AN: THAT'S all the capitals (pause) THERE ARE.

…No one? No one at all? That's just sad.

Right, so, I had to get this done by Sunday so Mrs. Jerry would give me souvenirs when she got back from her slightly-belated honeymoon cruise. Yay for presents-as-motivator!

…Oh, uh, of course, by that I mean: I did it all for yooouuu?

Your mild hysteria and sudden massive increase in naughty language and threats of physical harm kept me laughing for DAYS. Mrs. Jerry's favorite was the I-will-find-you-and-punch-you-in-the-face one because it was so specific. To me, they were all hilarious XD

Dear Canadian beta (this is not a type of fish): WTF, how are you so awesome? Everyone should worship mdevile because she gave this chapter +100 AWESOME even though she lost massive amounts of sleep doing it. YOU'RE MADE OF SO MUCH WIN IT CAN'T BE QUANTIFIED.

Actually, I'm just not sure what to do with myself now that Atlas is done. I mean, there are grad school apps and fixing my query letter to maybe finally get published and setting up a livejournal or something so people who care can keep track of what the hell I do when I'm not…er, massive!fic'ing. (WHO'S UP FOR NANOWRIMO THIS YEAR?) Aside from all that, though. What will I do with all my time?

…Yes that's right, good idea. WARCRAFT. I knew we'd get there together eventually. (I'm only partially joking, which is the sad part, but the backstory of that universe is so COOL.)

For now, though, I'm going to sleep. I have work in, like, four hours XD I'm so tired I don't even know if this makes sense. But before I go, a few things:

To everyone who followed me from the beginning: I'm in your debt.

To everyone who hung in there when I occasionally seemed to vanish: I'm honored by your faith in me.

To the nit-picks, the con/crits, people who gave it a chance even when they didn't agree with everything: Thanks for sticking with me

To the silent lurkers: I know you're there, and I find your stalker-ish behavior delightful

To all my crazy new friends: XD (I think I killed Mrs. Jerry's fish. The whole tank. I couldn't figure out how to turn on the lights, okay? Don't tell her. (Mrs. Jerry: It wasn't me!))

To everyone who proposed to me and/or Atlas: I ACCEPT. I'm sure we'll be very happy together.

And you're all invited to the wedding =3

Part V

When Spock regained himself, the world was still senseless.

McCoy was there, mouth pressed into a hard line, stress and fear tight around his eyes. He had a PADD in one hand but was uncharacteristically silent. He didn't require clarification regarding what had happened or insist Spock remain in observation. The lack of yelling and ranting peppered with acerbic sarcasm should have felt like a reprieve.


Somehow the doctor already understood what had happened, what total collapse in a bonded Vulcan meant. The silence was no reprieve; it was Dr. McCoy attempting to devise a manner of inquiring after the specifics of Jim's death.

Spock shut his eyes, unwilling to ever have that conversation.

McCoy took the implied suggestion and stormed away. "You've got a visitor," he growled over his shoulder.

The Vulcan focused on the figure that stepped up to his bed, distracting the hollow of his mind with the details of Ensign C.C. Giotto's cold and dangerous face

"Orders, sir?" he asked, tone a perfect match for his expression.

"Find her," he said. The words were born of grief and wrath and the ancient screaming rage of his ancestry, and he could not be certain whether he spoke them in Standard or High Vulcan. He doubted it mattered. "Prevent her goals. Destroy her plans. Break her dog. Lay waste to all who gather around her. Ensure that she comes to regret ever hearing the name James Tiberius Kirk."

Whether he understood the orders or just the intent behind them, Giotto saluted sharply in acknowledgment before stalking, cat-quiet, from the room.

Once he was gone, Spock sat up, head hanging as he made an absent attempt to organize his thoughts.

He was unsuccessful.

It didn't really matter.

McCoy strode back into the room. "I want to put you on a regimen of neural-inhibitors. You need something to take the edge off if you're going to—"

"How far out are we?"

The doctor blinked, apparently startled by the abrupt question. "Far out from what?"

Stupid. What else was there, anyway?

"…The landing party's getting ready to beam down," McCoy said, eyes flickering over Spock's neutral expression. "They're in the transporter room."

