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King's Gambit

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Areel Shaw title card by emilywritescrap. Click for art post.

Episode poster by reni_m. Click for art post.

Captain's Log, Stardate 2260.152. Our five year mission has immediately hit its first obstacle. We had barely made it into unexplored space before we were caught in a severe ion storm. One crewman was killed, and the damage to the ship has forced us to make an unscheduled layover at Starbase Eleven for repairs.

"Orbit is stable," Sulu said, glancing over his shoulder at Kirk.

There was a look of sympathy on Sulu's face that Kirk pretended not to see. He could feel the eyes of the entire bridge on him, concern radiating off of everyone. Well, everyone but Spock, who was completely focused on the computer logs displayed on the terminal in front of him. Kirk was glad that someone was doing their job instead of coddling him. This wasn't the first death on his watch and unfortunately it wouldn't be the last.

"Thank you, Mr. Sulu," Kirk said brusquely. "Work out a leave rotation for any crew not needed for repair work. I'll head down to speak to the Commodore now." He headed for the turbolift, calling over his shoulder as he walked. "Mr. Spock, bring down the computer logs once you've compiled them."

"Yes, sir," Spock responded, barely glancing up from the console.

Kirk gave the bridge a slight smile as he stepped onto the turbolift, hoping he was projecting a reassuring confidence and not the nervous frustration he felt. Once the doors closed, he let out a breath and sagged against the wall. He had always known that he would have to make decisions that could get the men and women under his command killed, but this was the first time it had happened outside of battle. And this time he'd had to make the calculated choice between abandoning Lt. Commander Finney to the storm and risking the loss of the entire ship.

It was days like this that he wondered if the weight of command would be more than he could bear.

Shaking his head, Kirk straightened himself and started the turbolift. When it opened he was composed, a rakish grin on his face as he nodded at the crew members he passed. He wouldn't let them see him shaken.

"Captain," the transporter operator greeted him as he entered. "We have clearance to beam you down. The Commodore is waiting for you."

Kirk hopped up onto the transporter pad and smoothed his gold shirt. He probably should have changed into his dress uniform to meet the Commodore, but keeping the man waiting would be worse. "Energize."

Kirk closed his eyes as the familiar tingle spread over his body, and when he opened them he was standing on a two-man transporter pad in the corner of Commodore Stone's office. He immediately raised his hand to salute the Commodore.

"At ease," Commodore Stone said with a broad smile. "No need for such formality out here in the frontier, although it is good to see you know how. Your reputation seems to be exaggerated."

Kirk laughed as he dropped his hand and stepped off of the pad. "It depends on what they told you."

"Mostly good things," Stone said, his eyes twinkling.

"Then it's all true."

He took the chair Stone gestured at and shook his head when he was offered brandy. He was tempted by the good quality brandy—so much better than anything they had on the ship—but he knew better. He might not know Stone personally, but he knew that a lot of the older officers were just waiting for him to screw up—again—and prove once and for all that he was too young to command the Enterprise. He wasn't going to give them a reason as simple as drinking on the job, not considering his long record of drunk and disorderly arrests in Iowa. Spock would be proud of his restraint.

"It's too bad about Lt. Commander Finney," Stone said once he'd poured himself a glass of brandy and taken a seat behind his desk. "Starfleet can't afford to lose any more good men."

"Agreed," Kirk said. "But I waited as long as I could. Any longer and we would have lost the ship."

"It was that bad?"

Kirk nodded. "And even then I waited until the last possible second. There was nothing I could do."

"And your computer's logs?" Stone asked. "I'll need them to confirm the intensity of the storm and that all proper protocol was followed."

"Of course," Kirk said. "Commander Spock is compiling all of the information now. He has orders to bring it down as soon as he has it."

Almost immediately after Kirk spoke, the transporter pad lit up and Kirk stood to greet Spock.

"Captain—" Spock started as soon as he materialized, but he was immediately cut off by the Commodore.

"The logs," Stone said firmly, his hand outstretched.

Spock seemed strangely reluctant to hand over the memory stick in his hand, his eyes fixed on Kirk. Kirk nodded his head minutely at his first officer and Spock gave the data to the Commodore. Kirk was certain that Stone hadn't noticed Spock's hesitation, but Kirk had, and the nerves he'd suppressed in the turbolift were coming back full force. Spock didn't hesitate without reason.

He gave Spock a questioning look as Stone inserted the memory stick into his own computer and began perusing the information, but Spock averted his eyes.

Stone looked up at Kirk, his lips pursed. "You're certain that you jettisoned the pod after the red alert was in effect and all the proper warnings were issued?"

"Yes," Kirk said, taking a step forward and squinting to try and read the text on the screen. "You have my report, sworn to and signed."

Stone stood up; all trace of the lighthearted humor that he had greeted Kirk with was gone. "Then I assume you have willfully perjured yourself. Your computer logs clearly show that the pod was jettisoned before the red alert was called. There will be an inquiry into Commander Finney's death. Consider yourself confined to base."

**

"What the hell?" Kirk was pacing the length of the small room that they had assigned to him on the base. "We were on red alert. I know it."

"Of course we were," McCoy said soothingly from his position sprawled out in the room's only chair. Kirk had called him down as soon as he and Spock had left the Commodore's office.

When Spock didn't say anything, merely standing silently in the corner, Kirk spun around and pointed a finger accusingly at him. "You don't believe me."

Spock's eyes widened in a minute show of surprise. "Of course I believe you, Jim."

Kirk stopped pacing and sank down onto the edge of the bed. "Do you really?"

"I would not say it if I did not," Spock replied. "You have been in much more stressful situations and never wavered. It would be illogical to think that you did this time."

"So it's more logical to think there is an error in the computer logs?" Kirk asked, amused despite himself. "Than in my human actions?"

"Yes," Spock said simply, and Kirk was suddenly overwhelmed by affection for him. They may have gotten off on the wrong foot during the Narada incident, but now they were a great team.

"Well I'll be," McCoy muttered. "The bastard does have a heart."

Spock ignored McCoy, not even glancing in his direction, but Kirk shot him a dirty look on Spock's behalf. McCoy shrugged, an innocent grin on his face, and Kirk shook his head. He turned his attention back to Spock.

"So do you think that's what happened? An error in the logs?"

"It is the most likely scenario," Spock replied. "Perhaps the ion storm damaged the computer banks. I'd like to do a thorough review of the system."

"Of course," Kirk said. "And thank you for your support."

"No thanks are necessary," Spock said as he left the room.

Once he was gone, Kirk raised an eyebrow at McCoy in what he felt was a passable imitation of the Vulcan. "Must you antagonize him like that? All the time?"

"Yes," McCoy answered. "It's how we relate."

Kirk rolled his eyes and stood up. "The last thing I want to do is spend the night cooped up in here. Since Spock seems to have this situation in hand, how do you feel about checking out the local watering hole?"

"Watering hole?" McCoy repeated. "I think I'm rubbing off on you more than I realized."

"Just your vocabulary," Kirk said, leading him out of the room. "And before you start getting a big head about it, you should know I caught myself calling Scotty's engine improvements 'fascinating' the other day."

"Heaven help us all." McCoy cut his eyes over to Kirk. "In all seriousness, I'm glad you and Spock are getting along. After Delta Vega it didn't look too likely. Hell, even during those first missions you two kept working cross purposes."

