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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Star Trek (reboot) fic: Taking Responsibility 1/3

November 4th, 2016 (02:34 pm)
calm

feeling: calm

Title: Taking Responsibility


Disclaimer: I own nothing.


A/N: Set sometime after Beyond. Fills my heart trouble square for hc_bingo. Written for my good friend sendintheklowns.


Summary: Whether Jim made this mess or not, he had to fix it.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE





-o-


“It’s not my fault,” Jim said, as earnestly as he possibly could. He held his hands up, as if that somehow made him more innocent of the situation. “I swear, this is really not my fault.”


Spock arched an eyebrow, wholly unconvinced. “I’m struggling to see who else we could possibly blame.”


Jim gestured in futility, half spluttering. It wasn’t very captain-like, but hell. At this point, he didn’t exactly have a lot to lose. “This isn’t even as bad as it looks.”


“Really?” Spock asked, only he wasn’t really asking. It was a thing Spock could do because Spock was a son of a bitch. Damn it, he was.


Jim looked back to the smoking wreckage, trying not to look sheepish and failing. He rubbed the back of his neck, chewing a little on the inside of his bottom lip. “Okay, so maybe it’s a little bad,” he admitted. He looked at Spock again, unflinching. “But it’s really not my fault.”


Spock clasped his hands, tilting his head expectantly. The bastard. “So you’re saying that someone else managed to crash the latest starship prototype on its inaugural test drive?”


“Well,” Jim said. He didn’t quite falter. Quite. “I mean.”


He did falter this time, looking back at the twisted metal, plowed into the side of the abandoned moon.


Spock waited.


Jim sighed. “So maybe it was a little my fault.”


Spock drew a breath and nodded, stolid. “Indeed.”


-o-


This was the thing.


It really wasn’t Jim’s fault, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t his responsibility. The fact was, he had been in the captain’s chair, and even if he couldn’t have stopped the catastrophic system failure that downed the prototype, he still had to deal with the aftermath. He had been doing it as a favor to Starfleet, who had promised him the first pick of the new models when they were released in several years.


Unfortunately, the warp core had nearly imploded, causing a series of hull breaches that shattered the internal systems and took the whole damn thing to the ground faster than Jim could give the order to brace for impact. The fact that they were still in one piece was a testament to his crew’s capabilities. Spock had quickly identified the best location to crash; Uhura had sent an immediate distress call. Chekov had managed to reroute several systems to give Sulu enough flying power to miss smashing into the mountains. And God bless Scotty, who had kept the ship together with nothing more than Scottish charm and a whole lot of cursing.


When the Starfleet engineers had said there might be a few technical glitches, they really hadn’t been kidding. When he got off this moon, he was going to have to have a talk with the Starfleet brass and suggest that an older model would work just fine for his next commission.


If they got off this moon.


The ship, naturally, was a total loss. Looking at the smoking crater, Jim was actually amazed that he had been able to walk away at all. He had been operating with a skeleton crew -- essential personnel only -- which helped a lot -- and before he even thought twice about what went wrong with the ship, he wanted to make sure that they were okay.


He had set up a makeshift command and recovery center on a hill just beyond the crash site. It gave them a good view of both the wreckage and made them visible from the sky for when the rescue arrived. He had Spock had exited together -- rather, they had been flung from the shattered bridge side by side. Jim himself was bruised and harried but aside from a sprained ankle, he hardly seemed worse for wear. Spock had, inexplicably, escaped unscathed. Even his logic was impeccable intact, employed in full form to make Jim feel guilty for crashing another starship, as if this were a thing for him.


Uhura had a broken wrist, and Sulu had a concussion. Chekov had been pinned under some a bulkhead, but Bones seemed optimistic that there wasn’t any internal damage. Scotty had fared the worst of them all, being stuck back in engineering, and although Bones wouldn’t say it outloud yet, the burns would require some reconstructive treatment.


As for the good doctor, he had a bleeding head wound that he declared to be a nuisance but unimportant, and he had promised Jim that everyone should be fine as long as Jim didn’t crash the rescue ship when it finally arrived.


Jim had not been amused.


All the same, McCoy was right.


Hell, Spock was right.


Whether Jim made this mess or not, he had to fix it.


He would fix it. It wasn’t the fate of the galaxy or anything so dramatic, but there wasn’t anything that Jim would do for his crew.


Anything.


“Okay,” he said, rubbing his hands together with a wince. Their makeshift camp was small, which allowed Jim to keep the senior staff close. They were weary and bedraggled, but at full attention. Jim loved them; he really did. “Let’s start with an assessment of our situation. Uhura, anything on comms?”


“Long range communications went down with the ship,” Uhura said, pressing her hand to the bandage that McCoy had wrapped around her head. “I did get a message off before we went down, but I have no way of knowing who received it or where they are.”


“Several other Starfleet vessels were scheduled to be in the area,” Spock reported. “It is likely that they will pick up our transmission.”


“The atmospheric conditions of the moon will make it harder to pinpoint our location,” Chekov said, holding a hand gingerly across his chest. “Navigation in this sector is not ideal.”


He still hit that Russian v with the lisp that made him sound like he was 12.


It seemed silly for that to bother Jim now. In the long list of dangerous and death defying missions, this one hardly even ranked.


“Okay,” Jim said, finding what he could of his patience. Which was just another word for the acceptance of his own futility. He loved this job, he really did, but it could be tough on the ego sometimes. Sure, everyone thought Jim Kirk was an arrogant son of a bitch, but the longer this five-year mission thing went on, the more it felt like a necessary self-defense mechanism. “So what’s our status exactly?”


Because there was a time for theory and speculation, but considering that they’d made a crater, he probably needed to deal with the big picture stuff first.


“Standard operating procedure with any distress call is to check it out,” Uhura reported.


“Even considering the navigational difficulties in this part of space, a concentrated search party would take no more than one or two days to complete,” Spock added.


“And they’re looking for us, right?” McCoy asked. “We did just take one of their prototypes for a spin. You’d think they’d miss that much.”


Jim drew a breath, nodding along. “So, we’ve got, what?” he said, shrugging. “Two days, tops?”


