part one: enterprise
Vulcans may develop physically faster than humans, but even at barely a year old T’pri is struggling to eat solid foods. Jim thinks about Vulcan’s eidetic memories, and tries to coax her into eating a handful of berries, mashed up, off of his fingers. She almost always refuses; he worries that she won’t make it out alive.
Jim jolts awake. Still adrenaline high, not-quite realising that the danger was imagined, he looks immediately to T’pri, who is sleeping on a soft mat. Searching his mind, he finds reassurance that she is safe, and only then does he allow himself to breathe slowly and calm his heartbeat. His quarters are kept a few degrees warmer than standard, for her sake, and normally he doesn’t mind it so much. On nights like tonight (anxious, overwhelmed), he minds it just a little.
He watches T’pri for a while, still too energy-shot to lay back down, and counts the rise and fall of her chest. She’s actually sleeping, for once, which is good. In the past few months, T’pri has been struggling with even a simple restorative meditation. The fact she’s not only resting but actually sleeping is the best sign Jim has had that things are getting better.
She’s lost more than words can accurately express. Jim can feel her aching from it.
It’s a distress call from Vulcan!
The disaster is still fresh in the minds of everyone at Starfleet. Worried about the reaction that she’d get, T’pri hasn’t left their rooms too much, bouncing between his room, Bones’ room, and the Vulcan household where she is tutored. Stavik, her teacher, has never liked Jim much and only agreed to help T’pri because it would be illogical to refuse the salary that Pike offered. Stavik has said as much to him, although Jim has never found out what, exactly, the salary is, or whether it comes from Pike’s pocket or Starfleets’.
Since the disaster— which Jim hears non-Vulcans referring to as ‘the Nero incident’ and Vulcans referring to as lo-uk pak (great loss)— Stavik has regarded him only slightly more positively. He still doesn’t think Jim should be caring from T’pri.
He’d said, under the pretence of informing Jim he would no longer be able to tutor T’pri, that “It is illogical to separate any Vulcan from another in this time of great loss. We must band together in out new home, to preserve our people and our culture.”
Jim could read between the lines: he would be selfish to keep T’pri from her people. He would not be able to help her maintain her connection with her Vulcan heritage.
It was easier to justify her staying with him when there were more Vulcans around. Now, Jim feels more acutely than ever that he is not able to raise her in accordance with her culture. He’s even debated refusing the captaincy, since it was offered to him just a few weeks before. T’pri has been trying to talk him in to taking it, with more success some days than others.
“This is not our first disaster,” she reminds him.
Jim still feels ill-equipped to handle it. Bones tells him that’s just what it’s like to be a father.
He doesn’t manage to fall back asleep before it’s time to wake up. He makes toast with strawberry jam and delights in the way such a simple thing can make T’pri’s eyes light up.
While they eat, she asks, “Have you come any closer to making a decision?”
He shakes his head. “Pike tells me that I need to decide before graduation, so they can confirm assignments. Everyone wants to serve on the Enterprise, apparently.”
“Who would you have?” T’pri’s eyes are wide, and she’s leaning forward ever so slightly in her seat. The question is an obvious manipulation, but Jim can’t find it in him to refuse her.
“Everyone who was with me during the disaster. I would’ve wanted Uhura anyway. She’s one of the most competent communication officers in the fleet, I hear. Sulu, too, ever since we did that emergency piloting course together in the first year— I’d be able to rely on him to steer clear on trouble.” He laughs warmly at his own pun, and although T’pri doesn’t react outwardly, he can sense her teasing shame. “Bones is a given, of course. But you knew that.”
T’pri smiles and nods once. “We wouldn’t survive without him.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jim agrees. “Chekov impressed me. He’s young, but he’s smart, and good under pressure. Hopefully he’ll never been put under that much pressure ever again. Scotty was brilliant, I don’t think I’d trust the Enterprise in anyone else’s hands.”
“And Commander Spock?” she prods, face carefully blank.
Jim knows her too well; he was there when she was born, and has raised her for nine of her ten years alive. She’s got something up her sleeve. “Of course,” he replies. “But he, more than any of the others, has every reason to refuse. He accepted the commission to serve under Pike, not me. And I think we got off on the wrong foot. I wasn’t exactly on my best behaviour.”
“Surely he understands you were only doing what was necessary in the situation?”
“I can only hope, kid.”
He hasn’t actually seen Spock since they landed back on Earth. The Commander was almost immediately commissioned to serve on a small exploratory vessel searching for a suitable planet to house the Vulcan refugees. There were plenty of civilians who would have been more than happy to assist, but there wouldn’t have been the time to get them all properly signed off; Spock, the only active-duty Vulcan in the fleet, would be the only native to provide input. They needed him, and Spock, from the limited time that Jim spend with him, would’ve insisted anyway.
When Pike had initially offered the captaincy to him, his first question had been of whether or not Spock would remain as first officer. Pike had sighed, low and long, and replied that he didn’t know.
Privately, Jim thinks that the decision would be much, much easier if he knew there would be another Vulcan on board.
“I…” she starts, and then trails off. Jim allows her the room to breathe. “I want to see the stars. I don’t want to lose any more of myself than I already have. It would be easiest if he were there.”
Well, at least they’re on the same page for that one.
You feel nothing! It must not even compute for you! You never loved her!
He regrets the words the moment they come out of his mouth. But that other, older Spock said that he needed to get command of the ship, and to do so, must get his younger counterpart to acknowledge his emotions. Spock is not the first Vulcan Jim has had dealings with, and he can think of few things that would get T’pri as riled up as quickly as insinuating that she doesn’t love him.
He gambles that Spock is the same about his mother, and it pays off.
When news hits that they’ve found a suitable planet for Vulcans, every single shuttle is booked full immediately. Spock— and the rest of the crew manning the vessel— have barely touched down before Starfleet is sending more vessels off towards the planet. Spock greets most of the Vulcans personally as they queue to board, and they all seem eager (or whatever the logical, Vulcan equivalent is) to thank him for his service. When Jim catches sight of this on the holoreels, he thinks that Spock looks bemused.
Bones just rolls his eyes when Jim points this out. “I don’t see it. Damn Vulcans. Can never make sense of them.”
“You can read T’pri just fine!”
Bones shoots the girl a wink. “Yeah, but she’s a Kirk. That’s an entirely different breed of crazy.”
T’pri grins at him. Jim scowls. He knows, of course, that Bones doesn’t mean anything by it, that he’s mostly saying it to make T’pri smile. But she is Vulcan, and she’s been Vulcan longer than she’s been a Kirk, if only just.
He nods to the view screen on the wall of the café they’re in, which has moved on from Spock and is now covering, more generally, the planet set to become New Vulcan. “Do you want to go see it?” he asks T’pri.
She surprises him by shaking her head. At his look, she elaborates, “we wouldn’t be back in time for your graduation. Or for the Enterprises’ shakedown.”
Bones laughs, full-bodied. “You’re laying it on a little thick, sweetheart,” he tells her in a mock-whisper. Jim scowls again.
“Pike’s breathing down my neck enough without you adding to it,” he tells T’pri, and nudges her shoulder playfully with his so she knows he isn’t mad. “But it is a fair point. Not that I’ve made a decision yet.”
When T’pri stands to get a refill of her tea, Bones sighs and turns to Jim. “I don’t know why would won’t just accept the offer.”
“No, I know why you’ve convinced yourself not to— but, Jim, listen to her. She doesn’t want to go to New Vulcan. She wants the Enterprise. Space! The stars! Lord knows I don’t understand it, but she’s just like you.”
“I know,” Jim admits, “and that’s terrifying. And I love her. And I know how important her culture is to her. And her parents.”
“You’re her parent, Jim,” Bones cuts in before he can ramble any more. “I know you respected Savik and T’pan, and you want to do them proud, but you’re her parent. You have to decide what’s best for her now. You keep getting hung up on what her parents would’ve done, but that ain’t helping either of you.”
T’pri returns to the table before Jim can respond. Which is good, because he’s not at all sure what he would’ve said.
He’s raised T’pri for nine years— nine years since Savik placed her in his arms and said to run— and in all that time he’s never been confident that he’s doing it right. The Vulcan High Council hadn’t liked him much when he was fifteen, and he doubts that anything has changed in the meantime. He may have earned points for what he did for their people, but he knows in his heart of hearts that he will always be a reckless, impulsive, illogical human to them. T’pri smiles openly, even laughs sometimes. She pushes herself to her very limits; climbs trees, breaks bones, wears gloves on her hands so she can play with the human children. He understands what Bones means about her being more Kirk than anything else, because he looks at her and can see himself.
He looks at her and sees Savik, too, and T’pan. They had been good people, with good humour, and Jim can see them in the way that T’pri will quirk her brow, or clasp her hands behind her back, or how, sometimes, she will force her face carefully blank, and meditate, and control her emotions more than he ever could. She’s Vulcan, first and foremost, and he worries sometimes that his Kirk-ness will wash it out of her. He doubts that’s what Savik had in mind when he handed over his child.
Granted, he doesn’t think Savik planned to die, either.
He needs to talk to Spock. To find out if he would be willing to serve on the Enterprise with Jim as Captain. He needs to talk to Pike. He thinks of T’pri saying, I want to see the stars.
He stands abruptly. “Bones, can you watch T’pri for a while?”
“Define ‘a while’,” Bones grumbles, but Jim knows he’ll agree regardless. When he grins, Bones just waves him off, and he heads towards Pike’s home.
Number One answers the door. She’s always been a severe-looking woman to Jim, with her big hair and her constantly narrowed eyes, but she smiles warmly when she sees him, and invites him in. “Christopher is in a conference at the moment,” she informs him. “He should be free in a quarter of an hour. Can I get you anything to drink?”
When Jim politely declines, she fixes him with one of her harder looks. She doesn’t tell him what she’s thinking— she never tells anyone but Pike what goes on in her head— and instead asks him, “How’s T’pri?”
“She’s— better, now, I think. She’s been sleeping more, and meditating more easily.” Jim sighs. “She’s… I mean, after everything that’s happened… it’s only been a few months. I think she’s as well as we can expect.”
Number One nods. “What does she think of Theta Seven? New Vulcan, as they’re calling it.”
Jim laughs lightly. “She doesn’t want to go, if that’s what you’re asking. Tells me she wants to see the stars.”
“So you will be accepting the captaincy?”
“Maybe,” Jim hedges. Number One stares hard at him again. “It’s… there aren’t many of them left. I don’t want to isolate her any more than she already is.”
“And you believe she won’t be isolated on New Vulcan?”
Number One just smiles enigmatically. Pike enters the from an adjoining office, and seems surprised to see Jim sitting on his sofa. Number One stands, rests a hand briefly on the front of Pike’s shoulder, and leaves to the kitchen. Jim doesn’t think he— or anyone— will ever understand what relationship, exactly, exists between those two.
“Jim,” Pike greets. “What brings you here?”
“Stavik is leaving for New Vulcan,” he says, by way of greeting. “He told me last week, and he leaves today. T’pri no longer has a tutor. It seems as though all Vulcans in Starfleet are shipping out.”
Pike sighs. “Not all of them,” he confesses, “have made a decision.”
Ah, Jim thinks, so Spock hasn’t made a decision. He takes some comfort in knowing that. Maybe T’pri won’t be as alone as he fears. Maybe this’ll all work out. “I want to talk to Spock,” is what he says out loud. “I want to extend the job offer myself.”
“Commander Spock is in very high demand these days,” Pike says. “But I’ll see what I can do. And, Jim, for what it’s worth… I think you’d be a great Captain without him.”
Jim shakes his head and privately disagrees. He remembers what the other, older Spock had said. They’re meant to be a team, apparently. “All due respect, but that’s not why I’m asking.”
Except that it kind of is. It’s for T’pri too, of course, but it’s also for himself. For the future that the other Spock had spoken of. For the chance to be an amazing Captain with an incredible crew. He’d seen glimpses, when he melded with the other Spock, and his chest hurts from the want of it. Pike doesn’t know any of that, though, and only nods at Jim’s reply.
“T’pri would also be great without him.”
Jim doesn’t doubt it. T’pri would be great no matter what. But he wants her to have that Vulcan influence, even still. Out loud, he says, “I know. But I want her to be fantastic.”
Pike smiles at that, and nods a few times. “I know you do. I’ll set up a meeting with Spock.”
Number One finally speaks, her mouth twisted into a wry smirk. “Just tell him you’ve got a Vulcan on board, he’ll jump at the chance. It’s what he’s all torn up over.”
Jim shakes his head again. “I don’t want it to seem manipulative.”
“It’s not manipulation, Jimmy,” Number One says, and reaches out to touch his cheek. He closes his eyes, remembering. “It’s just giving him the facts.”
“And what about when he asks how,” Jim says, voice low, “or why? What do I tell him then?”
“Whatever you want to.” Pike claps him on the shoulder. “Whatever you think he should know.”
The first time that Jim meets Pike, they’re in a hospital. Jim is passed malnourished and into something that makes doctors whisper to each other and to his mom. He’s inhaling calories through a mask over his nose and mouth, meaning that even the involuntary action of breathing is helping him to recover. There’re needles jammed into his arm, sending him nutrients, and twice a day a nurse administers some sort of hypo. He looks like a stereotype of illness. Pike doesn’t seem to care.
Neither does Number One, who’s introduced to him as Pike’s partner without any elaboration. Not that Jim particularly cares. All that matters to him now is getting strong enough to travel. Number One approaches his bed side and rests a hand on his cheek. It’s a tender gesture, and Jim leans into the touch subconsciously.
“Hey, Jimmy,” she says, smiling. He blinks up at her at the nickname, but can’t find it in him to protest. He loves him mom, he loves her, but this kindness, this simple touch, he’s been missing. Mom has been busy fighting with doctors. Number One strokes his cheek again and steps back.
“You’re a fighter, aren’t you, son?” Pike says, and Jim can only nod. “Good. You’ve got a lot of fighting ahead of you.”
The holoreels are full of news about New Vulcan and very little else. Occasionally, Jim sees his own name, usually accompanied by Spock’s, pass by on the bottom of the screen, but most people seem to want to look forwards. Even the Vulcans seem eager to move on. Those who weren’t on Vulcan at the time of the disaster— and there really weren’t that many— are all starting to conjugate on the new planet, prepare themselves for a new form of civilisation.
In tandem, the Enterprise is being reconstructed. “It’s the pride and joy of the Federation, now,” Scotty tells him, when pops by to see. “They want her up a’ running as soon as possible. It’s why my team is working on it.”
“I don’t think I’d want anyone else to have their hands on her,” Jim tells him.
Scotty replies with a dopey smile. “You flatter me, Jimmy. Rumour is they want you for Captain.”
“Are you fishing for information?”
“Of course,” he says, with another dopey smile. “Needa know who I’m working for, don’t I?”
Jim shrugs his shoulders up to his ears and sighs. “They’ve offered it.”
“And you haven’t accepted? Are you crazy?”
Jim shrugs again. Scotty is clearly unimpressed, but refrains from saying so out loud, if only just. He shakes his head while he walks away, humming a little tune. Jim stares up at the ship, hands in his back pockets, rocking on his heels. It could be his. He could grab T’pri and Bones and the rest of the crew who put their names forward and it could be theirs.
But the other Spock had said that they were meant to do it together, and Jim finds that he really, really wants that to be true in this universe as well.
The thing is, though, that Spock is a very hard man to pin down. Their meeting keeps getting pushed back and pushed back, and at this point Jim isn’t convinced that they will get to meet, and that whether or not he has a first officer will be left entirely up to chance.
