|Dr. Leonard McCoy
Spock meets him for a quiet, extremely logical lunch, and Jim stares down at the nutritionally balanced meal. "So no fried chicken?" he says, trying to identify the array of vegetables, some of which he recognizes as newly programmed into the replicators since their visit to Ambassador Spock.
"Your health is of paramount importance," Spock answers in way that's Vulcan for smug.
"Meat is healthy," Jim answers rebelliously, poking his fork into the salad. "Anything interesting going on? I was stuck reading new and exciting paperwork from Starfleet. Did you know we're adding forms specifically for reactions to alien pollen? Seriously? Does it really happen that often? Is there anything interesting happening? Anywhere?"
"Lieutenant Uhura has reported the encryption signature on the message has a twenty-two point six-three-eight percent base commonality with the samples from the station and your game."
Jim stabs a forkful of salad. "Why is it that when I ask, I'm told to stop stalking her, but you get an explanation?"
Spock doesn't dignify that with a response. "I understand we have received new orders."
"Starfleet's sending us to Starbase 3," Jim answers, trying not to sound bitter and failing utterly. "We're to pick up those physicists after all, since they just can't get any other transport. Mitchell's there, by the way--I guess his ship doesn't count as transport now? The fucker."
Spock glances up in faint reproof. "Captain Mitchell is a competent officer." Which is true, and from Spock, probably the highest possible praise. That doesn't mean Jim has to like Mitchell so obviously pulling strings. "Doubtless he wishes to speak to you regarding the situation in the colony without--"
"Starfleet noticing us chatting too much. Yeah, I know." Taking another bite, Jim watches two crewmembers giving each other dark glares; it looks like Ensign Myran from Engineering won the semi-finals last night. "You know, remember when I used to be bored and said we needed more to do? So I thought it would be great idea to start ship intramural tournaments?"
"It has been excellent for crew morale," Spock answers maliciously. "The addition of regular classes--"
"About that." Jim points his fork at Spock. "I saw the schedule Uhura's working on. I'm teaching Command 101?"
Spock looks a question.
"Okay, they call it Ethical Situations in Starfleet History or whatever, fine," Jim answers, "but it's the core prerequisite for acceptance to command track. When was this decided?"
"You are captain of the ship," Spock starts, trying to be logical and irritating.
"And my professor tried to fail me. It took Pike and a review board to keep my A and not flunk out of command track! Not to mention--"
"I reviewed your coursework," Spock says, finishing up the salad and showing far too much interest in the whole grain bread that Jim hasn't been able to escape eating for the last three months. "I do not see a conflict. You and your instructor had differing interpretations of Starfleet policy."
Jim sits back. "You went through my coursework." Though really, he should have known. He checked out Spock's, after all. "When?"
"When I accepted this position."
Of course. "And you think I should bend some bright young minds? Not that I'm against that or anything. I just doubt Starfleet will accept it."
"Whether Starfleet will accept courses taught here as credit is immaterial. The course will introduce them to the ethical dilemmas common to Starfleet and give them the opportunity to decide if they are suited to Starfleet as officers."
Jim squints at Spock. "You know, I'm just thinking if we want to encourage them to join up, maybe we should get them someone who could, you know, be that shining light of inspiration. Like say, I don't know, you."
Spock's eyebrows raise faintly. "I think not."
"You're just grumpy that you're the only one who can do intro to relativity in physics," Jim answers with a grin, giving it up. "You and Uhura decide when we start?"
"We should be prepared to begin preliminary classes in three months. I have gauged interest among the crew and have begun adjusting crew assignments to compensate."
"You don't let grass grow under your feet, that's for sure." Jim takes another bite; with some kind of dressing, this wouldn't be too bad. "Don't pretend you don't know the reference; your mother was a Federation interpreter and I know very well you have a sick fascination for proverbs. So do we have enough for a full class?"
Spock look at him expressionlessly. "I see you have not been reading my reports, despite the fact you have stated that you always--"
"Your reports are twenty five thousand words on a slow day," Jim says flatly. "The last was longer than War and Peace, but admittedly somewhat easier to read. I read the preface, author notes, and summary. How many crew signed up? Give me ballpark."
Spock folds his hands, and the timing must be coincidental, because Jim has just taken another bite when he says, "Two hundred crewmembers have expressed interest."
Jim grabs for his napkin, breathing romaine and turuiq slices.
"Do you require assistance Captain?"
Jim glares at him over the napkin, knowing his hysterical coughing is attracting attention. You are such an asshole.
While Spock's expression doesn't change, Jim can sense the amusement. Did you expect fewer respondents?
Jim wipes his mouth shakily. "That was a joke, right? I mean, it's certainly bad enough. Very Vulcan."
"No, it is not."
Jim drops his napkin. "That's over one third of the crew, excluding officers--"
"I am aware of the precise numbers; would you like me to elucidate?"
"No." Jim looks around the quiet mess for a moment, trying to give this some kind of context. "Two hundred."
"They will require individualized evaluation to discover the extent of their education and to find their aptitudes," Spock says, like this is some perfectly ordinary conversation or something, "but otherwise, I do not foresee difficulties."
Jim watches Spock for a few moments; Spock kind of sucks at hiding personal smugness, and he's not even trying to right now. "You saw this coming, didn't you?"
"I suspected it, yes."