Spock rose fluidly to his feet, straightened his Science tunic, and stepped toward the exit.

McCoy attempted to stop him only once, by resting a hand on his shoulder. Whatever he saw in Spock's eyes when the Vulcan turned to him caused him to both snatch his hand back and decide upon a different tactic. "Gimme a sec to grab my medkit, all right? You can call over and tell them to wait for us."

Though he didn't respond, Spock agreed by crossing to the communications unit.

They beamed down with six security personnel into honeycombed hallways that were only weakly lit by emergency lights running along the floor. Spock navigated the labyrinthine corridors as though he were as familiar with the station as the Enterprise. Periodically he sent pairs of security officers down splintered halls until only McCoy remained with him.

At least he had the intelligence to maintain his quiet. They were close now.

And Spock had no room left in him for talking.

It took fifteen minutes of walking in utter silence before McCoy realized that Spock was following a blood trail.

Or, he amended after watching the way Spock never so much as glanced at the tacky red stains, there was a blood trail that coincided with whatever trail Spock was following.

In the end, they reached a door. Because the station was running on failing emergency power, it barely cracked open when McCoy started pushing buttons on the keypad.

So, after a few wasted minutes of frustrated cursing, Spock stepped around McCoy to stick his fingers in the crack and open it himself, all but crumpling the door in a cacophony of squealing metal.

Jim was on the other side.

His was stretched out on his back, legs tangled in a way that indicated he had fallen on his stomach and then been moved. His Starfleet uniform was torn; cuts and bruises littered golden skin leached pale by lighting and an inactive cardiovascular system. His face was still, but not peaceful.

Just empty.

A boy knelt by Jim, eyes huge in fright. A crash cart was by his side, ready but unused. The kid had probably been the one who moved Jim in an attempt to revive him.


"Identify yourself," Spock ordered, eyes cold as he examined the boy, who startled badly.

"Uh," he stammered, babbling with nerves, "I'm… My name's Thomas, I was—Well, kind of I was tricked and then press-ganged into working for Admiral Peters as a medical aide? I was just trying to help, because he was nice to me, but…" He motioned at Jim's body futilely. "There wasn't anything that could be done by the time I got here. I'm…I'm really sorry. He seemed like a really good guy. I liked him."

McCoy muscled in between the boy and Jim, scanning Jim's vitals with brisk efficiency. He checked his tricorder's readings three times before wilting visibly. He lifted his eyes to the Vulcan's. "Spock," he said sadly, lowering his instrument.

Before anything else could be added, Spock crouched at Jim's side, drawing him up and out of his awkward sprawl, shifting him into a better position. He waited while McCoy scanned again.

"Spock," the doctor said, trying to make Spock read the results. "Listen, there isn't anything— You tried. God knows how you tried, and I'm sure it was a comfort to Jim."

Spock shook his head, cradling Jim closer. "No."

"You have to face facts. What is can't be changed, right? You have to—"

"No, Doctor, I do not have to—"

"Damn it, man, he was my friend too! But there's nothing—"


"He's dead, Spock!"

Spock sucked in a sharp breath, shaking his head again. He curled around Jim, burying his face in the cold curve of a neck, clutching him tightly.

No. Just—


"We'll give you a minute," McCoy offered softly, tugging the boy with him when he rose and stepped out of the room.

Spock was only peripherally aware of their absence. He shifted Jim closer, searching for heat in a still body, and found—


Curling and fond, tired and fading, but warmth, just the same.

Not in Jim, not even from himself, but from the small stone hanging from a delicate silver chain around his neck. Forgotten in the horrific silence that tore Spock's mindscape to pieces, it sang now in faint echo of the welcome Jim would have given him if he weren't—

But this was Jim. The final beats of his heart. The expiring exhalation of his lungs. The ultimate rush of energy through his body.

A final chance for him, if ever Spock had need of it.

Would he ever need anything as much as this?

He tore the chain loose, twisting the stone between his forefinger and thumb to clear the intricate binding he had laced around it. When it was free, he held it up to his eye, heart racing and frantic in his side as it glowed, pale blue bright in the surrounding darkness.