He said this as nonchalantly as possible, but he gave his senior crew a wary look. They were all banged up on this one, and though none of them would say anything, the injuries did matter. He was particularly worried about Scotty, who he was sure was staying in a seated position from a hypospray and a good dose of righteous indignation. Scotty loved ships, but he hated when they crashed.


That probably wasn’t unreasonable.


It was time to deal with the elephant in the room.


“What happened anyway?” he asked, looking at each of them in turn but keeping all accusation out of his voice. This was a question; not an interrogation. “One minute, we were flying beautifully and the next--”


He nodded over his shoulder. The wreckage spoke for itself.


“I mean, I know the atmospheric conditions are unique in this sector,” Jim said, “but there have been no other reports of ships going down. Not like this.”


Scotty’s expression tightened, pain pinched around his lips. “No other ships have a plasma conduit system quite like this one.”


“I thought that was an asset,” Jim said.


“The plasma conduit system is expected to be more efficient and to offer better performance,” Spock agreed.


“In theory, yes,” Scotty said, voice slightly halting. He swallowed with a wince. “But it has to be paired with a fully functional environmental system.”


Jim waited for that one to sink in, but it didn’t make a difference. He shook his head. “I don’t follow.”


Scotty sighed. The burns on his face made him look even more weary than normal. “The plasma needs a highly purified environment in order to stay at peak capacity,” he explained. “That’s also why this ship is supposed to have the most advanced environmental system in the fleet.”


“But the environmental system is not fully in place yet,” Spock said. “It was removed for repair.”


“And fitted with an older version,” Scotty said. “I should have caught the mistake, I should have.”


“Wait,” Jim said. “What mistake?”


“The plasma conduits were not intended to operate without the environmental relays,” Spock explained.


“But a few hiccups in the system made them take it out,” Scotty said. “So when the conditions outside weren’t purged from the system, the imbalance started to destroy the plasma conduits. Before I even had a chance to flush them, the damn imbalance traveled to the warp core. I tried to shut it down, sir, I did, but the cascading failure was too fast and the damn abort button wasn’t installed.”


“So,” Jim said. “This was a design flaw?”


“More like a damn powder keg,” McCoy muttered.


“But it wasn’t supposed to happen,” Chekov said. “If the environmental system had been in place--”


“Or if they’d simply rerouted the test flight to a safe system,” Sulu said.


“A simple and deadly lapse of communication,” Spock concluded. “The practical engineering team and the overall design crew failed to collaborate effectively.”


Uhura gave a soft grunt of disapproval. “And we all go down.”


Jim sighed. He was pissed, yes. He was disappointed, sure. Frustrated, annoyed, angry, etc. But none of those things helped him now.


None of those things helped them.


“I’m sure we’ll all have plenty to say about this prototype when we get back,” Jim said. “But first we need to focus on getting ourselves off of this rock.”


Because the smoking crater was a problem. And there was no doubt that he and Starfleet would have words about this little test drive. But right now, Jim had bigger concerns. Like Uhura and her broken wrist, Sulu and his concussion, Chekov and his broken ribs, and Scotty with his burns. Even Bones and Spock were under his command, and that wasn’t a question of blame.


It was a question of responsibility.


“Two days, right?” he continued. “Seems like a hell of a long time.”


“Well,” Uhura said, tweaking her eyebrows. “There are ways to boost the signal.”


And, there they were.


Give them a challenge, and they rose to it, every time. They had never let him down.


He just hoped they would always be able to say the same of him.


“But we’ve had no luck with ground communication,” Sulu said. “Personal communicators aren’t designed for long range contact.”


“The atmospheric conditions,” Chekov said. “It’s dampening the signal.”


Spock inclined his head. “The ship’s array, on the other hand, is vastly superior.”


“Aye,” Scotty said, shaking his head. “But the entire electrical system was fried.”


“Holistically, yes,” Uhura said. “But the whole thing went down because the relays were interrupted, right?”


“Yes,” Scotty said, more thoughtful now. “There would be parts that are still functional, but they would need to have power restored and without the core, we have no natural energy source.”


“But we have reserves throughout the ship, right?” Sulu said.


Chekov was already nodding eagerly. “Emergency systems are spread throughout the ship.”


“Normally, yes,” Scotty said. “But a great deal of that isn’t in place yet. This is just a prototype.”


The revelation quieted the others, but Scotty sighed. His face twitched, and he flexed his fingers on his burned hand.


“On the other hand,” Scotty continued, unprompted. “There would still be enough latent energy in the systems to give us a temporary boost. We’d need to strip the circuits and build a makeshift transceiver, but….”


Jim felt himself brightening. “But it’s possible?”


“It’d be a pretty specific salvage operation,” Uhura said.


“I think I can get a good list of the parts,” Scotty said.


“And I know enough about the systems to help find them,” Chekov volunteered.


“And if Mr. Spock is amenable, we can start working on the construction,” Uhura said, giving Spock a cool glance.


“If it’s all the same,” McCoy interjected himself. “I’d like to get this camp area a little better organized. Two days isn’t that long, but it’s long enough without any good backup.”


“I’d be happy to help with that,” Sulu volunteered.


Jim clapped his hands together. “That’s the plan, then,” he said. “Good work everyone.”


They gave him a half hearted look.


“I mean, besides crashing the ship,” Jim amended. “You are all dismissed.”


They scattered without comment, breaking off into pairs seamlessly. It wasn’t even just that they were simply this good, his crew. They were better.


He found himself smiling.


He found Spock staring at him.


“Well,” Jim said with a shrug. “I told you it wasn’t my fault.”


Spock was not amused.


Not that Spock was ever amused.


“I am curious,” Spock replied. “Does such self-justification actually make you feel better about your situation?”


“No,” Jim admitted. Then, he winked. Just to be a pain in Spock’s Vulcan ass. “But it doesn’t make me feel worse.”


-o-


To think, just three months ago, Jim had found this job wearisome.


Parts of it were, of course. Any job had to be like that. Some parts were routine, mundane and frustrating. Elements had too much red tape, and he found himself often buried in paperwork he didn’t get a crap about.


Having his ship crashed and his crew taken hostage while a military mad men tried to overthrow the Federation had sort of put things in perspective. Even so, he’d been anxious to get a new ship. That was why he’d so eagerly accepted the job to test fly a new ship. Anything to get them back in space again.


