“So about Valentine’s Day.”
Jim paused his spoon as it was on its way to his mouth filled with what passed for clam chowder on the ship. He frowned. “What about it?” And then he placed the chowder laden spoon into his mouth.
He was on the briefest of breaks from the bridge. He had fifteen minutes to grab some lunch, said chowder, and chat with his bestie, Bones. Who was now the one bringing up the dreaded subject of that day of red hearts.
“Are we doing it?” Bones asked. For his own lunch, Bones had chosen some fruit parfait thing. The fruit was unnaturally colored, super neon green and orange and red.
Jim put his spoon down and leaned back in his chair. “Did you want to?”
“Well.” Bones shrugged. “It’s kind of expected, isn’t it?”
“Is it?” Jim sighed. Tapped his fingers on the table. “I’ve never, um, well, I haven’t been in that sort of relationship with anyone before, that they’d expect, you know, something. What exactly do you want?”
Bones stared at him, eyes wide for a second, but then he narrowed them when he caught Jim’s slight grin. “Not me and you, you dope. The ship.”
“Thank God,” Jim said, his smile widening. “For a minute there I thought there had been a change in our relationship I was unaware of.”
“Funny. You’re a real comedian.”
Jim shook his head and leaned back toward the table and scooped up more soup. “Valentine’s Day? Didn’t we just finish Christmas?”
“Almost two months ago.”
“Still. Is that a thing? Even now?”
Bones nodded and finished off the weird fruit in his parfait. “Especially now. You have to keep the morale up, Jim. We’ve been in deep space for—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. What do you have in mind?”
“Christine wants to have a Valentine’s Day Dance.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “I should have known this was her idea. Ugh. A dance? Really?”
“Yes, really. Crew members can ask each other to the dance. Their Valentine.”
“You’re seriously going to make me throw up,” Jim said, somewhat nastily, he admitted. To himself anyway. “Fine. But she’s planning it. I want no part of all that.”
“No way, Bones. Put it out there that I am not participating. I’ve sanctioned it and that’s enough. If I take part, there are two scenarios I can see, and neither of which I want anything to do with.”
“Yeah, and what are those?”
“One, a bunch of crew members will ask me because they think taking their captain will get them somewhere, or two, no one will ask me, because either they think someone else did, they are intimidated or they don’t like me, and I’ll be some wallflower on the side of the room. No thanks.”
“Everyone likes you, Jim.”
“No one is universally liked, Bones,” Jim assured him. “Leave me out of the whole sorry mess.” He pushed back from the table. “And now I have to get back to the bridge.”
As he rose he spotted Spock having lunch with Uhura in the corner of the mess. She was holding two of his fingers and smiling gently at him. Jim turned away.
“See you later, Bones.”
When Valentine’s Day arrived, Jim did his best to ignore the excited squeals of his bridge crew. He hadn’t failed to notice that Chekov came to his post that morning to a big red heart shaped box of candy and a red rose waiting for him. He’d also spotted his first officer opening a card and saw Uhura practically bouncing in her chair at her position.
He just found it annoying because it was just stupid nonsense, Jim told himself. A made up day to force romantic declarations on a specific day, to make people give things they otherwise might not give, and to make those without romantic attachments to feel left out.
About the middle of his shift, he spotted Uhura return from her lunch break to a small red velvet jewelry box on her chair. It was, of course, ring-sized. But he supposed anything could have been in it. Earrings. A necklace. A bar of soap. Okay, not that but whatever.
He turned his gaze firmly away and to the screen in front of him. Jim reminded himself he was comfortably numb. It was something he had to remind himself of from time to time. Not as often these days as it once had been. There’d been a time when he’d wished for the comfort of being numb. And it hadn’t come. But now. Yes. He had it now.
It took a moment for him to realize that Yeoman Rand was standing next to his chair, speaking.
Jim blinked and made himself focus on her. He smiled. “Yes, Yeoman?”
“Your coffee, sir.” She carried a tray and she handed him the cup. Then she handed him a plate of pink heart shaped cookies.
Jim frowned. “I didn’t order these.”
She smiled. “I know, Captain. They’re a Valentine’s gift.”
“The bridge crew,” Rand said. “These aren’t replicated, sir. They were obtained from a bakery on Space Station, Elema.”
“Oh.” Jim stared down at the cookies. “Okay. Thanks. Um. Thank you everybody.” He felt a little embarrassed and awkward which wasn’t at all normal for him, but he kept his gaze down as Rand moved away.
