Admiral Komack threw back another glass of whisky, relishing the burn of the amber liquid as it went down. A weary sigh escaped the middle aged man as his shaking hand reached for the crystal bottle to pour himself another shot. With a newly refilled glass, he leaned back into his overly plush desk chair and glanced at the PADD lying a foot away from him on his desk. Just seeing the offending piece of technology made a scowl cross his features. Still, he had to respond to the message.
"Lights at 30 percent." Light filled the previously dark room so that he could read without straining his eyes. Running his hand through his graying hair, he picked up the PADD quickly rereading the invitation. Another commendation ceremony being planned for that punk everyone kept calling "the Golden Boy of Starfleet."
He couldn't for the life of him understand why everyone was so enthralled with that kid. He was a terror at the academy. Sure his tests were top of the class even competing with the top academy test scores that were set by his current Vulcan First Officer a few years back, but he wreaked havoc on the campus to teachers and other students alike. Yet when he cheated on the Kobayashi Maru and got caught, he was awarded the commendation for creative thinking.
That was his problem. Captain Kirk always did whatever he wanted and got awarded for it. He saved the planet from being sucked into a black hole, but what about how he got there? He went against regulations to board a Federation ship, staged a mutiny against the acting captain, emotionally compromised said acting captain, and disobeyed a direct order from a captain and fought Nero head on, putting the crew in unnecessary harm. He couldn't even stomach the things that happened with Khan. He flushed out a corrupt admiral, but not before almost causing a war with the Klingons. Then he had the audacity to literally cheat death. Of course he also got commendations for those actions as well.
During his short captaincy, he continuously went against regulations, omitted things from his reports, occasionally violating the prime directive, and all he does is get encouraged by the other admirals. He was headstrong, rash, stubborn, and relied on his luck to save him. The kid didn't know how to lose. No one punished him for his actions. And one day, it was going to land them in a shit storm. And when that day came, Kirk would be at a loss for what to do and would be unable to do what a real captain needs to do. His façade will crumble, leaving his much more capable first officer to pick up the pieces of his incompetence.
Setting his glass down, he picked up his PADD and scrolled through Kirk's file. He knew exactly how to show the admiralty that Kirk wasn't ready to take this responsibility. That he needed to go through the ranks like every other cadet. It's been a year and a half since his promotion and the start of the five year mission was just underway. He pulled up another file, scanning over the new mission that had just appeared in his inbox. As he read, his scowl slowly turned into a smirk. He knew exactly what mission he was going to send the Enterprise on.
"Goddammit Jim! How the hell do you manage to piss off every primitive indigenous species we meet?!" Dr. McCoy panted, holding his satchel bag to his body as he and his two companions ran on the uneven, dry, desert like terrain beside him. The heavily oxygenated atmosphere combined with his heavy breathing was making him light headed, and the two suns shining brightly above them wasn't helping him feel any better. The disheveled man chanced a glance behind him and sure enough, a mob of angry yellow skinned aliens were still chasing them with their spears in hand.
"Hey it's not my fault this time!" Captain James T. Kirk gave his friend a tired grin as he shifted the unconscious security member on his back. "It's that damn pollen."
"I am too old to be running for my goddamned life. I swear to God if we get through this, I'm going to rethink my friendship with you."
Jim let out a small snort. "You always say tha-"
"I mean it this time! Are you done with that damn contraption yet Spock?" McCoy snapped, tripping slightly as the soft earth gave way underneath him.
Spock was running effortlessly, seemingly unaffected by the planetary conditions. In one hand he held a small, grey, metal box with an assortment of colorful wires coming out of the top. In his other hand was a handmade soldering iron. "I estimate it's completion to be in 30.26 seconds Doctor."
Jim turned his head to look at Spock, wishing him to hurry up. It was hard to run without breathing deeply, and the ensign on his back was heavier than he looked, and they had already been running for 5 minutes now. He wasn't sure how much longer he could run. He had to resist taking a deep breath. Just 30 more seconds. "Don't rush it Spock. If you do it wrong, it could kill them."
"I am quite aware of that Captain. I have already run the calculations 15 times." Dark chocolate eyes met Jim's sky blue ones before looking back at the device.
