A/N: Hey all! This is my first fic for the fandom, so please be gentle with me. I've always been a fan of Star Trek, but recently I've become obsessed with it. And I do mean obsessed! Anyhoo, enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own them, any of them. Thanks for bringing me down. :(

Allegiance: loyalty, commitment, and devotion to a superior or a cause

Maybe, if he was honest, he would have done things a little bit different.

Maybe he would have told the magistrate of Carthya to go fuck himself and fought his way out of the weird little medical facility. Maybe, he would have left Bones and Pavel on board, shrunk his away team of six down to four, and maybe then it wouldn't have nearly as terrifying. Or, maybe, when Admiral Barnett told him about the diplomatic mission, he would have smiled through his teeth and told him to cram the orders down his throat and choke on them, all due respect, sir.

But hindsight is twenty-twenty, and that's not how it went.

When Admiral Barnett issued the orders for a peaceful, diplomatic mission (and that should have been his first freaking clue that things were about to go to shit) to begin trade negotiations with Carthya, he smiled and nodded and promised to do his best. When he picked his away team, he chose Spock (because the Vulcan was an overprotective mother hen whether he admitted it or not); Uhura (because even though the Carthians spoke Standard there were so many other cultural blunders he could screw up it wasn't even funny); Sulu (two words: sword ninja); Chekov (because the kid needed mission experience and what better place than a safe peace meeting?); and Bones (because there would be food and the doctor didn't trust Jim's immune system any more than he trusted a Klingon to be fuzzy and cuddly). And when Magistrate Mott asked him to come alone so they could start negotiations, he ignored the uneasy feeling festering in his gut and ordered his team to stay in the room and relax, and followed Mott out.

Which was how he found himself here, sitting in a single chair across a cold table from Mott, trying to wrap his mind around the words the lanky man just said.

"I'm sorry. I don't understand."

"It is our way, Captain," Mott said, "You are not the first ship to grace our skies. In the past, we have dealt with those whose intentions seemed honorable but proved to be violent and greedy. Our society has barely survived because of these unsavory men. We have come to this…process to decipher those true and those lying."

"We aren't lying. We only want to trade with you, be allies. We'd never just take anything without your permission."

Mott waved his hand dismissively, "Just words, Captain. They hold no merit, no weight. Why should we trust you? What reason have you given us to believe you are speaking true?"

Jim didn't have an answer for that. They didn't have a reason to trust Starfleet, but what they were asking as proof was just insane.

"How does killing a member of my crew prove that we're trustworthy?"

Saying it out loud didn't help him understand it any better. If anything, it confused him more. How did killing a person translate into trust and honor? How could someone who held such things in high regard think murder was an acceptable act of integrity?

"It is not the sacrifice of the life that is significant," Mott told him, "It is the character of your decisions that will give us our answer."

Mind reeling, heart pounding, Jim eloquently said, "Huh?"

"You are a Starfleet captain, a leader of several hundred crewmembers. It is obvious they trust you, and perhaps with good reason. It is your character, Captain, that we wish to test to prove that your intentions are good and that your word is honor bound."

"Okay, but what does that have to do with my crew?"

"If we can trust you, a captain held in such high esteem, then we can trust the men who gave you your position and we can begin trade. All you have to do is prove that you are worthy."

"By letting you kill someone on my team?"

Mott shook his head, "By bargaining."

Jim squirmed in his chair, resisting the urge to get up and pace, or punch the wall, or maybe the magistrate's scrawny face. His hands clenched and unclenched reflexively as he fought the urge to act brashly. In the back of his mind, he heard Spock's voice say Think logically, Captain.

"What bargain?" he asked finally.

Mott said, "What are you willing to give to save the lives of your crew?"

Lives, not life. Plural over singular. God, what could he have that could save not one, but five lives?

"You want my life in exchange for theirs," he said slowly.

Again, Mott shook his head, "That would defeat the purpose. We have no wish to kill you, Captain, only learn your character."


"I have explained-"

"No. Tell me in clear, concise statements how this works."

Mott studied him a moment and nodded, "Very well. You have five crew members here. You will bargain for each of their lives. If you choose not to make a trade or do not fulfill your bargain, the life of the crew member will be forfeit. The crew members you complete your bargain for, if any, will be returned to your ship unharmed and you will be allowed to go free. If you choose not to bargain for any of them, you will go free, but they will not. Should you complete this process for all five members, negotiations with Starfleet will continue. If you fail with even one, they will cease immediately."

"What if we cease negotiations right now, no process, no bargaining?"

"Then you will be returned to your ship."

"And my crew?"

"Will be forfeit."

Jim gritted his teeth, "I don't have anything to bargain with." Certainly nothing worthy of their lives.

"You have yourself, Captain. That is all any man truly has."

Jim glared, "You just love talking like that, don't you? All floaty and philosophical. But you never just tell me what you mean."

Mott raised an eyebrow and pointed at Jim's left arm, "Your arm for your pilot's life."

The blood froze in his veins as he pulled his left arm close to his chest. He was certain his heart had stuttered and stopped if the building pressure behind his ribs was any indication.

"You want…you want to take my arm?"

Mott nodded, eyes dark and piercing, "In exchange for your pilot's life. Is your Mr. Sulu worth such a price?"

He is on his hands and knees, panting and gasping for breath and all he wants is to lie on his back for the next eight hours, but the mad man with the sword is coming at him again and he has to move lest he has his head cut off. He blocks the downward stroke and shoves back as he rolls onto his knee and pivots away, if only to catch half of a breath.

Sulu grins at him, "Nice block."

It irks him that his helmsman is barely breathing hard and hardly sweating at all, and he's over here drenched like he's spent the last hour walking in a summer rain storm. His arms are weak and his knees tremble and he can barely lift the sword in his hand, but he smirks because Sulu only grins like that when he means it.

"You're going to kill me one of these days," he pants, noting how Sulu crouches and tenses. He's looking for an opening and Jim is tired enough to give him one.

"That would be counterproductive," Sulu says, and before Jim can ask what he means, the smaller man is lunging toward him, feigning left and going low. He barely manages to deflect the blade, but he isn't ready for Sulu to swipe his foot under his leg and to land on the mat with Sulu's forearm against his windpipe and the sword poised viciously over head.

"Mind the blade," Sulu warns somberly, "but do not forget that the man is just as dangerous."

He drops his head back, grateful that the spar is over and that he at least lost with some dignity.

"You're a slave driver, Sulu."

Sulu gets off him and kneels on one knee, resting on his sword, "Gotta make sure you're ready, sir."

"For what?"

"For anything."

He regards him curiously, "You worried about me, Sulu?"

