd seen him since the beginning of the discussions.

I waved to get his attention, and his grin just got brighter when he saw me. He pulled me onto the field with him and shouted, "Everyone, meet my friend Uhura! She's going to be playing with us!"

I laughed and shook my head, but not much playing got done after that anyways. The A'tah-pon were so thrilled to meet two humans so different from the same species, and they wanted to know all about us.

We stayed in the outskirts until the sun began to set. The children cried when we told them we had to leave, and I could tell that it was killing Jim to leave them. I laid my hand on his shoulder and told him, "We could always threaten to not let them in to the Federation unless they change their ways."

That made Jim laugh, and gave him the strength to leave. The next day, during negotiations, Jim demanded that the A'tah-pon treat all citizens equally if they wanted to join the Federation, because equality was something held in high regard by the Federation.

It's times like that that remind me of just how good of a person Jim is. He's so passionate about equality, and it's easy to forget just how passionate he is until we encounter such gross inequality like we did with the A'tah-pon. I really am so, so proud to be his friend and to serve on his crew.

Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, CEO

Well, I don' got too many stories o' Jim to tell, since I'm ne'er on the away teams where most o' the stories ye've heard were probably made.

I do, however, have a story t' tell ye about the trip back to Earth after Nero. It took three weeks, since we didn' have warp and all the remainin' ships in the Fleet were scattered. We were heroes, aye, but they couldn't spare a ship to come get us. Not that I blame 'em- I understand that we weren't top priority as long as we weren't dyin'.

The ship was in chaos. It seemed that almost everythin' in engineering needed to be fixed. I asked the Cap'n for all the men with engineering experience he could spare, and not ten minutes later, Jim 'imself marches into engineering with five men followin' behind!

"What do you need us to do, Scotty?" Jim asked me. So I gave the men behind him tasks, and thanked the cap'n for delivering them himself.

Jim jus' frowned at me and said, "Scotty, where do you need me? I've got engineering experience."

Now, I didn' see Jim as the type to know much about engineerin', so I was doubtful, but I told 'im what to do, and he did it jus' fine! I asked 'im where he'd gotten the experience, an' he jus' shrugged an' said, "Around."

So I pointed 'im all around, an' there wasn't a blessed thing he couldn't fix! He was moving faster than some o' my own employees, and ne'er once complained abou' getting dirty. It was hours later when Spock came down, all pissy because he couldn't find the cap'n. I'll ne'er forget the look on 'is face when Jim popped his head out o' a jefferies tube thirty feet up, covered in grease. Priceless!

'E got called down and disappeared to do paperwork or something, but he came back as often as he could and used 'is spare time to help fix up the ship. By the time we got back to Earth, the ship was almost good as new, apart from the lack o' a warp core, o' course.

When we got back t' Earth and Jim had a moment of free time, I managed to find 'im. He was helpin' out 'round the Academy, teaching the classes that 'e could. Others had started doin' the same, taking over the classes who'd lost their professors durin' the disaster. And d' ye know what class 'e was teaching? An introduction to engineering course!

I asked where he'd gotten to know how t' do all that engineerin' when he'd been on the command track. He shrugged and said that, "I taught myself when I was younger."

"Did ye teach herself anythin' else useful?" I asked 'im, and he grinned at me.

"You'll just have to wait and see," he said.

I haven't seen much, mind you, 'cause I don't go on many away missions, an' I'm in engineering most o' the time so I don't get to hang out with Jim as much as the bridge crew, but what I've heard is pretty damn fantastic. I couldn't be prouder to serve on the Enterprise under 'im.

Chapter Text

James had cried multiple times while reading the anecdotes. By the end of Scotty's, he was exhausted from crying but touched more than words could express. He set the PADD down in his lap once he'd read the anecdotes of those gathered around him. He could feel tears still threatening to brim over, and rubbed at his eyes.

"Thank you," he rasped. "It... just... thank you." Leonard set a hand on James' back and began to rub in soothing circles.

"You look tired," Nyota commented, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Would you like us to leave now?"

James hesitated. He didn't want to be rude by telling them that he did want them to go, but he also really just wanted to go to sleep. Or maybe read some more of the book without them all seeing him cry. Sighing internally, he dropped his head onto Leonard's shoulder and nodded. Not wanting Spock to feel less appreciated, he stuck his leg out in a way that it would touch against Spock's own without being too invasive.

"Yeah, it would probably be better for you guys to leave," James said. The words were accompanied by guilt, so James tried to amend the sentence. "You guys have to work tomorrow, you shouldn't stay up too late."

"Of course," Nyota said, pressing a quick kiss to the top to James' head. Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty followed her out, all wishing him a good night. The door hissed shut behind them, leaving only blissful quiet. Leonard paused in his rubbing, and Jim felt him shift his head.

"Do you want me to leave, too?" Leonard asked quietly. James paused, but shook his head. Leonard resumed his rubbing. James took a deep, sleepy breath before speaking.

"I'm tired," he said eventually. "And I know you've got work tomorrow and I'm probably gonna fall asleep soon so it's no use in asking you to stay, but I do want you stay."

"So I'll stay," Leonard said, and moved his arm to wrap it fully around James' shoulders. "But we gotta get you back to Spock's room at some point."

"B'y're c'mfy." James slurred, eyes suddenly far too heavy. He leaned his weight fully against Leonard, a warm, lethargic feeling spreading.

"I'm comfy?" There was a definite note of amusement in Leonard's voice, and James would've responded with more than a grunt had he been capable of it.

Within another few moments, he was asleep.


"Is he asleep?" Leonard whispered over James' head. Spock looked at him, and then down at James. His breathing, posture, and general unawareness all pointed to unconsciousness. Spock looked back up at Leonard.