Jim focused on his steps, each one becoming increasingly difficult. The earth was dry and crumpled under their steps. With the added weight of the man on his back, he was sinking into the dirt more than Spock or Bones, making it twice as difficult to run. "Are you sure you want to implement this plan captain? I estimate that the percentage of your survival to be-"
"I don't want to know Spock." Jim risked a look behind him to see one of them holding a phaser. "Starfleet is going to kill me."
"We are approaching the checkpoint, Captain. Sub-space communication interference is clearing up."
"Bones, take Ensign Jenkins. Spock will go first to make sure it's clear."
The good doctor grumbled under his breath, taking the man onto his back. The moment they reached the crater, Jim pushed Bones and the ensign down into it as a phaser shot just missed the two by mere seconds. Jim kept running. They were after him. "Go with Bones, Spock."
"Captain, I cannot in good conscience leave you alone on the planet with the indigenous life forms. As I am more acclimated to a desert environment, I must insist that I be the one to-"
"Forget it Spock. I'm not putting you in danger. Go with McCoy. I don't want you near incase this goes wrong." There was hesitation on Spock's part and a flash of uncertainty in his eyes. "Don't make me make it an order Mr. Spock." Jim didn't wait for Spock to comply with his request. He grabbed the box out of Spock's hand, his fingers accidentally brushing against the Vulcan's palm as he did, before he ran ahead.
Without the weight of the ensign on his back, he found a second wind easily, picking up the pace of his steps. All he had to do was press the button on the device and throw it into the mob behind him. Any extra distance he could get between him and the angry natives would be beneficial and lessen any possible damage to him.
Just as he reached a hundred paces, Jim felt a sharp pain blast through his shoulder. Instinctively, he bit his lip, swallowing the pain. There was no question it was a phaser wound. He had no time to analyze the damage though. He forced his legs to keep going. Just another 50 paces and the others would be clear of the detonation zone. If the landing party had been beamed up upon contact, then it wasn't a problem, but there was no guarantee that the others were beamed up immediately.
Twenty paces left and Jim started up the device. The box in his hand whined, the lights blinking erratically as it charged. Mentally, the captain started the countdown.
Seven steps left before he had to throw the device. A spear grazed his side, throwing him off balanced. The unsteady ground was unrelenting, giving way under his faltering steps. Jim fell forward, his arms reaching out to catch himself. Most of his weight landed on his injured arm. His vision went white from the pain, but he stopped himself from falling completely, still on his feet. He couldn't afford to fall. The device had to be thrown in five seconds. Pulling his feet back under him, he pushed forward, turning just enough to gauge how hard he needed to throw.
The earth shook, one of this planet's many and frequent earthquakes. The timing of it was ill placed as it happened just as he was throwing the box. He felt himself falling; however Jim knew he would not be able to get back up if he did. He was too light headed from the atmosphere and injuries. The world was spinning around him.
The dark yellow sand came rushing toward him. The captain waited for the impact of the ground to come. Instead, he felt cool familiar hands wrap around him, steadying him, helping him to keep moving.
A couple unsure steps later, the device detonated. A high pitch noise emanated from the box. The frequency that could not be heard by human ears, but the pain it cause when it resonated with the nearby life forms was very real. The natives cried out in various shrieks and moans. All of them clutching their heads and dropping to their knees.
"Spock to Enterprise, two to beam up." Spock's voice came through the ringing in Kirk's ears. The device was working on him too even if he could not hear it. His head was pounding as if it would explode any minute. He could only imagine how Spock was holding up.
He welcomed the familiar feel of the transporter pulling at his molecules. Relaxing, Jim closed his eyes.
Spock felt his captain drift into unconsciousness before the image of the planet's surface disappeared from his vision, so he was prepared to bear Jim's weight when they both rematerialized onto the transporter pad upon the Enterprise.
McCoy was already waiting for them with his medical staff beside him. Just the sight of them made him go off on a tirade of curses and illogic human colloquialisms.
"I swear that kid is going to be the death of me. I'm gone for two minutes and look what happens," the doctor murmured, waving his medical tricorder over Jim's form as he was loaded into a stretcher. "Even the devil's luck has to run out at some point. What the hell is he going to do then?"
"Will he be alright, Doctor?" Spock watched the older man scowl.
"Yeah, he'll be up and running the ship in a day or so. I might have to hypo him to keep him in bed though." A mischievous glint flickered in McCoy's eyes at the idea.
"May I remind you Doctor McCoy that using hypos to intentionally keep a patient under when it serves no medical purpose is frowned upon even in human society?"
