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Insontis

Chapter Text

Chief Medical Officer’s Log, Stardate 4221.5
 
As a result of a ceremonial ritual mandatory for successful First Contact negotiation on the planet Insontis, our fearless (and stupidly gullible) captain is now a squalling twelve-month-old. The Insonti can give me no definite re-transformation instructions or even an estimate as to how long the condition will last, other than the inconclusive “He will return to his former state when he has learned the lessons for which the Regenratron was created.”
 
“Do you realize how that sounds?” the physician fairly wailed, gesturing to the recording machine after pausing the tape.
 
“Like you’re on crack, Doctor?”
 
“Button it, Sulu!”
 
“Gentlemen,” Acting Captain Spock intoned, attempting to refrain from the human exhalation known as sighing. “This antagonism is hardly productive. The fact remains that the doctor’s logs are correct, and that situation must now be dealt with as best we can. Starfleet Command will no doubt have many questions as to the events on the planet below.”
 
“The chief of which won’t be is Jim okay, just did he get the dam-danged dilithium mining contract,” McCoy hastily corrected himself as he remembered the child in the room. “Why did the idiot agree to undergo that Regenratron ritual anyhow?!”
 
“Because it was that participation which won him the aforementioned contract, Doctor,” Spock said patiently. “Refusal constitutes an extreme offense in the Insonti culture; the damage to the negotiations would be irreparable.”
 
“It could’ve been something that would’ve killed him, and he just went and said ‘yes’ without a second thought!”
 
“Lower your voice, Doctor,” the Vulcan warned, eyeing warily the slumbering scrap of blanket-bundled humanity which currently rested, snoring softly, in his arms. “Do you wish a repeat of his…performance, in the Transporter Room?”
 
James T. Kirk had a command voice even at age twelve-months; he had screamed bloody murder from the moment of his re-materialization in a small bassinet, loud enough to be heard in the turbolift at the opposite end of the corridor. Spock had never seen such a tiny being produce such a discordant cacophony; it should be physically impossible, and yet evidently was not. All of McCoy’s cajoling, soothing, and unintelligible ‘baby-talk’ had been to no avail against the force of a tiny fist-flailing Kirkian tantrum (Spock did not think much of the doctor’s fathering skills, after this).
 
Spock, beginning to fear that his sensitive eardrums would soon begin rupturing, finally had unceremoniously plucked the shrieking infant from the doctor’s hands and had held it gently at eye-level.
 
“That is quite enough, Jim,” he said sternly, and whether it was the difference in position or the sound of his voice, or possibly a subliminal recognition of a faintly telepathic connection, the infant had hiccupped unhappily for a moment and then subsided, sniffling and rubbing a small fist against its eyes. The rest of the Transporter Room’s occupants’ jaws dropped in shock (and in McCoy’s case, indignation).
 
“Well, I never,” the physician growled, hauling himself to his feet. He booted the basket out from underfoot, just for good measure.
 
Large hazel eyes blinked unwavering at Spock’s, eerily reminiscent of the adult version of this small human. Then a tiny finger reached out and experimentally poked his nose. Spock heard Nurse Chapel’s coo of delight from somewhere behind the ‘aww’-ing medical team, who had been summoned on general principle after an away mission gone awry.
 
The infant hiccupped and beamed up at the Vulcan’s impassive features with a charm that was far too familiar.
 
McCoy grinned evilly. “Look who’s landed himself baby-sittin’ duty for the next few days, everybody?”
 
The doctor was, as the humans said, a dead man.

Chapter Text

The Admiralty, to say the least, was unimpressed.
 
In all fairness, Spock amended, Archer only looked like he was trying desperately to not laugh in the face of Vulcan stoicism, and Cartwright merely rolled his eyes toward the ceiling (the standard reaction to the oddities the Enterprise encountered with fair regularity) and proceeded to sleep through the following debriefing. The rest of the Board were those who looked askance at him and the tiny being he held awkwardly before him.
 
“Commander, you are out of uniform.” 
 
Spock was not amused by Archer’s muffled snort into his water glass. “Your communiqué arrived at an inopportune time for such formalities, sirs,” he replied with unruffled equanimity, as much as he could when facing an official debriefing in nothing more on his upper body than his black undershirt, holding a babbling human infant on his lap. “The captain has always had impeccable aim, apparently including the regurgitation of excess nutritional supplements.”
 
Archer inhaled the remainder of his drink and hastily left the room, coughing, and even Komack’s severe features relaxed into a quirk of the lips.
 
While he did not appreciate being made the object of amusement for a group of humans with whom neither he nor the captain enjoyed conversing on a normal day, if it would mitigate the battle he was sure would follow then Spock would endure it.
 
Jim blew a raspberry at the viewscreen, and he closed his eyes in mild mortification.
 
There was definite amusement in Komack’s voice when he spoke. “Commander Spock, we’ve received your report along with your Chief Medical Officer’s on Captain Kirk’s…unusual condition. What, in your opinion, would be the best course of action against the Insonti?”
 
“None,” he replied without hesitation. “The ritual was performed with the captain’s full consent; no real harm or breaking of law occurred in its performance. The Insonti are a childish people themselves, Admiral; full of innocence and goodwill and most likely incapable of causing permanent harm to a living being. The effects are, according to them, temporary only. To retaliate in any way would negate the effectiveness of the negotiations which the Captain performed with them, and would most likely be of no benefit. The effects cannot be reversed by the Insonti; they must run their course. And we did win the mining contract.”
 
“We can’t just let the flagship wander around the galaxy with a toddler in tow, I don’t care if he used to be the captain,” Komack said, massaging his forehead.
 
This was where it would get tricky. Spock was not about to dock the Enterprise at the nearest Starbase and turn the baby over to a ‘Fleet child-care organization. He would take his fifteen years’ accumulated leave and retreat to Vulcan sanctuary if he had to, but it would be more beneficial – and probably the best course of action, given that the captain was supposed to ‘learn lessons’ due to the Regenratron – to remain aboard the Enterprise.
 
“Sir, the Enterprise is scheduled for nothing more than stellar cartography for the next sixty days,” he responded, shifting Jim on his lap as the child grew restless, wriggling around to look at his face and reaching up one stubby hand to pat at his chin. “May I submit the solution that for that amount of time, at least, the captain be permitted to remain aboard so that we may endeavor to restore him to his adult state?” Small fingers yanked on his shirt, and he absently stood Jim on wobbly feet, leaning the child back against his chest. “According to the Insonti, that should be sufficient time, and those aboard not devoted to the task of star-mapping can turn their undivided attention to that end. If after that amount of time Captain Kirk is still not returned to his usual status before our next mission, then we could reconsider the possibilities?”
 
Jim had lost interest in the conversation and was currently engrossed in yanking on Spock’s pointed ear. “Desist, Jim,” he said sternly, tapping the child’s back to get his attention. “That is behavior unbecoming a Starfleet officer. It is also painful.”
 
Wide eyes blinked at him from under the mop of sandy curls, utterly uncomprehending.
 
Komack raised an eyebrow. “You really want to be a galactic nanny instead of mapping stars for the next two months, Commander?”
 
The child who had been his captain for almost four years yawned and leaned his head back against Spock’s shoulder, one small fist clutching a handful of black undershirt.
 
Spock did not sigh; that was also behavior unbecoming a Starfleet officer. He did, however, not feel as frustrated with the situation as he knew he in all probability should. That was cause for concern, but would wait until he was not distracted by a tiny human drooling on his shoulder.   
 
“It would appear I have no choice, Admiral.”

Chapter Text


Such tiny lungs should not be physically capable of producing such a volume of noise; it was entirely illogical and, more alarmingly, highly improbable. And yet, even at one year of age, James T. Kirk was not just beating the odds but leaving them far behind his energetic personality.
 
Granted, said personality was manifesting itself at the moment in a trait more becoming the infant he was than the starship captain he would be; namely, the action which Dr. McCoy called ‘pitchin’ a fit’ and which Spock termed a ‘tantrum.’
 
“Are you certain he is in no pain, Doctor?” Spock inquired, wincing as the decibel level in the Sickbay cubicle went to a level which even humans found intolerable.
 
“Very,” the physician retorted, glaring down at the shrieking bundle of flailing arms and legs which currently was the tiny captain of the Enterprise. “He’s doing what Jim does best – tryin’ to get his own way from force of personality when his charm fails to move people.”
 
Spock hesitated, looking down at the reddened, tear-streaked face. “I can hardly take him with me onto the Bridge for alpha shift, Doctor, especially when navigating the turbulence of an asteroid belt.”
 
“No one’s telling you to, Spock, you’re exactly right,” McCoy replied, nodding. “The kid’s unnaturally attached to you, anyway; he has to start getting used to other people. You’re an acting captain now, not his nursemaid. Go on, before he damages your eardrums.”
 
The infant let out another dismal wail as the Vulcan began to walk away, sobbing in what seemed to his inferior experience to be genuine anguish. To cause harm or distress of any sort, even emotional, to the helpless was a crime of the first order in his culture…he glanced back up at the physician, who appeared to be watching him with something resembling fond amusement.
 
“Guarantee he’ll stop the minute you leave, Commander,” McCoy said reassuringly. “He’s not in pain, I promise; I checked. He’s working you as only Jim Kirk can, trying to get his own way. Go on, now, get.”
 
Spock glanced back at the sobbing child, still hesitating. Jim chose that moment to voice his displeasure at an all-new level of glass-shattering screech, which made his decision for him.


McCoy’s laughter followed his hasty exit.

 



 
Whatever Spock thought of his parenting skills, McCoy still had more experience in the field than most aboard, and he calmly went about his duties within eyesight and with sound-muffling devices on his ears for the next couple of minutes, letting the (by now, slightly-spoiled) child scream his heart out. When the noise subsided into a pitiful sobbing, he removed the earplugs and settled next to the small bassinet which currently housed Starfleet’s most renowned captain.
 
“You ‘bout done, then?” he inquired with unusual gentleness, running a hand over the unruly blonde curls.
 
An angry sniffle was his only answer.
 
“You know, nothing changes, does it?” he mused, setting about with a scanner and old-fashioned hands-on, habit more than anything else to check the infant's well-being after his tantrum. “You’re all but attached at the hip to that walking database, at any age. Leaves the rest of us a little outside the loop, Jim, you know?”
 
A hiccup, followed by a small sniffle. 
 
“I wonder, sometimes,” he continued, musing to himself in the safety that no one who could understand the words would hear him, “if you just don’t trust the rest of us as much, or if you even know you’re doing it. I get it, Spock’s absolute loyalty isn’t given lightly, we know that – but you’re not alone here, kiddo. Why can’t you see that?”
 
The physician caught the small fist which waved too close to his nose and held it, and in a moment a tiny hand curled tightly around his index finger.
 
“Mm? ‘Bout finished?” Swollen hazel eyes blinked tearfully at him, and he smiled. “That’s more like it. Now then, looka what I’ve got here for you, Jimmy.” He flipped the white awning of the bed up to mostly cover the infant’s head and upper body, and then turned the small switch Scotty had rigged up on the side of the bassinet.
 
Dark bluish light projected immediately onto the white awning, the glint and glitter of star fields dancing among the odd scattered nebulaic cloud or planet.
 
He nearly laughed, but found himself almost wanting to cry at the same time, when the child’s eyes lit up as bright as the stars themselves, wider and wider and wider, watching the flickering pinpoints dance slowly around and across the makeshift screen, changing once in a while to a new constellation set or different starscape. Mesmerized, the tiny future captain watched in awed silence the skies which he would one day travel, with a single-minded fascination which made the doctor grin and remind himself that he owed Scotty anything the engineer wanted, for rigging this up. Spock wasn’t the only one that this scrap of lovable brat had wrapped around his finger.
 
A small hand reached up to point excitedly at a slowly-passing ‘nebula,’ and the physician smiled. He tucked a blanket around the little head which now rested peacefully, smiling in perfect contentment up at the stars, and lowered the lights in the cubicle.
 
For sure, he later thought ruefully as Spock comm-ed him for the fifth time in ten minutes to ‘ascertain the captain’s status,’ some things really didn’t change with age.

Chapter Text

Word spreads quickly aboard a starship, as the only entertainment aboard must originate within. And, while the crew of the Enterprise were the best at what they did, and the most loyal to their command team, everyone does love good gossip, and this situation was no exception, at least until the novelty of its ridiculous nature wore off. However, the crew as a whole were wise enough to stay well away from the Command crew, and scuttled warily into cross-corridors if the flash of blue and command stripes was even glimpsed down the hall. No one was stupid enough to cross Acting Captain Spock at this time, not if he wanted to live to see another planetfall.
 
The amusement factor wore off for most of the crew when rumors from other ships began to circulate, though. Despite their vast differences and the high mortality rate on the Federation’s flagship, they all did truly love their captain and first officer, and to have such a scandal attempt to besmirch two good names was the last straw for Kirk’s loyal crew. 
 
Perhaps a brawl at Starbase Nine involving crewmen from four different ships was not the best idea, Lieutenant Garrovick (who had self-professedly thrown the first punch after a crack about Captain Kirk) admitted after the fact, and it did get them a thorough dressing-down from both Spock and Security Chief Giotto – but it was downright satisfying. And they had proved again that their ship and captain were the best in the ‘Fleet; the others went back to their commanding officers too sore and scared to lodge official complaints against the Enterprise’s loyal crew.
 
And all this, over a tabloid which had somehow gotten wind of the Enterprise’s newest young resident (Spock was going to severely deal with whoever had taken and leaked the holopic of him cradling an infant Jim Kirk), and was billeting the baby as anything from Captain Kirk’s genius son by a secret marriage, to an indiscretion from their last diplomatic encounter, to his and Jim’s love-child, to quote the most lurid.
 
Spock had never before had a migraine in his life, but he was currently teetering on the edge of breaking that trend.
 
Retreating to Sickbay after dealing with his recalcitrant crew and the tabloid legalities, he slid gratefully into the chair Christine Chapel shoved his way with one foot, her hands being full of medical supplies for the damaged crewmen. Her smile was half-sympathetic, half-amused, that he would lower his control so far as to actually sit down without being forced to in Sickbay, but he could not bring himself to care overmuch at this time.
 
A chubby hand tugged on his uniform trousers, and he looked down to see a small face beaming up at him, some bedraggled plush toy held firmly in the infant’s mouth. Jim had discovered the joys of crawling the instant McCoy had set him on a blanket on the floor in Spock’s cabin for the first time. The child had been off instantaneously as if he were motorized, and it had taken them both completely by surprise. Now, Jim was underfoot every moment their backs were turned; he had long since deduced how to overturn his bassinet and free himself from its confines in true Kirkian escape fashion.
 
The sight warmed Spock just a little, though he well knew that particular small emotion was most likely the reason for this current scandal circulating through the tabloids. However, he would not vent his frustrations on such an innocent being.
 
“That is highly unsanitary, Jim,” he said, removing the much-chewed stuffed cat from the child’s mouth. 
 
Jim blew a raspberry at him and reached up for the toy, frowning in protest. Spock recognized the beginnings of a tantrum and hastily returned the anatomically incorrect animal, whereupon it was promptly stuffed back into the infant’s mouth with a beatific smile.
 
Then the little one was off again, crawling with a speed which was, actually, quite remarkable, across the sanitized Sickbay floor.

McCoy’s office door hissed open and a familiar figure barreled out. “Where the hel-heck is that kid?!” His bellow rattled a nearby instrument tray. “I turn my back for two seconds and he figures out how to throw that danged stuffed animal high enough to trip the door sensors!”

Spock blinked, and indicated the small legs which were disappearing around the corner into the next ward.
 
“CHRISTINE STOP THAT KID OR YOU’RE FIRED!”
 
A moment later the nurse appeared around the corner, a miniature Jim Kirk scowling darkly from his perch on her shapely hip. She shot her superiors a severe look. “Doctor, it isn’t safe for you to let him crawl around like this, even if the floor’s kept sanitary by the computer controls,” she scolded, handing a protesting Jim into the physician’s arms. 
 
McCoy spluttered. “I’m gonna get you a leash, Jim-boy,” he growled, scowling back at the child, whose lower lip was starting to stick out in a full-blown pout, large tears welling up in those ridiculously expressive eyes. “Don’t look at me like that, it’s your own fault!”
 
“Doctor,” Spock interjected, seeing the sniffling begin to start. No doubt he was, as the humans said, spoiling the child, but he could not stand by and watch him be in distress.
 
“Fine, you take him,” McCoy growled, plopping the startled infant onto his lap. “Hope you have better luck. Next week he’ll be takin’ the replicator apart, you just watch, and don’t come cryin’ to me when he destroys your fire-pot tonight.”
 
Jim blinked, wide-eyed, and promptly threw the stuffed cat at McCoy’s head.
 
The doctor glared at them both. “Yours and the captain’s love-child, my sainted aunt,” he growled, arms folded. “That kid’s obviously one-hundred percent Jim Kirk, drama queen tendencies and all!”
 
Spock began to see what humans found appealing in the action known as a ‘headdesk.’ 

Chapter Text

Jim had finally gotten over his terror at being forcibly detached from his self-appointed Vulcan nanny, though the occasional tantrum let everyone within earshot know that Spock was on Bridge duty again and it would be a long, loooooong day. Once he had learned to crawl, however, that seemed to offer enough distraction that as long as there were people within earshot, the child would be at ease enough. 
 
On the one time that McCoy left him bumbling about an empty Sickbay cubicle-turned-nursery (one in which Scotty had spent four hours removing sharp equipment, attaching padding to the walls and a plush carpet on the floor for the child’s safety, then dumping a veritable army of age-appropriate toys for company) for more than twenty minutes due to a medical emergency, though, he had returned to find the little one sobbing quietly in the farthest corner of the room, stuffed cat clutched in small hands. Jim wasn’t wailing, shrieking, even crying loudly – just silent, miserable sobbing.
 
Christine always said he was nothing more than ‘a giant marshmallow covered in cactus spines,’ but not even a Vulcan’s cold heart would be able to withstand the realization that even in this state, the captain’s worst fear was of being alone – and that he refused to broadcast that fact loudly enough for anyone to hear.
 
“Aw, Jim,” he murmured, scooping up the sobbing infant and cradling him close. “I’m sorry, kid. Reynolds was havin’ an allergic reaction to the local anesthetic…right, you don’t care about the particulars. I know.” A strangled hiccup sounded close to his ear, and he gently rubbed the child’s back, one hand moving up to cup the small head. “Shhh. I know, Jim.”
 
The hiss of pneumatic doors indicated Christine had come back with the results of Reynolds’ minor surgery, and he turned, the infant still crying silently into his medical scrub-shirt.
 
It wasn’t his head nurse, but an inquiring Vulcan gaze which fixed him in place. The tiny twitch of a wrinkle between the slanted eyebrows told him that Spock would just as soon kill him as look at him if he’d been responsible for causing Jim distress. Honestly, the kid was going to put a whole new meaning on ‘Fleet brat, if the Vulcan kept this up. He was worse than any doting grandmother spoiling an only grandchild.
 
“He’s fine, Commander,” he snorted, looking down into the child’s wild hair to hide his laugh at a very unVulcan glare.  “Got a little worked up at being left to his own devices for twenty minutes, that’s all.”
 
“Do you not deem it unwise to leave one so young alone for an extended length of time, Doctor?”
 
The small body in his arms twitched at the sound of the deep voice, and he sighed. “Spock, the place is padded and proofed, he had toys to play with, the room's medical sensors are tuned to pick up any change in body temperature, heartbeat or noise, and sound an alarm if he so much as sneezes. And I only meant to be gone for five minutes – Reynolds was seizing on the table and Christine’s not strong enough to hold a man of his size down. The kid’s fine.”
 
The small head lifted slowly from his now-damp uniform tunic. One hand scrubbed fitfully at a tear-streaked face, and he looked down. “Isn’t that right, Jim? Just needed to get it out of your system?”
 
The child frowned at him, darkly enough that it was a little disturbing; what if some part of the baby-brain could actually comprehend what they were saying and would remember it as an adult?
 
“Annnnd I think that’s my cue to hand him over to the father of the year,” he said hastily, holding the scowling infant out at arms’ length toward the austere figure currently glaring at him.
 
Jim’s small head swiveled to stare wide-eyed at the change of scenery, forcing Spock to take him from the doctor’s outstretched arms to return support to the child’s skull.   Hazel eyes blinked dizzily up at him, and then the little one clapped excitedly.
 
“Spa!”
 
McCoy froze, staring at the scrap of starship captain currently beaming up at them.
 
Spock blinked, with that brain-now-rebooting-please-hold look he got when humans behaved outside their predicted parameters. “…I would suggest you take a reading to see how much he has aged, Doctor, as I was under the impression that human children do not begin speaking, as you say, ‘out of the blue.’”
 
His hand-held scanner was already whirring over the small body. Jim cooed and tried to catch the blinking lights before the instrument was jerked out of the way.
 
“Thirteen months,” he reported, surprised, but the readings were quite clear. “He’s gained a month in five days.”
 
“We may safely assume he learned whatever lesson was necessary for that stage, then. At the current rate of aging, however, it will take him five-point-seven-two years to regain his adult status.” The Vulcan glanced down at the chubby finger currently tracing the outlines of the Science insignia on his uniform tunic. “That is unacceptable.”
 
“We’ll obviously have to try to speed him along, then,” McCoy retorted crossly. He tossed the scanner onto the desk and then bent closer to their infant captain. “We don’t even know what ‘lesson’ he learned this week!”
 
Jim blinked up at him, focusing on his eyes, and then beamed suddenly in recognition. “Bo’!” he announced, arms outstretched. “Bobobo!”
 
Spock’s eyebrow made him blush even redder than he had been. “Apparently he has learned that, despite outward indications, you are supposedly trustworthy, Doctor McCoy.”
 
“Oh, shut it, you pointy-eared wet nurse,” he muttered, taking the child back from Spock’s hands. “So you’ve decided to forgive me, huh, kiddo?” He bounced the small form on one hip, eliciting a giggle. 
 
Spock pointedly did not roll his eyes, and turned toward the door to return to duty. He paused, turned back, when he heard the next mischievous line out of the physician’s mouth.
 
“C’mon, Jimmy, you like me better than Spock, don’tcha?”
 
Wide-eyed, Jim wisely refused to take sides on that one.
 
“May I remind you, Doctor, what the child’s first word was,” Spock answered sagaciously, and scooted out the door before the nearest toddler toy impacted it with a thud and a volley of giggles. 

Chapter Text

The evening after Jim had spoken his first word (the choice of which still rankled their CMO to no end), McCoy was in his office in Sickbay, filling out yet another report before he would be able to turn in for the night. It was nearly 2330, and he had gotten five hours’ sleep the night before due to one thing and another which required his attention, and yet the paperwork had to be done, since it had nearly tripled with their captain out of commission.
 
Stifling a yawn, he scrawled an illegible signature over a requisition form, not even bothering to read it (Chapel knew her stuff). Then suddenly a Blue Alert wailed into life on his monitor, indicating a minor containment breach in one of the Bio-Medical labs.
 
He was debating if his appearance would be worth the expenditure of energy (the analysis on his screen said nothing harmful to humanoid life, though Sulu’s prize Andorian moonflowers might not make it if the gas wasn’t contained), when his office door opened.
 
“Need me?” he asked, yawning, and entirely too exhausted to conjure up a suitable repartee for his Acting Captain.

Spock plopped a sleepy infant on his lap without preamble. Jim hiccuped at the jolt, rubbing his eyes with a small fist and blinking owlishly at the bright lights. “Negative.  Please watch the captain while I rectify the situation.” And with that he was gone, leaving McCoy and the child staring at each other.

 “Why aren’t you asleep yet, hm?” he asked the little one half-seriously. “What, was he sittin’ up readin’ you warp physics textbooks as a lullaby?”
 
Jim looked around sleepily. “Spa?”
 
He rolled his eyes. “Spa is the reason you’re not asleep right now like all little boys should be, the pointy-eared idiot,” he muttered. “Will serve him da-darn right if you wake up at 0400 squalling for a diaper change. We'll be havin' words about proper human bedtimes, let me tell you.”
 
Jim apparently was through listening to him, for he snuggled down into a more comfortable position, tousled head resting just under the Medical insignia on the physician’s scrub-shirt. “Bobobobo,” the infant babbled sleepily into his tunic.
 
“Yeah, yeah,” he grunted, certainly not about to be moved by the kid, however cute he was. “Keep quiet and let me finish these reports, then we’ll see ‘bout putting you to bed until Spock comes back. Can’t use that bassinet now that you’ve figured out how to flip it upside-down and get out, now can we?”
 
Jim snuffled into his shirt, rubbing his eyes with one fist which then latched onto a small handful of blue scrubs, and was surprisingly quiet.
 
It took him twenty minutes to finish his reports (his own fault, for leaving them until the last minute in hopes his staff would take pity on a poor pseudo-single-father and do them), and by that time the little one was fast asleep, curled up against his chest and resting in perfect contentment.
 
Spock still hadn’t returned from the labs (he felt sorry for the poor fools who had been in them when the alert was sounded), and he wasn’t about to take the kid back to his cabin without it being babyproofed (and set up with a safe crib) for him to spend the night. He instead crashed on his office couch, for just a few minutes. Really, just a few; ten at the most, surely Spock wouldn’t be longer than that…just a few…
 



 
Spock was considerably longer than that, due to complications in the next-door Botany lab (and having to placate a heartbroken Lieutenant Sulu over the demise of his pet plant), and when he returned to Sickbay forty minutes later he was half-expecting to be met with irascible bursts of sleep-deprived temper.
 
He was not expecting half the female gamma shift medical staff to be crowded around the CMO’s office door, watching with hushed voices punctuated by quite a few giggles.
 
He cleared his throat.
 
Red-faced, the Medical staff scattered in all directions before his pointed gaze, and he sighed, continuing on into the office. However, seeing their grumpy Chief Medical Officer snoring on his office couch, a blonde-curled infant sound asleep under a protective arm and drooling slightly on the doctor’s chest, he then understood their emotional human attraction to a scene known colloquially, he believed, as ‘adorable.’
 
Leaving them for another few minutes in that position was entirely due to their need for sleep, of course; nothing more.

Chapter Text

Soon after he had spoken his first words, the tiny captain of the Enterprise apparently lost his wariness of being left with anyone but his primary mentors, and he did not want for a babysitter once he ceased throwing tantrums whenever left in the care of an eager crewman. As a result, his vocabulary improved at a rapid pace, making up for the lateness of its development in relation to his age.
 
The ubiquitous toddler No was of course his next word, followed shortly by Tine for Nurse Chapel, with whom he spent the most time, and Lieutenant Uhura was delighted when he managed a passable Nota at midday mess the next day. Ba followed shortly after (apparently the general term for food, usually accompanied by unintelligible babbling demands), and then the definitive Ow (overheard by a crewman in the outer ward, unfortunately, and soon to be one of the child's favorite repetitions, usually accompanied by another vociferous No and a shriek of epic proportions) when McCoy gave him his first immunization the second week aboard. McCoy was slightly disturbed by the fact that ship was the next to form (thank you, Scotty), followed by Momo (what the heck, Jim?) which apparently was the name bequeathed to the mangy stuffed cat, the child’s prize possession.
 
Spock sat in Officers’ Mess later in that same developmental week, attempting to ingest his meal in the first peace he had had in several days thanks to Ensign Chekov’s volunteering to administer the captain’s wet cereal and mashed fruit mix to him (a task for which he held no fondness, as it invariably ended up more on his clothing than in the little one’s mouth; also, he refused to make ‘airplane noises,’ as Dr. McCoy had suggested).
 
The young Russian was diligently coaxing the child to take mouthfuls of the unappetizing mixture (McCoy’s orders; while Jim needed little more than soft foods he required more nutrients than the standard toddler, if they were to accelerate the growth process), all the while attempting to cajole some rendition of his name out of the disinterested little one.
 
After the third blank look in response to his “Kin you say Chekov, Jim? Two syllables – Chek—off. Chek—off?” the ensign sighed with a gesture of resignation. Spock resisted the urge to shake his head, as the phonetics involved were obviously beyond the child’s capabilities at his present age. “Perhaps Pa-vel? That is easier, da?”
 
“Phhhhbtth,” the child responded, spraying soggy cereal in a complete two-meter radius. Spock neatly dodged the worst of the mess and ignored the squeak of dismayed protest from his protégé-turned-babysitter.
 
“That is not nice thing to do, Jim,” the Russian declared, mopping the child’s wet face and chin with a nearby napkin. “Is messy.”
 
“Ba!”
 
Da, I see it is ba,” was the muttered response, and Spock spared a moment of pity for the well-intentioned foolishness of youth. 
 
“Spa!” Jim chose that moment to fling a slice of banana into his soup bowl with deadly accuracy. Spock eyed the floating chunk indecisively for a moment and then exhaled slowly through his nose, deciding that picking the offending fruit out was not worth the expenditure of energy.
 
Large hazel eyes blinked innocently at him from across the table, uncannily looking much like the adult version of his captain when he was caught doing something…unorthodox. And usually wanting attention for it.
 
“I do not wish your nutritional supplements to share space with mine, Jim,” he said, trying the direct approach first. “We do not use the contents of our meals as projectiles.”
 
Another banana slice hit him in the face, sticking to his cheek for a moment before dropping off onto the table.
 
“Keptin! Jim, that is not nice!” Chekov’s horror at the child’s giggle was palpable, his eyes darting nervously to his mentor’s expressionless face. Spock was not ignorant of the fact that everyone within three tables of them was currently laughing hysterically.
 
Had it ended there, he might have been tempted to ignore the toddler’s behavior. However, he had not been on the best of terms with this crew of late due to his near-disappearance from the public eye in his new duties, and he had learned advice from the captain himself that sometimes one must act slightly out of his own comfort zone in order to connect with his subordinates. His crew needed to see a non-Vulcan side of him if they were to continue to follow him until the safe return of their true leader; he had learned that lesson long ago with the Galileo shuttle disaster. 
 
That, and the fact that the next airborne banana slice splash-landed in someone’s water glass at the adjoining table, prompted his admittedly illogical response.
 
He fished the fruit from off the table and, reaching across, applied the sticky slice to Jim’s small forehead. He then calmly returned to finishing his salad.
 
Jim frowned, and crossed his eyes upward.
 
Chekov and two crewmen at the next table choked on their sandwiches.
 
The child whimpered a little and waved his chubby hands, trying to figure out what was stuck to him, before scowling and flinging the remaining contents of his cereal bowl in the acting captain’s direction.
 
Naturally, Vulcan reflexes ensured that Spock ducked effortlessly. 
 
Unfortunately, this meant that the entire messy brunt of the assault fell upon Christine Chapel, who was coming to take the little captain back to Sickbay for his afternoon nap. Chapel had long since gotten over her crush on the Vulcan First Officer, but she was still quite aware that no one could fluster him like she could; and she used that knowledge to her advantage whenever it suited her.
 
This time, she really did not need to act, standing with hands on hips and covered in soggy baby-cereal. Spock turned the most peculiar shade of jade she’d ever seen and looked like he would much prefer an airlock to suck him out into space just at that moment. Chekov hastily scrambled out of the line of fire, taking cover at a nearby table of wide-eyed, frozen Science personnel.
 
Jim, the little brat, giggled uproariously.
 
“Mr. Spock,” she said with deadly sweetness. “Would you be so kind as to take His Royal Messiness back to Sickbay? I believe I will have to go and change my uniform.”
 
Spock murmured something unintelligible and beat a hasty retreat with a squawking Jim tucked unceremoniously under one arm, dignity still partially intact.
 
The crew were gallant enough to let the mess doors close behind him and their pint-sized captain before they gave in, howling with laughter.

Chapter Text

Three days passed in blissful harmony and peace aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Then, two monumental things occurred. James T. Kirk discovered how to open the hatch on a Jefferies tube. And Momo the beloved plush cat met his untimely and traumatic end by electrocution.

Since no crewman could crawl through the narrow space of a Jefferies tube as rapidly as a hyperactive child, Jim ended up in the depths of the ship before Chekov, who had been watching him in an empty briefing room until Spock finished up an experiment in Science Lab Three, could even sound an internal red alert. For a very tense, very frightening seven minutes and thirty-one seconds (according to Mr. Spock’s intense reminders every fifteen seconds, which frankly were not helping) no one could find the little one in the maze of tubes and cross-ways which intersected the various areas of the ship.
 
Nearly in tears at his failure, Chekov was never more relieved in his life than to hear the acting captain sigh most humanly and tell him that it was next to impossible to entirely corral the captain of the Enterprise even on the best of days; and that Chekov was not to know that Jim had discovered how to open a hatchway at age fourteen months.
 
Then an engineer from Data Processing commed the Auxiliary Bridge, where he and Spock were attempting to modify the life-sign sensors to adapt to a child’s signs, to say that Jim had suddenly tumbled out on a catwalk high above the central data processing core.
 
Chekov had never seen anyone move so fast in his life. Spock waited the turbolift for no man, and he barely squeezed in after the Vulcan without getting his heels taken off by the door.
 
They were met in Engineering by McCoy and a medical team. The physician was a sickly shade of green as he craned his neck upward to look at the catwalk, where Montgomery Scott was already creeping along slowly in an effort to not startle the child and cause him to lose his balance.
 
“I swear, he’s gettin’ a leash soon as we get him down, no arguments from any of you,” the doctor murmured, a hand over his mouth as a tousled golden head appeared curiously over the side of the catwalk.
 
Chekov had never seen a Vulcan turn that color of grey before.
 
“I can implant a subcutaneous transponder, that’s something,” McCoy was still rambling, obviously not caring if anyone was listening or not, in an effort to distract himself from the very real danger the child was in. “At least then we’ll be able to track him down without –“
 
A nurse gasped, as the head appeared again over the side of the catwalk, a small hand waving down at them. Scott was still not yet near enough to the child to prevent him from falling should he lose his balance.
 
Security personnel were already swarming around them, aided by a flurry of blue-garbed medicals, covering the floor with inflatable mattresses kept in a storage locker for this very purpose, in case of fire or other danger high above them, but there was also the chance that Jim would lose his grip and fall off the other side of the catwalk, directly over the central processing core. While an emergency force-field was supposed to break his fall on either side and deposit him with little impact on the floor below, the force-field was rigged for an adult’s life-signature, and there was no guarantee it would pick up a child's life-signature and trip the mechanism. Regardless, children’s bones were much more fragile.
 
All this was pouring out of their CMO’s mouth at an almost hysterical rate, until Spock finally turned to him and said with a thin thread of impatience, “Doctor, unless you have something useful to add you would do well to not distract Engineer Scott or the child more than they are already.”
 
A hurt look flashed through worried blue eyes, but the physician subsided, only shooting a glare at their outwardly expressionless Acting Captain. But Chekov could see the rigid line of tension in the Vulcan’s jaw, the darkness of real fear lurking in the back of the calm gaze as they watched, breaths held, Scotty inch his way along the catwalk toward the obliviously playing child.
 
Then something fell from the opposite side of the catwalk, and a collective intake of breath stole all the oxygen from the room for a fraction of an instant. But it was too small to be a human child, indeed so small that the emergency protocols did not even register its presence and deploy the force-field; the object plummeted floppily straight down into the data core and in a puff of smoke and spray of sparks disintegrated.
 
High above them, the sound of a child’s startled wail made them all cringe.
 
“It was that mangy stuffed animal he’s been carryin’ around in his mouth,” McCoy muttered, slightly relieved. “Thing’s full of germs anyhow, but he pitches the worst fit if you try to take it from him...”
 
“Soundly observed, Doctor,” Spock replied dryly, as the mournful wailing above them increased. In Jim’s defense, Chekov thought reasonably, if his favorite object had suddenly been traumatically electrocuted he would be more than slightly upset himself even as an adult, much less a little one like Jim.
 
Within yards of the sobbing child now, Scotty saw his chance and in a matter of seconds reached the upset little one with the practiced ease of one who knows his way around the ship without having to watch his footing. One fluid movement scooped the wandering child-captain into the shelter of his grip. Sobbing, Jim clung to his rescuer’s neck with both arms, wailing out his grief at the loss of his most beloved companion of a long week.
 
Twenty-two pairs of eyes closed for a moment in sheer relief.
 
Finally, with some help from the Engineering team, the Scot reached solid decking with their errant captain in his arms. The engineer’s honest face was almost heartbreaking in its fond sympathy for the fate of the ‘wee one's poor stuffed kitty.’ Now that Jim was safe, McCoy was secretly glad that the mangy germ breeding-ground had been exterminated, but Jim was not of the same opinion and voiced it quite loudly to all within earshot.
 
“There, there, laddie,” Scott murmured, patting the child awkwardly on the back as he whimpered. “’Tis not the end of the world, now.”
 
Apparently it was, for one very sad little boy. “Momo,” the child wailed anew, the sound muffled in the oil-stained shoulder of Scott's Engineering tunic.
 
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” McCoy groaned into his hand. “Spock, no matter what he says when he turns six, we are not gettin’ him so much as a betta fish, you hear me? Think of what he’d be like if something happened to it while he’s still just a kid!”
 
Chekov saw a strange glimmer of something undefinable pass through the Vulcan’s eyes as his gaze flicked from their miniature captain back to their CMO. “Pain at loss is a lesson even the youngest of beings must learn to accept and assimilate, Doctor,” he replied quietly, and Chekov clearly heard the tone change to that of personal experience. “My mother once said that all objects, sentient or not, which bring joy and love to life deserve to be mourned properly at their loss.” 
 
After that pronouncement, Spock joined their Chief Engineer with his sobbing burden of grimy play-clothes and the grief of childhood, and so the Vulcan remained completely unaware of the stunned looks and slow smiles exchanged behind his back from a crew who had, up to now, more tolerated than accepted his temporary captaincy.

Chapter Text

After the unfortunate death of Momo the Dingy Feline, McCoy took the young captain back to Sickbay to get him changed. His miniature gold uniform, lovingly programmed into the clothing selector by a completely soft-hearted quartermaster, was ripped across the knees and covered in various fluids from Jim’s trek through the maze of Jefferies tubes.
 
“Momo gone,” the little one said sadly as McCoy wrestled his left arm through the armhole of a new yellow shirt (Christine was trying to locate the necessities for his lower regions as the child went through them far more regularly and they were scarce as a result). Jim’s free hand tried to swipe across his running nose, and the physician snatched it with a growl of protest before it came away covered in mucus.
 
“Yeah, kid, I know,” the physician sighed, wiping the child’s nose with a disposawipe before trying to pull the uniform tunic over the wild sandy hair. “Just wait, I’ll betcha Spock’s disappeared to locate a ‘suitable replacement for the human emotional necessity of a childhood companion’ or some such crap.”
 
“Crap!” came the echo from inside the depths of the shirt, arms waving floppily like small yellow wind-socks.
 
Chapel shot him a dirty look, and he shrugged; what was he gonna do? Not like the kid wasn’t saying worse (in five languages) before the age of six when he was a real child.   “Why won’t this dang shirt fit over your head, Jim?” he muttered, tugging on the fabric.
 
“OW! Bad Bo’!” Jim hollered, and he hastily removed the article from the kid’s person.
 
Jim glared at him balefully, rubbing his head with both hands, where apparently the neck of the shirt had yanked his chaotic hair.
 
"And wait a minute, since when do you say more than one word at a time?” He inspected the small tunic, and then reached for the medical scanner Christine was already handing him, eyebrows drawn.
 
“Wanna see!” Jim piped up, hands grabbing in an effort to snag the scanner as it whirred over his head. “Bo, WANNA SEE!”
 
“Okay, just a little disturbed here,” Chapel murmured from behind him. “Relatively complete sentences out of the blue? And doesn’t he look bigger to you?”
 
The scanner beeped. McCoy took one look at the display, sighed, and tossed the instrument on the bio-bed. “Call Requisition and see if we can get him some bigger clothes. Child's size 3T maybe? 4T? It's been decades since I had to do this, I dunno. Just get every size over infant, he'll probably grow into them. At least we probably skipped the whole ‘first steps and learning to walk’ drama; though with our luck we’ll still have to potty-train the kid. Sickbay to Acting Captain,” he continued into the wall comm-unit.
 
“Spock here.”
 
“Spock, tell the crew to nail down everything they can and disable the sugar options in the Mess Hall replicators. We’ve got a hyperactive two-year-old running amok on this ship now.”
 
Silence for a moment while Spock obviously gave the appropriate orders, and then the cool voice returned. Doctor, am I given to understand by your tone that this rapid age progression is not a desirable outcome?”
 
“Have you ever babysat a human toddler, Spock, especially one as spoiled as this one is already?”
 
A large crash, followed by the skittering of metal instruments across the flooring, sounded from behind him, accompanied by a hollered “Sowwy!” 

Great, that meant pediatric speech therapy too, another thing he hadn't had to do in years. Jim owed him some serious hazard pay for this little stunt.
 
“You are aware that the answer is a negative.”
 
A naked blur shot by him, and he thanked every deity in the quadrant for Christine’s quick reflexes, or else their shameless little captain would have given the entire ward an eyeful. 

He rested his head on the wall beside the comm-unit. “Well you’re in for the experience of your life, then, Spock. We don't call them the terrible twos for nothing.” 

 “BO! Wanna talk to Spock! Leggo me, ‘Tine! BO, LOOK!”
 
Christine’s yelp caused him to turn and look at the young captain, who was currently climbing up the side of his bio-bed to get a look at the blinking lights of life-sign sensors.
 
“The little brat kicked me!” the nurse said indignantly, though McCoy could see she was more amused than truly injured. Nonetheless, it was obvious that the kid was going to have to learn some manners, and guess who would probably get stuck teaching them since a particular Vulcan seemed to think Jim could do no wrong (no change there from his normal state). Also, if Jim could formulate sentences then the least the kid could do would be to say his name correctly.
 
Jim pressed the first button he saw on the sensor board, and a klaxon began to wail as the bed thought its occupant was crashing. Startled, the child’s hands loosened and he hit the bed’s mattress with a thump, whereupon he launched himself off it backward like an acrobat, sliding with a squeak on his backside to hide under the next bed.
 
Grown men did not whimper; it was a very adult-sounding moan. Christine was laughing too hard to comment on it, anyway.
 
“Spock, get your green-blooded behind down here before this hellion destroys my Sickb– James Tiberius Kirk, we do not touch the laser scalpel!”

Chapter Text

The Lady Amanda Grayson, wife of Sarek, Vulcan ambassador to Terra and various other Federation planets, was not accustomed to receiving live communiqués from her son.

This was not, as many might assume, due to the still strained relations between Spock and his Vulcan father; for while the two were by no means close, they had in time overcome the barriers which had been erected over the decades and were now, if not cordial family, at least friendly acquaintances. Sarek had been quite impressed with Captain James T. Kirk and his crew during the events surrounding the Babel peace conference (he had never said as much, but she knew her husband better than he probably knew himself), and as such he had accepted Spock's "illogical human friendships" with resignation rather than disapproval. Sarek and Spock would probably never be close, but they had relaxed into the friendly working relationship which most adults have with their adult children, at least in Amanda's experience (admittedly as a human).

No, she did not receive much live communication from Spock simply because they led such completely discrete lives; he on an exploratory starship in deep space, and she as the wife of a politician who was constantly in motion to one governing body or another. Save for the very few times when the Enterprise had docked at Vulcan for repairs or new technology installation at the Vulcan Science Academy (half of which she fondly suspected were contrived specifically by Captain Kirk so that she could see her son), she rarely was privileged to receive live communication from him. Spock wrote her with almost ridiculous punctuality every three weeks, but she did miss speaking with him; part of successful interaction with the Vulcan race itself required being able to interpret body language and facial expression rather than taking words at face value.

It was with some surprise, therefore, that she received a notification while at home one evening, that Spock was attempting to reach her via live communiqué. Sarek dismissed the abnormality with his customary indifference, and she left him in the study to take the vid-conference in her private library.

She was of course overjoyed to see and hear from Spock, as it had been nearly six months, yet she stopped mid-sentence in saying so when the monitor flickered into life, a little slow from subspace relays.

"What on earth have you gotten yourself into, my son?" she finally asked, trying desperately not to smile and thereby embarrass Spock at the sight that greeted her.

Spock looked dolefully at her over the top of a squirming bundle of cherubic, golden-haired human toddler. "It was not on Earth, Mother," he answered with the Vulcan equivalent of a dismal sigh. "Rather, a planet named Insontis, on which -"

"Never mind, Spock," she interrupted gently, holding up a hand to forestall the explanation. "It is…pleasing, to see you, my son," she added, smiling.

"And I you, Mother," Spock returned, with less perfunctory dismissal than a true Vulcan would have.

"Hi!" The little one perched on Spock's knees piped up, waving at the monitor with one chubby hand. The gap-toothed grin looked oddly familiar, she thought… "Issat your Ma, Spock?"

There was only one logical explanation for why her son was holding a human child without looking entirely put-upon. Well, then. She had certainly seen stranger things in her travels as the wife of a primary diplomat for the United Federation of Planets.

"Hello, Jim," she answered, returning the smile. "How are you?"

"Fine," the child declared shyly, one finger in his mouth.

"Mother, how did you -"

"My son, need you ask? I have yet to see you voluntarily become attached to more than two humans besides myself, of whatever size," she returned archly, refraining from smiling at the blush that suddenly colored Spock's mortified face. She continued, to keep him from having to answer that with incriminatingly human platitudes. "Whatever happened to him, Spock?"

"A ritualistic transformation on the aforementioned planet, Mother," Spock replied with a sigh. He tolerantly removed a tiny questing hand from smearing the computer monitor with fingerprints. "The Captain rashly promised to participate in the ritual in order to successfully complete First Contact negotiations. The results are as you see."

"I take it from your lack of panic that the transformation is not permanent?"

"Vulcans do not panic, Mother."

"Yes, yes, of course, my son." She had seen Spock bowl over three nurses when he burst into Sickbay carrying his injured captain, who was blue-lipped and struggling to breathe after being stabbed during the Babel voyage. "Forgive my human phraseology. I had forgotten you call it logical concern for Starfleet's losing a highly efficient captain."

Spock looked a bit affronted.

She swallowed a laugh. "How long has he been like this?" she asked instead, leaning closer to look at the toddler, who was busily engaged in tracing the braid on Spock's uniform cuffs.

"Two weeks. Dr. McCoy projects an estimated three months, possibly more, before he eventually reverts to his proper age."

Her eyebrows rose, a reflex now after years of Vulcan inundation. "That is quite a long time, my son, for someone who has no experience in child-rearing, is it not?" she inquired gently.

"It is…an interminably long time, Mother," was the dismal answer. "I have no experience nor data from which to draw correct procedures and methodology in this situation. Jim, desist from destroying my uniform."

The child had found a loose thread and was tugging on it, trying to dislodge the embroidered braid. Now, as Spock tapped his hands warningly, he looked up, lower lip protruding in a dramatic pout and large puppy eyes welling up with crocodile tears. "I am entirely immune, pi'khart-lan," Spock added dryly, and the little one then scowled at his failed attempt at manipulation.

Hiding another smile at the term of endearment, Amanda wondered briefly if she could extract holopicture stills from recorded transmissions, because this was probably as close as she would ever get to having grandchildren and it was nothing less than adorable.

"And so, you have logically decided to call your mother for human child-rearing advice, Spock?"

Jim squirmed, flailing his small arms in an effort to struggle down out of her son's hold. "Lemme down, Spock!" he whined, sliding off Spock's knees, shirt rucked up under his arms as he did so.

Amanda did smile then, as her son made an incoherent sound of exasperation and plopped the child down onto the floor. "Go and find Monty, Jim, and play quietly while I speak to the Lady Amanda," he said sternly.

She saw the tousled blond head wander off-screen to their left. "Can I play wif your tricorr?" the child's voice called distantly.

"Tricorder, and you may not," Spock corrected firmly. He turned to the vid-screen at her soft inquiry, and explained, "The last time Dr. McCoy permitted him to 'play' with a bone-scanner in Sickbay, Jim deconstructed it into its various components within fifteen minutes. Maintenance is still endeavoring to reassemble it. A starship is not equipped with Terran children's toys."

She laughed softly, and saw the lines of tension around her son's eyes ease slightly. "You should be pleased, my son; he obviously is still a Starfleet officer at heart," she said, smiling. "At that age, Spock, you in contrast were constantly examining any and all plants and insects you could lay your little hands on. I still remember the perfectly monstrous arachnid you enthusiastically showed me, little knowing the appalling human female's tendency to scream at the sight of enormous spiders."

Spock's eyes gleamed with amusement, a welcome sight. "I do recall it in vivid detail. You were…most vociferous. I daresay Sarek was mortified."

"He got over it," she returned, unconcerned. "He is, surprisingly, at home this evening, Spock. Would you like to speak with him also?"

Spock was (she suspected thankfully) saved from answering by a resounding crash off-screen. Spock jumped slightly, and whirled in his chair.

"James Tiberius, what did Dr. McCoy instruct you just last night in regards to trying to climb the partition concealing your sleeping alcove?"

A distant scrambling of tiny feet. "Ummmmm…"

"Excuse me, Mother."

She waited until Spock had left the vid-screen before muting her end of the connection and dissolving into a fit of 'appalling human female' giggles; obviously Spock was doing just fine without any 'data from which to draw' in his endeavors. The sound of laughter was so unusual in this household that a few moments later her husband entered, an expression of slightly put-upon tolerance upon his severe features.

"What is it that you find so amusing, my wife?" he asked calmly, glancing with a raised eyebrow at the blank vid-screen, from which a child's plaintive whining could be clearly heard over the more familiar, calm tone of what he presumed was his son's admonishment.

Her laughter under control now, Amanda un-muted the connection. She was about to answer when Spock returned, a scowling human toddler clutched unceremoniously under one arm like a Terran football.

Sarek's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline.

"My apologies," Spock said with perfect composure, re-settling the child on his knees with a stern look at the upturned little face. "You have no one to blame but yourself, Jim," he said severely, tapping the child's nose with one long finger.

Jim wrinkled up his nose and defiantly blew a raspberry at him from over the head of an enormous stuffed panda bear clutched firmly in two little hands.

Amanda stifled another laugh, as Spock's eyes closed in a silent prayer for patience. When they opened, Sarek had moved into their line of vision, and she saw the sudden stiffening of her son's posture, an unspoken act of instinctual defiance that still had not vanished in the sight of new-found familial cordiality.

She should not have worried, however.

"Is there something you wish to tell us, Spock?" Sarek inquired without expression.

Spock's eyes widened in a combination of shock and horror, even as his pint-sized captain began humming quietly, leaning back against the blue Science tunic with that instant forgiveness which so characterizes the innocent love of a child.

"Who you?" Jim questioned, blatantly pointing at the screen.

Spock hastily grabbed the tiny finger, pulling the child's hand down, but Sarek answered before he could make any answering introduction.

"I am Sarek, Vulcan Ambassador to Earth, youngling. And who is this, Spock?"

Spock swallowed. "A slight…diplomatic incident, Sarek, resulting in this age-regressed version of Captain Kirk."

A greying eyebrow inclined. "Indeed."

"Well, Sarek," Amanda said mischievously from beside him. "Do you not have some wise, Vulcan child-rearing advice for your son?"

"Considering my own…less than satisfactory performance in such matters, I do not believe so, my wife," was the dry reply.

Tired of the adult conversation, Jim chose that moment to lean forward and experimentally lick the computer screen. Spock's look of utter revulsion sent Amanda into another fit of giggles, whereupon the two adult Vulcans looked at each other with matching tolerant expressions.

"I have no useful advice for you, Spock," Sarek reiterated solemnly. "You were...the model Vulcan child, with a few notably memorable exceptions."

Even two years ago, it would have been an insult; now, Spock recognized it for the half-apology, half-compliment it was, and nodded in gracious acceptance.

"Why, precisely, did you choose to communicate tonight, Spock? It could hardly be that you require Vulcan parental advice for raising a human child."

Spock inclined his head, responding with almost odd formality. "I believed the situation would be of…some amusement, to she-who-is-your-wife, Sarek."

Jim was now giggling into the top of the plush toy's furry head at what Sarek vaguely believed was a Terran child's game, most incomprehensibly called peek-a-boo.

"Obviously, your conclusions were most logical."

"I am honored."

Sarek never did understand how the strange Terran healer he had been so mystified by during the Babel conference learned of their vid-communiqué, but the human must have, somehow; for two weeks after Captain Kirk's re-transformation, his wife received a parcel by courier from the Enterprise. It contained a month's worth of hidden video footage of Spock and his tiny charge in various activities which Amanda assured him were a highly necessary part of a human child's growth and development.

Well, to make one's bond-mate happy was only logical, after all. If enduring an hour of watching Spock patiently teach a human youngling how to tie his boot-laces performed that task, then who was he to deny his wife the dubious pleasure of what the healer McCoy had called grandchild-by-proxy, whatever that meant.

Unfathomable humans.

Chapter Text

The crew of the Federation starship Enterprise were the most courageous of all members of Starfleet. They had to be, and were warned that they must be, due to the occupational hazards of being the Federation's flagship and the vessel most likely to be sent into hostile or volatile situations. The death count aboard was higher than any other of that class starship, and yet its positions were the most coveted and dreamed of by young Academy hopefuls. The Enterprise crew were known across the galaxy, even for years after their terms aboard, as the best of the best, the bravest of all brave explorers in the final frontier.
 
But, brave as they were, not even the command crew of the Enterprise was brave enough to comment when Acting Captain Spock showed up an utterly unheard-of three minutes late to a morning department head meeting, his usually impeccably groomed hair slightly askew and uniform sporting an orange juice stain, carrying a scowling toddler.
 
"My apologies for keeping you waiting, gentlemen. I believe one could classify the delay as a personnel crisis," was all the explanation they got, and no one dared reply for fear of laughing in the face of their acting captain.
 
Except Jim, who made a rude noise at his no-longer-beloved hero as he was plopped unceremoniously into a chair next to Chekov.
 
"You will be quiet during the meeting, Jim," the Vulcan said sternly, and though the child shot him a disgruntled pout he seemed content enough to scribble on the coloring-padd Spock had brought with them, small tongue sticking out of his mouth slightly as he concentrated on the artistic monstrosity. Sulu privately thought he'd never seen anything so adorable in his life. Grumpy adult James Kirk was half-horrifying, half-exasperating; as a grumpy toddler, he was just insanely cute.
 
He wisely kept that opinion to himself.
 
"Now, gentlemen. The first order of business: the stellar cartography and its effects on crew morale and efficiency. Mr. Chekov, have you coordinated the shifts for the new week so that all personnel are rotated out for two shifts before being scheduled again?"
 
"Yes, sir," he replied, briskly shoving a padd across the table. "The department heads have been notified. No more double-shifts, and everyone has two days off per your and Dr. McCoy's orders."
 
"Do you believe that will set us far behind in the star-charting?"
 
"No, sir. With the addition of Dr. McCoy's research personnel for recording purposes, we vill make up the difference in manpower with time to spare."
 
"Very good. Jim, do not scratch the table; remain within the boundaries of your art padd. Lieutenant Uhura, have you given any more thought to a recreational/social event for the crew? Dr. McCoy agrees with your assessment of morale; something must be done about the seven percent drop in status."
 
Sulu watched absently as the toddler version of their captain studiously ignored all else but his artwork. Someone had found him a multicolored digital pen, where by clicking buttons on the side he could scribble in different colors. Currently the datapadd had an abundance of yellow and blue. No surprise there.
 
"Aye, sir. There has been more interest shipwide in just a general social event rather than, say, a play or talent show. A party, in other words, with food and dancing and so on," Uhura replied with a smile, knowing Spock did not see the necessity of social interaction.
 
An eyebrow went up. "I do not profess to understand the need, but if that is the crew's preference then by all means proceed, Lieutenant. Please notify me as to your progress, and clear all plans with Lieutenant-Commander Scott before finalizing details. I remind you of the regulations against alcohol being permitted to those on alpha shift the following morning, but besides that I do not foresee any difficulty in creating this ‘social event.’"
 
Bored, since Piloting was basically unnecessary during a star-chart when the ship was sitting still (and he was practically useless as Acting Second Officer, or First when Scott wasn't on the Bridge, since Spock did what he darn well pleased), Sulu sneaked another look at the child sitting across the table. Jim was frowning at his pen, shaking it vigorously. He hid a grin as the toddler scowled, then banged the instrument a few times against the tabletop.
 
"Jim, we do not inflict damage on Starfleet property," Spock said automatically, not even looking up from his notes.
 
"But -"
 
"Enough," the Vulcan said with more sharpness than any of them had heard from him toward the child before, and a conjoined look of uh-oh, somebody’s on his last frayed nerve encompassed all of their faces. Obviously, the strain of the Terrible Twos and a lack of adult captainal companionship were taking an ever-so-slight mental and emotional toll on their First Officer.
 
The child drooped, eyes welling, and Sulu felt the sudden urge to hug the poor kid even if he was probably just manipulating them all with crocodile tears.
 
Chekov cleared his throat, bless him, and successfully diverted his frazzled (did Vulcans get frazzled?) mentor's attention to the next item on the list.
 
Uhura's eyes flicked over to Sulu, and he shrugged; he wasn't about to get on Spock's bad side by making a sound. He'd volunteer to take the kid for a little while at least except that he had a full teaching schedule booked today in the gym and Botany labs. McCoy was noticeably absent from the department head meeting because he was up to his neck in paperwork, and so apparently Spock had been saddled with their resident wunderkind.
 
Jim had apparently recovered as soon as he realized no one was going to cross the Vulcan in charge to take his side, and was now busily engaged in taking apart the defective pen. Sulu choked back a laugh as the instrument was methodically destroyed in a matter of seconds, broken down into a neat pile of its various components.
 
Scotty, half-dozing across the table while Chekov and Spock talked geeky with each other about something, actually did laugh at the child's method of dealing with his defective writing utensil, and Spock paused mid-sentence at the sound, looking up.
 
The dismay clear on the usually expressionless face nearly set them all off.
 
"Jim," Spock sighed (yeah, it was bad if Spock was actually sighing). "What have I instructed you regarding the dismantling of electronic devices?"
 
"It was busted!"
 
"Broken," Spock corrected.
 
"It was!" the child protested, trying to fit the pieces back together again. "The gween quit working!"
 
"Grrreen," Spock enunciated with admirable patience.
 
"Gween."
 
"Pronounce the r correctly, Jim. Grrreen."
 
The toddler stuck his tongue out. "Grrrreen was busted," he repeated, scowling down at the pieces of writing instrument.
 
"Broken." Sulu thought Spock was going to pop a vein if he had to rein in any more non-Vulcan frustration. "You could simply have used a different color."
 
"Could not!"
 
"Jim -"
 
"I couldn't!"
 
"Why, laddie?" Scotty asked, interest piqued. He leaned over to look at the coloring padd.
 
"Because it hasta be perfect!" the toddler practically wailed.
 
Scott's face was slowly forming into a grin. "I see, laddie. You keep that padd and I'll see ye get a new pen that works, all right?"
 
Jim looked disconsolately down at the drawing. "I wanted it ta be done by the end of the meeting," he said sadly. "Was s'posed to be a surprise, Spock."
 
Slightly surprised to be addressed, the Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "What was?"
 
Scott grinned and held up the padd, showing an eye-offending conglomeration of yellow and blue. Two stick figures were barely decipherable, one in each color, a blue one with exaggeratedly pointed ears and a disproportionately smaller one with wild yellow hair. Sulu choked back a laugh at the half-completed emerald heart (any normal child would have chosen red) which surrounded the two figures; that would be a bit awkward to explain come re-aging, when the adult Kirk found it tacked up on McCoy’s office wall (and somehow it would make its way there for blackmail purposes, he just knew).
 
"Why did you need the green to finish, Jim?" Uhura asked kindly.
 
The child smiled up at her, unconsciously turning on the charm like a normal person flipped a light switch. "’Cause it’s my fav'rit color!"
 
"Well, that figures," Scotty chuckled, ruffling the child's hair. "We'll get ye a green pen, laddie, just wait a bit."
 
Speaking of, Sulu thought with a grin, Spock's ears were turning a remarkable shade.

Chapter Text

As if the infant Jim’s uncannily positive response to Spock’s voice and presence weren’t creepy enough, McCoy opined with understandable grumpiness (I mean really, Jim, smiling at the hobgoblin but scowling and throwing stuffed animals at the man who’s pulled you back from death more times than he can remember? Come on.), the toddler Jim’s hero-worship of the same was even more adorable and slightly disturbing. 

Spock, bless him (McCoy had no sympathy, and thought it was hysterical), had absolutely no clue how to deal with an adoring baby-shadow.

“It is inappropriate,” the Vulcan had protested feebly, when the physician had given him a good piece of old-fashioned fatherly mind for refusing to let the toddler on his lap during one of their conferences one evening. “Despite appearances, he is yet my commanding officer, Doctor; any such permitted behavior only leaves room for awkwardness once he regains his proper age.”
 
“So by that same logic, we shouldn’t feed him either, I suppose, since physically feeding a superior officer is inappropriate?” McCoy had snapped, trying to placate the sobbing child, who was still tugging feebly at Spock’s trouser leg. “And would you prefer I didn’t dress him in the mornings, just let him run around in the same pajamas for the next two months, because it’s also not appropriate?”
 
Spock was silent, looking down in dismay at the tear-stained face which was upturned in his direction.
 
“He’s just a child, Spock! I don’t care about your notions of propriety, Vulcan or human or otherwise – pick the kid up and for Pete’s sake give him a bit of loving. He obviously worships you, heaven only knows why! If you can't do that, then Lord knows how long it's going to take him to change back!”
 
The Vulcan had, against his better judgment, relented after a token protest, and smiles and sunshine had returned to the baby supernova which was their de-aged captain. However, the mindset did not subside as the child aged, and Spock was continually aware of the possible ramifications of Jim’s deep-rooted adoration. He had no wish to endanger a beautifully fragile friendship – for that it was, if he were to choose the closest possible Standard approximation of the Vulcan term – by regrets over behavior occurring during the interim.
 
He drew the line when the toddler began crawling into his own bed of nights.
 
He had tried simple reasoning at first, appealing to the future adult hidden within a two-year-old body. “Jim, you will regret your actions when you regain your full age. This is not appropriate.” He’d received the most woeful set of tear-filled golden eyes that he had ever encountered, and had surrendered – just that once – to the inevitable.
 
On the next occasion, he had endeavored to convince the child to sleep in his own bed by means the toddler would understand. “Jim, you have left Monty [the name bequeathed to the unfortunate stuffed panda, in honor of the man who gave it to the child after Momo’s demise] in your own bed; will he not be…lonely, without you?” When the little one had nodded thoughtfully, Spock assumed he had won, and closed his eyes again – only to jerk them open in painful ear-splitting shock when the child only hollered “I'm over here wif Spock, Monteeee!” at the top of his powerful lungs, and snuggled down into the blankets, soon fast asleep.
 
The next time, he had attempted to ascertain why, exactly, the little one felt the need to share a bed with him; it was not Vulcan child behavior, though he was given to understand it was not uncommon in human children’s households. “Jim, why do you not wish to sleep in your own bed? Do you require a night-light? A drink of water? Music?” When he received the pillow-snuffled answer, “Bad dreams…everybody gone an’ the ship’s all empty, Spock,” he could not find it in his heart (or mind, more importantly) to deny the child – just once more.
 
However, the intrusion into his privacy did not go without its ramifications; the knowledge of the child’s presence and the discomfort at its potential for awkwardness soon completely derailed his own regular sleep schedule. He found himself engaging in fewer hours of slumber, rising soon after Jim had fallen asleep, and instead resorting to more frequent periods of meditation, adjusting his schedule accordingly. McCoy gave a cautious go-ahead for the process, as his Vulcan physiology did not necessarily require a set number of hours for each so long as a minimum were met, and in that manner much of the tension between the two during evenings spent together was relieved.
 
The physician still worried that the Acting Captain was getting too much flak from his subordinates and the powers-that-be, and not enough rest to counteract it (not that he’d ever in a million years tell Spock he was concerned; he had a reputation to uphold, after all). And so it was, one late evening during the laziest part of beta shift, he decided to check up on their resident babysitter and the hyperactive ball of sunshine and lightning which was their de-aged captain.
 
He entered through the unlocked Captain’s cabin and from there silently took the connecting bath into Spock’s quarters, not wanting to wake the Vulcan if he were indeed sleeping or the toddler if he had for once in his life actually wound down before 1900 hours. Rounding the corner of the partition dividing private living area from public workspace, he halted in his noiseless approach, and watched with some fascination.
 
Spock was meditating, he recognized the blank, open-eyed stare which unnerved everyone who saw it for the first time. (1) Hands loosely clasped across his midsection and eyes unseeing the ceiling above, Spock was relaxed and utterly unaware of his surroundings. It was a common myth that Vulcans sleep with their eyes open; rather, that was their meditative state. He’d seen the two often enough in Sickbay to not confuse them. 
 
The open eyes, however, evidently were confusing an inquisitive Jim, who was standing on tip-toe beside the low-slung bed, curiously poking Spock repeatedly in the arm with one finger. Chaotic blankets and sheets indicated that the child had been sleeping in his small cot across the room until for whatever reason he decided he’d had enough and had tumbled out of bed in true energetic fashion. Receiving no response from the meditating Vulcan, the small mouth turned down in a baffled frown, and a tiny huff sounded in the stillness of the warm room.
 
McCoy saw determination take root in the toddler’s sharp eyes, and covered his wide grin with one hand as Jim began methodically wriggling his way up onto the bed with handfuls of sheet and in one case Spock’s meditation robe (nothing could disturb a Vulcan in that state, he’d found during the Babel conference voyage, when a post-operative and bored Captain Kirk had been in a mischievous mood and had experimented for a good fifteen minutes on the resident of the bio-bed opposite, much to his human mother’s amusement). Within seconds the child had squirmed and clambered his way up onto the low bed, and with a bit of maneuvering which showed remarkable determination in one so young had somehow wormed his way between the Vulcan’s hands and torso.
 
Making a small noise of contentment when he was cuddled to his satisfaction between Spock’s arms and body, the toddler yawned and closed his eyes, and was soon fast asleep, nothing more than a small fleecy bundle of gold on the black of Spock’s meditation robe.
 
McCoy might be a crotchety old country doctor and as such was entirely immune to the charms of cuteness – but he sure did know blackmail potential when he saw it. 
 
He backed silently out of the cabin; not because he wanted them to get their rest, but because he had a holo-camera to locate.
 

Chapter Text

If he had been trying as an infant, a now completely mobile and communicative toddler Jim Kirk was positively homicidal tendency-producing. While as a rule Jim was well-behaved, as much as any toddler was, he was absolutely insatiable with questions and energy. It became not uncommon for crewmen to see a small golden blur streak past them in the corridors, followed shortly by whoever was the designated baby-sitter for the day, panting and threatening all sorts of creative punishment for the expenditure of effort and energy in catching the renegade little one.
 
Eight hours after he had turned into a two-year-old, the child had effectively charmed half the occupants of Officers’ Mess into believing that yes, Bones had said he could have Orange Fizz-aid and pizza if he promised to be very good for the rest of the evening. The second morning, Spock was woken unpleasantly and abruptly by a whooping bundle of pajamas and wild golden hair which landed on his person with a thump, informing him that McCoy had designated Spock child-minder for the day, his only relief being Lieutenant Uhura for the portions in which he must conduct Starfleet business. Apparently, the child’s next lesson was learned during that playdate (McCoy was quite curious about that), because Jim skipped to age three-and-a-half the following evening. 
 
On the fourth day, the kid had methodically taken apart a medical scanner in Sickbay before being caught by an exasperated Nurse Chapel (Repair and Maintenance was still trying to put the pieces back together). The following evening, he set off three alarms in Science Lab Four when a well-meaning lieutenant gave him a basic chemistry set to ‘play’ with. Spock had explained to Lieutenant Marta, calmly as he could when his uniform was still smoldering, that James Kirk had created a cannon capable of taking out a Gorn, from nothing more than straw and various raw planetary minerals; letting the child near anything which could in any possible extrapolation cause an explosion was not a wise course of action.
 
The little charmer had weasled a hot fudge sundae out of a gullible yeoman that evening before Spock finally caught up with the small trail of destruction that led from the science labs back to Sickbay and from there back to his own quarters. Usually the child spent the night in Sickbay in his nursery cubicle, but McCoy had all but groveled for a night’s peace after having to tell three consecutive bedtime stories the previous evening and then being up all night with a crewman having an allergic reaction to something in the arboretum. Even the most patient of surrogate fathers had to sleep at some point in a week’s time, and Spock could hardly deny the request.
 
Spock was not enthusiastic regarding spending the night in the same room with a hyperactive human child, but to remain frustrated with the inevitable was not logical. He would simply, as the humans said, make the best of things. After yet another long and pointlessly stressful day fielding calls from Starfleet Command and taking on Jim’s duties and paperwork in addition to his own, even his strong physiology was feeling the strain of stress and exhaustion. Surely, by this point in the evening, Jim would be running low on energy; Lieutenant Uhura had only just left him in his cabin and that was not enough time to work himself back up into his usual energetic state.
 
That thought flew out of his mind when he stepped into his cabin and was promptly tackled by a small figure in bright yellow and white pajamas and a makeshift cape made out of what looked to be one of the blankets from his small cot in the corner.
 
“SpockSpockSPOCK!”
 
“Jim,” he returned the greeting with slightly less enthusiasm, looking down at the child attached to his left leg. “What is the purpose of your current attire?”
 
“Huh?”
 
Spock mentally sighed and counted to five. It was going to be a long night. “What are you…supposed to be, Jim?”
 
“Imma supahero!” Hazel eyes sparkled up at him from under a shock of hair that refused to remain anywhere other than flopped over the small forehead. “See my cape, Spock? N’ota made it for me!”
 
“I see.” He did not, really, but it was the standard reply. Gently extricating the child’s arms from around his leg, he set a stack of data-padds on the desk and settled on the small sofa. Jim scrambled up after him in a flurry of blanket-tangled limbs. “If I am correctly acquainted with the term, a ‘superhero’ is one who takes on a secret identity and works in costume to protect the unfortunate?”
 
Jim’s eyes crossed slightly as he tilted his head to one side, obviously trying to understand the polysyllabic words. Spock illogically prayed for patience; genius though the child was, he was yet a child and Spock was thoroughly unaccustomed to dealing with one. “Do you not have a name for your costumed character, Jim?” he attempted a different approach.
 
“Yes!” Jim beamed, swirling the cape in one hand and nearly hitting them both in the eyes. “N’ota gave me a name. Guess what it is!”
 
Spock wracked his brain for any recollection of old Earth’s legendary heroes. It was not a subject which had come up often in his household, human mother or no.
 
He was hopeless. And the lieutenant was not here to help him, unfortunately.
 
“Lieutenant Uhura is most proficient at linguistics;” he stalled, ineffectively.
 
“Doessat mean she’s pretty?”
 
Even at three years old, it was already starting. Spock resisted the urge to close his eyes (and impact his cranium with the nearest solid object to hand. Multiple times.). “No, Jim; it means she…does a good job with words,” he told the child instead. Jim nodded solemnly. “What name, then, did she give your ‘superhero’ character?”
 
Jim frowned, brushing the lock of hair impatiently away from his eyes. “She said I usedta be bigger, Spock. Was I?”
 
Spock blinked at the unrelated question, but nodded slowly; none of them had tried to hide the truth from such a perceptive child. “You were, and you shall be again; do not worry about it right now, Jim.”
 
“'kay,” the child agreed cheerfully. “But she said she usedta call me somethin’ when I was bigger an’ that could be my se-cret i-den...idenerty.”
 
“Identity.”
 
Hazel eyes rolled toward the ceiling. “’S what I said.”
 
In the privacy of the cabin, Spock sighed, and wondered how he was going to endure this child when he entered the rebellious time known as the ‘teenage years’ among humans, who knew how many days from now. “My apologies, Jim. What, then, is your superhero’s name?”
 
“She said I can be Captain Sunshine!” the child announced proudly, pointing at his bright yellow pajamas, where a depiction of a smiling ‘sun’ was displayed prominently. 
 
Spock did not understand the logic behind artists’ renderings of scientific objects to be incorrectly displayed and personified, but apparently they held an appeal with human children. He was, however, familiar with the songs written across Starfleet about the Enterprise and her legendary crew, and the now-popular Captain Sunshine (written by the lieutenant herself) which had circulated on Kirk’s last birthday celebration. Besides, he reflected, Jim did tend to light up a room whenever he entered, in his adult form or this smaller one. The name was remarkably apt. (1)
 
He permitted his features to relax in what Jim had always been able to see was his way of smiling. “It is a most appropriate name, Jim.”
 
He was treated to a smile which only served to further the name. “Imma be a real captain someday, aren’t I, Spock?”
 
“You are,” he promised without hesitation. “Albeit you may rely more on your own will and abilities than on so-called ‘super-powers.’”
 
“Captain Sunshine only has one supapower,” the child informed him solemnly. Spock stiffened slightly when Jim climbed unceremoniously into his lap so as to get more comfortable, but the toddler appeared not to notice. “N’ota said too much power corr-up-ets people. Makes ‘em bad.”
 
Absolute power corrupts absolutely, a lesson the adult Kirk insisted his people know well. Spock suspected their wise Comms Chief had been partially responsible for Jim’s quick aging the last few days, if that were indeed a lesson he was to be reminded of.
 
“She is quite correct, Jim.” He did not wish the little one to fall, and so placed an arm around the small body which snuggled up against him, murmuring in contentment. “What superpower, then, did she give this…Captain Sunshine?”
 
Small arms went as far around his torso as they could reach. “He has magic hugs!” the child exclaimed happily. “They make everything better!”
 
Illogical as it seemed, Spock was nearly inclined to agree.

Chapter Text

Outside the consequences of their captain currently running about the ship as a four-year-old toddler, the Security portion of Ops had very little to do during down time such as this eight-week stellar cartography stint. They could only hold so many rescue simulations and safety drills per week, and while most of them were trained in Engineering basics there was no need for them there other than basic maintenance during slow times like this. As a result, Giotto believed he could forgive a certain amount of slacking and fellowshipping during the everyday light duties in which his men participated.
 
That didn’t mean he was going to excuse six of his people crowding around a monitor in Security Control, probably watching some inappropriate vid they downloaded off the galactic nets. He cleared his throat pointedly from the doorway.
 
Matthew Turner’s head jerked around, but instead of looking guilty the young man grinned and motioned his superior over. “We got an alert of unauthorized access to a ventilation shaft on Deck Six, sir,” he explained, indicating the flashing light on the right-hand monitor. “And so we took a look in case our little captain was running amok again.”
 
Giotto nodded, relieved that they were being more cautious; Spock had all but threatened to have his head, in an entirely Vulcan way of course, if a repeat of the catwalk incident in Engineering occurred in his lifetime.
 
“And this is what we found,” Turner chuckled, indicating the screen the group was gathered around, grinning. “Rewind that tape a bit, Marta.”
 
The redhead giggled and pressed the appropriate buttons to rewind the security tape. Giotto peered over his people’s shoulders to watch what appeared to be surveillance footage of Sickbay.
 
His eyebrows rose incredulously. “I know McCoy doesn’t always get along with Acting Captain Spock, but this is a bit off the beaten track, isn’t it?”
 
The scene showed an operating room in Sickbay complete with…McCoy’s collection of antique surgical instruments?  It looked suspiciously like one of the little-used recovery rooms rather than an operating theater, and Giotto noted the complete lack of a sterile field; something was more than a little off.
 
The main clue to support that hypothesis was the fact that their Acting Captain was lying on the operating table, in medical restraints. Loose though they appeared, it was nonetheless a little worrying, and the fact that their CMO entered at that moment, snapping a latex glove on with a creepy-sounding thwack made them all jump. McCoy was scary enough without the mad scientist act, Giotto mused.
 
“Anyone else find that a little disturbing?”
 
Turner grinned. “It gets better. Turn up the volume, Marta.”
 
The lieutenant flicked the knob with a manicured nail, smiling. “You know we have to save this and show it to the captain when he grows back up, Chief.”
 
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Giotto grunted, watching the screen with some bewilderment.
 
The raised volume picked up the low tones of their CMO as he leaned over the calm figure. “You sure you wanna go through with this? It’s not necessary, you know; he’ll get over this playacting phase soon enough. Not sure we should be encouraging violence in a child anyway, superhero or not.”
 