There's a faint smirk on the pilot's lips, but a grave seriousness in his eyes that Jim didn't expect to see, "I won't always be there to pull you out of the fire, sir."

Jim grunts as he sits up, "Hey, if I remember correctly, I pulled you out of the fire…or air. Whatever."

Sulu stands and offers him his hand, hoisting his Captain upright, "I know."

The way he says the words, crisp and heavy and resounding, Jim knows that this is one of those things he can't smirk or shrug or joke away. He could tell Sulu that he doesn't owe him anything for saving the other man's life. He could laugh and tell him it was no big deal so why dwell on it? But to Sulu it is a big deal, and he isn't going to let it go lightly.

In a moment of sincerity, he says, "I didn't save you so you could owe me a debt, Mr. Sulu."

There is a fond glint in his eyes as Sulu says, "I know that, too, sir."

It is a silent agreement: Jim saved Sulu so now Sulu with save Jim. And if he has to do it by teaching the bumbling, graceless captain how to fight properly, then so be it. And if a friendship and undying sense of loyalty developed because of it….well, Jim could never have too many sword ninjas watching his back.

Jim held out his left arm.

"Are you certain?"

Jim glared at Mott.

"Very well," Mott said, and gestured to one of the two men standing by the door, "Castor, mark the Captain's arm with his pilot's name."

Jim tensed as Castor pulled his left arm straight and pushed his sleeves up to his elbow. It took all of his will power to stay still, to not knock Castor away and lunge for the weapon sheathed in his belt. But he didn't know what orders Mott had given to his men, or even if they were being monitored. One act of hostility, and his team could be dead before he even neared the door. It went against his natural fighting instinct, but Jim stayed still as Castor wrote in wet, black ink SULU across his wrist and forearm.

It didn't feel real, felt more like a dream, like at any moment his team would appear in the door and yell Got ya! and laugh. Well, everyone but Spock.

"Now, for the Vulcan."

Jim's eyes widened as reality crashed down on him. His arm was for Sulu, but there were five members of his team on this savage planet, four more lives to bargain for. How much was he going to have to give?

"Your right arm, I think, for your first officer?"

Jim chuckled dryly. Because wasn't that just symbolic as hell? Spock was his second in command, the one he trusted to question him and spout regulation at him and support him, his fucking right hand man. So wasn't it just eloquent as hell that he would give his right arm for him?

"You hesitate," Mott said, "Do you wish to forfeit the Commander?"


"Then you will give your right arm?"

Jim cringed, feeling nausea roll in his stomach, "I-"

"Is it because he is Vulcan? Do you only care for those that are similar to you?"

Jim gaped at him, astounded, but Mott sat back in his chair, looking wistful, as if they were discussing the weather and not a man's life.

"I have met some like that. They came to trade for the minerals in our soil, but they did not care for those of us with darker skin. They hated simply because my people were of a different color. Is that why you do not want to save the Vulcan?"

"Screw you," Jim hissed, "I'm hesitating because you're asking me to give up both of my arms. Spock is my friend. I wouldn't care if he was Vulcan, Andorian, or freaking purple. I'd give my life for him."

"But you will not trade your limb for his life?"

Of course, of course he would, but he wouldn't be human if he didn't consider all that his life would be and wouldn't be without his arms. He wasn't just giving up limbs; he was giving up everything. He might have been able to keep his chair without his left arm, but there was no way he'd continue to be Captain with both arms gone. His chair, his ship, his crew-he was giving it all up, and it may be selfish, it may be cowardly, but for a moment, he hesitated.

"Well, Captain," Mott pressed, "Do you forfeit the Vulcan?"

They're on a diplomatic mission and this one's going smoothly for a change. The Public Minister is laughing and joking, elated that the terms of negotiations went so well. They've only just signed the treaty; the ink isn't even dry yet. The Minister orders the servants to bring out the meal they've prepared. Jim's not at all concerned, though he notes the green side dish that he definitely shouldn't eat, and picks at the rice looking glob on his platter. He's adjusting to the surprisingly bitter taste when he notices the jovial mood of the Minister has fallen flat.

At first Jim wonders what he did because usually it's him that screws these things up epically, but the Minister is sending a heated glare at Spock, which is surprising, to say the least.

"You dishonor us by refusing our hospitality," the Minister says lowly.

Jim is sitting in the middle, and looks back and forth between them like he's watching a tennis match. Spock is stoic as ever and gracious as he inclines his head.

"I mean no dishonor to you, Minister Reyes, but I'm afraid I cannot partake of the meal you have prepared."

Reyes slams his hand on the table, "Disrespect! It is a sign of friendship to prepare and eat a meal together. Your refusal is an insult!"

It's meat. Jims sees it now, sees it infused in every dish, even the green stuff he isn't supposed to touch. No wonder Spock doesn't want to eat, but then to Jim's shock, the Vulcan nods curtly once, and reluctantly picks up his silverware to take a bite.

"Don't you dare, Mr. Spock."

Spock stops and raises an eyebrow, the closest Jim ever sees him get to confused. The Minister's face is nearly purple when he turns to him.

"You insult us!"

Jim shakes his head, "We mean no offense, Minister Reyes, but Spock is Vulcan. He doesn't eat meat."

"That is no excuse," Reyes hisses, "He is on our planet. He should respect our culture."

"With all due respect, sir, but why should he if you won't respect his?"

Reyes looks ready to have an aneurysm.

"It's his cultural belief not to eat meat, just as it's your cultural belief to show hospitality. I assure you, Commander Spock isn't refusing your hospitable gesture, just this aspect of it. Before coming here, we were debriefed on several of your customs and beliefs so that we could respect them. All I ask is you do the same for my crew."

Some of the color evaporates from his face, but Reyes still seethes, "You are risking the relations of our people over a simple meal."

"So are you."

Reyes is stunned silent for a moment and then bursts out laughing, "I like you, Kirk. You know how to argue. The Vulcan may eat what he wishes."

When the Minister's attention is turned on someone else, Jim glances at Spock and finds him staring intently at him.

Jim waves his hand, "I know what you're going to say."

"Do you?"

"You're going to say that it was illogical to endanger a fledgling relationship with a new planet over such a trivial matter, especially when you were willing to compromise, and you're going to say you don't need anyone's help, especially from illogical captains. Am I right?"

Spock inclines his head, "More or less."

"Look, Spock, I know we aren't best buddies, but I'm not going to let you compromise yourself like that just to keep a diplomat happy."

"It was one meal. It would not compromise my beliefs," Spock counters.

"Not the point. I know it's important to you, and you didn't want to do it. There were other options."

"There were none," Spock says and regards Jim with a curious expression, "If Minister Reyes had not seen your point, what would you have done?"

