Rating: PG-13 for violence, references to torture and captivity, and stab wounds
Summary: Two years after embarking on her maiden voyage, the Enterprise returns to Earth for some holiday-season shore leave after a typical mission-gone-wrong. Then things go wronger.
Author's note: Part three of three. This section's wordcount: about 8,000.
The Jefferies tubes are just down the hallway, and Jim loosens the access panel before turning back to Rao.
"Make sure your phaser holster is tight," he says. "We don't want to lose our weapons. The Jefferies tubes echo like a son of a bitch, so we're going to have to be as quiet as possible while we're in there. I'm going down first, and you're following, no arguing, Ensign. If you fall, try to grab me on the way down. While we're going down, if the gravity goes like I think it will, make sure you have at least one hand on the ladder at all times anyway, do you understand? I don't want to be in freefall when the gravity comes back, and I really don't want you to be either, because Pike will kill me."
"Yes, sir," says Rao, now looking slightly green and staring at the access panel. Jim frowns at her.
"You say the word and you're back in the transporter room," he says as gently as he can. "But if you're coming, I need to know that you've got my back. Can you do that?"
Rao's gaze snaps up to his, and she nods. "I'm ready, sir," she says, clearly lying.
Jim hesitates, but removes the access panel anyway. He climbs in backwards and feet-first, feeling carefully for the rungs of the ladder. When his waist is level with the floor, he nods to Rao, who looks down the corridor and gives the signal to Chekov, who (Jim assumes) sends the decoy turbolift. Jim continues down the ladder, and when he's below the level of the floor, he reaches up and gives a thumbs-up; Rao's feet appear above him, and he continues climbing down to give her room.
She's breathing heavily, and it reverberates in the cramped Jefferies tube, making Jim nervous. His palms are sweaty even before he hits the first deck-number painted next to the ladder – one down, twenty-nine to go.
They're twenty-seven decks up when the gravity goes. When it happens, Jim can hear Rao gasp, and see her clutch the ladder in the dimmed red light.
"Okay," Jim whispers up to her, "this is the part where we try to go faster."
He shoves himself down, to give himself some momentum, but keeps his hands on the vertical edges of the ladder. Above him, he can see Rao do the same, although with considerably more care, keeping one hand free to hover above the rungs. It's a good system, Jim admits, and moves his feet closer to the rungs, to jam between them should the gravity return. Part of him almost hopes it will – he's never had to fight in null-gee, and he doesn't particularly feel like starting to do so now.
That's probably what does it, of course. The gravity comes back with a vengeance, about five decks above the server room; Jim manages to cling to the ladder, but his fingers almost slip, although he manages to get his grip settled before he falls. This unfortunately has the added effect of nearly dislocating his shoulder. Rao fares better, having been proceeding with more caution the whole time, which is good – from the feel of it, they're dealing with at least two gees.
The blood drains from Jim's head, and he blinks repeatedly to stay conscious.
"Rao?" he whispers.
"Yessir," mutters Rao. Jim glances up, although the movement makes him dizzy – between her feet, he can see that she's leaning heavily against the ladder, although she has her arms hooked through it at what looks like a painful, albeit secure, angle. He opens his mouth to say something, but is cut off by a distant thud and reverberation.
"I guess they didn't need hostages after all," says Jim eventually, keeping his voice low. When he looks back up, Rao's shaking violently enough that he can see, and a spot of wetness lands on his cheek. She draws in a ragged breath, and he realizes with a mixture of relief and a distinct sinking feeling that she's crying. "...you okay, Ensign?"
Rao doesn't reply immediately. "Just give me a second, sir," she requests weakly, sniffing. "I just - I don't usually mind heights, but..."
Jim glances down. They're only five decks above the server room, but the Jefferies tube goes from the very bottom of the ship to the very top - another design flaw, now that he thinks about it – and he can't see the bottom.
"Don't think about the climb," he suggests. "Give it a minute for the adrenalin to kick in."
She takes another shuddering breath. "I think it already has," she says. "I think that's why I'm shaking so much."
"Okay, then," says Jim, glancing down again. Every second, more altitude lost... "Think about punching Jallidarians in the face. That's keeping me on track pretty well."
Rao chokes out a wet laugh. "It would," she says.
"Okay, Rao – Sara?" He looks up to see her nod. "Sara. I'm not going to lie. I'm sorry you're having second thoughts, but there's really no time. We have to get down there, and we have to do it quick – it's not going to take that long for them to figure out that we weren't in the turbolift, and then they're going to come here. It would be really, really good if we weren't here when that happened, okay?"
"Yessir," Rao repeats.
"Good," Jim encourages. "Now, my hand's off the rung below you, so just pick up one of your feet and move it down one, can you do that?"
"All due respect, sir," says Rao, although her voice sounds stronger now, "you're being very patronizing."
Jim grins. "Let's see some movement, then, Ensign."
Rao's right foot leaves its rung and, oh so slowly, like a half-hearted leap of faith, stretches towards the rung below it. When it finally touches, Rao lets out a breath of relief, and Jim begins his downward climb again.
Another two decks down, there's a dizzying moment when the gravity goes back to normal, and Jim nearly loses his grip on the ladder in surprise.