Spock looked more amused than disquieted by the physician’s disturbingly eerie grin. “You may proceed, Doctor; most likely you have only seconds in which to, as you say, set the stage.”
 
“…the heck is going on?”
 
“Shhh!” Turner hushed his superior absently, grinning as the scene unfolded.
 
The grin on the doctor’s face changed to something slightly more evil than he had worn previously, enough that even the hardened Security force gave a collective shiver and noted Commander Spock’s bravery.
 
“Wellllll,” the doctor drawled loudly, lazily picking up a glittering antique scalpel (Giotto saw with relief that it was too blunt to even cut butter) and examining it with care. “You’d save yourself a lot of grief if you’d just tell me what I want to know, Commander.”
 
Spock raised an eyebrow. Their CMO glared at him in exasperation, nudging him pointedly with one elbow.
 
“Ah.” The Vulcan raised his voice, uncharacteristically loud. “I believe the phrase is, ‘you will get nothing out of me, Doctor’? Your methods of persuasion do not work on the Vulcan mind.”
 
“What is he playing at?” Giotto asked, staring.
 
Turner dissolved into a fit of giggles that would have put a schoolgirl to shame. “Just watch,” he wheezed, snorting into his red sleeve to muffle the sound.
 
McCoy snapped the latex glove again, and a shudder ran down the Security Chief’s spine at the wicked smile which twisted the usually-kindly features. “You may change your mind when I’m through with you, Commander,” the physician said loudly, and with considerable menace, hefting an old-fashioned drill in one hand and testing the whirring blade lightly against his gloved palm.
 
Giotto was just preparing to demand an explanation when a crash drew his attention back to the monitor. A small sneaker literally kicked the loose ventilator cover (how did that come unscrewed? Someone in Maintenance was so dead) off, whereupon it went sailing fifteen feet across the room to crash against the durasteel flooring. The next instant a small whirling bundle of yellow and white plummeted out of the shaft opening onto the floor.
 
“Fweeze, Doctor Darkness!” a high-pitched voice hollered, and the Security team dissolved into helpless laughter. Four-year-old James Tiberius Kirk, clad in bright yellow pajamas and a matching gold cape, was crouched in a dramatic pose on the Sickbay floor, a toy laser pistol pointed in both small hands at the figure of their Chief Medical Officer.
 
“Exactly how did he get that vent cover off its hinges and the forcefields down from Sickbay to whatever Jefferies tube he started from?” Giotto asked dryly.
 
“Plausible deniability, Chief,” Marta giggled, covering her mouth with one hand.
 
McCoy yelped something suitably theatrical and dropped the drill, hands over his head. “Captain Sunshine!” he gasped dramatically. “How did you find me?”
 
The tiny captain stood with one hand fisted on his hip, the other pointing the toy laser gun at his nemesis. “I planted a transp…trans…a tracking thingie on Commander Spock, you evil villain! Led me right to you!”
 
“Why you sneaky green-blooded hobgoblin,” McCoy growled, reaching for the nearest object (which Giotto was relieved to see was nothing more dangerous [and sharp-edged] than a med-scanner).
 
“Don’ you move, Doctor!”
 
“Why, I’m just a-gonna take these restraints off your sidekick here, Captain,” the physician said with oily smoothness.
 
“I would not trust him, Captain Sunshine,” Spock interjected helpfully.
 
“I don’ trust you, Doctor!” the child shrilled immediately, brandishing the toy gun like a sword. No one commented that his aim was headed for the nearby bandage cupboard rather than his villain’s torso.
 
“Why, Captain, aren’t the good guys supposed to trust people?” the doctor asked carefully, hand still reaching for the scanner.
 
The toddler paused, brows drawn, obviously mystified. That was all McCoy needed; he snatched up the scanner and aimed it at the prone Acting Captain’s skull.
 
“Drop the gun, Captain, or I blow up the bomb planted underneath your sidekick’s pillow!” he shouted in overdramatic triumph, smiling evilly at the now dismayed child.
 
Giotto gaped. “Isn’t that a bit violent for a kid that age?”
 
“Nowadays?” Turner snorted. “I was playing worse on vid-games at three. Besides, this dialogue's taken straight out of a holotoon someone let him watch while he was being babysat in Engineering yesterday.”
 
“Mr. Spock looks more perturbed about being called a ‘sidekick’ than about the prospect of his head being blown off,” Ensign Li snickered.
 
“Well, you’re talking about the guy whose brain got stolen by aliens last year; how bad can this seem by comparison?”
 
“Shhhh, listen,” Turner grinned, tapping the screen.
 
“I said drop it, Captain!” McCoy warned, brandishing the scanner menacingly toward the Vulcan’s skull.
 
The child wavered, shifting his weight to the other foot and biting nervously at his lower lip.
 
McCoy kicked the bio-bed meaningfully. Spock blinked. “Ah. Help me, Captain Sunshine,” he intoned without expression, sending the eavesdropping Security force into fresh howls of laughter. “You must do something before the evil doctor can carry out his dastardly plan.”
 
Their CMO’s look of disgusted amusement and his genuine eyeroll sent them off again a moment later.
 
“An AI would sound more sincere saying ‘does not compute, please wait,’” Turner gasped, holding his stomach. “Do you think McCoy wrote him out the script to memorize?”
 
Their little boy wonder looked torn for a moment, and then he grinned lopsidedly, whipping out a communicator from somewhere in his pajama pants – was that a sort of utility belt the child had strapped on?
 
“Now Scotty!” he bellowed into the instrument (wrong side up, but no one was about to correct him). 
 
“Roger that, Captain,” came the Scot’s good-natured voice, and a moment later the Sickbay lights all went out at once.
 
They heard a suitably dramatic yell from the villain of the afternoon, and when the lights came back on five seconds later Spock had magically escaped his restraints and was in the process of disarming the ‘bomb’ hidden under his pillow.
 
Their superhero was currently leaping about and yelling bloody murder, whaling the tar out of his nemesis with a foam club of some kind.
 
“Ow! No pinching, Jim!” the doctor yelped at one point, flicking the toddler on the nose in rebuke.
 
The child smirked and stomped on his foot before whipping out a pair of Security stasis cuffs and attempting unsuccessfully to lock them on the physician’s wrists.
 
“There’s regulations against removing Security property from the storage lockers, you know,” Giotto observed to no one in particular.
 
He was ignored completely, and didn’t really mind.
 
“Oh, I don’t think so, Captain,” McCoy said with a predatory grin, slowly creeping after the child, who had danced out of reach, wide-eyed. “Do you know what Doctor Darkness does with little rays of sunshine when he catches them?”
 
“Nooooo!” the child shrieked, trying to hide behind the nearest bio-bed. “Spock help me!”
 
“I am otherwise engaged in disarming this explosive, Captain; the entire building will be in structural danger if I do not do so,” the Vulcan replied with innocent equanimity.
 
“I use my secret tickle-weapon on them!” the doctor shouted in triumph, pouncing. He snatched the little one around the waist and mercilessly tickled him until the child shrieked with laughter, half-heartedly beating on his shoulder with small fists.
 
“S-stop!” the toddler hiccupped between giggles. “’S not p-playing fair!”
 
“Oh, but it is!” the doctor said, grinning. “You’re a superhero, aren’t you? All superheroes have weaknesses. And all evil villains know exactly what those weaknesses are!”
 
“Spooooooooock!”
 
“Yes, Captain. Are you in need of assistance?”
 
Jim shrieked under another attack of pouncing fingers. “Get ‘im, Spock!”
 
McCoy glanced up just in time to see a Vulcan hand descending.
 
Turner gawped. “Was that a real nerve pinch?”
 
“No, wrong position on the neck,” Giotto replied, grinning. “Nerve cluster’s farther down.”
 
Their pint-sized superhero stared at the limp form sprawled theatrically on the floor. “’S he okay?” he asked worriedly.
 
“He is no longer a threat to anyone,” Spock agreed, looking far more satisfied than any Vulcan should at the opportunity he’d just had.
 
The toddler warily shuffled closer, peering down at the physician’s slack features. “Should I make ‘im better, Spock?” he asked, poking the doctor with one cautious finger.
 
“I do believe curing him of his innate evil would be preferable to imprisoning him for its consequences, do you not agree?” the Vulcan agreed sagely.
 
Jim blinked owlishly up at him, uncomprehending.
 
Spock sighed. “Yes, hug him and ‘make it better,’ Captain.”
 
“Okay!”
 
“I think I just died from adorable overdose,” Marta sighed, smiling at the screen. Turner snorted, earning him a tolerant cuff upside the head.
 
Christine Chapel chose that moment to enter the room, staring with dismay at the chaos which seemed had erupted in the fifteen minutes since she’d taken a lunch break.
 
Jim abandoned his intended villain and scooted gracefully across the floor, cape fluttering suitably dramatically behind him as he skidded to a stop before the new arrival. “Hi, I’m Cap’n Sunshine,” he said with an innocent smile.
 
“Are you now?” the nurse looked down and grinned, seeing the indignant look on McCoy’s face as he sat up, scowling at being thrown over in favor of female attention. “And doesn’t the handsome hero always get the kiss from the pretty girl at the end of every episode?”
 
“Yup!” the toddler beamed shyly, one finger in his mouth.
 
She smiled and, crouching down in front of the little one, planted a kiss on his cheek.
 
Jim turned a bright red and promptly hid behind Spock’s legs.
 
Giotto grinned at his people, who were sitting back and smiling fondly at the end of the tape. Tapping the screen, he brought up a record-and-edit box. Yes, they were definitely saving that vid for when the captain was himself again. If nothing else, it was his solemn duty to ensure it never found its way to the public intra-net for blackmail purposes.
 
And if he received a well-disguised-and-diverted request from both Medical and Sciences for a copy of the tape, he never told a soul; after all, Security meant discretion.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, given that the four-year-old version of the captain of the Enterprise simply had to put his chubby little hands all over everything he saw (no change from the adult version, McCoy thought sourly), the only surprising thing about it was that the kid hadn’t caught all kinds of bugs by this point in his four-week-long childhood. Even the sterilized environment of a starship couldn’t keep up with the amount of germs the kid accumulated just by virtue of the fact that his insatiable curiosity meant a constant hands-on approach. Also, no little boy washes his hands properly without being prompted. When he tore Spock a good one for not checking on the boy, the Vulcan’s response was only a blank look, obviously indicating that the idea of not properly sanitizing one’s self had never crossed his mind even as a (probably extremely scary) child. Fat lot of help, Vulcans.
 
Their first indications were overlooked simply because crew efficiency was down three percent; only to be expected, given that they had been becalmed in cartography for a month now, but the drop was still noticeable in morale and efficiency. A quarter of the crew was complaining to Sickbay about various minor ailments, most of which were brought on by too much time to think and not enough time exercising, and the physician was beginning to wonder if he should automatically hand out placebos for the first round, just to distinguish the genuinely ill from the bored and malingering. At least then he’d be able to get some decent sleep between exaggerating patients.
 
So when their toddler captain complained that his ‘tummy hurt’ after evening mess, he only sighed and informed the woeful upturned face that even if Mr. Spock thought German chocolate cake was perfectly acceptable as an entrée (the replicator is capable of producing the necessary nutrient content into any edible form, Doctor; it is a purely molecular process which is not altered by the eventual form of the food it synthesizes) it was a psychologically bad idea for little boys. Jim scowled at him, one hand cupped under his cheek to prop his head up as he picked at the plate of ham and greens the doctor had plopped in front of him after shoving the cake to one side.
 
McCoy paid no attention to the grumbling emanating from between bites of ham, only satisfied when the child swallowed a large forkful of greens with a grimace and then looked hesitantly for permission to return to his precious cake.
 
Honestly, Spock was worse than McCoy’s grandmother had ever been.
 
It didn’t occur to him until later, to notice that the child only took one listless bite of the dessert before pushing it away.
 
--
 
Spock was awoken on the instant by the sense that someone was approaching his personal space with admirable stealth. But the presence was non-threatening, familiar; he had not even opened his eyes before he relaxed, knowing who it was.
 
“Jim,” he sighed. “We have had this discussion multiple times. You are too old to be sharing a bed with an adult.” To be fair, by human standards the little one was not too old for proximital comfort, but by Vulcan standards he should be more than self-sufficient. Spock was highly uncomfortable with the idea of sharing a bed with a child based upon a cultural understanding that it was unacceptable behavior once past the infant stage. The fact that the child in question was his own captain at a future age made the whole thing that much more awkward. “Have you had a nightmare?”
 
“No,” came the muffled whisper.
 
“Then you need to sleep in your own bed, Jim,” he replied, not unkindly.
 
A small sniffle caused his resolve to waver, and his sigh was permission enough. A moment later the bed dipped barely perceptibly under the tiny weight, and a small body was wriggling under the comforter next to his.
 
“’M cold,” came the whimper into his shoulder, and he sighed, placing one arm around the squirming little one in an effort to both warm him and stop his squirreling about under the covers.
 
In his defense, he had just been abruptly awoken from sleep, as well as having been accustomed to illogical human behavior. He could then, possibly, be forgiven for the fact that it took him all of three-point-two seconds to realize something was very wrong.
 
His cabin, while cool to his tastes, was set somewhere between human and Vulcan norm due to his sharing it tonight with the child in question; it was quite chilly for him but should be extremely warm for any human. Secondly, his body temperature was considerably lower than a human’s; Jim should not be cuddling close to him for warmth because his body should feel cooler than the child’s own.
 
“Computer, lights fifty percent,” he said, sitting upright and tugging the covers away from the small figure next to him.
 
The child whimpered a sleepy protest, curling up into a tighter little ball with one hand pressed against his eyes.
 
“Jim.” He held a hand against the child’s face, only noticing now that the lights were on how flushed the little one's face was. He was aware by this point of the optimal temperature for a child this age, and the skin beneath his hand was dry and much warmer than it should be. “Jim, do not go to sleep yet.”
 
Golden eyes slitted open, their usually bright depths hazy and indistinct. “Go ‘way,” the child murmured, turning over in an attempt to hide his face in the pillow. “S’eepy.”
 
“Computer, activate Code Gold, First Officer’s Quarters, Medical only.” The alert would sound in Sickbay, the CMO’s quarters, and Security unless one was vocally deactivated. “Jim. Jim, wake up.” He received no answer from the unconscious little boy. 
 
Surely the child’s illness was not contagious, but he had no other explanation for the sudden sick feeling which knotted most disconcertingly at his insides. Scooping the little body up into his arms, he scanned the small face for signs of awareness, brushed a finger lightly over the sweat-soaked temple. He caught a vague, blurred thought-bubble coldowtummyhurtsspockmakeitbetter and was indeed about to carry Jim through the corridors to Sickbay and do just that single-handedly when the door opened and one Leonard McCoy lurched through, his uniform tunic on backward and one shoelace undone.
 
Spock’s head jerked up at the abrupt entrance, only peripherally making the deduction that the physician had been sleeping in his cabin one deck below, quite soundly by the look of it. “Doctor,” he said, more helplessly than he had intended.
 
“Did he say anything, Spock?” the physician murmured, already running a med-scanner over the small form.
 
“Only that he was cold, Doctor. I was not with him earlier in the evening; I had no other indication that he was feeling unwell.”
 
“Said he had a stomach-ache at dinner but that could easily have been from the cake or any number of things, God knows what the kid gets into on a daily basis,” McCoy replied absently, brushing a gentle hand over the small forehead, and placing the back of his fingers on the flushed cheek. Jim stirred uneasily under the contact, turning his face into Spock’s black sleep robe. “From what it looks like now, it’s probably just a ‘flu or some minor bug like that; this too-rapid aging is probably shooting his immune system to hell and depleting his body’s resources too rapidly, and he isn’t old enough for the basic inoculations like the flu vaccine yet. Fever’s not high enough yet to be alarming, but the poor kid’s gonna be uncomfortable for a little while.”
 
“Will he be better cared for in Sickbay?”
 
“I doubt it, since he hates the place unless he’s takin’ apart my machines,” the physician replied dryly. “Scanner says he’s mildly dehydrated and his body chemistry’s all out of whack, nothing fluids and rest and some loving won’t fix. Maybe we shouldn’t try so hard to get him to learn everything and accelerate the aging process, Spock, if it’s gonna cost him his health like this.”
 
Spock looked down at the small body dozing fitfully in his arms. “If we do not, Doctor, it is going to cost him months or years of his life. I will explain the situation to him when he next ages, and he will decide how to proceed.”
 
One eyebrow rose. “You’re gonna let a five-year-old who can’t think past his sweet tooth decide his own future.”
 
“Do you have an acceptable alternative?”
 
“Let me treat him this round and figure out how bad his body’s mixed up,” the physician said. “I might be able to come up with some supplements we could give him to combat the depletions, maybe even boost his immune system. It’ll take a bit of experimentation to get the dosage right.”
 
Spock considered briefly, and then nodded. “When Jim reaches ten years old, if a solution has not been found he will make the final decision. You have until then, Doctor. I cannot in good conscience sanction the adult losing months of the five-year mission due to our purposefully delaying his transformation.”
 
McCoy knew better than to argue, because they’d made it clear from the first that Spock was taking responsibility for the command decisions in this case. And anyway, he was confident he could find something that would help in that amount of time.
 
“Agreed, Mr. Spock,” he replied, nodding. “Now, let’s get him back into his own bed. Lots of rest, some fluids – get him to drink some juices, give him a couple popsicles when he’s awake enough. I’ll send Christine by with some soup and a vitamin booster in the morning, see if we can’t get him back to his holy terror of a self soon enough. I know he looks pretty sickly but human kids crash hard when they do, it looks scarier than it is right now.”
 
Privately, McCoy thought it was just a bit adorable (and creepy that he even thought that) the way Spock refused to let go of his baby captain until they were settling the drowsing child back into his little cot in the corner. Blankets were tucked snugly around the small body, stuffed panda bear secured under the little boy’s arm (Momo’s replacement, a gift from Scotty, had been eagerly accepted into the family circle).
 
Jim blinked awake for a minute as he was shifted. “Bonessss,” he spoke up with a surprised smile, waving a listless hand up in the air.
 
McCoy chuckled, snagged the hand and tucked it securely back under the blankets. “It’s me, kiddo. You’re gonna feel a little icky for a while but you’ll be fine, Spock and me are gonna take care of you.”
 
“Was dreamin’ about ducks,” the little boy said seriously. “Why there no ducks in space, Spock?”
 
“They require oxygen to live, as humans do, Jim, and an aqueous environment which is impractical for a starship.”

McCoy rolled his eyes. The only thing that saved the Vulcan a swat upside the head was the gentle hand which stroked (obviously unconsciously) over the wild mess of sandy hair covering a fevered forehead.

“Mmm,” was the non-committal answer. “I like ducks. You like ducks, Bones?”
 
“Sure do, kid.” Preferring the old-fashioned method, he timed the child’s pulse through the warm little wrist beneath the covers; it was a little fast but not dangerously so.
 
“Sam lets me play with his wubber duck,” the child rambled on, smiling up at them. Jim had a barely-noticeable speech impediment which only emerged when he was extremely drowsy or else concentrating very hard; McCoy was working on that but it still slipped through here and there. “When I’m sick an’ stay home he reads me Make Way for Ducklings an’ I make the noises.” Jim yawned, blinked slowly up at them. “'M sick now, where’s Sam, Bones?”
 
Spock’s eyes closed briefly, hand stilling in the child’s hair. “Aw, geez, kid,” McCoy muttered, squeezing the small hand just a little harder than he meant to. “He’s…he’s not here right now. But if you want me to read you something I can, or tell you a story about ‘em?”
 
One eye cracked open from where it had fluttered closed, appraising him critically. “You haveta make the noises, quack-quack, peep-peep,” the child stated warningly. 
 
He nodded with perfect solemnity, crossing his heart with a gesture which got a mystified twitch out of Spock’s right eyebrow.
 
“’kay then.” Jim’s insultingly doubtful tone was swallowed up in another yawn, and he snuggled down into the well-worn fleece blanket Spock had just magically conjured up from somewhere. 
 
The physician glanced up. “Go take care of getting rid of your Alpha shift tomorrow,” he said quietly, rubbing at red-rimmed eyes. “Because I’ve only got six more hours on this stim set before I’m gonna crash and nothin’ can stop it. You and Christine’ll have to take care of him tomorrow.”
 
Spock nodded, saying nothing. But as he crossed to the communications terminal, he made a mental note; Jim was not the only one whose immune system was being overtaxed, nor was he the only one whom Spock would likely need to keep watch on the following day.

Chapter Text

Cranky Jim Kirk as an adult was a man to be steered clear of. Crewmen scuttled out of sight into cross-corridors as he stalked them, his yeoman fled the room completely (paperwork be hanged), and heaven help the poor alpha shift crewman whose console chirped randomly at him, disturbing the thin silence of the Bridge.

Cranky Jim Kirk as an infant was a wailing, tantrum-pitching bundle of kicking legs and flailing arms, with a built-in public address system in place of lungs. The baby had been placated easily enough by some attention and old-fashioned loving (and the occasional toy with blinking lights).

Cranky Jim Kirk as a sickly, overactive four-year-old was the worst parts of both.
 
“I don’ want any more!” The dismal wail filled the small cabin, and for the fifth time in the last one hundred-twenty seconds Spock wished the child had chosen another night to become ill, rather than the one spent sleeping in his cabin.
 
“The matter is not up for debate, Jim,” he replied sternly. “Your body requires fluids and nutrients and you are going to consume them.”

”Am not!” The little one’s lips turned down in a pout, pressed together as he turned his head away from the cup. “Amnotamnotamnot! It’s icky!”

Spock was unfamiliar with the adjective, but gathered it had a negative connotation. He had spent the last fifteen minutes attempting to coax the child into drinking the electrolyte and nutrient/protein shake McCoy had left, with little success. Jim had taken one sip and promptly spit it back into the cup (a horrifyingly unhygienic habit), declaring with a grimace that it tasted like excrement (though the child had not used that term, exactly).
 
Judging from the smell and McCoy’s evil grin as he left the instructions, Spock was secretly inclined to agree; but he was not about to permit Jim to know that.
 
After ten more minutes of engaging in a battle of wills he knew he would never win, Spock sighed. “Jim, if I were to reprogram the beverage replicator to include this medicinal solution in something more pleasing to your palate would you then consume it?”
 
“Huh?”
 
“Will you drink your medicine if I put it into hot chocolate?”
 
Jim eyed him suspiciously, before the effect was ruined by a sneeze. “Awright,” the child at last declared grudgingly. “But you hafta put sprinkles an’ whip cream on it.”
 
It meant another forty-seven lines of additional coded script written completely from scratch, but it was a reasonable compromise. Besides, he knew when retreat before a superior force was preferable in order to keep one’s sanity. 
 
Spock agreed.
 
“Entertain yourself with the vid-discs the crew brought you while I perform the necessary mechanical reprogramming,” he instructed, removing the cover to the database computer for his personal beverage replicator.
 
“Okay,” the child chirped, wriggling down into the fleece blanket Spock had provided him with and switching on the vid-screen attached to the bedside stand.
 
For a sweet, blessed eight minutes and fifteen-point-three seconds, no noise other than randomized sounds from the vid-screen filled the room. Spock had never been more grateful in his life, quite content to sit and rewrite the generating code for hot cocoa to include the necessary nutrient mix McCoy had provided.
 
A shriek emanated from the vid-screen, and he glanced over to make certain it had been the vid-disc and not Jim which had made the noise. It had been the vid, though the child was huddled up clutching his stuffed panda, wide eyes glued to the set.
 
“What are you watching, Jim?” he asked warily when another yell and a crash sounded.
 
The child yawned, rubbing fitfully at one eye. “Is way old, like hunnerds of years old. Here, see?”
 
The recycled pasteboard container for a vid-disc set hit him on the head with uncanny accuracy, though to be fair he believed the toddler had just flung the item absently over one small shoulder rather than specifically aiming for Spock’s cranium. He glanced down as the disc cover hit the floor, fingers never pausing in their script coding. The garish color scheme screamed up at him, indicating that ‘way old’ was synonymous with ancient Terran tele-vision – most likely the ‘classics’ which were popular in the latter half of the twentieth century. The horrendous combination of chartreuse and multi-flowered Technicolor offended his visual cortex, and he glanced up incredulously at the screen.
 
“What exactly is the premise of such a ‘show,’ Jim?”
 
“Mm…they chase monstas,” the little boy mumbled into the stuffed animal, pointing to a hulking, obviously human-in-costume apparition of a ghostly Terran pirate. “An’ they’s always running…an’ all the time lotsa snacks! Can I have a samwich an’ chips Spock?”
 
It was a bizarre combination, and Spock’s personal replicator was beverage-only. “Perhaps if you are feeling better, in a few hours, Jim. Remember what happened when you attempted the pancakes this morning?”
 
“Yeah…sorry ‘bout your medit…mederta…your robe, Spock,” Jim murmured, blushing. Then a giggle escaped the little boy’s lips as the six figures on the screen took off running again. “My head don’t hurt anymore. I wanna cool car wif spy stuff like that, Spock! Vrooooooom! Can the Ennerprise make a vroom noise, Spock? She’s awful quiet, just hummmmmm all the time.”
 
Spock had long since given up trying to ascertain the trains of thought which produced such random and unrelated topic switches in this remarkable, if slightly ill, little brain.
 
“A lack of headache is a good sign that your fever is reducing, Jim. The doctor will be pleased to hear that you are improving. I do not believe that particular noise can be produced by a warp engine, although I will make the inquiry of Engineer Scott to make certain.”
 
“'kay. LOOK OUT!” the little boy shrieked at the screen as the garishly decorated van seemed to plunge straight into a river. Spock blinked, confounded by the eight laws of physics which were broken by the maneuvering of the vehicle across a tugboat and series of barges, before sailing back to safety on the opposite bank.
 
“That is a physically and scientifically impossible feat of aerial engineering,” he stated, somewhat in awe of humans’ gullibility in the area of what they watched for entertainment.
 
Jim eyed him with all the skepticism of genius childhood. “Yeah and dogs don’t really talk an’ eat samwiches, either,” he said tolerantly, accompanied by a roll of the eyes. “Is a show. ‘S not s’posed to be science.”

Duly instructed, Spock returned to his programming with well-hidden amusement.

A moment later, the intra-comm chimed. Eyes still on his vid-screen, Jim reached over to slap the switch.

“Walllll,” a familiar voice drawled with amusement. “Look who’s finally awake. You drivin’ Spock nuts yet, squirt?”
 
Jim glanced indignantly at the comm-screen. “I’m bein’ good, Bones. AREN’T I BEIN’ GOOD SPOCK?” he bellowed over one shoulder. “Spock’s makin’ me cocoa with medicine in it,” he confided without waiting for Spock’s answer (the Vulcan was not about to yell across the cabin). 
 
Finally finished, Spock replaced the cover of the replicator. “Computer, execute Replication Script Spock-alpha-three.”
 
“DON’ FORGET THE SPRINKLES!”
 
“Yes, captain. Computer, do not forget the sprinkles,” he repeated dutifully, solely for the child's benefit.
 
McCoy’s broad laugh sounded through the comm-channel. “What else you doin’, kid?”
 
“Watchin’ Scooby-Doo!” The child turned the vid-monitor toward the comm-screen so the physician could see. “Mr. Sulu found it for me in the Library. 'S awful old but I like it!”
 
The replicator chimed, bequeathing Spock its steaming cup of perfectly whipped-and-sprinkled hot chocolate. He tested the temperature (however adult Jim might act at times he was still a child who could easily burn himself) and then brought the mug over to the bed.

”Your cocoa, sir,” he said dryly, handing over the steaming mug and studiously ignoring McCoy’s guffaw.

“Thank you, Spock,” Jim answered, with such a worshipping smile that completely melted any remaining frustration he could possibly have with the child.
 
“All those movies and shows we brought you, Jim, and you picked that old thing?” the physician asked in amusement as the strange group of characters dashed again across the screen.
 
“It’s cool! I like Fred,” the child said seriously, eyes glued on the elaborate trap the group was concocting for an oblivious pirate.

McCoy snorted. “Figures, you like the big blond leader who jumps into anything without thinking it through. I’d have thought you’d be drooling over Daphne, Jim.”
 
He was fixed with an eyeroll of childish disdain. “Nope,” the little one said sagaciously, blowing a lock of curly hair off his forehead with a small phhhhhft. “I like Velma betta.”
 
Spock was utterly lost by this point, but found McCoy’s look of dumbfounded indignation to be amusing.
 
“What? Seriously?”
 
Jim nodded complacently, sipping his cocoa. “She’s brilliant,” the toddler declared, staring dreamily at the screen. 
 
Spock wondered half-heartedly if he should suggest the doctor ingest an antacid.
 
“I am so glad I’m your doctor and not your psychologist, Jimmy,” the physician muttered. “I don’t even want to know what that says about you and how this Regenratron’s screwed with your head.”
 
“Doctor,” Spock interjected with some severity.
 
“Right. Okay, Jimmy, you enjoy your cocoa with your brilliant Vulcan friend there,” the doctor said with a wicked smirk over the child’s head. Spock raised an eyebrow, and McCoy chortled something unintelligible before hastily ending the comm.
 
“Hey Spock when I get better can I have a dog? A big one? Are there dogs in space? Can they eat samwiches? Are there samwiches in space?”
 
He eyed the replicator, seriously considering making himself a duplicate cup of the child’s beverage. Double strength. 

Chapter Text

Their CMO out of commission (read: sedated by a ferocious Christine Chapel when he protested bed-rest) with the same ‘flu bug which had laid their gallant little captain low for two days, Spock found himself shouldering the brunt of baby-sitting, along with help from various medical staff and well-meaning, eager crewmen. Jim responded best to Chekov and Sulu, who introduced the little one to the joys of what Spock believed were referred to as ‘sock-puppets’ one evening, though Lieutenant Uhura was also a favored guest due to her musical ability, which seemed to soothe baby fever-dreams better than even physical contact did.
 
But on the third day since Jim had fallen ill, Spock found himself at his wits’ end how to entertain a convalescing human child. Jim was still too weak to have enough energy for extended play outside his small cot, but too awake to sleep when he was supposed to be, this time of the afternoon. Even the shameless bribery of hot cocoa (wif sprinkles, Spock, everybody knows that) did not calm the child enough to make him more than cranky due to drowsiness. James T. Kirk fought what he did not like with every fiber of his being, and his childhood stubbornness regarding naptime was no exception.
 
“Don’ wanna,” the toddler stated definitively, small arms crossed over his sunshine pajamas. “Imma supahero. Captain Sunshine don't hafta take naps. He’s too busy savin’ the world.”
 
“Captain Sunshine should be intelligent enough to realize when a period of inactivity is advisable for the sake of his health,” Spock returned logically.
 
Jim blinked at him. “You talk weird.”
 
Surak grant me patience. “Jim, the matter is not up for debate. You are going to take a nap, so that you may take Dr. McCoy his dinner as Christine promised you, do you remember the agreement?”
 
“Nope.” A clear falsehood, but delivered with a look of angelic innocence.
 
Spock closed his eyes. “Jim –“
 
“Captain Sunshinnnnne!”
 
Captain, you have had your cocoa and are in need of rest. It is time to be quiet. Go to sleep.”
 
“But Spock, I can’t sleep wifout a storyyyyy,” the toddler whined, picking mournfully at a ball of fuzz which was stuck to the fleece blanket. 
 
“You wish me to read you a story?” Anything at all, if it would just get the child to be silent for ten minutes…
 
“Nooooo,” Jim responded loftily. “Want you to tell me one. ‘S always better made-up.”
 
Spock had the feeling his utter cluelessness was visible on his face, for the child’s shoulders drooped. “Neva mind,” the little one snuffled into the back of the stuffed panda’s head. 
 
Reverse psychology, thy name is James Tiberius Kirk. Spock was completely undone, and surely no one could blame him. Magic Hugs was not the child’s sole superpower.
 
“I…am unaccustomed to creating such tales from scratch as would be interesting to one your age, Jim,” he hedged cautiously, seating himself on the edge of the cot. 
 
One green eye peeked out at him.
 
“But I will make the attempt, if you wish,” he sighed, surrendering.

”YAY!” The panda flew three feet into the air and landed on its back at the foot of the bed, as the little boy threw his arms around Spock’s torso and squeezed, hard.

“But then you must sleep for at least one hour following the tale’s conclusion, is that understood?” he admonished, returning the plush animal to its owner.
 
Jim squirreled back under the covers, beaming up at him. “Pwomise!”
 
“Prromise,” he corrected gently.
 
“Prrrrrromise,” the child agreed, shrugging easily. “Now tell me!”
 
“What sort of story would you prefer to hear, Jim?”
 
The small nose scrunched up in thought. “Make it a space story!”
 
That, he could most likely manage. “And?”
 
“With a starship an’ danger an' something exciting happenin’ an’ a pretty girl!”
 
Typical. Spock’s lips quirked fondly.
 
“Do you wish a story with a happy ending, Jim, or one which will make you think at the end?” he asked carefully, for this could well be used as a teaching tool if the child was so inclined. Spock was more than ready to have his captain back in his proper body and age group.
 
Sharp eyes squinted suspiciously at him. “Dunno. You pick.” The child shrugged, hugging his panda tightly.
 
“Very well.” Spock nearly smiled, but only moved closer to the little boy and began, his hypnotic voice filling the room.
 
“Once upon a time, Jim, there was a planet, deep in the heart of space. And on this planet, lay a portal, a…magic gateway, you would call it, to other worlds and other times upon those worlds. The gateway called itself the Guardian of Forever.”
 
“Fo'ever,” the child murmured, eyes sparkling over the top of the panda’s ear.
 
“And traveling to this planet there was a starship, filled with a brave crew and commander, who were going to explore the planet below. But when they drew near the planet, the ship struck a series of temporal dist…it hit a space-storm, Jim, and one of the crew had an accident which caused him to temporarily go insane.”
 
“Cool!”
 
“No,” Spock corrected, “it was not, because this crewman beamed down to the planet and jumped through the portal before anyone was able to stop him.”
 
Jim’s eyes widened. “Uh-oh.”
 
Spock looked down at the small hand which had crept its way into his, and could only hope that the lesson would take hold.
 
“As you can imagine, the captain of the ship was very worried about his missing crewman, and so he transported down to the planet to find him…”
 



 
“And so you see, Jim, that the pretty lady you asked about was the most important piece of history in that time, and if she had not gone away, then all of history would have been changed.”

At a previous point, Spock had shifted to rest against the headboard, and the child had curled up next to him, small hand clutching at his tunic and the little face sad. “She was very brave,” Jim murmured sleepily.

“Indeed she was, and very talented, brilliant, kind, and good – a rare combination,” Spock said quietly. “But she knew even then, would have told the starship captain if she knew the truth, that he had done the right thing – that history must be set right, for the good of the millions of beings who would come after her.”
 
“He must’ve been so sad,” the child whispered, sniffling a little into the panda’s fur.
 
“He was,” Spock returned softly. “Very sad, but also very, very brave. You wish to be a captain someday, Jim; that is part of a captain’s duty, making the most painful decisions which no one else aboard ship can.”
 
“But it has a happy ending, right Spock?” the toddler begged, looking up beseechingly. “’Cause the captain still had all his friends an’ his ship an’ they all gave him hugs and he let ‘em make it all better?”
 
Spock looked down at the upturned, eager face, and shook his head regretfully. “No, Jim. He believed it was better to grieve alone, and did not wish to inflict his sorrow on others.”
 
The child’s eyes grew sad. “He wouldn’ let anybody help him? No making him cookies or giving hugs?”
 
“No, Jim. He did not wish to cause pain to anyone around him, and so he grieved all alone.”
 
“But didn’ his friends worry about him anyhow?”
 
“Indeed they did.” Spock’s arm tightened imperceptibly around the small shoulders. “That is very perceptive of you.” He looked down. “What do you believe his friends should have done instead of leaving him alone as he asked, Jim?” he asked hesitantly.
 
The little one frowned deeply for a moment. “They shoulda hugged him an’ not let him be alone at night, an’ let him cry if he wanted to because the pretty lady died,” he said after a minute’s thought. 
 
Spock closed his eyes in regret, for the moment setting aside the surprise that the child had picked up on death rather than his diluted version of events; perhaps Jim had already gained more maturity than they had realized. “Indeed.”
 
“And cookies woulda helped. Chocolate-chip, wif nuts.” Spock blinked in some amusement at the non sequitur, and chalked it up to human childhood’s comfort foods. “But it wasn’t nice of him to tell them he didn’ wanna be with them, make them worry ‘bout him!” the child said indignantly, scowling into Spock’s tunic. “He was stupid. You got friends for a reason.” 
 
So it was spoken with all the authority of toddlerhood, and the little one proceeded to promptly fall asleep.
 
The lines smoothed unseen out of the Vulcan’s forehead, and he looked down fondly at the yawning bundle of fleece blanket and curly hair which had at some point burrowed serenely into his side. “Indeed you do, pi’khart-lan. Indeed you do.” (1, 2)
 
The next morning, Jim turned five years old.
 

Chapter Text

Leonard McCoy rarely got sick. For one thing, God seemed to grant special grace to doctors to not catch the many maladies with which they came into frequent contact, and for another, his momma had gifted him with a lot of common hygienic sense when it came to children. It would just figure that recent events would overtax his immune system enough for his defenses to slip and allow in the same ‘flu bug which had sent a hyperactive, sunny child into cranky tears in the second day of its run through his small system.
 
Jim was dead when he went back to being an adult; he was already planning the rigorous diet and exercise routine he would take great evil pleasure in inflicting.
 
He was currently holed up in his own Sickbay – insisted upon it just before Christine had stabbed him with a sedative for his own good, just in the very remote case of its being highly contagious – nauseated and achy and altogether miserable. His staff steered well clear of his fluctuating temper, and even Chapel had finally shot down his last adult tantrum with some well-chosen words and then ignored him for the rest of the afternoon.
 
Well that suited him just fine; he didn’t need anybody’s chirpy companionship anyhow.
 
It was after ship’s Evening Mess when the door to his room opened to admit the last person he wanted to see.
 
“Oh, now my fantastic day’s complete,” he muttered, scowling at the placid figure regarding him with detached interest. “What, come to gawk at the novelty of a sick doctor, Science Officer?”
 
“Negative,” Spock replied calmly. “Were the choice entirely up to me, I should be more than happy to relieve myself of any association with you while you are in such a quarrelsome temper, Doctor. Unfortunately,” and the Vulcan looked slightly put-upon, “someone insists upon seeing you, and Nurse Chapel promised him he might if he behaved himself this afternoon.”
 
McCoy lifted his head slightly just in time to see a small figure in yellow pajamas toddle carefully around the Vulcan’s long legs, a soup mug held with the strictest attention in both hands. He was relieved to see the mug wasn't steaming, at least, even Spock wasn't clueless enough to let the child carry something that could badly burn him.

Jim’s tongue poked slightly out of his mouth as he took careful steps across the room toward the bed and its grumpy occupant.
 
“You play dirty pool, Spock,” McCoy muttered, glaring at the Vulcan, who only looked back at him with complete innocence.
 
“Hi Bones!” 
 
“Hey, squirt,” he murmured, pushing the button which would incline his bio-bed to an acceptable angle. “Be careful, don't spill on yourself.”
 
Jim nodded, and carefully stood on tip-toe to place the mug on the bedside table, where McCoy picked it up and examined it for signs that Christine had replicated it and not Jim by himself. “Is chicken ‘n’ stars,” the toddler said, fidgeting shyly onto one socked foot, then hopping back to the other. “Tastes lots better than the plomeek Spock gave me when I was pukin’ yesterday.”
 
Spock looked slightly affronted, and McCoy snickered into the mug. “I just bet it is,” he said, grinning over the rim. He glanced over to Jim, who was scrambling up on the end of the bed. “How you feelin’, kid?”
 
“Better,” was the reply. “Spock lemme have ice cream today!”
 
“Did he now.”
 
“After he consumed a bowl of soup and a plate of applesauce and kept both down without incident, Doctor,” Spock added calmly. “The child’s fever is also gone, and his nutrient and chemical levels are rapidly returning to normality for his age according to Nurse Chapel’s scans.”
 
“She’s gorgeous, she can gimme shots ev’ryday,” Jim remarked dreamily.
 
McCoy inhaled a pasta star and choked on it. 
 
“You are so gonna be the dad of this dysfunctional family when he hits puberty, Spock,” he managed after a fit of coughing.
 
Spock’s eyebrow clearly said as if.

Chapter Text

With McCoy still forcibly restrained from returning to active duty, threatened with sedatives from his Head Nurse along with Vulcan backup, the duty of primary baby-sitter had been bounced around the command chain in the hours immediately following Jim’s aging to five years old. With Spock (quite rightly) refusing to abandon his duties to the ship despite the situation with her captain, someone had to make sure the little prodigy didn’t end up exploding the saucer section or irreparably damaging some crucial circuitry which grabbed his fleeting attention with its flashing lights.
 
On this particular morning, the one immediately after Jim’s last aging, Chekov had been unceremoniously given child-minding duty when Spock left early for the end of gamma through beginning of alpha shift due to some conference calls from scientific heads regarding their star-mapping, as well as an update with Starfleet Command in regards to their unusual captainal staffing problem.
 
Chekov had discovered the hard way both that a five-year-old was not old enough to dress himself despite his protests to the contrary, and that Jim Kirk at any age could tear his shirts with alarming ease. After the third such tunic finally made it front-side-front onto the wriggling little one, Chekov believed he had earned his wages for the month. It did not help matters that their soft-hearted quartermaster had scripted a clothing replication routine to produce tiny uniform tunics in each of the three colors, so that the child could costume himself along with his beloved crew however he saw fit.
 
Usually Jim gravitated naturally toward the gold, only donning the red when he was going to Scotty for babysitting – but today, probably due to the fact that he was to have breakfast with Dr. McCoy, he donned the blue with a sunny smile and submitted with good humor to Chekov’s attaching and tying his little boots.
 
“I wanna tricorder,” the child said suddenly as the ensign finished the last knot. “Can I have one, Mr. Pavel?”
 
Chekov ruffled the child’s hair, earning him a scowl and shake of the head. “I do not know,” he replied, highly doubting the child was capable of taking care of a delicate instrument. “Why do you want one, Jim?”
 
“Because they look cool,” the little one replied with a superior sniff, as if the young Russian should have known that without asking.
 
Chekov hid his grin, taking the child’s hand and leading him out the door for breakfast in Sickbay. “I do not belief we have one small enough for your hands, Jim. But perhaps if you are extremely well-behaved the Doctor will permit you to play with one of his scanners. Provided you do not take the instrument apart, of course.”
 
The child had the grace to look uncomfortable at the mild rebuke, and disconsolate at the idea of not getting his latest fixation. “I be careful,” he muttered, as he scuffed one boot along the wall in an effort to produce the loudest squeaking noise possible.
 
Perhaps it was that he loved children, and had little cousins of his own – or perhaps he was as much as sucker, as they said, for puppy eyes as Mr. Spock himself was. Whatever the reason, Chekov dropped the child off with the nursing staff and then headed down to Ship’s Stores and Requisition.
 



 
It took almost two hours and he had to call in a couple of favors with a friend, but before Chekov’s Bridge shift began Jim had his little tricorder. It didn’t do much more than whistle and chirp, and have several flashing lights, but it looked real enough and the child’s ecstatic smile was reward enough for the favors he now owed below decks.
 
It looked so real, in fact, that it took him nearly ten minutes to get the child through the corridor to the turbolift so that they could reach the Bridge; Jim wanted to stop and scan everything and everyone he passed, much to his crew’s tolerant amusement. Finally Chekov gently yanked the boy into the lift after him, breathing a sigh of relief when the door closed.
 
The small instrument whirred alarmingly as Jim shoved it against his stomach, staring in intense concentration at the randomized digital display numbers.
 
“Am I fully functional?” he asked with an entirely straight face.
 
“Hmm.” The little one squinted thoughtfully at the display, and then pressed another button, making the toy chirp alarmingly. “It says you have a…defi…defersh…”
 
“Deficiency?” the navigator hazarded.
 
“Yeah! A defisherncy, an ice cream defisherncy! We gotta fix that!”
 
“I do not think Dr. McCoy will agree with your medical opinion, Jim,” he returned, chuckling.
 
The lift doors opened, and he saw instantly that Spock was standing in the center circle, deep in a conference call with Starfleet Command. Uhura flicked him a warning glance as he entered, small captain in tow, and he instructed Jim to wait beside the Comms Chief and to be quiet until the call was over. He slid neatly into the Navigation Console as his predecessor left, not disrupting the conversation going on over his head.
 
“I agree with you, Commander,” the Admiral – Cartwright, he believed – was saying. “Frankly I think the situation will be best contained, medically and politically, by the child remaining aboard the Enterprise.”
 
“I am of the same opinion, Admiral,” Spock returned. “Especially as the Insonti people have assured me that the transformation requires outside help to complete.”

”What is your progress so far?”

Spock launched into a brief description of the past couple weeks, detailing Jim’s progression from infant to child, but Chekov’s attention was on the subject of the discussion. Two wide hazel eyes were peering over the dividing rail at the central figure, as their child-captain stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of Spock.
 
Someone aww-ed from behind him, earning a tolerant warning glance from Uhura. Chekov smiled, and then started slightly as the child ducked under the rail without warning and crept up noiselessly behind the Vulcan.
 
If Cartwright saw the little one, he gave no indication, and the rest of the Bridge crew studiously avoided drawing attention to the scene.
 
Jim moved curiously up beside his mentor as the Vulcan began a paraphrase of his last conversation with the Insonti medical staff, peering up at Spock and then to the viewscreen, then back again. He moved slightly to face the screen as well, a few inches or so behind the acting captain, and then squinted thoughtfully up again at the tall figure towering over him. 
 
Drawing up to his full height (which was just adorably tiny), the little one fastidiously arranged his tricorder over one hip and then straightened up into a mimicking pose of Spock’s, little hands clasped behind him and feet planted apart. The child turned a suitably serious face to the screen, chin jutting out, imitating the Vulcan as best his little mind could see how.
 
A round of titters broke out among the usually well-behaved crew – because who wouldn’t, it was ridiculously cute – alerting Spock that something out of the ordinary was occurring. One glance downward told him everything, and his stern features relaxed at the first glimpse of the small figure standing rigidly at his side in a mirror of his posture.
 
On the screen, the image of Cartwright smiled. “I see you’re training him well, Commander. Make sure he doesn’t get too comfortable in those Science blues, though? Wouldn’t want to turn him into a miniature Vulcan.”
 
“I assure you, admiral, he is quite human,” Spock replied dryly, earning another round of muffled snickers from the Bridge crew who had been witness to the child’s last tantrum.
 
“Vulcans have cooler ears, though,” Jim piped up cheerfully, looking up at the screen with all the earnest truthfulness of childhood.
 
This time the laughter wasn’t muffled, and said ears turned slightly viridian.
 
Cartwright grinned at the little ray of sunshine. “So they do, young man. I’m Admiral Cartwright, Jim; how are you doing?”
 
“I’m good,” the child chirped, waving one hand at the screen and then retreating to safety with his other arm wrapped around one of Spock’s long legs. “I had pancakes this morning!” He beamed shyly at the viewscreen, and then glanced up at the Vulcan, whose lips quirked slightly. Spock laid a gentle hand on the child’s head before looking back at the screen.
 
Cartwright chuckled. “That’s good to hear, Jim. Commander, I’ll leave you to it; obviously you have the situation…well-in-hand,” he said, tactfully avoiding any more emotionally-inclined comments. “You’ve been granted an extra week of star-mapping duty, as the progress in aging Captain Kirk has been slower than anticipated. Provided the ship remains out of all active duty and therefore out of danger zones, you will be permitted to keep the child on board until he is sufficiently aged. Weekly reports will still be required, naturally.”

Spock nodded. “Acknowledged.” 

“Don’ move, please,” Jim’s voice asked politely. A whirring chirp distracted them all momentarily, and Spock looked down to find a miniature tricorder scanning the viewscreen with all the intense concentration of a child genius. 
 
Raising an eyebrow, the Vulcan shot a longsuffering look at the admiral, who looked as if he was trying gallantly not to laugh. “Will there be anything else, sir?”
 
“No, Commander Spock,” Cartwright managed, coughing briefly into his hand. “Cartwright out.”
 
“Heyyyyy, I wasn’t done,” Jim protested as the screen went blank.
 
Spock sent a warning glance around at the watching Bridge crew, indicating that there would be Severe Eyebrow Repercussions for people not returning to their jobs. Chekov turned back around with the rest of them, not willing to risk his dignity by gambling verbal evisceration; but he could still hear.
 
“Where did you get your tricorder, Jim?”
 
“Mr. Chekov gave it to me!” the child chirped happily, amid a chorus of beeps and chirps from the instrument. “Now I can look like you!”
 
Hearing the muffled murmurs from around the Bridge’s perimeter, Chekov suspected the majority alpha shift crew were now nothing more than so many puddles melted around the place. 
 
“Only wifout the ears,” was Jim’s thoughtful addendum. “See I wore blue today because Science!”
 
“Indeed,” Spock’s calm voice remained without emotional overtone, though Chekov knew the Vulcan well enough to hear the fond amusement well-hidden in it. “Jim, did you thank Ensign Chekov for the gift?”
 
Chekov glanced over his shoulder, seeing that the Vulcan had resumed the center seat and was leaned forward to speak on eye level with their child-captain. “He did, Meester Spock,” he assured. “And he is quite welcome.”
 
Spock acknowledged him with a nod, before turning his attention back to Jim, who was examining his attire with close attention. “If you’re the captain, why don’ you wear yellow, Spock?” the little one asked innocently.
 
Every eye turned toward the center chair at least surreptitiously, as the Vulcan looked momentarily uncertain of his answer. They had up until now not hidden the facts of the transformation from the child, but nor had they volunteered any information when it had not been asked; the little brain was incapable of comprehending the truth as yet.
 
“The captain of this ship is incapacit- is unable to be the captain right now, Jim,” the Vulcan finally said. “I am the next in line under him; therefore I am acting in his place until he can be here again.”
 
“Why can’t he be the captain?”
 
“Because…something has happened to him which will take several weeks to fix,” Spock explained carefully.
 
“Oh. That’s a long time.”
 
“It is,” was the simple agreement; no doubt it seemed an eternity to one so young.
 
Jim fidgeted with his toy tricorder, finally hugging it close to his chest. “Do you miss him?” he asked curiously, looking up at the figure seated in a borrowed chair.
 
Spock froze for a moment before answering. When he did, it was a simple admission and without extraneous sentiment – and effective for all that.
 
“Yes, Jim.”
 
The child nodded sagely, and leaned against the Vulcan’s knees as he stood on the steps in front of the chair. “But you is a good captain too, Spock,” he said with all the certainty of hero-worship. 
 
Spock looked into the wide eyes for a moment, the lines of tension and stress around his stern features softening as he saw the unmitigated confidence well-hidden under a child’s faith.
 
“We can but hope so, pi'khart-lan,” he murmured, obviously unaware that the words were loud enough for at least the closest crewmen to hear.

Chekov glanced surreptitiously over his shoulder, concerned, and made a note to make sure the adult version of their current five-year-old vocalized the same complete confidence in the stressful role their First Officer had been forced into.

 

Chapter Text

Montgomery Scott had an odd relationship with the command crew of the Enterprise. Commander Spock he had known since the very beginning of the voyages under Captain Pike, back when he was just a (very talented) engineer and Spock a very young science lieutenant. Over the eleven years of Pike’s captaincy he had watched his own career take off along much the same pace as the unusual Vulcan, and none had been more pleased than he to find that Spock had agreed to remain as Science Officer when the upheaval of the century took place, the transfer of command of the flagship from the renowned Captain Pike over to a young, cocky upstart straight off exploratory duty. Kirk was a brilliantly blazing star of charisma and talent, but Scott had seen too many of those stars go nova before their time to be anything but wary of the captaincy turnover.
 
Kirk won his heart within fifteen minutes of coming aboard, when he collared the Chief Engineer and insisted upon a tour of the engine room before even seeing his living quarters. Scott had been much amused to watch the granite façade of a Vulcan mask slowly crumble over a short space of time in much the same manner. No one could stand before the unstoppable force which was the new Captain James Tiberius Kirk, not even a Vulcan who believed he must be even more Vulcan than his full-blooded peers. It had done the engineer's heart good, to see that uptight First Officer slowly unbend, completely accepted without stipulation from this remarkable human who had taken the hearts of the Enterprise crew (and the silver lady herself, he’d bet his pension) by storm.
 
And now, four years into their five-year mission, their captain had been turned into a wee child, by circumstances which he still was not clear on the details, and said wee child had said stone-faced Vulcan wrapped around his tiny little finger even more so than the adult version had. Of course, Scott would never dream of saying as much to Mr. Spock, as he had the sense to value his life and working relationships.
 
He had to admit, however, that he couldn’t imagine a soul who wouldn’t fall in love with their pint-sized captain in this form; it would certainly have to be a colder heart than his. And so, when Spock requested he take the child for an afternoon so that the Vulcan and their CMO could communicate with the Insonti regarding aspects of this slow re-transformation and Kirk’s delayed child development, the engineer was only too happy to oblige.
 
Jim was dropped off in Auxiliary Control in a miniature Starfleet uniform which one of the soft-hearted engineers in Maintenance had managed to program into the clothing replicators, all sunny smiles and wide-eyed enthusiasm. He was also quite hyperactive, which apparently was due in part to excitement over being allowed to spend the day in Engineering, and in part due to the fact that Spock appeared unable to deny the child anything when under fire from puppy-eyes and had let him have Orange Fizz-aid with his chicken salad at lunch.
 
Scott chuckled indulgently as he snagged the child’s collar in time to prevent him from bashing his head into the rungs of the ladder leading up to the Environmental Control center.
 
“What’s up there, Mr. Scott?”
 
“That’s the Environmental Control center, laddie,” he replied, as the child beamed in eager response to a smiling Fellustarian engineer who saw him over the railing and waved. “And you can call me Scotty, if y'like.”
 
“Okay. Hi, Mr. Giotto!”
 
Scott glanced toward the door as the child bellowed, and saw that two Security ensigns had taken up stations on either side, shooting him an apologetic look as they did so. He rolled his eyes, and saw the answering amused look from their Security Chief as he left the room; since Jim’s catwalk incident Spock had driven them all crazy posting guards whenever the child was left anywhere other than Sickbay. Paranoia didn’t exactly suit a Vulcan, but it was a bit adorable, the Scotsman thought privately.
 
“What’s this do?”
 
“That’s the control board for the auxiliary power core,” he replied. “If the warp engines go off-line, we can still have backup power controlled from this here.”
 
“That’d be bad, right?”
 
“Aye,” he agreed. “But it rarely happens on a ship this big.”
 
“How big is the ship? Is she pretty? Can I see the engines, pleeeeeease? Can you do warp nine with ‘em? Lookit that light’s blinking, issat bad? What’s that switch for? Why’s your uniform red an’ mine’s yellow an' Spock's is blue, Scotty? Why there no green uniforms?”
 
Scott looked with dismay at the subtly-laughing personnel which were working in the vicinity; he’d opened a fair can of worms with this one, he had…
 



 
Two hours later, they’d exhausted both every part of Engineering and also one little boy’s endless string of questions. Scott was slightly relieved when the child wound down, returning with curiosity to the main control center in Auxiliary Control, where Lieutenant Riley was on his back on a rolling dolly, soldering a loose wire in the back of the backup Communications motherboard. 
 
“Well, what d’you want to do now, laddie?” he asked, seeing the little one standing something at a loss in the middle of the room.
 
Jim was watching the sparks fly with fascination. “Dunno,” was the response, followed by a shrug of small shoulders.
 
Scott had an idea. “Well, I was about to take the transporter boards apart for cleaning, as we willna be using them for a bit in this star-mapping. Would y’like to help with that?”
 
Hazel eyes shone with excitement. Then the little face fell, and the child scuffed one toe along the edge of the console. “Mr. Spock tol’ me if I wanna come back here again I‘m not ‘llowed to touch anything,” he mumbled sadly.
 
“Well, now, he also told you to do exactly what I say, didn’t he, laddie?”
 
“Yes, sir.”
 
“And what if I told you that if that transporter board doesn’t get cleaned properly, then something bad might happen to the next person who goes through it?”
 
The child’s eyes widened. “Like they could come back wif two heads?”
 
Highly unlikely, but the engineer nodded with appropriate solemnity. “You see, it has to be done properly or something terrible might happen to the crew, laddie.”
 
Jim looked undecided, obviously torn between obedient hero-worship and his desire both to tinker and to do good for the sake of his friends the crew, Scott could clearly see the struggle on the small face. He didn’t apologize for making the child think; they’d all been instructed about teaching the lad every chance they got.
 
“But the rule was I couldn’ touch anything,” the little one murmured, biting his lower lip. “And Spock’s inna meeting, I can’t ask him…”
 
“Well, then.” Scott shrugged, standing back up from where he’d been crouched before the wavering child. “Looks like you’ve got two unacceptable scenarios, lad. Can ye not think of a solution which will satisfy both?”
 
The small forehead wrinkled in thought for a few minutes. Then the boy’s eyes lit up. “You clean it, an’ I’ll watch an’ make sure you do it right,” he ordered, feet spread, small hands fisted on his hips in a manner so exactly reminiscent of their adult captain that everyone within earshot smiled fondly. “Then it's still obeyin’ Spock but the job gets done, right?”
 
Scott grinned, scooping the child up in his arms and tickling his belly until he shrieked, laughing. “Aye, laddie, that’s exactly what we’ll do.” Jim giggled again, squirming to avoid the engineer’s able fingers. “See, there’s never a no-win situation, where we canna find a solution if we just think about it for a bit.”
 
“Yup! Ow, Scotty, put me down!” the little one shrieked, laughing as he was assailed again by wandering fingers.
 
“And the solution doesnae always entail tellin’ the authority what they can do with their orders, now does it?” the engineer muttered rhetorically. “Tell me ye caught that too, Jim. ‘Twill make our adult lives a bit easier.”
 
He couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry when Spock came to him later that night, wanting to know why Jim had aged six months in one afternoon.

Chapter Text

"And, upon the medical recommendation of Dr. McCoy and with the sanction of Starfleet Command, the Enterprise has been granted forty-eight hours' shore leave at Starbase 47-A during the time allotted for restocking and personnel transfer," Spock continued, reading methodically through the briefing for the sake of the log computer. "Due to the expected drop in crew efficiency the last four weeks, the time for rest and relaxation will be evenly divided among the crew in sixteen shifts, beginning with those most needed for the restocking procedures."

A chorus of affirmations acknowledged his report, and he continued.

" The U.S.S. Nova is approaching Starbase 47-A with a medical emergency and will require our departure precisely as scheduled to assume our position in orbital dock. Please inform your departments that any tardiness in returning to the ship before undocking procedures commence will result in that crewman being left behind and thereby transferred to another posting, as we will not be returning this way for at least a year. Lieutenant?"

"Already compiling the leave charts, sir, in collaboration with Dr. McCoy's staff," Uhura reported, busily working on a spreadsheet and roster. "Those deemed in direst need of a break will of course go first, right after you and Dr. McCoy and our little Captain Sunshine."

Everyone stared as their impeccably Vulcan acting captain did something so utterly human as to actually drop his stylus.

"I beg your pardon, Lieutenant." In a tone which obviously meant to everyone in the room that he did absolutely nothing of the kind.

"Sir, it's standard procedure -"

"Lieutenant, I assure you I have no plans for this time period save to engage in a futile attempt to accomplish the backlog of paperwork which has begun to accrue most alarmingly during the captain's temporary incapacitation," Spock said severely. "What human activities Dr. McCoy chooses to do with his young charge during this brief shore leave are none of my concern."

Sulu leaned over. "Why is it the kid's McCoy's when he's being a little hellion, and Spock's when he's behaving himself?" he asked in an undertone.

Chekov was only partially successful in muffling his snort of laughter, judging by the glare he was given by his Vulcan superior.

"Aye, sir." Uhura didn't look happy about the clear order, but as a secondary babysitter for their hyperactive little captain she understood possibly better than the others that Spock most likely desperately needed a little child-free time to retain his Vulcan sanity.

"Put me down for a bit o' shipside peace and quiet too, lassie," Scott spoke up from across the table, raising both hands defensively when the Comms chief scowled pointedly at him. "I swear, nothing but a bit o' light reading in private! I've seen 47-A before, and let me tell you the place is cram-jammed with so many species this time of the shipping cycles, it's a veritable zoo. No thank ye."

Uhura sighed elaborately, making a show of crossing yet another name off her list, but winked at the flustered Scotsman over the top of the data-padd.

Spock was pointedly ignoring any and all human interaction, in favor of scrawling his signature across a few reports which had just popped up from Ship's Stores and Requisition, seeing that they needed to be forwarded to the cargo holds on the starbase immediately. "Are there any other points of business regarding this brief shore leave, gentlemen?

A murmur of negation rippled around the table.

"In that case -" Spock was interrupted by a sudden scuffle outside in the corridor, the excited patter of small running feet which they all recognized too readily by now.

Chekov would have sworn the Vulcan's eyes flicked in calculation at the door lock panel before deciding reluctantly against the action, visibly bracing himself against the onslaught.

"SpockSpockSpockSPOCK!"

The door slid open, sending Jim skidding over his own feet and tumbling into the room as the automatically-powered durasteel evidently was still too slow for an energetic five-year-old.

Spock reached down and gently set the child on his feet again, handing him the small padd he'd dropped in his tumble. He received a beaming smile for his efforts. "Jim, we have discussed running in the corridors, have we not?" he admonished sternly.

The entire command chain hastily hid their attention in their datapadds as Jim immediately straightened up into a somewhat sloppy sense of attention, hands clasped behind him in a mimicry of Spock's usual stance when reporting.

"We have," the little one intoned solemnly.

Uhura's muffled coo of delight received a withering Vulcan death-glare that had absolutely no effect on her whatsoever.

Jim fidgeted, bouncing slightly onto one foot, and then the other, then back again, biting at his lower lip all the while. "But Spoooock!" he whined at last, tugging impatiently at the Vulcan's trouser leg when Spock read a report instead of paying attention to him.

"Jim, I am in the middle of a very important briefing -" a swift look of cooperate-with-me-or-I-shall-make-your-lives-logically-miserable around the table quelled the rising denials, "and besides, were you not supposed to be in the care of Dr. McCoy at this time?"

"We're playin' hide-n-seek!" Jim jumped up and down in an attempt to see over the top of the table. Then the child's voice lowered to a very loud conspiratorial whisper, as he stood on tiptoe, one hand cupped around his mouth. "He thinks I'm not big enough to run the tur…turrberliff by myself. But I am!"

The whisper had morphed back into a near-yell with the last sentence, though unfortunately the child had not suited his distance to his volume and in result nearly deafened his acting captain. Spock winced, gaining him a brief look of sympathy from the amused command crew.

"Jim, you must not cause the doctor concern regarding your whereabouts," he admonished finally, noting in his periphery that a grinning Scott was already composing an internal instant message to tell the physician their little escapee had been found.

"But I hadta see you b'fore we go down to the Starbase!" the child exclaimed. At Spock's inquiring eyebrow, he found Jim's datapadd slapped unceremoniously down on his lap. "Lookit!"

"Very well. Look at what, precisely?" he asked, with what Chekov thought was remarkable patience.

"Thisa net site for the 'Base!"

"And?"

"Spock, loooook!" the child protested, pointing a small finger at the screen.

The Vulcan's look of refined horror was enough to make the rest of them curiously pull up the Starbase's galactic net site in an effort to discover what Jim could have found under the child-safe search protocols that would instill such a look of dread on a Vulcan's face.

"Oh, dear," Uhura murmured, hiding a smile.

"Someone's gonna die for showing the kid how to use a search engine, I bet you two hours' shore leave," Sulu whispered.

"I do not bet on so sure thing," was Chekov's sage rejoinder.

"Jim," Spock began, only to be interrupted by a veritable torrent of excited chatter.

"Is a 'musement park, Spock! With roller coasters an' ice cream an' rides an' a big wheel where you can see forever an' popcorn an' corn dogs onna stick an' -" Spock was beginning to turn slightly green, "an' loop-da-loops an' a rock climbin' wall an' cotton candy an' -"

"And Vulcan meltdown in three…two…"

"One," Chekov joined his helm-mate with a grin, as Spock's eyebrows finally vanished into his hairline.

"You an' Bones gonna take me, right, Spock?" Jim pleaded, huge eyes fastened on his dismayed mentor's face. "He said I gotta ask you first. Please Spock please?"

Spock blinked slowly, refusing to engage in the appealing human action known as sighing. "Jim, I have no issue with Dr. McCoy taking you to such a place of amusement," he said diplomatically.

"But Bones frows up inna transporter sometimes - he ain't gonna ride anything cool with me!" the child declared with a hilarious amount of disdain. "You hafta come, Spock!"

"I do not have to do anything, Jim," the Vulcan replied coolly, shifting slightly in his chair. "And I have much work to do aboard ship. I am certain that Dr. McCoy will be happy to accompany you wherever you wish in this…amusement park."

Four pairs of eyes looked up at him incredulously.

Jim's lower lip wobbled dangerously. "Pleeeeease, Spock," he pleaded, turning a woeful little face upward, large eyes blinking sadly. "Is not the same without you!"

Spock briefly pinched the bridge of his nose, an entirely human action spurred into being by the judicious application of an extremely manipulative little expression of innocent dejection.

"Very well, Jim," he finally sighed, mentally bidding farewell to all hopes of a relaxing first twelve hours of leave. "But only if you promise to obey the dietary and health restrictions set upon you by Dr. McCoy," he added with haste, foreseeing a traumatic day filled with far too many unhealthful foods and rapid-motion park rides.

The child's beaming smile lit up the whole room as he hugged the Vulcan's legs, the only part he could reach from his position beside the briefing table. Then he belted it for the door, padd tucked back under his arm and shouting fit to wake the dead over his shoulder as he ran.

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou Spock!"

The door slid open at Jim's approach, whereupon he crashed headfirst into their CMO's legs in the corridor outside.

"Kid, I swear to God, you're gettin' a microchip," McCoy growled half-heartedly, collaring the child by his science blues before he could scamper away. "And tell me, Acting Captain, you didn't just promise this little devil what I think you did?"

Spock looked vaguely mortified. "His arguments were…most persuasive, Doctor," he answered evasively.

Montgomery Scott inhaled the remainder of his coffee, dissolving into a rough hacking cough that did nothing to hide Chekov's fit of giggles.

"I'll just bet they were," McCoy answered dryly. "You got a word in Vulcan that means sucker, Mr. Spock?"

Chapter Text

"Are all human children so…resourceful, Doctor?" Spock asked blandly, as a growling Leonard McCoy unwound himself from yet another recycling can.

This action was courtesy of a scowling little boy who continued to vociferously protest his child-leash, in the form of a floppy backpack in the shape of what Spock had been informed was a "sock monkey" with an attached harness around the wriggling little body. Jim's latest protest against his restraint was to promptly wrap his current guardian around the nearest object with the fifteen-foot retractable leash attached to the harness, an act of revenge which Spock privately did not entirely blame him for.

"James Tiberius, one more move like that and we'll beam your little backside right back to the ship!" the doctor declared with well-deserved irritation, glaring at the child's smirk.

"Take it offffff!" the little one whined, tugging at the soft straps. He turned an injured expression on Spock, seeing he would get no further with a cranky McCoy. "Please?"

"Jim, you were given the chance to hold Dr. McCoy's hand as directed when we entered the park, not once but three times," Spock replied calmly. "You were aware of the consequences of disobeying his instructions and running away from us into the crowd; we discussed this exact scenario prior to beaming down."

"I won' do it again!"

"Obviously," was the pointed response, which elicited a pout. "Perhaps if you behave yourself, you will be given a second chance after mid-day."

"And no tears, now," McCoy warned, seeing the child's eyes well up. "You got no call to be mad at us, kiddo. Don't you know what it would do to us if you got lost in this place, or got run over by some idiot with a popsicle cart?"

Not to mention the very real risk of some overly perceptive enemy realizing just who the child was, Spock thought, while keeping a sharp eye open for any suspicious activity among the throng of shouting, laughing species groups - many humanoid, as the park catered to Terran tradition, but many other as well. Should someone who knew of the Enterprise's current condition abduct the child for ransom, for example, or for political leverage, they would be in an entirely different galaxy of trouble than that of keeping an eye on a sugar-buzzed little five-year-old. The fact that the Enterprise was in orbit was public knowledge on the docking server, and he and McCoy, while not exactly conspicuous amid a high percentage of Starfleet uniforms, were unusual by the presence of a child in their midst.

He was highly uncomfortable with the idea that weapons were not permitted in the park, even to 'Fleet officers, and the fact that both he and the Doctor were weaponless was not reassuring to the child's safety or his own state of mind regarding it.

The fact that Jim seemed oblivious to both his guardians' worry, only bouncing and beaming at everything around him, was the only redeeming factor in what promised to be an extremely stressing day.

"Can I ride the swings, Bones?" Jim was currently asking, apparently having forgiven his mentor with all the innocent affection of childhood.

"May I," Spock corrected automatically, eyes scanning the crowd around them.

He did not miss Jim's tongue protruding briefly in his direction, though he pretended to be oblivious. "May I," the child repeated cheerfully. "Please?"

"Let's see if you're tall enough, kiddo," the doctor answered doubtfully, stumbling slightly as he was dragged by the leash's handle in the direction of the placard displaying the minimum height requirement. "Yup, looks like you're just tall enough," he said with a grin, as Jim sucked in a deep breath and then proudly tried to make himself even taller. "Told you drinkin' those vitamin shakes would help you out someday."

"They still taste like poop, though," Jim observed with a wrinkled nose, wriggling out of the harness as the doctor began to unbuckle the clasp in front.

Spock blinked, glancing down briefly in disgust and meeting McCoy's amused look, and after a brief shake of head returned to scanning the crowd for signs of impending danger. He vaguely registered Jim scampering off to the line of small children awaiting their turn on the rotating swings, and then nearly jumped out of his skin when the doctor poked his arm, an inexcusably human reaction brought on by weariness and an overly-alert mental state.

"Whoa," McCoy commented, frowning. "Maybe we'd better get you some chocolate milk or something. You're wound tighter than adult Jim psyching himself into a migraine."

Spock shifted minutely away from the physician, lips tightened. "I am merely taking precautions for the child's safety, Doctor."

"Spock, if you're gonna spend the whole time we're here freaking out about Jim, then we're better off beaming back to the ship. You know he feeds off your mental state, and if you're up in arms about his safety enough that you're tuning me out, he's bound to notice."

"Doctor, simply because I do not appreciate your abrupt and highly annoying physical contact -"

A derisive snort. "That's a load of bull. I know you don't like to be touched, but you usually let me and especially Jim get away with it in moderation. You shouldn't be zoned out enough that I can scare you like that."

"You did not, as you say, scare me, Doctor," he replied wearily. "I am merely expending more mental energy than is customary for me, endeavoring to be fully aware of our surroundings."

A shriek of "Spock lookit me!" from above them jerked their attention upward, where a blond head poked over the side of a swing and grinned, Jim's small hand waving like mad as he flew over their heads.

McCoy grinned and waved back, before Jim disappeared on the other side of the swing. He turned his attention back to his companion. "Are you saying you've dropped your shields enough to keep tabs on this entire crowd?" he asked bluntly, not without some concern. "A mass of people like this has to be bad enough for you to deal with - you keep that up and you'll have a whopper of a headache by the end of the day!"

"Doctor…" Spock sighed silently, and then continued. "This is not a safe environment. Especially given that the Enterprise is highly recognizable and that the entire Starbase most likely knows we are in orbit, and in what condition. Have you thought of the consequences, should an enemy of Starfleet discover the captain is here, in this vulnerable condition?"

McCoy knew better than most, the unspeakable horrors that could be - and were - committed against helpless children every year in the dark reaches of the galaxy, and the idea made him slightly sick to think of. "That's true, Spock," he said quietly. "But life's not meant to be lived in fear. You can't kill yourself trying to be a one-man army to keep him safe, either."

Spock muttered something that sounded suspiciously like I can try, but as Jim came flying out of the Exit gate at that juncture, whooping his delight loud enough to be heard in orbit, McCoy had no chance to comment.

"Try to relax a little, Spock," he said in an undertone, before turning away to buckle Jim back into his harness. "Doctor's orders."

He received an annoyed eyebrow, which he cheerfully ignored, and was promptly yanked along by an eager little boy, who had caught sight of a balloon animal vendor who made fantastically colored hats and other items from the shimmery rubber.

"I wanna b'loon!"

"You wanna couple kiddie sedatives," McCoy muttered, dutifully following his pint-sized captain.


They soon discovered that while Jim could apparently ride anything without so much as batting an eye, McCoy could not even face the large glassed-in observation wheel without turning the shade of Jim's pistachio ice cream, and Spock drew the line after one 'roller coaster' which he believed had caused him enough whiplash to qualify as an injury requiring medical leave. Jim appeared to be perfectly content with the bumper cars and other, less stomach-flipping rides, though he did have a minor tantrum when told he wasn't tall enough for the flying carpet ride.

They did make the mistake of taking the child through a moving ride themed as what Spock learned was a Terran 'haunted house', complete with sudden drops through floors and ghostly apparitions appearing through a chilled fog and then false but very real-looking flames. Jim sat between them, eyes growing wider and wider, and gradually scooting closer and closer to Spock, before finally shrieking and hiding his face in the bewildered Vulcan's tunic when an enormous rabbit with glowing red eyes slowly emerged from an oversized black hat.

"…Rabbits, Doctor? Or simply a combination of atmospheric and dramatic effects?"

"No idea, Mr. Spock," was the bewildered response. "He's always loved Halloween, far as I know. Maybe it's something about this age, or just that last scare. No more haunted houses for you, kid."

"Duly noted." Spock hesitantly, awkwardly, patted the frightened child's shaking shoulders. "Jim, it is not real; and we are no longer in its presence."

"Scary," the child murmured, peeping one eye out briefly and shuddering back again as a wraith screamed at them from out of a swirl of colored fumes.

"Aw, maybe they are, Jimmy - but you know nothin's gonna get you while Spock and I are here, right?" McCoy said gently, ruffling the child's tousled hair. "You know how to nerve pinch a rabbit, don'tcha Spock?"

"I am certain I could adapt satisfactorily, Doctor."

Jim's small giggle told them that their dialogue, as well as the fact that the ride was nearing its end, literally showing light at the end of the tunnel, had done its work.

"All right, who's ready for a hot dog?" McCoy asked enthusiastically as they emerged into the park's simulated daylight once more.

"Me! Mememe!"

"They've got to have a vegan alternative," the doctor added, taking the child's hand. He decided against the leash, because he recognized the suspicious sort of hopping dance Jim was doing now - and no wonder, after the enormous Slurpie Freeze Spock had been suckered into buying the kid the minute they walked into the park. "You want to have a look around for lunch while Jim and I go take care of business?"

"Take care of -" Spock broke off as the doctor rolled his eyes, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the public facilities sign. "Ah. Very well, Doctor. I shall meet you back here in twenty minutes with these…hot dogs?" He could only assume, and hope, that there were no real caninoid species involved in the manufacture of such things, else he would not be able to contemplate watching Jim consume one.

"I wan' mustard an' relish on mine!"

"Judging by that line, I'd say that was a logical time frame, Mr. Spock," the physician grumbled, giving Jim's hand a tug. The child was wriggling uneasily, hopping up and down, but had perked up at the mention of food. "No more sugar, and don't get him anything to drink bigger than a kiddie cup!" he hollered after the Vulcan's retreating form.

Jim pouted for only a moment before amusing himself with stomping on various ants which were crawling across the walkways in search of dropped foodstuffs.

"Hey, stop that," McCoy scolded, tugging the little one out of the way of a harried-looking young female of a felinoid species he didn't immediately recognize, pushing a stroller carrying what looked like quintuplet kits. "What'd those poor critters ever do to you?"

Jim shrugged, rubbing a nose already threatening to burn in the reproduced sunlight, despite the protective hydration hypo he'd given the kid before they entered the park.

