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Many apologies for the excruciatingly slow update! FFN decided to go crazy.

I was actually so annoyed I'd practically given up on writing the rest of this story, but your guys support really, truly helped. I appreciate every single one of you sososososososo SO muchh! :) xo

He didn't even say goodbye.

It wasn't the fact that he joined Starfleet. It wasn't the fact that he'd left her behind. It was that he never even had the decency to tell her. After all they'd been through, he knew how much she depended on him and he just took off. Okay, it was his life, he could do what he wanted. It's not like he was tied down or anything..and of course, it was in his nature to be so reckless. She was mainly surprised at how his departure had managed to shock her so much, it's not like it was out of character or anything. Then again, blowing things out of proportion was always Alex's forte... and so the vicious cycle of blame went round, and around and around..

Dizzy from thought, Alex blinked tiredly as she straightened herself upright on the wooden dining chair. Her body was aching from slouching all day, so as she stretched her arms upward, her back clicked painfully loudly. Turning to stare back out of the window she'd spent the past four years at, the same, dreary desert sight stared back at her, almost mockingly.

The news had hit about a week earlier. A Romulan attack on Earth, Starfleet ordering all recruits back to base. Alex knew that Jim was out there. Hell, knowing him he'd be right in the thick of it, smiling all the way, crazy son of a bitch. For all she knew he could have been killed already, but she mentally cursed herself every time for even thinking about it. He was alive. The main reason she knew being that they hadn't had the visit; The one you see in all those tired old war films. You get a knock at the door, the guy can't even look you in the eye and you know what's coming. Alex dreaded that day, but she refused to believe it would ever come, not for Jim's sake, but for her own.

The front door creaking open brought her out of her reverie. Something landed with a loud thud as she turned around. She was greeted by her mother's bright face grinning across the table at her from the top of two large, over-packed grocery bags. Alex returned the smile, albeit in a somewhat lack-lustre manner. She knew exactly what was in those bags: Birthday supplies. It was her 23rd in about two weeks and her mom & dad were, as always, making a big deal to take Alex's mind off things. It would never work, the trio knew, but that didn't stop them from trying. Since she'd been going to Med School, Alex didn't have enough money to get her own place as well as pay all those boring educational fees, so her parent's had agreed to let her say with them, as long as she payed a little rent here and there and helped out with chores and such. She felt somewhat embarrassed that she was getting older and still hadn't moved out, but she always reminded herself that sometimes? Needs must. At least she had a roof over her head for now.

Instead of milling around and dropping not-so-subtle gift ideas like any other daughter would do, Alex decided to fill her days with studying and practising her medicinal skills. She didn't have a clue what she wanted to do with them now that she actually had her degrees, but she loved having them none the less. Originally, she'd been studying Law, but the thought of being a doctor had always intrigued her. At the age of 18, she finally decided to abandon her previous calling, and enrolled in the nearest med school. It had been a shock when her college tutors had told her she could skip a few years and head on to University instead. It wasn't that she was a medical prodigy or anything, they simply believed she had the book-smart and common sense to get herself through the training, rather than having her waste precious time learning sweet nothing.

The days flew by as she surrounded herself with her work, until one morning she was roughly shaken awake by a pair of thin hands. Rubbing her neck and propping herself up on an elbow, she stared groggily at whoever it was smiling back at her, her eyes barely focused.

"Happy birthday, sweetheart!" her mom sang, coaxing her out of her sleep. Stumbling over her words, Alex's only reply was a half-hearted series of confused grunts. Taking a moment to wet her dry tongue, she tried again.

"Oh..uh, thanks, time is it?" she asked, punctuating her question with a loud yawn.

"Twenty to one. We tried waking you early, so you're dad could see you before work, but you threw a nasty left hook out and rolled back over, so we thought we'd leave you be. Family's arriving at one-ish, so I thought it was about time to get you-"

"One-ish?" Alex exclaimed, "Jesus, mom, there's no way I'll be ready!" she moaned, throwing her covers away, grabbing the nearest semi-respectable clothing and dashing for the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, Alex emerged looking more or less human (a little less than she would have liked), in a simple floral dress and a pair of sandals. She slowly made her way down the stairs to greet her family and friends, hoping that for at least that afternoon she could have a great time.