It’s getting late, and the engineers working on the Enterprise are starting to head home. Jim does not. T’pri is with Bones tonight— Joanna is coming to visit, and those two have always gotten along— so Jim is in no rush to get home. Instead, he climbs up some scaffolding and sits with his legs dangling over the edge, to stare at the ship that might-maybe be his. No one notices him as they pack up their things and go, and before long it’s just him, the Enterprise, and the emergency lights.
He sits there for a long time, swinging his legs, until he’s nearly dosing. He jolts when he hears a door open, a shock of white moonlight breaking the steely grey of the wall. A figure enters, tall and slim, dark haired, blue shirt—
He doesn’t mean to say it so loudly. In fact, he doesn’t mean to say it at all. But the hangar echoes with the phrase, and the figure’s head shoots up, scanning the rafters for the source of the noise. Jim waves to catch their attention, and then he slips between the bars of the scaffolding and jumps down, landing with his knees folded and his arms out for balance.
“That seemed unnecessarily reckless.”
It is Spock, of course. Jim grins at him. “Mister Spock, you are a very difficult man to get a meeting with.”
Spock looks away, and Jim swears he sees green colouring his cheeks. He doesn’t comment on it. Spock says, “I seem to be in high demand.” “Hero of Vulcan,” Jim agrees, and fights the urge to playfully clap Spock on the shoulder. He knows he’s done it before, on the Enterprise, he knows they’ve touched, but it feels, now, like it would be overly familiar. “Hey, what’s New Vulcan like?”
He’s not sure what he expects, but it’s not for Spock to go even greener, and look thoughtful. Vulcan’s are always so careful with their expressions, so self-contained, but Jim has spent nine years raising one. He knows the tiny pinch between the brows, the downturn of the lip. It’s not that T’pri and Spock look alike— they don’t, beyond the traditional Vulcan characteristics— but there are some things that Jim is confident are universal.
“It is not like home,” Spock finally says, and Jim is surprised by the honesty. “But it is good land, with the right conditions. Vulcans will be happy there.”
Jim notices— and maybe he shouldn’t, but he’s paying extra close attention to the things Spock says— that he doesn’t say we will be happy there. He debates, for a few seconds, if he should call him out on it. He decides against it. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“My people… we are displaced.” Spock continues, his voice low and steady. “It is difficult to know… where I would be most beneficial.”
Jim chews on the inside of his lip. “Well, I know where I’d like you to be. On the Enterprise. If that wasn’t clear.”
Spock raises a perfect eyebrow. Jim thinks that he’s probably going pink. But Spock doesn’t look offended, merely curious, maybe amused. “I gathered. I’m sure that you’re aware of my… dilemma.”
“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Jim replies, nodding, “and… well, I spoke to Pike, and everyone else I’ve said anything to seems to think he’s right, so. I don’t want it to seem manipulative, but so that you have all the facts—”
The door opens again, breaking the moment. It’s a young T’wil’ek engineer, who’s antenna shoot up in surprise at the sight of them. “Captain,” they say, “Commander. I was coming to run some nightly tests. I did not mean to interrupt.”
Spock takes a half-step back and inclines his head. “Perform your tests, Ensign. We will leave you.”
Jim nods dumbly. He’s not a superstitious man, but he almost thinks that this is some sort of sign. He’s quiet as he and Spock leave, walking almost shoulder-to-shoulder, but not quite, like they’re one heartbeat out of sync. Spock doesn’t ask him to finish his sentence. Jim doesn’t offer to do so unprompted.
“Captain,” Spock says, tipping his head, when it comes time to part ways. “I apologise, if you felt it hard to meet with me. I will endeavour to find a more suitable time for our discussion.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Jim says. Spock’s brows pinch slightly, his lips purse. Jim wants to grin at the reaction— he never tires of using slang around Vulcans— but manages to hold it back. “And, Spock… I know it can’t make up for everything, but… I am sorry. For Vulcan. For the things I said to you.”
Spock ducks his head. It’s a more human gesture than any Jim has seen from him before; it’s not the typical incline, slow and controlled. Spock’s head is nearly parallel with the floor, tucked ever so slightly into his shoulder. “All is forgiven, Captain.”
“Have a good night,” Jim says awkwardly. He considers, briefly, mentioning how unfair it was to accuse Spock of being emotionless when he knows, firsthand, how full of love Vulcan’s can be. Especially for their children. Especially for their parents. Instead, he just nods his head again, and goes home.
Savik is an intelligent man, but he is kind, too. Jim is leagues ahead of his class, finishing homework assignments quickly, and he longs for a challenge. Savik, his neighbour, sees this, and invites him for a game of chess. They run through the rules, and play.
Jim loses, and he loves it.
Well, he doesn’t love losing, of course. But for the first time in a long time he feels challenged. He’s beaming even as Savik beats him, preparing to ask for another game. Savik indulges him. And again, and again.
“I’ll keep practicing,” Jim insists, as the sun starts to lower over the horizon. “I’ll beat you eventually.”
And Savik doesn’t smile, not exactly, but his lips quirk. “I do not doubt it.”
Joanna McCoy does not have the time of day for Jim. She never has, even back when they first met. She’s nice enough, excitable and beaming, and she’ll always say hello, but he always gets the distinct feeling that she only tolerates him for T’pri’s sake. Because she very clearly loves T’pri.
He and Bones sit two tables away, watching their girls eat ice cream and bicker back and forth about some new holodrama. T’pri is picking apart plotholes. Joanna seems frustrated that the main couple hasn’t interacted much yet. They seem to agree whole-heartedly with each other, so Jim isn’t really sure why they’re getting so passionate about it.
“Y’know,” Bones says, after a few moments, “I really, really wish Jocelyn would let me take Joanna with us.”
Jim watches the girls together. He wishes it too. “Have you asked her?”
“Tried to. She gets funny whenever I talk about my job.” Bones sighs. “Plus, I don’t want to uproot her too much. Or isolate her, or anything. I get why it’s so hard for you to decide about T’pri.”
“Cheers to that,” Jim says, and they clink glasses. “I was going to tell him. Just… when that Ensign walked in…”
“I know, Jim. Still think you should tell him, though.”
“I… I will. He said he’d try to free up some time for me. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
There are thousands of Vulcans settling on their new planet, now, according to the holoreels. Jim watches them somewhat obsessively, knowing that whatever Spock decides will be publicised almost immediately. It’s entirely possible that the media will know before he does. He hopes not, but he still tries to watch a least a little everyday, just in case. T’pri, too observant for her own good, catches on, and watches over his shoulder.
“Tell me,” she says one evening, after they’ve turned it off, “tell you’ll take the job, anyway.”
“Is that what you want?” he asks, his voice low and soothing. If it’s what’s best for her, he’ll do it in a heartbeat. But he’s not sure that she’ll be happy, as the only Vulcan, separated from her people. Especially after this huge, terrible loss.
“Yes,” she insists, “yes, I want to go out there, to be with the stars— I will miss them, my species, but you are my people. You are my father. This is not our first disaster, and I want to see the universe with you.”
It’s not their first disaster. He knows that acutely. He— Savik put T’pri in his arms, told him run, and they’d fled, gathering a group to follow them— remembers. This is a disaster of a very different kind. “This time we have a choice, though,” he whispers. “Of how to handle it. Will you be comfortable? Five years, without any other Vulcans? I know a lot, T’pri, but I don’t know everything.”
T’pri makes as though she’s going to fight it further, but instead she pushes her shoulders back and speaks to the ceiling instead of his face. “I want,” she says, “to say that I would be. I want the stars more than anything. I want to see that there is good out there. But I know that there would, if I were the only one, come a day that I would regret it.”
“I know,” Jim says, and smooths her hair. “That’s why it’s not an easy choice to make.”
“There are always videos,” she says, closing her eyes. “Stavik has continued my lessons that way. Perhaps…”
Jim smiles, to see her trying to hard. “I want it too,” he admits. “And if we can make it work, then we will. But I have to think of you, first. I have to do what’s right for you.”
“Would you be happy, on New Vulcan? If we went there, to be with people like me?”
“If you were,” he says, “I’d be ecstatic.”
She hums. He expects it to be the end of the conversation, but she surprises him by saying, “You need to convince him. You said he visited the ship, at night? If you go now, he might be there.”
Jim scoffs. “I don’t know that he goes there often.”
T’pri blinks up at him. “Then you will need to be there every night.”
It’s how T’pri ends up sleeping over with Bones and Joanna— a not inconsequential part of her plan, Jim thinks— and how Jim ends up sitting once again in the scaffolding, playing chess against the computer on his PADD. It’s late, again, but the rumour that he’s to be Captain has gotten out somehow, and who’s going to deny the Captain the chance to sit with the ship?
He wins every game of chess. For the past ten years, he’s beat the computer every time, as well as most of his sentient opponents. He’d even beat Savik, once.
When Spock does make an appearance, the light from his screen means that he spots Jim immediately. In response, Jim gestures to the space next to him, with a charming grin, fully expecting Spock to frown up at him. Instead, Spock bypasses the stairs and scales the scaffolding the same way that Jim did, and takes the seat.
“That seemed unnecessarily reckless,” Jim quips. Spock’s mouth twists into something that, on anyone else, Jim would’ve called a smile. He goes to put the PADD away, and then is hit with a different, and almost definitely better, idea. “Do you play?” he asks, gesturing to the screen with his free hand.
Spock turns his head to view the game, and nods. “Competitively, on Vulcan. My success was considered to be quite… impressive.”
Jim can’t help but beam at that. “I haven’t had an opponent challenge me since I was fifteen. Fancy a game?”
Spock gets that same amused expression that he had the last time they spoke. “Do you imply that you could best me?”
“Not at all, Mister Spock,” Jim grins. “But I’m willing to attempt it.”
They set the PADD between them, and play mostly in silence. Spock wins, because of course he does, but the game is long. Spock gets a fold between his eyebrows, the tiniest indication of frustration, and it makes Jim smile.
“I must say, Captain, that you are… a formidable player.”
Jim leans back onto his palms, smiling fading into something softer. “I had a good teacher. We’ll have to have a rematch soon, though. I’m sure I could beat you someday.”
“Yes,” Spock agrees. “I believe you could. However, I cannot imagine it would be a frequent occurrence.”
“Are you saying you want to play me frequently?”
“I would not be opposed.”
Jim beams again at that. “Do you have time for another round?”
Spock seems to consider it before agreeing, that sort-of, almost, maybe-a smile back on his face. “I do.”
They reset the game. Jim takes white, and loses again, but only just.
“I look forward to playing you again,” Spock says, after they’ve stood, and made their way back down to the ground. “Your strategy is… most enthralling.”
“Enthralling,” Jim repeats. “That’s high praise.”
Spock looks away. His voice takes an unusual cadence when he says, “Will you be here tomorrow?”
Jim doesn’t even have to think about it. T’pri would kick him if he said anything else. “Yeah, course. I like to… see her.”
Spock follows his gaze to the ship. The Enterprise is gleaming, nearly ready for her shakedown. Jim needs to make his decision, and soon. He looks away from the ship and stares instead at Spock’s profile, wondering if now is the time to express… to explain. To tell Spock about T’pri and see if that makes any difference to his mindset. Jim wants to extend the invitation without pressure, without manipulation, but he has to think of his daughter first. What would be best for her?
He opens his mouth, intent on sharing, but Spock turns back to face him, tinged green, and cuts him off before his first sound. “We will play again tomorrow. For now, I bid you goodnight, Captain.”
He turns on his heel and leaves without waiting for a reply. Tomorrow, Jim thinks, I’ll tell him tomorrow.
“There might not be a tomorrow,” Jim whisper-sings, cradling T’pri. T’pan had taught him the correct way to hold a Vulcan child, and how it differed from a human because of the placement of their organs. It’s not too different, but Jim notes the variations, overly cautious. “It might just be you and me…”
It’s an old song, older than his mother and his grandmother, but he learned it when he was a child and he holds it with him now. T’pri still isn’t eating well, but at least she’s eating, and as he holds her against his chest, singing, feeding her bits of mashed berries off his fingertips, he feels something warm and complicated open in his mind. He’s aware of cold and fear and hunger that are not his own. He looks and T’pri. She looks back at him.
He can’t begin to process what’s just happened; not now, not in his current state. He keeps singing, instead.
“The worst is far from over,” he says, “But we’re happy in my dreams.”
Joanna leaves three days later. Jim is sad to see her go; she may not have the time of day for him, but he’s always been fond of her, if only for the happiness he brings to T’pri. T’pri, for her part, wraps Joanna in a brief, tight hug when they send her off, and, when Bones is sniffling, later, threads her arm through his, for comfort.
Bones ruffles her hair in response, and T’pri doesn’t even try to fix it.
Spock had not shown up for another game of chess, and Jim had tried not to be offended. Once he’d heard the circulating rumours that Spock had been called to New Vulcan for some sort of… funeral, Jim wants to call it, but was more accurately a Vulcan ceremony for the dead, he feels bad for being offended in the first place. He wishes he’d known about it beforehand. He would’ve taken T’pri.
T’pri, for her part, has been adjusting well to her new life in— not quite the spotlight, Jim supposes, but the adjustment from being mostly hidden from view (not secret, but not known-of either), to being seen. She’s no longer T’pri and is instead, quite obviously Girl Kirk who follows her father around, sometimes even clinging to his arm. She wears a hat, most days, to keep her ears warm as they head into autumn, and as yet no one seems to know she’s Vulcan.
The shock of Jim Kirk having a daughter is gaining quite enough attention he thinks, and when Jim asks her how she feels about it, she agrees. “If they knew I was Vulcan… there would be far more invasive questions. Especially in these circumstances.”
“Not our first disaster,” he tells her, and she offers him a tiny smile.
It’s on one such day that they run into Uhura in a convenience store. Uhura’s hair is pulled back into her signature high-ponytail, and T’pri, when Jim looks down at her, is watching it swish back and forth. “Have you met Uhura?” he asks, and it’s loud enough to cause the Lieutenant to turn around. T’pri shakes her head.
“Kirk,” Uhura greets. Jim’s still not sure if she likes him, but he wants her to. He might be her Captain, after all. “Who’s this?”
“Kirk T’pri,” she introduces herself, holding one gloved hand in a ta’al.
Uhura blinks, mouthing the name back. After a moment, she seems to remember herself, and returns the gesture, adding, “Nyota Uhura. A pleasure to meet you.”
“T’pri,” Jim says, after a heartbeat, “why don’t you go pick us something for dinner? I think Uhura has some questions she wants to ask me, and she’s too polite to say them in front of you.”
T’pri smiles again, almost laughs, and heads off to the frozen food section to make her choice. Uhura watches her go, then snaps her gaze back to him. “Kirk T’pri?” she repeats, and that’s question enough on its own.
He’d known this was coming, of course. He’d have been stupid not to. Even if no one else in the universe did, he crew was going to know that his daughter was Vulcan. He just didn’t expect it to happen now, in the produce aisle of a Starfleet campus convenience store.
He takes a breath. Steadies himself. Thinks the worst is far from over, but we’re happy in my dreams. Tries to ground himself in reality. He doesn’t have to say anything he doesn’t want to. Uhura is still staring, waiting for an answer.
“She’d adopted,” he blurts, then immediately cringes.
Uhura raises an eyebrow. “I assumed.”
“Yeah,” Jim says, “yeah, you’re smart. It’s, uh… it’s a really long story.” Uhura’s expression drops into something flat and unimpressed.