Jim smirks and point to the greenish glob on his plate, "See that? It's karisab, or something, can't really remember the name of it. Anyway, I'm allergic. If I'd accidentally eaten it, I'd probably stop breathing in ten minutes or so, and we would have had to make a hasty exit, diplomatic spat forgotten."

Now both eyebrows are up. Jim's absurdly proud of this and plans to remember this moment for all eternity.

"You would endanger your health over this matter?"

"To keep the relations friendly and my first officer's cultural beliefs intact? Yeah, I think I could deal with a little anaphylactic shock. Though, Bones would probably kill me after he fixed me."

Spock's eyebrows are still up as he says, "Fascinating."

Jim isn't sure if that's a compliment or not, but he'll take what he can get.

Mott stared at him with mild curiosity. Jim stretched out his right arm, and pushed up his sleeves, offering it to Castor without looking away from Mott's black, unfeeling eyes. At Mott's nod, Castor wrote SPOCK in big, block letters across his skin.

"Now," he said, "for your Doctor."

Anticipating where this is headed, Jim pushed back his chair, hiked up his left pant leg, and extended his leg. Mott watched him curiously, raising an eyebrow in a questioning expression.

"It's what you were going to say, right?" Jim asked, unable to keep the bite from his words.

Mott nodded, "Yes, however, I find it curious that you do not hesitate for Doctor McCoy the way you do for the others."

Yeah, Jim knew that, but it wasn't going to keep him up at night. Bones was his best friend, had been for years and years. He'd never hesitate to sacrifice anything for him, and maybe that made him a bad captain, or a bad friend to the others, or a bad human being in general, but it didn't matter. Because he was still making the sacrifice for them in the end and that was what counted. So what if he was a little faster for Bones? The result would still be the same.

Jim looked up at Castor, "Are you going to write it, or do I have to do everything?"

It's his first birthday on board the Enterprise and he's not sure how to deal with it. His usual way- getting plastered and picking a fight with the biggest asshole around- isn't an option, and it's grating on his nerves. Because everyone knows what today is and no one shuts up about it.

"Happy birthday, sir."

"Happy 27th, sir."

"Hey, Captain. Happy B-day!"

On and on, and it should make him happy, all these smiles and well wishes and cheer, but he sees it behind their eyes. The pity, the sympathy. Because this day doesn't just mark his birth.

He doesn't remember most of the day, just the end, that night when he can't sleep and he's looking at a picture of his mother and father just after the wedding, Bones comes in without knocking. He drops two glasses on the table and fills them with Bourbon- the real stuff. He hands one to Jim and raises his.

"We doing toasts now, Bones?" he asks sardonically.

Bones says, "To today."

Jim scoffs, "Right, to all the lives lost and all the lives saved. Here, here."

He goes to down his drink, but Bones' warm hand on his wrist stop him. He looks at him questioningly, ice blue eyes meeting hazel ones.

"No, you infant," Bones drawls, "To today, the day the biggest pain in my ass was born."

Jim shakes his head, "That's not how the world remembers it."

"Screw the rest of the world. Let them remember; let them mourn. Today is a day to celebrate my pig-headed, medically inept best friend and marvel that you've actually survived twenty seven years."

The words sink into him and he can't help but smirk, "Thanks, Bones."

"Drink your damn Bourbon."

MCCOY was bold and black on his leg, and it almost hurt to look at it. Before Castor stood back up, Jim pulled up his other pant leg and waited expectantly. He was tired of talk, tired of games and floaty, philosophical words. He wanted this done so he'd know his team was safe and he could begin life as a limbless, rotting vegetable. When Castor flicked his eyes uncertainly to Mott, Jim grabbed the ink pen and wrote UHURA with his own hand. And he tried his best not to cry while he did it.

They're exploring some cave on some planet he doesn't remember the name of, and really it isn't important. What's important is that they're supposed to be making contact with the indigenous people, who they can't find. Anywhere. It's as if they've all been raptured or turned invisible, because they've been exploring for the last thirty kilometers, but they haven't come across the natives in any way, shape, or form.

Turns out it's Scotty's fault. He entered the wrong coordinates so they're on the wrong side of the bloody continent, and he is so taking away that 'secret' still in the bowels of engineering for a week for this.

The only reason they haven't beamed back up and gone to the right place is that the fauna on this side of the planet are 'fascinating' according to Spock and they're there already so why waste a trip? Spock is just outside the cave, peering at a bloom the size of his head and the color of an uncut ruby. Jim's inside the cave with Uhura, scanning the walls for 'squiggles' as he calls them, which gets him a heated glare from his communications officer. Hey, he's bored, and the intergalactic couple isn't helping to keep him entertained.

A moment later, he's wishing he was bored again as the earth beneath his feet starts shaking like a blender set on high. Apparently, the reason no one lives on this side of the planet is because of the massive fault line that runs underneath it.

The walls tremble and begin crumbling around them. He snags Uhura's arms and propels her forward, yelling at Spock to stay where he is as his first officer steps toward them. It's bad enough both he and Uhura are in this bloody cave; he doesn't need all three of them buried under a mountain, thank you very much. They're five feet from the open mouth of the cave, Spock's reaching for Uhura, and Jim sees the rocks coming down. He knows they won't be fast enough, not both of them. So he slows his steps and veers behind Uhura and shoves her with all of his strength. She goes flying under the stones raining down and lands safely in Spock's arms. Something heavy clips his shoulder and then his back and then his head, and he's going down in a heap. The last thing he sees before the wall of rock cuts off daylight is Uhura's astonished face as Spock drags her back. And then it all goes black.

Later, they'll tell him that he was buried for three hours (3.45, if Spock is to be believed) and he wasn't awake for any of it. He comes out with a concussion, a broken shoulder, broken leg, sprained right wrist, cracked ribs, and mild internal bleeding. Spock and Uhura don't have a scratch on them, and he's pretty damned proud of that.

Until Uhura comes to see him in sickbay, and he thinks the earthquake doesn't even compare to the fury written on her face.

She lectures him for twenty minutes about regulation, and how the captain is the most important person on the ship, and she can take care of herself, blah, blah, blah. He listens to every word, waiting patiently for her to finish before he dares to speak a single word. Her face is still flushed with anger when he finally gets a chance.

"I couldn't let you get crushed, Lieutenant," he says, rough and raspy, "Because if I let you get smooshed, then your boyfriend would have smooshed me. Either way, I was done for, may as well keep one of us unsmooshed."

He doesn't think he's said anything special; it's just the truth thinly veiled in humor, but it must mean something else to Uhura, because her anger evaporates and her eyes soften to the point where he's scared she's gonna start crying. She takes his hand, the one that isn't broken.