Kirk shrugged. "Nothing like dying to cement a friendship."

McCoy winced at the reminder and Kirk almost felt bad about bringing it up. Nobody liked to talk about that time, not even Kirk, but he'd learned a long time ago to joke about the bad things. Besides, he knew intellectually that he had died, but to him it just felt like he'd fallen asleep for a little while. To him, the bigger deal was the conversation that he'd had with Spock while he was dying, and that was something that they still hadn't talked about in the year since it happened. Every time he'd tried to bring it up, Spock seemed to find something pressing that needed his attention, and eventually Kirk stopped trying out of respect for Spock's discomfort.

Kirk paused at the entrance to the Starbase's bar. As soon as he and McCoy entered the room, every eye turned to stare at him, the normal hum of conversation having died down to a few whispers.

"Starfleet officers gossip worse than my ex-wife," McCoy growled. He glared a challenge at the bar patrons until most of them looked back at their drinks. Satisfied, he walked straight to the bar and ordered two shots of bourbon. He pushed one toward Kirk before knocking back his own.

Kirk downed the shot and ordered a beer from the bartender. As much as he'd love to drown out the day in bourbon, he wasn't about to make a fool of himself in front of this audience. He had managed to grow up a little bit since his ill, spent youth in Riverside. However, once the inquiry was over, there was a bottle of the good stuff in his quarters with his name on it. He'd been saving it for a rainy day and he was pretty sure that this qualified.

"Jim! Jim Kirk!"

Kirk spun around at the vaguely familiar voice. A beautiful blonde woman wearing a wispy floral gown was standing at the entrance to the bar. He squinted at her, thinking hard before he managed to place her face. "Areel? Is that you?"

She grinned and crossed the room, throwing herself into his arms. She squeezed him tightly before stepping back. "I thought that was you. What are you doing on Starbase Eleven?"

"My ship is here for repairs," Kirk said. He ran his eyes over Areel, lingering at her low cut cleavage. "You haven't changed a bit."

Areel laughed. "It's only been four years, Jim. Hardly enough time for me to become an old lady."

"Only four years?" Kirk said. "I must be the one getting old, because it feels like longer than that."

"Ahem." McCoy cleared his throat loudly, shooting Jim a reproachful glare. He turned a beaming smile on Areel and held out a hand. "Leonard McCoy, chief medical officer on the Enterprise."

She took his hand in hers, giving it a firm shake. "Lieutenant Areel Shaw."

"So how do you two know each other?" McCoy asked. He leaned back against the bar, crossing his arms in what Kirk realized was an awkward attempt to look casual. Kirk barely managed to hold back his laughter. Bones always thought that he was better with women than he really was.

Areel gave Kirk a heavy lidded look, the same look that used to leave him breathless four years ago. "We used to…date…at the Academy."

McCoy frowned, deep in thought. "I'm surprised I don't remember—"

"Now, Bones," Kirk interrupted. "It's not polite to poke your nose into old relationships."

Areel snorted at the word "relationship" but didn't bother to correct Kirk. It didn't take long before a look of dawning comprehension crossed McCoy's face. Everyone knew that James T. Kirk had spent his Academy years pursuing one meaningless fling after another—with people that were looking for the same thing, of course—and even McCoy only knew about some of those "relationships."

McCoy gave Kirk a reproving look and then launched into a story about his own time at the Academy. He spun a good tale, but it was clear that Areel was more interested in Kirk. She kept giving him those long lingering looks that reminded him of their nights together during his freshman year. They had only hooked up a few times because she was ahead of him at the Academy and had graduated not long after they'd met. But what a few times they had been.

Part of him was tempted to invite her back to his room and forget about everything else. He'd managed to take his mind off of any number of exams that way at the Academy, but for some reason he just wasn't interested tonight. Areel was a beautiful woman, but he wasn't feeling more than the smallest arousal at the thought of spending the night with her, and there were things he should be doing. Just because he was confined to base didn't mean that he was on vacation. He still had his duties as Captain.

Making up his mind, Kirk clasped McCoy on the shoulder. "I think I'm going to call it a night. You two have fun."

Areel looked slightly disappointed to see him go but turned her full attention to McCoy, which made Kirk smile. One of the reasons that he'd liked Areel was because she had always been out for her own pleasure just as much as he had been. There had been no misunderstandings there.

When Kirk got back to the room he'd been assigned, he occupied the rest of the evening trying to catch up on paperwork, but he had trouble concentrating. He had always found it easier to rush into a phaser battle or jump out of an airlock than approve budgets.

Finally, several hours later, he'd cleared out the to-do list on his PADD. Pushing it aside, he took out his communicator. "Kirk to Spock."

"Spock here."

"Anything new?" Kirk asked.

"Unfortunately not," Spock answered. "However, I still have a few more avenues to investigate."

Kirk set the communicator down on the table in front of him and let out a heavy sigh.

"Captain? Are you well?"

"That's a good question." Kirk ran a hand over his face and through his hair, tugging on the ends in frustration. "Did you know I turned down sex tonight with an amazing woman in favor of catching up on paperwork?"

There was silence on the other end for a moment before Spock replied. "I had no way of knowing that until you informed me."

Kirk laughed at Spock's literalness, but he sobered quickly. "I've also avoided drinking too much and acting like a reckless fool. I thought you'd be pleased."

"Your ability to act appropriately was never in doubt," Spock said. "Jim…"

"I know, I'm being ridiculous." Kirk buried his head in his hands. "It's just that this isn't the first time I've had my decisions questioned, you know? I don't want them to take her away from me again."

"They won't," Spock said in a firm voice. He hesitated again. "If you do not have further need of me, I should to return to the investigation."

"Right, of course. I look forward to your report." Kirk closed the communicator and set it on his nightstand.

Kirk got into bed, but he didn't manage to fall asleep for a long time. His mind kept replaying that awful moment a little over a year ago when Admiral Pike had taken the Enterprise away from him. He knew that he had been at fault then, but this time he'd made sure to follow all of the regulations and submit the paperwork without omitting anything—he'd even let Spock check it all over—and still he was on the hook. He was starting to think that Starfleet had it out for him and wouldn't rest until they had him off of the Enterprise.

**

"Okay," Stone said. He turned on the recorder and walked around to lean against the corner of his desk. "This is an inquiry into the death of Lt. Commander Finney to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to bring charges of culpable negligence and perjury against Captain James T. Kirk. Are you ready, Captain?"

Kirk sat up straighter in his chair and took a deep breath. He was exhausted and could really use a cup of strong coffee, but he didn't think that Stone would consider that a good reason to delay. "I'm ready."

"What was your relationship with Commander Finney?"

"I was his commanding officer on board the Enterprise."

"You knew him longer than that, though, isn't that correct?"

"Yes," Kirk answered, resisting the urge to shift in his seat lest it be interpreted as nerves. "He was an instructor at the Academy while I was there. The last few years have taken a toll on Starfleet, and with all of the manpower shortages, he was called up to serve on board the Enterprise for our five year mission."

"Was he your instructor?" Stone asked.

Kirk nodded. "Yes, he taught my first year computer course."

"And did you get along?"

"We didn't really socialize." Kirk shrugged. "I attended class and did my work. I got mostly As."