The rest of the day went by pretty smoothly. She spent most of it outside on the deckchairs with a few close friends, receiving the occasional present and being generally spoilt, which Alex, of course, enjoyed to no end. It got to around six when the sun started to go down and most of the guests started to leave. With only a handful of people left, Alex's parents decided to pull the shameful "blow out the candles" gig and ushered everyone into the main room where the most delicious looking fudge cake was waiting for her.

After five minutes of photos and cringe-worthy singing, Alex took a deep breath. Just as she was about to exhale, a knock at the door distracted her, and everyone let out a groan as her dad went to open it. While she waited, she tried to gauge how red her cheeks had gone. She felt like she was being babied. Suddenly, a gasp from her mother brought her back to attention.

"Sorry, is this a bad time?"

Alex froze. Her breath hitched in her throat.

No. Fucking. Way.

She started trembling. A million thoughts raced through her mind. Was she dreaming? There was no mistaking that voice, but it could all just be her imagination.. Wanting something so bad could be making her hear things, right? Raising her head slowly, afraid to find out if it really was just a hallucination, she reluctantly looked towards the door and was instantly caught in those familiar, oceanic eyes. He was carrying a few suspect liquor bottles and a trademark smirk plastered to his lips. "I'm not interrupting, am I?" he grinned widely.

She felt her heart rise as she blinked back tears. Before she even knew what she'd done, Alex jumped from her place at the table and bounded right into his arms, nearly sending them both to the floor. Crying uncontrollably and laughing heartily at the same time, she gripped onto the leather jacket at the base of his neck as if it was the only thing tethering her to reality. She barely remembered to breathe, while Jim was similarly afflicted from her hands being clasped so tightly around his neck, and his face being pulled into her shoulder. Spluttering, he pulled back so far as to be able to take in oxygen but still keep his hold on her. He smiled and laughed at her comical, heavy sobs while she tried desperately to calm down, only to fail and fall back into heaving tears again. Neither knew what to say.

Instead of waiting for the moment to become awkward, Jim took her by the hand and lead her into the kitchen. Once there, he poured her a stiff drink, and left the bottle as he turned to fetch a glass for himself. When he turned back to face her the bottle was no longer on the side but in her hand, attached to her lips as she took a large gulp and slammed it down on the counter again. He laughed inwardly as he replaced his empty glass and took hers instead.

By this point, everyone had left, muttering their goodbyes and leaving last minute presents on the living room table as they went. Normally it would have seemed rude for the two to just ignore the guests, but they all understood their need to be alone. Standing by the sink, Alex told herself to breathe deeply and keep calm as she gazed into the striking eyes that were staring back at her. He was the same as he ever was. Short, sandy hair, mischievous blue eyes, stunning smile. He had a few non-descript cuts and bruises; from what, she didn't know. The same air of cockiness and pride surrounded him. There he was, after all those years and yet she still couldn't think of a single thing to say, so they both just stood there in comfortable silence, being content with each other's presence.

An hour and a few large whiskeys later, after Alex had finally managed to keep her tears under control, they both moved into the living room and threw themselves down on the couch.

"Happy Birthday."

"Thanks." she replied, with a faint smile. She wished she could have made it sound more sincere, but she still couldn't grasp the situation properly enough.

"So.." Jim tried, rubbing his palms together as if it would help his brain figure out what he wanted to ask. Nothing came to him.

"So." Alex replied lightly. Jim sighed. He'd been through hell and back the last year, why was it that after all that, he couldn't even face a conversation with his best friend?

"Listen, Al, I-" It was irritating, he knew what she was subconsciously waiting for. He knew it had been a mistake, and he wanted her to know that, but his damn, stupid pride was reluctant let him find the words. She glanced at him curiously, waiting for whatever he planned to continue with. Her eyes were red from all the crying, and he knew they wouldn't have been the first tears she'd shed on his part. The guilt was what kept him going all that time. He knew he had to get through it all, just so he could see her again, and tell her, "I- I'm sorry."

"Save it, Jimmy." She smiled, to his surprise. "I honestly don't blame you for a second. You know, it was hard. And, I was angry, at first. Man, I cursed you to hell and back!" She giggled, before going on. "Though, from all I've heard the past couple months about Starfleet, I'm just glad to have you back in one piece." she admitted. Jim returned her grin warmly. The pair sat in comfortable silence for a few seconds, listening to the night outside. Then, Alex spoke again. "So! I heard about the Romulan attacks. You guys must've had your hands full, huh?" She looked at him expectantly. He laughed heartily, as if recalling a personal joke.

"You could say that."

"Well?" she said, waiting for him to continue.

"Well what?" he asked confusedly.

