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CMO Confidential

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Chapter One: The Confidential File

"Give me a break, Bones. I'm busy here." The voice was scratchy and low, as if it were painful for him to talk. "Acting Captain, remember?"

McCoy grunted. The little shit is trying to pull rank already. "Well, you're probably familiar with the regulations stating that the Captain's health is the CMO's number one priority. I want to check you over and make sure you don't collapse on the job, Acting Captain. Captain Pike is out of surgery and stable, and now it's your turn, kid."

McCoy could hear the tension in his tone. "Just give me an hour, alright?" He paused. "I'll be there as soon as I can. Kirk out."

McCoy sighed. He wasn't surprised that Jim was avoiding him, but dammit, he was too tired to wait around for him much longer. Briefly, he considered lying down and grabbing a quick nap; but given the state he was in, he doubted that a fifteen-minute nap, or even an hour-long rest, would leave him better able to function. Probably make him feel worse, he thought. Better to wait until he could really sleep for at least a four-hour stretch.

Jim hated doctors. He viewed them with a deep distrust that McCoy had never understood. Even his quarterly physicals were a source of stress for him, let alone treatment of any serious injury. More than once, over the course of the past three years, he wound up treating Jim himself, patching him up after one of his stunts of bravado, using supplies filched from the teaching hospital where he worked. No amount of persuasion would convince Jim to go to the Academy Clinic, and McCoy would always cave in and treat him, against his better judgment.

"It's nothing, Bones. I just wanna get to sleep… I'll let you take care of it in the morning, I swear. It doesn't even hurt. Uh, not much, anyway."

"Don't lie. Your eye is going to be so swollen by morning that you won't be able to open it. And you're bleeding all over the rug. Just shut up and let me look at it."

"Doctors think they know everything. It's my body, remember?"

"Stop acting like such a child. I'm a doctor, and I'm telling you that if you don't clean out that cut, it'll get infected and it would serve you right if you lost your arm to gangrene."

"You'd never let that happen, Bones."

It had never really been a point of concern or contention between them.  Plenty of people hated going to the doctor. McCoy himself had what he considered a healthy distrust of doctors in general; he knew his fair share of incompetent jackasses with the diagnostic skills of a teenage paramedic. 

But being Jim's Acting Chief Medical Officer, even for a few days, changed the status quo. Jim was hiding injuries that needed treatment, for whatever screwed-up reason, and McCoy was going to have to insist that he behave responsibly. He had witnessed the horrific scene on the Bridge, eight hours earlier, when Jim had provoked Spock into attacking him and was nearly strangled before Spock's father had intervened. No doubt that explained the fact that he could barely speak above a whisper.

McCoy hadn't had a chance to do more than glance at him later, when he returned from the Romulan ship and handed a wounded Pike over to him. As far as he could see in that brief look, Jim had looked suspiciously battered and bruised, though clearly pumped up on adrenaline, moving fast. And then for the next four hours, as he was busy with Pike's surgery and care, Jim's condition hadn't been his top priority.

He flopped into the chair next to his desk. "His" desk – it was strange to accept that it was actually his office now, adorned with the words "Chief Medical Officer" next to the entrance. He’d barely known the former CMO, Dr. Puri, and didn't grieve for him personally, but some of the medical staff had been working with him for years and were still reeling from his sudden death during the first blast from Nero's ship.

Hell of a way to get a promotion.

He was comfortable shouldering the medical and administrative responsibilities of CMO; he might still be a cadet with a bad case of aviophobia, but he'd had a career before signing up with Starfleet, and was no stranger to positions of medical authority.

He tried to ignore the uncomfortable clench in the pit of his stomach that kept reminding him that he was liable to be demoted and grounded, if not shipped off to some remote Deep Space Station in need of a doctor, when they got back to the Academy. Come to think of it, Kirk was still officially suspended. He sighed again. Pike tended to be a rules-and-regs kind of guy, in McCoy's limited experience—which, admittedly, boiled down to a stern welcome lecture he'd given as Commandant of Cadets and an impressively icy reprimand he'd seen Pike give Jim after his second Kobayashi Maru fiasco. Jim was a quintessentially sore loser.

Well, Pike won't be giving any more reprimands for a while.

He stretched his arms behind him until he was rewarded with a series of satisfying clicks from his spine. Then he reached toward the wall behind him, took the bottle of brandy off the shelf (Puri's private stock, but he didn't think he'd mind) and poured himself a small glass. There was only Jim's checkup to get through before he could rest; he could allow himself to relax, just a little.

Turning toward the computer console, he said quietly, "Medical monitor, Christopher Pike." Immediately, the screen displayed the assortment of readouts of Pike's bodily functions that were currently showing on the monitor over the head of his bed in the Medical Bay. Pike was still unconscious, although the effects of the surgical anesthesia were beginning to wear off. McCoy was more than a little concerned about the lack of nerve response around the lower spinal cord, where the alien creature had lodged. Pike needed complex, immediate treatment for neural regeneration; the facilities on the Enterprise were not as comprehensive as he'd like.

He wondered how long it would take them to return to Earth—he'd heard a wild rumor about Jim ordering the crazy Scottish engineer to jettison the warp core, but that was so patently ridiculous that he assumed the truth had to be much more banal. Maybe Jim had ordered the engineer to deploy some torpedoes, or jettison some equipment. Did that even make sense? This was a starship, not a sinking ship, and God, he was really tired.

Recalling the next issue to be dealt with, he muttered, "Medical file review, James Kirk." Prior to beginning treatment of whatever was wrong with Jim, he thought he'd familiarize himself with his medical history again. Given the severe allergic reaction that he'd witnessed that morning, he didn't want to take the chance of letting any detail, no matter how minor, slip his mind. Wonder what caused that reaction, he thought. Better note it in his file, at any rate.

He was so tired, really exhausted; he hadn't gotten any real rest for almost two days.

He scanned the file quickly, not really paying attention. He'd seen the information before.  After a truly remarkable number of early childhood hospitalizations for allergic reactions, Jim had been hospitalized a number of times in his early teens, treated for assorted lacerations, minor injuries, and broken bones—including a broken jaw, ruptured spleen, fractured skull, and concussion when he was 13. He could just imagine what kind of daredevil stunt led to those injuries.

I played a little rough when I was a kid, Jim had told him once, after McCoy saw his file for the first time. I guess I was a little accident-prone.

You still are, idiot. For Christmas I'm getting you your own portable dermal regenerator.

Thanks tons, Jim retorted. I'm getting you your own flight simulator.

In his teen years, the medical history became surprisingly sketchy, as if Kirk had enjoyed near-perfect health since then. Knowing Jim, though, McCoy guessed that it was more likely that he’d just stayed away from doctors. From what he'd observed at the Academy, Jim still attracted trouble like a magnet.

McCoy frowned, staring at the small blue icon blinking at the bottom of the screen. "Confidential psychological profile, as yet unread by Chief Medical Officer," prompted the computer helpfully in a melodic female voice. "Would you like to review it at this time?"

I'll be damned. Maybe there were advantages to being CMO after all, McCoy thought.

He'd seen Jim's medical file several times over the years, before administering the superficial treatment Jim would agree to accept, after this or that reckless maneuver. But he'd had no access to a confidential psych profile; in fact, he had no idea one even existed. Maybe this was standard practice for command cadets.  Why wasn't he told these things?

"Affirmative," he responded to the computer. "Begin profile review now." Jim wouldn't show up for the next hour at least, unless McCoy meant to go and get him. There was time.

As he began to read, he leaned closer and put the brandy glass down untouched.

The psych profile had initially been requested during Jim's long hospitalization when he was 13, after he'd received the broken jaw and head injury; there were more recent notations as well, from Starfleet Medical. The language of the report was dry and factual, although McCoy could read between the lines. He scanned through it briefly, eyes narrowing, then stopped and began reading again slowly from the beginning.

REASON FOR REFERRAL: Psychological evaluation prior to removal of minor child, 13, from potentially abusive home environment. Iowa Social and Family Services became involved during hospitalization of minor child JK  for injuries the boy originally claimed to be the result of a traffic accident, but upon examination proved to be inflicted by his stepfather, then custodial parent. Medical staff also expressed concern over partially healed contusions and abrasions on JK's upper torso, and evidence of healed fractures, although both the boy and his stepfather claimed that the injuries resulted from roughhousing with neighborhood children…JK’s manner was evasive and he showed reluctance to tolerate any form of physical contact … ISFS determined that the child was at risk for recurrent abuse in the current familial situation and intervened to remove JK temporarily from the home, pending psychological assessment and recommendations.

The basic facts of Jim's birth were unfortunately so well-known that Jim was often put in the awkward position of being recognized and singled out for his father's heroism; more than once, McCoy had watched Jim's expression freeze and his eyes grow icy as he was recognized as the famous baby who was born on the Kelvin shuttle. McCoy knew that the salient fact of Jim's childhood wasn't the absence of a father he never met; it was his relationship with his mother, in the aftermath of that disaster.

He knew that Jim and his mother weren't close, and that Jim had a stepfather that he didn't get along with, to put it mildly. Jim had alluded to the fact that he'd spent time in a foster home while his mother was on extended service, for a year or two, but he had never explained what brought that about or talked much about the experience. “My stepdad needed a break from me,” he’d said once, and on another occasion, “Mom wanted me to stay with her cousin Jeanine, but it didn’t really work out, so I went back to live with that loser again.”

He knew that his mother had rarely been around since his early teen years, leaving Jim alone for months at a time  with the stepfather he'd described as a "drunken ass who should never have been given a license to breathe, but Mom never saw that."

McCoy had assumed, from the casual way that Jim referred to it, that his mother's Starfleet duty had left no one to care for him at home, so he went into foster care. It made sense, so McCoy didn't question it. Now, however, a different explanation presented itself.

CHILDHOOD HISTORY. JK’s mother, widowed on the day of her son’s birth, suffered from recurrent bouts of depression and anxiety during his early years…She reported difficulty maintaining a stable, nurturing bond with her son, whom she seemed to resent for tying her down to “a life she'd never wanted”…JK was described as a physically active toddler, fearless and headstrong…Problems adapting to pre-school group care…aggressive behavior…extremely bright with a forceful personality…Social interactions suggested dependency issues which were repeatedly re-enacted in symbolic play…

Mother's remarriage, when JK was 5, was seen by the boy as a betrayal and a threat to his position in the home…In interviews, the stepfather, owner of a contracting firm dealing in security, who described himself as “a strict by-the-book guy”, said that he was drawn into frequent conflicts with JK, whom he saw as antagonistic and rude, unresponsive to his attempts to discipline him…

According to school and police reports, JK’s behavior became increasingly provocative after the mother began leaving on a succession of long-range Starfleet science missions…A series of minor delinquencies, including vandalism and underage alcoholic consumption, culminated in the theft and destruction of an antique automobile owned by the stepfather. Subsequent hospitalization for serious injuries inflicted by the stepfather, according to local authorities… Stepfather eventually admitted to beating the boy on a regular basis, claiming that the violence had been “deserved” and that excessive alcoholic consumption had caused him to lose control on occasion…No physical evidence of sexual assault was discovered, despite suspicions on the part of educators…

McCoy's eyes widened. Shit. Even if the physical examination was inconclusive, it would have been uncomfortable and invasive. Traumatic, for a young boy.

And good God, was he raped?

McCoy had seen Jim's disinclination to commit to a long-term relationship with any woman he'd dated, and there had been an endless stream of them, it seemed. That had suited McCoy fine, since he wasn't looking for much female companionship either, after the divorce. Jim was a hell-raiser and a daredevil, and a good drinking companion any night of the week. He could be charming and sweet to the women he dated, as long as they didn’t put any emotional demands on him.

McCoy had noticed that Jim never seemed to show fear or admit to pain, even when he clearly should have been hurting. McCoy had never seen it as much of a cause for concern—although maybe he'd felt a twinge of jealousy on occasion, knowing that he didn't have that kind of magnetism or physical courage. His own pain tolerance was embarrassingly low. Now, with perfect hindsight, he was disgusted with himself for being so oblivious.

According to observations by medical staff, throughout his hospital stay JK was extremely resistant to medical treatment even when it was clearly necessary. The child occasionally needed to be sedated and restrained during medical procedures…  Physically aggressive, belligerent, and uncooperative during social services eval…

McCoy sucked in his breath. No wonder Jim hated doctors and clinics. It wasn't hard to imagine him as a rude, abrasive and angry teenager, furiously swinging at whoever got too near him. It was harder, even heartbreaking, to accept the idea of him as an abused and neglected child, pretending bravado, masking pain, hiding insecurities stemming from issues of abandonment and rejection. Who the hell beats up a child, breaking his jaw and giving him a concussion and internal injuries, for Chrissake?

Jim had told him about that joyride and the wreck of the antique, but had glided over his stepfather's reaction, saying only, "He tried to beat the crap out of me. But I didn't really care, and it was worth the ride!" And laughed.

UPDATE, STARFLEET MEDICAL:  JK has undeniable strengths: surprising resilience and ego integrity despite the chronic stresses in his family of origin, high intelligence, self-confidence, determination, and self-reliance. Yet his self-destructive tendencies, resistance to authority figures, and reluctance to admit weakness should be considered major impediments to his eventual command aspirations. Unless he can achieve a measure of introspection and self-awareness which will allow him to temper these qualities, his ability to lead responsibly is questionable. JK has resisted or evaded all attempts by Starfleet Medical psychologists to begin treatment. Prognosis at this time is poor.

The report ended with a blunt suggestion that Kirk be given the choice of either complying with psychological treatment combined with hypnotic drug therapy, or changing his command cadet status to engineering.

McCoy supposed he should be able to read the psych profile with a certain amount of clinical detachment, but he felt restless, stunned, unable to sit still. He got up to pace the room, his mind racing.

It all was starting to make sense now: the daredevil, almost suicidal recklessness, as if Jim felt that he had to obsessively prove that he wasn’t afraid of anything. The disdain for authority. His resentment of doctors’ arrogance and what he saw as their invasion of his privacy. The brash “leap before you look” attitude that must have been what held him together during those times of helplessness.

He could see now why Jim had been so obsessed with the Kobayashi Maru test. He didn’t want to accept that there were times when you had to submit with grace, to deal with failure without railing against it. He couldn’t give in, even when the odds were against him. He was determined to find a way out with his wits, his daring, and his belief in himself. And often enough, it worked, too.

McCoy recalled the tense scene on the Bridge, after Spock had ordered the Security guards to escort Jim out. He’d been watching Jim’s face intently, concerned and anxious, and he saw the way Jim had seemed to lose control when the guards grabbed him and began pulling him away. At the time, he’d thought it was sheer foolishness—Jim being pigheaded as usual. Now he wondered whether the guards' rough grasp had triggered unconscious memories. Jim had reacted at a primal fight-or-flight level. Spock, of course, had seen it as mutiny. And Jim probably had no idea why he reacted the way he did.

Jim had now been catapulted into a command position by Pike. Reviewing the events of the day through the new filter of the psych profile, McCoy could accept that Kirk’s tenacity and refusal to accept no for an answer, even at the risk of his personal safety, might be construed as an advantage in certain command situations; Jim had proven that today. But it could also be interpreted as a desperate irresponsibility and proof of impaired judgment.

They'd all been lucky; for the moment, the crew was inclined to regard him with awe bordering on hero-worship, despite his youth and inexperience. But that wouldn’t last long if they thought they couldn’t trust him.

As a healer, it was clear to McCoy that Jim needed to accept and integrate his past, to see his reactions for the childhood defense mechanisms that they were. But he was fully aware that most psychological work involved a long, delicate process, even when the patient was asking for help and committed to change. That wasn't the case here, and Jim didn't have that kind of time.

Jim had arrived at his goal much earlier than planned: he was captain of a starship at the remarkably young age of 26. He was in command, with tremendous forces at his disposal. He'd distinguished himself heroically in his first space mission. But he obviously needed help, or he might lose it all.

McCoy was not at all sure that he knew what to do. But at least the next step was clear. Jim needed to come down to Medical.

Chapter Two: When Push Comes to Shove

"McCoy to Bridge. Where is he, dammit?" 

"Spock here," replied the calm voice. "If you are referring to Acting Captain Kirk, he left the Bridge fifteen minutes ago. He looked quite pale, and he said that he was going to Medical Bay. Did he not arrive?”

"Obviously he didn't," McCoy said impatiently.  "Never mind, I'll find him." As far as he knew, Jim hadn't yet been assigned living quarters. Pike may have given him an instant field promotion, but that didn't necessarily come with a bed and a bureaucratic welcome mat.

The computer located him instantly, in a corner of the Deck Seven Lounge. McCoy hailed him over the intercom, but there was no response. A second buzz eventually produced an answering grunt, but nothing more. The lounge would have comfortable couches and chairs; Jim must have fallen into a heavy sleep.

Should've let myself have that nap, he thought ruefully. "Computer, hail again, 60-second alarm, pending response," he instructed, and waited.

Forty seconds later, Jim's irate voice came bellowing over the intercom, accompanied by a loud, piercing siren. "Shut that fucking thing off! Kirk here!" he yelled. The alarm silenced instantly. "What the hell, Bones, I was sleeping!"

"Obviously," he said dryly. "I told you to come down to Medical, remember?"

"Later, Bones, I'm really tired, you have no idea—"

"Now, Jim. I need to check you over and then I can get some sleep."

"I'm fine, it can wait till morning—"

 "And if you're not here in three minutes, I'm sending two orderlies to grab you and drag you here."

"Fuck," he muttered. "Kirk out."

Jim poked his head in the entrance to Medbay three and a half minutes later. He looked exhausted. That's good, McCoy thought. His defenses will be down. He looked him over critically, then waved him to a biobed near his office, to give himself a chance to observe his movements as he walked across the room. As Jim moved past, McCoy noted that he was favoring his right leg and breathing shallowly. The fabric of his black shirt seemed to pull against his skin, as if it were sticking to his back. Jim sat down heavily on the bed McCoy had indicated, swaying slightly with drowsiness.

"What's wrong with your back?" McCoy asked, eyes narrowed. "Take off that shirt."

"Easier said than done, Bones," Jim said with a pained smile. "Give me a hand." He hissed as McCoy drew the shirt up; it was clotted with dried blood from a deep, bloody gash across his back.

"Where the hell did you get that?"

"It's nothing, Bones," he said, twisting his neck around to try to see it. "It's just a scratch—"

McCoy sighed and shook his head. "Take off the rest of your clothes, moron. Let's see what else you're hiding."

Kirk slowly removed his boots and pants, leaving him in his briefs. There was a florid bruise at the juncture of his neck and shoulder. McCoy felt a twinge of guilt, recalling Jim’s howls of pain each time he injected him. Maybe he'd been a little rough on him after all.

McCoy was silent and focused, occasionally reaching over to probe a contusion or examine a cut, all the while making notes on the hand-held chart. A long, bloody gouge traveled from just under Jim’s left shoulder blade to his waist. His neck was bruised and swollen, covered with abrasions; there was evidence of damage to the trachea. His left ankle was swollen and stiff. McCoy gently moved Jim's left hand and manipulated his fingers, finally eliciting a gasp from his patient.

Yet throughout most of the examination, even when McCoy palpated a spot that must have been quite painful, Jim remained remarkably stoic and seemed strangely detached. McCoy looked at the biobed monitor, noting Jim's elevated blood pressure and his racing heart rate. He's stressed, but he doesn't want to show it.

"OK, you fool," he began, "Would you care to define 'I'm fine' for me? I'm not sure I follow your meaning."

"Come off it, Bones. These are badges of honor. I've had a really long, really hard day. Saving the planet, you know, that kind of thing…" Jim flashed him a tired, cocky grin.

McCoy glared.

"Take it easy, Bones, it was a joke," he said hastily. "Okay. It’s my hand. It hurts. A little."

"That's because you have a metacarpal fracture," McCoy told him. "That’s a broken hand."

"I know what a metacarpal fracture is!” Jim said irritably. “That Romulan guy stamped on my hand a couple of times. Fine. Go ahead and fix it, so I can get some sleep."

"Not just yet." McCoy locked his hands behind his back and looked up at Jim, as if considering how to proceed. “That’s all? Isn’t there anything else you'd like to tell me as your doctor?”

“You bet there is. Do I see a bottle of something on your desk over there? You shouldn’t drink alone, you know, Bones, it's not healthy. I could keep you company if you want."

“Don’t change the subject.”

"Look, Bones, you wanna treat the hand or not?” he asked, annoyed. “You’re the one who woke me out of a sound sleep to come here.  If you're too busy, I'll just crawl back to my couch in the lounge. Actually, that would be fine by me,” he said, yawning. “That's all I really need. The hand can wait."

McCoy grunted, unimpressed. "Listen to me. You're supposed to be a mature Acting Captain now, not rebel-without-a-cause Cadet Kirk. You have a responsibility to your crew, and that includes being honest enough to admit when you need help or medical treatment."

"Leave it till tomorrow."

McCoy glanced at the monitor again. Jim's voice was calm, but his blood pressure was rising and his respiratory rate was increasing. "Your hand is broken, Jim, and your ribs—"

"It's nothing I can't handle. I had plenty of fractures when I was a kid," he assured McCoy with seeming unconcern, and McCoy frowned. "This can wait till morning, believe me. Get some rest." He slapped McCoy on the back and jumped off the bed, grabbing his clothes in the same quick movement. “See you in the morning.”

McCoy caught him by the arm. "Not so fast, champ. You'll leave when I say that you're released, and I'm not finished with you…"

Jim jerked his arm away. "Let go." A tone of annoyance was creeping into his raspy voice, which he quickly masked with a sheepish smile. "Aw, the hell with it, Bones. Let's go get drunk."

"Bar's closed for the night. What else is bothering you?"

“Look, I’m tired. I’m really tired. Can’t we do this some other time?”

“Stop stalling. I don’t have all day. Pretend you're a responsible captain who takes his own health and welfare seriously, and tell me what's wrong.”

"You're the doctor," he said sullenly. "Guess that means that you know what I feel better than I do. Just ask your fancy gadgets, they'll tell you. What do you need me for?"

"I need you to give me a report that I can trust! I can't treat you if you won't cooperate."

"Fine. My neck. Right here,” he said, glowering at the doctor and pointing in illustration, “where you kept stabbing me with that hypo thing. It's killing me. I can hardly turn my head." Kirk rubbed the swollen spot resentfully. "You're downright trigger-happy with those shots. And you can tell our friendly First Officer to keep his wicked finger grip off me, too." He shook his head. "What the hell was that, anyway?"

Distraction's not gonna work, kid. "I'm going to ask him to teach it to me. I can see that it’ll come in handy with you. And stop being such an infant with the hypo," he scolded, as Jim flushed red. "It's quick and efficient! Come on, Jim. Give me the rundown."

"Tomorrow," he said firmly, giving McCoy his best command look and moving determinedly toward the door. “I promise.”

“Jim, stop kidding around. You’re not going anywhere, and you know it.” McCoy advanced toward him, but kept his arms at his sides. Don’t grab him again, he told himself. He needs some space. “You’re acting like a child.”

All traces of congeniality faded from his voice. “Why, because I won’t jump when you snap your fingers, doctor?” he retorted. “Don’t be such a bastard."

McCoy was startled momentarily by the coldness in Jim’s eyes, by the viciousness of the reply. He recognized the barb for what it was: a warning sign, a glimpse of the rage simmering beneath, perilously held in check for now. Go slowly, he thought.

“Calm down, Jim…”

“I am calm.”

“Then sit down.”

Jim shook his head. “I’m leaving, unless you plan to stop me using brute force, and I’m warning you, I may be tired, but I’ll kick your ass. Out of my way!” he said angrily, turning toward the door again.

Moving quickly, McCoy got between Jim and the exit. He pointed at the biobed. “Get back on the bed. Jim, you’re being ridiculous. Why don’t you just cooperate with the exam? It’ll make things a lot quicker.”

“For God’s sake, leave me alone. That’s an order. I’m going to bed! Come on, Bones,” he pleaded, “All I need is some sleep.”

“Well, Captain,” he said in exasperation, “I override your order! You’ve got multiple injuries, and you need to be treated and monitored. And I have better things to do with my time than argue with you. In my professional opinion, you’re medically unfit and your judgment’s impaired. So sit down!”

Jim took a slow, deep breath, wincing a little and pressing a hand to his rib cage. Then he said calmly, “There’s a limit to how much crap I’m going to take from you, Bones, even if we are friends. Funny, I never figured you for the type to let a little power go to your head!"

"Now, Jim, and I mean it," McCoy said, but Jim turned and began striding toward the exit.

Push him a little.

"Make another move toward that door," he said quietly, saying each word carefully, "and I'll have you strapped down to that table and sedated before your eyes stop spinning."

Jim jerked, as if slapped by McCoy's words. For a moment, his expression was blank, and then McCoy could see nothing but naked rage on his face, coupled with a hint of panic. Jim whirled around, clutching the edge of the bed so tightly with his undamaged right hand that the doctor could see the muscles bunch in his back and shoulders. McCoy could hear him breathing fast and deep, trying to get control of himself. That shook him, he thought.  

Still, he felt like an asshole, kicking him when he was down. He wasn’t unsympathetic to Jim’s desire to bolt. But having had a chance to see the extent of his injuries, he felt that psychological considerations aside, he had no choice, medically speaking. And Jim would be no use to the crew if he were expending energy and concentration trying to hide his condition from them. He might have been able to do it earlier, but McCoy knew that the adrenaline high wouldn’t last, and he’d soon be hurting pretty badly—if he wasn’t already.

Jim slowly relaxed his grip and stretched his shoulders, wincing. He coughed painfully, then slowly turned back around to face the doctor. McCoy could see the exhaustion in his face. His eyes were bloodshot, watery from the coughing bout, and lined with red. His face was pale, his breathing labored, and his shoulder muscles taut with tension.

But the defiant stare was gone, replaced by a look of hurt that made him seem years younger.

“What’s the matter with you, Bones?”

“Nothing. I’m doing my job. You’re injured! Any fool can see that.”

"You know me, dammit! I hate hospitals and I hate doctors—including you--and it's been a very long day and I'm tired."

McCoy raised an eyebrow, but otherwise didn't respond.

"So what's the problem?" Jim asked sarcastically. "I have to give you an alphabetized list of every bump and bruise, is that it? You won't let me go until I say 'ouch'?"

"What would be so awful if you did?"

Jim ran a hand through his hair, frowning. "You want me to give you the rundown? Fine! This morning, I was facing a kangaroo court in front of the entire cadet class, and by the way, I think I'm still on academic suspension and AWOL to boot.... Then you decide to give me the bubonic plague.” Despite himself, McCoy had to chuckle at the memory.

“The captain gives me the privilege of becoming a human cannonball,” Jim continued, pointedly ignoring him, “with hand-to-hand combat thrown in for fun, at 3,000 meters. I wind up nearly having a goddam heart attack in free fall and crashing into the transporter pad, and that fucking hurt, trust me. Then Spock jettisons me back to the Ice Age and I have to fight a saber tooth tiger and some kind of spidery dinosaur, and then I met…Well, never mind who I met!” He paused, seeming flustered. “And when I finally get back to the ship, Spock beats the shit out of me and nearly strangles me…"

"I get it. You've had a bad day. Most of it is your own fault, mind you. You've got more dumb luck than brains," he admonished, watching Kirk scowl at him. "But you have to acknowledge injuries and you have to get them treated."

Jim closed his eyes and yawned ferociously.  McCoy raised an eyebrow; he needed  to change tactics. Jim was stonewalling. Maybe he should unsettle him a bit.

Poke him again.

Regarding him carefully, hoping he wasn't about to make a huge mistake, he said slowly, “You're not thirteen years old anymore."

That got his attention. Jim's eyes snapped open. He glanced sideways at McCoy and said guardedly, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you're not the child you were."  

“What the hell do you know about the kind of child I was?”

McCoy sighed. "Jim, you think that you have to pretend that you can't be hurt, or no one will respect you. But you're wrong there. You earned the crew's respect today, and…" He paused, then said softly, "you were brilliant, kid, even I'll admit that." The corner of Jim's mouth quirked despite his anger; he was obviously pleased by McCoy's admission.

"Fine. Be a hero. But don't be indestructible. Be real," he said forcefully, looking Jim in the eye. "Be human, and then the crew will be able to identify with you. Show them that you know your limits. Let them care about you."

He paused, then said quietly, "And let me take care of you. Let me do my job. Relax, Jim. I’m a doctor. I’m here to help, not to hurt you.”

Jim was silent and wary, eyes averted. McCoy saw him swallow, grimacing a little at the pain in his throat.

Finally he sighed, walked back to the bed, and sat down. He raised his eyes to McCoy's and admitted, "Okay, my throat feels like it's on fire."

"Not surprising. Go on."

"And it hurts when I breathe too deeply. I think I stabbed myself in the lung a minute ago when I was coughing.”

"That's because you have two broken ribs."

"Like you really care… And my head's killing me.”

“You have a concussion.” McCoy said sympathetically. "Any dizziness? Nausea?”

“Yes, and I think this time I really will throw up on you. Don’t think you don't deserve it, either."

“How’s the back?”

"It's killing me, if you have to know."

“How’d you get those nasty lacerations?”

“I fell down a snow-covered ravine and gashed my back against a rock or something. And before you ask me any more stupid questions, I’m pretty sure I sprained my ankle, too. Ouch, dammit!” he yelped, pushing McCoy’s hand away. “Don’t touch it!”

McCoy allowed himself a slight smile. "That'll do for a start. Lie down, you're not going anywhere for a while."

"Might as well sleep here,” Jim grumbled, lying back on the bed and turning on his side so as not to irritate the injured tissues on his back, “since I guess I don't have anywhere to go on this ship anyway. Acting Captain, and I don't even have a bed,” he complained, closing his eyes.

 

Chapter Three: Making Rounds

McCoy opened his eyes with a groan. Glancing at the wall chronometer, he sighed and sat up. Four hours’ sleep. Well, that had to be enough for now.

From where he sat on the couch in his office, he had a clear view of the entire medical bay through the wide observation window. Pike was in the isolation ward near the far end. Christine Chapel, a pleasant-looking blond nurse of about 30, was tending to Pike, adjusting an intravenous feed. Two other crewmen with minor injuries were in beds along the left-hand wall, and Kirk was asleep on a bed on the right.

Christine seemed to be more than competent. She’d assisted him smoothly in treating Jim, helping McCoy position his hand and ribs under the equipment, applying salves, strapping, bandaging, and even flirting. She’d been quick with a basin when, true to his word, he’d nearly vomited all over McCoy. He'd been embarrassed, but she'd reacted matter-of-factly, saying only, "Good aim, sir."

Jim had adamantly refused any pain relief, insisting that as the Acting Captain—he loved to roll those words off his tongue--he had to remain clear-headed. McCoy didn't try to argue with him too much; his medical records listed allergic sensitivities to two major classes of pain killers, leaving Jim with relatively few effective medications to choose from. He didn't want to overuse them and risk his building up a tolerance. If he could handle the discomfort, McCoy preferred that he do it without anything stronger than a local.

He’d been reasonably cooperative during the procedures, at least until they became really uncomfortable. At that point, McCoy had been grateful for Christine’s calm presence, realizing that Jim was much less likely to complain, whine, or try to run out again with an attractive woman looking on.

The worst part was cleaning out the ragged, deep gash on his back, which was already showing signs of infection. McCoy positioned Jim on his stomach, then probed the wound gingerly. The skin at the edges was red, abraded, and swollen. McCoy flooded the wound with a disinfectant solution and then began picking out bits of debris, clotted blood, and dirt. Jim hardly made a sound, but McCoy saw him bite his lower lip and flinch, his undamaged hand clenching into a tight fist around the sheet.

"There's a strange rumor going around," McCoy said, hoping to distract him, "that says that you blew up the warp drive in order to get us away from that black hole."

 "Bones, that's ridiculous. Don't—ouch!—tell me you believed that."

"So what did you really do, hotshot? Christine, hand me another swab."

"Fuck! Take it easy on those swabs, there's a person here, remember? And if you must know, I jettisoned the warp core and then detonated it."

"You what?" McCoy stopped and exchanged a glance with Chapel. Hers clearly conveyed a professional concern for Kirk's sanity.

"It was Scotty's idea, and don't complain, it worked, didn’t it?"

"You should be glad Captain Pike's still unconscious. I don't want to be around when he finds out what you did to his shiny new ship."

Jim didn't respond. His eyes were closed. Beads of sweat had broken out on his forehead, and he was breathing heavily, teeth clenched, grunting occasionally in response to McCoy’s actions.

McCoy sighed and put the instruments down. "I'm going to give you a sedative, Jim, and don't argue with me anymore."

"No! Just hurry up and finish. I can handle it, it's fine."