"Thank you, Captain," she says, and for once when she says his title it doesn't sound like 'idiot' or 'moron' or 'jackass'.

"Any time, Uhura."

Her eyes turn fierce, "I'd prefer if you didn't, sir. We like having you in once piece."

She leaves before he can quip that he still has all his pieces, they're just a bit broken. Probably for the best. He'd rather not piss her off more than he has to.

"You have one crew member left."

"I'm out of limbs, if you haven't noticed."

"You have other things to give."

Jim watched him warily, a cold sweat breaking out on his forehead. He wondered if the Magistrate was referring to a certain member of his anatomy that he'd rather not give up if he could help it. Not that it mattered. When he left this place he was going to be an armless, legless stump. Best case scenario, he got four prosthetics and a good commission, and a lonely, loveless life. Because, honestly, how could he ever expect anyone to love a broken husk of a man?

"Your body has many organs," Mott said, "Some of which you do not need. Perhaps you will give one of these up for Ensign Chekov."

Jim swallowed, "Which one?"

"Your appendix?"

"It's already gone."

"Your tonsils. Those are fairly useless."

"Gone," he said hoarsely, "Got sick a lot as a kid. They were the first to go."

Mott regarded him with a tilt of his head, "A kidney then. If you have not already given one up, that is."

His hands shook and he rubbed his fingers on his knees, savoring the feel of them. He wouldn't be able to do this in an hour. He'd never feel skin under his finger tips again. He'd never be able to run or walk without limping. Never feel sand under his toes or snow on his hands. He wouldn't even be able to hug Bones when this was all over and the doctor was ranting and raving like a lunatic. God, would Bones even be able to look at him again? Would anyone? No arms, no legs, just four stumps on a torso and a head, like a freaking starfish.

"Yeah," he breathed, "Yeah, take it."

"Are you certain?"

He nodded. What difference would it make in the end if he only had one kidney? With stem cells and regeneration, he'd probably get a new one anyway. And even if he couldn't, if he was allergic to something or his body rejected it, what difference did it make if the human starfish had to go through dialysis, too?

Castor raised his shirt and wrote CHEKOV across the left side of his back. He felt every curve of every letter, and by the time he reached the V Jim was nearly hyperventilating to keep from crying.

Chekov hasn't smiled in a day and a half, and Jim's worried. There isn't a day that goes by that the kid isn't flashing that impish, boyish smile. It's a constant on the bridge: Spock stands stoically over his station, Uhura flicks her ponytail over her shoulder seven times a shift, Jim makes tasteless jokes while sitting sideways in his chair, and Chekov smiles.

Except he's not, and Jim doesn't like it.

It takes him another four hours on top of the day and a half of no-smiles for Jim to figure out what's going on. Ever since they had one of the generators blow at the same time the transporter went wonky, Chekov hasn't had a spare minute off shift except to shower and sleep, and he isn't going to for the next couple of days until everything is back to normal. Which means he'll be a day too late to make a certain call he's dying to make.

So Jim does some digging, and asks Uhura for a favor (I'm asking nicely, don't make me make it an order) and at the end of his shift, he and Pavel leave at the same time. Only Jim doesn't let him go down to engineering like he's supposed to.

"With me, Chekov."

The kid's eyes go wide, "Sir?"

Jim beckons him to follow and takes him to the ready room where he knows they'll have privacy.

"Sir, I am to be helping Meester Scott wiv the generator, Keptin. I do not-"

He's cut off as Jim brings up the screen and steps back, revealing a middle aged woman with graying blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Her smile brightens the screen and tears rush to her eyes as she sees Chekov.

"Pasha! Moy syn!"

"Mama?" Chekov questions in surprise. He looks at Jim and the captain claps him on the shoulder.

"Your work in engineering is covered," Jim says, "Take as long as you want to talk to your mom, ensign." Before he leaves, he turns back to the woman on the screen and says, "Schastlivy mem rozhdeniya."

Her eyes soften and she says, "Spasibo, Kapitan."

He spends the next six hours helping Scotty with the transporter and the generator and only gets three hours of sleep before his next shift on the bridge, but the sore muscles and bags under his eyes are worth it when he steps off the turbolift and is met with the biggest, megawatt smile this side of Polaris.

"You can back out," Mott told him, "The bargain is not complete until the parts have been taken."

"What would you do to my crew if I did?" Jim breathed.

"They would be forfeit."

"Then shut the hell up and get it over with already."

"Very well. We move on to the next phase."

The Magistrate stood and beckoned for him to follow. Numb, terrified, Jim followed. His mind raced with schemes, but each one fell flat. He didn't have a communicator so he couldn't warn his friends or call Scotty for an evacuation. If he ran, he had no guarantee he'd get to his team in time, and he wasn't sure he could even find his way back to the room they were being held in. There was no way out.

And then the Magistrate was opening the door to the very room he needed to be in. His crew stood as they entered the quarters, Bones looking irritated as usual, Uhura only slightly distressed. Sulu looked bored and Chekov looked relieved. Spock didn't look like anything, really. Jim whirled on Mott.

"What's going on?" he hissed.

Mott looked nonplussed, "It is only fair that we offer them the chance to bargain as we have offered it to you. It is their lives at stake, after all."

Bones tensed, eyes flying to Jim, "What's he talking about, Jim?"

Jim ignored him, "This was between us. They don't have anything to do with it."

"They have everything to do with it."

"Captain," Spock said, stepping forward, hands clasped behind his back, but a flicker of concern in his eyes, "What is transpiring?"

Before Jim could answer, Mott said, "We are trying to determine if the Captain's word can be trusted. The process of doing so involves him bargaining for your lives."

The atmosphere of the room changed abruptly, the uncertain, wary vibe turning dark and tense. Sulu was instantly on his feet, standing just slightly in front of Chekov. Bones hands curled into fists and he stood next to Uhura like a guard even as she stood straighter and squared her shoulders. Spock unclasped his hands and took the subtle stance of a fighter as his eyes landed on Jim.

"These negotiations are meant to be peaceful," the Vulcan said, "No harm is meant to come to any person on either side."

"Yes, of course. However, we need to know that we can trust the word of strangers. This is our process. The Captain has already bargained for your lives. He only needs to make the trades, but we would be remiss if we did not give you the chance to claim your own lives."

"Enough, Mott," Jim said, trying in vain to hide his panic and anger, "I've made the deals. They have no say in it."

"The hell we don't!" Bones shouted.

"Captain, what are you trading?" Uhura asked.

"Nothing important," Jim said, "Honestly, it's nothing. After this is all over, all six of us are going to be on the Enterprise, alive."

"All due respect, sir," Sulu said, "but that doesn't make us feel better."