Stone picked up his PADD and glanced at it. "In your third year you were brought up on charges of cheating. Is that correct?"

"Those charges were dismissed." Kirk answered tightly.

"Yes, but Commander Finney, as a respected member of the computer education department, was on the investigation board, correct?"

"Yes, he was."

"Did that make things difficult on board the Enterprise? Having your former instructor, the man who had investigated you for wrongdoing, under your command?"

"No," Kirk said, reigning in the offense he felt at the question. "He was good at his job and that's all that mattered to me."

"Okay," Stone said, seeming to accept that. "How did Finney come to be the man in the pod?"

"His name was at the top of the duty roster."

Stone sighed and moved back around to his seat. "Captain, the real question is; why did you jettison the pod when the computer logs clearly show that you were only at yellow alert?"

"We were at red alert when I jettisoned the pod." Kirk leaned forward and locked eyes with Stone, trying to convey his confidence.

"Captain Kirk," Stone said, his voice conciliatory. "We all know it's been a rough few years for you. Sometimes accidents happen, especially under stress. No one thinks this was malicious, but you should seriously consider changing your statement."

Kirk stared at the Commodore, at a complete loss for words.

"The last thing anyone wants is a court martial. If you acknowledge that you made a mistake—an understandable accident—then all you are looking at is a transfer back to Earth or one of the Starbases. You can still keep your rank and have a successful career."

"No," Kirk said, his voice trembling with barely contained anger. "I didn't make a mistake. There was no accident. And I did not lie about anything."

"The logs don't lie," Stone said, his own irritation showing through.

"I'll take the court martial." Kirk stood up abruptly.

Kirk was so mad that he was seeing red. His first instinct was to punch the Commodore, but he knew that would be the stupidest move he could make. Instead he turned on his heel and left the room, wishing it had an old style door that he could slam instead of the automatic one.

He couldn't believe the gall of the man. Kirk was a lot of things, but he would never lie about something like this. A man had died, and Stone seemed to think either Kirk had a vendetta against him or was just incompetent. It was ridiculous.

He wasn't paying attention as he stormed through the hallways, his glare enough to part the crowds around him, but when he got close to the club he decided to duck in. He didn't care that it was barely lunch time; he could use a drink, and until the court martial was over, he was off duty anyway.

Kirk ordered two shots of bourbon and downed one immediately before turning to take in the rest of the bar. It was early enough that the place was nearly empty, but he spotted a familiar face at a table near the back. He knocked back his second shot before making his way over.

"You're here early," Kirk commented as he turned the seat opposite Areel around and straddled it, resting one arm across the chair back.

"Hair of the dog," she said, gesturing at the Bloody Mary next to the PADD she had been studying intently before he joined her.

Kirk smirked. "Did you and Bones have a good time last night?"

"A lady doesn't kiss and tell," she replied almost absently as she flipped through the documents on her PADD.

"They have you busy?" Kirk asked, nodding at the PADD.

She hesitated a moment before answering. "There are always cases."

Kirk had almost forgotten that she had been specializing in law at the Academy, which gave him an idea. "Hey, speaking of that, I was wondering if you were free to take up a case? Stone seems to have gotten it into his head to court martial me, and I could use a good lawyer."

She frowned, her eyes dropping back to the PADD. "My caseload is full, but I can recommend someone."

Kirk sighed. "I'd appreciate it. I wouldn't even know where to start."

"I think Samuel Cogley is the best defense attorney on the planet," Areel said. "I'll forward you his information."

"Thanks." Kirk watched as Areel turned her attention back to her PADD, obviously done talking to him. Knowing when he wasn't welcome, he decided to head back to his room and look into Cogley. He might as well get started on his defense.

**

Spock hadn't slept in fifty-seven-point-three-two hours. It wasn't long enough for a Vulcan's mental faculties to be hindered by lack of sleep, but it was long enough for him to begin to feel the effects. Not that he intended to admit that to anyone, including himself.

He was startled out of his intense focus on the computer in front of him by a chime at his door. "Enter."

Uhura entered the room, a worried expression on her face. She carried a tray of food with her, which she set down next to him. He glanced at it and tried to remember when the last time he'd eaten was. It wasn't like him to forget things like that.

"Spock," she said, her voice gentle as though she were speaking to a child. "You've been through everything three times. It's not logical to continue working the same problem over and over again and expect different results."

Yesterday morning. He'd eaten breakfast exactly twenty-eight hours ago. Relieved that he hadn't actually forgotten, Spock turned his eyes away from the food to look at Uhura. "It is also not logical for the computer to be giving obviously erroneous data."

"Are you sure it's erroneous?" she asked. "Accidents happen—"

"The Captain did not jettison that pod without proper warning."

Uhura sighed. "I'm not accusing him of anything, but we were all busy at our own stations, and it wouldn't be the first time he acted without thinking."

"That is incorrect," Spock said. He frowned slightly at her. "And beneath you. You know as well as I do that the foremost concern in the Captain's mind is always this vessel and the lives of her crew. For Captain Kirk to jettison the pod without giving Lt. Commander Finney proper warning, knowing that it was a matter of life and death, is inconceivable."

"You're right, I'm sorry." Uhura said, contrite. "I do trust him, Spock." She sighed and leaned over his shoulder, pushing a few buttons which brought up the logs in question. "But that doesn't explain the evidence to the contrary."

"No, it does not," Spock agreed. "And unfortunately, we are out of time. The court martial is set to commence in one hour."

Uhura reached out and covered his hand with hers, squeezing gently. "He'll be fine; he always finds a way out of these things one way or another."

"'Fine' has variable definitions and is therefore unacceptable," Spock responded automatically. He pulled his hand free, ignoring the hurt that crossed Uhura's face as he did. As much as he valued her friendship, the physical intimacy they had once shared made him uncomfortable in light of the termination of their relationship.

"I'm sorry," Uhura said sadly. "Old habits die hard. It's just going to take me a bit of time."

"I know," Spock said, taking care to gentle his tone to something more comforting to humans than his usual monotone. "I appreciate the effort you have put into maintaining our friendship."

Uhura smiled at him, wide enough that he judged it a real smile, although it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Hey, we both decided that it was for the best, didn't we?"

"Indeed," Spock agreed. It was true that the decision to terminate their relationship had been a mutual one, but he also knew that he was the person at fault. His commitment to their relationship had not been the same after Khan's attack. In the aftermath, he had spent nearly all of his time either at the Captain's bedside or in meditation, trying to understand his own emotional reactions to Jim's death.

Even after Jim had recovered he still took up most of Spock's free time, between planning for their upcoming five year mission and their chess games, which had initially started during Jim's stay in the hospital but continued long after. Eventually Nyota had confronted him about his detachment from their relationship, and he had been unwilling to reprioritize his free time. After the initial argument about his repeated inability to make their relationship his primary focus there had been little animosity, but the transition from intimate relationship to friendship took time.

"You should head down to the base," Uhura said, stepping out of his personal space. "Chekov and I'll go through everything one more time."

Spock nodded and stood, straightening his dress uniform. He'd put it on hours earlier in preparation for the trial. "Contact me immediately if you discover anything."

**

"Well I'll be damned!" McCoy hissed.

Spock looked away from his study of the officers on the bench to look at the man next to him. "What is it?"