"It'll take me at least another ten minutes to finish debriding, and you can't—"

"Captain Kirk," Christine interrupted breathlessly, moving suddenly from behind the biobed into Kirk's line of vision. McCoy looked at her in surprise. "I have to tell you something. I’ll bet you don’t even remember, but we actually met two years ago, at the Academy New Years’ party. I was with Gaila, and you were…well, actually, you were pretty… um…” She stopped, looking up at him coyly.

McCoy stared at her. The nurse's demeanor had changed before his eyes from cool and competent to charming and bubbly. She seemed to be flirting with him, for God's sake, which was completely inappropriate. He opened his mouth to remind her sternly to do her job, but then caught her eye. She looked at him meaningfully, and he clamped his lips together in sudden understanding.

“Drunk. I was pretty drunk, you mean.” Jim's voice was strained, but he was looking up at her and smiling crookedly. Jim could never resist a pretty face that was showering him with attention, as Christine must surely have known if she'd met him before.

“Well, that’s why I thought you didn’t remember. You were talking about this wild ride you had in an old-fashioned automobile when you were a boy…Everyone was laughing. You drove it over a cliff, I think you said.”

McCoy kept his eyes focused on Jim's back, working quickly. But as long as the subject had come up in conversation, he couldn't resist poking at his patient, both literally and figuratively. “Hey, Jim, you never told me that part,” he said casually. At the same time, he swabbed rather deeply at a particularly tender spot, eliciting a stifled groan from his patient. “How did you manage to survive a cliff dive?”

Ow! Stop that!” Jim gasped, pulling away from McCoy. “Are you trying to kill me?”  

“Lie down. I’m almost done. It’s infected. Just a little more…”

Jim’s voice was tight and he spoke in bursts. “I said that… the car went over the cliff…I didn’t say…that I went with it…”

“Bet your stepdad loved that,” McCoy said innocently. Jim didn’t respond, but McCoy could feel his shoulders stiffen. “Hold still,” he admonished.

Christine met his eyes, and he nodded at her encouragingly. She'd known exactly what to do to distract her patient; she was clearly uncommonly perceptive, although she had no way of knowing the significance of the car crash in Jim's personal history.

She smiled down sweetly at Jim, and began chatting with him about Gaila, about the Academy, and about Pike. Jim rallied himself and kept up a reasonably good approximation of a conversation, considering how miserable he must be feeling.

“I heard that you sneaked on board in order to tell Pike about the Romulan ships.”

 “Oh, well…it wasn’t exactly like that…" he said modestly. "I was just lucky to have some info that he didn’t… That’s all.”

McCoy snorted. “You were just lucky he didn’t throw you into the brig for smuggling yourself on board.” He irrigated the wound again, then scanned it for any other signs of contamination.

Quietly, he added, “All right, Jim, I’m done cleaning and disinfecting it. I’ll just put on the adhesive gel and bandage it.”

“Too bad, I was kind of getting into it,” he said, winking at Christine, but McCoy could feel his muscles relax. “And sneaking me on board was your idea, remember?”

“I regret it, believe me.”

“There’s a rumor that you saved the life of the helmsman in free fall,” continued Christine.

“Yeah, he was a little clumsy up there, what choice did I have? I think we broke the transporter platform when we landed, though….So, Nurse Chapel,” he said in a stronger voice, “what do you do in your off hours when you’re not helping Dr. McCoy torture innocent patients?”

“You’re not innocent,” McCoy broke in, feeling that he ought to intervene before Jim began sleeping around with his nursing staff. “I told you, most of this is your own damn fault. I can finish up here, Christine. Why don’t you check on Captain Pike?”

Jim was so tired that he actually dozed off during the final stages of McCoy’s ministrations. McCoy decided in the end against giving him a sedative, preferring not to interfere with the body’s natural healing while he slept. Surely he’d sleep for eight or ten hours, after the day he’d had. When Jim woke, depending on his level of discomfort, he could be given the analgesics. He began an antibiotic drip against infection, administered intravenously. Seeing that Jim was finally at rest, McCoy had allowed himself to collapse on his office couch.

 

Now, four hours later, Jim was still heavily asleep, in the midst of a dream sequence, according to the monitor. McCoy forced himself off the couch to make rounds in the Medical Bay.

By the time he arrived at Kirk’s bed, twenty minutes later, however, McCoy was startled to see Jim sitting up in bed in the darkened room, head bowed, hands over his face. Thinking that Jim was still partially asleep, he didn’t speak to him, but gently pressed down on his shoulder, hoping that he would settle down onto the pillow again.

Jim jerked away. “Leave me alone!” Clearly, he was alert and irritable. McCoy regretted not administering the sedative. He peered closer. Jim was sweating and his breathing was uneven. A glance at the monitor confirmed a racing heart beat, increased blood pressure, slight fever, and a constellation of physiological signs that indicated physical discomfort.

“Bad dream?” McCoy inquired, fingering the darkened bruises on his neck, reaching behind him to check the bandage on his back.

“I don’t remember.” Jim kept his eyes averted, then shuddered, as if to erase whatever memories remained.

“How do you feel?”

“Like shit.”

“What hurts?”

“Everything. Get me some water, Bones.”

McCoy put a cup in his right hand. “Well, get some more sleep and you'll feel better in the morning."

"I hate hospitals."

I'll bet you do, he thought. "Don’t worry. I'll release you tomorrow."

Jim noted the small IV drip box strapped to his arm, shaking his head with annoyance. “Get this thing off me.”

“Not yet. You need antibiotics."

Jim sipped the water slowly, looking at him silently and intently over the rim of the cup. There was more than a hint of antagonism in his gaze.

With a sense of trepidation, McCoy sat down on the chair next to the bed. “What’s on your mind, Jim?”

“Nothing. No. Wait. Why did you…” He paused. “Earlier…You were a real prick, you know that? Why did you say I was acting like a 13-year-old?”

“It’s just an expression, Jim."

“Where do you get off calling me a child?” he said sharply.

 “Every adult was once a child,” he said carefully. “So were you. Sometimes we let the childish part of us come to the surface, that’s all. It’s a natural reaction to stress.”

“You threatened me,” Jim said slowly, as if he hadn’t heard McCoy’s response. “You said that you’d strap me down and sedate me! Why would you say that, dammit?”

“You wouldn’t listen to me…”

“Your bedside manner stinks! Is that how you plan to get all your patients to cooperate?” he spat, raising his voice. “Belittle and bully them, throwing your authority around?”

“When I have to.”

“Not with me!” he thundered.

“Then don’t make me do it,” he said, exasperated. “Quiet down, people are sleeping.”

“You’re the CMO now,” Jim said, looking at him suspiciously. “You’re the CMO… That means… Did you… You’ve seen my file… What have you been reading?”

McCoy sighed. He hadn’t wanted to have this conversation now, but there was no avoiding it. Damn, the boy was quick.  “You know exactly what I’ve been reading, so what are you really asking?”

“That’s my own personal history, dammit! It’s not in the public domain!”

“Now it is. Let’s get it out in the open.”

 “When I want a therapy session,” he said furiously. “I’ll let you know! In the meantime, doctor, stop messing with my mind, dropping heavy-handed hints so I’ll know that you’ve read my psych eval! Who the hell do you think you are? What gives you the right—“

“I’m your CMO, that’s what gives me the right! And since you know there’s a file, you probably also know that if you don’t start dealing with these issues, this will be the shortest field promotion in history!”

Jim flushed. That hit home, McCoy thought. Good.

He leaned forward. “Talk to me, Jim. You overreacted today on the Bridge… You should never have fought those guards like you did.”

“They shouldn’t have grabbed me like that.”

“You were insubordinate. Hell, I wanted to grab you and shut you up!”

“Lucky for you that you didn’t. You can’t fight to save your life.”

“I think you don’t even know yourself why you resisted them."

"I resisted them because Spock needed to listen to me!"

 "You know that it was their job to subdue you. You were out of control, you wouldn't accept Spock's commands—"

"He was wrong! I was right in the end, and that's the reason we're alive! Am I supposed to be sorry about that?"

"You're missing the point! You couldn't stand it when they tried to restrain you! I saw it, Jim. Do you even know why?"

 “Shut up!" he snarled. "You don't understand anything!" He slumped down heavily on the bed, regretting it instantly when his weight fell against his lacerated back. Wincing, he turned on his side, facing away from McCoy.

“Look, Jim, you can’t run away forever.” He observed the silent lump on the bed, reminding himself that a conversation like this probably shouldn’t be held with a sleep-deprived, feverish, injured man. “Go back to sleep. We’ll talk later… but we will talk, and I mean it.” Jim ignored him, closing his eyes.

McCoy reprogrammed the drip in his arm, this time ensuring that he would sleep for a full eight hours. He watched Jim's breathing slow and his muscles relax. Then he sat back in the chair, thinking.

 

Chapter Four: Observations

Christine came back on shift shortly before alpha, relieving the delta duty nurse and beginning her morning routine. The two crewmen who'd been kept for overnight observation were ready to be discharged, leaving only Kirk and Pike, both under sedation.

She wasn't surprised to discover McCoy asleep on his office couch. According to the night nurse, he'd been up half the night, researching experimental treatments for spinal cord injuries, monitoring Pike's condition, and even sitting with Kirk for a while as well. Sleep deprivation was nothing new to medical personnel, of course. Doctors often worked multiple consecutive shifts during emergencies, with little sleep but what they could snatch here and there. She sympathized, but wouldn't hesitate to wake him if he didn't get up on his own very shortly; alpha shift required the doctor to be awake and available.

She hadn't gotten much sleep either, although she'd been exhausted after the events of the past 36 hours. Everything had happened so quickly that it still felt a little unreal to her. The announcement of the distress call from Vulcan had caught her in the middle of her regular shift at the Academy hospital. The hospital director had immediately implemented emergency mobilization procedures, leaving the teaching hospital with a skeleton staff while most of the on-duty personnel had been assigned to the seven available ships in spacedock. Christine's assignment hadn't come as a surprise to her; she and Dr. Puri worked together in the ER, and she knew he thought of her as his best trauma nurse. The hospital staff had conducted endless emergency drills, some of which involved deployment to the Fleet ships, and she was familiar with the Enterprise as her designated post.

Dr. Puri wasn't easy to work with, but she was used to him. He was decisive, quick-thinking, and supremely confident; schooled in the traditional British medical system, he saw himself at the top of the medical hierarchy and managed his staff accordingly. He was a perfectionist, as many doctors were, and was equally demanding of his team. Christine frequently found him abrasive and egotistical, and not particularly interested in her contribution to the patient's care. She was a smooth assistant to him in the ER, but she knew her place. And resented it, though she didn't show it.

She let it slide, because she loved working in the ER, and while Dr. Puri was training to take over as CMO when the Enterprise was commissioned, she had made it clear to Starfleet that she wanted to stay at the Academy. She held a part-time teaching position at the nursing school, which she loved, and she was dating a brilliant young medical archeologist, Roger Korby, who was finishing his post-doc studies at UCLA. There was nothing in the black that could really tempt her.

Privately, she held her doubts as to whether Puri was really suited to be CMO. As a surgeon and a diagnostician, he was unequalled in her experience, but the job of CMO required, she felt, a different sort of approach to patient care than the one he was used to giving. A CMO was a physician, not just a surgeon; he needed to see his patients holistically, with an eye to their morale, ability to handle stress, and overall welfare. She occasionally wondered whether Puri's arrogance wouldn't prevent him from integrating well into the small community of a starship. Puri wasn't young, either, and she was surprised that he was willing to give up the status of hotshot ER surgeon to ship off into space with a small crew of several hundred. But he'd never confided his motivations to her, of course. She was just Nurse Chapel to him, never a friend, and he kept his distance.

The hour following the mobilization announcement had passed in a blur as she hurriedly inventoried supplies and helped prepare the Medbay for large numbers of incoming casualties. Dr. Puri had told her, with a slight roll of his eyes, that the upperclass cadets would be arriving as backup personnel, including one doctor and two nurses. Christine nodded in acknowledgement, keeping her expression serene but wishing she could roll her eyes back at him. The last thing she needed was a bunch of untried and inexperienced cadets who would probably need hand-holding while they were trying to deal with a crisis.

She was surprised to discover that the cadet doctor was Leonard McCoy, who she knew by reputation. He worked at the Academy hospital as well, although usually in general surgery and orthopedics. She'd never worked with him, but she knew he was considered extremely competent. Her friend Diane, who'd worked with him occasionally, told her, "He's a great doctor, and he's hot, Chris, but remember the Seven Dwarves? He's perfect for one of them."

"Doc?" she guessed, wondering if he was very short.

"No," Diane laughed, "he's Grumpy. I've never met someone so consistently in a bad mood."

Dr. Grumpy had lurched into Medical dragging another cadet behind him, who was clearly experiencing problems with his balance and psychomotor coordination. He was wearing a nondescript black shirt, rather than the red cadet uniform. She guessed that he must have vomited on the red shirt and removed it, because his face was alarmingly green and he looked nauseous and pained. He seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place him. Busy with her own last-minute preparations, she could only wonder what had happened to the man to incapacitate him so quickly after arriving on board. McCoy pushed him onto an empty biobed, which was a good thing, because the poor cadet looked about to faint or vomit again. She took a step toward them, wondering if he needed assistance, but he waved her away and quickly administered a sedative. Looking disgusted, he left the cadet on the bed and turned toward her.

"I'm Dr. McCoy. Leonard McCoy. Who's in charge here?"

"Christine Chapel," she said. "Dr. Puri's on Deck Six preparing the Auxiliary Medbay. What about the cadet? Should I—"

"Ignore the idiot," he said with a shake of his head. "He'll be out for a while." He didn't seem inclined to explain anything else, and she was too busy to give him any more of her attention, so she turned back to her inventory.

Not long afterward, she felt the slight shake and rumble in the ship's engines that indicated that they had gone to warp drive. They were on their way. She crowded around the monitor with the other medical personnel as they listened to the announcement given by the young ensign—How old was that boy, anyway, and why didn't someone tell him how to pronounce the name of the planet they were racing toward?—and felt her heartbeat begin to climb. They'd be there in minutes.

McCoy was talking to the woozy cadet, who was now sitting up in bed and looking disoriented and uncomfortable. The cadet squawked suddenly, and she saw that he was staring at his hands, swollen to twice their normal size.

"Nurse Chapel, I need 50 CCs of cortisone!" he yelled.

"Yes, sir!" Scrambling quickly for the medication, she could see, out of the corner of her eye, that the cadet suddenly jumped off the bed, ran to the computer monitor across the room, and began punching at the screen. She came closer, noting that he was sweating profusely and breathing rapidly. His eyes were wild. McCoy was scanning him and trying to calm him down, but the blond man only grabbed his face with both hands and said desperately, "We gotta stop this ship!" Then he raced out into the corridor.

Christine watched, dumbfounded, as McCoy grabbed the loaded hypo from her and raced after him.

A psychotic break, she decided. The poor young man, obviously someone McCoy knew, was having a manic episode, probably brought on by the stress of the emergency.

Then she forgot about him completely in the wake of the attack, which destroyed Auxiliary Medical and killed Dr. Puri and two orderlies instantly. Or at least, that was what she told herself and wanted to believe. The bodies were swept out into the vacuum and the ship automatically sealed itself against the rupture.

The remaining medical staff immediately looked to McCoy, the one remaining doctor on board, for direction. "God dammit," he said, looking furious. "Okay. Chapel and Ortiz, come with me to Deck Seven. We'll triage. The rest of you, prepare to receive incoming casualties."

She saw that he was calm under pressure and quick to diagnose, but unlike Puri—Don't think ill of the dead, Chris!—his first instinct, when approaching a wounded crewmember, was to lay his hands on him. Puri had been a technophile; he always whipped out his scanner, analyzing the readings before touching the affected limb. McCoy tended to keep one hand on the patient while he scanned him with the other. In fact, she saw that he relied on his sense of touch somewhat more than on the scanner readings in some cases, probing gently--or not-so-gently--with his fingers. He never left a patient without looking him straight in the eye and saying something directly to him, even if it was only, "This is just a scratch, Lieutenant, stop making such a fuss and get yourself to Medical on your own." Puri usually gave his orders to his interns or the nurse assisting him, speaking in a medical jargon that was designed to keep the patient out of the loop. She'd often thought that it was her job to reassure the patient, after Puri left, and explain what would be involved in the medical procedures. But McCoy didn't seem to need her for that.

So she took some initiative, taking a minute while he was preparing one of the casualties for transport, to do a preliminary triage of her own. "Three more burn cases, one serious; one closed head injury, and two bone fractures," she reported succinctly.

He looked at her and nodded. "Show me the serious burn case, then the head injury."

They managed to move all the casualties quickly to Medical.  McCoy shot off a series of orders at the assembled nursing staff and then grabbed her sleeve. "You're assisting in the OR," he told her. "Combat surgery. We'll stabilize these two and finish the work later. I've got to deal with those burns and see to the rest of the injuries."

She wasn't sure what she'd done to make him choose her; maybe it was only that she'd been working by his side for an hour now, and he was getting used to her.

 

It was only when they emerged from the OR that they discovered what had happened to the planet below. A small group of elderly Vulcans was herded into Medical, crowding around the injured crewmen lying on every available bed and portable stretcher. The medical personnel moved among them quietly, sensing their shock and horror. The quiet gave the situation a dream-like feeling, and Christine felt a sense of exhaustion sweep over her as she came down from the adrenaline high she'd been on for the past few hours.

How could a whole planet be gone?

McCoy approached two crewmen who were standing awkwardly just inside the Medbay doors, looking just as shocked and uncertain as the refugees. With a start, Christine recognized one as the same seemingly-manic cadet who'd raced off with McCoy in tow, just after the shipwide announcement. He no longer looked wild or delusional; instead, he looked livid with anger. "Jim, look at me," she heard McCoy say firmly, placing one hand on his shoulder and using his other to tilt his chin up so that he could look in his eyes.

She turned to the other crewman, whose expression was equally as dark. "What's your name, Lieutenant?" she said gently. "Are you hurt?" She couldn't see any obvious injuries, but there must be a reason he and the cadet had come to the Medbay.

"Hikaru Sulu. Helmsman. I'm okay, but Captain Spock told us to come here to be checked over," he said shakily. "We space-jumped onto the drill."

Captain Spock? she thought wildly. What happened to Captain Pike? "What drill?" she asked, feeling confused.

"The one from the enemy ship. We disabled it—"

"That's good," she said, feeling that the young man needed reassurance.

"But it didn't matter, the planet's gone. And I fell off the drill without my parachute," he said, a muscle twitching in his jaw, "and Kirk jumped with me—"

"Who is…"

"That cadet," he said, pointing. "Uh…I mean, the first officer." Christine was lost again, but decided not to interrupt the man, who obviously needed to tell his story. She nodded. "He tried to open his parachute, but it couldn't hold our weight. Thank God he could reach his communicator. They beamed us up at the last second."

Christine checked him over for bruising, noting that McCoy was doing the same for—at least she had a name for him now—Jim Kirk. His hand was bleeding, and McCoy was instructing a nurse to wrap it.

She suddenly recalled where she'd seen Kirk before. Gaila had dragged her to a New Year's party; she agreed to go because her boyfriend, Roger, was away at a conference, and she could never say no to Gaila, who was always excited to have an opportunity "to observe Terran holiday mating rituals," as she put it. Christine could hardly connect the charming, flirtatious young cadet from the party with the angry, tight-lipped man in front of her—but it was him, all right. Gaila had told her that he was sweet…

"I have to get back to the Bridge," Sulu was saying urgently to her.

She turned back to face him. "You seem all right to me. I'll call the doctor over."

It had never occurred to her before now how difficult it would be to work on a starship, having to deal with medical emergencies with no explanation or understanding of what had caused them. At the hospital, the few times she'd been involved in a large medical emergency, at least they'd been given fair warning of what to expect: shuttle accident, explosion in the biolabs, viral outbreak. Here, obviously, important things were happening, the command structure of the ship seemed to be changing by the minute, planets were being destroyed, and yet she had no clear picture of what was going on. It was unsettling and frightening, and there was no time to ask questions.

 

Fortunately, as far as they were concerned, there was a lull in the action. McCoy went up to the Bridge, and she hoped he'd be able to explain the situation to her when he returned. But he was in such a foul mood when he came back that she couldn't approach him. He was mumbling to himself, looking so enraged that she stayed away, able to hear only snatches of his tirade: "Damn tyrant…cold-hearted bastard …should've left the pathetic jackass behind…"

No other doctor she'd worked with had been so volatile. Most doctors tended to cultivate an aloofness or emotional insularity that served to protect them from the stresses of their job. Puri's emotional expression seemed to range from professionally intrigued to self-congratulating to disgusted, depending on the situation, but she'd never seem him react on such a personal level. She wasn't sure what to make of it, but medically speaking, McCoy seemed to be fully capable.

He was still rumbling under his breath when the page came for him; Captain Spock wanted him on the Bridge. "I can just imagine," he told the Communications Officer, voice dripping with sarcasm. "Tell him I'll be right there."

"If I'm not back in five minutes," he hissed to Christine on his way out, "send out a search party and tell them to wear their winter jackets."

Bewildered, Christine could only nod.

 

It all made sense in the end, of course. Kirk and Spock managed to rescue the Captain, and McCoy calmed down enough to explain what had happened. Kirk was Acting Captain; Spock was Acting First.

She was desperately tired. Her lower back ached, and the backs of her calves were sore and tight from standing up all day. She'd relieved most of the other nurses and orderlies, assigning them short rests and staggered shifts. But she'd been reluctant to go off duty.  She felt a sense of responsibility to the patients—she seemed to be Acting Head Nurse by default, although Puri hadn't had a chance to appoint her to the position—but more than that, she was afraid that when she finally took a break, everything would catch up with her and overwhelm her.

It was easier to work. She maintained her calm professional demeanor, and that kept her together. So when Kirk finally wandered into Medical, hours after returning from the Romulan ship, McCoy gestured to her to join him. They exchanged a look of mutual exhaustion, but he grinned at her. "Come on, Christine," he said. "I need your help with this one."

Christine. She liked the way he said it, like they were colleagues who trusted each other.

She was detained by one of the two remaining overnight patients, who called her over as she passed. It was Hansen, the crewman with the concussion from Deck Seven, who'd slept through most of the action and wanted an update. It took several minutes to settle him down again, and while she talked to the injured man, she glanced over at McCoy. He was in the middle of a tense exchange with Kirk, who seemed to be trying to walk out of Medbay. She watched McCoy position himself between Kirk and the exit, looking determined. Their voices were becoming louder, and she could hear bits and pieces of their argument.

"There's a limit to how much crap I'm going to take from you, Bones, even if we are friends," Kirk yelled, and she stopped mid-conversation with Hansen to stare in their direction. She heard McCoy say something about having Kirk sedated and strapped to the biobed—Surely he was joking, she thought, it's only a checkup—and Kirk suddenly whirled around, clutching the biobed behind him and breathing heavily.

He was facing her now, and she was startled by the naked emotions evident in his expression: he looked angry enough to punch McCoy, but hurt and vulnerable at the same time. He began to cough uncontrollably, wincing in pain. He bent over the bed, trying to control his breathing and calm himself down. Then he turned back to McCoy. They continued to talk, more quietly, and she turned back to Hansen, who looked as uncomfortable as she felt. There was clearly something more going on between the two men than a simple medical checkup, and they'd witnessed something that was supposed to be private.

Christine waited until Kirk was lying on his side on the bed, apparently cooperatively, before approaching the two of them. Kirk's eyes were closed. She looked at McCoy questioningly, expecting him to be fuming with anger like he'd been when he'd returned from the Bridge, or irritated and grumpy like he'd been earlier, but he was calm and composed. He was looking at Kirk compassionately, not angrily. One hand was on Kirk's shoulder. "We're going to take care of a few things, Jim," he said. "Just relax."

 

Chapter Five: Flashbacks

McCoy was able to discharge the remaining two injured crewmen at the beginning of alpha shift, leaving only Pike and Kirk in his care. McCoy was grateful that for once, Kirk remained remarkably quiet and cooperative – that is, he stayed under sedation as planned - while Pike gradually regained consciousness.

The Captain's first questions were about Nero, Earth, and the Enterprise; only after being reassured that Nero and his ship had been destroyed did he allow McCoy to brief him on his medical condition.

Despite McCoy's hopes, Pike's legs were still not responding to stimulation. Pike remained surprisingly calm as McCoy explained the extent of the nerve damage, possible treatment options, and prognosis. "I've already started you on the best drug therapy available," he told him. "It's very likely that your condition will improve with time."

"But not certain."

"Nerve regeneration is never certain," McCoy admitted. "It depends on a lot of factors, including your immune system, the extent and type of scarring, and your genetic makeup. But no one can say for sure, at this point, how much function you'll eventually recover."

"You know, Doctor, when I went to the Romulan ship, I was pretty sure that I wasn't coming back," Pike said grimly. "And then when they didn't kill me immediately, I still felt pretty hopeless, because it was clear to me that the captain was a lunatic. He was raving about how his planet had been destroyed, and he wouldn't listen to me. There was just no reasoning with him. He only wanted the revenge that he said he'd waited twenty-five years for. I knew he'd never let me go, and it was just a matter of how much I'd suffer before he killed me. Then he shoved that damn slug down my throat, and I choked and gagged on it, and hoped to God that it would kill me quickly."

McCoy nodded, repressing a shudder. He'd seen the damage to Pike's trachea and digestive system.

"But I lived through that somehow, and then he started asking me questions about Starfleet's border defenses and security codes. And I answered them all, every one. Do you understand what that means? I knew that what I was saying was stripping Earth's defenses away. There would be no stopping that monster, and it would be my fault. By that point, I was hoping pretty fiercely that I'd die sooner rather than later."

"Centaurian slugs are neural parasites. They release a toxin that acts like a truth serum. You couldn't have resisted it, Captain."

"Oh, I was pretty out of it, I'll admit. Kirk's showing up to rescue me at that point was not exactly part of my plan."

McCoy cocked an eyebrow. "What was your plan?"

"Well, by then it had become pretty simple. Since I couldn't move and couldn't stop answering the questions, I was going to tell Nero to go fuck himself and then bite my tongue off," he said matter-of-factly.

"Good God!" McCoy was horrified.

"Well, I'm grateful it didn't come to that."

"There's every reason to believe that the paraplegia won't be permanent, sir," McCoy said, not knowing what else to say. "I know it's a lot to accept now but—"

"Look, Doctor," Pike interrupted, "I know what you're thinking, but you can save your breath. I've spent the last day or so believing I was going to die and hoping that I would. I was sure that I'd singlehandedly managed to unlock Earth's defenses to a genocidal maniac. Now you tell me that Nero's dead, Earth is fine, and I might retain some paralysis in my legs? Maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow, but right now, all I can feel is relief."

"I'm glad to hear that you have your priorities straight, Captain," McCoy said. "You're lucky to be alive, and you're back with your crew. Give your nervous system some time to heal. The best thing for you now is rest—"

"The best thing for me now is to find out about my ship. Send Acting Captain Spock to me."

Acting Captain Spock. Shit. McCoy recalled that Pike had no idea what had happened on the ship in his absence.

"There's something else I have to tell you, sir," McCoy said hesitantly. He didn't particularly relish being the one to let him know of the Vulcan catastrophe, but he felt strongly that Spock should not be the one to deliver the news. There was little he could do for Spock in the wake of the tragedy, but at least he could ensure that no one on board was ignorant of his loss.

"It must be bad, because you didn't look this uncomfortable when you were telling me about my medical condition."

McCoy sighed. "There's no easy way to say this, and I really don't know all the facts. But Vulcan… The planet. It's gone."

"Gone?" Pike repeated sharply. "What the hell does that mean, gone?"

"It…imploded somehow. I don't know. But we only managed to rescue a handful of refugees, mostly elders. Everyone else is dead. Spock's father is aboard, but his mother was…lost."

The act of saying the words suddenly seemed to drive home the awful fact. He'd been so busy since the first attack that he hadn't really had time to absorb the information himself. An entire planet, billions of souls. What a waste and a crime. It was so horrendous, so enormous, that he could barely believe it was true.

Pike's face was stricken. "Send Spock to me," he said again.

 

When Spock arrived, McCoy watched him from his office window as he paused for a moment at the entrance to the Medbay, noting Kirk’s sleeping form on his right, and Pike’s bed at the furthest corner of the room. McCoy was unsurprised when Spock turned toward his office rather than going directly to Pike. He would want a medical update first, of course.

Spock seemed to be perfectly in command of himself. “Doctor, what is the Captain’s condition?” he asked without preamble.

McCoy explained about Pike’s surgery and the loss of nerve function. “He’s been asking for you,” he said. “I didn’t tell him much, besides the loss of…uh, the planet.” He watched Spock carefully as he said this, wondering how he was dealing with the shock of the disaster. At the moment, Spock seemed firmly in control of his reactions, although after seeing the way Jim had goaded him into violence, he was becoming more skeptical of the façade. The ferocity of Spock’s response had given him a healthy appreciation for whatever defense mechanisms Spock was managing to keep in place. If he were still upright and functioning, McCoy thought that was as good as anyone could expect. Let him use his work as a distraction, he thought.

“And how is Jim?” Spock asked, seeming genuinely concerned. McCoy raised an eyebrow at that, surprised to hear him use Jim’s first name. Probably can't bring himself to call him Acting Captain Kirk, he thought. Maybe he felt guilty for beating Jim up and choking him, but that seemed unlikely, since McCoy had to admit that Jim had asked for it, and had provoked him unmercifully.

In fact, from what he had seen, the two men seemed to share a mutual antipathy. After all that had transpired between them at the Academy hearing and on the Bridge, McCoy doubted that they'd ever be able to work together comfortably.

On the other hand, he was sure that he had seen a shared glance of relief that had passed between the two of them when they arrived together on the transporter pad. He didn’t know what had transpired between them on the Romulan ship, but maybe Jim hadn’t completely screwed that up. After all, he had rescued Captain Pike.

 “He’ll be fine. I’ve kept him overnight to recuperate. He has a few broken bones, some lacerations, a concussion… Mostly, thought, he’s just exhausted and bruised. Nothing to worry about.”

“I am relieved to hear it, Doctor. Thank you. I will see Captain Pike now, if you believe that he is strong enough for conversation.”

“Well, he is… But, Spock.” He hesitated, wondering whether he could protect Jim from the brunt of Pike’s almost-certain fury. But there was nothing he could do or say. Jim would have to deal with the consequences of his actions sooner or later. "Never mind. Just keep it short; he needs to rest."

 

Jim stretched, turned on his right side, and looked around cautiously. He must have been sleeping for hours, because the lights were on again, and the room was filled with a bustling energy as nurses and orderlies moved about. In the corner, he caught a glimpse of Captain Pike lying on his back. Spock was standing at the foot of the bed, hands clasped behind his back, speaking quietly with him.

His back ached, and his head throbbed dully. He felt stiff and sore, but was not really in any acute pain anymore. But he remained unmoving and quiet, not wanting to draw attention to himself.

He hadn't had a moment until now to lie quietly and think. Everything had been so crazy, one crisis after another, that he hadn't really processed any of it. But now, in his drowsy, relaxed state, random images and voices from the past two days began to stream through his mind. He stirred restlessly, trying to clear his head. One scene replayed itself vividly enough to start his heart racing as the feeling of terror descended.

He was hanging off the ledge in mid-air, holding on desperately by his fingertips.  Cold wind whipped about his ears, and his legs flailed this way and that. Desperately, he tried to raise himself up. The Romulan officer, standing above him, looked him in the eye and grinned. He slowly raised his boot in the air, wanting Jim to know that he was about to break his hand and send him screaming into the abyss…

The scene in his mind changed abruptly to one he hadn’t thought about for years, not when he was sober, anyway.

His fingernails scratched in the dirt, clawing at nothing, and he howled in terror, feeling himself slipping backward… A tremendous crash echoed from the quarry below. There goes the car, he thought with a laugh. Despite his immediate predicament, a thrill of elation ran through him.

Suddenly a steely glove was clamped on his arm, pulling him up. Jim was simultaneously grateful for the support and horrified by the vision of the black-uniformed masked cop kneeling before him. Frank would kill him this time for sure. With the policeman’s help, Jim finally managed to scramble his upper body onto the ledge, where the hot, dusty wind whipped through his hair. He coughed and gasped for air, heart racing.

 “What did he do this time, Officer?” Frank asked politely, as Jim squirmed. Frank didn’t give him a chance to move away, though, grabbing him in a tight hug that must have been calculated to make him look like a properly-concerned father to the unsuspecting cop. But from where he was standing the “embrace” sure felt menacing, hinting of bad things to come. Frank’s huge, meaty hand was wrapped around his wiry bicep, tightening on it even as his stepfather remained outwardly calm, listening to the cop’s description of the wreck of his prized Corvette.