"What do you want to do after we eat, Jim?" They had about an hour left, he judged, before Spock's Vulcan stamina and patience met its end with the thronging crowds and chaotic discordance.

"I wanna ride the big spaceship!"

"You get to ride a big spaceship every day, kiddo," he responded, grinning as Jim's little face scrunched up.

"Not the same!"

"I know," he chuckled, tugging the child back into the long line for the men's facilities. "You'll have to get Spock to ride that one with you, squirt. These old bones aren't made for that kind of centrifugal force workin' on them."

"Sentrifyga what?"

"Centrifugal force, Jim. It's what kept pushing on you, kept you from flyin' off the sides of that loop-the-loop back there."

"Ohhhh. Cool." Thus proclaimed, the future captain of the Enterprise resumed his ant-stomping, only slightly impeded by the press of people behind and in front of them.

One particular well-dressed gentleman behind them was apparently wearing enough cologne or aftershave to choke a Boravian musk-ox, McCoy noted with annoyance, as he grabbed Jim's shoulders to shuffle them forward a few inches.

"Wha's that, Bones?" Jim asked suddenly, pointing across the square.

"Looks like a show's getting ready to start or something," he answered, squinting against the sun. People were gathering, many of them with small children, into a semi-circle in a small amphitheater, though he couldn't tell from his current position what the sign said would be happening. "Maybe when Spock gets back with the food we'll go see, hm?"

"Okay!" Jim wriggled uneasily, hopping forward as the line moved, jostling and grumbling. "How much longer?"

"Almost there, kid." Would be easier to wait if there weren't so many people, McCoy thought with a silent growl of disgust. But no, some idiot had to promise the kid we'd take him to an amusement park on one of the busiest days of the shipping lines! Between the nauseating smell of too-heavy cologne, added to the heat from a simulated summer sun and sheer press of bodies all around them, he was beginning to feel a bit sick himself; he'd never have been able to stand any of those godforsaken rides the little monster loved so much. Spock owed him one, though he suspected the Vulcan was probably paying dearly in his own way for his child-indulgence.

"Bones?"

"Hm?" He rubbed a sleeve across his forehead, trying to smooth away the headache that was developing.

"You okay Bones?"

He blinked in surprise. "What? I'm fine, Jim - why do you ask?"

"You look like you're gonna frow up," the child declared with all the tact of a brick to the head.

In truth, he was feeling a bit woozy and would certainly rather have been sitting down with an oversized iced sweet tea at the moment, but that was no call to go insulting a man's face, now was it?

"I'm fine, you little monster," he growled, pushing the child ahead of him with a tickle to the ribs, eliciting a shriek of giggles. They were nearly to the facilities' door, thank goodness, and he was looking forward to being in the shade for a few minutes at least; surely it would help the headache and dizzy spell.

They say retrospect is the only truly perfect vision, and as a doctor he should really have remembered that he was fully hydrated thanks to his own preparedness, that the regulated artificial sunlight was advertised in the park to remain at a perfect 26 degrees Celsius year-round, and that he hadn't been on any rides since the one disastrous one very early that morning. Should have recognized there was no reason for him to be feeling so ill, so suddenly, and at the first time he and Spock had been out of each other's eyesight all day.

Should have realized that there was something off, about the sickly smell of the man's cologne behind him.

Chapter Text

To say Spock was uneasy, would be a colossal understatement.

He had not fully realized the grandiosity of such a large-scale "amusement park" when he had so rashly agreed to take his child-captain to one, and now he was most definitely regretting that agreement. The sheer number of people, exponentially multiplied due to it being one of the busiest days of the tourist year for Starbase 47-A, created such a chaotic throng that it was impossible to hear one's self think, much less keep a careful eye on an energetic youngling and simultaneously watch for signs of approaching danger.

How his mother had retained her sanity during so many years of parenting was utterly beyond him, and he respected her anew for not turning to human violence or emotional outbursts as an outlet for the constant stress of watching over so vulnerable and fragile a life.

Granted, he had never once entertained the idea of visiting such a ridiculously frivolous establishment, and as such had never subjected her to this precise type of terror.

After a quarter-hour of waiting in line to purchase a disgusting assortment of Terran edibles, three bottles of purified water, and an extremely dingy and only dubiously vegetarian pizza, he managed to fit everything into the recyclable carrier bag he had just paid a ridiculous amount of credits for and then began his trek back across the crowded square. Trying as best he could to avoid physical contact with the milling throng of screaming children and raucous adults, he was forced to raise his mental shields slightly in order to prevent a complete sensory overload from the sheer number of emotions running rampant around the area in which he'd left Dr. McCoy with their young charge.

He was still a good fifty meters away when those shields suddenly shattered, with all the force of a cyclone tearing through unprotected prairie fences.

Only one person in the galaxy could successfully break through his particular selective defenses, and that one voice, however young at the moment, was now mentally broadcasting sheer terror at a level which made him instantly go cold with dread.

The carrier bag dropped from his hand as his fingers flew toward a non-existent phaser, and he then cursed the park's family-friendly policies to every galactic concept of hell as he darted through the crowd, no longer caring about courtesy. He wove around or just through anyone foolish enough to stumble into his way, every terrible possibility flickering through his thoughts like a rapid data entry program, relentless in their efficient reminders of what could be happening.

He broke through a curious crowd to the sight of a First Aid team in the park's distinctive uniform just outside the restroom facilities. Two uniformed aides were waving back the muttering, curious onlookers, while the third and fourth were bent over someone on the ground.

Someone in Starfleet Science blues, whose face was currently hidden behind an oxygen mask.

And for the first time in his life, Spock of Vulcan truly realized Jim Kirk was not the only human who had managed to worm his way past Vulcan defenses straight into that tiny portion of his heart he dared allow humanity.

One of the young medics glanced up at his approach, no doubt intending to stop him, but took one look at his expression and quailed before it.

In one swift motion, he had crossed the barrier of medical equipment and was kneeling on the filthy pavement. Already noting with an icy chill of dread that Jim was conspicuously absent, he ignored the medical technician trying to get his attention and placed an unsteady hand on McCoy's neck, feeling an oddly fluttering pulse respond to the gentle pressure.

To his surprise, however, the doctor's eyes flickered open then over the mask, clouded for a moment until they sharpened in recognition. In an instant that had the First Aid team squawking in outrage, the human struggled to one elbow and ripped the mask off, breathing heavily, and then frantically clutched at Spock's arm.

Spock immediately shook his head in answer to the panicked look. "He is not here, Doctor," he said tensely. McCoy's half-coughed fit of swearing drew a yelp of disapproval from a mother of two who was trying to see past the medical team, though Spock paid it no mind. "Doctor -"

"Someone's got him, Spock," McCoy rasped, pinching the bridge of his nose unsteadily. "I've been drugged with something…don't know what, must be partly aerosol, inhaled…soporific effects, dizziness, nausea…" The physician's face paled further. "Oh, Lord, I feel sick."

"Doctor, I need you to tell me what happened," he said urgently, peripherally aware of the medical team's puzzled chatter and the approach of uniformed Park guards.

"Was feeling a little woozy, right before the kid went in to pee," McCoy murmured faintly. "Next thing I know…really dizzy, realized something wasn't right. Spock, it can't have been more than a few minutes, I don't know if he even came out or who went in after him or - "

The pulse underneath Spock's sensitive fingers was racing dangerously, and he gently pushed the frantic physician back to his previous reclining position on the small inflatable pillow the emergency team had provided. "I will find him, Doctor."

"Get Chapel down here with a standardized detox kit," McCoy rasped. "Or I'm not gonna be of any use to you."

"Hey!" one of the medical responders said indignantly. "You don't have the authority to just take over without being examined by one of the Park's certified physicians! There's lawsuits to think about, and -"

Already surging to his feet to search the area, Spock refrained from visibly showing his amusement despite the severity of the situation, as the physician's face flushed an angry red. McCoy reached out and yanked the young fool down by the front of his scrubs, brandishing a uniform sleeve at the startled young man.

"You see this braid, boy?" the human snapped hoarsely. "Chief Medical Officer, on the Federation's flagship." The young medic's eyes widened. "That gives me the authority, and unless you've got a standardized Starfleet-tested antitoxin in that kit of yours, you just shut up and give me the strongest anti-nausea you got until my Head Nurse arrives. Understood?"

The young man swallowed hard. "Understood, sir!"

Spock, having entered the men's facilities to find no small child within, had by now already made contact with the Enterprise. There was a standard transport block around the park, to prevent people from entering it without paying, but which could be overridden with an emergency code from the Starbase central.

"Mr. Scott, as soon as the code is transmitted lock onto Mr. Kirk's transponder, if you are able to do so, and beam him aboard immediately," he said in a low tone. "Then transport Nurse Chapel down to these coordinates with a standard detox unit. Dr. McCoy has been attacked, substance unknown; most likely cause, inhalation; primary symptoms nausea, dizziness, confusion, headache, short period of unconsciousness."

"Aye, sir, I'll tell her. Stand by."  Scott had sounded no less worried than they were upon hearing the news, and had already promised to send down a security team to fan out and cover the area as soon as the lock was lifted.

Spock returned to where a uniformed Park guard was questioning the medical staff, and felt no compunction about interrupting the pointless conversation.

"I take it there are emergency contingents in place for child abductions," Spock said without preamble. "Implement them at once. No one leaves this park until we locate the missing boy."

"That's preposterous - we haven't had a crime like that in over a decade here!" the guard exclaimed, looking horror-stricken.

"Until now," Spock retorted, with fast-diminishing patience and an edge of icy fury. "And that missing child, Lieutenant," the young man started at the Vulcan's use of his title, in a tone that said Spock was totally unimpressed with how he made that rank, "is...a young relative, of Captain James Kirk, Starfleet's most famous starship captain. You are, no doubt, capable of imagining the publicity for this so-called 'amusement park' once this event becomes publicized."

"Still…kids wander off all the time," the guard protested weakly, though he had paled considerably at the name-dropping. "He's probably hiding from you, or something…"

"Not this child, and certainly not after assaulting the ship's Chief Medical Officer with an unknown compound suspiciously similar to what you Terrans I believe call a date-rape drug." The medical tech's eyes widened. "Lock. Down. The park, Lieutenant. Now."

Spock had been told by a much-amused Ensign Chekov once, that that particular look could make junior officers lose control of their body functions; and he had made it a habit to employ its full force when necessary. In this case, the young man gulped and hastily moved to a portable comm-unit to implement the park's emergency lockdown procedures.

A shimmer of transporter particles heralded the arrival of their Head Nurse and four armed Security personnel, who immediately vacated the coordinates for another squad of six. The ten grim-faced crewmen immediately formed a ring with McCoy as the epicenter and began a systematic combing of the area, ignoring the looks they received from horrified vacationers at the sight of their uniforms and weapons, though they had yet to be drawn on anyone.

Spock's heart sank most humanly, as their arrival meant Scott had not been able to lock onto Jim's transponder; no doubt, his abductor was carrying a device capable of masking its signal.

Nurse Chapel had gone straight to her CMO's side, brusquely dismissing a well-meaning medical aide, and was working over the man right now, gently calming his still only half-conscious panic and swiftly administering a general detox regime meant to neutralize most known drugs and illegal compounds.

Spock's communicator chirped. "Spock here."

"Sir, I've sent down the first squad o' Security and Nurse Chapel. I wasna able to lock onto anything of the wee one, sir. I'm so sorry." The utter misery in the engineer's voice prevented Spock from making any comment on the matter.

"Renew your efforts, Mr. Scott. Divert all personnel as needed to find a way of breaking through whatever signal is blocking the transponder. And dispatch all available personnel from Security for search parties. Be watchful for a ship suddenly breaking dock or orbit from around this space station, or of unidentified transports originating from this general area."

"Aye, sir."

"Mr. Spock," Chapel called, and he hastened his steps back toward them.

"How is he, Nurse?" he asked softly.

"Ornery as ever, Mr. Spock," she replied, smiling with businesslike reassurance, though her blonde brows were fiercely clenched in suppressed fury. "It looks to be an aerosol variation on ketamine, in a lighter concentration than you'd get in liquid or powder form. Still highly illegal, Mr. Spock, in any concentration, and with some unusual soporific added. Most likely the addition was selected for its scent, as Dr. McCoy tells me he thinks it was a heavy cologne or aftershave that triggered his initial dizziness. I'm getting readings from his bloodstream that aren't straight up for ketamine, though, nor for any of the known derivatives of pentathol; it's got to be a new compound of heaven only knows what."

Spock's eyebrows inched upward in relief, despite the implications. "Then he was conscious, aware of his surroundings a moment ago? Lucid enough for you to question him?"

"More or less, will be more rather than less in a minute when the dizziness is gone and the anti-nausea fully kicks in," she replied quietly, brushing the physician's damp hair back from his lined forehead. "Still will have some nasty side effects for at least twenty-four hours, though the initial confusion and loss of motor control should disappear within an hour due to the detox. He's going to be worried sick, though. And probably will never forgive himself."

"He is not alone in those two hypotheticals, Nurse," Spock murmured. Behind them, two more squads of six red-shirted personnel materialized, immediately fanning out to locate their fellows, looks of fierce determination on their faces.

"Sir, do you really think…"

"I am…indulging in the human emotion known as hope, Nurse," he answered, eyes downcast, "that Jim's abductors did so for political reasons, rather than for predatory."

Christine's face blanched at his bluntness, but softened as she realized the immense disclosure the confession had been. "Sir - forgive me if I'm out of line, but you've told me a bit about how your…mental abilities work," she began hesitantly, and then continued when Spock looked up with curiosity. "Don't you think you might be able to…sense where Jim might be? If he hasn't been taken out of the park yet, and it's been less than ten minutes? At least enough to give Security a bit of direction?"

Spock shook his head with regret. "Your hypothesis is sound, Nurse, but I would not be able to do so in such a crowded location. Were this park hosting perhaps half the number of sentient beings it currently is, I might be able to risk the lowering of barriers enough to sense the child's general condition or location. It would most likely still be unsuccessful, but would be worth the…personal risk. And while I would take that risk, regardless, if it stood even a remote chance of success, in this case I would be rendered unconscious long before the barriers would drop to the needed degree, with this many beings in such a concentrated area."

Chapel nodded sadly, and returned her attention to their CMO, who was grimacing, forehead wrinkled as he blinked his way out from under the unpleasant effects of the detox.

"How do you feel, Doctor?" she asked gently, as the physician struggled to a sitting position, rubbing his eyes.

"Worse'n when I had xenopolycythymia," he muttered with a grimace. "Confused and drunk as a skunk even though I shouldn't be. Spock?"

"I am here, Doctor. There has been no word yet. Mr. Scott reports that the child's transponder is being blocked by sources unknown; he is endeavoring to break that block. A steady stream of Security personnel have been beaming down to aid in the search, while the park itself has been locked down in accordance with the starbase's child endangerment policies. They should still be in the park, whoever they are. We will not leave until we locate them."

"Help me up," McCoy muttered, grasping at his nurse's hands despite the worry evident on her face. Spock moved quickly to help, supporting the physician's weight as he wavered unsteadily on his feet. "Ooohh, this is not gonna be fun," McCoy groaned, perspiration breaking out on his forehead. "What I don't understand, Spock, is how whoever took the kid did it so easily," he continued, and Spock tried to ignore the human's shaking hands as they kept hold of his sleeve for support. "Jim knows better than to go anywhere with strangers, so they had to have silenced him, and surely someone would've noticed the kid struggling when whoever it was took him. There's no back door on that restroom so they had to've walked right by here…"

"Most likely, Doctor, they threatened to further harm you should he make any noise or attempt to escape," Spock said quietly. "Jim would have no way of knowing you were merely drugged, not seriously injured or worse, if he saw you in your condition. And to slip away in the crowd which began to gather at your collapse would have been only too simple."

McCoy looked even more sick, if that were possible, at the thought.

"Whoever they are, they should be shot," Christine snapped fiercely, eyes flashing. "An overdose of ketamine can kill a man, and besides that? Harming a child is the most despicable crime anyone can commit - and that's something all cultures agree upon, galaxy-wide."

Spock was, by this point, struggling to erect some sort of mental shields against the almost overwhelming emotions pouring off both humans before him as well as to wall off his own, his protection having been shattered when Jim unconsciously called for help. And so he remained silent, eyes closed, as his mind worked frenetically to regain some semblance of order and control.

Then suddenly he stumbled, putting a hand to his temple, as the child's terrified voice rang out yet again, shrill with fright and panic, piercing straight through his flimsy barriers into the instinctively protective portions of his mind.

"Spock! Spock where are you! Help me, SPOCK!"

It wasn't until McCoy's strangled gasp that he realized the voice was not within his mind this time - it was here, being physically spoken aloud, and it was not far away.

Spock spun around just in time to catch a brief, blurry glimpse of the wild chartreuse t-shirt McCoy had made the child wear - to better see him in crowds or on rides, the doctor had said, and Spock thanked every ancient Vulcan deity for it - pelting frantically through a thick crowd a distance away across the park.

Both Chapel and McCoy barely had time to blink or register the fact that their little charge had apparently, despite all odds, managed to escape, and was currently doing precisely what he'd been duly instructed to do in the event of anyone 'trying to hurt him' - shrieking bloody murder at the top of his strong little lungs.

"I had no idea a Vulcan could run that fast."

"Or run that many people over without so much as a logical 'scuse me…" McCoy added dazedly.

Chapter Text

"Security alert. Target located, most likely being pursued by abductor. All units lock onto Mr. Spock's communicator signal and converge, immediately," Chapel barked sharply into her own communicator. "Chapel to Enterprise. Mr. Scott, beam down a child's shock treatment kit; we may need it. Hold it, Doctor!"

But it was too late. She should have known better, she thought in exasperation. McCoy had taken advantage of her temporary distraction to bolt away - if his half-staggering run could be awarded the generous term - into the crowd after Spock's disappearing figure. Sighing, she gathered up their equipment and shoved it at the startled First Aid responder, slung her portable medikit over one shoulder, and took off after her lovable idiot of a Chief Medical Officer.

Christine interacted with many of Security on a regular basis, simply because they were the section of Ops who needed the most frequent attention from Medical, and she knew them to be an underappreciated, highly loyal bunch. Many crewmen joked about how only an idiot would want to work in Security on such a high-risk and high-casualty ship, but in reality those who worked in Security were the bravest and most highly-trained men and women aboard. A competent Security detail meant all the difference in the world on a landing party, and more than once it was due only to their expertise, and self-sacrifice in many cases, that the members of the upper command chain were still alive. They were fiercely loyal to Captain Kirk and his Vulcan First, and that loyalty had only increased with Kirk's de-aging and Spock's advance as temporary acting captain.

Now, she was more grateful than ever for their competence and fierce protectiveness. She was still too far away to be of any use when she saw a half-dozen red shirts converging on Spock and McCoy, weapons drawn and forming a circle that grew gradually tighter as they scanned the crowd for the source of the danger.

She then saw Lieutenant Riley, who apparently had volunteered for the search despite not actually being in Security at the moment (1), flanked by two Ops men with drawn phasers, suddenly swoop down on a tiny figure in wild neon green and scoop the child up safely into protective arms. Jim promptly burst into tears and hid his face in the lieutenant's familiar red tunic, probably not even noticing that the remainder of their Security detail soon emerged from the crowd and surrounded them with ruthless efficiency, ignoring the alarmed screams of frightened park patrons at the sight of what amounted to a small armed militia.

She half-expected Spock to fly straight to the sobbing child's side, but was surprised to see him halt abruptly, and then suddenly veer off toward the shadows cast by an awning on a nearby refreshment station. McCoy shook off Ensign Turner's offered arm with a typical snarl of defiance, and stalked unsteadily over to the knot of gathered crewmen. Christine followed quickly, and was ready with his portable med-scanner when he silently held out a hand for it.

Jim was still crying into Riley's shoulder, arms flung tightly about the lieutenant's neck. Riley's face was twisted with a mixture of sympathy and limp relief, as he slowly rubbed the little one's back.

"Hey, it's okay, Jim," Riley murmured gently, patting the quivering shoulder. "You're okay now, everything's okay. Shhhh."

"Jim," McCoy said softly, walking around behind the lieutenant so that the child could see him. "Can you look at me, kiddo?"

At the sound of his voice, the child's head jerked up with enough force that he nearly cracked Riley's skull. Jim's eyes widened through the tears, and he immediately reached both hands out. "Bones!"

"Doctor, your heart rate really needs to come down, and exerting yourself isn't going to help," Chapel interjected quietly, though well knowing the warning would be useless.

And it was. "C'mere, Jim." Riley carefully relinquished his burden, smiling along with the rest of the relieved Security force when the child's sobbing began to decrease as he clung to their pale CMO. "Good boy. You're all right, Jim."

"Doctor, Mr. Scott said you'd been attacked?" Lieutenant Garrovick inquired. "Are you all right, sir?"

McCoy nodded wearily, murmuring nonsense into the distraught child's mussed hair. "I'll be perfectly fine if y'all will quit lookin' at me like I'm about to keel over and die," he growled irritably.

Unfortunately, that apparently caused the exact opposite effect of his intention; possibly because trying to look fierce and snarling while comforting a sniffling little boy had negating effects upon each other.

"Uh…sir. Lieutenant Garrovick, sir," one of the Security men said timidly.

Garrovick looked up from the report he was already compiling on his communicator's notation application. "What is it, Osaka."

"Er. Well, it's just that…I think Mr. Spock's about to kill that man," the young ensign said nervously, pointing toward the refreshment station.

Eyes wide, the Assistant Security Chief whirled around and promptly let loose with a loud Klingon curse that drew a glare from Chapel and a small giggle from a gradually-calming Jim.

"Turner, Riley, Osaka, with me. The rest of you, stay here. As soon as Chapel clears the two of them for transport get McCoy and the kid out of here and back to the ship."

A chorus of affirmatives followed him as he darted toward the small commotion beginning to form near the refreshment center, and he idly wondered who was so utterly uncaring of his own life that he would risk angering a Vulcan.


"You understand we're just as likely to get ourselves killed interrupting as whoever he's got cornered, right," Riley muttered under his breath as they approached, Osaka and Turner splitting off to wave back the few curious onlookers who'd caught sight of the conflict.

Garrovick rolled his eyes tolerantly. "That doesn't mean I can just let him off this guy, however much he deserves it," he replied dryly. "I'd say good riddance to anyone who hurts a little kid, but you know how much paperwork it would produce. And if Spock gets kicked off the Enterprise, we're stuck with Scott as Acting Captain until Kirk gets changed back, and he will not be happy we dropped the ball on this one."

Riley's almost murderous grin was barely schooled back into professionalism by the time they reached their current acting captain, who did admittedly look as if he were about to revert to Ancient Vulcan justice and commit tal-shaya upon a small, cringing humanoid who to all appearances had already wet himself with terror.

"Mr. Spock, sir," Garrovick reported carefully, staying well out of the line of fire.

"Mr. Garrovick, this…being," Spock said with a predatory almost-snarl, "is a news reporter for one of the galaxy's most influential and highly libelous tabloids. Do me the courtesy of destroying his holo-camera before we proceed further."

Garrovick grinned ferally. "You might want to put it down," he remarked, inspecting his phaser setting with affected casualness. "I'm a bit upset about Jim's kidnapping, you see…my aim may not be the most accurate. We'd hate to lose any necessary anatomical bits, now wouldn't we?"

The scrawny reporter hastily dropped the camera without so much as a whimper of protest, and a quick burst from the lieutenant's phaser left it as a pile of melted circuits and leather casing.

"M-my paper will have something to say about this destruction!" the journalist piped up with a bravery - or stupidity - that Garrovick actually admired; either the idiot had no sense of self-preservation, or simply was doggedly determined to get his story.

Either way, he was a dead man walking, if Garrovick's conclusions were correct.

"Your paper will be fortunate to even see you again, I think," Riley drawled lazily, gesturing toward the man's midsection with his phaser. "You're telling us this guy is the one who kidnapped Jim?"

"Affirmative," Spock replied coldly. "According to Mr. Hathar here, he was commissioned to discover the classified details behind Captain Kirk's current condition, and provide a shocking story exposing his life as a small child aboard the Enterprise."

"And you interpreted that to mean dosing our Chief Medical Officer with a highly illegal drug and abducting the kid to interrogate him about a traumatic experience?" Garrovick asked incredulously. "I've heard of getting the story at all costs, but that?"

"I bet you were getting the payoff of the year for it, weren't you," Riley added.

"W-well there was no harm meant!" the little man fairly wailed. "'Twas only going to be for a half-hour, and I couldn't get close to him otherwise, and I only wanted to ask the boy a few questions -"

"Ikap'uh t'du ru'lut, sha'kan-bu dash-tor'su," Spock hissed suddenly, and even Garrovick took a step backward at the verbal explosion of High Vulcan. (2)

Garrovick had only seen that particular expression on Spock's face once; and it had been while Garrovick was just a lieutenant a couple years back, during that little unscheduled detour to Vulcan they'd taken. The trip that no one was supposed to know the details of but everyone knew had something to do with Spock and a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Emotional Upheaval of Doom or something. Either way, their gentle and mild-mannered Commander Spock had been worse than Garrovick's ex-girlfriend PMS-ing, and nobody had dared even look sideways at the First Officer until weeks afterwards. It was one of those things you just never talked about again on this ship, if you wanted to stay on Captain Kirk's good side.

"I'm guessing whatever-he-said is the Vulcan equivalent of Imma kill you now," he heard Riley mutter behind him.

What little Garrovick knew of Vulcan culture, dictated that they did hold their own laws which might not necessarily correlate with those accepted by the Federation's policies or personal human morals. For example, he knew that telepathy without asking the person first was considered rude and an invasion of privacy among psi-null humans - but reportedly, in Vulcan culture it was an offense punishable by death, or at least it used to be.

He was taking no chances that assaulting a healer and abducting a child had their own Vulcan equivalent of justice.

"Captain Spock," he said firmly, and saw Spock's lips tighten at the borrowed title. "Sir, the ship is standing by for orders. Will you be beaming up with our prisoner?"

"Y-you can't do that! I have diplomatic immunity as an intergalactic correspondent! And you can't take me aboard an official Starfleet vessel without my consent!"

"You'd better shut up now, buddy," Riley said helpfully, patting the quivering man on the shoulder. "Unless you'd prefer we just leave your body here as a cover story for your front page tomorrow."

"And don't bother talking diplomatic immunity to the son of a famous Federation ambassador," Garrovick added coolly. As he had hoped, his calm tone and reassertion of duty boundaries had served to veer Spock's fast-disappearing control slightly back on-course. "Orders, sir?"

Spock half-turned from them, eyes closed and hands clenched at his sides; obviously, the poor guy was at the end of his mental rope, and he'd been looking exhausted even before this stopover had begun. He saw the Vulcan take a long, measured breath, and then another, and another.

"Sir? Mr. Spock?"

For a long moment in which even the noise of the park seemed to fade away slightly, there was deathly silence, broken only by the hysterical breathing of their terrified prisoner.

Then Christine Chapel approached, and he looked up questioningly. She shook her head quickly as he opened his mouth to inquire of McCoy's state of health, and marched past him to Spock's tense figure.

"Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy is on his last reserves of strength from the brief stimulant I gave him to get him back on his feet. Also, Jim keeps crying for you," she said bluntly.

Garrovick and Riley shared an admiring glance over the nurse's head; that was dirty pool she was playing, and a highly effective Ultimate Weapon if Spock's expression was any indication.

Indeed, their acting captain immediately found a more collected nod and businesslike demeanor from somewhere deep within, and turned back toward them. "Beam up to the ship with Jim and Dr. McCoy, Nurse. I will meet you in Sickbay shortly."

"You'd better, Mr. Spock," she said pointedly, and marched off with a quick swirl of short skirt.

Garrovick's eyebrows had barely made it back down when their acting captain turned to him. "Mr. Garrovick, what legal grounds do we have to detain and pass sentence upon this…person," Spock inquired.

The lieutenant winced. "Well, sir, if the offense had been committed aboard ship, we'd be totally in the clear, since the captain or acting captain has full override power over planetside rulings. As it stands, he does have a point about diplomatic immunity. All proceedings against him have to go through the starbase, and that could and probably will take months. Months which we don't have to hang around. Also, we stand on shaky ground anyway just because we're under orders from Starfleet Command to not broadcast or publicize Captain Kirk's current condition."

"Those are my conclusions as well, Lieutenant," Spock agreed calmly. "However, am I correct in assuming that a charge of possessing illegal drugs would not require us to do more than send in a written report of Nurse Chapel's findings to facilitate a conviction?"

The little journalist's eyes grew wide with panic.

"Indeed, sir, that would be all a Starbase court would require of us," Garrovick agreed slowly, grinning. "He'll get at least twenty years for using ketamine - that was made illegal almost fifty years ago, galaxy-wide."

"Then, Mr. Hathar," Spock said coldly, "we shall leave you with the 'Base authorities on those charges." Hathar quailed under the icy fury that darkened the Vulcan's face as he leaned closer to the quivering human, voice dark with suppressed rage. "Consider yourself highly fortunate that we are under a secrecy ban from Starfleet Command, and that Dr. McCoy and Mr. Kirk were not permanently harmed by your actions. Had you stepped one centimeter further over that line, you would not be so fortunate."

Garrovick shivered reflexively, glad it wasn't him on the hot seat and the receiving end of Spock's (entirely logical) protective instincts. "And I think you'll probably find," he added, when Spock stepped back and unholstered his communicator, "that your paper is gonna disavow any knowledge of your actions; so you can probably kiss your career goodbye too."

Hathar whimpered, cringing against the wall of the refreshment station, but dared not make so much as a word in his own defense.


Ensign Turner had been dispatched and rapidly returned with three uniformed Park guards, who were suitably cowed by Spock's presence and soon had the overeager journalist in custody, charged by the 'base authorities for running and possession of illegal drugs.

Such offenses were highly frowned upon galaxy-wide in general, though there were planets who certainly took a less lenient view of the issue - but in neutral territories such as Starbases, those offenses were punished harshly, to protect the innocent crew, personnel, and civilians who frequented them. While Spock would have preferred nothing more than to see the reporter imprisoned for life in a penal colony after being convicted of abducting a minor, they could not successfully make those charges and still keep Jim under Starfleet's radar, so to speak. He would have to be content with the knowledge that Starbase 47-A would enact harsh justice upon the man for his actions, most likely at least twenty years of hard labor in a 'Base-approved work colony.

Montgomery Scott met him in the transporter room upon beam-up, manning the transporter himself, and lost no time in questioning him regarding the fiasco which had happened planet-side.

"A moment, Mr. Scott. Lieutenant Garrovick," he halted their Chief Engineer's rapid questioning and called after the Security team which was quietly exiting the room, unstrapping phasers and tricorders as they went.

"Sir?"

"Please inform your Security forces that their rapid response and expertise were much appreciated today," Spock said quietly. "Your protection of the captain was, as always, exemplary, and my report will show that."

"Both captains, sir," Garrovick reminded him gently, but smiled and nodded his thanks before giving his subordinates a gentle shove out of the transporter room.

"Dr. McCoy looked to be in verra bad shape when they arrived, sir," Scott said worriedly, as the doors closed behind their Security team. "What happened to the fellow responsible?"

"He is being held by the 'Base authorities for possession of illegal drugs," Spock answered wearily. "He will face a minimum of twenty years for that offense alone; we are unable to press other charges at this time due to the secrecy ban in place by Starfleet Command on the captain's condition."

Scott nodded. "The poor wee lad was terrified out of his wits, looked like, but Nurse Chapel told me they should both be fine with a bit o' rest. Y'don't look the best yourself, sir, if ye don't mind my sayin' so."

One eyebrow inclined slightly. "If I did, you would yet proceed with saying it, would you not, Engineer."

Scott grinned. "Aye, sir. Y'know if ye intend to take the cap'n's chair, ye must also take what goes along with it. Including illogical concern from your crew, sir."

Scott was pleased to see that the Vulcan seemed to relax slightly at the light banter, because he'd known Spock for over ten years, ever since the fellow was just a young lieutenant under Captain Pike's original Science officer - and as such, he could tell Spock was fast approaching his last bit of Vulcan control after this day from hell.

"Sir, if I may," Scott continued carefully, "Nurse Chapel comm-ed just before ye beamed up, t'say that Dr. McCoy is now sleeping off the effects of the drug and that Jim was asleep too; no one's going to blink twice if ye decide to go meditate for a while before seeing them."

Spock hesitated, visibly torn.

"They won't even know you're there, sir," Scott added candidly. "And I daresay ye probably don't want to be around many of us humans until you're feeling a bit more yourself."

"I did inform Nurse Chapel that I would shortly follow them -"

"Y'can leave Christine to me, sir," Scott chuckled. "We canna allow Medical to intimidate us all the time, y'know. Dr. McCoy would never let ye hear the end of it, if ye bowed to her and still gave him the business when he tries the same thing."

A slight twitch of the Vulcan's lips showed that he had gotten through, and Scott silently sent up a prayer of gratefulness to any deity who happened to be within hearing distance of this quadrant.

"Your advice is sound, Mr. Scott," Spock finally said, unconsciously straightening his tunic. "What of the restocking procedures and the remainder of the crew's shore leave?"

"We still have a bit to do, sir, but it's proceeding as scheduled. If y'like, I can accelerate the process by turnin' Transporter Room Two into a cargo transport, would just take aboot an hour to change the circuitry."

"Negative, Mr. Scott. There is no reason to curtail the crew's well-deserved shore leave time. If, however, you hear rumor of any of the crew being accosted by journalists or even Starbase personnel requesting particulars of the events which occurred base-side today, please use your own judgment regarding cutting leave short."

"Aye, sir. Will do."

"I shall be in my cabin, in the event of an emergency."

"Of course, sir. I'll be sure t'run interference for ye with Nurse Chapel."

"That would be much appreciated, Mr. Scott. Please notify me of any change in Dr. McCoy's condition?"

"Definitely, sir. And -" He was cut off by the doors opening again, to reveal Lieutenant Riley, still in the scarlet Security uniform he'd hastily switched out his work jumpsuit for when the call had come out for search parties. Ensign Turner scuttled in after him, looking slightly sheepish when they saw their superiors had not yet vacated the transporter room.

"Ah, sir." Riley snapped off a salute that was more sloppy than professional, glancing uneasily back and forth between them. "And sir."

Spock's eyebrows inched upward, as he and Scott shared a glance. "Gentlemen. Have you business with Mr. Scott or myself?"

"Ah. Well, sir, it's just that…" Turner cleared his throat with evident nervousness, gesturing helplessly to Riley.

The young man rolled his eyes and turned to Spock. "Sir, we were coming to see if the transport lockout into the park had been reestablished yet."

"It has not," Scott said slowly. "But ye're not due for shore leave for another six hours."

"No, sir, we know that - it's just that…well, Jim was crying on his way to Medical," Riley muttered, looking at the floor. "From what I could understand he said that jerk of a reporter threw away his balloon hat, I'm guessing because it was too noticeable in the crowd."

Spock blinked, uncomprehending.

"It's a big deal to a little kid, sir," Riley explained. "You and Dr. McCoy got it for him, and to a kid that small losing something special like that is…um…well, it's like destroying a piece of the happy memories he will have of today, if that makes sense." Explaining a child's thought processes to a clueless Vulcan was not in his job description! "He's probably more upset about that at this point than he is about being kidnapped, sir."

"So we were gonna just pop back down and get another one for the poor kid, and maybe a cotton candy stick or something," Turner added, obviously having gathered up his courage at this point.

Spock nodded slowly, appreciation dawning in his eyes. "That is an extremely perceptive and thoughtful gesture, gentlemen." Both young men immediately relaxed, drawing a small grin from Montgomery Scott. "Please proceed, provided your department heads have been notified of and approved your absence. Mr. Scott will supply you with the appropriate expense reports for reimbursement."

"Thank you, sir!"

"And Mr. Riley," Spock added, as he paused in the open doorway.

"Sir?"

"I was on my way back to Dr. McCoy and Jim with a most repulsive item of Terran foodstuffs apparently called a 'corn dog', when the abduction occurred. You might avail yourself of one such item as well. With mustard and relish, if the child's preferences have not changed within the last two hours."

Montgomery Scott's grin fairly lit up the transporter room as the doors closed behind their oblivious acting captain.

I dinna have emotionsindeed.

Chapter Text

Spock had, and rightfully so, feared that the experience in the Starbase 47-A's so-called "amusement park" would leave indelible imprints upon their child captain's psyche. This gave rise to the sudden hypothetical: if the child version of Captain Kirk experienced traumatizing events in this second childhood, would those then change Kirk's adult self in ways they had not previously anticipated? When he re-aged, would his extra childhood's experiences have altered his personality and character?

A brief conference-call to the ever-helpful Insonti high council had reassured him of the unlikelihood of the latter, much to his admitted relief. As the high priest had assured him, such an eventuality would defeat the purpose of the Regenratron's beneficent processes, and should something so drastic occur to the child, Kirk's re-aged adult brain would simply block out or forget the trauma involved.

Thus assured, Spock was able to fall into a meditative state which, to his surprise when he resurfaced, lasted a full six hours - nearly twice as long as he typically employed to rebuild thin or damaged mental shields. Much refreshed and feeling in-control for the first time in twenty-four hours, he then made his way to Sickbay, pausing along the way to pick up a meal tray for their no-doubt cranky Chief Medical Officer and restless child-captain.

Nurse Chapel's glare when he entered supported his conjecture, and a small crash from a recovery cubicle in the next room only confirmed it.

"Jim's bouncing off the walls, thanks to someone who told our brainless Security force that they could bring the kid a jumbo Mr. Freezy and a cotton candy stick," Christine said evenly, arms crossed and heeled boot tapping dangerously on the spotless durasteel flooring. "Don't tell me that giving a child his body weight in processed sucrose is logical in Vulcan culture, Commander?"

Spock had the grace to blush, and hastily dumped a plate of cookies off the dinner tray into the nearest recycling chute.

Chapel's snapping blue eyes softened, as she carefully hid a smile. "Dr. McCoy is coming along nicely, sir," she said, her tone changing to an official report to ignore Spock's embarrassment. "He should be released early tomorrow to light duty, just for observation's sake. I personally believe he is fully recovered now, due to the detox. He'll be feeling pretty rundown for a while, but there will be no lasting effects."

"And Jim?"

"Other than being absolutely wired at the moment, he appears to have shaken off any psychological effects of the kidnapping in his usual fashion," she answered, with a disapproving glance back at the child's cubicle. "That is a part of his character as an adult, so I'm not worried about it yet. You should be prepared for nightmares, though."

Spock nodded.

"Right now, he's doing his level best to drive our CMO out of his mind, I think," Chapel added, smiling as a stream of heavily-accented scolding issued from the same cubicle. "I'm sure Dr. McCoy will appreciate being rescued."

Pausing at the cubicle doorway, Spock cast a dubious glance backward at her before taking his dignity in his hands and proceeding into the recovery room.

He was nearly bowled over by a wriggling set of octopus-like arms which tackled his knees, nearly causing him to drop the dinner tray. It made an awkward crash landing on the bedside table, rattling sporks and glassware.

McCoy's crooked smirk would have irked him, four months ago; now, it was merely a shared exasperation of pseudo-parenthood.

"Hi Spock!"

"Hello, Jim," he replied with admirable patience, carefully prying the child's arms from around his legs.

"Are you feelin' better?"

"I?" He glanced at the bed, and saw McCoy's raised eyebrow and I-have-no-idea gesture. "What makes you ask that?"

"You were actin' weird." Jim scrambled up on the end of McCoy's bio-bed, using both hands and feet and at one point teeth latched into the blanket to accomplish his end. "And Lootent Riley said you were med-medertationing. Sleepin' with your eyes open." 

McCoy's dry chuckle washed over them. "Kid's got a point, Spock."

He did not deign to dignify that with a response. "The word is meditating, Jim; and I am much improved now." The child's eyes searched his face with an uncanny perception, finally dropping in apparent satisfaction that he was being truthful. "And how are you, Jim?"

"I'm good," Jim chirped, eagerly reaching for a glass of orange juice.

McCoy tapped his hand warningly. "You're not eatin' on my bed, squirt," he said sternly. "Already had one blanket-changin' thanks to that dang slurpie drink Riley brought you. I'm not gonna have Ship's Laundry talkin' about me if Christine keeps sending them wet bedding."

Jim's mischievous grin of innocence showed all too well that he had, indeed, apparently blocked out any traumatic repercussions from his misadventure in the park. The Insonti council knew their technology well.

"Doctor, Nurse Chapel assures me there will be no lasting effects from your attack," Spock said, while hauling a squirming five-year-old off the bed and into a chair, over which he moved a fold-out tray table partly to pin Jim in place and partly to hold his dinner. "How are you feeling?"

McCoy shot him a skeptical look over the top of a coffee cup. "Small talk, Mr. Spock?" he asked archly. "Since when d'you engage in such an illogical pastime?"

"The cause is sufficient," he responded with genuine ease, ignoring Jim's miffed attempts to squeeze under the tray table. He placed a plate containing a grilled cheese and pickle sandwich cut into fourths (an unusual combination he at a previous time had been duly informed by an eager toddler was 'way awesome') and small cup of fruit on the tray-table. "Jim, desist. Eat your dinner."

"And chew your food," McCoy warned, when their little captain shoved an entire quarter-sandwich into his mouth.

"Fowwy," Jim garbled, smiling angelically up at them. "Fank 'oo, Thpock."

"I attribute his deplorable lack of manners to your human ancestry, Doctor."

"Hey!" McCoy half-heartedly flung a celery stick at the Vulcan's head in lieu of having a handy hypospray cartridge.

It was an enormous tactical error, as their resident five-year-old gleefully took that as permission to open fire with banana chunks from his fruit cup via a spork-catapult, accompanied by high-pitched pew-pew-pew noises.

"James Tiberius!"

Safely out of the line of fire, Spock allowed himself one moment of human relief that things apparently were approaching what, for them, constituted normality. "And as the humans say, I rest my case," he murmured dryly, to no one in particular.

Chapter Text

Jim Kirk at age five was nothing more, Spock decided, than a hyperactive and precocious bundle of non-stop questions and child genius. The young one was inquisitive beyond belief; curiosity was a desirable characteristic in one so young and impressionable but in this case it was simply Never. Ever. Ending.  Spock had already, by this point in the afternoon, taught the child the functions of nearly every portion of the ship’s engines, explained elementary mathematics, informed him of the names of various articles of machinery in Sickbay, told him the names of alien species which showed up on the program the child was playing on the ship’s computer…and those were only in the last forty minutes.
 
“Hey Spock?”
 
Anyone listening would have marveled at the patience, even for a Vulcan. Spock resisted the urge to fabricate an emergency in the labs and comm McCoy for transfer of child-minding. But it was not Jim’s fault that he was trapped in the body and mind of a five-year-old, with the attention span of such.  “Yes, Jim.” 
 
“Can you play the guitar?”
 
He raised an eyebrow, but should not have been surprised at the in-apropos inquiry. Possibly this was brought on by the vid-game Lieutenant Sulu had allowed the child to borrow, something to do with dancing and music containing an entirely too-heavy beat.
 
“Negative. I am, however, proficient at the Vulcan lyrette, which is also a stringed instrument. Similar to your Terran harp, but more complicated in methodology.”
 
Hazel eyes peeked over the edge of the desk, under a mop of unruly curls – the child needed a haircut, he absently made the note to tell Nurse Chapel next he saw her.  “What’s it look like?”
 
Spock sighed silently and rose from the desk, knowing he would get no more work done until he demonstrated both the instrument and his ability to play it.  Thankfully, it was nearly time for Jim to have his afternoon nap; perhaps he could, as they said, exterminate two avians with one projectile.
 
“Make yourself ready for your nap, Jim, and I will show you,” he said, moving toward his living space.
 
The child grumbled something unintelligible under his breath, but by this point in his young life knew better than to argue with the Vulcan.  Monty was dragged out from the crawl space under the beverage replicator (Spock did not want to know why the panda had been cached there in the first place), and Jim toddled across the room to his small cot, dragging the bear by one leg.  The child clambered up onto the bed, bouncing upon it until Spock returned with the lyrette.
 
Spock placed the instrument safely on the floor while he coaxed the wriggling bundle of arms and legs under the blanket; while the air in his cabin was warm for a human Jim would wake up if he grew chilled while asleep, he had learned from experience.  After pulling the blanket up to the child’s forehead, whereupon the boy giggled and yanked it down to below his chin, he seated himself on the edge of the bed and picked up the instrument.
 
“Lootent Nyota says you play bea-u-ti-ful,” Jim enunciated his new word carefully, and Spock refrained from correcting the proud child for his grammatical inaccuracy this time.  A strange feeling of warmth suffused him at the idea that his crew-mates actually were pleased and even impressed with his ability.
 
However, “Musical taste is largely a matter of opinion, Jim, as is any artistic ability,” he merely said, aware that the child’s sharp eyes were probably seeing far more than even the little one was aware of. There would be some interesting conversations to be had in a few weeks, if the adult version of their captain retained his second childhood memories.
 
But his thoughts were broken by the return of the child-captain, for a wide yawn threatened to distort Jim’s small features.  “What would you like to hear, little one?” he asked quietly, hoping to ease the child into a restful slumber, as the last few days had been exhausting for all of them.
 
Jim blinked sleepily up at him. “Dunno,” he murmured, scrubbing a fist across his eyelids.  Then, attention sharpening for a moment, “Ma always sings me Catch a Falling Star an’ Put It in Your Pocket before I go t’seep? It keeps bad dreams away, she says.”
 
Spock blinked in surprise, for his own mother had done the same thing for the early years of his life. Perhaps it was a human ritual? Or perhaps it was simply coincidence.  Either way, he had not heard the song even referenced in many years.
 
“I do know it,” he replied, and saw the child’s smile light up the room. “My…own mother sang it more than once to me, when I was a child learning about the constellations and space travel.”
 
Jim’s eyes shone through the haze of sleepiness. “Really?”
 
“Really,” he replied, lips quirking. “I will see if memory serves me correctly.” Strumming a few chords to set the key of the music, he began to hesitantly play the song by ear, surprising himself at how easily the memory surfaced from his admittedly small store of pleasant childhood remembrances.
 
Catch a falling star an’ put it in your pock-et, never let it fade a-way,” Jim was murmuring drowsily, singing along with his music by the end of the first chorus with one small hand waving aimlessly in the air, as if conducting an invisible orchestra.  A yawn broke the train of lyrics, but did not deter the child from continuing as if he had not paused, “…pock-et, save it for a wain-eeee day. For love may come an’…” The child paused, brow wrinkled, obviously trying to remember the words.
 
Tap you on the shoulder,” Spock prompted softly, not even having to think to recall the words and the voice that had sung them so long ago.
 
Some starless night,” Jim whispered, eyes fluttering closed and then jerking back open, obviously fighting sleep.  “Jus’ in case you feel..." the rest of the line was unintelligible as the child was falling asleep, "...have a pocket of starlight. Catch a fallin’ star an’ put it in your pock-et, never let it…fade…’way.”  The child’s eyes fluttered again, voice trailing off into a small sigh.
 
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket; Save it for a rainy day,”  Spock finished mentally and let the chorus fade into a drawn-out chord, watching to make certain Jim remained asleep, smiling into the side of his panda bear.
 

Chapter Text

The little terror which was six-year-old James Tiberius Kirk (he had abruptly announced himself this age one morning, no one quite knew how or why but all could only be thankful for it) had been unusually well-behaved the previous evening, content with the company of Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov while McCoy caught up with some badly-needed sleep. Spock had taken the rare opportunity to meet with his Science department heads and actually learn in detail what was going on aboard besides the handful of chaos which occupied the majority of his time and patience. Jim had behaved all evening, and had been returned to his Sickbay cubicle-turned-nursery, going to sleep with a cherubic smile and nary a sign of a tantrum.

McCoy's overtired brain could barely believe it, but he was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and only fell into bed that night breathing out his gratitude.

Given the Old Earth equivalent of the next day's Stardate, coupled with Jim's unnaturally angelic behavior during the hour between rising and breakfast in Officers' Mess, he should have suspected something of the kind. As it stood, he had not remembered that ancient and annoying Earth holiday known as April Fool's – and, apparently, Chekov and Sulu definitely had remembered.

This early in the morning, Mess was cheerily ringing with chatter and status reports, as late gamma shift workers stopped by for a snack before going to bed and alpha shift workers scrambled to prepare for their day. McCoy had given up trying to convince Jim that strawberry waffles did not require chocolate milk as an absolutely crucial accompaniment, and so stood in line beside the child, sighing, as he slid his card in a second time for the sugar-laced drink.

Vigilantly balancing the cup on his tray, tongue sticking out slightly, Jim then trotted after the doctor, careful to not jostle anyone he passed. He smiled readily up at anyone who stopped to say good-morning, and tolerated a few hair-ruffles with a cheerfulness that should have, in retrospect, made McCoy more suspicious.

The Command chain had a corner toward which they usually gravitated at meal-times, and he was relieved to see that the rest of the alpha-shift Bridge crew, with the exception of Uhura (who was watch officer this morning for shift change), had barely begun their meals. He would have help, then, making sure Jim ate his meal without ending up wearing three fourths of the whipped cream.

"Morning, Spock!" the child chirped, scrambling up onto his chair and beaming as the Vulcan's attention turned from the six data-padds before him, eyes softening as he saw the little one's eager face.

"Good morning, Jim. Did you sleep well?"

"Yup!" McCoy caught the milk glass as it teetered, and set it right, safely out of reach of gesturing chubby hands. "Mr. Sulu an' I played swords and I was so tired!"

"He wasn't the only one," the helmsman muttered under his breath, though his good-natured grin showed how little he minded being child-sitter for their small Captain Sunshine.

"Napkin," the doctor warned, as a glop of strawberry sauce nearly landed on him. He hadn't even sat down yet, and the kid was already threatening to trash his Medical tunic. "Tucked into your shirt, kiddo, unless you want to smell like syrup all day."

"Why not?" the child asked seriously, apparently thinking it was a grand idea.

He refrained from moaning, and shook his head, moving around Sulu and Chekov's chairs to the empty seat at the table.

"Jim, please desist from gesticulating with your cutlery," Spock said tonelessly, scrawling a signature across one of the data-padds and nobly ignoring the small blob of syrup which had landed on the screen.

Innocent hazel eyes blinked slowly. "Huh?"

"Do not wave your spork at people, Jim," Chekov interjected helpfully. "Is not polite behavior."

"Oh." The child looked down, slightly cross-eyed, at his eating utensil, before shrugging and digging the article into the depths of his topmost waffle.

Grateful that another mini-crisis had been avoided without his input, McCoy finally set his tray in place and lowered himself wearily into his chair.

The resulting noise – crude, and extremely loud – drew the attention of everyone in the near vicinity, and he froze, a dark blush beginning to creep up the back of his neck as the occupants of the surrounding tables stared his direction for a moment.

Spock circled a phrase and then clicked another page in his report, obviously choosing his battles this morning.

Sulu and Chekov looked down the table at him, slightly aghast, and then hastily returned to their meals as if nothing had happened, too well-mannered to make a comment about the incident.

Jim slurped his chocolate milk with single-minded determination, small mouth pursed up around the straw, and appeared to have not heard the embarrassing sound. Thank heaven; that was all they needed, a hyperactive child who had learned the interesting and impolite noises the body could make.

Face still slightly red, McCoy returned to his omelet and fruit, and made a mental note to dose himself with the appropriate supplements as soon as he could escape to Sickbay.

But ten seconds later, it happened again. The doctor's knife and fork dropped with a clatter onto his plate as this time everyone at the table looked at him in what appeared to be expressions ranging from an incredulous eyebrow to horrified fascination.

"Doctor," Sulu began.

"I swear, I…"

He paused, as their child-captain completely lost it, giggling like a baby hyena into his milk. Bubbles frothed upward with the force of childish laughter, and Spock's left eyebrow inched up to meet the right as McCoy glowered down the table.

"James Tiberius Kirk!"

The child gave a little shriek and slid out of his chair to hide, obviously ineffectively, under the table.

"Doctor?" Spock's face did its best do-I-really-want-to-know-and-will-I-be-scarred-for-life-if-you-tell-me impression.

A choked snort from his left made McCoy pause before doing so, and he pointed an accusatory finger at the man sitting next to him. "Do you know what I can do to you during your next physical, Mr. Chekov?" he said, deceptively soft.

The young navigator had been trying to hide his laughter in the thick egg sandwich he was holding before his mouth. Now, caught out by his inability to fully hide his guilt, he gulped down the last bite and shook his head. "I do not know what you are speaking about, Doctor," he said, making a valiant attempt to look innocent.

"Oh, you don't. Well maybe I can jog your memory a little bit when I lobotomize you, Ensign. Hold it, you!" A small squawk, and the physician hauled a squirming six-year-old out from under the table by his scruff. Jim aimed a half-hearted swat at the strong grip, the aim spoiled completely by the strength of his laughter. "Hand it over, Jim-boy."

"What?" the child protested, giving him a wounded look.

"The remote control, you little monster," he retorted. "Shoulda known better than to let you spend the night before April Fool's Day with Tweedledee and Tweedledum!"

Spock blinked, head cocked to one side, as if actually contemplating the relation between the fictional characters and their slightly chagrined but unrepentant navigator and helmsman. "Doctor, I am at a loss," he finally said, stacking the report padds and fixing the physician and snickering child with his full attention.

"This, Mr. Spock," McCoy replied with dramatic flair, holding up the device he'd just yanked out from under his seat, "is an old Earth toy colloquially called a whoopee cushion. Only change that's been made to it in the last three centuries is that now it's remote-controlled."

He received an expressionless blink, which only served to set both Sulu and Chekov off into a fit of snickers to accompany their small captain's hoots.

"It reproduces certain…uncouth noises which the body is capable of," McCoy explained, desperately hoping the Vulcan would simply drop the matter instead of wanting to dissect and discuss it until he fully understood the behavior.

"For what purpose?"

"Entertainment purposes, Mr. Spock." McCoy swatted Jim upside the head, sending the little one into another fit of giggles, and then shoved the boy back toward his chair. "Finish your waffles, kid, before I decide you don't deserve 'em anymore."

Suitably threatened, Jim hastened back to his seat and began shoveling strawberry-soaked pieces into his mouth at an alarming rate, eyes wide over the lip of his spork.

"I do not see the entertainment value in reproducing the audio effects of the body's gastrointestinal reaction to –"

"Just drop it, Spock, will you?" he interrupted, as the two nearest tables (obviously eavesdropping on the whole thing) finally broke down and howled with laughter.

Slanted brows knitted. "Humans' concepts of humor are entirely beyond my full comprehension at times, Doctor."

McCoy snorted and returned to his fruit, grinning despite himself at the incident. "Just be glad he didn't try it on you on the Bridge," he told the Vulcan, with a sudden flash of truly inspired evil. "Try explaining that away logically to a horrified alpha-shift crew."

Spock looked with some alarm at the device on the table, and McCoy knew he'd got his revenge when the six-year-old across the way fixed them both with a thoughtfully speculative eye.

Later that day, while at her motherboard diverting communications, Uhura absently wondered why the Acting Captain still hadn't sat down in either the central chair or the Science station's seat, a full four hours into alpha shift.

Chapter Text

Time passed, and so did Jim’s continuing re-education. The child’s intense love of life, and starship life in particular, made the task less draining than one would assume, raising a child (and a genius one at that) aboard a ship which was ill-equipped for such things. While his early development had been understandably slow (he had been rather late in speaking compared to most toddlers, but to be fair he was technically only a few days old at the time), his childhood development progressed at an abnormally rapid rate. Spock discussed this at length with the Insonti via subspace communications, when their medical team voiced the concern that the boy’s memory appeared to simply be jumping to its various ages with memory and knowledge intact, rather than everything needing to be relearned. Apparently this was a natural effect of the Regenratron, for the device was meant as a teaching tool, for entirely beneficial purposes.
 
“It would do no being any good to be forced to re-learn one’s entire life in a matter of days, Commander Spock,” the leader of the Insonti had reassured him. “When Captain Kirk makes the age jumps, his memory and knowledge will do so with him, to make the re-integration process as painless as possible. The Regenratron is used in our culture to re-educate those in need of learning the basic lessons which come of childhood – mainly those of trust, compassion, morality, tolerance, and imagination. It is used, for example, in our medical fields for patients who suffer from imbalances which make them prone to violence or immoral activity; it reacquaints the individual with his inner self at its simplest and most innocent stage of life.”
 
“Then by that same logic, the adult form will have total recall over the time spent in this ‘second childhood,’” Spock had then inquired, and was assured as to the conclusion’s veracity.
 
While the conference had done much to relieve his mind and Dr. McCoy’s about the strange effects of Jim’s abrupt aging, it did not shed any light on what they could do to speed up the process other than the activities in which they were currently involved.
 
Then the sixth week of their star-charting mission came; and with it, an unexpected First Contact, and James T. Kirk’s very first diplomatic mission.
 
Acting Captain Spock was on the Bridge, at silent war with his conscience over even allowing the child in the room in the first place. He had protested McCoy’s dropping him off in the strictest terms, reminding the doctor that unauthorized personnel, especially underage persons, were prohibited from such areas. McCoy had only glared at him and reminded him that the child was the captain of the chair in which Spock currently sat, and he thought that gave him all the protocol approval the kid needed, and besides if Spock thought the doctor was going to haul a small child around with him in and out of outpatient surgical appointments all morning then the Vulcan had "another think coming."
 
Spock had yielded to the inevitable, more because a distraught Jim looked about to burst into tears at the altercation between his two friends than because the physician won the argument.
 
The child was currently toddling around the Bridge, hands clasped in front of him in obedience to Spock’s strict injunction to not touch anything, and since they were doing nothing more than sitting in space charting stars he was permitted to do so with no possibility of danger to anyone from his small presence.

The first five minutes had been spent in incessant questioning of Chekov (the future navigator responding to technicalities with remarkable aptitude) until Spock had quietly admonished the little one that he needed to let his people do their work without hindrance. Rather than being hurt, Jim had nodded genially enough and simply made his rounds, eyeing flying fingers over the edge of consoles and once in a while whispering covert questions to crewmen who smiled at him.

Spock was at the Science station (it felt wrong, somehow, to sit in the center chair with the captain technically on the Bridge, barely six years old though he might be) calibrating the sensors for radiation signature scans when a warm body bumped into his legs.
 
A small finger hesitantly poked at his arm, and he looked up from his readings. “Yes, Jim?” he asked quietly, so as to not disturb the concentration of the rest of the Bridge.
 
It entirely escaped his notice that they were all shamelessly eavesdropping on him, hiding smiles behind their consoles.
 
Two cherubic golden eyes peered over the edge of the console at him, the rest of the little one’s face hidden by the lip of the counter. “Whatchoo doin', Spock?” the child asked in a loud stage whisper.
 
“I am calibrating sensors to detect radiation readings in the stars which the cartography department is charting, pi’khart-lan,” he replied in equally quiet tones.
 
“Oh.” The child was silent, eyes blinking at him over the edge of the console. “Issit fascinatin’?”
 
Spock’s keener hearing detected Uhura’s small noise of amusement, both at his name for the child and Jim’s picking up of the word he heard most often from the Vulcan’s lips.
 
“Not precisely,” he responded, looking down at the child with fondness. “But it is necessary to the mission purpose.”
 
“What’s that mean?” A finger pointed to the blinking ready light on his board.
 
“It indicates that the sensors are calibrated and ready to transmit data.”
 
“Can I see?” The child strained on tiptoe for a moment before rocking back to his heels, looking mournfully at the console above his head. “Please, Spock? I promise I won’ touch anything, pleeeease?”
 
Spock was faced with a Kobayashi Maru of his own; deny the child, and acquire the indignation of his shipmates and a look which could melt stone from a disappointed human child – or sacrifice his dignity, and please Jim and his loyal crew.
 
He placed the child on his lap with an inaudible sigh, mentally bidding farewell to his command image.
 
Oddly enough, when the incident was spoken of later, it only seemed to have enhanced it.

Chapter Text

Jim had been quiet for several minutes, watching with fascination as Spock’s nimble fingers pressed switches and typed data, working with a rapidity that seemed to be mesmerizing to the child. Watching covertly from her station, Uhura smiled at the scene, for Spock was utterly unaware of the adoring looks he was receiving from his small observer, and of the wide grins and covert comments which were going on behind his back. This whole matter, inconvenient though it might have been in their long run, had done the Vulcan's reputation a lot of good, for his crew had finally seen the side of him which only the Captain, it seemed at times, had perceived immediately upon his acquaintance.
 
“What’s that?” Jim piped up, pointing at the recording tape Spock was placing into position.
 
“It carries all the data from the last set of tests, Jim. I am proceeding to send it down to the Cartography Lab for addition to their charts.”
 
“Cool.” The little one watched as the tape slotted into place, bouncing slightly on Spock’s knees.
 
The Vulcan glanced around covertly, obviously seeing if he had witnesses, and Uhura hastily turned her attention back to her subspace monitoring. That did not prevent her from listening, however.
 
“Jim, would you like to press the button to send the data to Lieutenant Matherson?”
 
Uhura grinned, sneaking a peek out of her peripheral.
 
Jim was bouncing in earnest now. “Yesyesyes! Which one, Spock?”
 
“This one.” Spock lifted one small hand and placed it over the correct Send button.
 
“Now?” The child wriggled in excitement, looking up at his mentor.
 
“Affirmative.”
 
Jim depressed the button, and the light vanished. “Did I do it right?” he asked anxiously, looking over the assortment of flashing lights and indecipherable scrolling computer coding.
 
“Indeed you did.” Spock looked down at the beaming little face and relaxed slightly. “Now, do you know what types of radiation are harmful to humanoid life?”
 
Uhura watched in fascination and some admiration as the child’s face scrunched up in deep thought. “Berthold radiation…”
 
“Correct, and what else?”
 
“Gamma radiation…X-16 radiation…”
 
“Good.”
 
“An’ full-spectum light radiation…”
 
She saw a barely-perceptible wince; that was a sore subject from years past though the child was not to know that. 

"Spec-trum."
 
“That's what I said. I can’t remember any more, Spock,” the child finished sadly, hanging his head. Uhura just wanted to reach over and ruffle the chaotic hair into disarray, he was that cute.
 
“That is excellent, Jim,” the Vulcan praised, nodding down at the discouraged child. “Now, tell me what –“
 
Uhura’s board beeped with a faint incoming transmission. “Sir, I’m receiving a message from an unknown source,” she said, instantly on the alert and working. “It appears to be in a language with no similarities found in our linguistics banks.”
 
Spock was out of his chair in an instant. “Sit there and do not get up, Jim,” he ordered without thinking about it, and moved toward the command chair after receiving a wide-eyed nod from the child. “Utilizing the universal translator, Lieutenant, can you determine at least the nature of the message? Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, locate the source and put coordinates of the image on-screen.”
 
“The universal translator hasn’t had enough example of the syntax and sentence structure to properly translate yet, sir, but the message appears to be non-hostile,” she replied, busily working. “I believe…I think it’s just a greeting, sir; perhaps an explanation requested for our presence here? It's repeated the same set of syllables three times now, but the tone has varied, so it isn't a recording.”
 
“Send out the standard generic greeting and message of peace on all known frequencies and languages, Lieutenant; see if they are possessed of the same technology to translate. Gentlemen, visual?”
 
“One moment, sir,” Chekov muttered, fingers flying. “Got it! Is a small vessel, Meester Spock.” An image flashed up on the screen, a small dot indicating the approaching ship.
 
“Science vessel, probably; there’s nothing by way of armaments on it and a whole lot by way of scans, Captain, some more advanced than ours,” Sulu added, indicating the lights which showed they were being scanned by harmless technology.
 
“Nevertheless, appearances can be deceptive, Lieutenant. Take us to yellow alert. Lieutenant, any progress regarding the message?”
 
“It appears to be a very simple language, Mr. Spock,” she replied, concentrating on tweaking the translator. “Evidently communicating in feelings rather than images, I’m not getting a lot of decisive adjectives other than a variety of emotives. Right now this is what it says - but it's going to be a pretty rough Standard approximation.” She flipped a switch, and the soothing tones of the universal translator filled the Bridge.
 
“Happy much to see new [unidentifiable garbled word]. Bat’hua pleased greet/speak you, peace, calm, friendship.”
 
They all relaxed a fraction, she noticed, even Spock; it was always good to know that they weren’t dealing with an at least openly hostile enemy. 
 
“Can you repeat their message, substituting our own words for theirs, Lieutenant?”

”Already done, sir. After a few more transmissions, we most likely will be able to have a working translator with a decent enough vocabulary for proper communication.”

 “Do they have the possibility of visual communication?”
 
“I don’t know yet, sir,” she responded, fingers not stopping as she spoke. “More coming through now, sir; I think the translator has a fairly good grip on the language now. Their sentence structure appears to be irregular, which is causing the translator problems in reconstruction, but it should suffice for rudimentary thought exchange at least. We've made a First Contact with less, sir.”
 
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Open a channel.” Spock stood in front of the command chair, making a First Contact for the first time in his Starfleet career. These were dangerous waters, and ones he had never before charted except in the company of the galaxy’s most proficient non-Vulcan diplomat. Nonetheless, ambassadorship ran in his veins, and he felt no misgivings about such an apparently pleasant-tempered species.
 
“Greetings, vessel of the Bat’hua,” he said, deciding the translator most likely would not fix the error if he improperly made the designation a proper adjective. “This is…Captain Spock of the starship Enterprise, representing an organization named the United Federation of Planets.” If they for some reason turned hostile, it would not do to have them think he was merely in temporary capacity for the title; Jim’s life would be in danger should the truth be known. “Our mission is one of peace; we welcome the opportunity to further communications with your vessel and your people. Please respond.”
 
Uhura sent him a nod, which told him the message had been received, and he cast a look back to make sure Jim had stayed in his seat. The child was eagerly watching what went on around him, but obediently keeping quiet as he had been told; no small feat for one so energetic. Spock knew (and Jim knew he knew) a chocolate sundae would be in order later this evening if the little one’s good behavior continued.
 
The crackling of static, soon cleared by Uhura’s capable fingers, indicated another transmission.
 
“Bat’hua greets/welcomes/embraces you, people of Enterprise. Happy we are to make new association/colleague/friend. Bat’hua is also a nation/people/family-group of peace.”
 
“Excellent,” Spock murmured, seeing that the translator was rapidly filling in blanks in the vocabulary of their new acquaintances. It would take time before they could manually select the best word of the three it was offering to better hone the translator's vocabulary, something the linguistics team would have to do at a later date, but it would suffice for now to give him an idea of their true feelings behind the communiqué. “Bat’hua vessel, do you have the capability of visual communication as well as audio?”
 
There was a moment of silence, and then the garbled reply. “Visual communication much unpleasant/distasteful/nauseating.”
 
Interesting. A raised eyebrow. “Distasteful to yourselves?”
 
“Negative/no/mistake, people of Enterprise. To outworlders/strangers/not-Bat’hua. Our appearance is unhappy/frightening.”
 
“I believe you will find that we welcome the sight of all peoples and species, Bat’hua,” Spock responded calmly. “To embrace differences should be the goal of all beings. I assure you, we will not find your people repulsive.”
 
“Experiences past have shown that some may speak pleasant/happy/good but when seeing us become unpleasant/frightened/sick. Wish we to communicate with your most truthful One, Spock-Captain, make certain you speak truth/good/right.”
 
Spock thought over the wording, but decided it was an imbalance in the translation matrix. He hesitated for only a moment before taking the plunge in good faith. “Permission granted, Bat’hua; we speak the truth.”
 
“Mr. Spock, I'm reading an unidentified energy surge –“
 
“Report, Ensign!”
 
“Chekov, get the shields up, SHIELDS UP, that’s a transporter beam –“
 
“Spoooock!”
 
A wail of utter terror pierced the sudden clamor, and Spock whirled around, just in time to see a frightened child vanish in the shimmer of an alien transporter signature.

Chapter Text

Stunned, Spock could only stare for a moment at the seat where Jim had been moments before. Behind him, the Bridge went silent, reeling from the realization that their captain, in the form of a terrified six-year-old, had just been abducted onto an alien vessel – one whose very occupants admitted their appearance was frightening or repulsive to other species.
 
Then their acting captain snapped back toward the viewscreen, hands clenched tightly behind him and posture ramrod-straight. Sulu and Chekov took one look at the Vulcan and then hastily returned to their controls, shooting each other worried looks. 
 
“I hope they’re like Klingons and think today’s a good day to die,” the young helmsman muttered, feeling the back of his head fairly smoldering from the look in Spock’s eyes.
 
“Gentlemen, origin of that transporter beam?”
 
“The Bat’hua vessel, sir,” Chekov replied instantly, having already traced it. “Transport complete, life signs strong, ship atmosphere and oxygen levels Earth life-sustainable.” He wasn’t stupid enough to have anything but good news, which probably saved him from a glare which could have taken his head off. "Whatever their intentions, it is not to initially harm him, Keptin."
 
“Lieutenant, open a direct channel to that ship.” The order was crisp and without expression, which only made them all jumpy waiting for the other shoe to drop.
 
“Channel open, sir.” 
 
“Bat’hua vessel, return the child which you have transported immediately, if you wish to continue discussions with this ship in good faith.”
 
“Bat’hua must communicate with truthful/innocent/happy One, people of Enterprise,” was the response, and even the universal translator showed the indicators of some surprise on the part of the aliens. “Spock-Captain gave permission for communication with most truthful/innocent/happy One, yes?”
 
Spock closed his eyes, mentally acknowledging his error in not taking the time to parse the translation with more care. He had indeed given permission, without knowing the consequences. “Bat’hua, the...most truthful One is a youngling, a child, a small one of our species. He will feel fear, taken alone and by force. Return him to us and we will communicate with you however you wish. Please,” he finally added in hopes the translator would communicate the emotion as well as the meaning, however unVulcan the plea might be.
 
“Regret/unhappy to cause this trouble/conflict we are,” came the response a moment later. “But communication must be done with truthful/innocent/happy One first, if we are to believe your words.”
 
“Then allow one of the child’s…guardians, to accompany him,” Spock requested, driven now to negotiation by his own poor choice of wording earlier in the exchange.
 
“Concept of guardians is unfamiliar/puzzling/unclear, people of  Enterprise?”
 
“His…friends, family, his companions.”

"This also is unfamiliar/unclear to us, Spock-Captain."

Deities of the galaxy give him patience. “Those who…” His hands clenched behind him, but this was not a time to quibble semantics; these beings spoke in emotives and therefore, to use them for clear communication was only logical. He cleared his throat. “Those who love him, Bat’hua vessel.”
 
The Bridge crew froze en masse, and he felt a flush creep up the back of his neck from the knowledge that they had all heard and were studiously refusing to embarrass him by looking at him for the uncharacteristic display. His ancestors would be duly horrified at his discarding such centuries of doctrine for the sake of a child, or even a mere Starfleet mission.
 
The response was immediate. “Love is good/happy/beautiful, this we understand, people of Enterprise.”
 
“Then you must also understand why we demand that no harm come to the child,” Spock responded without skipping a beat.
 
“Understand now do we. Most truthful One will not be harmed, that is unthinkable/horrifying/abomination. This is sworn on honor of the Bat’hua.”
 
Spock didn’t back down an inch, though there was some relief to be had in the assurance. “You refuse our word of honor without the presence of the child you have taken by force; you will not think it strange of us to distrust your word in return. Send the child back, or bring one of his guardians to the ship of the Bat’hua.”
 
“Cannot do, until communication with most truthful One is completed,” was the response, though the universal translator indicated no hostility in the tone.  Spock’s lips tightened. “Not long will be, this is sworn on honor of the Bat’hua.”
 
“Sir, they’ve cut off communications,” Uhura spoke quietly from behind them.
 
“Get them back, Lieutenant.”
 
“Sir, I –“

“Get them back, Lieutenant.”

 Uhura sighed silently. “Sir, the channel is still open on our end, but they have cut off reception; I can’t change that fact.”
 
Spock started slightly, as if coming back to himself, and half-turned. “Of course, Lieutenant; my apologies for any implied denigration of your abilities. Mr. Chekov, can you pin-point the human life sign aboard that ship?”
 
“Aye, sir, I have it, but is moving fast.”
 
“Mr. Scott,” the Vulcan spoke into the armrest-comm. “Have you finished the transporter cleaning yet?”
 
“No, sir, is anything wrong? I wouldna have begun it a few days ago except I dinna think we’d need it in the middle of a star-mappin’ expedition?”
 
Spock shook his head. “Estimated time until one pad can be operational?”
 
“Well, Mr. Spock, it would depend on what ye wanted to transport. Right now I could probably get a crate of cargo through, reroutin’ and boostin’ the power through auxiliary, without trouble, but I wouldn’ want to send a couple of live candidates through without checkin’ it first.”
 
“Odds of a successful humanoid transport, Mr. Scott?”
 
“Mmm, about eighty-five percent in favor, sir, but that’s assumin’ there’ll be no power fluctuations or ought else during transport.”
 
“Prepare to route power through one pad, drawing from non-essential systems if you must. Send a test canister through and prepare for a live transport, ETA ten minutes. Spock out.”
 
Chekov was already turned around by the time the Vulcan straightened, real fear in the young Russian’s eyes. “Meester Spock, you cannot transport through such an unsafe transport beam; those odds are still much too low for a margin of safety!”
 
Spock’s eyes flashed dangerously, sending the young navigator back to his chair with one look. “Would you prefer I abandon our currently six-year-old captain to the mercy of these beings who, by their own admission, have an appearance so repulsive that they have before terrified other races with visual contact?”
 
“Sir, even if you do get through, you won’t have any kind of a Security team for backup, because we can't risk more lives in a beam with that low of a success factor and it breaks all rules of First Contact,” Sulu added. In response to Spock’s opening his mouth to reply, he folded his arms defiantly and didn’t back down. “Captain, it’s my duty as Acting First Officer to point out how many regulations you’re breaking here, and you know that as well as I do.”

"Technically, Mr. Sulu, our First Contact has already been broken by the presence of the captain on that ship."

"Sir, with all respect, right now you are the captain. And you shouldn't be taking a risk this high." Sulu's look refused to waver under a Vulcan glare. "I get that we're all responsible for the kid, but we're also responsible for you, sir. I'm just saying."
 
“Mr. Spock, the Bat’hua said it would not be long and Jim would not be harmed; could you not give them a few minutes to prove that promise?” Uhura remonstrated softly, knowing that if the captain were himself and present he would be pitching a fit to top all childhood tantrums about the risk his First was about to take.
 
Spock only looked at her, and she was forced to glance away. “I will not leave a child barely of schooling age alone in what may or may not be a hostile Contact, after being removed forcibly from his home, Lieutenant; nor will I ask someone without Vulcan physiology to risk such a transport. Mr. Sulu, alert Sickbay to stand by, and take the conn.” And with that, he was gone, disappearing into the turbolift.
 
The comm chirped. “Mr. Spock, the test may have worked fine but I canna guarantee that this transporter will get an actual person out in one piece, much less bring one back again!”
 
They all winced at the reply.  “Mr. Scott, yours is not to question your orders but to carry them out. That will be all.”
 
Chekov turned worried eyes back to the viewscreen and the small ship dancing in the stars before them. “The Keptin will kill him when he grows up, da?”
 
Da, Pavel,” Sulu echoed, praying to any deity within earshot that he wouldn’t inherit this chair in the next ten minutes. “If he’s still alive to be killed.”
 



 
Spock had before transported through undesirably risky transport beams, but he had never had quite so rough a landing as this one. He was spared one moment to think wryly of McCoy, who would have been positively hysterical over the lengthy and unpleasant process, before he vomited most violently all over the floor of the small room in which he had materialized.
 
The dizziness passed in moments, but the cramping nausea remained for longer than he had time to compartmentalize; he merely rose to his feet, one hand braced on the wall, and reached for his communicator.
 
“My congratulations on a job as well done as could be under the circumstances, Mr. Scott.”
 
“Spock so help me God when you get back here I’m a-gonna hypo you into next week!” a familiar screech caused him to pull the communicator away from his face with a wince and a quirk of the lips.
 