“It’s—” Jim frowns, shakes his head. “It’s very personal. But… her parents trusted me to look after her, so I did. They died, tragically, and then T’pri— she bonded with me.”
Uhura nods, here, and he remembers quite suddenly her relationship with Spock. Of course she understands about Vulcans and bonding. “She seems remarkably well-adjusted, if that’s the case.”
Jim offers a weak smile. “We’ve been through a lot together. I had to… fight for her, at first. The Vulcan High Council didn’t like me much… I’m sure you can imagine.”
Uhura laughs, at that, like he’d been intending. “But you fought for her anyway?”
“Of course. She’s my kid.” He flashes back, briefly, to shouting the same at the Vulcans, screaming don’t take her from me. He shakes his head again. “I’m sure you other questions, and I can’t promise to answer them all, but you can ask.”
“How did you know her parents?”
They have to side-step out of the way as other patrons go to make their way past, delaying his answer. Jim is grateful for the moment to think. “I lived on a colony planet, briefly. We were neighbours. I played chess with her father.”
Uhura smiles at that, lighting up with some sort of recognition. “Oh, Spock said you’re brilliant at chess. He couldn’t wait to play again.”
“Really? He said that to you?” Jim repeats, wondering. It makes sense— if Uhura is his girlfriend, then chances are they talk. “Has he said anything about… the Enterprise?”
“Jim,” she says, and it’s the first time she’s used his first name. Her eyes have gone soft, and he thinks she understands why he’s asking. “He’s still— torn. I want him to come with us, of course, I think it’d be good for him, but… he feels a duty to his people.”
“I get that.” He turns to look towards the frozen food aisle. “I’m torn, too.”
“If he knew about T’pri,” Uhura says, “it might make the decision easier. It could solve both of your problems.”
“I have tried to tell him.” His voice sounds wrecked and upset to his own ears. He can’t imagine what Uhura thinks. “But I’ve— I’ve never hidden her, I love her more than anything— but we decided together that we wouldn’t broadcast her existence. That it would be need-to-know. I didn’t expect that I’d be Captain so soon, or so publicly, or that so many people would become need-to-know so soon. I don’t know how. And I don’t want him to think that I’m manipulating him somehow.”
Uhura smiles, again, and rests a hand on his shoulder, stroking her thumb back and forth. “He thinks of you as a friend. Did you think— at the end of it, when you stood together to face Nero— he said ‘not this time’. Do you think he would’ve shown even that sliver of emotion to someone he didn’t trust?”
Jim hadn’t— remembered that part of their interaction. He remembered arguing, fighting— spitting vitriol about Spock’s relationship with his mother as though he didn’t know first hand it was bullshirt— hands around his neck, screaming— being marooned—
But he didn’t remember what came after. Spock volunteering himself to come save Pike. Him saying their chances of success were low, and adding ‘if I do not make it back, tell Lieutenant Uhura—’, Jim insisting it would work. The moments after the fighting were over, standing together as if they were meant to be there.
And, even more recently, sitting in comfortable silence, near the ship, playing chess.
T’pri is back as his side, holding boxes of vegetarian pizzas, and Jim presses a hand to her shoulder. “Ready?” he asks her, and she nods. Before they turn to go, he catches Uhura’s eye one last time. “I think of him as friend, too. It’s why I’m being so careful.”
“Don’t be,” she says, smiling. “Just be honest.”
“The bond is young,” the Vulcan councilwoman says, pulling her hand away from T’pri’s meld points. Jim lets out a long breath and his mother, beside him, squeezes his shoulder. If the Vulcans are opposed to this physical display, they don’t let on. “If I may—” she continues, fingers already poised to reach for Jim, assuming his consent. He nods tightly, and she presses into his mind.
It’s his mind, in third person; a barren landscape, half-Iowa, half-hell. There are building with doors he locks, trees that have grown and borne fruit that has rotten, animals, both alive and dead, scattered. It’s terrible, and frightening, but the sky is breaking with new dawn. Somewhere in him he sighs, and the Vulcan presses deeper. There is a cord that stretched farther than he can see or feel, some sort of connection outward, and he knows without thinking that this is T’pri, that this is their bond, that thing he’d felt click into place—
And if the Vulcan wanted, she could reach out and snap it, dissolve it, make it like it was never there—
And then Jim is screaming, aware, again, of his physical body. The Vulcan tears her hand away and steps back, raising her eyebrows at him as babbles. “Don’t touch that, don’t look at that, don’t take her, don’t take her, she’s mine!”
“Boy,” another Vulcan starts, but his mother cuts him off, glaring.
Jim continues as though he hadn’t been interrupted, “She’s my kid, don’t take her, don’t take my kid, they’ve already taken the rest of them— not her, not T’pri, I need to take care of her!”
Scotty tells him that the Enterprise will be up and running in a little less than three weeks, and that the shakedown is scheduled for the same day as the last colony ship to Vulcan. The hangar will be full, that day, and he can imagine already the press trying to get in. Both he and Spock are kept busy with their respective duties, and, surprisingly, there’s not all that much overlap. Spock is often off assisting Vulcans, or processing reports on the new colony, or fielding the press. Jim is usually completing paperwork, approving applications, or fielding in the press.
Because he’s decided, now, after long conversation with T’pri, that he has to take the Captaincy.
“I wouldn’t be happy on New Vulcan,” she’d said, and her voice was level but she’d used a contraction, so Jim had known she was upset. “I hate the way they treated you, when we were younger. I have seen the way they treated Commander Spock, for his human mother. I may not be half-human, but I was raised by one, and I fear that they will still look at us badly. I would not be happy, and I know that you would not be either.”
“So we go to the stars?”
“So we go to the stars,” she’d agreed. “I love my species, the culture you have been sure to make me a part of, but… I do not think they love me back, not as I am. The stars, though… There is good in the universe, and I want us to find it.”
They still hope that Spock with agree to come with them, that she won’t be alone. He thinks that, more than Stavik, more than the Vulcan High Council, more than any of the settlers on New Vulcan, Spock would understand her.
But they’ve been kept busy and separate, and Jim still hasn’t had a chance to tell him. He wants to, he keeps deciding over and over again than he wants Spock to know, but they’re never in the same room long enough for the conversation to happen, and even if they were, there are far too many prying ears around. Sometimes, one of them will suggest a game of chess, but the other will be too exhausted, or have meetings run late, or other obligations.
Aside from his Captain’s duties, Jim is also taking care of T’pri. He sorts out her lessons, has the Enterprise equipped with a classroom of sorts for her use, arranges with Stavik when he’ll be able to call. T’pri will, for the most part, guide her own course of study, but she’ll have guidance in form of the crew’s various specialties, and her Vulcan tutor will call several times a month for quizzes and lectures. Jim is content that she will get the education that she needs and deserves.
As for the crew— all of them now know of his daughter, although none of them bar Uhura know she is Vulcan. He thinks it would be unfair for them to know before Spock, in case he does decide to join their crew. But they’re all told of his daughter, and he asks if they’d be willing to help her with her studies, in exchange for a small pay increase.
Uhura turns down the pay, but says she’s happy to teach T’pri languages. T’pri, who is with them for this offer, smiles shyly and asks if Uhura would also please teach her how to do her hair in that sleek ponytail. Uhura had laughed, half-beaming, and agreed immediately. Jim thinks he might love her, a little bit.
The next time he sees T’pri, a little over three hours later, after a particularly nasty meeting, she’s got her hair pulled back. “We did not manage to get my bangs pulled away,” T’pri says, brushing at them with her fingertips, “But Nyota says that this makes it my unique version.”
Jim compliments the hairdo, perhaps excessively, before he looks up to Uhura. He teases, “My daughter gets to be on a first name basis before I do?”
Uhura only smiles, then, but, later, when T’pri has gone to another lesson, she asks him, “That night we met… where was T’pri?”
Jim thinks he probably should’ve seen that question coming. “We… we had a friend visiting. She was with him.”
“Why weren’t you? What did he say when you came home looking… like that?” The questions don’t feel invasive, when it’s Uhura asking them. He doesn’t think she’s judging him, not anymore. He thinks she’s his friend, too.
“He wasn’t thrilled,” Jim admits. “But he… understood.”
“It ties back to that personal thing, doesn’t it?” Uhura asks sympathetically. Jim nods. “Then I won’t press. T’pri is wonderful, so you must have done something right. Even if it included bar fights where you were incredibly outmatched.”
“I’ve fought off bigger things,” Jim says, and it’s perhaps a little too honest, but he says it with his nose playfully in the air, so Uhura doesn’t catch it. And then, more seriously, “But thank you. I’ve… done my best for her.”
“I know you have.”
“Can I ask you something?” When Uhura nods her assent, he continues, “Why haven’t you told Spock about her?”
Uhura thinks about it for a moment, then smiles. “Because she’s yours. I don’t want her to turn into some sort of gossip, and you deserve the right to tell Spock about her how you want to. Besides, I don’t tell Spock everything, and he doesn’t tell me everything.”
That night, after meetings and paperwork and a very quick visit to the ship, he collects T’pri from her classes and takes her home. Bones is waiting on their sofa, and Jim doesn’t bother wondering how he got in. He’s just glad that his friend is there. “Haven’t seen much of you, lately.”
Bones snorts. “If you think a Captain is busy, try being CMO. It’ll be better once we’re on the ship, and schedules are more consistent. Wanted to make a moment for y’all, though.”
T’pri beams and leaps onto the sofa next to Bones. “I have missed you,” she tells him seriously, and he laughs.
“What’s with the fancy up-do?”
“Nyota taught me,” T’pri says, nodding twice for emphasis. “She will teach me languages, once we are aboard the ship, but today she showed me how to do my hair.”
“If you like Uhura’s hairstyles, wait until you see Rand,” Bones comments, and T’pri tips her head curiously. “Have you seen Rand, yet, Jim? She’s got a beehive on her head. Woven like a wicker basket.”
Jim wrinkles his nose in the same second that T’pri does, which makes Bones laugh. The three settle in for a meal and a holodrama— which T’pri chooses. They might be illogical, but, T’pri reasons, “It is more illogical to deprive yourself of something that brings you joy.”
Jim can’t argue with that, nor does he want to.
The next day, Jim takes T’pri to the ship for the first time, and guides her around on a tour. In Engineering, they stop to chat to Scotty, who looks between the two of them and decides that T’pri is a “spittin’ image of her father” which T’pri, of course, finds highly illogical. When she expresses this, Scotty looks at her a little more closely. “You’re a Vulcan,” he says in surprise. “What’re you doin’ hanging round the most illogical human in the world then, lassie?”
T’pri manages to sound put-upon and playful when she replies, “Someone must keep him out of trouble.”
It startles a laugh out of Scotty, who turns a grin on Jim. “Oh, she’s a Kirk, alright.”
Jim can’t help the fond, proud smile, or the way his hand comes to rest on her shoulder-blade. “Yeah, she’s something special.”
They leave engineering with Scotty still laughing, and head to medical to meet the rest of Bones’ team. Bones has been looking after T’pri health for the past three years, and is as close to an expert on Vulcan health as a non-Vulcan can be. Aside from that, even, there’s a lot in their health records that are classified, so it’s unlikely that either T’pri or Jim will be treated by anyone else, but it’s still good to meet the rest of the team.
Jim hadn’t had much to do with approving the applications of these members, deferring to Bones’ judgement, so he’s pleased to finally put faces to names. M’Benga, who will become CMO if there’s any reason that Bones is absent, makes a point to introduce himself to both Jim and T’pri, and cite some of his knowledge of Vulcan biology.
“I know I’m not your primary physician, and Leonard wouldn’t like me stepping on toes, but I wanted you to be aware that will be able to treat you should it be necessary.” He address T’pri alone for this portion, which Jim appreciates. She’s only ten, and many treat her oddly because of it, but she’s old enough and smart enough to respond to this sort of information herself. He likes that M’benga knows it.
Nurse Christine Chapel, as well, shakes his hand and offers a clumsy ta’al to T’pri, who doesn’t comment, but returns the gesture anyway. “A pleasure to meet you,” Chapel says, and then resumes her work. Jim decides that she and Bones will be a perfect team.
The explore their quarters; Jim and his first officer, whoever that ends up being, will share a jack-and-jill bathroom, with their rooms on either side. T’pri has the room next to him, with an adjoining door, and her own bathroom. Clearly whoever made their accommodations had realised it would be inappropriate for a young girl to have to share with grown crew members. T’pri sees the logic in it, he knows she does, but she’s still excited for her own space. She makes a show of opening all the drawers and planning which belongings she’ll put where.
And then, finally, they head to the bridge.
In preparation for their shakedown mission, a two-week orbit of a nearby planet, the bridge is full of life. T’pri pulls her hat down over her ears and stays close to Jim as he wanders around, catching up with various crew members. Chekov and Sulu are sitting at their stations, but with nothing for a navigator and a pilot to do while stationary in a hangar, they’re mostly just chatting, so Jim doesn’t feel bad interrupting.
They greet T’pri warmly, when they catch sight of her, but she doesn’t introduce herself. Jim, who’s still hopeful that Spock will take the job and doesn’t want everyone to know he has a Vulcan daughter before he does, doesn’t introduce her either. They chat idly for few minutes, about the mission, about the various meetings they’ve all been in. Chekov and T’pri end up talking about navigation, which Jim didn’t even know T’pri was interested in, let alone educated about, but her eyes shine while Chekov shows off the display.
Later, T’pri tells him that she wants to learn Russian, because Chekov seemed to struggle in Standard, and Jim has to fight the urge to laugh. He wonders if maybe T’pri cares less about navigation and had instead just taken a shine to the navigator, but he doesn’t say so out loud. He just says he thinks it’s a great idea, and says that he’s pretty sure Uhura knows Russian, so they can ask her.
By the day of the shakedown, Spock still hasn’t made a decision, and Pike tells Jim, “I’m letting you go on this one without a first officer, but if he still hasn’t decided by the time you get back— you’ll have to hire someone else.”
Jim nods. T’pri nods. They look at applications together, and hope that Spock joins them.
It always comes down to the wire, with Jim. Everything is last minute, everything rushed, but it always seemed to work out. From his birth— rolling through an exploding ship, his mothers panting breaths, born just in time for his father to name him— to this moment, this desperate attempt at a cry for help, he is always barely scraping by.
His hands drop to his sides, content the distress signal has been sent, and will continue to send, hidden in the code and untraceable, and it’s just in time because a door is opening and that man is coming home. Jim needs to rush, but he needs to stay quiet, so he closes the program, locks the computer screen, and slides out of the office and towards the kitchen. There’s applesauce in the fridge— he’d seen it earlier, and made a note to take some for T’pri— which he grabs now, sliding clutching it against his chest as he rolls from the window.
The thud of his body hitting the ground alerts someone to his presence, but by the time they’ve got the window to see him, Jim is already running, faster than someone as weak as he is should be able to, towards the trees.
He is nothing but skin and bone, like a wraith in the forest, and he disappears easily.
It comes down to the forking wire, which Jim is entirely unsurprised by. T’pri wants to be on the bridge for launch, and Jim said that she can be, as soon as she’s put her things in her room. He’d seen her slotting her books onto the shelves through their shared doorway as he pulled on his command gold.
He makes his way to the bridge, now, and is greeted by the exact crew that he’d wanted— the ones who were with him against Nero, the ones he’d seen in the other Spock’s head— bar one, of course, who still hasn’t made his decision. Just as he thinks it, the doors open again, and Spock appears, with a determined tilt to his brow, dressed in science blue.