Frank pushed Jim inside, saying sternly, “Wait for me inside. I’ll talk to you in a minute,” while he continued the discussion with the policeman. Obviously wanted Dumbo Cop to think that they were going to have a nice little stepfather-to-son chat about responsibility and respecting others’ property. Didn’t he smell the alcohol on his breath?

Briefly, Jim considered making a run for it—where would he go?—but Frank was back so quickly that he gave up and concentrated on the situation at hand. “Little thief, little piece of scum,” Frank began quietly, “That car was priceless, a real antique, and you knew how much it meant to me. I’m gonna make you pay…”

"You already did," he spat. "Did you think I'd forget? Did you think you could get away with it?"

"No one will believe you," Frank told him, and Jim knew it was true. "You're a troublemaker and a liar, and your word doesn't mean shit."

"No!" he roared, and tried to push past him, but Frank was so much bigger than he was that it was like trying to push through a wall. He grabbed Jim and held him steady with one hand, and with the other, slowly removed his old-fashioned leather belt.

The only thing that mattered, the only thing he could focus on, was not crying out. It drove Frank to the brink, every time, but he’d never give him the satisfaction of seeing him cry or plead for him to stop. “That hurt, you little piece of shit?” he yelled in his ear, punctuating each searing blow with a taunt. “Not yet? What about that one, huh? Little runt, you don’t even look thirteen…”

He couldn't do much besides try to protect himself, curling inward with his arms wrapped around his stomach. Tears blurred his vision, and to keep himself from crying, he began yelling out every expletive he could think of. "Fucking asshole! Goddam cocksucker! Chickenshit dirtbag!"

"Shut up!" Frank shouted. Jim's jaw seemed to explode and he was sure that the pieces of glass rolling around in his mouth were bits of his teeth. His head was pounding, his mouth leaking blood and drool. There was a sharp pain in his abdomen, and he felt dizzy and nauseous. He couldn’t talk anymore, and he had run out of curses anyway.

So he spat at him. Sprayed him with blood and saliva, and then moaned at the pain in his jaw.

Looking disgusted, Frank grabbed him by the hair, jerked his head back, and screamed in his ear, “And your mama’s not coming back this time to coddle you, kid! She doesn’t care! She never wanted you, and you ruined what we had, drove her away…” Jim kicked out blindly, enraged and desperate, then tried to cover his face as Frank’s arm drew back yet again.

Neither of them heard the knock on the door until it became an insistent pounding. The cop had forgotten to deliver the citation for Jim’s court appearance, and by the time he returned, the sounds of their raised voices and the blows could be heard clearly on the porch through the open window. When Frank finally opened the door, the cop was waiting for him with his weapon drawn while Jim lay doubled up on the floor, coughing and wheezing.

 

Why had he thought of that now? It was ancient history, a buried memory that resurfaced only in his weaker moments.

Maybe it was just the events of the day, hanging onto that ledge in the sky above Vulcan, that brought up echoes of the earlier experience.

He hated knowing that McCoy had read his psych file. He didn’t have access to it himself, but he could guess what was written there, from the way he kept getting repeated calls for interviews with Starfleet Psych, which he ignored. What was there to say? He didn’t want anyone to think of him with pity, never again wanted to be seen as helpless and afraid, and dammit, he was not a child anymore.

Yet he was honest enough to admit that McCoy was right. He’d overreacted, both on the Bridge with the security guard - if there was something that he despised, it was being manhandled by dumb gorillas like Frank who used their size to try to intimidate him - and later, in his refusal to let McCoy look him over. He should never have made an issue of it. He knew that, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.

He had meant to cooperate with the doctor. Really.  He had even left the Bridge with that intention uppermost in his mind. But when the doors of the lift closed behind him, he had found it easier to head toward the deserted lounge and collapse on a couch in a corner. His head had been spinning and his stomach felt like he were still in free fall...

Free fall. Oh, God. He caught his breath in sudden recollection. That was what he’d been dreaming about earlier that night, just before McCoy had come to check on him. In his dream, he’d been falling without his chute, faster and faster and faster, screaming in terror to the Enterprise, to the Bridge, to anyone who would listen…”Beam us up! Beam us up! Beam us up! Do it now! Now now now NOW!”  He didn’t even know if they could hear him, but yelling for help had been the one and only thing he could do. The fear and utter panic had replicated themselves perfectly in the nightmare. Even now, just thinking of it, he felt a cold sweat break out over his skin. He stomach tightened with remembered vertigo.

Jim had never been so terrified in his life as during those few minutes. Sure, he’d been in life-threatening situations before, but usually he was so occupied with survival that he didn’t have time to reflect on the danger. But falling from so high, for so long… There was nothing to do but plead for rescue as he plummeted down, watching as certain death zoomed closer and closer. He had never felt so powerless and vulnerable. Not even when Frank was beating him to a pulp…

Was that the connection? Why was his mind teasing him, sending these memories back to taunt him?

 

“Kirk did what?!” The sound of Captain Pike barking his name jerked him out of his unpleasant memories into an unpleasant reality. His voice was raised and getting louder. “How could you possibly have allowed him to…”

Jim couldn’t hear what Spock was murmuring quietly in response. Inwardly, he cringed. He had a pretty good idea of what was causing Pike’s apoplectic reaction. James Kirk, Acting Captain…Mutiny and insubordination…

Again, he heard Pike’s raised voice, demanding sharply, “What in God’s name made you declare yourself unfit for command? I never meant to leave Kirk in charge of my ship! He’s just a cadet, and a suspended one at that, even if he did know a thing or two about that Romulan attack…”

Again, Spock replied in a low, measured tone, but Pike interrupted, clearly agitated, “Where is he? I want to talk to him!”

Shit. From the way things sounded, Spock was reporting yesterday’s events in detail, and not necessarily presenting Jim’s actions in the most favorable light. There went his lovely daydreams of continuing as Hero-Slash-Captain; clearly, he was about to return to his previous status as Cadet-In-Disgrace. He wondered glumly what the brig was like on this ship.

And now Pike wanted to talk with him. He needed to be alert and in control for this conversation. He hoped that saving Pike’s life might count for something.

Jim considered the option of continuing to pretend to be asleep, delaying the inevitable, as opposed to the merits of beating a strategic retreat. In the end, pragmatic considerations won out. He needed a bathroom anyway, and now was as good a time as any.

He slipped off the bed and moved as quietly and unobtrusively as possible toward the door across the room, breathing a sigh of relief as it hissed closed behind him.

 

Chapter Six: Changed Circumstances

Spock exited Medbay and hesitated. He was not expected on the Bridge again until beta shift, and his body ached for rest. He had been on duty for more than fifty hours, and he had been aware for some time that he was experiencing small lapses in concentration that indicated mental exhaustion. He was assured now that Captain Pike was lucid and recuperating, and there was no longer any reason to delay meditation and sleep. Still, he was reluctant to go to his assigned quarters.

He had arranged for private sleeping quarters for the Vulcan elders, including his father. The privacy was less a luxury than a mental necessity in the wake of the collective trauma. Logistically, this involved moving a number of cadets from their currently assigned quarters into already-crowded rooms of three and four crewmen together, but no one had objected. Some had even expressed relief, which surprised him until he recalled that humans preferred  to come together for comfort in times of crisis. This was true of Nyota as well. He could see that she wanted to be near him, to touch and caress him, out of her own desire for closeness as well as an expression of concern for him.

He remembered how she had followed him wordlessly into the transporter room before they beamed over to Nero's ship. She had reached for him, and although he was aware that a public display of affection was inappropriate, he hadn't cared. It went without saying, of course, that a formal leave-taking held precedence over propriety in such circumstances; but there was nothing formal about their farewell.

She had caressed his face, and he closed his eyes and breathed in her fragrance, holding her closely. Her physical fragility, coupled with the fierce determination in her eyes that he come back to her, made such a poignant contrast that he was overwhelmed with the sensation. It was an extraordinary experience of heightened awareness, and the impression of her embrace lingered with him for several moments.

He realized that his indecision about going back to his quarters was not trivial, nor was it related to his exhaustion. He needed to choose which way to go, and each choice held repercussions. As a Vulcan, in the wake of the trauma of the genocide, he needed, above all else, a measure of acceptance and balance. Only solitary meditation, alone in his quarters, would help him bridge the chasm that separated him from self-control and composure.

Yet it seemed that he had never felt less wholly Vulcan. Like his human colleagues, he longed for physical connection. He realized that his need for tactile contact—the touch of cool, smooth fingers gently caressing his cheek—was overpowering.

He continued walking slowly toward his quarters, yet remained undecided. He could seek out Nyota; she would undoubtedly welcome his presence, wanting both to comfort him and be comforted in her own grief. He knew that she had lost close friends, including her roommate, on the other ships.

But she was off duty now, and he wasn't sure where she would be. Locating her would be easy enough—he could page her or simply ask the computer for her whereabouts—but that seemed like too much effort. It was also likely that she would not be alone. Like the other cadets, she was bunking in a room occupied by two other women, and if she was there, she was probably not alone. There were any number of other places she might have gone on the ship, looking for solace and company while he was occupied.

Spock walked more quickly now, having reached his decision. A period of meditation and rest would be the most logical alternative. He could arrange to meet Nyota later, if he still felt the need for contact.

But she was waiting for him, standing across from his door, leaning against the wall.

As she heard him approach she straightened and smiled tentatively. "I've been waiting for you," she said. "I know you went off duty."

"You are uncommonly patient," he said. He had been in Medical for the past forty-three minutes.

She moved toward him until she was standing very close, yet not touching. He could smell her perfume. "Can I come in?" she asked softly. "Do you want me?"

He was suddenly unable to recall the reasons why meditation was the preferable alternative.

He keyed his door open and inclined his head. "Please," he whispered, and followed her inside.

 

Buried in reports in his office, McCoy hadn't noticed Spock leave. Glancing up, he could see Pike through his office window, stony-faced, lips tightly pressed together. He looked furious. Considering the equanimity with which the man had received the news of his paralysis, McCoy doubted whether his black mood was related to his personal condition. He thought it much more likely that his apparent rage stemmed from one of two things: his crippled ship or its rebellious commander.

He noticed that Kirk’s bed was empty, and cursed. Jim hadn't been released, but maybe he'd decided to leave on his own initiative. Dammit, the kid should have more responsibility than that.

"Computer, locate Acting Captain Kirk," he instructed. The answer made him laugh. Kirk hadn't gone far. He was in the bathroom, a reasonable place to be after sleeping through the night. McCoy smiled to himself, feeling a little more generous towards his friend. At least he was feeling well enough to get up and move around on his own. He’d probably be whining to be released from Med within the next five minutes.

He left his office and moved toward Kirk’s bed, intending to wait for him within pouncing distance – not taking any chances of him sneaking off without a word. But he heard his name being called from the back of the room, and looked up. Pike was beckoning to him.

“What do you need, Captain?” he said, striding toward him.

Up close, Pike seemed to be maintaining tight control on an underlying anger, but his voice was deceptively light. “Doctor, I understand from Spock that your young friend Kirk made quite a nuisance of himself yesterday.”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” McCoy replied stiffly, although he had a pretty good idea, actually. “Look, Captain, I take full responsibility for bringing him on board the ship. I’d just given him a vaccination”--he decided not to bring up why he’d done it, unless Pike pressed him on the issue--“and he was in the throes of a severe allergic reaction. It was medically inadvisable for him to be without supervision, and everybody was about to leave, including me. I couldn’t just leave him—“

“—out of the action,” Pike finished for him. “You couldn't leave him behind, when all the other cadets were pressed into urgent service. He couldn’t stand the fact that all his fellow cadets were going onto active duty, and he had to stay behind disgraced, with nothing to do. That’s clear enough to me, no matter how you managed it.”

"Sir, I'm not disagreeing with you. But the situation—"

Pike shook his head, gesturing to him to be quiet. “I can’t condone your actions, McCoy. You’re a Starfleet officer, and you’re subject to the same rules and regulations as everybody else.” McCoy nodded glumly, bracing himself for a serious reprimand.

Pike's next words surprised him. “But…I’ve seen your record, Doctor. I asked around about you before requesting you for the Enterprise. You’re a maverick. You didn’t go through Starfleet Medical for your degree – you came to the Fleet after you’d already established yourself professionally, for personal reasons…”

McCoy cut in quickly, “I’m a doctor, first and foremost…”

“I can appreciate that. So I want to hear your explanation for your actions, before I make my decision.” He looked at McCoy coolly.

McCoy took a deep breath. “Look, Captain Pike. Jim and I have been friends since his first day in Starfleet. I know that he can be a little…uh…noncompliant with regulations at times,” he said. That’s putting it mildly. “But I’ve never met anyone as determined as he is to achieve command. He’s driven.”

“Lots of people have ambition. They don’t necessarily make good captains.”

“He’s a natural leader…”

“That’s for me to judge, not you.”

“You asked my opinion, sir, and I’m giving it to you. I’m not saying he’s a perfect student in a classroom situation. But in the field”--or in a fight, he thought--“he’s like quicksilver. He’s brilliant and unpredictable.”

“He’s also dangerous, for all the reasons you just mentioned. Spock told me that he was completely insubordinate on the Bridge, wouldn’t accept his orders, and tried to knock down a couple of security officers to prove his point.”

 “I won't argue with that. But he was right in the end. Spock was wrong. Jim had the right instincts, sir, even if he couldn’t persuade Spock at the time. He’s the one you’d want by your side in a crisis. That’s my professional and personal opinion, Captain.”

"Are you saying that the ends justify the means?"

"Maybe they do, in this case," he said stubbornly. "It's thanks to Jim that we have a planet to go home to."

Pike nodded. "I know, believe me," he said. "I’m well aware of the fact that it was Kirk’s decision to go after Nero that saved the planet. And he saved my life, no question about that. I do look at results, not just at the way they came about. So I’m letting you off the rap for smuggling him aboard."

Inwardly, McCoy breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Captain.”

“And now you’re CMO.”

“There isn't any other doctor on board, so that leaves me."

“You’re qualified and competent."

“Thank you, sir.”

"And you have a background in psychology."

McCoy could see that Pike was leading up to something. He wondered whether he wanted to talk in more depth about his experiences on the Romulan ship, or whether his calm acceptance of his injuries had begun to crack. If he needed someone to confide in, McCoy was the obvious choice.  

“McCoy, I need your help. Given my current condition… Well, I can advise, but I can’t command at the moment. I’m going to need to make some decisions."

McCoy frowned. "I don't follow you."

"Have a seat. I’d like to be able to have this conversation eye to eye. At my eye level, that is,” Pike added, rolling his eyes. McCoy allowed himself a small smile and sat down obediently. Black humor was a good coping strategy.

 “The Romulans destroyed seven starships that were part of the rescue mission,” Pike said, his voice tight. He must have lost dozens of personal friends in that carnage, McCoy thought sympathetically. “That’s thousands of men and women of Starfleet. Some of our best officers and crew—and most of the senior cadet class, who were assigned to assist. Only about a quarter of the cadets were on the Enterprise, yourself and Kirk included. You’re the lucky ones,” he added unnecessarily.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” McCoy broke in. “I'm going to offer confidential counseling to any Enterprise crew member who requests it. We have people on board whose roommates were killed, I know for a fact. There hasn’t been time yet to allow them to mourn…”

“That’s a step in the right direction. I understand that it will take us about four weeks to return to dock, without the warp drive. I wouldn’t be surprised if it took even longer. The hull is cracked, and we're lucky it wasn't breached. As it is, we'll need to conduct extensive repairs before we can even get underway. We’re also carrying a number of Vulcan survivors, and we may need to divert to a temporary holding location for them.”

“I’m not sure how I can—“

Pike cut him off, waving a hand impatiently. “That’s not why I need your advice. Look, what I'm going to say stays between you and me, Doctor. I’ll be frank with you. I never intended Jim Kirk to be put in the position of Acting Captain. I left Spock in command, but the truth is, he's not really ready to captain this ship. He's a little too rigid and rational, too logical, in his assessment of command dilemmas. He’s a great officer, but he’s first and foremost a scientist. I thought…In the heat of the moment, just before I left, I hoped that Kirk could provide him with some balance, that he'd make him consider all the options. So I made him temporary First Officer." He sighed. "It was an instinctual call, and I don't even want to think about the report I'm going to have to file where I try to explain it to Starfleet Command."

"Don’t blame yourself, Captain," McCoy laughed. "Jim has that effect on people."

Pike grimaced. “The Kobayashi Maru was a perfect example. Kirk’s great strength is his ability to think outside the box, to be unpredictable, to do the unexpected. The problem is, he doesn't have a concept of limits. I still don’t know how the hell he hacked his way into that program, and if these were ordinary times, he'd probably find himself kicked out of the command program. As a First Officer, his role was supposed to be to provide a sounding board for Spock, to be a sort of gadfly.” He smiled. “You may have noticed, Kirk tends to be a bit relentless.”

McCoy snorted. “That’s putting it mildly.”

“It’s a good quality in a commander. Kirk has potential. But he’s also impulsive, reckless, and immature, and he’s got some serious personal issues which are standing in his way. He rebels against authority and he’s never examined his past.”

“Captain,” McCoy said hesitantly, “How much do you know of his background?”

Pike cocked an eyebrow at him. “More than you do, probably." McCoy at him, surprised. “I was stationed at Riverside Shipyards for about seven years, overseeing the building of the Enterprise. That’s Kirk’s hometown. I knew his stepfather, Frank Boyle, pretty well.”

A dozen questions tumbled through his mind as Pike continued. “Frank was the chief of security on the docks, and we worked together pretty closely for a while. I knew that he was married to Winona Kirk, although by that time, she wasn’t around much anymore. They were separated.” Pike looked at him curiously. “Did Kirk ever mention his stepfather to you?”

“Yeah, a few times,” McCoy said, looking at him steadily. “Jim hated him.”

Pike nodded, unsurprised. “Frank was a competent manager and he ran his unit well, very disciplined and reliable. But he could also be a cold-hearted bastard, and he’d had some problems with alcohol and violence in the past.”

“He was a Starfleet officer?” McCoy asked, startled.

“No. He began coming up through the ranks in Starfleet, but was discharged about two years before I came to Riverside. He had a successful security firm of his own by then, and they got the contract for the docks.”

“Discharged? Why?"

“I made inquiries about him. I’m a thorough guy, Doctor. I like to find out what I can about the people I work with. He got a dishonorable discharge following an arrest and incarceration for domestic violence.” McCoy nodded. Serves the bastard right, he nearly killed his stepson.

 “I knew Winona from the time I was writing my dissertation,” Pike continued quietly. “I’d interviewed her a few times, and we stayed in contact for a while. I put two and two together. Winona was off-planet, and her older son George had run off by then. I knew the victim was Jim, the younger boy.”

“Did you know him then?” he asked, burning with curiosity.

“No, no. I never met him until I walked into a bar in Riverside one night, just before I was scheduled to leave for my teaching post at the Academy. I found him at the bottom of a pile of cadets. They told me afterward that Kirk had been pestering a female cadet. He was a townie, and they were a little full of themselves. ..They wanted to put him in his place, and they smashed him up pretty good.  

 “I sat with him afterwards, tried to get a feel for him. He was rude, cynical, angry. He couldn’t understand what I wanted from him, kept trying to push me away…but I’m a very good judge of character, McCoy. Under all the resentment, he was listening. He was smart. He wanted something more out of his life. I threw out a challenge to him… Well, the upshot was that the next morning, he decided to enlist.”

So that’s why his face looked so beat up when I met him on the transport, McCoy thought. He told me that he’d crashed his motorbike! But he was wary, uncertain where Pike was leading. “Sir, why are you telling me this now?”

“I'm in a bind. The Enterprise is without a captain. And Spock…” He looked away, fixing his gaze on a spot on the opposite wall. “He told me that he considers himself ‘emotionally compromised,’ unfit for command. I won’t argue with him. God knows how he can even function, after what happened on Vulcan…He’ll continue as science officer, or even as first officer, but he can’t act as Captain."

Pike paused. McCoy looked back toward Kirk’s bed, which was still empty. The bathroom door was closed, the signal light above it blinking red--occupied. What the hell’s he still doing in the head? Hiding?

His attention was drawn back to Pike when he continued, “You probably don't know this, but Kirk’s fitness for command has been in question for the past year. Have you read his psych eval?”

McCoy nodded. “I did, yesterday.”

“Good. Listen carefully, Doctor. I need you to observe and monitor his behavior for me. I need you to be my eyes and ears while I'm stuck here in this damn bed. I’m leaving him in the position of Acting Captain.” McCoy raised his eyebrows at this surprising conclusion. “But I need an honest report about his command abilities from someone close to him, and you’ve got the professional background to do it. I know that you’re friends, so I’m asking, Doctor, can you do this?”

Shit. Am I his doctor, or his friend?

Can I be both?

If the "shock therapy" he had in mind for Jim didn’t work, could he report that to Pike, even if it meant the end of his friendship?

“I’m not sure, Captain,” he said honestly. “I understand what you’re asking, and believe me, as CMO, Jim’s emotional welfare is a top priority.  If I think he’s not fit for command, it’s my job to tell him so, whether or not you’ve asked me to.” He paused, unsure how to explain the unorthodox ‘treatment protocol’ he’d already started with Jim. “I’ve already…uh…taken steps in this direction.”

“Good enough. I’ll accept that. Stick as close to him as you can, and see how he rises to the challenge. I’ll expect daily written reports.” McCoy groaned inwardly. He was hopelessly behind on his paperwork already.

“He’s been given a chance he was never meant to have, McCoy. Stress brings out the worst in some people, and the best in others. For his sake, I sincerely hope he’s part of the latter group.”

Pike closed his eyes briefly. He was tired, McCoy thought, and emotionally drained. He’d barely had hours to adjust to the idea of being a paraplegic. “Sir…You should get some rest now.”

“I will, but first…Send Kirk to me now.”

 

Chapter Seven: Compromising Positions

Idiot, Jim thought.

In his impulsive rush to the bathroom, he'd been thinking mostly about relieving his bladder and taking himself out of Pike's line of vision. He'd thrown off the light sheet he'd been covered with, and slunk as unobtrusively as possible across the room, locking the bathroom door behind him. It wasn't until he'd washed and was about to exit that he stopped to consider where his clothes might be, and how he could get to them without drawing too much attention to himself.

In ordinary circumstances, he wasn't overly burdened by modesty, but the last thing he wanted was for Pike notice him and call him over while he was clad only in his underwear. He had a feeling that the conversation was going to be uncomfortable enough, as it was.

He leaned back against the sink, considering. He vaguely remembered changing from his cadet uniform when he first came on board the ship, dragged by McCoy into an unoccupied storage room. At that point, his higher mental faculties were barely functioning, and whatever brainpower he had was mostly engaged in trying to stay upright and see straight without vomiting. McCoy had whipped out a pair of black pants and a matching shirt from his own personal baggage, and efficiently helped Jim into them, cursing him out the whole time. “Jackass…Don’t have time for this kind of distraction…Don’t fall down, you pigheaded fool! Put your arm through here and stop moaning…”

Jim had no idea what McCoy had done with that cadet uniform, and even if he knew, he wasn’t particularly interested in finding it. He didn't relish appearing before Pike in his rumpled reds, underscoring the lowly rank he should have been holding. He had a vague hope that what was left of his borrowed clothes, except for the torn shirt, might still be near the bed where he’d removed them the day before. On the other hand, McCoy might well have decided to take the clothes away, in an effort to keep him in Medbay until he was properly released. If the clothes weren’t there, he’d have to consider his next move.

Time to do something, one way or the other. “Open,” he called at the door, and the doors hissed apart obligingly.

To his surprise, he found himself face to face with Uhura, who was standing next to his biobed, directly across from him.

Uhura looked distinctly unenthusiastic at finding him—shit, again—dressed only in his briefs in front of her. Jim groaned inwardly. Her low opinion of him was not likely to improve with the conversation they were about to have.

Still, he needed a hand, and she was available. He wondered if she could be persuaded to find some medical scrubs for him, if his clothes weren't there. Of course, she’d probably want to know why he didn’t just come out himself and get his own clothes, which was not something that he wanted to explain.

So he smiled at her with charm and nonchalance—or at least, he hoped that was what he was conveying. He took a step toward her, stopping just before the door frame, still inside the bathroom. “Uhura! Just the person I wanted to see!”

Judging from the look on her face, she didn’t reciprocate the sentiment. In fact, she was looking him up and down with a frown.

“Kirk! I mean, Captain…” she corrected herself, somewhat reluctantly, and Jim nodded in approval. Until Pike told him otherwise, he was still technically Acting Captain. "I didn't know you were awake. I mean, Spock said that you were still here. Unconscious,” she said pointedly.

"I woke up," he said, feeling absurdly that he should apologize. She had obviously expected to look in on him while he slept. "Uh…do you need something, Uhura?"

"I was wondering how you were," she said simply.

"You came to visit me?" He was touched. He knew that she had never liked him or his cocky attitude, and had never bothered to get to know him or shown the slightest interest in doing so.

"Well, you looked pretty beat up when you left the Bridge."

They looked at each other awkwardly.

“Are you okay?" she asked. "You look a little pale."

He flushed. "I'm fine. Look, Uhura, do you think you could—"

“Wow, look at your neck,” she said, taking a step closer. “It’s all black and blue. And you sound terrible."

“Comes from being choked,” he said. "More than once," he added, so she wouldn't think he was blaming Spock for all the damage.

“Your hand is wrapped."

“I have a metacarpal fracture."

“And your chest is all bruised.”

“I realize that." He was becoming a little embarrassed under her direct scrutiny. Did he really look that awful?

“Is there something wrong with your back?”

“Uh, what makes you think that?” Very smooth, Jim.

“What are all those bandages for?”

“It’s the latest style, Uhura. What do you think they’re for?” he said in exasperation. "Look, you probably think that I make a habit of talking to people half naked, but really, I was about to get dressed. Do you see my clothes anywhere?" She smiled at his discomfiture, but looked around helpfully. He was relieved when she quickly located his clothes, neatly folded on a shelf below the biobed.

“Why don’t you come get them yourself? Are you hiding in there?”

“Why would I hide?” he asked innocently, quickly pulling on the cleaned pants and socks. The ruined shirt was gone, but no matter. Feeling more confident, he finally exited the lavatory, glancing sideways toward Pike’s bed, where McCoy was now involved in a low-voiced discussion with Pike. Good.

“Thanks, Uhura. It was nice of you to come down. I'm sure you're very busy…"

"I'm off duty. The engineers are working around the clock, though. We're using the auxiliary bridge so they can repair the cracked hull."

He nodded. She was looking at him strangely, as if she wanted to ask him something. He waited, but she didn't say anything.

"Where's Gaila?" he said finally, feeling that someone had to break the awkward silence. "You two rooming together here, too?” he asked with a grin.

Her face suddenly turned stony and her mouth tightened. “Kirk…" she said hesitantly, "Gaila was on the Farragut."

"She was on the…" he repeated dumbly. He shook his head. "No. No. Are you sure? Maybe she—"

"I'm sure. The ship was destroyed by the Romulans.”


Nyota watched the smile on Kirk's face crumble. He looked shocked. It was an honest, open expression of pain that hurt for her to look at. It was such a contrast to his usual confident façade that she was speechless.

She had never given Kirk credit for much depth of feeling. He always seemed so smug and unflappable; even when she brushed him off, time and time again, it didn't seem to register.

From all she had seen of Kirk’s behavior over the years, and from what she had heard of his reputation, he wasn’t emotionally involved with any of the women he dated, including Gaila. He was a fun time, a romp, a wild ride…but not a relationship per se. For the most part, when she thought of him, which didn’t happen that often, she saw him as irritating, arrogant, and superficial. That kind of man didn’t interest her at all.

Insensitive jerk, she'd decided. Shallow as a frying pan and not worth the energy.

Their first meeting had been pretty indicative of everything that came later. Kirk was an irrepressible flirt who wouldn’t take no for an answer. And yet, even then, she had recognized his intelligence and intensity. There had been a spark of sorts between them, even as she rebuffed him. It intrigued her, but she'd had no interest in a one-night fling with a townie-going-nowhere.

She had been appalled at the casual way he had goaded the huge cadet who had come to her “defense.” It struck her at the time that Kirk had sought the fight almost intentionally, as if he were looking for an opportunity to prove his mettle.

Later, she wondered if there hadn't been something darker in his actions, a sort of self-destructive, punishing edge. It was as if he didn't care what happened to him as long as he could strike back.


"I'm so sorry."

"It is not your fault."

"Kirk was wrong to say those things to you," she told Spock. "I've known him for years, and I've seen him do it before. He was just trying to provoke you, for his own reasons. He doesn't know you at all, and what he said doesn't mean anything.”

"He is a singularly determined man. And he was proven correct in the end."

"No, Spock. He had no right to say anything about your mother. I don't care what crazy plan he had in mind, he should have found another way!"

She was being petty and vindictive, she knew. Yet instinctively she could feel that it was easier to feel angry and vengeful than emotionally devastated. It seemed to ease the grief. She knew that she was being irrational, trying to blame all of Spock's hurt on the little part that Kirk had caused. But Kirk had used Spock's tragedy to cause him pain on a personal level, and that was unforgivable, she felt.

"There was no time, Nyota."

His calm irritated her. "That's an explanation, not an excuse. I know that he hurt you. Why should you defend him?"

"You are choosing to focus on those aspects of his character which suit your view of him as arrogant and self-centered."

"Because that's what he is. Usually. In my experience."

Spock was quiet for a moment, closing his eyes. She ached to see him so tired, so vulnerable, and yet she didn't want to leave him alone. At length he looked at her again, raising his hand to caress her hair. "I cannot agree. There is more to him than that, and you are doing him a disservice."

"How can you be so forgiving?"

He shook his head. "You must understand this. It is not a question of forgiveness. My assessment of his performance has changed, as has my interpretation of his actions. He is not so one-sided as you would like to believe."

"He got lucky," she said stubbornly. "I'm not trying to take away from the fact that he saved the ship. God, he saved the planet. I know that. But I don't have to like him."

"Nyota, I am a scientist. I am trained to re-evaluate my conclusions in the face of new information, without regard to my personal preferences as to what that information tells me. You would be wise," he admonished gently, "to do the same."

She felt ashamed. He, who had lost nearly everything, was trying to help her gain perspective.

What new information was he talking about?

I sure hope you know what you're doing, Captain, she had told Kirk. So do I, he answered. She had been so angry with him at that point that she had felt vindicated to see the look of hurt flash over his expression.

He had recovered quickly. To her surprise, he hadn't shown any of the self-righteousness or conceit that she had expected. He'd just opened the ship's intercom and made a matter-of-fact announcement about the change in command. Then he explained his plan and calmly asked for input from the bridge crew. This Kirk-in-command had been different: intense and self-assured as usual, but less brash, less abrasive, more willing to listen to others. He had actually inspired confidence in her that, somehow, they would make it out of the hopeless situation alive.

For the first time, she considered that he might not have provoked Spock out of spite or arrogance, but out of cold desperation.

When Spock had returned to their discussions, she remembered, Kirk hadn't seem surprised. He'd just listened to Spock's proposal and responded to it—"Then I'm coming with you"—as if he hadn't said those horrible things to Spock and as if Spock had never tried to choke the life out of him just an hour earlier.

What did that mean? And what did Spock see in him, even then, that she didn't?

She needed to see Kirk, talk to him. Figure him out.


She couldn’t see Kirk’s face. He had turned away from her and his right hand, clenched in a fist, was pressing hard against the bathroom wall. His head was bowed and he was breathing fast.

Although he must have been aware at some level that the other starships had been destroyed in orbit over Vulcan, she imagined that he had been so busy since then that he hadn’t really had time to reflect on what it meant, and who had been involved. He’d also been in Medical all night, removed from the small clusters of off-duty cadets who had gathered in the Rec, reviewing personnel lists and beginning the sad process of mourning.

“Who else?” he said in a low, hollow voice, still facing away from her.

Nyota sighed and began reciting the long list of names that she’d already committed to memory. It was shocking to realize that most of their cadet class, with whom they’d lived in intense proximity for the past three years, was gone—just like that. It wasn’t something that you could take in and process easily.

“I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you,” she said, looking at him uneasily.

She half-hoped he would turn around and make some sort of cynical joke. That would have been easier for her, and more in keeping with what she considered to be his character. Then she could have given him another one of her usual disdainful looks and stalked off in disgust. But here he was, dazed and upset.

She looked at the silent, grief-stricken man in front of her helplessly. She wasn’t sure what to do, and watching him in his pain seemed intrusive and unkind. But Kirk slowly straightened his shoulders, wiped a hand hastily over his eyes—Was he crying?—raised himself to his full height, and turned around.

“Thank you, Uhura,” he said evenly, looking straight at her.