McCoy jerked his chin in the direction of the prosecutor's table, where Spock saw a blonde human woman. She was sitting stiffly and appeared to be resolutely avoiding looking at the defense table, where Kirk was glaring at her. "That's Lieutenant Shaw. She used to date Jim. That has to be against some sort of regulation."

Spock looked closer at the woman, wondering if she was the same "beautiful woman" whose recent advances Kirk had turned down. Scientifically speaking, he supposed that she was attractive—her face was very symmetrical, which many studies had proven to be the most aesthetically pleasing to humans.

"Only if he contests it."

McCoy sighed. "And the idiot won't, will he?"

"It is unlikely," Spock said. "I calculate the odds at—"

"Never mind that," McCoy interrupted. "They're about to start."

As expected, Kirk did not contest the appointment of Lt. Shaw as the prosecutor. After he entered his plea of "not guilty" the trial got underway, with Spock called as the first witness.

Lt. Shaw nodded politely at him as he sat down in the witness chair. He rested his hand lightly over the verifier as it read out his serial number and commendations.

"Commander Spock, as the chief science officer aboard the Enterprise, you are familiar with its computer systems, correct?" the lieutenant asked once the computer was done lauding his achievements.

"That is correct."

Lt. Shaw leaned forward. "Tell me, is it possible for the computers to malfunction?"

"It is."

"Do you know of any such malfunction in the Enterprise's computer systems?" Shaw asked in a friendly manner, as if they were merely having a casual conversation.

Spock's jaw twitched and he clamped down on his shaky control. Lt. Shaw's false ignorance and casual tone offended him. He did not appreciate the deceptive theater that made up much of the human judicial process, and he'd been awake for long enough that his annoyance was harder to bury than it should have been. "No."

"You came to that conclusion after a thorough review of the system?"

"Yes," Spock answered. Shaw opened her mouth to ask another question, but Spock wasn't done. "Nevertheless, the logs are incorrect."

Shaw smiled gently at him, "Surely that isn't the logical conclusion?"

"It is the only logical conclusion," Spock disagreed. "Because there is no way that Captain Kirk jettisoned that pod before the red alert."

"Is he so infallible?"

"No human is completely infallible," Spock conceded. "But it is not in Captain Kirk's nature to panic. He has faced much worse than an ion storm."

"Ah," Shaw said. She tapped her finger against her lip as if a thought had just occurred to her. "Maybe you are right, and he didn't panic."

Spock narrowed his eyes at her, not liking the direction that her question seemed to be taking.

"Tell me, Commander Spock, this isn't the first time that Captain Kirk has been disciplined for disregarding regulations, is it?"

"No," Spock answered tightly.

"He was demoted a year ago for disregarding the Prime Directive," she paused and looked up at the officers on the bench, "and then falsifying his logs to hide it. Isn't that correct?"

"He made a decision to save a member of his crew," Spock replied. "He values the life of his crew over regulations."

"Yes or no will suffice."

"Yes."

"And just to be clear, he did falsify the logs?" Shaw pressed.

Spock hesitated. "He omitted a few key details."

"Who's to say he didn't do the same thing this time?" Shaw asked. "Omitted a few key details…like when he actually jettisoned the pod. It's a pattern with him."

"Objection!" Kirk's lawyer called out from behind Spock.

"Sustained," Stone replied.

Shaw frowned at the bench. "I intend to show a pattern of disregard for regulations."

"One incident doesn't make a pattern," Stone pointed out.

Shaw nodded and turned back to Spock. "You were an instructor at the Academy while Captain Kirk was a student, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"Isn't it true that in his third year, you brought him before a disciplinary committee for cheating?"

Spock closed his eyes. He always made his decisions based on careful analysis and logical deductions, and as such, there was no room in his life for regret. Even when things went poorly, he always knew that he had made the best decision that he could given the variables available to him. However, if he were to regret anything, it would be bringing those charges against Kirk. "Those charges were dismissed."

"Because he was found innocent or because the school appreciated his disregard for the rules, especially in the face the Narada incident?"

"Objection!" Kirk's lawyer yelled.

"Withdrawn," Shaw said sweetly before turning her sharp gaze back to Spock. "Commander Finney was on that disciplinary committee, wasn't he?"

"Yes," Spock replied.

"The committee logs show that Finney was the only member of the committee to vote against Captain Kirk. He recommended suspension at a minimum," Shaw said. "Is it possible that Captain Kirk held a grudge against him?"

"No," Spock said, firmly.

"How can you know?"

"It would be out of character for Captain Kirk to hold a personal grudge against anyone." He took a deep breath. "If he were to hold a grudge against anyone regarding that incident it would be me for bringing the charges in the first place, but he does not show me any animosity."

"Thank you, Commander Spock," Shaw said. "That's all."

"Your witness," Stone said to Cogley.

"No questions."

Spock stood stiffly and made his way back to his seat next to Dr. McCoy. As he sat down, McCoy patted him on the leg. It was probably supposed to be a comforting gesture, but Spock shifted away from it.

"Did as well as you could up there," McCoy muttered. "That lady is a real piece of work."

"Indeed."

Lt. Shaw looked in their direction. "Prosecution calls Lt. Commander Leonard McCoy to the stand."

"Here goes nothing," McCoy muttered as he stood up and made his way to the witness chair.

As the computer read out McCoy's service record and commendations, Spock studied Kirk. He appeared to be relaxed, but the bags under his eyes and the tension in his jaw told another story. It was disconcerting to see Kirk worried. During the disciplinary hearing at the Academy he had been filled with focused anger, and later he had defended his actions on Nibiru to Captain Pike with righteous indignation. Spock found that he much preferred that brash arrogance to this quiet, false calm. It reminded him too much of the desperate, insecure man that Kirk had revealed to Spock when he'd turned the ship over to him during the Khan situation.

"Dr. McCoy," Shaw began, and Spock turned his attention back to the trial. "You are an expert in psychology, especially as it relates to the service, is that correct?"

"I know something about it," McCoy answered in his usual disgruntled way. Spock found that he didn't mind the man's insolent attitude so much when it was aimed at Shaw instead of him.

"You've just heard testimony that Commander Finney was on the disciplinary board that oversaw then-Cadet Kirk's cheating case. Do you think it's possible that Captain Kirk could hold a grudge against Finney because of his vote for suspension?"

"Kirk wasn't suspended," McCoy pointed out, "so I find it unlikely."

"Okay then," Shaw said, crossing her arms. "What about Commander Finney? He was a well-respected professor. Is it possible that he resented having to serve under Captain Kirk?"

"It's possible," McCoy admitted. "It wouldn't be the first time an older man resented taking orders from someone much younger, especially someone he taught."

Shaw smiled and took a step closer to McCoy, like a predator sensing weakness. "And considering Commander Finney obviously disapproved of Captain Kirk's approach to the Kobayashi Maru, is it possible he was harboring resentment for the Captain?"

"I suppose so," McCoy answered. "But I don't see what that has to do with Kirk."

"When a person resents us, is it not human nature to respond in kind?" Shaw asked. "I'm not suggesting he did it on purpose, but isn't it hypothetically possible that in the heat of the moment, Captain Kirk was influenced by subconscious resentment for Commander Finney? Resentment fostered by Commander Finney's own resentment of the Captain."