Another shift let him cradle Jim against one shoulder as he considered how, exactly, to get the last breath back into Jim where it belonged. He suspected he would get only one opportunity, so he had virtually no leeway for experimentation. Pressing it against Jim's skin did nothing but warm it. If he somehow managed to make Jim swallow it, the breath would stick in his stomach. Inserting it into Jim's airway was ridiculous and would likely result in nothing save severe secondary injuries, including a lacerated trachea.

If there was air in the stone, Spock had to free it into Jim's lungs, had to get Jim to inhale.

But Jim's lungs weren't functioning.

So how—?

When the solution finally came to him, Spock nearly snarled at himself for missing something so obvious.

How else?

He popped the gem into his own mouth, carefully tilting Jim's head back before pushing the stone between his back molars. When he thought he was ready, Spock held his breath and bit down hard, until the crystal shattered under the pressure.

It felt strange in Spock's mouth, a chilled swirling mass that felt heavy enough to be liquid but moved like a gas. Without pausing to analyze it, Spock bent forward, locking his mouth over Jim's.

He exhaled, deep and strong, forcing into Jim's lungs a combination of Spock's own breath and Jim's.

Please, he thought, trembling as Jim's chest expanded and then stilled. Please, t'hy'la.

Parted and not. Touching and not. One, forever.

You promised.

In a move so sudden it shocked Spock into breaking away, Jim gasped, a desperate, hungry sound, back arched and eyes wide, hands clawed and frantic as they pawed at the Vulcan mindlessly. He coughed and writhed, sucking air in pain gasps, limbs flailing and wracked with spasms as countless halted systems resumed higher functions.

Jim blossomed warm and wild in Spock's mind, lost but familiar, seeking the only anchor that had ever existed for him, sinking deep when he found it already reaching back for him. The Vulcan twisted tight around his bondmate's chaos, so violently relieved that the emotion was disconcertingly close to full-blown hysteria.

Not that either one cared.

T'hy'la. T'hy'la.

Don't do that again.

Spock may have called for the doctor. McCoy also might have simply heard the commotion and come running. Either way, Jim was soon pried from Spock's hold and stretched out on the ground, one hand still clutched in Spock's as McCoy worked with the boy, Thomas, as his assistant to stabilize the captain.

"Does this kind of thing happen a lot?" Thomas demanded of McCoy, young hands trembling while they held an assortment of hypos for the doctor.

"More than you'd guess," McCoy grumbled.

"In ten years," he told the CMO, eyes glittering with adrenaline and the sweet, heady wave of triumph pulled from the belly of defeat, "I'm coming for your job."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "Whatever, kid. Like you'd last a day." He stabbed the last hypo into the warming skin of Jim's neck before pressing his comm. "McCoy to Enterprise."

"Uhura here. Doctor. Is he…?"

"We found the captain," he said curtly, belying the words by stroking a hand gently through Jim's sweat-soaked hair.

Under normal circumstances, Spock might have felt concern over the ill-timed development of a fever now.

These were nothing like normal circumstances. If anything, he exalted the dark red cheeks and heavy breathing. Jim's blood was circulating; his lungs were functioning. His immune system had recovered enough to rage war against the entire experience.

It was so much better than the alternative that Spock thought of a fever, for the first time, with a sense of fondness.

"Tell sickbay to get ready for him. He's a mess."

The cheer that rose from every throat on the bridge echoed down the secure channel. When Uhura spoke again, her voice was noticeably tight with tears. "You mean…?"

"He's alive, Lieutenant, and I intend to keep him that way. Get ready for four of us to beam up."

"Yes sir," she managed to choke out.

"Can you carry him?" the doctor asked, visibly weighing Spock's frayed but healing self-control.

Without responding, Spock stood, Jim cradled carefully in his arms. He was limp and exhausted, cheeks flushed and eyes glassy, but he breathed and sighed and lived all on his own.

Spock rested his cheek briefly against the sweat-dampened golden hair and shut his eyes in a rush of love and gratitude.

Thank you, Jim. For living.

You came for me, Jim thought faintly in reply. I waited. For as long as I could. I tried, because I thought you were coming, even though no one's ever…

I will always come for you.