Jim waits, but that seems all Spock has to say about the matter. Straightening, Jim grabs his fork. "I didn't," he admits, wondering if he can find a replicator once Spock goes back to play in his lab and get something completely unhealthy and delicious without Spock finding out. "A lifetime commitment's pretty different from a five year assignment. And most enlisted kind of loathe Starfleet officers. Not that I blame them," Jim adds, playing with the remains of the salad. "I'd have been cashiered out of Starfleet already if I'd had to serve under most of them. Well, except for you." Jim gives Spock a winning smile. "I'm sure I'd have been a great subordinate."
Spock gives him a look that implies he doubts Jim's sanity. "Perhaps something changed their minds."
Jim snorts his opinion of that and finishes his salad.
Unfortunately, Sorin is precisely on time, which Jim supposes is probably better than early, but not by much. Turning his attention back to the water sculpture, he ignores Spock going to the door and the quiet exchange behind him until he notices he's making something that looks a lot like a symbolic representation of a ship being torn apart by a black hole.
Maybe he should stop now.
Jim makes himself close the control panel and turn around; a very real part of him thinks calling for a site to site transport to a nice, safe locked room isn't the worst idea ever.
"Right." Forcing his legs to move, Jim crosses the room and sits down, trying to look less freaked out than he feels, despite the fact he's in the presence of two telepaths and can't a hide a goddamn thing. "What should I do?"
Sorin gives Spock a look over Jim's head that's just irritating. "I will need you to relax, Captain Kirk--"
"Jim," Jim interrupts shortly. "You're in my head, you use my name."
"Jim," Sorin corrects himself smoothly. "Spock will begin the meld. When he feels you are comfortable, I will join you. If at any time you feel distress, I will withdraw. This can be done as slowly as you require."
Rubbing damp palms on his knees, Jim nods slowly. "Right. Okay. Let's just--just get this over with, okay?"
Closing his eyes, Jim concentrates on the place in his head that Spock occupies, reminding himself that in this, at least, there are no mysteries. They've done this more times than he can count. You can suppress it if I panic, right?
Jim feels long, familiar fingers touch his face. It would not be prudent to interfere with your--
Do it anyway. If you think it's important to do this, I want to get it over with. Jim takes another breath, matching Spock's as the first stages of the meld begin, the familiar words running smoothly through his head. I trust you.
Almost from a distance, Jim feels Spock's fingers slide into place. No matter what--even now--this part, this part Jim never gets tired of. For what feels like forever and still far too short, he can feel the perfect click of their minds, of everything they both are become so much more together than they had ever been apart.
The touch of another mind pulls his attention, and Jim jerks, startled at the foreign presence intruding into their thoughts. For a second, he's aware of a sudden, startled panic before it's gone as if it had never been there at all, a quiet urge to relax, accept, do not be afraid.
All right, he answers a little dreamily and relaxes into the firm touch. I trust you.
Jim's aware of a strong sense of disorientation, sitting up so suddenly that it takes a few seconds to dispel the vertigo enough to realize he's in bed and it's mid-gamma.
Blinking, Jim reaches up, touching his head; there's a faintly tender feeling, nothing like a headache, but it's the closest word he can use to describe it. Closer to his memories of his first year at the Academy, doubling classes and drinking too much coffee and wondering who on earth he was trying to prove himself to. For a long time, he'd thought it was Pike: looking back, though, he think that just maybe, it had been to himself.
The mental touch to his hypersensitive mind makes him cringe; Jim pushes the heel of his hand against his temple, trying to control the throbbing ache that's not even physical, so how the hell--
"It is supposed to hurt?" Jim says slowly, enunciating each word carefully.
He can feel Spock sit up beside him, removing his hand and pressing gently against his temples. Jim looks into the serious brown eyes, trying not to flinch at the careful mental touch.
"For a Vulcan, no," Spock answers, eyes flickering closed, and the pain dampens. "For you, however--you are not accustomed to the exertions of this kind of prolonged mental contact. How much do you remember of this evening?"
Now that he mentions it… "Some?" As the not-pain slowly shifts to a dull ache, Jim frowns, searching backward. The faint, vague memories feel more like a dream than anything that actually happened. "Not very much. What happened?"
"Sorin stated he will require time to evaluate what he has discovered," Spock says slowly. Jim lets out a breath; while he doesn't know that much about Vulcan Adepts, he knows enough to guess that's not a great sign. "However, he also said that teaching you to shield yourself should alleviate the problems you have experienced; it is merely a matter of instructing you in the correct technique."
"Even though we don't know what the problem is? That's--weird."
"The mental disciplines are not always logical," Spock says, with a faint sense of embarrassment, like it's a personal failing. "He wishes to begin the meditation exercises we are instructed in as children, if you have no objection."
Jim looks at Spock in growing horror. "You mean the three hour long meditation exercises you did when you were like, two? The ones even you don't do anymore because they are so goddamn boring? Those exercises?"
"They can be beneficial to cultivate patience," Spock says, not needing to add "as you have none".
Jim stares at Spock. "I swear to God that sometimes I think Vulcan tradition was created specifically for a sense of moral superiority over humans. The chess finals are tomorrow night. It's going to be awesome and I'm going to get to throw at least four people in the brig if it's anything like it was last year. Why do you hate it when I'm happy?"