“Close and lock,” he murmured, and the bathroom door closed, shutting him out.

Maybe Spock had been right. She'd have to change her estimation of him.

 

Chapter Eight: Reprieve

“Oh, good, you’re back,” McCoy said, spotting Jim as he finally stepped out of the head. Was he really in there for half an hour? Had he picked up a case of gastroenteritis? ”I was getting ready to go in after you. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” he said firmly. “I was just getting dressed. Am I released now?” Jim seemed tense and evasive, but that was no more than he expected after their talk the night before.

“Let me check you over, and I’ll let you know,” he said, pointing to the diagnostic bed. To his relief, Jim didn't argue. He seemed preoccupied and distant, not willing to look at McCoy directly. He answered the doctor’s questions about his physical condition matter-of-factly, with as little elaboration as possible. His vision was clear. His throat was still sore. No, he didn’t feel weak or dizzy. It hurt when he took a deep breath. The gash in his back was uncomfortable and itchy, but not really painful. Yes, he was hungry. His left hand ached when he straightened his fingers.

McCoy removed the dressings on his back. "These are still messy," he said, shaking his head. The lacerations were still inflamed and probably painful; the dermal regeneration couldn't begin until the infection cleared completely. He reapplied antibiotic gel and bandaged them again.

"Why are you so quiet?" McCoy asked. Jim seemed troubled, but after their conversation last night, he doubted that he would confide in him. "Something you want to tell me?"

"No." His nose sounded stuffy.

“What’s the matter with you?” McCoy asked, peering at him clinically. “Your eyes are red and you sound like your nasal passages are swollen. Are you coming down with a cold?”

“Do I look like a doctor?” Jim snapped. “Why did they give you all those fancy degrees and whizzy scanner things if you can’t make a diagnosis without my input?” He sniffed and rubbed at his nose with the back of his hand.

McCoy raised an eyebrow at the outburst. Jim was clearly still on edge. “I’m a doctor, not a technician. And don't wipe your nose with your hand, dumbass, it's unsanitary. All right,” he said, removing the IV strap, “Good news. I’m going to release you. You’re cleared for light duty, on the condition that you come back here this evening. I’ll check you over again, and we’ll have a little chat.”

“Great, I can’t wait,” he said glumly. He jumped off the bed and turned toward the door.

McCoy caught his arm. “One more thing,” he said, giving him a warning look, “Captain Pike wants to see you.”

“Yeah, I thought he would,” Jim said with a sigh of resignation. “I heard him yelling my name at the end of his conversation with Spock.”

“I thought you were asleep.”

“Well, it was hard to sleep with him shouting about who the hell left me in charge."

McCoy smiled. "I suppose it was."

"He didn’t sound too pleased, to put it mildly. Guess I better ask him where he wants me to serve until we get back. Hope he’s the grateful type.”

“Don’t get your hopes up. Well, I could use another orderly here in Medical. I’ll put in a good word for you if you like.”

Jim laughed. “Don’t do me any more favors.”

“So, Cadet Kirk,” Pike began icily, “I hear that you broke my ship.”

“Uh, yes sir,” Kirk said, sounding dismayed by the inauspicious opening. “That is, not all by myself…I think it can be repaired…"

McCoy strolled casually over to the nurses’ station near Pike’s bed and sat down at the desk, keying open the first file that he saw and frowning at it, as if he were concentrating on every word. This was one conversation that he definitely wanted to hear, and he even had Pike’s tacit approval to eavesdrop. After his talk with Pike, McCoy was sure that he would make Jim squirm more than a little before handing him the prize.

Standing shirtless and at attention in front of Pike, Jim turned slightly in his direction and shot him an annoyed glance, knowing full well why he was there. McCoy smiled back sweetly. Wouldn't miss this for the world, kid.

“And I’m sure that you have a fascinating explanation for refusing to accept Mr. Spock’s authority and becoming embroiled in a fistfight with him. Twice,” said Pike, in a disgusted tone. “In front of his officers, no less. I hear you had to be dragged off the bridge by Security."

Jim took a deep breath, apparently forgetting his broken ribs, and grimaced slightly. “Sir,” he began, “although I regret my actions in the first instance—“

Pike shook his head. “Quiet. I’ll let you know when I want you to talk. I'm not finished.” Jim flushed. McCoy could see his hands, clasped behind his back, tense together in frustration. “Kirk, I’ve never seen such immaturity and insubordination in a Starfleet senior cadet! Where the hell do you get your arrogance? These are unacceptable qualities in any officer in a military organization," he said, raising his voice. “There’s a fine line between boldness and defiance, and I’m not sure that you know the difference.”

"Sir—"

"Shut up!"

McCoy could see Jim beginning to sweat, straining to keep his face impassive despite the rebuke. Good, he thought approvingly. Keep your mouth closed for once!

“The First Officer can question the Captain’s orders - to a point. In some respects, you’re there to argue with him. But you went way too far. No wonder Spock decided to maroon you on Delta Vega.”

“Sir, regarding that action, I have to protest that—“

“Kirk, what part of 'shut up' do you not comprehend?" Pike snarled at him. McCoy was impressed; even flat on his back and weakened by trauma and surgery, Pike's voice was commanding. "Count yourself lucky that he left you on a class-M planet. I’d have airlocked you right into deep space! Now, I'm going to give you a very short time to explain yourself, Kirk. Think carefully because I have very little patience.”

“Captain Pike,” Jim said heatedly, “I admit that I made some mistakes. I was wrong to contest Spock’s decisions like that. But I promise you, sir, I have learned from the experience.”

"Oh, well that's fine, then, I suppose."

"What I meant was—"

Pike cut him off. “It seems to me that you stopped disputing Spock’s commands the minute he resigned his position as Acting Captain, after you provoked him into it,” Pike said sharply. “You never really accepted his authority." Kirk looked away. "Is that your excuse, then? Once you were in charge, you were able to work well with Spock?”

McCoy thought that Pike’s observations were strikingly accurate. Spock must have given him a very detailed description of what went on in his absence. Jim seemed at a loss to defend himself.

“Captain…” he floundered. “I respect Mr. Spock and I’ve come to know him better…”

“He deserved your respect from the minute you walked on the ship. I placed him in the position of command. That should have been enough for you, mister. Your approval or acceptance of him had nothing to do with it.”

“Sir, I made the decisions that I felt were necessary,” Jim insisted stubbornly. “In the end, they proved correct! We were able to return, defeat Nero, and rescue you. I don’t regret that.”

Pike’s disapprobation was evident. He shook his head, saying, “You’re saying that mutiny was an acceptable means to an end.”

Listen to him, Jim, McCoy pleaded silently, exasperated. Stop being such an obstinate ass. It was inevitable that Jim would try to defend himself against Pike’s accusations—and, it was implied, Spock’s as well—and Pike certainly wouldn’t expect a command candidate to accept his reprimand submissively. But he would be looking for Jim’s ability to persuade and remain cool under pressure, to show some ability to reflect on his actions in the face of criticism. So don’t be a hothead.

“Sir, permission to speak freely.” Pike nodded, pursing his lips and waiting.

This is a test, Jim. Don’t screw it up.

Jim didn’t begin speaking right away, as if he were indeed choosing his words carefully—a refreshing change for him, McCoy thought. “Sir,” he said at last. “I accept what you’re saying. I crossed a line with Spock. It’s just—We had learned that Nero was from the future and we knew that his technology was overpowering. I didn’t think there would be any point to running back to join the Fleet. The one advantage that we had was surprise. We could make the unpredictable move."

"Kirk, you weren't in the position to make that call."

“And also…” he paused, looking stricken. “I understood that Nero was responsible for my father’s death, that he destroyed the Kelvin. He changed the course of events that should have taken place. I might have… I mean, my father could have…”

He paused, voiced strained. “I found that information upsetting, on a personal level. Maybe…” he admitted, “maybe my judgment was impaired, in that moment.”

McCoy listened, eyes narrowed. He had forgotten that little revelation, during the fiery discussion on the Bridge. What must it have meant to Jim, knowing that his life could have been completely different, if it were not for the deranged enemy that was taunting them? Realizing that he could have grown up in a completely different home environment, with his family intact?

Knowing what he did of Jim’s makeup, he knew that Jim would have felt compelled to confront Nero. Running had never been an option for him.

At the same time, he was surprised that Jim had been able to confess to an error in judgment stemming from his personal issues. Well, that’s a step in the right direction.

Pike seemed to agree. “That’s understandable, son,” he nodded. “It’s not an excuse, but…it’s understandable.”

“When I returned to the Enterprise from Delta Vega, I had had time to reflect on the situation, and I had…some additional information as well. I’ll put it in my report, sir,” he said, glancing quickly at McCoy. There’s something that he doesn’t want to say in front of me, McCoy realized. The only thing that he knew of what Jim had been through on the planet was his being chased over the snow and ice by wild animals, resulting in his lacerated back, and that he’d returned with a stray Highlands engineer.

“Nero was determined to destroy the Earth, sir. I knew that, and I also understood that Mr. Spock was not emotionally equipped at that moment to lead us to that confrontation. I mean this as no disrespect or reflection on him, sir. He’d just lost his planet. His mother was killed before his eyes…”

"So you took steps to goad him into removing himself from command."

Kirk nodded uncomfortably, but didn't deny it.

Pike smiled slightly. “You know, right now, you look an awful lot like you did when I first met you, in that bar in Riverside.” Jim shifted his feet, looking embarrassed. “You were pretty banged up then, too. A directionless, angry kid who picked a fight for no reason and couldn’t explain why. I wonder if you’ve gained any more perspective on who you are since then...”

“I’m not the same person I was.”

“Oh, no? That remains to be seen. Back then, you were a local troublemaker, uneducated, going nowhere. But I thought that I could see something more in you. I knew your father long ago, and I’d met your mother.” Looking at him carefully, Pike added, “I knew your stepfather Frank, too, by the way.” Jim swallowed. He controlled his reaction, but McCoy could see the telltale rigidity in his stance.

He’s like an open wound, where that Frank is concerned, he thought. I’ve got to get him to talk about it.

“I knew that there was nothing for you in that godforsaken town,” Pike continued calmly. “I threw out a challenge to you, thinking it was a waste of my breath. ‘I dare you to do better.’ Do you remember that?” Jim nodded. “And you surprised me, Kirk. You showed up the next day and enlisted.”

“Not too many people in Riverside thought I would ever amount to anything,” Jim said quietly, looking away. “I couldn’t believe that you did. I needed to get away…”

“Sure you did. But sometimes it’s not a matter of physical distance. You can’t change who you are or where you come from. Sometimes a little hardship can even be an advantage. Makes you try harder. Gives you courage, if it doesn’t break you.” Jim gave a short, bitter laugh.

“It’s an edge that someone who’s had an easier time will never have,” Pike persisted. “That could be you, Kirk. But it’s only an advantage if you stay in control of who you are and who you want to be. The question is, have you really left that scrappy, rebellious kid behind?”

Jim was silent and unmoving, his face expressionless.

“Well, we both know that you saved more lives yesterday than your father did, more than either of us can count. Including mine. I’m grateful to you, Jim.” It was the first time that Pike had referred to him by his first name; Jim nodded in hesitant acknowledgement. “I have to admit that despite your rocky start, according to Mr. Spock’s report, you became a leader yesterday. You have that potential, Kirk."

"Thank you, sir."

“This morning I didn’t know whether I should throw you in the brig or hand you a commendation,” Pike said, shaking his head. “But I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Kirk, and I hope to God that you don’t disappoint me. I’m going to keep you on as Acting Captain, until we dock in San Francisco." Jim looked stunned by this turn of events. "After that, we’ll see, depending on your performance over the next month.”

"You're letting me stay on as captain?" he asked, sounding disbelieving.

"I just hope that you can command us back to base without screwing it up.”

“Uh, me too, sir.”

Jim stole a glance at McCoy, who had given up pretending to be occupied with medical reports and was gazing at the pair of them, unabashed.

“I’ll be watching you closely, Kirk, and I’ll want to speak with you twice daily. For now,” he said, frowning at Kirk’s bare chest, “report to the quartermaster, and have him assign you sleeping quarters and a uniform. As of now, you’re Lieutenant Commander Kirk.”

A slow smile spread over Jim’s face, and he unlocked his clasped hands for the first time since beginning the conversation, grasping Pike’s extended hand in a firm shake. He caught McCoy’s eye and grinned.

He’s going to be insufferable now, McCoy thought. Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to salute him.

“Oh, and Kirk… One more thing.”

Kirk turned.

Pike’s mouth twitched into something resembling a smile. “Welcome aboard the Enterprise.”

 

Chapter Nine: Impediments

Jim’s elation was fading fast.

"I need to meet with you immediately," Jim was saying into the intercom. "It's urgent." He ignored McCoy's eye-rolling.

"Is this a joke?"

"Absolutely not," he said. "You are the quartermaster, aren't you?"

"Look, I'm on security duty right now. I don't deal with clothing requisitions during alpha shift, even when they're urgent. You can get whatever you need during beta."

McCoy was laughing at him openly now, from behind the desk in his office.

Fuck off, Jim mouthed at him. "Five minutes, quartermaster," he said, trying not to let his voice betray his frustration. "I'll come to you."

"Guess you have your work cut out for you," McCoy told him, amused.

"Don't tell me how to do my job," he said crossly. "Go do yours."


As he stepped out into the corridor, he was met almost immediately by two female cadets, both fourth years, rounding the corner. He knew them both well; one of them, in fact, had been in his bed more than once last year. But as they came closer, he noticed that neither of them was making eye contact with him. They walked slowly, whispering quietly between themselves, almost holding onto each other. His automatic “Hello, ladies” died on his lips, and he inclined his head in an awkward nod instead.

Oh, God, he thought in sudden understanding. They had roommates and friends on those ships, and now they're dead. Was there anyone on board who wasn't grieving?

What was he supposed to say to them? He felt as if he should know. He was a veteran of dozens of memorial services for the Kelvin disaster; surely there were words of comfort that he ought to be familiar with. But he'd always hated those ceremonies, with their endless, somber intonations of heroic sacrifice and the triumph of life over death and upholding the highest ideals. They were boring and hollow and meaningless, and his mother was always worse when they were over, not better. She'd be even more distant and impatient with him than usual (Jim, find something to do with yourself, just go outside until I call you in), so he learned just to stay away from her when the memorial season approached. As he got older, he noticed that she always managed to be away on the Kelvin anniversary. On his birthday, but what did it matter anyway.

He wondered if his mother even knew that he was here, on this ship. She still had connections; she could find out, if she wanted to. (Did she want to?) The last he had heard, she was working off-planet, but he hadn't bothered to contact her in over a year. He put her out of his mind, for the most part, which was easy because of his busy schedule.

She tried, in her own way. She deposited money in his account regularly, and he never objected. Pike had stayed in contact with her, he knew, and occasionally would drop small bits of information about her—she was at this or that conference, she'd written a paper... "I heard from Winona last week," he told him once. "She was asking about you." Jim had grunted something noncommittal, and Pike, uncharacteristically, had let him get away with being evasive. He didn't press him on it, and Jim didn't understand why, but he was relieved.

He felt a sudden, desperate urge to talk to his mother, to tell her about his promotion, to share the news with her. How many times had she looked at him, disappointed and disparaging, saying You have so much potential or What did you do this time, Jim? After he'd been locked up for the first time, she'd said Thank God your father isn't alive to see this, and he'd stopped speaking to her.

I'm Acting Captain of the Enterprise, Mom. I helped saved the planet. He tried to imagine saying those words to her. Would she be proud of him, finally?

Forget it, he told himself furiously. What was the matter with him? Only a fool would start pining for his mother just as he began the job he'd been dreaming of for years.


On a ship like the Enterprise, designed for long-range missions, there were well over a thousand functions that needed to be filled in order to ensure the well-being of the ship and crew, ranging from captain to communications officer to entertainment director. Each member of the crew was assigned a standard daily shift in his or her primary role, such as weapons technician, nurse, or engineer. Typically, officers also gained expertise in at least one other specialty, adding to their overall familiarity with the ship and providing backup in emergencies. Most crewmembers had at least one additional administrative, maintenance-related, or leisure task, depending on the ship’s needs and personal inclination.

Kirk himself was trained as helmsman, but in a pinch could sub as navigator or fly a small shuttlecraft. He was also proficient in advanced hand-to-hand combat and could perform as a competent short-order cook.

He was unsurprised, therefore, when he discovered that the quartermaster doubled as a security officer, but was less than pleased to find out that he had already had several unpleasant, not to mention humiliating, encounters with this particular security officer, a heavyset muscular type with a small beard. He had never imagined that his first act of command would be establishing his authority with a man who had beaten him to a pulp three years ago, and apprehended him as an intruder the day before.

His first instinct had been to give the man an “I’m the Captain, now, asshole” smirk, but he figured that there was probably a more mature, if less satisfying, way of handling the situation.

“What’s your name, Lieutenant?” he said lightly. Can’t keep calling him Cupcake. “I’m Jim Kirk.”

“George Abbot. I know who you are,” said the guard sullenly. “You’re not officially on my roster. You weren’t supposed to be on this ship. I know you snuck on board.”

“I think you’ll find that the roster has been updated, Quartermaster,” he said, drawing himself up to his full height, which, he noted, still left him a lot shorter than Abbot. “And in the future, you can call me ‘Commander Kirk.’ Or just Captain, for short.”

He had to admit to a private thrill of pleasure at Abbot’s discomfiture. The big man stared at him suspiciously for a long moment, obviously wondering whether Jim was bluffing or having a joke at his expense. “But Captain Pike is back,” he said, sounding somewhat unsure. “Why isn’t he—“

“I’m sure he’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about his orders,” Jim said pleasantly. Sure he would. “In the meantime, Mister, you can supply me with a uniform and assign me living quarters.”

Abbot didn’t seem particularly quick on the uptake. “Cadets are bunking three to a room,” he began, “so I’ll put you with—“

Captain,” Jim hissed. “I’m Acting Captain. I’m not sleeping with two other cadets.” He hoped he didn’t sound overly petulant.

“You can’t have Pike’s quarters!” Abbot said, as if offended.

“Obviously not.” Jim was annoyed. “I’ll take what you have. But I want a private room.”

“There are no private accommodations to be had anywhere on the ship,” the man repeated stubbornly, “unless you want to ask some of the Vulcan refugees to bunk in the hallways.” Abbot glared at him, as if daring him to agree to that proposal.

Jim shook his head, frustrated. He’s screwing me, on purpose, he thought. Intuitively, he felt that he desperately needed privacy. He needed a refuge, somewhere to unwind, where he wouldn’t have to be in control or worried about what kind of impression he was making. He might have felt comfortable rooming with McCoy, but not now, when Bones was waiting to swoop down on him with intrusive questions about his past.

He had shoved so many things to the back of his awareness—the physical terror of the day before, the newly-stirred-up memories from his childhood, the astounding and disturbing interaction with the elderly Vulcan on Delta Vega, the conversation with Pike—that he knew that his head would be ready to explode by the end of the day. He had always been prone to tension headaches. Already, he found himself fantasizing about collapsing on a comfortable bed in a darkened room, reveling in the quiet—and it was only the middle of alpha shift.

Suddenly Abbot’s last words broke through his self-absorbed bubble. Vulcan refugees… He had forgotten about that situation. Between the cadets and the Vulcan survivors, how many extra people was the ship carrying? What did he expect the guy to do, materialize extra rooms out of thin air? He looked more closely at the man in front of him, noting for the first time that underneath the ruddy complexion, the face was haggard and drawn.

Get your head together, jerk, he told himself sternly. Stop taking everything so personally!

“Mr. Abbot,” he said, “I’m sorry. I'm sure that you’re competent at your job and I’m aware that you’re faced with a very difficult situation. God knows how you’ve managed to find space for all the extra people.” Looking slightly mollified, Abbot nodded. Jim responded with a wry smile. “But I would appreciate it if you found me somewhere to sleep other than the corridor.”

“Aye, sir.” Abbot began calling up information on the monitor before him. Standing slightly behind him, Jim caught a reflection of himself in the monitor, shirtless and bandaged and bruised. No wonder he thought this was a joke, he thought. His left hand throbbed uncomfortably, and he rubbed it with his other hand.

After a few minutes, Abbot looked up. “I can give you a small room with one other guy,” he said, looking pleased with himself. “It's on deck 12, near engineering. It's not really part of crew accommodations, just a small storage area, but it has a bathroom. That's the best I can do for now…Captain.”

“Who’s the other guy?” he asked warily.

“It’s the other stowaway, from Delta Vega. Somebody called Scott.”

Jim allowed himself a small smile.

"That'll be fine, Lieutenant. Now, can you get me a uniform?"

Properly attired at last, and feeling pleased that he had successfully defused the confrontation with the security officer, Jim headed toward the auxiliary bridge.


Spock was perplexed.

As he'd told Nyota, he was a scientist, used to sifting through data, testing and discarding hypotheses, and drawing conclusions. He did this naturally, almost without conscious awareness of the process. His childhood education on Vulcan had equipped him with a thorough grounding in logical discourse, whereas his human heritage had, he felt, given him an additional appreciation for intuitive perception and the insight that comes from emotional response.

For that, he had his mother to thank. He was grateful for her unswerving acceptance of the dualities in his makeup, for her belief in his unique-but-utterly-legitimate perspective. It had given him the confidence to work among humans—and even to open himself up to the possibility of loving a human woman. His father’s recent admission to him that he had married his mother for love had been a small comfort as well, in the midst of horrific tragedy.

Spock pushed those thoughts away as an unwelcome distraction to his current occupation: trying to come to an understanding of the character of the new captain, Jim Kirk.

Spock had been observing Kirk for the past six hours, with increasing puzzlement. For each quality that he managed to identify, he noticed an opposing attribute. The one conclusion he had been able to draw was that Kirk was a mass of inconsistencies and contrasts.

The man was young. His youth was evident in his energetic striding around the bridge, the ease with which he was able to assimilate information and focus on several tasks at once, and his difficulty in sitting still for any length of time—although that, he reflected, might simply be indicative of a lack of discipline and a need for constant, high-level stimulation. Still, youth was not necessarily an impediment to command, provided it was combined with emotional maturity.

Emotional maturity was a feature that seemed to be deficient in Kirk’s makeup.

He was clearly capable of making rational decisions, and was flexible in the face of new information. Although Kirk had been highly emotional, even uncontrolled, during the two altercations with Spock, he had remained remarkably cool-headed and calm during the crisis that followed. His execution of their rescue plan had been flawless.

He watched Kirk sip his third cup of coffee. Perhaps that was the true explanation for his inability to sit still: over-ingestion of caffeine stimulants. If he were so tired as to need to take such measures, why did he not simply excuse himself and go to rest? He was still recovering from serious injury. Surely he was experiencing some discomfort; Spock had noticed him rubbing his temples as if he had a headache, and his posture in the command chair indicated that he was unable to lean back comfortably. His stubbornness did not make sense, nor was it indicative of good judgment.

Spock was also trying, unsuccessfully, to make sense of the change in Kirk’s relationship with Uhura. Before today, all of the interactions that he had observed between them had been abortive and charged with tension. Uhura was like an open book to him; try as she might to be coolly rational, he could sense her emotional state rather easily. He had thought that she treated Kirk with contempt, although she tried to hide it behind a professional demeanor.

Their interactions during this work shift had been uneventful. But he could not deny that something had changed. Uhura’s scorn was gone, replaced by…what? Concern? Confusion? Several times, he had noticed her watching the Captain while Kirk’s back was turned. The expression on her face was contemplative.

He felt a deep need to talk with her. But that would have to wait.

 

Chapter Ten: Resistance

Jim didn't come by that evening. McCoy wasn't surprised.

Speaking with him on the intercom, Jim had been irritable and argumentative, claiming that he was too busy to come down that evening, that he had a headache, and that he was tired, that they ought to postpone their talk until the next morning. Or next year, preferably. This was typical, and completely predictable. Jim was buying time.

It’s not immaturity or obstinacy, he reminded himself. Threatened at some core of his being by the idea of exposing and examining the traumatic memories, Jim was simply trying to keep himself safe. Naturally, he wouldn’t come on his own accord.

McCoy had done a clinical rotation on a pediatric ward when he was a resident, and he'd seen his share of kids who'd been abused. He'd never connected the fear and distrust in the eyes of those kids with his friend's cocky demeanor, but as he reviewed the medical and psychological literature that afternoon, he felt like kicking himself for being so damned oblivious.

Looking back, it all made so much sense. Jim had crashed at his place enough times for him to know that he was a restless, hypervigilant sleeper who came awake abruptly at the slightest noise. McCoy had always attributed that to the fact that he wasn't in his own bed, but now, he began to re-evaluate behaviors he had always accepted as more or less normal. McCoy was a very light sleeper himself, and on more than one occasion, he'd seen Jim wake suddenly, sweaty and disoriented, from what was clearly a nightmare. He'd always shrug off McCoy's concern, dismissing the dream as unimportant ("Shit, Bones, that training sim today really got to me, I guess," he'd say, or, "Holy hell, dinosaurs in San Francisco! What a freaky dream…").

More details seemed to jump out at him. He recalled Jim’s stoicism and odd detachment while he was examining his injuries and his seemingly high pain threshold; in the medical literature, this was known as numbing of emotional responses, a common phenomenon in abused children. Jim's penchant for getting drunk at least once a week was an obvious attempt at self-medication through alcohol.

After more than two hours spent scanning relevant journal articles, reading case studies, and perusing psychiatric and pharmacological journals, McCoy was skeptical that he could accomplish much. The timing was bad: Jim was going to be stressed and overworked, trying to fill Pike's shoes, and they only had a few weeks in which to work. And he was already showing signs of resistance, even in coming in for a talk. Progress could only be made if Jim began to accept the fact that the trauma was taking its toll, and that his continued denial of its effects was endangering the one thing that he really wanted: command.

Breaking through the denial was going to be unpleasant. He knew that when he confronted Jim about his behavior, he would use every trick in his repertoire to evade him, from disarming him with farmboy charm to using his dirtiest fighting skills. Jim wouldn’t easily give up the defenses he had been relying on for the last decade and a half—not unless he had a good reason to change.

“OK, Bones, I’m here,” Jim announced impatiently, barreling at full speed through the doors to the Medical Bay and interrupting his thoughts. “Let’s get this over with.” He strode toward the diagnostic bed and sat down, removing his shirts quickly, seemingly the very picture of cooperation and purpose. McCoy bit back his sarcastic retort and decided to take him at his word, for the time being.

“Have a nice day at work, dear?” he said, beginning to remove the bandages covering the wound in his back.

“Since you ask,” Jim said, not rising to the bait, “Yes, I did. Did you know that a Captain gets a yeoman to see to his personal needs?” He grinned.

“I think that’s supposed to refer to administrative needs, you gutter-minded idiot.”

“You’re just jealous that you don’t get one. She's cute and blond and ready to serve.”

McCoy began reapplying the antibiotic ointment. “Does she have a name, or do you just wink when you want her attention?”

“Her name is Janice Rand. She brings coffee on request.”

“You look like you’ve had a few cups too many,” McCoy observed. Jim’s face was flushed and his heart rate was elevated. He was fidgeting restlessly, but that could be a sign of discomfort or anxiety, not just caffeine overdose. “How do you feel?”

“My head’s killing me.”

“Yeah, you told me that before,” he said, reaching for a sterile bandage. “Well, I have just the thing for it.”


Jim sat on the couch in his office, holding a shot of brandy in his right hand, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. His eyes were half-closed, as if he were exhausted and about to nod off. He was surely tired, but McCoy doubted that he was really relaxed. Nice try, but I’m gonna call your bluff, kid, he thought. Time to wake up.

“We need to talk,” McCoy began.

"So talk."

"Don't play dumb, kid. We need to discuss what happened to you on the bridge."

“No, we don’t.” Jim cut him off quickly. “Look, you read my file. Okay, that’s your job. You want analyze my emotional state, knock yourself out. But do it on your own. Don’t expect me to help you. I’m fine.”

McCoy leaned back in his chair, taking a sip of his own drink. “Maybe you’re not as fine as you say you are.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he said, glaring up at him angrily.

McCoy kept his voice low and calm. “Jim, listen to me. You lost control on the bridge. I was watching you. The security guards grabbed you, and you got this look on your face."

"What look?"

"Like you were enraged, just wild with anger. It was like you were reacting to something else, something way beyond what was actually happening on the bridge.”

Jim scowled. “Why, because I don’t like it when two redshirts grab me and start to drag me off? Let ‘em do it to you and see how you react. It's humiliating, not to mention the fact that Spock was wrong and was leading us into a trap!"

“You weren’t rational.”

“I overreacted, okay? You heard what I told Pike. I had just found out that my father was killed by Nero… I was upset, that’s all.”

“Really. But that's only one example, Jim. What about yesterday, here in Medbay? Why didn’t you just let me examine you? You tried to run out on me."

Jim flushed red. “What does that have to do with anything? Nobody likes doctors. Don’t blame me if you picked a crappy profession.”

"You were scared."

"That's not true. I don't like hypos and other medical treatment, but neither do a lot of people."

"I guess you know a lot about medical treatment," he said. "You spent a lot of time in hospitals when you were young."

"I had allergies." He grinned suddenly, disarmingly. Here comes the charm, McCoy thought. "When I was little I thought there was a doctor at the emergency room named Anna Phylactic."

"Is that so. According to your medical records, you were treated more than once for broken bones, lacerations, and contusions."

"I know it's hard to believe now," he said, smirking, "but I wasn't always so well-coordinated. I was an active kid and I got hurt a lot."

McCoy sighed. "You don't expect me to believe that, do you, Jim?"

"I don't care what you believe."

“Look, kid,” McCoy said quietly, with intensity. “It’s called a trigger. It recalls an unconscious memory or flashback of a traumatic event, or maybe just brings back the feelings that you felt at the time—"

“What traumatic event are you talking about?” he asked, voice cold and eyes hard. “Stop hiding behind your textbook definitions and spit it out!”

“You know. You tell me.”

“Don’t play games with me! What, do you think that in the middle of the crisis, I was thinking about my stepdad beating me up when I was a kid?” He flushed; he hadn't meant to reveal that, McCoy thought with some satisfaction.

Jim looked away, obviously making an effort to control himself. “If you think I had time to think about any of that while I was on the bridge, you're way off the mark."

McCoy decided to try another tack. “You were having a nightmare last night.”

“So what?”

“Nightmares are usually an indication of something that's disturbing you subconsciously. What was the dream?”

“I don’t remember! And stop trying to psychoanalyze me. This is ridiculous. You're a surgeon. Stick to your specialty."

“I'm your CMO, and for your information, this is one of my specialties. How often do you get nightmares?” Jim ignored the question. He clamped his lips together, teeth clenched, looking down at the floor. “Have trouble sleeping? Ever have flashbacks?” McCoy could see a muscle move in his jaw.

“I have memories like everyone else, some good, some bad,” he said sharply. “Why do you want me to talk about something that happened to me when I was a kid?”

“Maybe it would do you some good.”

“Well, maybe I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Tell me about the dream.”

“Drop it.”

“Okay…Tell me about Frank, then.”

“Back off, Bones!” Jim snarled. His face was livid. “Why don’t you look at your own behavior, for Chrissakes? I may be running from my past, but so are you! I don’t see you inviting your ex—“

My reactions aren’t the issue here!” McCoy took a deep breath. He’s trying to take control of the conversation away from you, he reminded himself. Jim was fuming, defensive and defiant. You knew that he’d fight dirty.

More calmly, he continued, “Jim, don’t lie to yourself. This isn’t a joke. If you can’t come to some sort of understanding about your reactions, they’ll just happen again. You know that you’re under scrutiny. Pike’s watching your every move. You’re not going to get another chance to captain a starship! If you screw this up, you’ll regret it your whole life.”

Jim glanced at him, looking resentful and angry, breathing fast. He seemed to remember suddenly that he was holding a drink. He brought the glass to his lips and drained it in one gulp. His breathing gradually slowed down.

“Fuck you, Bones,” he said at last. He set the glass down on the table in front of him. “Fine,” he said quietly. “What do you want to know?”

"I want to know what happened between you and your stepfather. You said that he used to beat you up."

"I was a rotten kid. He didn't have much choice."

"That's bullshit and you know it. Kids don't just get up one day and decide to drive an antique car off the edge of a cliff. What the hell happened, Jim?

Jim seemed surprised by the question. He laughed to himself. “Oh, that car… It was worth it, just seeing Frank’s face when he found out it had gone into the quarry.”

McCoy waited.

“Well, you have to understand,” Jim said bitterly, “he loved that car.”

But he didn’t love you, McCoy finished the sentence in his mind.