"Three more decks to go," he calls up quietly to Rao. "You ready?"
"I don't think I've got much of a choice," she mutters, perfectly audibly.
"Nope, not really," Jim agrees. "Come on."
Jim goes down first, and the furthest; the access panel for the deck is on his left, slightly recessed into the wall. He climbs about even with it, and wraps his right arm around the side of the ladder, carefully transferring his phaser from the holster to that hand. With his left, he reaches out to the handle of the access panel, carefully working the panel free while keeping his aim with the phaser. He tilts the access panel forward just enough to get a glance of the hallway beyond it – it looks surprisingly empty of Jallidarians, and for a moment he wonders if they were all wrong, and it really was him, until he sees a shadow waiting on the corridor floor.
Well, less of one now that he knows about it, at least. He carefully lowers the access panel so that it's halfway in the Jefferies tube, but also invisible to whoever's standing there waiting. Getting himself out of the tube quietly is more difficult, as is crouching in the entranceway to the access panel while Rao pulls herself out too, but they both manage it.
They come around the corner with phasers blazing. Jim takes out both of the guards waiting to ambush them before they can even fire a shot, although Rao doesn't get the chance to fire, either. She covers his back as he edges forwards towards the server room – there are at least eight of them, six of them now, but there's no sign of anyone else and it's really pretty disconcerting.
There's another corner between them and the server room, and Jim glances around it carefully, phaser at the ready – but there's nobody guarding it, at least not from the outside. He turns back to Rao.
"Okay," he tells her quietly. "Here's the plan: Shoot them."
Rao waits expectantly, then raises her eyebrows when he doesn't continue. "Is that...it?"
"Pretty much," says Jim. "We need to get the transporter working again as soon as possible, so if you get the chance to get to the computer while there are still some of them fighting – well, the transporter's the highest priority, because then the other priorities will be beamed to the brig. Or possibly into cold vacuum." Jim glances around the corner again – still nobody. "You know earlier, when we thought that I was compromised, and we decided that the safety of the ship takes priority over me?" Rao nods. "That still applies. No matter what happens in there, we need to save the ship, understood?"
Rao steels herself, gripping her phaser tighter although her fingers are still trembling. "Understood, sir."
"If it makes you feel any better," suggests Jim, "picture all of the Jallidarians with the face of someone you really don't like."
"My mother always said to picture them naked," says Rao distractedly. "Although I guess there's a difference between school plays and...well, and going up against six probably-armed and definitely-dangerous aliens with a bone to pick."
"Hey, if you feel more comfortable shooting naked people, try that," says Jim. "I'm not here to judge your lifestyle choices."
That earns a strained smile from her, and Jim sets his phaser to 'maximum stun,' which, he knows from experience, stings like a bitch.
"For England, Harry, and Saint George," Rao mutters, doing the same to hers.
"What?" says Jim.
"Nothing," says Rao. "I don't even remember where it's from. I should check it out, if...when we're done with this."
"Do that," says Jim. He takes a breath, and nods to her. She nods back.
He keeps his phaser out as he crosses to the server room, just in case, and positions himself on the side of the door that'll be in the line of fire first, keeping his thumb on the door override to keep it closed. Rao takes the hint and takes the other side; he lets go of the override, and the door opens.
Chaos erupts pretty much immediately. Rao ends up preceding Jim into the room, charging like a berserker the second it's open. It seems to take the Jallidarians a bit by surprise, and she takes one out pretty much immediately. Jim follows, stunning two on his way, before fire from one of the Jallidarians' phasers hits his own. The pins-and-needles sensation from the nimbus makes him drop it, and he ducks more fire, losing track of Rao in the process.
There's nothing to duck behind, though, so he decides to just go for it. He successfully tackles a Jallidarian, feeling as much as hearing the crack as the Jallidarian's head impacts the deck, and he rolls off as quickly as he can, standing back up, his heart beating quick from the adrenalin.
There are two left, although only one has a phaser, and Rao seems to be taking care of him. The other is advancing menacingly on Jim – he's not particularly tall, but he's thick, and Jim knows this won't be easy.
The Jallidarian throws a punch, but Jim ducks under and delivers an uppercut to his jaw – which in retrospect was a mistake, because he took his eyes off the Jallidarian's foot, which nails him right in the stomach.
The pain is incredible, like fire, and it takes Jim a second to figure out why the hell it hurts so badly when he's been kicked in the stomach before. He gets it, though, when he puts a hand where it hurts and it comes away bloody.
Shit, he thinks, Bones is going to kill me.
And then the Jallidarian is advancing again, and he stops thinking, just moves.
He doesn't duck quite in time, and receives a punch right on his cheekbone, knocking him off his feet; then another kick to his stomach, and another. If the Jallidarian has noticed that his boot is coming away bloody, then he doesn't care, or maybe considers it an advantage.
This isn't the first time Jim's been beaten up by a Jallidarian isolationist, but it definitely pisses him off more this time than last time. He uses the anger as motivation, and manages to catch the Jallidarian's foot the next time he goes to kick, wrenching it up as hard as he can, and the Jallidarian topples over like a logged tree.
Jim leans against the wall to stand up, as the Jallidarian reaches for one of his fallen allies' phasers. Jim gets to it first, and picks it up, pointing it at the Jallidarian. It's set to kill, he notices. How interesting.