McCoy crossed his arms over his chest and huffed in disgust. "Psychologically, it's possible. Doesn't mean it happened."

"But it could have?"

"Theoretically."

"Thank you, Dr. McCoy. I have no more questions."

"The defense has no questions for this witness," Cogley said.

"I have no more witnesses," Shaw said. She walked back around to the prosecution's table and took a seat.

Stone gestured towards Cogley. "You have the floor."

"I'd like to call Captain Kirk to the stand."

Spock watched as Kirk took a seat in the witness chair and rested his hand on the verifier. The computer read out his service records and accomplishments, only this time Shaw stood up in the middle of the long list of commendations.

"The prosecution concedes that Captain Kirk has an impressive list of commendations for a man his age," she said. The computer paused its recitation at her words.

Commodore Stone looked at Kirk's lawyer. "Mr. Cogley?"

"It's not the intention of the defense to slow down the trial," Cogley said. "But I would hate for my client to get run over in the prosecution's haste."

Stone nodded and punched a button in front of him. The computer resumed listing the various medals and awards that Kirk had earned for his actions during the Narada incident as well as the confrontation with Khan. When it was finally finished, Cogley stepped around to face Kirk, a friendly smile on his face.

"Now Captain, did you give Lt. Commander Finney ample warning prior to jettisoning the pod?"

"Yes. I notified him to pull back as soon as we hit yellow alert and then again at red alert."

Cogley nodded. "So despite what those computers say, there was a red alert in effect before you jettisoned the pod?"

"Yes, there was."

"Please tell the court what happened that day."

"Well," Kirk said, sitting up straighter. "We were caught in an ion storm which, as everyone here knows, is very dangerous. Lt. Commander Finney was manning the pod as we approached the storm, trying to get as much information as he could. That's all normal procedure. Unfortunately, the storm came on faster than expected.

"I was in command, and so I had to make some difficult decisions. There have been a lot of accusations made against both me and Commander Finney today, and while I can't speak for him, I can say with certainty that there was no resentment on my part. He was a valued member of my crew and I would never do anything to needlessly endanger or purposefully harm any member of my crew. But I did what had to be done."

"And would you do it again?" Cogley asked.

"Given the same set of circumstances? Yes," Kirk replied. "Everything I did was absolutely necessary to save my ship. I regret the loss of Commander Finney, but I had to do what I did for the other four hundred and thirty people under my command."

"And we appreciate your service, Captain," Cogley said, laying a comforting hand on Kirk's shoulder. "Your witness, Lt. Shaw."

Shaw took Cogley's place in front of Kirk and gave him a sympathetic look—a much exaggerated one, in Spock's opinion. "The last thing the court wants to do is dishonor you, but the facts are the facts." She turned to the officers on the bench. "The defense would like to enter the visual record of the computer log into evidence."

"Proceed," Stone said.

The entire court turned their attention to the video screen, where a recording of the Enterprise's bridge appeared. Spock watched as Kirk ordered Finney into the pod to take measurements and then a few minutes later called for a yellow alert. He immediately warned Finney to exit the pod and take cover.

"There!" Shaw called out triumphantly. "Computer, zoom in on Captain Kirk's right hand at two hundred percent magnification and replay the last thirty seconds."

The computer pulled in close to Kirk's hand, and there were gasps in the courtroom as the video clearly showed Kirk keying in the sequence to jettison the pod while the yellow alert lights were still displayed.

"But that's not what happened," Kirk whispered in a broken voice, so soft that if it wasn't for Spock's Vulcan hearing he would have missed it.

**

Kirk looked up from the ancient law book he was absently flipping through when his door chimed. "Enter."

The door opened to reveal Spock, who glanced around at the stacks of old law books—the kind made of paper and leather—scattered all over the room with a raised eyebrow.

Kirk shrugged. "Cogley doesn't really like computers very much. I think that's why he took my case."

"I am not very fond of them at the moment either," Spock admitted. He walked over to the nearest stack of books and picked the top one up, examining its spine.

"Be careful, fondness is an emotion," Kirk teased half-heartedly.

"A very mild one," Spock conceded. "My control seems to be slipping after several days without sleep."

Kirk set the book down and studied Spock. He didn't look tired, but that didn't mean anything when dealing with a Vulcan. "'Several?' You're never that imprecise. You must be tired. Don't skip sleep on my account."

"Vulcans can function without sleep much longer than humans can," Spock said dismissively. "And I would be remiss to sleep when there is an obvious error in our computer systems."

Kirk let out a long breath. "You still believe that, even after the video?"

"Of course I do," Spock answered. He set the book down and fixed his eyes on Kirk. "I maintain that it is the only logical explanation."

Kirk shook his head. "Spock, although your faith in me is appreciated, it is not logical to discount all evidence, including what you see with your own eyes."

"Do you believe you made a mistake?"

"No!" Kirk scrubbed a hand through his hair. "No, not even after seeing that video. I know what happened, and that wasn't it."

"And I believe it is more logical to trust in you than to trust in the computer," Spock replied.

Once again Kirk was filled with an overwhelming rush of affection for Spock. "Even after everything you've seen me do; you still trust that I followed the rules this time?"

"The only time you break the rules is to save lives," Spock said. "It is a moral stance that, upon much reflection, I find to be very logical."

"Thank you," Kirk said, taking Spock's words as the high compliment they were.

He glanced around the room. "I think there's a chessboard around here somewhere under all the books if you want to play a game. I wouldn't mind beating you one more time before I get the boot." He forced a smile. "On the plus side, you'll probably be able to beat your next Captain."

Spock frowned, his eyes going distant.

"Or, you know, you'll probably be the next Captain," Kirk corrected himself, hoping he hadn't offended Spock. "I know you'll do a great job."

Spock didn't respond and Kirk realized that he wasn't listening, his attention somewhere else entirely. "Spock?"

"I'm sorry, Jim," Spock said, his eyes focusing again. "But there is something I need to check on the ship."

"Of course," Kirk said, trying to smother his disappointment as he watched Spock leave.

Regardless of the truth, it was clear that he was going to be found guilty tomorrow, and he was going to miss the Enterprise and all of his friends. But as he watched Spock leave, he realized that missing out on the great friendship that the older Spock had promised hurt the most.

**

"Are you serious?" McCoy exclaimed angrily.

Spock calmly moved his bishop up a level before turning to look at McCoy. "I am always serious, Doctor. You know that."

"Why, you cold-blooded—"

"Doctor," Uhura interrupted him in a reproving tone.

McCoy threw his hands in the air. "Jim is going to be found guilty tomorrow and the two of you are playing chess. It's disgusting."

Spock didn't bother correcting McCoy's inaccurate assumption that he was playing against Uhura, because he doubted that it would do any good. "And what are you doing, Doctor? Is hand-wringing and moaning a more productive way to help Jim?"

"You know, after the way you defended him in court today, I was starting to think I had you all wrong." McCoy stomped out of the room, and as the doors closed, he looked back over his shoulder. "But apparently not."

Spock moved his knight, ignoring the considering look Uhura was giving him.

"You love him, don't you?"

"Dr. McCoy?" Spock scoffed. "I respect his medical skills and tolerate his overly emotional outbursts."

"No," Uhura said softly. "You love Jim."