He tried a cookie and realized it was pretty tasty and then before he knew it he looked down at his plate and realized he’d eaten all of them. Six cookies. He could feel his face heating and he shoved the plate down the side of his chair to get rid of it as he took a quick sip of his coffee and tried not to wince at the way it scalded his tongue. He had a feeling Spock was looking in his direction, but he didn’t dare turn his head to see.
“Status report, Mister Sulu?”
“Maintaining orbit, Captain.”
Jim nodded and went back to pretending this was an ordinary day and not one he couldn’t wait to be over.
From his quarters later, he heard the commotion in the corridors as his crew prepared to go to the dance. It gave him something of a headache, but as Bones said, it was good for the crew. He didn’t want anyone going stir crazy.
Funny thing was Bones had already brought up the idea of a ship-wide Easter Egg Hunt and Jim had given him the side-eye on that one. Bones mumbled something about he’d work on Jim about it. Generally that meant lots of alcohol.
Jim had been somewhat relieved and somewhat disappointed to find no boxes of candy, no flowers (he was allergic to a lot of them), no cards, no Valentine of any kind in his quarters after shift. He had said he wanted no part of it and so his crew had taken him at his word, he supposed. But he’d sort of secretly wondered if someone would leave him something anyway. No one had. Which firmed up his idea that yes, Valentine’s Day sucked.
He did some reports but eventually he grew bored and restless and made his way up to the Observation Deck. He stood there for a good ten minutes alone before he heard someone enter the room where he watched the stars.
Jim wondered briefly how Spock had known where to look but then he knew logically Spock would have simply asked the computer for his location.
“You do not participate in the festivities,” Spock said, as he came to stand beside Jim.
“No, I’m not really someone who cares about Valentine’s Day. It seems designed to make those without someone to feel even worse about their situation. And if you love someone do you really need a day where you have to prove it to others? Seems like it’s all about showing off for others to see.” Jim snorted. “Guess I’m a little cynical. I’ve always disliked this day.”
“You do make some valid points.”
“When I was just a kid I spent the weeks after Christmas designing this big red heart for this girl I liked at school, you know? I made it really elaborate with paint and glitter, even sequins. God, I worked so hard on it.” He scoffed.
“What happened?” Spock asked softly.
“Can’t you guess? She laughed and tore it up. I had…some skin trouble then. Pretty bad acne. She laughed, tore it up, and said I was the last person she’d want as her Valentine.”
Spock did not reply for a long time and when he did it was in a near whisper, “I am sorry.”
“Yeah.” Jim laughed. “Just childhood baggage. It’s nothing, really. But I’ve hated this damn day ever since.” Jim glanced at Spock. “Thanks for the cookies. They were good.”
Spock hesitated and then said, “It was not my idea.”
“I figured,” Jim said with a smile. “Can’t imagine you coming up with the ‘let’s send the captain cookies’ notion. But anyway, it was nice. Unexpected. I still hate the day though.” Jim turned back to the stars. “Anyway, shouldn’t you be at the dance with Uhura?”
After a slight pause, Spock said, “Yes. I will take my leave then.”
He didn’t watch Spock leave and he spent another twenty minutes there before he finally returned to his quarters. There were more reports he should probably be doing, but instead he got undressed, put his pajama bottoms on and tank top, and went to bed.
Jim used to look forward to shore leave, but this one had been a struggle. At the last minute he had tried to back out of going himself, but Bones went on about his mental health and needing to recharge and all that so Jim had gone.
He’d spent three days and nights with a beautiful red-head who’d reminded him of Gaila from his academy days. She hadn’t been Orion or anything but she’d had the same care-free attitude. She’d been fun and a good sexual partner, so in the end, Jim guessed he had enjoyed his shore leave.
He ran into Bones as they both prepared to return to the ship.
“There you are,” Bones greeted him. “How’d it go?”
“Just fine? I saw you with that girl. What was her name?”
“Rita,” Jim supplied. “She’s a commander from the Excelsior.”
Bones stepped up onto the transport pad next to Jim. “But just fine, huh?”
They reappeared on the Enterprise and Jim stepped off the transporter.
“Welcome aboard, Captain,” Scotty said from behind the controls.
“Everything’s normal, sir. Mister Spock returned a few hours ago and is on the bridge.”
“Thank you, Mister Scott.”