"Keptin, we need to know," Chekov said, "If it is our lives, we should have a say in what is traded."

"You don't," Jim snapped, using his best 'don't bullshit me, I'm the Captain' voice, "I promise you, what I'm trading is nothing compared to your lives."

"Jim," Bones growled, "If you think we're gonna let you die for us-"

"I'm not. I'm not giving up my life, Bones. I promise. Right, Mott," he said, gesturing to the magistrate, "You're not killing me, are you?"

Mott shook his head, "No. That was never our intention. We only wish to see if you are trustworthy."

"Right, and the only way that's going to happen is if I make the trade," He threw them a forced smile that was meant to be reassuring but fell flat, "and trust me, the trade isn't that bad."

Liar. He saw the word reflected in all of their eyes. They didn't believe him, and he really couldn't blame them. He was lying after all. He promised it would be alright, but it really wouldn't be. He imagined what their faces would look like when Mott brought him back after the bargain was done. The looks of horror, of disgust, of pity. They would be furious when he returned, but by then it would be too late. It would already be done.

"Perhaps if you told us what you were trading we would be less apprehensive," Spock said. His eyes were narrowed, and oh shit, Jim knew that look. It was Spock's bulldog with a bone look, the one he only wore when he refused to give up on something, refused to be anything but stubborn and tenacious.

Jim waved his hand dismissively, "It's not important-"

"Magistrate Mott," Uhura said, cutting him off, "We have a right to know what we are being bought with. Tell us, please."

Jim winced at the word bought. The price of their lives, the sum that he had to pay was nothing when he compared it to the thought of life without them. No Spock to spout regulations like vomit. No Sulu to banter and spar with. No Uhura to knock him down five pegs. No Chekov to brighten the bridge with a smile. No Bones to grumble when he wakes up in sickbay once again. No, he couldn't do it. The loss of his limbs was nothing compared to the loss of them.

"Enough stalling," he said in clipped tones, facing Mott with his back completely turned to his team, "You told them their lives are on the line, now let's get them off."

Mott nodded, "As you wish, Captain."

He moved after Mott without looking back, not even when he heard his name called in five different versions of panic and desperation. Jim! Captain! Sir! Keptin! Kirk! The door shut heavy and final behind him.

The room Mott led him to was white and smelled of bleach. Something resembling a dentist's chair sat in the middle. The seat was lounged back, but instead of stretching full length like a bed, the legs spurred off in separate directions. There were two arm rests complete with straps protruding perpendicular to the torso of the chair. Nausea rolled through his stomach with the force of a tidal wave as Castor led him to the chair and strapped him down, one restraint around each of his limbs and two around his abdomen and chest. The second man, whose name Jim still didn't know, rolled out a machine that Jim could only describe as tortuous.

"Are you prepared to make the trade?" Mott asked.

Briefly, Jim wondered what they'd do with his limbs when they were done. Since Mott kept calling it a trade, he didn't think they'd be giving them back. So would they use them, maybe for some whacked out science experiment? Or would they just toss them away, let them rot and decompose to dust?

"Just get it done," he growled, licking away the sweat gathering on his top lip.

"Are you certain?" Mott asked urgently, "You may still back out. The trade is not yet done."

Jim stared at the ceiling, "Will you let them go?"


"Then fuck you."

He wondered if Mott even understood the insult he'd just thrown at him, but guessed that his gruff and abrasive tone was enough to get his message across. Mott nodded to Castor who rolled the machine over his left arm, adjusting the laser so it would begin separating flesh just above his elbow. He clenched his hand into a fist and fought to relax it, knowing if his muscles were tense it would only hurt more.

When Castor moved toward him with what looked like a hypo, Jim shouted, "Wait."

Mott looked at him eagerly, "Have you changed your mind?"

"No, I want to know what that is," he nodded to the hypo.

"It is a pain killer and sedative," Mott said, sounding mildly disappointed that Jim wasn't backing down.

Fuck you, asshole, Jim thought, I'm going to pass your messed up test and then I'm going to tell Starfleet just what kind of raving lunatic you are.

"I'm probably allergic," Jim told him, "Don't give me anything."

"There will be immense pain," Mott said, "You could die."

"You give me those drugs and I will die. I can take the pain."

Mott set his jaw hard, "The amount of pain you will be in could very well kill you, Captain Kirk."

You're about to take my limbs. Why the hell are you being so polite, asshole?

"If I die on the table and you haven't taken all of my…parts, are my friends forfeit?"

Slowly, Mott said, "No."

"Then it doesn't matter."

"We have no intention of killing a Starfleet captain-"

"But you're maiming one," Jim snapped, "What the hell difference does it make?"

Mott's eyebrows pinched together, "Your life should not be forfeit."

Jim laughed at that, low and mirthless and nearly manic. Stupid asshole. Didn't he know his life was already forfeit? What the hell kind of life could he have after this?"

"I made my choice. No drugs. Just get it over with."

With a flick of a switch, the machine hummed to life. Breathe, Jim reminded his lungs, Just breathe.

Mott stood over him, looking grave, "This is your last chance, Captain. Do you wish to stop?"

Course laid in, Captain.

Permission to come aboard...

I may throw up on you.

I hope you know what you're doing...Captain.

Keptin, on the bridge!


Pain, sharp and hot, like nothing he'd ever felt before, slashed through skin and muscle, almost down to the bone. And for a moment, he's too shocked to do anything. A part of him, a deep, hopeful part, thought that maybe it was all a test, that they would get him strapped down, realize he wasn't going to change his mind, and trust his word. Not that it changed anything, but he could always hope. Until the pain hit and he couldn't hold back the anguished scream that ripped past his lips and tore through his throat. His back arched and his right arm strained against the strap holding his forearm down. Castor hovered over him, eyes wide and terrified, watching as the laser cut across Jim's left bicep once and the slid back the other way.

And then, Jim moved.

He heaved all of his weight to the right, yanking the chair only a few inches from its original place. But it was enough. The laser cut through his forearm and the strap holding him down. Mott was yelling for Castor to turn the machine off, but as Castor moved, he slipped in the blood pooling under Jim's arm and fell short of the machine. And Jim moved again, dragging his arm up- burning and bleeding and Jesus fucking Christ it hurt- and shoving the machine up and away. The laser angled straight up, directly into the heart of the second man whose name Jim still didn't know. A startled, pain filled scream gurgled on the man's lips but was cut abruptly short as his knees gave out and he crumbled in a lifeless heap.

Mott stared in disbelief, panting and gasping as his wide eyes took in the surreal scene. But Jim wasn't done yet. His arm still bleeding, still screaming in pain, he reached down and grabbed the phaser from Castor's belt and shot the Magistrate through the shoulder. The look on the other man's face was one of utter shock and astonishment and said This is impossible, and it would stay with Jim as a small consellation prize for this whole clusterfuck of a mission.