“It was his hobby. He belonged to an antique drivers’ club. They helped each other find parts for the engine…gasoline… He used to wash it once a week. Hardly ever even took it out on the road. It was too precious. Didn’t give a shit about me, but he treated that car like it was his baby…”

He shook his head. “I remember how windy it was… The top of the car came off,” he grinned in remembrance. “A cop was chasing me. I had the brilliant idea that I’d get off the main road, and then I saw the drop to the quarry…I jumped out at the last second. The cop took me back to Frank.”

He looked down at the floor. “Frank was furious. I woke up in intensive care.”

“Leave me alone!” he was crying, or rather, he was trying to say that. There was something wrong with his mouth, as if the top and bottom no longer fitted together right. The young attending MD ignored him, saying, “Keep still. The more you move, the longer it’ll take.”

But he didn’t want a gentle touch, didn’t want to be soothed. He wanted to hit somebody.

He writhed in pain as cool fingers probed his abdomen, turned his jaw this way and that, shined a bright light in his eyes. The light made his eyes hurt and he wanted to throw up.

“Prep for surgery,” ordered the doctor. “Son,” he said to Jim, “you’ll be fine. You’re going to go to sleep for a while. Where’s your mother? Is she on her way?”

Jim shook his head slowly. Winona wouldn’t be back for months. She didn’t even know there was anything wrong. “Isn’t there anyone we can contact for you?” the doctor pressed. Jim hated the pitying look in his eyes. “Who do you live with?”

He shook his head again. He’d let the cop explain.

He felt a rush of terror as they wheeled his bed out of the emergency room. All he could see were the lights on the ceiling. He couldn't see where they were going...

“Jim,” McCoy said with concern, and then louder, “Jim! Are you listening to me?” If that’s not a flashback, he thought, I’ll eat my diploma.

“Sure I am.” Jim pulled himself together, looking shaken. “Uh…what was the question?”

“What happened at the hospital?”

Jim sighed. “Frank was arrested. My mother was on a long-range mission. I was there for two weeks, by myself, more or less. I was just a kid,” he said in a low voice, almost a whisper. “I didn’t really understand what was happening. I was mad at everybody, Frank, my mom, the doctors, the social workers… They must have thought I was pretty messed up.”

“No,” McCoy said with emphasis, looking at him directly. “They must have thought you had a good reason to be angry.”

“I wouldn’t let them touch me."

“That’s a natural reaction.”

"I was in a lot of pain and they were always doing some procedure on me.” He looked up sheepishly. “I punched one of the doctors once, and then…”

“They sedated you.”

“Yes.” The smile faded.

"And used restraints."

"Yes."

“You couldn’t control that situation, Jim,” said McCoy. “You were a child.”

“I know that.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know that!” he snapped.

Do you really? McCoy thought.

“Is that enough for you?" Jim said. "Are we done?”

McCoy nodded. “For now.”

 

Chapter Eleven: Echoes

"You have to use the traditional oak casks," Scotty was telling him. "Age it properly. The distillery's been in my family for generations."

It was late. Both Jim and the new engineer were sitting on the edge of their bunks in the small room, shot glasses in hand. "I thought you were stuck without provisions on that ice rock," Jim said, taking a sip of the whiskey. "Nothing but protein bars, you said."

"I didn't have much to eat," he said with a grin, "but I couldn't go off on a long voyage without some personal effects, now could I?" He gestured at two battered pieces of luggage on the floor, one of which clearly contained a number of unlabeled bottles.

"At least you had some company," Jim said. "That little green guy that liked to climb on the equipment."

"Ah, Keenser? Aye, he's a good fellow, but not much of a drinking companion, if you take my meaning."

Jim nodded, even though he didn't really understand what Scott meant. He was finding it hard to concentrate. His head pounded, and he couldn't lay back comfortably because of his back injury. He took another sip, hoping to get enough of a buzz to relieve the headache.

Scotty was clearly savoring the taste of the liquor as he educated Jim on the basics of the fermentation and maturation process, which had changed little in the past five centuries. "You have to have the proper mix of grains," Scotty said, as if he were explaining a philosophical point. "This batch is our family secret."

"Right," Jim agreed. He swirled the shot glass slowly, watching the thick, amber liquid as it clung to the sides of the glass. The smell of the whiskey was pungent, and stronger than he was used to.

"That's the way," Scott told him, watching his glass. "You tilt the glass to coat the sides with the drink. Better aroma. Course, these little glasses aren't really the best if you really want to appreciate good Scotch."

"It's okay," he said. "It's good."

Scott gave him an appraising look. "You okay, there, Captain? You look a little beat."

Jim laughed. "Man, that's the understatement of the year."


His heartbeat had finally returned to something resembling a normal rate, and he was no longer gasping for breath. But the experience of being nearly mauled and eaten by an alien predator had left him shaking and filled with a sense of existential horror. What if no one ever knew what happened to him? Would anybody care?

Bones, at least, would feel a certain sense of guilt—and rightly so, he thought—for not coming to his defense on the Bridge. But Spock would most likely consider his tragic demise as an expected and acceptable risk, taken into account in advance as a probable outcome.

What did it really matter? The Enterprise was hurtling through space to the Laurentian system. They had no chance. Nero would destroy both the remains of the fleet and the Earth, and it would make no difference to anyone if he was eaten alive or if he starved to death. No one knew that he was here, and no one would ever find out.

Except that he wasn't alone.

He knelt by the fire in the small cave, ostensibly warming his hands. Truth be known, after the mad dash across the ice and the strange revelation that the elderly Vulcan in front of him knew his name, he was sweating.

He stretched his shoulders, and the movement sent a shooting pain crackling across his lower back. He vaguely recalled his back catching on the jagged edge of a rock as he rolled and fell down the steep slope, but he'd been too panicked at the time to worry about trivialities like that.

The man who called himself Spock was saying amiably, “It is remarkably pleasing to see you again, old friend”—Why did he keep saying that? Could he be senile?—“especially after the events of today.”

His childhood teachers had drilled into him a respect for his elders, so he bit back the sarcastic comment that he wanted to make. He stood up and spread his hands apart in a placating gesture and said, "Sir, I appreciate what you did for me today, but if you were Spock, you'd know…We're not friends. At all. You hate me. You marooned me here for mutiny."

“Mutiny?” The aged man seemed less shocked than amused, making Jim wonder again whether the Vulcan was losing his faculties.

“Yes," he said, a little uncertainly. Hearing his own actions stated in such stark terms, he began to suspect that he had really and truly screwed up his Starfleet service. He recalled that on sailing ships, mutiny had been punishable by death. Perhaps Spock had read those history books, too, and sending Jim to be eaten by wild animals or freeze to death was all part of his plan.

“You are not the Captain?” Spock persisted.

He laughed for a minute to himself, struck by the fantasy: James T. Kirk, Captain of the Starship Enterprise… That would really drive Uhura up a wall… "No, no, you're the captain. Pike was taken hostage." Despite his obvious confusion, the Vulcan seemed to be familiar with Nero, which didn't make sense at all.

“Please, allow me…” Spock said suddenly, standing up and walking toward him with his hand outstretched, fingers spread in an odd position. “It will be easier.”

“Whoa, whoa…” Jim recoiled, taking a step back and shaking his head. What the hell did this guy want from him? He didn’t like to be touched in the face.

Spock didn’t wait for his permission. Regarding him with a look of compassion, he ignored Jim’s apparent aversion and placed his fingers on the side of his face. “Our minds. One, and together.”

Jim’s eyes closed and his muscles tensed involuntarily. But he couldn’t move or speak.


Jim felt very warm, and had to concentrate in order not to spill the drink as he poured himself another shot. His head was swimming, and he felt his focus drifting in and out.

"Those cadets are next to useless. The whole lot of 'em are a bunch of half-witted idiots who run off to read the repair manual before they can replace a burned-out plug," Scott said, waving his hand disparagingly.

"Hey, careful there, Scotty. You can't go around bad-mouthing my crew."

Scott ignored him. "She's a beautiful ship. They need to treat her with the respect she deserves, not go around scratching the consoles and dropping the heavy equipment and denting her sides."

"Uh huh."

Scott didn't seem to notice how distracted he was, prattling on contentedly about the ship and the blunders of the engineering crew. Jim slowly eased himself down on his side, stretching his legs out on the bed and closing his eyes.


What followed next was a sense of falling, of dizziness and lack of balance. There was a feeling of intrusion in his mind, and Jim was helpless to withdraw or object.

Spock seemed to be aware of his terror, but didn’t pull back. Instead, he waited, letting Jim adjust to the sensation, calmly projecting a sense of security and safety that allowed him to begin to accept Spock’s presence.

Spock directed the communication between them. Words were unnecessary; in pictures and blocks of thought, Jim simply became conscious of the new information. It was surprisingly easy.

He was aware, intermittently, of other images, which weren't directly related to Nero. Faces both familiar and unfamiliar. Places that he didn't recognize. Snippets of conversation. It came to him in glimpses, in brief fragments. A mental picture of himself, grinning and brimming with confidence, sitting in the Captain’s chair on the Bridge… A quick glance between them that conveyed understanding and humor…A flash of joy at his magical reappearance in the cave…But he had no time to process the images—memories?—as Spock led him through the sequence of events.

There was something important he needed to know, not about Nero, but about Spock. Spock and him. He could sense that Spock was holding something back from him, but he couldn't figure out how to control what was happening.

Wait, he tried to say. Let me understand!

But the images rolled on, with a sort of Spock-voice droning in his mind, narrating the story which he was projecting. "The star went supernova…I promised the Romulans that I would save their planet…Using red matter, I would create a black hole…"

Slow down, he called out, but either he wasn't able to project his thoughts clearly enough, or Spock was too intent on telling his story to listen to him.

A wave of anxiety began to grow inside him, both from the flood of images which were overwhelming him, and from the one-sided nature of the exchange. The feeling of powerlessness, of being forced, became the focus of his thoughts.

A face from his own past began to surface in his mind, reminding him of another time when he'd lost control and been forced to—

"Romulus was destroyed…In my attempt to escape, both of us were pulled into the black hole…He held me responsible for the loss of his world…"

He found it harder and harder to make sense of the images running through his mind as he gave way to panic.

The images stopped suddenly, and he could feel Spock's uncertainty in his mind. Spock was surprised and concerned. Jim could sense him considering the situation, comparing it to something known and familiar, and then drawing tentative conclusions.

But it all happened wordlessly and very fast, and Jim wasn't sure, in the end, what Spock understood about him.

I must show you one more thing, Spock told him through the meld, and then I will disengage. Prepare yourself.

He saw the final interaction between Spock and Nero, as Spock was transported down to the icy planet. A vision of the planet Vulcan, beginning to disintegrate, was suddenly placed in his thoughts.

He was overwhelmed by a feeling of agonized horror. It came over him like an unending wave of pain, and he was drowning in it. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. In his mind, he—or was it Spock?—was screaming endlessly as he watched the planet implode. He was wracked with a sense of loneliness, guilt, and failure.

There was a small echo inside him of disgust, self-loathing, and shame.

The meld broke.

Jim found himself staggering back from Spock, stomach churning, head reeling. Gasping, he braced his hands against the icy wall of the cave to keep himself upright, and then threw up.


He had missed whatever Scott was saying, and as he came back to himself, he saw the man looking at him expectantly. "Sorry, what were you saying?" he said. He pushed himself up into a sitting position again, and wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.

“They think we’re a bunch o’ wee robots,” Scott said. “Starfleet. Can’t handle genius.”

"That's what Pike told me when he recruited me," Jim said, pushing thoughts of the meld out of his mind. He took a long, deep breath and refilled his glass. "He thinks the Fleet's losing the edge. It doesn't want officers who can think for themselves."

“Exactly. And when you don’t follow the path they’ve laid for you, bam! Stuck on an iceberg with dehydrated rations until further notice,” he complained. “It’s all about putting you in your place.”

“I hear you,” Jim said. “No room for individuality.”

"Well, that's not so in your case, I'd say. Look at you, with your instant field promotion. Didn't you say you were a cadet just a few days ago?"

Jim laughed. The whiskey burned his throat a little, but it steadied him. "Naw, I'm a case in point. They put me on academic suspension for passing a test that they wanted me to fail." Scott gave him a questioning glance. "The Kobayashi Maru," Jim said. "I, uh, changed the parameters of the program."

"Come again?"

"I reprogrammed the simulator so that it was possible to win."

“You hacked into the Kobayashi program?” Scott burst out laughing. “That’s brilliant, laddie!”

“Well, they didn’t seem to think so. They convened a hearing in front of the entire student body just to call me a cheat."

“Aye, that’s what I’m talking about! Nae respect for ingenuity…” Kirk began to relax. Scott’s accent struck him as inordinately funny.

They sat in companionable silence in the dim light, sipping their drinks.


Like Kirk, McCoy was an essentially private man, with a natural reluctance to share a room with two other bright-eyed cadets. Luckily, being CMO provided him with a small office with a couch and a lock on the door, which, he decided, was definitely preferable to the quarters he had been officially assigned.

Despite the long day he’d been through, he was unable to sleep. His mind seemed restless and agitated, unwilling to relax.

Damn.

His conversation with Jim, while more or less therapeutically successful, had left one sentence ringing in his ears: “I may be running from my past, but so are you!” Jim had yelled, obviously intending to wound him. For someone so rooted in denial about his own issues, Jim could be annoyingly shrewd about other people.

“You promised to come home early today,” his wife was saying angrily. “Len, you said that we could go out tonight.”

He had forgotten, and eating out was the last thing he wanted, anyway. “I’m too tired, Jocelyn. I’m a doctor, not a—“

“I know what you are!” she cut in. “It’s a job, Len, not your whole life! When are you not too tired for me?” she asked bitterly. “You’re never around. Even when you don’t have any surgeries, you stay in that hospital. It’s like you don’t even want to come home. Don’t you care? I’m your wife!”

He was apathetic by now to her hysterical outbursts. He’d heard them too often. “What’s the matter?” he asked wearily. “You’re always out with your friends anyway, spending my money…”

“Maybe I want something more. Maybe I want some attention from my own husband.”

“Jocelyn, I don’t have the energy for this.”

The pregnancy had been her idea. He had cooperated at first, thinking that Joss had a point—she was lonely and needy, and he was occupied with his work day in and day out. She tried to persuade him for months, pleading and cajoling and nagging, and he finally gave in, hoping for peace and quiet. At times, he even entertained fantasies of himself as a loving father, proudly taking his child for a walk in the local park.

Too late, he realized what a mistake he’d made. He'd trapped himself. He simply couldn’t bear the thought of being tied down to her anymore. He didn’t want a baby; he wanted, more than anything, to start over, to leave, to get away from her mood swings and her endless demands for his time and attention.

The divorce was easy enough, since he didn’t put up a fight. He gave her everything. As for the child, he hadn’t seen Joanna since she was an infant. It was better, he told himself repeatedly, that she didn’t have to see how cold he was toward her mother or witness their endless bickering. He supported his ex-wife and daughter financially, as generously as he could; he felt that was the least that he could do.

It was ironic, if not downright hypocritical, he thought. Here he was, poking at Jim to talk about his painful history of parental abandonment and rejection. What would Jim say, if he knew what kind of father McCoy was? Jim didn't even know that he had a daughter. He was ashamed to admit to being so irresponsible and self-centered; as a doctor and a man, he held higher expectations for himself. But in this area, he considered himself a failure.

What would Joanna say, if she were asked about her father? And for that matter, what was Jocelyn telling her about him?

Ordinarily, on a sleepless night, McCoy would find Jim Kirk and coax him into going out for a drink—not that Jim ever really objected. But that was obviously out of the question tonight.

Chapter 12: Command Style

 

 

Mindful of Pike’s instructions to keep Kirk under unobtrusive observation, McCoy decided to stroll up to the bridge the next morning after his staff meeting. Jim had looked decidedly tense and edgy when he left McCoy’s office the evening before. McCoy held a vague hope that he’d be mature enough to sleep it off, especially after the long day he'd had.

More likely, though, he’d be showing signs of stress this morning. His system would be off-balance, looking for equilibrium…which, in Jim’s case, probably meant blowing off steam in some juvenile form.

As the lift doors opened, he immediately located the new captain, leaning against the hand-rail that separated the lower level of the bridge from the upper stations, speaking with Spock. He was rubbing his temples and surreptitiously shielding his eyes from the lights at the same time. McCoy frowned. Jim looked shaky and pale. As McCoy came closer, he could see that he was sweating.

McCoy cursed under his breath. Hung over, of course.

“…Captain Pike’s recommendations,” Spock was saying, “…and extensive experience in these matters. I am sure that he would prefer that you…”

“Mr. Spock,” Jim cut in, his irritation obvious, “I am aware of how Captain Pike runs things. You have explained that to me in detail, more than once. But I’m sure that you’ll agree that there might be more than one way of managing the repairs. I talked with Mr. Scott last night, and he seems to feel that the engineering team is not functioning at top efficiency…”

“I would not imply that Mr. Scott is not capable, Captain, but your suggestions are not only unorthodox, but potentially ineffective…”

McCoy observed their interaction, not really listening to the words, but watching Jim’s body language. He was defensive and impatient, even argumentative. He was shaking his head, as if he found Spock’s objections annoying and not worthy of serious consideration.

Spock, on the other hand, had retreated into a sort of disapproving coldness. He stood rigidly, with his hands clasped behind his back. He stared off at the viewscreen as he spoke, only making eye contact with Jim occasionally.

The Bridge crew seemed ill at ease, and there was none of the relaxed banter that should have been present. In fact, those nearest the Captain and First Officer seemed ominously quiet, as if they were straining to hear every word of the conversation. Uhura was eyeing the pair with a mixture of concern and exasperation on her face. McCoy saw the helmsman roll his eyes at the navigator, who raised his eyebrows in return. Jim’s on the warpath, he guessed. This sort of thing had probably been going on all morning.

“Excuse me, Captain,” he interrupted in a loud voice, and Jim looked up, startled, as if noticing him for the first time. “I’d like to have a word with you about medical matters.”

Jim gave him a wary look, but seemed to realize that taking a break from his argument with Spock wouldn’t be a bad idea. “Fine. Excuse me, Spock.” He gestured to McCoy to follow him to the small ready room off the Bridge.

“What’s up, Bones?” he asked with annoyance, the moment the doors closed behind them. “I’m in the middle of something.”

“I can see that, you fool. From what I could see, you were having a goddam pissing match with your first officer."

“I don’t tell you how to run your department,” he said coolly. “Don’t tell me how to run mine. You don’t know what’s been going on, so don’t interfere. What’s the medical emergency?” he asked.

“You are,” McCoy said. “You look like death. Got plastered last night, didn’t you?”

“See, you made that diagnosis without the scanner thing. You’re getting sharper, Bones.”

 “You have a hangover,” he said, disgusted. “What a unique medical challenge.”

“It's not a challenge, because I didn’t ask for your help, did I? Besides, I was making friends with my new chief engineer,” he grinned. “Lighten up, Bones. Next time I’ll invite you.”

“You wouldn’t get my help even if you asked for it,” he said, shaking his head. “This is the kind of suffering I approve of.”

“I’ve had hangovers before. It’ll pass. Don’t take it so hard, Bones. I was just unwinding a little…”

He’s missing the point, as usual, McCoy thought. “For God’s sake, Jim, you’re the captain now. You can't just go around getting drunk and showing up for work like this. And why is everyone on the bridge walking on eggshells around you? Why are you treating your first officer like your adversary?”

Jim scowled and turned away. “Don’t exaggerate. It hasn’t been an easy morning. Look, I’m new. Spock isn’t used to working with someone like me. He’ll get over it.”

“Oh, I forgot,” McCoy said mockingly. “Spock has a problem with authority figures, is that it?”

Jim glared at him. “Maybe he does. Why don’t you make an appointment with him after work?”

Grow up, Jim, he thought in frustration. “Maybe you should,” he suggested quietly. “Look, I have better things to do than give advice that falls on deaf ears. Let me know when you’re off tonight. I’ll meet you for dinner.”

Jim's smile was icy. “I'll look forward to it. Thanks for stopping by.”

 

The captain seemed subdued after his talk with the doctor, Spock mused. The man was obviously feeling ill, so he thought perhaps the doctor had treated his symptoms. He soon rejected that explanation, however, noting that Kirk looked, if anything, even worse. He drank cup after cup of coffee but ate nothing. Several times, Spock caught Kirk looking at him with an expression that he could not fathom.

The morning’s interactions with Kirk had been unpleasant, but by no means unexpected. Kirk clearly operated best in crisis situations, but during routine maneuvers he became restless from a lack of stimulation. He was bored easily, Spock concluded. He therefore sought out conflict as a way of artificially producing excitement. He thrived on turmoil.

All of these qualities were undesirable in a commander.

He was therefore less than inclined to agree when Kirk asked him, an hour later, to “take a turn around the ship” with him. Spock demurred politely, saying only, “It would not be appropriate for both of us to leave the bridge at the same time, Captain. I am perfectly capable of receiving reports of all ship’s systems from my station.” Perhaps Kirk was not aware of this. He was inexperienced. Spock wondered what else he didn't know about the basic functioning of a starship; unfortunately, Kirk didn't seem to be the kind of captain who would look with favor on any suggestions that he had to make.

 “Come on, Spock,” Kirk said, heading for the lift, not leaving room for Spock’s objections. “There are advantages to seeing things with your own eyes. Sulu, you’re in charge.” Spock followed reluctantly.

The lift deposited them on one of the lower decks, and Kirk strode energetically down the corridor. Spock realized that he was heading for the observation window, which provided a view of the entire engineering bay. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Kirk, who simply said, “Take a look at the repair work, and tell me what you see.”

"At what, specifically, am I looking?"

"At the organization and teamwork," Kirk said. "At the efficiency of the process. At the division of labor. At whatever you see that you think is relevant, either positive or negative."

"I have no need to observe the work from this vantage point," Spock said, resisting the impulse to point out the irony of the inefficiency and waste of Kirk's own actions—bringing him here, as a case in point. "I am perfectly aware of the rate of repair. I receive periodic reports which relate this information in detail."

"Spock," Kirk said, sighing, "go with me on this. You're a scientist, and you're trained to observe. Just do it. Maybe you'll find something that your reports don't cover."

They watched the action in silence for several minutes. Spock could see the new chief engineer, Officer Scott, a whirlwind of activity, directing groups of crewmen, explaining, pointing, yelling, and occasionally racing to lend a hand to this or that group. Gradually, Spock became aware that certain clusters of workers seemed, by contrast, surprisingly idle and relaxed. He could not hear what was being said through the window, but it was clear that the entire process suffered from a lack of organization bordering on chaos.

Spock was surprised. This was certainly a different picture than the reports he had been receiving, which suggested a slow but steady rate of repair but made no mention of the wasted energy and inefficient use of resources that were apparent from here. Spock turned to Kirk. “You were correct, captain."

“Jim.”

“There is important information to be gained here. There seems to be a need to restructure the team hierarchy."

Kirk smiled. “Agreed. Scotty’s a one-man band.”

“I am not familiar with the idiom.”

“It means that he’s a soloist. He doesn't delegate well, and he hasn't taken time to manage his staff properly. He wants to do it all himself, and he’s spread too thin. It’s inefficient and it’ll take a toll on him in the end. He's not using his workers efficiently. See there? Those three cadets are lost. Why don't they have an experienced engineer leading them?"

Spock nodded. “You have made your point, captain."

"Jim, Spock. You can use my first name."

"Yes, sir," he said, and the captain shook his head and laughed quietly. "I shall schedule a meeting with the senior engineering staff this afternoon.”

“Good. Let’s move on.”

Kirk led the way back to the lift. Spock assumed that they would return to the Bridge, but Kirk directed the lift to the large Rec Room near the main living quarters. Most of it was devoted to athletic facilities, reflecting Starfleet’s emphasis on maintaining physical fitness, but there were areas for audiovisual entertainment, and small cubicles for reading and quiet conversation. It was nearly deserted except for a few crewmen quietly sitting near the food dispensary. Spock could not guess why the Captain would be interested in visiting it, although one illogical suggestion presented itself.

“Are you hungry, Captain?” Spock asked, wondering why the captain would choose to take refreshment here rather than having it brought to him on the Bridge.

“No, no…” Kirk grimaced, looking nauseous at the thought. “That’s not why we’re here. No, Spock, look around you. The Rec should be the hub of the ship. Where is everybody? Almost a quarter of the crew is off duty now. Why aren’t they here?”

Was this another test of his observational abilities? “I fail to see the relevance,” he said, puzzled. "I assume that they are seeking relaxation in a more solitary fashion.”

“Well, that’s just it, Spock. That’s not typical human behavior. It’s an indicator of the ship’s morale. I think…I’m pretty sure that it means that the crewmen are grieving, but they’re not using each other for support." He paused, and then said quietly, "In my experience, people shouldn't be alone too much when someone close to them dies. They need to see that life goes on. They should continue with their routine."

Spock wondered if Kirk was referring to his own well-known past, or to Spock's situation. He conceded that in his case, Kirk might be correct. Having a job to do gave him purpose and forced him to interact with his shipmates; it was both a burden and a source of satisfaction.

"People are still in shock," Kirk continued. "And Captain Pike’s condition…” He sighed.

"Yes. The crew is worried about his captain’s injuries."

 “Look, Spock. I need to bring the crew together, and I want to do it as soon as possible. I’ve spoken to Pike. I’d like to conduct a memorial service tomorrow for the people who died on those seven ships. Pike can attend, but he’s not well enough to run it. That leaves me…and you.”

“Me?” Spock started in surprise. Did Kirk think that he was equipped to give a speech on grief and mourning? “Captain, I am not comfortable with such a role.”

“For the Vulcan survivors, I mean.”

“I do not follow.”

“Don’t you…Uh, didn’t you have such ceremonies on your planet, in the wake of tragedy?”

“Of course we do. We did. But they are conducted on designated days of memorial, by the elders of our culture, using the ancient texts and instruments…” His voice faltered, and he stopped. Those ceremonial artifacts had been destroyed, as had most of the elders. After a pause, controlling his voice, he continued, “I am unsure as to what, if any, memorial service would be appropriate. Too much is lost…”

“So ask them,” he said quietly. “That’s what I need from you. Be the liaison. Ask the elders who were rescued. They don’t have to attend our ceremony if they don’t want to… But ask them what we could do. It’s important, and not only for them. The crew is mourning for Vulcan, too, but they don’t know how to express it.”

Spock nodded slowly. He had given little thought to the crew’s reactions. Since the event, what little energy he had to spare was devoted to his own need for meditation and reflection as he tried desperately to cool the desire for vengeance and find a state of acceptance. But Nyota…Her grief was evident to him in the way she sought him out and avoided him in turns. When she was with him, she seemed torn between her instinct to comfort him and her own need to be comforted.

Spock considered, for the first time, that Kirk might be more perceptive than he had given him credit for. He presented an unsophisticated, brash demeanor that seemed to cover up the keen intelligence underneath. Perhaps it was designed to make people underestimate him.

“One more thing…” Kirk was saying awkwardly. “Spock, I want to apologize to you. What I said to you on the Bridge…about your mother…Well, it was unforgivable, I know. I went too far…” He stopped and took a breath. “I, uh…should never have suggested that you didn’t love her. That was a terrible thing to say.”

Spock regarded him in surprise. Kirk's cheeks were red, and he looked decidedly uncomfortable, even ashamed. Spock had by now accepted the events that led up to his resigning his command, including Kirk’s provocation, and he knew that his admission of being “emotionally compromised” had been long overdue. Rendezvousing with the Fleet had been the wrong decision; they should have attacked Nero. Kirk had been right. For that, he did not need to apologize.

As for what Kirk had said about his mother, he thought the apology appropriate. “In that case, Jim," he said, "I should say that you got what you deserved.” He stared pointedly at Jim’s bruised neck.

“Maybe so…” Jim agreed, with a small smile. “But don’t get cocky. I let you win, you know.”

“Indeed. I find that unlikely. You are no match for my skills in hand-to-hand combat.”

“Well, maybe not with a broken hand and cracked ribs, but on a good day, Spock, you wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Spock shook his head. “You have a remarkable belief in your own abilities.”

He grinned. “I’ll bring you character references, if you like.”

Spock cocked his head to the side. English slang was not one of his strong suits. “I do not recognize that expression.”

“It means recommendations from people who know me. But never mind, Spock…I challenge you, two weeks from now. You and me, right here.”

“That would not be wise, Jim,” Spock said seriously. “I would not want to humiliate the captain of the Enterprise in front of the crew. And believe me, you could not beat me…even with one hand tied behind my back.”

“Coward,” Jim laughed. “Let’s get back to the Bridge.”

Chapter 13: Slip Sliding

McCoy didn't believe in coincidences.

In his experience, all medical problems, both major and minor, were reflections of turbulence in the soul. Nobody just "came down with" a cold; the virus zeroed in on certain people who were waving a flag at it. Illness and injury were expressions of stress and discord. As a doctor, he was usually skeptical even when patients claimed to have been involved in an accident. He tended to assume that they were ignorant of the aspects of their own behavior that made the accident come about. "It's your own damn fault," he'd tell his patients, not caring that they considered him cranky and unreasonable. He didn't coddle; he told the truth.

So when Jim was brought into Medical, supported by two ensigns from Engineering, bleeding profusely from an ugly cut along his right leg, McCoy was unsurprised.

McCoy had been impressed by Jim's seeming progress in establishing his command authority over the past few days. From what he had seen in his occasional visits to the bridge, Jim was more confident and relaxed, and he had even initiated a sort of gentle, teasing banter with Spock that often left his officers trying to hide their smiles. As a captain, Jim seemed to be trying to take a personal interest in the functioning of every aspect of the ship; McCoy had returned from breakfast early one morning to find him conducting a surprise visit to the Medical Bay, getting acquainted with the two night orderlies.

Like most of the crew, McCoy had attended the memorial service for the fallen cadets and officers. The sight of the youthful, energetic Kirk at the side of the aging, disabled Pike was poignant, even painful. Who could fail to be swept up in his charisma and confidence? The crew needed a leader, and Jim provided a safe haven they could rally around. Jim was a gifted public speaker; McCoy had heard him debating on several occasions over the past three years. He was articulate and intelligent, but not aloof. He knew how to touch his audience at a personal level.

Most of the Vulcan survivors had declined to attend the ceremony, but Spock stood at the side of the crowd with his father, Sarek, their faces expressionless. Spock had provided Jim with a recording of Vulcan music—more like a combination of wind chimes, harps, and chanting—that was stark and hauntingly beautiful. The melody played in the background as the lights dimmed and the crew observed a solemn moment of silence. McCoy didn't understand the words, but he found himself surprisingly affected by the alien tones, which seemed to convey a wistful longing for something that would never return.

"May we find the grace to continue," Jim said simply in conclusion, "and never forget what was lost."

Yet McCoy was aware that Jim's underlying issues were still salient, lurking in the background. Most of his interactions with him since their initial evening discussion could be characterized by one word: exasperating. Jim avoided him as much as possible, and when they did meet at McCoy's insistence, usually for a meal, he was uncommunicative. He answered McCoy's questions, but didn't volunteer much on his own.

The previous evening, McCoy had finally been able to complete the dermal regen on his back now that the infection had cleared. Jim had been quiet, closing his eyes as McCoy worked, dozing lightly. McCoy wasn't surprised that he'd fallen asleep. As far as he knew, he'd been getting no more than four or five hours a night. And he's also not in the mood for a heavy conversation, he thought, feeling a pang of regret at the tension that had sprung up between them. He missed his friendship with Jim, which had somehow gone into hiding as he became his CMO.

When he finished, he tapped Jim's back. "That's it, kid. Good as new."

Jim pushed himself slowly into a sitting position and stretched. "Thanks, Bones. Feels better. Guess I fell asleep. Well, gotta go, really busy," he said, and walked quickly out of the treatment room without a backward glance. McCoy didn't try to stop him.

McCoy understood; Jim was desperately afraid of losing control again. He didn't want any more talks. His nerves were raw and he was trying to protect himself from further exposure. So he was doing all he could to push McCoy away.

Still, therapeutic considerations didn't prevent him from swearing furiously at his patient as he left a trail of blood on the clean floor. "You arrogant fool, what the hell were you doing in Engineering, anyway?" he grumbled. "Dump him here," he told the ensigns, pointing to the nearest biobed.

The gash was straight-edged and bone deep, from mid-thigh to just above his knee. McCoy shook his head and began to gather the equipment he'd need.

"I was helping them transfer—"

"Don't you trust anybody to do their jobs without you? Aren't you supposed to be the captain?"

"Drop it, Bones," he said, annoyed. "I like to help out with the repairs." He grunted as McCoy turned his leg slightly, bringing the injured area more clearly into the light.

"Since when is Engineering an amusement park? Find a safer hobby! Get Sulu to teach you fencing." He probed the wound gently, then gave Jim an appraising look. "Does it hurt?"