I love you, Spock.

Taluhk nash-veh k'dular, my James. I cherish thee.

From a distance, they heard McCoy call, "Four to beam up."

They vanished from the hell Peters had built, rematerializing back aboard the Enterprise.

"Jim," Spock whispered after a heartbeat of surprise. "Can you open your eyes?"

Jim fought to, lifting his head slightly higher

They were waiting for him. In gold and blue and red matched against black, they waited for him, an endless line of crew stretched down both sides of the hallway, starting with his command team. Their backs were straight, their heads high, at perfect attention.

"Captain on deck!" Lieutenant Commander Scott barked, and all of them, in a sea of motion, snapped regulation salutes.

From the depths of Jim's exhaustion, a smile grew, warm and brimming with his love for them. They can stop. I don't need them to do this. Tell them it's okay to stop.

But the gesture wasn't just for Jim's benefit, and they both knew it. So Spock kept his silence even when Jim burrowed tiredly into his shoulder.

Jim's crew maintained their show of respect as Spock carried their captain down the hall to the turbolift, which was open and waiting for him. Uhura crumpled a little when he passed, shoulders curved as she cried, but fought to hold her stance. When the lift shut, she folded completely, hands over her face and shoulders heaving. Scott pillowed her against his shoulder, murmuring Gaelic nonsense to offer what comfort he could while the rest of the crew returned to their stations.

"When Spock collapsed," she gasped after a long silence, "I thought—I thought he was dead, Scotty. I thought I didn't find him fast enough. I thought she killed him."

"Aye, lass. So did we all."

"I thought I failed him."

Scott shook her, gently but firmly. "You dinnae fail him, Uhura. You detected his signal in a sea 'o nothing, and we would never would've found him otherwise. He's alive because you brought us to him. Let that be enough, and go about your day comforted by it."

"I can do that," she said in weak mimicry of their young navigator. "It's a good idea." For a few seconds, she just sniffled, composing herself. She scrubbed her hands over her face to brush away the tears, then stepped back as she exhaled shakily. She stilled, expression hardening. "I think," she said, slow and deliberate, eyes locked over his shoulder, "there's one more thing I need to find first."

When Scott turned to follow her line of sight, what he saw was C.C. Giotto, flanked by the others Jim had spent all his free time training.

A wicked smile curved his mouth.

"Now that's a good idea."

McCoy settled Jim in a biobed and refused to let him move. The readings fluctuated often enough to keep him on the edge of paranoia, spiking and plummeting erratically. He kept Chapel and Thomas hopping, running around sickbay for an eclectic combination of chemicals and homeopathic remedies.

What little warning he did get when Jim's system was about to go wonky came from Spock, who had stationed himself beside his captain, taken one of his hands, and all but turned to stone. McCoy suspected Vulcan mind-voodoo and tried not to disturb him.

It didn't hurt, of course, that Spock was acting as a kind of oh-shit early detection system by quietly saying, "Doctor," right before Jim's fucked-up body kicked up another problem.

The interval between episodes was lengthening, thank Christ. Eventually they should stop altogether, though McCoy made sure to glance at Jim's impossible allergy chart before thinking in terms of an actual prognosis. If there was any kind of strange physiological tick that could be developed as a side-effect of being functionally resurrected (which, by the way, what the fuck?), Jim Kirk would develop it.

Eventually, somewhere around the thirty-hour mark, McCoy felt comfortable enough to wake Thomas up and send him with Chapel to find temporary quarters.

"Remember," Thomas yawned in warning as he left, "this job is mine in ten years."

"Nurse," McCoy said to Chapel, "the toddler is showing signs of psychosis, which is concerning in someone his age. See if he can sleep it off. Although I'd guess the prognosis is dim."

Chapel laughed and towed a grumbling Thomas away.

Two point three days later, while most of the medical staff was sleeping and only Spock was with him, Jim woke. His eyes opened in thin slits of electric blue, drifting over to Spock at his side. He licked his lips, squeezed the Vulcan's hand, and whispered hoarsely, "Hi."