"I believe so."

"D'you wanna get his bed ready so I can just pick him up and set him down?"

"You do not plan on rousing him?"

"Nah, no reason to. Sure, he should probably brush his teeth, but one night is one night. Besides, he needs sleep. No use in waking him up just to tell him to go back to sleep."

"I suppose," Spock said. "I will prepare his bed."

He left Leonard and James on the couch, the PADD still on in James' lap. Spock had lowered the temperature of his room to make James comfortable, which of course made Spock cold. He did not regret the accommodation of James' needs, but he was looking forward to readjusting the temperature once James was reverted. He was also looking forward to getting Jim back.

It was an illogical thought, that James was somehow different from Jim, Spock thought as he prepared the bed. However, it was not entirely inaccurate. Jim had skills and memories that James did not, and he was far more mentally adjusted. Despite their similarities, James acted remarkably different from Jim at times.

"I have prepared the bed for James," Spock announced in a soft voice when he reentered the room. There was no movement from the couch. Leonard appeared to be asleep, his head resting on top of James' and arm limp. Spock nearly sighed.

He came around the couch and placed a gentle hand on Leonard's shoulder, then shook slightly. Leonard sucked in a large breath as his eyes opened, blinking blearily. It took a moment for them to focus on Spock. When they did, he frowned.

"Did I fall asleep?" He drawled.

"You did. I will put James to bed, but perhaps it is best if you yourself retire."

"I... Yeah, probably." Leonard still looked a bit dazed.

Spock slid his arms under James, gently so as not to wake him. James was light in his arms, sleep-limp head coming to rest on Spock's shoulder. He nodded at Leonard before departing.

"Good night, Doctor."

"G'night, Spock," Leonard said, yawning.

Spock departed Jim's room, James thankfully still asleep in his arms. Once back in his own room, Spock lay him down gently on the bed, making sure that his head rested on the pillow. He removed James' shoes and socks, and then pulled up the blankets.

"Computer," Spock said quietly. "Lights to five percent."

The lights dimmed, leaving Spock to get ready in near darkness. It was a good thing that the lack of a moon on Vulcan-that-was had led to Vulcans having better vision in low-light that humans, Spock thought as he prepared himself for mediation.

Dressed in the appropriate robes and kneeling on the meditation mat, incense lit, Spock began to meditate. Breath in, out, in, out, in...


James grunts, frustrated, and pulls his hands back into the cell. Unlocking an ancient lock using nothing more than a deconstructed comm badge from inside a locked cell is very, very difficult, James is finding. The putrid stench of the cells is making it hard to think and inspiring nausea.

"Captain," Ensign Wu says from where he's reclining against the damp stone wall. "Do you want me to try? I'm flexible, and I've got skinnier arms."

James sighs and sits back, holding out the makeshift lockpick. Ensign Wu's deft fingers pluck it from his hand, and they trade places. James leans back against the wall, nose wrinkling as the wet seeps through the fabric of his uniform and plasters it to his back in a way not dissimilar to humid San Francisco heat.

"Oh," Ensign Wu murmurs. "Damn."

"What is it?" James asks leaning forward. Anxiety twists his stomach, and he suppresses it ruthlessly. They have to be able to get out of the cell. They have to. There's a crewman- Lieutenant Reeves- being held captive and tortured. Occasionally, her screams have been loud enough to reach the cells, and it makes James shiver every time. She has to be rescued before she dies. After all, the aliens had only taken her because they'd thought that she was the captain. If she dies...

"I know I can get us out," Ensign Wu says, turning to glance over his shoulder at James before returning his attention to the lock. "But it's going to take a while."

A faint wail echoes down the hallway, and James takes a deep, calming breath. Ensign Wu winces, and James remembers that him and Lieutenant Reeves are friends. James nods at Ensign Wu.

"If you can get us out of here," James says, "Do it. But try to hurry."

"Yes sir," Ensign Wu says, and returns to work.

James doesn't know just how long it takes, but Ensign Wu finally manages to unlock the cell door. There is a click, and James' attention is drawn instantly to the door as it swings open just a bit.

"Finally," Ensign Wu whispers, standing and pushing the door open. James stands as well, ignoring the creaking of his joints from sitting in one position for so long, and exits into the hallway.

A scream comes from somewhere to the right, and James sets off in that direction, heart pounding. Surely if she's still screaming loud enough for them to hear, they'll get to her in time...

"Follow the screaming," Ensign Wu whispers, voice trembling. "Right."

James almost wants to snap at him to keep his composure, but remembers in time that he's not command. He's part of the science division, and therefore not as trained on what to do in a position like this as James is.

They make several more turns before James finds himself in a place he recognizes and can find the exit from. A little bit of relief spreads through him. This way, when they find Lieutenant Reeves, he won't have to run around looking for the exit. He'll know exactly where it is.

Another scream sounds, close enough that James thinks he knows what room it's coming from, but it's abruptly cut off. Ensign Wu gasps from beside him, and ice begins to grow in Jim's stomach.

"Please, no, Amelia," he whispers. "Please be alive."

James has to shove Ensign Wu back into a hallway to avoid being noticed when a group of five of the aliens who kidnapped them spill from the room that the screaming came from into the hallway. They sound happy and gloating and proud, and it makes James' stomach twist with anger and disgust.

Once they disappear from view around a corner, James sneaks down the hallway on silent feet, Ensign Wu following close behind. When they reach the heavy, rusted door that the aliens had left slightly ajar, James takes a deep breath before pushing open the door.

"Oh, god," Ensign Wu says. He sounds like he'd just been punched in the stomach, voice high and breathless. James is keeping his mouth shut right now for fear of the same.