Someday Jim would learn his lesson, about getting what he asked for.


It was quite telling that this event barely registered as bad for him. It only went to prove the nature of this line of work when a catastrophic crash landing was really just another day in the life.


Though, there’d be loads of paperwork after this.


And meetings.


God only knew how many meetings this would warrant.


Yes, there was a reason he’d kept his commission.


Maybe someday it wouldn’t be so damn complicated.


That didn’t mean that it wasn’t getting done, however. Not with his crew. They were already hard at work, injuries notwithstanding. Small in number, but plentiful in ability; Jim had had to sacrifice a large percentage of his crew to other assignments in the interim, but he’d fought like hell to keep his senior staff intact.


And this was why. McCoy was scowling out orders while Sulu took inventory of the supplies. Scotty and Chekov had limped off together, with strict orders from the doctor for both of them to call in for backup in case of any heavy lifting. Uhura was already heatedly discussing the best array set up with Spock, who seemed to be quizzically enjoying the verbal challenge.


Watching them work, it occurred to Jim that he hadn’t given himself anything to do.


This made him feel uncomfortable and, truthfully, a little bored. So he gave Spock the order to watch things outside and he made his way back to what was left of the ship.


It had been an impressive looking ship; Jim had been impressed. The design had been sleeker than the Enterprise, and it been built for speed and maneuverability while also sporting extended systems for better performance over long distances. It had been intended as the next generation of vessel, a hybrid between peaceful exploration and proprietary defense.


Jim would have taken anything that stayed in the air, but he was a man who appreciated a good joyride.


Funny, all these years later, he was still crashing things.


The wreck wasn’t quite a smoking crater. In fact, upon closer inspection, the ship was remarkably intact in parts. The hull had been cracked in several parts, and the engineering decks had fared particularly poorly, but the bridge had been protected from impacted in several important ways.


One, Jim was awesome. Two, Scotty was awesome. Three, Sulu was awesome.


In general, the crew was awesome.


They’d also gotten a bit lucky, to tell the truth. The lower decks had been clipped, bending underneath the rest of the structure and enduring the brunt of the impact with the ground. Even now, the bridge was balanced on top, resting against the side of one of the hills throughout the valley. This had not only protected the bridge, but it had made it accessible for exit and re-entry.


Come to think of it, it was probably why Jim was still alive after being ejected.


Starfleet would be pleased that they would still have quite a bit of ship left to salvage.


Jim was pleased he had salvaged his crew.


Stepping back inside, the structure creaked, and Jim hesitated.


It had been closer than he was caring to admit to himself.


“Careful, Captain,” Chekov said. His unruly curls popped up from behind one of the consoles. “Things are a bit, uh, precarious.”


He ducked back down, and Jim could hear him tinkering with something metal while he made his way over the debris. He had to bend over a little, skirting around a half-fallen bulkhead, until he found his navigator spread out on the ground with an open panel in front of him.


Wires were everywhere, spread across his lap and falling onto the floor. It looked like a mess.


And, with sparks still flickering around them, it seemed dangerous, too.


Jim gave a cautious glance around. “Are you sure you should be doing that?”


“What? This?” Chekov asked, hastily stripping a wire. “Yes, it is completely safe--”


There was a fresh spark, and Chekov dropped the wires with a contained yelp.


Jim raised his eyebrows.


Chekov grinned up at him, sheepish. “Mostly safe,” he amended. “Mr. Scott is trying to make sure we have the right systems shut down.”


Jim cocked his head, expectant. “So, shouldn’t that mean waiting until he’s done?”


“The electrical voltage is negligible,” he said with an indifferent shrug. “Besides, we have a lot of work to do.”


“Uh huh,” Jim said, moderately unconvinced. They did have work to do, but given how many times they had nearly died over the course of their mission together, this one seemed like a relatively low risk proposition. As in, it probably wasn’t worth actual electrocution. “Still, you know, waiting doesn’t seem so bad.”


Chekov looked up at him again, with a wide eyed earnestness that never ceased to amaze him. He’d met Chekov when the kid was 17. Over the last few years, Chekov had grown up -- no doubt about it -- but he’d never lost the eager enthusiasm that had made him so much fun to have on the crew. It was why he’d always taken an ensign over a more experienced alternative. Chekov didn’t have the rank or the age; he had the passion.


Jim knew which one mattered more.


He also knew from personal experience which one was more likely to get you killed.


“That’s an order, Ensign,” Jim said with a long, hard look. “Wait until you get the all clear from Mr. Scott.”


On the ground, Chekov looked positively crestfallen.


Jim sighed. “And then you can strip circuits and weld conduits to your heart’s content.”


Chekov perked up. “Really?”


“Really,” he said. “Now, stop making sparks until I come back with Mr. Scott. Is that understood?”


Chekov nodded readily. “Yes, sir.”


-o-


The problem was that he understood Chekov’s impatience. Not only did he share the ensign’s desire to get a jump on things, but also knew that Scotty could be quite thorough.


Not slow, not in any traditional sense. Scotty was a brilliant engineer, and under pressure, there was no one who could keep a machine working better. But he was methodical and particular. He had all of Starfleet’s engineering standards memorized.


And he thought none of them were good enough.


This could prove difficult from time to time. He could still remember how hard it had been to accept Scotty’s resignation prior to the incident with Khan.


(More to the point, there was a reason he’d never filed that paperwork, and it had nothing to do with his disdain of red tape.)


All that said, he fully expected to find his engineer half buried in a bulkhead, apoplectic with his work.


To say that what he found instead was disconcerting, then, was not to be taken lightly.


“Scotty!” he called, breaking into a jog across the flickering lights of the corridor. He had manually climbed down a deck below the bridge, making it to the main access panels, which was where he’d been promised to find his engineer.


Found him, Jim had.


He’d found him slumped against the bulkhead, head falling forward. There was a tool kit open next to him and a half open panel in front of him.


“Mr. Scott!” he called again, going to his knees and hastily lifting up his engineers head. “Scotty!”


At the contact, Scotty jarred, eyes going wide with surprise in pain. He gasped, the sudden movement only eliciting more pain, and he shuddering badly, eyes wide and wet, while he looked up at Jim.