"Didn't your parents ever teach you to never kick a man when he down?" Jim asks, his hand level. He waits until the very last moment to change the setting to 'stun' before shooting him.
Then he looks around. Rao is lying on the floor, hopefully just unconscious, although her attacker is also out some distance away. He appears, for once, to be the last person standing.
"Rao?" he hisses at her. No response. He takes a step closer to her, and the world tilts – but he can't help but notice that her neck is at an angle best described as 'bad.'
Priorities, he reminds himself.
He staggers over to the computer console, and tries to focus on it, despite the way it appears to be swimming in front of his eyes. Eventually it becomes clear enough – or at least, not-blurry enough – that he can read it, and he keys in the necessary commands to enable the transporter again and turns on the emergency frequency.
"Kirk to Chekov," he says. "You there?"
"I'm here, sir," says Chekov, and the Jallidarians disappear in the transporter's rings of light.
"Good," says Jim. "I think we need a medic. Probably more than one." He squints at the console. "And someone to get the ship back into a stable orbit."
"Understood, sir," says Chekov, as Jim's legs give out from under him and he sits down heavily next to the console. The blood is soaking through his uniform now, dripping onto the floor, and he doesn't remember there being quite this much blood last time.
He leans his head against it and closes his eyes, but opens them when he hears the familiar sound of the transporter again, and sees Nurse Chapel leaning over him.
"He's alive," she calls, and Jim struggles to sit up a bit more, craning his neck to see Rao.
"Rao - ?"
"We need a backboard," calls another medic, somewhere beyond Nurse Chapel.
"She's fine," says Chapel, clearly lying. She takes out a hypospray.
"She's not - " begins Jim, before Chapel cuts him off again.
"I have to admit, I'm seeing the merit in Doctor McCoy's approach," she says, and Jim is unsurprised when he feels the hypospray pinch his neck.
He wakes up in sickbay, although there are a lot more people present than he would've anticipated.
"Good morning," says Winona, smiling down at him from her chair next to his bed.
"What part of 'try to take care of yourself' was beyond your comprehension?" demands Bones, standing above him with a hypospray.
"Uncle Jim!" says Joanna happily, throwing herself across his chest. Bones, luckily, extracts her quickly, and carries her out of sickbay.
"What happened?" Jim asks Winona muzzily. "The server – did we - ?"
"You did," Winona confirms. "Christopher used his override code to put the Enterprise back into orbit. Doctor McCoy insisted on returning to the ship and treating you himself when he found out."
Jim looks down at his stomach. "I reopened it?" he asks grimly.
"Oh, yes," says Winona. "And apparently broke a promise to Doctor McCoy. He wasn't very happy. Although I gather that Joanna is ecstatic about getting to be in space, and in all fairness, it's more like 'a Jallidarian's foot reopened it' than you, strictly speaking."
"Joanna's a good kid," mumbles Jim, his eyes slipping closed.
"Oh no you don't, you bastard," says Bones, a few seconds later, thwapping him on the leg. "Wake up. How do you feel?"
"Like shit," says Jim, opening his eyes again. "And hey, I'm a little stabbed, here. Can't I at least take a nap?"
"No," says Bones curtly. "You said you weren't going to rip yourself open again."
"There were exigent circumstances." Jim frowns. "Jallidarian exigent circumstances?"
"They were," Winona confirms. "Apparently, the isolationists you escaped from on the planet got worried about their...reputation. So a bunch of them came after the Enterprise in a shuttle to, if not finish the job, then to make it look as though the job had been finished."
Jim blinks heavily. "So you're saying," he says, "that all of this was the work of perfectionists?"
"I'd say 'completionists' is probably more accurate," says Winona, "but yes. The reason they came after you is because you were, quite literally, the one that got away."
"Everybody wants me," says Jim. "It's just part of my allure."
Winona looks up at Bones. "Is this what you meant by 'powerful painkillers'?" she asks him.
"No," says Bones. "He's always like this."
"No," says Jim indignantly. "You gave me the fuzzy drugs!"
"Maybe a little bit is the painkillers," Bones allows, before turning back to Jim. "As soon as you're in your right mind, we're going to have a talk about what and what not to do while recovering from stab wounds. Again."
Jim turns to Winona, and confides, "He does this every time."
"Apparently you need it," says Winona, looking amused and resettling herself in her chair.
"I don't know why I bother," says Bones, throwing his hands up in the air as he leaves.
Winona smiles down at Jim. "Go to sleep," she tells him. "I'll be here when you wake up."
He looks at her for a long moment. "Really?"
"Yes, really," she says, smoothing down his blanket.
Jim lets his eyes close, then opens them again suddenly. "Rao?" he demands.
"She's going to be fine," says Winona, pointing to one of the beds behind her with her thumb. "They broke her neck, but not too badly."
Jim blinks again. "I didn't realize that a broken neck was one of those things that had degrees of badness."
"Well, you learn something new every day." Winona covers his hand with hers, and squeezes it lightly. "Now go to sleep."
He's considerably more coherent the next time he wakes up, and Winona is, indeed, still there – albeit asleep. Admiral Pike is sitting next to her, though, reading a PADD, although he puts it down when he sees that Jim is awake.
