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A Far Better Thing I Do

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Steve waited as long as he dared while the Enterprise officer spoke to the leader of the Klingon squad. The Klingon language skills he’d picked up while working on Admiral Marcus’s top-secret projects were rudimentary, and while he knew the conversation wasn’t going well, it was still possible that she could defuse the situation.

He spared a moment of attention to glance at the other Enterprise crew members who’d disembarked from their stolen ship. Though they were out of uniform, he had no trouble recognizing them from the duty rosters he’d studied. Both the captain and first officer being present would be helpful if he had to resort to threats. He hoped he didn’t have to resort to threats.

Steve returned his attention to the Klingons and tightened his grip on the weapons he’d acquired. He couldn’t afford to let any of the Enterprise officers be harmed, not if he wanted them to listen. As soon as the Klingon reached out to grab the lieutenent, Steve sprang into motion.

The first throw of his shield broke the arm of the Klingon leader, and then Steve was in the fray, guns blazing. He hadn’t fought quite like this, hand-to-hand, not holding back, in hundreds of years, but it felt comfortable, felt right. After Marcus had kept him cooped up in that secret facility, being able to use his body again brought him to life in a way he hadn’t known he needed.

One blast from his weapon felled a hovering attack plane, and a punch took out a charging Klingon. He could see the whole battlefield, and he plowed through it mercilessly, adjusting as he went for the damage the Starfleet officers were dealing. He spared a moment to be impressed at how well they were defending themselves, despite being vastly outnumbered and outmatched, before taking out a hovering patrol ship with a satisfying blast from his purloined weapon.

Dodging out of the crash zone, he waded in among another group of enemies, switching to plain fists after they came too close for his other weapons to be effective. The rhythm of combat came back to him easily, like the steps of a familiar dance. After a diving roll to retrieve his shield, he landed on his feet and realized not a Klingon was left standing.

Steve strode over to where the ‘Fleet officers had sheltered, out of the line of fire. The commander, the one Steve recognized as the first officer, shouted at him to stand down, but a fast strike with his shield disarmed the man. Steve couldn’t jeopardize his chances of getting back to his team, not if they were really within reach.

“How many torpedoes are there,” he demanded of the captain. “The ones you threatened me with in your message, how many are aboard?”

“Tell me why you helped us,” Kirk ordered. He looked bruised and bloodied, but he stared defiantly back at Steve. “What do you want?”

“How many?” Steve snapped. Kirk glared back at him, and Steve wished fiercely for a moment for Sam, who always had a witty comeback to break the tension, or Tony, who would have found a perfectly pithy and succinct way to explain the situation, or even Bucky, who wouldn’t have hesitated to threaten with whatever weapons came to hand. But Steve had only himself, now, and he was at the end of his tether. He opened his mouth to demand an answer again, but the first officer interrupted him.

“72,” Spock said. “There are 72.”

Steve let out a long, slow breath, then slung his shield up into its harness on his back. “In that case, I surrender.”

“He took out a squad of Klingons singlehandedly. I want to know how,” Kirk said. Rogers hadn’t fought like that when he’d broken into Starfleet HQ. He’d been efficient, yes, but he hadn’t come in guns blazing. In fact, no one had died until that bomb blast had ripped the room apart.

“You think we’ve got some kind of super soldier on our hands?” McCoy asked.

“You tell me.” Kirk led the way into the brig, leaving Spock and McCoy to follow.

The prisoner was pacing in his cell, but he stopped and planted his feet when he saw Kirk. “Captain Kirk, I need to—“

“Don’t,” Kirk said. “Bones?”

McCoy moved the forcefield aperture into place and expanded it. “Hold out your arm,” he said. “I need to take a blood sample.”

Rogers made no move to comply. He looked at the syringe in McCoy’s hand, then at Kirk. “I don’t like being experimented on.”

“You can put your arm through the hole, or we can knock you out and get the sample while you’re unconscious,” Kirk said.

“You can try.” The barest hint of a smile appeared on Rogers’ face.

“I can—“

“Sir.” Spock put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder, and he bit back the insults he wanted to hurl at this sorry excuse for a sentient being. Pike wouldn’t have appreciated him conducting himself in an un-officer-like manner, especially not for his sake.

“As far as I know, you’re a danger to my crew,” Kirk said, and it came out only slightly strained. “The blood is for analysis purposes only. No one’s going to experiment on you.”

“I’m not your enemy, you know,” Rogers said.

“I do not, in fact, know that,” Kirk shot back. “Now give the good doctor your arm.”