“Scotty,” Jim said again, feeling the fear unfurl a little in his chest. Scotty wasn’t dead, at least. But then he frowned. “What the hell are you doing?”


Scotty blinked a few times, as if to get his bearings. “Shutting down the relays,” he said. “Emergency power is intermittent, which is good, but if it’s active--”


“Yeah, I know,” Jim said. “I saw Chekov in the bridge, trying to electrocute himself.”


“I told him to wait,” Scotty said.


“So you could come down here and pass out?” Jim asked.


Scotty’s posture slackened. “It was just more work than I expected, is all,” he said. “That hypospray must be wearing off.”


“You have some pretty nasty burns,” Jim said, nodding at the charred portions of Scotty’s uniform. Parts of his arm and shoulder had gotten the worst of it; McCoy said the ones on his neck and chin were superficial.


“The doctor gave them a look-see,” Scotty said, trying to draw himself up closer to the panel.


“And he said they needed treatment,” Jim reminded him.


“Sir, I’m the only engineer--”


“Exactly,” Jim said. “So we can’t have you killing yourself. Bones only agreed to let you come here if you let Chekov do most of the heavy lifting.”


Scotty’s brow creased in consternation. “The lad’s banged up just as much as me,” he protested.


“That’s for the doctor to decide,” Jim said. “And me.”


Scotty sighed. If he was giving in already, then he must have felt bad.


Jim was right, and he’d wanted to win the argument, but it sure didn’t make him feel a lot better.


“Come on,” he cajoled, reaching for the kit.


Scotty watched him, skeptical.


“If not Chekov, then me,” Jim said. “I am the captain, after all.”


“With respect, sir, you’re not exactly a natural at engineering,” Scotty said with an attempt at diplomacy.


Jim scoffed, refusing to accept it. “It’s my job to know every part of the ship,” he said. “I am fully capable of handling issues in all areas of expertise under my command.”


It was Scotty’s turn to be unconvinced. “Sir, the last time I left you alone in engineering, you nearly killed yourself.”


“Well,” Jim said, unable to actually deny it. “I still fixed it, didn’t I?”


“And I vowed to never willingly let you near an engineering problem again, thank you very much,” Scotty said. He hesitated. Scotty was opinionated, but genuinely good natured. He was passionate to a fault sometimes, but he knew when to pick his battles. “I suppose I could use a little extra hand this time, though.”


Jim did his best not to look smug. “I’ll do exactly what you tell me.”


“You better,” Scotty warned. He gestured to this ship. “Because this one, sir, she’s not like the Enterprise.”


“The Enterprise was a good ship,” Jim agreed.


This time, Scotty’s smile was downright fond. “Aye, that she was, sir,” he said. He looked about wistfully. “I’m afraid this lass could never compared.”


Jim sighed, looking around the destroyed corridor. “No,” he agreed. “I don’t suppose she could.” He turned his gaze back to Mr. Scottt. “But our ship will come, Scotty. Our ship will come.”


Scotty brightened at that. “You think so, sir?”


“I know so,” Jim said, picking up one of the tools. “Now tell me, what do we do first?”


“First, you put that down,” Scotty said, pushing Jim’s hand down. “That reverses the magnetized stream. Very useful for warp cores. Not so useful with the human body, if you know what I mean.”


Jim put it down. “Ah,” he said. “Not a good way to start, then.”


“Pretty sure way to finish, though,” Scotty said. “Apply that to the human body and you’ll short it out, just that fast.”


“And you have that just sitting in your toolbox?” Jim asked.


“It’s saved your life more times than you know!” Scotty protested.


Jim shook his head. “Honestly, Mr. Scott,” he said. “If you weren’t on our side, I’d be a little worried.”


“Well, sir, as long as you give me a good ship to fly, I wouldn’t worry about that,” he said.


“And this mission?” Jim asked.


Scotty picked up a tool, holding it out to Jim. “Seeing as I did crash the ship--”


“That wasn’t your fault,” Jim said quickly but firmly. That was a point he needed to make, and one he needed to make clear. It wasn’t Scotty. It wasn’t Sulu or Chekov or Uhura or Spock or even McCoy. Sometimes things just happened, and Jim didn’t like to attribute anything to fate, but sometimes he couldn’t deny it. “Not even in the slightest.”


“All the same,” Scotty said, holding out the tool again. “We’ll call it a draw this time.”


Jim accepted the tool with a conciliatory nod. “Works for me.”


-o-


It took longer than he’d expected to help Scotty, and longer still to get him settled back in the bridge with Chekov. When he’d finally left, it was late afternoon, and his two officers were exchanging fast-paced dialogue about the best way to harvest power from the circuits.


Jim gave them a cursory go-ahead, hoping he didn’t sound as obviously oblivious as he felt. Getting out of the ship was a bit of a relief, not just from the in-depth technical discussion, but also because it felt claustrophobic in there. He’d never had a chance to break in the captain’s chair, and at this point, he never would have the chance. He didn’t like feeling like a passenger on someone else’s ship, so the sooner he could get out, the better.


Squinting up into the sunlight, he remembered that such sentiment applied to the mission on a whole. Mission was a generous term, since that had spectacularly failed the instant the ship went down. Still, Jim was ready for a change of scenery.


And a bit of conversation that he didn’t have to pretend like he understood.


“No, no--” Uhura was saying as Jim made his way back to the campsite. “You have to put it higher.”


Spock stood his ground, staring back at her. “The relative distance is--”


“Is enough to matter,” Uhura said. “We’re looking at the minutia on this one. One foot higher, and we gain an extra light year of coverage.”


“The odds of such a difference making a palpable impact--”


“Matter,” Uhura said, emphatic. “We have low margins on this one, so every little bit counts.”


“I still fail to see how me climbing this tree will help,” Spock said.


Uhura squared her shoulders defiantly. “Should we ask the captain?” she said. “Or will you trust me judgment?”


Spock bowed his head. “I have always trusted your impeccable judgment,” he said. “Your motives, hower--”


She glared at him. “Climb,” she ordered. “I want you to see how much weight we can support up there.”