"You are unusually irrational," Spock observes, removing his hand. "Your mind will be clearer in the morning after you have rested. A deep meld is exhausting even for a Vulcan; it can take time to accustom to the strain of an unfamiliar mind."
Jim lets Spock ease him back down, mostly because Spock's right; he can feel the pull of sleep at the corner of his mind. "It never happened with you." Silence. "Spock?"
Turning his head, Jim looks at Spock, inches and light years away all at once. Rolling on his side, Jim reaches out, finding Spock's hand. To his surprise, fingers lace almost immediately through his own, pulling him unresistingly closer. Throwing a knee over Spock's thigh, Jim pushes himself up on one elbow. "It never happened with you," Jim repeats slowly, "because the Ambassador did it first, and I was still influenced by the Ambassador's memories the first time. And then, after three days together, you were pretty damn familiar. Right?"
The affirmative answer doesn't need to be spoken; Jim can feel it in the silence.
Lying back down, Jim closes his eyes, concentrating on Spock's fingers tight in his. "I used to be jealous of Uhura," Jim hears himself say, feeling Spock's startled attention like the warmth of his hand. "I know how you felt about her then and how you feel about her now."
"I did not know that."
Jim smiles faintly. "Desperation, like ego, is the mother of invention; I wondered if I was hiding it. It was pretty humiliating. I never got why people would get freaked about that kind of thing, you know--I never saw the point of worrying about losing someone. Thing is, there was never anyone I couldn't stand to lose. Which," Jim continues lightly, "pretty much fucks up my theory I was beyond this sort of crap. But there you go."
"Jim." The fingers tighten around his. "I would never--"
"I know." Licking his lips, Jim takes a deep breath. "I know when you came down to find me, you were giving up the potential for--to be with anyone else." Jim opens his eyes. "I don't know how to be sorry for that anymore."
Spock leans forward, lips brushing his, achingly gentle, sweet like in stories about first love, the kind of stories that always ended with someone with a broken heart and a life lesson about letting someone go. It figures, Jim thinks hazily, lips parting as the kiss deepens, that his life lesson isn't learning how to let go; instead he learned how much he really is his mother's son.
Pulling back, Spock looks down at him; Jim aches a little at the feeling in it, overwhelming and humbling by turn. "I have never regretted it," Spock murmurs against his cheek, less than a breath of sound. "Even if I could, there is nothing I would change."
Jim nods slowly, fingers tangling in Spock's hair, pulling him back to his mouth. Yeah. Me either.
Uhura's like a machine; in a day, she's narrowed the possibilities down to less than five thousand. Trying not to look as awed as he feels, Jim studies her results. "Huh. Five thousand?"
"It's killing you inside isn't it?"
Jim scowls at her over the top of the screen before retreating into dignified silence, mostly because he can't think of a reply. "So what am I looking at, besides a lot of repetition?"
"The encryption signatures of roughly seventy-eight species of humanoid beings," she says, gracious in victory. "I'm still running strings through the database, so I should have these narrowed down to about a thousand before lunch." Sitting back with a faint glow of satisfaction, she smiles at him, reminding him he really should have reconsidered the advanced classes in organic cryptology even if they were at six in the goddamn morning.
Tapping the table, Jim scrolls through the page absently. "I'm missing something," he says finally, closing the page down before he gives into the temptation to throw something at the computer for not being omnipotent. "I just wonder why a Romulan would turn against his people."
"You think every single person in the Empire is hot for a war with the Federation?"
Jim frowns. "Of course not. I'm saying that either he's convinced they can't win--which I seriously doubt--or he's like a Romulan Gandhi or something, which sure, is possible, but would a Romulan Gandhi be high enough in the government to know what's going on? They don't really encourage independent thinking in their military. I'm just not seeing it."
"You think he was lying?"
"No. Dar's a businessman and he knows he operates by the grace of not being stupid. If he was selling me out, it would be the last business he'd ever do anywhere, ever; it wouldn't have been just a Federation captain he fucked over, but a customer. Even if he got away from the Federation, he'd never be able to establish himself again.."
"Honor among thieves?" Uhura says, amused. "Fair enough."
"Yeah, and--I've known him for a while." Jim looks away. "He wouldn't fuck me over. That he set up that meeting means it was legitimate."
Uhura gives him a disbelieving look. "And next you're going to say you regret getting out of Begammon."
"I'm beginning to think leaving was a mistake," Jim admits.
Uhura's smile fades. "Captain--"
"If I hadn't had T'Prina, I would have stayed," Jim says finally, looking at Uhura ruefully. "Risking myself I was okay with, but I couldn't risk her, not with a telepath involved. She's just a kid."
"She's only three years younger than you are."
Jim gives Uhura a faint smile. "It feels like a lot more," he says with a shrug. "Anyway, in retrospect, I should have negotiated her release and stuck around to see what was going on."
"That would have gone over well," Uhura says flatly; she's not just talking about his ship, or Starfleet.
"You'd have been here to make sure nothing went wrong," Jim answers lightly. "And I don't trust just anyone to do that." And he isn't either. "When we leave Earth, I want to go back to the station and beam down, see if I can find out something."
"With a full security detail, of course," Uhura answers, equally light, and meaning every word.
"Kind of put a cramp in my style."
"We'd like your style alive and in one piece, sir," she answers, not lightly at all. Startled, Jim looks at her. "We have a shore leave coming up in a few months. I'd rather not spend it running around the galaxy trying to rescue you, you know. I have plans."