Rogers closed his eyes for a second, then looked at McCoy. “Analysis purposes only?”

“That’s what the man said.”

Rogers let out a sharp breath, then pulled up his sleeve and stuck his arm through the aperture. As McCoy deployed the syringe, Rogers looked back at Kirk. “I’m really not your enemy. If you’d listen—“

“Good men are dead because of you.” Kirk could feel the rage rising in him again. His fist clenched at his side, and he could feel the split skin of his knuckles where he’d punched Rogers, though there wasn’t a mark on the man’s face. “Admiral Pike, my friend, is dead because of you. You are the very definition of an enemy.“

“Son, I didn’t plant those explosives in—“

“Do not call me son.” Kirk didn’t realize he’d stepped forward until his hand slapped against the forcefield, making McCoy jump. “You can address me as Captain Kirk.”

McCoy finished taking his sample, and replaced the syringe in its case. Kirk stayed where he was, struggling against the urge to turn off the forcefield and start punching Rogers again, punch him until he bled, until he begged for mercy. He pretended not to see the look that passed between Spock and McCoy.

“Captain Kirk.” Rogers took a deep breath, then another, before he opened his mouth again. “Respectfully, sir, I was trying to stop what happened. You just saw what deadly force I’m capable of. I didn’t use it when I fought my way into that meeting. That wasn’t an accident.”

“Speaking of which,” Spock jumped in, “how did you manage to neutralize an entire squad of Klingon soldiers?”

“I’m not your average human. None of us are.”

“None of who?” McCoy asked.

“Open up one of those torpedoes, captain.” Rogers backed away from the forcefield and rolled down his sleeve. “That’ll make my point faster than me trying to explain myself. We don’t have much time.”

“Is that a threat?” Kirk asked.

“Captain Kirk, if anything happens to the ship, everyone I care about will die.” Rogers looked at him with such naked earnestness that Kirk started to think for the moment he might be telling the truth. “I’m trying to help.”

Kirk turned and headed for the door. “Bones, Spock, with me.”

It was all taking too long. Steve paced in his little cell and tried to calculate how much time it would take Marcus to make his next move, and how long it would be before Kirk might return. He tried to ignore that little thread of fear that whispered Kirk might not have believed him, might not be checking the torpedoes at all. If Steve couldn’t make Kirk understand, if Marcus went ahead with his plan, then all of this was for nothing. He’d have betrayed the trust his friends had put in him to keep them safe.

He whirled around at the sound of footsteps to see Kirk and his first officer, Spock, returning.

“Why is there a man in that torpedo?” Kirk asked.

“There are people in all of those torpedoes, captain. I hid them there,” Steve said. “I was trying to get them to safety.”

“Who are they?”

“They—well, we, are remnants of another time, really. We were special in some way, all of us-- through enhancement or mutation or just by dumb luck, we had abilities that allowed us to do things others couldn’t. For years, we defended Earth against threats humans hadn’t seen before-- the Chitauri, or gods from another world, or immortal beings who threatened to destroy us. But after our first contact with the Vulcans, as the Federation began to form, we weren’t as useful as before. In fact, we were something of a liability—weapons that couldn’t be disarmed. Some of us chose to retire, in a way. Enter suspended animation until a time when we might be needed again.

“After the Nero incident, Admiral Marcus had his people searching around the clock for anything that would give Starfleet a military advantage—weapons, technology, information. They found references to us in early Federation archives, and found the facility where we’d been stored. They woke up me. Only me. That’s how it’d been designed. I’d be the first to wake up, and I knew the coded sequences for the others.

“At first, Marcus said they needed me. That I would be doing a great service for Starfleet. Later, after I’d asked too many questions, he threatened the rest of my team. Said he’d destroy them if I didn’t cooperate. He wanted tactics, weapons knowledge, information about our enhancements. Blood samples.” He realized he was rubbing his arm, where the mark from the syringe had disappeared completely. He pulled his hand away.

“But progress wasn’t fast enough for Admiral Marcus’s taste. He knew there wouldn’t be funding for all his plans unless there was an immediate threat. I got wind of what he wanted to do—start a war.”

“Starfleet doesn’t start wars,” Kirk said.