But of course it was possible. Because this was Jim Kirk, and he didn't believe in no-win scenarios. If there was a way out, he'd find it. And if that way was giving up his limbs for his friends, then so be it, but that didn't mean he was going to go quietly. That didn't mean he wasn't going to try his best to get out in one piece.

He glanced at the blood soaking his arm and the concrete beneath him. Well, in a semi-one piece.

He turned the phaser on Castor, "Get me out of here."

The young man didn't need to be told twice. He eagerly undid every strap and helped Jim sit up right, holding him steady as blood loss and dizziness almost overpowered him. He stepped away and grabbed a towel, wrapping it tightly around the bloody wound on Jim's upper arm.

"You're…" Jim paused, uncertain, "You're helping me?"

Castor nodded.


Castor shook his head, opened his mouth, and pointed to the gaping crater where his tongue used to be. Jim stared at him in astonishment, and watched at Castor pointed to the machine and then took out a holopic from his pocket. He brought it to life, showing Jim a picture of a young woman with giant green eyes and a heart shaped mouth. Castor pointed to his tongue again and smiled.

"You traded," Jim said softly, "for her life."

Castor smiled wider, pocketed his picture, and pointed to Jim's arm, and then his other one, his legs and his back.

"I would have," Jim began, but Castor waved his words away and just smiled. Then he helped Jim stand.

Jim imagined the bloody trail he was leaving was a sight to behold. Drops of blood on the floor, smears of it on the walls, blood soaking Castor's shirt and dyeing the white towel around his arm red, red, red. Bones was going to have an aneurysm. He held his arm up with his fist by his collarbone, and hoped the laser hadn't cut through an artery. In all honesty, while he still felt white-hot pain surging from the muscle to his finger tips, he really couldn't feel the arm itself. It was like it wasn't really there, like it really had been chopped off.

"I need my communicator," Jim said, panting from exertion and pain, "I have to contact the ship."

Castor nodded and helped him lean against a wall in an alcove just off the main hallway. He raised his hand up, palm out, his face stern, the universal sign to stay. Jim nodded, knowing he was too weak to argue or to run around a compound he didn't know. He didn't like it, but trusting the mute humanoid was his only option.

His vision started whiting out on the edges. One moment he'd be looking at the gray-white wall across from him, and the next he'd be seeing only blackness. He blinked once, twice. The third time, Castor's face was in front of his, looking worried and anxious. He held up the comms, and Jim grinned.

"Take me to my friends," he breathed.

Castor seemed ready to argue, but took Jim's right arm and pulled him to his feet. By the time they made it to the room, Castor was practically dragging Jim's body down the hall. As Jim went to open the door, Castor stopped him, shook his head, and started stepping back. Jim caught his wrist.

"You could come with us," he said, desperate to help the man who'd helped him, "We can take you off this planet."

Castor shook his head, pointed to his tongue-less mouth and patted his pocket. Jim nodded, understanding that he couldn't leave behind the one he'd sacrificed for. He understood that sentiment all too well.

"Thank you," he said, whole heartedly. Castor nodded, and then fled back down the hall.

Heavy limbed, Jim leaned heavily against the door and stumbled inside. His team was huddled around the table at the back and jumped to their feet when the door swung open. Their faces spoke volumes as he stumbled toward them, keeping his injured arm close. Bones moved toward him, but Spock was faster, catching Jim before he could fall to his knees.

"Jesus Christ, what the hell-"

"Captain, are you al-"

"Stop," Jim ordered and held up the comm in his shaking hand, "We have to get off this planet. Now."

If his bloody arm and breathless gasps weren't enough to fuel their actions, the hurried footsteps and angry shouts from the hall were. Spock snatched the comm from his fingers as Bones and Sulu moved to help him up. It didn't escape his notice that Chekov and Uhura stood on the outside of the ring, ready to face whatever came through the door. His vision was darkening again, and the world around him seemed to be submerged under water. He could hear Spock ordering Scotty to get them out and Bones cursing at him impressively, but the sound was muddled, and so very far away.

Finally, the whitest of lights surrounded them and they were suddenly standing in the transporter room. And Jim finally collapsed.

There were hands on his back, hands on his right arm, and voices, some soft, some urgent, and there was just too much for him to decipher. He was laying down and staring up through half-hooded eyes as Bones leaned over him, reaching for his left arm, moving the towel and the ruins of his shirt.

No, his mind gasped frantically, No, I don't want you to see. You shouldn't know. You were never supposed to know.

But Bones did. Jim could see it, the moment that Bones saw the name written across his left arm like a brand, a tattoo, a scar. There to forever haunt him and remind him what he was willing to give up. Bones' eyes widened and his fingers stilled and his mouth parted in a denying plea that Jim couldn't answer. When he turned his eyes back to Jim's face, there were tears threatening to fall from both of their eyes, but Jim was too tired to explain, too tired to keep his eyes open any longer.

The last thing he felt was Bones' fingers pushing up the sleeve on his right arm, and then everything went black.

He woke alone. Which was surprising.

He didn't expect fanfare or everyone on his away team to be hovering over his bed, waiting with bated breath for him to wake up. But he expected someone. Anyone. A nurse, even. Mostly he expected Bones. Because Bones was always there, even when it wasn't that serious, just waiting for him to open his eyes so he could start yelling and cursing him with a hundred different variations of moron, idiot, damn infant.

But there was no one. He beat down his disappointment and instead focused on his arm. There was a thick strip of pristinely white gauze wrapped around his upper arm and a smaller patch over his lower forearm. He cautiously flexed his fingers, hissing when the skin pulled under the bandages. Well, at least his arm seemed to still work.

Carefully, very carefully, he sat up straight, pausing when a spike of pain sent a wave of dizziness sloshing through his head. But pain was good. Pain meant there was still something attached that could hurt.

Sitting upright, he thought about his next move. He didn't think he could walk straight if he got up, and even if he could manage to stumble about like a drunken fool, he wasn't sure he'd make it passed the door. But sitting and waiting wasn't in his genes, and he was anxious to make sure his team was actually alright. His last memories were fuzzy, and while he was fairly certain they'd all made it out before he finally lost his fight against consciousness, he had to be sure.

It was as he reached for the comm that he noticed what was on his arms, or rather, what wasn't there, but should have been.

There were no letters spelling out names stained on his skin. He rotated his right arm, looking for even the faintest sign of Spock's name, but came up empty. He tossed the blanket off his legs and found he was wearing shorts, and that the names that had adorned his skin like battle wounds had vanished. He couldn't see his back, but he was fairly certain Chekov's name was gone, too.