“Permission to come aboard, Captain?”
Jim can’t help the easy smile on his face. “Permission granted.”
Spock’s words don’t come out in a rush; Jim gets the distinct impression that he’d rehearsed them on his way over. “As you have yet to select a first officer, respectfully, I would like to submit my candidacy. Should you desire, I can provide character references.”
Jim beams, then. Nothing could convince him that wasn’t a joke, that Spock’s best character references aren’t people on this very ship, people who would be thrilled to have him— instead of pointing it out, Jim just says, “It would be my honour, Commander.”
Jim can’t wait to tell T’pri, to see the look on her face— he’s so relieved, that they choose this, and that Spock will be here anyway. He and T’pri need the stars like they need the blood in their veins, but now, at least, there will someone else who understands onboard. He’s so grateful. He can’t wait to tell T’pri, he can’t wait to tell Spock—
And, of course, as though on cue, T’pri bursts onto the bridge, drawing everyone’s attention.
She’s not wearing a hat, anymore, and has her hair pulled back into one of the sleek ponytails that Uhura taught her, meaning that, for many, this is the first time they are aware of her species. T’pri is unconcerned as she walks over to Jim’s side, her movements carefully controlled. Jim can see how her eyes are a little bit wider, like she can’t quite believe that this is really, finally happened. She comes to stand next to him, and he places his hand against her shoulder-blade.
Spock is staring. So is everyone else, pretty much, but Spock’s stare is the only one that really matters at this point. Jim looks down at T’pri, and sees that she’s staring too, up at Spock. He can read the relief, the excitement, in the slant of her eyebrows.
Spock is staring.
“Everyone,” Jim says, clearing his throat, but he doesn’t look away from Spock. He should probably feel bad about that, but he’s sure that his crew can understand why. There’s a different sort of tension settling between Captain and Commander, after all, and Jim wants to explain everything, but he can’t, not here. “I’d like for you to formally meet my daughter.”
She holds up a ta’al, glancing around the bridge, but like Jim, she’s looking mostly at Spock, trying to gauge his reaction. “My name is Kirk T’pri.”
“S’chn T’gai Spock,” the Commander returns. Spock is looking at him when he speaks again, although his sentence implies he’s still speaking to T’pri, “I was unaware that the Captain had a child.”
“Most are,” T’pri says. The crew is still listening, still staring, so Jim is grateful when she doesn’t say anything else.
There’s a few more seconds of tension before Jim claps his hands together and tells Sulu to take them out. The ship launches, and Jim is met with the distinct feeling that this is exactly how things are meant to be.
part two: chess
Vulcan’s develop physically faster than humans, and don’t toddle as such. Jim’s mother compares them to horses, the immediate and perfect movements. They don’t walk until they are certain that they can support their own weight, and, with measured steps, begin to move on their own, crawling one second and standing with poise the next.
Despite this, Jim sometimes looks at T’pri, two years old, walking, and thinks of Aenalise— who was only four, who couldn’t follow them fast enough— anyway.
When T’pri comes to him, curious, he pulls her close and cries into her hair.
Spock has not yet forgiven him. It’s three days into their shakedown and Jim has not been able to catch Spock’s attention for anything unrelated to work. Uhura told him that Spock thought of him as a friend, and Jim had thought the same, but now— with this secret between them, this big thing he probably should’ve told Spock straight away— things seem to have changed.
He wants to explain himself, but he doesn’t want to force his company on to Spock, especially not when it seems so clear that Spock doesn’t want it. Jim feels like he’s stumbling, trying to connect with his crew, trying to take care of his daughter, trying to complete their mission. There’s so many things to keep straight in his head, so many responsibilities and things that he has to be, that as much as he wants to repair his friendship with Spock, he doesn’t even know where to begin.
It’s not like they were close to begin with, despite what Uhura may have said.
T’pri decides she likes engineering within about two hours of being in space, and all but takes up residence in the bowels of the ship, following Scotty around like a puppy, watching with wide eyes. Jim visits, on occasion, but usually he feels like he’s chained to his chair. Rand, whose hair does, in fact, look like woven baskets (it’s really very impressive, and when he compliments it he’s graced with a rare, genuine smile), keeps him in line, informing him of all the various tasks that he needs to complete each day.
If he’d known being Captain would require so much paperwork, he might not have taken it.
That’s a lie, of course that’s a lie. He loves his job, and he’s only had it in official capacity for three days. He loves working with his crew— they fall together easily, a side-effect of surviving tragedy as a group— and he loves returning to his quarters at the end of his shift to find T’pri waiting, excited to tell him about her day. He loves this.
“Kevin wrote to me,” T’pri tells him after a long shift on the fourth day. “He says that he is on Earth, and would like to see us if we have time after our mission.”
Jim smiles at the thought. It’s been years since he’s seen Kevin; the night he met Uhura, the night Pike gave him a challenge, was the last night that Kevin had spent with them. “Tell him we’d love that.”
“I already did.” T’pri smiles as Jim takes a seat next to her on the bed, leaning ever so slightly against his side. “I have missed him, too. I miss the others, as well. I wish we could have been at Thomas’ wedding.”
They had meant to be, but Thomas’ wedding had been just after the Nero Incident, and Jim hadn’t been able to get away. He’d tried; he’d done everything he could to make it happen, but Starfleet needed all hands on deck, and Pike had sighed apologetically. “I know Thomas is your family,” he’d said, “but no one else does. Do you want to publicise that?”
It had shut Jim up pretty effectively. But Thomas was one of his kids; he’d been nine at the time of the disaster, and nineteen now, on some other world, married. Thomas is the most well-adjusted of them all, Jim thinks, and it would’ve been good to see him. They’d called him, the day of, Jim and T’pri squished side by side to fit in the view screen. Thomas had laughed when he saw them, beaming, and tugged his new husband, Harry, into view. Thomas had called Jim and T’pri family, and, clearly recognising Jim’s face from the coverage of the Incident, Harry had blinked in confusion.
Like T’pri, Jim does wish that they’d actually been there. “We’ll have to take some leave to go visit him,” he says, and T’pri nods next to him. “But we’ll see Kevin once we get back, which will be good. Maybe we can get Bones to come along? Or would you prefer it to just be us three?”
T’pri shrugs. “We can decide later. How was your day?”
Jim heaves a massive sigh and recounts, in the most over-the-top manner that he can, the smallest frustrations of his day. T’pri indulges his dramatics with eyebrows raised, and only asks afterwards if he’s made any progress with Commander Spock.
At that, Jim does sigh genuinely. “I think he must feel... betrayed. Hurt. I don’t know, though, because he won’t speak to me and Uhura says I have to figure it out myself.”
“You will figure it out,” T’pri assures him, and he smiles at her, ruffling her hair, which is worn loose today.
Later, when he watches her settle in to bed— she stopped needing the supervision years ago, but humours him when he wants to stay anyway— he says, “Have I ever told you why I don’t believe in no win scenarios?”
T’pri blinks. “I do not believe you have.”
Jim smirks, and takes a seat on the floor next to her mat. “Because of you,” he tells her, and chuckles at her confusion. “Because even in the midsts of and the time after a terrible, terrible tragedy... even while experiencing something most people would consider life-ruining, I got you. And I had to fight for you, but I wasn’t gonna let you go anywhere that wasn’t with me. You’re my biggest win.”
T’pri has a flash of green across her nose when he finishes speaking, and she lifts herself up out of her meditative position to wrap her arms around his neck. He holds her close and whispers, “we might have lost everything else, but I got you, so I didn’t lose.”
T’pri clings to him a little longer, and Jim lets her. Their bond is strong, and through it he can feel a feedback loop of love love love, and he gets caught up in it. He doesn’t understand how people think that Vulcans have no emotions, not when he can feel it, see it, with T’pri next to him. They might not vocalise it easily or often, but that’s okay, because Jim doesn’t either. Vulcans, in his experience, are full of life and emotion, but have learned to keep it hidden. He doesn’t mind, but it makes moments like this, where T’pri doesn’t try to hide it, all the more special.
When he leaves T’pri to her meditation, Spock is waiting in his room.
Jim blinks and rubs his eyes, but Spock is still there when he opens them. “Hey, Commander.”
“Captain,” Spock says stiffly.
There’s a few moments of awkward silence. Jim eventually breaks it. “Can I help you, Spock?”
“May I...” Spock starts, then trails off. “I wish to ask a few questions.”
Jim sits in the sofa and gestures for Spock to take a seat. He sits in the desk chair, kitty-corner to Jim, with his back straight. As Jim watches, he seems to collect himself, relaxing his shoulders.
Spock, as expected, doesn’t beat around the bush. “Where did she come from?”
Jim bites back a sarcastic quip about ‘when two Vulcans love each other very much...’ and tries to answer seriously. He wants to trust Spock with the whole story, but he doesn’t, not yet. Maybe not ever. And even more than that, he doesn’t trust himself to be able to get through the whole story. He hadn’t even told Bones, just handed him their medical records and fled.
But Spock deserves more detail than Uhura got, because there are so few Vulcans left. Spock should get his reasoning for not telling him.
So he takes a deep breath and says, “When I was fourteen, I lived on a colony planet. T’pri’s parents— Savik and T’pan, they were called— were my next door neighbours. I wasn’t... challenged by school, and Savik noticed, and taught me chess. I only ever beat him twice.”
Spock is looking at him with an expression that’s entirely unreadable. Jim thinks he might end up giving away too much, because that expression— Spock deserves the whole story, all the information, he deserves to know where this other Vulcan has come from. Jim can’t. He can’t.
“It was... when Savik and T’pan died, their last act was giving T’pri to me. They told me to look after her, and I did.” He swallows thickly, here, trying not to get choked up. “T’pri and I went through a lot, and at some point, we bonded. She’s mine, Spock, in every way that she can be— I screamed at the Vulcan Council when they wanted to take her from me, I had to fight to be able to keep her, and I will never regret that.”
Spock does not say anything, and Jim cannot bring himself to elaborate further. There’s obviously so much more to the story, and he can practically see Spock trying to fill in the gaps, but even he doesn’t know everything. There’s a lot in Jim’s files that is classified. There’s a lot in his history that is.
“What I do not understand,” Spock says, after several long minutes. Jim almost wishes he had one of those vintage clocks, if only so the ticking sound would fill the silence. “Is why I was not aware of this bond.”
“I wanted to tell you,” Jim says in a rush. “I wanted you to know, Spock—“
Jim shuts up.
“What I mean to say,” Spock says, and Jim thinks again that he looks green-tinged, like he’s flushed. “Is that the bond you share with T’pri must be remarkably similar to the one I shared with my mother. I find myself surprised that I was never told about it, when I imagine it would have been a source of comfort in my childhood. For all my father’s faults, I cannot imagine him depriving me of that.”
Jim hangs his head, shaking it side to side. “One day, Spock, I promise, one day I’ll tell you the full story, and you’ll understand why it wasn’t spoken about. But I— can’t, not now. Not without talking to T’pri, not without— I just can’t.”
Spock’s expression is still carefully unreadable, but he nods. “I also find myself,” he continues, his hands twitching like he wants to curl them into fists, “newly hurt by what you said about my feelings towards my mother. You must know, Captain, that they are entirely incorrect.”
Jim winces, scrubbing his hands down his face. “Yeah,” he says, “yeah, I do know. It’s— it’s why I said it. I needed you to show your emotions, Spock. And I can’t think of anything that would get T’pri to react more intensely than implying she doesn’t love me.”
Spock nods, and stands abruptly, heading for the door. Before he leaves, he pauses one last time. “I am gratified to not be the only Vulcan on this ship, as I am certain T’pri is also. I will not let my— frustration with you deprive her.”
“Thank you, Spock,” is all Jim can think to say. Spock nods again, and leaves.
“Jim,” a voice calls to him and he turns back, arms still cradled protectively around T’pri. His mother, next to him, does not move her hand off of his shoulder. It’s the most physically affectionate she’s been with him years, and he appreciates the support. He knows she’s better at yelling at people, and fighting for him, than she ever has been at softness.
The voice that called to him belongs to a woman, dressed in traditional Vulcan greys, but with a scarf wrapped around her head. He can’t see her ears, but he doesn’t need to in order to know that she is not Vulcan. As she approaches even nearer, he can tell she’s human. She smiles kindly at him, but makes no move to touch him. He assumes that living here for so long has stripped her of the habit.
“Hello?” he says, and it sounds like a question.
“Hello, Jim. Winona.” She nods to each of them in turn. “My name is Amanda. My husband, Sarek, is on the council.”
“You’re married to a Vulcan?” His mother can’t quite keep the surprise out of her voice, and Jim cringes internally, but Amanda just laughs it off.
“That is the usual reaction,” she says. “I just wanted to let you know, Jim, that what you have with T’pri is very special. I’m sure that you know this already, but... the Council can be hard, and they do not seem kind. But my son and I have a bond like yours with T’pri, and I trust my husband will remember that.”
He spends the remainder of the mission trying to build individual relations with members of his command team. He spars with Sulu, who tries to teach him fencing, he tinkers with Scotty, who insists he should’ve been an engineer, he plays card games with Chekov and T’pri, and thinks his daughters shine to the navigator is still kind of hilarious but never lets on. He gossips with Uhura, talks hair with Rand, and, as always, spends evenings with Bones.
Surviving tragedy together, and surviving it well, means that they work as team, but Jim wants more than that. They don’t know yet, how long they’re going to spend together in space, but he knows it could be a long, long time, and before they end up trapped in close quarters for potentially years, he wants them all to get along on a personal level, as much as they can. Obviously, some people won’t gel, and he always hated managers who acted like their team was their family, but it would be nice if everyone at least liked each other well enough.
All in all, by the time that they’re shakedown mission is over, and they’ve returned to Earth, Jim has passable-to-good relationships with everyone, bar one notable exception.
Uhura still won’t tell him anything that Spock might say. For all their chatting and gossiping, a friendship that seemed impossible three years ago and is now as natural as breathing, she is careful to avoid even the mention of Spock around him. He appreciates her loyalty, even as it frustrates him.
T’pri, on the other hand, seems to be getting along fine with Spock, who, true to his word, does spend his time with her. Jim doesn’t know what they talk about, but T’pri returns from her time with Spock happy, which is all he needs to know.
Sometimes, when he sees them together, he wants to interrupt, wants to say, ‘I met your mother, once, and she told me about you. She said that her husband would make sure that I would get to keep T’pri because of her bond with you. She said she loved you, and I’m sorry I disrespected that.’
He wants to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry for it all, and thank you.’
He wants to say, ‘I met T’pri on Tarsus IV.’
He doesn’t say any of it. How can he, now, without it being manipulative, or self-serving? Jim looks at Spock, sitting with T’pri, talking in Vulcan, and he wants.
That’s terrifying for about a thousand different reasons, not the least of which being that Spock hates him. He takes this want and buries it somewhere deep inside of him and doesn’t breathe a word to anyone. Bones shoots him looks, sometimes, but never says anything either, so Jim is content to pretend that his best friend doesn’t know anything. T’pri is harder to pretend with, but even she mostly ignores it, busying herself with her own life.
When they land back on Earth, Kevin Reilly is waiting for them.
“Jim!” he shouts, waving a hand through the air, and Jim has to do a double take to see him in cadet reds. “Over here!”
“You enlisted?” Jim blurts, as he wraps Kevin into a hug, clapping him a few times on the back.