Bones followed him out of the transporter room. “You know you’re due for—”
“Okay, fine, I’ll put it off. Next month though.”
With a weary nod, Jim got into the turbolift and made his way to the officers’ deck. When he reached his quarters, he noticed Uhura by the door of her own and she looked like she had been crying. Quite the contrast of a few days before on Valentine’s Day. He wondered if he should ask her if she was okay or if he should mind his own business. He watched as she attempted to punch in her access code twice without success.
Jim mentally sighed and walked down the corridor. “Are you okay, Lieutenant?”
For several heartbeats she didn’t look at him, but then she did, her eyes shiny. “I’ll be all right, Captain.”
“If there’s anything I can do…” He let the sentence trail off and then turned to return to his own door.
“I’m-I’m considering asking for a transfer.”
“What?” Jim frowned and walked back closer to her. “Why? Are you unhappy here?”
“No.” She shook her head. “At least I wasn’t.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest defensively and leaned against the wall. “I may as well tell you as I am sure it will be all over the ship in no time. Spock and I broke up on shore leave.”
Jim opened his mouth then shut it.
“For good this time,” she said softly, her voice cracking just a little. “We want different things. We each see a different future and they don’t go together.”
“I’m really sorry,” Jim told her. “But I’d hate to lose you. Can you give it some time? See how you feel after, I don’t know, a few weeks?”
“Maybe,” she replied. “I’ll think about it.”
“Okay. If you need some time off—”
“I don’t,” she said quickly. “Working helps keep my mind off things.”
He nodded. “Let me know if you do need anything.”
Jim returned to his quarters’ door and entered. He did feel bad for her. He knew how much she had always loved Spock. They’d been trying for years to make things work between them and it never quite did. He was kind of surprised they hadn’t broken up for good before. More than once she’d told Jim that Spock was emotionally unavailable. Bones had told him about how they had broken up just before Altamid, but those very events on Altamid had caused them to reconcile and things had seemed okay.
He’d feared…no. That was not right. Stop it, Jim. He’d thought that the little red box on Valentine’s Day was a symbol of greater commitment between them. Apparently not.
Jim removed his shore leave clothes and got into his shower, opting for a really hot water shower to help with his too stiff muscles.
When he got out he dressed in sweats and a soft gray t-shirt as he didn’t have to be on shift until the morning. He got some chicken tenderloins out of the replicator and then picked up his communicator.
“Kirk to Spock.”
“Spock here, Captain.”
“Listen, if you aren’t busy after your shift is through, you want a game of chess or something?” They’d play a few times. Not a lot. But a time or two. Jim wasn’t as good as he once was. He was a bit rusty. But he figured he was good enough to still give Spock a little bit of a run for his money.
Spock did not reply for so long that Jim was certain he was going to reject the invitation and it was on the tip of Jim’s tongue to rescind it before he got the chance.
“Very well,” Spock replied, finally, without a lot of enthusiasm.
“If you’d rather not—”
“I will be there in fifteen minutes,” Spock cut him off. “Spock out.”
He actually made it in fourteen minutes and after Spock secured himself tea, they sat down to play.
Jim wasn’t sure he should ask Spock about Uhura. Spock guarded his private life very carefully. And yet, it felt huge, and like something Jim should discuss with him.
Spock’s gaze rose from the chess set, and he quirked a brow. “You are staring.”
“Uhura said she might transfer,” Jim blurted out.
“Affirmative. She did mention the possibility to me as well.”
Jim licked his lips. “Um. How-how do you feel about that?”
“I hope, of course, that it is not necessary,” Spock said.
“Are you, um, you know…” He trailed off again. These kinds of conversations were really not his forte. He grappled for a good term. “Emotionally compromised.”
At Spock’s closed off expression, Jim thought perhaps he had chosen badly. But Spock answered, nevertheless. “I am not.”
He wanted to ask for details, but details were not the kinds of things that Spock would be interested in sharing, Jim knew that much.
“I was somewhat surprised at her dalliance.”
Jim blinked as his heart beat fast in his chest. “Her-her what?”
Spock looked away, spots of color appearing on his cheeks. “I should not speak of this.”
“No. Wait. What? Spock, you can tell me. I won’t say anything.”
“While on shore leave, we had a verbal disagreement and separated for the night. In the morning I discovered Nyota in a compromising position with a female from the planet’s native species,” Spock said quietly. “They had spent the night together.”
Never in a million years had Jim expected to hear that she had-that they had…his mind couldn’t catch up.