The doctor's scowl only deepened. "Then maybe I should just keep him tied to the biobed. You know Jim won't sit still the moment he wakes up. The idiot would walk around with internal bleeding until he passed out if he could get away with it, and you and I both know he has tried."
Spock considered the statement. With a small nod of acknowledgment, he responded. "I concede to your argument and judgment doctor."
"You damn right you concede. Now I better see you in sickbay by the time I finish up with Jim."
"I am in no need of medical attention doctor. I am quite functional."
The good doctor brushed off his comment with his own observations. "Like hell you are. You're bleeding from the ears, you're swaying on your feet, and don't forget, I was down on that god forsaken planet with you as they tied you to the wooden post in the middle of the village and beat you for looking like one of their evil spirits until Jim managed to convince them otherwise. You may be 'functional', but you are not operating at optimal capacity either. Don't make me make it an order Commander." McCoy left the transporter room, scowling at Spock one last time before the automatic door closed behind him.
"I'm fine Bones. Get that thing out of my face already." Jim had awakened by the time Bones came to look over his captain's treatment. As usual, the blonde captain had tried to escape sickbay the moment he had regained consciousness. It took waving a hypo in his face and several threats of injecting him with embarrassing diseases to get him to stay put.
"Don't give me that Jim. I had to patch you up again. I don't know how Spock puts up with your childish antics all the time."
Jim made a face. "I'm not that bad."
"Really? Because the hole in your shoulder says otherwise. And don't you even start," the doctor interrupted the man on the biobed when he opened his mouth to protest. "How often have you ended up in med bay from supposedly peaceful missions? I have the entire staff on alert the moment you say you're going to beam down. Do you have a death wish? Do you want me to die from stress?"
"What did you expect me to do Bones? Let the natives destroy themselves under the influence of those spores? They are just entering the Iron Age, starting their civilization. I had to fix it."
The doctor just sighed. "I know Jim. You did the right thing, but sometimes I think you jump into danger head first without thinking."
"And that's why you're here Dr. McCoy. To patch me up, so I can save the world."
McCoy gave him his infamous scowl just as Spock entered med bay. "There you are you green blooded hobgoblin. Go sit down on a bed, and I'll get to you the moment I finish up with this infant."
"Doctor, referring to the captain as an infant no matter how appropriate the term may apply to his often erratic behavior is inappropriate when addressing a senior officer." The response to Spock's statement was an exasperated eye roll.
"Just sit down Spock."
The Vulcan stared at Jim for a moment before responding. "Doctor as I told you before, I am perfectly fine. The only thing I am in need of is meditation. Now if you will excuse me Doctor, Captain, I have duties I must attend to." Spock turned on his heal and left before the doctor could say anything.
"Damn hobgoblin and his Vulcan mind voodoo. Why bother coming to sickbay if he's just going to refuse and walk out? I'm going to have to threaten him with pulling medical code again." He muttered under his breath as he checked the dermal regenerator's work. "It will be a little sore. You have a choice, pills or hypo for the pain."
"Pills," was his immediate reply. He didn't need his neck sore from McCoy stabbing him again. "Hey, do you think Spock is acting a little weird?"
Raising an eyebrow, the doctor looked up after putting the captain's arm in a sling. "Nothing out of the ordinary for that walking computer."
"Bones," Jim warned.
"Yeah, yeah, sorry. No, I haven't seen anything unusual. Why?"
Jim shifted on the bed, careful not to agitate his shoulder. "It's just . . . Spock seems to be more withdrawn lately, his emotions seem to be closer to the surface than he would normally be comfortable with, and he hasn't accepted a chess invitation in weeks."
The doctor stood up and walked across the room to pull out his hidden stash of Andorian Ale. He grabbed two glasses with his free hand and poured himself and his commanding officer a glass, handing one to Jim. "Truth is Dr. M'Benga is also worried. Spock told him that his meditations have not been working as it should thanks to the destruction of Vulcan. His people have been having similar problems over the past year. Spock has been holding up better than his Vulcan counterparts most likely because of his human blood, but without meditation to stabilize that gigantic brain of his, eventually it will catch up to him."
"And you couldn't have told me this sooner?" The glare Jim was sending him did nothing to faze the older man.
"Don't give me that Jim. Doctor, patient confidentiality. I don't go around telling your business to everyone."