Spock, who had known his t'hy'la was working up to consciousness for nearly an hour, placed an ice chip on his parched lips. "You should sleep more, if you can."

Jim shook his head weakly. "Not tired."

"You are. But I will answer your questions." He fed Jim more ice slowly, monitoring his reaction to each new piece through the strong, warm hum of their connection. "The crew is concerned for your heath but otherwise well. We are returning to Starfleet Command to be debriefed and then sent on an extended shore leave."

"Yay," Jim rasped, eyes drooping shut against his formidable will.

Spock ticked an eyebrow. "Indeed." When Jim's eyes fell shut completely, he moved the cup of ice back to its place on the bedside table. His other hand, as ever, remained locked with Jim's. "As for Peters, her dog and her second-in-command Dr. Nixon were captured and brought to trial by the special operations unit known most commonly as Archer's Hunt."

A thin laugh shook Jim. "That's perfect. I bet their unit emblem is, like…an archer and…hunting dogs and maybe…a hawk or…cat…"

"They were found guilty of a great number of crimes including attempted murder of a Starfleet captain and conspiracy to commit treason."

"That's a bad one," the captain whispered, more than half asleep already. "Penal colony near…that place with the…thing…"

Spock let his smile curl down their bond, settling warm in Jim's sleepy thoughts.

"At least it's done," Jim said faintly, fingers tightening on Spock's. "It's finally done."

"It is," Spock agreed, brushing the hair from his captain's eyes. He bent close to press a chaste kiss against dry lips.

"'s twice now."

"Twice what, t'hy'la?" the Vulcan asked softly, stroking what soft, warm skin was available to him.

"You saved my mind and then…m'body… I guess I owe you pretty big now."

"I did it as much for myself as you," Spock admitted, fingers dancing over Jim's pliant mouth. "I love you, Jim. I will not live without you." He felt a smile curve the lips he touched. "Sleep now."

For the first time in his life, Jim obeyed without protest.

The ordeal involved in getting Jim, who was still recuperating, successfully set up on his shore leave was intense.

For the first week Enterprise was in space dock, McCoy refused to discharge Jim from Starfleet Medical. Jim attempted to sign out AMA and got to witness his best friend tear the official form to shreds right in front of him.

He would have laughed if something about McCoy hadn't been screaming silently of grievous bodily harm. (And the bastard would know which parts of him could sustain more abuse; he was annoyingly thorough like that.)

When he was finally released, McCoy followed Jim and Spock to the quiet penthouse with the gorgeous view of the pacific ocean that Starfleet had arranged for them by way of an apology that kept Jim extremely close to medical aid.

"This is ridiculous," Jim grumbled while McCoy swept the entire place for potential allergens that he was collecting in a large sack, grumbling his intention of dumping them on Admiral Pike's desk. ("Safe my Southern ass!") "You have a daughter, Bones. Go bug her."

"I'm not listening to you," McCoy reminded him.

Spock assisted Jim in his effort to settle in a large, well-cushioned arm chair. "That's not exactly news, Nanny McCoy."

McCoy hurled a lumbar pillow at him but otherwise didn't respond. He moved into the bathroom; almost immediately he crowed, "Tea tree oil! Ha!"

"Is he playing Anaphylactic Bingo or something?" Jim asked rhetorically. "What does he get if he wins? And does no one else find this slightly creepy?"

Spock stroked the curve of Jim's ear, tugging it lightly in admonishment. "He is your friend."

"And illogically concerned."

"It would only be illogical if the sack he is carry were not filled with items almost sure to close your already compromised airways."

Jim sighed, flopping back against the lumbar pillow with an expression of resigned irritation. "I want you to know," he told Spock firmly, "that this is my most ferocious pout."

"Still not better than Chekov's," Bones called from the bathroom.

A message chimed on the communications unit, sending an irrational spike of ill-ease through Spock before he quickly mastered it. "I will return shortly," he told Jim. "Do not move."

"Won't," Jim agreed, shutting his eyes.

When Spock read the message, he assumed at first it was incorrect. McCoy emerged from the bathroom in time to register the unnatural stillness in Spock's body. He muscled close to read the message; his face twisted in a victorious snarl. "No one deserved it more," he spat. "I'm goin' to give this to Pike. You be good," he ordered his captain before stalking from the premises.