"Of course it does!" he snapped, his voice tight. "What do you think?"

"Oh, I'm sure it does. I just felt that this was an opportunity to reinforce last week's lesson about making an honest report about your medical condition."

"Fuck you," he said, scowling. "Your timing sucks."

"This is going to need deep suturing. Do you want an anesthetic, or are you going to tough it out this time too?"

"Go to hell!" McCoy turned away, grinning to himself.

 

"I thought your specialties were helm and nav," McCoy said as he finished wrapping the large bandage that covered the gash.

"Oh, I know a lot about machines," Jim replied dreamily. McCoy smiled to himself. Under the influence of the sedative, Jim's expression was unguarded and sweet.

"Is that so? How do you know so much about them?"

"My job. I used to work as a small vehicle repair technician before I joined Starfleet."

"You used to work as a what?" McCoy looked at him, raising an eyebrow.

Jim blinked and seemed to shake himself. "Nothing. Never mind." He waved his hand as if it were unimportant. He didn't mean for me to know that, McCoy thought.

"What, are you serious? You were a mechanic?"

Jim looked offended. "A repair technician. What do you think I did for money, rob banks?"

McCoy considered. He hadn't actually thought about Jim's pre-Starfleet employment record. If he had had to guess, though, he probably would have chosen a slightly shadier profession. "No, I guess not. What sort of vehicles did you repair?"

"Anything that moved. Helos, small shuttles, bikes… I even had an old motorcycle that I fixed up. Ran really well, too."

There's something you had in common with your stepdad, he thought. "Where did you learn all that mechanical stuff, anyway?" he asked curiously. "I thought you dropped out of school."

"Oh, I don't know, guess I just picked it up…" he said vaguely. "Wanna get something to eat after this? I'm starved."

McCoy looked at him suspiciously. He was familiar with Jim's evasive maneuvers to know that he was trying to hide something.

"Did you study it in school?"

"Uh…yeah. They had a course. I was top in my class."

He's a bad liar. "Try again, Jim."

"Fine. I learned mechanics from a book. That's the truth." A really bad liar.

"Really. Did you learn it from Frank?"

Jim looked up at him sharply. "Of course not. I wasn't living with him by then. I was sixteen… I was on my own…"

"Just tell me, Jim. What's the big secret? You weren't in jail, were you?" He laughed, hoping to ease the tension that suddenly seemed to envelop them.

Jim looked away and blew out his breath slowly. He didn't respond, and McCoy thought, Oh, shit. He's not laughing.

"I wasn't exactly in jail," he said finally.  "I was too young. I was in a group home for kids who had run into trouble with the law." McCoy didn't say anything, as if concentrating heavily on the bandage he was fastening. "They told me that I had to pick a profession, something clean to work in, and I took some aptitude tests. I was always good with machines. I picked mechanics, computer programming, and engineering."

"You didn't tell me that you'd been in trouble with the police." McCoy controlled his shocked reaction and spoke calmly, as if they were discussing the weather, hoping to elicit more details. He had no doubt that this was one facet of past that Jim hadn't revealed to many people, if anyone, since joining Starfleet.

Jim reddened. "Oh, I was a little wild as a teenager…Nothing big, you know. I broke into my neighbor's hopper and took it to Chicago once…"

"For that, they put you in a hostel?"

"Uh…not only that. Some vandalism…hacking… I assaulted a cop once when he tried to arrest me…"

That's not surprising, he thought. "I'm surprised they let you enlist, with that kind of record."

"I was a minor. They're supposed to erase your record when you turn eighteen… Or maybe Pike pulled some strings for me," he said, as if considering this explanation for the first time. "Anyway," he said dismissively, "it was a long time ago."

McCoy could sense Jim's anxiety, thought he tried to cover it with nonchalance. He was clearly ashamed of his record. His cheeks were burning and he was looking at the wall. The monitor showed that his heart rate and blood pressure had shot up.

McCoy searched for something to say that would be neutral and accepting. "What you did when you were young doesn't define who you are now, you know."

Jim looked at him with an odd expression on his face. "Are you speaking from personal experience?"

"What do you mean by that?" McCoy asked, but he knew. Jim suddenly seemed furious.

"I mean, what's in your past, Bones?" His voice had taken on a cruel edge. "Quid pro quo. You never told me anything about what happened during your marriage. What sent you scurrying off to Starfleet?"

 

Jim wanted, more than anything, to wipe the smug look off McCoy's face.  Why did he have to keep asking his incessant questions, keep prodding him, pushing him into revealing too much? More than anything, he was angry with himself for his own loose tongue, though he couldn't see how he could have avoided it. He had been floating in a pleasant drug-induced haze, and "I know a lot about machines" had just slipped out. Then he had hoped to distract McCoy by telling him about the repair tech job; but it had backfired miserably.

"Isn't there anything you're ashamed of?" he said, looking at his friend coldly. McCoy didn't respond, but he didn't really expect him to.

He had known for some time that McCoy was hiding something from him about his past. He had never wanted to pry; he had always felt that they had that in common—a focus on the present, a reticence about what led up to their enlistment. But now, with McCoy deliberating crossing those barriers, asking questions about things that should be kept private, he felt a sense of rage and a need to strike back.

The cut on his leg was beginning to burn; whatever McCoy had given him seemed to be wearing off. The pain made him irritable.

The hostel had been a black period in his life. He had no real friends there. He found that most of the other kids were staggeringly limited in both aspirations and abilities. His daily schedule had been repetitive, regimented and stifling. Bored and numb, he had gone through the motions of schoolwork and the required group interactions, but he found himself mostly marking time—for what, he was not sure.

"I've been reviewing your aptitude test results, Jim," said the young female director. Jim was hardly listening. Probably wanted to tell him that he was not living up to his potential, like a hundred other educators in his life.

"They're quite surprising, in fact. Your school records never suggested…You've scored at the highest percentiles in almost all areas—mechanical reasoning, inductive reasoning, verbal acuity, problem solving skills, acquisition of new information—it's quite phenomenal. Have you ever been tested before?"

"No…" Did she think that he had cheated? "Is that all? Can I go now?"

He'd always known that he was smart. He had always been quicker than almost everybody around him, not that it helped much. School was such a bore, the teachers never knew what to do with him, and he had other things on his mind…He had always liked to read, though. He had never depended on other people to teach him things that he wanted to know. He had even taught himself to drive the Corvette by stealing the ancient plastic-covered manual when Frank wasn't looking.

"The one area in which you scored below average was graphic performance—you're not much of an artist, are you?" He shook his head. He had atrocious handwriting.

"You could do anything, with these scores…Anything at all. You're wasting time with these petty crimes." She looked at him curiously. "Isn't there anything that you really want to do with your life?"

There were so many possible answers to that question. Leave Iowa. Find a pretty girl and live with her forever. Fly a shuttle. Bash Frank's face in. Get drunk for a long, long time. "I want to get out of here," he finally said. "I want to be on my own."

"Not yet," she said, with a hint of sympathy. "When you've earned it. For now, I'm registering you for a course in physics, engineering and advanced programming." She closed his file and gave him a small smile. "Challenge yourself, Jim. Take a chance. Dare to be something more."

After years of being shuffled around and told where to live and what to do, often with disastrous consequences, the hostel director had been the first person to ask him what he really wanted. She had taken a personal interest in him and believed in him. She had been one of the first people to recognize that there was more to him than met the eye.

Years later, when he met Captain Pike, his words had resonated within him, echoing that original conversation. "Do you feel that you were meant for something better? I dare you to do more…"

He wished he had some way to tell her that she had been right. He didn't even remember her name.

 

Chapter 14: Confrontation

It wasn't that he was running from something, exactly. McCoy had joined Starfleet to punish himself.

Disgusted with his own behavior toward his wife—he, who would never dream of treating a patient under his care with such callousness and indifference—and ashamed of the way he'd agreed not to be a presence in his daughter's life, McCoy had done the worst thing he could think of to himself. He had removed himself from his small circle of family and friends in Atlanta. He had given up the surgical specialty that he loved, in favor of a general practice in a Starfleet clinic. An eccentric individualist, he had placed himself in a hierarchical, regimented, military community. An avowed cynic, he had surrounded himself with youngsters whose bright-eyed idealism constantly grated on his nerves. In the misery of that time of his life, Starfleet seemed to exemplify everything that he loathed. If there was also a promise there of a future and the possibility of a different kind of satisfaction, he couldn't yet see it.

The worst part of the whole experience was flying: nav instruction, shuttle jumps, training sims. For McCoy, every small-craft flight invoked an anxiety attack bordering on panic, complete with nausea, sweating, and heart palpitations. And every time, as the distress threatened to overwhelm him, he would say to himself with a vicious pleasure: It's what you deserve. He was supposed to suffer.

It was true, he was afraid of flying, but "aviophobia" didn't really encompass the full meaning of what he suffered from. The term implied that on the ground, he was confident and sure-footed, and only became a mass of insecurities when he was trapped in a metal box whizzing through the atmosphere at high speed. People treated it as an irrational quirk, an unavoidable inconvenience, or even a pathetic proof of his cowardice, but few saw it for what it was: a fear of being faced with his own helplessness and vulnerability.

Doctors liked being in control. They stored staggering amounts of detailed information, learned to perform complex new processes, and read up on the latest treatment protocols. After a while, most developed an arrogant belief in their own abilities to overcome practically any problem in their chosen field. McCoy was no exception. He thrived on the adrenaline rush that came from diagnosing a new medical emergency and providing the right treatment. He loved the intellectual challenge as well as the demands on his stamina and dexterity. And if the presenting complaint offered him an opportunity to berate the patient for his stupidity, foolhardiness, or ridiculous lack of coordination, so much the better.

His marriage and impending fatherhood had been the one area of his life in which he wasn't in charge. Coming home each night to Jocelyn, capricious and impulsive and pregnant, had filled him with dread. It was during this time that he had his first full-blown phobic attack, on his way back from a conference in Toronto. He'd had to leave the shuttle and return by ground transportation.

Jocelyn's response, derisive as usual, had nonetheless contained an element of truth: "Guess it gave you an excuse to take your time coming home, didn't it."

By the time his daughter was born, he and Joss were separated. She hadn't wanted him around for the birth and he hadn't protested.

 

McCoy looked at Jim, seething with contained rage. He's not going to let this go, McCoy thought. "I had nothing to hold me back, but you did. What about your family? What about your ex-wife? Why would you pick up and leave, without a look back?"

"Who says I never looked back?" McCoy asked. "How's the leg feel?"

Jim had a malicious glint in his eye.  "Don't change the subject. You never visit. You never go home on leave…"

"I'm a doctor. Doctors don't take vacations."

"I don't understand. Nobody in their right mind would give up a prestigious surgical position at a major hospital to work in the Academy clinic."

"I just wanted a change, all right? Leave it at that."

"Stop being such a hypocrite!" he said in frustration. "So it's fine for you to ask the questions, but when the tables are turned, you don't want to talk about it? I'm supposed to keep feeding you details about my miserable home life, but you don't have to say anything?"

"That's different. I'm not a patient, and I'm not a command candidate…"

"Then tell me as a friend, dammit! What are you hiding?"

McCoy could feel his face flush. "I told you. My wife took everything in the divorce…"

"Including your common sense, it sounds like."

"Maybe, but that's my business, not yours!"

Jim took a deep breath and spoke more calmly. "Come on, Bones, a guy like you doesn't join the Fleet because you're looking for adventure. You hate flying. Shuttles make you want to puke. And don't give me any crap about making a difference, because you could do that anywhere. You're an elite surgeon, for Chrissake."

"I wasn't looking for adventure."

"Then why? Divorce isn't so terrible. Happens every day. It doesn't make people run away and join Starfleet! You could have stayed but you didn't. Just explain that to me."

What the hell. McCoy sighed and gave in to the inevitable. "Look," he said. "Hospitals are all about politics. I was having some trouble with the Chief of Surgery."

"What kind of trouble? Did you lose a patient?"

"No," he shook his head. "Nothing like that. The Chief was my wife's father. My father-in-law, for a while." Jim raised an eyebrow but didn't interrupt. "When Jocelyn and I separated, he didn't say so in so many words…but I could tell that my career there was finished."

Jim narrowed his eyes, his brow furrowing as it always did when something didn't make sense to him. "I don't get it. Why'd he hate you so much? Marriages break up all the time. People don't get along. What did you do to his daughter?"

How can I make him understand this? "Jocelyn was spoiled. She was used to a certain lifestyle and she ate up my money like candy. But no, that's not the reason." He paused, looking away. "I never told you, Jim, but we had a baby."

Jim blinked in surprise. Clearly, he had been expecting a different answer. "You told me that you didn't have any kids with her. I asked you the first night we went out drinking together…"

"I didn't say that, not exactly," McCoy said defensively. "I said that any man who had a child with a woman like that would live to regret it."

"So…" Jim seemed confused.  "So you had a child, but then you regretted it?"

"That's not what I mean. It wasn't the right thing to do for our marriage. It was a mistake… We weren't going to make good parents, either of us. And we couldn't live together anymore."

"So you abandoned the baby?"

"I didn't abandon her!" McCoy said angrily. "I support them. They have all the money they need."

"How old is this girl?" he demanded. "Does she even have a name?"

"She's three. Her name is Joanna."

Jim was silent, staring at him stonily. He rubbed his bandaged leg absently.

"Is your leg hurting?"

Jim waved his hand angrily, dismissing the question. "She's three years old," he said slowly, "so she was born just before you enlisted."

"About two weeks before, actually. Listen, Jim, by that point, Joss didn't want me to be part of their life—"

"Have you ever met her? Does she know you at all?"

"I stopped by to check on her just after the birth, when she was still in the hospital." McCoy paused and smiled to himself, remembering the tiny dark-haired infant, sleeping serenely in her bassinet. "But I haven't seen her since. I'm sorry, Jim," he said hesitantly. "I know I should have told you."

They sat together for a few minutes in silence. He couldn't meet Jim's eyes. He couldn't blame him for being angry; Jim's history was all about abandonment and that sorry excuse for a stepfather. Of course he would be enraged, not only by what McCoy had done, but by the fact that he'd kept such a secret from him.

"Bones," Jim said quietly. "Come on, look at me."

"You don't have to tell me that I'm a shit father," he said. "Believe me, I know that."

"That's not what I was going to say, actually. Although you're right," he said with a small smile, "you are a shit father. And I won't say that you should be ashamed of yourself, because obviously you are."

"Obviously."

"The truth is, Bones, I was going to say, and don't take this the wrong way, but I'm kind of relieved."

McCoy scowled at him. "Why? Because you found out my deep, dark secret?"

"No. Well, yes, in a way. But I guess…it's not just me. I'm not the only one who has a few things to deal with. It sort of evens the scales, you know?"

"You can't compare these things, Jim."

"I’m not comparing."

"But," McCoy said grudgingly, "if it makes you feel better to know that you're not the only one with flaws…"

"Well, there's comfort in numbers, Bones. And don’t worry, I think I'm still way more screwed up than you are." He grinned, and McCoy laughed.

"That's for sure, kid." He dropped wearily into the chair next to Jim's bed.

"Bones…" Jim hesitated. "It's not too late, you know. Why don't you go see her? Call your ex. Three years is a long time to hold a grudge."

McCoy looked surprised at the suggestion, but then shook his head. "Not for her," he said. "She's the unforgiving type."

"Your daughter needs to know her father. Believe me, I know." 

I'm sure you do, he thought. If someone was qualified to give him advice on that score, it was Jim.

"Tell her that now you're a hero who's just helped save the planet," he suggested. "That might count for something…"

McCoy relaxed a little. "I doubt it. She'll probably just ask if I got a raise, and how much I'm going to increase the child support."

Jim smiled. "Let's get something to drink. You look like you need it, and I definitely do."

McCoy shook his head disapprovingly. "You can't have anything, you clumsy fool. You're still under the influence of the painkillers I gave you."

"Believe me, I'm not." Jim climbed gingerly down from the bed, wincing as he put his weight on the injured leg. "My leg burns like hell."

"Serves you right," McCoy said, looking indignant. "You deserve that pain. Stay in that bed, you're not getting up yet!"

Jim sat back cheerfully. Bones' scolding meant that he was feeling better.

 

Chapter 15: From Bad to Worse

Jim's new yeoman, Janice Rand, appeared at his elbow as he began his shift. She was businesslike and professional, as always. "Sir, you need to fill out these forms before your briefing with the department heads."

"Fine," he said, taking the PADD from her and setting it aside. "Thank you, yeoman. I'll get to them. Now, Mr. Spock—"

"Your meeting is in forty minutes," she interrupted, grabbing the PADD and handing it back to him. "And I'm not finished."

Jim sighed. "Rand, can I get a cup of coffee first?"

"You've already had two cups, sir," she said. "Take a look at this report from yesterday on the telemetry repairs. No offense, but your handwriting is almost illegible! Well, I can't read this word and neither can the computer. Can you?"

Jim squinted at it. "Uh…I think it's decreased."

"Are you sure?"

Jim looked again. "It might be erased. Or maybe cleansed. Yes. I'm sure that's it."

"Captain, why don't you simply voice-record the forms? It would save time and—"

"I'm sure you'll get used to my handwriting," he told her.

His cheeks blazed. He hated recording himself; he felt self-conscious and awkward, and wound up striking and rewording his sentences endlessly. Public speaking was one thing, when the rush of adrenaline helped the words to flow easily. But he had no experience with dictating his thoughts aloud. Maybe, he thought, it was a result of the fact that he'd spent most of his childhood inside his own head, keeping his turbulent thoughts to himself. Or trying to.

"All right, but you'll still need to record your captain's log once a day," Rand was saying. "You haven't done one for the past three days. The personal log is up to you, but Starfleet officially recommends at least twice a week."

(You never think, just say the first stupid thing that comes into your head, if can't you learn to control your mouth then I'll teach you)

"I'll get to it," he said tightly. It came out sharper than he'd intended.

Rand looked hurt. "And we've received a classified bundle from Command," she said, handing him another PADD.

Get a grip, he thought. "I'll read it now," he said, giving her an apologetic smile. "Promise."

She gave him a small smile in return, but her shoulders were stiff and unforgiving. "Don't forget the forms, and go over the Plan of the Day that I've put together. I'll get you another cup of coffee. Oh, and the purser wants to see you right away."

"Tell him to come after the meeting," he said. She turned away and walked toward the lift.

Jim began scanning through the correspondence. Captain Pike was the specified for-your-eyes-only recipient of many of communiqués. Jim wondered whether Pike had forgotten to inform Starfleet of the fact that he had kept him in the role of Acting Captain. Or maybe, he thought, they were just choosing to ignore that fact. It didn't bode well.

One message, however, was clearly meant for him. Admiral Archer had sent an irate "request for clarification" regarding his decision to relieve Engineer Scott from his managerial post on Delta Vega and bring him aboard the Enterprise—as Acting Chief Engineer, no less. Listening to the somewhat-garbled and distorted recording, Jim could feel the hairs standing up on the back of his neck. "Who the hell do you think you are, Kirk? …Direct defiance of my express orders…Just wait till I get my hands on the both of you… disciplinary charges…"

Jim found himself sweating.

The ship's purser, a balding, overweight career officer, met him in the conference room after his meeting. He informed Jim that they were about to run out of fresh food—meat, fruit, and vegetables--and would have to rely on re-hydrated rations until they docked. He explained that the Enterprise had been rushed out of space dock with the other ships, unprepared for a long-term mission, under the assumption that its task at Vulcan would be relatively short. Now, with its damaged engines and hull, the ship was forced to limp back at an agonizingly slow pace. The purser seemed unconcerned, assuring Jim that there would be a variety of "appetizing meal alternatives" to choose from. 

No one would go hungry, of course, but it was demoralizing. Maybe the more experienced crewmembers were used to situations like these, Jim thought, but to the cadets, this would come as a blow. Food was comfort, and re-hydrated rations were just…unpleasant. As he made the ship-wide announcement from the bridge, Jim could hear the officers grumbling under their breath.

Jim kept his voice firm and calm, but the truth was, the thought of re-hydrated food made him queasy. In his second year, he'd been sent on a week-long desert survival course for command cadets. To reduce the weight of the food in their packs, they'd been given dehydrated food pouches, but their water allotment had been enough to cover only minimal drinking needs. If they wanted to eat, their instructor explained before they left, they'd have to use urine. The water molecules would be filtered out using a special membrane which was included in the pouches. Two of the cadets in his group had flat-out refused to do it and had washed out early. Jim had nearly vomited his first meal right back up, and spent the entire week feeling nauseated.

Following his announcement, Spock approached the command chair and said quietly, so that only he could hear, "I have received a message from Starfleet, Captain. I feel that it is only right to inform you that I have been asked to send a recommendation to the Academic Ethics Committee regarding your actions in the Kobayashi Maru test."

"Is that so," Kirk said, frowning. Shit. He had held some hope that with the senior cadet class decimated and Starfleet in turmoil, the AEC would just drop the matter. Apparently, they had decided that "business as usual" was the wisest course of action. "Uh, I don't suppose there's any chance that you'd give me a hint? I mean… what are you planning to recommend?" He kept his tone light.

"Jim," Spock answered, visibly offended, "I am honor bound to keep the workings of the Committee confidential. It would be inappropriate for me to tell you my recommendation, especially since we must continue to work together, at least until the ship docks."

"Of course." That didn't sound at all promising. "I wouldn't want you to do anything that you felt was unethical." He wondered whether Vulcans could recognize sarcasm.

"I trust that you will be made aware of the Committee's decision shortly," Spock said, turning back to his science station. Jim picked up the PADD and went back to the reports, fuming.

"Bad things come in threes," Winona used to tell him. It was more of a platitude than a useful piece of advice, but it had comforted Jim in his childhood whenever he was having a particularly bad day. Once, when he was about five, she'd said it after he'd tripped and skinned his knee, scalded his tongue on a hot cup of tea, and lost his favorite ball.

Not ten minutes later, he'd been stung by a bee. "But you said there would be only three things," he sniffed as she dabbed the spot with an anesthetic.

"Well, maybe it's different with you, Jimmy," she said. She laughed, but didn't sound like she was really amused. "You always do things the hard way."

 

Jim came down to Medical at the end of his regular shift. It was becoming a habit: he visited with the patients, chatted with the nurses, met with Pike, and grabbed McCoy for dinner. Today, though, he broke routine, avoiding Pike and heading straight for McCoy's office.

McCoy was staring at the computer screen, completely engrossed. He acknowledged Jim's presence with a short grunt but didn't look up.

"Had a busy shift?" Jim asked. "Why are there so many beds full?"

"Hold on, Jim," McCoy said, holding his hand up. "I'm in the middle of something here."

Jim nodded and slumped into the chair opposite his desk, watching him. McCoy looked better in blue than red, he thought. He'd never been comfortable in his cadet uniform, but here, in his office, unshaven and tired, dressed in his surgical scrubs, he seemed to belong.

In fact, he looked downright attractive, Jim thought.

"You look good," he blurted.

"Huh?" McCoy looked up. "What?"

"I mean…" he said, flustered, "you just look like you're in the right place. This office. The medbay. It suits you."

McCoy laughed. "I'm a surgeon, Jim. It's not the first time I've run a clinic."

He shook his head. "It's not the same. You're the Chief Medical Officer on a starship. And you're good, Bones. The nurses respect you and I've seen you handle the patients. Hell, I've seen you handle me."

"You're a challenge, I admit. But I know how to run my department, don't worry."

"You could do this," he said quietly. "You could be here, running Medical on a ship like this."

They'd had this discussion before, countless times. McCoy readily admitted that his part-time position in the Academy clinic was boring. Repetitive and dull. He'd grumbled to Jim more than once that he was wasting his talents there, but serving on a starship had never been an option that he'd consider.

"I'm not going into the black," he told Jim. "Starfleet just can put me on a Starbase. I'm going somewhere with a constant gravity and a good supply of fresh food and a modern hospital."

"That's so boring, Bones. Stop talking like an old man. Don't you have a sense of adventure?"

"Even assuming I wanted adventure, which I don't, where's the challenge in serving with hundreds of men and women in the prime of their health? It would be even worse than the job I've got now. And that's besides the fact that a starship is nothing but a flying metal coffin. Do you know how many of those ships don't come back at all?"

"Yeah, Bones, I've heard something like that."

"Dammit, Jim, I didn't mean—"

 "I know what you mean. Never mind."

Jim had known that in the end, McCoy wouldn't come with him. He'd go off on a starship, hopefully command one eventually, and McCoy would stay behind. Their friendship would become a thing of the past, renewed occasionally through short commed messages and infrequent leaves.

He wondered why that bothered him so much.

"You should be a CMO on a ship," he repeated, "not take some boring job on a base."

McCoy looked at him. "Well, you're right about one thing. This job isn't boring, that's for sure. This is the first chance I've had to sit down all day. I had an emergency appendectomy, two minor burns from an Engineering accident, Ensign Hodge is pregnant, and I put Cohen in isolation. He has an unidentified fever and a couple of other juicy symptoms." He smiled.

"So this is cause for celebration?" Jim looked at him questioningly.

"Oh, I've been reading up on an experimental procedure that might help Pike."  

"That's great, Bones."

"They need me, Jim. I'm not just a surgeon here. I have to be an internist, an orthopedist, a psychologist, an OB-GYN, and even a pathologist and a researcher. It's a lot more of a challenge than I thought it would be."

"And," Jim grinned, "you get to be my personal physician."

"I forgot to add 'pediatrician' to the list, but yeah."

"If you're going to be on my ship, you're going to have to work on your bedside manner. Stop insulting the patients."

"There's nothing wrong with my bedside manner. I don't believe in coddling, that's all."

"All I'm saying is, you're a good CMO. And you're not even hyperventilating."

McCoy frowned. "Don't think I've forgotten we're on a floating tin can with no means of propulsion and we're running out of food."

"Fresh food."

"Doesn't matter." McCoy cocked his head at him. "Never mind me. What's the matter with you? You look a little worried."

Jim told him about Spock's Starfleet communiqué, and McCoy laughed. "Well, you know what they say, Jim. 'Oh, what a tangled web we weave / when first we practice to deceive!'"

"Don't quote Shakespeare at me."

"It's Sir Walter Scott, you ignoramus. And I thought you'd like it better than 'I told you so.'"

"Thanks, that's very helpful."

"Don't take it so hard, Jim. They won't kick you out. Not now."

"Spock's a good officer," Jim said. "And he's got a lot of integrity. It's just…I don't think he has much of a sense of humor."

"That's what every practical joker says in his own defense. Nobody likes to be made a fool of, Jim."

"There's also an admiral who wants to bring me up on disciplinary charges."

"Ouch," McCoy said. "That sounds serious."

Jim nodded, getting up heavily. "I think I need to speak to Captain Pike."

 

Chapter 16: Advice

Pike watched Kirk as he came into Medbay, studiously avoided looking in his direction, and headed straight for the CMO's office.  He was disappointed, but not surprised. He considered calling him over, but in retrospect, decided that Kirk needed to come to him of his own volition. If he decided not to consult with him—well, that said something, too.

Kirk spoke with him every evening, ostensibly giving him a report of ship's repairs and other routine matters. Pike didn't need his reports—he usually spent the hour before Kirk arrived gathering all the information he needed about the ship—but he liked to use the visits as an opportunity to test him on his grasp of the ship's functioning. Kirk had proven unexpectedly knowledgeable about the engineering aspects of the repairs. Pike knew that he roomed with the new Chief Engineer, Montgomery Scott, and suspected that some of Kirk's familiarity with the state of repairs came from informal conversations with him. Still, he was impressed. Kirk was a quick study.

But he had hoped that Kirk would use him as more of a sounding board—as a mentor. But Kirk rarely asked for help or advice. He seemed to feel that he needed to present a seamless exterior: no insecurity, no weakness. It was this aspect of Kirk's personality that worried Pike the most.

In his eyes, Kirk was still a cadet. Undoubtedly, he was talented and ambitious. He had proven that he could make good decisions under pressure—as well as very bad ones—and he was making an admirable effort to step into Pike's shoes on the journey home, which, fortunately, had been relatively uneventful. But that didn't make him experienced, and it certainly didn't make him infallible. A good commander knew his own limitations. Inexperience could be compensated for, provided the man in charge was willing to admit that he needed advice.

Things were coming to a head. Politically speaking, Kirk was way out of his depth, whether he realized it or not. Pike had spent the morning looking over the classified correspondence from Fleet Command. He had expected some disapproval and requests for clarification, but the reactions to Kirk's being left in command had ranged from barbed expressions of sympathy for his "clearly compromised mental state" to apoplectic rage. Kirk might not have seen all of the messages, but he was surely astute enough to guess that there was a dangerous backlash headed his way. Hero of the Federation or not, his future in Starfleet was far from assured.

When he had brought Kirk to the Academy as a new recruit, there had been some objections because of his criminal record. Ordinarily, a cadet with Kirk's background would have been shunted to a less sensitive specialty, one which required a lower level of security clearance than command. But Kirk's father had been a Starfleet hero, and that garnered him some support; behind the scenes, Pike had fought for him as well, and he was allowed to begin command training. Kirk himself knew nothing of this, much as he was probably unaware that he'd been under careful scrutiny for quite some time by some of Pike's colleagues.

Kirk had proven himself academically, no question about that. He was not the top student in his class, of course. His study habits were sporadic and his written expression was below average. But he had a phenomenal memory, and his analytical, mechanical, and physical abilities had given him a clear edge over most of his classmates. On field assignments, he was the one to watch. Yet Pike knew that his instructors had reservations about his cocky attitude. The troublesome psych eval, coupled with Kirk's lack of cooperation with any form of treatment, had left his future on the command track in question. Even if he were allowed to complete command training, he'd never be given command of anything higher than a  passenger shuttle, freighter, or some remote Starfleet outpost.

The Kobayashi Maru fiasco had played right into the hands of Kirk's biggest critics. Pike didn't sit on the Ethics Committee, but he had his sources. If not for the unexpected interruption, Pike was sure the hearing would have ended with Kirk being shunted into the engineering track.

Pike had been expecting Kirk to bring up the issue of his academic suspension, but he had scrupulously avoided mentioning it, maybe hoping naively it would simply disappear in the wake of the Vulcan tragedy. Pike knew better. In the political maneuvering that would accompany the coming shakeup at Starfleet Command, Kirk was nothing more than a pawn that was about to be caught in someone else's power play. Even Spock could figure that out.

"I am having some difficulty composing an appropriate response to the Ethics Committee," Spock had told him with some hesitation.

"What's the trouble, Spock?" Pike knew Spock well enough to understand that he rarely admitted to feeling conflicted about the proper course of action. "You were the one who brought the accusation of cheating. Surely you haven't changed your mind?"

"Certainly not," Spock said calmly. "Cadet Kirk cheated on the test. He reprogrammed the simulator. That is unquestioned… My concern is that in the current situation, there will be political ramifications to my recommendation."

Pike nodded. "You're not wrong about that."

"It is important for me to know, sir, before I make my recommendation. Do you intend to support Kirk for your replacement as Captain?" Pike looked at him sharply. Spock, of course, wouldn't beat around the bush. He wouldn't pretend, as everyone else on the ship except McCoy was doing, that he could continue to command, paralyzed from the waist down. Even if he regained a moderate level of improvement, as McCoy predicted, Pike's future as a starship captain was over. In a way, Pike was grateful for Spock's honesty. It was a relief to be able to speak with someone who wasn't lying to him about his condition—and yet was asking for his advice.

"Kirk has supporters and detractors," he said quietly. "My approval will count for a lot. I brought him to Starfleet, and now…" He took a breath. "I think I'll get the sympathy vote, if you know what that means. My suggestion will carry some weight." He looked at Spock, smiling, but without amusement. "Do you now see any mitigating factors in his actions in the Kobayashi test?"

Spock raised an eyebrow. "It is not an excuse for cheating, but…I can see how the determination to alter the terms of the engagement, to be unpredictable, has advantages. It was not the purpose of the test, but I do not think that the cadet can be faulted for finding a flaw in our plan. The fact that no other cadet has done so seems to indicate…original thinking."

"That's quite a compliment, coming from you."

"I did not necessarily mean it as an endorsement of his actions. I am merely suggesting that if he is being considered for command, it would be wise to point out to the committee that his actions could be interpreted in more than one way."

Spock understood, Pike reflected, even if he didn't say so in so many words. Jim Kirk needed friends and allies, and to get them, he was going to have to do something that he'd been avoiding for a long time.

Pike saw Kirk exit McCoy's office and begin to slowly work his way toward him, stopping to chat with the patients as he usually did.

It's about time, he thought.

 

"Captain Pike," Kirk began, settling into the chair beside his bed, "I need to talk to you."

"Yeah, you do," Pike agreed. "I have something to tell you, too. But I'd like to hear what you have to say first."