“Yeah! Thought it was about time to stop wasting my talents,” Kevin grins, then crouches down, holding up an exemplary ta’al. “Hey, T’pri! Holy shirt, you’re so tall now!”
“Hello, Kevin,” T’pri says, and her voice may not change cadence, but she sounds long-suffering to Jim anyway. “Are you still interested in engineering? I would introduce you to Mister Scott, our chief engineering officer—“
“Our?” Jim asks, raising an eyebrow.
Kevin laughs. “Don’t act so surprised. You might be the Captain, but I bet T’pri runs the ship.”
Jim has to relent to that point, and laughs as he watches T’pri lead Kevin over to Scotty.
“He another one of your kids?” Bones asks, stepping up next to him, also watching T’pri.
Jim waves his hand in a so-so gesture. “Kevin was only a year younger than me. He helped me look after the rest of them. More of a brother, I guess, but I do still think of him as mine. I don’t think that he ever... thought of any of them as his kids, not like I did.”
Bones nods, scratching at his chin. “T’pri seems to want to introduce him to half the crew,” he comments, as Scotty is joined by Uhura. They watch Kevin shake her hand. “Someone’s gonna ask how y’all know each other.”
Jim shrugs, unconcerned. “We always say we went to school together. It’s not untrue.”
Bones nods again. “Somehow I don’t think the hobgoblin is gonna take that as gospel.”
Jim is about to ask why Spock would know or care, but he cuts himself off when he see Spock approach the group. He steps close to Uhura, who turns her smile on him and gestures, clearly introducing Kevin to them. Spock looks between Kevin and T’pri, and then over towards Jim.
Even across the hangar, Jim can feel that gaze drilling into him. He raises a hand in a pseudo-wave, and then, half-dragging Bones along with him, joins the group.
“Looks like you’ve met most of the team now, Kev,” Jim says, throwing and arm good-naturedly around his shoulders. “And I missed all of the introductions.”
“T’pri had it covered,” Kevin laughs. “I was just telling your First Officer that we met in school. Let me tell you, he’ll deny it, but Jim was top of the class. He’s smarter than he looks.”
“Hey!” Jim protests, full of faux-offence. T’pri, who has positioned herself somewhat between Jim and Kevin, kicks Kevin lightly in the shin, as though defending Jim’s honour. Kevin takes it upon himself to react dramatically, moaning about ‘Vulcan strength’ while he bouncing around, clutching his shin. Even he can hardly hold back the laughter, showing everyone that not only is he faking, but he has enough familiarity with T’pri to know that she’d find this sort of illogical display amusing.
Which she does, of course; by Vulcan standards, the curl of her lip and the narrowing of her eyes is practically beaming, and Jim knows that if this goes on for much longer she’ll— yes, here it is, she breaks into a much more human response of giggling, making no attempt to hide her toothy smile.
Jim glances at the group, gauging their reactions. Scotty is laughing along with her, and Uhura’s eyes have widened at the sight of it, but she’s smiling too. Bones is used to this sort of display, in all the years he’s known the Kirks. Spock, however— Spock is watching her with almost unmasked surprise. His lips are parted every so slightly, his brows high for a moment before his eyes narrow, and he turns to look at Jim. Jim looks back at him, helpless, without an idea of what Spock is thinking, without an idea of how to communicate.
Kevin ceases his display once T’pri has broken, and T’pri recovers herself quickly. It’s not often that she laughs like that, and Jim is certain that most Vulcans (he feels confident that, despite being unable to read Spock’s expression, it wasn’t one of disapproval) would be ashamed at the display, but T’pri has never seemed to care. It’s her Kirk nature, he supposes, a damn-the-consequences attitude.
“So, Jimmy,” Kevin says, breaking Jim out of his thoughts again with the familiar nickname. “Where are we going for lunch?”
Jim names a few of the vegetarian restaurants nearby, and Kevin picks his favourite. They haven’t discussed the possibility of inviting Bones, as they haven’t had a moment alone today, so T’pri surprises Jim when she turns her gaze to the group and large and invites them all.
Kevin shares a pointed look with Jim. There is, after all, only so long they can keep up the ‘met at school’ charade, even if it is, technically speaking, true. Jim shrugs, unable to think of anything, and Kevin changes tactics and addresses T’pri, resting his hands on her shoulders. “I thought this was, uh… something of a reunion?”
T’pri blinks twice in rapid succession. “Oh,” she says, and it stays on her face, almost comically.
“What sort of reunion?” Uhura asks, still smiling.
T’pri, Kevin, and Jim all look at each other. Bones, the life-saver, clearly aware that none of them have prepared this far ahead, says, “These three? God, every time they see each other it’s ‘reunion this’, ‘gathering that’. Who even knows what they’re talking about anymore, it’s like they’ve got some secret code.”
Everyone seems to accept that explanation well enough. Scotty has already stopped listening and is fiddling with something on his comm, anyway, and Uhura wouldn’t press regardless. Only Spock seems unsatisfied, looking between Jim and Kevin with an intensity that Jim can’t place. Feeling suddenly awkward, Jim claps Kevin on the shoulder again and bids everyone else farewell. The trio make their way out of the hangar as quickly as possible.
“I must apologise,” T’pri says, once they’re alone. “I forgot myself in the excitement. Of course it would be a challenge to maintain your… ‘cover story’, so to speak, for an extended period of time in the company of others. I find that I have become accustomed to their presence in the past weeks, and would enjoy their company further.”
Jim’s heart basically melts to hear it. He’d known, of course, that T’pri enjoyed the Enterprise, and was getting on well with the crew, but to hear her say so, so plainly, has him thrilled all over again. “Don’t apologise, T’pri,” he tells her, resting his hand on her shoulder blade while they walk. “I’m glad to hear it.”
T’pri is six standard years old today, and Kevin and Thomas are both visiting, the only two who are old enough to get any passage by themselves. Kevin is nineteen, and Thomas fourteen, but together, pretending to be brothers, no one will stop them. Thomas’ aunt is even on board with the plan. She’s always been a woman sympathetic to their unique situation.
The other kids are too young, or too far, or some combination of the two, but they call in for birthday wishes. The youngest of them— aside from T’pri herself— has only just turned ten. Lynn has, thankfully, largely been able to leave the disaster behind them, but Jim asks their new parents for an update anyway, once Lynn has wandered off screen. The three of them are indulgent to his questions. One of them even says, “They were your child first, Jim. We recognise that.”
Kevin and Thomas tempt T’pri into some sort of game that involves running and shouting, even though she protests often that she’s too old for such things. Jim thinks that, on occasions like this, when they’re together, reminded of the reality of the universe, they can all use a little laughter.
Jim loves his kids. He never really stopped thinking of them as his, even when they were adopted or fostered into new families, even when they scattered across the universe, even when they all grew up. Jim knows that most twenty-five year olds don’t have eight children to try to keep track of, but he does, and he loves them all. He’s grateful to see Kevin, grateful that he expresses interest in serving on the Enterprise once he’s graduated, grateful that, when they turn a corner toward Kevin’s quarters— T’pri having insisted on walking him home— they find themselves greeted by—
“Jimmy!” It’s Lynn who says it, the only one who still calls him Jimmy un-ironically, who celebrated their fifteenth birthday only a few months ago. He laughs at the sight of them, nearly his height now, if one factored in the mess of forest green curls on top of their head.
T’pri’s eyes widen in tandem, and the surprise is evident in her tone when she says, “Lynn?” and then, looking around the room, “All of you?”
Because it is all of them; Jim stares around the dorm at all of his kids, all the ones they wouldn’t let him keep. Kevin must’ve arranged it, kept it secret. The nine of them— Jim, Kevin, Thomas, Plo’tek, Hardy, Selene, Garrick, Lynn, T’pri— get together so rarely, and Jim knows that going forward it will be even less. He’ll be on a starship, soon, and beyond that he’ll have press to deal with. Answering questions about T’pri is hard enough without throwing in the others, and there’s a reason beyond personal secrecy that they don’t talk about how they all know each other.
There are hugs all around— and a complicated, multi-layered handshake for Garrick, who says hugs feel like suffocating— and everyone makes a fuss over T’pri. Hardy calls her ‘little sister’ and Jim’s heart swells at the fact that, no matter the distance, no matter the years, these people are still family.
“He knows,” Thomas says, without elaboration, as he pulls Harry over to introduce himself properly. Jim doesn’t think he needs any, anyway. No one could expect Thomas to keep it a secret from his new family. Harry is a nice man, Jim thinks, on first impression, his solid black eyes seeming unfeeling at first but— Vulcans are thought to be emotionless, too, and Jim knows better than to judge.
Lynn’s three parents make a point of showing Jim pictures from the past two years, and Jim loves them for it. Unlike almost all the other family members and foster parents and adoptive parents, Lynn’s family have always acknowledged Jim’s place in their child’s life. He appreciates it endlessly. Lynn rolls their eyes and flicks their hood up, but Jim responds only by teasing them about their music taste.
Plo’tek has converted to some new religion— Jim stopped keeping track after the fourth baptism and third ritual— that means he’s wearing strange robes that cover his face, but Jim doesn’t need to be able to see it to know that he’s smiling. Selene and Hardy are living together, apparently, on Starbase a few systems away. Selene, for all her quiet beauty, has never been soft, and has a job working as an engineer. Jim’s impressed; they don’t normally take eighteen-year-olds for a job like that. Hardy describes himself, pleasantly, as a ‘kept man’. Selene punches him.
And it’s then, surrounded by all of this love love love, all of it reverberating through his bond with T’pri, reflecting and refracting and all the other things that light does, that he thinks to ask. “Not that I don’t love seeing you all,” he says to the room at large, “but what are you doing here?”
Garrick is the one who answers, all four of his eyes wide and earnest. “We have to give you a proper send off.”
So they do; there’s food and music and catching up on the various twists that life has taken them on. They’ve all found their own ways of coping, of progressing, but tonight is not a night for that sort of heavy discussion. This is for teasing Thomas and Harry until their both blushing and laughing, for listening to Plo’tek rambling about holodramas, for sharing embarrassing stories from their various visits with each other. Jim can’t think when the next time he’ll be able to sneak away is, can’t imagine being able to get them all together again any time soon, not without admitting who they are—
So he’s grateful for the time they do have together, and decides that instead of worrying about their future, he’ll just cherish these moments.
When the night finally winds down, T’pri emotional shields have been stretched to capacity, and although their bond is full of light, Jim knows she needs to get home for meditation and for sleep. They say their goodbyes, take each others well wishes, and T’pri crawls up onto Jim’s back so he can carry her home.
The stars are brighter than normal, he thinks, spilling out over the sky like blood. T’pri is almost in a her meditative state even draped across his shoulders, but even her gaze is pulled upwards. Bones once said that they may not share biological matter, but all anyone had to do to know that they were related was look at the way they looked at the stars. Jim hadn’t understood it, not really, until T’pri chose the Enterprise over her species, until now.
“Do you remember how it felt, when Starfleet came for us?” she whispers, and Jim nearly stumbles at the weight of the question. “It was midday. In the holos, rescues are always at dawn or midnight, but it was nearly noon. I remember— it had rained that morning, and the others had laid with their mouths open, too exhausted to chase the raindrops but thirsty nonetheless. The sun was shining by the time they arrived, though.” Jim does remember. How could he possibly forget? The rain had been welcome, but he hadn’t trusted it at first, worried about bacteria or acid or other disasters. He’d been exhausted, too, the dull ache of starvation making his limbs heavy, but he’d tried to find some way of collecting the water. T’pri had been the grass near him, sitting up on her own but not yet moving independently.
They do talk about it, sometimes. And after seeing the others, how could they not?
T’pri continues, “I remember them. Medical blue— some gold, but mostly doctors and nurses. I did not know what the colours meant. I was not speaking, to ask you, but you went to them, took me to them, and I knew they were good. I trusted you to only take me places that were good. One of the gold ones spoke to you first.”
“I told them to piss off,” Jim says, and his face twists into a grim smile. “I remember. I was more worried about you— all of you— than I was about myself, and I didn’t care that the distress signal had worked, or which ship they came from.”
T’pri nods, a slow, steady movement. “The doctors came. There were almost two for each of us.”
“I didn’t want to be seen until I was sure that you all had doctors.”
“They made you let go of me, but you didn’t want to.”
“I had to know you were safe. They… they saved us, you know. I don’t think we would’ve lasted much longer.” Jim recalls the way his ribs stuck out, how his hands were mostly bone. Anything he’d managed to find, he’d given to the kids, but he didn’t have much more left in him.
“They did,” T’pri agrees, and there’s something like wonder in her voice. “When we get out there, will we be that for someone?”
Jim does stumble, this time, at the weight of the question. T’pri doesn’t comment, but he has to swallow thickly before he answers. “I hope we don’t have to be,” he promises, “but if it comes to it, of course we will.”
His mother is leaving again. He can’t blame her; she’s spent the last year dirtside for him and T’pri, helping him recover, helping her adjust. He’s eating almost a normal amount of food again. T’pri has even started to talk. They’re doing… well, or as well as can be expected, and Winona was made for the stars. Sometimes, Jim thinks that he is, too, but then some dark anxiety curls in his chest and he can’t—
T’pri tips her head back and watches the stars and gets a faraway look in her eye, like she wants something she can’t quite name.
Spock approaches him in his Starfleet-issued temporary office three days after they’ve arrived on Earth. He is, notably, alone— every time Jim has seen him since their last non-work conversation, he’s been in the company of Uhura, or other science officers, or, once, in a twist that made Jim’s stomach drop, with Bones. Spock’s expression is neutral, almost pleasant, and Jim lets himself hope.
Until Spock speaks, of course, and Jim realises that he’s making a conscious effort to appear neutral. He says, “How do you know Cadet Reilly?”
“Spock…” Jim says, and he’s aiming for exasperated, maybe teasing, but it comes out like a cold warning. Even now, even after all these years, he finds himself lashing out at everyone who gets even a fraction too close. It doesn’t matter that he’s considered telling Spock— he doesn’t trust him yet, he can’t, not with this. Not when they can barely have a civil conversation.
Spock’s head tips a fraction to the side at Jim’s tone. “You say that you met at school. I find this story to be… lacking.”
“I told you. I spent a few years on a colony planet. We went to school together there.”
“His familiarity with T’pri—”
“Spock.” This time Jim doesn’t bother trying to conceal the warning. “Leave it. I mean it. T’pri’s relationship with Kevin is entirely her business.”
Spock nods, but Jim has always been good at reading Vulcan moods, and the line of Spock’s shoulders just screams annoyance. It only lasts a moment, but it’s long enough for Jim scream internally. One day he’ll have to tell Spock the truth, all of it, but how is he supposed to do that if they can’t even speak? He knows he was wrong, to drag Spock’s mother into it, to listen to the words of some alternate-universe Spock, but the meld… they’d seemed so happy, there, and Jim wants nothing more than to be happy. He’s not really sure how to get there from here.
Jim sighs through his nose and throws his hands in the air. “I can’t do this. I can’t operate like this. You’re my first officer. I really, really wanted you to be my first officer, and now that you are we can barely speak to each other. It’s not effective, it’s not logical. If we’re going to be a command team, we need to trust each other.”
“Then why was I not informed about your daughter?” Spock shoots out.
Jim growls, tugging on his hair. “Because! I knew that I’d pissed you off and I knew that I deserved it! Saying what I did about your mother— implying that you didn’t— I wanted you, Spock—” shirt, no, too honest, go back— “on my ship, as my first officer, I thought we worked together well, but I knew you were angry with me, and I knew you had the weight of… of a dying culture to bear, and I didn’t want you to feel… like I was trying to force you, or manipulate you, or anything!”