"Not everyone, just Spock."
"Because you're a damn child, and I can't babysit you twenty four seven. Spock is willing to do it without complaint."
The captain waved his arm telling him to stop right there. "I get it. Thanks for telling me. Am I good to go?"
"I could try to make you stay, but that would just make us both miserable. Get out of my sickbay. If you come back here before your next physical, I'll make sure you sit through the entire conference call with the admirals without bailing you out early."
"Thanks Bones!" Downing the content of his glass, he gave a quick pat on his friend's back, and he was out of room before McCoy could change his mind.
The Enterprise was as lively as usual. Occasionally, he would receive a salute from a crewman or a friendly smile. He smiled back, unable to return the salutes due to the sling. McCoy told him to keep it on for a day or two to keep strain off his shoulder. Chances were he would take it off early. Without the use of his arm, he felt too vulnerable. Still, it was nice to see the happy faces of his crew, his family.
He stopped at the door to his quarters then glanced at the door next to his. How was Spock doing? He had not seen him outside of duty for three weeks now and truth be told, he missed his friend's dry sense of humor, the games of chess, and the small displays of emotion that slipped into his human eyes. He had meant to reach out over the weeks, but the paperwork never seemed to end. Low and behold a few days ago he found out the admiralty had been making him do twice as much paper work in their effort to keep him busy. He discarded the excess work immediately afterwards. He couldn't wait to have that conversation when he subtly told them he realized what they were up to.
Taking a few steps down the hall he stopped at Spock's door and knocked. He waited. When the familiar deep voice didn't respond, he tried again. Still there was no answer. He was one step away from using his override code when the door swished open and a surprised Spock stood at the door. "Captain? What may I ask brings you here?"
"What? Not going to invite your commanding officer in Mr. Spock?"He teased, a playful look in his eye.
"Pardon me Captain. Please come in." He stepped aside to let his commanding officer through.
Jim wasted no time in taking the invitation, pausing for a moment to notice the red meditating mat laid out on the floor and the lit candles around it. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were meditating. I would have left you alone if I had known."
"I believe I told you I would meditate when you were being examined by the good doctor. There was no point in waiting to do so."
Jim winced slightly. "Yeah, you did say that didn't you. How are your ears by the way?"
"My ears are adequate Captain."
"It's Jim, Spock. We're off duty. How many times must I remind you to call me Jim," he replied exasperated.
"Apparently thirty six times, Ca- . . . Jim."
Jim frowned. Spock had gotten into the habit of calling him Jim off duty, but recently he had deferred back to the formal tones and conversations as if distancing himself from their friendship. It was things like this that caused the captain to worry about the sudden behavioral change of his First Officer.
Still he felt skeptical about his First Officer's health. Turning around he observed the Vulcan's room. "Well Spock, the Christmas party is coming up, and I'm going to need you to play the elf this year. You're going to have to smile and dance for the crew too."
When Spock didn't say anything about how the entire situation was illogical and not apart of his duties, he turned pointing an accusing finger at him. "I knew it! You've been lip reading haven't you? Your ears were damaged."
Spock stood silently, merely raising an eyebrow and admitting to nothing.
"Fine, fine. I get it. You won't go to Bones, and you'll meditate or something to aid the recovery process. How are your meditations going anyway?"
Spock's posture became more rigid at the question and as Jim expected had ended up in uncomfortable waters for the Vulcan. If Spock wanted too, he could be the most stubborn person Jim knew and would hold his thoughts and opinions close to him where no one could reach. Jim hadn't expected him to answer; however, Spock surprised him. Just around the corners of his eyes, weariness slipped onto his stoic face. "Meditation has been proving . . . difficult as of late."
"But you need that to keep your mind ordered right?"
"I will not let it affect my work if that is what you are inquiring, Jim."
"I'm not saying to say that it will Spock. I am worrying about you as a friend." Jim smiled gently.
Spock met his eyes for a moment before looking away. "Of course, Jim."
Spock stood perfectly still as the captain moved about the room. "You center your mind usually before you try to meditate right? What do you do when you have trouble doing that?"
"I have various methods; however, currently those options have proved to be ineffective."
"I see." With careful hands, Jim picked up the antiqued 3D chess board. "Have you tried playing chess to center your mind?"