“It was then that we mutually decided that our relationship would no longer work.” Spock shook his head. “Forgiveness was immediate. I knew that she had been upset about our discussion the night before. I did not blame her for seeking companionship given that discussion and its ramifications. But finding her with the native led to further discussion about our future and the implausibility of it given how far apart we had grown.”
“I-I see. I’m sorry, Spock.”
Spock inclined his head. “I appreciate the sentiment, Captain. But if you do not mind, I would rather not discuss it further at this point.”
“I also ask for your discretion as I am certain Nyota would prefer the circumstances not come out to the crew.”
“I understand. And as I said, I won’t say a word.”
“Even to Doctor McCoy.”
Jim nodded. “I get it. And I won’t.”
Privately he wondered if there had been other indiscretions involved in their ongoing relationship but Jim knew he was already pushing his luck and anyway it was absolutely not his business.
He’d heard a rumor once, years ago, that they were not always exclusive, but Jim had ignored it as just silly ship’s gossip. Now, of course, he did wonder. Though such behavior seemed a bit out of character for Spock.
Besides, none of that mattered to his friendship to Spock.
“If you ever need to talk or anything,” Jim said instead, “I’m always here.”
And that was that.
The conversation lagged then and ten minutes later, Spock declared, “Checkmate.”
Jim did not suggest a second game and Spock left to go to his own quarters. It was then he was beeped with an incoming message from his mother. He really didn’t want to talk to her because he always ended up having a headache afterward. But he sighed and hit accept.
Over the years his relationship with her had improved. Mostly because, he supposed, he was easier to deal with as an adult than as a child, though she never really said so. Jim knew that early on in her marriage to George Kirk that she had been loving life with her husband and son, Sam, and had greatly looked forward to the birth of their second child, him. Of course that had all changed and she was left with two small sons and no George.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as soon as she looked at him.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t give me that. You’re not eating and sleeping. Didn’t you just come back from shore leave?”
“Yes, which is why—”
“They’re working you too hard,” she declared. “You look gaunt. When did you last eat?”
Jim was used to this, really. Her concern for his eating hadn’t ever gone away since he came back from Tarsus IV.
“I had some chicken just a few hours ago.”
“Get something now while we’re talking.”
“I don’t need my mother to tell me when to eat.”
She raised both eyebrows.
“Fine.” He blew out a frustrated breath. “Be right back.”
He chose some chocolate pudding and a coffee and brought it back to his desk.
“It’s enough,” Jim assured her.
“Did you get any sleep on this shore leave of yours?”
“Sure.” His mother shook her head. “Nightmares?”
“Mom, let it go. I sleep.”
“You need someone to sleep with you. You always do better when someone’s with you.” She made a tsking sound. “If you’d settle down with a nice someone then I wouldn’t have to worry.”
“I’ve settled down with my ship.”
“Not the same.”
“But there’s less arguing.” He smiled.
She grimaced but closed her mouth. “I heard from Sam.”
Jim stabbed at his pudding. “Yeah?”
“Don’t give me that look.”
“I’m looking at my pudding not you.”
“He is your brother.”
His gaze rose to meet hers, blue meeting blue. “Pretty much meaningless, isn’t it? So? What’s up with him?”
“He got married to that girl.”
“She’s too good for him.”
Jim sighed and stuck a huge mouthful of chocolate pudding into his mouth. He shrugged.
“They’re stationed on Deneva now,” she continued. “I might go visit.”
“You should,” Jim said, and he thought he meant it even. “He’d probably like that.”
“Too bad you can’t come with me.”
“Yeah, too bad.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You could at least try.”
“I am trying.”
She leaned toward the screen and put on little old-fashioned spectacles. “This is you trying? The dark circles are back. How are you feeling?”
“That stuff we aren’t supposed to talk about doesn’t seem to have done you much good,” she said softly. “I thought you’d be stronger or wouldn’t age as much. Something. But I see gray in your hair.”
“You really know how to make a guy feel great, Mom.” He finished the pudding he hadn’t really wanted and moved on to the bitter, nasty coffee of the ship.
“I’m worried about you, Jim.”
“Don’t be,” he told her.
“You’re my son.”
As if that was all it took, and maybe it was. For her anyway.
She looked off screen then and nodded. “I have to go. But I’ll contact you soon.”
“Let me know if you decide to go to Deneva. At least I’ll know where you are if nothing else,” Jim said.