“Doctor, this is not the time for your overblown sense of the dramatic. Mr. Scott, connect me to the Bridge.”
 
“Overblown sense of the dr-“
 
“Chekov here, sir! Meester Spock, you are alive!”
 
“Obviously,” he replied dryly. “Ensign, the position of the captain’s location in relation to mine?”
 
“Same level, sir, about five hundred meters ahead. No change in his vital signs.”
 
“Keep me informed if the status of the captain changes. Spock out.”
 
He was only growing more nauseated rather than less, but that was a reflex easily controlled by Vulcan pain management. It was the work of a few seconds to bring himself firmly into control and move down the corridor.
 
It was a simplistic ship, obviously built for long-term exploration and comfort rather than for possible combat and minimalistic living as Federation starships were. The corridor was nearly brushing the top of his head, and so he deduced the Bat’hua were a shorter race than he. What was puzzling was the thick yellowish slime which occasionally splashed the walls and decking, squashing unpleasantly beneath his feet and emitting an odor not dissimilar to rotting vegetation. His tricorder analyzed it and came up with no satisfactory results; the substance was unidentifiable. Truly, then, a complete First Contact, and one which he had already done a spectacular job of damaging for the Federation.

He would be quite pleased – and while it was an emotion, it nonetheless existed, and to deny an object’s existence was not logical – to have Captain James T. Kirk back in his command where he belonged.

His boots trod again in a viscous pool of slime, and he raised an eyebrow at the sticky, somewhat luminescent substance. The indications were clear that those who had before attempted contact with the Bat’hua, then, did not react well to alien life-forms which evidently secreted such substances. From the way his roiling stomach was reacting to the smell, much less the appearance, Spock could understand why. It was an unfortunate physical reflex, though able to be controlled.
 
Then a sound from up ahead brought him to an abrupt halt. It was not, as he had been braced to hear, a scream of fear, a child’s cry for help or comfort, or a noise of pain.
 
It was giggling. Bright, bubbling, childish laughter, and clearly recognizable as belonging to one 'Captain Sunshine.’
 
He came around the corner considerably less tense than he had been moments before (entirely due to the lingering effects of a rough transport, of course, nothing more), and paused at the sight before him.

Five-year-old James Tiberius Kirk was standing on a small table in what appeared to be a council room. Surrounding him on each side, and on eye level due to the child’s elevation, were four…beings. Each resembled nothing so close as an oversized rubber sphere covered in an extremely runny abundance of yellowish, foul-smelling mucus. Two beady eyes perched somewhere within the oozing folds on each Bat’hua, though this was disconcerting in the fact that the orbs moved about freely in the viscous liquid, and not always in pairs.

He blinked.
 
Five eyes rolled his direction when he entered (the other three were still on their giggling human companion), only to enlarge to three times their size, he supposed in indication of surprise.
 
Jim saw him over the head of the shortest Bat’hua and beamed at him, waving. “Spock! Look! We been talking! These are the coolest aliens ever, an’ they wanna be friends with us!”
 
Spock’s eyebrows brushed his bangs. “Indeed?”
 
The subcutaneous universal translator (he was thoroughly grateful McCoy had thought to insert one in the child’s arm along with his emergency transponder after the catwalk incident) activated itself as one of the beings rolled – rolled? How? – over toward him. Spock studied it with interest, as well as the trail of slime it left in its wake. One eye slid completely around its spherical body before squishing slightly back into place beside its fellow. “You are Spock-Captain,” it said, though how it was speaking Spock had no idea; perhaps a mouth hidden under the many mounds of mucus. These were interesting beings indeed, which the Medical team would enjoy learning more about, and their voices were oddly lyrical and pleasant, which had certainly not shown in the mechanical tones of the universal translator.
 
“I am,” he replied. “I apologize for the intrusion, but we refuse to permit the child to face the unknown alone.”
 
“Most truthful/innocent/happy One is fortunate to have such kind/love/protect Guardian,” the Bat’hua responded, flattening itself with a sucking noise about four inches in what Spock presumed was its version of a bow of respect.
 
“I thank you,” he responded formally.
 
“Most truthful One is named Jim-child?”
 
“Jim,” he replied. “’Child’ is a designation of…rank, as mine is ‘Captain.'”
 
“I am Rhi-Captain,” the being said with another flattening squish. “My family-group/crew/friends mean no harm to Jim-child.”
 
An interesting trio of words, that the translator chose to group. That in itself, indicated they meant no harm, and likely had far more in common than the Enterprise had first presumed.

“I believe you,” Spock replied honestly. 
 
“Spock!” The child in question took a flying leap off the table and slid on his sneakers through three inches of slime like a miniature surfer, sending yellow mucus spouting up behind him. “They wanna be friends with us an’ travel in starships and discover things and explore planets an –“ Jim impacted the Vulcan’s legs with a thud, falling on his backside into a puddle, where he just sat and beamed up at a dismayed and now slime-covered Acting Captain. “They’re bouncy!” he exclaimed, pointing a goo-covered finger at Rhi.
 
“…Bouncy?” Spock asked blankly, with the portion of his mind not occupied with attempting to figure out how to remove the mucus from his person without offending their hosts. It obviously was impossible, and so would have to remain until their retreat, a diplomatic sacrifice.
 
“Look!” Jim scrambled to his feet and, taking a running start, flung himself full-body at the nearest sphere of slime. Spock watched, mystified, as the little one bounced off the alien as if it were a giant rubber ball, flying six feet across the room before impacting another of the beings, who had moved to ensure he did not harm himself in falling. The little boy scrambled upright, giggling, and the two spherical beings jiggled in a way which indicated they were also amused. “See?”

He did see, although how exactly Jim had found this fact out without offending any of the Bat'hua in the short time he had been aboard alone, was a diplomatic miracle. One he would not argue with.
 
Rhi looked with one eye at the laughing child, and with the other back at Spock. “Your Jim-child is wise beyond years, Spock-Captain,” the being said. “Only the most innocent/truthful/happy will be so open regarding feelings/opinions of Bat’hua. Jim-child is not afraid/sick/unhappy of our appearance. Normal, is this, for your people?”
 
Spock did not bother to indicate that humans were not his people; it was only half-true, and it entirely defeated the purpose of this very conversation. “We wish to believe it is,” he replied with deep sincerity. “While it is foolish to ignore differences in appearance or communication: to use those differences, to combine them, into a working together of both parties is the goal of our Federation. You may unfortunately encounter some beings who are, as you have indicated, initially repulsed by your presence – but most are, I believe, like Jim in their acceptance of new species.” He himself found no fault in their appearance; he had certainly seen worse - but the smell was not aiding his nausea, which was already threatening to overwhelm his controls, and he knew the interview would need to conclude soon to keep his word on that matter. 
 
“Very few so young/small/protected would be so in our world/family-group/people,” Rhi answered, a trail of mucus drooping from their sides in what appeared to be dejection. “Jim-child much happy/pleasure/sunshine has brought us this day.”
 
“I tol’ you, Rhi, Captain Sunshine is a superhero, he saves the day all the time,” the child informed them complacently, squishing his way over to them and shyly clutching one arm around Spock’s right leg.
 
“Will you be agreeable now, to negotiating communications with my ship and our Federation, Rhi-Captain?” Spock asked, placing a gentle hand on the little one’s head and ignoring the slight dampness of slime residue.
 
The being jiggled emphatically. “Pleased/honored we are to do so, Spock-Captain.”
 
“Then may we take our leave, and return to our ship to put the communications in place? Our linguistics expert would prefer to speak with you initially, so that our translation devices may be tuned so as to facilitate better conversation.”
 
“Affirmative/yes, Spock-Captain, that is most agreeable/pleasing/exciting.” One eye remained on the Vulcan’s face, while the other traveled down the being’s body to place itself on eye level with the child beside him. “Jim-child, grateful we are for your presence and acceptance.”
 
“Of course,” the little one murmured shyly, hiding his eyes in Spock’s trouser leg before peeking again at the being before him. “’S no reason to not be friends, just ‘cause you look an’ smell different, is it Spock?”
 
He looked down, lips quirking slightly. “Certainly not, Jim.”
 
“Sorry/regret/apology we are for taking Jim-child without full understanding,” the Bat’hua said regretfully. "See now the meaning of guardian, we do."
 
“’S okay,” Jim chirped cheerfully, smiling. “I like you!”
 
Spock refrained from indulging in the human emotion of nostalgia; part of James Kirk’s success as a diplomat was that he’d never yet met an alien race he didn’t get along with and couldn’t charm on sight, even when others would be repulsed.
 
“Return you to your ship, we will now, Spock-Captain,” Rhi said, indicating a device held by one of the spherical beings; obviously a portable transport beam controller. “Quite safe it is alone, on the honor of the Bat’hua, but in respect we will return you to your own transport room for added safety/comfort/security.”
 
Spock reached down and picked up the child just in case, holding him close. He knew the dangers of a tandem transport with Federation technology but obviously in this area these beings were superior. This would be a fruitful alliance, another score for the Enterprise’s flawless diplomatic record. Jim wrapped one slime-coated arm around his neck, and he breathed through his mouth to control the wave of nausea which assailed him at the closeness of the smell.
 
“Until we meet again, Spock-Captain, Jim-child,” Rhi said solemnly, both eyes respectfully in place on their faces.
 
Spock nodded, bowing his head in return. “I anticipate the meeting.”
 
A moment later, he felt the tingle of an alien transporter signature, and within seconds had re-materialized on the pad of the Enterprise’s main transporter room.
 
“Good Lord, what on earth did you get into over there?” he dimly heard a Southern drawl exclaim nasally through what had to be a held nose, which fact he was unable to verify due to the sudden irregular spinning in which the entire room seemed to be participating. He let a squirming Jim down only just in time, the child’s sneakers hitting the deck only instants before he lost his balance and did the same on hands and knees, unable to control the severe cramping nausea which wrenched at his stomach – why were his controls not functioning?
 
McCoy’s complaining turned in a nanosecond to horrified concern, and he vaguely heard Jim’s frightened voice adding to the mix seconds before a particularly violent dry heave caused him to slide into complete unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Spock literally could not remember the last time he had been quite so ill. And, given his eidetic memory, that was certainly an achievement for the sickness which had stolen every shred of Vulcan health control from him. He could tell immediately, upon awakening, that he had not slipped into a healing trance, indeed had been kept out of one by use of drugs – for what purpose, he did not know.
 
The sensors above his head shrilled an alert which seemed to reverberate straight through his aching skull – a side effect of their resident witch-doctor’s potions, no doubt – bringing the physician in question barreling around the side of the cubicle with a speed which was almost comical.
 
“Awake finally, then?”
 
“Obviously,” he rasped, voice hoarse from disuse and pain. “May I inquire as to how long it has been?”
 
McCoy’s blue eyes were stormy, his face sober. “Almost three days, Spock.”
 
He sat up in alarm – or tried to, as the room spun dizzily around him when he made the attempt. He was forced to lie back, closing his eyes to permit objects to return to their stationary places in his vision, and then looked back up at the doctor. “Why that long, Doctor McCoy?” he inquired, at a loss for explanation. This simply did not happen; simple nausea should be easily dealt with by his own management. It was horrifically mortifying that he had not been able to resolve the problem as a Vulcan should.
 
“You weren’t just sick from a rough transport beam, Spock,” the doctor sighed, pulling up the nearby chair and sitting on it, legs and arms crossed with suppressed tension. “I don’t know what possessed you to do such a fool thing…well actually I do know, because if you hadn’t gone I dead sure would have…but that faulty transporter did what I’ve always said it would someday. It left bits of you still scattered into atoms in subspace somewhere.”
 
Spock blinked, processing this. “That is…disconcerting.”
 
McCoy snorted, amusement briefly showing in his eyes before it died into the haunted look of a worried physician. “That’s a colossal understatement, Spock. The faulty transport left small holes in your stomach wall, was the main thing, as if you’d had multiple ulcers which had perforated it in so many places it looked like a piece of Swiss cheese. By the time I got you in here the peritonitis was more advanced than I’ve ever seen on anyone who wasn’t already dyin’ from a ruptured appendix. No amount of Vulcan pain control could’ve helped you with that amount of toxin in your abdominal cavity, and a healing trance would’ve only sealed the ruptures, not de-toxed you. I couldn’t let you go into one until I was sure you weren’t gonna die on me. Thank God your physiology’s so different, we never had a threat of sepsis or you might not be here right now.”
 
This information was both alarming and informative; it explained his inability to cope with the nausea and pain on board the Bat’hua ship, as well as his lengthy unconsciousness. And the entire lack of ranting from McCoy regarding his alien physiology showed more clearly than the technical information how close he had indeed been to death.
 
“Frankly I dunno how in the galaxy you stayed on your feet long enough to find Jim and get him out,” the doctor said quietly. “But…thank you, for doing it.”

"Am I safe…to enter a trance now, Doctor, to facilitate a more rapid healing?” he asked after a moment, feeling the pull of lethargic necessity dragging him in its inexorable grasp.
 
“Yeah, you should be fine.” McCoy rose, patted his arm briefly, and then adjusted the sensors on the bed to allow for lower Vulcan body-signs so alarms would not sound when he entered the near-hibernative state. “I had some heavy-duty pain killers in your system, but they should be filtered enough now that you’ll be fine. But if you’re in it longer than two days, I’m bringing you out of it. It’s too dangerous to prolong it with an injury like that; if something happened I’d need your mind in its outermost layer before I could do surgery.”
 
Spock shook his head briefly, regretting the motion when it accomplished nothing but to cause pain. “I believe twelve hours should be sufficient, Doctor; the worst of the damage has been repaired by you,” he managed to say with more dignity than he felt, as drowsy as he was.
 
The doctor’s lips twitched as the Vulcan fought the urge to yawn. “Go on, now,” he said quietly, patting the thin arm again.
 
It was most appealing; Spock’s eyes closed seemingly of their own accord. Then they shot open, and he grasped the physician’s wrist tightly as delayed thoughts finally emerged from the muddle which was his mind.
 
“Jim?”
 
“He’s fine. Been awful quiet for him, worried sick about you; but he’s fine,” McCoy assured him quickly. “Been in here a few times to see you. Right now he’s in Uhura’s cabin; she sang him to sleep a few minutes ago.”
 
“And…the ship?”
 
The physician smiled. “"We spent 48 hours tweaking the translator with the communications team, and then sent the ship toward Starbase Seven. They'll be met with a diplomatic team there and all our records, to continue a second contact. Turns out they don't actually have a planet, they're a nomadic species. We'll probably help them settle somewhere if they want it. The Enterprise is back on course for stellar cartography, and the Admiralty’s pretty darn happy with your performance in the First Contact. Sulu’s in command until you’re back on your feet, and nothing unusual’s happened since then.” 
 
Spock appreciated the succinct summary of the pertinent details. He also appreciated the doctor not remaining longer in the room and his dimming the lights; the call of sleep was far more compelling than an attempt to make conversation with an emotional human.
 



 Twelve hours later to the second, Spock surfaced from his trance to McCoy’s somewhat over-eager blows to the face (had he not known better he might believe that vengeance was uppermost in the physician’s mind rather than concern). On the third such, the pain sufficiently woke his drowsing senses and he stilled the doctor’s hand in mid-air.
 
“That will suffice, Doctor,” he murmured, allowing sight and sound to filter back into his delayed senses.
 
“How’re you feelin’?” McCoy asked, examining the readings on the medical scanner which he ran over Spock’s abdomen. He tsk-ed in satisfaction before lowering the instrument. “Looks like your voodoo worked well enough, but you’re gonna be on soft foods for a few days as a precaution.”
 
“Slightly weakened, but I presume that is to be expected given the circumstances.  Also, your choice of medication leaves much to be desired, Doctor, as I am given to understand such drugs are meant to aid in preventing nausea, rather than exacerbating it.”
 
McCoy snorted and tossed the scanner on the nearby table. “I suppose you’d prefer I’d let you feel every second of that flood of toxin eatin’ its way through your insides.”
 
Spock raised a dismissive eyebrow. “Ship’s status, Doctor?”
 
“You’re as bad as Jim when he’s in here,” the doctor muttered, “always with the ship first. Nothing interesting’s happened in the last twelve hours, Spock. Still on course, still star-charting.”

”And Jim?”

The physician hesitated. “He’s…he’s not doing too well,” he admitted quietly. “I’ve never seen him so quiet, not even when he was sick himself last week.”
 
Spock frowned slightly. “Is he aging too rapidly?”
 
“Well that could be part of it, because he’s aged almost a year in three days, but I don’t think it’s the real reason.”
 
“What, then?”
 
The doctor sighed. “Spock, for about six hours there I wasn’t even sure you would survive reconstructive surgery. Then for three days after that I couldn’t give him or anyone else any guarantee that you’d even wake up; you really have no idea how serious a condition you were in. And ever since you went into that trance I couldn’t get him to budge from this chair until about twenty minutes ago, when I told him if he didn’t eat something – anything – then he’d not get to see you when you woke up.”
 
“He is not eating?”
 
“He is not eating, he is not doing anything,” McCoy sighed, rubbing wearily at his temples. “He won’t talk to anyone, he won’t go anywhere, he isn’t interested in Engineering or going to the Bridge, he doesn’t even care if he gets his danged ice cream at night.”
 
That was serious indeed; Spock felt a twinge of unease.
 
“I think you just flat scared him half to death, Spock.” A sad half-smile quirked wryly at the physician’s lips. “He’s much too dependent on you even as an adult and we both know it; that’s only been magnified through this whole mess. That kind of dependence isn’t healthy, even for a child – and you’ve just shaken up his whole world, destroyed his definition of security. That’s not something you can just shake off at six or seven years old.”
 
Spock was unsure about the soundness of McCoy’s psychological analysis, but the doctor was usually correct in his diagnoses of crew mentality and as such he felt he should trust the informed opinion.
 
“Now.” The doctor raised the head of the bed into a sitting position and placed an old-fashioned ceramic mug of lukewarm tea next to the bed. Spock eyed it and its glaring yellow depiction of a cartoonish smiling face with curiosity. “Drink this; you need fluids and electrolytes. And I’ll go get our brave little toaster and you can see if you can deal with the emotional fall-out better than the rest of us have managed to.”
 
Spock did not understand the ancient pop culture reference and besides that was not encouraged by the idea of ‘dealing with emotional fallout’. He stared after the doctor in dismay.
 
The tea (Vulcan herbal, to his surprise) was soothing to his burning throat, even as it stung descending; he began to realize as his senses heightened just exactly how much and how severe the damage had been which was caused to his body from the faulty transporter. He could only be devoutly grateful that it had not been brain matter which had not been successfully beamed; that scenario would have been disastrous, unthinkably so. Physical injury he could deal with, and had; and while he believed the risk was necessary, the fact he was willing to take that risk now gave him pause, as the consequences were quite real.
 
He was just setting the empty mug back upon the table when the doors to the recovery ward hissed open, and the rapid pattering of small feet around the corner gave him barely enough warning. Even Vulcan vision could not catch more than a small yellow blur; he could do nothing more than brace himself for impact as a sobbing child flung himself over the edge of the bed and into his arms. In an instant the little one’s arms tightened convulsively around his torso, and the shoulder of his Sickbay scrub-tunic was dampening with deep, painful tears as the child cried inconsolably, small hands clutching anything they could hold.
 
McCoy’s head poked in concern around the edge of the cubicle wall. Spock shot him a helpless look; the doctor merely made a flapping go on, then motion with his hands and then disappeared. Extremely helpful; Spock would be pleased to retaliate appropriately at a later date.
 
“Shh, Jim,” he said gently, bringing up one hand to cup the back of the little one’s head. He was slightly alarmed at the vehemence of the child’s grief, and at how badly the small body in his arms was shaking, deep and heartfelt tears fairly exploding from being held back for so long. “It is all right, pi’khart-lan. Quiet, now.”
 
The little one sobbed something indecipherable into his shoulder, fists tightening in the front of his tunic.
 
“Jim, you must be calm, now, or you may make yourself ill,” he said quietly, half into the child’s hair. “All is well; you can see that for yourself, can you not?”
 
The tousled head shook once against him, face still hidden from view, and the small body shook anew with a fit of painful hiccups. Spock reached down with the hand which was not holding Jim to snag the blanket folded across the end of his bio-bed, smoothly unfolding it with one snap of the wrist and wrapping it around the shivering child. He was unfamiliar with the mechanics of a panic attack, but he did recognize the beginning symptoms of one, and with the amount of trauma the child had gone through in a short space of weeks the only surprising thing was that one had not threatened until now.
 
“Jim, take a deep breath,” he instructed quietly in the child’s ear, and felt the shuddering response. He pulled the blanket tighter, forming a cocoon of warmth around the small body in his arms. “And again…good. Now again. Again…excellent. Now, can you look at me, Jim?”
 
One hazel eye, swollen from crying, peered up at him, the other hidden by a hand fisted in his tunic. “Do you see, I am perfectly well,” he spoke directly, appealing to the maturing child rather than the panicking toddler the little one still had traits of. “Use your eyes, child. Do you see?”
 
The boy nodded slowly, hiccupping and then shuddering out a long breath into his tunic.
 
“There now,” he continued, wrapping the shivering form up snugly and shifting him into position against his side. “Take a few moments to compose yourself, Jim; then we will talk.”
 
Oddly enough, the combination of warmth and his hypnotic voice seemed to do the trick as it had been when the boy was no more than a wailing infant, soothing the tremors and calming the child’s near-hysteria, until a much more composed little one was sitting on the bed beside him, fingers twisting in the blanket.
 
“Dr. McCoy tells me you have not been eating, Jim,” he began when the boy had calmed into just sniffling, punctuated by the occasional hiccup.
 
“Wasn’t hungry,” came the mutter. 
 
“You must eat now,” he admonished gently. “That is not acceptable.”
 
“Okay,” the child whispered, shivering a little.
 
“Do you…wish to talk about it?” he asked, somewhat awkwardly; this was McCoy’s forte, not his, and he had no idea what to do or say which would make the situation less painful for both of them.
 
“You came after me,” was not what he expected to hear from the child’s quivering lips. “You came after me.”
 
“Affirmative; you were alone on an enemy vessel, Jim. I would have done the same for any abducted crewman in a First Contact of unknown hostility.” That was not strictly true, as if it had been an adult crewman who was capable of self-defense who had been abducted he would have waited; but the child would not know the difference.
 
Large hazel eyes gazed up at him, filling anew with tears. “You came after me and you knew it wasn’t safe! You knew! An’ – an’ you did it anyway, an’ you almost died, an’ you shouldn’ve done it because it wasn’t safe an’ you did it anyway an’ you would’ve been gone forever an’ Bones said you did it because you thought I was scared with the bouncy aliens an’ I wasn’t, not much anyway, an’ you did it just for me and you was so stupid!” He half-expected a small flying fist but instead the child blindly snatched up the cup from the bedside table with one hand and hurled it against the wall, whereupon it shattered. Then Jim buried his face in shaking hands.
 
Spock clearly heard an adult's anger at a foolish risk hidden behind a child’s fear; he could now understand the human expression, that it simply broke his heart.
 
“Jim. Jim, listen to me,” and he was not above pleading with the adult trapped inside this shell of a little boy, scared beyond belief at being left alone in the world. He tugged gently on the boy’s wrists, bringing his hands away from his flushed face. “Perhaps it was not the best thought-out of decisions, but I…believed it necessary.”
 
He was treated to a glare so very adult-looking that it was actually quite eerie. “I was fine!”
 
“But we did not know that, Jim,” he explained patiently. “For all we knew, you could have been in serious danger, alone and unprotected. You are not yet an adult, with the ability to defend yourself as such. I have promised to see you safely to that state.”
 
“But you could’ve died!” the child fairly wailed.
 
“That was highly unlikely.” Spock laid a hand on the unruly hair, slowly soothing it in even strokes and at the same time gathering a vague telepathic impression of the intense emotional turmoil swirling in the little one’s head, too much for one struggling little brain to assimilate properly. “And it was worth the risk.”
 
“Why?” was the hoarse whisper, spoken from a child who was growing up far too quickly. “Why, Spock?”
 
That, he did know how to answer; possibly the first of times in this awkward conversation in which he was on perfectly firm ground. Relaxing slightly, he situated the child under one arm and reclined the bed slightly so that they could be more comfortable.
 
“You wish to know why I would risk a dangerous transport beam to ensure your safety during an alien encounter, Jim?”
 
The child nodded, snuggling tiredly into his side with one last hiccupping breath.
 
Spock looked out absently across the cubicle, recalling cherished memories past with more fondness than he would ever admit to a living soul. It was not the Vulcan way, but it nonetheless was true. “Because, Jim, someday you will grow up to be a starship captain.” The child nodded, sniffling. “And that starship captain, pi’khart-lan, will someday extend to me, the same complete and wholehearted acceptance which you showed to the Bat’hua.”
 
The little boy’s eyelids were drooping now; no doubt Jim had exhausted himself from his emotional outburst. “Really?” he murmured.
 
“Really, Jim,” he responded, lips quirked slightly.
 
“Hmmn,” the child muttered grumpily into his side, fingers tightening in the blanket. “Pwomise you won’t never leave me, Spock?”
 
He did not try to correct the speech impediment, as it only slipped out now when the child was near sleep or completely distraught. Instead, he closed his eyes for a moment to collect his thoughts, which were increasingly hard to direct due to exhaustion and close proximity to a disturbed human mind. “I cannot truthfully promise that, little one,” he finally said softly. “That is a fact you must learn to accept, for all living things.”
 
A single, silent tear ran down the small nose, and he tightened the arm he held around the child. 
 
“But I can promise you that I will not leave you without good reason, and without explaining that reason to you if possible. Will that suffice?”
 
A sniffle. “When I get big again Imma write you up good for bein’ stupid, you watch,” was the sage reply, murmured into his shirt before the little one fell asleep.
 
Spock could not in good faith deny the statement, and did not attempt to; the ordeal had exhausted him emotionally and mentally as much as the child.
 
McCoy found them both asleep ten minutes later, when he cautiously returned to make sure Jim hadn’t worked himself up into a puking spell and Spock wasn’t in psychic shock from having to deal with a bawling human kid.
 
He did a double-take and reached for the scanner. Sure enough, in the last hour Jim had jumped almost two whole years, making a total of just under three years in the last three days with this mess of a First Contact.
 
“Sure hope you have a physical growth spurt soon and not just these mental ones, Jim-boy,” he muttered, loosening the blanket from around the child’s neck (after the last time the child had had a huge growth spurt, they'd contacted the Insonti council and received a replicator script for clothing that seemed to stretch almost indefinitely, and good thing too) and checking Spock’s pulse and respiration. “Just the same, you two, take it a bit slower next time, will you? No sense in killing either of you tryin’ to learn these lessons so fast.”
 
Neither of course answered him, and he shook his head fondly, dimming the lights in the cubicle.
 
Christine’s face when she found the three of them the next morning, McCoy snoring loudly in the bedside chair, Spock sound asleep in his bed, and an eight-year-old Jim Kirk calmly using the bedside computer to hack the Enterprise mainframe for information about his future captaincy, was a sight the medical staff would not soon forget.

Chapter Text

Eight years old was an improvement, Nurse Chapel thought in some relief, for while Jim had been an adorable little boy the toddler version had been a hyperactive handful and they were all nearly constantly exhausted from looking after him. He’d apparently grown another four inches during the night, thank goodness, and she marveled again at the Insonti safety technology that allowed clothing to enlarge with the size of the child if he were unconscious of the transformation at the time. She made a notation in Jim's file to have the quartermaster update his wardrobe and sleepwear to something more age-appropriate, as he was now out of those formative first few years and with all luck, would start aging faster now.
 
Then the youngster glanced up, saw her, and slowly flashed a megawatt smile which said all too clearly he knew exactly what he was doing. “Well, hel-lo, Christine.”
 
“I think you’re old enough now to pronounce ‘Nurse Chapel’ properly, young man,” she retorted, “and eyes on my face if you please!”
 
Jim looked highly affronted. “Wasn’t doing anything,” he replied piously. “But I’d hafta be blind to –“
 
“Enough, Jim.” While amusing, this promised to be a very long day. “Doctor McCoy,” she continued loudly, shaking the snoring man.
 
The physician came instantly awake in a flail of arms and legs which deposited him neatly on the floor at his Head Nurse’s feet. “Whargh,” was the intelligent response which greeted her. 
 
“Doctor, you know sleeping in a chair is the worst possible thing you can do to your spinal alignment!”
 
He groaned, rubbing a banged elbow. “Not now, Nurse.”   Slitted eyes finally opened into full, bleary blue glory. Then they widened. “Well, someone had a growth spurt in the last six hours!”
 
“Yup,” Jim beamed, clicking another page in whatever manual he had pulled up about the Enterprise’s schematics.
 
“What’re you doing?”
 
“Lookin’ up information about me when I get bigger,” was the absent response, as the child’s eyes flitted rapidly over the pages. 

”Hold it, you can’t do that!” McCoy scrambled to his feet, reaching for the power switch to the monitor. “Some of that’s classified and your retinal scan will bypass the voice authorization!” The screen blanked out as his thumb came down on the Escape key, earning him a scowl from the child prodigy sitting before the monitor. “Don’t give me that look, it didn’t work when you were two and it’s not gonna make a difference now.” 

Jim shrugged easily. “Just trying to kill time ‘til you and Spock woke up,” he said diffidently. Then the child’s look changed to one of concern. “How is he?”
 
Chapel was already scanning the Vulcan’s life-signs. “The sleep’s done him good; and if he hasn’t woken up yet by the two of you making such noise I’d let him stay that way as long as he can.”
 
Oddly enough, Spock was still breathing evenly, features relaxed in a rare deep sleep; most of the time meditation sufficed for his needs, and so rarely did he sleep deeply enough to not be awoken on the instant, that this was unusual indeed.
 
Jim and McCoy had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. “Right,” the physician sighed. “Out, kiddo. Time for your own checkup.”
 
Mumbling a protest under his breath, the child scooted over to ascertain Spock’s status for himself, peering over the edge of the bio-bed. Apparently assured of his friend’s health, he then zipped around the doctor and out into the recovery ward.
 
The two medicos exchanged a look. “Your problem,” Chapel said pointedly, indicating the empty space where their young captain had stood. “He’s only three years away from probable puberty, and that’s quite close enough, thank you.”
 
McCoy’s ears burned and he hastily went after the child. A moment later he located Jim, sitting on an examination table in the middle of the ward, a gaggle of cooing nurses surrounding him and exclaiming over how much he’d grown.

The little brat was basking in the attention.

"Back to work, all of you,” he barked, producing the necessary threatening gestures to accompany the order.
 
“Later,” Jim said to with a generalized wink, hopping off the table.
 
“Uh-uh. Not done with you, kid.” McCoy located a medical scanner and datapad while sending a stern look at the child.
 
“Whatcha looking for?” The child was hovering around him, obviously enjoying being tall enough to reach items which had been out of his grasp before. “You going to scan my head? What’s this thing do? How tall am I now? I’m hungry, can I have strawberry waffles for breakfast? You think Scotty can show me how to program chocolate waffles?”
 
All this before he’d had even a cup of coffee; McCoy restrained the urge to whimper as it was highly unprofessional.
 
“Ease up on the questions until after I’ve made sure you’re okay, Jim, will you?”
 
The boy shrugged, bouncing around the ward and peeking into anything which was not locked. “Sure, Bones. Ooooh, what’s this?” A whirring noise sounded, and he hastily turned around to see the child examining the laser-cutter he used to remove casts from healed broken bones.
 
“Turn that off unless you want me to use it on you!”
 
Jim dropped the object with a clang, eyeing both it and his physician warily. Three skips across the ward and he was on tiptoe, peering into the emergency surgery unit (which was thankfully empty and had been since Spock’s accident) and bouncing energetically from one foot to the next before zooming over to inspect the holographic charts of a human brain which were on the other side of the room. Sighing, McCoy hauled out the proper instruments for use on a child-sized humanoid life-form (rarely used on the Enterprise) and walked back toward the examination table.
 
He dropped the whole kit with a clatter on the durasteel floor, just in time to make a dive for the child as Jim suddenly turned white as a sheet and collapsed toward the floor with a small whimper.

”CHRISTINE! Emergency, I need you!”

On his knees he caught the small body before the child’s skull impacted the floor, thank heaven, and carefully cradled Jim’s head in one large hand while checking his heart rate; racing far too quickly for his liking. He cradled the thin frame in his arms just as his head nurse barreled around the edge of Spock’s cubicle, followed shortly by a half-awake, half-drugged Vulcan.
 
“Get me a vitamin/stimulant booster safe for that age and a thermal blanket,” he ordered through clenched teeth, starting to heft the boy’s weight in his arms; though Jim was pretty thin, he was no longer the small child he had been and lifting him all the way from the floor without throwing out a disc in his back was not going to be easy.
 
“Doctor,” Spock’s voice, now fully awake, sounded in his ear, and he was more than willing to relinquish the child to a stronger back and arms.
 
“Put him there, Spock, and watch your feet,” he called, dashing back toward the examination table and picking up scattered instruments on the way. “And don’t think you’re gettin’ out of that bed so easily, either! You’ve not been dismissed from Sickbay and you’re not gonna be until I say so!”
 
“You have more important things to concern your attention at the moment, Doctor,” was the icy reply, though the Vulcan’s hands were gentle as he laid the unconscious child down on the table. “Do you have any idea of the reason for his collapse?”
 
“I’m pretty sure it’s just his body catching up with the rapid aging,” McCoy murmured, already scanning the child’s head and slowly moving down the still form. “Three years in three days, and two of those in one night – the change basically cannibalized his body’s resources, looks like. All his readings are so low it’s a wonder he had the energy to be runnin’ around here for as long as he did. That was probably mostly adrenaline.”
 
Under his hand, Jim shifted uneasily, small forehead furrowing. “See, he’s already waking up, Spock. Nurse, where is that hypospray!”
 
“Here, Doctor,” Chapel appeared at his side with a tray of shots. “Also his six-year-old immunization booster, nutritional supplements, and I’ve taken the liberty of ordering him the waffles he asked for from the galley.”

”Thank you, Nurse. At this point the kid can eat anything he wants as long as it has sugar in it, I just want his glucose levels to not be crashing,” the physician murmured, placing a hand on the pale cheek and then patting it gently. “Jim, can you hear me? Wake up, kiddo.”

Hazel eyes fluttered unsteadily before squinting open, unfocused.
 
“That’s it. Now I have to give you a shot, okay kid?  Won’t hurt but just for a second.”

Spock knew from experience that this was a colossal untruth, but wisely said nothing, only placed one hand on the child’s head in an effort to ground him while the physician administered the nutrient and stimulant booster. It was an unfortunately large injection, due to the amount required in a short time period.

“OW!” the boy hollered suddenly, coming wide awake on the instant. “Not cool, Bones!”
 
McCoy chuckled indulgently, replacing the empty spray cartridge in the tray to be sterilized. “Shush, you. And the next time you start feelin’ woozy you tell me, all right? Don’t try to ignore it like you were just now.”
 
“Thought I was just hungry,” Jim sighed, blinking hazily up at them. His eyes lit on Spock’s silent features, and sandy brows drew together. “Should you be up, Spock? You still look like a zombie.”
 
Spock blinked, slightly affronted, and from across the ward they could all hear Chapel’s giggle as she brought in a tray of food. 
 
“Shut your mouth and have a piece of bacon while I finish,” McCoy said with a smirk, plucking the food off the tray and placing it in an eagerly-waving hand. 
 
“Oooh, waffles! You are gorgeous, Nurse.”
 
“Yes, well,” the blonde replied indulgently, ruffling the child’s wild hair. “You have to eat the omelet and drink the juice without complaining; balanced meal and all that.”
 
McCoy ran the scanner down the child’s torso, and paused when it beeped, frowning at the display. Slowly he lifted the gold shirt enough to reveal a livid purple bruise that ran along the entire length of the child’s ribcage on the left side.
 
Spock saw the mark at the same instant, and lifted a dark gaze to meet the CMO’s.
 
“Jim,” the doctor said quietly. “What happened here? This is too old to have happened when you fell just now; did you do something to yourself in the last three days?”
 
Mouth full of bacon, the child glanced down, puzzled. “Huh?”
 
“The bruise on your left ribs, Jim. Perhaps you injured yourself while playing in Engineering this week?” Spock inquired.
 
“Oh, that. No, I fell out a tree in the backyard,” Jim remarked, snagging another piece of bacon. “Shoulda heard Sam scream, he sounded like a girl. Sorry, that's rude, he sounded like a baby. Ma wasn’t very happy, though,” he added thoughtfully, smirking at the memory.
 
“A tree in the backyard?” Spock asked blankly. “When would that have been, Jim? You have been aboard the Enterprise for the last four weeks.”
 
“Oh…it was like two, maybe three…” The child’s eyes suddenly flickered with something unidentifiable, almost glazed. “I…I can’t remember, Spock. Isn’t that weird?”
 
McCoy motioned the Vulcan to silence. “Don’t worry about it now, Jimmy. And you be more careful, kid. We don’t want to aggravate this. No climbin’ stuff in Engineering without a safety line, you hear me?”
 
Jim nodded impatiently, his eyes glued to the heaping strawberry waffles waiting on his breakfast tray. “Can I eat now?”
 
“Sure. You behave for Nurse Chapel, and I'll take care of this when you're done.” McCoy tapped a stern finger against the child’s nose.
 
Jim flipped him a sloppy salute with two fingers before tackling the tray of goodies with a noise of appreciation. Spock followed the physician around the corner, his eyes darkened with silent worry.
 
“Doctor –“
 
“I know,” McCoy replied, rubbing at his left temple to ward off the headache forming. “We didn’t think about the fact that jumping him in age not just brings along whatever memory he has for that age, but it also drops him into that physical state, with any physical injury he accumulated by that point in time. He fell out of a tree at eight years old, and the age jump dropped him in the middle of that so he shows the bruises from it.”
 
“I suppose we should be grateful that he had no broken bones; an unset compound fracture, for example, would have been extremely painful to be ‘dropped in the middle of,’” Spock observed.
 
The doctor nodded. “That’s something I’m going to look up right now; I should have complete enough medical records based on his ‘Fleet records and what I can dig up from Riverside to at least let us know what the critical ages will be for illness or injury. But…I really don’t like the idea that it drops him straight into whatever physical and mental condition the kid was in at that particular age.”
 
“Why is that, Doctor?”
 
McCoy’s blue eyes darkened into a stormy gray. “What condition do you think he’s going to be in, when he transforms into thirteen years old, Spock?”

Chapter Text

Like all healthy and happy youngsters, Jim bounced back from his temporary minor illness with all the elasticity of childhood, and within hours was happily wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting (and adoring) ship.
 
McCoy tolerated his shenanigans with good nature and a bit of diplomacy where others were concerned, until he fell victim that night to the Kirk charm at its zenith, in which the child spent twenty minutes eagerly giving him rapt attention regarding some anecdote about Joanna’s childhood, while encouraging him to kick back in his office and relax. Thirty seconds after the child had given him a beatific smile and trotted out, he discovered that the little brat had been a distraction so that the Acting Captain could check himself out of the recovery ward, disabling the monitor alarms on his bed, and then sneak out of Sickbay while the child kept the doctor occupied.
 
Seething, he disabled all but the most bland of options in each of their meal cards for retaliation, producing twin looks of dismay at Mess the next morning.
 
And so it continued. Jim as a growing child shot up like a weed in body and mind, the true potential shining through brightly as a supernova. It was obvious that the boy was destined for more than the average child, and while the kid was a nightmare sometimes McCoy was more pleased than he would admit to have this spectacular chance of insight into what made James Kirk tick.
 
Jim popped from eight years old straight to nine and a half, when a sudden outbreak in the Botany Lab sent twelve of Spock’s personnel to Sickbay with a bad rash and symptoms of paranoia. It happened just at the turn of beta into gamma shift, when they were staffed the lowest, and before the CMO had even had time to look around he discovered the child capably administering lotion-soaked bandages to two young lieutenants in one of the rooms under Chapel’s direction, all the while entertaining the women with various bits of conversation and jokes aimed to calm the paranoic symptoms through any means at his disposal. McCoy was dumbfounded, pleasantly so, to see the charisma the child possessed being put to good use.
 
They had a bit of a scare two days later, when a well-meaning Lieutenant Sulu offered to teach the nine-year-old fencing as a way to blow off excess energy. The over-eager child had flung himself whole-heartedly into the training, and in the process of one zealous mock battle had run himself straight into the gymnasium's mirrored training wall head-first.
 
Sulu told McCoy later, a look of half-amused disbelief in his eyes, that the impact of Jim’s cranium against the glass had been so loud that it had silenced an aerobics team and two wrestling matches, all the participants of which had frozen, staring in horror at the boy who was now flat on his back on the mat, dazedly rubbing his head.
 
“Yeow,” the child had whimpered at last, clutching with both hands at the bump which was developing amidst the sandy hair.
 
Lieutenant Uhura had been in the aerobics class, and within seconds had reached the child’s side before the other horrified spectators could react.
 
“C’mere, sugar,” she soothed, kneeling down and setting the child on his feet again, holding him close for a moment and whispering in his ear. “Now, remember, you’re a big strong superhero, aren’t you?”
 
“It hurts,” the boy sniffled into her shoulder, but nodded. 
 
“I know it does,” she replied, moving back, arms still on his shoulders. “Remember, you’re going to be a starship captain one day, aren’t you?”
 
“Yup,” was the murmured reply, a small hand still rubbing ruefully at the child’s aching head.
 
“Well, a starship captain doesn’t show weakness in front of his crew, you know. You have to be a leader, show them you can smile and move on even when you want to sit down and cry,” the lieutenant said with a smile, ruffling the chaotic hair gently. “Can you do that?”
 
“Uh-huh.” The child scowled into the mirror for a moment, scrubbing a hand over his watering eyes. “Why the walls in here not padded?”
 
“They’re not meant for full-cranial contact, Jim, this is the fencing and ballet corner,” she replied, hiding a smile. “But when you’re captain you can fix that if you like.”
 
“I will,” the child sniffed loftily. “I has a list.” And with that he stalked regally back toward a gaping Lieutenant Sulu, who had already comm-ed Medical in a panic, expecting a howling tantrum in the next ten seconds or so.
 
A list, Uhura thought with fond amusement, returning to the aerobics class. Heaven help us all.
 



 
That night, Jim complained of another dizzy spell, and McCoy didn’t need the scanner to do more than confirm that the child had reached ten years and eight months of age.
 
“He’s aging more rapidly now,” he said, dropping into the seat opposite the Acting Captain with a sigh of weariness. “Obviously the formative years, infant through about five or six, were supposed to be just that – formative, meaning he learned more lessons per year than he is now.”
 
“I concur; that is consistent with the information received from the Insonti regarding the Regenratron device,” Spock agreed. “Most of those who are subjected to it, according to their data, begin experiencing larger leaps between ages the further the instrument progresses.”
 
“So in all actuality, his next jump could possibly land him into the teens.”
 
“Precisely.” Spock looked down at the data-padd he had compiled from his communications with the Insonti. “And he is still experiencing health issues as a result of the transformations, however well you are managing them. He is now at the age at which we agreed he should make his own decisions as to how we proceed with his future, should you be unable to fully combat their effects so as to pose no risk to his health.”
 
“Are you sure you want to do this now, Spock? Tell him everything? He’s still just a kid!”
 
“And his next jump could possibly place him directly into the mindset and physical condition he was when rescued from Tarsus IV, Doctor; he will hardly be in a condition to judge wisely at that time. Do we have another option?”
 
McCoy winced. “When you put it like that, I don’t guess we do.”
 
Spock’s gaze was sober as it met the physician’s. “While the captain is yet a child, I do believe he is capable of comprehending the situation at this time. He very soon will begin to question why he has two sets of childhood memories; if his mind is to assimilate and accept both, he will need to know the truth.”
 
The doctor ran a shaking hand through his hair. “Have you thought about what happens when he gets older, Spock? He has to pass through his Academy years…and his early captaincy years, reliving everything that has happened since.”
 
“I have considered this, Doctor.” Spock looked down for a moment, consulting some data on the padd. “Added to this, our mission has been...eventful, to say the least. He will again be re-introduced to the knowledge of Gary Mitchell’s death, his brother’s demise, the memories accrued on the planet which housed the Guardian of Forever, Janice Lester’s mind-switch with his body, his court-martial due to the effects of rapid aging –“
 
“Enough, Spock,” McCoy sighed. “Memory can be a nasty thing. And you’re just listing stuff that affected him directly; you forgot stuff like your…unscheduled diversion, shall we say, to Vulcan a couple years ago, your brain being stolen by some alien priestess, my contracting xenopolycythemia, that business with the Minarans…”
 
“We must be prepared for the eventuality of the memories becoming overwhelming, Doctor; but I do not believe it will necessarily come to that,” Spock said thoughtfully. “If the purpose of the de-aging device is for the captain to learn lessons in which he needs a, so to speak, ‘refresher course,’ then re-living a past formative memory which cannot be changed will serve little purpose but to induce frustration over that which cannot be altered. One can extrapolate from the Regenratron’s purpose, that once the Captain reaches the age where his command decisions are set in stone as part of Time itself, that the device will cease to perform its function.”
 
“Then you think that once he gets to the point of his assuming captaincy, he’ll revert back to being his rightful age?”
 
“I believe it not implausible. For that matter, his Academy years may also be superfluous by that point in time. We currently have no way of knowing this for certain.”
 
“Well, then.” The doctor sighed. “You want to be the one to explain to the kid that he’s a de-aged starship captain due to the fact that he needs to learn some childhood lessons? Love to see you logic your way out of that one.”
 
A crash sounded in the room beyond, followed by a suspicious silence. 
 
McCoy resisted the urge to drop his head with force onto the durasteel desk, instead starting for the door. “Let’s go see what he broke this time. I swear, if the kid’s as clumsy when he hits adolescence as he is now, we’re going to limp into Starbase Twelve with half the systems malfunctioning!” The physician shot over his shoulder, striding through the opening, hands in the air.
 
Spock looked after him, not anticipating in any way trying to explain the situation to a hyperactive pre-adolescent.
 
“James Tiberius! You are grounded, mister!”
 
He looked with dismay at the open door, and sent out a fervent wish – illogical though wishes were – that the process would be much more rapid from now on. He was not certain that his patience, and the doctor’s nerves, could endure another such four weeks.

Chapter Text

Eight-year-old Jim Kirk had been just old enough to begin exploring his devious side. That he was a child genius was obvious to observers, and that he was a Kirk even more so; those few whom he could not charm he manipulated, and those even fewer immune to both actions he simply discarded as not being a part of whatever Plan he was intent upon at the time.
 
Ten-year-old Jim Kirk had the same personality, but also possessed the technical knowledge to accomplish his goals. He was an eager and well-mannered pupil, and within hours had the entire Engineering crew practically worshipping the ground he walked on. Everyone by this point knew Spock’s protectiveness of their little captain and so Experimental Sciences jumped to do the little pariah’s bidding if his innate charm couldn’t get what he wanted out of them.
 
On the second day since his turn into the "double digits," Spock caught him at the terminal in his old cabin, calmly hacking into the transmissions between the acting captain and the Insonti command central. Mentally thanking any and all deities that Jim had not decided to break into a transmission with Starfleet Command (because while he was capable of doing so, he was not capable of entirely masking his traces yet and Spock had other things to do with his time), he took the opportunity to explain to the child the situation in which he found himself.
 
Two hours of patient question-answering and explanation later, they were in the Observation Dome, watching the stars float lazily around them. It was a rare opportunity, this stellar cartography stint, for usually the ship was at warp and watching the intense swirl of light flashing past the windows was unpleasant for human vision. Spock had taken the young captain there, because it seemed even in his altered state to be still the most calming place on the ship for him.
 
“So…that’s why I can remember Sam, and the farm, but I can remember you and Bones with me here at the same age?” the child asked, frowning in concentration.

Spock nodded. “You will have two sets of memories which will slowly integrate as you age. When you regain your full age, which set is your true childhood and which set is this experimental de-aging will be perfectly clear to you. However, right now, your mind is struggling to assimilate the differences and you have no point of reference with which to decide that difference. Do not think overmuch about it, Jim; in time, it will become clear.”

The youngster shrugged. “Don’t have much choice, I guess. But I’m kinda tired of being a kid, Spock. If I’m the captain who’s taking care of my ship?”
 
“For the present, I am,” the Vulcan replied with understandably little enthusiasm. “We have hopes that this transformation is more than halfway finished at this time, as it has already been the time period we anticipated. You will soon be in your place again.”
 
“Wish I could remember,” the child sighed, looking out dreamily at the stars.
 
Spock was silent, for he could do nothing but echo the sentiment. He would not deny that these past weeks had been both instructive and, if he were entirely honest, somewhat enjoyable. He truly saw why the Regenratron was used by the Insonti people as a therapy device; it literally gave one the chance to make a new set of childhood memories, and to deal properly with trauma which had been inflicted as a child or adolescent. Jim had learned some valuable lessons, and he had indeed been a ray of sunlight, bringing joy to everyone with whom he came into contact.
 
But as the child aged, Spock’s awkwardness around him increased. He was not a parent, nor had any intention of ever being one; and certainly not of a human child. While the little one’s adoration of him had been flattering, and pleasant, that exact affection would become problematic when they both remembered these weeks – and that awkwardness would only increase as Jim aged, closer to an adult than a child. Add to that, the fact that Spock was not a starship captain, and while the crew seemed to genuinely appreciate his efforts it was, simply, not the same. He could not be Science Officer and captain, and had missed out upon much opportunity for scientific study due to his care for their resident child. While he did not regret this, it was nonetheless a factor which would not revert until the captain’s re-aging was completed.
 
He was more than ready for Jim to be Captain Kirk again, pleasant though this diversion had been.
 
The thought occurred to him, however, as they made to leave the Observation Dome, that ten years old was quite old enough for a child genius to grasp the concepts and strategy behind three-dimensional chess, and it had been far too long, it seemed, since he had played a game against that most intriguing of minds. 
 
Perhaps this re-aging was not so unpleasant a necessity as he had originally thought.        
 



“Commodore, do you realize the unique situation in which the command crew of the Enterprise is placed?”
 
Spock was not a politician, and years of close association with Captain James T. Kirk had given him no love for that particular breed of substandard humanity. However, he was a Vulcan, and it was unVulcan to show frustration with the idiocy of his superiors, however deserved the disrespect would have been.
 
Commodore Triberi sighed, and to his credit looked genuinely as unhappy as the crew were at the moment. “I do, Captain Spock; and if I had a choice in the matter I wouldn’t be chancing my head in asking you to do this. But I don’t have an alternative, and you probably don’t want Starfleet Command getting more involved with you than they already are, given your captain’s current condition, now do you?”
 
Spock had to admit that the less attention they attracted from the powers which could remove Jim from the Enterprise’s custody, the better off they would be. “Quite,” he replied succinctly. “And yet, Commodore, surely there is a smaller vessel more suited to perform the entirely innocuous task of ferrying a medical team to a little-used outpost in the next star system?”
 
Behind him, Uhura stifled a laugh at the perturbed look Spock was giving the viewscreen, though she understood completely. Hauling the Federation’s flagship off a mission, however boring that mission might be at the moment, to be a glorified medical taxicab for a team which were not even Starfleet members, was not their idea of wise resource allotment.                 
 
“Mr. Spock, there is no other ship within ten systems of your position which has the speed necessary to escort the personnel and emergency pharmaceuticals to the diseased planet. I understand your reluctance but there really is no alternative, if we are to minimize the death toll. I would not be making the request otherwise.”
 
Sitting somewhat stiffly in his borrowed chair, Spock saw no alternative but to acquiesce, and did so, albeit reluctantly. He ignored the Commodore’s frazzled-looking thanks and, with Montgomery Scott’s help, turned his attention to the problems which were sure to arise in transporting non-Federation personnel on a ship this size, minus the key component which usually kept missions like this from becoming diplomatic disasters, that being Captain Kirk's innate ability to somehow manage to charm nearly anyone he came in contact with. He was on his own, without the Kirk charisma to run the ship smoothly, and it did not promise to be a pleasant experience.
 
Ten minutes later he was comm-ed by a very harried-sounding Dr. McCoy, who had no qualms about shamelessly pleading to be given a break from a ten-year-old’s incessant curiosity and mechanical-minded genius.
 
Scotty grinned, making the final notations for speed and accommodation changes on his data-padd, and pretended to not notice their acting captain seemingly trying to shrink down into hopeful invisibility at the sounds of muffled chaos which filtered through the comm.
 
“So help me, Scotty, there’s a loaded hypo of Rigellian black virus with your name on it waiting in my cryo-unit! What the Sam Hill possessed you to teach the kid how to hot-wire a replicator!?”
 
“The lad needed something to occupy his attention, Doctor, and did ye really want him messin’ about with the mechanics of warp physics in a confined area?”
 
“Well you could have told him to practice somewhere other than my Sickbay! I asked the replicator for sterile spray cartridges and got a shot glass of God knows what!”
 
A stifled snicker sounded from the navigation console, but when Spock turned a dark gaze toward them both Sulu and Chekov were studiously working away at course computations.
 
Something shattered. “James Tiberius!”
 
“Ah…will just be in Engineering, seein’ about quarters for our guests, Cap'n,” Scott said hastily, darting into the turbolift as it opened to disgorge a yeoman with status reports for the Acting Captain’s signature.
 
Spock’s glare burnt a hole in the durasteel door as it shut behind the laughing engineer.
 
“Yeoman,” he said in a clipped greeting, accepting the pads and scrawling a signature across them as he skimmed their contents.  “Would you be able to bring up a round of coffee for the Bridge crew when you return next?”
 
“Of course, sir,” the woman replied, smiling. The sexism behind making the female yeomen do the ‘fetching’ had still not quite been stamped out of Starfleet, but when the requests were made with as much courtesy as the gentle Vulcan gave to all indiscriminately, she didn’t mind it. “Three black, one with cream?”
 
Sulu, Chekov, and the Engineering lieutenant nodded with mechanical thanks, still working busily on course computations, and Uhura quietly asked for one sugar as well as the cream.
 
“Four black, Yeoman,” Spock corrected, signing a fuel consumption report.
 
Five pairs of eyes moved incredulously toward him.
 
After seconds of silence, he registered the looks he was getting and glanced up, eyebrow raised.
 
“I thought you did not drink coffee, sir,” Chekov was brave enough to venture, turning beet-red at being caught in his scrutiny.
 
“Until four weeks ago, Ensign, I also did not make a habit of babysitting a hyperactive child after four nights’ worth of incomplete sleep cycles,” was the dry reply. “I believe the Terran expression to be, ‘it is going to be one of those days’?”
 



The medical team the Enterprise picked up from Outpost Four-Alpha-Epsilon was a team of civilians, which automatically made them more alien than the non-humanoids the crew encountered on a regular basis. Civvies aboard ship were a pain in the neck at best, usually, and more often than not were more trouble to the crew than a horde of Klingons would be. They also had immunity from any but local law, unless the captain of the vessel could twist regulations to prove that the crew was being endangered by their general annoying worthlessness. Even though the group was only aboard for forty-eight hours while the Enterprise sped through space toward the disease-ridden planet of Cyrus III, and even though they were confined to one deck by regulations themselves, that was more than enough time to cause trouble.
 
Security Chief Giotto believed he could be forgiven the whimper which escaped him when he was notified of a possible altercation escalating in Rec Room Three. Honestly, he could see why non-humans rarely wanted to serve aboard mostly-humanoid ships. Security was actually excited about having something to do besides monitor boring surveillance footage, however, and were ready for action in less than their usual time.
 
He stepped into Rec Three and saw immediately that this was not going to be pretty. How do you deal with a ten-year-old who was in reality your own captain, squaring off against three adults twice his size?
 
“Not good, that is,” Turner muttered from behind him, seeing that one of the three men was already writhing on the floor, red-faced and moaning.
 
Giotto stiffened as the larger of the two still standing grabbed Jim by the neck of his shirt, hauling him up on tiptoes despite the child’s frantic struggling to free his airway.
 
And, to top his lovely day off, he then saw their Acting Captain enter the same room, no doubt alerted by someone, and freeze in his tracks at what he saw.
 
“Oh, crap, someone told Spock!”
 
“Intercept him before we have a few dead humans on our hands and a galaxy-class lawsuit,” Giotto snapped, pointing toward the Vulcan, and a quad of Security personnel immediately darted to obey.
 
“As for you,” he snarled, striding up to the hulking civilian and giving the back of his head the business end of a phaser with enough force the thud could be heard all around them, “take your hands off the kid or I swear you’ll be out an airlock in the next ten minutes!”
 
The man howled at the impact of the blunt edge against his skull, and dropped the child, who began coughing, rubbing at his throat where the shirt had constricted against it.
 
“There’s something fundamentally wrong with someone who harms a child, no matter what the provocation, and you’re dead sure not going to do it on this ship, mister!”  
 
“The little brat needs to learn how to behave toward his elders!” The man on the floor, one of the medical personnel, spat back at them as he struggled to his feet. “He’s lucky I didn’t –“
 
“Finish that sentence and you’re really not going to like anyone in this room,” Turner warned, hand on his phaser as he backed the three men away from their small captain.
 
Seeing that his Security force had delayed but not deterred the most overprotective Vulcan he’d ever encountered, Giotto winced as the tension in the room ratcheted up about two thousand notches when the being in question stalked up to them.
 
Spock was entirely expressionless, eyes devoid of anything other than pure ice. That in itself was scary, because they all knew no one was as pure Vulcan as their Vulcan was when he was in reality restraining the urge to kill someone.
 
“I trust you had extreme provocation for your actions, Doctor Bannerman?” the acting captain asked coolly. “Extreme enough to justify assault against a minor?”
 
“Look, I don’t know who that little hellion is or why he's on board a starship but he had no right to –“
 
Turner jumped as a blue blur whipped around him like a striking cobra. In an instant the angry civilian medic was pinned against the wall by a much taller, and stronger, figure. Without using any weapon but his eyes and force of Vulcan scariness, Spock had effectively impaled the man in place like a butterfly pinned on a corkboard. Frankly, Turner thought the butterfly would be in a safer position.
 
“You will not refer to the child or any other member of this crew in such derogatory manner again, or you will be ejected in an escape pod with a transmitter, to find another transport to Cyrus III for your entourage, Doctor. Is that clear?”
 
Open-mouthed, the physician gaped for a few minutes and then nodded, bristling.
 
Spock turned to the young captain, who was currently trying ineffectively to hide behind the nearest redshirt. “Jim, what did you do to provoke such a reaction?” he asked sternly.
 
Hazel eyes flashed in defiance at him, enough that it made him pause; this was the adult coming out, and no longer the child. “I’m not sorry!” the child snapped, arms folded.
 
“Answer the question,” Spock said, deadly quiet.
 
“He made a – a dirty joke about Lieutenant Uhura!” the child said, glaring darkly at the man in question. “So I kicked him!”
 
“And he aimed a bit higher than the shin, Mr. Spock,” a lieutenant from Hydroponics added in an undertone of admiration.
 
“That’ll make ‘im think next time he wants to say something like that about one of my crew!” Jim snapped, looking for a moment so much like his older self that several nearby crewmen caught their breaths, realizing that for the first time that something inside the young man seemed to understand exactly who he was.
 
Giotto choked on a laugh. It was very, very Jim Kirk, and also very, very childish, the method of dealing with the situation.
 
Spock did not appear to see the humor in it, and to be fair he did have a potential diplomatic incident to diffuse and a civilian to placate. “Jim, return to your cabin and reflect upon your behavior,” he said, in a tone which brooked no opportunity for argument.
 
“But –“
 
“Physical violence against another being is never warranted when an alternative is possible; you are well aware of this, and you chose to disregard that directive. Whatever the cause, what you did was not permissible. Return to your cabin.”
 
The child’s eyes filled with shock, and before anyone could make a move he had fled the room, face scarlet with embarrassment.
 
Bannerman smirked, raising a languid hand to patronizingly clap the blue-clad shoulder. Giotto cocked an eyebrow at the idiot; did he want to die today? “Well, it’s good to see that you have control over your…”
 
The medic’s words were cut off by a loom of silent, deadly Vulcan rage and a vise-like hand twisting his arm into place trapped against his body, which was again pinned against the wall in an instant. The man immediately froze; he was apparently not stupid enough to risk making the Acting Captain more angry than he already was. Gulping, the man looked up nose-to-Science-insignia at the impassive mask before him, then toward the Enterprise crew.

"Oh, he could kill you, and we'd cover for him, yeah," one of Spock's Xenobotany lieutenants drawled from a nearby table in the awkward silence.
 
The man swallowed hard.
 
“Doctor Bannerman, If you speak of anyone aboard this ship again in such a manner as you did regarding the lieutenant, I will personally see to it that you are arraigned before a Starfleet council for harassment and assault of an officer,” Spock said with quiet deadliness, and without releasing the arm he held pinning the man to the wall.
 
“You could never make that stick, with no evidence and no witnesses,” the man scoffed, only half-heartedly.
 
“Oh he’ll have witnesses.” 
 
“And halloa, a ship full of level three or above computer techs who can hack any records system in the galaxy?” Turner snorted. “You’ll be lucky if we don’t set you up with a right lot of evidence to convict you of child trafficking or the like.”
 
Bannerman blanched ghostlike, and Spock stepped back, hands clenched behind his back in customary fashion. “You and your entourage will remain in your quarters for the remaining twenty-four hours of this journey,” he stated, not a question.
 
“You can’t do that!”
 
“You’d prefer the brig, then?” Turner asked mildly.
 
The man gulped, seeing the sea of angry faces around him, and hastily retreated with his friends, not stupid enough to brave a swarm of enraged and loyal crewman.
 
Spock turned to Giotto, who holstered his phaser and stood at attention.
 
“See that they do not exit their quarters until beam-out. I do not wish to see them again in any capacity, is that understood?”
 
“Loud and clear, sir,” the SC replied. “And, Mr. Spock,” he added quietly, as the Vulcan turned to leave.
 
Spock paused, and looked back, eyes expressionless.
 
“Don’t be too hard on the kid, sir,” he said quietly. “His intentions were pure enough, and he is still just a child.”
 
“I am aware of that, Mr. Giotto.” Something flickered in the Vulcan’s eyes, softening them slightly. “Your loyalty and support of the captain is…appreciated.”
 
And with that, he was gone. Giotto sighed. Poor fool just doesn’t get it, he thought, somewhat pityingly. For the moment, he is the captain, and he's got the same loyalty if he just looks around for it.
 
McCoy was of little help when informed of the events, siding with the child instead of Spock, which didn't bode well for the upcoming argument sure to follow on Deck Five. Giotto was perfectly happy to wash his hands of the child-rearing drama and return to the more enjoyable task of making sure the climate controls and water pressure in Bannerman’s cabin were mysteriously offline for the remainder of the trip.

Chapter Text

News travels fast, and so Spock was unsurprised to find that their Chief Medical Officer was waiting for him outside their young captain’s cabin door.
 
“Doctor, I do not require your interference with disciplinary measures,” the Vulcan said stiffly, cutting off what looked to be a protest before the doctor could even open his mouth.
 
For once, the human nodded. McCoy wasn’t an idiot, and even though they didn’t see eye to eye very often, he and Spock had agreed at the inception of this de-aging mess that Spock would have final say over the child and his development, other than strictly medical issues. He had agreed to it more because he knew it was best for Jim to have a consistent disciplinary figure than that he was comfortable with letting a Vulcan practically raise a needy human child; but he had agreed, and he kept his word.
 
“I’m not fighting your decision to punish him for physical violence, Spock,” he replied, arms folded. He leaned against the wall of the corridor and sighed. “Lord knows he needs to think before he acts and there’s no better person to teach him about controlling his impulses than you. But I medically speaking need to question what you intend to do.”
 
Spock looked slightly mystified. “I had planned to leave him time alone to reflect upon his behavior, explain to him the proper method of dealing with such issues in future, and disallow him to leave the cabin for the duration of the evening.” At the physician’s slightly relieved look, he raised an inquiring eyebrow. “Surely you did not believe I would advocate physical pain as punishment, Doctor?”
 
“Well I didn’t think that would be your go-to, but everyone’s different, Spock, and your culture isn't exactly forthcoming about what your childrearing methods are. My grandmomma never had anything against a good spanking, but precious few humans do that properly nowadays without seriously hurting a kid, is the thing.” The physician reflected with a shrug. “And for another, Jim’s pain threshold is so high it wouldn’t mean a thing to him anyway. Besides, it would develop some awkwardness when he returns to his own age.”
 
“I concur completely with the latter, and would never think of performing such an action.”
 
“Good. We have no idea how your people discipline, Mr. Spock, so I just wanted to make sure.” 
 
“I assure you, Doctor, that the idea of raising a hand to a child is abhorrent to Vulcan philosophy. However, I grant you the fact that human children are rarely as well-behaved from infancy as a Vulcan child, and I am not an expert in such matters. I can only state that I would never do such a thing.”
 
“I’m not debating morals regarding punishments, just trying to look out for Jim,” the doctor agreed. “Joanna only ever needed timeouts, but then she wasn't anywhere near the handful Jim has been, so we're both playing this by ear. But…look, Spock.” Blue eyes flickered worriedly toward the closed cabin door. “You’re going to have to be really careful with him.”
 
“Doctor?”
 
“Your idea of punishment is to leave him alone in his cabin, not allowed to leave it until tomorrow,” McCoy said gently. “Spock, the kid’s biggest fear is being alone and the next change he goes through could fling him straight into Tarsus IV post-traumatic stress disorder; you could destroy him tonight if you disallow any interaction with other people. No matter what he’s done, he needs you, or at least someone.”
                                                                                                
Spock’s eyes, which had been darkened with worry, lightened suddenly, as his features relaxed. “Doctor, I assure you I have no intention of not permitting him company or recreation if he wishes it. In fact, I anticipate using the exact scenario you describe as a tool to teach him a valuable lesson.”
 
“Oh?”
 
“Quite,” he answered. “Doctor, we are speaking of the man who invented the Corbomite Maneuver, which is a term now used in tactical classes at Starfleet Academy meaning a devious and unorthodox tactic. I believe you humans call it ‘thinking outside the box’.”
 
“Ohhhhhh.” The doctor grinned. “You’re going to tell him he can’t leave the cabin, but you’re not going to tell him that other people can come and go if he wants and that he can do anything he wants inside the cabin. He has to figure that loophole out for himself?”
 
“Precisely, Doctor.” Spock was slightly relieved to see that the CMO appeared to fully support his decision. “But for now, he must be made to understand that his most powerful weapon against a superior strength is not physical violence. If you will excuse me?”
 



Spock was not, as the saying went, looking forward to this confrontation. More so than ever before, it was an indication of child versus parent, a matter of parental discipline. The fact that this incorrigible child would (hopefully in a matter of days) become again his adult captain made the matter extremely awkward, and not a little volatile. Spock was considerably out of his depth; he refused to treat the child as a youngling, and yet some sort of discipline was merited for the young man’s actions. As the principal overseer of Jim’s care, that duty fell to him.

He was certainly never going to consider children of his own, even if he did eventually acquire another bond-mate; that would be discussed prior to any other factor in such a union. This was quite enough experience for even the most curious of scientific minds.

Unsure of his approach despite his apparent self-confidence in the face of Dr. McCoy’s questioning, he decided finally to approach the child as he would the adult, with a few minor adjustments. Jim was sitting on his bed when the Vulcan entered, half-heartedly flicking with care through the pages of an antique volume of literature. When the door opened to admit the austere figure waiting outside, the child hastily shoved the book under the nearest pillow, as if afraid of being caught doing something he should not.

Spock chose for the moment to ignore the misconception, and merely took a seat on the bed beside the downcast child, purposely moving closer than he normally would seat himself to another being. Jim’s sandy hair had flopped over his face, partially concealing his eyes, and the whole little body drooped with shame as he peeked hesitantly upward.

“Why you here?” he asked sadly. “I wasn’t gonna go anywhere when you said not to.”
 
Spock settled into a more comfortable position; they might as well take this slowly and with as little mental and emotional strain on the other as possible. The child after a moment’s hesitation wriggled into the same position, mirroring him, legs curled under him on the bedspread.
 
“I came for several reasons, Jim,” he began, watching the child’s face for a reaction. “The first, being to…apologize, to you.”
 
That got a reaction, certainly; the young one’s head jerked up in surprise, eyes wide. “Huh? What for?”
 
“I discredited you in front of your crew,” Spock replied, and with sincerity; this was a vice he had sworn never to permit, from the moment he gave this man his loyalty four years ago. The fact that his captain was a ten-year-old child did not negate his responsibility to that promise. “That is unacceptable. I was at a loss to control the situation and did not handle your emotion properly.”
 
The incredulous look he received stirred the very human and ridiculous urge to smile, for the child had instantly forgotten his own embarrassment in the face of the completely unexpected.
 
“That’s a load of bull.“
 
Jim.”
 
“Well, it is,” the child snickered, for the first time smiling up at him. “I think I got off lucky, myself. You’re awful scary for somebody who says he don’t feel emotions and all that stuff.”
 
Spock overlooked the grammatical error in favor of moving on. “Be that as it may, I am not above apologizing for precipitous actions. Despite circumstances, you are still the captain of this crew, and as such my public censure of you was unwarranted.”
 
The child’s eyes crossed slightly. “Uh…”
 
A silent sigh, and a resolve to increase the child’s lessons in vocabulary. “Jim, I am sorry for embarrassing you.”
 
“Oh.” Hazel eyes blinked in surprise, and then the boy smiled. “That’s okay; I guess I deserved to get chewed out. Ma would’ve had a cow if I’d done that to somebody at home.”
 
Spock was assailed by yet another unpleasant mental image conjured up from unfamiliar human metaphors; he did not wish to know where that one had originated and so did not even consider asking. “You deserved a reprimand, but not to be publicly embarrassed, Jim. Now, regarding your treatment of Doctor Bannerman.”
 
Anger flared again in the child’s eyes. “I’m not gonna say I’m sorry to him, if that’s what you’re holdin’ out for me to do, Spock.”
 
“I had no intention of requiring it of you; apologies should be both given in sincerity, and deserved by the offended party. Neither of those is true in this case.”
 
The boy smirked.
 
“Nonetheless,” he continued sternly, and Jim quailed under his look, “such behavior was and is unacceptable. You must learn, and learn well, that there are more effective methods of defense than doing physical harm to others.”
 
“Like what?” the child snorted. “I’m ten! What, I should’ve asked him nicely to not say something like that again?”
 
“Not necessarily, though it would have been a preferable beginning,” Spock said severely. “While your intentions were honorable, your method of defending the Lieutenant’s honor was not acceptable behavior for the level of offense given.”
 
The child folded his arms, obviously unconvinced. “What would you’ve done, then, if you know so much?” he grumbled plaintively.
 
Spock paused, considering. Then, “I would have locked him and his cohorts in the brig,” he replied at length.
 
Jim’s eyes bugged. “Put ‘em in ship’s jail just for telling a dirty joke? You wouldn’t get away with that!”
 
“And there, Jim, you have the difference between the child you are and the adult you will become,” Spock replied quietly. 
 
The boy picked at a ball of fuzz stuck to the bedspread. “I don’t understand, Spock.”
 
“Had I given that order, what do you suppose would have happened?”
 
“Mr. Giotto would’ve locked ‘em up.”
 
“And why would he, when we both know the offense was not severe enough to warrant a night’s imprisonment?”
 
“Because…because you’re the captain, and you’re in charge?”
 
“Partially, Jim.” He watched as the child began to think, frowning in concentration. “But the captain of a starship cannot make up his own rules. Lieutenant-Commander Giotto knows this. Why then would he perform a duty he knows is not technically valid, even if I gave the order?”
 
“Because…” sandy brows contracted in thought. “Because he…”
 
“Yes?” Spock leaned forward slightly. “Because he does what regarding myself, Jim?”
 
“Because he trusts you?”
 
His lips quirked. “Precisely, Jim. This crew is renowned across the galaxy for trusting, and thereby being completely loyal to, her captain. I would not have needed to justify the order for it to be followed.”

Jim pondered this for a few minutes, and then looked slyly back up at him. “Sure that’s all you would’ve done, if you’d heard what he said about Lieutenant Uhura or anybody else aboard?” the child asked shrewdly.

Spock hesitated. Ah, but he was only a child and, more importantly, a child Jim Kirk. It would not matter overmuch, then, and the adult would later appreciate the humor.
 
“While I would never have participated in the active reminder which you administered to the doctor, I nonetheless…would not have objected had someone else done so,” he admitted, mentally cringing as a wide-eyed look of mirth began creeping across this perceptive child’s face.
 
“So you’re saying part of being captain is letting your minions do the dirty work so you don’t get in trouble yourself?” Jim asked, with obvious glee.
 
Minions is not a term I would apply to a capable and professional starship crew,” the Vulcan replied primly.
 
Jim dissolved into a fit of giggles, reminding Spock that this was still only a child and not the adult (though the adult Jim giggled too when provoked, much to his ego’s dismay and his crew’s fond amusement). He fell over onto the nearest pillow, smiling and waving a hand up in the air to punctuate his amusement.
 
“I am gratified to see we understand each other,” Spock said dryly. “However, Jim, there is still the matter of your punishment for your actions today. You are not yet a starship captain; you are a child, and your behavior was childish.”
 
The boy sighed, flinging an arm over his eyes. “Lemme guess, I can’t have any sugar for a week?”
 
“Negative,” Spock said, somewhat mystified that Jim would immediately latch onto that as being the worst conceivable punishment, but noting it for possibilities later. “You will simply remain in this cabin until you are relieved for your daily educational period tomorrow.”
 
One eye cracked open, peering over the side of the gold-clad arm. “You’re grounding me?”
 
“I am not familiar with the term, but if it means disallowing you egress from this room then that is correct.”
 
“You’re familiar with the word egress and not grounding,” the child snorted, grinning lopsidedly up at him. “You’re like, amazing, you know that?”
 
Spock was beyond out of his depth now, drowning in a sea of chaos; for he could not comprehend the complexity of human emotions in the form of this unique ten-year-old being. Also, the number of instances in which he could clearly see glimpses of the adult shining through the child were becoming more frequent, and more unsettling.
 
He stood to leave. “See that you do not leave this room until tomorrow, Jim. I trust you will use a portion of that time to reflect upon our conversations, and to decide for yourself if I am correct in indicating that there are better methods of solving disputes than with physical altercations. Am I understood?”
 
“Can I read while I’m in here?” the child asked hesitantly.
 
Spock nodded, not clarifying any further.
 
“Will you…will you be back? Sometime?”
 
His heart clenched a little at the small plea, but he had a lesson in mind to teach the child and this was part of it. “I cannot promise that,” he replied impassively, and resolutely steeled himself against the resulting droop of small shoulders. “You must use the power of your own mind, young one, to find methods of passing the time yourself. My only ‘rule,’ as you would put it, is that you must remain inside this cabin.”

”Yes, sir,” the child whispered, fidgeting with the ball of lint he’d finally plucked off the bedspread.

Spock nodded, and walked out before he became the latest in an onslaught of victims who had fallen before the power of Jim Kirk ‘puppy eyes.’


 
“You’re not going to lock the door?”
 
Spock turned, to see that McCoy had waited and was lounging against the wall halfway down the corridor. He would not have been at all surprised to learn that the physician had been eavesdropping.
 
“Negative; I see no reason to do so. The computer will alert me if he moves outside his parameters, and he is also aware of that fact.”
 
“Want to make a little wager, Spock?”
 
“Regarding what, Doctor, that he will remain inside to accept his punishment?”
 
“Oh, I believe he won’t get out, just because he worships the ground you walk on and you told him to. I’m more worried about what he’s going to coax into that room in the next twelve hours.”
 
Spock glanced ruefully back toward the door. “Were I so foolish as to indulge in the appalling vice known as ‘gambling,’ Doctor, I believe I would be more likely to wager that he will find a way to wreak havoc aboard without either leaving or enticing others to join him.”
 
The doctor shuffled uneasily, looking over his shoulder as they entered the turbolift together. “Sickbay.” The doors shut and lights began to flicker past the lift windows. “Spock, if he creates a warp bubble and traps himself inside it, technically he can move about the ship without leaving that room…look, I’m joking, d’you really think he could without Alpha-level Clearance?!”
 