"Welcome back to the land of the living," he says, smiling faintly. "You look like hell."
"Thanks, sir," says Jim. "What time is it?"
"Eleven-hundred hours," says Pike. "Over twenty-four hours since your tussle with the Jallidarians. Who, I might add, have given full confessions. Apparently, the backup to their backup plan was to martyr themselves. They were quite disappointed to hear that the Federation prefers incarceration – somehow living in a Federation penal colony was not quite what they had in mind."
"And the crew?" asks Jim. "Any casualties?"
"Just a few scrapes and broken bones, with the exceptions of you and Ensign Rao," says Pike. "And apparently, even the two of you will be out of sickbay in time for the Winter Reception."
Jim grins. "So Bones won't have any patients to get him out of it? Speaking of which – where is he?"
"I believe he's having lunch with his daughter," says Pike. "She's very good at getting him out of sickbay."
"I can imagine," says Jim, glancing over at Rao. She's sleeping, her neck in a brace, in a bed on the other side of sickbay. "She did well," he says, nodding at her.
"She doesn't think so," says Pike, looking over at her too. "I'm glad she got the experience, though. Too many cadets or ensigns get a certain image of what being in a combat situation is like. Personally, I think she should be promoted for retaining full control of her bladder. I have a hundred stories of lieutenants who couldn't have managed that."
"No offense, Admiral, but I still think she's wasted on a desk job."
"I think I'm beginning to agree," says Pike, before looking back at Jim. "You did good, too, Captain."
Jim shrugs, not meeting his eyes. "I let them get to me," he says. "They had me buying what they were selling just as much as anyone else, and I should've known better."
"And you beat them anyway," Pike reminds him, before checking his chrono and grimacing. "Well, I have a meeting about a mistletoe emergency that I don't think I can put off any longer, and since you're awake, I don't have to feel bad about leaving your mother alone."
People come and go for the rest of the evening and the next day – Winona leaves eventually at Jim's insistence, to shower and sleep in an actual bed. Bones is in and out with Joanna, who at least keeps him from using his typical vocabulary when lecturing Jim about how to take care of himself after being stabbed. Even Gaila stops by, to continue her inventory, and informs him that Spock is still planetside.
"When he heard what happened, he wanted to come back aboard," she says. "But everything was over by then, and since Pike's onboard and outranks...well, pretty much everyone, there wasn't a need for an Acting Captain. He was very disappointed about that."
"Hah," mutters Jim, keeping his smile to himself.
Rao wakes up around dinnertime, but Jim waits until Nurse Chapel is done fussing over her before he talks to her.
"You doing okay, Ensign?" he calls.
Rao gives a stilted movement that Jim guesses is an attempt at a nod. "I'm fine, sir," she says, sounding mostly cheerful. "Doctor McCoy says I'll be out of here in another day or so."
"Did they really break your neck?" Jim asks, wincing in sympathy.
"Fractured," Rao corrects him. "And it's not the first time it's happened. Semifinals my junior year, some bi - " she glances over at him and abruptly changes her word choice as he wonders how many painkillers she's on – "fellow athlete from Alpha Centauri fouled me and broke my arm. I had to take exams in that brace." Her upper body moves from side to side, and Jim realizes that she's shaking her head. "But I broke her leg the next year, so it's okay."
Jim begins to laugh, then stops, grimacing. "Okay, no more being funny, and that's an order."
"Understood, sir," says Rao, smiling slightly.
"What'd you think of your first ship posting?" asks Jim, grinning in anticipation.
Rao's smile slips away. "Is it - " she asks falteringly. "Is it always like this?"
"On the Enterprise?" Jim considers. "Yeah, pretty much. Well, no, that's not fair. Sometimes it's Klingons. Or Romulans. Or Tribbles."
Rao frowns at him. "Tribbles?"
"Don't ask. The point is, yes, it is. Not on other ships, I don't think – especially not survey ships or anything like that, but if you ask me, if we're not pissing someone off, we're doing something wrong."
"That's – very counterintuitive, sir," says Rao.
"It is to the Starfleet Admiralty," Jim agrees, before sitting up a bit more to get a better look at her. "Speaking of which, and ship postings – the Enterprise ships out in another two weeks. How would you like to be on her?"
Rao looks like nothing so much as a deer in the headlights. "I'm – I'm honored, sir," she stutters, "but Admiral Pike said not to poach his - "
"I can talk to Admiral Pike," says Jim.
" - I only graduated a year ago," Rao continues desperately. "And I think he likes having me as his assistant."
Jim narrows his eyes at her. "That was weak, Ensign."
"I know, sir," says Rao meekly.
"You can say no, you know."
"Not really, sir." Jim opens his mouth to protest, and Rao just does the strange, braced half-shrug again. "It's true. When someone officially turns down an offer to serve on the Federation's flagship, other captains start to wonder why." She pauses for a moment, and then adds, "I don't mean to offend you, sir, but it seems like serving on the Enterprise takes a particular brand of crazy, and I just don't think I have it."
Jim looks at Rao, her neck broken from having rushed eight known-to-be-dangerous alien threats armed with only a phaser and lacrosse experience, and feels his mouth twitch. "Oh, I don't know about that."