Lieutenant Reeves is very dead. Her chest, which is supposed to be gold, is as scarlet as her hair. Her head is tipped back at an unnatural angle, throat slit jaggedly. Her fingers are mutilated, bloody messes at unnatural angles. Cuts litter her legs, some neat slices, some not.

James swallows the bile creeping up his throat and turns to Ensign Wu. The man is pale and shaking, trembling against the doorframe. James places a gentle hand on his arm, and Ensign Wu focuses his gaze on James. The emotions swirling in his eyes are too familiar, and James fights the urge to look away.

"Ensign," he says, trying to find a balance between his captain's voice and his friend voice. "I need you to help me bring Lieu- Amelia's body to a place where we can be beamed out."

Ensign Wu swallows hard but nods, entire body trembling lightly. James gives him a smile that he hopes is encouraging.

"Can you be watch for guards? If you can't focus enough for that, then you're going to need to be the one to carry her." Ensign Wu shakes his head almost desperately at James' words.

"No, no, I'll carry her," he says, voice rough. "I always-" He stops, as if reminding himself that breathing is important, and then looks James in the eye with a steel that impresses him. "We agreed to carry each other out."

"Okay," James says softly. "I'll keep watch and direct you where to go. We're not too far from the entrance."

"Okay," Ensign Wu says, voice shaking. "Okay."

When he picks up Lieutenant Reeves, she looks so wrong, limbs entirely uncoordinated and head tipped too far back. Ensign Wu makes a noise low in his throat, and James thinks the poor man might throw up. The blood on her uniform is still fresh, and covers Ensign Wu in the process of picking her up.

"Let's go," James says, ignoring the mantra of myfaultmyfaultmyfault thundering in his head.

Because it is his fault, isn't it? He put Lieutenant Reeves on the away team, he didn't order them to safety like a good captain would, he let Lieutenant Reeves be the one they took, nevermind that he was barely conscious at the time. He's the captain- every life lost is his fault, his responsibility.

James remembers overhearing her telling a friend in the halls that her sister was pregnant with a baby boy, and she was going to be both an aunt and the godmother. That was only two months ago. Lieutenant Reeves- Amelia, James makes himself think, just to rub salt in the wound and make himself pay for it- is never going to see her nephew now, never get to tell him stories to Starfleet and spoil him with gifts. She'll never get to have kids of her own and watch them grow.

And it's all James' fault.


James jerked awake, gasping for breath. He raised trembling fingers to his face, only to find it wet with tears. He lay back down on the bed, pressing his palms into his eyes to try and stem the flow of tears. Deep even breaths, one after the other, and he began to calm down somewhat.

"James?" Spock asked. James pulled his hands away from his eyes and saw Spock standing by the side of the bed, looking concerned. James sat up and pulled his knees up to his chest, noticing that he wasn't in his pajamas as rough denim brushed his arms.

"It's nothing," James said, shrugging. Spock didn't need to say anything, and just gave James a look. "Okay, fine, so it was another nightmare. I'll be fine."

"Even so, it would be gratifying if you were to share it with me."

James supposed that if he was going to be spilling the details about Tarsus to Spock the next day, he could fess up about a single nightmare with people he didn't know. He sighed softly and gestured to the bed beside him, where Spock took a seat.

"I was in a cell," James began abruptly. "Me and two other officers had been kidnapped by aliens. One of the officers, Ensign Wu, was with me, and the other one, Lieutenant Reeves, had been taken to be tortured.

"I had repurposed a comm badge to be a lock pick and was working on picking the lock, but I couldn't get it open. Ensign Wu and I switched places, and he managed to get it open. The whole time, we could occasionally hear Lieutenant Reeves scream. It was awful.

"We escaped, and rushed towards the screaming. It stopped abruptly when we were close, and then a group of aliens left the room that the screaming had come from. When we entered, once they'd disappeared around a corner, we found Lieutenant Reeve's body.

"It was terrible, Spock. Her throat had been cut, her hands were a mess, and her legs were covered in cuts. Ensign Wu almost threw up. They were friends, you know. The sound of his voice when he first saw her...

"It was my fault that she died. I put her on the away team, I didn't insist on being the first one taken to be tortured, I didn't do enough. Her sister was pregnant, you know. She was going to be an aunt, and get to spoil her nephew with gifts and enchant him with stories of Starfleet."

"I know that you are one to carry unnecessary guilt," Spock said, setting a hand on James' back. "It is not always your fault. I remember that mission well. There were no signs that the natives may have been violent. We had no way of knowing that you would be kidnapped."

"But I put her on the mission," James said wearily. "I brought her down there. If I hadn't done that, she would still be alive."

"Perhaps," Spock said. "But perhaps that other crew member that you would have brought down in her place would be killed, too. Or perhaps Lieutenant Reeves would have been killed between then and now on another mission. No one can know everything about the future."

"I suppose," James said, leaning against Spock. "But..."

"There is a Vulcan saying," Spock said. "Kaiidth. What is, is. You would do well to remember it."

"What is, is." James murmured. "Very logical. Too bad I'm human."

"That fact that you are human does not exclude you from being able to understand Vulcan principles."

"I suppose not," James said. He yawned and leant his head against Spock's shoulder.

"Do you wish to go back to sleep?" Spock asked.

"I mean, I guess," James muttered. "But you're... you're so warm."

"Would you like me to remain with you?"

James pulled his head away from Spock's shoulder to look up at him blearily. He stared for a moment, brain sleepy and slow in its functioning.

"...Could you?" James asked.