The lift slowed to stop on a corridor and let Engineer Rupert Bryce on, who had transferred aboard only recently, just before the captainal de-aging crisis. Somewhat nervous at sharing the lift with two iconic superiors, he made himself as invisible as possible and spoke not a word.
 
“Doctor, his next age jump will most likely put him past the usual age for puberty; should he change tonight, the computer will then be able to recognize his adult voice for override purposes. Creating a warp bubble is certainly not outside his capabilities.”
 
McCoy’s eyes widened in genuine alarm, until he caught the telltale minute twitch at the corner of the Vulcan’s lips and eyes.
 
“Oh, you are a dead Vulcan as soon as I can dig out that culture of choriocytosis from Experimental’s cryo-storage,” McCoy growled, petulantly folding his arms and leaning against the wall of the lift. “I will let you die in agony, you hear me?”
 
“In that case, I remind you that you have full custody of the child in the event of my death; I believe you would say, right in time for the teen years?”
 
“Ohhhhh, no! Nonono! I am not giving the it-is-a-matter-of-biology talk to that particular kid! I’m his doctor, not his father!”
 
The new engineer covered his ears and decided he really, really didn’t want to know.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, they should not have been surprised.
 
Spock had had more faith in the child’s growing ability to think like the master strategist the adult was than anyone else, but even he was astounded that it had taken Jim only one hour to deduce the loopholes in his enforced punishment for the altercation with their visiting civilians.
 
McCoy had accompanied him back from Officers’ Mess with a well-balanced meal for the growing child (along with a nutrient mix disguised in his pudding, the most successful way to ensure it was consumed promptly).
 
“Bet you six hours of next shore leave he’s done nothing more chaos-inducing than hacking the parental block I put on the adult entertainment files in R&R’s holovid archive,” the doctor offered with a grin.
 
“I do not take shore leave, Doctor, but I shall be willing to settle for a medical examination waiver of my choice. I believe he will have deduced the meaning behind my instructions and acted accordingly.”
 
“Done.” An evil grin appeared. “Well, go on, moment of truth.”
 
Spock moved into bio-sensor range and the cabin door opened with a pneumatic hiss.
 
The decibel level of music which blared forth into the sound-proofed corridor momentarily deafened him, and they both stared at the unbridled pandemonium which was taking place within.
 
“What. The. He-heck,” McCoy gasped, dodging a flying scarlet tunic. “Is that –“
 
“The ancient Earth music genre known as hip-hop, I believe,” Spock intoned blankly, his brain for a moment unable to force his feet into movement in response to the chaos within. “And I am unfamiliar with the…game? In which they are participating.”
 
“SPOCK!” a familiar voice whooped from under what looked like a tangled pile of laughing limbs and red-faced crewmen intertwined on a mat sporting spheres of varying colors. A blonde head peeked out from under someone’s elbow and grinned at them. “Didja bring me dinner?”
 
It was at that precise moment that someone shifted too far one direction on the game-mat. The pile literally wobbled and then collapsed in a shrieking chorus of groans and yelps, followed by laughter and good-natured ribbing of the young Science lieutenant who hadn’t been able to get his hand on the properly-colored circle.
 
Flat on his back with a blonde technician on top of him (and obviously not minding it at all), Chekov lay there laughing – until he finally looked up and saw their two COs standing in the middle of the room.
 
“Meester Spock!” he managed, red-faced.
 
Someone from the desk area yipped in shock and killed the blaring music.
 
Spock heard a stifled profanity, followed by a slap and a reminder that there was a kid in the room, from somewhere at the bottom of the pile, and then nearly dead silence as the group of young crewmen realized exactly what position they had been found in.
 
A stylus rolled off the desk in the deathly stillness, clanging to the floor loud enough to make them all jump.
 
And McCoy lost it. 
 
Setting the tray down on the desk, he gave in and howled with laughter, collapsing into the nearest chair. “You get your medical waiver and welcome, Mr. Spock,” he gasped between peals of mirth. “He found the loophole and boy did he exploit it!”
 
“You never said I couldn’t have visitors!” Jim’s voice shrilled in insistence, higher than usual in pitch, above the embarrassed mutterings from the crewman-pile on the floor. “You just said I couldn’t leave! Nothing about people not coming to see me!”
 
“So I did,” Spock replied calmly. “Although I believe the volume of the cacophony which you seem to term ‘music,’ and I use the term in its loosest sense, is slightly in excess. So long as you, as they say, power down, and remain fully clothed, gentlemen, then I see no reason why the…entertainment, may not continue.”
 
Silence. Then he heard Ensign Li snicker from under a pile of sheepish Engineering personnel, and Chekov snorted into the blond technician’s sleeve, hiding a grin. One Botany lieutenant peered over a yeoman’s shoulder to test the waters and then dissolved into a fit of extremely unmasculine giggles, which then triggered the whole group into bursts of laughter.
 
Jim rolled over onto the mat, hands behind his head, and smiled beatifically up at the bemused Vulcan. “Want to play Twister, Spock?” he asked innocently.
 
"I most definitely do not."

Chapter Text

“Almost done,” the child hollered out the ajar bathroom door, and McCoy sent out a fervent prayer of thanks. It had been a long evening, though he believed a good one. Spock was currently finishing up ship’s business on the captain’s terminal, and also making sure to block access from the terminal to any vital areas which the child need not see yet.
 
He decided to scan the youngster through the open door as the child finished brushing his teeth. When Jim closed the door for privacy to use the facilities, he turned and moved over to the desk.
 
“I think you should know he’s aged eighteen months already,” he said quietly. “I thought as much earlier in the evening.”
 
Spock halted in his typing and looked up. “He is now nearly twelve years old?”
 
McCoy nodded. “Obviously the events of the day have done their job in teaching him the right kind of lessons between that mess in the rec room earlier and your chat with him. But given his last leaps have been larger age gaps, and the majority of his changes appear to take place while he is sleeping probably as the body’s defense against the massive mental and physical drain of the its resources, I wouldn’t be surprised if the change continues either overnight or sometime tomorrow. You need to be ready for that possibility, because you’re the one staying in the next cabin. I’m the next deck down; if something serious is wrong you’ll have to be prepared for a minute or two until I can get up here.”
 
The Vulcan nodded, looking for just a moment inestimably weary.
 
“I’m done!” the child announced, stalking out of the bath in his pajamas.
 
“Go back and wash your hands,” McCoy said without looking up from the medical tricorder.
 
“I did!”
 
“Properly, and with soap.”
 
Jim muttered something and re-entered the bath, grumbling. Spock raised an eyebrow.
 
“Like any kid that age will do it properly without being prompted!”
 
“I did, Doctor,” was the deadpan reply.
 
“Yeah, and look what a lovely human you turned out to be,” the physician snorted, eyes twinkling at the indignant look he received.
 
Their young charge careened out of the bathroom with an inarticulate yell and dove into his bed, whereupon he grinned angelically at the twin looks of exasperation he received.
 
“To be so energetic after such an exhaustive day is not logical,” Spock stated, making the physician hide his laugh at the sight of the dismal look. They were both ready to be relieved of child-rearing duty, but Spock more so than anyone else since it had been the greatest strain upon him.

Hopefully, they didn’t have much farther to go.

“What, don’t I get a story tonight?” the boy asked plaintively, as they moved to lower the lights.
 
“You’re almost twelve years old, Jim-boy. Old enough to go to sleep without adult help, aren’t you?”
 
Jim scowled, obviously miffed. “You just don’ love me any more now that I’m not a cute bratty four-year-old,” he mumbled, curling up under the covers with an injurious sniff.
 
McCoy sighed, lowering the lights. “Annnnd here we go into the emo teenage years,” he muttered under his breath. Then, in a louder tone, “We do still love you, kid.”
 
“Though your current behavior does not much differ from that of said ‘bratty four-year-old,’” came Spock’s unexpected dry observation from out of the darkness.
 
The child snickered into his pillow, curling up with his stuffed panda in apparent non-offense. 
 
“Look, kiddo, if you start feelin’ sick during the night you comm Spock and then me, okay?” the doctor said, leaning over the small figure in the bunk. “You’re going to start having one heck of a hormone imbalance in addition to the usual issues we have with this whole process, so don’t pull the hero act and refuse to ask for help if you need it.”
 
“’Kay. Can I have a cookie before –“
 
“No,” the doctor grunted, moving to leave before the child could ask for anything else. “Along with teenage hormones comes acne and weight issues and that’s all you’re gonna need, is one more complication with this.”
 
“Aww, c’mon, Bones! Just one?”
 
“I said no. Now shush, you.”
 
Spock stayed a moment longer to ensure the child was in need of nothing, before he too adopted the better part of valor and retreated from the room.
 
“You know he’s in there reading with a flashlight under the covers,” the doctor sighed as he moved down the hall toward the lift.
 
“As long as he is content to do so in silence I have no objections,” Spock replied tiredly. “Good night, Doctor.”
 
“’Night, Spock.” He was almost at the lift before he turned and hollered back, unmindful of the passing officers who studiously ignored any and all that went on on this particular deck, “And you’re looking a little peaky yourself – get some sleep, you hear me?”
 
“I believe they could hear you in the Delta Quadrant, Doctor,” Spock sighed, and entered his own cabin.
 



 
At 0630 the next morning, Spock was abruptly woken from the first sound sleep he had had in many days by a minor Gold Alert on his computer, indicating that their child captain had left his cabin next door.
 
This was not in itself worrisome; his first thought was that the child was hungry and in search of a snack; or else he could not sleep and had gone to the observation dome. As he was no longer five years old and had, to some extent, run of the ship provided he did not disturb the crewmen at work, that was not a crisis in itself.
 
However, 0900 hours later came and went, and Spock had not been able to locate the young captain.
 
He respected privacy, but he was acting captain and as such a member of his crew might possibly be in danger. Jim may have wished some time alone, but he knew better than to disappear for longer than thirty minutes without checking in with the department head of whatever section he lingered in; that had been policy set up for several days now since his last transformation.
 
“We gotta find the kid, Spock,” McCoy said worriedly, after another half-hour of checking the captain’s usual haunts. “Even if he’s just runnin’ around getting re-acquainted with the ship he’s going to be sick here if he doesn’t get some supplements into him.”
 
Regretting the breach of privacy, Spock knew the doctor was correct and moved to the closest wall computer terminal. “Computer, location of James T. Kirk, former captain, on temporary medical leave.” 
 
“There is no record of a crewman by that name aboard the Enterprise.” 
 
McCoy swore. “He didn’t. I installed that transponder for a reason!”
 
Despite the profanity, Spock wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment and resisted the urge to slump against the wall in the knowledge. “A simple pulse on the appropriate wavelength from any basic engineering technology, or even a tricorder tuned to the right frequency, will disrupt that signal so long as he carries the instrument on his person. I believe we may presume that he has completed the next step in the transformation as you surmised, Doctor.”
 
“So he’s hiding out somewhere, scared to death, until he can figure out what’s going on and where he is,” the doctor groaned, massaging his temples. “PTSD, probable paranoia, definite malnutrition and dehydration, and he’s still Jim Kirk; if he doesn’t want to be found then I doubt we’ll be able to find him, not on this ship. Tell me again why you didn’t just lock him in his room like I suggested last night?!”
 
Spock flinched almost imperceptibly, and the physician saw. Lowering his voice, he shook his head, one hand pinching the bridge of his nose. “That’s not fair, Spock…I’m sorry.”
 
The Vulcan gave a minute shake of the head. “Recriminations at this juncture are illogical and counter-productive, Doctor. At the moment, locating the captain before he incurs physical or mental damage is our top priority. He will have two sets of memories vying for dominance in his mind; the original set, the last of which is whatever point in the timeline he currently is after the genocide of Tarsus IV – and the second set, which enables him to recognize his surroundings and his crew as non-threats. If the second set has been superseded in his mind by the first set, then he may very well not recognize us or the ship until the mind settles itself.”
 
“Gonna send out a GQ?”
 
“To place the crew on General Quarters would only serve to warn the child that we are searching for him. If he does not wish to be found, then he will not be found by the usual means.”
 
Spock set off toward the lift. McCoy had to hurry to catch up with his companion’s ridiculously long legs. “What’re you gonna do, then? If he’s in anything like the physical condition I expect he doesn’t have long before he’s going to be in pretty bad shape…the replicators, Spock!”
 
The Vulcan gave a small nod, eyes glinting in approval. “I should be able to track unauthorized access to food and beverage replicators, as that most likely will be his first priority. Since he is technically on Medical Leave, his access codes are unauthorized for those replicators and should send up an alert. Failing that, I can back-trace his authorization codes from the ship’s computer, used when he erased records of his existence and masked his presence aboard. That will take more time than we most likely have; it would be prudent to divide the search responsibilities between us and a few discreet crewmen.”
 
“I’ll get on the replicator angle and Chapel will have Sickbay ready for him when we find him,” the CMO vowed fervently.
 
“And I will of course inform you as soon as I am aware of any further developments.”
 
Said developments were over two hours in processing. Jim Kirk had disappeared from his cabin literally without a trace five hours before, erasing the knowledge which the computer needed to track his movements. Spock was inclined by this point to believe that the child retained at least some of his knowledge of the Enterprise herself, else he would not have been able to remain hidden from both ship’s sensors and a discreet Security sweep for so long. Not even Montgomery Scott, who knew the ship well enough to navigate it blind, had been able to locate him in the most remote hiding places he knew. Spock had searched the usual areas himself after seeing that there had been no unauthorized access to replicators nor had anyone reported food or beverages mysteriously disappearing from the very few places real food and drink were stored aboard. McCoy and his staff had attempted to track the child by using medical’s databases and sensors to sweep the ship looking for signs of malnutrition and/or underage life signatures.

Nothing. Their child genius was just that – a genius, and he was now no longer a child with a child’s mind.

Spock checked in with the alpha shift Bridge crew and assumed watch at 1100 hours despite the minor drama which was unfolding aboard; duty was duty, and he had a responsibility to Jim’s ship. He did, however, inform those closest to the captain of his status, as they had a right to know. While most of them were of little use on the Bridge, Chekov did spend an inordinate amount of time on the intra-comm with the Medical and Science departments, trying everything they could think of to track the young man; from scanning for any life-sign showing signs of intense hunger, to back-tracing all access to Jefferies tubes and crawl spaces aboard from 0600 to 0900 hours.
 
After another hour of fruitless searching, Spock seated himself at the library console. “Computer. List all general inquiries for information made of ship’s primary database in the last twelve hours.”
 
“Working. General inquiries: Name of this Federation vessel. Current coordinates of U.S.S. Enterprise. Mission directives of U.S.S. Enterprise. Command crew of U.S.S. Enterprise. Brief biography of Captain James T. Kirk. Reason for Captain James T. Kirk being temporarily relieved of command. Brief biography of First Officer Spock. Mission logs of Stardate 4219-4221, Insontis Treaty Negotiations. Schematics of U.S.S. Enterprise. Enlarged schematics of Jefferies tubes network of U.S.S. Enterprise. Enlarged schematics of -

He resisted the urge to sigh aloud. "Computer, pause inquiry."

“He has been busy,” Chekov remarked quietly, at the Vulcan’s side scanning the ship once more.
 
“Indeed,” Spock replied. “We may assume that he has assimilated the information he sought; we can only believe that this knowledge will permit his memory to settle and acknowledge us as non-threats. Computer, origin point of these inquiries.”
 
“Working.” The machine whirred, lights flashing. “Unable to comply.”
 
A slanted eyebrow rose. “Redirect inquiry. State reason for inability to retrieve previous command’s data.”
 
“Unable to comply. System recognition of origin point failed.”
 
“That is impossible,” Chekov muttered, scowling. “It takes experienced hacker to know how to erase a trail like that.”
 
“May I remind you that at age eight he had already succeeded in bypassing level two security protocols, and he is the only Starfleet cadet in existence to have changed the programming for the infamous Kobayashi Maru without leaving a trace to a computer terminal or personal data device?” 
 
“Point,” the young Russian sighed. “I do not see how we can…Meester Spock!”
 
“What is it, Ensign?”
 
Chekov pointed to his scanner, where a small yellow blip was blinking at regular intervals.
 
“It appears that he has deactivated the interfering device, sir.” Chekov looked up at his mentor, worry clear in his eyes. “He is stationary at the moment…almost as if he is now wishing to be found, yes?”
 
Spock was not about to speculate on the nature of Jim’s sudden decision to make his location known, not without further data. “Where is he, Mr. Chekov?”
 
The young navigator smiled up at him. “He is in your quarters, sir. The last place any of us would have thought to look for him.”
 
Spock should have thought of that; he had not returned to his quarters since early morning, and his door was programmed to open at James Kirk’s bio-signature, to avoid the unnecessary formality of knocking. Jim had never abused the privilege, which was why Spock had permitted it for years – and it was the one place on the ship which would open readily to him at any age.
 
It also indicated that yes, he did wish to be found now.
 
“Have Doctor McCoy meet me in my quarters, Lieutenant,” he said as he passed Uhura’s chair. “Mr. Sulu, you have the conn.”

Chapter Text

"I'm never going to forgive myself for not staying with him last night."

"Self-flagellation is a useless exercise, Doctor," Spock replied, face expressionless save for his eyes. They were dark with concealed worry. "We should both have been aware of the ramifications of his being left alone. I admit I presumed he would sleep through the night and that one of us would check on him prior to his waking, given he is not overly fond of early alarm calls."

"You couldn't know he'd only sleep til 0600," the doctor sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "I should have, though. I thought the kid would be exhausted enough to get a few more hours at least. I should have known the stress and biological imbalances would be enough to wake him, and that the psychological ramifications would destabilize him. There's no excuse for a slip-up like that, not in my field."

"Your field does not encompass child-rearing, Doctor, nor does mine; neither are we omniscient. Retrospect, as they say, is perfect vision. Regret accomplishes nothing at the present time save to delay our meeting with the captain."

"Spock…look, it's none of my business how you're coping with this, but you're going to have to stop thinking of him as 'the captain'," the doctor said gently. "Just because he's not a squalling toddler any more doesn't mean he's the Jim Kirk we know. I know you can't wait to have him back in his proper age but this is going to be a problem if you can't remember that he's still a child who needs guidance and care. If you spoil him as an adolescent, I don't care how traumatized he is right now, he's going to be a holy terror when he hits sixteen and wants to know why he isn't man enough to captain his own ship."

Serious as the situation was, McCoy nearly laughed at the horrified look which flickered minutely across the Vulcan's face.

"Didn't think of that, did you? Maybe Vulcan children are intelligent enough to make proper choices at that age, but human children aren't. You can't treat him like an adult yet, Spock, especially not now."

"And how, precisely, do you believe I should treat him?" was the dubious reply.

The doctor glanced at his handheld scanner, which still held the small yellow blip indicating Jim's signal from behind Spock's door. "Like the scared kid he is," he said quietly. "And like the terrified one he had to have been when he woke up six hours ago, sick and malnourished, and very much alone. If we don't handle this properly, we'll be unleashing the worst case of abandonment and trust issues this side of Betelgeuse."

Even Vulcans cringed, he discovered to his regret, but they didn't have time to waste on further beating themselves up over a colossal error. McCoy merely sighed and followed close on Spock's heels as he approached the door. Yes, he'd been a father once, and that was quite enough; while he loved Joanna there's no way in the universe he'd want to go through teenage angst again. He'd forgotten, plain and simple, that he was supposed to be a father figure, because he'd been more than slightly fed up with being saddled with a spoiled Jim Kirk when his more indulgent 'parent' couldn't look after him. He'd let his exhaustion and frustration with the situation cloud his judgment, and Jim had paid the price this morning.

Spock was equally to blame, but he'd never say as much; it looked like the poor guy was beating himself up badly enough over it, non-existent feelings appearing very much in existence right at the moment. They'd messed this one up, and now they had to deal with the fallout.

"Do you want me to wait outside?" he asked quietly as they approached.

"Not particularly, Doctor; unless you would prefer that."

"No, I think I'm going to need to see him as quick as possible; the kid's probably in pretty bad shape."

"Very well, then." The door opened at Spock's approach, and they slipped inside, into a darkened room lit only by the reddish glow of the power-cell-operated meditation aid Spock used on occasion. The Vulcan frowned minutely. "Lights, forty percent. Computer, lower temperature to human tolerance levels."

Fool kid's probably dehydrated and still didn't want to take it upon himself to lower the temperature in this oven Spock calls a living space, McCoy thought with a sigh. The door shut behind them, sealing them into the now softly-lit room. Now to coax him out of wherever he's hiding in here…

They didn't have to.

From the more dimly-lit meditation alcove a sudden rustling drew their attention, and a moment later a small figure peered warily around the partition, wrapped up in one of the blankets from Spock's bed. The doctor's heart broke a little at the sight, though at the same time he was relieved to see that the damage, physically at least, was not as bad as he knew it could have been and expected it to be. The Regenratron's effects had obviously dropped the teenager a few weeks at least, maybe a month, after the tragedies of Tarsus IV. Jim was thin – too thin – and pale, but not emaciated; timid, but not jumpy and refusing to interact with others. It could have been so, so much worse, and he thanked any deity which might be listening that they hadn't gotten Jim Kirk immediately post-genocide. He wasn't sure he could live through seeing the effects of it on a child without having nightmares the rest of his life.

He felt his knees go weak with sheer relief, and fumbled at the back of Spock's desk chair to ground himself as the young man shuffled forward into the lights of the living area.

"Jim," Spock's gentle voice splintered the fragile silence.

"…Yeah," the response was half-spoken, half shuddered, and the boy wrapped the blanket closer around himself, moving into the light. Dull, pinched eyes quickly, too quickly, assessed them both and apparently decided they passed muster. "I'm…okay, I think. Really, really freaked out, but...not like…screaming and running for the hills freaked out? That's good, yeah?"

"Yeah, kid," McCoy breathed, returning the hesitant smile he received, fake though he knew it was on that wary face. "That's really good."


McCoy didn't like how much coaxing he had to do to get the youngster to eat a square meal, but in the end he won out and that was all that mattered at the moment. What was slightly disquieting was the fact that Jim didn't make a peep about the content of the meal, merely consumed it with as little interest as he was showing in anything else – and without a word of complaint regarding the amount of healthful foods in comparison to comfort foods, which was alarming in itself. He complied willingly enough, if a little woodenly, with the series of tests the physician employed to determine his needs, until the doctor started a psychological evaluation.

Jim had outright panicked at that and, rather than risk the adolescent bolting and hiding out until heaven only knew when, McCoy had hastily recanted the suggestion and moved on to a safer topic.

Two hours later, he'd left Jim in the company of a few of the nursing staff, with instructions to keep him occupied for at least twenty minutes. Sad at heart at the entire lack of interest which the boy was showing toward the group of adoring nurses, he then left the ward to meet with an increasingly edgy Vulcan in his private office.

"What's got your back up?" he said moodily, slumping into his chair and glaring across the desk. "I'm the one who just had to practically coerce a rebellious teenager into – God forbid! – talking about his private life."

Spock entirely disregarded his words. "How is he?"

Well, McCoy was used to being ignored. Whatever. "About as I expected; malnourished, though at this point not to the brink of starvation. He's far too quiet, and he's lost all that braggadocio and charisma somewhere along the way. What effects have taken place with his psyche is anyone's guess, yours as good as mine as this point."

"I have been monitoring both of you; Jim appears to be remarkably composed, dealing with the issues with a control of mind and emotion impressive in one so young," the Vulcan observed.

"Yeah, of course he does," McCoy snapped. "We're talking about James Federation-Poster-Boy Kirk here, or did you forget? The man's façade never even cracks unless one of us kicks him off the precipice and the other stands below ready to pick up the pieces. Have you ever known him to admit he needed help or was emotionally screwed up in the head? "

"…Negative."

"I threatened him with relief of command over emotional compromise during the incident with that cloud-vampire-thing and even when you backed me up, he refused to talk about it. Well then." The doctor sighed, and rubbed his eyes with the fingers of both hands. "Every bit of psychologist in me is screaming that he's a walking time bomb. And –" He broke off suddenly, and Spock at the same moment sensed the approach as the door opened to reveal the youngster in question.

A quick shake of the head silenced him, and McCoy looked over his head. "What is it, Jim?"

"The ship's slowed down," was the uncanny observation, delivered in the same calm observational tone as everything else the child had said. "She feels different."

Spock's keener hearing caught the sudden swearing under the physician's breath, and he sent the noiseless inquiry of a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah, we gotta drop that disgrace to his profession Bannerman and his cronies off, remember?" the doctor said with careful nonchalance. "Can't be long now. Look, Jim, I don't want you to think I'm hounding you but you really should be taking it easy until your blood count levels come back into a normal range."

Eyes now dark green with wary tolerance rolled expressively. "I'm fine, Bones," the young man said with a flippant wave. "Promise I won't go around fainting on you; I've had a lot worse than a little iron deficiency, I can tell you that."

"And you've had better, which is our ultimate goal," the doctor returned calmly. "No arguments."

Jim held up both hands in an okay-I-give-in gesture. "Whatever. Look, I'm going a little crazy on this ship, can I go ashore with a leave party when we get wherever it is, just for a few hours? See some trees, hear a few birds? I'll even take a royal guard along, since I know that's the first thing you're gonna say."

The request was not surprising to Spock, for he was well aware that two months was about the longest Jim could go cooped up aboard his Silver Lady; that was pushing the Iowa farm boy's limits, not seeing the sky – or alien sky at least – for so many weeks. That was the main reason the captain insisted upon accompanying most landing parties; not from some misplaced sense of defiance regarding safety protocols, but simply that he liked the sight and smells of growing things and wanted to stand on terra firma of some kind more than bi-monthly.

Cyrus III was a lush planet, and would be pleasant enough for shore leave parties provided they steered clear of the infected continent in which Dr. Bannerman and his medical team were to be stationed.

But, "Sorry, kid, no can do," McCoy had already said gruffly, and in that particular tone which threw up the red flag indicating argument would be painfully met. Spock did not quite understand at the moment why the doctor would refuse the boy, but he was not about to argue with a superior evaluation in this area. "You're in no condition to be gallivanting around the ship, much less some random planet."

"I'm perfectly fine," the boy snapped, and for one moment the adult ire at being so treated shone brilliantly through provoked dark eyes.

The doctor didn't back down, despite the uncanny and faintly reminiscent conversation. "You refused a psych eval," he retorted. "You call that normal behavior?"

Metaphorical sparks flew, singeing everything within reach. "As if you would even know what constitutes normal for me, Doctor!"

"It sure as heck isn't raising your voice to me, or refusing a basic medical examination without good reason!"

"My brain is none of your freaking business, that's a good enough reason! You're not my shrink, and don't think I haven't had three of them already by this point!"

"Gentlemen," Spock interjected with such sharp ice that it instantly extinguished the conversation going down in flames. "That will do."

"Yeah, of course you side with him," the young man muttered, glaring at them both. "I'm just an experiment to you, aren't I? The most interesting scientific/medical discovery of the year, that's me."

Spock did not waste energy in contradicting the young man; not because the statement was true, but rather because it was patently untrue and they all knew it.

"Not everybody gets to live the worst years of their life twice, after all," Jim continued with honed sarcasm. "Bet you'll win a Galactic Peace Prize for that paper you'll write about me and my condition."

Seeing that by this point McCoy was fuming, one more sentence short of explosion, Spock cut the tirade short with a sternness which he did not usually condone and had never used with his captain, in any status of life. Nonetheless, it was in this case necessary to do so, if they were to perform what was called damage control between this now-fractured relationship.

"Your annoyance is understandable, Jim," he interjected in the next pause, fixing the child with a stern gaze, "given your innate desire for independence. Nevertheless, while you are not functioning at your peak capacity – and by that I mean your proper age and mentality – then you will be subject to Doctor McCoy's and my final authority. No, this is not an option; it is fact," he added severely, when the young man flushed and opened his mouth to protest. "If you do not wish to comply with our requirements, we are more than capable of dropping you at the nearest Starbase medical facility, where you will remain in protective 'Fleet custody until you have regained your proper age."

Were regret not an emotion, he might have felt it at that instant, for Jim's flushed face instantly went white as a sheet.

Spock more felt than saw the sudden flood of protest about to erupt from the doctor, and shot the human a warning look. Again, realizing that this adolescent needed a stern authority figure in addition to a more human, caring one, McCoy fell silent, silently giving permission for Spock to take on the former role without an appearance of division between both him and the Vulcan.

"You – you wouldn't do that," the child said, deathly still, eyes scared.

Of course he would not; not under any circumstances. But an ultimatum might be in order, if they were to maintain control of the child during these crucial and volatile years. And, if he knew Jim like he believed he did, then if the threat of being left alone did not reach him, a realization of the danger to his ship would be the only thing which might.

"It would not be my preference, Jim," he responded, not minimizing the severity of his tone. "However, if your refusal to comply with regulations put upon you for your own safety endangers this ship which you profess to hold dearer than anything else in your life, then it is my duty as Acting Captain to see that that distraction is removed. You know this as well as I."

The young man was silent, looking sullenly at the floor.

"You will obey Doctor McCoy and myself in areas in which we feel you have need of guidance, or you will be removed from the ship on the grounds that you are a distraction and disturbance to the chain of command of a Starfleet vessel."

"And your idea of guidance means keeping me in a bubble until you're sure I'm not going to suddenly go suicidal, is that it?" Jim snapped.

Spock saw the doctor freeze at the word, eyes flicking toward him. "No one mentioned anything of the kind," he responded calmly, controlling the flutter of fear which had sneaked into his consciousness unaware. "Not permitting you to beam down to a potentially hazardous planet does not constitute keeping you, as you say, 'in a bubble.' Rather, it is standard procedure for any civilian or indeed any crewman."

The child's eyes gleamed with helpless anger. "You said I'm the captain of this ship, in reality."

"And so you are; but at the moment, you are not in our usual situational reality. That is no reflection of your ability, intelligence, or potential; merely a statement of medical fact. Surely you can see this."

"I'm not asking you to plop me on the Bridge in the middle of a battle and let me give tactical orders, Spock," the boy retorted. "I'm just asking to get away from all this for a few hours!"

"And the doctor has denied that request, for the sake of your health and safety," Spock explained patiently. "He no doubt regrets that you seem to take that denial as a personal affront, but that will not alter his decisions."

Below their feet, the ship's powerful engines slowed perceptibly, the reverberating hum evening out into a softer thrum of pulsating energy. They were entering orbit around Cyrus III.

"Bridge to Sickbay."

"Spock here," he spoke into the nearest wall-comm, not taking his eyes off the dangerously defiant features of their adolescent captain.

"Sir, we're entering orbit around Cyrus III."

"Acknowledged. Have Dr. Bannerman and his landing party prepared to beam down immediately; I want them off this ship without further delay."

"Aye, sir."

"I will be up shortly. Spock out. Jim." He turned toward the belligerent teenager. "I will be prepared to discuss matters with you once I have disposed of our current problem; until then, I would ask that you not make rash judgment calls regarding your condition and those around you."

And with that, he left, only hoping he had not performed as hopelessly as he suspected, judging from the entirely unimpressed look upon the rebellious young face. Spock was not a father, and had no intention of being one – and this young man did not need a mere friend just at the moment; Jim needed a constant, an anchor. If he were to sacrifice the child's affection for the present in order to keep the vulnerable mind anchored against the trauma and memories, then that was a small price to pay to regain the exceptional man who had been lost in this transition.


Fifteen minutes later, he began to doubt his own (obviously pathetic) ability to even get through to the child, much less anchor him.

"You're telling me you didn't think to lock his voice commands out of the ship's computer?" McCoy nearly screeched, hands clenched in his hair.

Spock closed his eyes briefly to regain control of his own self-frustration. "I had not anticipated him running away within a quarter of an hour, Doctor, and was required on the Bridge for orbital procedures. When, precisely, would you have preferred I do so?"

"That doesn't matter so much as why aren't you down there getting him?" the doctor snapped. "You can ground him for the rest of his teen years for remote-accessing the transporter pad later, Spock; right now, we gotta get him off that planet!"

Spock resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. "While I am equally concerned regarding his mental state at the moment, Doctor, he is more adult than child now. I have no doubt he will survive an hour on the surface, and perhaps the sight of an agriculturally rich planet will do him good."

"Spock." Looking sick, McCoy stepped closer and laid a hand lightly on the Vulcan's arm. "You aren't getting me, are you?"

"Regarding?"

"You think I told him he couldn't go, because I wanted to keep an eye on him?"

"Was that not the case?"

The physician gave a sad sort of sobbing laugh. "No, Spock, no…that's not it at all."

"Explain," Spock replied, slanted brows clenched.

McCoy covered his eyes with one hand, massaging his forehead as he spoke. "That kid, Spock, who has just come out of the worst genocide of the century - he just beamed down to a semi-quarantined plague planet."

Chapter Text

For the first time in a very long time, McCoy actually saw an emotion fill the Vulcan’s expressionless features – horror.
 
“Doctor, only the primary continent is affected; it is not truly a plague planet in the definition of the word. Surely –“
 
“And do you really think his remote access to the transporter didn’t do more than just pirate the same coordinates that we beamed the medical rescue party to?”
 
Angry as he was at both Jim and Spock, his heart went out to the poor Vulcan; without changing posture or expression, the stiff figure seemed to literally droop with weary dismay, heedless of the personnel entering and exiting the corridor around them. “I had not even considered that possibility of damage to the child’s psyche if beamed down, given that the planet is only affected in one continent,” Spock admitted quietly.
 
These two were going to be the death of his sanity, McCoy thought sourly, and he was going to smack them both good upside the heads when all this was over. “It’s not something you would have thought about,” he said, not unkindly, simply matter-of-fact.  “Regardless, I should have specified, given the kid a reason why he couldn’t beam down, not just told him he wasn’t medically fit. We’re both to blame. But now we gotta find him, Spock.”
 
“Indeed.” The Vulcan’s eyes sharpened with purpose. “I shall alert Security and begin beaming down search parties; with his most recent bio-scans from Sickbay, we should be able to pinpoint his location even amongst humanoids due to the unusual energy readings of the Regenratron from the cellular level.”
 
“Hold it,” the doctor said, reaching out a hand to halt the Acting Captain’s exit. He carefully didn’t touch the Vulcan, since there were other people around and he knew Spock would not appreciate the physical contact, but he blocked the way as best he could. “As Chief Medical Officer of this ship, I can’t let you put the majority of our Ops personnel in medical danger just in search of one crewman.”
 
Spock halted in his tracks, and turned.
 
McCoy refused to quail under the deadly frozen gaze. “I want to find him as much as you do, Mr. Spock,” he said quietly. “But you’re not going to endanger the crew of his ship, sending them down into a possible plague zone.”
 
Duty warred with concern for a moment in the dark eyes, before the former silenced the latter and Spock nodded reluctantly. “You are correct, Doctor. Have you a viable alternative idea, which we could utilize to locate the captain?”
 
He swallowed, because he had no clue. And much as he’d like to see a hundred fifty red-shirts swarm the capital city he knew Jim would absolutely have a fit if they put that many people into danger for his sake – or for anyone else’s sake, for that matter. “Not at the moment,” he admitted. “And this is Jim Kirk we’re talking about, Spock. If he doesn’t want to be found, then chances are we won’t be able to find him anyhow, even if –“
 
“Excuse me, sir? Captain, Doctor McCoy?”
 
They both turned at the new voice, McCoy before Spock; the Vulcan still had not grown accustomed to being referred to by the crew as captain and not first officer.
 
“Yes, Lieutenant?”
 
“Sir, forgive me for interrupting, but word does spread quickly on a starship. I’d like to volunteer to beam to the surface to find Ji – er, the captain.”
 
“We were discussing the matter, Lieutenant; you will be notified if you can be of assistance in the search.” Spock’s tone was polite but dismissive; all they needed was an onslaught of well-meaning crewmen trying to be heroes, especially non-Security personnel.
 
“Sir, with all due respect, I’m probably the only one who can be of assistance to you,” the lieutenant declared with self-assured sincerity.
 
“Oh, and why’s that?” McCoy asked, arms folded, and trying to think why the young man’s face rang an alarm bell somewhere in his memory...something he should already have thought of, and hadn’t for one reason or another.
 
“Because,” Kevin Riley replied dryly, “with all due respect, sirs, I rather think I know the mind of thirteen-year-old Jim Kirk a lot better than either of you.”

Chapter Text

Kevin Riley had long since, during this four-year mission, thrown off the temporary stigma he’d acquired during the incident with Anton Karidian’s acting troupe – namely, the rumor, that Captain Kirk had picked him not for his ability but for his name.

However, as the captain had ruefully explained to him during those days following Karidian/Kodos’s death, Kirk hadn't actually recognized him until Karidian's troupe upended the ship. After all, they were children at the time, Riley just a tiny one, and no child remembers the last names of his playmates, much less traumatized ones. All their information was redacted from official reports at the time, though leaked later in a story about the "Tarsus Nine," and then sealed from official ones, so there was no real way anyone, Kirk included, could have known unless they were specifically searching for that information. It was merely a coincidence, albeit a huge one, that they ended up on the same ship, nothing more.

But in the years that followed the Karidian incident, Riley had gone from Engineering’s class clown to a Lieutenant in charge of communication operations, well-respected and liked in his own right. Kodos was, by this point, nothing more than a dislike of Shakespeare and an aversion to milk. Kevin Riley had only been six at the time of the Tarsus IV massacre, and as such, his parents’ deaths had not had the entirely damaging impact upon his psyche which it might have upon an older child.
 
An older child, such as this one. James T. Kirk, though at the time of the genocide Kevin hadn’t known him by anything other than Jim or JT. He’d never seen the teenager again, after the ‘Fleet rescue ships had come too late to save half the colony, until the day he was accepted (to his surprise; his abilities were nothing stellar) to a posting aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. He’d stepped off the transporter padd with the rest of the newest Engineering team, and had been nailed by a set of sharp eyes which he recognized before his brain made the unconscious connection some months later.
 
He'd thought at the time, that it explained why his less-than-spectacular profile had been accepted to the most sought-after ship in the ‘Fleet; he would have to prove to himself and the captain that he deserved the position which his past had bought him. He only found out later, it was simply a coincidence - but either way, the incentive worked.
 
Kirk promoted him within the year from Engineering to Communications, when Riley had made it known that that was his preferred department, and other than the tension surrounding their final encounter with Kodos, his career and relations with his crewmates had only improved since.
 
Now, he had the feeling, strange though it was, that he might very be the only person who could reach the troubled and terrified child who was trapped between two sets of memories, one signifying safety and happiness and the other death and destruction of everything he knew.
 
Riley beamed down to the surface of Cyrus III alone, with strict cautionary instructions from McCoy regarding signs of the plague; however, as it was only transmitted through bodily fluids, he believed he would be relatively safe from its effects provided no one coughed directly on him. The coordinates pirated by the young captain’s hijacked transport deposited him in the middle of a deserted town square; eerie in that the very few people around were simply scurrying to their destinations. There was no sign of friendly talk, bartering, social interaction, nothing – and no children to be seen, anywhere. The people of this city were frightened of the disease lurking at their gates, and were taking no chances of infection nor were in the mood for the usual interaction with others. No one gave him a second look, which suited his purpose.
 
He stood for a long moment, taking in his surroundings and mapping the town on his tricorder. The holograph it produced he then converted into 3-D imagery, and within moments knew where to begin his search.
 



In the end, it was more luck than investigative skill which led him to find the missing youth; while he had been correct in first moving through the worst parts of the city in search of those unfortunate children who even in this century still were forced to live on the streets, he never would have located Jim amid the milling chaos of that sort of environment if he had not heard the commotion three streets away and had on a hunch darted that direction. He found the youngster quite capably fending off a hulking predator some seven or eight years older than himself who, from what Riley could see, had attacked the young girl now cringing against a filthy brick wall. Judging from the ripped bags scattered about, vegetables crushed or lying on the soiled ground, the older teenager had been after nothing more than the food and the girl’s purse – and that was the only thing which made Riley flick the setting on his phaser over to stun and not heavy stun.
 
He needn’t have bothered; he’d forgotten what this desperate young man was capable of, and what lack of combative ethics he had possessed during the flight for their lives from Kodos’s executionary squads. Obviously the girl’s attacker was not expecting a scrawny kid to have such a good working knowledge of various self-defensive moves and a host of dirty street-fighting techniques. After a well-placed knee and two fists simultaneously to the ears, the older teen howled and fled. Riley had never fired a shot, though he’d wanted to when he saw the unbridled rage take over the mind and body of his de-aged captain. However, the punk had deserved what he got, and Jim needed to vent; it was a win-win.
 
Leaning casually against the brick wall, the lieutenant watched with fond amusement as Jim helped the girl pick up the scattered contents of her parcels and pocketbook. She blushed as she thanked her rescuer, before trotting off toward whatever home she might have on this underprivileged side of town. Jim watched for a minute to make sure she made it safely into a more well-lit street, before he turned, wiping blood from a split lip.
 
Adrenaline-gleaming eyes suddenly spotted the uniformed figure leaning against the wall, and the young man froze.
 
Riley raised a questioning eyebrow. “You done playing the hero, then?” he asked mildly.
 
The glare he received would have made any true parent weep with frustration; he only found it amusing, and a little sad. Jim’s eyes flicked up and down, taking in the uniform and phaser. “You’re Starfleet, but not Security,” he observed. 
 
Riley nodded; even if the little boy Jim had seen him once or twice in Engineering, it was no surprise that the growing brain did not recognize most people who were not in his inner circle of what constituted his security and happiness. “Nope,” he agreed cheerfully, re-attaching the phaser to his hip. “Expecting our scary Mr. Spock to send down a legion of bodyguards for you?”
 
Jim blinked in surprise, and then gave a genuine laugh. “Actually, yeah,” the boy muttered, scuffling one toe along the uneven pavement. “Or more like a squadron to bring me back on board in stasis cuffs...”
 
“You’d deserve it.”
 
The child muttered something indistinguishable, but looked suitably chastened. The lieutenant’s features softened, and he pulled out his communicator. “Riley to Enterprise.”
 
“Enterprise, Scott here. How are ye, laddie?”
 
“Fine, Scotty. Hold it, you,” he barked, as Jim looked about to bolt at the realization that his whereabouts were about to be revealed. “I’m not afraid to stun you if I have to.”
 
“You wouldn’t dare,” the boy snapped, arms folded but stationary, eyeing him with newfound wariness.
 
“I’ve been trained by you, kid,” he retorted dryly. “What d’you expect?”
 
The teenager stared at him for a moment, and then cracked a slight smile. 
 
“Mr. Scott, please let Acting Captain Spock know that I’ve located our escapee,” the lieutenant said into the comm.
 
“Oh, aye!  Is the wee one all right?”
 
Jim rolled his eyes heaven-ward, making retching noises behind the lieutenant’s back. Riley snorted to hide his laughter as he answered. “He’s fine, Scotty.”
 
“Mr. Spock says I’m t’ beam ye both back aboard on the double, Mr. Riley.”
 
“Ah…about that, Mr. Scott.” Riley cleared his throat, seeing the look of panic start to fill the too-large hazel eyes in such a young face. “My tricorder’s picking up some kind of weird interference in the area, you see. I think it might be prudent to wait a bit before trying to beam through whatever it is, you know?”
 
Silence. Then, “…Acknowledged. Stand by, lad.”
 
Jim’s jaw dropped at the boldfaced lie. Riley sighed and elbowed the young man as he passed, moving down the street toward a more populated area. “Kid, you’ve got to start trusting people again at some point,” he said gently as the boy fell into step beside him, “or you’re going to spend the rest of your life being miserable.”
 
The young man opened his mouth to reply, but the communicator chirped. “Scott to Riley.”
 
“Yes, Mr. Scott?”
 
“Mr. Spock is nae happy to hear about this ‘mysterious’ interference.”
 
“We both know he’ll get over it, Mr. Scott,” he replied, much enjoying the bug-eyed look he received from his companion. “I think half an hour is sufficient time for it – and other things – to dissipate?”
 
A chuckle filtered through the communicator. “Be it upon your head, Mr. Riley. Let me know when ye’d like beam-up. Scott out.”
 
“You seriously just gave him that line of –“
 
“Would you rather I take you back up top and you can face the combined wrath of Dr. McCoy and your over-protective Vulcan, all before breakfast?” he inquired, giving the young man a pointed look. “I’m not condoning what you did, kid, far from it – but even I’m not stupid enough to get on both of their bad sides at once.”
 
“Little late for that,” the child muttered uncomfortably.
 
“Just a little.”

Jim snorted. ”Thanks for that bit of encouragement.”

“I’m not your therapist,” Riley said cheerfully, steering them onto a slightly-populated thoroughfare which apparently was still doing business despite the rampant illness. McCoy had set his tricorder to detect the presence of the microbes sweeping the city and had stuffed two emergency masks in the back compartment of his tricorder; he would be able to scan anything to judge any possible danger and had a backup plan, should they not be able to beam up for decontamination in time. “And I’m hungry; had to give up my breakfast to come looking for you, thanks very much.”
 
Jim glanced sideways at him, obviously mystified by his approach. “Um…this is a plague planet,” he said, enunciating slowly as if Riley were mentally challenged.
 
“What, are you scared of becoming infected? Should have thought about that before you went off half-cocked,” he answered, spying a small coffee shop and giving it a once-over with the medical scan. “Did you even check to see where you were beaming to, that the coordinates weren’t reset to the middle of one of the Cyran oceans or the isolation ward of a plague hospital?”
 
“Um…”
 
“Or why our CMO might have told you that you weren’t allowed to beam down? He does have reasons, you know, for what he does. Sometimes a little sadistic reasons,” he added in an afterthought, eliciting a small chuckle from the young man, “but still reasons. Coffee?”
 
Jim blinked at the last. “Come again?”
 
“Well, I figure it this way,” he replied, holding the door for the young man and waiting patiently until the kid slowly went through it. “You’ve been in this child-state for, what, seven weeks now? So you’ve been without coffee for two months.”
 
“…Yeah.” Realization sparked a bit of life into the dark eyes, lightening their pinched look just a fraction. Riley was glad to see it. “Yeah, I have!”
 
“I figure you’re old enough now, even if technically you’re only like two months old,” the lieutenant mused, looking at the small menu.
 
“Bones’ll kill me.”
 
“Are you going to be stupid enough to tell him?”
 
“…Nope.”
 
“Well then. I definitely have better things to do with my time than ratting you out; besides, I stay as far away from Sickbay as I can. So, black with one sugar, chocolate chip scone?” 
 
After one last wary look from those haunted eyes, Riley saw the acceptance filter into the child’s distanced stance. Jim finally nodded. 
 
Riley ordered half a dozen of the scones; he had a feeling they’d be needed.

Chapter Text

Kevin Riley felt like laughing when he saw the expression of pure caffeine-induced bliss which escaped the tight control the adolescent was holding over himself, but as the café was nearly deserted and those present more funereal in atmosphere than jovial, he kept his amusement to himself and merely sat back to wait. Three scones and a refill later, the young man finally met his eyes for the first time since they had sat down at the rickety table.
 
“Do I know you from somewhere?” the boy asked finally, scrutinizing his face.
 
“Do you mean somewhere in your child-past, meaning the point you are now; or somewhere in your adult past?” the lieutenant replied carefully.
 
Jim scowled. “I’m not a child, but whatever – yes, my child-past.” Thin fingers made sarcastic quotes around the words as he spoke. “I feel like I should know you, and I’m guessing I do – otherwise why are you here and not Spock or Bones or anyone else I actually do recognize off that ship?”
 
He should have known the child would still possess the same almost uncanny perceptive abilities. “You do know me,” he said simply. “But for me it’s been a lot longer.”
 
Jim stuffed the rest of the fourth scone into his mouth, all the while fixing him with a penetrating gaze over be-crumbed fingers. “Meaning?”
 
“Meaning I haven’t seen you at thirteen in almost twenty years. For you, on the other hand, it’s only been, what – a few months, since Tarsus IV?”
 
Jim jolted half out of his chair at the casual reference, disturbing the pile of paper napkins into a flurry which drifted to the floor below. Wide eyes demanded an explanation from him before the youngster’s mouth caught up with his shocked brain. Riley waited, patient, for the oncoming storm.
 
The expected explosion or attempt to flee did not come; that in itself was a good sign, as he knew better than most that the flight instinct was the last to leave after undergoing a trauma such as their shared one. It meant Jim was improving mentally – and possibly aging, past where he had been just that morning. He surreptitiously turned on his tricorder, scanning the boy under the table.
 
“Who are you?” Jim finally asked hoarsely, his thin body fairly vibrating from suppressed tension. “And how do you know?”
 
Thirteen years, seven months – he’d aged a month or two, probably. Good. Riley snapped the tricorder cover shut and turned his attention back across the table.
 
“Look, kid, I know you’re probably a little freaked out right now,” he said directly, leaning both arms on the table and scooting his chair up to it in a business-like manner. “Between Spock and McCoy’s hovering and your screwed-up memory, I bet you have no real idea of what’s going on. But I want you to promise me you won’t run out on me if I try to talk to you. Will you do that?”
 
“I wouldn’t get far, now would I?” the boy retorted, though his eyes kept flicking uneasily toward the door.
 
“No, but I’d really not like to have to explain to McCoy why I shot my captain-turned-wild-teenager, if it’s all the same to you,” he replied dryly.
 
The boy smirked slightly, and relaxed somewhat. 
 
“So, promise me?”
 
“If you’re wanting me to ‘talk it out,’ you’re wasting your breath, because if three Starfleet shrinks couldn’t do the job I doubt if you will,” Jim said bluntly.
 
He finished off his coffee, more in an effort to steady his own nerves than to relax the child opposite. “I don’t need you to tell me about the massacre.”
 
“Oh? Hey, you gonna eat that scone?”
 
“Nope.” He shoved the uneaten biscuit across the table.
 
“Thanks.” After another bite, the young man’s voice took on a bitter tinge. “So why’s that, anyway? Most people just love to hear about ‘poor wittle traumatized Jimmy Kirk’ and how he’s coping.”
 
“I don’t need to hear about it, because I got the same crap from people who wanted to know how poor little traumatized Kevin was coping, after watching Kodos’s men throw his parents’ bodies into a shallow grave. Before some hotheaded kid going by JT rescued him from the next batch to be executed,” the lieutenant replied quietly.
 
Jim choked on his next bite, inhaling a large chunk of scone, and after coughing his airway clear dropped the rest of it unheeded on the table, face white as chalk and hands shaking so badly he looked about ten seconds away from passing out. Riley knew this was the crucial moment – either the boy would stay and listen, or give in to an ingrained flight instinct and run.
 
“You – I –“ Realization mixed with horror, and the young man’s face went another shade of white. “I think I’m gonna be sick,” he choked out, shoving his chair back as if to dash from the table.
 
“Whoa, whoa, hold it.” Riley scooted around, taking the youngster’s shaking hands in his for a second and squeezing them to ground the near-hyperventilating youth. “Calm down, deep breaths. In…and out. No no no, don’t space out on me, kid – breathe in…and out. Good. Now again.”
 
Gulping for air, Jim shakily complied, slowly regaining control over his panicked responses as the lieutenant watched, mentally preparing the precise location of his communicator’s emergency recall in case the child went into severe shock. It had been a gamble – but if it paid off, he knew from experience it would be better for all concerned than simply sweeping this whole incident under the rug and leaving it to mold there.
 
“It’s just a physiological response to that pound of sugar and flour you ate on an upset stomach,” he continued in a calm voice, soothing and extremely gentle. “You’re not used to having enough solid food yet. Plus I did just drop a photon torpedo on you,” he added quietly, earning an incredulous eyeroll and full-body shudder from his audience. “Sorry about that, Jim.”
 
“You’re such a jerk,” the boy breathed shakily, though the glare he shot the unrepentant lieutenant was firmly contradicted by the death grip he held on the man’s hands.
 
“Maybe,” he agreed. “But you’ve never had anyone throw it right into your face before, have you?” The young man was silent. “It’s always been ‘let’s talk about this, Jim’ and ‘tell me how you felt when this happened.’ Things that you can easily divert and subvert by telling them what they want to hear, so that they’ll leave you alone and mark the psychological trauma file closed – saying that you’re fully recovered from the incident.”
 
Dull hazel eyes closed for a second, head bowed over their painfully clasped hands.
 
“You learned what to say and how to say it, and soon everyone forgot about it – forgot about them, all four thousand of them,” Riley said softly. “They turned into just a statistic in a history text, and everyone else forgot – about them and about you. And that was the way you wanted it, right? You were on Kodos’s good list, and yet you risked everything to keep a few people safe who weren’t. You’d proved yourself, and you didn’t need anyone else trying to imply you were messed up because of what happened. Right?”
 
The icy hands which were clenching unconsciously in his uniform sleeves suddenly tightened, and the young man’s eyes opened again, anger and dread warring with mere annoyance visible in them. “I’m starting to really, really hate you, you know that?”
 
Riley shrugged, smiling sadly. “Because I know too much, or because I’m calling you on your macho act? Or is it because I called you JT?”
 
A giggle bordering dangerously on hysteria broke out of the confines of a set jaw. “I hate that nickname,” Jim murmured.
 
“I know. And you hate being told you’re being an idiot for shutting people out, but that’s not really stopping me, now is it?”
 
“You know, if I would’ve known you were gonna grow up to be this, I might have just let that brat Dave eat your bread ration those two nights we spent hiding in the trees,” Jim snorted, but for the first time actually looking him in the eye with something close to – not quite, but close to – amusement. “Are you really…?”
 
The lieutenant nodded, smiling. “Kevin Riley, communications lieutenant, U.S.S. Enterprise. You never knew my last name at your current age, but you found out during your captaincy, it's a long story I don't think we need to go over just yet. You’re my captain now; and let me tell you that this conversation is getting a tiny bit awkward.”
 
A shy smile suddenly burst through the clouds which had for so long obscured the young man’s personality after the events of the recent transformation; it did Riley’s heart wonders to see. “I did pretty good, didn’t I?”
 
Crisis averted, the lieutenant chuckled and released the boy’s hands, re-settling his tricorder into position on his hip and reaching for his communicator. “That you did, Jim. That you did.”
 


  
“Oh, I am sooooo dead.”
 
Riley ignored the dramatic moan, seeing Montgomery Scott’s tolerant grin from the transporter console hastily change into a bland expression as they fully materialized.
 
“As in, I’m grounded for the rest of the five-year mission dead. As in no more German chocolate cake ever, dead. As in –“
 
“Will you put a lid on it?” he asked in exasperation, and received an extremely disrespectful gesture behind Jim’s back in response as the teenager slouched off the transporter pad and out into the corridor.
 
Scotty stared after him, incredulous of the personality transformation. “An’ just what kind of monster have ye created there, Mr. Riley?”
 
“I dunno,” he almost whimpered, and hastily scooted after their teenage captain. Someone was going to have to face the music, and he might be needed as mediator if the kid regained his personality with such alarming rapidity as he was currently showing. The idea of Spock trying to face off against a mouthy teenage Jim Kirk made him want to either curl up in a ball and hide until it was over, or buy popcorn and sit down to watch.

He pulled out the tricorder and ran a quick scan; yes, as he’d thought – the kid was now fourteen years old. Obviously he’d learned his necessary lessons, and learned them well.
 
Too well; the transformation into a normal teenager was well underway, the trauma of the past few hours already dissipating.
 
McCoy’s gonna kill me, was Riley’s last thought of dismay before they both rounded the corner. Jim smacked straight into six feet of Vulcan bone density and rebounded, nearly tumbling them both at the Acting Captain’s feet.
 
Riley thought about pretending to be down for the count, seeing the stony expression on Spock’s face, but was brave enough to stand his ground (and not move when Jim yelped and hid behind him).
 
“Uh, mission accomplished, Mr. Spock?” he managed, standing at attention. Darn you, Scotty, he thought furiously. You just had to go and let him know we were back, didn’t you?
 
“Lieutenant.” The word was both icy and dismissive; he quailed under the look of Painful Imminent Death. “I presume your ‘mysterious interference’ dissipated sufficiently to afford you safe beam-out conditions?”
 
“Um. Yes, sir; just a few moments ago. A bit odd, actually, how it just cleared up as quickly as it had appeared.”
 
“I see.” 
 
I doubt it, he thought, but valued his life and position enough to not say so. He contented himself with reaching one hand out and yanking a furtive Jim Kirk back into position beside him, the teenager having tried to sneak away unobserved while his superiors talked.
 
“I should…return these to ship’s stores,” he ventured, holding up the phaser and tricorder.
 
“That will wait, Lieutenant,” Spock said coldly, “until you have reported recent events to my satisfaction.”
 
“Ah. Right, yes. Right away, sir.” He gulped, and heard a faint muffled snicker from behind him. “Oh, shut up, Jim.”
 
Spock’s eyebrows exploded upward, and Riley blinked. “Ah…with all due respect to your adult self, of course, sir,” he added, shifting his weight to his other foot and glancing apologetically back toward the youth behind him.
 
“Apology accepted,” Jim replied with a noble sniff.
 
The lieutenant rolled his eyes. “You are gonna be such a spoiled brat by eighteen.”
 
“And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it,” the young man returned with a cheeky grin.
 
“JAMES TIBERIUS KIRK!”
 
What looked like an extremely worried and therefore dangerously cranky Leonard McCoy rounded the corner from the turbolift, slightly out of breath and steam fairly pouring out his ears.
 
They all jumped (well, Spock only twitched, which was like a leap into mid-air by Vulcan standards).
 
“Um – hi, Bones!” Jim squeaked, and the lieutenant stared at him in surprise and amusement. A look of horror crossed the young man’s face. “Oh, my voice did not just crack! Spock! You never explained to me I had to go through flipping puberty again!”
 
McCoy’s eyes bugged, as he finally registered that the youth standing before them was not the traumatized thirteen-year-old he had been when he beamed down that morning.
 
“Seriously, this is so not cool!” Grasping dramatically at his chaotic hair with both hands, their teenaged captain looked wildly around him. “I mean, hormones, and drama, and girls, well that part’s decent enough, but –“
 
Sneaking a look at a suitably aghast Spock, Riley thought he might hurt himself if he had to hold in hysterical laughter any longer. He began to silently creep away down the corridor away from the wailing teenager, knowing that his job was done.
 
“Oh gods, I’m going to have ACNE!”
 
Yeah, the kid was going to be fine.

Chapter Text

Whatever reservations McCoy had had about Spock's ability to hold out against a rebellious, teenaged Jim Kirk, they were put to rest within a quarter-hour of the young man's return to the Enterprise. After his miniature freakout regarding the horrifying prospect of pubescence, Jim had taken one look at Spock's stony expression and had promptly quailed before it, as any other mortal would.

"I'm in trouble, yeah?" he asked, peering at McCoy with a wordless plea for mercy. The physician raised an eyebrow pointedly, and Jim's eyes dropped to the deck. "Yeah, thought so. Look, Spock -"

"Spare us the juvenile rationalization of your complete disregard for orders and your personal safety."

"You can't give me orders," Jim retorted hotly, hands fisted on his still-slim hips. "I'm really the captain of this ship!"

Spock took one long-legged step into the young man's personal space. "I can, and you are not," he enunciated evenly, skewering Jim on the end of a truly fearsome glare. "You will not be the captain of this vessel for another sixteen of your years - and while I have no desire to assume command in your stead I have done so and shall continue to, until you are of sufficient age to perform your duties."

Jim looked up, glaring from under his unruly hair, and opened his mouth, but wisely snapped it shut after consideration. "Until that time," Spock continued, "you will behave in a manner befitting a Starfleet crewman, if you presume to have the freedom aboard you seem to expect. Failure to comport yourself as such will result in the restriction of your movements aboard the ship you will someday command." The Vulcan's eyes softened ever-so-slightly, but his stance remained firm. "I fully recognize that you are no longer considered a child by human standards, but nor are you an adult, Jim. How much liberty you have to acquaint yourself with your ship and its people is entirely dependent upon you."

"You're saying if I don't toe the line or whatever, you're going to have me restricted to quarters?" Jim muttered rebelliously, arms folded as he slouched against the wall. "That's ridiculous!"

Even McCoy intelligently stepped backward as fire sparked in the Acting Captain's eyes, and he'd be real surprised if the crewmen in a cross-corridor who had done sudden about-faces at the sight hadn't wet themselves. Spock was downright terrifying when he wanted to be, and he obviously wanted to be.

"Were you a crewman, who had endangered himself and this ship by an unauthorized beam-down into a Class Three planetary emergency, followed by an evasion of authority in returning to the ship and blatant disregard for orders from inception to conclusion, I would have you in the brig until we reached the next starbase," Spock said with quiet menace. Jim paled, straightening up instinctively under the tone of authority, as well as the veiled reference to Spock's original threat, to return him to a starbase to wait out his re-transformation in protective custody. "And that is most certainly the sentence you, as captain of this ship, would have carried out were you in my place," the Vulcan added, more gently.

Jim looked a bit sick. "Are you going to - you're not going to do that, are you?" he asked, the rebellious tone gone from his voice as common sense penetrated his knee-jerk defense.

"Negative," Spock replied calmly. "I believe such measures would be overly harsh in this case." Jim huffed out a quiet breath of relief, and the Vulcan continued dryly, "Also, you have in the past broken out of the Enterprise brig on three separate occasions; obviously such a punishment would be an exercise in futility."

Jim grinned, for the first time since Spock had begun his chastisement, though the smile faded within a few moments. He scuffled a toe along the durasteel wall, and then glanced up. "I'm sorry, for what it's worth," he offered with a reluctant casualness, though the sloppy apology appeared sincere enough.

"And what do you believe 'it' is worth, Jim?"

Jim winced; McCoy was starting to feel sorry for him. Then he remembered that the kid had beamed himself down to a plague planet while suffering from PTSD and malnutrition, and he went back to being mighty ticked off at the brat. If he'd ever tried something like this his momma would have had his hide, and no mistake; the kid was lucky to have a member of a pacifistic species as his primary guardian.

"You will behave yourself according to the standard held to every Starfleet crew member, if you wish to be treated as one rather than as a civilian passenger," Spock stated, as if it were fact and not an offer. "If you blatantly defy authority again, you will be dealt with as any crewman would, by being placed on report, banned from ship privileges, or restricted to quarters. And," his voice deepened with uncompromising coldness, "escape ability or not, you will spend the night in the brig should you again deliberately disobey my or Dr. McCoy's strict injunctions as you did this morning, to the point of endangering the safety of this ship."

"You wouldn't," Jim gasped, aghast.

Spock's eyebrows rose a fraction. "I most definitely would," he replied sternly. "You have voiced in recent minutes that you believe yourself to be captain of this ship - what would you do, had a crewman defied you in such a manner, fully knowing of the consequences?"

Jim looked properly chastised, and vented a long, mournful sigh. "I would...realize that the guy's a real moron, and be very merciful if he promises not to screw up that badly again?" he tried with a winsome expression, employing a very good teenaged approximation of his toddler-aged puppy eyes.

McCoy snorted, more because he knew Spock was a sucker for the ploy even with the adult version of their captain than out of amusement at the kid's antics. Spock merely regarded the hopeful youngster with incredible calmness, before inclining his head a fraction in what constituted agreement.

"A very wise human once told me, that every good man deserves a second chance," the Acting Captain finally said quietly. "See that you use it well, Jim."

The teenager nodded, apparently genuinely ashamed of his actions.

"I would suggest you return to your quarters for a change of clothing and a precautionary decontamination shower," Spock continued. "Doctor McCoy will then meet you in Sickbay for a physical and psychological examination, which is, I remind you, standard procedure for any crewman returning from even an uneventful away mission." Jim's protest died on his lips unspoken at the explanation, and he nodded in unenthusiastic accord. "I would then be...agreeable to dining with you in Officers' Mess, if you have no objections to my presence?"

A genuine smile curved the teenager's lips, all animosity surprisingly vanished in the face of an implacable authority. McCoy suspected the kid simply needed an authority figure to slap him in the face with the reasons behind rules before he'd submit to them (or decide if they were worth breaking), if said authority had already proven its trustworthiness beyond doubt. It was textbook for an adolescent coming out of a traumatic experience such as Jim's (textbook for Jim's career, now that he thought about it, which made all kinds of sense), and it boded well for the teenaged years and their inadequate but well-meaning quasi-parenting.

Standing tall, Jim acknowledged Spock with a solemn nod, and then relaxed, flipping them both a sloppy salute before setting off down the corridor, headed for the nearest turbolift.

The CMO exhaled only slightly more loudly than his Acting Captain, and they exchanged a set of raised eyebrows that clearly said well-that-could-have-gone-worse.

"Not too awful bad, for a Vulcan," he observed without rancor. "Don't you think you were a little hard on him, though, Spock? He's just a kid, we gotta remember that."

"Perhaps, Doctor," came the pensive reply. "Though if we were to ask the Captain, I believe his answer would be that he was never 'just a kid'. Time will tell."

McCoy nodded, shoving off from the wall where he'd been leaning, watching the fireworks. "Well, you've set yourself up as an authority he'll respond to, at least - and good call, with the whole crewman behavior shebang. That's something he'll take seriously, and hopefully it'll put off his wanting to take over the ship when he's sixteen and depressed and hormonal and God-knows-what-else. I have a lot of studying to do, let me tell you."

Spock inclined his head, and turned to proceed down the corridor to the Bridge turbolift.

"One thing, Spock," McCoy called before he got very far.

A long-suffering close of the eyes. "Yes, Doctor."

"Who was that 'wise human' you were goin' on about?" the physician asked curiously. "The Lady Amanda, was it?"

Spock cocked his head to one side, regarding him silently. Finally, he straightened and answered, "Negative, Doctor. It was Captain Kirk."

"But when -"

"Shortly after I returned from escorting Captain Pike to the Transporter Room at Talos IV, Doctor," was the quiet rejoinder, and with a curt nod Spock disappeared around the corner.

McCoy looked after him in surprise, and then smiled. Maybe, just maybe, they would all escape the next few harrowing weeks without killing each other.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

Like what seemed to be the general (and admittedly eager) crew consensus, McCoy had thought that a teenaged Jim Kirk would be a hormone-ridden, rebellious dynamo of pure energy unleashed on an unsuspecting ship.

None were more shocked than he to find that this was not the case.

Jim was, certainly, energetic, though less than typically due simply to the effects of the rapid aging on his body, as well as the mental and physical scars from his unspoken-of time on Tarsus IV. Still, in that way he was almost annoying in his exuberance, never tiring of following his tolerant crew about the ship and asking incessant questions about its workings and policies.

Montgomery Scott fairly fell in love with the fifteen-year-old version of his captain (McCoy had no idea how he'd aged another year in a few days, but it could be anything at this point), and spent countless hours with the young man, teaching him how to repair circuitry and improvise tech to perform above its projected specs. It got to the point where no one looked up anymore when minor explosions rocked the Engineering Deck at all hours of ship's day or night, and McCoy would swear his hair was greying more by the hour, knowing that a genius-level teenager was tinkering around with their my-silver-lady-runs-because-o'-my-not-entirely-legal-magic Chief Engineer. They had to trust that of course Scott would die before actually endangering the ship or its CO, but it didn't mean he had to like it.

Jim would show up for his periodic check-ins, covered in grease and usually needing replacement tunics, but beaming happily and chattering anyone's ear off who remained within hearing distance about what he'd learned that day. This in itself was not surprising, as McCoy was aware that the kid had minored in Engineering in Starfleet Academy, and as an adult starship captain was quite competent at finding his way about an Engineering section.

What was surprising, to him and to many of his crew, was that Jim was like that with everyone.

Nurse Chapel had been understandably wary of working in close quarters with a teenaged young man who had already proven before hitting puberty he was capable of charming what he wanted out of their less stern nursing staff - but to her surprise, the boy followed her around her duties with not so much as an inappropriate look or innuendo, asking pertinent questions and requesting to be taught whatever medical duty she was performing at the time.

She was so unnerved after two days of this, that she sent the boy to Library and Research, ostensibly to fetch a few reference disks, and went to see McCoy in his office.

"Never thought that this would be the complaints I'd be gettin'," he observed with a weary grunt, kneading his forehead with one hand as he slumped back in his chair.

"Not to say that the professionalism is unwelcome, Doctor, or that I expected him to be inappropriate with his future crew, because I didn't - but the entire absence of interest across the board is, you must admit, not typical for a teenaged boy, any teenaged boy," she said, worried. "Is there some trauma we don't know about, that could have happened in his mid-teen years, that would put him off from more...promiscuous behavior? He had more personality at ten, and that drastic of a change doesn't seem to be normal."

The CMO frowned. "No trauma that I've ever heard him speak of, and not that's in his medical records," he answered. "Granted, I think his personality probably changed a lot after...the Tarsus incident," and they both knew to what he was referring, "and I'm by no means a child psychologist, this isn't my area of focus. Maybe he just grew up too fast?"

Chapel shook her head. "No, Doctor. He is a completely balanced young man - just not the young man I would expect out of James Kirk, if that makes sense."

McCoy sighed, and pointed to a data-padd on his desk. "You're the third person to tell me that in the last week, Nurse," he said, knowing her confidentiality would prevent that knowledge from spreading. "I need you to keep your ears open for any less official concerns among the crew, that they think he's acting a little...off. For him. In the meantime, all I can do is keep studying, unless he starts showing signs of PTSD or something. It's good to raise the concerns, but they may just not be founded in anything we can pinpoint. This is uncharted territory."

She nodded in agreement.

McCoy groaned into his hands as the door slid shut behind her. "Never thought I'd be worried that the brat wasn't trying to hit on his own crew," he mumbled, reaching for the comm-switch to call his unofficial co-parent (and wasn't that a bucket of laughs, that the title no longer even sounded unnatural).


Spock appeared unruffled by McCoy's description of Jim Kirk's behavior (though to be fair, if he were 'ruffled' no one would ever be able to tell).

"I know it's a little hard for you to get this through that smug skull of yours, Spock, but humans, especially young ones, are driven by what you just called 'animalistic impulses'. This is not normal behavior for a human male of that age!"

"Doctor, am I to understand from your tone and vocalizations that you are unhappy that the captain is behaving with remarkable maturity at fourteen?"

"Fifteen."

"Indeed?" An eyebrow slanted upward. "That itself should dispel your concerns, Doctor; he is obviously still aging as he should be."

"I don't care how he's aging, Spock - I just want to know why he's acting so all-fired weird!"

The Vulcan's eyes drifted ceiling-ward in that familiar expression McCoy had come to really, really hate. Finally Spock looked back at him. "Doctor, you are assigning your own projection of what would constitute normal behavior for James Kirk onto this younger version of him; who are any of us to determine what would be 'normal' behavior for one who has undergone what he has, and with the knowledge he possesses?"

The doctor blew out a slow, frustrated breath. "I understand your point, Commander," he finally agreed, "and maybe you're right; maybe I'm expecting the typical out of somebody who's anything but typical. I'm just worried, is all. We get one shot at this, you know."

Spock nodded. "I would not concern yourself overmuch about Jim's behavior, not at this juncture, Doctor," he said. "For one thing, the captain is aware that he is indeed just that - the captain of this vessel, however incapacitated he might be at the moment. That most certainly is enough to curtail any actions he might otherwise contemplate, is it not? And I do recall Gary Mitchell saying that when the Captain was a young man at Starfleet Academy, he was - if I recall the exact phrasing correctly - a 'pile of books with legs,' to which the captain added that he was 'positively grim'. To the point of being bullied for his studious behavior, if I remember accurately."

McCoy cocked his head, understanding sparking in his eyes. "I do believe you're right, Mr. Spock, much as I hate to say it. He was the antithesis of the usual 'Fleet frat boy until his third year at least, when he got mixed up with that Marcus woman...and I remember his medical records show he was barely seventeen when he entered the Academy."

"Then even your limited capacity for logic, Doctor, should be capable of extrapolating that perhaps, just as when he is an adult, Jim persists in what I believe you humans call breaking the mold," Spock answered, a hint of humor well-hidden in his eyes as he turned to leave.

Without looking up from his reports, McCoy half-heartedly threw an empty hypospray cartridge at the back of the Vulcan's head.

Spock ignored the cartridge, though a yeoman passing in the corridor was duly horrified.


While he was suitably wary of Jim's unusual response to the changes happening within his body during these years he was given to understand were so formative in Terran physiology, Spock was more relieved than anything else that he was not going to be forced to give 'the talk' to his teenaged captain, as said captain had been forced to do to the entity they had taken as passenger and called 'Charlie,' before the young man had gone out of control early in their five-year mission.

That did not, however, mean that the next few weeks were devoid of either entertainment or embarrassment (embarrassment for Jim, not because of him, as embarrassment was an emotion and therefore Spock was not subject to it).

The foremost of these happenings occurred, unfortunately, whilst Spock was in the middle of a live communiqué with the Starfleet Admiralty, to discuss the unfortunate juvenile in question. Jim had buzzed out of his quarters that morning with an indication that he was heading to the gymnasium with Lieutenant Sulu for fencing lessons (meditating, Spock had winced as the yell reverberated in the corridor outside his cabin), and he was grateful for the reprieve as he settled into his desk chair to conduct the communiqué.

"You believe the transformation is drawing to a close, then," Cartwright stated, scribbling a notation on his padd.

"I do. Based upon what the Insonti people have been able to tell us regarding the purpose of the ritual, the amount of time between each time-leap increases as the child ages; reverting, as the process's purpose indicates, in longer leaps due to the fact that the youngest years of a child are the most formative. I foresee a fortnight at most, before the captain will at least return to an age suitable for starship command; less than a month, certainly, before he will return to his true age."

"I don't care if he did beat the Kobayashi Maru at twenty, I'd still feel safer with the Enterprise in the hands of a Vulcan acting captain than a cadet version of Captain Kirk," Komack interjected, mildly enough despite his previous antagonism toward Kirk's captaincy in general. "You can't just hand it over to him when he comes of age."

"Indeed," Spock agreed without hesitation. "However, the matter may very well be a moot point. Dr. McCoy and I, after perusing the research into the Regenratron's purpose, believe that the captain may possibly simply skip from his cadet years into his true age."

"Explain."

"The Insonti people have informed us that the purposes of the device and its ritual are beneficial in nature; one, giving the subject the opportunity to cleanse its mind and spirit from the depression which follows a loss of purpose, or two, giving the subject the opportunity to deal with unresolved or childhood trauma." Spock paused to collect his thoughts regarding what he knew of Jim's unresolved past trauma, mental or physical, and then continued, "Forcing Captain Kirk to relive poor command decisions whose consequences he can no longer alter would by definition contradict that purpose. At the very least, I believe the latest age the device will put him at could possibly be his first deep-space mission, nothing later than that; that first assignment is, to most cadets, when they finally regard themselves as Starfleet officers and not initiates."

"That makes sense, Mr. Spock," Cartwright replied thoughtfully. "And for your sakes, I hope it doesn't take much longer. There is only so long we can postpone continuing your mission for the sake of an adolescent boy, James Kirk or no James Kirk."

Spock's head inclined. "Understood. I have instructed our department heads to begin conclusion of our star-charting directives, so that we are able to proceed immediately upon demand when asked to do so after the captain's retransformation."

There was a general murmur of approval among the row of Admirals.

"Is there anything else, gentlemen?" Spock asked.

"A few points of clarification regarding the situation on Cyrus III before we have you leave the system, Mr. Spock," Komack began, looking down at a data-padd. "We received your report regarding the arrival of the medical team to the infected Cyran continent; what updates has your Medical division for us?"

Spock retrieved the appropriate padd from the increasing stack on his desk (he would be much pleased to have Jim back doing his own paperwork, he would freely admit) and brought up McCoy's latest statistics on the situation below. "In the past eight days, the situation has passed from a Class Three planetary emergency down to a Class Four, based upon the competent efforts of the civilian medical team. Dr. McCoy reports that -"

He was interrupted by the swish of the adjoining bathroom door sliding open behind him.

"Spock? Yo Spock! Can I use your shampoo? I sort of…knocked mine down the recycling chute!" Jim Kirk's fifteen-year-old voice bellowed with all the subtlety and tact of a Type Two phaser array.

Admiral Archer snorted into his coffee cup, while the rest of them suddenly found their data-padds to be extremely interesting reading material.