“But they do defend themselves. That’s always how it starts—the promise of security. Saying it’s just the price you pay for peace. I’ve seen it again and again. I wasn’t going to be a part of it this time. I tried to smuggle my team out. I couldn’t let any of our powers be a part of what he had planned. I hid their cyrotubes in experimental torpedoes that were scheduled to leave the base where they’d been keeping us. But Marcus discovered what I was doing. I had to run, get out alone. I had no idea what he’d do with them—kill them, try to wake them up, experiment on them. I knew that the moment he realized he couldn’t use them for what he wanted, he’d dispose of them. I had to stop him. Even if they were dead, they deserved to be avenged.

“I should have realized that the meeting at HQ was the perfect time for the next phrase of his plan. Maximum casualties, something that would shake the ‘Fleet, make them circle the wagons, scare the populace enough to let him do what he wanted to do.”

“You’re just trying to shift the blame for what you’ve done,” Kirk said.

“I came there to expose Marcus. I had no intention to kill him, or anyone. I needed to find out what he’d done with my crew. I did not plant that bomb, captain.”

Kirk’s glare intensified, but he said, “Go on.”

“The explosion took out other senior staff who might have disagreed with his methods, and it put everyone on high alert. After that, Marcus found the perfect chance to escalate hostilities. Send you after me and strand you here in Klingon space. When you’re destroyed, the Federation will have to declare war. As a bonus, my people would be dead, no longer a threat to his plans.”

“Even if I thought you were telling the truth, which I don’t,” Kirk added, “what exactly are you proposing?”

“I just want my people safe. I’ve known men like Marcus. They won’t stop coming. He meant for you and your crew to die, and he’s going to keep coming after you. He has weapons you know nothing about.” Steve felt the frustration bubbling inside him, but there was barely enough room to pace in his cell. Every moment he spent here trying to explain himself was another moment Marcus could appear and shoot the Enterprise out of the sky. “I can help you. Let me wake up some of my crew. They can give us the edge we need to beat him.”

“I can’t do that.” Kirk shook his head. “You’re a criminal, and—“

“How can I prove you can trust me?”

Kirk looked at Spock, who raised an eyebrow. Spock looked back at Steve. “There are no lies mind to mind. If you were to submit to a mind meld, we could verify your sincerity.”

“Fine, do it.” Steve waved a hand impatiently.

“Do you even know what a mind meld is?” Kirk asked.

“No, but it doesn’t matter.” A polygraph test, some of Thor’s tongue-loosening Asgardian ale, he’d have tried anything if he’d thought it would convince Kirk. “I have nothing to hide, and we’re running out of time.”

Spock looked to his captain, who gave him a curt nod. “If you try anything at all, I will sedate you so hard you won’t wake up until you’re back on Earth in a Federation prison.”

“Fair enough,” Steve said. He stepped back and tried to appear harmless. Kirk didn’t look reassured.

Spock pressed the control panel to deactivate the confinement forcefield. Behind him, the security personnel aimed their phasers. Steve stood still with his hands at his sides, and didn’t resist when Spock approached.

Spock raised his hand and pressed the tips of his fingers against Steve’s face. “My mind to your mind,” he intoned. “My thoughts to your thoughts.”

For a moment, Steve felt a sensation of vertigo, and thought perhaps the ship had moved, but then memory welled up around him, blotting out the here and now.

Gasping for breaths between deep coughs that shook his skinny chest. A jolt of electricity sizzling through him while he screamed. The rumble of a train beneath his feet as he reached down into the darkness, calling Bucky’s name. Crash impact as ice water poured into the plane. Explosions and fire as he shouted orders to his team and pulled down another Chitauri speeder. A shield falling through smoky sky towards the Potomac far, far below. Ice again, but peaceful this time, a welcome quiet. Bright lights, demands, a projected map of Federation space. Crushing grief that weighed on him so much he couldn’t stand.

Spock gasped and pulled out of the meld, stumbling backwards. Kirk rushed up to catch his shoulder and the security personnel raised their phasers. Steve caught himself against the bulkhead, fighting the dizzy spin of emotions. From the look on Spock’s face, he was experiencing a similar problem.

“All right, Spock?” Kirk asked, holding firmly onto his first officer while he kept a suspicious eye on Steve.

Spock nodded. After a moment, he seemed to regain control of any residual emotions Steve might have inadvertently passed on, and stood a little straighter. “It’s as he said.”

“So you’re telling the truth.” Kirk’s fists clenched and unclenched at his sides, and he fixed his eyes somewhere on the far wall.

Steve felt a pang of sympathy. He’d been reminded too often recently of holding onto anger and grief without a convenient target to throw it at. He stepped back towards the front of his cell. “Captain Kirk, the people in those torpedoes are more than my comrades in arms, my crew. They’re my family. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family?”