“As you wish,” Spock said, moving to the tree in a completely perfunctory fashion. He gauged it, and then, without any such hesitation, he started to climb. The tree was tall, but it was well appointed with branches, giving Spock quick access up the side.


Standing next to Uhura, he watched Spock for a moment. “You know,” he said. “I’m not sure one light year really does make a difference.”


She scoffed. “Of course it doesn’t,” she said. She looked at Jim, eyes twinkling. “But if he wants me to think about a family, then he needs to think about what I want, too.”


“And you want him to die falling out of a tree?” Jim asked, watching as a few sticks fell out of the tree.


She smiled, even as she tried to hide it. “No,” she said. “But I want him to be open the the possibility.”


“Ah,” Jim said. “You really didn’t like it when he put the fate of his race on you, did you?”


“He actually used the words biological imperative with me,” she said. “Give me a ring and some flowers, and I don’t know, maybe I’ll say yes. But biological imperative? We were together for five years, and all he can come up with is biological imperative.”


Jim nodded, feigning seriousness. “I thought you forgave him,” he said. “Months ago.”


“I did,” she said, shifting back on her heels coolly. “But did I mention the words biological imperative?”


Jim grinned. “Maybe once or twice,” he said.


She cocked her head. “And you’re not going to stop me?” she asked, nodding up at Spock, who was halfway up now. “I am putting your first officer at risk.”


“Yeah,” Jim said. “But I think it’s kind of a test.”


“A test?” she asked.


“To see how strong his biological imperative is,” he said. “I mean, come on. The guy is climbing a tree for you.”


Uhura’s smile turned a little sweet as she looked back up. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I guess he is.”


“Maybe you two have something to talk about,” Jim said with a shrug.


“Are you giving me relationship advice, sir?” she asked.


Jim held up his hands. “Just trying to make sure we all end up getting off this planet alive,” he said.


“Uh huh,” Uhura said. “You know, he might need a hand up there.”


“You know,” Jim said, starting to meander away. “I think you two have got this. Carry on.”


“Chicken!” she called after him.


He spun back, hands up. “I believe the word you’re looking for is captain.”


She rolled her eyes.


Jim just kept on walking.


-o-


Uhura and Spock were making progress, at least. Jim wasn’t actually sure it was progress he needed them to make, but at this point, he wasn’t going to split hairs. Progress was progress.


Which was more than he could say for Sulu.


His battered helmsman was slumped dejected against a tree, eyes closed as he rested in the waning afternoon. He looked worse than Jim remembered, especially with the vivid bruising beginning to settle along the side of his face.


Jim was about to say something, when McCoy’s sharp voice interrupted him.


“Sulu! I said I wanted the food and water out of the sun,” he said.


Sulu opened his eyes to glare. “No, you said you wanted them on the west side of the camp,” he said. He pointed at the pile. “And there they are. You don’t get more west than this.”


“West, yes,” McCoy said. “But out of direct sunlight.”


Sulu gestured about them incredulously. “But there are no trees on this side of the camp!” he said. “Why would you want them on the west?”


“Proximity, if you must know,” McCoy said, standing up from his position over what appeared to be firewood. “We don’t know what’s in those woods over there, but storing anything edible near them should be handled with care.”


Sulu huffed indignantly. “But you can’t have it both ways, doctor,” he hissed, not quite approaching subordination, but it was as close as he’d ever seen his helmsman get.


McCoy returned the indignation with his own. “Are you questioning my methods?”


“No,” Sulu said, lumbering to his feet. “Just your sanity.”


McCoy puffed out his chest, and Jim decided enough was enough. “You know,” he said, placing himself between the two officers as diplomatically as he could. “We’ve got to be, what, three hours from sunset? Maybe four, if we’re lucky?”


McCoy eyed him with suspicion.


Jim smiled benignly. “We probably need to worry about the rest of the camp before we think too much about placing these supplies,” he suggested.


“Again,” Sulu added with a glare.


Drawing a terse breath, McCoy looked ready to argue. He pursed his lips, giving Sulu a long look before narrowing his gaze at the captain. “Fine,” he said. “But if those rations turn out bad--”


“I will take full and personal responsibility,” Jim said. “You have my word.”


Muttering something under his breath, McCoy turned sharply on his heel and went to the far side of camp, sorting through another pile of supplies. From the ground, Sulu looked up at him gratefully.


“He was driving me crazy,” Sulu confessed. “I know he’s good at what he does, but honestly, does that man even like space exploration?”


Jim chuckled, settling himself down on one of the recovered crates. “Honestly? I doubt it.”


“Then why does he keep signing on for more?” Sulu said with a groan. He pressed his hand against his forehead for a moment.


“Well, he has his reasons,” Jim said, giving McCoy another thoughtful look. Reasons that didn’t need to be discussed, here and now. Not with other concerns to consider. He looked back to Sulu. “You doing okay?”


Sulu dropped his hand and gave Jim a smile. “Besides from the doctor’s torture, I think so,” he said. “But every time I found a moment to rest, he was after me to do something else. For a doctor, he seemed awfully ready to work me into exhaustion.”


“Oh, I don’t know,” Jim said. “Bones recognizes a steady hand when he sees one. He probably trusted your work. If he hadn’t, he would have just done it himself. He respects you.”


Sulu considered this. “That’s a funny way of showing it,” he said.


“It is unique, I’ll give you that,” Jim said. “But he’s not wrong, about you. If you hadn’t been at the controls, I’m not sure we would have landed in one piece.”


“I’m not sure we did land in one piece,” Sulu said, giving a long tip of his head toward the wreckage. “I’m afraid that I’ve gotten rusty.”


“Somehow I doubt it,” Jim said. “But I do hate to think I pulled you out of leave early just for this.”


Sulu scoffed, flitting his hand in the air. “This is the job,” he said. “And it wasn’t leave.”


“Still, it was time with your family,” Jim said. “And this is hardly worth it.”


“At least we know which starship we don’t want to fly,” Sulu quipped. “But seriously, Captain, I know the job. So does my family.”


Sulu had a steadiness about him, a fortitude that Jim had to respect. It was different than the rest of them, probably because he was the only one who was settled and still serving proudly aboard a starship. The rest of them, they were trying to figure it out. And even out here, away from the safety and comfort of family and home, Sulu was still pulling it off with aplomb.