"Just keep that in mind when you start thinking up new and exciting ways to get yourself killed or kidnapped. No one wants to train up a new captain; we just got you broken in." Uhura turns back to her screen. "Now go away so I can get some work done. Don't you have a ship to run?"
Getting up, Jim smirks in her general direction. "You know Spock does all that," he says. "Everyone says so."
"Someday," she says, "you won't be able to get away with that anymore."
"But that day is not today. Keep me informed." With a sloppy salute to her back he knows she can see reflected in the screen, Jim leaves before she realizes there's a pencil close enough to throw at him. She has really accurate aim.
All Starfleet cadets are instructed in meditation in the academy; it's a mandatory course for all future officers, in the (vain) hope they'll actually use it to avoid unfortunate stress-related situations such as climbing naked on the dean's roof and shouting out their newfound belief in the benefits of anarchy in blank verse during midterms.
But Starfleet-mandated meditation, taught by Betazoids like an art, is one thing; Vulcans treat it like a hard science. Sorin treats meditation like a hard science with a physical practical; at the end of the first hour, Jim opens his eyes, looking at Sorin blearily. "This isn't meditation. This is guided mental torture."
Jim senses a hysterical combination of horror and reluctant amusement from his left; Sorin tilts his head slightly, studying Jim, and not for the first time, Jim just cannot imagine how this guy could possibly have ever done anything as illogical as fall in love with anyone, ever.
"The techniques we are employing are by necessity of a condensed nature; the course we are following is usually spread over a series of years, not weeks," Sorin answers. "I am restricting it to the aspects most relevant to you. It will be tiring, but it is necessary. Shielding yourself should be as instinctive, as thoughtless, as breathing."
Jim glances at Spock, who is listening in respectful silence. "I get that," Jim answers, trying not to sound like he's whining, even though right now in the rec room, someone is winning a chess tournament and it's kind of inevitable there will be an altercation that he won't even get to see, much less dispense judgment on. "I just--look, try to see this from my point of view. You're asking a blind guy to identify colors by touch here; that's where I'm coming from."
Sorin frowns faintly. "I do not--ah, I understand. A unusual but surprisingly apt comparison." Hands resting lightly on his knees, Sorin looks between them. "I think that we should end the lesson here, Captain, Commander. Exhausting yourself unnecessarily will not assist your progress."
Jim slumps in relief. "There's been progress?"
"Yes, though you may not be aware of it. The mind, like any muscle, responds to training. You are doing surprisingly well; I commend Commander Spock for his thorough work in instructing you in the preliminary disciplines. It has made this far easier than expected."
Spock doesn't straighten, but Jim kind of thinks he would if he weren't Vulcan. "Would you care for refreshment, Sorin?" Spock asks, uncoiling himself from the floor in a single lithe motion that never fails to make Jim forget to breathe.
"I cannot accept at this time; my patients require my attention before I can retire." He makes no indication that when he completes his duties, he will return to the databases, searching for hope in every Federation medical record he can access before forced to sleep by the logical demands of his body. McCoy had remarked on his dedication to his patients, and Jim had nodded silent agreement; privacy forbade telling him the reason for Sorin's single-minded focus.
As Spock and Sorin approach the door, talking softly about anything but that, Jim checks the chronometer. If he hurries, he should get to see the second half of the final match.
Sorin wishes my opinion on a text he recently uncovered regarding telepathic healing practices, Spock tells him unexpectedly. I assume you will be observing the match in the rec room?
Hell yes. Grinning, Jim goes for his boots. "I'll tell you when the fight breaks out."
"Captain," T'Prina says gravely as he joins her at the judges' table. With a plate of snacks that do not bear even a passing resemblance to vegetables or anything healthy, Jim sits down between her and Bones. "I had thought you would not be able to attend."
Bones takes a cookie, leaning against his shoulder, murmuring, "They're already trash talking."
Jim eyes the individuals at the table: Crewman Rumiko Tamura, a pretty, delicate looking member of ship's operations and part of the pool of crewmen assigned to away teams, and Ensign Roo from Computer Maintenance, who Jim remembers faintly from the Academy as a gifted athlete. An athlete with an impossibly high score in FIDE chess ratings.
"Three-two in her favor," McCoy adds. He chuckles at Jim's surprise. "Gets better; he taught her to play after the tournament last year."
Jim picks up another cookie. "Why do I think I've seen their names recently?"
"That would be a complaint from Ensign Roo's neighbors," Bones answers with a smirk. Jim chokes and tries to cover for it with a cough, getting himself a roomful of glares. With an apologetic wave, Jim swallows quickly. "Seems their unofficial cohabitation is rather--noisy."
"You're fucking with me."
"Nope. Kind of disgustingly cute, isn't it?"
Jim watches her eyes narrow as Roo takes her bishop with just a little too much satisfaction. "Someone's sleeping on the couch tonight."
"Nah--they're both competitive as hell. Should have seen the results of their first date; I had to treat them after a three hour hoverball match. They were still shouting at each other about Rigellian rule exceptions after I let them go." Bones gives them a sardonic look. "Roo convinced her to sign up for your little education experiment, by the way; she's second generation colonial, and formal education on her planet is vocational after age sixteen. This is her third tour of duty as crew. She didn't think she could make the cut for the Academy at her age with almost none of the education a kid on Earth finishes in secondary school."