By that time, Jim was sitting straight, on full alert. "What happened?" he demanded.

Spock crossed the room to sit by him. "Peters is dead, Jim," he said. "As are Alpha and Dr. Nixon."

Jim blinked. "…What?"

The Vulcan inclined his head. "According to Admiral Archer, they escaped from the penal colony in a short-range shuttle that was neither built nor ever intended for any kind of deep space travel. They were being tracked when their ship fell into the orbit of a red giant star. They were unable to reach escape velocity and were consumed. They are dead."

"Dead," Jim echoed numbly. He licked his lips. "How sure are they?"

"Their level of certainty is set at one hundred percent. Peters, Alpha, and Nixon were on the shuttle. The shuttle was pulled into a sun. They were either incinerated or suffered from heat stroke and then were incinerated. But, Jim, they are most certainly dead."

Jim gripped Spock's hand, eyes shut and expression smooth. "So this is what that feels like," he murmured.

"What do you mean?" Spock asked carefully.

The captain favored his First Officer with a bright, wild grin. "Freedom." He pulled Spock close, tangling himself in the heat of a Vulcan body. "I'm finally free, Spock. You should really help me celebrate."

"As you wish," Spock breathed into his mouth, and said little else of importance for many hours afterward.

Peters did not fall into a star and incinerate.

She walked her purloined ship with the grim confidence of hard victory, already planning the next three steps, mentally organizing the camp she would build for her recruits. Even if rumors of Kirk's impossible survival were true, she still had his data.

Actually, his living was almost like a gift. She would use field courses developed from his missions to train the operatives that would kill him and seize the Enterprise for her new fleet. Best of all, he would never see her coming.

"Status report," she ordered, stepping into the engine room to check on Alpha's progress in turning a delivery shuttle into a small cruiser.

When she found him, he was dead.

Someone had broken his arms, legs, and neck. It was silent. It was brutal.

It was a message.

"Nixon," she called into her communicator, running through the low hallways toward her doctor's make-shift data processing lab. "Nixon, we've been compromised, you have to—"

Too late.

Nixon was dead, gagged and blindfolded with her own observation equipment, hung from the ceiling with the cords of the recording gear she had used to monitor Kirk. His files were wiped, the PADDs containing backup copies systematically opened and laid out.

Another message.

Peters used the butt of her phaser to smash the panel that powered the lights. The ship went dark. She slunk through the corridor on her way to the bridge, which was the only room worth attempting to barricade.

She could still build her army without her Alpha. Even without Nixon. All she had to do was survive, as she had for years.

The bridge was clear, consoles beeping quietly, rhythmically, in time with the deliberately calm beat of her heart and the measured breath in her lungs. She locked the doors, ruining the keypads so no one could follow. Then, with her back to the monitors and both entrances in her line of sight, she waited.

"Find her," a low, dark voice whispered, coming from the deep shadows she herself had created. She leapt from the consol, phaser tight in her grip as she sought something to sight—anything in the darkness to make a target.

But nothing moved. There was no sound of breathing, nor of a shifting body. Just the darkness.

"Prevent her goals. Destroy her plans."

Her ship veered sharply off course, tossing her to the ground with a sharply exclaimed curse. She scrambled to her feet but could not locate her phaser again. "Who are you!" she shouted. "Show yourself!"

"Break her dog."

The screen behind her flickered, blacking out before showing looping footage of her best and final operative being tormented and killed by figures that never quite stepped into frame.

"Lay waste to all who gather around her."

A second film began: the systematic execution of her doctor.

"Ensure that she comes to regret ever hearing the name…"

Finally her enemy emerged, a group of three tall, powerfully built men. They were dressed in black but armored with strategically located guards to protect their vitals. The gear had been cannibalized from the operative suits currently in use, but had shed much of the weight and nearly all of the monitoring equipment. Each operative bore on his left pectoral a slightly iridescent black Starfleet emblem, taking them instantly from the ranks of official spec ops warriors, who were never branded in case they were caught.