Kirk looked at Spock, who still seemed to be concentrating on deep breathing, then back at Steve. “What do you want from us?

“Help me stop Admiral Marcus. The Federation wasn’t founded to start wars. We can still prevent this one.”

The captain’s communicator beeped, and a voice came through. “Proximity alert, sir. There’s a ship at warp heading right for us.”

“Klingons?” Kirk asked.

“It’s Marcus,” Steve said. “Captain, you have to let me help.”

“I don’t have to do—“

“I don’t think so, Captain,” came the voice over the comm. “It’s not coming at us from Kronos.”

Kirk paused for a moment, then turned to walk away. “Spock, take him to sick bay, find out what he needs. Take a security detail. I’ll be on the bridge.”

“I can tell you the exact sequences,” Steve said as he was escorted into the hanger by the ship’s doctor and a bevy of security personnel. The torpedoes—and their precious cargo—stood in neat rows stretching to the far side.

“That doesn’t matter.” McCoy shook his head. “Even if we do open the cryotubes, the unfreezing process would take—“

“You’d be surprised. This technology may be old, but Tony knew what he was doing.” Steve trailed his hand along the nearest torpedo, looking for the serial number—there. He headed down the next row. “Plus there may be some Asgardian, uh… science involved.”

What kind of science?” McCoy asked.

“The units are designed for fast regeneration, because we figured if we were ever needed, it would be an emergency.” Well, “an interstellar clusterfuck of monumental proportions,” had been Clint’s words, but no need to mention that. “We won’t have time for many, though.”

“Size of that ship out there, we’ll be space debris in 10 minutes.”

“That stunt your crewmate pulled on their systems will stall them awhile,” Steve pointed out. “That’s enough. Can you get a status report from the bridge? We need to know--”

“Bones.” Captain Kirk appeared at the entry to the hanger bay and strode down the row to meet Steve and McCoy. “Spock told me you’d be down here. We don’t have time for this.”

“Captain, I can help. Just tell me what you need.”

“All major systems are down. We can’t run, and we can’t fight. We have to disable the ship from the inside.”

“You’re transporting over there?” McCoy sputtered. “Captain, what—“

“Transporters are down.” Kirk turned to Steve. “We have to get over there another way.”

“What other way is there?” McCoy gave them both a look of disturbed incredulity. “You gonna walk?”

“I know who we need,” Steve said. He hurried down the aisle of torpedoes, looking for the right serial numbers. “Come on, give me a hand.”

Kirk climbed into the trash exhaust shoot after the last of Rogers’ four crew members. He tried to take deep breaths through his helmet, hoping the extra oxygen would help calm his racing heart. He had no doubt Marcus would kill the Enterprise’s entire crew as soon as his ship had the capability. Everything he’d tried to protect them had failed. Now here he was, entrusting his life to the fugitive who may have murdered Pike, and a few of his friends who’d been in suspended animation until about 15 minutes ago.

Despite that, Rogers’ crew looked as well-prepared as any boarding party on a probable suicide mission that Kirk had ever seen. The two who were slated to infiltrate the Vengeance alongside him and Rogers had donned ‘Fleet-issued space suits, and two had equipment of their own.

“Man, how do you know all this still works?” one of them—the one with a metal suit with bird-like wings mounted on the back—asked the other.

“We tested all this in space.” Through the man’s full-body red and yellow armor, his voice sounded slightly tinny. “You weren’t complaining then.”

“That was, like, 300 years ago, Tony.”

“Yeah, well, my work has a lifetime guarantee.”

“I heard you don’t always last as long as your reputation would suggest,” put in the woman, as she flipped on the display in her space suit helmet.

“Did you just—Cap, this is sexual harassment. I don’t have to take this in the workplace. Tell her!”

Rogers walked right past them as if he didn’t even hear their discussion, and Kirk followed suit. “Captain Kirk, you’ll be flying with Wilson and Romanoff. Stark will take me and Barnes. The two of them will have more maneuverability in that debris field than we could manage on our own.”

“Scotty,” Kirk said over his comm, “are you going to have that cargo bay door open?”

“Aye, hang on!” came Scotty’s reply, through gasps. “I’m running!”

“Keep as close to the debris as you can without dragging us through it,” Rogers was saying. “We don’t want their sensors to pick us up. Once we’re past the worst of the debris and on the right trajectory, cut us loose and head in close to the hull so they don’t spot you. See if there’s anything you can do about those weapons.”

“On it,” said the man with the wings—Wilson apparently.