Jim uses his reach for another cookie to look around the room, observing the surprising number of enlisted personnel watching the game intently. "The colonies are Starfleet's best hunting ground for enlistment. Who can resist the promise of going where no one's gone before when you've never even had the opportunity to get off-planet?"
"You've always been sensitive about that. Noblesse oblige?"
Jim rolls his eyes. "Whatever."
"It's okay to admit sometimes you have something more altruistic in mind than alleviating your own boredom."
Jim takes McCoy's glass, tasting the pale green liquid and twitching at the strong mix of mint and grain alcohol. "This is disgusting," he says, taking a longer drink. "What is it? Get me one."
"You're changing the subject," Bones answers, amused. "You really took Pike's observations to heart, didn't you?"
Jim empties the glass in retaliation, ignoring the hard burn and faint dizziness. What the fuck was that? "Bones--"
"I'm just saying, deciding to change the entire composition of Starfleet by sheer will is in fact something you'd think was a challenge to your ingenuity, not an exercise in insanity. I bet Pike practically hugged you when you told him about this. It's something he'd do."
"He wanted to." Jim fixes his eyes on the two adversaries, currently studying the board like it held the secret to universal peace and unlimited chocolate. "There's a lot he wanted to do."
"Is that why?"
Jim looks at his denuded plate and wishes he'd eaten just a little slower. "When we got back to earth--after the thing," he says, knowing Bones will know exactly what he's referring to, "we talked about my first year in command before I went in front of the review board--"
"And hightailed it out after setting a delayed application for domestic partnership."
Jim smirks, picking up his own glass. "I like how everyone assumes that was my idea."
"Spock wouldn't--" Bones hesitates, eyes wide. "Christ, he's a manipulative bastard. And look at that, we went right off topic again."
Jim sighs. "Oh, for--we talked. We played 'what would you do if you controlled the universe'. I said I'd like to get a few officers that don't think grandpa getting his name on a newly discovered planet was all you needed to be a good officer. And possibly the title 'Universe's Most Awesome Captain', but then I found a shop that will put that on a mug, so I figured I'd concentrate on the first part."
"You did go through a lot of officers your first year."
"The review board noticed that, too." Jim smiles sharply. "Then Pike started talking about my dad's views as a department head and suddenly everyone shut up. Weird how that works."
"He wasn't done," Jim says flatly. "Pike should have had decades with his ship and instead he's bound to a desk and a window that looks out on the Academy courtyard so he can watch others do the only thing he ever wanted to do. He was--he was a great captain, and he had a vision of what Starfleet, what the Federation could be."
"He's an idealist," Bones murmurs. "And you're a lot of things, but an idealist ain't it. We both know you don't see the Federation like he does."
Jim watches Roo make another move. "I know. But I think I want to."
"So--what? You and Spock and Nyota--and I know she's in on this, don't even try that look on me--think you can change the Federation just because you want to?"
Abruptly, Tamura half rises from her chair, fingers curling around a knight and moving it within range of the king. "Check," she says, looking into Roo's eyes. "And mate."
Roo stares at the board, eyes wide; then slowly, he reaches out, and Jim watches him tip his king over.
The room explodes as the crew and officers floods the roped off competition area, cheering so loudly Jim can almost feel the computer adjusting the acoustics for volume control. Tamura blinks like someone just waking up, looking down at the board in shock before back at Roo while T'Prina declares Crewman Tamura winner of the second annual Enterprise Chess Deathmatch.
"Yeah," Jim says softly as Roo pushes the table out of the way, board and pieces tumbling to the floor, and picks her up, spinning her in a tiny circle. "I think we can. Want in?"
"An ion storm?" Jim asks as he gets his second cup of coffee, trying to read the report and listen to Sulu at the same time. "Are we talking like, summer shower or hurricane?"
"Can we drive through it?"
"Yes, sir." Sulu takes the report back, scrolling down. "Scott's sending an estimate of the potential damage, but it's all small stuff. Interference with communications and some navigational glitches, but nothing serious."
"Scotty's itching to try Torren's equations, isn't he?"
Sulu sighs. "I never saw anyone get that excited about an ion storm before, sir. It was weird."
Leaning against his desk, Jim drinks his second cup dry before answering, because Scotty's relationship with his engines is something none of them are really comfortable thinking about if they can help it. "I didn't know this area was subject to ion storms."
"It's rare, but it's happened a couple of times," Sulu says, consulting his datapad and trying not to look too eager; Jim supposes after the last week of straight flying, even an ion storm sounds like a good time.
"Right." Jim considers the merits of another cup of coffee. "What's our ETA?"
"Eighteen hours, 0200 ship's time. Their lunch, sir."
"Great. All right, send a message to Starbase 3. Then, I want senior staff on the bridge when we reach the edge of the system; get Spock to switch up shifts. Even a small ion storm isn't anything to sneeze at." Jim sighs at his empty cup. "Dismissed, Lieutenant."
T'Prina is inevitably hovering just outside the door; waving a hand, Jim gets his third cup and ignores the faint disapproval radiating toward him. "Report to Uhura in Lab 2," Jim tells her. "It's a very secret project. Tell her the password is 'pirates'."
T'Prina hesitates. "I see. Will there be anything else?"