He hated how small he felt when he said that, how childish it must have portrayed him as, but Spock made James feel safer and secure. With the possibility of telling Spock about Tarsus not being enough to turn him back constantly lurking in the back of his mind, he was honestly terrified. There was only one confession left to make. What if it failed? What if he was stuck as a teen forever, and the Enterprise would never get their captain back? But Spock seemed to help keep those thoughts away, helped James remain calm.

"If it would help you and you wish me to do so, then of course I will stay."

"Stay, please," James said quietly.

"Very well."

It took some moving and shifting, but Spock managed to get them both into a comfortable position. Spock lay on his back, arm around Jim, who was curled up against Spock as a cat might curl up in front of a heater on a cold winter's day.

"Sleep well, James," Spock said.

James managed to murmur a slurred, "You too," before drifting off once more.

Chapter Text

When Spock woke the next morning to prepare himself for his shift, it was far more difficult than he'd anticipated to leave the bed. James had once more wrapped himself around Spock as fully as he could, and had a vice-tight grip. As gently as possible, Spock detached James from himself. Even in sleep, James' face twitched in disappointment, and Spock substituted a pillow for himself. James' frown disappeared as he turned his grip to the pillow, squeezing it to his chest.

It struck Spock that this was most likely the last morning that he would have to try to be quiet while preparing himself for his shift. The next morning, if everything went according to plan, it would be Jim and not James in the bed. Although perhaps Jim would require rest, too, and Spock would have to prepare silently one more time.

"Mmmhm?" James muttered, shifting a bit and tightening his grip on the pillow.

He would miss James, Spock knew. Of course, he would be very glad to have Jim back, but James had made an impression. James was feisty and fiery and kind and traumatized, and just different enough from Jim. Spock missed his chess partner, and his captain, and his best friend. When he got Jim back, however, Spock knew that he would miss the boy who trusted him first, trusted him before the man who had known him for years longer than Spock had.

But would he truly get Jim back? He wouldn't, would he? This was supposed to help Jim, but a less damaged Jim would be a different Jim. That brought up the questions of just how different Jim would be. Would it be almost as if the ha'karr's gift had never been granted to Jim? Or would it be as if Jim was an entirely different person?

If the restored Jim was too different from the old Jim, though, would Spock still be in love with him? Or would he be too different, leaving Spock with feelings for a man who no longer existed? Maybe it would work the other way. Spock would still love Jim, but Jim would no longer love Spock. He was fairly certain at this point that Jim loved- or had loved- him.

Spock refused to dwell on such thoughts for too long, and turned away to prepare for the day. He would meditate later, when he had the time. No matter what would happen the next morning, he needed to be able to function well.


When James woke, it was to an alarm. He groaned and rolled over, slamming the 'off' button. Propped up on his elbows, James blinked open heavy eyes to focus on the note left by the alarm clock. It was Spock's writing again, which meant that Spock was already gone.

James, the note read. Ensign Santiago will arrive at 7:30 to take you to Sick Bay. Please be prepared. Remember to eat before you leave, there are suitable breakfast options programmed into the replicator.

-Spock

James sat up and yawned widely enough that his jaw popped. After setting the bed, he changed into clothes, and then went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. It was halfway through brushing his teeth when he came to a shocking realization. He had known it rationally before, but it had always seemed distant. It was in his face, now, with no way of being avoided.

If all went according to plan, this would be his last day on the Enterprise. He would wake up the next morning not as James or JT, but as Jim. The crew of the Enterprise would have their captain back, their friend back, and...

And what would happen to him? Would he find himself back on Tarsus with the memories? Without? Would he just cease to exist? Would it be like amnesia, where he would wake up as Jim with all of his memories, new and old, remembering the not remembering?

It was way too early to be thinking about this, but James' mind didn't seem to care. Now that it had gotten started, it wouldn't shut up. There was a sick, empty feeling that accompanied existential thoughts, and James tried his hardest to fight against it.

By the time Hannah showed up to bring him down to Leonard, James was jittery from the existentialism. He had finished getting ready early, and was pacing around the room when she buzzed for entry. James looked up at the door, sighing in relief.

"Come in," he called.

Hannah stepped inside, hands tucked neatly behind her back, and smiled at James. The presence of another person helped with his dark thoughts, providing a distraction, and James was grateful for Hannah's arrival. James tried to smile back, but it must've been off, because Hannah tipped her head and frowned.

"Are you okay?" She asked.

"I guess," James said. "Just nervous."

"And why's that?" Hannah asked, stepping closer. "If you don't mind me asking, of course."

"I don't," James said. "It's just... I'm kind of worried. I don't know what's going to happen to me once I tell Spock everything. Sure, I'll go back to being Captain Kirk again, but what about me? What's going to happen to my consciousness? Will I remember this as something like an amnesia incident? Will I cease to exist? Will I wake up back... I don't know what's going to happen."

"Nobody does," Hannah said. "And that's mostly what we deal with out here- the unknown. I wish I could tell you that everything's going to be fine, but I honestly don't know. I can, however, keep you company for a while."

"Thanks," James said quietly. The smile he gave her was more genuine than his last, which seemed to be a source of relief for Hannah. "Being alone with thoughts like that for too long isn't a good idea, so I'm glad you rolled around to pick me up."

"My pleasure," Hannah said. "But we should hurry if we want to be on time."

"Of course."


Leonard had been deep in reports when James and Ensign Santiago arrived, and he was glad to put what he had left off for a little while longer. James thanked Ensign Santiago before she disappeared, and then sat down across from Leonard once the door closed. There was something odd in the air, in the mood of the room.

"This is the last time I'm going to do this," James stated, a tone of wonder in his voice as if he'd just realized that. "I mean, I knew it rationally even yesterday, but it just hit me. I'm..."