Jim tended to think the two things didn’t go together, that you couldn’t pick your happily ever after and life in space. It had never worked for his parents, although they had never really had the chance. Maybe that was why Jim had never tried. Maybe that was why he’d always gravitated toward pretty women and one night stands. It made it a hell of a lot easier to fly off when there was nothing to look back for.


Of course, it also made it harder. Because space was wide and vast and lonely and dangerous. Sometimes Jim struggled to remember what he was really fighting for in the end.


“You don’t regret it, do you?” he asked. Then, he back pedaled. “I’m not asking as your captain--”


With a small chuckle, Sulu shook his head. “When you said you had a ship to fly, who was the first to show up?”


“You were impressively fast,” Jim said.


“Because I was going crazy without something to fly,” Sulu said. He reached up to adjust the bandage over the cut along his hairline. “I was born to fly, Captain. And I love my family I’ve just never accepted a galaxy where I can’t have both.”


“And it’s that simple?” Jim asked lightly.


Sulu laughed again. “Well, I can’t say it’s always gone perfectly,” he admitted. “But I know who I am. More than that, I know where I belong.”


Jim couldn’t help it; he found himself beaming. It wasn’t quite right to do, he knew. He couldn’t take credit for the caliber of the men and women who served under him. He wasn’t so egotistical to believe that any of this was his doing, that somehow he shaped and crafted the people he trusted on his crew.


But it was more than the ship, at least. It was more than the mission.


What, exactly, it was -- that was hard to say.


Jim still felt damn lucky about it, though.


He patted Sulu on the shoulder. “Good man,” he said. He nodded across the camp. “Why don’t you rest. I’ll go over and see if I can get McCoy to lay off a bit.”


Sulu looked unabashedly relieved. “Could you? He’s a sadist.”


“And I’m the Captain,” Jim said, getting to his feet. He offered a broad smile. “This is what I do.”


-o-


“You’re the captain, sure,” Bones said, half snarling at him. “But I’m the doctor. And if you think for one second--”


Jim held up his hands, a little dismayed. “I was just saying maybe we can dial it back a notch,” he said, finding himself inexplicably on the defensive. Only Bones could do that, challenge his authority without getting accused of outright insubordination -- even if that was exactly what it was. “The crew, they’ve been through a lot.”


Bones straightened, advancing on Jim. “You think I don’t know that? Why do you think I wanted Chekov to go with Scotty? Because Chekov is the only other person who knows what the hell Mr. Scott is talking about half the time. And why do you think I’m letting Uhura send Spock up a tree?”


Jim shrugged. “I figured that you just found funny.”


“Well, I did,” he snapped back. “But I also know that Spock, no matter how infuriating he is, knows that Uhura is injured and will keep her from doing anything that might risk further injury.”


Jim had to consider that as a surprisingly rational choice.


McCoy threw a hand toward Sulu, who was reclining in a patch of shade. “And why do you think I keep making Sulu get up? Do you think I like torturing him?”


“Well….”


“Because he has a concussion, Jim,” Bones said. He pointed to his own head. “And since the ship didn’t have any medical supplies yet and my medical tricorder was destroyed in the crash, I have no way of knowing whether or not he’s bleeding in his skull. So the best thing I can do is keep him awake.”


“Ah,” Jim said. He paused, biting his lip. Then, he nodded. “That makes a lot of sense.”


“Of course it does,” Bones said, shaking his head crossly. “Two days isn’t all that long to survive until someone has a medical emergency. Somehow we managed to get through that crash without the worst happening, but Mr. Scott’s burns leave him wide open to infection, and I’m still not convinced that Sulu doesn’t have a skull fracture. Not to mention we’ve got Chekov running around with broken ribs. So when you say it’s only two days, all I can think is my God! Two days!.”


Jim raised his eyebrows, rocking back on his heels. “Are you done?”


Bones gave him a withering scowl. “The only good news is that since you already crashed the ship, at least we can’t crash it again,” he muttered. “That should spare us some difficulty.”


“Hey!” Jim said.


“You saying I’m wrong?” Bones asked.


“No,” Jim said. “But I would like to remind you, for the record, that this isn’t my fault.”


McCoy gave a short, brutal snort. “Yeah,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “And I’m not a doctor, right?”


Jim gave him a glare, but McCoy was already off, barking out a new order to Sulu. Sulu groaned, but all things considered, Jim let it pass.


Two days, he considered again.


It might be longer than he thought.


-o-


They were hard working, his crew. Despite their injuries and the nature of their situation, they were steadfast and devoted, working tirelessly to accomplish anything and everything they could. This was something Jim took pride in -- he really, really did -- but it wasn’t particularly easy to watch.


Bruised, battered and stranded, they didn’t even stop to question whether or not they should be placing blame on Jim instead of following his orders. This wasn’t his fault, sure, but the buck stopped with him. He had to own to that, and if it was hard to force his ego into submission sometimes, the dedication of his senior staff certainly was an apt means to put things in perspective.


Which made his task all the more pressing. Not just to get them off that moon safely, but to keep them healthy and happy in the process.


When night started to fall and no one showed any indication of slowing down, Jim decided to take things into his own hands. He rounded up Sulu and Chekov, who gingerly settled themselves down by the fire. He used Uhura and Spock against each other, coercing each one into sitting down for the sake of the other. Scotty protested the entire time until Jim forcibly took the equipment from his hands and set him down heavily around the flickering flame. McCoy followed suit, handing out what they had salvaged had rations with about as much finesse as Jim would expect from his doctor.


“Okay,” Jim said, only accepting his rations after everyone else had been served. He smiled, for whatever that was worth. “We made good progress today.”


“I haven’t quite got the equipment in line,” Scotty said, shaking his head and looking vexed. “I just need to sort a few things out--”


Jim shook his head. “We’ve done enough for tonight.”


“The atmospheric conditions are more pronounced than expected,” Chekov said with a dejected slump of his shoulders.


“I think if we get enough height, we can compensate for that,” Uhura pointed out.


“It is also worth noting,” Spock said with a knowing look at Jim. “That our efforts, while useful, will only have a marginal effect on the outcome.”


“By now, Starfleet has to know something went wrong,” Sulu said.