Spock is staring at him. Jim feels like he’s under a microscope, and when it takes Spock too long to reply, he continues, because there’s nothing else to do. “T’pri and I— we had to make a decision, too. I don’t want her to be cut off from her culture. It’s important to me that she has Vulcan influences. We talked about it… almost non-stop, about what to do. She didn’t want us to go to New Vulcan. We wanted to go to the stars. The best deal was for you to come with us, on this ship. It was our ideal situation. It felt… selfish to make a big thing of it.”
“It was selfish to deny me an informed choice,” Spock says, and Jim thinks he might sound miffed. He hopes to have many, many more conversations, more opportunities to learn how Spock expresses himself.
“It felt like the less selfish of the two options.”
“Perhaps,” Spock says, “it was something of a… no-win scenario?”
It’s the way his voice goes up at the end, turning the statement into a question, that tells Jim he’s forgiven. He laughs from the relief of it, grinning over at his first officer. “Nah, definitely not a no-win scenario. Just a rock and a hard place. Besides, I got you in the end, so I didn’t lose.”
It’s another too-honest remark, but Jim doesn’t think that Spock picks up on it. Instead of commenting on it, anyway, Spock just says, “I believe it would be beneficial if we were to attempt to cultivate a… friendship.”
Jim full-on beams at that, so wide his cheeks hurt. “Why, Mister Spock, I think that’s a fantastic idea.”
Things get better after that. They talk more— work things, first, and slowly they introduce more personal matters. T’pri invites Spock to join them for lunch, and he actually accepts. The three of them go to some Thai-Jobari fusion place just outside of the Starfleet campus. Jobari is one of the few alien cuisines that Jim has no allergies to and as a bonus it’s mostly vegetarian. They speak in Vulcan, to prevent any eavesdropping, and when Spock seems surprised at Jim’s fluency, he only rolls his eyes in a teasing manner.
“You think I wouldn’t learn?”
“I anticipated you would have made an attempt,” Spock says. “As it is not an easy language to master, I am merely surprised at your proficiency.”
“He is a genius, Mister Spock,” T’pri says, always coming to Jim’s defence. “You must know this, from his records.”
Spock relents the point.
After three weeks of being grounded, Jim would go so far as to call him and Spock friends and he remembers Uhura’s words, that Spock considered him the same. It’s also after three weeks that they get their mission.
“Two years,” he tells Bones, excitedly. “Exploratory mission, which is what I figured they’d give us, so we’ll be doing the whole, y’know, strange new worlds and civilisations thing! It’s gonna be amazing!”
“Sure,” Bones says. Jim is pretty sure that he’s scowling, but when he turns to look, Bones is actually relaxed. His eyes are closed and his head is resting against the back of the sofa. “Sounds great.”
Jim flops down next to him and pokes him in the side right where he knows he’s ticklish. “You’re in a good mood.”
“Joanna asked Jocelyn if she could come with us,” Bones says. “Jocelyn contacted me about the possibility.”
Jim goes slack jawed in surprise. “Bones! That’s amazing! Is Jo gonna come with us? When does she get here?”
“Slow down,” Bones chuckles, but he sits up straighter and beams regardless. “It won’t be right now. It makes more sense for her to finish out middle school and do high school in space. Our first mission being two years…it’s perfect. She’ll finish middle school right as we get back and then… then she can come with us.”
Jim flails excitedly. “Bones!”
“I know!” Bones laughs freely, tipping his head back and raking his hand disbelievingly through his hair. “Best damn phone call of my life. Joanna asked for it. Jocelyn agreed to it! I think you and T’pri set a new precedent, makes it less scary. Officers getting to keep their family with them if they want? It’s a big deal. You’re making waves.”
“Positive ones, even,” Jim quips, then he shakes Bones’ arm. “We should go celebrate! Our new mission being perfect for us!”
“Lets get the rest of the crew then, too.”
Between the two of them, they manage to contact everyone they care about seeing, sharing the news of the mission and inviting them out for a drink. Jim arranges for T’pri to stay with Pike and Number One, who are indulgent and excited on their behalf.
They meet Scotty and Sulu outside a flashy nightclub, the sort of place Jim usually has to bribe Bones into going to. But tonight everyone’s buzzing even before their first round, high off of adrenaline and reality, and Bones just as much if not more so. Scotty whoops and shakes Jim by the shoulders. Sulu holds the door open and greets them each by their titles at they walk through, wearing a face-splitting smile.
The steady thrum-thrum-thrum of the music makes it almost impossible to hold any conversation. It doesn’t matter. Inside they find Chekov and Uhura and Rand, then Christine and M’Benga, then a collection of Ensigns whose names Jim should really know but doesn’t yet, and there’s no need for conversation; they all feed off of each other’s smiles and movements, communicating excitement-relief-joy with looks and laughs and friendly touches.
Jim buys everyone their favourite drink at some point throughout the night. He only has two drinks himself, hardly seeing the need for alcohol when he’s so pleasantly keyed up without it. He dances with Rand, his hands on her waist and indication of nothing other than pure joy, her hands on his shoulders meaning exactly the same. They laugh through each movement and part naturally after a song or two. Jim finds Sulu and drags him into a dance, then Bones, then Christine. He even snags Uhura for a few songs; she shoots him a playfully wary look when he first approaches but ends up happily spinning around with him.
Starfleet is of the opinion that, if they are trusting a person with a blaster, they should probably also be trusted as adult enough to drink, and Chekov makes it through more rounds than any of them with little visible affectations. He even reminds aware enough of himself to only dance with people not assigned to the Enterprise, although not so aware that Jim doesn’t catch him with his hand creeping up underneath some lucky girls shirt.
He turns abruptly, deciding that from now on he’ll operate under a don’t-ask-don’t-tell and a I-didn’t-see-that policy when it comes to Chekov, and crashes in to Spock.
“Spock!” he shouts, surprised. The Vulcan quirks his lip just a little and points towards Uhura, who is currently sitting at the bar with her hair plastered to her face. Jim nods twice and gives a thumbs up to confirm her understands. Spock blinks twice and then surprises Jim again but gesturing to the dance floor.
Jim’s eyebrows shoot up. It’s the last thing he would’ve expected Spock to suggest, but he’s not quite tired of dancing and Spock is offering. So he nods eagerly and lets Spock lead the way. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Spock in civilian clothes, but he’s certainly going to appreciate it now that he has: the dark trousers and the loose khaki green top are quite decidedly a very good look.
Spock’s dancing might leave something to be desired but on a night like tonight, where they’re all too happy to think let alone judge, it doesn’t matter. His attempt at joining them is enough to prompt the rest of the crew back to the dance floor, practically forcing everyone non-Enterprise away, and the whoop and holler the rest of the night away. Jim never does get his own dance with Spock, but he tells himself, when he sees Uhura touch Spock’s shoulder, that it’s probably for the best anyway.
After they take his kids away, Jim wants very little. He keeps T’pri’s cot close so that he can’t miss her enough to want her. His mother stays dirtside for long enough that he’s almost certain he wants her leave. He sometimes wants food, sometimes water, sometimes the mere idea of either of them makes him sick.
He wants stability or he wants the wind in his hair, a cliff at the end of the world, his father’s old car and he wants to stay in it until it crashes. He wants to have died on Tarsus IV or he wants to live forever, stretching out into the cosmos, seeing stars and breathing them in to his lungs like oxygen.
He has T’pri and he has himself and that’s enough. He never wants another person.
The first few days of their mission are spent at light-speed, racing against some imagined clock to the outer reaches of space. Jim is antsy the whole way, wandering around the ship, picking ‘training fights’ with the security staff, bothering Bones in medical. He likes sitting in the Captain’s chair and watching the view screen as the stars seem to stretch but it doesn’t take long before the sight gives him a headache.
He feels like a frayed live wire, like anyone who touches him might get burned.
Spock follows him around whenever he’s not busy with his own work. They talk more freely than they used to. Spock seems pleased at the opportunity to speak Vulcan more frequently, telling Jim, that “Even Nyota struggled with the language. It seems that your bond with T’pri has granted you a distinct advantage.”
“Or maybe I just have a talented tongue,” Jim shoots back before he realises what he’s saying and proceeds to avoid Spock for the rest of the day. He did not just use the same line on Spock as he’d used on Uhura all those years ago. He did not. If he ignores it, it will go away.
It’s during this afternoon away from Spock that Jim realises what the real problem is: he’s not just high-strung from a lack of things to do, he’s all worked up because he knows exactly what he wants to be doing. Which is a very dangerous train of thought that Jim works very, very hard to ignore. It doesn’t really go that well for him.
Spock either doesn’t realise he’s being avoided or is trying to make amends for some imagined slight, because he knocks on Jim’s door later that night and holds out a PADD in offering. “It occurred to me earlier today that we never did play another round of chess. Would you be amenable to a game?”
Despite knowing that this is probably a very bad idea, Jim can’t resist. He gives Spock a genuine (and probably far too smitten) smile and says, “For you, Mister Spock, I’d play two.”
part three: trust
Vulcans develop physically faster than humans and T’pri is no exception. But the physicians tell Jim that she’s stunted, that she’ll never be as physically strong or healthy as the average Vulcan. “It is,” they tell him, “an after effect of starvation in her early years.”
Jim wants to scream that he did the best that he could for her, that he scrounged and stole for her, but he has a feeling it would fall on deaf ears. None of these Vulcan’s seem particularly thrilled that he has her in the first place.
“T’pri is eleven tomorrow,” Jim tells the bridge crew during a quiet moment. “I was thinking we could do a little something small for her, after alpha shift?”
The crew is immediately on board. T’pri has, somehow, in what Bones describes as a ‘Kirk-like’ fashion, wormed her way into the hearts of every single crew member. Many of them assist with her lessons and admire her dedication. Other’s have caught sight of her as she explores the ship and remark that she’s got an adventurous spirit. Yet others have simply seen her in the mess with Jim, making her preferences wildly known and talking in fast-paced Vulcan. Everyone knows her and the bridge crew is perfectly happy to do something for her birthday.
Spock looks up from his console, brows pinched in a way that Jim has learned constitutes a frown. “T’pri is eleven? I was under the impression she was younger.”
Jim’s heart drops into his stomach as he forces a hopefully neutral-looking smile. “Yeah, she’s aways been small for her age. Perfectly healthy though, don’t worry. Bones wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Damn right,” says Bones, who’s on the bridge for as-yet undisclosed reason that probably involves giving Jim a lecture. “I do not doubt the Doctor’s proficiency,” Spock allows. “I am only surprised.”
It’s moments like these that make Jim want to tell Spock everything. It’s not even a lack of trust that holds him back anymore; in the seven months they’ve been in space together, they’ve settled in as a frankly incredible command team and their friendship has only flourished alongside it. But there’s a dark part of Jim’s brain that never quite stopped starving. A small corner that says, again and again, that wanting is a weakness.
Jim stands abruptly. He looks at Bones when he says, “I need a snack.”
Bones nods. If the rest of the crew thinks there’s anything odd about this interaction, no one says anything. They step into the lift together and as soon as the door closes Jim sags against the wall. It’s not an uncommon occurrence—a piece of Jim’s mind suddenly telling him that he’s hungry, he’s starving, that his kids are dying.
He knows that he’ll end up not eating until he’s seen everyone under his care have something to eat. He’s Captain of a starship now; the list doesn’t start with T’pri and end with Bones anymore. To cope, he tells Bones as subtly as he can what’s going on, and the doctor is good enough to accompany him to the mess hall. He’ll make sure Jim eats something, sees other people eating, remind him that it’s easily accessible and no one is at risk, and the voice in his head will shut up for a least a little while.
“I didn’t realise it was noticeable,” Jim says. He doesn’t need to elaborate.
“Spock’s Vulcan,” is the obvious answer. “He knows more about T’pri’s biology than even I do.”
“What does he think, though? That I’m not looking after her? That I’m not treating her right?”
Bones stops the lift and turns on Jim with a burning in his eyes. “No one thinks that. Anyone with working eyes in the skull can see that you and T’pri are perfect, you hear? Perfect. Spock said himself that your bond reminds him of his mother—that’s high praise from the hobgoblin. You have done nothing by right by that girl.”
Jim lets out a long, shaky breath. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Bones agrees, and starts the lift again. “If he ever even implies otherwise, I’ll gut him.”
This breaks the tension a little bit more and Jim laughs. “He’s got superior Vulcan strength, Bones. He might beat you in that fight.”
“Not if he’s sedated on my operating table. Just you wait and see.”
Jim laughs again. They go to the mess. They share an apple. They take the long way back to the bridge so they can walk past the room T’pri is studying in. It’s not routine, it doesn’t happen enough to be routine—thank god—but it’s comfortable and comforting all at once. Bones drops him off and then heads immediately back down to medical, thankfully skipping whatever lecture had brought him to the bridge in the first place.
Chekov announces, “Captain on the bridge.”
Spock isn’t the only one who looks up, but his gaze lingers the longest, dark eyes searching Jim’s face for something that he doesn’t seem to find. Jim shrugs minutely, lips parted, knowing exactly what he needs to say and not having a clue how to say it. There’s only been one person he trusted enough to tell before. There’s never been someone he’s wanted to.
T’pri is the one who says they should tell Bones. Her logic is sound: they need an attending physician and it should be someone they like and trust. Their records would be declassified to whomever they choose; why not make the simplest choice, and pick Bones?
The decision is easy enough, once the option has been presented. That doesn’t mean Jim has the courage to say it all the Bones’ face, to watch the inevitable reaction, to hear the doctor go ‘Oh, Jim’ the way he does when he see Jim in a rough a state. So instead he loads a PADD full of all the documents and hands it to Bones. His tone is mostly jokey when he says, “Will you be our doctor?”
Bones huffs, “Of course, Jim—”
Jim shakes his head. “Don’t decide until you read that.”
And then he leaves and tries to distract himself and T’pri for the full twenty-seven hours it takes for Bones to find them again. He sits down, presses his shoulder against Jim’s and wraps his arm around T’pri and says, “Of course.”
T’pri loves her lessons, but she especially loves when she finishes them a little bit early and can come sit with Jim on the bridge. Because today is her birthday, he’s let her stay with him for most of his shift, deciding that letting her skip lessons for some practical experience isn’t a terrible idea. Besides, she’d asked and Jim is helpless against his daughter’s wide eyes.
As the shift winds down, he can tell that T’pri is surprised when he guides her towards rec room ten. It’s one of the few places they’ve marked as off-limits to T’pri, deciding together that the crew needed some places where they didn’t have to worry about a child. It also makes it the perfect place for setting up a surprise party.
T’pri is delighted at the sight of vanilla cake and Jobari food and Vulcan teas. She grins widely, freely, full of Kirk spirit. It doesn’t take her long to load up a plateful of food and chose a favourite strategy game to play. Chekov and Sulu join her in moments, taking controllers and teasing her about how they’re definitely going to win. A few others gather around to watch and make a fuss over T’pri, who preens, just a little, under the attention.
The evening sprawls. Jim alternates between chatting with Uhura and Bones, eating cake, and playing games with T’pri. Other crew members come and go, some popping and some staying for hours, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and the food. Spock makes his appearance at the end of his double shift and immediately greets T’pri in Vulcan. The two speak together in low tones that Jim can’t quite pick up on, but he’s not worried. T’pri loves Spock, idolises him, and Spock is very clearly fond of her right back.