"Yeah," Leonard said softly. "It's always different when it's the real thing, ain't it?"

He was almost melancholy, under the excitement and happiness. Yes, he would have Jim back after today, but James would be gone. It seemed that James had realized that, because when he next spoke, his words were somber.

"Do you have any clue what's going to happen to me?" He clarified quickly, obviously anticipating but not wanting the 'You'll be reverted back to your old self' that hung on the tip of Leonard's tongue. "I mean, sure, I'll go back to being the captain, but what will happen to me?"

"I'm not entirely sure I follow." Leonard thought he followed, but he wasn't sure if James and him were on just the same page.

"I mean, I'm different from the older me's past self now, aren't I? I have new experiences, different experiences. What will happen to my consciousness? Will I wake up back on Tarsus?" That part seemed to be very hard for James to say, and the words sent a shot of despair through Leonard. "If I do, will I have these memories or not? Will it be like an amnesia case, where the me that I turn into remembers everything, all of my experiences here? Will I... Will I just cease to exist? I don't- I don't exactly expect you to have an answer, but still."

"I can't say I've ever been in your situation," Leonard said. "However, this is reminding me of amnesia with how you've been getting memories back by exposure and time. If I had to guess, I'd say that this would resolve itself like amnesia, too. Don't hold me to that, though, sometimes these things solve themselves in the weirdest ways even if the solution seems simple."

"Yeah, I guess we can't exactly apply
Terran rules to non-Terran things, especially when it comes to telepathy."

"So you're clearly feeling nervous," Leonard said, trying to lighten the mood. "But do you feel excited, too?"

"I mean, I guess," James said. "It'll be nice to give you guys back your captain."

"Sure," Leonard said. "It'll be real nice to have Jim back. That doesn't mean we won't miss you, kid."

"Oh I don't know," James said. "You'll definitely be more excited to get your captain back. After all, I'm sure that Spock will be as elated as a Vulcan can be to return to his science duties."

"Still doesn't mean we won't miss you," Leonard said patiently.

"I guess," James said, shifting in his seat. He was obviously getting uncomfortable, so Leonard changed the conversation.

"Have you read any more of the anecdotes?"

"I've read some of them," James said. "I want to finish them before I turn back. Do you have a copy?"

"I do," Leonard said. "And so does everyone else on the ship."

"Really?" James asked.

"Yeah. Everyone who gave an anecdote- which was everyone on the ship- got a copy."

"Huh. Can I borrow yours for now? I've got a lot of anecdotes to get through before I sleep."

Leonard smiled and handed over his PADD, his copy already open. James took it with a smile and a, 'Thanks, Len,' and made himself comfortable in his chair. Leonard leant back in his chair and began to work on some more reports that seemed to be appearing out of nowhere.

The room was quiet, but peaceful.

When Hannah came to collect James, he looked over at Leonard sadly. It was as if the presence of another had unlocked all of those bad thoughts again, of what might happen. Leonard gave James an encouraging smile and clapped him on the shoulder, trying to ignore the building emotion in his chest.

"I'm not going to be at lunch today," Leonard said. "So if you plan on telling Spock and then sleepin' before dinner..."

James moved to wrap him in a tight hug, burying his face in Leonard's shoulder. Leonard reciprocated, wrapping his own arms around James as if he could protect him from the galaxy outside.

"I'm going to miss you," James said, muffled. Leonard pressed a kiss to the top of James' head before reluctantly letting him go.

"I'm going to miss you too, kid."


Everyone but Leonard attended lunch, even Scotty managing to pull himself away from his precious machines. James was filled with a strange bittersweet feeling. These people had loved and accepted him, but he was going to leave them today.

Maybe he wouldn't leave them, though, but James didn't know for sure. He had managed to finish most of the anecdotes before lunch, and his eyes were still red from shedding a few tears. He'd found that story that Nyota had told him about the red headed officer from the perspective of the said officer.

'He didn't even think,' she had said. 'With how fast he jumped, he couldn't have. I had known that he cared about us, because we were his crew. Of course he cared. But I hadn't ever thought that he'd care enough to take a bullet without thought for someone he'd never had an unofficial conversation with.'

That one had made him cry.

The table's entire mood seemed to be bittersweet, not just James'. Nyota keep having to blink hard and frequently, Chekov's curls didn't seem as curly as normal, Scotty didn't crack quite as many jokes, and Sulu's smiles seemed just the smallest bit false. Even Spock seemed a little more tense in the way he sat, his posture more perfect than usual.

"I'm sure you guys will be glad to have your captain back," James said dismissively.

"We will be," Nyota said, "but we will miss you, as well."

"I'll miss you guys, too," James said.

Sulu reached out and patted James on the shoulder. It was obvious that he was trying not to cry, and James had to resist the urge to laugh at him because James was just as close to tears himself.

When James and Spock went to depart, everyone had some parting words for James. They knew what was going to happen. They knew that James and Spock were going to return to Spock's room, and James would tell Spock everything and then take a nap, and then James would disappear.

"I'm going to regret this," Nyota said tearily, "but you have full permission to call my Nyota once you're reverted."

"Thank you for the book," James said quietly in response. Nyota very quickly excused herself instead of responding.

"Remember to visit the plants, yeah?" Sulu asked. His eyes were too bright, and James nodded once, sharply. Sulu pulled him into a fast, tight hug before he, too, left.

"I don' know what t' say," Scotty said. "I'll miss ye, laddie." James smiled, and Scotty tried to smile before excusing himself because the engines needed attention.

"You must remember zat ewen strong people need help sometimes, little keptin," Chekov said quietly, pulling James into a hug.

"I'll certainly try," James said, and squeezed him back.