Kirk seemed uncharacteristically hesitant. "We've been receiving some messages from Starfleet that I need to answer. Maybe you could give me some tips about how to...uh, phrase my response."

Stop beating around the bush, kid, Pike thought impatiently. "What's the matter? Did you forget how to write a formal Fleet memo? Ask your yeoman."

Kirk flushed. "No, that's not the problem."

"You want to be a little more specific, Kirk?" he asked. "I don't think it's linguistic style that's got you worried."

"Maybe you should just see it, sir." Jim grabbed a PADD from the nurses' desk, keyed in his personal code, and handed it to Pike. "It's from Admiral Archer."  

Pike listened to Archer's semi-garbled message, unable to hold back a smile as he threatened to send Scott, or Kirk, or both, to the furthest, most inhospitable mining colony he knew of and suggesting they could look for his missing dog there for the next six months.

Pike handed the PADD back to Kirk. "That dumb dog. Kept the rest of us awake, barking at all hours of the night in Officers' Housing. Archer ignored all our complaints. When Scott beamed it off God knows where, we held a party in his honor."

"Scotty thinks it might still come back," Kirk said. "He just doesn’t know when or where, or in what condition…"

"Maybe you should put that in your reply to the Admiral."

"Sir?"

"Why don't you just tell him where to shove his beagle?"

Kirk blinked. "Can I do that? I mean, the guy outranks me by about fifty grades, and he's threatening to lock me up for insubordination…"

"You seem to get that reaction a lot."

"Yeah, I guess so," he laughed. "But I'm not really interested in him making good on his threat."

"Look, Kirk, you made a decision," Pike said. "A command decision. You were involved in a series of events that couldn't be predicted in advance, and you made a judgment. That's fine. You've explained to me your reasons for taking Scott on board, and they're reasonable, even if I might not have made the same choice. You make a decision in the field, and when somebody else, who isn't in possession of all the facts, tries to second-guess your decisions – stand your ground." Kirk nodded, looking relieved.

"And I'll be frank with you. Archer isn't a popular guy. He may be the nephew of Jonathan Archer, but it seems like  all he got from him was a love of beagles. He abuses his power and authority, and what he did to that engineer is a good example. He takes things personally and he overreacts. So yes, go ahead and tell him that, and in this case, I don't think you'll have to worry about any charges. I'll back you, and I'll put in a word for your actions with the Admiralty. What else?"

"Well, I've gotten some requests from Starfleet Public Relations…" Kirk reddened. "They want me to give some interviews when we get back."

"They do, do they?" Pike noticed his discomfiture and laughed. "Well, you're a hero now. The Fleet wants to put you on display. What's the matter with that?"

"You don't really think that I should agree?" Kirk seemed appalled. "I don’t want to do any interviews. Why doesn't PR just release a statement or something?"

Goddam naïve kid. "What's the problem, Kirk? It seemed to me that, based on your behavior as a cadet, you like to attract attention and even notoriety."

"That doesn't mean that I want my face starring on every newsvid on the planet!"

"I've given interviews. It comes with the job."

"No!" He seemed furious, controlling himself with effort. "It's not a good idea. I thought you'd back me on this."

"Not in this case. It's bad politics, son. Starfleet has just lost most of its senior cadet class. They need a hero, someone who can project the right attitude. You're young, smart, ambitious," he soothed. "You'll do fine…"

Kirk shook his head. "I'm not going to give any interviews, Captain. That's final."

"Better be honest with me, Jim," Pike said quietly. "You must have known that after pulling off a spectacular rescue like you did, there'd be publicity. Tell me what the real problem is."

Kirk looked at him for a long minute before replying. "Captain Pike, you know that I'm not the kind of hero they're looking for. My record's not clean. You called me a delinquent when we first met…"

"A genius repeat offender. I remember."

"Right. I'm smart. I know that you pulled some strings to get me in. I know that with my…past, I should never have been let into command training. But I figured…my dad's a hero, and maybe they were willing to overlook some things I did when I was a kid."

"Good guess," Pike said, looking surprised. I didn't think he knew that, he thought. He's more astute than I gave him credit for.

"Well, maybe not everybody's going to be so forgiving," Kirk blurted. "Maybe not everybody is going to stand up and applaud when they see me on the vid."

"What, you think that someone's going to see your picture and rush to the media—"

Kirk laughed bitterly. "Can't you see the headlines? 'James Kirk's Troubled Past: From Convict to Captain.' OK, maybe not convict, but criminal—yeah, that could stick." He shook his head, fuming. "I'm not going to be that guy that the whole planet feels sorry for. Or that guy that everyone's hoping will screw up again."

The kid had a point. It would be hard to prevent, and he was right, once the media got hold of a story like this, he'd never be able to shake the image. People would pity him—maybe even his crew would feel sorry for him, and Kirk would be stuck proving himself over and over again. Or worse—he'd feel that he was being reminded on a daily basis that he didn't deserve to be where he was, and he'd self-destruct. There were plenty of ways to do that in Starfleet.

"Captain," Kirk said, looking suddenly very young, "I'm asking you. Support me on this, too. I'm not going to give any interviews and I don't want my past exposed."

This was a new aspect of Kirk's character that Pike had never seen. Neediness. Vulnerability. It occurred to him that Kirk's juvenile record was sealed, but his stepfather's incarceration was a matter of public record. An ambitious journalist could easily make the connection between Frank's prison term and the abuse; it would humiliate Kirk.

He felt a sudden surge of protectiveness. "All right, son. I'll do my best to keep the media vultures away. I owe you that. But I have a request of my own, and you're not going to like it."

Kirk looked up.

"I'm going to be straight with you. I'm impressed with the way you've handled the ship, and I think you have the capability to learn and grow as a commander. I like you, Jim. I think it's time that Starfleet had a captain like you. You're an independent thinker, and you don't give up, even when the situation's hopeless." He gestured at his legs in illustration.

"Back in the 20th century, when the U.S. Air Force was training test pilots, they used to talk about 'the right stuff'—men who had the kind of bravery and daring and ability to make the right split-second decisions when they were flying those planes. I think, and I'm not the only one, that Starfleet has forgotten about that little piece of history, and it's a shame. We train for excellence, supposedly, but we don't necessarily know how to cultivate those qualities. Maybe it's something that can't be taught.

"I don't know how it happened, with everything you've been through. But I think that you've proved that you do have the right stuff, and despite your inexperience and your age, you're the one I want to relieve me as Captain of the Enterprise."

 

Captain. Of the Enterprise. Jim held himself absolutely still, but he couldn't help the slow smile that was spreading over his face.

"But I don't make these decisions," Pike was saying, "at least not by myself. My vote will carry some weight, but you need to know that that alone won't be enough. You've got a couple of strikes against you. Your youth, for one. There's never been a starship captain under the age of thirty. Commanders come up through the ranks, and there will be good men, talented men, who've been coveting this position. You'll have rivals the minute you step off the ship, and you need to know it."

Jim nodded. He expected this.

"But the bigger strike against you is…Son, are you aware that there's a recommendation in your file against giving you command?"

"There's a what?" Jim felt as if he had been slapped.

"You've refused to cooperate with Starfleet Psych. You won't go to counseling. There are some deep reservations about your ability to command, to deal with authority, to make the right decisions under stress. They say that you have no introspection or understanding of what makes you who you are."

"That's not true!" he said. But he heard McCoy's voice echoing in his mind, You don't even know why you resisted like that, you lost control, you overreacted.

"Maybe not. But you'll have to convince more than me if you want to command a starship. You grew up in Iowa, Jim, you know baseball. Well, I can go to bat for you, but you've got to get yourself on the playing field first."

Three strikes and you're out.

Pike looked at him directly. "Prove them all wrong. Get a new recommendation. Take another psych eval."

"No!" The word flew out of Jim's mouth and he sprang to his feet before he realized what he was doing.

Here, son. I'm going to administer a hypno drug and we'll have a little talk. Just relax. Don't fight it…

He tried to speak calmly. "I'm not going through that again. I'll talk to whoever you want, at Starfleet. But not Psych."

How old are you now, Jimmy? You're eight? Talk to your mother. Is she here now, in the room with us? Tell her how you feel.

"You have no right to ask that of me."

Frank's here. What's he doing to you? Is he touching you? Tell me.

"These things are private. It's all a bunch of crap anyway, I don't believe in those hypno drugs!"

You're safe. You can say whatever you want to him. He won't hurt you.

He was breathing too fast. Pike's voice sounded far away. "Take it easy, Jim…"

Calm down, son. Don't be so aggressive. We'll stop the session now. We can continue later…

"I won't do it," he said coldly, and left.

 

Chapter 17: Fire and Ice

Nyota was playing a game in her head.

She wasn't given to emotional outbursts, and she knew that people who didn't know her well considered her overly serious, even cold. But she was ambitious and smart, and she had simply learned at a young age that controlling her reactions gave her an edge. Passion was a private thing. So she'd taught herself a trick or two to help herself stay detached, even when all her instincts were screaming do something.

Right now, the trick she was using was a language game she'd learned in school, long ago: find a word for every letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, to describe what you see. It was intellectually challenging and distracting, and it kept her emotionally detached. Which was what she needed now, because she couldn't interfere, and there was no way that she was going to leave.

Sitting in apparent poise on the edge of the large exercise mat in the Rec, legs curled underneath her, Nyota observed the two sparring partners as she considered and discarded word choices. She was fairly sure that anyone watching her would think her calm and composed. What she really wanted to do was grab one of the heavy training sticks used for martial arts practice, and bash Kirk over the head with it. And Spock too, for good measure.

Dressed only in matching loose black training pants, both men were well-formed, muscular, powerful. One man's skin was dry, taut, and almost unblemished, while the other sported a truly alarming array of half-healed contusions, cuts, and scrapes. Sweat streamed down the captain's face and back, mixing here and there with blood. Spock wore a cool, almost detached expression, while Kirk seemed to be consumed by a tight, painful fury that seemed unrelated to the frustration of losing the match.

Their eyes were locked on each other. They were concentrating so fiercely that Nyota wasn't sure whether they were even aware that they were being watched. Occasionally one of them, usually Kirk, would speak, a taunting barb that was meant to goad the other into an uncontrolled reaction, or simply to irritate. The physical contact between them came and went in waves. Sometimes as much as a minute went by in which they simply circled each other, resting and evaluating. Then suddenly, as if both were listening to an unheard inner cue, they would launch themselves at each other, clashing and grappling and seeking a point of leverage.

Eyes on the fight, she had taken a deep calming breath and begun her game. She started with arrogant and berserk and childish, continued onward through humiliating and idiotic and juvenile. After quarrelsome and relentless, she'd arrived at S.

Stupid, she thought now. Well, and sexy, she had to admit.

They'd been sparring for about forty minutes, and a small crowd was gathered. She could pick up enough whispered bits of conversation to know that wages were being placed. Some of them, out of misplaced loyalty no doubt, were even betting on the captain. Since his winning the match was completely out of the question by this point, she wondered what they were betting on—that he'd concede defeat gracefully rather than simply losing consciousness; that he'd last for another five minutes; or maybe that he'd draw blood. So far, Spock had acquired only a few bruises, while Kirk's blood was spattered all over his face and chest, and the mat. She'd heard Spock offer to stop the match, but Kirk refused with a bitter laugh.

Self-destructive. That was it.

She shook her head in disgust, and—Admit it, girl—a small twinge of admiration. The way this man took on impossible odds and acted as if the end weren't a foregone conclusion, as if he weren't going to get his ass kicked (literally, in this case)—well, either he was building a worldview based on denial of reality, or people were underestimating him in a big way.

Although at the beginning she had felt a smug satisfaction each time one of the blows hit the mark—he was only getting what he deserved, she thought, what he asked for and so clearly should have seen coming—she soon found herself flinching in sympathetic response to Kirk's grunts of pain. She was struck by the uncomfortable thought that he had engineered this situation, a public display of skill which was obviously not going to end well for him. It wasn't as if he didn't know Spock's strength. He must have known that he'd be battered, punched and kicked, even if Spock held himself back as he was clearly doing. It was as if he wanted to be hurt or beaten, in some twisted way.

It reminded her of their first meeting, when he was a townie-going-nowhere with a short fuse and a big chip on his shoulder. What had happened to send him back there? God, didn't he know yet that he was worth more than that?

Watching him throw himself at his opponent tirelessly, stubbornly, time and again, only to have his attacks blocked and his defenses penetrated, she wanted desperately to stop the ridiculous mock battle. And yet she was paralyzed by her understanding that it was not her place to interfere, and—Be honest!—a heart-thumping desire to watch them continue. Not only her partner, who was sublimely attractive in his controlled strength and grace, but Kirk as well, angry and bloody and driven.

They were beautiful together. She couldn't tear her eyes away. She felt a flush of heat rise up from her chest and spreading over her face.

W was next. Weakening. Kirk blocked the kick that slashed upward to swipe under his legs, and dived into a roll, coming up on his feet. But his reactions were getting slower.

Wiped out? He was wheezing, out of breath and clearly in pain. His hair was plastered to his head with perspiration. He seemed to be favoring his left hand—perhaps he had reinjured it.

Worse for the wear. She hoped it wouldn't last much longer.

She was trying to decide between exhausted and extinguished (naturally, some accommodations had to be made for the letter X, which was overly limited) when Kirk suddenly whirled up and around from his roll and delivered a straight-on kick to Spock's chin. The crack of his heel connecting with Spock's jaw was audible around the room, and Spock's head snapped back. Nyota gasped in stunned surprise. The crowd oohed (in appreciation? in revulsion?) as Spock's split lip began to bleed in a shocking shade of emerald.

Explosive. Yes. She saw the small smile on Kirk's lips. He'd proven something to himself, although she wasn't sure what.

She snapped herself out of her reverie, got up quickly, and left.

 

Spock was caught by surprise in more ways than one. When he had agreed to the match, he had told himself that it was only to placate the captain. Jim had approached him earlier that evening, reminding him without preamble that Spock had promised him a "rematch," as he called it, and insisting that it take place as soon as possible. Spock was perfectly aware that he had promised no such thing, and in fact had tried to dissuade him at the time, knowing that he held a clear advantage over him in hand-to-hand combat. Familiar with Jim's typical methods of persuasion, he had expected a barrage of whining and good-natured cajoling that he could resist with ease.

But Jim had used none of these childish techniques. He had not even argued with him, or given Spock a chance to refuse. He simply told him to meet him in the Rec at 2100 hours, using such a commanding tone of voice that Spock felt almost compelled to agree.

As a fighter, he discovered, Jim was clearly experienced and had a surprising familiarity with several of the martial arts, both modern and ancient. Although of medium build, he made good use of leverage, momentum, and speed to compensate for their difference in strength. He was in good shape and had relatively good endurance for a human.

All of this was, in the end, irrelevant. He was hopelessly outmatched. Despite this, Spock appreciated the opportunity for a combined physical and mental exercise: how to judge the amount of force to apply in order to avoid injuring the captain, while maintaining his advantage. There was no question in his mind of letting the captain win, which would be illogical. Still, Spock intended to exhaust him without injuring him, if possible. He expected the match to last for less than ten minutes.

Except that it didn't work that way.

From the moment Kirk came at him, kicking and whirling and striking with surprising force, Spock realized that he had forgotten to account for several variables in predicting the outcome.

First, the adrenaline. Kirk was obviously committed to winning the battle and had no compunctions about hurting Spock. He was going all out, and Spock began by holding back; this was a mistake. Spock knew that adrenaline could cause a human to experience substantially increased speed and strength and raise his pain threshold, but he had not thought that a simple exercise in hand-to-hand combat between two officers would trigger such a response. An adrenaline rush was common in "fight or flight" situations; why would the captain be in emergency mode? It made no sense.

Second, Jim was obviously in the grip of some kind of adverse emotional reaction, and he had apparently projected these emotions onto the situation of the match. His fury was palpable, although Spock could think of no reason that he was aware of to explain it. But Jim's emotional involvement fueled his determination and increased the violence of his maneuvers, and also, Spock realized, lessened the possibility that Kirk would give in gracefully after a few minutes.

"You are aware, Captain, that as a Vulcan I have a higher bone density than you do," Spock reminded him, during one of their short breaks.

"Right, so try not to break the floor when you fall," Kirk said, chest heaving. "Pike's already mad enough at me that I ruined the warp drive and cracked the hull."

"That was not your doing alone, surely. I have noticed that you tend to exaggerate your abilities."

"Look who's talking. I would have thought that with your unparalleled skills in hand-to-hand combat, you'd have wiped the floor with me by now."

"Perhaps you should save your breath for another futile attempt to overpower me with brute force."

And on it went. It was an effort to remain composed and restrained in close combat. As a touch telepath, Spock found the situation unsettling. Though any skin-to-skin contact they made was necessarily brief, Spock could not help but be influenced by Kirk's highly charged emotional state. Anger simply radiated out from him, and occasionally, more than that—desperation, bitterness, and even fear.

Spock became irritated. The match had continued long after it should by rights have ended. They had attracted a small crowd of off-duty crewmembers who were watching them with intense interest; this was inappropriate, but the captain seemed either unaware of their presence or disinclined to disperse them. Spock began to resent the situation he had been forced into, in which he was required by his own sense of propriety to protect the captain from his self-destructive impulses. The very act of keeping his strength in check, as he was goaded unmercifully by the captain himself, infuriated him. Was the captain deluded enough to believe that Spock could not easily break him in two, should he so desire?

And Nyota. Spock was surprised that she had stayed to watch, since she normally held an aversion to violent displays of male prowess. She had told him once that when she first met Jim Kirk, he had instigated a brawl that had left him bleeding and completely incapacitated. The disgust in her voice, as she recounted the events, had been apparent. He had assumed that she was repulsed by the unnecessary physical violence. Yet now, for some reason, she was following the match intently. Her face was flushed and she seemed to be breathing rather quickly. He could not interpret the expression on her face; but it was certainly not disgust, or even distaste.

Spock decided that it was time to end the match. The captain was clearly defeated, whether he admitted it or not. Spock aimed a kick—strong, yes, but not with deadly force—toward his midsection. Jim blocked it and rolled, and Spock expected him to back away and put some distance between them. But he surprised Spock by coming up suddenly with a kick of his own that connected with Spock's jaw with enough force to snap his head back and draw blood.

The sight of his green blood seemed to have a frenzying effect on the watching crowd, to judge by their resultant exclamations and whispered conversations. It seemed to affect Kirk as well. He took a step backward and blinked, as if noticing for the first time that they were not alone.

Shaking his head as if to clear it, he looked quizzically at Spock. "Are you all right, Spock?" His fury seemed to have dissipated. He looked mildly embarrassed.

"Of course, Captain," Spock replied coolly. "I trust that you are not too badly injured either."

"No, no, it's nothing..." He straightened suddenly, then bowed formally. Spock followed suit. "Thank you for the match, Spock." Looking around at the crew with a glare that seemed mildly threatening, he added, "Show's over, people. Find another form of entertainment." 

Why the captain should be showing signs of discomfort in front of the crew now, Spock wasn't sure. He had performed admirably, and had certainly exceeded Spock's expectations. Surely the crew could appreciate his fighting skills and determination.

But the entire interaction had been perplexing and disturbing, and raised too many questions. Spock didn't know how he could work with a man so emotionally volatile.

 

A/N: The title is a reference to Robert Frost's poem Fire and Ice:

 Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

 

Chapter 18: Re-evaluating

McCoy stood at the back of the crowd, watching the fight and fuming.

Damned if he was going to interfere. Fucking idiot.

Christine had paged him about twenty minutes into the match. "I think you'd better get down to the Rec as fast as you can, Len, and bring a tranquilizer."

"What's the matter?" he yelped. "Does someone need to be sedated?"

"Not exactly," she replied calmly. "The tranquilizer is for you."

McCoy had arrived in time to watch the final ten minutes of the match. He was reminded of the look on Jim's face when the guards had grabbed him on the bridge; he was fighting demons, not Spock. I knew Jim's sudden maturity was too good to be true, he thought. His past was catching up with him again.

He observed the two men dispassionately, even as part of his mind was mentally listing the injuries Jim would soon be trying to hide, no doubt. He was appalled at Jim's recklessness in agreeing to a match such as this, less than three weeks after he'd sustained serious injuries in the Nero incident. (Who was he kidding? Agreeing to it? This dumbass idea had Jim written all over it.)

Jim seemed to be in the grip of a mad frenzy; clearly, whatever Pike had said to him had set him off in a big way. He didn't know what they had talked about, only that Jim had marched out of Medbay without a word afterward, looking tight-lipped and tense. McCoy watched but didn't follow, expecting that Jim would show up again within the next few hours to commiserate.

But he'd obviously decided on a different course of action. Whatever Pike said to him, it's got him tied up in knots.

When the fight ended, he quelled the impulse to follow Jim out of the Rec. He knew that dragging him back to Medical would only result in yet another game of I'm-fine and leave-me-alone. He had no doubt that Jim would show up, sometime late that night. He wouldn't want to arrive at his next shift with untreated cuts and bruises, looking like the brawler that he used to be.

Let it catch up with him, he thought. Let him hurt, and maybe he'll be more receptive to what I have to say.

So he went back to his office and makeshift quarters, taking care of paperwork and planning angry lectures for dumbass starship captains who should know better.

 

He was startled when Spock, not Jim, entered his office half an hour later. "I believe I am in need of your services, Doctor," he said without a trace of embarrassment. No issues here, he thought ruefully. No logic in avoiding necessary medical treatment.

"Have a seat, Mr. Spock." McCoy guided him to a nearby biobed and tilted his chin to see the cut, which was messy and still oozing slowly. McCoy cleaned it efficiently and began closing it.

"I watched part of your…uh…exhibition," he said conversationally. "It looked like you were wiping the floor with your opponent."

Spock looked surprised. "On the contrary, Doctor. The captain displayed remarkable stamina and skill, although we were unmatched."

McCoy bristled at his serene reply. "Doesn't sound like a very challenging form of recreation. You're much stronger than he is," he said, trying to keep the animosity out of his voice. "Why would you agree to a match?"

"He left me very little choice. I'm sure you're aware that he can be very insistent when he wants something."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "I know he's stubborn, but surely you could have used some judgment! He's recently injured, and—"

"Then I would expect that he would be most aware of his limits, am I correct?"

McCoy bit back his retort, thinking, Jim never admits to his limits—but that's not Spock's fault. He knew that his anger was misplaced; Jim was the fool who had demanded the match. But he resented Spock's smug confidence.

"And you are wrong in supposing that there was little challenge," Spock continued. "Holding back one's strength, when one's opponent is fighting with full intensity, is a considerable test of skill."

Arrogant  bastard, isn't he. "Well, as your opponent has yet to show his battered face around here, I'll have to take your word for it that you were trying to be gentle. Hold still, I'm almost finished."

Spock remained silent as McCoy finished sealing the cut. "Keep the dressing on it overnight, and you can wash it off in the morning. Anything else?" he said, gazing at the readings on the biobed. He hoped Spock would leave quickly, before Jim showed up.

"In fact, yes, Doctor. I would like to ask you…" He seemed hesitant, and McCoy reluctantly turned his attention back to Spock. "I am well aware that you and Jim are friends. You have known him for several years and must be acquainted with his personality and character, his moods…"

"Yes, I'd say so."

"I would like to speak plainly to you."

"All right."

"In confidence."

"Okay." McCoy sighed, put aside his frustrations, and switched into professional listening mode, wondering why Spock would invoke doctor-patient confidentiality. Maybe he wants to suggest that Jim's emotionally compromised, he thought with a sudden pang of anxiety. Wouldn’t be so far off the mark…

"I have worked among humans for many years," Spock said. "My mother was human, as you know, and I have generally found it reasonably easy to understand the motivations and aspirations of those around me."

McCoy nodded noncommittally. "Well, that's good experience."

"Apparently, it was not enough. I find that I am frequently…unsettled…as I interact with Captain Kirk. It may be a matter of command style…I served under Captain Pike for four years, at the Academy, and he requested me as his first officer on the Enterprise. He was a much more consistent commander, as were most of my colleagues at Starfleet. Perhaps this is merely a function of age and experience…"

"To some extent, you're probably right," McCoy conceded. "Jim's young. But…it's mostly because he is who he is. He can be difficult, Lord knows." McCoy paused, uncertain. Why confide in me? he thought. Why not Pike?

"It is more complicated than that. I have been observing him closely in his role as acting captain. His unpredictability is clearly an advantage in certain situations, and must be acknowledged as a strength. His interactions with the crew, while unorthodox, have proven to be effective. Making allowances for his inexperience in the position, I can say that he has demonstrated surprising management skill in overseeing the ship's repairs. He is intelligent and capable. The crew respects him and is becoming comfortable with him."

McCoy was taken aback by the favorable appraisal, wondering where this was going. "So?"

"But I am not."

"Not comfortable, you mean."

"Precisely."

McCoy sighed. "Why don't you be a little more specific, Spock."

"I find him inconsistent. His reactions are unpredictable. He can be emotional and impulsive…" Spock seemed uneasy. "This fight was an example. You were quite right to point out that the match was a bad idea. I admit that I should have foreseen how inappropriate it would be to conduct it in a public area, where the crew could watch."

McCoy grunted in surprise. "I'm glad that you can admit that."

"It is only logical to look at the incident critically and re-evaluate assumptions when necessary."

"What was wrong with your initial assumption?" he asked, curious.

"I had not taken into account his determination, nor was I aware of his emotional state at the time."

"Well, don't blame yourself for that," he said, shaking his head. "I don't even know what got him so riled up, but it wasn't you." Again, he wondered what Pike had said to Jim that had upset his equilibrium so badly.

Captain Pike. A memory dredged itself up slowly, a snippet from their conversation after Pike was injured.

"I left Spock in command, but the truth is, he tends to be a little too rigid and rational, too logical…I hoped that Kirk could provide him with some balance, that he'd make him consider all the options."

Perhaps here was the reason that Spock didn't want to have this conversation with Pike. Surely Pike had explained his reasoning to Spock as well; Spock knew that Pike considered him too inflexible. He wouldn't want to confide in Pike that he was having trouble handling Kirk's explosive nature, as that would only reinforce Pike's earlier assessment of him. Pike liked Kirk's edginess, and Spock must know that.

Despite himself, McCoy felt some sympathy for Spock's predicament. Of all the captains the Universe could have thrown at him, he had to wind up with Jim. Talk about a mismatch.

Maybe he's not so arrogant and confident, after all.

"Look, Spock," he began carefully, "I've had years to get to know Jim Kirk, and even I find him challenging…on occasion. He's a complicated man, and there are more layers to him than you're probably aware."

"Indeed."

"What I'm saying is…It may not ever get as easy and comfortable as it was with Captain Pike. Jim's not him. He's brilliant, determined, and unpredictable, but the flip side of that is that he's impulsive, stubborn, and a little reckless. He has more physical courage than most men, and he doesn't stop to think about the consequences to himself. It's part of what makes him such a good commander."

Spock nodded. "I do not disagree with anything you've said, Doctor, but…"

"Wait. I want to give you a piece of advice." He paused, hoping that he could say what he had to say without being seen as patronizing or condescending.

"You can't expect your relationship to be as easy as it was with Captain Pike. Maybe that's a good thing, Spock."

He chuckled a little at Spock's raised eyebrow. "Well, you asked for my opinion. Jim makes you adjust your assumptions. He makes you consider more variables. You're a logical man, Spock, and surely you can see the benefit of widening your experience. The fact that you're uncomfortable with him is a sign that he's challenging you."

"Do you view emotional discomfort as a positive thing, doctor?"

"In this case I do," he said gently. "Jim's making you move in new directions, showing you alternatives. You'll be a better commander for it. And speaking of challenges…" He paused. "I don't buy your explanation of why you agreed to the match. You're no fool, Spock. You could have predicted the outcome."

Spock looked away, seeming embarrassed. "Not entirely. I expected the match to be over in a matter of minutes…"

"But you knew it was dangerous. You knew it was likely to end badly. Look, Spock, I know that Jim's upset about something, and it was his own stupid idea. But you've been through a lot lately, too." Understatement of the year, he thought. "I think…maybe you needed to let off some steam, too. Jim must have sensed that."

Spock was silent for a moment. Then he straightened and said calmly, "Yes. In fact, I found the physical contest to be stimulating and enjoyable, doctor. Perhaps you are correct."

"I'm just saying…he may understand you better than you think."

 

Jim finally limped into the Medbay just after midnight, looking sheepish and defensive. "I know what you're going to say," he told McCoy, holding up a hand as if to forestall the inevitable outburst. "Don't."

"Shut up," McCoy told him, motioning impatiently for Jim to sit on a bed and grabbing a scanner. "Where've you been? And what the hell did you think you were doing?"

"Give me a break, Bones," he said, removing his shirt slowly. "I was a little angry about something, so I decided to, uh, sublimate. I thought you'd appreciate that."

"Are you out of your mind? Looked more like a death wish to me, you self-destructive moron! And don't use words that you don't understand. For your information, sublimation involves channeling your energies into socially acceptable forms of expression, and getting beat up in public doesn't count. Next time invite your First Officer to a nice game of chess."

He was unapologetically ungentle as he examined Jim. "Idiot. Stop flinching, you just ruined half the work I did three weeks ago." Jim hissed as he pressed on a bruise on his left side. "Cracked a rib again. What possessed you to challenge a Vulcan to a duel? And don't tell me that you just wanted a little exercise, because not even you are that self-deluded."

"Ow! I wanted to work on my combat skills, okay? What's the big deal?"

"Sit still. I was there, Jim. If that's all you were doing, why did you look like you were trying to kill him? Goddam pathetic excuse for a captain, next time you do this I refuse to treat you, you can bleed to death in the corridor for all I care!"

"Take it easy, Bones," he said tiredly. "I don't need this now."

"You're lucky you didn't fracture your hand again. Lie down and let me work on that cut," he said, pushing his shoulder down. "Where the hell have you been for the last three hours? I'm not going to be able to do much about those bruises at this point."

Jim cooperated, grumbling, "Just needed to be alone for a while."

McCoy maintained an ominous silence for the next half hour. Jim seemed lost in his own dark thoughts, accepting the occasionally painful manipulations of his limbs with the stoicism that McCoy had come to expect.

"All right, Jim, you can sit up," he said at last. "But you're not going anywhere just yet."

Jim nodded as if he had expected this. Struggling up to a sitting position, he glared at McCoy. "Bet you want to talk now."

"That would be nice."

"Well, I don't."

"How unexpected," he said with a sarcastic smile. "What the hell happened between you and Captain Pike?"

"Nothing much."

McCoy wanted to slap him. "Nothing much? You stormed out of here, tracked down your First Officer, and made him beat the shit out of you!"

Jim laughed bitterly. "Actually, that wasn't the plan."

"Come on, Jim, get to the point. You were absolutely wild. You looked like you wanted to tear him apart. What did Pike say to you? Did he tell you… Is he recommending that Spock be made Captain?"

"No! Nothing like that," he said, shaking his head. "No, he wants to give it to me."

"He does?" McCoy blinked in surprise. "Jim, that's great! Congratulations! His recommendation will mean a lot—"

"But he wants me to go through another psych eval first." Jim closed his mouth tightly, and a muscle in his jaw twitched.

Everything fell into place. No wonder he'd been so angry. Pike couldn't know what that meant to Jim.

"And you said…?" he asked, knowing the answer.

"I said no." His voice conveyed barely controlled fury.

McCoy sighed. It had been obvious to him that Jim would need to get another eval sooner or later, if he wanted to gain command. He'd even discussed this with Pike. He'd hoped that he would have enough time to broach the subject gently with Jim, but Pike had apparently gone ahead and done it in his no-nonsense, businesslike manner.

"But why not, Jim?" he said gently. "You're not the same person you were. Half a lifetime has gone by since you were thirteen. You're much stronger now than you were then…"

"I can't stand those hypno drugs!" Jim burst out, his voice rising. "It was like reliving every bad experience I'd ever had, except there was this calm, droning voice in the room with me, whispering that I should tell them what I felt, that I should confront them, that I shouldn't be scared!"

"Who is 'them'?" McCoy asked quietly, but Jim didn't answer, staring stonily at a point on the far wall.

When he spoke again, his voice was modulated and controlled. "I couldn't resist it. It was impossible, like I had no power over my own thoughts and reactions—" He paused. "I don't want to do it again. Ever. But Pike said that there was no choice, if I want to command."

McCoy felt a rush of anger and disgust toward that anonymous psych tech, whoever he was, who had turned what should have been a controlled assessment of emotional expression into a nightmare for one terrified young boy.