“Captain Kirk?”

Kirk turned to look at Rogers, and even through the glare of the helmet glass, he saw a knowing pain in the man’s eyes.

“Nothing’s going to happen to your crew.”

Kirk gave a quick nod and turned back to face the port door. He believed that, too. He did.

“Captain,” came Spock’s voice over the comm. “The ships are aligned.”

Steve let his landing’s momentum tumble him into a roll that lasted most of the length of the cargo bay, then up onto his feet. Behind him, he heard Nat and Bucky doing the same. He reached up to unlock his shield from its modified harness, and felt immediately calmer once it was in his hand. He’d never loved any maneuver that required Tony and Sam to carry them, but in outer space, he liked it even less. Having his feet back on solid ground, even if it was enemy territory, was a relief.

Beside him, Kirk slid to an ungraceful stop just short of the control console where a bemused-looking man sat on the floor.

“Welcome aboard,” the man said, giving them all a wary glance.

“Good to see you Scotty,” Kirk said, slowly pushing to his feet.

“Who are they?”

“Everyone, Scotty. Scotty, everyone. They’re here to help.”

As Kirk unpacked the phasers they’d brought, Steve ridded himself of the uncomfortable helmet and performed a quick check of the perimeter. He saw Natasha doing the same on the other side of the hangar. Bucky took up a position beside Kirk, purloining one of the weapons without a word, and standing guard over the two ‘Fleet officers as they conferred.

Steve stepped up beside Bucky and put a hand on his shoulder. “You all right?” he asked quietly.

Bucky nodded, though his eyes never paused in their watchful scan. “Fine. Just coming out of cryo makes me a bit…” He tightened his grip on the phaser. “It’ll pass.”

“You start having a problem, you tell me right away.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes, and still didn’t look at Steve.

“You hear me, Sergeant?”

“Yes.” Bucky finally tore his eyes away from their constant scanning to glare at Steve and then roll his eyes. “I hear you, punk.”

“Good.” A small smile crept onto Steve’s face, perhaps his first real once since he’d woken up in the latest century. “Captain Kirk, we should get to the bridge as fast as we can. If Tony and Sam start destroying the ship’s weapons, we don’t want them to become targets.”

“Agreed.” Kirk handed Steve a phaser, then gave one to Natasha. “These are locked to stun. We don’t know what Marcus has told the crew here. They’re still Fleet personnel. No killing.”

“Right. Romanoff, Barnes, you hear that?”

Natasha gave him a silent thumbs up, and Bucky just said, “Acknowledged.”

“I can get us to the bridge,” Scotty said. “Keep your eyes pealed, though. I don’t think they’re likely to have missed a cargo bay door opening.”

Steve took point with the shield raised, Bucky at his shoulder with his phaser at the ready, and Scotty hissing directions at him at every turn. Natasha brought up the rear, with Kirk beside her. If Steve rushed through the empty corridors a little faster than was cautious, well, the Vengeance’s weapons could come back online any minute. If the Enterprise was destroyed—

“We’re in main engineering,” Scotty said in his ear. “We can’t fire our weapons in here without the risk of destabilizing the warp core.”

“Sounds like something we want to avoid,” Natasha muttered.

Just then, Bucky shouted a wordless warning, and pivoted to attack a guard who’d come seemingly out of nowhere. In the close quarters, Steve couldn’t count how many enemy crew there were, but he focused on the ones in reach, trusting to his team to do their part.

Steve took out one guard with a well-placed kick, and another with a sharp blow from the shield, but when he turned around looking for another target, he saw only unconscious forms on the floor, Kirk and Scotty looking on in wide-eyed surprise, and Nat and Bucky, eyes shining with the fierce joy of combat. He felt a rush of satisfaction at choosing the right people for this job.

Then he heard running footsteps that signaled the approach of more enemies. He turned to Kirk. “Get to the bridge. We’ll cover you.”

“You’d better stop and think about what you’re doing.” Marcus sneered. “You’d better think about what you did on Kronos. You made an incursion onto an enemy planet. You killed a Klingon patrol. Even if you got away without a trace, war is coming. And who’s going to lead us? You?!”

He saw Rogers and his crew exchange a look. None of them made any move to stop pointing their weapons at Marcus.

“If I’m not in charge, our entire way of life is decimated,” Marcus continued. “So you want me off this ship, you’d better kill me.”