Spock mentally counted to five, each number ticking off another good reason it would behoove him to not forcibly incarcerate his teenaged captain for both their sanities' sakes.

"Affirmative," he finally called back, with a small sigh but considerably more decorum, though not with enough of the latter to entirely salvage his dignity. He turned back to the screen before him.

Cartwright was unashamedly grinning at him. Insufferable human.

"As I was saying, gentlemen," he began, to all appearances unperturbed, "Dr. McCoy's reports indicate a decrease of 34.6% in the fatality of the disease, by all accounts a truly miraculous number. The infection and spread rates have dropped significantly as well due to the invention of a vaccine for its prevention, and as of 2300 hours yesterday there had been no new outbreaks of the disease. The medical team below has recommended a -"

An unearthly shriek sliced through the air, jolting all of them with its sudden intensity.

Even Spock started, feeling a rush as adrenaline surged through his veins. A thousand scenarios flashed in and out of his mind, each more horrifying than the last, and each ending with the untimely demise of his captain without ever regaining his proper age; such images were a staple by now of his dreams, the unpleasant effect of being forced into responsibility for a precocious child-captain.

And then said precocious child-captain, clad only in a standard-issue towel and screeching loud enough to wake the entirety of C-Deck, skittered madly into the room, bare feet squeaking on polished flooring.

"I swear to God I am going to kill the crewman who brought a Borasian jumping tarantula on board my ship, Spock! I don't care if they're considered 'small support animals!'"

Of all the terrible images his mind could conjure as hypothetical situations calling for such a horrific scream, he would be the first to admit he had not projected this particular one. Ever.

Someone on his viewscreen was making unpleasant noises as they tried not to laugh. He reluctantly turned his attention to Jim, who was now dripping on his floor, breathing heavily.

"Well, get me a phaser!" his captain demanded, one arm gesticulating wildly toward the sliding door of their shared bathroom. Spock raised a reluctant eyebrow, and Jim's wild eyes grew even wider. "I'm serious, Spock! Why is our ventilation shaft even large enough for it to get through!"

"Jim," he began calmly, trying to ignore the entirety of the Starfleet Admiralty grinning behind him, "I highly doubt that -"

"It fell off the ceiling onto my head, Spock. It. Is. Going. To DIE!"

"If you believe I shall permit you to destroy our communal shower cubicle in an attempt to exterminate Lieutenant Xanthra's errant arachnoid, however large, you are sadly mistaken, Jim," he replied with admirable composure, given that Archer was hooting like a demented owl on the viewscreen before him and even Komack was struggling to keep a straight face.

"It violated my hair, Spock!" Jim wailed (there was no other word to describe the sound, Spock opined), clutching the damp locks protectively with the hand not occupied in holding his towel closed.

Spock would have liked nothing better than to take the phaser blast himself at this point, but he refrained from any show of the increasing desire to perform the all-too-human action of slamming his head into the desk. Repeatedly.

"Jim," he said with admirable control. "I am currently in the midst of a live video conference with Starfleet Command."

"I don't c- you're what?" the young man shrieked. A look of horror on his face, he clutched his towel and scooted backward out of visual range of the desk, muttering about monster spiders and creeper Admirals and unsympathetic Vulcans.

On-screen, the entire board of 'creeper admirals' had by this point apparently, as Spock believed the Terran expression went, lost it. Cartwright made a sort of floppy, waving gesture that apparently meant you-are-excused-to-care-for-the-dire-emergency-Commander before the admiral reached for the disconnection button - but not before his cackling rang through the cabin.

"I am not stepping foot in there until that thing is gone!" Jim then declared in a particularly petulant tone while tapping one damp foot impatiently, a small slapping sound in the sudden silence of the room.

The impenetrable, shining desk top was looking more and more pleasing. Also, he had at least five hours' worth of paperwork to do and only three hours in which to do it before Beta shift.

And so, for the first time, he employed his prerogative as acting captain - to delegate tasks to his underlings without apology or explanation.

Jim's disgruntled scowl at McCoy's howl of laughter and good-natured "This is Sickbay, not animal control!" assured him it was the wisest course of action he could have taken.

Chapter Text

Lieutenant Uhura had been looking forward to seeing their nearly-sixteen-year-old captain, for lack of a better phrase, make his debut during the shipwide party she had been planning for a few weeks now with the sanction of the acting captain. While the crew were all aware of their captain's unique situation, they did not all come into frequent contact with him now that he was no longer a small child, and Kirk's presence below decks had been sorely missed.

From his first week after assuming captaincy, James Kirk had upended regulation and tradition with a blithe disregard for decades-instilled custom that equal parts horrified and fascinated his eager crew. He had strolled alone into a rec room his third night aboard, and after the initial panic over the unheard-of presence of a commanding officer below decks had died down had been invited to participate in a game of chess against one of the more foolish young hopefuls.

After three hours of soundly trouncing everyone who made the attempt to 'play winner', he left amid a sea of smiling faces and hesitant invitations to return - which he did, a week later, and this time accompanied by an extremely reluctant but obedient Lieutenant-Commander Spock. Two weeks later, Kirk made his first shipwalk at ship's gamma shift; he walked the entirety of his ship to meet the crewmen who were normally sound asleep during the first two shifts of the day. And one more week later, he in exasperation asked Commander Spock if he would for heaven's sake tell everyone to stop saluting when he passed in the corridors, because it was interfering with efficiency and just flat driving him crazy.

Spock's eyebrows had clearly said he regarded that to have already happened, but he had relayed the request to a skeptical crew.

These maneuvers had begun a new perception of the command chain within the ranks, and it had been a wise tactical move for a very young starship captain. Kirk made up for in charisma what he lacked in diplomacy, and plying that and a genuine love for his people upon his starry-eyed young crew bound them together within weeks into a cohesive, fiercely loyal group.

So now that Kirk, the adult Kirk, had been absent for nearly three months, his crew were growing a bit restless. And while the interim had been good for Commander Spock and his relations with their crew, he was still not the captain (by his own admission, and pleased to not be so) and the crew had missed Kirk's presence of late. Crew efficiency and morale were down by six percent, which dropped into a range that demanded medical and departmental attention, and so she had received permission to hold a shipwide party one evening during the last leg of their star-mapping mission, the purpose of which was to raise morale and celebrate the end of their stint of boring stellar cartography.

Apparently the prospect was enough to break their young captain out of his studious shell, because she walked into Acting Captain Spock's cabin to find the young man trying his dead-level best to convince his temporary guardian that he was close enough to galactic legal drinking age to be permitted to indulge at the party. (1)

"Spoooooock! C'mon! I'm like, what, only a few weeks away from sixteen?" the young man wheedled, accompanied by a set of guileless puppy eyes.

Spock looked highly unamused. "Even were you of age, Jim, I would not permit the ingestion of alcohol which is manufactured illegally in the Engineering section. Quite," he added, seeing the teenager's wide-eyed look of dismay. "I am fully aware of Mr. Scott's recreational proclivities. I choose to, as you say, turn a blind eye unless said proclivities are detrimental to crew morale or the workings of this ship."

Jim grinned. "You're not as uptight as you look, you know," he offered cheerfully.

"Thank you, sir," was the dry reply, delivered over the top of a computer monitor.

"Sooooo…if I promise to stay away from Scotty's hooch can I at least -"

"Negative."

"But Spock!"

"Desist this line of inquiry, Jim."

"Argh!" The young man huffed, hands fisted on his slim hips as he glared over the top of the monitor. "You're driving me nuts, Spock!"

Spock relented enough to give him a raised eyebrow, speaking as if entirely innocent of any motive besides pure logic. Uhura smiled at her data-padd; he wasn't fooling anyone. "It is hardly my fault if that journey is such a short distance, pi-khartlan."

Jim's ears reddened at the childhood term, and he scuffed one boot-toe across the floor with a loud squeak. "I'm not a child," he grumbled, but with very little true resentment.

"I entirely agree. And my refusal to permit you indulgence in alcoholic beverages at the ship's social gathering is entirely unrelated to your age."

"It is?"

"It is," the Vulcan agreed placidly. "As in another week or two the point will be completely moot, and your human foolishness is of no consequence to me, I should be tempted to allow it, and to thereby teach you a valuable lesson regarding the quality of temperance. However," he continued, raising a warning eyebrow when Jim was about to interject, "you will be interacting with your crew, many of them for the first time in nearly three months. I vowed upon your assumption of captaincy to see, to the best of my ability, that you never performed an action before your crew which could be seriously damaging to your image. Therefore, you will not indulge, as you will desire to behave properly before your crew."

The teenager blinked, processing this. "Oh," he finally offered lamely.

"Indeed."

"Right. Yeah, that's probably a good idea."

"Those engendered by myself usually are," Spock responded serenely. "Lieutenant, do you require me or Mr. Kirk?"

Uhura smiled at the young man's squeak of surprise, not having realized she had entered (Spock's quarters recognized her by now, after their frequent communications regarding music and other shared topics of interest through the years). "You, Mr. Spock. I just need signatures for these requisitions; they need to be turned over to SS&R before you come on shift, so I thought I'd bring them by myself."

"Let me see, Lieutenant." Spock took the stack of data-padds and began scrolling through the requisitions with the practiced efficiency of one who has done far too much paperwork in the last few months.

"How are you this morning, Jim?" she asked kindly, to fill the silence.

The young man cleared his throat and smiled. "Fine, thanks. And you, Lieutenant?"

"Busy," she replied ruefully, indicating the reports Spock was signing. "But it is certainly more interesting than sitting on the Bridge correlating department reports on stellar cartography. Can I put you down for part of the musical program for the party, Mr. Spock?" she then added suddenly, strategically timing it so that he was partly distracted by a signature.

"If you must, Lieutenant," was the weary response, and both she and their underage captain grinned.

"You've gotta teach me how to play that thing, Spock," the young man said, winking conspiratorially at the Communications Chief. "Tall, mysterious guy in a uniform, playing a sexy harp-thing - total chick magnet. Isn't that right, Lieutenant?"

"Of course," she replied with perfect innocence. Spock paused, glancing up with a look of consternation, and she smiled mischievously. "It's every girl's dream, sir, to be serenaded with a…sexy harp-thing."

Jim sniggered as Spock fairly shoved the data-padds back into her waiting hands.

"You're going to sing, too, aren't you Lieutenant Uhura?" Jim asked as she turned to leave.

She nodded.

"Might I suggest an honorary rendition of Captain Sunshine," Spock drawled wickedly from behind them.

Jim's face reddened, and she stifled a laugh as the door opened to allow her exit.

"I am certain Security Chief Giotto could be persuaded to put together a visual tribute to accompany your vocal talent, Lieutenant."

Revenge, as any crewman aboard could tell you, was best served Vulcan.

Chapter Text

Everyone loves a good party, and in the depths of space, far from family and home, starship crews are no different. Once embarked upon a lengthy mission, one's crew become one's family, and amid the chaos of starship life, friendships and trusts are forged in record time due to circumstance.

They had been becalmed in what their captain always ruefully called 'a milk run' for nearly three months now, awaiting the completion of Kirk's ritual transformation before they could be cleared to resume a potentially hazardous mission. While the months had not been uneventful (Spock's successful First Contact with the Bat'hua and a nasty altercation on an uncharted planet being two such events), they had been for the most part rather boring - and so the opportunity to lay aside duty for an evening of pleasure was well-received and much anticipated among the antsy crew.

However, like so many missions for their seemingly ill-lucked ship, it was not to be.

The party was well underway by 1900 hours of ship's evening, the time when Nurse Chapel, accompanied by their teenaged captain, was trying to all but forcibly drag a growling Dr. McCoy out of Sickbay to attend.

"Do you know how many of those young idiots are going to be in here within four hours askin' for a hangover remedy or muscle relaxant, Nurse?" the CMO yowled.

"And it doesn't take someone of your qualifications to prescribe one, Doctor," Chapel retorted. "Now go enjoy yourself!"

"C'mon, Bones," Jim coaxed with a grin. "Don't you want to see if you can track down Yeoman Barrows before you get too old to -" He was cut off by a hefty swat to the back of the head. "Ow!"

"James Tiberius, I can and will restrict your meal card to nothin' but celery and carrot sticks when you get back to your proper age, and don't you forget it!"

Jim chuckled as he split from the older man near the turbolifts. "I'm going up to the Bridge to pick up Sulu and Chekov, I'll meet you there," he called, waving a hand as he disappeared around a corner at top speed.

McCoy shook his head at the kid's energy levels, but could only be grateful he wasn't buried in his cabin with his nose stuck in a book.

Now, the only mystery left would be to see if Jim could succeed in the ultimate test of skill: namely, convincing their acting captain to leave the autopiloted Bridge in care of a subordinate and attend this little shindig (he suspected Spock's adamant refusal had much to do with his Head Nurse offering to cover the primary duties in Sickbay during the party's heaviest traffic hours).

As it turned out, however, Jim didn't get the chance.


"Gentlemen, you need not remain on the Bridge with the ship's navigation and piloting computers currently on autopilot, as we will be stationary for the next forty-eight hours in this region of space. Any alterations necessary will be completed by the appropriate programming."

"Aye, sir," Chekov said absently, finishing up a report and attaching his signature as unofficial Acting Science Officer. Spock's padd beeped a moment later, indicating its safe arrival, and the young Russian stretched lazily in his chair. "Finished?" he asked his console-mate.

Sulu nodded. "Just did. Are you certain you wouldn't prefer me to take the Bridge, sir?" he asked once more, swiveling in his chair. "At least for part of the time?"

"Unnecessary, Mr. Sulu," Spock replied dryly. "I have no desire to participate in the melee below decks. Feel quite free to keep that dubious pleasure entirely to and amongst yourselves."

Chekov and Sulu, the last ones to leave the Bridge (she was running on a skeleton crew due to the party, and the others had already set their consoles to auto and left), grinned at each other. They had gotten to see another side of their Vulcan First Officer these last several weeks, and it had granted the primary Bridge crew a new understanding of their command chain's devotion to each other. Sulu had the suspicion that the Regenratron ritual wasn't just geared to teach its subject some lessons, but rather everyone around the subject as well.

The doors to the Bridge opened to admit one Jim Kirk, dressed in a green button-down shirt and dark jeans (he had gleefully agreed with Spock's reluctant permission to waive the mandatory uniform code for the event). Chekov saw Spock's eyebrows incline a full inch at the sight of the young man's elaborately-spiked sandy hair, though it was obvious that Spock had decided he was picking his battles carefully and this was not one of them.

"Hey, guys!"

"Hey, kid," Sulu answered with a grin that took away any condescension from the term, as he elbowed his young captain playfully. "Ready to party the night away?"

"Yup!" The young man beamed at them. "You coming, Chekov?"

"Coming, sir," Chekov answered absently, only vaguely registering the snicker from Sulu at the fact that he'd reflexively addressed the young man as sir. "Meester Spock, I am not certain about this report from Engineering about the fuel output for today. I believe our resting consumption should be -"

"Mr. Chekov," the Vulcan interrupted with gentle finesse. "You have performed your work admirably; cease to second-guess yourself and your tasks. I believe Lieutenant Sulu and Mr. Kirk are waiting for you."

Chekov blushed lightly. "Aye, sir."

"You sure you aren't coming, Spock?" Jim asked.

"Only to perform the musical composition our Communications Chief requested. Even with the ship on autopilot, at least one crewman of command rank must remain on the Bridge at all times. You know this, Jim." Spock's eyes twinkled for an instant with amusement at the young man's petulant pout. "I shall be along much later this evening, during the hours allotted to the gamma shift crew." The party was set to go in three four-hours shifts, rotating out the crewmen from different shifts so that all had a chance to go once they had left their posts.

"'S your funeral," Jim said with a shrug.

Spock raised an eyebrow at the expression, but was prevented from responding when the Science console suddenly began beeping, an alarm flashing red on the control panel.

Chekov, only halfway across the Bridge, turned and bent over the console.

"What the - Meester Spock!"

Spock straightened in his chair, swiveling it toward the Science station. "What is it, Ensign?"

"Something is registering on our sensors, closing fast - but look!" he pointed at the viewscreen. "Nothing is there, sir."

Spock darted to the navigation and piloting console, running a quick diagnostic. "A sensor malfunction? Phantom after-image?" he stepped up the deck and stood beside Chekov, peering at the scrolling lines of code.

"Neither, sir. But whatever it is, it is quite large if the sensor indicator is correct."

Sulu had returned to his console and was pulling up a magnified viewscreen. "If I didn't know we were in neutral space, I'd say it was a cloaked ship of some kind, sir," he called over his shoulder, and the two at the Science station looked up. "See there, in section A-4, the starfield is somewhat distorted."

"That's probably why the sensor alert went off, Spock; we're star-mapping and that would have thrown off the computer script," Jim spoke up suddenly from behind them.

Chekov flicked him an approving glance. "Precisely. There is most likely something there, sir," he trailed off uneasily, looking again at the slightly-blurred area of the viewscreen. "But we are thousands of kilometers away from any declared battle zone, and there is no peaceful reason for a cloaked ship to be shadowing us..."

Spock stood up for a moment, looking at the viewscreen, a line of tension beginning to form between his brows. "Reverse engines," he finally said. "Put as much distance between it and the Enterprise as possible. We are unprepared for any type of engagement at the present time." Sulu nodded and began to release the helm's autopilot.

"It has done nothing to indicate it is hostile, at least," Chekov observed hopefully.

The distortion shimmered, shuddered, and then disappeared, morphing into not one but three Romulan warbirds.

"You were saying?" Sulu yelled over the klaxon that began to wail as their shields snapped up.

Chapter Text

"Red alert," Spock said calmly. "Mr. Chekov, silence that siren and recall the alpha shift crewmen to the Bridge immediately."

"Aye, sir!"

"Mr. Sulu, prepare evasive maneuvers and unlock the Engineering autopilot. Summon Commander Scott back to Engineering."

"Aye!"

"Jim, get below decks," Spock continued, looking up at the underage captain even as his fingers flew over the controls of the Science console, trying to wake the ship up in preparation for battle. At the sight of the young man's mounting defiance, he continued, an edge of steel in his voice. "We will need the turbolift for crewmen, Jim - you must leave at once. Go to Sickbay with Dr. McCoy and aid him however you can. Now."

"You can't make me leave the Bridge when we're about to get wiped out by Romulans!" Jim cried. "This is my ship too!"

"And you are in the way of your people, Mr. Kirk!" Spock snapped, in that tone that made Chekov very, very glad they were on the same team. "Get below, or I will have you escorted to the brig by your own Security force. Do not attempt to call my bluff in this matter," he warned, seeing the young man's expression of doubt.

Jim locked eyes with him for a moment, and he saw the agony of helplessness mirrored in them. "Go, Jim," he added quietly. "Your crew will function more efficiently knowing you are safe - it is your duty to them. And whatever happens, you must be in condition to resume command when you are able."

The young man bit his lower lip for a moment in helpless anger, but finally gave him a curt nod and turned, hurrying across the deck to the lift.

"Sir, we've got incoming!" Sulu bellowed from the helm.

Jim snagged the dividing rail out of pure reflex, as the other three occupants of the Bridge clutched their consoles - and only just in time; a dual phaser blast rocked the ship enough to send Sulu and Jim sprawling on the deck.

"Evasive maneuvers!"

"Aye, sir!"

Spock hung onto the Science viewer, shouting orders into the ship's intra-comm over the sound of damage reports coming in from all over the ship.

"Shields holding at 95% over Engineering and Auxiliary Control," Chekov muttered feverishly, hands dancing over the controls in an effort to diagnose vital systems. "Lost Starboard shield eight, but that is over the guest quarters, unimportant…Communications still 80% functional…Life Support functional…Sickbay undamaged…Navigation systems offline - we need those back, Meester Spock!"

Spock was already employing Vulcan strength to physically pry the cover off the Navigation console's motherboard. "Shut off power temporarily to Navigation console," he called above the growing pandemonium, as he began to disconnect and re-wire. "Jim, get below now!"

"I can't!" the young man shouted back in dismay.

A thick Russian curse. "Turbolifts are non-operational, Meester Spock! Attention all hands, this is a Level One Red Alert. Lifts are non-operational. Alpha shift crewmen report to the Auxiliary Control Bridge by Jefferies tubes immediately!"

"Brace yourselves," Sulu shouted, trying to send them into a tight spiral to avoid a triangulation of the three warbirds.

He was only partially successful; a deadly blast of light shook the Bridge again, and this time a siren began to wail warningly from the empty Engineering console.

"What's that -" Jim began, but ducked with a yelp, arms covering his face, as the helm console suddenly erupted in a shower of sparks.

Sulu threw himself into a barrel roll in time to avoid anything more serious than some nasty burns which were snuffed out as the roll finished - but the force of the discharge flung Spock backward into the command chair central. The Vulcan's head struck the corner of the dais with a sickening crack, whereupon he flopped to the lower deck in a crumpled heap and lay still.

"Spock!"

"Oh, this is not good," Sulu groaned, scrambling to his feet and batting out a final spark from his sleeve. "We need Medical, and how."

Jim had vaulted the dividing rail in one swift leap and was kneeling on the deck beside their unconscious acting captain.

"Spock, can you hear me? He's breathing all right, but his head's bleeding badly. Sulu, are you hurt?"

"I'm still alive, sir," Sulu responded wryly as he scrambled back into his chair, though he winced as the burn of skin pulling against his uniform tunic - but they had much bigger problems.

Such as the two warbirds closing in on them.

"Get those forward shields to maximum!" Jim roared suddenly, and Chekov scrambled to obey - never once wondering why he was taking orders from a sixteen-year-old who suddenly sounded a decade older.

The ship vibrated under the assault, but the blasts did little damage except to minor systems throughout. Sulu bent over the helm, struggling to reroute power into the damaged controls with only one fully working hand.

"Jim?" Chekov asked quietly, bending over the rail toward their fallen acting captain.

"He's not responding at all," the young man said through a clenched jaw. "Electrical shock, would be my guess, plus the head injury. It takes a lot to keep him out more than a few seconds."

"A medical team is on its way, but it will be a while if they cannot navigate the ship with damage to the door and turbolift systems."

Jim looked up from his unconscious First Officer, and then glanced at the screen, where the two warbirds were circling back from their third teammate, preparing to head back toward them. His eyes flicked to Sulu, who was obviously in a great deal of pain and likely in the first stages of shock himself but still gallantly ramming them into another evasive maneuver.

"If anyone is going to get us out of this it will have to be Hikaru doing the piloting," Chekov said matter-of-factly. "Against three other ships you need the best pilot, that is fact. He cannot command and do so. I am not keptin material, Jim."

The young man had never looked so young. "I - I can't -"

"Starboard shields, now!" Sulu shouted desperately, wrenching the groaning controls into a sideways maneuver that nearly threw him out of his own seat.

Chekov slapped a button on the console and the tag-teamed phaser beams missed them by a hair. At the same moment, the communications console chirped, and Chekov leaned over to appropriate an ear-piece.

"Sir!" he said desperately after listening for a moment. "They are calling for our surrender!"

"Over my dead body," the young man snapped with heat.

"That is probably their intention! We do not have time to argue this!"

"He's right, Jim," Sulu said heavily, hunching over the console and gingerly flexing his burned hand. "If nothing else we have to hold the fort until someone can get up here." Sulu flicked a glance at the young man, noticing something different about him. He wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that Kirk had just jumped a few years in age…but they had more important issues to take care of at the moment.

And take care of them they did. Jim took one last look at their Vulcan acting captain, his eyes stormy, and then surged to his feet, vaulting to the communications console.

"All hands, this is this captain. Battle stations. I repeat, battle stations. This is not a drill."

Chapter Text

The comm squawked immediately. "Jim, what in blue blazes is going on up there - and what do you think you're doing on the comm?"

"Not now, Bones," the young man snapped. "Spock's down, and Sulu's in a bad way - get a team up here immediately, I don't care if you have to climb four decks of turboshafts to do it. Bridge out." He flipped a switch. "Engineering. Scotty, can you hear me?"

"I kin that, laddie - what's goin' on up there, our visuals got knocked out in that last hit."

"Three Romulan warbirds, Scotty. We're outmanned and outgunned, and I'm going to need all the power you can reroute to shields and navigation. Sulu, is the helm repairable?"

"Not in the time we have, sir," the pilot grunted, spiraling them out of the way of another phaser blast.

The beam glanced off their shields, jolting them all, but the Enterprise's defenses still held.

"Scotty, get to Auxiliary Control - you're going to have to control the ship from down there. Our helm console isn't salvageable. It's all Sulu can do to get her to maneuver."

"Got it, lad. 'Twill be a minute or so to boot up from the autopilot; recommend evasive action and keep 'em dancing with some well-placed photon torpedos. I doubt they aim to destroy the old girl, sir, so I dinna think ye need to worry about that - more likely they want to escort her back across the border as a prize of war."

Jim smiled briefly at the Engineer's endearing respect for his hastily assumed position, in suggesting a course of action rather than taking charge as second in command (Sulu was Acting First in name only, because the CE refused to leave his precious engines to have consistent Bridge duty). "Make it so, Sulu," he called, knowing that the young pilot and Chekov were well aware of what course of action to lay in, without needing specifics voiced from the command chair.

Another twin phaser blast rocked the ship, and this time the Engineering console exploded, sending shrapnel across the Bridge in a deadly hail of sparking wires and sharp metal. Jim dropped instinctively as durasteel flew over his head, and the whole ship groaned under him as he hit the deck.

"Damage report!" he shouted, coughing electrical smoke out of his lungs.

"Shields down to 44%, sir! Engineering reports a fifteen percent loss of power…Sealing off storage decks and unoccupied crew quarters, rerouting power to shields," Chekov murmured, a soothing mantra over the chaos of what looked like panic rising in the ranks of the communications channels, messages Jim did not have time to field right now. "Fire torpedoes!"

"Torpedoes away. Sir," Sulu turned to look at him, before moving his attention back to the viewscreen as the hits registered on one of the warbirds. "You do realize there's no way we are going to get out of this. Only two of those 'birds are attacking; we'll never outbattle three of them and I doubt we can outrun them in this condition."

Jim brought a fist to his mouth, worrying at his first knuckle. "How long can we hold out without danger of losing life support or vital systems?"

"If they continue playing with us, an hour maybe - but if they take it into their heads to stop playing the grand warrior heroes and just wipe us out, we'd be dead before we could fire back. They may not want to destroy the ship, but there's nothing to prevent them from reducing her to a wreck."

Jim closed his eyes as the ship rocked around him again, feverishly trying to remain calm in the middle of what had to be the most frightening moment in his entire life - both lives.

"Secondary torpedoes locked on starboard warbird's engineering section," Chekov's voice sounded to his right, as if coming down a long tunnel.

The deck rumbled as the missiles launched, and he sank further into the Enterprise's welcoming thrum of peace and unity, one with the ship.

"Direct hit, but they still have functional weaponry," Sulu called. "Give me more power to port thrusters, Chekov!"

Jim blanked out the battle for a moment, trying to draw on the meditation techniques Spock had tried to teach him…sometime, in another life, another past…or another future, rather. He could not win by going up against such superior, stronger odds and retaliating with equal aggression.

And if he did not come up with a plan, his ship and all her crew would die. The ultimate failure of any starship captain. The ultimate no-win situation.

Literally, a real-life Kobayashi Maru.

His eyes flew open, hand coming down on the comm. "Lieutenant Uhura," he barked.

"Here, sir. I'm in Auxiliary Control, sir, trying to reroute control of the communications console."

"Uhura, I love you," he said, smiling for the first time. "Do it as fast as you can, and then I need you to send out a Priority One distress beacon."

"A…beacon, sir?"

"Yes, a beacon, telling everyone within ten thousand kilometers that this area is going to be a Priority One danger zone for the next few years."

Sulu half-turned, giving him an incredulous look, and Chekov's eyebrows could have given Spock's a run for their money.

He continued, "And can you launch a black-box capsule from down there if you gain control?"

A short paused, and then a quiet "Aye, sir, I can."

"Wait until I give you the word, and then jettison the ship's public logs. Scotty, are you there?"

"O' course, Captain. I take it ye'll be wanting as much speed as I kin give ye?"

"That, and I need you to do something risky."

"Par for the course then. What is it, sir?"

"Can you contain a small capsule of antimatter in a shell that can still be destroyed by a photon torpedo?"

"…I believe so, Captain, though the powers-that-be would have my head if they knew."

"Can you do it safely enough to beam it just off the port bow?"

"Aye, sir!"

"Do it and have it ready in two minutes. Bridge out." He looked up, and saw the other two staring at him. "Mr. Chekov, I need you to plot us a fast course out of this system. I know you have no console with which to work but I trust your computations as much as Mr. Spock's. You have about sixty seconds to plot us a course based on the charts available in the library banks."

Wide-eyed, the young navigator fell to work feverishly on the Science console, scratching out computations on a padd.

"Mr. Sulu, I will need you to lock onto a very small target once it's jettisoned and send a photon torpedo after it, then jump to warp before it detonates. You will have a window of about three seconds in which to do both; are you physically able?"

Sulu nodded solemnly. "Aye, sir. But it would help if I had Chekov to stabilize my flight pattern."

"I can do that," Jim said suddenly. "I'm a decent enough navigator in my own right - and I need Chekov's steady hand on the transporter and shield controls." (1)

Sulu regarded him for a long moment, and then nodded.

The two warbirds swooped past them again in a mockery of a battle, obviously knowing they were in no hurry, and sliced the hull with another phaser blast that rattled the view-window.

"Cut power to port side of the ship," Jim ordered, hauling the cover off the Library console and beginning to expertly hack the mainframe.

"Sir?"

"Do it!"

"Aye, sir!"

"And let her drift a few degrees," he called, tongue sticking out of his mouth as he typed furiously.

"Making it look like we're more vulnerable than we are?"

"Exactly," he murmured.

"Scott to Bridge - Cap'n, what happened to the port nacelle?"

"Don't worry about it, Scotty," he bellowed into the comm. "Is the transporter ready?"

"Aye, sir; sending coordinates to Mr. Chekov's station. Ye want him to have control of it?"

"Yes. I need you to be ready to bump us up to full warp power on my mark, Mr. Scott. Ignore the readings from the port nacelle; proceed as if you had full power."

"Aye, sir."

He continued to type doggedly, not missing a beat when one of the warbirds sent an experimental phaser blast straight into the heart of their port bow. "Lieutenant Uhura, are you prepared with the black box capsule?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Good. Send that priority message now, Lieutenant, saying that the warp core of the ship is dangerously close to detonation due to an overload in the warp processor. Warn all ships to immediately reroute away from our location as it's about to become a toxic waste zone."

"Aye, sir!" He heard a faint trace of comprehension in the woman's voice in her efficient response, and a moment later Montgomery Scott's voice came back on, tight with worry.

"Sir, I dinna see any indications down here that the core is overloading, but the computer sensors do definitely say it is…"

"It's okay, Scotty; I know." He grinned at the lines of code scrolling past his flying fingers. "Just make sure we don't actually overload and I'll give you anything you want if and when I get my ship back."

"Ohhhhhh," he heard Chekov's breathy exclamation of awe from behind him. "That is brilliant, sir!"

"Not especially, it's an old trick," he muttered, yet warmed by the praise. They all clutched their consoles as another sweep sent two more phaser blasts into their drifting ship. "Cut power to starboard side by 40%, Sulu," he called, typing feverishly. "We need to make it look good."

"Aye, sir. Captain, Mr. Scott and Lieutenant Uhura report all ready for your orders."

"Give me thirty more seconds, the readings when we warp out need to look correct to simulate a detonation…wish I could type as fast as Spock," he muttered. "Speaking of - how is he?" he asked worriedly, looking up.

Chekov quickly bent down to examine the inert form. "Out cold, breathing slow but steady," he reported uneasily. "Should I -"

"Done!" he shouted, slamming the Enter button harder than necessary and then vaulting back to his chair. "Stations, everyone!"

"Transporter and shields ready, sir," Chekov reported.

"Course laid in, sir."

"Excellent, Mr. Sulu. Lieutenant Uhura, begin broadcasting an immediate SOS, warning the quadrant that our warp core is overloading and a breach is imminent. Chekov, eject all the escape pods from the starboard side of the ship…now!"

"Pods away, sir."

"Transmission commencing, sir."

"Sir, one of the warbirds has wheeled back in pursuit of the pods," Sulu reported.

Jim was now at the battered science station, preparing to stabilize their escape flight path. "Mr. Chekov, on my mark. Mr. Sulu, bring the ship around so that the starboard side is facing the warbirds. Be ready to bring up power to maximum on my mark and fire on the coordinates of that canister."

"Ready, sir."

"Lieutenant Uhura, eject the black-box capsule. And…now, Mr. Chekov - beam that canister to Mr. Sulu's coordinates."

"Shields dropping…transport commencing. Transport complete!"

"Full power, Mr. Scott!" he shouted into the console, and the instant he felt the tell-tale rumble of the engines powering up, he continued. "Fire, Mr. Sulu! Aft shields to maximum and engage warp drive!"

He felt the ship groan as it woke up suddenly, still a bit painful, and then a heart-stopping lurch as the world twisted around them in a distortion of starfield and a blinding explosion -

- and then they were at warp, sailing safely through the stars on the course laid in for them.

"…Captain," Chekov reported slowly, turning to him with an enormous grin, "there are no Romulan wessels in pursuit."

Jim stared at him for a moment, shock flooding his system as the adrenaline rush faded, and staggered slowly to his feet. "Are you sure?" he asked nervously.

"Quite sure, sir," the young Russian reassured him, beaming. "We are well away, with no pursuit."

"I doubt they survived an antimatter explosion undamaged, even if it was a tiny one," Sulu agreed. "If nothing else, they won't be able to follow, and they may not have been far enough away to survive. Nicely done."

Jim staggered up the steps and collapsed into the command chair, punching the comm. "Mr. Scott, you are a marvel," he said with a tired grin. "And you as well, Lieutenant Uhura."

"Oh, aye sir," the Scot replied wisely. "Now, laddie, ye want to tell me why you're on this instead of our dear acting cap'n?"

"Spock!" he gasped, having forgotten in the excitement. "Scotty, I need you to try to fix the turbolift to the Bridge - Spock and Sulu are both in bad shape." Indeed, the young helmsman was looking pretty grey by this point, hunched over his still-sparking console. "And see if you can find out where Medical is and light a fire under them, will you?"

"Aye, sir. I'll get on it at once."

"Jim, are you all right?" Uhura's gentle voice cut in, forgoing the title he'd appropriated for the last few minutes.

"I'm…okay," he said, a bit shakily. "Really - it's my crew I'm worried about."

"Sickbay reports minimal casualties simply because most of the crew were in Rec Rooms twelve and thirteen for the party - one of the most protected areas of the ship," she replied reassuringly. "It could have been much, much worse. Hold on a moment, Bridge." A short pause, and then she returned. "Doctor McCoy said he's got a team nearly there; ETA five minutes. There was a malfunction in the magnetic seal of a hatchway and they had to take a long route around it."

Jim heaved out a shaky breath of relief, feeling tension leech from his body slowly. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

"Always, sir. Uhura out."

Jim stood on unsteady legs and moved forward to examine the nearly-dead helm console, then knelt beside their unconscious acting captain. "Damage reports?" he asked mechanically, ripping a strip off the bottom of his shirt to press against the sluggishly-bleeding gash at Spock's temple.

"All reports in, sir; other than the Bridge and some systems in Engineering, no severe damage except to shields and a minor hull breach in shuttle bay three," Chekov reports, spinning in his chair with a celebratory grin. "No casualties except Meester Spock and Lieutenant Sulu, and apparently a broken arm in Engineering when Lieutenant Riley fell off a catwalk - most of the crew were at the party and so were out of the line of fire. The Bridge took the worst of it, as the autopilot was the main system running here when the attack caused overloads."

"Speaking of, it's a bit strange that those warbirds knew exactly when we'd be most vulnerable," Sulu mused aloud.

"Not necessarily," Jim replied, staggering back to his feet with the aid of his armrest. "We were obviously on autopilot, basically drifting through the star system; it could have been coincidence that they chose that moment to attack, or more probably they've been shadowing the Enterprise for a while and took advantage of the opportunity. We just didn't detect them until tonight because until tonight, we were manually finishing the cartography instead of using a computer script that flagged the star distortion."

The other two nodded. "It's not been any big secret in Starfleet that Spock's been acting captain for a few months," Sulu added thoughtfully. "Not since that tabloid scandal, anyway - I'm actually surprised we haven't been taken on by more idiots trying to prove something." The young man's face paled slightly, as adrenaline obviously was fading under the onslaught of relief. "Sir, make sure you call a relief team up here to take over these consoles," he reminded gently. "The autopilot's probably fried and the next navigator's going to have to be able to do computations manually until repairs are made."

"Right." Jim should have thought of that. "Hang in there, Mr. Sulu."

"Aye, sir."

The communications console chirped before he could ask for reinforcements to be called, however. "Sir…Starfleet Command is on the comm, demanding to know, and I quote, 'what does Captain Spock think he's playing at'," Uhura's voice broke in ruefully.

"Ergh." Jim's face scrunched up in disgust, making Chekov hide a laugh; he at that point looked very much like the young man he was rather than the competent captain he had just acted. "Put 'em on, I guess, Lieutenant."

"You're a brave man, Jim," Sulu remarked blandly, moments before the viewscreen lit up with the image of Admiral Cartwright.

"What in the name of -"

"I can explain, sir," Jim interrupted weakly.

"Where is Captain Spock?"

"He was injured in the first attack by the Romulans we just escaped from, Admiral," the young man replied quietly, indicating the motionless form at the side of the command dais. "He has yet to regain consciousness and our medical teams are struggling to reach the Bridge due to systemic turbolift failure."

The admiral looked dubiously at the three occupants of the Bridge. "I take it the report you just filed of a warp core breach was highly exaggerated?" he asked dryly.

"Technically, sir. The computer did recognize the breach and act accordingly to record it in the ship's logs as legitimate," Jim replied. "I just…sort of…helped it along, a little." He swallowed nervously. "Ish. I am a decent computer hacker, you know, Admiral." He hadn't meant it as a slam against the Academy for his hearing regarding what he'd done to win against the Kobayashi Maru, and he winced when he realized how it sounded. "No offense, sir," he added lamely.

Chekov privately thought Cartwright looked a bit like he'd swallowed a pinecone. "Kirk, I take it you appropriated command of the Enterprise during the recent crisis?"

Jim rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Ummm…yes, sir. There was no one else; with only three occupants of the Bridge, the lifts down and Spock unconscious -"

"I was not asking for justification," the man responded sharply. Jim nodded, wisely holding his tongue. "What of the renegade Romulans?" Cartwright continued, frowning.

"No signs of pursuit, and I would doubt they escaped even a controlled antimatter explosion undamaged. I take it the Romulan Command Central will disavow all knowledge of their actions?"

"Naturally; we might as well not even bother entering the diplomatic discussions." The admiral sighed. "Kirk, you are more trouble than you're worth, sometimes."

"So I've been told, sir," the young man replied with wry humor. "In fact, by Mr. Spock quite recently."

Cartwright actually chuckled. "I do expect you to return command to its proper channels, no matter how lucky you were during the recent skirmish. Is that understood?"

"Quite, sir." Jim nodded vehemently. He was in no hurry to reassume responsibility for so many people's lives, not for a while yet. He'd never been so scared in his whole life - or so excited, and both of those ideas frightened him more than he would ever admit.

Pounding on the turbolift doors drew their attention, and the admiral sighed, waving a hand at the viewscreen dismissively. "We will sort out details later," he said. "Kirk, tell Acting Captain Spock I will need a full report from you both in twenty-four hours."

"Aye, sir." Jim bobbed his head tiredly, adrenaline loss leaving him limp. "Is there anything else, sir?"

"Not at this time," the man answered resignedly. "Begin repairs on the Enterprise and await further orders. Cartwright out."

"Chyort!" Chekov was yelling through the stuck lift doors. "I am opening them manually, give me a moment!"

"That went well," Sulu observed cheerfully as the screen turned back to its usual starry 'scape. "Admiralty's not out for blood, no one died, and…hey, you okay, Jim?"

He nodded, swallowing hard, and wondered if he was getting a migraine; his vision was tunneling into a murky grey at the edges. "Fine. Ship's status, Mr. Sulu?"

Sulu gave him a funny look, but answered readily, "Mr. Scott just sent his estimates up. He believes forty-eight hours of repair work should get us in good enough condition to safely make it to the next starbase at full speed. He'd prefer three days if we have them to spare."

"He can have them, unless Spock says otherwise," Jim murmured, rubbing his eyes with both hands.

Behind them, the doors to the lift creaked open slowly with a pneumatic groan, and a quad of blue-garbed Medical personnel swarmed the Bridge and their fallen Acting Captain, whose eyes were now beginning to move behind their closed lids.

Chapel ran a scan over the Vulcan's head, biting her lip worriedly, but then glanced up with a look of relief. "No fracture; just a severe concussion," she reported thankfully. "He did have a shock to the nervous system, likely electrical in nature, but there is no lasting damage. If he is able to enter a healing trance he should be functional within eight hours, probably less."

Jim exhaled loudly in relief. Nausea, curling hot and thick in his stomach, faded slightly. "That's good news," he breathed. "And Kevin?"

"Lieutenant Riley is an idiot and didn't turn on his anti-grav belt during battle conditions," she snapped in a no-nonsense tone that made Jim smile; it was more than faintly reminiscent of Bones's ranting. "Dr. McCoy is having a little chat with him at the moment regarding safety procedures."

"I'm fine, Anya," he heard Sulu protesting vehemently to his designated nurse, who was about to stab him with a pain reliever before applying a burn gel to his hands.

"What about you, Mr. Kirk?"

Jim grinned as the nurse ignored Sulu's protests and deftly whipped the hypo into position, depressing it before the helmsman even had time to yelp.

"Yeow! Have you been taking lessons from Dr. McCoy?"

"Mr. Kirk. Jim, are you all right?"

He vaguely registered someone speaking to him, and turned slowly to see Chapel looking at him with a worried expression.

"What?" he asked weakly.

"Sir, your readings are all over the charts, and this is telling me you're now eighteen years old," she said matter-of-factly. "That's a huge jump in age and your body is probably burning up every bit of fuel you had in it - are you feeling all right?"

"I'm great!" He flashed Chapel his best disarm-and-charm grin, and promptly fainted.

Chapter Text

Spock's first thought upon regaining consciousness from a partial healing trance was the conjecture that Dr. McCoy had again decided to experiment upon his alien physiology with an assortment of xenospecist pain relievers, as he was rather nauseated.

His second thought, however, soon superseded the first due to its deadly importance; namely, that the ship was running on auto-pilot and a skeleton crew, and was under attack by renegade Romulan warbirds.

Also that the captain of said ship was no more than a sixteen-year-old adolescent human.

He bolted upright so quickly that the blurred figure beside his bed let out a startled squawk of surprise, and after blinking his vision clear he turned to see Dr. McCoy standing there, holding a medical scanner. One quick glance around the ward revealed no red alert lights flashing, and so he could only presume that somehow, by some miracle, the ship had been able to escape its impending destruction.

"You with us this time?" McCoy inquired, lowering the scanner with a look of satisfaction.

He raised an eyebrow in wordless question, and the man continued.

"You came to for a few seconds when we were movin' you, said something about calling Scotty to the Bridge and reversing power, but it didn't look like you were really awake," the physician informed him calmly. "Given that your heart, God knows how I was able to find it in that crazy hodgepodge y'call Vulcan anatomy, was experiencing slight arrhythmia from electrical shock and you had a nasty concussion that even your thick head couldn't bounce back from right away, that wasn't surprising."

Indeed, Spock could feel the vestiges of confusion which signified the head injury was nearly healed but not quite. Of course, the haze could simply be due to Dr. McCoy's irascible tone against his throbbing eardrums…

"All scans say you'll be fine, but I'm placin' you on light duty for two days just to be safe. Any human would be dead now if they'd been hit by that many volts," the physician continued without any hint of sarcasm, as the wrinkles between his eyes deepened.

Spock wondered irrationally why he seemed to be attracting near-fatal danger just as often with the adolescent Jim Kirk as he did when the captain was an adult. Statistically, surely it should not 'always happen to him'.

McCoy continued, rocking backward on his heels, "But thankfully, you either don't have a heart, which is my personal and unbiased opinion," he drawled with a smirk, "or it's just sturdier than a human's - wherever the darn thing is."

Spock resisted the urge to knead his temples and instead favored the doctor with his best intimidating glare. Judging from McCoy's skeptical eyebrows, he was not succeeding in looking anything other than in pain.

"You were only out for a few hours, Commander, just a light healing trance to correct your heart rhythm and recuperate. Ship's fine, by the way," the doctor added mischievously.

A cold flash of horror fluttered through him, for that should indeed have been his first question, regardless of his slight confusion. Truly, he had experienced a head injury.

"At the risk of sounding far too much like the captain after a similar experience, Doctor…what exactly happened?" he asked, leaning back with a silent sigh.

McCoy's worried face smoothed slightly into a smile. "I'll let you watch it," he said, pulling the computer monitor into place over Spock's lap and flipping the power switch. "Then, if you promise to behave, I'll let you out of here. After," he added, shoving a finger into the Vulcan's personal space, "you eat something nutritious and having more substance than that mess you call Vulcan vegetable soup. Now you sit tight and watch that, and I'll be back in a little while."

Spock looked after the retreating figure with some dismay, for he well knew McCoy's predilection for continually trying to entice him to eat twice his body weight in food (no doubt stemming from that infamous 'Southern hospitality' in which carbohydrate-laden meals were the rule and not the exception), but he eventually leaned back and pulled up the Security footage for the Bridge battle.

He hoped wryly that there was actually a Bridge to return to when their resident witch doctor decided to release him…


For a few minutes, McCoy watched with glee from the doorway as Spock's eyebrows climbed higher and higher as the battle waged on his vid-screen, until they were almost invisible under his fringe.

"Incredible, isn't it?" he asked quietly as the security footage ended and the Vulcan leaned back, looking slightly flabbergasted. "I'd swear he was himself again. Amazing what adrenaline will do to a man."

"He is certainly a man now," Spock agreed, glancing again at the screen. "I take it the rapid leap in age took its toll upon Jim's already fragile physiology?"

The physician nodded. "He's still asleep, and it's been almost seven hours," he said, automatically glancing at the neighboring cubicle. "Was showing signs of severe dehydration and malnutrition until I got a saline drip in him and a few hypos of vitamins. It'll tide his body over until he wakes up and can eat something, anyhow." McCoy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "The last reading I took an hour ago said he's almost twenty; nineteen months later than when Chapel scanned him on the Bridge. The aging trailed off and stopped about four hours into his fainting spell. I'm guessing it was one of the last few leaps he's gonna have, and that's part of the reason it was so draining to his systems. Kid's growing up literally right in front of us, Spock. "

Spock closed his still-sensitive eyes for a moment against the harsh glare of the lights. Finally he blinked, focusing again on the morose figure standing before him. "You do wish him to return to his rightful age, Doctor," he stated, not really an inquiry.

"Of course, Commander," was the slow response. "I just…am gonna miss him, that's all. You know he'll be too embarrassed to let us talk about it."

"Indeed." One eyebrow inclined slightly. "But then you do possess a considerable addition to your stores of potential blackmail material to revisit in the child's absence, do you not?"

A wide grin creased the physician's weary face. "You bet your pointed ears I do," he chuckled, relaxing for the first time in eight hours. "All right, I'm done with being the emotional human, Mr. Spock. I'm gonna go wake up our little Captain Sunshine and send him in with your dinner."

"Doctor, I assure you I am quite capable -"

"Of staying right there in that bed or I'll tell Chapel to sit on you, Mr. Spock," McCoy hollered over his shoulder at the mortified Vulcan, loud enough to be heard in his office where an equally mortified Christine Chapel was filing digital paperwork.


Whatever Spock had been expecting from the now young adult-aged Jim Kirk, it was not to see what appeared to be nervousness from the young man as he ambled reluctantly around the edge of Spock's cubicle, carefully balancing two dinner trays.

While he was still quite recognizable as the teenager he had been only that morning, the young man had in the nine or so hours since the Romulan skirmish filled out some of that youthful frame, and Spock could easily see the adult human the boy had become, serious and wise beyond his years. It was, if Spock were to be completely honest, a rather fascinating glimpse at what might have been had he met this extraordinary young man while at Starfleet Academy. Unfortunately, he had already been on his first deep space assignment aboard Pike's Enterprise by the time Kirk arrived in San Francisco, early though they both had been in respective age for their species. They had never met, and he spared one solitary, shamefully illogical thought for how less unpleasant his Academy days might have been had he but one human acquaintance who understood him as well as this brilliant young man.

Jim dropped the trays with an unceremonious clang, sending a spork skittering across the bedside table. Spock's raised eyebrow got him nothing more than a frustrated huff as the young man flopped down into the chair beside the bed and regarded him with a sour expression.

"Because you've got a crack on the head, Bones gives me a plateful of those god-awful replicated string beans," the young man announced with an air of grievous injury. "Explain to me logically, Spock, how that's remotely fair."

A faint snort from the outer ward told him that McCoy was (typically) eavesdropping to make certain they did, indeed, eat what was put before them.

His lips twitched, repressing amusement at the young man's apparent resilience; Jim looked, to all appearances, like a healthy, if a bit undernourished, adult male of the age just prior to graduating from Starfleet Academy.

"I daresay the good doctor will, as they say, make our lives miserable should we not comply, Jim," he replied with innocent commiseration. "Life experience would dictate that surrender is far preferable to being forced to undergo yet another of his nutritional diatribes."

"Yeah, well, I'm eating the brownie first and THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, BONES, I'M NOT TWELVE ANYMORE!" the young man hollered out the cubicle's opening.

Spock winced internally at the assault upon his eardrums, while simultaneously shaking his head at his prior assumption that the child had grown up. Obviously, his hypothesis had been premature.

"Right, sorry. Here's your water," Jim continued, grinning sheepishly as he handed over a cup with a lid and a ridiculously tall, highly convoluted bright pink straw. Spock regarded it silently, eyebrows raised, and debated the merits of refusing to drink from such a frivolously childish accoutrement. "Don't look at me - Bones did it!"

"That I am prepared to believe," he responded dryly, removing the lid and straw and placing the cup on his tray. "Now, Jim. I have viewed the footage from the Bridge during the recent battle against the rogue Romulan vessels, and -"

"Oh right, Admiral Cartwright said he wants a full report from you within twenty-four hours," Jim interrupted. A poor attempt not utilizing a great deal of diplomatic skill, Spock noticed, for the young man looked decidedly uneasy. "Didn't have a chance to tell you. Chekov's got the official one sketched out if you don't want to write it…"

Spock dismissed the official business with a perfunctory wave. "I am more concerned with a review of your performance, Mr. Kirk," he stated directly, and saw the young man pale further. Spock had presumed that treating the aging adolescent like a young crewman was the best approach, and it had seemed to work thus far, but now…possibly not. "Is something wrong, Jim?"

The young man muttered something unintelligible before shoving a sporkful of green beans in his mouth, obviously hoping that would relieve him of the duty of responding to the inquiry.

"I do not speak Terran vegetable, Jim," he said dryly.

Jim choked a little on a stray bean, and coughed awkwardly into his hand, eyes peering suspiciously over the top. "Sorry," he finally muttered gracelessly. "Nothing's wrong, Spock."

"Your reactions would seem to say otherwise."

His young captain poked mournfully at the replicated pork chop on his plate, dragging the spork tines through the viscous sauce.

"Are you under the impression you performed less than satisfactorily?" Spock inquired with genuine curiosity.

"I dunno."

"I know that you were considerably more conversant than that at your age the first time around," he chided gently, and watched as the young man's pout morphed into a scowl. "Jim, your performance as acting captain was..." Spock paused, mulling over the proper words.

Jim's head jerked up in wary interest. "Was what?" he asked hesitantly.

"It was…unsurprisingly inspired," Spock finally articulated, with complete sincerity. Jim's eyes gleamed suddenly, recognizing it for the compliment most less-attuned beings would never interpret it as. Spock continued, well knowing that the next few minutes would be crucial in the child gaining the requisite self-confidence to continue the last stages of his retransformation. "While I have never doubted your ability to command, Jim, this if nothing else would serve to reinforce that conviction."

And it was true; he never had doubted Kirk's command ability, a loyalty so complete and so steadfast it had drawn attention in both Starfleet and elsewhere. And, a loyalty thoroughly deserved by the adult version of the young man sitting across from him.

Jim's apprehension dissipated like vapor in a high wind, as he relaxed and grinned from ear to ear. "Really?"

"Affirmative," he replied. "Were you in doubt?"

"Well, I mean I know it turned out okay, but still." Jim stared down at his plate for a moment, then looked up hesitantly. "I hadn't expected it to be so…"

"Natural?" Spock hazarded.

The young man snorted. "I was going to say terrifying," he responded quietly, with a wry half-smile. "I was scared to death, Spock. I'm not sure I want to go through that every time someone threatens to blow up my ship and everyone on board. What right do I have to hold so many lives in my hands? There's nothing more special about me than anyone else in the 'Fleet."

Spock set the dinner tray aside, as this required more than casual dinner conversation, and within seconds the child-version of his captain followed his example. He leaned back on the thin Sickbay pillow, choosing his words with great care.

"Jim, you – the fully-competent, adult version of the captain you will soon become – you have every right," he said seriously, watching the young man nervously hang on his words. He continued slowly. "You have earned the loyalty of your crew and command chain, earned it fairly. Ask any crewman aboard the Enterprise, and he will state the same; your crew would, if I may use Lieutenant-Commander Scott's favorite expression, follow you to the mouth of hell and back. And he is quite correct; your crew has deemed you worthy, and you are."

"I don't think so," Jim disagreed in a near-whisper. He fidgeted nervously with the hem of his tunic, twisting his fingers into the soft gold fabric. "That kind of responsibility resting on one ordinary man, that ridiculously blind loyalty from an extraordinary crew…I don't think I'll ever deserve something that valuable."

"And that, Jim," Spock replied quietly, letting the intensity of his words give weight to them, "is precisely why there is no man in the galaxy more competent to command the Enterprise than James T. Kirk. You are no ordinary man, Captain."

The young man's eyes shot up, glowing with pleasure. "You called me 'captain,'" he said, smiling.

Spock raised one eyebrow, hoping it disguised the slight flush of mortification at his slip. "I shall not make the mistake again, I assure you. As you have yet to demonstrate your ability to eat your vegetables prior to your dessert, one would never –"

"You called me caaap-tain," Jim chirped in a delirious sing-song, smirking at his discomfiture.

"Jim –"

"Captain Kirk," the young man corrected, flashing him an impish grin. "And don't you forget it, mister."

The teasing inflection was so achingly familiar, yet so subtly wrong, that it would have made a human's heart ache.

However, being Vulcan, Spock only met McCoy's eyes over the content twenty-year-old's head and indulged in the illogical action of hope; namely, that it would not be long before what they suspected to be the ultimate and final leap of age would occur, bringing their captain back to them whole in mind and spirit as well as in body.

Chapter Text

As the days passed, shortly after their hastily-aborted shipwide party, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise watched their young captain slowly mature in mind and spirit to match his physical age, now that of a young cadet about to graduate from Starfleet Academy.  James T. Kirk was a golden ray of sunlight amongst his people, always eager and willing to learn, and in fact endeared himself to more crewmen at his regressed state than he did in his proper age. Every department of the ship, especially those which had been damaged in the brief battle with the Romulans, was thoroughly inspected and questioned by the eager young man, and every department head nodded to himself and quietly acknowledged the command presence inherent even in so young a cadet.

Acting Captain Spock had opted, with agreement from Jim himself, to treat the young man as a Starfleet officer, a lieutenant; giving him officers' privileges about the ship yet still remanding him to the authority of senior crew members. It had been a reasonable compromise after two hours of negotiation and a chess match lost to the incorrigible human, but Spock deemed it a satisfactory near-end to the problem which had dogged their steps since the events on the Insonti planet.  Jim was most likely capable at this time of resuming his command, yet they both had agreed he should not do so until the process had completed, for the safety of the ship due to his unpredictable physical condition.

Lieutenant Kirk, drawn almost magnetically to his Vulcan acting captain, soon became known in that fortnight around the ship as Spock's young shadow, an odd reversal of roles which was, if truth be told, somewhat disconcerting for the Vulcan. Spock was accustomed to giving loyalty, not receiving it, and to know that one is being viewed as a role model by the future most famous starship captain in Starfleet history was, at best, an oddly disturbing sensation. Though the crew privately joked about how adorable it was, Spock's instincts rebelled against the universal wrongness of it all, and finally, he chose the ultimate in embarrassing activities as his only method of rationalizing the matter.

McCoy stared at him incredulously across the desk in Sickbay, before spontaneously bursting into laughter.

"Are you seriously askin' me why he's attached himself to you in the last couple weeks, Mr. Spock?" the physician finally asked, grinning at his obvious discomfiture.

"I am asking if it is normal behavior for a typical human adult of his age, Doctor," he retorted, refusing to let the man's laughter rouse him. "I believe one of the lessons he was required to learn as an infant was independency of any one particular being. You know as well as I that he will not fully revert in age until he has fully learned all that the Regenratron required of him. A setback at this time would be disastrous."

"Well, yes," McCoy replied slowly, his dancing eyes sobering. "But it's still not abnormal, Spock, given that you've been his primary caregiver, father figure, older brother - whatever you want to call it, you've been all that for this whole shebang. It's not abnormal at all that he's transferred that childish…affection, to something more like hero-worship."

Spock was less concerned with that state of affairs, than he was about the fact that McCoy only looked…sad, he believed was the emotion playing across the doctor's lined features (though granted, he had yet to unravel the mysteries of human emotions). Sadness, and possibly resignation.

"You have been as instrumental as I in the process, Doctor," he protested. "Possibly more so, as it has been your expertise which has prevented him from serious illness during the immense physiological changes."

McCoy shrugged and averted his gaze for a moment to the computer monitor before him. "That's as may be, Spock," he finally sighed, leaning back in the chair. "Just rest assured that he's perfectly fine - will be himself pretty soon, I'd think."

Spock's brow furrowed slightly at the doctor's self-dismissive attitude, but moved on to focus on the latter part of his statement.  "I concur, Doctor; I believe there could only be one, at most two, more leaps of aging before the captain returns to his rightful age. Such drastic transitions will take a terrible toll upon his physiology, will they not?"

McCoy pulled up Kirk's physical charts and then nodded, frowning.  "Probably had better start making preparations for that," he murmured, almost to himself.  "Kid will burn himself out before too long if we aren't careful. I'd suggest installing alarms that sound in both our quarters in case we have an emergency Code Gold during the night."

"Can a bio-bed sensor be modified to notify us of physical changes while he is asleep, should they occur at that time?"

"Mmm," McCoy nodded absently. "Cabin can register the physical condition of its occupant but it might not catch on to the fact that he's dehydrated and malnourished, or just plain fevering if he's asleep at the time. I'll put Scotty on a modification sensor for his bunk."

Spock nodded, pondering for a moment the enormity of the situation. At any moment, Jim could learn whatever final lesson the Insonti people had deemed him worthy of learning, and could change back to the seasoned starship captain whose absence they had suffered for nearly four months now. A jump in age of over ten years would be traumatic for the young man's physical condition, to say nothing of an adult mind suddenly struggling to reconcile two separate sets of childhood memories. In addition to this concern, there remained the political ramifications of the entire Insontis affair. Starfleet Command was beginning to grow weary of their poster boy being a starstruck youngster, and Spock was feeling the pressures of command more and more each day which passed. Now, more than ever before, he resolved anew to never command a ship of his own, at least not without considerable more experience in dealing with humans.

He became aware that McCoy was watching him with a mixture of fond curiosity mixed with resignation, again puzzling him as to why the human would be so reluctant to have the entire affair over and done.  However, as he was no more qualified to discuss such things than he was to captain a starship long-term, he said no more upon the matter and soon left Sickbay and its strangely downcast Chief Medical Officer.

However, the uncomfortably human sensation of concern for McCoy's state of mind (only logical, as a ranking member of command and therefore under his protection, howbeit temporarily) remained for many days afterwards. It was not until after Jim did indeed return to his proper age, that Spock realized why the doctor had been so quiet and withdrawn during those last formative days - and it was that very transformation which illuminated the truth.

If only such traumatic events had not been required to provide that solution…


Two weeks after their skirmish with the renegade Romulans, the Enterprise had completed her repairs and was once again traversing deep space, finishing up the current assignment of stellar cartography. Crew morale was slowly regaining its former peak, as the news spread of Captain Kirk's imminent return, and all of the crew were pleased to learn that soon their 'milk run' would be finished and they could return to what they all had really signed on for: exploring uncharted space and planets, engaging in experimental sciences, and performing diplomatic missions. And so for another peaceful week, business aboard the Enterprise proceeded as usual. 

In retrospect, Assistant Security Chief Garrovick reflected, they should have known better than to become complacent in such circumstances. 

Granted, none of them had ever envisioned the Klingon Empire teaming up with an armada of Orion pirate frigates to attack the famous U.S.S Enterprise, while she was still under the command of the infamous Captain Kirk's half-Vulcan First Officer.

Deep into ship's night after a sleepy week, the crew never knew what hit them.

Garrovick was thrown out of bed (literally) by a blast hard enough to shake picture frames from the walls and hurl him out of his bunk onto the durasteel floor, followed an instant later by the shrill wail of a Red Alert klaxon. Instantly awake with the wide-eyed awareness that came of years in the Security division of Starfleet, he had rolled to his feet and into his uniform before a second blast rocked the ship. Stomping into his boots, he gulped as the room lurched sickeningly around him; the inertial dampeners were obviously flickering, the artificial gravity threatening to send up everything that wasn't fastened down. Two more lurches and he was stumbling into the corridor of Deck Five, which was filled with a haze of electrical smoke and alpha shift crewmen dashing out of their cabins at the alarm.

Two seconds later he was at the storage cubicle down the corridor, punching in an override code. Snatching a communicator and phaser, he finally, for the first time since the alarms sounded, heard the shipwide comm. The channel was so filled with static and interference he could barely make out any words, could only tell that it was Captain Spock's methodical voice clipped with tension, something about severe damage reports. He glanced around for a minute while he doled out the phasers to the half-dozen crewmen who rushed by him on their way to Engineering, but saw no members of the command chain; obviously they had either been on gamma shift duty or had been faster than he in reaching the Bridge.

He whirled around as Kevin Riley came flying down the corridor from the turbolifts a moment later, his hair askew and tunic on inside-out, obviously having been asleep when the alerts sounded.

"Klingons," was the young man's gasped reply to his curt inquiry, as Riley doubled over, heaving a breath of smoky oxygen into his lungs.  "And Orions, if Spock's right…three frigates, two Birds of Prey, all cloaked…we waltzed right up to them, they were just waiting along our warp trajectory." Garrovick's blood ran cold at what was basically a death sentence for all of them. "They know," the lieutenant gasped, coughing as the haze around them thickened.

"Know what?"

Another blast rocked the ship, sending them both tumbling to the floor.  Down the corridor, someone screamed, and the sound of buckling durasteel suddenly crashed on a deck above them.

"They know the captain isn't - well, isn't him!  According to what Mr. Spock told Scotty, the Klingons've promised Jim to the Orions in exchange for taking the Enterprise back as a prize of war! "

Garrovick cursed their publicity and the Klingon ruthlessness in every language he knew.  Security Chief Giotto been expecting something like this for the first few months after Kirk's transformation, expecting some idiot or some organization to try to turn the Enterprise's apparent weakness to their advantage, but no one had tried anything until three weeks before with the renegade Romulans. Obviously, word had gotten out that time was running out for any conquering hopefuls. The Klingons hated James Kirk to a man, and obviously were taking no chances on letting him regain command of his ship.

"Move it. We've got to hide the captain first, and worry about the ship and the Bridge later," he said suddenly, shoving a piece of grating out of the way and sprinting down the corridor toward the captain and First Officer's quarters.

He heard Riley pelting after him, dodging debris and coughing in the smoky haze.  "What's happening on the Bridge?" he asked curtly.

"Don't know - I went straight to Engineering and Scott sent me back after the captain," Riley gasped breathlessly. "Said there's no chance in hell of us coming out of this and to try and hide the kid somewhere if we could."

"Giotto?"

"Boarding party in the shuttle bays."

Garrovick swore softly. The wall comm beside them suddenly squawked into life in a thick Russian accent, clearly tight with panic over the sounds of a heated battle being waged on the Bridge.

"Intruder alert. Intruder alert. Maximum Security detail to the Auxiliary Control Bridge. Repeat, maximum Security detail to the Auxiliary Control Bridge."

"That's not good…" Riley gulped.

Another blast shook the ship, and sparks flew out of every comm-unit along the corridor wall.

Spock's voice sliced abruptly through the chaos, crackling with interference but unmistakable. "All hands prepare for Emergency Procedure Alpha One-One-Three. Repeat, all hands prepare for Emergency Procedure Alpha One-One-Three. This is not a drill."

Ice suddenly flooded his veins, and he met Riley's horrified look with one of his own.

"He can't be serious," Riley whispered.  "It hasn't even been tested yet, that was first on Scotty's list after Kirk regains captaincy!"

Emergency Procedure A-113 was a theoretical maneuver which had been long discussed for constitution-class starships, the primary test subject of which was the Federation flagship Enterprise. Simply put, the procedure was a separation of the nacelles and a skeletal command central from the primary saucer section of the ship, thus enabling the majority of the crew to escape a situation from which there was no other alternative for survival. (1) The maneuver had never yet been tested outside laboratory conditions, though the Enterprise had undergone the necessary mechanical additions during the refit at the end of their third year. (2)  It was a dangerous, highly experimental maneuver, and one which was never to be considered unless there were no other options to save the ship and its crew. 

"Mr. Scott, are you capable of an emergency warp jump?"

Static crackled through the channels.  "Only for a few seconds, Mr. Spock; there's naught I kin do to fix the damage that's been done here!"

"Five seconds will do, Mr. Scott; we need only gain enough momentum for a trajectory to be apparent and the saucer section to be hurled clear of our warp bubble."

"He is going to try it, he's going to get them to follow him to warp and then throw the saucer out of the slipstream and hope they don't notice it," Riley breathed, as they drew near the captain's cabin door. "He's insane!"

"He wouldn't try it unless we're all dead anyway," Garrovick replied sharply.  "Against five enemy ships and carrying an underage captain the Orions would love to get their hands on? I think insane plans are the only option we have."  Coughing as a wave of fresh smoke floated around them, he glanced at the captain's cabin door, from which a furious pounding was emanating.

"Spock, I swear to God, you let me out of here or I will bust you down to ensign when I get my stripes back!" a familiar young bellow sounded furiously through the durasteel door.

Riley and Garrovick exchanged a look.

"SOMEONE BETTER OPEN THIS!"

Garrovick entered the Security override, and the door slid open, to reveal a furious young man in a wrinkled gold tunic.

"Status," Kirk snapped, and Garrovick straightened to attention instinctively.

"Ah…"

"Two Klingon vessels, three Orion, cloaked and waiting for us - and Spock's last order was to get you out of here," Riley said bluntly, saving Garrovick the painful duty of informing his captain, however off-duty, that his ship was about to become a prize of war. "The Orions want you, and the Klingons want the ship. He's trying the emergency saucer sep, sir."

However mature, twenty-year-old Jim Kirk still had the high-pitched near-shriek of a teenager. 

"He's WHAT?"

"It sounds like there's no alternative, sir," Garrovick said quietly, as the comm blasted into life behind them, Chekov relaying a series of staccato orders to Engineering.

"He's going to break the ship apart!"

"Jim," Riley said warningly.

"We're not ready to try a saucer sep!  It hasn't even worked correctly in lab demos every time!"

"Jim -"

Before the young man could make any further protest, a powerful blast suddenly threw them all to the deck.  The ship shuddered, groaning, under them, the shriek of buckling durasteel an eerie accompaniment to the chorus of panic beginning to rumble below decks.  Garrovick groaned, blinking his vision clear from where he'd hit his head on the corner of the desk.

"Mr. Scott, I need full power," Spock's voice warned through the comm.

"Sir, that's all I kin give ye -"

"Hard about, Mr. Sulu!  Mr. Scott…?"

"Sir, I canna do anythin' about it!  We've lost the port nacelle, she's venting plasma too badly for any quick patch job…and I've been locked out of Auxiliary Control!"

"Mr. Scott, if the Klingons control the Auxiliary Bridge, they control the remainder of the ship after the saucer separation."

"Ye think I dinna know that, sir!"

"We're all dead," Riley whispered hoarsely, unholstering his phaser as he scrambled to his feet.  He reached down a hand to haul their shaken young captain after him.

"It's worse than that," Garrovick snapped, reaching out to shove both of them before him as they bolted through the door into the smoke-filled corridor.

"Worse?"

"If the Klingons have the AC Bridge, then they can override the saucer separation," he said shortly, pushing the younger men ahead of him toward the nearest Jefferies tube entrance. Pausing only for an instant, he hauled the cover off and gestured toward the small opening. Riley instantly scrambled inside, phaser held in one hand as he crawled.  "And if they have the AC Bridge, all they'll have to do to take the ship is -"

A sudden hissing began in the corridor behind them.

"Fill the corridors with anesthezine gas," he finished, taking a deep breath and fairly shoving his protesting captain into the Jefferies tube.

Garrovick paused long enough to seal off the tube opening from the gas, and heard the shipwide intracomm fall deathly silent as he crawled after Riley and their twenty-year-old Captain Kirk, deep into the bowels of their now-silent starship.

Chapter Text

The human who first conceived of the adage always darkest before the dawn, had obviously never stepped foot aboard a starship, in which there was no dawn or dark save for the regulation of ship's day and night, Spock reflected wryly, for indeed he could not see that the current situation even had a dawn in sight. He sat in perfect silence on the regulation bunk, ostensibly meditating to the view of the security cameras outside, but in reality conjecturing, testing, and methodically discarding any and all hypothetical courses of action he could envision which might possibly lead to their escape and later retaking of the ship. Starfleet assistance, even if word reached them, would be at least three days in arriving, and it was highly unlikely that their numbers would be sufficient - and any ensuing battle would result in heavy casualties aboard the ships upon which the Enterprise crew were now imprisoned.

It had been a colossal series of mishaps, from start to last, and while there was little he could have done differently, the fact remained that the Klingons and Orions had victoriously taken the Enterprise and her entire crew, severely crippling the ship in the process. Even were they to somehow outwit the sheer numbers of their opponents, the Enterprise was in no condition to make a quick escape; and besides this, if the plans Spock had heard the Klingons discussing were correct, the Enterprise crew would by now have been distributed amongst the five enemy vessels. Obviously, the ingenuity of the Enterprise's command chain and her crew were as legendary as cantina ballads would have them believe, and the Klingons at least were taking no chances that the crew would band together and escape unscathed. They well knew that any crew of Captain Kirk's would never leave a man behind, much less several dozen on each enemy vessel, and so division of their prisoners was the most logical action open to them.

Their enemies knew them too well, Spock reflected with forgivable regret, and it was about to cost them dearly.

He had been forced to surrender the Enterprise, thankfully not under his own power as no commander ever wished to feel that stigma. But even Vulcans are not immune to anesthetic gas, and he had been awakened by unceremonious blows to the face when the Klingon boarding party had reached the Bridge and realized that he had managed to lock out all computer systems before succumbing shortly after his human crew had lost consciousness. They might board her, but they would not find it so easy to operate her.

Captain PetaQ of the lead Klingon Bird of Prey, the Qeh, had not been pleased to have been so thwarted by a race which could not be persuaded under any known torture methods, Spock recalled with a twinge of human glee.

Said frisson of pleasure was swiftly extinguished by the knowledge that, however gallantly, the ship was irretrievably lost, and with it their entire crew - including their as-yet underage Captain Kirk. Spock knew what Orion slave traders would have planned for the handsome, charismatic young man, and the knowledge was enough to make him feel physical illness. Such an eventuality was unthinkable, and he would sooner give his captain a mercifully painless death by his own hand than damn the vibrant twenty-year-old to the life intended for him by the Klingons' temporary allies. 

It was that sickening knowledge that tempted him to, yet again, unwisely attempt to bodily short-circuit the force-field reinforcing the bars of the Enterprise's maximum security cell in which he had been unceremoniously thrown after PetaQ's brief but unsuccessful interrogation attempt. He was saved from yet another ten-minute stint in electric-shock-induced unconsciousness seconds before his endeavor, by the rhythmic clanking of detention doors being rolled back from the opposite corridor; obviously another prisoner being admitted to the highest security facilities existing among the six ships.

He was slightly surprised, but simultaneously relieved, to perceive that the Klingons' regard for the healing arts had saved McCoy at least, from being transferred to the hold of an Orion pirate frigate, or worse.

He was equally surprised, and amused, to find that the human evidently knew enough colloquial Klingon to insult the hulking figure's mother, father, and half-a-dozen other family members' honors, before being shoved into the adjoining cell with enough brute force to send the physician sprawling heavily on the durasteel flooring.

"…Ow," he heard after the Klingon had spat upon the floor of the corridor and stalked away, rolling the security doors closed behind him and locking them.

Spock stood and moved across the small cell to the bars separating them. "Are you undamaged, Doctor?"

"More or less," McCoy groaned, pulling himself upright with a wince. The bruise darkening the human's left eye, and the stiff manner in which he held himself, bespoke otherwise, and Spock felt his jaw tighten with enough human anger that he knew he must regain control, else surrender his usefulness to any future escape attempt. He firmly quashed all else but the quest for knowledge, and began his inquiry.

"Report, Doctor McCoy."

The physician settled gingerly on the edge of the hard bunk, not-very-subtly wrapping an arm across his midsection as his breath caught in the back of his throat with a choked-off grunt of pain.

Spock vaguely decided regaining control of his ancient warrior blood's desire for revenge was most likely out of the question, at least temporarily. Surely the cause was sufficient.

And if it were not, he was, as the humans would say, more than slightly past caring.

"Can't say bein' woken up by a Red Alert and running out the door into a squad of Klingon muscle is my idea of a pleasant morning, but at least they let me see to some of my patients just now before deciding I was too dangerous to be let loose."

He raised an eyebrow. "What, precisely, did you do to give them that impression, Doctor?"

The human shrugged, tugging uselessly at his torn tunic sleeves. Then one blue eye glinted evilly at him. "It might've been my Southern charm…might've been the fact that I locked down Sickbay before they grabbed me and I'll see them all in hell before I'll override the lockdown…might've been the fact that I kicked one of 'em where it counts when they made Christine leave a wounded man in the transporter room and sent her over to whatever vermin-infested hole they crawled out of. Take your pick, Mr. Spock." A crooked sliver of a grin appeared, briefly, and Spock felt himself relax slightly under the familiar drawl. "I have a very good knowledge of xenospecial anatomy, and it comes in handy. Apparently making sure someone's incapacitated by any method other than face-to-face combat is a highly dishonorable action, who'd've known."

"Antagonizing a superior species is, I have observed, one of your more outstanding abilities, Doctor."

"If I wasn't tryin' to make sure this cracked rib doesn't puncture a lung, I might have somethin' to say about that, y'pointy-eared know-it-all," the human sighed, and Spock firmly prevented a sudden flare of anger from becoming more than a smolder of deep hatred deep within. "Anyway, from what I could see on the way here, the ship's almost deserted. I know PetaQ shipped Scotty over to the Qeh, but I didn't hear where the rest of the command chain is, my Klingon's not good enough to understand most of what they said. Our people - the ones who're still standing - are basically divided among the five enemy ships, Commander." McCoy's pained eyes betrayed his grief and worry. "Even if we retake the Enterprise, we're not going to take all five ships before they catch on to us."

Spock settled on the floor of the cell, fingertips together in a feeble attempt to center his vacillating mental shields. Control, he must find control. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the bars and inhaled slowly. "Casualties?"

"According to Chapel before they beamed her out, no confirmed deaths yet, which is surprising," the doctor replied quietly. "They caught us at the end of gamma shift, so most people were on the rec decks or in their quarters, and that saved their lives. Given their alternatives with the Klingons or Orions as captors, though…I'm not so sure if that's actually a good thing."

Expressionless, Spock nodded. "And injuries?"