Over the centuries, psychiatry had remained a divisive sector within the medical profession, characterized by contrasting theories and widely diverse methodology. McCoy's training in psychiatry had been completed at Atlanta General, where the department was run by a brilliant and compassionate healer. McCoy had honed his therapeutic skills under his tutelage and picked up a healthy skepticism toward the newer hypnotics, which were, he felt, dangerously unpredictable in their remedial effects.

"Not every eval has to be like that, Jim," he said at last. "You should never have been forced to re-experience trauma. I'm appalled that it was conducted in such an irresponsible fashion."

"Yeah, well, Iowa Social Services probably didn't have the money to pay for the doctors that knew what they were doing," he said bitterly.

"It sounds like they went overboard on the hypnotics as well. You were only thirteen…and if I know you and your usual drug sensitivities, you probably didn't respond well to them." Who the hell were these so-called doctors? Did they still work there? He had half a mind to track them down when they got back and let them know--

"You do it," Jim said suddenly.

"Do what? The psych eval?"

"Yes. You do it." He looked at McCoy guardedly, but with a glimmer of hope. "I'll let you. Do it now, before we arrive. You're my CMO, it's part of your job description…"

Damn. "Jim," he said sadly, "I know you'd feel more comfortable with me, but I can't. It's unethical. You're my best friend, for God's sake!"

"You can treat me medically," he replied stubbornly. "You just did. So do this too. I'll cooperate, I swear."

"Medical treatment's not the same. A psych eval is too personal… I don't think I could be objective enough, and worse, Starfleet probably wouldn't accept it. If you want them to give you a chance to command, you've got to do it the right way, at Fleet Psych. Otherwise…it would be a waste of effort, and you'd probably have to do another eval anyway."

Jim nodded, defeated.

"But…I have a colleague, Jim, at the Academy clinic."

"No, Bones." He shook his head.

"Wait, hear me out. She's top in her field, and I trust her. I'll go with you, Jim, and consult with her. It won't be like last time, I promise."

Jim ran his hand through his hair and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I don’t want the drugs."

"She'll have to decide that, Jim. Hypnos are pretty standard in psych evals, but you can talk to her about it."

"I hate this," he said quietly.

McCoy ached for the pain in his voice. "I know." He laid a hand on Jim's shoulder, helping him gently off the bed. "I'll make an appointment for you as soon as we get back. You can do this, Jim. You need to."

Jim eased himself gingerly off the bed and walked toward the door. Just before exiting, he turned around and said, with a trace of his old humor, "Is she cute, at least?"

"Yeah, she's pretty good-looking, Jim, for a woman in her seventies. Get some sleep."

 

Chapter 19: A Retelling

The psychiatrist looked at him calmly, a trim, attractive, middle-aged woman. "I am Dr. Elena Lambert. You may call me Ellie."

"Jim Kirk," he said, extending his hand.

"I am looking forward to our time together today."

"No drugs," he told her flatly. "It's non-negotiable."

"I know. You are worried about the loss of control," she said, sidestepping the issue. He allowed it, for now. He wasn't sure how to react to her. She seemed confident, relaxed, interested in him but not threatening. He couldn't relate to her as a mother figure; she was as far from his own mother's character as he could imagine.

"I don't do well with hypnotics," he said, knowing that it was a lost cause, but feeling that he had to try. "Anyway, I'm probably allergic to anything you've got…"

"I do not conduct psychiatric evaluations without the use of psychotropic drugs." She looked at him compassionately, but her voice was firm. "The results would be unreliable, and it would take far too long. The drug relaxes the mind and makes it possible for you to have access to memories and feelings that otherwise remain buried."

"That's what I'm afraid of," he said, flashing her a smile which, he hoped, conveyed charm and confidence. But she must  have known that he was a wreck; why else would he need a babysitter? Bones sat beside him in her office. He said nothing, listening to them, but he was sitting close to Jim, one hand resting lightly on Jim's knee. Jim knew that he'd already explained his history to her, shown her his file, prepared her. So she wasn't surprised by his attitude.

"Fear is not part of a psychiatric evaluation, at least not one that I conduct," she said with such sincerity that he almost believed her, or at least, he would, if he didn't know better from his own experience. "But I will make an allowance. I will leave control in your hands, literally. You will have a manually-controlled button, to control the flow of the drug yourself. I will show you."

Despite his anxiety, he smiled. He liked her voice. It calmed him. It had such a pretty, melodic accent; English was not her first language. She sounded nothing like that other doctor, the first time, that droning monotonous voice in his mind. And nothing like Bones, with his slow Southern drawl.

"And I am aware of your medical profile, of course. I have consulted with Dr. McCoy, and you do not need to be concerned about an allergic reaction."

"It'll be okay, Jim," McCoy said. "I'll wait right here."

 

He was sweating, heart racing, as she adjusted the IV box and strapped it to his arm. He hated himself for showing such weakness, but he couldn't help it. She noticed his discomfiture and said again, "You do not need to fear anything. There is no one here but you and I. This will simply help me get to know you, Jim." He was glad that she didn't say anything sarcastic about his being the hero that saved the planet, and how could he be scared of a little psych eval? But he supposed that she would think that too unprofessional.

"Ask me anything you like," he said. "I'll answer. You can get to know me, and if that's not enough, we can try it your way. How's that?" He was babbling nervously, but she ignored him.

"Here is the button," she said, guiding his fingers to it. "When you are ready, begin."

She sat back in her chair. "It will be like falling asleep," she said.

For a moment, he believed her. Fuck, I can do this. His fingers reached for the button and pressed down slowly. For a moment, nothing happened, and he relaxed. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

Then he was still sitting upright with his back and neck firmly resting on the chair, but it suddenly felt like he had lost his balance. His head began to spin, and he closed his eyes.

Oh, God. It was like free-falling.

He plunged down in terror, heart pounding, watching in helpless horror as the ground raced up to meet him. He panicked. Why didn't they beam him up, he was going to crash, he was out of control, he was going to die…He was suffocating, unable to draw oxygen, unable to--

"Breathe," she said, touching his arm lightly. "Relax, calm down. You are in control, do you remember? It is all up to you. Slow it down. We do not have to do this all at once. Move your fingers, pull back as I showed you. I will do it, if you cannot. But can you not slow it down yourself?"

He grasped the lever in his thumb and forefinger, turned it slightly. "Very good," she encouraged. "Is that better?"

The sensation of helpless downspin gradually left him, until he was simply floating, drifting. He slowed his breathing, wiped his forehead, and nodded. "All right," he said. "I'm ready."

 

"So, let us start with your dreams." He tensed at once, imaging which dreams she meant—had Bones told her about his nightmares? He shook his head, rallying his defenses, but she interrupted soothingly, "No, no, you misunderstand. I don't mean bad dreams. I mean your most valued dreams for yourself, your goals, your aspirations. Focus for a moment on what you what, Jim. Imagine your best, brightest future in as much detail as you can muster."

He shook his head again, this time in confusion. Was this a trick question? Maybe she was trying to find out whether he really, truly, wanted to be a Starship captain.

"No trick," she said, and he realized that he must have spoken aloud. "This is not the instruction you expected, perhaps, but nevertheless, it is where I always begin my study of an individual. What do you dream for yourself? Surely there is nothing more indicative of who you are." He felt the drag of the hypnotics pulling at him, relaxing him, guiding his mind in unwilling compliance with her words. He couldn't help it; he went along.

In his mind's eye, he saw himself dressed in gold—and yes, he had always thought that he looked good in bright colors--bounding off the lift onto the Bridge of a gleaming Enterprise. "Morning, Captain," greeted him from a dozen directions, and he imagined that there was a sense of trust and confidence in their glances. God, yes. This was where he wanted to be.

He embellished the image. After all, it was his fantasy, and he could make it as self-promoting as he wanted. He saw himself in the Rec, telling stories to adoring crewmembers who all laughed at just the right places. He imagined an intense feeling of satisfaction and pride as he walked the corridors of his ship. He saw himself relaxing with Bones in his quarters—he allowed himself to fantasize about a nice-sized private suite—talking comfortably together, sharing a drink.

He was suddenly struck by another image—a memory?—but it didn't make sense. He could see himself, looking a few years older, again on the bridge, but this time, the perspective was different. He was literally looking at himself, as if someone else was seeing Jim through his eyes. This memory was vivid and detailed, sharp as reality. There seemed to be some kind of battle; the Red Alert lights were flashing, voices were raised in tension, and occasionally the entire Bridge rocked, as if the ship was being attacked.

The older Spock, he realized. In the cave. His memory, not mine. He hadn't realized that Spock had transferred this memory to Jim; he hadn't had access to it before, but now he replayed it in fascination.

This captain was, quite literally, the calm within the storm. He watched as this dream-Jim stood straight, energy pulsing through him as he delivered orders with the ease of long practice. He walked from station to station on the bridge, assimilating information quickly.

Minutes later, it was over. All eyes turned to him in gratitude, and dream-Jim allowed himself to sink back into his chair. He shared a look of relief with the Bridge crew, and then said, "Thank you, Spock. That was close."

This is who I want to be, he realized. I want this.

He relaxed into the images, mostly his own dreams, and an occasional Spock-memory. Through it all, he was aware at some level that he was talking to Ellie, describing what he saw, answering questions, but that hardly seemed to matter. It was so pleasant to dream.

"Very well," she said, "there it is. That is your aspiration, and you have articulated it clearly to me. Good. Now let us see if you can get from here to there. That is why we are working together today, after all."

He understood that. Everyone could dream, but not everyone could realize the dream. That was a function of more than just imagination.

"Tell me your story," she said simply. "Tell me who you are. Begin at the beginning. Tell me everything that you think is relevant. See if you can lead me to that dream."

 

He tried.

The story was so familiar to him that it didn't even hurt anymore. It started when he was a baby, born on a medical shuttle as his father gave his life for others, left behind in the first minute of his life. He was neglected by a mother who was too wrapped up in her own problems to take care of him or nurture him in any sort of consistent fashion. It didn't matter that he had rarely said these words aloud; he had told them to himself so often that they flowed from him without effort. He'd accepted who his mother was, and who she could not be.

He dredged up a memory that he didn't realize that he still had. He couldn't have been more than two years old, straining on tiptoes to reach the opening of the food dispenser, childish voice instructing it to give him a sandwich and juice. He grabbed the plate, carrying it carefully so that the juice wouldn't spill all over the floor like last time. He set it down proudly on the table, saying to his mother, "See? All by myself." She was lying prone on the sofa in the corner of the living room, hand over her eyes. "Good boy," she said in a muffled voice. "You're so smart."

"I see," the doctor said quietly. "You were the little one who took care of himself. You were on your own from a very young age and you used your intelligence and resourcefulness to survive."

He nodded, relieved that he had managed to convey this essence of himself to her. It was the cornerstone, the building block of his personality. He relaxed, just a bit.

The words streamed from him, after that. This was not so scary after all. There were no messy confrontations with angry stepfathers, just a quiet acceptance of what he had to say. She listened as he described growing up in that house: the smart, lonely boy, the mother who retreated into her work, the strict and brutal stepfather, the brother who ran off. Now and then, a long-forgotten memory nudged him, so he added it to his tale. Drinking in the park with the other misfit kids, brawling and stealing and fighting to dull the pain. Discovering his strengths, finding one or two others who believed in him.

Together, his memories made a coherent story. This was who he was: strong, independent, defying adversity, making his way alone. It made sense to him. It always had.

 

Then she interrupted him.

"This is too easy," she said. "I find myself frustrated, listening to you. This is your story that you have been telling forever. It defines you, but it limits you as well. It does not allow you to inspire, to love, to grow. It is not enough for you to achieve your dream, do you see?"

He didn't understand.

"This story does not serve you very well," she said gently. "It leaves gaps. It does not explain who you have become. It does not leave you enough room to grow. There is more to you than self-reliance, anger, and cynicism, but your narrative does not allow that to show. Can you not try to go deeper? Tell another story, Jim."

He wasn't sure what she meant, but he tried. He went back again to the memories, but he didn't seem to have access to anything else. He found it hard to focus, and for a while, he just drifted. He forgot where he was and that he wasn't alone in the room. She was quiet, waiting.

He was reminded of the first time he got drunk. It was that kind of sleepy, fuzzy feeling, as if his cognitive functions had taken a nose-dive. Really, it was Sam's fault, that first time. Jim was ten, and had followed his older brother out to the yard near the barn, late at night. Sam was sitting on the grass, sipping from the bottle, gazing up at the stars. Jim remembered how cold it was; he was shivering, but it wasn't only the temperature of the air. He had such a bad feeling, standing there, seeing the angry set of Sam's jaw, watching him throw back his head and pour the liquid down his throat in gulps. Sam was leaving, he knew.

"Let me have some," he said, grabbing the bottle, desperate to share one last thing with his brother. Sam didn’t fight him. He watched him gulp down the liquor and then cough and sputter painfully with the shock of it.

"I could never say no to you, Jim," he said bitterly. "Not even when you were a little annoying snot-nosed brat. Which you still are, by the way."

Jim ignored the insult. "Don’t go."

Sam didn't answer.

"Don't leave me alone with him."

"You'll be all right. You always are. You'll find someone to take care of you."

Jim felt his eyes stinging. He hadn't thought of that conversation in years, and even now, couldn't think of his brother without being overwhelmed by a sense of loss and anger.

Another memory nudged him.

His brother was tall, so much taller than he was. He was strong, too. As the door swung open, he heard his familiar voice call out, "I'm home, Mom." He turned around happily, feeling a rush of excitement that dispelled the aching gloominess that had filled the room a moment before.

He made his way carefully toward his brother on unsteady legs, but Sam grabbed him around the waist, flipped him upside down and deposited Jim on his back. Jim shrieked with glee and hung on for dear life as his brother began bounding around the room, leaping onto the sofa, jumping onto the low table and racing up the stairs.

"Stop," his mother begged weakly. "I have a headache. Can't you be a little quieter?"

Jim buried his face in his brother's neck. He didn't want to let go, ever, and he didn't want to be put down. "Out," he whispered in Sam's ear. "Bye bye!"

"Kay, kiddo," Sam whispered to him. "Sure, mom, we'll go outside," Sam said to his mother, lifting Jim up and placing him down again so that he was sitting on Sam's shoulders. Jim laughed, giddy with the thrill of being so high up. "I'll just take Jimmy out a little bit. I think he's been waiting for me to come home. We won't bother you."

How old had he been then? Just a toddler, surely. How could he remember that? His feelings for his brother had been overlaid with bitterness and disappointment for so long that he had forgotten one of the first truths of his life: that Sam was always there for him.

He was still reeling from this realization when another figure loomed up from his past. A young dark-haired woman, some kind of caretaker whose name he couldn't recall…Julie, that was it. His hand was firmly placed in hers and he tagged after her into some kind of kitchen, but it wasn't the kitchen of his childhood home.

"Hey Jule, I see you've brought your shadow again," someone said with a laugh, but the laughter was kind. This was a safe place. Jim craned his neck to try to see over the high countertop, without success. He contented himself with playing with some interesting-looking utensils in a lower drawer.

"He just needs a little attention," the woman said, ruffling his hair in a way that Jim knew was affectionate. He didn't mind. He liked to be touched. "I think he doesn't get enough at home. You know whose son he is…" Julie lowered her voice and he couldn't hear the rest of the conversation.

Was this what Ellie wanted? He tried to convey what he was remembering to her. It was hard for him to find the words, because the memories were so ephemeral and so fleeting. He'd been so young, then, maybe not more than three.

"I see," the doctor said. "There is more to your story, then. You are not only the child who relied on himself because no one was there for you. You are also one who always found a way to get what he needed. First your brother, then your childhood caretaker. Even now," she said with a smile, "you've found someone to take care of you."

Bones, she meant. "Maybe I did…"

"Tell me more. Build the new story. See where it goes."

The barrage of memories continued, slow at first, but then faster and faster. He felt overwhelmed; the floor was shifting under his feet. His old memories acquired new labels.

I protected her from him. I drew his fire. I put myself on the line because I couldn't stand seeing her hurt any more. I was proud of myself, in a way.

"Yes. You were not just a victim in this situation. You deliberately and willingly accepted the role of protector."

I refused to let the circumstances determine my future. I took control. I crashed the car, but I wasn't really trying to die. I was trying to change the situation."

"You refused to accept a bad set of circumstances as they were. That is a sign of strength as well as of desperation. You finally managed to alert the authorities to his abuse, even if it came at a terrible price."

I didn't want to get seriously involved with anyone. What was the point?

"You have never been limited in your capacity to love. But you have been telling a limiting story, and the partners you have attracted have been similarly inadequate."

I'm ready to command. I can't have come this far, only to be held back by something that happened so long ago.

"It is not quite that simple, but you have made progress today. Return to the dream, we are finished here."

Maybe he fell asleep, a little; he wasn't sure. He was exhausted.

 

Chapter 20: Reunions

McCoy was startled out of a light doze to find Jim striding purposefully out of the reception room without sparing him a glance. McCoy stumbled to his feet, nodded farewell to Ellie and raced to catch up to Jim, who was stepping into the lift. He touched his arm gently. "Hang on, kid." Jim barely acknowledged McCoy's presence; he looked subdued, even shaken. "How'd it go?" The eval had taken almost three hours.

"It wasn't…what I expected," Jim said slowly, as the lift began taken them swiftly down to the ground floor. He seemed distracted and preoccupied, but not angry. McCoy took that as a good sign.

"Well," he said, "I told you it would be nothing like the last time. How do you feel?"

"Tired…a little dizzy."

"That's a normal aftereffect of the drugs. You need to eat something and then sleep."

"Shit. I hate drugs."

McCoy nodded sympathetically, and then, unable to contain his curiosity, asked, "What did Ellie—"

"Not now, Bones. I don't want to talk about it. I just want to sleep." But catching McCoy's concerned look, he gave him a half-smile. "Don't worry. It was all right. I just need to think a bit, that's all."

Jim crashed on the couch in McCoy's dorm room and slept through the evening until late the next morning. McCoy blamed his exhaustion partly on the psychotropics, but also on the tension of the homecoming and Jim's endless Starfleet debriefings. And the memorial services, which he insisted on attending obsessively.

Ellie called him that evening at the hospital. "I have not finished writing my report yet," she apologized in her melodic accent, "but I'm sure that as his CMO"—and his friend, she implied with a warm look—"you'd like to hear my recommendations as soon as possible. And I have been told that Fleet Command has an interest in the results."

"That's putting it mildly. Thanks, Ellie. It's good of you to call. He wouldn't say a word to me…He just said that he wanted time to think, and went to sleep."

"That is not surprising. He does indeed have much to consider. He has begun what I call 'a new narrative' of his life and it has given him access to many important memories and different aspects of his identity. It will take time for him to integrate them."

"So he cooperated with you. Well, that's a relief. I thought he might refuse."

"Yes, despite his initial fears, he did. When the patient feels a sense of control over the process, the resistance is lessened."

"What did he tell you, Ellie?"

She hesitated, considering. "It is not necessary for you to know the details of his conversation with me. Even though you are his primary physician, the boundaries of doctor-patient confidentiality must be respected. He will tell you himself, perhaps, when he is ready. But I can give you a summary of the findings which will be covered in my report."

"Fine, then," McCoy nodded. He'd expected an answer of this sort.

"He is a remarkably intelligent and strong individual. Despite the extreme difficulties with which he was faced from a very young age—neglect and even abuse—he is resourceful, tenacious, and resilient. He is determined to succeed in the face of adversity, and I will emphasize his capacity for change and growth. Most importantly from his perspective, I see no reason to challenge his command aspirations."

McCoy sighed with relief.

"However, his work is not finished. He is uncomfortable relying on others except for a select few whom he trusts. He still has sensitivities and unresolved issues around authority figures and the abuse of power. My guess is," she said with a cynical laugh, "that he will rebel against certain aspects of Starfleet's bureaucracy. He will feel uncomfortable within a military structure as long as he is in a subordinate position, but that does not preclude his success as he moves up the ranks."

"Thank you, Ellie. Your insights are spot on, as far as I can see."

She beamed. "Thank you for the referral. He's a truly extraordinary man. And you are more important to him than you know."

 

They were nearing the halfway point in the cross-country hop. Jim had spent the first half hour trying to distract McCoy from the shuttle's occasional creaks and accelerations  by plying him with questions about his cousin Jared and his family, his other relatives, and his grandmother. "Do they know we're coming?" he asked, suddenly concerned.

McCoy laughed. "Kid, the south invented hospitality. We're not like you northern introverts. Jared told me that if I didn't bring you I'd be sleeping in the barn."

"I thought you said that you lived in a suburb. You really have a barn?"

"It's just an expression." The shuttle made a sudden ominous dip, and McCoy swore. "This is a really bad idea."

"This is a really bad idea," McCoy muttered.

"Bones, it's a great idea. Timing is everything. It'll work, believe me."

McCoy groaned. "I don't know why I listen to you."

Jim grinned. "I have a good feeling about this. I know what I'm doing."

McCoy fixed him with a cynical stare. "I admit that you occasionally seem to be in possession of an astonishing amount of random and archaic knowledge, but in the realm of family affairs, Jim, you're no authority."

Jim changed the subject. "Did you know that hundreds of years ago, people used to pay money in order to simulate free fall and experience sudden acceleration and deceleration? Roller coasters, they called them. They rode them for fun."

"See what I mean about the miscellaneous bits of junk you have stored up in your brain? How do you know so much about roller coasters anyway?"

"I read, Bones. You never know when something you've read will be useful."

"And how is knowing about roller coasters useful to me now?"

"A shuttle ride is based on the same principles. It's all a matter of manipulating gravitational, inertial, and centripetal forces, except that in this case, there's a little more ground covered. It's just elementary physics. You're not really in any danger."

"Listen, Jim, why don't you just shut up for a while and let me suffer in silence?"

Jim sighed. "We'll be there in about twenty minutes."

"Thank the Lord for small mercies. Where the hell are we, anyway?"

Jim leaned forward, peering down through the small observation window. "Hard to see anything, but it looks pretty flat down there. Probably goddam Iowa. Absolutely nothing to see."

He leaned back again. "At least we can hop over it in a few minutes."

As long as McCoy had known him, Jim had never gone back to Iowa. Jim had stayed at the Academy during all the holidays and breaks over the past three years, working or signing up for whatever advanced seminars he was allowed to take. The one time he asked Jim why he never went home for the holidays, Jim had brushed him off with a laugh: "Fucking boring in Iowa, Bones, why would I go back?"

But after the intense events of the Narada and the new psych eval, McCoy thought he might be more willing to give him an honest answer. "Got any people there anymore, Jim?" McCoy asked, keeping his voice neutral.

"Nobody there I want to see," he said slowly. "Not in Iowa…" His voice trailed off.

"But…?" McCoy prodded.

"My brother Sam's at the CDC."

McCoy stared at him. "The Centers for Disease Control? In Atlanta?"

"He's a biologist. An epidemiologist, actually."

"Shit, Jim. Why the hell didn't you say something before now?"

Jim scowled defensively. "Because this trip isn't about me. It's about you, and your kid, and—"

"You have a brother in Atlanta?" McCoy repeated. "Does he know that you're coming?"

"No," Jim said, tight-lipped. "And he's not going to know, because I sure as hell am not going to tell him, and neither are you."

"I thought you two were out of touch! How long have you known that he's here?"

"Since just after we got back."

McCoy shook his head in frustration. So why the hell didn't he meet the ship like the other relatives, he thought.

Two weeks ago, when the Enterprise had finally limped into spacedock, he had taken the last shuttle planetside with Jim and the other senior officers. Jim had been tense and withdrawn on the short ride, smiling but not saying much, which McCoy attributed to an understandable nervousness in meeting the Admiralty.

"Time to pay for the ride," he'd told Jim. "Lighten up, nobody's gonna arrest you for mutiny. You saved the planet."

"Not worried about that," he'd said quietly. "It's the reporters. I know they're waiting. I just don't want to be the main meal at a media feeding frenzy."

McCoy had laughed. "Just give 'em your name, rank, and Fleet number, Jim. That's all you're required to say."

"It's not a joke," he said. "Pike promised I wouldn't have to give any interviews, but I don't know if the Admiralty will agree. And anyway, he's got his mind on other things now."

McCoy nodded. Like the other wounded crewmembers and the Vulcan refugees, Captain Pike had already been transferred to the Academy hospital. "I'll stick with you, Jim," he promised, not understanding why his friend was so media-shy, but not wanting to press him on it. "Smile for one picture, and then we'll make a quick exit."

Jim had laughed, but his eyes were unamused. "If they're out there like I think they're going to be, I'm going to throw myself on Admiral Archer's mercy and beg him to throw me in the brig."

McCoy had been unprepared for what Starfleet had actually organized for their reception: not hordes of reporters—although as Jim had predicted, they were waiting impatiently at the press conference that followed the general debriefing—but families and friends. McCoy was surprised and touched, grateful that someone at Starfleet had thought about the needs of the Enterprise crew and allowed them this brief moment of support. Jim had hung back in the shuttle, watching the civilians surge forward, and McCoy waited with him, letting the others go first. From his vantage point, he could see Uhura being welcomed ecstatically by a group of robust, colorfully-dressed, smiling women who had to be her sisters. Chekov was hailed in worried Russian by his mother and grandmother. Scotty and Sulu were happily claimed in turn by their own families. His gaze fell on Spock, aloof and expressionless and standing apart, but Uhura broke away momentarily from her sisters to appear by his side, gently guiding him forward to join her.

He felt a sudden pang of apprehension, of what-if-no-one's-waiting-for-me, thinking of Jocelyn who wouldn't want to see him even in these circumstances, of his grandmother who was ill and certainly wasn't in any condition for a shuttle ride… "Len!" he heard someone call. He looked up in surprise, trying to locate a familiar face in the crowd, then stepped forward with relief into a bear hug from Jared. "How've you been, man? God, we were worried!" he said into his ear. The shuttle bay was noisy and crowded with the bustle of technicians and the cries of reunited families, and he'd almost had to shout to be heard. Jared had updated him on the family's reactions to discovering that he'd been on the one surviving ship—"It's all over the news, Len, you're the goddam Medical Chief or something, how 'bout that?"—and bombarded him with questions.

Several minutes went by before he remembered belatedly about Jim, and he whirled around, searching for him in the crowd, finally catching a glimpse of him off to the side, standing alone and seemingly forgotten. He was watching the family reunions intently, a bland smile plastered on his face. His expression betrayed no hint of disappointment or envy, but his body language conveyed it all: his hands were shoved into his pockets, his head bowed slightly, his shoulders bunched and tight.

McCoy cursed and disentangled himself from Jared's arm, taking a step toward him. But he was too late; by the time he'd reached the spot where Jim had been standing, Jim was headed out of the shuttle bay, moving toward an officer who was beckoning to him.

"Your brother didn't meet the shuttle," he said now, resentful on Jim's behalf. He'd assumed that Jim had no living relatives on Earth, but the revelation that his brother was alive and well and working nearby was infuriating.

"He commed me," Jim said. "I didn't tell you. Later that night…He didn't even know I was in Starfleet, until they contacted him. He told me…He said that he was proud of me. He's married. He told me about his wife…" His voice was hesitant, as if he wasn't sure what to make of the information.

"So why didn't he come?"

Jim turned his head away, looking out the window. McCoy couldn't see his expression, but he could hear the pain in his voice. "I haven't seen him since I was ten, Bones. He left me there, with... He left me by myself and never came back. He said that he didn't know if I really wanted to see him, after all this time."

Good question, McCoy thought. And in retrospect, Sam had been right not to come; with all the stress of the arrival and Jim's debriefings and meetings with Fleet Command, the last thing he needed was the sudden reappearance of a long-lost brother. "Do you, Jim? Want to see him, I mean?"

"God, I wish I knew," he whispered, so low that McCoy could barely hear him.

"Landing in three minutes at Atlanta Hub," a pleasant female voice announced over the shuttle speaker. "Please be seated and attach restraining belts."

"There, see?" Jim said, looking grateful for the interruption. He patted McCoy's shoulder. "Almost over."

McCoy nodded and looked away. The shuttle was dipping and turning alarmingly. He closed his eyes and gripped the arm rests of the seat. As his attention refocused on his physical sensations, he felt nausea building up in his stomach, threatening to rise up into his throat. He made himself take shallow, measured breaths, hoping to forestall the inevitable bout of vomiting that overtook him during almost every landing. As always, he had a bag ready under the seat.

"The shuttle is the easy part," McCoy said. "Remind me again why I'm doing this."

"Because you promised me."

"Yes, but you took advantage of my pity. You looked so damned pathetic on your way to the eval." I'll make you a deal, Jim had said. I'll go through with this, and then you'll come with me on a little shuttle ride. There's someone you need to talk to.

"She'll be glad to see you. She responded to your message, didn't she?"

"Yeah, she said, 'Glad you're safe. Now go back into space and don't bother me.'"

"Naw, she didn't. She said that she'd been worried and that she heard about what you did for Captain Pike."

McCoy looked at him suspiciously. "How the hell would you know what she said?" Jim reddened. "Hell, Jim, can't you respect my privacy?"

"You were in the shower when the message came through. I just happened to be there. Besides," he said quickly, "I can read between the lines. She's been obsessing over the news reports, I can tell. She'll talk to you. Anyway, it's the right thing to do, and you know it."

"She doesn't know I'm coming."

"Actually," he paused, looking at his boots, "she kind of does know. I talked to her a little."

"Goddamit, Jim!" he groaned. "You called Jocelyn? That wasn't your place! What gives you the right to interfere?"

"Look, we couldn't come all this way if she wasn't around, right? She needs to be home. I told her that we were planning a little trip to Atlanta and you'd like to speak to her."

"And what did she say?" he asked bitterly. "Come right out, so I can humiliate my ex face to face?"

"Of course not, Bones." He grinned. "She said she'd be thrilled to meet a hero of the Federation, and if you wanted to tag along, she wasn't going to stop you."

"Fuck you."

"Come on, Bones, this isn't about your ex. It's about your daughter."

 

 

The building looked the same as it always had. A clean, tall, glass-and-metal structure, with a pleasant garden in front. Jim walked forward determinedly, while McCoy found himself lagging behind by several steps. He recalled the last time he'd been here; he'd come by for the last of his personal possessions. Joss had stuffed them in a large plastic bag and left it on the kitchen table, along with a note that said: Don't leave anything behind. For weeks afterward, he'd obsessed over the cryptic message, convinced she was trying to tell him something but unsure what it was—Don't leave me behind? Don't leave? Don't come back? Move on with your life? In the end, he'd decided it was just what it seemed on the surface, an unpleasant reminder of the way their relationship had deteriorated into a cold lack of communication.

"Would you pick up the pace a little?" Jim said impatiently. "Stop acting like I'm dragging you to your own funeral and get that guilty look off your face. You'll scare off your own kid."

"This is crazy. What will I say to a three-year-old I've never met before?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "You'll say, 'Hi, sweetie, my name is Leonard.' She's your daughter, for God's sake."

He lowered his voice and stepped closer, placing one arm casually around McCoy's shoulders and speaking quietly into his ear. "Look, this isn't going to be a one-time thing. You're going to talk to Jocelyn and then you're going to go together to a lawyer. You'll work out something about visiting rights. You'll have a chance to get to know her and watch her grow up. And of course she'll love you, Bones. You're her father."

McCoy looked at Jim. A sense of shame threatened to overwhelm him. Here was a man whose entire childhood had been scarred by the fact that his father hadn't been there. Yet even in his worst moments, Jim could at least derive some comfort from the fact that his father had given his life to save his family. What would Joanna be able to say about him? That he'd chickened out and run away?

Jim would get his wish, McCoy was sure. With the main impediment to his achieving command removed, the Admiralty would cooperate with the inevitable and hand over its flagship to its young hero, Pike's protégé. And if he had anything to say about it, he'd be at Jim's side. Jim needed him, and he could see himself there on the Enterprise, building a life of meaning and purpose.

McCoy paused, looking at Jim. He's changed, he thought. He's not a scared kid anymore.

"Quid pro quo, Jim," he said. "I'll make a deal with you. I'll talk to Joss and see Joanna, and then we'll go have something to eat. And then…we're going to see some of the sights of Atlanta."

"Whatever, Bones, just do it."

"We're going to visit the CDC." Jim stiffened and shook his head, but McCoy's voice was firm. "And you're going to talk to Sam. He's your brother, Jim, and before you go off for a five-year tour, you need to do this. Don't turn your back on him. He was just a kid when he left, you know. Give him another chance."

Jim nodded slowly. "You sound like Ellie. Build another story."

"It's good advice, Jim."

He sighed. "All right. But you owe me big time. Now go. I'll wait for you here."

The door opened, and McCoy found himself face to face with a solemn, dark-haired girl wearing a blue dress. She looked up at him curiously.

"Who is it, Jo?" called the woman from an inside room.

"Hi, sweetie. I'm Leonard," he said. "Tell your mother that I'm here."

 

 [End]