“They’ll come for their new ship, if nothing else,” McCoy said. He shrugged. “What’s left of it, anyway.”


“You’re right, all of you,” Jim said. “And we’ll get back to work in the morning, but there’s no reason to wear ourselves out.”


They took this as well as one might expect, because they probably were tired and he was their captain. Still, it took about all of five seconds for Jim to realize that the order to stand down, as it were, meant there had to be something else in its wake.


It wasn’t that they weren’t friendly, because obviously, they were. They had to be, spending as much time together as they did. This was as much Jim’s family as anything else he’d experienced in his life, but that didn’t make it easy to navigate downtime without a purpose or structure.


In short, they had a whole night together and not a single thing to do, by Jim’s own decision.


Clearing his throat, he made some show of sitting down and opening his rations. “You know,” he said, as nonchalantly as possible. “She was supposed to be the best and fastest, but she didn’t really compare, did she?”


“To be fair, we did crash the ship,” Spock said.


“Yeah, but even before that,” Jim said, trying to figure out what the hell his rations were supposed to be. “She felt….weird.”


“Navigation was too abstract,” Chekov added in. “There was too much dimensionality, which made it harder to pick the right vector.”


The soft v was intrinsically endearing; it never failed to make Chekov sound even younger than he was.


“The controls pulled to the right,” Sulu agreed. “I compensated, obviously--”


“She didn’t hum the way the Enterprise did,” Scotty commented, even more wistful than the rest. “I still think it’s a shame the Enterprise was counted as a total loss.”


“That kind of salvage would be impractical,” Spock said.

“And plasma conduits that overload make so much more sense,” Uhura said wryly.


“That’s how it is with something like Starfleet,” McCoy said. “Always has to be better and bigger. Change isn’t everything people make it out to be.”


“Change is a constant reality in the universe,” Spock pointed out. “To try to impede such change would be illogical, not to mention impossible.”


“But it’s why you make the thing,” Scotty said. “An engine, a ship -- it’s not just a piece of machinery.”


“She’s alive, when you fly her right,” Sulu said with a smile.


“She’s beautiful is what she is,” Chekov agreed.


Jim drew a thoughtful breath, shaking his head. “I hate to say it, but this one -- she didn’t have it,” he said with a nod to the wreckage.


“Maybe,” Uhura said. “But do you really think they’ll give us another ship? After this?”


“After this, do you really want one?” McCoy quipped.


“We are a highly trained crew with ample experience in the field,” Spock said. “It would be illogical not to leverage our combined skill sets.”


“We’re going to get a ship,” Jim said, finally taking a bit of his food. He shrugged. “We just haven’t found the right one yet.”


“She’ll run like a dream when we do,” Scotty said with a small sigh.


“And fly true,” Sulu said.


Jim watched them, each and every one. Uhura’s confidence; Spock’s logic. Sulu’s ambition; Chekov’s wonder. Scotty’s passion; McCoy’s steadiness.


Maybe the ship didn’t matter


Maybe the crew did.


“I’ll bring it up with Starfleet,” Jim said, somewhat ruefully.


“Since you think they’ll be so inclined to negotiate with you?” McCoy asked. “You have crashed two ships in your last two missions.”


“Hey,” Jim protested, but his words lacked vigor. Instead, he smiled sheepishly. “It wasn’t my fault.”


It was a testament to their loyalty that they didn’t call him on it.


In case Jim Kirk ever wondered if he had the best crew in all of Starfleet.


He smiled, watching as they started to talk amongst themselves.


The best crew in the whole damn universe.


-o-


After their dinner, the evening waned. It was tempting to keep them up, to share stories and pass the night in conversation, but they looked wiped, each and every one of them. As captain, Jim had both the responsibility and the power to order lights out, insisting that he would wake them to keep watch as needed.


Of course, he had no intention of waking any of them. Chekov was asleep first, followed not far behind by Scotty. Sulu drifted off not long after them, and Uhura made a good show, talking quietly to Spock until the darkness settled deeply over the campsite and the nip in the air was pronounced.


It wasn’t cold exactly, and Jim was sure to keep the fire stoked. Initial scans of the planet had suggested minimal threats from predators, and with no other inhabitants on the moon beyond small rodents, there wasn’t much to look out for.


But there was a lot to look over.


Intent as he was to keep watch, he wasn’t alone. Spock and Bones, although under his command, were the two who would feel free to disobey an order Jim had no business enforcing. They knew when he was pulling his punches, after all. They knew him.


“I really can handle this,” Jim mused to them after silence loomed for a while. He poked at the fire with a stick, watching the logs turn as fresh sparks crackled in the air. “We’re not in any danger right now.”


“I’m a doctor, and I have wounded people,” McCoy said, sounding terse. That was his way; when he got scared, he got pissed. “Including you two.”


“My injuries are minor,” Spock said.


“And I’m fine,” Jim said.


McCoy stiffened his shoulders, refusing to be placated. “I don’t even have a damn medical tricorder thanks to that crash,” McCoy said, nodding to Jim. “We have no way of what’s going on in there.”


“Good thing you didn’t lose your bedside manner,” Jim quipped.


McCoy scowled.


“Your concerns are noted,” Spock said. “But your guilt is misplaced. As you yourself said, this was not your fault.”


Jim sighed, looking over his slumbering crew again. “Yeah,” he said. “But it’s still my responsibility.”


“We still have another day at least,” Spock said. “You should get your rest.”


Jim laughed. “Like I could, even if I wanted to.”


“Well, I do have a hypospray for that,” McCoy suggested. He shrugged coyly. “I may not be able to offer anyone a definite diagnosis, but I sure as hell can medicate you all into oblivion.”


Spock cocked his head. “I’m not sure how that is reassuring, Doctor.”


“I find it quite reassuring,” Jim said, still smiling. “Besides, this is what we do, isn’t it? Make things work?”


“I’m not sure you have to keep finding such extreme ways to prove it, though,” McCoy said with a haughty sigh. He nodded at their surroundings. “I mean, I appreciate that we don’t have a crazed mad man after us this time, but come on. Doesn’t this feel a little redundant?”


“Just because the probability of such events happening right after each other unlikely does not mean it is impossible,” Spock said. “There is no reason to think there is any external factor such as fate working against us.”