"I should've known it would happen," Rao adds. "On this ship, anything's possible. Did you know, sir, that you're the only ship in the whole fleet to have issued a commendation for Bravery In The Face of Large Reptiles?"
"Oh, I believe it," says Jim. "That's part of why I think none of the other ships are doing their jobs. Either that, or severely underappreciating their crews." He looks at her again, and shrugs. "Well, Ensign, should you change your mind, our shuttle bay doors are always open."
"Duly noted, sir," says Rao. "Permission to go to sleep, sir?"
"Now you're just being snarky."
Two days later, Bones finally lets Jim leave sickbay, sending him back to his quarters with another warning to take care of himself and the ever-present threat of enforced sedation. Jim tries to sleep at first, despite the fact that it's barely fifteen-hundred hours, but despite the painkillers he can't. Eventually he gives up, crossing to his computer console.
"Computer," he says. "Locate Commander Kirk."
"Commander Kirk is in her guest quarters," says the computer. Jim doesn't bother thanking it this time, just heads straight there.
The door opens for him pretty much immediately, so Jim assumes that means she's awake – and she is, sitting on one of the couches and reading her PADD. She looks up as Jim enters, and smiles.
"I didn't realize Doctor McCoy had let you out of sickbay," she teases.
"Apparently, when I actually do what he tells me to, he lets me out sooner," says Jim, shrugging. "I'll have to keep that in mind for next time."
"Or," says Winona, "you could just try not getting stabbed."
"I don't know," says Jim dubiously, sitting down in a chair across from her. "That seems a bit radical."
Winona's mouth twitches. "I suppose for your style of captaincy it is," she agrees. "What brings you here directly from Doctor McCoy's tender mercies?"
"I was, uh," says Jim, grimacing a little. "I was hoping we could talk."
Winona looks surprised. "Oh? What about?"
"About Jallidar," he admits.
Winona's eyes widen, but she resettles herself attentively. "Okay," she says cautiously.
Jim looks down at his hands for a moment, unsure of where to begin. Then he decides to just start talking, because otherwise he never will.
"They mostly used drugs," he says. "That's what the three days in sickbay were really for – just getting them all out of my system. There were lots of them, apparently, which is why it took so long. They had it down to a science – hell, they've probably been brainwashing aliens longer than I've been in Starfleet. They caught us as we were coming out of the shuttle, about to make the preliminary greetings, and knocked us all out – me, Spock, and Bones. We woke up in a cell. Spock and Bones were chained to one of the walls, but I wasn't – we couldn't figure out why at first, although I guess now that it was just to throw us off. Besides, they'd already started drugging me - I wasn't much of a threat. They took me out of the cell every now and then, about six or seven times total, I guess, for interrogation and to administer more drugs - I don't remember much about that." He looks at Winona. "Did the Jallidarians say where they got the access codes? I kept meaning to ask."
Winona keeps her expression level, but barely. "From you."
"I thought so," says Jim, before continuing. "That wasn't what they were after, though. They just wanted to drive me as crazy as they could. The interrogations were bad enough, I guess, but just sticking me in that cell with Spock and Bones, drugged and paranoid – that was what did it. I started doubting everything. Why the hell were Spock and Bones tied up, while I was left free? Why weren't they getting drugged or interrogated, too? Every time the Jallidarian guards came in, they ignored the two of them – which must have taken some training, because Bones cursed them out every time and Spock just sat there looking really menacing, but he's really good at that. It turns out they were drugged, too, just a little – which explains a few things. The whole time they were just acting...off, just a little bit, like they were being impersonated by really, really good actors but still weren't quite them. Or at least, I thought so. Towards the end, things got worse – colors started looking wrong, too, and I could've sworn that Spock had a red bruise. That's when I started getting really paranoid – and when I found the knife."
He clears his throat. "It must've been there for a while, or maybe they planted it sometime – they would've had to do it without Bones or Spock noticing, because they were pretty damn surprised to see it. From what we gathered afterwards, the plan was to make sure that I was really, truly, homicidally crazy before sending me back up to the Enterprise." He pauses. "By now, I was completely out of it. Convinced that Spock and Bones weren't real – or maybe Jallidarians, trying to get more information out of me – or maybe just figments of my imagination. I wasn't completely clear on that. I did know that it was pissing me off pretty royally, and Spock was just being all logical and Bones was being Bones but it just felt wrong - and then I found the knife."
He pauses again. "They were shackled to the wall. I was free and really angry. There was no way they could've fought me off, but they kept trying to talk me out of it, to convince me they were real, but that just made me angrier. Spock in particular kept trying to get me to give him the knife – he said he could use it for leverage and rip the chains out of the wall, which is what he did, later. Bones just kept saying my name before every sentence, like he was trying to talk me off a ledge, which I guess he was, kind of. The more they argued the angrier I got, but I guess some of what they said got through, because I remember thinking that if there was even the slightest chance they were right, I couldn't risk them – not any members of my crew, but especially not them. And then I thought – this is all a dream. And you can't die in a dream, you just wake up." He looks up at his mother, and smiles bitterly. "It made sense at the time, I swear."
"You stabbed yourself," says Winona quietly.