"They let me look at the worst off in Shuttle Bay Two when I came round, for about an hour before they brought me here. Sickbay's still under lockdown, but I dunno who all was inside when I locked it down. Mostly plasma burns in Engineering and several broken bones in the lower crew quarters; we got hit pretty hard there and in Decks Nine through Twelve." Spock heard a dull thud, and glanced up to see that the human had slid down the wall to sit beside him on the other side of the durasteel bars. "I'm sorry I don't have more details for you, Mr. Spock," he said lowly, head hanging.

"You need not apologize for that which is beyond your control, Doctor," Spock answered. "None of us could have foreseen these events, though perhaps as a whole we have grown complacent to our potential dangers while awaiting the last stages of the captain's transformation."

"Speakin' of," McCoy began, a frown creasing his lined face.

Spock leaned back once more, trying to center his wavering focus. "Doctor?"

"You'd think I'd've heard something about Jim, given that he seems to be the whole reason the Orions decided to team up with the likes of a renegade like PetaQ."

Spock cracked an eyelid.

"You heard nothing of Jim's whereabouts?"

"Not a peep, and you know how Orions are about braggin' about their prize captures." The human shrugged, rubbing uneasily at his side with a grimace. "The only time I heard his name mentioned, they didn't look happy about it."

"Indeed. This could be…"

"So help me God, if you say fascinating I'll reach right through here and clock you one, busted ribs or no," the physician snarled, and Spock allowed himself to relax slightly in amusement.

"I was about to say, that it could be promising, Doctor," he answered, lips twitching. "There is no need for your melodramatic, and certainly less-than-terrifying, threats."

McCoy lost all apparent animosity - a coping mechanism, and a familiar dance they both knew well by now - and sat upright, eyes sparking with interest. "You think he might've escaped them?"

"One thing is certain, Doctor; no one aboard, with the possible exception of Engineer Scott, knows the Enterprise better than James Kirk," Spock answered quietly. "If anyone can remain undetected aboard her, it is the captain. And if we have heard nothing of his capture…"

"But didn't you lock him in his cabin when the Red Alert began?"

"Not I; rather, it has been the standard Security precaution since the captain was a young child, at Commander Giotto's recommendation. I had not yet adjusted the security protocols accordingly to allow him to override the lock, but any Security officer of rank would be able to do so."

"So if someone got to him before the Klingons and got him safely hidden -"

"Which should, in theory, have occurred, as it is standing Security orders to do so in the event of a Red Alert and Priority One danger scenario," Spock finished, feeling a faint spark of hope for the first time since his world had exploded - literally - on the gamma shift Bridge hours ago. "For all our sakes, Doctor, let us hope that someone, at least, succeeded in his duty better than I."


"You know these goons are gonna be majorly ticked off if they ever do get a hold of us," Riley muttered rebelliously, scrunched in a painfully cramped position behind a panel in Ship's Stores and Requisition and painstakingly stripping wires in the adjoining circuit box. "Almost five hours since hell broke loose, they have to know we're hiding somewhere. What if they just blow the ship?"

"They're not going to just blow the ship, you idiot," Garrovick snapped, his patience frayed thin. "The Orions need a prisoner to seal the deal they made, meaning the captain - Captain Kirk, that is; and the Klingons need bragging rights to do the same, meaning they need the ship. We have one bargaining chip here, and we're standing in the other one."

"That won't stop them from methodically taking the ship apart to find us, though," Jim spoke up quietly, from where he leaned against the opposite wall of their tiny hidden compartment, barely large enough to contain the smuggled goods that occasionally got sneaked aboard by their liberal-minded Chief Engineer. Garrovick hadn't even bothered to deny the existence of such panels, given that the still in Engineering and its corresponding storage areas were a well-known secret aboard. "And I'm worried about the crew."

Garrovick decided not to tell the kid just yet that he'd heard about the divvying up between enemy vessels when he ventured from their hideaway an hour ago, or that there were rumors that the primary command crew had already been executed just on general principle. Given his only rudimentary grasp of Klingon, he fervently hoped that last had been his own translation error.

Riley looked up from his work, gave the young man a piercing look. "Your crew," he corrected gently.

"Pardon?"

"I've never heard you call them just 'the crew' before, that's all," he responded, a little awkwardly. He knew how to deal with his seasoned captain, and his thirteen-year-old version of that captain - but this strange hybrid between the two was disconcerting, and just flat weird at times. "They're your crew."

"Not now they're not," the young man said morosely, staring off into the vague middle distance. "They're nobody's crew now. We never even had a chance to fight back."

Busy trying to patch himself into the ship's intra-comm with their sole communicator, to see if he could monitor enemy transmissions, Riley yelped when a spark shot out of the instrument, singeing his fingers. (1)

"Yeow!"

"Button it," Garrovick hissed. "D'you want to bring the Klingons down on us?"

"We can't just hide in here for the next few days," Jim pointed out dryly.

"No, but Spock'll have my head on a platter if I let you go anywhere until we can figure out a general map of where our enemy forces are," Garrovick snapped curtly, watching Riley again try to patch himself into the comm-network without being detected. "Once we know where they are, then and only then, I'll listen to whatever plan you've got. Sir." He added the honorific as a courtesy, since the kid didn't really have a title yet.

"Plan I've got?" The young man gaped. "Me?"

Oh, fabulous, Garrovick thought with a silent scream. Of all the times for the kid to be indecisive…wait.

Filtering through the razor-sharp edge of adrenaline, he suddenly remembered a conversation held years ago, soon after he'd come aboard as a very average young ensign. An occasion when he discovered how his captain had once been navigator aboard his father's ship, the Farragut - when Mr. Spock saved his life from the same cloud-creature which decimated the Farragut, when he nearly got himself court-martialed by trying to play the hero at its capture. When Kirk had uncharacteristically visited him below decks, in his tiny little cabin, and talked to him for several hours about his father, and about what had happened so long ago on Kirk's very first deep-space mission.

Talked about Kirk's decade-long guilt over a failure to react quickly enough, a sense of blame that had fueled an unhealthy obsession with the creature in question, and which had nearly cost many of their crew their lives. Kirk had used his father's ship and Kirk's own experience to teach him valuable lessons that day, and he had taken them to heart and run with them, to forge his own way out of his father's shadow. Kirk had selected him for assistant Security Chief after a few years of watching him determinedly grow in skill and experience, and he had never forgotten that one afternoon of mentoring, those years before. (2)

But Kirk would have been, during that time aboard the Farragut

…would have been the same approximate age he was now, sitting across the tiny compartment and looking at his Assistant SC like Garrovick had grown a second head.

Well, this is just lovely, he groaned silently, realizing that he was pretty much on his own to coax the young man through what they all hoped would be his final lesson. They could definitely use the seasoned starship captain, instead of a green lieutenant still unsure of his own reactive abilities, much less of his command abilities.

"Yes, you," he finally spoke up, his voice sharp with a command edge. "Whether you're too young or not, you're the captain of this ship, and you're our best hope of getting out of this alive."

Riley, who had cocked his head, listening in the earphone mechanism of his communicator, suddenly grinned so wide his face nearly split in half. "That sneaky Vulcan!" he exclaimed in an admiring whisper, turning to both of his companions.

Garrovick's eyebrows pulled a Spock, and Jim sat up straighter, all attention.

"I just tried to access the communication logs for the last few hours, and it looks like our acting captain managed to lock down the whole computer system before he conked out from the gas," Riley answered, smirking. "That's a heck of a lot of quick programming overrides. Bet the Klingons are lovin' that."

"Meaning they can't go anywhere with the ship until Spock unlocks the computer," Jim breathed, grinning proudly.

"Meaning they can't so much as flush a lavatory until he unlocks it," Garrovick added, his face betraying his own admiration for the Vulcan's quick thinking. "However," he continued, more seriously, "it's only a matter of time before he has to cave and unlock it - all it would take is the right motivation."

Jim shivered suddenly. "I'm not so sure," he said quietly, and the other two turned to look at him. "Not even to save the crew," he added, nervously running a hand through his hair. "He wouldn't cede the ship to Khan, so why would he to a bunch of Klingons? Starfleet regulations forbid it, anyway, even if the entire crew is threatened, because of the sensitive information a constitution-class ship carries in its databanks." (3)

Riley swallowed hard.

"He's right," Garrovick agreed suddenly, keeping a sharp eye on their young captain. Plastering an appropriately worried look on his face, he continued with deliberate slowness. "Which means we have to work quickly, before the Klingons get...creative, in trying to motivate him."

He wanted to laugh at the sudden fire that ignited in the young man's expression; everyone knew the Enterprise captain's Achilles heel, though most regarded it as a strength rather than a weakness. Such personal motivation would serve the young man well in his struggle to vault these last hurdles before he became once again the captain of the Enterprise.

Garrovick silently hoped that there would actually still be an Enterprise to captain, when that finally happened.

Chapter Text

"If I have to put up with two hours of conversation from a walking database, the least these creeps could do would be to lemme have some dinner." The sour grumble drifted across the barren cell as the human turned restlessly on the thin bunk, complaining under his breath about the lack of amenities.

Still sitting on the cold floor attempting to regain his central focus, Spock rose to the bait, more out of boredom than reflex at this point in their imprisonment. "Said 'walking database,' Doctor, is the only being aboard capable of unlocking the replicators and meal selectors. I would, therefore, suggest you choose your words with more caution."

He was rewarded by a familiar smirk. "Not annoyin' you, am I, Mr. Spock?"

"Vulcans do not feel annoyance, Doctor."

"Goooood," McCoy drawled, grinning. "Then y'won't mind if I keep it up, now will you."

"Perhaps I should inform Captain PetaQ I am prepared to relinquish control of the Enterprise's airlock systems to his discretion, Doctor."

"And perhaps you should take your insufferable know-it-all-ness and sh- Spock!" the sentence trailed off into a hiss of alertness, as the security doors at the end of the corridor were rolled back. In an instant, the physician's lazy demeanor changed into that of the competent Starfleet officer, a change which never failed to fascinate his Vulcan superior. In one swift movement, the CMO was at the bars of his cell, prepared and ready for any signal from his superior officer.

"Do nothing to endanger your standing with them, Doctor," Spock said in a low voice, rising to his feet to better be prepared for any advantage he might gain. Klingons respected the healing arts, and that respect might be their salvation should McCoy manage to somehow gain an advantage over their captors. At this point, they should grasp at any straw offered to them, as the situation was as close to hopeless as they had ever been.

McCoy looked pointedly at him, no doubt about to engage in some emotional protest, but (surprisingly) fell obediently silent as the captain of the lead Klingon vessel himself approached their cells. Deactivating the force-field reinforcing Spock's cell with a flick of the hand, PetaQ leaned forward in a grim snarl, though not so close that Spock might be able to apply a nerve pinch or, more satisfyingly, slam the captain's head into the bars of his cell.

He satisfied himself with facing the furious Klingon with his usual impassivity, which only served to make that most volatile of species more angry. He expected yet another demand, and this time possibly a physical threat, for him to release the Enterprise's central computer - but was both surprised and pleased to hear this was not so.

"What have you done with Kirk?" the Klingon captain bellowed without preamble, spittle flying in the face of his two prisoners.

McCoy hastily wiped a grin (and PetaQ's saliva) from his face and wisely backed away from the cell bars; better to let the less destructible one of them face off against an angry Klingon. Jim might take delight in provoking Klingons into verbal sparring matches, but his momma hadn't raised that kind of idiot.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "We have done nothing with Captain Kirk," he replied non-committally, his mind revolving possibilities in his head with the rapidity of the supercomputer McCoy occasionally accused him of being. "He was recuperating in his cabin, per Dr. McCoy's orders, after recovering from his latest ordeal. The blame for your inability to locate him hardly rests with us."

As it stood, none of their captors had yet seen the captain, and if Spock could possibly convince them that Kirk had actually regained his proper age and was simply biding his time somewhere in the ship, the psychological effects on their enemies might gain them a slight advantage.

"You lie, Vulcan Ha'DIbaH!"

"Vulcans do not lie," he replied blandly. "And vulgarities are hardly necessary."

The response was even more profane, and were he human he might be either offended or amused at the creativity. As it stood, he was far more concerned with the fact that Jim was in hiding, and had three ships' worth of Klingons searching the Enterprise for him.

"The Orions givin' you trouble about not producin' their prize specimen, are they?" McCoy drawled from where he had sprawled back on his bunk, hands behind his head as he leaned lazily against the wall.

The naked fury in the Klingon captain's expression was answer enough. Spock barely had time to register the movement before he was grasped by the front of the tunic and jerked forward into the cell bars, his head striking hard enough that he actually saw stars for a moment.

"We will draw him out, Vulcan," PetaQ hissed, his grip tightening. "He will not stay in hiding like the cowardly child he is if we begin executing his crew one by one - beginning with his precious First Officer." The threat was not an idle one, Spock well knew, though his current struggle for oxygen was of far more immediate concern. But quickly as he had been attacked, he was released, and the Klingon stepped back, out of arm's reach. "You have one of your hours, Vulcan," he spat, and slammed a hand back down on the force field controls.

The crackle of electricity hummed a deathly punctuation as their captor stomped back through the security doors, which rolled closed behind him with a definitive clang.

"Spock," McCoy's voice hissed close by, tinny among the rush of blood pounding in his ears. "Spock, you okay? Why didn't you grab 'im when he attacked you?"

"Doctor, even had I been able to do so, incapacitating him would not have released us from these cells," he sighed patiently. A bit of tugging moved his battered tunic back into its proper shape. "The maximum security cells were tested upon both Captain Kirk and myself after our refit, and neither of us were able to escape from them without outside aid. I would have accomplished nothing save to exacerbate an already volatile situation."

McCoy groaned, resting his head against the cell bars. "What're we gonna do, then, Spock?" he asked quietly. "We both know he's not kidding, and we both know Jim won't stay hidden if they start killing off his crew."

"Indeed. It is his primary weakness as a commander," Spock mused, entirely without condemnation for the human in question. Kaiidth. "In which case, we have but an hour in which to lay our own plans, Doctor."

The human's weary head inclined just enough to give him an incredulous look. "Don't tell me you of all people have a plan, Spock."

"Really, Doctor," he answered severely. "After four years of serving under the Federation's most…interesting, starship captain, you truly assume I am incapable of cogitating a plan of action?" 

McCoy chuffed a laugh and settled on the floor, face lined with the shadows of their prison bars. "Well, mark me down surprised, Mr. Spock," he retorted with a sly grin. "Why do I have the feeling I'm not gonna like this much?"

Spock gracefully lowered himself to an opposing position and leaned forward, keeping his lips in shadow in the event the security cameras were being watched by lip-reading Klingons. "In all probability, Doctor, because you most likely are not."


"Yeah, okay, you're right - I sure as heck don't like it. A-tall!" McCoy was snapping like a taut wire, currently pacing a small circumference of the cell, an angry circle of human agitation.

Spock nodded in understanding, but remained unmoved. "The fact remains, Doctor, that there is no alternative which I can foresee. Have you a better plan, which can be carried out between no more than the two of us, without endangering the crew, and all within…forty minutes, fifteen seconds, now?"

The doctor sighed, swayed against the wall for a moment, and finally came back to where Spock still sat, quietly waiting. "I don't have a better idea, Mr. Spock. In fact, it's a darn good plan - if Jim plays along with you, which he probably will - even if it is a huge gamble."

Spock inclined his head slightly, the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug. "We have very few options, Doctor; if we wait longer than the allotted hour, our chances of escape exponentially drop, in addition to the very real possibility that these Klingons or even the Orions may decide to leave this area of space with portions of our crew as their prisoners. In all probability, Jim's unknown status is all which has prevented that eventuality as the matter stands. Once we lose that advantage, we will indeed be completely lost. We are simply out of time."

McCoy nodded, somewhat mechanically, and Spock peered through the cell bars in some curiosity. "Doctor, is there a component to this plan to which you object personally?" he asked abruptly, and by the whip-like crack of the human's neck as his head jerked up in shock he knew the assumption was correct. "That is an affirmative, then," he stated, matter-of-fact.

The human's emotionally turbulent eyes, what he could see of the one through the swelling inflicted by their Klingon captors, retreated behind a mask of exemplary professionalism. "An affirmative, which will not affect our mission, Commander," McCoy answered with perfect equanimity.

Now was not the time to argue trivialities, and if Spock had learnt one thing through his years of dealing with these incomprehensible humans it was the human action of learning to choose one's battles. "If you are certain, Doctor."

"Quite certain, Mr. Spock."

"Then let us begin. It will necessitate that you move closer, Doctor," he prompted, when McCoy made no motion to come as close to their barred divider as he could.

"…Right." The human scooted as close as he could to the bars, now only inches away, and turned what was probably supposed to be a determined stare up at him - only succeeding in making Spock uneasy, as it looked far too defensive to be anything but an emotional reaction to the plan they were about to implement. "Ready when you are, Commander."

That was another item to add to the uneasiness; rarely had he heard their incorrigible CMO utilize his title so many times in the course of one conversation, however official. The typical lack of respect was part of what made this particular human so fascinating, and the anomaly would, had they the time to investigate, prove slightly alarming.

But their time was running out - thirty-four minutes, seventeen seconds - and he, like all of them, had a task to perform.

"Clear your mind, Doctor," he instructed, attempting to project calm to a human who was fairly vibrating with tension. "This will be unpleasant for both of us should you be unable to reach a state of calm."

Eyes closed, McCoy grunted something which sounded suspiciously like good luck with that, but Spock had already instructed him accordingly and when it appeared that the physician was composed enough, he reached out, physically and mentally, in the initial stages of the process known as mind-melding, or mind-fusion, as the terminology went for the deeper, more intimate, connection.

And then, to his unmitigated horror, Spock slammed into a wall of utter, complete, and uncontrollable terror so deep-rooted that it literally flung him from the human's mind before he had even begun, going so far as to physically propel him backwards at least a meter from the onslaught of instinctual human self-defense.

McCoy's eyes flew open as Spock rocked back, an exclamation of shock wrenched from his surprised and therefore unshielded Vulcan consciousness, and for a moment they stared at each other in wide-eyed silence.

"…Sorry?" the doctor finally offered in a weak whisper, dropping his gaze to his shaking hands.

Spock shook his head, eyes closing attempting to wrest control of his horrified revulsion over what he might have done to a mind which was obviously terrified of him.

"Doctor…" He cleared his throat as the roughness of his own voice surprised him. "Doctor, I will require an explanation," he finally finished, with understandable hesitation. "This is…not a typical reaction, even for a human. We will certainly be unsuccessful in any second attempt - which I would never make without your explicit consent, in every sense of the word."

The human glanced up, surprise tingeing his face. "That sounds suspiciously like legal terms, Spock," McCoy said quietly.

A sickening sense of dread began creeping into his still-reeling consciousness. "They are, Doctor; such a mind-fusion must be entirely consensual. The alternative is a crime of…unfathomable atrocity," he answered, slowly. "Even upon an enemy, short of a medical or military emergency, there is no excuse for such measures, upon a non-consensual mind. It is…unthinkable, Doctor. Punishable by death, in ancient Vulcan culture, as a violation of the most sacred of all mental and moral rites."

Blue eyes widened in shock. "You serious?"

"Deathly so," Spock replied ironically, worry furrowing his brow as the human's surprise began to clinch the dread seeping into his soul. "It is the worst of crimes one being could commit upon another in my culture, Doctor. I would never even contemplate performing such upon an enemy, much less upon a…." Vulcan pride did not permit the word, and he ground awkwardly to a halt.

"Frenemy?" McCoy supplied Jim's pet term for the both of them with a slight flash of mischievous humor.

Faintly relieved at the lessening of tension, he corrected the man with aloof indifference. "Acquaintance." However, their time was running out, and he had yet to uncover this darkest of secrets this human apparently was hiding. "But that is beside the point, Doctor. We were discussing this abnormally self-protective reaction to my initial measures during the mind-fusion."

McCoy looked away, as if unable to meet his penetrating gaze.

The idea made him physically sick to contemplate, yet it must be asked; for if they could not surmount this unexpected obstacle, their plan was doomed to failure before it had begun, and they were running out of time. "Doctor," he said gently. "Has this happened to you before?"

"Has what." The flat answer was harsh, unyielding in the silence.

"Have you…" there was no gentle way to phrase the atrocity, "…have you been forcibly subjected to a mental assault?" he finally ended with as much tact as he could salvage.

The doctor looked up, face lined with tension, the expert physician inside no doubt realizing the implications of their conversation. "If I have, will that impede our mission, Mr. Spock?" McCoy asked quietly.

The lack of denial sent a frisson of ice water down his spine, an instinctual revulsive shudder that reached deep into the core of any true Vulcan. "Not necessarily," he answered. "But…it could make the execution of our plan much more painful."

"For me, or you?"

"Both, equally," he replied truthfully. "Because if you are unable to remove that instinctual barrier between our minds yourself, then I will be forced to apply my own strength to the task. The lines between consent and non-consent there are more blurred than I should prefer, and regardless of intent, the process will be…painful, for both of us. Fear is a most powerful mental force, borne of instinctual self-preservation. It will not be pleasant, for you or for me."

"It's not you I'm scared of, Spock," McCoy said softly.

"I am…pleased, to hear this," he answered, equally quiet. "To know one is capable of instilling such fear in any being is not a pleasant revelation."

His horrified mind still unable to formulate into words his true revulsion at the idea of anyone having the ruthlessness to cause such unspeakable harm to this most unique of beings, Spock instead slowly reached through the bars separating their cells and hesitantly placed a hand on the human's cold, shaking ones.

"I would never harm you…Leonard," he said quietly, but with such intensity that the man looked up in unmitigated shock, meeting his gaze squarely for the first time in their conversation. This was no time for prevarication, nor were his mental shields in any condition to couch his sentiments in anything less than stark, naked truth. It was not a time for anything but clear, human honesty. "And I would sooner make our escape single-handedly and die in the attempt, than provoke such a reaction again for the sake of a 'plan.'"

Blue eyes searched his for a moment, piercing past the calm words and demeanor and no doubt picking up on his horror at this new knowledge, the sickening dread which fueled his desperation to make this human understand that despite their differences, he would never in his darkest dreams even contemplate such an act.

He needed - desperately needed - to know particulars about this atrocity in question (so that he could seek out the individual responsible and see they met a fate worse than death), but for now, there was little time to do more than reassure this man of his intentions. The backlash would have to wait until after they had completed their mission, and they both were Starfleet officers enough to know this.

Finally, he felt the cold hands under his own grip twitch, clench in a gesture of determination, and he settled back, watching as the doctor straightened with a look of admirable resolve. "I believe you, Spock," McCoy said simply. "What do you need me to do?"

Chapter Text

"Okay, what've we got, people."

"Vulcan and human life-sign readings in the brig, maximum security section," Riley reported absently, scrolling rapidly past the single sensor array he'd been able to bypass due to a misplaced end bracket in Spock's rapidly-typed firewall. "A few scattered human life-signs across the ship…static blanket over Sickbay, which I suspect is under lockdown judging from the fact that I can't get access to any internal sensors there. Multiple Klingon life-signs, centered primarily on the Bridge and Engineering. They either haven't bothered to search the guts of the ship or they've done it already."

"How many human life-signs are we talking about?" Jim asked sharply.

"Nowhere near enough," he reported, flicking a glance over at his silent Assistant Security Chief. "My guess is that they divvied up the crew among the enemy vessels. It makes the most tactical sense."

Garrovick silently nodded in reluctant corroboration, and their young captain swore a blue streak that would have done their irascible CMO proud.

"So whatever we do, we can't make it visible to the other ships, or they'll warp away with 80% of my crew, in other words?"

"That's about it, sir," Riley agreed dismally. "Besides, we can't do anything aboard until Spock lifts the lock on the central computer; I was lucky to access this single sensor array, there's no way I can get at anything else. Not even your skills can hack past a Class One-A acting captain's security lockdown."

"Besides which, they're all out looking for you," Garrovick added matter-of-factly. "The minute you pop up on any grid the game will be up for all of us; you trying to bypass Spock's codes would throw up an alert to anyone monitoring us internally."

"Are the Klingons that smart?"

"They may not think of it, but I can guarantee an Orion pirate frigate will have stolen tech that will flag any change immediately," Garrovick replied with certainty. "I'm just surprised they haven't differentiated your life-signature yet somehow. God knows you have to be putting off weird types of energy from that re-transformation thing."

"And even if we re-take the Enterprise, that doesn't help us get the rest of our crew out of the Klingons' hands, not to mention the Orions'," Riley agreed, leaning back against the wall of their deserted corridor.

"Orions are scavengers, and they're careful to only gamble on sureties. If we can divide them from the Klingons, they're likely to tuck tail and run rather than shoot it out with all of us - the danger is getting our people out of their cargo holds before they decide to retreat," Jim mused, pacing in a tight circle. Frown lines creased his youthful face as he scowled absently at the floor, wheeling about in perfect military turns. Suddenly he halted, and whirled in Garrovick's direction.

"How familiar are you with alien transporter tech, Lieutenant-Commander?"

"Expertly so, sir," Garrovick replied instantly. "It's part of Mr. Scott's explicit requirements to anyone who wants to be a transporter tech aboard the Enterprise. We must be intimately familiar with any known transporter tech in standard or discarded Federation and non-Federation use, circuitry patterns and bypass codes included, before he'll let us even step foot in the transporter room to actually beam down a landing party. That's why there's only two dozen redshirts who can currently do it aboard, and another ten working on certification."

"Then if you were aboard one of the Orion frigates, you could work their transporter with little to no difficulty?"

"There's a remote chance they could be using stolen alien tech that I've never seen before -"

"How remote?"

"Less than one percent chance, I'd say, sir. But then Mr. Spock is the percentage guru, not me."

Jim cracked a brief slit of a smile. "Tell me what would be involved in mass transporting our people back aboard the Enterprise, or at least to the Klingon vessels from the Orions. Positives and dangers from either end, to start."

"Without the stabilizing aid of a transporter pad, the transporter can still lock onto any object known to be in the possession of the target, provided it's giving off an appropriate signal that stands out above interference, electrical or otherwise. A communicator is the preferred option for a lock-on, though at times it's worked just fine with a tricorder. However, in emergencies, one can lock onto a life-sign and beam it aboard, though the larger the target the riskier the transport."

"Then you'd be able to beam my people off the Orion ship back here with no difficulty using their transporter, but you wouldn't want to try it blind using ours because there's no stabilization pad on the other end?"

Garrovick nodded. "Correct, sir. Provided we can unlock the computer, I could lock onto life-signs aboard the frigates and beam them aboard, but I'd have no way of knowing if they were human, Orion, or otherwise. In addition, without the stabilization on the other end, I'd never be able to attempt a mass transport. Maximum six bodies without double-ended stabilization; otherwise the patterns begin to degrade or even combine in transport, they'd never re-materialize correctly."

"And say they've divided 400-odd crew among five ships, that's eighty people to a ship," Riley interjected. "Not practical at all. You'd need a mass transport with stabilization on both ends, meaning you have to originate the transport on a stable transporter pad on the Orion ship, which would be both impossible and take forever, or else come up with a Plan B."

Jim absently rubbed his thumb along his lower lip, frowning in concentration. "In your opinion, Lieutenant, are eighty crewmen sufficient to overpower and assume command of an Orion freighter, provided we can give them a little distraction?"

"Negative, at least not without more help than one man could give them, sir," Garrovick answered reluctantly, already having toyed with the idea of giving himself up as a prisoner in hopes he would be taken aboard one of the frigates and be able to take charge of a frightened and possibly injured crew complement. "Security on a slave ship is even more paramount to traffickers than their own life support systems. You can be sure our people have already tried anything that could be tried. I'd be more concerned for their safety if they made the attempt, than optimistic regarding their success. Orions are ruthless, and they are extremely jealous of their cargo."

Jim swore under his breath, visibly resisting the urge to slam his fist into the nearest durasteel wall. "I need into this computer! I can't do a thing without it!"

"Leave that end of it for now, then," Riley said, laying a hand on the young man's tense shoulder. "Once the computer's unlocked, we can worry about getting our people off the Orion ships. We can't do anything about that right now, since there are no Orions aboard. What we can do, is figure out how to take back the Enterprise. Even without a crew, she still has vastly superior firepower, so we need to take her first."

"Without the aid of the computer?"

"Man did get along without them for several centuries, you know," Garrovick chided him gently. "And there's no telling what trick Mr. Spock has up his sleeve for that, anyhow."

As if in answer to his remark, the shipwide intra-comm suddenly blared, the only system aboard which was never included in a shipwide lockdown for security reasons.

"Captain James T. Kirk, this is Captain PetaQ, of the mighty warship Qeh," the guttural sounds of challenging Klingon reverberated down the eerily empty corridors, amplified by the absence of life aboard their nearly-deserted starship.

"Kirk, I know you are still aboard, hiding like the little be'Hom you are," PetaQ sneered. "You will be pleased to know that your First Officer has refused us the information we seek, and denied us the pleasure of escorting your ship back to the Klingon Empire as a prize of war."

Garrovick winced, and sent out a silent prayer that Spock hadn't suffered for that decision. He chanced a glance at his captain, and found the young man with his eyes glued to the wall-comm, dark fury building in their hazel depths.

"You have one hour to show yourself to us, Kirk, before he dies for his treachery, only the first of many if you refuse to face usI shall take pleasure in executing your crew one by one, Kirk, and i will do it over an open communications channel for you to hear. Do not presume to defy me. PetaQ out."

"Somehow I don't think that's a bluff," Riley muttered to himself, but loud enough that the other two heard.

"I'll see him burn in hell before I'll let him lay a finger on any of my people," Kirk snapped, such brittle anger tingeing the words that for just a second, the image in front of Garrovick's eyes wavered, shifted into the thirty-odd-year-old version of his captain, before sliding back to the slighter young man standing opposite him, hands on his hips in his most belligerent of body language.

"You're not going out there to turn yourself in," he warned coolly, well knowing the young idiot's self-sacrificing tendencies, which did not get better as he aged.

Kirk turned such a ruthless, wolfish grin upon him, that it sent a shiver of anticipatory dread down his spine. "Not just yet, Mr. Garrovick," the young man agreed dangerously. "Gentlemen, we have little time to lose. Let us begin."


You didn't have to make it look so real, you cold-blooded son of a…Vulcan, McCoy growled mentally, as he staggered back, gasping, from the furious grip of what looked to be an incensed Acting Captain Spock.

Commander HoQ, the Klingon guard who had come running when the hostilities broke out and had subdued Spock with a nasty crack on the head, now looked at him curiously.

"Took you long enough," he managed to wheeze out from a bruised throat, throwing an entirely genuine glare at Spock, who was just now picking himself up from the floor, looking more than slightly stunned.

"You are injured, Healer Mak-khoi?" the Klingon inquired, casting a dubious look at the Vulcan in the adjoining cell.

"Nothing too bad," the human declared sourly, scowling as he yanked his collar away from his throat. "Might've been nasty if you hadn't showed up, though. Guess I should thank you, even if y'are my jailor."

HoQ bared his teeth in what evidently was supposed to be a companionable grin. McCoy forced down a shudder and returned the gesture with a curt nod.

"Why should two so prominent Starfleet commanders be, as you say - at each other's throats?" the Klingon asked, obviously suspicious.

"Because neither I nor the captain accept treason from any crewman aboard this ship," Spock replied curtly. "The penalty for treason under conditions of war is death, as we all know."

"It's not treason, you infernal walking encyclopedia! Just because you think it's a 'good day to die' doesn't mean I'm gonna let you get the rest of us killed for no reason!" McCoy shot back, glaring venom out of the single eye he could still see from.

"Aiding the enemy constitutes treason, Doctor," Spock declared coldly.

HoQ's ears pricked up.

"Look," McCoy turned to their guard, employing his best of what Chapel called his 'deviously innocent baby blues'. "All I said, was I'm willin' to unlock Sickbay. And just because I want to see to my people inside, you heartless machine!" he fairly screeched at the placid face in the adjoining cell.

Spock never even twitched, but somehow managed to look even more disgusted than before.

HoQ regarded him thoughtfully. "Why should you wish to help us, Mak-khoi?" he inquired.

"I want to help the innocent people I locked in there nine hours ago, you big galoot," the human retorted testily. "If it helps you in the process, well hooray for you. I don't see how that constitutes treason, but apparently our First Officer doesn't quite see things in that light."

"You know the penalty for aiding the enemy during a condition of war, Doctor," Spock warned, his voice imbued with quiet menace.

The human's eyes widened comically. "Look, y'all seem to be a reasonable bunch, Commander," he said quickly to the bemused Klingon standing outside. "Let me see to my people in Sickbay, will you? Get me away from this inhuman excuse for a Starfleet officer for just a little while, huh? Before he kills me," he added, half-seriously. "Besides, it'll look good for you if there's one area of the ship at least you have under control, right?"

HoQ's teeth bared again in a wide grin. "In another twenty minutes, it will no longer matter, Healer Mak-khoi," he answered, fingering the long dagger at his side meaningfully.

"It may matter to the patients I have locked down in Sickbay!" McCoy snapped, clenched fists rattling the bars of the door. "If you have any hope of Medical cooperating with you, you'd better get me down there before someone dies, or I can promise you there's not a nurse or physician aboard who'll lift a finger for you, now or ever!"

The Klingon growled something unintelligible, and leaned a fraction closer into the physician's personal space. Lightning-fast, the human's hands shot out and wrenched, slamming the guard's head into the bars of the door with a resounding clang and then belting the hulking figure across both ears. HoQ roared, twisting away from the pain, but McCoy had danced backward just out of reach, arms folded firmly across his chest and chin hutting forward in a picture of utter defiance that belied his seriously quaking nerves.

"Take me to Sickbay," he snarled. "Now."

HoQ glared at the small human from under a mop of shaggy, dark hair, and then nearly took the door off its hinges with a roaring fit of coarse laughter that caused Spock to imperceptibly relax and McCoy's knees to start shaking.

The cell door swung wide before him, and he dared not look back at Spock's simulated expression of polite disgust.

"You have a warrior's spirit, Mak-khoi," the Klingon declared with loud joviality, giving him a friendly cuff to the head that nearly sent him sprawling, grimacing with pain, down the long corridor.

Remember, should something go wrong, I will be with you, Doctor, Spock's shared consciousness within his head said, he would almost think gently - if it weren't Spock saying it.

If that's your idea of comfort, I can see why your people only have 'emotions' once every seven years, he muttered tartly, and received a ghost of a thought-smile in return.


"You are totally out of your mind. Sir," Riley added belatedly, as their young charge turned such an icy look upon him that he quailed instinctively, seeing a decade-older starship captain in the dangerous glare.

Garrovick quelled the urge to grin uncontrollably at the change in the young man's demeanor from his previous indecision, mostly because he privately agreed with his subordinate about Kirk's wild scheme.

"Sir, it's my duty to tell you that I think you're being unduly careless with your own safety," he said instead, putting as much respect in the tone as he could.

Kirk's eyes darkened slightly, though he took the opinion with apparent level-headedness. "That is your prerogative as Acting Security Chief, Mr. Garrovick."

"I understand the need for Mr. Spock's release and rescue, but have you considered that we're cutting it too close - that the Klingons are going to get him in fifteen minutes anyway? Breaking him out at this point would put us smack in their way."

"I agree with you, Mr. Garrovick; but I don't see any other option, and we must have his override for the computer," the young man answered, poring over the diagram he'd hastily scrawled on a wall. "Now if I had computer access, it'd be the work of a few minutes to get Mr. Spock out of the brig, but without it -"

"Sir, even you can't break out of the maximum security brig, or deactivate the security measures in place without both Mr. Spock and Mr. Scott's override codes," Riley protested.

Hazel eyes glinted with humor. "Gentlemen, after our refit the brig was tested against Mr. Spock and myself. When even with all our combined ingenuity escape still proved impossible, do you really think I wouldn't take some sort of precaution against this exact eventuality?"

Garrovick's eyebrows brushed his hairline. "You planted a failsafe for yourself in your own brig?" he asked incredulously.

"Not for myself, precisely," Kirk replied, apparently unperturbed at his ASC's horrified fascination with the breach of protocol. "I am aware there may be a time when the safety of the ship is compromised by myself and such a holding cell will be needed; however, to know that one's central command staff could in theory be detained in one without an avenue of escape, and not do something about it, is foolhardy. There is an override in place to deactivate the security measures and unlock the brig cell doors; however, it must be given by both myself and Mr. Spock simultaneously."

"Which doesn't help us, since Spock can't even unlock the computer from within that cell, much less deliver a security override," Riley sighed.

"Exactly. Therefore, we will have to stage a rescue of our own before the Klingons get tired of waiting for me to show myself," Kirk declared.

"I still think you are taking an unnecessary risk, sir," Garrovick warned.

"A diversion will be necessary if you are to break Mr. Spock out of the brig with minimal interference from our enemies, gentlemen. Who better to cause that distraction, than the target of their search?"

Garrovick didn't much like it, but he did know that the kid was right; if anyone could lead the Klingons in a merry chase 'round the ship, it was the captain of said ship. And if they were going to have a chance at anything, they had to get Spock out of the brig to unlock the computer, and therefore out from under his own death sentence.

He was about to at least force their single phaser upon the brash young man when Riley suddenly gave an exclamation of disbelief and hunched over the console he'd been trying to hot-wire.

"What is it?" Kirk asked sharply.

"I…no, that's not possible. There's no way," the young man muttered, staring at the scrolling figures on the screen.

"Report, Lieutenant!"

Riley started at the curt tone, but looked up, an expression of utter confusion on his face. "Sir, I don't know how, but apparently Mr. Spock has adjusted the computer lockout."

"That means a complete reworking of the computer scripting, at least ten minutes' worth of coding," Kirk protested. "He couldn't do that from within a cell."

"I know that, but he's still done it," Riley protested. "Look - the scripting's changed, and the firewalls have a new outlet point that can be voice-activated to override the codes."

"Meaning…?"

"Meaning, Captain," Riley answered eagerly, eyes shining, "that that sneaky Vulcan of yours just overrode the previous program so that it can be activated by one person's voice recognition."

The young man's eyes widened.

"Exactly," Riley continued with a grin. "He's fixed it so that the Enterprise's central computer will respond to, and only respond to, voice recognition from Captain James T. Kirk."

Chapter Text

A moment of startled silence, while they stared at each other in surprised admiration for however their Vulcan First had maneuvered that particular gambit.

Then, "That means McCoy's still on board, too, and at least able to access a terminal," Garrovick pointed out gleefully. "Because as Chief Medical Officer, he's the only one who can re-certify you fit to take command after being relieved due to medical incapacitation."

"There's a reason Bio-Medical tells newbies to run for cover if their department heads ever find a common enemy," Riley quipped. "They're a force to be reckoned with, that's for sure."

Garrovick glanced again at the computer screen, which was still cheerfully winking at them in silent readiness. "So we know for certain we've got two ranking officers aboard in relatively good condition, in addition to the three of us. Against…what does it look like, maybe two dozen Klingons? Give or take a few odd ones in the corridors."

"I'll play those odds," Jim declared, grinning from ear to ear. "Shall we re-take the Bridge, gentlemen?"


Lieutenant-Commander and Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise Montgomery Scott was not having a good day.

As if it wasn't bad enough, being routed out of bed at the ungodly time of 0200 hours by a batch of Klingons trying their dead level best to blast them out of the stars, to then be subjected to the indignity of a pathetic excuse for a cell aboard one of the Klingon Birds of Prey just piled ignominy upon reproach.

As if one of these buckets of bolts could hold a candle to their silver lady, under battle conditions! A Klingon Bird of Prey barely held a crew complement of twenty-five, one reason why they always hunted and patrolled in pairs or trios - and their firepower was only a fraction that of a constitution-class Federation ship. (1) The Enterprise could destroy an entire planet with only two-thirds of its firepower; a Bird of Prey could barely take out a waste scow, and even then would risk serious damage from the exploding impulse engines. The only way the Enterprise would even be threatened by such a force was the manner in which she had been; surprised, from a cloaked assault, and taken unawares at the worst possible time with the addition of a highly-powered backup force.

Captain PetaQ had evidently heard of him, for Scott had been one of the first crew to be transferred aboard an enemy vessel. He had been informed by a hulking Klingon lieutenant that they were taking no chances on his being able to work some devilry on the Enterprise's Engineering quarters, damaged though the ship had been in that section particularly, and had been promptly taken on a tour of the Bird of Prey's engine rooms (apparently the Klingons' bizarre perception of professional courtesy, or perhaps to demonstrate that the ship was in perfect working order and to rub it in) before being tossed into a cell in the depths of the Qeh's brig.

He gave the closed cell door and deserted corridor beyond one incredulous look, and then began methodically hauling various tools out of his waistband and boots, shaking his head at Klingon stupidity. The poor fools hadn't even bothered to search him after confiscating his phaser.

Really, with such overconfidence, they were just asking to be left a little present in their weapons banks circuitry, now weren't they?


It was almost too easy, Garrovick thought with well-controlled amusement. Jim Kirk had played the Klingons for years, and he knew their thought processes far too well. After raiding the closest storage compartment, it was the work of two minutes to have Riley boot up the transporter and transport him and Kirk directly onto the Enterprise's Bridge and its surprised occupants.

Three well-placed phaser blasts dispatched the trio of officers standing at the communications panel, and Garrovick picked off another who was only half-visible under the Engineering console, obviously trying to find a way to wire the computer to their commands.

Phaser in each hand like some Wild West desperado, Kirk gestured curtly to the single remaining Klingon, who was frozen in place in the command chair. "You called for me?" he said blandly.

PetaQ growled a string of harsh syllables, guttural and menacing.

"My, my, what a filthy mouth you have, my dear," the captain tsk-ed disapprovingly, moving to stand in front of the scowling Klingon. "Now get out of my chair."

"I would rather die, Kirk!"

"Oh, please." Kirk rolled his eyes. "We both know this little venture of yours wasn't sanctioned, officially at least, by your government, PetaQ. And if the Organians get wind of what you've just tried to do with my ship, well…we both know how that will end for your people. Would you prefer to return to them with no one the wiser for your failure to bring back the Enterprise, or with everyone knowing you're responsible for breaking the Organian Peace Treaty and bringing their retribution upon your people?"

The Klingon glared balefully at the shorter man, but finally moved off the command dais.

"I've nothing against you personally, PetaQ," Kirk said affably, seating himself with a definitive thwock. "It was a worthy tactic - just a bit too late. And my First Officer's a bit too smart for you," he added, grinning beatifically at the incensed Klingon. "Garrovick, how's the transporter situation."

"Ready when you are, sir. All stations appear normal, ready for your voice activation."

"Has Riley given you a report about the situation in Engineering?"

"Affirmative. Reversing the airflow vents into decompression did the trick, sir; all Klingons unconscious from lack of oxygen, according to internal scans."

"Excellent. Pinpoint the rest of the Klingons for me around the ship and do the same, if you please, unless there are our own men in the vicinity for some reason. Now then, Captain." He swiveled the command chair to face the disgruntled Klingon. "Shall we set the example for our peoples and negotiate?"

"A Klingon does not Sutlh," PetaQ spat contemptuously, as if the word itself left a foul taste in his mouth. "If your filthy Federation teaches its captains nothing but such nuch wIy Dup (2), you will never earn the respect of a warrior race!"

"Yes, well, I'll take my chances," Kirk replied dryly. "And I'd suggest you stop bluffing and start dealing, Mister, or I may just forget about diplomacy and turn your 'mighty warship the Qeh' into so much space jetsam. Which would be entirely justified under Starfleet law, may I point out, since this peghmey Hargh (3) is in clear violation of the Organian Peace Treaty." (4) PetaQ's eyes widened imperceptibly at the unexpected Klingon wording and its lingual implications.

"Come, come, PetaQ, there's no need for heroics," Kirk continued with a gesture of impatience, as the Klingon's chin jutted out defiantly. "As one captain to another, I'm offering you a sizable consolation prize, you know. No one need know you failed in your original off-the-record intent."

PetaQ regarded him shrewdly. "What sort of prize?" he asked suspiciously.

Kirk gestured wryly to the viewscreen. "Strictly off-the-record, would you like to take three pirate frigates' worth of contraband tech off my hands, Captain? I do hate doing paperwork."


After the captain had unlocked the internal scanners, Lieutenant Kevin Riley began running shipwide scans to pinpoint exact stats on who was still aboard and where. He'd just finished the upper decks, finding only a handful of scattered crewman in little groups, probably hiding in private cabins and that blasted bowling alley no one ever used, when the alert from Engineering signaled that all life signs there had just dropped to nearly hibernation levels. He hastily reversed the decompression vents to re-instate the flow of oxygen, at a thin enough level to keep the unconscious Klingons alive but not awake. Until they could get a crew down there to take over, that was the best they could do on such short notice and short-handedness.

He'd just begun scanning the saucer section for Klingon life-signs at the Captain's instruction when suddenly the transporter whirred into life below his hands, lights flashing and chimes whistling to indicate an incoming transport. Taken completely aback, he was still fumbling awkwardly for his phaser when the figure materialized, shimmering into existence on the transporter pad before him.

"Hunh," Scotty muttered, looking just as surprised. "Mark it doon for research, laddie, that actually worked."


Captain PetaQ was not pleased with the terms.

"I will not surrender one of my ships for your schemes, Kirk!" he shouted, loud enough to rattle the turbolift doors.

"You'd prefer to surrender both of them, then?" Garrovick observed coolly.

Eyes flashing golden fire, Kirk stood, hands on hips and glaring down at the Klingon captain. "Let's get one thing straight, Mister; if you didn't have my people on board, we wouldn't be negotiating with you at all. You'd be space debris before you could even get your shields up. Now. Call. Off. Your. Crew."

PetaQ glared murderously at the young human.

"As we speak, Captain PetaQ, I'm beaming back all life-signs that aren't Klingon from your secondary vessel, the DeghwIj. Once they're all away, I'm blowing that ship into pieces." Kirk's eyes hardened, glittering with menace. "Whether or not your crew is still aboard when she goes is of course, your choice."

"Transporter Room One to Captain Kirk," a familiar Scottish burr resounded through the comm-channel, and Garrovick raised both hands in a silent whoop of excitement.

"Mr. Scott, you've no idea how glad I am to hear you!"

"Aye, laddie, an' ye'll be even more glad to know I left our little friends on the Qeh a wee present," Scott replied cheerfully.

Kirk grinned, as the Klingon captain stiffened beside him. "What sort of present?"

"Oooh, nothin' too fancy, just a bit of a bug that'll keep their shield modulators havin' a fit for a while yet. Managed a remote transporter access for m'self while I was at it; their security is a crime against nature, sir."

"Beautiful, Mr. Scott. Stand by with Mr. Riley and let me know when transport from the DeghwIj is complete. Well, Captain. Still think you can out-maneuver me with nothing more than one crippled Bird of Prey?" Kirk asked cheerfully.

Evidently Klingons utilized the same sorts of gestures humans did, because the meaning of that one was quite universally vulgar.

"Ah, well. Mr. Riley, how close are you to completion?"

"Twelve more, sir. Two transports, then you're clear to blow this baby to kingdom come," the young man chirped.

"PetaQ," Kirk said quietly, gesturing with a phaser to the command chair's armrest controls. "I am a man of my word, and my entire crew has been put in serious danger due to your illicit actions today. I will not hesitate to give the order to destroy your ship and the crew remaining on board; I give you fair warning."

The Klingon folded his arms across his massive chest. "Then they at least will die with honor, Kirk!" he spat, glowering.

All mercy vanished from the young man's face, stress lines hardening into the stony resolve of a starship captain. "So be it. Mr. Riley?"

"Transport complete, sir; we've got our twenty-six people from the DeghwIj, starting on the Qeh now."

"Mr. Riley, that is your primary task, at the cost of all else. No matter what happens, what you hear, get our people out of those ships as fast as you can. Mr. Scott, get to Engineering; I'll need you there. I want a report on what you can give me in the next ten minutes." Kirk straightened in his seat, swiveling with determined intent back to the viewscreen. "Oh, and grab an oxygen belt on your way," he added, after thumbing the channel again. "It's been decompressurized to get rid of a little…infestation. Bridge out. Mr. Garrovick?"

"Ready, sir," the ASC reported from behind them, where he was trying to balance one of Communications' earpieces and those controls with still keeping an eye on Spock's science station readouts.

"Open all channels except the frequencies the Orions are using."

"Channels open, sir."

Leather creaked as he settled down in his well-loved chair, at home for the first time in months.

"Attention, Klingon vessels. This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. The reports of my incapacitation…have been highly exaggerated."


Ten decks below, in a solitary cell of the Enterprise brig, the ship's intra-comm suddenly blared the captain's message to the Klingon ships, and Spock permitted himself a very small, very human, smile.

Just seconds later, a trio of somewhat disheveled red-shirted personnel burst through the security doors, taking down force-fields as they went.

"Mr. Spock, Sir!"

"At ease, Ensign," he said dryly, and felt a reflective ripple of relief in his mind as McCoy sensed the turn of tide in their favor. "What of the crew?"

"Lieutenant Kyle just got back from the DeghwIj, he's in Transporter Room Three helping Riley get the rest of our people out of the Qeh, sir," Matthews reported, snapping off a salute as a clear afterthought. "From what we can hear on the comms, Kirk's going to blow one of the warbirds to get the Orions' attention, but Captain PetaQ won't allow his men to evacuate, something about dying with honor and all that Klingon rot."

Spock strode past the now-open cell door to the wall-comm. "Brig to Transporter Room Three. Mr. Kyle, do you read."

"Kyle here. Yes, Captain - er...Commander? Who the heck's commanding this thing now, anyway?"

Matthews snorted with laughter, belatedly remembering that he had just referred to Captain Kirk without his title, and made a note for future reference.

"That is unimportant, Lieutenant," Spock barked curtly, clearly in a command tone. "Are you capable of performing a Security beaming under the Enterprise's damaged conditions?"

"Meanin' can I transport Klingons right into the brig? No, sir, not with the damage that's been done to the system. The security overrides to get past the brig's lockdown measures would take too long -"

"Never mind, Lieutenant. Are you capable of beaming persons from the Klingon ships into, for example, one of the shuttle bays?"

"Aye, sir, I could do that!"

"Do so, beginning with the crew of the ship the captain intends to destroy shortly. Dispatch a Security detail and lock the bay doors with Mr. Scott's override. Spock out."

"Um. So…who exactly is in command of this thing, sir?" Matthews asked as they all bolted out of the brig, blithely unaware of the look of death the Vulcan was aiming at the back of his head.


While Garrovick didn't trust the Klingon captain as far as he could throw him, PetaQ appeared to be contemplating nothing more dangerous than being belligerently cooperative even as Kirk calmly ordered a full destruction of the DeghwIj, which then exploded in a brilliant blast of photon torpedos. Not batting an eye, the Klingon merely ordered his remaining ship to come about and prepare to come to the Enterprise's aid against the Orion pirate frigates.

"That got their attention all right, sir! Two frigates coming about," Garrovick called, trying to sort out the panicked transmissions coming from all four remaining enemy ships. Too bad they couldn't have blown one of the Orions instead, but the frigates were protected by so much stolen tech there was no guarantee they'd even be damaged, besides the fact that three-fourths of the crew were still on board them.

Keeping one eye carefully on the enemy captain for signs of treachery, Garrovick did his best to juggle the combined duties of an entire Bridge crew in the tense, packed few seconds he knew was all they had, funneling reports to the command chair in a matter of moments and at the same time listening to the transmissions from the Orion ships.

He could have wept with relief when the turbolift door opened and a squad of familiar faces appeared.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain," Spock said with unruffled equanimity, and Garrovick rather thought he could be forgiven the high-pitched giggle of hysteria which bubbled up in his throat at bone-dry Vulcan humor. A swarm of Tactical and Security officers soon relieved him of his station at the helm for navigation and piloting, letting him move back to Communications as the remainder then spread out to cover Engineering and Environmental Controls.

The wattage in Kirk's smile could have powered every console on the Bridge.

"Spock, we've got about thirty seconds to come up with a plan here," was the young man's greeting to his First, whose single raised eyebrow clearly said Surak help me, again I must clean up after a reckless child. "How long would it take you to create a virus that could wipe out the Orions' shields?"

"Twenty-three of those thirty seconds, sir," was the dry reply, even as the dark head bent over his scanner, both hands already typing on the console controls.

"Mr. Scott, report," Kirk spoke into the armrest.

"I kin give ye impulse power, no problem - but anythin' higher than that isna gonna happen until we can effect some repairs. We got blasted pretty badly, sir, and the port nacelle is still venting plasma. Risking a warp jump in that condition could rip us apart, an' half o' space and time with us."

"Can you give me full shields and phasers, at least for a few minutes?"

"Phasers, aye, sir - they're locked into the same algorithms as the torpedo banks. But shields…I will do what I can, Cap'n, but they're not likely to withstand heavy firepower for long. Whatever y'do, do it quick."

"Understood. MacMillen, isn't it?" he called to the back of the new navigator's head.

"Aye, sir!"

"Plot us a course that scoots us right between those two portside frigates, letting us end up on the opposite side of the Klingon Bird of Prey. Mr. Nowitz will have to execute a half Mallorian-roll at the apex to get us between their nacelles but we should be able to squeak by."

"Sir?" the young man looked nervously back at him. "There's only a .002 margin for error in those calculations between the frigates, and the trajectory computer is still off-line!"

"Ensign, I have seen your certification scores. You are more than competent to perform those calculations manually, and I have every confidence in your abilities," Spock droned from his station, without looking up, and then Garrovick saw the sudden tenseness which stiffened the Vulcan's posture, betraying his realization that he had just answered for his newly re-instated captain.

Kirk's eyebrows went up as the young ensign blushed to his ear-tips and hastily bent over his data-padd, but the captain made no further comment on the misappropriation of command response.

"Mr. Spock?"

"Nearly finished, sir. It will require an accelerated tachyon burst of two-point-four to the fifteenth power to penetrate the shielding level in place on the closest of the frigates, in order to travel through the interference to their data processing core."

"Mr. Garrovick, instruct Mr. Scott accordingly and have him modify a phaser bank. Mr. Nowitz," he continued, glancing at the pilot who was nervously filling Sulu's shoes, "lock your targets onto the two portside Orion vessels, as close to their central core as you can safely get without endangering the occupants of the lower holds. Our aim is, first and foremost, to prevent them from warping away with three-fourths of my crew."

"Transporter Room to Captain Kirk," Riley's voice crackled through a brief burst of static.

"Yes, Mr. Riley?"

"All our people are off the Klingon ship now, sir; bringing our current crew complement up to one hundred seventeen. The rest must be on the Orion ships, sir."

"Well done, Mr. Riley. Disperse all able-bodied crew to their stations and any who need medical attention to Sickbay, and await further instructions. We won't be able to make more transports once our shields snap on for battle formation."

"Sir, the Orions have stopped trying to hail the remaining Klingon vessel and are now hailing us," Garrovick reported, one hand holding the earpiece firmly in his ear and the other relaying internal messages.

"Ignore the hail for a minute, Lieutenant. Your people did well, PetaQ," Kirk said directly, receiving a belligerent growl in response from their captive Klingon. "Now." He depressed the inter-comm. "I think it's time we woke the old girl up, don't you, Mr. Scott?"

"Aye, Captain." The grin was audible in the Engineer's voice. "Givin' the Orions a wee bit o' surprise, are you?"

"Indeed. Mr. Spock?"

Spock stood slowly from his station, though no one but Garrovick, who was closest to him, saw the stiffness of his posture which indicated an unfortunate interrogation session with Klingon brutality. "Virus uploaded to modified sensor banks. We must be within closer range for the tachyon burst to penetrate their defensive shields."

"Well, let's get to it then. Mr. MacMillen?"

"C-course set and laid in, sir," the young man answered readily enough, though he visibly swallowed hard. "Should put us right between them and end up protected on the other side by the Bird of Prey." The unspoken I hope hung for a moment in the air, and Garrovick felt a bit sorry for the kid, flung without warning into a situation like this, where usually the primary Alpha shift crewmen would be performing, and with the aid of a navigational computer.

"Execute maneuver."

"Executing, sir. Give me half-burst thrusters until my mark, MacMillen," the pilot replied steadily.

The ship's powerful engines suddenly thrummed to life deep below them, as the remainder of the sleeping consoles woke suddenly with a chorus of happy chirps. The captain sat in his chair, smiling despite the situation, as he felt the slumbering ship wake up around him, no doubt surprising the Orions, who had assumed all systems to be down in the wake of their close shave with the Klingons.

"Incoming phaser fire," MacMillen shouted, over the sudden wailing of a red alert as their shields snapped on.

"Full power to forward shields!" Kirk barked. "Ready tachyon blast, Mr. Nowitz."

The ship rocked sharply under them, rumbling a protest as a warning phaser beam glanced off their hull.

"Shall I return fire, sir?"

"Yes, but only if you can steer clear of their holds - we don't want our people injured or heaven-knows-what contraband blowing up in our faces," Kirk replied, wheeling slightly to glance at his First. Spock nodded. "Mr. Nowitz, you will have three seconds' leeway from the time you execute the Mallorian roll, to fire the tachyon blast."

"Understood. Targets acquired and locked. Full impulse power," the young man said, gaining more confidence as adrenaline shoved down his initial shakiness.

The ship jolted into life, sailing at what seemed an alarming pace toward the primary two frigates barring their way.

Kirk thumbed the inter-comm without having to look at the switch, eyes fastened tensely on the looming pirate frigates. "All hands, brace for possible collision conditions."

"Annnd thank you for that vote of confidence, Captain," he overheard with amusement the young ensign at the navigation console mutter under his breath, with a resolved exhale of increased concentration.

"Cut power to half impulse…now," Nowitz counted out, and promptly executed the Mallorian roll with perfect textbook accuracy.

"Fire tachyon beam."

"Beam fired, sir. Give me full impulse now - now, MacMillen!" Nowitz half-yelped, as the grinding of metal indicated they had cut the maneuver a little too close, scooting between the nacelles of the two looming frigates.

The ship shuddered suddenly, creaking alarmingly in the tension of the Bridge. A warning light blinked into existence on the science console, accompanied by a too-cheerful voice saying Danger. Danger. Danger, indicating a slight rupture in one of the Botany labs's outer hull. Garrovick hid a grin as Spock impatiently punched the button to cancel the annoying little chirp, breaking its plasticene cover in the process. Somebody was on his last Vulcan nerve.

The maneuver in general, however, was genius, Garrovick agreed with Kirk; because while their firepower was considerable and shields were virtually impenetrable, Orion frigates were notoriously graceless in the depths of space, so difficult to maneuver in battle that they were known for retreating from one and losing a prize, rather than risking a smaller ship getting lucky due to its maneuverability. Even though one frigate was only half the size of the stately Enterprise, it still held less maneuverability than the starship. By detouring through the bulky frigates they both got close enough to dispatch a virus to take down the ships' shields, and also shielded themselves in the process as the frigates could never move quickly enough to target them without hitting each other.

"Emerging from maneuver now, sir," Nowitz muttered, almost to himself. The young man's tongue poked out from his lips in concentration as he counted down the seconds to the second half of the roll, to emerge behind the Klingon Bird of Prey (which Garrovick suspected Kirk had no compunctions about using as a shield).

Spock bent over his scanner as they gracefully glided up behind the Klingon ship, and straightened up after a moment with satisfaction glinting predatorily in his eyes. Garrovick shivered, and returned to monitoring transmissions. "Shields at seventy percent and dropping in the first two frigates, sir."

"I doubt that they'll want to play ball with us once their shields are non-existent. And that means the last one's all yours, Captain PetaQ," Kirk said to their Klingon guest, who turned a toothy growl toward the viewscreen. "Hey, and no destroying it, either," he warned, not at all joking. "At least not until my people are off it. Just play with them a little, hm?"

PetaQ grunted, making a motion of scoffing disgust. "You pathetic humans and your sentimental attachment to your soldiers," he spat, arms crossed. "I shall not give the order to play with that ship, Kirk! Were my crew aboard, they would glory in the knowledge that they were about to be destroyed for The Cause!"

Garrovick had been expecting non-cooperation at a critical moment, so he wasn't really surprised; he just sighed and started inputting coordinates for a full torpedo spread on the third pirate frigate, which was now awkwardly wheeling around to place itself between its two defenseless fellows.

"Instead of which, your crew is currently entertaining themselves as prisoners in our primary shuttle bay, where we had the foresight to beam them prior to destroying the DeghwIj," Spock spoke up calmly, ignoring the incredulous look he received from the command chair. "If you wish to retain even a vestige of honor to return to your comrades, Captain PetaQ, rather than permitting them to remain as prisoners of the Enterprise crew, dishonored by your government for a far too easy capture, I would highly suggest you comply with the captain's demands."

Kirk's sandy eyebrows were knitted together, the unspoken we will be having words about this later, Spock clearly audible to everyone who knew them. Watching the silent exchange, Garrovick wondered absently when during the proceedings today Kirk had jumped a few more years in age, because suddenly he looked far closer to thirty than twenty.

"Uh…sir, the, uh…the Orion ship is powering up its torpedo arrays," MacMillen broke in nervously.

Kirk wheeled back to the viewscreen. "Disable it any way you can short of hitting the cargo areas," he snarled, clearly furious at the Klingon's refusal to abide by the negotiated plan and more than a little irritated at what looked like Spock's circumventing a command decision. "I don't care how you do it, just do it - and use the Qeh as a shield if you have to!"

Obviously Spock wasn't the only one who was on his last nerve, Garrovick reflected warily, though God knew they all had reason to be a bit on edge by this point…

"What the…sir! Captain, the arrays just went down - torpedo power zero," MacMillen suddenly shouted, startlingly loud in the tense half-silence. "And -"

"And their shields are dropping, too, sir," Nowitz reported, staring incredulously at his scanners.

"Open a channel, Garrovick."

"Aye, sir. Channel open."

"Orion ship, what is your status?" Kirk inquired, worrying at his lower lip as he stared at the viewscreen.

Garrovick frowned. "Weird, sir; I'm just getting a bunch of nonsense, static and interference…like there's no one manning the comms station aboard her."

"Speculation, Mr. Spock?"

"A ploy, possibly," was the slow, contemplative reply. "An attempt to lure us in, either to negotiate or attack. They are a species most adept at deception and guile."

A sudden gentle laugh swept over the Bridge from the now-open channel, and it was the most welcome thing Garrovick had ever heard in his life.

"And good afternoon to you too, sugar," Lieutenant Uhura said with obvious amusement. "Didn't your mama ever tell you it's not nice to stereotype, Mr. Spock?"

Chapter Text

MacMillen's sudden nervous giggle broke the silence, as both Captain and First Officer looked at each other in perfectly synchronized confusion.

"Report, Lieutenant Uhura," Kirk finally said, tossing up his arms in a clear gesture of clueless exasperation.

"Captain Kirk!"  The pleasure in their Comms chief's voice was evident, before she pulled back under the poise and professionalism of a Starfleet officer. "Sir, in short, we've taken the frigate."

Kirk blinked. "You what."

A ripple of feminine laughter. "We've taken the frigate from the Orions, sir. Some of the girls from Engineering are herding the pirates down to their own cell blocks now."

Hearing a definitely female voice in the Orion ship's aft section snapping out orders that corroborated that, Garrovick stared at his earpiece in surprise.

"Well done, Lieutenant. Is there anything I need to know about how that was accomplished?" the captain was asking cautiously.

Uhura's smile filtered clearly through the channel. They made a major tactical error, Captain, in separating their 'prize slaves' by gender and age among the three ships, sir. There's a reason the 'Fleet gives its female officers hand-to-hand training and steel-toed boots, you know. And Orion male fashion is…not exactly protective of the owner's anatomy, shall we say."

Every male on the Bridge cringed in reflexive sympathy.

"A few of the guards decided not to keep their distance and got too handsy during a transfer. They aren't the first to underestimate a trained female Starfleet officer, Captain,"  their Comms chief declared with far too much cheerfulness. "You should have seen the looks on their faces when Christine Chapel tossed one of them into the brig's alarm console. Short-circuited the whole cell block, so I'll be writing her a commendation for that. Has someone been teaching her Vulcan self-defense moves, Mr. Spock?"

Spock's ears turned a peculiar shade of viridian.

"Ahem." The captain shifted in his chair, feebly trying to regain control of the conversation. "Are you telling me that your vessel is no longer a threat, Lieutenant?"

"Affirmative, sir. All threats aboard neutralized. We're attempting to make sense of the alien control arrays up here on the Bridge right now. Would you like us to rescue your, ah, male officers , sir, or do you have other plans for the remaining two frigates?"

Their command chain exchanged a longsuffering look. "They're all going to be insufferable for weeks about this, I hope you know, and very well-deservedly, too," Kirk said wearily.

"Indeed. Doctor McCoy and I had thought re-taking one of the frigates was an impossibility. We were obviously in error."

"Just come about and be prepared to defend the Enterprise if need be, Lieutenant," Kirk said, returning to the comm. "I don't believe they or the Klingon ship will be much trouble now, but just in case. Garrovick, check on the status of the other two frigates. What of the other prisoners aboard your ship, Lieutenant?"

"The holds were empty, sir; obviously this was planned by the Orions to leave maximum room for our own people. It wasn't a rush job or there would be human cargo already aboard."  Disgust was clear in Uhura's cultured tone. "I've a crew down in the non-human cargo bays double-checking for contraband and smuggled tech, sir."

"Excellent. Lieutenant, are any of you in need of immediate medical attention?"

"Negative, sir. We've got it cared for."

Kirk exhaled in relief. "Good. As soon as you've got things settled, begin transporting the crew back aboard the Enterprise; we're going to be giving the Orion ships to the Klingons. Have Lieutenant Masters transfer over with the first group; Scotty's got his work cut out for him and we need her Engineering expertise in a bad way."

"Aye, Captain. Sir, are you…"

"Thirty-eight years old again? Not quite," he replied with a small grin. "But apparently Mr. Spock believes me to be close enough for command responsibilities." All irritation vanished in the face of victory due to his crew's quiet competence, he glanced over his shoulder with a fond smile aimed at his First. Spock inclined his head gracefully in acknowledgment.

"Pleased to hear it, sir. We will keep you informed. Uhura out."

"Mr. Garrovick, report?"

"Shields completely down on the other two Orion vessels, sir. They are…apparently in chaos, if the internal transmissions are any indication."

"Excellent. Open a hailing frequency. Hold it, PetaQ," Kirk snapped suddenly, as their captive Klingon surreptitiously began skulking toward the turbolift doors. "Matthews, take a squad of officers and kindly escort our prisoner to the shuttle bay his crew are being held in. Wait there until we clear one of the transporter rooms to beam them back aboard the Qeh."

"Hailing frequencies open, sir."

"Orion vessels, this is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. Your shields have been disabled and your third frigate is currently under our command. I would most diplomatically suggest you comply with our terms."

The comm scratched into life, and a disgruntled yet resigned voice with a slight Orion accent filtered through the subspace static. "Captain Kirk, this is Captain Wy'shca in command of the lead frigate. What are your terms?"

The captain smiled grimly. "Unconditional surrender, Captain. Your people will be released at the next Starbase, and your cargo will go to the Klingons as part of our negotiations with them."

An undignified squawk of protest. "Captain Kirk -"

"After the fate worse than death that Orion slave traders planned for my crew and myself, Captain Wy'shca?" Kirk snapped, anger crackling almost visibly from the command chair, an aura of furious power that sent the Bridge crew eyeing their reinstated captain warily. "I think I'm letting you off lightly. Don't try my patience."

"My people will not be harmed?"

"Negative, Captain Wy'shca. They will remain prisoners aboard the Enterprise until we reach the next Starbase or are intercepted by a diplomatic vessel. I and my Federation have no desire to begin a war with your people."

"We will accept your terms, Captain Kirk," was the doleful response, with the expected lack of protest. As Kirk had pointed out during their briefing earlier, Orion pirates were not gamblers, and they were adept at cutting their losses when needed. Obviously they had no desire to test the current situation.

After this day from hell, Garrovick was thankful for small favors.

"Release my crew immediately, cede command to the highest-ranking officer and prepare to be boarded by a Security contingent. And I warn you, Captain," Kirk said thinly, "should you try any sort of treachery that endangers my people, I will not hesitate to destroy you."

"Understood. Transmitting transporter coordinates now."

Garrovick double checked them to make sure they weren't smack in the middle of a bulkhead or something, and then passed them on to Spock for the final check.

"All appears in order, sir," the Vulcan spoke up.

"Excellent. Dispatch a boarding party with arms to Transporter Room Two, Mr. Spock, and have them board the frigates to start removing Orion prisoners to the Enterprise brig. We'll continue to have Lieutenant Riley use One for our people to beam back from the enemy ships, and we'll use Room Three for the Klingons, get them on their way at least. One less thing to worry about." Their transporters would likely need a complete overhaul after today, seeing so much use in one day, but they'd hold.

The ship's intra-comm whistled, and Kirk flicked the armrest controls. "Bridge here."

"Sickbay, Captain," a familiarly irritated Southern drawl sounded, and Garrovick grinned at the knowledge that one thing, at least, was still right with the world. "Look, when is Spock gonna send someone down here to take these two Klingons off my hands?"

"What?!"

Spock had the grace to look slightly abashed. "He was in no danger, Captain."

"No, but I had to stab 'em with enough Pentathol-D to knock out a warhorse," McCoy retorted testily. "That nerve pinch of yours doesn't work on a Klingon, by the way, Spock. Shared mindspace or not, it just made me look dumber'n a bag of hammers."

"Nerve pinch?" Kirk looked momentarily stymied.

"That unfortunate state of being seems to be your default setting, Doctor."

"Do you really wanna insult the human who now knows more about your inner workings than you prob'ly want him to?"

"Gentlemen," Kirk coughed, trying unsuccessfully to cover up his laughter, "and I use the term in its loosest sense - some other time? Bones, I'm sending a Security contingent to you; they'll escort your prisoners to Transporter Room Three. And what's this about shared mindspace?" he asked, eyebrows brushing his hairline.

McCoy wisely chose the better part of valor - namely, throwing Spock under the bus. "Ask Spock, Jim. I got patients to see to."

"Bones? Doctor McCoy, you do not get to just cut me off!" Kirk exclaimed indignantly, as the young navigator and pilot at the helm muffled their laughter, never having had the opportunity to see their legendary Terrible Trio in action before. "Spock?"

"I must see to the transports, sir, as per your orders," the Vulcan was quick to say, striding purposefully toward the turbolift doors.

The captain scooted out of his chair to follow. "Oh, no, mister, you are not getting out of this. Garrovick, take the conn until Lieutenants Uhura or Sulu are located and transported aboard," Kirk shot over his shoulder as he darted into the lift behind his chagrined First.

"Aye, sir," Garrovick muttered superfluously, as the doors closed on far too familiar bickering.

At least some things were back to normal…


"You're telling me that you were in each other's heads?" the incredulous yelp was eerily reminiscent of the captain's young teenaged days, echoing down the still deserted corridors.

Spock exhaled patiently. "Affirmative."

"And he's okay with it?"

"Affirmative." The matter was by no means closed between them, and he was by no means satisfied that 'okay' was the most accurate term for McCoy's tolerant distress, but it was not his story to tell. Not until the story was whole and understood, which unfortunately could not happen until this mission was closed.

"And you're not pulling my leg," Kirk said warily, as they entered the transporter room, where another group of Klingons were disappearing in the shimmer of a transport beam.

"Never, sir."

"Wait a second…is that how you managed the override codes for the lockdown?"

Spock's dark eyes glinted with approval at his quick perception. "It was the only way to do so, as I was never to be released from the brig's highest security cell. A mind-joining was the only possibility which permitted both Doctor McCoy and myself the opportunity and ability to both reprogram the codes, and simultaneously reinstate you as Captain of this vessel. We broke the connection moments ago, and the Doctor assured me he was suffering no ill effects."

"You guys are, like, scary brilliant sometimes," the young man muttered, for a moment sounding more like his younger self than the seasoned captain he had been acting.

"Jim!"

"Bones!" Kirk beamed as their CMO entered, flanked by two Security guards and two very ticked-off-looking Klingons. "What's this I hear about you letting Spock scramble your brains?"

McCoy favored him with a sour expression. "Thought you said he'd grown up, Spock," he said dryly.

"I said no such thing, Doctor. Merely that we had no alternative save to permit him to re-take command."

Kirk glanced suspiciously back and forth between them for a moment like a cat watching a ping-pong tournament. "I feel like I've missed something major," he muttered, moving over to the transporter console. "Lieutenant Kyle, it's good to see you in one piece."

"Likewise, sir," the young man returned with a grin. "It's been a busy day, eh Captain?"

"Definitely. How are our prisoners faring?"

"Oh, do shut up, if ye know what's good for ye," Montgomery Scott's angry burr drifted across the room, where he was (very reluctantly) returning the Klingons' weaponry to them as they balefully stepped onto the transporter pad. "I believe the Bio labs still have a tribble or two in stasis somewhere, y'know. Be happy to send the little beggars back with ye."

Kirk stifled a chuckle. "Scotty, leave our guests alone. Captain PetaQ," he continued, looking up at the last batch of Klingons to be transported, "my people are nearly off the third Orion frigate, into which we'll transfer all of the contraband from the other two pirate vessels. You're welcome to it, if you take off back to your Empire with no further hostilities."

The Klingon glared murder at him with all the hatred of years-old conflict. "Were it not for your crew, Kirk, you would not be the victor here," he spat, with a look of disgust toward the two blue-shirted figures standing by the transporter room doors. "You did nothing to deserve this victory!"

The young man looked him square in the eye, all friendly animosity dissolved into a cold, deadly seriousness. "I entirely agree, Captain," he replied quietly. "I have taken my crew and their areas of unique expertise for granted too often in the past; I have no intention of ever doing so again."

Something changed with the words; an almost electrical charge in the air, an invisible air of finality that made their Security force look about uneasily, though seeing nothing out of place. McCoy glanced at Spock, unconsciously mirroring the Vulcan's puzzled eyebrow, but said nothing.

PetaQ gave his opponent one last glare of hatred before joining his scowling Commander and the two remaining Klingon lieutenants on the transporter pad.

"Perhaps we will meet again someday, Captain, on more equal footing," Kirk offered courteously. "Energize, Mr. Kyle."

"Batlh bIHeghjaj, Kirk," the Klingon said harshly, as the transporter lock engaged, soon fading them from sight.

"…What's that mean?" McCoy inquired curiously.

"May you die honorably," Kirk translated, giving a one-shouldered shrug. "Usually a compliment or a blessing in their culture."

Spock froze suddenly, head cocked to the side.

"What's the matter?"

"In this case, I believe it was not a blessing but rather a prediction," the Vulcan said tensely, looking rapidly around the room. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Scott asked, brows furrowed.

"That humming - there, it is louder now, do you hear it?"

Sure enough, it was growing louder, loud enough that the two Security men near the transporter were wincing, hands over their ears.

"It's a phaser on overload," Kirk shouted, white-faced, as he scrambled over the transporter pad, desperately searching the shadowed corners behind the rounded platform. His eyes fell on the weapon in question - a Klingon disrupter, carefully wedged in the darkest corner behind the transporter pad, now vibrating dangerously with the buildup of an overloaded photon mix chamber. If it blew, the resulting nuclear fallout would take four decks with it unless the emergency bulkheads deployed - and even with them, the entire force of the explosion would then be directed outward, rupturing the hull completely in this section of the ship.

"Spock get everyone out of here and move us away from those Orion frigates! Seal off C Deck!"

"Aye, sir." A moment later the Vulcan's voice was heard, tense and curt, over the ship's intra-comm, and the thud of emergency bulkheads being deployed began to sound in the distance down the corridors above and below them.

"Scotty, set that transporter to maximum dispersal for me and then get yourself out of here!" he shouted, yanking desperately on the weapon.

"Sir, I canna -"

The device hummed louder now, almost deafening him with its deadly siren song of imminent destruction. "Scotty, out! I'm right behind you, just get everyone out before the bulkheads come down. Go!"

He heard the clear muttering of a very unhappy man, but his CE fled the room obediently, hauling a highly protesting Lieutenant Kyle with him away from the transporter controls.