As the evening winds down and most officers bid them a goodnight and one last happy birthday for T’pri, it ends up just the five of them: Uhura, Bones, Jim, T’pri, and Spock.
“Good birthday?” Jim asks as he sinks into a seat next to her.
She nods fervently. “Fantastic, thank you. May we play one more game?”
“Oh, all right. What do you have in mind?”
“Chess!” she says, holding up her PADD and smiling. For a heartbeat, he’s reminded of Savik, her father, teaching him to play. He’s shown T’pri bits and pieces, but she’s never latched on to the game. He can’t help the slow, easy grin that spreads over his face at her enthusiasm.
“Okay,” he agrees, “do you remember the rules?”
Of course she does. Vulcan’s memory is eidetic. She shoots him an unimpressed look, flat bar a quirk in her left eyebrow.
“You geniuses’ll be at this all night,” Bones sighs. “I’m turning in. Uhura, Spock?”
Uhura stands as well, stretching her arms high above her head. “I’ll turn in as well. Goodnight, Jim. Happy birthday, T’pri. I’ll see you later, Spock.”
Spock’s staying is, apparently, a given. He nods a goodbye to Bones and Uhura in turn and then focuses his attention back on the game. T’pri is white, Jim black, and Spock content to watch. Jim remembers T’pan watching his games with Savik. He remembers the heat of the sun that summer, the condensation on his water glass, playing with real pieces because the glare on a screen would be too much. It’s easy to forget the good days with all the bad ones that game after, but he’s reminded of them now, watching T’pri’s eyebrows knit together in concentration, seeing Spock’s sharp gaze on the game board.
T’pri would never forgive him if he let her win, so he doesn’t. Despite her Vulcan logic, she’s new to the game and is easy enough to beat. He does drag the game out a little longer than he would with anyone else, and judging by the quirk of Spock’s brow, he’s caught doing so. Even so, it’s late by the time the game is done.
They walk back to their quarters together, waving their hellos to the few staff working this graveyard shift—as much as space can have a graveyard shift—and occasionally pausing to answer a quick question. T’pri doesn’t allow herself to be carried, not here where so many could see her, but she leans against Jim as they walk, eyes closed, relying more on his momentum then her own.
When they arrive at their quarters, Jim types in his code with one hand and gestures with his head to indicate that Spock can come in, if he wants. It’s just as easy for the Commander to stay for a few minutes and go to his own quarters through the jack-and-jill bathroom, and this way Jim doesn’t have to say goodnight straight away.
It’s a selfish offer.
Spock nods in return and follows them inside.
The communicator, the big one on the wall, is ringing once they get in. The picture on the screen is one of Thomas and Harry, squished together and beaming, from that night back on earth. T’pri, upon seeing it, is suddenly much more awake.
Not awake enough to notice that Spock has followed them in, mind, but awake enough to race across the room to answer the call. Thomas’s smiling face fills the viewscreen in three seconds, slightly grainy from the distance of the call. “Hey, T’pri! I dunno what timezone you’re operating in up there, so sorry if I’m interrupting something—”
“Thomas,” T’pri cuts him off. “I was beginning to worry you were not going to call.”
“And let my kid sister’s birthday pass without comment? Who do you take me for?” Jim coughs to draw Thomas’ attention, pointing to Spock as subtly as he can. Thomas nods a few times without letting his smile drop. “Happy Birthday, T’pri. From all of us.”
“It’s late,” Jim says, but he’s smiling faintly too. “You can’t stay on this call long, T’pri, okay?”
“I won’t keep her,” Thomas promises, and he holds to it. After only a minute of pleasantries and well-wishes, the viewscreen clicks off and T’pri heaves a contented sigh.
“Bedtime,” Jim says, shooing her into her adjacent quarters. Then he turns slowly to face Spock.
Spock hadn’t spoken for the entirety of the call and looks as if he’s debating not speaking now. But Jim can see the curiosity in the oh-so-subtle tilt of his head, the tightness in his jaw. Jim waits, his heart hammering.
“‘Kid sister’?” Spock asks finally.
“An affectionate nickname,” is Jim’s prepared reply.
“Is T’pri’s relationship with Thomas similar to her relationship with Kevin?”
Jim lets out a long, slow breath. “You could say that.”
“Then I will not press. Captain,” Spock pauses, and then: “Jim. I wish you to know that I… hold you and T’pri in the highest regard.”
“Aw, Spock,” Jim says, rubbing the back of his neck. “We feel the same about you. Really.”
The Vulcan nods once. Then he takes a step closer and brings his hand to Jim’s forearm for a two second period. Jim thinks he stops breathing, looking at Spock’s dark eyes from this close proximity. It’s not the closest they’ve ever stood together, but it certainly feels the most intimate. Jim needs it to end. He never wants it to stop. Spock’s eyebrows knit together ever so slightly. His lip twists up into a reserved but genuine smile. He says, “Goodnight, Jim.”
“‘Night, Spock,” Jim breathes, and suddenly the Vulcan is gone through the door of their shared bathroom. Jim stands in the middle of his quarters for a long minute, trying to soothe his heartbeat.
“You should tell him,” T’pri says suddenly from behind him and he jumps at the sounds. T’pri looks unimpressed, and then scared. “We should. He wants to know where I came from. With so few of us left…”
She doesn’t need to finish the sentence. He knows. Spock is brilliant and curious and deserving. With so few Vulcans left and T’pri being his current connection to home, Spock should get clarity and answers, free of secrets and hiding. And they trust him. And Jim wants to. He really, really wants to.
The other, older Spock—he’d melded with Jim abruptly and overwhelmingly, filling his head with echoes of memory from an entirely different universe and left him reeling. Despite the shock of it, Jim finds himself craving more of that kind of connection. But with his Spock. With the right Spock. And, disregarding the fact that his Spock is highly unlikely to want to meld with him anyway, how could they, if Jim is hiding so many interconnected secrets?
And T’pri—he wants T’pri to be able to connect with Spock too, however she decides to, and that is hard for her as they are. Vulcans don’t lie, or, more accurately, they can’t lie inside their heads, where bonding happens and melds take place.
He crouches down in front of his daughter and smiles shakily. “Okay,” he says. “I will.”
And he intends to, he really does, just as soon as he can get his thoughts together well enough to word things without flashing back or breaking down. T’pri can sense this, and doesn’t push as the days tick by with no progress, or even as days turn to weeks and they receive new orders and head off across the universe.
“An old friend of mine,” Christine admits, when Jim is talking to Bones in medical. “Roger Korby, I mean. We knew each other in college, before Starfleet.”
“Really,” Jim says, surprised at how open she’s being about it. “Any idea what dragged him all the way out here?”
“Oh, you know scientists. They’re all the same. He was probably chasing some theory or another.” Christine shrugs, trying to look unconcerned. “I have a good feeling that he’s alive down there.”
“They think his last message was sent five months ago,” Jim says gently.
“And I thought you didn’t believe in no-win scenarios?”
Jim throws his hands up instantly, grinning in a self-deprecating way. “You’re absolutely right. We’ll find him.”
The prognosis, however, looks bleak. On the bridge, a crewman informs him that the surface temperature of the planet is one hundred degrees below zero. Uhura tells him that there’s no return on any frequency she tries. He tells her to try again. Jim likes Christine. He’d like to see her friend safely returned.
“He is considered one of the leading researchers in archeological medicine,” Spock says conversationally, coming to stand next to Jim. “It is possible that he found some information on the planet that allowed him to survive.”
“Possible?” Jim repeats. “How possible.”
Spock opens his mouth to reply but is cut off but Uhura’s excited whoop. “Patching something through to you, Captain.”
“Enterprise? Come in, Enterprise. This is Roger Korby. Repeating, this is Doctor Roger Korby. Do you read me, Enterprise? Roger Korby standing by.”
Spock’s mouth clicks shut, his eyes a little wider than normal as he looks at Jim. Jim beams. “Doctor Korby,” he greets, sure that his smile is audible through the comm. “This is Captain James T Kirk of the Enterprise. We’re sure glad to hear that you’re alive. Uhura, patch this through to Christine in medical, too, she’ll be glad to hear it.”
“Christine?” Korby’s voice asks. “Christine Chapel, my college friend? Bring her down with you, would you, Captain? You and her?”
“Of course, she’ll be in the team.”
“You misunderstand me, Captain. Just you and her, if you would. There’s been…I’ve made quite the discovery here, and I think it would be best if few people saw it first of all.”
As he passes out the scraps of food he’d managed to snag while sneaking around the camp today, Jim tries to convince himself he doesn’t need to eat.
This whole situation feels like déjà vu. Lots of things in their travels have, but this one more acutely than any other. He’d read a theory, a while ago, after the Nero Incident, which posited that déjà vu might caused by echoes through the multiverse, little ripples that remain almost identical despite the incredible variances between each universe. Jim, who has first hand knowledge of the similarities and differences, is actually rather inclined to believe it.
Both he and Christine are tied bound, each held in a different android’s tight grasp. The technology, Jim has to admit, is phenomenal. He hadn’t even guessed that they were anything other than human, perhaps other members of a team that Korby had come here with. But, no, according to Korby’s incessant monologuing—seriously, always with the monologuing—they are machines, computers programmed however he wants them to be. Despite the warmth of them, the softness of them, they are designed to the whims of Doctor Korby.
“We can replicate anyone, Captain Kirk,” Korby says, jerking his head so the android places him in the device. It’s like two matching beds, but far less comfortable and also concerningly wet. “See? As soon as you lay down it starts.” Jim turns his head, just barely catching sight of something strange and fleshy on the other not-bed. The android twists his head back upright.
“Tell me, Christine, which one is your Captain? If you hadn’t seen him placed there, would you be able to tell?”
“No,” Christine whispers. “Roger, what is this? It’s unlike you!”
“I always liked you, Christine,” Korby sighs. “But we haven’t spoken for years. Don’t presume to know me. Watch—There’s synthetic organs in place. We just synchronise them with the Captain’s nervous system, duplicating the rhythms of his body. Then, once the physical pattern’s complete, we now make a mental pattern…a perfect imitation. So perfect it could replace him. The same memories, the same attitudes, the same abilities…”
Mimicking his memories, huh? Seriously, all this monologuing is just stupid at this point. Since he can’t rely on his bond with T’pri—if this android beams aboard, she won’t be the first to see him—Jim just needs to fabricate some memories, something that will change the android’s behaviour just enough that someone will catch on. Something he’d never do or say…
It comes to him immediately.
Now, just to focus…just…focus…
When he comes to, there’s another version of himself staring back at him. It’s not a mirror image or a copy, but—like Korby said—a perfect imitation. Jim can hardly recognise it as himself but at the same time he knows it is.
They’re sitting at some sort of dining room table. Christine looks miserable next to him, looking between him and the android like she can’t tell the difference. Well, of course she can’t.
“Please,” Korby says, gesturing the food in the centre of the table, “eat!”
Christine pushes the food towards the android, shaking her head. “I can’t. It’s all yours.”
The android even captures his ironic, amused look perfectly. Jim stomach drops. Will anyone notice a difference? Will the Enterprise shoot off without him, and, by the time the ruse is exposed, will it be too late for him?
“Androids don’t eat,” it says.
“Well,” Jim leans forward and plucks a fruit from the plate. “There’s a difference between us. I can always eat.”
“The weakness is yours, Captain, not mine.”
The starving part of Jim’s mind screams. The rest of him forces a shrug. “Yet it’s a joy that you’ll never know.”
“I’ll also never starve.”
There’s a stretching silence. Jim chews slowly on the fruit. “You said it’s a perfect copy?”
“Every detail.” Korby says smugly.
“Every detail…” Jim hums. “And memory, too? Tell me something only I would know. Not the secret, though.”
The android’s grin is wicked sharp. Jim wonders if this is what he looks like at his worst. “Sometimes,” it says, “you forget how replicators work.”
Jim freezes. It’s too close to the secret for comfort, but just far enough removed to be safe. He nods slowly. Korby laughs and it sounds almost maniacal to Jim’s ears. “You can’t beat it,” Korby says, still laughing. “It’s exactly like you.”
“Yes,” Jim agrees, wishing he could think of some way to test if his plan worked without tipping him off. “It’s very impressive.”
Korby sends the android to contact the ship and request a beam up. Then he rounds on Jim again, with an annoying, trying-to-hard-to-be-charming smile on his face. “Do you see, now? No hunger, no jealousy or anger, no distraction. It’s practically a utopia! Don’t you think life would be better without all that negativity?”
Jim doesn’t know who he’d be if he wasn’t starving.
“No love,” is what he argues with instead. “No passion. No real human connection. What’s your plan, here? To replace everyone with an android? What would you gain from—oh my god. You’re an android, aren’t you?”
Unsurprisingly, the world goes dark again.
When he wakes again, Spock is hovering over him. His expression is shockingly human, free of restraint and instead openly concerned, his brow pinched, eyes wide, mouth open. “Captain!” he says as Jim stirs, worrying giving way to relief, to joy, as he smiles more widely and brilliantly than Jim had ever imagined he would.
It disappears so quickly that Jim is sure he did imagine Spock’s uncharacteristic lack of restraint. But the Vulcan is still smiling, just much more subtly, as he helps Jim to his feet.
“The copy was discovered almost immediately,” Spock informs him. “I enquired after it’s health and was met with…a most unlikely turn of phrase. Half-breed? Nurse Chapel informs me that the android was designed to be a perfect copy down to every memory. You tricked it.”
“You caught on.”
“It was hardly subtle, Captain.”
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but Jim thinks Spock sounds rather fond. “Me and subtly aren’t exactly the best of friends, you know.”
It’s only when Bones laughs that Jim becomes aware enough of his surroundings to process that he’s in medbay. “Understatement of the century,” Bones grouses. “Blunt force trauma, again. You’re gonna be the death of me, kid.”
“Love you too, Bones.”
The doctor shakes his head and mutters something that sounds suspiciously like a threat. “You’re fine to leave. But you’re not cleared for duty until tomorrow, you hear? Spock, hold him to it.” “Of course, doctor.”
Jim lets Spock hover over him the whole way back to his quarters. It’s sort of nice to have the attention. Spock is unobtrusive about it: just a pair of keen eyes and, occasionally, walking slightly too close. Jim is aware of his body heat and his breath. When they get to his doorway, Jim stops. “Come in for a minute?”
They sit side by side. Jim brings on leg up under the other and spreads his arm along the back of the sofa. “Have you ever been starving, Spock?”
“By the colloquial definition?”
“No, by the literal one.”
“I cannot say that I have, Captain.” Spock frowns. “Why do you ask?”
“The android brought it up as ‘my weakness’ and… unfortunately, it was correct.” He takes a deep breath. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. Something I told you I’d tell you month ago. About me. About T’pri.”
Spock inclines his head toward Jim. Curious, always so forking curious. “Yes?”
“I met T’pri on Tarsus IV.”
Jim lives with his aunt.
Well, his step-dad’s step-sister, who he calls Aunty Beckett because it’s easier than explaining. She’s a nice woman, delighted to have him in the house, delighted to have someone to look after. Jim, fourteen and rebellious enough he drove a car off of a cliff, initially pushes back against this. But Aunty Beckett is persistent. She just wants someone to love, and Jim, who has had very little regular contact with love, decides that he actually likes it.
He goes to school. He makes friends. Kevin, in the same grade as him, Thomas, a couple below. There aren’t enough children on the colony to prevent this kind of inter-class mingling, anyway. There’s barely thirty of them in the school, barely forty-five on the colony.