"I have not considered it as the activity's purpose is to stimulate the mind by thinking and creating strategies to out maneuver your opponent in contrast to focusing on centering within one's self."
Jim grinned. "But it relaxes you doesn't it? Maybe that's all you need. It's worth a try."
Spock considered the proposal. Jim could see it in his eyes. After a moment Spock nodded. "I find the idea agreeable."
"Great." Jim set up the board and Spock sat across from him taking the black side as his usual preference. It was amazing how easy they both fell into the rhythm of the game. Each turn Spock relaxed a little more, letting his guard down, and Jim watched the transformation quietly. Every once in a while the Vulcan would glance up at Jim, and his emotions would flash across his eyes, some he couldn't name.
As the silence settle around them, Spock continued to steal glances at Jim between moves. The human however kept his eyes on the board, considering his next move. Smiling, he moved his queen to queen's level 3. "Tell me what's on your mind Spock."
Spock responded to Jim's move by moving his queen to king's level one. "Do you have a death wish Jim?"
His eyebrows drew together in confusion, still focusing on the board but no longer actually seeing it. "Have you been talking to Bones again?"
"I was the logical choice to activate the sonic generator down on Rana II. I should have assumed the role you took upon yourself."
Jim looked up, the corners of his eyes tight. "Spock, I don't want to talk about this right now. Let's just finish the game alright."
Spock refused to let up, pressing the subject though he knew he should have stopped. "Do you not care about your life, Captain? I have found that if there is an emergency, there is a 89.726 percent chance of you assuming a hazardous role or taking unnecessary risks yourself instead of another crewmember."
Sitting up in his chair straighter, Jim met the Vulcan's gaze head on. "No. It's not that I don't value my life. I value it more than you are anyone on this ship will ever know, but I can never put others to put their life on the line if I can't even do it myself. To me, their lives are worth more to me than my own. Sure, I'm captain. I'm supposed to stay safely on the bridge and have everyone else take the risks, but I became captain, so I can protect those people. If that means I get banged up more often than other captains, so be it. If it means I have a higher chance of getting killed, bring it on. But that is my problem, not yours."
Silence filled the room once again. The weight of Jim's words was heavy in the atmosphere. Spock took his time making his move. "If I had not been there Jim, you would have died."
A chuckle escaped the human as he studied the board. "True and I thank you for saving me once again Mr. Spock. "
"Your thanks are illogical. I was merely performing my duties as your First Officer by ensuring your welfare, Jim."
A smirk tugged at the captain's lips. Reaching over the board, Jim knocked over his white king, admitting defeat. Spock raised an eyebrow a margin, the only sign that the Vulcan had been taken by surprise at the sudden show of surrender. "While an average player would surrender due to the current conditions of the board, this is the first instance you have surrendered in the midst of a game."
"Do you, and I quote, 'Do not believe in no-win scenarios'?" Spock quoted back to him the same phrase he had said when confronting the Vulcan over the Kobayashi Maru.
Jim merely shrugged at the question. "I'm tired Spock. It's been a long day. I've been shot at, my ears are still ringing, and the medication Bones gave me is making me sleepy."
"In that case, I will consider this game a stalemate as neither of us are operating at an acceptable capacity at the moment."
"I think I can agree to those terms. I'm going to hit the sack. Make sure you see Bones if your hearing is still suffering tomorrow. I'll see you in the morning." Jim had just turned to leave Spock's quarters when his communicator chirped. A soft groan escaped the tired human and sent the piece of technology a glare.
"Work never ends does it?" Jim had asked it as a rhetorical question, and he was sure Spock knew the statement meant to be one too.
Never the less, he decided to answer it. "As captain of Starfleet's number one flagship, you are to be available at all times."
"Yeah, yeah. I know Spock. You weren't supposed to say anything." He flipped open his communicator, looking slightly amused at his friend. "Kirk here. What do you need Lieutenant?"
"Starfleet command is transmitting a message for you sir. It's marked urgent. Shall I forward it to ready room one sir?"
"That would be great Lieutenant. I'll be there momentarily. Kirk out." He closed the device and gave Spock a guilty smile. "Looks like I still have duties left before I hit the sack. Try to get some meditating done okay?"
"I will endeavor to do so Captain." His commanding officer rolled his eyes at the formal title again but did not bother to correct him this time.
Jim left the Vulcan's quarters, completely missing the subtle look of longing directed at his back.