Kirk grunted with the strain, unable to pull the disruptor free from its position, cunningly wedged tight with Klingon brute force, and threw himself backward with all his strength in an effort to dislodge it. If he could get it out and manage to transport it into a wide dispersal beam, the backlash might destroy their transporter room and damage the other vessels, but it wouldn't have the long-term nuclear effects that the concentrated explosion would. If the disruptor blew as it stood now, the frigates just outside their hull would most likely be destroyed by the fallout, as their shields were non-existent thanks to his decision to utilize Spock's computer virus.

Half his crew were still on board those defenseless frigates, and their deaths would be his fault, due to his command decisions.

The hum was more of a wailing now, as he rocked back and forth and finally aimed a desperate kick to the weapon, trying to dislodge it with only seconds remaining. Down the corridor, he heard the first of the transporter deck's bulkheads drop with a dull thud, gradually growing louder as the program's algorithms proceeded down the corridor.

"Captain, it is futile," Spock's voice shouted above the ringing in his ears as the Vulcan burst back into the room. "We are proceeding as quickly as possible away from the Orion ships to minimize damage. Remaining here will accomplish nothing."

"Just - one more minute," he gasped, as the disruptor finally wiggled under the force of his desperation.

"We don't have another minute! Jim, no one needs you to die for this ship to prove you're the captain!"

"I told you both to get out of here, Bones!" he snapped, sweat trickling down his back.

"And I'm not obeyin' the orders of a self-sacrificing idiot!"

He craned his neck around, still working the disruptor loose, and met the pinched expression of his First Officer. "Spock, if you have ever been loyal to me, get him out of here," he said quietly, his voice shaking with desperation. "I promise, if I can't get it loose in the next ten seconds I'll be right behind you."

For a moment Spock looked at him with agonizing clarity, clearly knowing as well as he that Kirk was lying, and then the Vulcan turned without a word and caught McCoy's arm, bodily dragging the swearing human through the transporter room doors. The slam of emergency bulkheads dropping into place punctuated their exit just seconds after the doors closed behind them.

The disruptor was vibrating now, the whine a dull roar - and then finally, either due to the shuddering of overtaxed machinery or Kirk's stubborn determination, the weapon finally fell free, sending him over on his backside, disruptor clutched tightly in both hands.

In one swift movement he tossed it onto a transporter pad and then made a desperate dive for the controls, slamming his palm down on the transport initiator just instants before the room exploded in his face.


The Enterprise rocked violently with the force of the explosive backlash, sending everyone in the corridors sprawling on the ground and hurling the massive ship backward several dozen kilometers in space - thankfully in the opposite direction of the unprotected Orion frigates.

Just outside the Transporter Room, the durasteel bulkhead protecting the first section of the corridor buckled, wailing sickeningly under the pressure, before blowing off its supports and flying several yards down the corridor. Only Vulcan reflexes prevented Spock and McCoy, closest to the impact, from being crushed under its weight, and for a second the doctor stared at the twisted metal that had flown over their heads with a sick fascination that quickly turned to quaking nerves.

Spock picked himself up more quickly, eyes instantly taking in every detail and drawing conclusions. The other bulkheads on either side of the cross-corridor had apparently held, which either meant that the captain had succeeded in dispersing the explosion as it happened, or else that the funds the Federation had shelled out on the three-year refit were certainly worth every credit. Three steps brought him to the crackling remnants of the secondary emergency forcefield, which had obviously also shattered under the force of the blast. Deactivating it with a voice command, he moved to the nearest wall-comm.

"Spock to Bridge."

"Spock, we have to see about Jim!"

"In a moment, Doctor," he replied, not allowing his features to show regret.

"Spock!"

"Bridge here, Mr. Spock. What in the name of -"

"One of the Klingon prisoners left a disruptor set on overload in our transporter room, Mr. Garrovick. Damage report?"

"Nothing substantial, sir, except that transporter room itself; nothing's online in there and there's a heck of a lot of energy readings coming from it, stuff I've never seen before, sir. Wait." A distant shout across the Bridge. "And…apparently the Klingon Bird of Prey was right in the line of the explosion, sir. It's nothing more than shrapnel now."

Fitting, Spock mused, with absolutely no compunction over his vengeful thoughts. But then, that had probably been PetaQ's intent.

"Spock!"

"Carry on, Mr. Garrovick, and send a Medical team to the affected corridors on C Deck. Spock out. Doctor, you will control yourself," he said harshly, jerking his arm free of the human's vise-like grip.

"Control myself?" the human shouted, fists clenched at his sides. "D'you realize that even if he got that disruptor locked into a transport beam, the backlash will still have collapsed the whole room around him?"

"I believe I realize the ramifications even better than yourself, Doctor, as I am capable of calculating the odds of survival to innumerable decimal places," he replied icily, and saw the fire in the human's eyes dwindle within moments.

"Yeah, of course," McCoy whispered, shoulders slumping with weariness. Spock watched carefully, knowing not just from their mind-joining that the human was nearing collapse himself from injury and stress. "After all that, that it should have to end like this…I just -"

"Come, Doctor," Spock said gently. "We will ascertain the truth together."

He moved down the remaining few feet to the reinforced tritanium doors that had automatically deployed to block the radiation from the wreckage of the transporter room.

"Computer, radiation report for Transporter Room Three," he spoke, forcibly detaching himself from the tragedy at hand.

"Radiation levels normal."

McCoy blinked. "Normal for what, a nuclear blast zone?"

"Computer, specify 'normal'," Spock said, equally mystified.

"Radiation levels non-harmful to humanoid life. Levels within acceptable parameters for transporter operation."

"That can't be right, Spock…even if the disruptor had detonated outside the ship, it still would've fractured the hull there and we should get some reading, at least!"

"I am aware, Doctor." Spock frowned at the doors blocking their path. "Computer, status report of Transporter Room Three."

"Transporter Room Three is within operational parameters."

"Reason for blast doors deployment."

"Blast doors deployed to prevent unknown energy damage to C Deck."

A raised eyebrow. "Specify."

"Unknown energy buildup in Transporter Room Three."

"Analyze unknown energy."

"Energy now dissipated from Transporter Room Three. Residual energy effects non-fatal to humanoid life. Raising blast doors."

"Spock, if that's a computer glitch, we're both gonna fry from the inside out," McCoy muttered uneasily, watching as the locks snapped off the blast doors and they began to rise, thankfully - and weirdly - not letting out the expected blast of acrid air or the stench of burning flesh and metal.

"It cannot be a computer glitch, Doctor, as that would show up on the Bridge's damage report. I admit I am at a loss to explain the lack of radiation from such a destructive force as an overloaded disruptor. We shall know more when we -" he broke off in uncharacteristically visible surprise, frozen in place, as the blast doors finally cleared the bulkhead and showed the room beyond.

Spock barely registered McCoy's strangled exclamation from behind him, too intent upon staring the impossible in its thirty-eight-year-old face.

"Yeah, that's pretty much an experience I never want to repeat," an entirely undamaged James T. Kirk complained, rubbing the back of his head as he sat half-sprawled on the battered transporter pad.

Chapter Text

"…Captain?"

"Jim!"

Spock raised an eyebrow as he was unceremoniously bumped out of the way by an ecstatic Leonard McCoy. Their newly-reverted captain grinned and scrambled up, meeting the physician halfway in a huge bear-hug. His CMO pounded him on the back, smile warm as Georgia sunshine.

"Bones, it's good to be back," Kirk said, blinking suspiciously into shoulder of the doctor's battle-torn blue scrubs.

McCoy leaned back, both hands on Kirk's shoulders, scrutinizing him carefully. "You're all right, Jim?"

"I feel…extremely tired, and shaky," the captain admitted, and indeed he was rather pale, and unsteady on his feet. "But I think that's to be expected…how I'm not dead, though, I have no idea. This room literally blew up in my face." He looked over McCoy's shoulder, meeting Spock's equally mystified gaze. "I don't understand exactly how I survived - there was just this huge blast of light that I assume was the disruptor exploding, and then everything sort of blurred for a while until I sat up and realized the hull had barely been breached. Why isn't there a hole the size of an asteroid in the side of my ship?"

"More importantly, why are you not in the same hypothetical condition, Captain," Spock replied with dry humor. "Your survival defies all logic, as does the condition of this room."

Kirk snapped back into attention with a jolt. "Any casualties?"

"Only the Klingon Bird of Prey, moored too close to our port bow as she was. Apparently the full blast of the explosion was funneled outward in both directions, both into the corridor here and outside the hull, where the Qeh was moored. No innocent casualties aboard the frigates or the Enterprise."

"Thanks to you tackling me when the bulkhead blew out, Spock," McCoy added. "My knees are still shaking, I tell you."

"That might also be due to the fact that a mind-fusion, however amicable, is physically draining upon even a Vulcan, and much more so upon a human. I am also aware, Doctor, that you did not take advantage of your time in Sickbay to tend to your own injuries at the Klingons' hands," Spock said pointedly.

He received a blue-eyed glare that could have corroded neutronium. "They worked you over pretty good too, y'pointy-eared hypocrite - don't think I didn't notice you deadened both our pain receptors when you were pokin' around in my head!"

Spock didn't even look the least bit repentant. "Doctor, I assure you, I did no 'poking.' The blame hardly lies with me, for being forced to navigate through such a disorderly and hopelessly chaotic mind."

"Hopelessly chaotic!"

"It was akin to piloting a hovercar through a crowded spaceport, blindfolded and with a disgruntled passenger constantly giving unwanted and entirely useless advice over one's navigational skills."

Glaring belligerently, McCoy poked him in the chest with a bony finger. "You callin' me a backseat driver?"

And yes, that was definitely the equivalent of a Vulcan eyeroll. "I believe, Doctor, the expression is, if the footwear fits…"

"Jim! Catch him, Spock!"

Having been watching this exchange with ever-widening eyes, their captain finally chose that moment to give vent to a faint, almost sob-like laugh of relief, before his knees buckled under him.

"Nngh," Kirk mumbled, blinking hazily up at them as he was hastily settled into a reclining position against the transporter pad. "Yeah, okay…I really don't feel well, Bones."

"And no wonder; you were in pretty bad shape after jumping just a few years - you just aged over a decade, and it's been a hectic day anyhow. Your body probably has no fuel left to burn, not to mention we haven't checked with the Insonti people yet to see if there are aftereffects of the final transformation. Just lie there and rest 'til we can get you to Sickbay, kid," McCoy murmured in a soothingly familiar tirade of medical nonsense.

One hazel eye slitted open again. "Not a kid anymore, Bones," Kirk said with a ghostly grin.

Spock rose to his feet, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like thank Surak, and stepped to the doors to ascertain the status of the rest of the corridor and call a Medical team, leaving their CMO to tend to their semi-conscious captain.

Kirk's eyes flickered open again as McCoy settled down beside him on the floor with a muffled grunt. "If Spock deadened your nerve receptors and then chopped that connection a few minutes ago, you have to not be in very good shape, Bones," he said softly.

"'M fine, Jim. Just too old for this kind of thing," was the testy response. "Chasin' a holy terror of a kid and then a teenager all over this flying tin can for four months, and then having to host an open house for the hobgoblin in my head to top off the whole shebang…I do not get paid enough for this."

The captain laughed, weakly flopping one arm over his eyes. "I can't imagine…none of you could possibly have gotten paid enough to deal with me as a child. I was a little hellion, as anyone in the family would tell you."

"That you were, Jim. Oh, and while we're on the subject - next time a First Contact wants you to participate in some 'harmless' alien ritual, do us all a favor and let Spock do it instead, will you?" McCoy groused, leaning his pounding head back wearily on the steps. "Four months of star-charting is enough to make the most dedicated crew antsy, cute kid captain or not."

Kirk turned his head, rolling slightly on his side. "You'd really rather have had a baby Vulcan running around telling crewmen five times his age how illogical they are?"

McCoy shuddered expressively, and the captain smiled, letting his eyes flutter closed again.

"By the way, Jim…how much do you remember?" the doctor asked curiously, with interest both medical (how do I treat a patient who's got two sets of overlapping memories?) and personal (please Lord Almighty, don't let him remember me changing his diapers or smacking his hand for gnawing on Scotty's communicator).

"Mmmm."

"Jim?"

A soft exhalation was his only answer, indication that the man's body had finally called it quits and was temporarily shutting itself down after its abuse, and McCoy sighed, resigned to getting his explanations at a later time. He started in surprise as Kirk's head finally slumped over to rest on his shoulder, but didn't have the heart (or energy, actually) to move the exhausted captain.

Spock returned a moment later, followed closely by the welcome sight of Christine Chapel and a squad of familiar Medical personnel.

"Shut up," he warned, before the Vulcan could do more than raise an eyebrow at their position.

"I said nothing, Doctor," was the unruffled response.

"Yeah, maybe it's just echoes up in here," he muttered, tapping his temple with a finger.

"Doctor McCoy," Chapel was saying in his ear, and he blinked up at her worried face. "Doctor, I know you're in no condition to be working but I can't understand the readings I'm getting off the Captain."

"Lemme see," he sighed, and took the scanner from her. "Hmm. I think they're probably normal for the situation, Nurse. From what Mr. Spock and I could get from the Insonti people, the Regenratron literally rewrites the body at a cellular and nervous level; this just looks like his cells are regenerating at an abnormally fast rate - which fits with the nervous exhaustion and nutrient depletion."

"It also would explain the unidentifiable energy buildup in this room," Spock mused aloud, looking up at the single crack along the ceiling. "The amount of cellular energy being released at the atomic level due to his final retransformation must have shielded the Captain from the force of the disruptor explosion."

"That, or they built a failsafe we don't really understand into the device's processes to make sure that a kid wouldn't accidentally get himself killed because he was made more vulnerable due to the process," McCoy offered thoughtfully. "It'd make sense, given how much they care for their own children. Would kind of defeat the purpose to transform somebody, supposedly for their benefit, only to have the child then die of some obscure childhood illness or accident due to vulnerability."

"I shall contact the Insonti later this evening, Doctor, to see if our questions can be answered satisfactorily."

"You'll do no such thing, Mr. Spock," Chapel said sternly, ignoring the incredulous look she received in return. "Just how long were you going to try to hide the fact that you have fractured ribs, a bruised kidney, and what I'm only guessing is the clan matriarch of all migraine headaches?"

"One does not emerge from a Klingon interrogation unscathed, Nurse. And Doctor McCoy is solely to blame for the headache."

"Hey!"

"Did I ask who was to blame, Mr. Spock?" the nurse returned grimly, extracting a hypospray from her kit with a dangerous rapidity. Spock eyed it with what amounted to Vulcan trepidation. While Christine had long since gotten over her crush on their gentle First Officer, and while the two had become actually quite good friends during their five-year mission, she also knew that Spock was still a bit unnerved by her, and she used that fact to her advantage on occasion.

"With our Chief Medical Officer also down for the count - stop trying to get up, Doctor McCoy, or so help me I will sedate you - you'll be taking orders from me for at least the next twelve hours. Would you like to walk down to Sickbay, or be carried down?"

"I take it there is no third option."

"Negative," she replied sweetly.

"I shall walk, in that case."

"Excellent. Doctor McCoy, you are not so much as moving a finger unless you want that floating rib of yours puncturing a lung!" she fairly bellowed, causing even the seasoned male nurse who was strapping Kirk down on a gurney to jump, startled.

"Nurse, I am Chief Medical Officer on this ship!" McCoy snarled, swatting away a brave young intern who was about to lose an eye trying to inject a painkiller into his superior's arm.

"With all due respect, Doctor McCoy, you are relieved," Chapel retorted. "Now hush, or I'll give you a hypo full of naptime before you can blink. Anya, get Captain Kirk to Sickbay and don't let any of the crew gawk at him along the way. They'll have plenty of time to see him once he's recovered."

"I see your impeccably gentle bedside manner has been successfully emulated by your nursing staff, Doctor," Spock observed with thinly - very thinly - veiled sarcasm.

"Trained by the best," Nurse Anya called mischievously over his shoulder, leading the way out of the room at the head of the unconscious captain's hover stretcher.

"I can get up by m'self, you young fool," said 'best' was currently snarling at his well-meaning interns, which in Spock's opinion did not make for a well-founded argument regarding the human's being a paragon of Medical expertise. "I was treatin' busted ribs b'fore y'all were teething, and don't you forget it!"

Chapel's worried eyes flicked over to him, both of them familiar enough with the physician to notice the deepening of his accent, indicating either extreme fatigue, stress, or physical pain - and most likely in this case, a combination of all three.

"Doctor McCoy -"

"Nurse," the human growled, swaying on his feet after being all but hauled up there by his two slightly-freaked-out interns. "We just had three hundred-odd people come back from being abducted by human traffickers. Each of them need a psych eval before they can come back on duty. I'm nowhere near the top of that list, and if you can't obey that order then you can darn well find someone who can!"

"Nurse Chapel," Spock said quietly, seeing the woman looked dangerously close to tears, "please allow me?"

Chapel nodded, worrying at her lower lip as McCoy braced himself with one hand against the wall, his face a sickly shade of gray, breathing shallow. "Sir, I've given him the strongest painkiller we have for humans, and his pain readings are still all over the charts, to say nothing of his mental state," she said in a quiet undertone. "I'm honestly more worried about what a psych eval would show for him than I am for the girls who were in the Orions' cells with me. The Klingons...didn't need their prisoners in top condition, like the Orions. They didn't need to be gentle."

Spock's lips tightened slightly, the only outward indication of the still-hidden turmoil roiling under the surface.

"I will see that he reaches Sickbay within the next five minutes, Nurse. Nonetheless," Spock continued ruefully, "however tactlessly stated, he is correct; the Enterprise must be within reasonable crew performance as soon as possible, especially the Engineering and Maintenance crews. The ship will be unable to travel until at least they are cleared to begin repairs, and we are not equipped nor supplied to keep seventy Orion prisoners aboard for longer than one week."

"Understood, sir. I'll begin immediately, but I'd recommend everyone on board get at least six hours' sleep before we put them to work. Otherwise we'll have people crashing halfway through beta shift tomorrow."

"A sound plan. Please implement it on my orders, as the Captain has been temporarily incapacitated, and ensure you are in the first off-duty shift once the ship has settled. We will need a functional Chief Medical Officer as soon as possible."

"Acknowledged. We'll have at least a skeleton crew ready for you before ship's night." Curt and all business, Christine gave her unsteady CMO one last worried look, before moving toward the transporter room doors, signaling the interns to precede her.

"Nurse," Spock reached after her, not physically touching, but giving the illusion of doing so.

Chapel glanced down at the aborted gesture, and her eyes softened. "Yes, Mr. Spock."

"Do not take his current state as a personal affront to either your expertise or your affection for him," the Vulcan said quietly. "He is…I believe the human term is, dealing - with more than just the physical effects of the last twelve hours."

She smiled, briefly, and inclined her head in graceful acknowledgment, ceding the field. "If I don't see you both in five minutes I'm sending a team after you with those special half-human meds that turn your stomach, I'm giving you fair warning, Commander," she called lightly over one shoulder as the doors closed behind her.

Spock's eyebrows slowly returned to their normal position as he turned to face off against a very surly Chief Medical Officer, who looked about three seconds from collapsing in an ungainly heap of stained black-and-blue upon the durasteel flooring.

"Nurse Chapel is most competent in her field; the evaluations will begin momentarily," he said directly, both a rebuke and a reassurance.

McCoy looked up at him, something like relief showing in the one eye which was not still swollen from his interrogation with the Klingons. "Good," he said, the tone clipped with masked pain. "Poor kids'll be lucky to not be seriously traumatized after this mess."

"The 'kids,' Doctor, are Starfleet officers, and were prepared to be but were never physically assaulted in any way, according to Nurse Chapel," was the quiet rejoinder.

"I'm hearin' a but in there somewhere…" the doctor declared suspiciously.

Spock stood before the slumped human, hands clasped behind his back to hide their unsteadiness at discussing the horror he would rather have lived a century without discovering. "Doctor…I cannot help you if you refuse to permit me," he finally said in barely disguised frustration.

McCoy squinted at him, one arm still wrapped protectively around his midsection. "What, you want to help Chapel run a bone-knitter on me?"

"Doctor!"

Spock took one uncontrolled step of frustrated reaction into the human's personal space, only then realizing just how low his controls and how non-existent his shattered mental shields were. This was a dangerous conversation to have while he was not in control. He inhaled in a slow breath, and exhaled slowly.

"Doctor," he repeated, in a more modulated tone. "How can you be so attuned to the psychological needs of your crew, who were only threatened with the worst kind of assault known to humanoids, and yet refuse to acknowledge that, to a Vulcan, you were subjected to a crime of precisely the same level?"

The human's eyes widened, obviously in shock, either at his openness or at the fact that the two were comparable.

"Yes, Doctor - as I said before, such a mental violation was in times past punishable by death in my culture, and is regarded as the ultimate horror: kae'at k'lasa, directly translated into your Standard as nothing less than Mind-Rape. The typical Vulcan reaction to such a crime is not dissimilar to how your people regard pedophilia; a despicable crime which violently and painfully takes from the innocent without their consent."

He paused, again to rein in his shattered controls at the idea that such a thing had happened, sometime on his watch. How had he permitted it, how had he not seen it happen? How had any of them not seen? They had much to answer for.

"It is unspeakable, Doctor - and after unlocking that mental room to me today you cannot expect to be able to force the door closed once again."

McCoy's eyes closed as he sagged against the wall, lowering his face into his shaking hands. "I don't want to deal with this right now, Spock," he pleaded quietly.

"I have no intention of forcing you to do so - to do anything," he specified quietly. "But you will concede Sickbay and its responsibilities to your staff, and you will take the proper time to recover; should you refuse, I will be forced to relieve you of duty on the record until you have."

Face still covered by his shaking hands, McCoy nodded silently.

"Allow me to escort you to Sickbay?" he asked, with a deal of hesitation. He was so out of his depth at this point that drowning would be a colossal metaphorical understatement.

"You may have to - get somebody t'help you," the doctor murmured, as his eyes finally rolled up in his head and he pitched forward without the aid of the nerve pinch Spock was fully prepared to administer had he met any more resistance. Vulcan strength notwithstanding, the physician's lined face showed he could be dropped on his head and probably not feel a thing at this point.

So fragile, these humans! So unable to protect themselves from a violation over which he, an innocent bystander, was still reeling in horror. So valiant, so trusting, even after such a betrayal. Not for the first time, he wondered if Vulcans truly were the stronger species.

"Don't tell Jim," was the slurred injunction he heard as he swung the unresisting human up in his arms, careful not to jostle the doctor's head.

Spock closed his eyes for a moment, safe from human observation of the very unVulcan gesture of frustration.

Where would he even begin, if he desired to discuss the matter with the Captain? Where would he begin when it was time for McCoy to discuss it? Where had this even happened, hidden so well that none, including he, had ever suspected such a horrific crime against one of their own?

And where could he find the being responsible for perpetrating the heinous act, so that he could see the chkariya met the modern equivalent of the unfortunately now-extinct death penalty for such a crime.

Chapter Text

After seeing their barely-conscious CMO to his own Sickbay for treatment, Spock made his escape to the Bridge, intending to contact Starfleet Command (they had attempted it briefly during the battle earlier, only to discover a jamming signal coming from one of the Orion frigates) and explain the situation, as well as to ask for supply ships and an escort to get them into the nearest Starbase, some two days' journey in either direction, much longer if Mr. Scott could not coax any power out of the damaged warp drive engines. Thankfully, due to the Captain's unpredictable medical condition, they had never strayed far from such ports of call, and he had every confidence in the capabilities of their Chief Engineer.

After being forcibly marched back down to Sickbay by said Chief Engineer and their Communications Chief the moment he showed up on the Bridge, despite his vociferous protests, he was most definitely of the (relieved) opinion that the Enterprise crew no longer regarded him as captain, transferring that authority mentally to Captain Kirk and relegating him back to his preferred ranking and the lesser respect it entailed.

Christine Chapel, at least, certainly had no qualms against ordering him about as if he were no more than an ensign, and a troublesome one at that. He was deposited into the recovery ward with the stern injunction to not move while she retrieved the necessary equipment to repair his damaged kidney and various other injuries, and he valued his life too much to make any such attempt.

Across the ward, the most famous starship captain in the 'Fleet was curled comfortably on his side in a still strangely childlike position, snoring fit to wake the dead, obviously exhausted and completely at peace with himself for the first time in four months. Spock raised an eyebrow and met the annoyed scowl of his erstwhile co-parent across the ward.

"If I could move outta this bed I'd stuff a pillow in his mouth," McCoy snarled irritably, throwing an arm over his eyes.

Spock's lips twitched. "I believe we should simply be grateful that he is past the sleeping-with-stuffed-Terran-animal-replicas stage, Doctor."

The arm lowered, revealing a wicked gleam of mischief.

"Don't even think about it," Chapel said dryly, sweeping into the room with a cart of medical paraphernalia. "Just because I've got you pumped so full of the happy drugs you can't feel anything doesn't mean you want to move, trust me. And the next time you want to go defending me to a roomful of Klingons four times your size -"

"Four times!"

"If we go by bone density and muscle mass, yes, four times," she retorted. "Next time, don't feel the need to bring their attention down on you like that! I can take a little pushing around just as well as the next Starfleet officer!"

"You're welcome, Nurse," the man growled, glaring one-eyed at her as she stood on tip-toe to adjust the settings on the bio-bed over his head.

Christine smiled, and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead and she deftly untwisted and retucked the blankets back around her CMO. McCoy blushed briefly but subsided, content to smirk at Spock's discomfort as he was summarily treated, berated for trying to escape medical attention, and then given his own Vulcan version of happy pills before Chapel dimmed the lights and left, reminding them that she would be monitoring them from the next room and the bio-beds would sound an alarm if they tried to get out of them.

"She is a most formidable woman, for a human," Spock observed, uncharacteristically sleepily.

"If that means scary as hell, ah agree," McCoy muttered, turning over onto his uninjured side with a yawn.

"I heard that!"

"Then stop eavesdropping!" the doctor bellowed back in irritation, forgetting that their exhausted captain was sleeping not fifteen feet away from them.

Kirk twitched, snuffling something unintelligible into his pillow, but did not awaken.

McCoy stared at the younger man, amazed. Jim, like most starship captains, was known for being such a light sleeper that all the nursing staff knew better than to come within ten feet of his bed whenever he was sleeping in Sickbay. In contrast, the child version of the captain had been an extremely sound sleeper, and slow to awaken. The psychological indications and conclusions from that would prove interesting…once he had the time to think about them without his brain being scrambled by drugs and a creepily compassionate Vulcan.

"Doctor, might I respectfully suggest you desist from gracing us with your more discordant vocalizations until we have at least had time to recuperate from the day's events?"

"Christine didn't give you enough of the good stuff if you can still form a sentence like that, Spock."

"Your inability to comprehend your own native language or cogitate more than basic rejoinders within its confines is a constant source of amazement for me, Doctor."

"Oh, shut up."

"I rest my case." Thud. "Really, Doctor; your aim is as poor as your vocabularic competence. And your actions were ill-advised; you now have no pillow."

Neither of them noticed that as the bickering continued across the ward, their blissfully sleeping captain wriggled a bit under the blankets, and smiled.


After forty-eight hours, the Enterprise's repairs were well underway and her crew slowly returning to their usual level of competence with the flexibility demanded of all 'Fleet personnel. An escort of two starships was on its way to see them into the nearest Starbase and take the Orion prisoners as well as the frigates full of smuggled contraband off their hands, which was a relief to all concerned. Medical had cleared most of the crew to return to duty, and had seen to the various injuries from the battle with their enemies. Thankfully, there had been no death casualties, which was cause for immense rejoicing as the lack of crew deaths on this high-risk ship was very rare indeed.

Montgomery Scott had worked a straight twenty-hour shift between Engineering and Bridge command before being kicked off the Bridge by Lieutenant Sulu, who had finished overseeing the transfer of the prisoners and then had been dragged off to Sickbay by a worried Chekov to have his broken arm reset and knitted. Lieutenants Uhura and Riley had instructed Communications regarding the priority list of repairs and had then retired themselves as their replacements were cleared by Medical. Security Chief Giotto had unceremoniously booted his ASC out of Auxiliary Control with a one-armed hug and a forceful shove, telling Garrovick he'd earned his pay for the week and to for pity's sake go get some sleep before he started hallucinating enemies that weren't really there.

The rest of the crew got back to work cheerfully enough, recovering quickly in the knowledge that their captain was now back to normal - as normal as anyone on this ship ever was - and soon all would be right in the world again.

In Sickbay, however, the scene was somewhat different.

On their way to the Bridge, Sulu and Chekov momentarily detoured to Sickbay, intent upon getting Chekov a headache pill while Sulu dropped off one of his newly-bloomed Alderian daylilies for the Captain, only to find that they'd unwittingly walked straight into what appeared to be World War Four.

Peering cautiously around the corner of the recovery ward, half-expecting to be hit by flying debris, they gaped at the sight of their First Officer and CMO engaged in what looked suspiciously like a genuinely angry shouting match, Vulcan and human style. This was not the playful banter they were accustomed to seeing from their department heads, not a needling-each-other-for-pleasure exchange. This was brutal, harsh and angry, with the full intent of trying to genuinely hurt the other.

Chekov looked across the ward to where their newly-returned captain sat, half-reclined on his bio-bed, and didn't know whether to laugh or cry - the man had the blankets pulled up almost to his nose and was staring wide-eyed over them at the scene, looking for all the world like a child watching his divorcing parents about to start throwing plates at each other. It occurred to him that possibly the child-like behaviors might take a little while to totally be erased from Kirk's system, and he made a mental note to suggest their CMO check it out; if he could be persuaded to stop insulting Mr. Spock's parentage long enough to listen.

The more pressing problem, was that he'd never seen his beloved mentor so…Spock wasn't out of control, not by any stretch, but so not-controlled, even when McCoy had riled him up as only the doctor knew how. This was unprecedented, for even under the highest of stresses like the Tholian affair last year; the two had never just gone off on each other like this, in plain hearing of the nursing staff and anyone within a two-corridor radius.

"Chyort," he breathed, as the conversation escalated and Kirk seemed to shrink down further into his bed, cringing. "What in the name of all that is logical -"

Sulu had done staring and finally frowned, perceiving that this had gone completely out of control in what had to be a short amount of time, and knowing that the ship's gossip chains originated in Sickbay. "Ahem," he cleared his throat pointedly, during a brief lull in the catfight. "Mr. Spock. Doctor McCoy!"

Both glared their direction with a look that would have made any cadet with two brain cells wet his pants.

"Captain Kirk, I've brought you a little get-well present, sir," Sulu said cheerfully, ignoring the incredulous looks from the two verbal combatants at his shameless interruption of what promised to be a full-pitched battle.

Chekov admired the artful dodge, as the statement was both accurate and also diverted the attention of Spock and McCoy. At the sight of Kirk's pained expression, both suddenly found their Sickbay scrubs to be extremely interesting, and fell completely silent.

Kirk offered them a genuine smile, which widened as Sulu set the plant on a stand beside his bed. The gentle, soothing scents washed through the room, as Sulu had intended when he picked that particular flower, and the captain nodded his gratitude.

"Thank you, Mr. Sulu. It's lovely," he said, smiling.

"Of course, sir."

"What brings you gentlemen to Sickbay?"

"Chekov needs a headache pill, sir," Sulu said blithely as they started out of the ward. "As we were able to hear the…conversation, from this room two corridors away, shall I get you one while we're at it, Captain?" he called pointedly over his shoulder.

McCoy at least had the grace to look thoroughly ashamed of himself, and cast an apologetic glance at his captain.

Spock only settled back in his bio-bed, stone-faced and expressionless.

"Annnd I think that's our cue," Sulu muttered, appropriating one of the over-the-counter medication bottles and helping himself. Risking Chapel's wrath over the unauthorized taking of mild painkillers was much preferable to being in the room when the bell rang for Round Two of Vulcan versus Human.

"Da." Chekov gulped down the pill with alacrity and tossed the bottle back onto the shelf. "Is going to be a wery long week."


"I leave you alone for thirty minutes, Doctor, and in that amount of time you manage to spike your blood pressure so high it sets an all-time record, even for you?" Chapel all but yelled, hands on hips as she stood over the bed, glaring at the stress readings coming from the monitors over McCoy's head.

"Well, how do you expect me to recover if I have to be in the same room with him?"

"I assure you, your continually grating presence is doing little to aid my own progress in recuperating from my injuries, Doctor," Spock replied icily.

"And that's enough from you, too, Mr. Spock," Chapel snapped, entirely out of patience. "Half of Deck Six is whispering about your little tiff this morning, and you both know better than to pull something like that in the hearing or sight of your subordinates! It's inexcusable!"

McCoy glared at her, dangerous venom in his eyes. "You're walkin' on awfully thin ice, Nurse!"

"So place me on report, Doctor," she retorted. "I'm sure the captain will be very interested about the particulars of that report."

Kirk had been discharged late that morning with strict instructions to do nothing more than walk his ship for the next two days, and had departed eagerly to do just that. The man had been remarkably subdued before leaving, however, especially for his over-exuberant personality, and she had the suspicion that the two idiots she was currently chastising were responsible for that. The fact that the captain had hastily changed into the uniform his yeoman had brought, and had scooted out the Sickbay doors without so much as a look back or shouted good-bye, only confirmed Chapel's hypothesis.

Well, she wasn't having it.

"I'm tempted to lock you both in an iso-decon chamber until you get your heads back wherever they're supposed to be," she said sternly, glaring between the two. She was more than a little startled to see both men's eyes widen at the phraseology, though for what reason exactly she didn't know.

She continued, regardless, because she had better things to do than umpire their latest spat. "You've turned what should have been a happy time of reconnecting with you both for the captain, into nothing but stress for him, and I won't stand for it continuing now that he's been discharged. For pity's sake, Doctor," she continued, frowning at her CMO's sour countenance, "the man's watched you and Mr. Spock basically be his parents for the last four months, and now the instant he's back in his own body the two of you are sniping at each other worse than that shipload of Babel delegates we ferried last year!"

McCoy looked down at the thermal blanket, twisting a corner of it between his fingers.

"And you, Mr. Spock," she added, turning to face the expressionless Vulcan with an icy glare, "should know better than to let him provoke you like that. I put you both and Captain Kirk together in here so that you could have three days to just relax and catch up with each other, and you shot that down so effectively that the captain basically fled out of here when I released him early this morning!"

That, at least, got a reaction, as Spock looked what she knew by now was the Vulcan equivalent of ashamed.

She decided to change tactics, as obviously neither of them were going to deny that she was justified in her reprimand. "Is there something going on that I need to know about, as Acting Chief Medical Officer, Doctor McCoy?" she asked quietly.

McCoy's answer was quick, almost too quick. "No."

"Negative," Spock spoke at the same time, and both eyed each other warily.

She raised an eyebrow, and then turned, marching to the doors of the recovery ward. "Well, then I'm locking you in here until you both deal with it," she said dryly, and entered a lockdown code as the doors slid closed behind her.

Worried, she sat down at her desk with a sigh borne of utter helplessness. Whatever was going on, she could only hope that they would follow her instructions - for the captain's sake, if nothing else. In the meantime, she had the remainder of the crew to examine and pronounce fit for duty.

And she should probably get Sulu on trying to round up the blackmail potential that was probably circulating around this ship, now that their little Captain Sunshine was all grown up…

Chapter Text

For a moment after Nurse Chapel had left, Spock looked across the ward at his fellow prisoner in silence, willing his shattered mental shields into some semblance of control - any semblance of control - without success. Forty-eight hours should have been sufficient time to regain at least a basic center of focus with the aid of meditation, and yet it had not been.

The needy, human portion of his mind reminded him that his primary mental anchor had been for four months trapped in the body and mind of a child, and as his secondary anchor was the root of the current problem then it was unsurprising that he found himself mentally adrift.

The logical, Vulcan portion of his mind haughtily reminded him yet again of the dangers in having such unstable variables as humans as integral parts of his mental character.

Jim did not believe in no-win scenarios, and yet Spock found himself in one more often than he wished regarding these frustrating, fascinating, illogical, ridiculous humans. He could not thrive without them; yet he found it increasingly difficult to live with them.

"What're you lookin' at?"

Case in point, he thought with a twinge of wry fondness. He bit back the scathing retort which leapt unbidden to his lips, firmly quashing the flare of irrational anger it engendered. Someone, as Nurse Chapel had so…delicately stated, needed to be the better being here. Unfortunately, that duty usually fell to the most logical component in any argument.

"Doctor, might I request that you cease your attempts at provoking me, at least temporarily?"

The human scowled at him. "You're the one provokin' people, Spock! All you've done for the last two days is sit over there and stare at me like I'm one of your little science projects! I'm getting sick of it, y'hear?"

Ah, and at last they found the heart of the matter. It was a simplistic enough answer that, all things considered, their recent conflict was beyond ridiculous.

Giving vent to a silent human sigh, Spock rose from his bio-bed, knowing that though the sensors would indicate outside that he had left he was in functional enough condition that Christine would leave him alone when she would not do the same for her CMO. He moved across the ward, finally shifting a nearby chair to seat himself beside the irritated human's bed.

"What are you doing."

"I have no desire to have a conversation of this gravity by raising my voice across an entire recovery ward, Doctor. Nor, do I believe, have you," he added pointedly, and saw unease flit across the human's expressive features. "As I am in nearly-optimal health by this point due to my own healing abilities, I believe this is the most logical alternative." He settled in the plasticene chair with no visible wince at its unyielding discomfort on his still-healing body, and leaned forward, at eye level with the frowning physician. "Now, Doctor. It appears neither of us has been entirely truthful with the other, regarding the events of the last three days."

McCoy looked at him incredulously, half-rolling over so as to not get a kink in his neck. "You tellin' me there's more you haven't told me?"

Spock ignored the butchered vocabulary in favor of nodding. "It has no bearing upon what was done to you prior to our mind-fusion, Doctor, but rather in regards to ours," he began, trying to tamp down on his own discomfort with discussing such a thing to an outworlder.

He had already violated the most sacred of Vulcan taboos by joining with a human (yes, he had previously joined with the captain, but Jim seemed somehow to be an inexplicable exception to every Vulcan rule); to now explain further the intimacy of the process was heaping dishonor upon sacrilege. Yet McCoy deserved the explanation, if for no other reason than because the human had already been forced once without consent. Spock would not have insufficient understanding upon his conscience.

"Doctor, you are aware that emotional transference is a potential side-effect of a mind-meld?" he inquired.

The doctor nodded. "One of the few things I do know," he groused, arms folded. "Your people aren't exactly forthcoming with medical information. I only learned that from Jim during that business with the Horta." (1)

"I doubt that at that time, the captain was aware that such transference can, in certain cases, affect both parties, rather than simply the recipient of the fusion."

McCoy was not the top CMO in Starfleet for his wit or personality; the human was quite intelligent, and Spock saw the instant the metaphorical 'light came on.'

"…Wait, you're sayin' you've been snippety with everyone for two days because you got a bunch of my emotional backwash in that thing?"

"Rather unpleasant phraseology, Doctor…but essentially, that is correct," he sighed, looking down at his hands for a moment. "I find myself unable to reach any type of focus or centering, much less begin to rebuild my mental shields."

"I don't really understand, Spock," the human admitted quietly. "I don't know enough about you to get all that mental mumbo-jumbo you and Jim throw around all the time."

Not for the first time, Spock felt a residual twinge of something that could only be categorized as jealousy, and it stemmed from that small remnant of this unusual human which still lingered in his mind. He had never considered the fact that McCoy might be envious of his relationship with the captain; never considered it, not because either of them willingly excluded the doctor, but simply because to a Vulcan, the idea of jealousy was a foreign concept. To a Vulcan, one's close relationships were exceedingly rare, and only given when trust was completely earned and deserved; jealousy then was an unnecessary emotion, and one which did not occur if one communicated properly with one's relationships. But to a human, he was aware that it was not so simple.

Now, for this human, he was just beginning to understand, and that understanding was quite disconcerting. McCoy was as integral to their tri-une balance as either he or Captain Kirk; that the doctor seemed unaware of how vital he truly was, was cause for concern, and needed to be rectified. That was a topic to be addressed later, however. For now, he owed it to this human to explain just what he had agreed to three days previously.

"Doctor, the Vulcan Way is, as you are aware, a complete controlling of the mind through a process of categorization and compartmentalization. You have commented on my inability to feel, Doctor; you are incorrect not just metaphorically but medically, as 'emotions' are no more than brainwaves, electrical impulses stimulated by certain nerve endings or chemicals in the brain. The Vulcan Way has simply learned to divert those impulses, to suppress and control them into a manageable form for our own protection."

McCoy's eyes were alight with interest, both medically and personally. "That makes a twisted sort of sense," the human muttered thoughtfully.

Spock nodded, and then continued. "Through a series of mental shields, all such private thoughts and impulses are controlled and compartmentalized, deep within the mind, in its innermost recesses."

"So when you say you can't get your mental shields back up, you really mean that your most private thoughts and impulses are just...leaking out everywhere?" McCoy asked, eyebrows raised.

"Essentially, yes, Doctor. It is a most…unpleasant state of being, especially for a species to which such lack of control is the ultimate dishonor," he said quietly.

"So explain to me what happens when you mind-meld with someone, then," McCoy asked, all animosity gone in the face of this new and sobering information. "Isn't that dangerous, given what you've just told me about the Vulcan Way? If I had shields like that I wouldn't want someone getting past them."

"It is extremely dangerous," he agreed, not looking away under the human's surprised scrutiny. "I know of only one other Vulcan-human mind-joining which did not have painful and potentially disastrous consequences for its participants."

"You and Jim?"

"Besides him," Spock dismissed his resident exception with a small wave of impatience, oblivious to the twitch of McCoy's smile as he did. "My mother and Ambassador Sarek. Have you never wondered why such a Vulcan would willingly take a human wife?"

"Well, forgive me for bein' a hopeless romantic, but even you had to be able to tell during that Babel voyage that he loves her, in his own purely logical way," McCoy drawled, eyes twinkling.

Spock blatantly ignored him. "A primary component of any Vulcan mating or bond-mating is that of mental compatibility, Doctor. That is the only reason I was originally matched with T'Pring," he explained, the pain of that betrayal having vanished long ago. "To my half-Vulcan and therefore irregularly Vulcan mind, hers was the only compatible match which did not immediately withdraw in self-protection against the anomaly."

"That's not fair," McCoy said softly.

"To a human's way of thinking, perhaps," he acknowledged with a nod. "But to the Vulcan Way, it was the only logical course of action. As was her dissolution of our bonding; ours would never have been a satisfactory union because our mental joining, even muted by distance and age, was no longer pleasant for either of us. She had found a more compatible match, and that is the most important component of a successful bond."

"So tell me about mind-melding with someone - what you're doing is basically letting them past your private shields?"

"In certain cases, yes, Doctor."

McCoy frowned. "Then why didn't I react the same way as I did this time, when we were trying to beat the Melkotians? Jim said you had to mind-meld with me and Scotty, and that didn't really bother me." (2)

Spock's lips quirked slightly. "The captain is still…not fully informed regarding the Vulcan concepts of mind-joining. He tends to use the term 'mind-meld' in an incorrect sense, what you would call colloquially. What he usually asks me to do in contacting an alien species, for example, is not a true mind-fusion; it is a shallow mind-touch, designed only to extract information without damage or discomfort to the recipient. It is not the type of mind-fusion which requires a lowering of personal boundaries, nor is it a crime in my culture to perform such on a mind unwilling or unable to communicate."

McCoy nodded to show he understood, looking thoughtful.

Spock continued, forging ahead while trying to not think of the sacrilege he was performing by indicting an outworlder into this most private circle of knowledge. "For example, Vulcan healers will use such a mind-touch to determine the physical or mental status of a patient who is unconscious. It is that same mind-touch, Doctor, which you saw me perform very early in our mission, upon Dr. VanGelder in this very Sickbay." (3)

"You said that was your first time joining with a human," the doctor recalled.

"It was. And it was no more a violation of Dr. VanGelder's privacy than your brain-scanner was at that time. I should have preferred to ask his permission, of course," he admitted, still slightly ill-at-ease about the remembrance, "but with the captain's life in danger there was no other course open to us."

"So when Jim asks you to go mind-meld with X alien species on an uncharted planet, he's not asking you to throw your mind wide open to it, in other words," McCoy said, brows furrowed. "Just to skim the surface for information?"

"Precisely, Doctor. The captain is aware that even such a shallow mind-touch, a kashkau-esta, is still a violation of Vulcan privacy, and it is frowned upon in my culture; but it is not painful for the recipient, and it is not a true mind-fusion, a kash-nov." (4)

"And what you did with me is a…cash-whatever-it-was."

"Affirmative, Doctor. A mind-fusion of that depth was required for the plan we implemented to retake the ship. Such is the ultimate expression of trust, for any species." He looked away for a moment, again struggling to bring his emotions under control, without much success.

"Including yours," McCoy said gently.

"Including mine, Doctor," he admitted quietly. "Should a Vulcan attempt such a joining with an incompatible mind, the destruction to his mental shields could be irreparable, and agonizingly painful until the damage is healed by a skilled mental healer. That is why, to attempt to join with an outworlder, is a clear violation of Vulcan tradition. It is, simply, far too dangerous to attempt under most circumstances."

The physician's eyes softened. "So basically, you took one heck of a risk trying to do that with me, to save the ship and Jim."

One eyebrow inclined. "As you took a risk in permitting me to make the attempt. Had we been incompatible, the result would have been disastrous. As it stands, we both ended the connection with some slight mental damage, resulting in the extreme headaches and mind-echoes of each other's mental states."

"Hence your temper tantrums and my impatience with everything I see as stupid," the doctor quipped, a slight sliver of a grin appearing for a moment.

Spock's lips twitched. "Indeed. The effects should dissipate in time, but the ramifications would have been much more severe had we not been compatible. Do you fully understand what I have told you, Doctor?"

"I think so," McCoy replied, running an uneasy hand through his hair. "But to go back to the whole mental shielding thing - you said you're struggling to rebuild those shields, because of me?"

"Not solely because of our mind-fusion, Doctor. In part, certainly; but that was inevitable. To fully clarify…I must first explain the Vulcan concepts of meditation." Spock shifted uncomfortably in the hard chair, his mind again balking at the idea of sharing so much with an outworlder.

Then he again remembered the horrific violation to which this human had been subjected, right under their noses, and they had never noticed…McCoy deserved to know everything there was to know, more so than the captain ever had asked or wanted to know.

He took a deep breath and continued, trying to ignore the disconcertingly eager attentiveness the physician was giving him. "The concept of meditation is crucial to maintaining such mental shielding, Doctor. Similarly to how you humans view restful sleep and healthy dreams, we require meditation time to continually assimilate and integrate the mental inputs which threaten to disrupt what is called the katric balance."

"In other words, if you don't have meditation time to deal with us illogical humans and the odd emotion that slips through your controls, then you get cranky like humans when they don't get enough sleep," McCoy offered.

"Somewhat emotionally stated, but essentially correct," he admitted slowly. "The basis of meditation is to locate a center, a focus, which serves as an anchor upon which to build one's mental shields. The focus must be a strong influence, the strongest possible one can cogitate, in order to produce the most impenetrable foundation and shield possible."

"That makes sense."

"One usually chooses a particular location; most Vulcans, I am told, choose a location on Vulcan, usually the iconic Mount Seleya or perhaps a familial estate home." Spock paused, unconsciously clenching his hands together between his knees. "However…"

"Because you don't really see Vulcan as home, you didn't have that option," the doctor interjected with remarkable gentleness.

"I did not, Doctor. The resulting shield would have been flimsy at best."

"What did you use, then?" McCoy asked curiously.

"In certain cases, where a location is not a suitable anchor, one can use a person or an object. As a child, as many Vulcan children do, I utilized my childhood pet as that anchor. While at Starfleet Academy, I used the Science laboratory facilities there as my anchor."

McCoy looked sincerely fascinated. "And when you entered the 'Fleet?"

"I used Science Lab Three here on the Enterprise, as that is where I spent the majority of my time as Captain Pike's Chief Science Officer," Spock replied readily. "And for eleven years, twelve actually, that remained my anchor, a suitable enough anchor for a mind entirely devoted to science."

"Quite logical, Mr. Spock."

"Thank you, Doctor."

"But you said twelve years - what happened then? Wouldn't that be about a year into our five-year mission?"

"It was, Doctor. After the…incident with T'Pring, I discovered that my mental shields had shattered under the strain of…a premature Time." He cleared his throat, trying to maintain a sense of nonchalance about discussing something so personal with such a volatile human. There were instinctive lines that even he could not cross, no matter how deserving McCoy was of hearing the truth.

"You don't have to explain any further, Spock," McCoy said, surprising him with a gentle pat to his arm. "I get it. After the little incident with your intended - which, by the way, I'm awfully glad you didn't get saddled with, because I don't like her - then you basically were having to start from scratch, is that it?"

He exhaled in an audibly relieved breath, grateful for the human's (atypical) tact and understanding. "That is correct, Doctor. I was forced, after that…emotional upheaval, to rebuild my shields, and I soon discovered that my mind had unconsciously chosen a far stronger focus than that of my work in the scientific world."

Comprehension dawned suddenly on the doctor's face, and McCoy smiled knowingly at him. "You found out that Jim made a much stronger focus for you, didn't you."

Momentarily mystified, he stared at the human in astonishment.

"You're anything but subtle, Spock," McCoy drawled, snorting at his surprise. "I get it now. Jim's your focus for your mental shielding yadda-yadda, and then POOF, he goes and gets himself turned into a baby by an alien race for four months. It's a wonder you didn't go off the rails and kill all of us in the meantime."

"Really, Doctor," Spock deadpanned, though secretly he was quite relieved to be done with that portion of the explanations.

"Heh. So what'd you do for the last four months, then? I mean we all could tell you loosened up a little, but you couldn't have just been drifting all that time."

"Unfortunately, Doctor, I was," he admitted, sighing, "though I was able to manage satisfactorily with a secondary focus."

"Being?"

"You, Doctor McCoy," he said directly, and was secretly amused at the wide-eyed look of horror on the man's face.

"Me!?"

"Unfortunately for my mental state, Doctor…yes. Volatile as you are, you have always nonetheless functioned as a secondary anchor for me. Were you truly unaware of that?" he asked with interest, seeing the stunned look on the human's face.

"Uh…yes, pretty much I was unaware of that, Spock." McCoy shook his head in disbelief. "You got a funny way of showing it!"

"But you see now, Doctor, why the last two days have been disastrous for both our mental controls," Spock ventured, hoping the explanations would be sufficient for this particular inquisitive human. McCoy was like a Terran bull-dog with a bone if the subject sufficiently captured his attention, and he could only hope his less-than-eloquent explanations had been enough to satiate the doctor's curiosity. (5)

"Indeed," the doctor muttered, and then blinked in surprise, glaring at him. "Get your vocabulary outta my head, will you."

Spock leaned back in the chair, relaxing for the first time in days. "Believe me, Doctor, I would gladly trade you in exchange for ridding my own mind of the so-called 'Southern expressions' you seem to delight in employing despite all common sense to the contrary."

He received a wide grin full of mischief, entirely free from the irrational anger which had cast a pall over their recovery the last forty-eight hours. The sight pleased him, as it meant that the human was well on the way to healing. Ignorance breeds fear, and knowledge breeds power; this was a perfect textbook case for that centuries-old principle. Now that there was a clear understanding on both sides, Spock could not foresee a cause of conflict between them other than the residual transference from the mind-fusion.

Now, there only remained to address the real tragedy; namely, how had someone performed the ultimate act of assault upon this uniquely trusting human's unprotected mind, without anyone noticing?

Chapter Text

For several minutes after their instructive conversation, Spock sat in silence, watching as the human before him slowly digested what he had been told. Interest, fascination, thoughtfulness, and finally a bit of unease all paraded clearly over the physician's lined face, ending in a look of utter dread as McCoy obviously realized the final topic they had not yet discussed. What was it the Terrans called it, the mammoth in the room?

Spock was in completely uncharted space, here. He had never been forced to interact with anyone, Vulcan or otherwise, who had been a victim of this type of assault. The closest experiences he had had with this sort of trauma were the two occasions in which he had been of aid to the captain; the first, in healing the damage to the human's mind after Jim had been subjected to torture at the hand of Dr. VanGelder's machine (1) - and the second, after a nearly disastrous landing party on a world of vibrantly telepathic beings who had been unaware of their visitors' taboos regarding personal mental privacy. He remembered the landing party with a shudder, for he had expended nearly all his mental and physical strength in holding a shield around his terrified captain's mind as it had been relentlessly bombarded before they were able to call for emergency beam-out, and it was an experience neither of them ever discussed after that night due to its intense horror for both. (2)

Spock himself had, of course, been subjected to a very close equivalent, however mechanical, by the Klingons when the Organian Peace Treaty was being brokered (3), but thankfully the damage had been controllable, and his trauma less than even a full Vulcan's would have been at such an invasion. And, however brutal, Starfleet officers were trained to resist torture, including mental torture; and machine was by no means the psychological equivalent of a knowing, sentient attacker.

But this…this was a matter which even after forty-eight hours he was unable to reconcile in his mind. Two entire days, spent in doing little but recalling in crystal-clear eidetic detail every mission upon which they had embarked during the past four years, mentally reviewing every medical report, every captain's log, every mission briefing, every alien contact - anything and everything his perfect memory could readily supply, to indicate when this assault had happened.

And he had come up with exactly nothing.

McCoy was obviously reluctant to speak, reclining upon the half-raised bed's pillows and staring morosely down at his hands as they picked at a wrinkle in the blanket. Finally, the human sighed, and looked up with resignation darkening his eyes.

"I guess you're not gonna let me get by with just filing a medical report?"

"Negative, Doctor. However…if it is your preference, regulations state that I could call the captain, and you could report to him instead of myself," Spock said quietly, though he would indeed be slightly dismayed, if McCoy decided to do so.

"Oh good grief no, Spock," the doctor exclaimed hastily, accompanied by a vehement shake of the head. "It's got nothing to do with him. And he'd have kittens if he found out, anyhow," he added hurriedly, suddenly unable to meet Spock's severe gaze.

But Vulcan intuition had already caught the slip, and a cold chill began to creep down Spock's spine as he leaned forward unconsciously in his haste to know. "Doctor…by my allowed presence, then, I take it that it does, in fact, have 'something to do' with me?" he asked, illogically hoping for a negative answer.

He had never understood the Terran phrase about 'the heart sinking' until McCoy swallowed hard, but finally nodded, not looking at him.

"I…I do not understand, Doctor," he said, not even realizing the stumble in his horrified attempt to make sense of the pieces. "Did it occur when we were last on Vulcan?" It was the only possibility which seemed at all likely, but surely none of his few kin present at the kal-if-fee would have performed such an unspeakable act, risking such before so many witnesses!

"No, no, Spock. Nobody you know, I promise," McCoy said quickly, and seemed sincere enough.

This was not logical, and he had no frame of reference from which to draw conclusions. "Doctor," he began, in a final act of desperation which dictated tact was not an element he had time to employ. "I require an explanation. When and where were you assaulted in this fashion?"

"Spock, I don't really -"

"Doctor McCoy, I have spent the past forty-nine-point-seven hours in a constant state of memory recall, bringing up every day of the past four years of this mission in an effort to ascertain when and where this…atrocity, could have been committed," he snapped. He knew he must be visibly showing his anger, stirred from the righteous indignation of the Ancient Ways, because McCoy's eyes grew quite wide suddenly. "That such a thing should happen and not one being on this entire ship noticed, is beyond inexcusable, and when I discover who should have prevented it, I assure you the consequences for that individual will be dire."

Whatever he had expected, whatever humanly emotional and trauma-filled reaction he had braced himself for, he in his wildest imagination had not expected the doctor to blink for a second at him in surprise, and then burst into delighted laughter.

"Careful, Mr. Spock," McCoy said with a grin, leaning forward to pat his arm. "That darned emotional backwash is showin' again."

"Doctor, your levity is inappropriate!"

"Annnnd I see why half your kids in Sciences seem to think you're adorable when you're ticked off," the human muttered, still with that most infuriating grin. Spock's brows clenched fearsomely, and he opened his mouth to demand the physician give him a straight answer. "All right, Commander," McCoy interrupted his intended tirade, holding up a remonstrative hand. "Put away the mental lirpa for a second, will you. There's nothing you can do to the person responsible, and it's no one's fault but mine that no one knew anything about it. All right?"

"Negative," he said through clenched teeth. "It is a classic textbook symptom for victims to take responsibility for their attacker's actions -"

"Oh, come on, Spock!" the doctor exclaimed, shaking his head. "I'm taking responsibility for not reporting it, not for being…a victim." The word sounded awkward on the human's lips, painful and stilting. "I…in my defense, Spock," he added, levity vanishing as he stared down at his clenched hands, "I didn't realize really, until you told me, how serious it was. I guess I've broken regulations by concealing an assault. Any medical officer would probably have pronounced me compromised for a while afterwards on principle, and I could have endangered our mission this week if you hadn't been able to talk me down."

"Doctor, to blame yourself for ignorance of an alien attack's mental severity is akin to blaming a child for not knowing how to tie his bootlaces before being shown how to do so," Spock replied, in a much more controlled tone. "I may assume from your reaction, then, that it happened during a mission, and you were able to hide the fact?"

"Not so much able to, as just not really eager to broadcast it," McCoy muttered.

Spock was silent, his heart clenched deep within and his mind still reeling. "I still should have seen the indications," he finally said quietly, the words brittle with regret and self-recrimination. "A human might be excused the oversight - but not I. There is no excuse for my lack of perception, Doctor, and for that I can never sufficiently apologize."

McCoy looked sideways at him, a faint smile softening his face. "There's a darn good excuse, Spock, and it's that I avoided you for a good month afterwards. Jim thought I was just creeped out by what had happened; he didn't know just how much I was. Or why."

Well, that narrowed the timeline down quite a bit, as his and the Chief Medical Officer's interactions were nearly as constant as his and the captain's. Their times of conflict had been quite violent and long-lasting at times, as both of them were capable of holding grudges when pushed far enough, but those times had certainly been very few, and nearly always easily explained.

And then, with startling, icy clarity, he suddenly realized the only possible time it could have been.

And the only possible identity for McCoy's attacker…

Ponfo mirann…it had been himself. (4)

He vaguely realized that the human was nearly shouting his name over the violent ringing in his ears. The plasticene chair wobbled precariously as he leaned forward, face ashen, and brought his steepled fingers to his face in a desperate effort to control his shattered reactions.

"Spock. Spock. Listen to me, Commander."

He had done this; in another world, yes, in another universe, but it had been he who had committed the unthinkable, the unforgivable. It was of little wonder, the human's utterly terrified reaction while in the brig, to his suggestion of a kash-nov. Who would not be afraid, of such a thing committed by one who should have been trustworthy.

"CHRISTINE! Get in here, I need you!"

How could a human, a mere defenseless human, so effectively hide the hurt and the damage that no one ever knew? So expertly manipulate psychological evaluations after the return journey? So successfully bury the trauma and continue to function normally, never betraying the event to anyone who had been present or not been present?

So readily trust again? So easily forgive?

The hiss of a hypospray and the ensuing flood of clarity that parted the pall clouding his mind brought him back to full awareness. Despite knowing that the relapse was due to his complete mental exhaustion and utter lack of shielding against it, the knowledge compounded his shame and guilt, and he closed his eyes against his joined hands in an effort to regain focus.

"Any better?" the doctor's gentle voice asked in his ear, and he nodded mechanically, not trusting his voice for the moment. "Thank you, Nurse. We're fine - just gonna need to be alone for a few more minutes. No, I promise I won't let him strain himself. Yes, I'm aware! We'll both sleep when we're done here, I swear, I just need to deal with this first."

The nurse's murmured protests accompanied the click of her heels as she reluctantly exited the ward and locked it again, transitioning to a deathly silence within.

He inhaled slowly, and lowered his hands with a bleak shake of the head. "Doctor…I…"

"Spock," the human interrupted him firmly, leaning half-off the bed to look him in the face. A thin finger pointed straight between his eyes. "D'you remember what I said back in that cell after I accidentally kicked you out of my head the first time?"

He shook his head, more out of reflex than anything else, because he could barely focus on the present, much less the recent past.

"I said I wasn't afraid of you," McCoy said bluntly. "And I meant it, Spock. I am able to tell the difference between you, thank you very much."

"That…does not negate my desire to apologize for an unspeakable wrong, done by a being you felt you could trust," he whispered.

"It should negate your guilt over something you didn't do, though," was the quiet answer, delivered in a tone much more calm than Spock's was going to be for some time, now. He vaguely wondered if perhaps his Vulcan control had been part of the transference, for the human was reacting far too well to this ghastly situation, and far better than he himself was. "And, now that you've talked to me about the whole thing…" McCoy trailed off with a half-shrug. "I think he was just tryin' to do that whole cash-cow thing, not the actual fusion. It wasn't pleasant…actually it was painful, but I don't think his intention was to just attack me."

The utterly appalling bastardization of High Vulcan made Spock choke down an odd desire to laugh, another human impulse he was struggling to curb under the onslaught of mental exhaustion. "Kashkau-esta, Doctor," he managed, with a nearly straight face.

"Whatever. Human tongues aren't made for that mishmash you call a linguistics bank. But seriously, Spock." McCoy sighed, and waited until he reluctantly made eye contact. "I really think that's what he was trying to do; he just wanted information, and that was the fastest way to get it. You said yourself, it's used in medical emergencies, and for all we know it might not even be a crime in that universe."

"That does not excuse it, by any means, Doctor," he replied. "You were clearly not consenting to it, regardless of intent or result. The crime is the same."

"Spock…" The human sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand. "That may be true, but I also didn't make much of a struggle to stop him. I was…too scared, all right?" he admitted, a shamed blush coloring his face. "But I didn't try to stop him, so maybe he took that as consent. Who knows, in that universe, maybe he was used to communicating that way with his version of me? And whatever happened, I don't truly think he meant to seriously harm me." (5)

Spock was highly hesitant of that far too tolerant mindset, as it seemed too close to what was called survivor's syndrome to be healthy. His face must have betrayed those thoughts, for McCoy snorted, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "Don't go psycho-analyzing me, Spock, for pity's sake," he drawled, throwing one arm up to crook it easily behind his neck. "I'll take the dang psych eval now and make a full retroactive report, you can go get Chapel and have her do it right here if you want."

He nodded solemnly. "I still regret, Doctor, that I subjected you to something of the same invasion, without knowing the specifics were so…personal. Ni'droi'ik nar-tor, McCoy." (6)

"Regret, Mr. Spock? Illogical." Blue eyes smiled at him, thawing the chill of shame that had seemed to wrap its way around his heart during the last hour. "But if you want to make it up to me, you can teach me some of that mental shielding and meditation stuff you're so good at."

"There exists very little possibility that your chaotic mind would be capable of performing adequately in that area," Spock said dubiously.

"That's as may be, Commander," the human retorted with a flash of the old fire. "But if you ever have to mess around in my head again, I'd like to not end up with a migraine afterwards if at all possible. You teach me how to shield a little, and maybe I'll let you back in sometime if you promise to not screw things up too bad in there?"

Spock eyed the outstretched hand for a moment, before throwing Vulcan caution to the solar winds and accepting it in the gesture of human friendship and forgiveness they both knew it was.

And if an eerie sense of foreboding swept through them both at the connection and its understood promise…well. Stranger things had happened in the vestigial aftermath of a mind-fusion.


Within the next hour, McCoy succumbed to the dose of painkillers Chapel had administered at the same time as Spock's hypospray, and was soon apparently at peace and sleeping serenely, free of any lasting trauma from an ordeal that still filled Spock with horror. However, he remained awake for several hours, unable to move away, unable to shake the feeling that he must be responsible for keeping watch over this remarkable man, who had during this last mission displayed more mental strength than Spock had been aware a human could even possess. He sat in the hard chair beside the bed, watching the sleeping physician, and wondered at the dichotomy of helplessness and fierce strength which so characterized this unusual being.

Something had changed between them, today. And whether Jim realized it or not, something had changed between them all. Time only would tell what impact the alteration would have.

And it was thus that their newly-restored captain found them much later that evening, when he once more ventured bravely into the lion's den only to find McCoy dead to the world and Spock sound asleep in a cold chair beside the doctor's bed, head drooping on his slowly rising and falling chest.

Creeping up on the sleeping pair, Kirk suddenly grinned with all the wicked mischief of a pent-up child. After all the potential blackmail he knew the two of them had accumulated on him during his second childhood, it was good to know he had at least one thing to strike back with now.

Apparently, their ferocious CMO drooled when he was asleep on heavy painkillers.

And their equally ferocious Vulcan First Officer didn't snore. He purred.

Like a cat.

Like a tribble.

He'd never heard anything so adorably weird in all his life.

And that included Bones singing pat-a-cake, and Spock trying (and failing miserably) to read a nonsensical story like James and the Giant Peach aloud…ha! His grin widened at the remembrance, for he'd just realized that whatever blackmail the two of them had on him, he had just as much, if not more so. That was good, because he'd the feeling he had a lot of damage control to do aboard this ship in the next few weeks.

Because who wouldn't pay good money to see their grumpy CMO swinging a giggling baby around and making airplane noises, or their stoic First Officer giving a shrieking toddler a ride on his shoulders as he obediently trotted down the corridors in accordance to the child's demand to 'go faster'?

Chapter Text

After another twenty-four hours, Captain James T. Kirk had completed one of his trademark shipwalks, re-acquainting himself with his welcoming crew. Pausing to chat here, lending a hand with repairs there, and generally making himself at home in his adult body with the brave men and women who had taken such good care of him both as a child and as a young adult, going so far as to conceal his presence from their captors in this latest skirmish with the Klingons and Orions.

Montgomery Scott was delighted to see him when he finally made it down to Engineering, and he was nearly bowled over by the engineer as the man hopped down off a catwalk just in time to pounce on him in a hearty one-armed hug.

"Aye, it's good t'see you back in your own skin, sir!" Scott exclaimed, looking his amused captain up and down. "And the ship all in one piece, too, sir!"

"Thanks in a good part to your expertise, if the reports I'm hearing are accurate, Mr. Scott," he replied, smiling and waving at the squad of Engineers who were peeking over the side of catwalks and doing their best to pretend they weren't. "Remotely accessing our transporter through alien tech, and triangulating landing pad coordinates from memory?"

"Aye, wouldn't recommend it for your average crewman, sir, not through heavy shielding like that - but it worked," the man replied with a cheerful grin. "And no thanks to the Klingons, but nary a death casualty aboard, which is nothing short of a smallish miracle, sir."

"You've done a fantastic job, Mr. Scott. I can already feel her returning to normal," Kirk declared, patting a sleek durasteel wall gently to feel the purr of engines below. "Spare no expense to get her up and running; Starfleet owes me four months' back-pay for inconvenience in the line of duty."

"Aye, sir." The engineer clapped him on the back, obviously pleased to have his old captain back. "You've been missed, sir, that you have. Though Mr. Spock's done a fine job in your absence, Cap'n."

"I'm quite certain of that, Scotty."

"Captain Kirk!"

"Mr. Giotto," Kirk responded, shaking his Security Chief's hand warmly. "I believe I owe your men an apology for running them ragged trying to keep track of a wayward toddler?"

"Our pleasure, sir," the elderly man answered with a grin. "It's good to see you yourself again, Captain."

"Did ye need me for anythin' else, sir? I must get back to m'engines," Scott said, glancing worriedly at the damaged consoles nearby.

"Just one quick question, Scotty…" The captain paused, fidgeting slightly with the hem of his tunic. "Um. Well. You know that thing you invented for McCoy to use with me when I was a baby…the starfield-projector?"

The engineer nodded knowingly, bouncing a little on his heels with a small smile. "I take it ye'd like to convert the ceiling of your cabin, sir?"

Kirk managed to blush only slightly. "If it's even possible, Scotty. And certainly not until the ship's in tiptop condition, of course."

"Of course, sir."

"Right."

Scott grinned. "I'll see to it m'self, sir, as soon as the Lady's back to normal."

"I knew I could count on you, Mr. Scott. And, ah. Don't mention it to Bones, will you? I've a feeling I'm going to hear enough about my second childhood to last me the rest of my life."


"We surmised you would have questions, Commander Spock." The gentle voice of the Insonti high priest was by now familiar to both Spock and McCoy, though it was only the former who had come before the Insonti council now as McCoy was trying to catch up on paperwork. "Is Captain Kirk unharmed?"

"He is," Spock answered, "and that is the reason for my contacting you at this time. There was…an accident, aboard. One which, by all laws of science, should have cost the captain his life and destroyed a portion of the ship. However, upon our entering the room, not only the captain was unharmed, but the room as well - and he, returned to his rightful age."

The high priest nodded solemnly, while the council behind him looked thoughtful.

"There is a failsafe written into the genetic coding of the Regenratron, Commander Spock," the priest explained. "Should one of the temporary children, we call them - should they come into mortal peril, by some circumstance unforeseen, the Regenratron coding immediately breaks down, forcing a rapid re-aging upon the child's body; the resulting expenditure of pure genetic energy at a cellular level then acts a shield against outside forces, both repelling the danger and returning the child to his proper age for his own safety."

Spock nodded. "I had come to that conclusion as well. To not have a recourse in the event of a test subject's susceptibility to childhood disease, for example, would not be prudent."

"Precisely, Commander. What must have happened with your captain, is as we describe. The resulting rapid aging produced a powerful life-energy, which acted as a shield to absorb the impact of the explosion described in the report you forwarded to us. We apologize for any inconvenience, emotionally or physically, which this process may have cost you and your captain." The priest looked more than a little concerned. "The Regenratron's process is meant as a gift, not a curse."

"As indeed I believe it was," Spock replied graciously. "The captain will no doubt wish to thank you personally, but you have my assurance that he most certainly…enjoyed, this second chance at childhood."

The priest's eyes fairly lit up with pleasure. "Our culture is honored by his acceptance, Commander."

"I have one further question, Honorable Council."

"Ask what you will, Commander; we have nothing to hide from either your scientific or personal curiosity," the priest replied, eyes warm with gentle amusement.

"During one of our communiqués, you mentioned that the entire purpose of the Regenratron is to teach the subject a series of lessons, which then each accelerate the aging process."

"That is correct."

"You also stated, during one of our conferences, that the Captain himself was not the only being who was required to learn these lessons in order for the re-transformation to take place," Spock said slowly.

"That is also correct. We created the Regenratron for a dual purpose, Commander. To teach the primary subject, yes - but also, possibly more so, depending upon your point of view, also to teach those surrounding him."

Spock nodded, silently thoughtful for a moment. "May I ask, then, why you chose the captain for this ritual, rather than another member of our negotiating party?"

The high priest smiled. "Spock of Vulcan. You and the two humans which make up your unique tri-une aboard the starship Enterprise have a strangely intertwined Destiny. Such we of the Insonti Spiritual Council are able to see, such we were able to channel into the technology which makes up the Regenratron."

Spock's eyebrow twitched in suppressed skepticism as the priest continued, supplemented by a nodding high council.

"In order to someday realize that united Destiny which binds the three of you together, both you and the healer McCoy were required to learn as many lessons as the captain - different lessons, but lessons nonetheless. You will understand, someday, just why events transpired as they did, to draw the trinity closer; for yours is a Destiny so intertwined with these two very different humans as to be one of the few forces which stand out to us among the vast differentials of time."

Spock's brow creased slightly. "Vulcans do not believe in the concepts of Destiny, Honorable Council."

The high priest merely smiled, bowing his head in acquiescence to the statement. "But you will, Spock of Vulcan. In time, you will."

"As you wish, Honored Council members," he replied respectfully. "Am I to assume, then, that we too have completed the lessons we were required to learn from this experience?"

"The results should speak for themselves, Commander Spock," the priest replied quietly. "For he who learns to care for the innocent, learns the greatest of all lessons; so he who receives the trusting love of a little child, has received the greatest of all gifts. See that you and your human healer do not abuse that gift."

"We could never do so," he replied softly.

"Then you have answered your own question, Spock of Vulcan. Heed that lesson - and remember."


"Can I inform all decks that Sickbay is no longer a hazard zone, then?" Hikaru Sulu asked mischievously, as two familiar figures seated themselves across from him and a greatly-amused Captain Kirk at the table in Officers' Mess.

"Or did Chapel just kick you out for some peace and quiet?" Kirk asked, glancing pointedly between them.

"Yeah, about that, Jim…" McCoy took a long drink from his tea glass, eyeing his captain over the rim.

"I believe the Doctor is attempting to apologize for his rampant emotionality, Captain." 

"Stop interruptin' me! It's bad enough you still echoing inside my head, I don't need you in surround-sound!"

"If you retained the ability to complete a coherent thought, Doctor, I would not be forced into the unwilling role of interpreter for your particular, peculiar brand of Terran Standard."

"There's nothin' wrong with my Standard," the doctor declared, scowling. "You're the one with the last name that nobody can pronounce."

Spock's eyebrows inclined ever-so-slightly. "I can, Doctor."

Sulu smirked, watching with the relief that comes of a restored universe as his newly-returned captain grinned into his bowl while the bickering continued across the table. Finally, there was a momentary lull, during which he glanced up to see both his XOs appraising their captain in (slightly creepy) silence.

Still busily engaged in his dinner, Kirk finally registered the scrutiny and raised his eyes with comical slowness, whereupon he offered a cautious head-tilt of inquiry.

"You feelin' any residual effects of the re-transformation, Jim?" McCoy asked with an odd look.

"Um…"

"We were able to confer together with the Insonti people shortly before leaving Sickbay, sir," Spock explained, "and they did mention you could experience certain…effects, lingering from your recent second childhood."

The captain shrugged easily, smiling. "Nope, I feel fine, Spock."

"You're sure."

"…Yes?"

"You're really sure."

"Doctor, if you're suggesting I am incapable of command because of lingering childish behaviors, which might I add is ironic, given the fiasco which occurred last night in Sickbay, I would suggest you specify," the captain said shortly, eyebrows halfway to his hairline.

"Besides the fact that you're eating mac-and-cheese and chocolate milk for dinner, sir?" Sulu asked innocently.

Kirk turned the color of a passing Security crewman's uniform tunic.

"Yes, well. Perhaps there are some…small…lingering effects," he mumbled gracelessly into his bowl.

Their respectable Chief Medical Officer promptly cackled his head off, drawing the attention of every curious crewman within a three table radius.

"It's all right, sir," Sulu said reassuringly, careful to hide a grin in his water glass. "Chekov still eats Super Sugar Puffs for breakfast every morning."

"I won't start to worry, Jim, unless you start getting the urge to crawl into bed with the hobgoblin again," McCoy continued wickedly, waving an empty spork at his captain's horrified face.

Sulu privately thought Spock looked five seconds from locating the nearest solid object to bang his head against…or possibly bang McCoy's head against.

"I don't remember doing that!"

"Doctor, must you -"

"Yes, I must, Mr. Spock," the doctor declared, sitting back and grinning with the air of a man who is completely self-satisfied with his role. "And you two'll let me have my fun, unless you'd like a certain video of Captain Sunshine and his Wonder Vulcan taking a nap on the Observation Deck couch to find its way into the ship's public library banks, now hmm?"

A rather childish whimper escaped their fearless leader as his head dropped onto the table with a dull thonk. "Spock, can he really do that?"

Spock looked a bit like he'd swallowed a tribble and it stuck halfway down. "Unfortunately, sir, I believe he can."

"You bet your pointed ears I can. That's probably not good, 'scuse me for a second," McCoy said suddenly, all business as Nurse Chapel entered, obviously looking for him.

"I'd better be going, too, Captain," Sulu said hastily to cover his laughter. He tossed his used flatware back on the tray and stood. "I'm on beta shift for the next two days, to give Mr. Scott a break from the Bridge."

He wasn't two meters from the table, headed for the recycling chutes, before he could hear the conversation continuing behind him.

"Sir, that is by far one of the least embarrassing episodes he unfortunately has stored in what he is terming a 'blackmail bank'."

"But Spock, did I really…"

"Affirmative."

"And you let me?"

"…Affirmative."

"And Bones has video footage of it?!"

"Affirmative."

"In other words…we're screwed, for the rest of the five-year mission."

"Affirmative."