Spock's hand momentarily stilled over his rook at her words. He forced himself to move it, trapping the computer's king in checkmate for the fifth time. "Love is an illogical emotional state."

Uhura snorted. "Don't give me that."

"Vulcans do not feel emotions—"

"Or that," Uhura interrupted him. She slid the chess board out from in front of him so that he was forced to look at her. "You know, the occasional doubt aside, we all think Jim did the right thing, but for most of us it's a gut feeling. We trust him. But this whole time you've been his staunchest defender despite all evidence to the contrary, and you've been running yourself ragged trying to prove it. No matter what you say, it isn't logical."

"As his first officer, it is my responsibility—"

Uhura laughed. "That's not going to work either. Spock, I know you better than almost anyone. And you know what? Everything makes a lot more sense now that I have all of the variables."

"I don't know what you are referring to," Spock said, staring at the wall over her shoulder.

Uhura shook her head gently. "You were emotionally compromised by his death. No one called you on it, but you were. And the way you waited by his bedside…and then there were all of those chess games. At the time I was just happy the two of you were getting along even if we weren't, but it was more than that, wasn't it?"

"Yes," he whispered. Spock had been awake for sixty-eight-point-two-five hours. Most Vulcans could go much longer than that without their control sliding, but Spock was starting to accept that not only was he not like most Vulcans, he didn't even want to be. Even so, if Uhura ever brought this up again, he was going to use the lack of sleep as an excuse.

"Does he know?"

"No," Spock replied. "I have deflected all attempts that he has made to discuss his death and my reaction to it." He paused, staring at the table. "I find it to be an uncomfortable topic."

Uhura nodded. "Do you think he reciprocates your feelings?"

"I would not even know what to look for," Spock replied.

"You were in a relationship with me for more than a year," Uhura pointed out. "Surely you learned how to read some of the signals."

"If you recall, you initiated nearly all of our intimate interactions," Spock said. "I find human relationship signals to be illogical and confusing."

Uhura dropped her eyes to the chessboard, picking up the white king and studying its face. "Vulcan ones aren't a piece of cake either."

"I do not know what baked goods have to do with anything," Spock said, allowing his lips to quirk up at the corners into a very slight smile.

Uhura burst into a real joyous laugh. She gestured to the chessboard. "So what does this have to do with saving our Captain?"

Spock immediately turned his entire attention back to the problem at hand. "I've won five games in a row against the computer."

"And?"

Spock raised his eyebrow at her. "I was dissatisfied with the chess programs available, so I created a new one. Since I'm the one who programmed the computer to play chess, the best I should be able to do is play it to a draw."

"But you've won five times," Uhura said, comprehension dawning on her face. "Even taking into account a stroke of luck that should be impossible."

Spock decided that now was not the time to point out the logical fallacies involved in the phrase "a stroke of luck." "That is correct. It appears that the computer does indeed have an error in it, but it is in the programming, not the hardware."

Uhura's eyes widened. "Someone reprogrammed it. The Captain is being framed."

"It appears that way. I'm going to have to go through the code line by line to find the necessary evidence."

"I'm sure Chekov and Scotty would be happy to help," she suggested. "You might get done before the verdict tomorrow that way."

Spock hesitated. The chances that either Chekov or Scott was involved in the plot against the Captain were negligible and the work would go faster with three sets of eyes. "Very well. Could you discreetly send them down?"

"Of course," Uhura said. She stood up and walked around the table, briefly squeezing his shoulder as she passed. Strangely enough, he didn't find her touch uncomfortable this time.

**

Kirk entered the courtroom with all of the dignity that he could muster. He had spent his entire life getting beaten down, and the first thing he'd learned was to never let them see how much they got to you. It didn't matter if the "they" in question was his uncle or the four Starfleet officers studying him from the bench, the lesson still applied.

He kept his eyes forward, locked on Stone's face as he took his seat next to Cogley at the defense table. Once he was seated he allowed himself a quick glance to the side where he saw McCoy sitting, nervously fiddling with the sleeves of his dress uniform. The seat next to him, the one that Spock had sat in the day before, was empty. Kirk tried not to let that bother him.

"Court is now in session," Stone said, his voice booming authoritatively. "We will now entertain any final motions. Lt. Shaw?"

"The prosecution rests its case," Areel said, not even glancing in Kirk's direction.

"And the defense?" Stone asked.

"Sir, the defense—"

Before Cogley could finish his statement, the courtroom doors opened and Spock rushed in, his hair uncharacteristically mussed. Kirk was pretty sure that Spock still hadn't taken the time to sleep.

"Commander Spock," Stone said, disapprovingly.

"I'm sorry, sir, but new evidence has come to light," Spock said. He crouched down next to Cogley and held a whispered conversation with the lawyer that was too quiet for Kirk to hear despite his proximity. It didn't matter, though, because Kirk could see the relief in Spock's eyes. He felt a weight lift off of his shoulders because he was sure that whatever Spock had found would exonerate him.

"Sir," Cogley said. "The defense moves for a change of venue to the Enterprise."

"Objection!" Shaw exclaimed, jumping to her feet.

"On what grounds?" Stone asked Cogley.

"Evidence has been brought to my attention that I believe will exonerate my client."

"Then present it here," Shaw argued. She turned to Stone. "Sir, this is obviously a delaying tactic."

"The evidence is on the Enterprise," Cogley said. "It isn't possible to present it here."

Stone frowned and gave Kirk a long, considering look before turning to the other officers and holding a hasty whispered conversation. When they were done, he turned to Shaw. "The court is going to overrule your objection. We don't want to leave any stones unturned in this trial."

Kirk interpreted that to mean that they didn't want the bad publicity that railroading a decorated hero would bring if it came to light that they had ignored evidence. Of course, despite his cynicism about their motives, he wasn't going to argue about it if it got him off.

"We will reconvene this court aboard the Enterprise in one hour." Stone fixed Cogley with a stern look. "Be warned that if this turns out to be nothing more than a theatrical delaying tactic, it will not bode well for your client."

"Understood," Cogley said. He gathered up the several antique books that he had spread around the table and darted out of the room, Spock hot on his heels.

"What was that about?" McCoy asked, coming to stand next to Kirk.

"I have no idea," Kirk replied as he watched Spock's retreating back. "But I'm pretty sure that Spock's found a way to save my ass."

McCoy grunted noncommittally.

Kirk looked away from Spock and frowned at his friend. "One of these days you're going to have to start giving him a break."

"The man abandoned you on an ice planet full of dangerous beasts," McCoy said. "I have to do no such thing."

"If I can forgive him," Kirk said, "then so can you."

McCoy shrugged. "I'm an expert at holding grudges. Ask my ex-wife."

Kirk laughed and slapped McCoy on the shoulder. "Come on, let's get up to the ship and see what Spock has in store for us."

When they reached the briefing room aboard the Enterprise it was empty except for a chess set. Kirk glanced in confusion at McCoy.

"Don't look at me," McCoy said, holding up his hands. "Uhura and Spock were playing chess in here last night. Maybe he forgot to put it up?"

"Spock doesn't forget things," Kirk answered automatically. He stared at the chess set, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Had Spock really abandoned him last night, but managed to find time to play chess with Uhura instead? He wasn't sure why, but the thought of Spock playing chess with someone else bothered him.