Honestly, Jim's scraping the bottom of the barrel to give her something to do at this point. Vulcans. And their competence. "Nah, we're good."
"Do you wish me to accompany you on your mission?"
Jim frowns. "The starbase isn't exactly a--"
"I meant on our return to the Begammon Station."
Jim blinks, looking at her in surprise. "How did you know--"
"We do not yet have enough information to draw the correct conclusions," she answers. "It is logical you would wish to return. As it is likely that you do not wish to draw attention to yourself, you will not want to take security. I would--it would be logical that I accompany you."
Jim studies her with dawning realization. "You liked being a pirate, didn't you? Admit it."
"The necessity of deception for a greater good is recognized as a necessary deviation from the strictly ethical. I found the form this deception took both unusual and intriguing."
"You did like it," Jim says in wonder. This day is looking up hugely. "It was fun. It was exciting. You liked being a pirate."
T'Prina's expression doesn't change, but there just might be a green tinge to her skin. He's a good captain; he'll make this easy. This time. "Yes, you can. We need to keep our cover anyway."
"Thank you, Captain."
Jim pretends he can't see her relief. "Dismissed."
Jim waits until the door is completely closed before he starts to laugh.
Bones drags him to breakfast before he can pretend he already ate, submitting to a quick scan of his head, just in case he secretly concussed himself and was withholding the information out of spite.
"Like not telling me about you being able to talk to Spock in your head," Bones says, maliciously denying him pancakes and herding him toward a table with a bowl of what appears to be grain covered in milk and a banana. "You idiot."
Jim scowls and takes a spoonful of the grain. It's just as horrible as he expected. "I apologized with Romulan ale. Get over it. Do I ask about your sex life?"
"Yes. All the time. Every time you see me."
"Shut up." Bones points the spoon at him. "I got a notice today I'm going to be teaching."
Jim hides his smile behind his spoon. He'd had a feeling that coming from Nyota, Bones would have a much harder time refusing.
"Like I don't have enough to do," Bones grumbles, eating eggs and bacon with great and obvious pleasure. After a few seconds of silence, Bones relaxes again, looking at Jim speculatively. "Pike's coordinating with the Academy?"
"He's pushing approval through the red tape. He's going to be taking some of the upperclassmen for advanced tactical training in exchange for a position on the Academy board. I'm less worried about them refusing than the idea that was floated around to remove the right to test for credit. Even if we can't give them credit, they'll still be able to test out."
Bones chuckles. "They aren't going to forgive you for refusing to act like a normal cadet and have a nervous breakdown or fail a class. You should have given them something; one good drunk and disorderly with a suspension for a term would have been enough to get them off your back. No one likes Fleet brats outperforming their peers; it makes them look bad."
Jim snickers softly, finishing the grain cereal. It really tastes worse with every bite. "Probably."
Jim follows McCoy back to sickbay, curious about Sorin's patients. They'd converted two of the larger rooms used for sick but not contagious or critical patients into living and sleeping quarters, and watching through the observation window, Jim's surprised to see how normal most of them seem, if you ignored the fact they were all carrying on conversations that didn't require using their voices. Sorin is examining the Tellarite female, who according to Bones is quickly making progress despite the length of time it had taken for the regeneration to complete.
It's different than with Spock; the mental voices are more distant, less a part of his own head. Closing his eyes, he draws up Sorin's and Spock's lessons, building the barrier between himself and the voices outside him, adding in his Academy visualization exercises to form it. The voices fade into nothing, but when he opens his eyes, the room's occupants have all turned toward the observation windows with bewildered expressions.
Taking a step back, Jim watches the Orion approach the observation window before one of the nurses draws him away. After a few minutes, Sorin excuses himself from the room; Jim isn't surprised when the door to the observation room opens.
"Captain," he says, joining Jim at the window. Despite the efforts of the nursing staff, every so often, one of the patients looks up with uncanny accuracy to stare into Jim's eyes through the glass.
"They look better," Jim manages, trying to sound normal.
"They are. The improvement has been beyond my most optimistic projections." After a moment, Sorin looks at him. "Captain--"
Jim tenses. "Sorin."
"You could hear them," Sorin says softly. "Do not distress yourself; they could not hear you, merely sense your presence. The sudden blankness was--upsetting. Most are not used to someone shielding so abruptly in their presence."
"Right." Jim takes a deep breath. "I could hear them. Just from the door of sickbay. That's about ten meters, right?"
"Ten point one three meters." Sorin returns his gaze to the room. "I have had time to consider what I discovered during the meld, as well as from the meditation exercise last night. While there is no way to be certain, as the situation has no precedent, I do not believe what you are experiencing is the result of damage due to the bond."
"I feel a 'but' in there."
"I believe that Spock's ability to shorten your recovery time after you are injured is being extended to your psi-center, which it is treating as 'damaged', and slowly regenerating it each time it is called on to repair other injuries." Jim stills. "What we did to help the patients your bond with Spock is doing naturally, albeit at a much slower and more erratic rate. After studying their results and comparing them to your scans, there is a definite similarity. I will need to run more tests to be certain--"
"No." Jim makes himself relax. "I mean, yeah, more tests, lets have a neural scan party."
"I understand you will not feel this is true, but--"
"If you are about to tell me this is no big deal, just know Spock works out with me twice a week and you'd be surprised how much Vulcan anatomy I know."