Jim is too smart for the school. He’s always been too smart for schools, but this one is especially ill-equipped to handle it. Savik notices. Teaches him chess. T’pan watches. Teaches him cooking. They both work together to teach him limited Vulcan. All things that challenge him. All things that get him excited. T’pan is pregnant, and then she has a child. T’pri. Jim learns how to properly hold her in between chess games and cooking lessons.
Disaster strikes. Fungus. Broken replicators. Jim doesn’t remember the details, and, when he’s older, he’s hardly going to seek them out. He knows that there’s no food. He knows that Kodos decides to play god.
Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives means slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore I have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is so ordered. Signed, Kodos, governor of Tarsus Four.
The words bury themselves in Jim’s head, in his heart, in a part of him that, from this point forward, will always, always be starving. Savik hands T’pri to him. T’pan says, “Run. Jim, run. Gather as many children as you can and survive.”
“Look after her,” Savik says.
Savik. T’pan. Aunty Beckett. Kevin’s parents. Aenalise—who was only four, who couldn’t follow them fast enough. Thomas’s parents. All of their parents or guardians. Jim gathers them up, a band of fifteen that whittles down to nine.
He steals them food. He finds them clean water. James T Kirk was born on an exploding ship in the knick of time, just in time for his dad to name him. This is where Jim is born: where he learns what it means to want, to survive, to sacrifice. He’d never understood why his dad would stay on a ship just for the chance of saving him. He looks at T’pri or any of the others and he gets it, all the way down to his bones. He’d do anything for them. He’d die for them.
Everything he manages to find, he gives to them first. Anything he manages to do, he does for them first. It’s months, gruelling months, months where Jim wakes up every day sure that he’s going to die. Some of them do die in their sleep, their bodies finally giving up and shutting down. Some of them are caught like rabbits in traps. Jim learns to stop counting ribs. He tries to stay positive for the kids sakes.
It rains on their last morning. None of them have the energy to move. It’s been days since their last meal. They lay on their backs with their mouths open. Jim worries about acid, but, he supposes, after everything, that’s not really a much worse way to go, is it? T’pri cries without tears, too dehydrated to do anything else. Another convulses.
This is it, Jim thinks. This is where we all die.
He’d kept them alive month after month, hidden them from Kodos, given them everything he’s got and it’s all going to come down to this: dying in a field, too exhausted to even catch raindrops on their tongues.
He can’t give much more detail. He can’t open his mouth to express the way Kodos had looked at them all like they were dirt, showing them his face for a bare few minutes because he was arrogant and sure none of them would survive. The twist in that monster’s expression, the glint in his eyes, the cadence of his voice. He can’t give voice to how long it felt, each day stretching out into a week or a month as he tried to ignore the gnawing hunger in his gut. There aren’t words. There aren’t words.
Spock doesn’t seem to need them.
When Jim finally stops talking after giving the condensed summary, Spock is looking at him with unrestrained fury. It’s not the pity Jim was expecting or the concern he hoped for but something far more guttural and deadly.
“You were among the Tarsus Nine,” Spock says, his level voice a direct contrast with his expression. “This is why so much of your file is classified. Why no one spoke of T’pri even before Nero. Why you hide old friendships so thoroughly.”
They aren’t questions. They’re statements.
“They aren’t my friends,” Jim answers anyway, his voice wrecked. “They’re my kids. They wouldn’t let me keep them, they took them all away and—I was fifteen. I couldn’t take care of them. But I had taken care of them. Through hell. And they took them anyway.”
Spock extrapolates, “They tried to take T’pri.”
“We went to Vulcan. We had to present a case to the council.”
“To my father.”
Jim nods. “Your mother—I met her briefly. I think she was the reason I got to keep her, in the end.”
“You were bonded,” Spock says. “Only a fool would break a bond forged in trauma.”
Jim flinches. It’s that word. Trauma. Sure, he knows he’s traumatised. He’s been traumatised since birth. He’s never liked hearing it out of other people’s mouths. “Loads of Vulcans thought I was selfish. Especially after…after Nero. That I was keeping her from her culture. That I couldn’t raise her right.” “How dare they,” Spock snarls. Actually snarls—Jim would laugh if it wasn’t so surprising. “You raised her through the worst possible circumstances, and they thought you unfit?”
“We, uh, we don’t exactly advertise it.” Jim rests a hand on Spock’s clothed arm, trying to soothe him. “It’s the past, now, but a past that sticks with us. There are very, very few people in the universe who know and only one other who I’ve told willingly.”
“The doctor,” Spock guesses. “He would need to know your full medical history.”
“Bones has been our doctor for years. I don’t know what I would’ve done if we’d ended up on different ships.” Jim shudders. “Telling a stranger…I don’t think I could do it. We wanted to tell you. Almost from the beginning. When you asked me why you didn’t know, even though it would’ve brought you comfort as a kid—I wanted to tell you then. I wanted you to understand… I wasn’t trying to keep it from you. At least not any more than I try to keep it from everyone else.”
“You do not owe me any explanation,” Spock says. His hand reaches for Jim’s wrist and lands instead on top of his hand. “You never have. I have been… curious, yes, about your past and about how you adopted T’pri but I will never demand any information from you.”
“Aren’t you listening?” Jim teases, lips quirking into a smile and falling back down. “We wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you.”
It’s such a simple question. It deserves a simple answer. Jim doesn’t have one. Spock lets the minutes trickle by without any further questioning. Jim becomes slowly aware of the way Spock’s thumb traces small circles against his wrist, comforting through his command gold.
He closes his eyes. “I…want.”
It’s not an answer. Spock’s thumb stills for a heartbeat.
Jim takes a steadying breath. “I know it can’t… It’s not in the cards, so to speak, but that doesn’t stop me from…I don’t expect anything and I’m sure this’ll just make things…”
“Captain.” A pause. “Jim. What do you want?”
Before Tarsus, Jim wanted a lot of things: his dad’s car, a motorbike, to see the stars, for his mom to be home more, apples for lunch, chocolate after dinner, harder classes, more friends, an ambiguous future with kids and a lover, the girl with the pigtails, to get into fights, to make history, the boy with the lopsided glasses, a trip to a space station, to rebel, to live fast, to die young, to make a mark on his small corner of the universe that said ‘James T Kirk was here, and he did something important that had nothing to do with his father’s legacy.’
“Jim,” Spock’s voice is low and rough, piercing intently through the dark behind his eyelids. “What led you to believe that you couldn’t have me?”
Jim opens his mouth to say Uhura when something flags up in his mind, something he had, until now, disregarded as largely unimportant. Uhura hadn’t grown up on earth. She’d been raised on a starbase in the Vaati system, where pressing mouths together was a sign of comfort and well wishing. Vulcans kiss with their hands. A human miss would mean little to either of them, a perfect compromise of friendship. Human comfort is so often given with hands, pressed to shoulders or faces, something sure to be uncomfortable for a Vulcan. What he’d seen was this: Uhura, providing comfort in the aftermath of tragedy and Spock accepting it.
“You aren’t dating Uhura, are you?”
Spock seems genuinely confused by the question. “Have we given the impression that we are?”
Jim laughs, tilting his head back in something like relief or joy. He hasn’t seen them kiss since then, has he? They don’t share quarters or sneak off together. On Friday nights, Spock is in Jim’s quarters playing chess, not with Uhura. “No, not really,” Jim admits. “I’m just being foolishly human.”
To demonstrate, and because he’s pretty sure he can, now, after what Spock said, he leans forward and brushes their lips together, tantalisingly soft. Spock’s startled but pleased ‘oh’ is all the confirmation he needs that he’s right. “I forgot,” Jim admits, “the area Uhura was raised in. You can understand my confusion. And, you said, when we were on Nero’s ship—”
“You cut me off before I could finish,” Spock points out, amused. “I was going to get you to tell her that she was right.”
“Anything,” he says, eyes crinkled in a tiny smile, “or everything. It was something of an inside joke. I thought it would make a fitting goodbye.”
“I’m sure she would’ve hated it,” Jim says. And he is: he can picture the way her lip would curl and she’d say that bastard. His chest feels lighter for the conversation—not a result he would’ve expected when they started, but a welcome one nonetheless. “Spock,” he says, softly, just because he can.
“Jim,” he returns. “I apologise for the confusion. It is a…cultural difference I was aware of but unconcerned with.”
“You don’t owe me any explanation,” Jim says, shaking his head. “I could’ve asked. Clarified.”
Spock’s hand shifts from its place on Jims wrist, pressing their hands together. Jim shivers at the contact, all too aware of the implications of it, of what Spock is holding out to him. Their fingertips brush together, over and over and over, leaving Jim somewhat breathless. He doesn’t know how long they sit there like that before he pulls his hand back.
“It is…much like a very mild meld,” Spock explains, looking equally flustered. “It can create something of a feedback loop.”
Jim sighs contentedly. He’s familiar with Vulcan biology and probably doesn’t need the lesson, but he’d gratified to see Spock like this anyway. “How about I show you the human way? You are half human, after all.”
Spock’s expression might not give much away but Jim can tell he’s pleased when he says, “I do hear you have a ‘talented tongue.’”
Jim doesn’t have time to be mortified.
Sometimes, Jim wondered how anyone could interpret Vulcans as emotionless. Savik and T’pan were as far from it as he could picture, so clearly and obviously in love. The way they stood next to each other, the way they pressed their fingers together. Maybe it’s just that so much of Vulcan communication happens through melds and in their minds, where no one else can see it.
Jim thinks that his mind is too much for even himself, let alone anyone else, so he has to admit—loving someone enough to trust them with all of that? Pretty forking romantic.
T’pri is glad of the news that Spock knows and glad of the fact that she didn’t have to be there. When she comes back to the captain’s quarters after her lessons, she takes one look between Jim and Spock and seems to understand how their world’s axis has shifted to accommodate another weight. She doesn’t comment on it vocally, but Jim can feel her relief anyway.
Spock says, “I grieve with thee.”
T’pri nods, and that’s that. There is something reliving about sharing it with someone out of anything other than necessity. T’pri is much more open to the idea of Spock helping her with her telepathy (something, Jim learns, has been a subject of much debate between the two in the times when he was not around). Jim, for his part, feels significantly lighter. A burden shared is a burden halved, or whatever it is that they say. He’s not sure anything about Tarsus will ever feel halved, but it’s comforting to have someone else to lean on.
Life goes on.
Jim and Spock make a killer command team, if Jim can say so himself, and they seem to only be getting better and better. It feels like a great destiny, an impossible friendship. Jim considers calling up the other, older Spock if only to thank him, but he always ends up distracted by this Spock, his Spock, who has become rather adept at kissing the human way and obviously loves to abuse this skill. Jim, for his part, sneaks Vulcan kisses at every available opportunity, brushing their fingers together under tables or over Spock’s console on the bridge. Spock’s ears tinnier slightly green every time, and he whispers ‘Captain’ in a way that’s equal parts warning and admission.
Uhura catches on, of course, and shoots Jim disapproving looks for weeks before she manages to corner him in the lift and give him her version of a shovel talk.
“Aren’t we friends?” Jim demands almost as soon as she rounds on him. “Don’t you trust me?”
“Sure, we’re friends,” she agrees. “And yeah, I trust you as my Captain. But I’ve seen you flirt, Kirk. You and your talented tongue.”
Jim flushes bright red and immediately understands what she’s saying: Spock told her all about that. Spock will tell her all sorts of things about him. It’s a more effective threat than any other ‘don’t hurt them’ speech he’s ever had. “Understood,” he says, and Uhura nods, her sleek ponytail bouncing once, efficient.
Then she smiles. “I am happy for you two, you know.”
Jim grins and slumps back against the wall, thumbs in his belt loops. “Yeah, I’m pretty happy, too.”
Bones is grumbly about it, muttering about how he’ll have to get along with the hobgoblin now, but Jim sees right through it. He throws his arm around the doctor’s shoulders, beaming. “Come on, Bones, admit it. Admit you’re happy for me.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like your choice of partner,” he scowls, but when he looks sidelong at Jim his lip is twisted into a half-smile. “But congratulations.”
T’pri, when they tell her, is elated. She’d had her suspicions, Jim knew and knows, because she’s clever, but at the confirmation her eyes light up and she smiles to show all her teeth; an expression that’s all Kirk. Before long, she’s settled in to the space between them, her head on Jim’s chest and her shoulder pressed against Spock’s. Jim’s heart is full as he looks at her, looks at him, looks at them. He can’t imagine anything more perfect.
They have to disclose it to Starfleet and almost as soon as they do Jim gets a call from Pike and Number One, who don’t say anything for a long moment, just searching his face. Then Pike says, “Well I’ll be damned. Two Vulcans, Jim? Are you starting a collection?”
Jim just grins and shoots back a playful, “Maybe!”
The crew continues to follow their orders, shooting off around the universe: seeking out new life and new civilisation, boldly going where no one has gone before. They get into more trouble than any other ship but they also discover more, do more, see more and Jim wouldn’t have it any other way. The crew seems to concur, always ready to go from adventure to adventure, planet to planet, trouble to trouble.
T’pri’s studies get more and more difficult until she’s practically passed Starfleet entrance exams at the age of twelve. “Pavel did it at thirteen,” T’pri tells him once, while she works, which makes his raise his eyebrows over her her head and mouth ‘Pavel?’ to Spock. “It is not unreasonable that I could do it at twelve.”
“You’re ditching me for school?” Jim says, full of faux offence.
T’pri shakes her head. “No. I have spoken to Pike. He tells me I can do most of it from space. An accelerated course, due to the practical experience.”
“Of course he did,” Jim says, shaking his head. “You’re still a kid, T’pri.”
“I’m a Kirk,” she says, like that’s justification enough and, really, it is.
They end up in trouble again, Jim and Spock, stranded on some wild planet with no communicators. Spock is freezing in the snowy climate and Jim is working frantically to keep them both alive. “If you tell me to tell Uhura she was right, I’ll murder you myself,” Jim spits when Spock opens his mouth. “You’re not dying here.”
“I was not going to say that.”
“What is it then?”
“Jim,” Spock takes a long breath, shaky in the cold. “I love you.”
“Didn’t you hear me?” Jim half-shouts. “You’re not dying here. Now is not the time—not like it’s your deathbed—we’re getting out of here, okay? We are.”
Later, when they’re back on the ship and Spock is laying in a recovery bed in medical, Jim links their fingers together and says, “I love you too, you know. God, Spock, I love you so much.”
Spock nods, smiles a little because they’re alone, and says, “I did not doubt it.”
Jim gets it then: Spock wasn’t trying to say goodbye when he said I love you. He was trying to convey everything, all of if, with limited words because of the weakness of his body. I love you wasn’t just love, it was trust and hope and understanding, compassion and duty and freedom. He grins wildly, relieved.
T’pri enters then, settles cross-legged on the foot of Spock’s bed. She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t need to. Between the three of them, Jim can feel everything he’d need to hear.
“You know," Pike says, next to Jim, while they watch T'pri finish up her lesson. They've only been at Starfleet for a few months, but Jim already feels more, settled, more secure, than he ever did in Iowa. T'pri feels it too; he can feel in through their bond. This sense that they're on the right path, heading the right way. Pike continues, "I always thought that if I cracked open any Kirk, they'd bleed stars."
Jim thinks about his dad, who died among them, and his mom, who went back anyway. He thinks of the tragedy he and T'pri lived in off-world, and their collective urge to go back out there. He thinks of the expression he sees on his daughters face when they look up up up and he says, "Yeah. I think we do."