Jim nods. "Yeah. Surprised the hell out of me, too. I expected to wake up in sickbay the second the knife hit skin, and instead it just hurt like a bitch. I fell close enough to Spock that he could pull the knife out, and he broke out and broke Bones out, so at least I didn't bleed to death like I probably would have otherwise. Everything's fuzzy after that – Bones said I lost a lot of blood, and I'm not surprised. He also said it was another three hours before we were rescued by Sulu's team."
"The worst part was – there were no voices. Nobody inside my head telling me to kill them. I could tell something was wrong the whole time, obviously, but I thought it was everything else. It never occurred to me that it was me that was the problem. And when they attacked again, once they planted just that little seed of doubt, it never occurred to me that I wasn't the problem. They got to me, both times - I was just as compromised this mission as I was last time."
Winona shakes her head. "No, you weren't," she says.
"I was," Jim insists. "They changed how I thought - "
"You weren't compromised either time," says Winona, cutting him off. "They tried to turn you against your crew, and you beat them. Through unorthodox and probably masochistic means, sure, but you still beat them. And then when they came back for you to try again, you beat the fuckers again."
Jim feels his eyebrows raise, apparently of their own accord. "Did you just say - ?"
"The point is," says Winona loudly, "you won. And that's all that matters."
"But if I hadn't won?"
"That's a pointless rhetorical exercise, and you know it," says Winona, before standing up and crossing to him. "I am so, so proud of you. I don't say it enough, but I am." She pulls him into a hug, and he doesn't resist.
They talk almost all night, about everything and nothing – how Sam is, how the Eddington is, how the Enterprise is, how ridiculous the bunting is. It's not something Jim's used to, but it's nice enough that he thinks it might be something he'll be able to learn.
The bunting, as it turns out, is red, green, and white, covering almost every available inch of wall space. The Winter Reception is held in one of the larger recreation rooms, which is usually used for diplomatic purposes when the need arises. Jim arrives on the early side, escorting his mother; he's wearing his dress uniform, uncomfortable though it is, and she's wearing a similar one, albeit in a considerably more attractive shade of blue than his own chartreuse.
Bones is already there, standing uncomfortably by the fruit-and-vegetable platters as Joanna stuffs her face. Jim smothers a grin, and leads Winona over.
"You look like you're having fun," he says.
"I hate you," says Bones passionately. "Why did you agree to host this damn thing?"
"Oh, maybe because someone kept bitching at me to try to get leave in December, and this was the only way to do it?" says Jim. "Besides, Jo seems to be enjoying herself."
Jo, hearing her name, looks up from using two chunks of pineapple on toothpicks as toys. They appear to be jousting one another. She grins.
"Uncle Jim! Dad said you ripped yourself open."
Jim shakes his head. "No, the aliens did that, sweetie."
"Yeah, he just helped," mutters Bones. "God, I wish there were Scotch at this thing."
"Sounds like my idea of Christmas spirit," Jim agrees sotto voce.
Winona grins, then straightens, touching Jim's arm. "It looks like Christopher's here," she says. "I'll be back - I want to hear the story of how he strongarmed the decorators into going to Christmas colors after all."
Jim nods, and watches her cross the room as he pours himself a glass of punch.
"Your mother's quite the woman," says Bones.
"Yeah," says Jim. "I guess she is."
"Captain!" Jim turns around to see Sulu, crossing towards him and grinning. "I heard there was some excitement while we were on leave."
"Not that exciting," Jim disagrees. "Jallidarians again. Getting kind of old, actually."
"I'm sorry I missed it," says Sulu sincerely. "It sounded like fun."
"Eh, not really," says Jim. "Although it did make me think of requiring zero-gee training for all personnel."
"Now that sounds like fun," says Sulu, grinning again.
"Hikaru!" Chekov comes up behind him, slapping him on the shoulder before noticing Jim. "Captain! I did not think you would be out of sickbay already, sir."
"I'm perfectly fine, thanks," says Jim. "And I didn't want to give Bones an excuse to miss all the fun, right, Bones?"
Bones scowls at him.
"I'm glad you're better, sir," says Chekov earnestly, as Ensign Rao catches up to him. Her neckbrace is nowhere to be seen, although she's holding herself stiffly.
"Captain," she says respectfully. "Doctor McCoy." She looks down at Joanna, and her polite smile becomes a full-fledged grin. "Hey, Jo."
"Sara!" says Jo happily. "Have you tried the pineapple?"
"Sara, this is Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu," says Chekov, drawing her attention back to him. "Hikaru, this is Ensign Sara Rao."
"Oh, you must be the one who bum-rushed the Jallidarians," says Sulu, eyes twinkling. "Pavel won't shut up about you. Your neck looks okay, though."
"It was nothing," demurs Rao, although she looks pleased.
"Spock's here," says Bones quietly in Jim's ear. Jim looks where Bones is indicating, and sees Spock surrounded by all four Uhura sisters, in variously colored dress uniforms – each Starfleet discipline has a current record set by an Uhura. Spock himself looks calm, controlled, and perfectly poised, and Jim is impressed at how well he's keeping up.
"He survived," Jim notes, sipping his punch. Like the punch served at all official Starfleet occasions, it's excessively sweet and entirely nonalcoholic. Jim makes a face.