He should have known he'd never be able to hide it. If he'd had his way, he'd have sprinted for his fresher and scrubbed his skin until it was raw and bleeding so that they'd never know what he was supposed to trade for their lives. Not because he was ashamed; he would have gladly worn their names his entire life just to show the entire universe how important they were to him. But he knew them, and he knew they wouldn't see it as an equal trade. They'd feel guilty.

"Well, look who woke up finally."

Startled, Jim almost toppled backwards against the bio bed. Bones stepped across the expanse of the room with a PADD in his hands and a scowl on his face. And a part of Jim sighed in relief. If Bones was grumbling at him, then things weren't that far from being alright.

"What's the damage?" he asked, and winced at the raw, weak quality of his voice, "God, what the hell'd you do to my voice?"

Bones grunted, "Nothing. That's what happens when you lose two pints of blood, you moron."

Jim quirked an eyebrow, "Just two?"

"Most of it's all over my medbay, but who knows how much you left decorating the halls of that damn compound." A dark light cast shadows over Bones' eyes, "It nicked the artery, Jim. You nearly bled out. The only reason you didn't was because of that tourniquet, and that nearly cost you your arm."

"But it didn't right?"

"You're going to need some PT, but no, you've still got full use of it. Lucky bastard that you are."

Jim closed his eyes and sighed in relief.

"You've got a lot of explaining to do, Captain," Bones said, and Jim looked at him, cursing in his head because Bones only used his title and that tone of voice when he was rightly and thoroughly pissed.

"I don't suppose I can get away with saying it's no big deal and letting it drop?"

Bones frowned and turned on his heel.

Shit. He'd royally fucked up this time.

While he was trying to decide if he was strong enough to stand let alone go after Bones, the doors to medbay slid open and his away team appeared in its threshold. He was surprised. Shocked, actually. He expected Spock because he was the First Officer and it was regulation that he check in with Bones about the captain's condition. But there was Uhura standing next to Spock like a shadow. And there was Sulu looking tense and agitated, standing just a fraction behind Chekov who looked as anxious as a new mother…or something. Maybe he should leave the metaphors to Bones.

"The fool's awake," Bones drawled and stepped back into the alcove of Jim's isolated biobed.

The others filtered in, standing side by side and forming a ring in the doorway, like a wall meant to keep him in.

Yeah, so, he was truly screwed.

"Captain," Spock said, his tone even and calculated, "it is good to see you conscious."

"Um, yeah." God, he was just so eloquent after massive blood loss.

Uhura rolled her eyes, "Sir, we'd like to know what happened down on Carthya Psi."

"Kind of thought it was obvious," Jim mumbled, rubbing his temple as a headache started to build. He really didn't want to do this right now. He was weary and tired and he didn't think he'd be able to scale back what happened if he talked about it now. He suspected that his team knew this and just didn't give a damn.

"We'd like details, sir," Sulu said, his words toneless and clipped. Great, so his sword ninja was pissed at him. Just great.

"I'm not really-"

"Cut the shit, Jim," Bones snapped, "and tell us why they fuck all of our names were tattooed on your dumbass limbs like labels."

Leave it to Bones to cut right to the quick.

"Because that's what they were," he said wearily, and he absolutely refused to look at their faces as the words hung around them like lead weight balloons.

"They were…" Bones faltered and that alone made Jim want to throw up.

He lifted his bandaged left arm gingerly, "One limb for one life. That was the deal."

The silence was so heavy, so suffocating, that he had to lift his head just to get his lungs to breathe. The expressions that met his were not what he expected.

He'd expected guilt. Pity maybe. Horror definitely. But he didn't expect the raw rage that colored every one of his friends' faces. Well, rage in varying degrees. Bones and Sulu were outright showing their fury while Uhura was breathing deeply, flaring her nostrils and swallowing hard as she tried to keep her anger in check. Spock, ever the Vulcan, was frowning hard enough that lines appeared around his mouth and on his forehead; it was a sign of just how angry he was that he let that much show. Chekov, while angry, looked more confused than anything.

"Keptin," he said softly, hesitantly, as if he really didn't want to know the answer to whatever he was about to ask, "You only have four limbs…and my name was on your back."

Jim balked and yelled fervently in his head Don't ask me, don't make me say it, Pavel, shit, please…

"What were you supposed to give for me?"

Jim hung his head, touching his temple resignedly, "Kidney."

The color drained from Chekov's face.

"Jesus fucking Christ, Jim," Bones growled, and if he'd had anything in his hands, Jim was certain it would be shattered on the floor.

Spock seemed to be the only one who could speak in full, intelligent sentences. Go figure. "Captain, what purpose did the Carthian magistrate hope to accomplish by this process?"

"He was testing me," Jim told him. This part, at least, was easy to explain, "He said that other leaders had come to their planet and nearly destroyed them because they lied about their intentions. This process was their way of determining if I was trustworthy. If I was willing to sacrifice for my team, then they knew I'd keep my word," he paused and added, "or some shit like that."

"So he thought chopping off your arms and legs was a good way of making sure you were honorable?" Uhura bit out, "And we had no say in the matter?"

"Not from where I stood, you didn't."

Bones whirled on him, "What the hell does that mean?"

"You are referring to when the magistrate brought you before us," Spock said with steadfast certainty, "He was giving us the opportunity to claim our lives."

"He was testing me," Jim insisted, "He knew it would be harder for me to hold to my word if you five were trying to talk me out of it. Freaking bastard."

"That's why you didn't tell us what was going on," Sulu said, "because you thought if we knew what you were trading we'd offer up our lives instead."

"Actually, I thought you'd do something stupid like try to stop them and end up getting killed anyway," Jim shrugged, and winced when pain hissed up his arm, "And that wasn't part of the plan."

"Plan?" Uhura questioned, "You actually had a plan?"

"Yeah, and it worked. A lot better than I thought, to be honest. Got to keep my arm and everything."

Maybe he shouldn't have been so cavalier about it. Maybe he should have shown just how messed up he was about almost losing a limb and very nearly dying. Heck, maybe he should have just told them, play by play, what happened so they wouldn't be so worried. Maybe then his five best officers wouldn't have looked at him like they were completely and utterly shattered.

"You…" Bones swallowed hard, "You planned that? You planned to let them cut into your arm and-"

"I didn't have any options," Jim said. He held his head up despite the painful pounding behind his eyes and kept his voice steady, "He had guards outside your room a call away from killing you if I didn't agree to his trades. We had no comms, no way to communicate with each other or the Enterprise. One misstep, and I was going to be bringing back five body bags."

"Why not warn us when he brought you to the room?" Sulu demanded.