Sorin remains silent.
"Great," Jim breathes. "I was hoping this would be more along the lines of, this is going to go away."
"The stability of your mind is not in question, Captain. When you are not exposed to telepaths and shielding normally, I doubt you will notice any difference." Sorin folds his hands together over his datapad. "It can be disconcerting," Sorin observes, "for one who is not of a telepathic race to grow accustomed to the concept of mental privacy no longer being absolute. No species in the Federation would read your mind without your permission, shielded or not."
"I'm not worried about the telepathic species of the Federation."
"Got it in one. Captain.." Jim can hear the frustration in his own voice and is still unable to stop himself. "I'm a Starfleet Captain. I carry the command codes for a ship that can destroy a planet."
"As does Commander Spock," Sorin answers mildly, almost as if in rebuke. "Your lot is no different from that of any other telepathic race who serves in Starfleet--"
"Except I'm human," Jim interrupts, wondering if Sorin can understand the distinction. "I'm a human Federation Captain from a people who are not telepathic." Jim pauses, taking a calming breath. "A people who have never developed an ethical standard of their own. Vulcan Starfleet officers will never be asked by the Federation to use their abilities against the ethics of their people--though yeah, I know sometimes they have to. But there's still an ethical standard to break. If Starfleet finds out--finds out about this, I can't refuse an order on cultural grounds. I want to think I'd let it get to court martial, but if their reasons are good enough--"
"Do you?" Jim turns away from the observation window. "That's why I didn't tell Bones about this yet. And that's why if you ever look, the official record of what happened during pon farr has some omissions. The Vulcan Science Academy got the unexpunged version, but they got it under a privacy seal. The same way you got it. Bones can be creative, and leaving out the details of what happened on Centurian Station might be overlooked. But him knowingly editing out this? I might not have the opportunity to decide if I want to be court martialed and argue it before a table full of Starfleet Admirals who aren't all that fond of me anyway. They know they'd have a public image problem trying to discredit George Kirk's kid. Bones doesn't have that protection. All he has is me."
Sorin's mouth tightens. "I had not considered that."
"Your concerns are logical. I have not yet submitted my observations for your official file. I will refrain from doing so, but I must ask for this caveat; that you permit me to keep the unexpunged records."
Jim nods warily. "All right."
"And you ask Dr. McCoy to note on your file that I be consulted as mind healer if you or Commander Spock are ever incapacitated in the line of duty."
Startled, Jim frowns. "Why? Bones can--"
"I am not Starfleet," Sorin answers, brown eyes meeting Jim's. "Federation law and Vulcan ethics permit public--to say, Starfleet--records to be amended under privacy law. If you are incapacitated and your shields dissolve in the presence of a telepath, or you begin to project--"
"And now I have a new set of nightmares," Jim breathes. "Thanks for that."
"If your injury is neurological in origin, my consultation is necessary. This will permit Dr. McCoy to continue to treat you without compromising himself, and provides you with a specialist, which Dr. McCoy cannot be." Sorin pauses. "In Starfleet, it is not unusual for a Vulcan to have designated a Vulcan mindhealer be consulted. With a Vulcan bondmate, it would not be considered strange that you do the same."
Jim nods tightly. "You're right. I'll add it today."
After a few long seconds of silence, Jim turns toward the door, then stops himself. "Melody," he says awkwardly. "Have you been--I mean, how is she doing?"
Sorin's expression doesn't change, but despite that, Jim thinks he can almost feel the tension in Sorin. "Her condition remains unchanged, though regeneration is complete. Her psi-centers are showing the same development as the other patients; for that reason, I have asked Dr. McCoy to place her in a isolation room within a Faraday cage. It is--unlikely she is able to hear them in her condition, but she is unable to shield herself."
Jim winces. "I'm sorry. If there's anything I can do, please don't hesitate to ask."
Sorin nods. "I will remember your offer, Captain."
Feeling even more awkward, Jim leaves, shutting the door carefully behind him on his way back to the main floor, where several members of botany are being treated by a carefully straight-faced nurse.
Jim pauses, unable to stop himself at the sight of five disgruntled officers all the light green of new leaves, striped in a faintly nauseating shade of pink. "Do I want to know?"
"No, sir," Ensign Powell says grimly, with a glare at the Tellarite ensign currently being ministered to by Bones. "But I'm sure Ensign Rel will be thrilled to give you a personal report if you would like the details."
Jim bites his lip against a smirk. "I see. Carry on."
From behind him, Jim thinks he hears Chapel choking on a laugh.
After lunch, a visit to Lab 2 gets him a glare from Uhura for interrupting their very important calculations, so there's absolutely no good way to avoid going to his ready room and reading through the latest transmissions from Starfleet. While he was looking forward to correspondence with Pike, it unfortunately came bundled with whatever Starfleet felt he needed to know immediately, and there is a lot of that.
Sorting through the various urgent, super urgent, and read or your ship will explode spontaneously missives, Jim puts them in order of most annoying to least annoying and settles himself to read, amused to see Spock's already efficiently went through many of them, attaching various notes to some which Spock pretends have a function other than motivating Jim to keep reading and make him laugh.
It's the unnoted one that gets his attention though; frowning, Jim pulls up it up on the screen; a request for a hearing before the Federation council by the Andorian ambassador on the subject of--
"Oh fuck no." Jim reaches for the comm. "Commander Spock, your presence is required in my ready room immediately."