“All the same,” Jim said, chewing on the inside of his lip. “I’ll feel better when we get out of here.”


He wasn’t asking for comfort, at least not explicitly.


They understood, though.


McCoy hedged first. “We’ll want to let everyone take it a little easier tomorrow, but they’re all stable,” he said. “But we need to keep an eye on Mr. Scott. He pushed it too far today. There’s no sign of complication, but the sooner we get him to treatment, the better it is. Still, it’s remarkable we haven’t suffered anything more serious than that so far.”


“Moreover, I suspect we will be able to transmit a signal early tomorrow morning, working with the natural atmospheric conditions,” Spock reported. “If successful, we can easily expect rescue to arrive by the end of the day.”


They were telling him good things, and they weren’t even lying to him. In the broader scheme of things, this was nothing. A hiccup.


And yet, Jim knew why he’d chosen to keep his commission. He knew why he’d forfeited the promotion. It wasn’t just about the ship.


“More reasons for you two to get some sleep,” Jim said, trying to keep his voice airy.


McCoy grunted, and Spock lifted one eyebrow.


“Okay, okay,” Jim relented. “More reasons for us to get some sleep.”


McCoy huffed knowingly, settling himself back. “You never listen to sound medical advice.”


“And you rarely listen to logic,” Spock added.


“I listen more than you think,” Jim said, a little defensive. He added a sheepish shrug. “But less than I probably should.”


McCoy actually rolled his eyes. “I’ll see you in the morning.”


Spock watched him for a moment, still poking at the fire. After few more seconds, he inclined his head. “Sleep well, Captain.”


In reply, Jim nodded, still watching the fire. He was still watching when McCoy’s breathing evened out, and he was watching when Spock finally laid down and closed his eyes. He was watching when the night grew long and the star filled the sky, the flames still burning into the expanse.


-o-


He fell asleep, almost without meaning to. Somewhere past the stillness and before the dawn, he’d given in and nodded off, one hand still poking the fire with the other resting on his phaser, just in case.


He rested, but it wasn’t restful. He dreamed of crashing ships, falling right out of the sky. He dreamed of trees and rock in the view screen the minute before the ship came screeching to impact.


That wasn’t the hard part, though.


The hard part was hearing the screams as he escaped with his life.


And everyone else burned alive behind him.


-o-


Jim was already up with the dawn, and he’d restoked the fire, set out rations and generally made a plan for the day. The plan, as he had conceived, was designed to make everyone feel useful while having them do as little as possible.


This was based on McCoy’s concerns and Spock’s logic.


It was also based on his own need to keep the crew close.


None of this was his fault, which was a way to absolve his own guilt. It did not, however, make him feel much better. If it wasn’t his fault, then it also wasn’t something in his purview of control. Truth be told, Jim would take the blame if that meant he could prevent it from happening again.


As that wasn’t the case, Jim would control what he could.


And hope like hell they got off this moon quickly.


“So,” Jim said, rubbing his hands together like everything was fine. Not that anything wasn’t fine, aside from crashing ships and sleep deprivation. “I want Uhura and Spock to handle the signal this morning. Once we get it up and running, we’ll take shifts to monitor it for feedback. We want to direct people to our precise location as soon as possible. Given the, um, assets involved, I think Starfleet will be pretty motivated.”


“Should we tell them we crashed their ship?” Sulu asked.

“I can’t imagine they’ll be too happy about that,” Chekov agreed.


Scotty shifted with an indignant expression. “It’s their own damn fault.”


“Either way, they wouldn’t leave us here to prove a point,” Uhura said.


“All the same,” Jim said. “We’ll leave the technical details for them to figure out. I have no doubt we’ll each be debriefed within an inch of our lives when this is over, so we might as well take it easy today while we can.”


“You want us to pretend this is shore leave?” McCoy asked with a glower.


“You know, whatever works,” Jim said. He clapped his hands. “Okay, everyone. Let’s get off this rock today!”


-o-


Optimistic and upbeat as he was -- he was downright inspirational -- Jim should have known better to expect it to be easy.


Someday he’d learn.


Since crashing the ship in the first place hadn’t been a clue.


Maybe he had simply counted on the law of averages to help him out. With as much crap as he’d endured as captain, his luck was bound to turn for the better.


Or not.


It was a simple plan, really. Scotty had worked with Uhura to piece the transceiver together, and McCoy had made a makeshift harness to help Spock get it up the tree. Chekov and Sulu had double checked the calculations, and the general belief was that once Spock got high enough, Uhura could establish a signal


It went well, too. Transceiver in hand, Spock made quick time getting up the tree.


“A little higher!” Uhura called out.


“A wee bit more!” Scotty said.


Jim was torn between the communication base in front of Uhura and the precarious progress Spock was making.


“Are we sure those branches can support him?” Sulu asked, a little under his breath.


“He has very good balance,” Chekov observed.


Jim looked back to the communication portal. “Anything?”


“A little more,” Uhura coached.


McCoy cursed. “That’s awfully high.”


Spock climbed a little higher, bracing himself against a branch and testing the next one uncertainly.


“Almost, almost,” Scotty muttered.


“I believe this is high enough,” Spock yelled without looking down. He balanced himself, freeing one hand to turn the button on. “Standby.”


Then, he flicked the switch.


It was supposed to save them.


Jim knew a thing or two about best laid plans, though.


Instead, there was a bang and a series of sparks, sending a stream of fire down the tree. Uhura gasped, and McCoy pulled the others back, and Jim was almost to the base of the tree in an instant.


For a second, Jim feared the worst.


But from high above, Spock steadied himself. Remarkably, he was still standing. Even more remarkably, he had the transceiver in hand.


“All right,” Jim yelled. “Bring it down, bring it down.”


“Captain, if I could--” Spock started.


“I said, bring it down,” Jim ordered.


Spock reluctantly complied, and Jim turned to look at the others. To say they were disappointed was an understatement. Jim understood that, he did, but his heart was still pounding. He knew his priorities.


He let out a breath, reminding himself to breath. It did little for the tension that had built across his shoulders.


“We’ll figure it out,” he promised, hoping the words didn’t sound as hollow as they felt. “Trust me.”