“I’m not going to kill you,” Kirk said. He thought of the crew members who’d already been hurt, or possibly killed in the Vengeance’s initial attack. He would very much like to kill Marcus, but he still heard Pike’s whisper in the back of his head, I dare you to do better. He had to see this through the right way. “I could stun your ass and drag you out of that chair. But I’d rather not do that in front of your daughter.” Kirk kept his phaser leveled at Marcus, but spared a quick glance for Carol. “You all right?”

“Yes, captain,” she replied evenly. Then she gasped, “Jim!”

Marcus launched himself out of the chair to leap at Kirk. In midair, two phaser blasts hit him from opposite sides of the room, and as he hit the floor, Rogers landed with a knee on Marcus’s back, in case the thoroughly stunned man made any effort to get up.

“Thanks.” Kirk nodded to Rogers. “Scotty, get Spock on the line. Give him a status update.”

Romanoff eyed Marcus’s unconscious crew for a moment, then looked at Barnes. “There could be more. We’ll start a level-by-level sweep.”

Stark’s voice crackled over the comm, “Uh, you did want this weapons totally disabled in every way, right? Because if you had wanted them to be able to fire ever again, you should have told me that before you sent us up here.”

Kirk looked to Rogers, who just shook his head, and said sheepishly, “That’s my family.”

Steve trailed his hand over another one of the cryochambers, looking into the serene face of yet another former Avenger in suspended animation.

“I thought I might find you in here.”

Steve looked up to see Kirk standing at the end of the row, arms folded over his chest. “A captain’s place is with his crew,” Steve said.

“Yeah, it is.” Kirk ventured closer and leaned against the cryochamber Steve was looking at. “Have you thought about what you’ll do when we get back to Earth?”

Steve turned away from his sleeping teammate and looked at Kirk. He’d been thinking of little else, but he wasn’t sure why Kirk was asking. “You eager to get us off your ship?”

“Well, my pilot is teaching Wilson sword fighting, my communications officer is learning archaic Russian with Romanoff, my chief medical officer has been following Barnes around demanding to look at his arm and trying to out-glare him, and Stark has my head engineer wrapped up in some experiment that he has told me in no uncertain terms cannot go in the mission report. And that’s just four of your crew. So yeah, I’m curious how long this can go on.”

Steve smiled at that. He knew what it was like to wake up in a different time, but it looked like his worries about the others being able to adapt were unfounded. Still, he hadn’t figured out anything so concrete as a plan for them all. “Was Marcus right?” he asked. “Do you think war is coming?”

“Possibly. Starfleet lost some good people in that bombing.” Kirk fell silent for a moment, then shook his head. “The Enterprise is badly damaged. We’ll be vulnerable for a while.”

“I don’t want to drag my people into a fight that isn’t theirs, but it’s not right for me to make the decision for all of them.” Steve turned in a slow circle to take in the sight of so many cryotubes lined up in their neat rows. “I’ve had so many members of the team come and go over the years… having them all together like this, it makes us vulnerable, too. Now that people have remembered we exist, there are going to be others who want to use us.”

“So, what did you think was going to happen, when you all went to sleep?” Kirk asked. “Were you hoping you wouldn’t be needed again?”

“I wanted to stop fighting. I wanted to stop losing people.” Steve remembered the moment of thinking Marcus had destroyed the torpedoes that contained his sleeping teammates, of the unbearable guilt and sorrow at having lost them all after they’d come all this way together. He laid a hand on the cryotube in front of him to steady himself. “And yeah, maybe I hoped the Federation would build a world where we wouldn’t be needed.”

“Well, you and your crew did pretty well,” Kirk said with a small smile. “Don’t know if we could have done it without you.”

“My crew were in just as much danger as yours. We had to help,” Steve said, though truth be told, even if his people hadn’t been in danger, there’s no way he would have walked away from a tyrant like Marcus.

“Yeah, well. Thanks all the same.” Kirk put out his hand, and Steve shook it. With that, Kirk walked back toward the cargo bay door.

“Captain?” Steve called.

Kirk turned around. “What?”

“You still want to punch me? I don’t mind. Lots of people have that impulse.”

“Nah.” Kirk shook his head. “Barnes said he’d show me the clip of that performance where you do some dancing and then punch out Adolph Hitler. I figure that’ll be punishment enough.”

“He wouldn’t dare,” Steve said, with a confidence he didn’t feel.

“Officer’s mess, 19:00,” Kirk called as he walked out. “Everyone’s invited.”

Steve groaned, but he couldn’t manage to feel too upset. He gave the cryotube another pat, then headed for the door. As long as he and his team were awake, he didn’t want to miss a moment.