"Yes, he did," says Bones. "You owe me a bottle of Romulan ale."
"What? When did we make that bet?"
"Two days before he left," says Bones.
Jim narrows his eyes at him. "Two days before Spock left, I'm pretty sure I was still bedridden."
"A bet's a bet," says Bones, shrugging.
"Fine," says Jim, deciding not to mention that a bottle of Romulan ale was going to be his Christmas present anyway.
"Dad!" Joanna tugs on Bones's sleeve. "Did you hear? Sara's going on a ship too!"
Jim raises his eyebrows, but Bones just smirks. Rao ducks her head.
"I was reassigned to the Eddington," she says. "Science division."
Jim's jaw does not drop. Not visibly, anyway. "What?"
"I just heard yesterday," says Rao, just about glowing with happiness. "We ship out in a week. That reminds me - " She looks around. "I should go see Admiral Pike." She turns back to Jim and Bones, nodding to each of them. "Captain. Doctor. Later, Jo."
Sulu and Chekov trail after her to where Pike is deep in conversation with Winona, although apparently nothing serious – Winona says something, leaning in to touch Pike's arm lightly, and he throws his head back and laughs.
"I can't believe," mutters Jim darkly, "that now I have to worry about my own mother poaching personnel from me."
"I'm pretty sure she was never actually yours," says Bones, although he sounds amused. "Besides, look at how they're talking. Your mother's got him wrapped around her little finger."
"You'd think an Admiral would be strong enough to hold out," says Jim, before taking a sip of punch as petulantly as he can.
"Careful," says Bones. "That could be your future stepfather you're talking about."
He's still sputtering in a mixture of indignation and asphyxiation when Spock finally comes over to join them.
"Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy," he says, inclining his head. Jim's suddenly deeply reminded of Rao – the same careful attention to protocol. Spock pulls it off better, though.
"Have fun on leave?" asks Jim, trying for innocent but mainly getting hoarse.
"Indeed," says Spock. "Nyota's sisters are very intelligent. I found the conversations very stimulating."
"Exhausting?" translates Jim.
"Quite," says Spock. "I understand things were considerably less intellectual here onboard?"
"Knocked in a few heads," Jim agrees. "Saved the ship. The usual. Oh – have you seen Scotty?"
"We were aboard the same shuttle from spacedock," says Spock. "Last I saw him, he was by the helm. Weeping. I don't suppose alien intruders can be blamed for that particular mess?"
"Nope," says Bones cheerfully. "Just Jim's mom."
"I met her earlier," adds Spock. "She seems to be quite a capable officer. I expressed surprise to her that she would have a son such as yourself," he says, indicating Jim, "and she laughed."
"She probably thought you were joking," says Jim. "Or she agreed. One or the other."
There's a band playing now, on the far end of the room – a Christmas carol, from the sound of it, although Jim thinks he can hear some nautical terminology.
"I had best return to Nyota," says Spock, sounding actually a little sorry. "I'm – pleased to see that you're recovering well, Jim."
Jim raises his eyebrows, but Spock seems sincere, so he decides to go for a little honesty himself. "I'm glad you're back on the ship," he says, but before the mood can get too serious he adds, "If only because I really need someone to delegate all the paperwork to."
Spock looks almost aggrieved, before brightening almost imperceptibly. "Of course, Captain," he says. "Although I must remind you, my leave doesn't expire until tomorrow. If you'll excuse me."
Bones shakes his head after Spock as he heads back to Uhura. "He almost sounded like he meant it, too," he says. "I'll never understand him."
"He's not that bad," says Jim, but Joanna interrupts him.
"Dad! Mom's here!"
Bones sees Jim's look, and shrugs. "I could hardly stay with her for free for a week without inviting her, now could I?" he asks. "Come on, Jo, let's go show your mom the ship."
"Have fun," Jim calls after him. "And steer clear of the bridge if you don't want to get an earful from Scotty!"
Bones waves impatiently at him over his shoulder as he takes his daughter to see his wife, and Jim lets himself drift towards one of the back corners of the room. The band's still playing, and a few people are even dancing. From his vantage point, Jim can see Sulu and Chekov talking to Rao – or rather, listening to Rao, who, judging from the hand motions, seems to be recounting her brave and single-handed takedown of all twenty Jallidarians. Chekov, who should really know better even if he's not contradicting her, is listening with rapt attention, and Sulu seems just as absorbed.
On the other side of the room, Spock is surrounded by all the Uhura sisters. The three of them that Jim doesn't know, though, seem to be talking amongst themselves, while Lieutenant Uhura – Nyota – is talking quietly to Spock. He says something to her, and she smiles, laying a hand against his cheek. Spock, very gently, cups it and holds it there, before they both drop their hands.
Some distance away, Winona and Pike are talking. Jim can't tell what the topic of conversation is, but he can see the enthusiasm in Winona's own gestures and the clear joy in Pike's eyes as he nods encouragement to her. Just behind them, Bones, Jo, and a woman – who must be Joss, by process of elimination – are standing at the windows. Joanna is tugging on Joss's shirt, trying to get her closer to the glass, while Bones is watching the two of them fondly.
Not bad, for a Christmas party, Jim thinks. Except for all the people who aren't his crew and don't belong on his ship.