"Come on! Explain! What've you been doing these past few years? I wanna know everything!" Alex exclaimed. "Life out in space has got to be awesome, am I right? You've gotta have some good stories for me! I mean, you must've seen so many different planets! And.." Jim took the opportunity to take in her appearance as she rambled on, trying to guess what he'd been up to. The familiar, excited spark in her eyes had returned and her hands practically moved at light-speed as she tried to illustrate her words. Exactly as he'd left her. "..beautiful! Oh my god, I can just imagine it-"

"Woahh, woah, woah. Alex. You want me to tell you, or you gonna keep rattling on?" he smirked. She drew her fingers across her lips as if she were doing up a zip, nodded her head quickly, and waited for him to begin.

The rest of the night consisted of the pair lying together on the couch, Jim regaling her with every single detail of what had happened since he went away, along with helping her devour several bottles of alcohol and the entire fudge cake. He told her of his friends: McCoy, Scotty, and a rather peculiar Vulcan by the name of Spock; "...And then, it was like someone flipped switch! He just started wailin' on me, in front of everybody! And I mean really damn hard. I still flinch whenever he comes near me. He loves it, I can tell. That smug bastard.." He told her of their many hardships (occasionally embellishing on the facts, mainly the ones concerning him being heroic and the like); and, of course, the conversation was littered with immature mentions of all the gorgeous women he'd encountered. These, in turn, earned him a swift smack on the arm from a rather embarrassed Al. She hung on every word he had to say, completely enthralled by everything he'd been through. When he got to the end, however, what he had to say immediately made Alex choke on her whisky.

"Captain?" she shouted, "You're the freaking captain of the freaking Enterprise? Jesus, Jim! That's incredible! Oh my god, I'm so proud of you!" She gushed, diving on him for another lung-constricting hug, knocking over her glass in the process. He reached behind her into his jacket pocket to pull out the medal he'd received and, keeping one arm around her shoulders, he pulled away just enough to show her it. She was in awe. She took it from his grasp and ran her index finger slowly over the cold metal, taking in every detail. She looked up at him with total admiration. She couldn't believe it. The one and only James Tiberius Kirk, captain of his own god damn ship.

"Not bad for a petty little troublemaker, huh?" he joked, still scarcely able to believe it himself. She laughed, unable to take her eyes off the medal in her palm. He smiled at her expression, full of fascination and pleasant surprise. She then, reluctantly turned and placed it back in Jim's pocket, before getting up to clean the spilt whisky off the wooden floor, still reeling.

Before long, a somewhat tipsy Alex began to feel drowsy. She rolled over onto her side so she was facing her still completely sober best friend. She hated him for being able to handle his ale. She made it a mental note to try and be able to drink him under the table one day. Yawning before she spoke, she called his name. "Jim?" He muttered unintelligibly in response, stifling a large yawn of his own. "How long are you here for?" she questioned, her eyes showing she had already thought of what she wanted to hear, and that she was hoping that would be the case. He sighed, breaking eye contact with her and looking downwards at the cushion under his head, knowing full well what he had to say wasn't the news Alex was expecting. She frowned.

"I have to start back pretty soon. Enterprise is heading up search and rescue missions for any stragglers left from the destruction of Vulcan." He looked back into her eyes. "I wasn't even supposed to leave, but I wasn't gonna come back through Iowa without seeing you, was I? No power in the universe could make me do that!" he said, trying to cheer her up. He knew this wasn't what she wanted to hear, how hard it was going to be for her to be without him; having only just seen him after all those years of nothing. She was silent. "I'll stay here until you fall asleep. Don't worry Al, it won't be another four years before we see eachother again. I promise, okay?" Jim offered. She responded with a sad, half-smile and nodded slowly. Without a word, she shut her eyes. She didn't know what she wanted to say to him in those final moments, so she decided it was best to simply leave it be and enjoy them for what they were. Within minutes, her breathing had slowed and her face relaxed.

Silently, Jim slid off the couch and pulled his leather jacked over his shoulders. Reaching into the left pocket, he wrapped his fingers around the cold, cast metal and ribbon and looked at it thoughtfully. Releasing it onto the coffee table, he leant over Alex and placed a gentle kiss carefully on her forehead. She mumbled in her sleep as he did so and he laughed affectionately. Taking one last look, Jim mentally swore to her that he'd be back one day in the near future. The door creaked wearily as he shut it behind himself and walked off into the warm, early morning twilight.