Then Chekov left, too, and it was just James and Spock. James looked over at Spock, standing by the door, and went to join him. They entered the hallway, and began their trek to Spock's room.

Chapter Text

James sat criss-cross near the top of the bed, Spock in a similar position closer to the bottom. They had settled in this position after James had finished reading the anecdotes, before he had begun to talk about Tarsus. James had cried while talking of all the things he'd seen, as he had expected. Spock, as if he could read James' mind, had said nothing while James spoke, hardly even moving.

"You were able to keep eight others alive?" Spock asked.

"No," James muttered, wiping away tears. "I wasn't able to save four of them. Two died on the planet, two died after."

"However, you were able to keep eight others alive until your memory ends."

"Yeah."

"That is highly impressive, James. I do not believe that I would have been able to do the same." James scoffed and shook his head at Spock's response.

"Spock, you're wickedly intelligent. Of course you would've been able to."

"Perhaps, had I been able to attempt to keep others alive. However, it would have been illogical to attempt to take care of so many others during such a time of crisis. I would not have done as you did."

James chose not to reply. They'd had the same conversation before, and nobody had emerged victorious. It would be fruitless to debate again now, because while James had more facts he could use to back up his point, so did Spock.

"To be honest," he said. "I was expecting revulsion. 'It's illogical to steal from others,' etcetera."

"It is not illogical if it is necessary to survive," Spock said.

James looked up from his lap to find Spock staring right at him, and looked back down. He couldn't handle the weight of Spock's gaze, not after revealing all that he had.

"I don't suppose I'll ever get you to see what I did in the same light I do, will I?" James laughed gently.

"I highly doubt it."

"I... I think that was it. That's all that I need," James said softly.

"What do you plan to do?" Spock asked.

"I've already finished the anecdotes," James said. "There's really nothing left for me to do but to sleep."

"So sleep," Spock said, and stood from the bed. "I will be here when you wake."

"What, no goodbye?" James said, looking up and trying to smile through his nervous terror and anticipation.

"I will be here when you wake," Spock repeated, and James understood. He took a deep breath, feeling an unnatural exhaustion begin to weigh heavy on his eyes and limbs and mind.

"Goodnight, Spock."

"Goodnight, James." Spock's voice was softer than he'd ever heard it.

James lay down on top of the covers, fully dressed, and shut his eyes. His body felt as if he'd just run a marathon, and his head was aching with a headache born from overexertion of the mind. He was asleep within moments.


James is standing behind a podium at Starfleet Academy. He's facing academic charges that he knows are unfair because yeah, okay, he technically cheated. But designing an unwinnable test is cheating too. And besides, he used some excellent coding to alter the scenario.

But right now he can feel rage boiling just below his skin, vibrating in his bones, because the person who designed the Kobyashi Maru is an asshole of a Vulcan. James had never wanted to punch someone more than he does now. Maybe it'll make him show some emotion.

"You of all people should know, Cadet Kirk, a captain cannot cheat death."

Maybe it'll hurt, but not as much as it does when the asshole throws James' father in his face. Who the hell does he think he is? It's not like Jim's father hasn't been a source of irritation and misery his whole life.

"We've received a distress call from Vulcan."

The Vulcan actually looks surprised and maybe a little bit scared at that. Vulcans, after all, are haughty bastards. They're not going to call for help unless they really need it.

James looks back from the Vulcan to the Admirals at the front of the room, but his visions tips and swirls as he turns his head. He's not behind a podium when his vision clears, but bent backwards over a console. The Vulcan- Commander Spock- has his hand around James' neck, and oh god he's suffocating.

The ceiling is so white behind Spock's head, and James can hardly bear too look at his face. Vulcans with facial expressions are just so odd to look at, and having one murderously angry so close to James' face is, quite frankly, terrifying.

"Your planet was just destroyed, your mother murdered... and you're not even upset," he hears someone say over the pulsing of his blood in his ears.

His vision begins to flicker, but the pressure finally disappears. James gasps for air, limp against the console and trembling from adrenaline. Despite the lack of pressure, his vision fades again, and when it clears he finds himself leaning against a humanoid. His arm is draped over their shoulder as he struggles to walk. They're in a long, dark hallway made of stone, each step echoing. Behind them, James can hear shouting.

"Captain," the humanoid says, picking up the pace a little more. "Captain, stay awake. The exit is not much farther."

"Sp'ck?" James slurs. "Wh't're..."

"Stay awake, Captain," Spock repeats firmly.

"'M not gonna..."

James hurts all over, and his body aches to the point of noncooperation. Spock tries to drag him faster, but James' leg gives out and he collapses. Without missing a beat, Spock scoops him up like a damsel in distress. Spock is talking, but James' ears are ringing and his body is going weirdly numb, and then everything goes black.

When James opens his eyes, Spock is standing at the end of his biobed. He looks vaguely disapproving, like he always does after James pulls stupid stunts, but he looks relieved, too. The lights of sickbay are bright, but the privacy curtains help dim them.

"It was incredibly foolish of you to goad your captors into aggression."

James grins and closes his eyes again, tipping his head black to rest against the pillow behind him. How very stereotypical of Spock. He'd been looking forward to hearing Spock's disappointed lecture.

"They were being jerks," James said.

"That does not mean that you goad them into a more violent state," Spock said, but it wasn't quite Spock.

Jim opened his eyes to find two Spocks standing at the bottom of his bed. One was his Spock, bright blue uniform and ebony hair. The other was an elder Vulcan, with gray hair, and wrinkles, and eyes too human to be any Vulcan but Spock.

"How do you choose not to feel?" James asks them, not knowing where the words come from.