"Captain Kirk," Stone said, interrupting Kirk's thoughts. "If you'll take your seat, we can reconvene the court."

"Yes, sir." Kirk gave himself a mental shake and quickly took the open seat next to Cogley.

"The defense would like to call Commander Spock back to the stand," Cogley said, once everyone was settled.

"Objection," Shaw said. "The defense already had the opportunity to cross-examine Commander Spock and chose not to."

"We've become aware of new evidence and beg leniency to address it," Cogley countered.

"Overruled, Lieutenant," Stone said. He gestured for Cogley to continue.

Cogley stood and began to pace the small room. "Commander Spock, you were playing chess with the computer last night. Is that correct?"

Kirk turned his eyes to Spock who was standing rigidly at the head of the table, his hands clasped behind his back. "That is correct."

Kirk was relieved to know that the chess games had served some greater purpose. He hadn't really thought that Spock would abandon him on his last night as Captain for a little light entertainment elsewhere. It was more than just that, though; he hadn't liked the thought of Spock playing chess with someone else at all. He was surprised to realize that the idea made him jealous. Now was not the time to think about that though.

"Who won?"

"I played five games and won all of them," Spock answered.

"And is that unusual?" Cogley asked.

"It should be impossible," Spock replied. "I programmed the computer myself and can assure the court that at best, I should have only been able to play the computer to a draw."

Areel huffed. "Is this going anywhere?"

Spock cut his eyes over to Areel, and Kirk was surprised to see the barely contained distaste on his face. "The outcome of the chess matches indicated that there was indeed an error in the computer system, but it wasn't as a result of the ion storm like I had originally assumed."

"And what caused the error?" Cogley prompted.

Spock gestured at the PADD in front of Commodore Stone. "If you will look at the data I sent you, you will see that entire sections of the Enterprise's computer systems have been reprogrammed. Most of the changes were to the logs—including the video feeds—although the changes were implemented clumsily and created a cascade that affected other programs, including my chess game and the replicators on deck three. The culprit hid their tracks well, but with the aide of Ensign Chekov and Commander Scott, I was able to determine that the code was tampered with after the ion storm, but before we reached the Starbase."

Kirk knew that he should be relieved, but he was angry. Angry and disappointed that someone on his ship hated him enough to frame him for murder. "Who?"

Stone glared at him, but Kirk didn't give a fuck about proper court procedure when there was a traitor on board his ship.

"Who could have reprogrammed the computer?" Cogley asked, sending Kirk a quelling look.

"There are many people aboard the ship with the necessary skills," Spock answered. "However, the breach occurred during the search and rescue mission immediately following the storm. All but one member of the crew was accounted for during that time."

Kirk's eyes widened. "Finney!"

"That's impossible," Areel exclaimed at the same time that Spock inclined his head and said, "indeed."

"Commander Finney has the requisite skills required and he had the opportunity," Spock explained.

"You're forgetting one important detail," Stone said. "Finney's dead."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Is he? We never found his body."

All of the pieces were coming into focus and Kirk stood up excitedly. "You think he's hiding somewhere on the ship. That's why you had the trial moved up here."

Spock nodded. "The moment I realized what must have happened, I sent security on a sweep. They've cleared everywhere but engineering."

"Which has been in disarray because of the repairs," Kirk said, continuing for Spock. "The perfect hiding place."

"Sirs," Areel said, standing up to address the officers. "Are we forgetting that this is a trial, not a wild goose chase?"

"I think this is worth taking a small recess to investigate," Stone told her.

"I'm going," Kirk said, firmly.

"That's not appropriate," Areel protested.

"This is still my ship, and if there is a traitor on board I'm not just going to sit here," Kirk said in his Captain's voice, the one that brooked no argument. "Mr. Spock with me."

"Yes, sir."

Kirk jogged out of the room, Spock close on his heels. Once they were in the turbolift, Kirk grabbed Spock's shoulder. "Thank you."

"Thanks are unnecessary," Spock replied. "I was merely doing my job."

Kirk looked doubtfully at Spock. There was a faint green shadow under each of his eyes. It was light but there. Clearly he had gone above and beyond the call of duty on this one. "If you say so."

The turbolift opened before Spock could respond and they both exited at a run, taking the twists and turns to engineering. They passed two security guards standing watch outside on their way into the vast complex. Kirk came to a sliding stop in the center of the room and spun around, taking in all of the potential hiding places. "Any idea where to start?"

Spock took out his tricorder and fiddled with the dials. "I took the liberty of evacuating the area and am now configuring the scanner to find any life signs other than ours."

"Prepared as always, Spock," Kirk said fondly. He stepped forward, looking around a few corners and up at the catwalks while he waited for Spock to finish calibrating the scanner.

Kirk had just turned back around to check on Spock when he was hit from behind. It was a hard hit to his shoulder, the sting extending down his spine, and it knocked him to the ground. Ignoring the pain, he heaved himself over onto his back and found a disheveled Finney looming over him, swinging a metal tube down toward his head.

He reacted without thought, rolling to the side and hooking a foot around Finney's left leg, knocking him over. He leapt to his feet, ignoring the jarring pain in his shoulder, and kicked the tube out of Finney's reach. He stepped down hard on Finney's arm to hold him in place and shouted, "Found him!"

Spock dashed over, his phaser out and fixed on Finney. "Are you hurt?"

Kirk stepped back and rubbed at his shoulder. "He clocked me a good one, but I'll be fine." He glared at the man sprawled on the ground. "Why?"

Finney snorted. "Why do you think?" He scrambled to his feet, keeping a careful eye on Spock's phaser. "Starfleet's a joke. You've made it a joke."

"I do not see anything amusing," Spock said, once again being overly literal, but unlike before, his voice wasn't teasing. It was deadly serious.

Finney's head snapped around to look at Spock. "Don't you? Since when does Starfleet give the flagship to a cadet? They promoted him straight from cadet to captain. Some of us have been working for decades to get there and he gets it overnight. And you of all people know what he's like."

"I do," Spock agreed. "He's a skilled officer."

Finney snorted mirthlessly. "Maybe you're okay taking orders from an arrogant child, but I'm not."

"Well, luckily for you, you won't have to take any more orders from me ever again," Kirk said. He turned and walked out of engineering, trusting Spock to take care of the situation.

**

Spock stood next to Kirk in the transporter bay as they saw the members of the court off of the ship. Finney had already been escorted down to the Starbase by security to await his own court martial.

"We appreciate your cooperation," Stone said, shaking Kirk's hand. "I'll keep you updated with the status of Finney's trial."

"I'd appreciate that," Kirk responded, a forced smile on his face. Spock still didn't understand the value of forced emotion in human interaction, since the Commodore had to realize that Kirk was anything, but happy.

Stone joined the other officers and Cogley on the pad and beamed down, which just left Lt. Shaw. Spock watched as she approached Kirk, a tentative smile on her face.

"No hard feelings?"

Kirk's false smile was replaced by a genuine grin. "Of course not! That's the job, right?"

Shaw returned Kirk's smile, leaning closer and laying a hand on his chest. "It really was good seeing you, Jim. A pity it wasn't under better circumstances."

Kirk shrugged. "It all worked out in the end."