“I will. And Jim. Try to take care of yourself a little better, okay?”
Jim smiled. Didn’t matter if it was forced. She’d never know. “Will do. Bye, Mom.”
And she faded away.
Jim wanted to do…something. But he really couldn’t think of what or with who, so in the end he just got undressed and went to bed.
His sleep was disturbed by dreams causing him to wake up with his heart racing three times. Their frightfulness went away almost as soon as he woke up crying out. He tried to recall them but they alluded him. After the third time, Jim got up and dressed and left his quarters, unsettled. He paused at the door to Spock’s quarters but heard low murmurs within and so he kept on walking until he reached the ship’s fitness center. He worked out for hours but still could not rid himself of the unease caused by unremembered dreams.
Three weeks had passed since his conversation with his mother. Three weeks since Uhura had told him that she and Spock were finished.
A week ago, she had come to Jim and told him that she wouldn’t be requesting a transfer after all. The Enterprise was her home and the crew her family and though she was sad that her future would not be with Spock, they were working their way toward being better friends than lovers.
And indeed, since that conversation, he’d seen them together in the mess and rec rooms. While they hadn’t looked exactly comfortable, they hadn’t looked uncomfortable either.
Ship’s rumor was that Uhura might be seeing someone else onboard though Jim had not seen any evidence of that. Jim was often oblivious about that sort of thing, though, so it was possible it might be true.
Jim hadn’t invited Spock for another chess game either. He’d gotten the impression from the last one that Spock hadn’t really wanted to play and since he’d left after only one game, Jim had not pressed for more.
They were starting to act the way they had just before Altamid again. Little more than strangers. Perhaps that was unfair. More like co-workers. Jim had a feeling that hadn’t been the friendship the other Spock had alluded to and Jim had once thought he and this Spock might have at one point. After Khan. But that had never truly materialized as Spock spent most of his personal time with Uhura. At least until their separation. First before Altamid and now again, well, three weeks ago.
Jim spent most of his personal time either alone or with Bones. But Bones often was too busy with medical stuff to keep Jim company. Still he’d managed not to reach the dangerous level of ennui he had before Yorktown. He counted that as a win.
Still he couldn’t help but wish for some really phenomenal planet to tackle. And so when he was informed there was a life sustaining M-Class planet he was to check out, Jim jumped at the chance.
“There is a little unstable seismic activity, Captain,” Sulu informed Jim as they entered the transporter room.
“No, sir. Just minor tremors. A scan of the planet doesn’t show any history of large sized earthquakes.”
“Still it might be wise for you to stay on board the ship, Captain,” Spock spoke up from where he was checking and rechecking his tricorder.
“As you are well aware, Captain, Starfleet has begun to discourage the inclusion of the captain on every landing party. It is thought that the risks outweigh the benefits. As I am more than capable of—”
“Blah, blah, blah.” Jim waved his hands and moved over to the transporters pads. “Nothing doing. I’m going.”
Sulu eyed him with some amusement as he joined Jim on the transporter. Spock, looking Vulcan disgruntled, stepped up beside him as did two security guards.
“Energize,” Jim commanded.
Just as they reappeared on the planet surface, the planet began to shake violently.
Jim frowned as the shaking got worse. Much worse. The ground was cracking at their feet. He flipped open his communicator.
“Scotty, better get us out of here. Beam us up.”
Jim felt a weird shift just as Scotty engaged. He’d have to ask about it when they got back on the ship.
Less than ten seconds later, Jim reappeared. On a planet’s surface. Not the planet he’d just been on. Or at least it didn’t look like the same one. And there was no shaking. But there was also no one else.
“Spock? Sulu? Jenkins? Friedericks?” he yelled. His voice echoed.
Jim flipped open his communicator. “Kirk to Enterprise. Kirk to Enterprise.”
Nothing. Not even static.
“Kirk to Spock. Spock, come in.”
Jim closed his communicator and looked around the lushly green planet. It almost looked like Earth, but not exactly either.
“What the fuck?”
Hours later, the sun was at his back and he heard the sound of running water from…somewhere. His voice had become hoarse from yelling for the rest of the landing party—anyone—to hear him. There had been no answer and he could not shake the feeling that he was alone. They’d definitely been separated when they’d tried to beam up during the earthquake. But somehow it felt as though he was the only living thing around. He could only hope that meant they were somehow back on the ship and not…gone. And he could only hope that somehow, up on that ship, Spock would be looking for him.