"I do not know," both Spocks answer. "Right now I am failing."

James blinks and he's in a different biobed in a Terran hospital. There's no color- even Bones' outfit is bright white instead of the usual blue. James is disoriented and aching, lethargy weighing heavy on him.

"How'd you catch him?"

"I didn't," Bones says, stepping away. James looks behind him and notices Spock standing there. It's odd that he didn't notice Spock sooner, as he's wearing his dadk, formal grays. Spock steps forward to the side of the biobed, and James gives him a weak smile.

"You saved my life."

"Uhura and I had something to do with it too, y'know," Bones adds.

"You saved my life, captain, and the lives of the ent-"

"Stop, just... Thank you."

"You are welcome, Jim."

The sun seems to set rapidly, shadows twisting and extending, the room lighting up golden for a moment before it fades to darkness. Spock and Bones do not move, steady, solid figures, and their presence brings James comfort.


Spock sat on the couch for a while and watched James sleep. Nothing happened. He did not change, or move, or even twitch. If his breathing was not so obvious, Spock would have been greatly concerned.

As it was, he was concerned. He didn't know what would happen, or even if the change would happen at all. There was no precedent for this.

Worrying served no purpose, Spock knew. Meditation would surely help. He stood and prepared himself for rest, dressing in his meditation robe and lighting incense. Spock laid out his meditation mat so that it faced the bed, and knelt down.

On the bed, James sighed and shifted in his sleep. Spock remained kneeling on the mat, but did not attempt to meditate until several minutes later, when James had yet to move again.

It seemed that meditation would not come easy that night.

Spock closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply. In, out, in, out. Calm the mind, ground the consciousness in the body. In, out, in, out, in, out, in.


When he's five years old, he notices that his mother smiles differently at Sam than she does at him. Her smile is brighter and happier when it's directed at Sam. When it's directed at James, it's fake and almost brittle, her eyes darker. He doesn't understand why until he hears her crying in her room on his sixth birthday, talking to a man six years dead.

Even with another 'father figure' in the house, when his mother marries Frank, George Kirk is everywhere, most of all in James. Maybe that's part of the reason why Frank hates him. Frank gets drunk and hits James and curses at him, but maybe he's just cursing at George. Not like it'll do any good, hurting James in place of George.

The door with quiet sobbing behind it opens, and he's sitting on the floor in his room back in Iowa. He's eight, and his mother is off-world, like she always seems to be. He can hear Frank downstairs, thundering around, already drunk despite it barely being lunchtime. When Frank finally sinks into a drunken nap, Sam will sneak downstairs and grab them some food. For now, though, James is forced to occupy himself quietly and away from Frank.

His father collected old books, which James enjoys reading. They're real paper, some even having ancient leather covers. He's curled up in the corner of his room between the bottom of his bed and the bookshelf, reading Hamlet in the gray light coming in from the window behind him. James has been told that Shakespeare is incredibly advanced for a kid his age, but it doesn't matter to him too much.

He's always had a preference for Shakespeare, and when his mother found out how much he enjoyed old books, she gifted him his father's collection. It takes up his entire bookshelf, Dickens and Poe and Shakespeare and more. His bookshelf is the only thing to keep him company nowadays, because his homework is a joke, really, and he's finished all of the math books that his mother got him before she left. Frank won't buy any more, telling him he'd be more useful doing manual labor.

The words shift on the page, reaching up to blind him, and when they disappear, he's twelve and standing in the kitchen screaming at Frank. They don't have much money, but Frank keeps spending it on beer instead of useful things like actual food or clothing. Sam is gone, but that just leaves more money available for Frank to buy beer with, making the beatings that James gets even worse.

"You selfish dick," James is yelling. His fists are clenched at his sides, his entire body trembling with rage. "Have you ever given a shit about anybody else?! We don't have unlimited money to waste on your alcoholism! I actually need to be fed in order to survive, you know, and I doubt that your wife will be very happy if she comes home to find that one of her sons has run away and the one who didn't died of starvation!"

"Don't talk to me like that!" Frank thunders, slamming a beer bottle down on the table. "I'm your father, so you'd better show me some goddamn respect!"

"Father?" James scoffs. "You're not any kind of father. As for the respect, I'll show you the respect you deserve, which is none."

"You goddamn brat," Frank snarls, taking a drunken step towards James. He refuses to give any ground to Frank, stomach roiling at the alcohol on Frank's breath.

That night is the worst beating that James ever receives. Frank uses the metal end of his belt to strike James, who ends up with cuts all over his arms and shoulders and back, and even ends up with a black eye from a lucky hit to the face. As soon as he can make it to the door, James takes off through the corn fields, leaving Frank screaming in the doorway.

The corn around him itches and stings as he races through it, barefoot. He can't feel his wounds through the adrenaline. When James' feet catch on something, he tumbles face first towards the ground. Except he never hits the ground, and he's standing in a field of rolling grain. The sky above him is blue and clear, the sun beating down hot on his skin. Tarsus IV is a wonderful colony. If he had known that driving his father's car off of a cliff would get him sent here, he would've done it far earlier.

Frank's sister had been all too happy to take James in. She knew what kind of person her brother was, and had told him that she had been so happy to take him out of that home and away from her brother. James likes her a lot more than he ever liked Frank. Her husband and her don't drink, or even fight that much, and they buy him math books to do when he's not working in the fields. They even have a paper copy of Paradise Lost that they let him read despite its age.

A punch comes from nowhere and lands on James' jaw, snapping his head sideways. His vision blurs for a moment, and when it clears, he has to duck because there's another fist coming for his face. He's in a familiar Riverside bar, and he honestly didn't come here looking for a fight. However, trouble seems to follow James, and he's found one with several Starfleet cadets.