Jim downs the rest of his punch in one gulp, and puts the glass on the edge of the refreshments table. He successfully makes it through the room without running into anyone who might try to pull him into a conversation, and he figures he can cite having come down with a bad case of recurring stab wound to anyone who bitches at him for ducking out early.
The door, though, is another story; he quite literally bumps into Scotty on his way out.
"Sorry, sorry – sorry, Captain," says Scotty, grabbing one arm to make sure Jim doesn't fall over.
"It's fine," says Jim tightly, having learned that Scotty's elbow is exactly even with Jim's scar. "Good to see you, Scotty."
"Good to see you too, Captain," says Scotty, beaming. "I don't suppose you know who jerry-rigged the secondary power supply to the helm console, do you? It's brilliant! I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. I think I can rustle up a subroutine to do it automatically even in cases of - "
"That would be my mother, right over there," says Jim, pointing. "She's the Science Officer for the Eddington – knock yourself out. I think you'll have a lot to talk about." He pats Scotty on the shoulder and brushes past him, trying not to think malicious thoughts about Pike's chances of becoming his stepdad with Scotty talking nonstop at his mother.
At first he walks without any particular location in mind, just letting his feet take him where they will. The music from the reception fades quickly, drowned out by the familiar hum of the ship. There's something comforting about just wandering, but eventually he comes to a turbolift and has to make a decision, although it's not a hard one.
Just as he'd expected, there's nobody in the Observation Deck. The Earth hangs gibbous in the middle of the observation windows against the backdrop of the Milky Way, close enough that Jim can make out the continents, and the sparks of light on the night side of the terminator that mark cities. The sun's setting over San Francisco, he realizes; if he looks closely, he can see the clouds tinged pink and orange.
He stays there for a while, watching the sunset slide across the Pacific, then turning his attention to the stars beyond it. There are a lot of them, and he's no stellar cartographer, but he amuses himself for a while trying to guess which ones he's been to.
Impossible to give up, he thinks to himself. Sounds about right.
He loses track of time again, but eventually he hears the door behind him slide open. He doesn't turn around, but Bones comes to stand at his left, leaning against the railing.
"Where's Jo?" asks Jim.
Bones makes a face. "With Joss, asking Admiral Pike why her daddy's not a good enough doctor to cure paraplegia. Precocious is one thing, but professional criticism from a nine-year-old is another."
Jim tries not to smirk. "She's precocious as hell," he agrees instead.
"She says she wants to join Starfleet," says Bones. "I figure she's got plenty of time to come to her senses."
Jim does laugh at that. "Good luck with that," he says.
"Yeah," says Bones, a bit more pensively. He stares out at the Earth. "Hell of a thing."
"Yeah," Jim agrees quietly, before looking down at his hands. "Sorry I was an ass," he says.
"Apology accepted," says Bones promptly.
Jim frowns. "You were supposed to say, 'no, Jim, don't worry about it, you weren't an ass at all.'"
"I'm a horrible liar. You'd see right through me," says Bones, and Jim chuckles. "Although to be fair," Bones continues, "you're a lot less of an ass these days than when you were a cadet."
"Thanks, I think," says Jim, still smiling.
"How're things with your mom?" asks Bones seriously. "You okay?"
Jim thinks for a minute. "Yeah," he says eventually. "We talked for a while when I got out of sickbay."
"About a lot of things, including Jallidar." Jim touches his stomach, very briefly. "And I think I've decided...it could've been worse."
"What a revelation," says Bones dryly, but he doesn't say anything else for a while, just stands with Jim watching the Earth go by.
After a few minutes, the door slides open again, and this time Spock enters.
"Get tired of the Uhura sisters?" asks Bones.
"Actually, I was sent to ensure that the Captain hadn't, I quote, 'torn himself open again,'" says Spock, standing on Jim's right. "Admiral Pike appeared quite concerned."
"Oh, I bet," says Jim.
"I have also been informed that the Federation trial for the Jallidarians that boarded the Enterprise has been set," Spock adds. "Admiral Pike suggested that we delay our departure to attend."
"Nah," says Jim. "We've wasted enough time on the Jallidarians. Let the Admiralty worry about them."
Jim can see Spock raise an eyebrow in his peripheral vision. "I would have thought you might desire emotional closure, after the events of the past two weeks," he says.
"I think I got enough closure kicking their asses," says Jim, keeping his eyes on the stars. "Besides, there's got to be something more important for us to do than stick around here. Places to go, people to see, that sort of thing."
"Indeed," says Spock, sounding pleased. "I will inform Admiral Pike of your decision."
He still makes no move to leave, and eventually Jim says, "Thanks."
Bones glances over at him. "For what?"
"For everything," says Jim simply.
"I find that to be insufficient," says Spock. "You have earned our loyalty, respect, and even friendship a hundred times over, and it is illogical to give thanks for what has been duly earned."
"What the Vulcan means," says Bones, "is 'you're welcome.'"
Spock doesn't disagree.
"Moon's rising," Jim observes after a moment. It's true; the muted crescent of the dark side of the moon, illuminated by earthshine, is just visible on the outer limb of the night-side of the Earth.
"It is indeed," Spock agrees.
"Not a half-bad view," says Bones, and together they watch the moon rise.