Scrolling back to the top, Jim grimly begins a second, and unnecessary, read, getting to the third enraging paragraph before the door opens. Jim waits for the door to close before ordering the privacy lock be initiated. "You saw this already."
Spock comes to a regulation perfect stop in the middle of the ready room. "Yes, sir."
"And you didn't tell me."
"Commander Scott required my assistance when we came in range of the ion storm," Spock answers, one eyebrow raised in the faintest trace of rebuke. Jim keeps his gaze on his terminal and lets out a breath.
"Andora," he says, shutting it down before he does something like put a fist through the screen. "I don't believe this."
Getting to his feet, Jim hears his chair hit the wall with a satisfying crack. It does not, however, make him feel any better. "Fucking Andora?"
Jim looks at Spock. "Seriously, don't even start. They're protesting aid to the colony? Of all the fucked up--"
Spock's expression doesn't change; they could be talking about the latest gossip about Admiral Da, of which there is much and is probably more true than anyone wants to admit. "A great deal of Federation resources have been diverted toward the Vulcan colony. They are correct in stating--"
"They're filing a motion to cease aid while the needs of the colony are brought under review," Jim says before Spock can try to turn this atrocity into something logical. There's nothing about this that's logical and they both know it. "That's--" Looking out the window at the vastness of space, Jim wonders how it is that they can travel the length of a galaxy and still be this unbelievably petty. "Like we don't have enough problems in the Federation without this on top of it."
Jim points at his chair. "If you tell me to calm down, I'm going to throw this chair at you. And my aim is better than yours."
Almost imperceptibly, Jim thinks he sees Spock's mouth twitch.
"We will arrive at Starbase 3 within the next three hours," Spock says, sounding more normal. Tentatively, thinking of Sorin's lessons, Jim reaches out, trying to sense Spock's mood. "You are scheduled to meet with Captain Mitchell upon our arrival. He may have more current information on the situation."
"Probably." Withdrawing, Jim sighs. "And he'll hold it over my head for fucking ever if he does."
Returning to his desk, Jim thinks about getting his chair and just can't bring himself to care. "The thing is, I don't get it. Andora pulling this now. I mean, it could be in reaction to the Vulcan colony's petition to the council, but I don't--" Jim stops, remembering the phrasing of the Andorian request with another start of frustration. Waving Spock toward the couch, Jim takes a deep breath.
"When I was a kid, I was in Chicago for a few weeks with my grandmother. I memorized the neighborhood, the transport routes, everything. One day, I fell asleep on the way home from--well, no need to go into that. Anyway, I woke up and realized I'd gone beyond my stop and got off at the next one."
Spock frowns. "Why didn't you--"
"Hey, my story here." Spock raises an eyebrow but nods acquiescence "Anyway. I got off and I was in a part of the city I didn't recognize. Long story short, eventually I caught a cab and got back home eight hours later, after I'd gotten myself completely lost."
"You could have taken the next transport--"
God, Vulcans. "Spock," Jim answers patiently. "I was fourteen. In a strange part of the city. Of course I didn't do something sensible. For that matter, when have I ever been sensible? Have we met?"
"Thank you." Feeling restless, Jim pushes himself off the desk, pacing the short distance to the door. "So, right, I got lost, had a hell of a time trying to find the station, and ended up walking what felt like half the city. Then gave up, got a cab, went home, and got grounded."
Spock nods soberly. "This is a truly fascinating story, Captain."
"My second year at Starfleet Academy--that would be third year for those who didn't test out of most of their first and second year courses--I went back to figure out where I'd been. And the thing is, it looked almost the same. But not quite."
"After over a decade--"
Jim rolls his eyes. "Yeah, no. So I kept looking around and trying to figure out what had changed. And it felt obvious, you know? Like it was staring me in the face and I was just missing it. After I left, I ran a few searches at the Academy and realized they'd moved the station itself, one mile east from where it had been, so I'd been just looking at the damn thing from the wrong angle. Which has got to be some kind of metaphor for something."
Sitting down beside Spock, Jim stares at the ceiling, wondering if it's just too much to ask that the universe spend one day not giving him stress. "I'm looking at it wrong," Jim says, almost to himself. "I know I am, but I can't figure out how."
"You know, I think it's gamma shift and we're off duty," Jim says, turning his head just enough to bring Spock into view. "Though you know, if you want to call me Captain next time we--"
Well, he had to try. "You want to come with me to see Mitchell?"
"Lieutenant Uhura has requested my assistance with identifying the algorithms recovered from the data solids you retrieved from the station. She thinks she may be close to decrypting the message we received."
"You'd think if they really wanted us to read it, they'd make it easier to decrypt, wouldn’t you?" Jim says with a sigh, standing up. "Maybe we should see if we can get Gaila to look it over. She's grounded in San Francisco until her ship's finished repairs and bored out of her mind."
Crossing the bridge and going into the turbolift, Jim considers his options for the next few hours. "So. You busy for the next hour, Commander?"
"I do not think I have any conflicting engagements."
"Good," Jim breathes as Spock taps their deck number into the interface, stepping a very correct two feet away, a professional Starfleet officer who no one would imagine had sent a single finger of shivering thought that pressed against Jim like a naked hand on his bare back.
"Maybe more than an hour."