When he finds himself laid flat on his back on a table, head off the edge, he's not exactly surprised. He is surprised, however, that the higher up looking officer- Christopher Pike, a man who unsurprisingly admires his father- thinks that Starfleet needs him. Starfleet needing him, after all that his father gave for them. It's hilarious. More than likely, they need another tragic, moving, noble sacrifice story to boost their recruit numbers.

He gets on the shuttle the next morning anyways, wondering when he'll next feel the brisk air of an Iowan morning on his skin again, if ever.

"You punk ass twink," spits a voice in his ear. James turns on the steps of the shuttle, and finds himself facing a large cadet. He's now standing on the Academy common instead of the shuttle stairs. "You think you're hot shit, huh? Think you're better than the rest of us?"

James doesn't think that what he did deserves words that harsh, really. Just because he was able to prove the cadet wrong while showing the teacher that he deserves to be at the Academy doesn't mean that the cadet is stupid, it just means that James was right.

"I mean, if you think so, I won't argue with you," James says, smirking. This just makes the cadet even more upset, and his face twists into a disgusting snarl.

"You think you're so much better than us because you got in here on your father's name? If you hadn't gotten in because of him, you probably would've had to sleep your way in, you prick."

James' blood boils at that and his hands itch to throw a punch, however that would probably get him expelled, and he said that he'd graduate in three years so goddamn it, that's what he's going to do. He came to Starfleet to prove that he's not his dad, that he's his own person who can do this with his own skill. But it seems that he can never really escape his father, can he? It feels like he'll die with his father's legacy on his shoulders, and the thought of that makes him sick, makes him want to fight twice as hard.

"Whatever, man," James says instead, and tries to turn away.

The cadet decks him before he can, however, and he finds himself with his cheek against the pavement. Except it's not pavement, it's a bar top. He's sitting on a stool, his face flat against it. The stars blur beyond the window, and a familiar southern drawl sounds from beyond his vision.

"Do you know how pathetic you look?" Bones asks. "Because I don't think you do. You look very, very pathetic."

"Thank you, Bones," James says. "Very helpful."

"I try."

"Aren't you supposed to be a licensed psychiatrist, or therapist or whatever? You're supposed to be good at giving advice."

"I'm good at giving advice to people who aren't as dumb as you," Bones says, entirely unimpressed.

"I'm not stupid!" James protests.

"Mhmm," Bones hums in reply, and takes a sip of his drink. "Kid, you're pining."

"I am not pining," James says indignantly, sitting up to glare at Bones. "I do not pine. Pining is undignified and far beneath a Starfleet captain."

"Sure, kid," Bones says in the tone of voice that he would use to address a child who had asked him if he liked living in space.

"Don't give me that tone."

"I'll give you whatever tone I want, Jim. You're being a dumbass."

"If I wanted to be insulted, I'd go to Uhura."

"Too bad, princess," Bones drawls, and takes another sip of his drink.

"I hate you."

"I see that your recklessness has always been a part of you," Bones says in Spock's voice. James blinks, and he's no longer looking at Bones across a bar, but Spock across a chess set.

They're in his quarters, both of them with a cup of tea set in front of them. James is more of a black tea person, ever the caffeine-addict. Spock drinks a Vulcan blend that James took the time to program into the replicators himself.

"Now I'm not saying that I was entirely justified in punching him," James says. "However, it did feel awesome."

"I do not think that it was justified in the slightest," Spock says. He reaches out and moves a knight to a place that James very much does not want it to be.

"I'm not saying that it was. I'm just saying that it felt good."

"It is most fortunate that what he did to anger you was not justifiable either, and he did not press charges."

"Yeah, well, I guess I'm just lucky." James shrugs and moves a piece.

"Luck does not exist," Spock states, taking a sip of his tea.

"Just because you can't logically make sense of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist," James teases.

The ships shudders, and James and Spock manage to share a glance before the ship is plunged into darkness. For a moment, there is no sound and no light, until there is. James finds himself on the wrong side of a radiation contamination door, facing Spock. Spock is crouched down by the door, and James is leaning against it because he can barely move. His skin is on fire, muscles blistering and bones melting. Each breath feels like knifes scraping along his throat, and he can feel the end coming. Spock looks devastated, eyes shining with human tears.

"I'm scared, Spock." He can't breathe, but he needs to get words out. "Help me not be."

Spock looks down again, his face almost one of defeat. Despite the fact that he's the one dying, James' heart hurts for Spock. He doesn't deserve to lose any more than he already has, but here James is, abandoning him.

James blinks, and sees two hands pressed against the glass as if they could reach through and grab each other. He blinks again, and startled awake in a chair in the corner of the rec room.

The lights are bright, people laughing and talking away from his secluded corner. Chekov is standing by him, holding a mug and looking startled. Jim straightens up in his chair, catching his PADD when it slips off of his lap.

"Yes, Chekov?"

"I brought you coffee," Chekov says, holding out the mug. "Just zee way you like it. I know zat you hawe a lot of paperwork to do, but coffee will help with zat, da?"

"Yeah," James says, smiling. "Yeah, coffee will help. Thank you."

Chekov opens his mouth, but what comes out is 'happy birthday!' It's being shouted by a group of people, and he can hear specific, individual voices. There's Chekov and Scotty's distinguishable accents, and James can hear Uhura and Sulu, too.

"Happy birthday, kid," Bones drawls, right next to his ear, and another voice chimes in from his other side.

"I wish you a happy birthday, captain."

"No 'captain,'" James hears himself say. "We are way off shift. For the last time, it's Jim."


In his first officer's room, Captain Jim Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise opened his eyes.