"It did at that." Areel glanced at Spock and then over to the transporter operator. "Would it be terribly inappropriate to give you a kiss goodbye?"

Kirk chuckled and met Spock's eyes. "It wouldn't be the first kiss this room has seen."

"Good." Shaw tugged on Kirk's shirt, pulling him down far enough that she could press her lips to his.

Spock averted his eyes and clenched his hands tighter behind his back. He mentally counted out five seconds and when Kirk still hadn't pulled away, Spock figured that this was one of those relationship signals that he had been discussing with Uhura, and not a favorable one. He turned and left the transporter room, not desiring to see the rest of Kirk's assignation.

He returned to his room and immediately prepared to meditate. He would need to sleep soon, but a few hours of meditation would be restful, and it was past time for him to begin dealing with his emotional responses to the Captain. He had allowed his emotions to run unchecked for too long and he couldn't afford the tendrils of jealousy that he'd felt watching Kirk with Shaw. Jealousy was a dangerous emotion, closely tied to anger, and to allow it to continue would be destructive to his professional relationship with Kirk going forward.

Spock lost himself in the soft scent of incense and sunk into a deep trance only to be pulled out three hours later by a chime at his door. He took a moment to stand and put away the incense, but grew concerned when there were three more chimes at the door in quick succession.

"Enter."

The doors opened to reveal Kirk leaning against the wall next to the door with a nearly empty bottle of bourbon in one hand. "There you are!"

"I am indeed in my room," Spock said. He took in Kirk's flushed face and unfocused eyes. "Would you like me to assist you in returning to yours?"

"That would defeat the purpose of coming here," Kirk answered. Spock was relieved to note that his speech was coherent and there was very little slurring. Perhaps he wasn't as inebriated as he appeared at first glance.

"You should at least exit the hallway," Spock said. "It would be inappropriate for the crew to see you in this state."

"Thought you'd never ask." Kirk pushed away from the wall with his free hand and stepped into the room. He made a beeline for the table that they often used for chess and sat down heavily.

"Is there something I can do for you, Captain?" Spock asked, hoping to keep some sort of professional distance in place despite the situation. He usually did his best to avoid intoxicated humans, as they were even less capable of thinking logically than normal. He also found their propensity to vomit distasteful.

Kirk frowned at the word Captain. "It's always Jim in private. You know that."

"Is there something I can do for you, Jim?"

Kirk's frown deepened and he set aside the bottle. He leaned forward, his eyes sharpening as he looked intently at Spock. Spock was beginning to doubt his initial observation that Kirk's eyes had been unfocused in the first place. "You're mad at me."

Spock blinked in surprise. "You are mistaken."

"No I'm not." Kirk shook his head. He nodded at the chessboard between them. "We didn't get to play last night…I wanted to play."

Spock watched as Kirk tried to set up the chess pieces, his fingers clumsy. "You are inebriated. I do not think that playing chess in your current state is in your best interest."

"Nonsense," Kirk said, waving one hand expansively to ward off Spock's concern. "Playing illogically is the only way to beat you, and there is no less logical way to play than drunk."

Spock was unconvinced, but Kirk went ahead and made his first move, setting his pawn up to be sacrificed. "Come on, Spock. I'm half-drunk and you haven't slept in like a week—"

"Eighty-seven-point-one-two hours."

"So like, half a week," Kirk corrected, lifting one shoulder into a shrug. "I'd say that we're both at a nearly equal disadvantage."

Spock repressed the urge to sigh and gave in, making his own move. "Is chess the entire reason for your visit?"

"You missed the celebration." Kirk pointed at the bottle. "So I brought it to you." He flung his arms wide open. "This is us celebrating."

"I have no intention of consuming any alcohol, nor would it affect me if I did," Spock said, not bothering to hide his distaste. "Wouldn't you prefer to 'celebrate' with Lt. Shaw?"

"No." Kirk paused and raised an eyebrow, a gesture he'd been performing with increasing regularity over the past year. "Spock, are you mad at Areel? She was just doing her job."

Spock didn't answer, turning his entire focus to the board as an excuse not to.

Kirk gave him a long, considering look. "I also wanted to tell you thanks, since you left the transporter bay before I could." He paused and tilted his head, trying to catch Spock's eyes with his own. "Areel left immediately after you did."

Spock felt something tight release in his chest—perhaps he had misread the signals after all—and moved his knight. "You've already expressed your gratitude."

"Yeah, but I don't think you realize how much it means to me," Kirk said. "I'm not used to people believing in me, Spock. Hell, Pike showed a little faith in me and I joined Starfleet the next day. And after he died…I didn't think…." He dropped his eyes to the table. "I'm just grateful."

Spock lowered his hands into his lap and clenched them together tightly. "You are welcome, but you have earned my…faith…in you many times over."

"Faith, Spock? Isn't that illogical?" Kirk teased.

"I use the word liberally. I find it condenses all of the very logical reasons that I trust you into an easy to convey concept," Spock said.

Spock fully expected Kirk to call his explanation "bullshit." But he didn't, he just smiled softly at Spock. After a moment he dropped his eyes to the chessboard between them. "You know, Bones told me that you were playing chess with Uhura last night. It made me jealous. Isn't that ridiculous?"

Kirk gazed intently at Spock, his expression speaking volumes, and Spock looked sharply at the bottle. "How much of that did you actually drink?"

Kirk shrugged. "I told you that you missed the celebration. Bones and Uhura had their fair share. Scotty brought his own, which he shared with Sulu. We made Chekov stick with the synthehol. What's it matter?"

"You let me think that you were more intoxicated than you are," Spock accused.

Kirk shook his head. "Oh, I'm intoxicated enough; otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Is that so?"

"You think it's easy for me to tell you how much you mean to me?" Kirk was growing agitated. "The last time I tried I was dying. I figured this was easier."

Spock closed his eyes and fisted his hands tight enough that his nails cut into the soft skin of his palms, drawing blood.

"Is this the part where you urgently have to be somewhere else?" Kirk asked, frustrated.

"You have to know…." Spock started. He kept his eyes closed, hoping that speaking would be easier if he wasn't looking into those familiar blue eyes. "You wouldn't be here if you didn't have an idea…Jim, you have to know."

"Spock," Kirk said his voice suddenly gentle. "…it's okay, you don't have to say anything."

"I was jealous, too," Spock blurted out. That was easier to admit to than any of the other feelings Kirk prompted in him. He opened his eyes to find Kirk smiling at him, one hand resting halfway between them on the table, palm up.

"I know," Kirk said. "I wouldn't have kissed her if I'd realized. But Spock, it really wasn't anything. Not to me."

Spock stared at the open hand in front of him. "And this is?"

"This is everything."

Spock tentatively reached out, keeping a close watch on Kirk to make sure he wasn't misreading anything. Kirk nodded encouragingly and so he carefully laid his hand on top of Kirk's cooler one.

Kirk curled his fingers around Spock's. "We'll take it slow."

"I would appreciate that," Spock said. He took a shaky breath and looked back at the chessboard. He moved his queen. "Check."

"Damn it," Kirk muttered as he moved his king out of the way. "Maybe I shouldn't be playing drunk after all."

"Indeed," Spock agreed as he used his free hand to make his own move. It wasn't the most logical move, but it would prolong the game, and Spock found that he wasn't in any hurry for it to end.