These were not men who had come here with the knowledge of an admiral. They were not a team on a mission. These three belonged to—

"James Tiberius Kirk."

Their faces were hidden behind featureless black masks formed of two pieces. One covered everything from forehead to nose and cheekbones. The lower half fit over mouth and jaw but was removable, as evidenced by the spokesman, who held his in a gloved fist.

No prints, if anyone even bothered to investigate. She glanced at her new trajectory and felt a wave of what might have been despair.

No investigation if she and her unstable ship and murdered crew were sent into a star.

Clever of them, really.

"Will you monitor my frequency?" she asked of them, vicious in her defeat. "Will you listen to my screams as my ship melts around me?"

She felt a jolt and looked down.

Blood poured from her stomach from the phaser fire, coming not from the three men but one of the two additional who had lingered in shadow, unseen.

She lifted her eyes to the leader. "This is murder," she said around the blood dripping from her mouth.

"I am a security officer aboard the Starfleet flagship Enterprise," he replied, "whose captain you will try to kill as long as you draw breath. Believe me when I say: This is actually in my job description."

Without any visible command, all of his operatives fired.

She never knew which of them killed her.

Months later, Jim was lounging on his bed aboard the Enterprise, studying a list of potential orders and trying to get Spock to name a favorite without any success.

"My pick would be deep space exploration," Jim said, tipping his head just enough to watch Spock securing the last of their personal belongs in preparation for launch. "I mean, space is the final frontier, right? If we're going on a voyage, that should be it. We're the flagship. Right?"

"That is an accurate observation."

Jim rolled his eyes. "You're no fun at all since I got better."

Spock ticked an eyebrow at him until he flopped back with a grin.

Shortly thereafter, Jim's PADD chimed. "Orders!" he crowed, jackknifing into a sitting position. He scrolled through his messages to access the new one. "Ah, damn, it's not orders, it's just—Hey, it's from Thomas!" Spock glanced back to find Jim smiling brightly. "He got accepted into the advanced med track. Awesome, he'll be available to transfer onto the Enterprise in just five years. We can wait that long," Jim added to his bondmate, "right?"

"Indeed," Spock agreed blandly. "I look forward to nothing so much as the day when he becomes a permanent addition to Dr. McCoy's medical team, where he can begin to set traps and physical challenges designed to drive your CMO into early retirement."

Rather than chagrined, Jim seemed delighted. He laughed and shook his head. "Man, that'll be great."

"We shall see how you interpret the potential for anarchy five years from now."

"Tons can change in that amount of time," Jim agreed, absently composing a reply for his young friend. When another message chimed, he ignored it just long enough to send Thomas' reply, then pulled it up. "Yes!" he cheered, popping up from the bed as he scanned the official document. "Our five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before." He grinned at Spock again. "I like the sound of that."

"Somehow," the Vulcan replied, cool and level, sarcasm expressed fully in the dry tingle that itched down their link, "I am singularly unsurprised." He handed Jim his Command tunic.

"After the first two years," the captain added without rising to his First's bait while he tugged the shirt over his head, "this should be a snap. No megalomaniacal admirals, no pirates, no crazed perpetrators of genocide. Just a nice, relaxing cruise through unexplored and potentially hostile space. And think! When we get back, Thomas will be ready!"

Spock tilted his head thoughtfully, hands clasped behind his back to subdue the urge to put Jim's golden head back into some kind of order. "Do you suppose it is too late to request a transfer?"

Jim laughed, exactly as Spock had known he would, and pressed their bodies close before saying, "You know you'd miss me too much to transfer. Besides, who'll save me from myself if you're not there?"

The Vulcan submitted to the thoroughly logical impulse to ensure his captain continued to present a professional figure by petting his hair into place. "Another accurate observation."

"Sap," Jim teased. He tugged at the edges and seams of his uniform until everything sat perfectly, combing one hand through his hair to absently ruin Spock's efforts. "Alright," he said at last. "Ready to do this thing?"

"I am," he agreed, following Jim to the door.

Jim stepped out of their quarters into the hallway, turning back to smile at Spock. He held out his hand. "Walk with me?" he asked.

Spock tangled their fingers together, eyes bright with warmth. "Always."