"There were six armed men with the magistrate," Spock said, "Had we attempted escape or had the Captain attempted to warn us, we would have been shot down. It is highly probable that two of us would have been killed, one of us critically injured, and the other two wounded."

Jim nodded, "Not acceptable odds."

"Oh, but it is acceptable for you to give up all your limbs and a fucking kidney?" Bones shouted.


The vehemence in that one word was enough to shut Bones up with an audible click as his teeth snapped shut.

"Do you really think," Jim said slowly, purposefully enunciating his words so there would be no doubt in their minds about his certainty, "that I would let them kill you when all it would cost me to keep you alive was an arm?"

Bones gritted his teeth but it was Chekov that spoke quietly, "But it was not just an arm, Keptin."

"You're right," Jim said, and raised his left arm even though it hurt like a son of a bitch, "This was a kickass helmsman that saved my life on more than one occasion," he held up his right arm, "This was a pain in the ass Vulcan that keeps my head on straight by spouting off regulations like the freaking alphabet," he kicked out both legs, "These were a communications officer that calls me on my bullshit and a grouchy doctor who's been my best friend longer than any sane man should," and he pointed to his back, "and that is a brilliant navigational officer that's brighter in more ways than just intelligence."

He'd stunned them to silence, and if he wasn't so exhausted, he probably would have relished the moment.

"I could live without the stupid limbs," he said softly, "What makes you think I could live without all of you? And, yeah, my plan was crazy and had, like, a 1.8 percent chance of succeeding without me losing my arm, but I'm telling you, it was fucking worth it."

He'd reduced Uhura to tears. He was not proud of that. Nor was he proud of the fact that Sulu and Bones couldn't look at him, or that Chekov looked like he was choking to keep from sobbing. He focused on Spock, grateful to every deity that ever existed for his XO's resilient stoicism.

But, apparently, he'd even cracked that.

"Captain," Spock said in a voice that wavered and rippled like the sea, "I find myself unable to convey the gratitude your willingness to sacrifice causes me to feel, and though it is not without merit, I must insist that your sacrifice was not necessary. I would not have asked you to give up your right arm for my life."

"I know," Jim said, cutting off the others before they could join in with Spock, "I know all of you would have, but that isn't the point. Maybe two of you would have let yourselves die so I only had to lose three limbs and have some semblance of a life afterward, but which two? How did I choose who to sacrifice for and who not to?"

When none of them answered he pressed on, "And how would the others look at me after that? Knowing that I let some live and some die all so I could keep my stupid ass limbs?" He shook his head, "There wasn't ever a choice. Even if my plan hadn't of worked, I would have gladly lived life as rotting vegetable because at least it meant the rest of you lived." He shrugged, "I'm sorry if that pisses you off, but it's the way it is."

Uhura gasped in a shaking breath, swallowing her tears, "We aren't pissed at you, Captain, just the bastards that would make you choose."

Jim almost smiled, but then Bones' angry shout killed it.

"I'm pissed at you!" he yelled, "I'm pissed as hell that you think it's okay to nearly sever your arm off on the off chance that we might get hurt. It was a dumbass plan!"

Jim slumped forward, rubbing circles into his temple, "What do you want me to say, Bones?"

Bones surged forward until he was a foot away from the bed, nostrils flaring, eyes blazing, hands clenched into tight fists at his sides. He looked ready to kill Jim, and he wondered if he'd finally pushed his friend too far with this one. But the soft words that came from the doctor didn't match the homicidal look on his friend's face.

"I want you to realize that you mean just as much to us as we mean to you," Bones said, "I want you to stop trying to sacrifice yourself every chance you get. For once, I want you to understand that every sacrifice you're willing to make for us, we're willing to make for you."

Jim blinked, "Okay."

Bones gaped at him, "Okay? Just like that?"

"Yeah, Bones," he said, "Okay."

Bones stared at him in disbelief, no doubt expecting Jim to argue that his life wasn't nearly as important as theirs and that he would forever make the choice to let himself die so that they could live, but Jim's head pounded like an old fashioned locomotive down a track and there was a ringing in his ears that rivaled a church bell. He was too tired to do anything but accept what his friend said.

And then, just as Bones was beginning to smile, Jim's vision went fuzzy and he listed to the side, falling slowly. The noise of his friends' worried chatter faded out to a droning buzz that consumed the rest of the world. He saw spots and dancing sparks of light, and he wondered if maybe he should be a little more worried about what was happening than he was. The pain that had been constant and sharp gradually faded until just a dull ache remained.

Jim came back to the world with a moan, and was surprised to find he was still sitting up, albeit leaning against something solid and warm and most definitely human. He tilted his head back to glimpse the face of his new pillar, but really, it was unnecessary since he already knew without a doubt who it was.

"Hey, Bones," he mumbled.

"Hey, Jim," Bones said back, his voice rumbling in his chest and tickling Jim's ear, "You might have mentioned the headache."

"Was busy getting yelled at," he said, and rolled his eyes toward the door where he saw Spock ushering Uhura into the hall and casting a Vulcan-not-worried-in-the-slightest glance back at him. Sulu and Chekov were already gone, "Where're they going?'

"Back to the bridge," Bones said softly, "You need to rest. We can yell at you later."

Jim grunted, closing his eyes, "Or not at all."

"You've still got to give us the full debrief of what happened," Bones told him, "We deserve that much. But for right now, I'm gonna let the sedative do its job, and you're gonna sleep."

Carefully, Bones moved out from under him and helped him lie back on the bed.

"Not gonna say sorry," Jim whispered, the words slurring to unintelligible grunts as sleep beckoned him.

Bones' hands were heavy and warm on his shoulder, just like his words, "Don't expect you to, kid. Just wish you'd see how much we care."

Maybe he added 'how much I care' or maybe he said 'I want a pear'. Jim wasn't certain. He was too far gone to hear.

Names, Jim decided, are strange things. They hold much more significance than he ever thought possible.

Because Mott didn't have to use SULU, CHEKOV, UHURA, SPOCK, and MCCOY. He could have used titles: PILOT, ENSIGN, LIEUTENANT, COMMANDER, and DOCTOR. He could have used race: ASIAN, RUSSIAN, AFRICAN-AMERICAN, VULCAN, CAUCASSIAN. Or nouns: MAN, BOY, WOMAN, ALIEN, HEALER. But he didn't; he chose names.

But, Jim thought, he might have chosen the wrong ones.

It should have been Hikaru painted on his left arm. Because it might have been Sulu who jumped onto that drill with him almost a year ago, but it was Hikaru that he drank with in the cafeteria, spilling secrets about Hikaru's love of plants and Jim's love of stars.

And it should have been Pavel written across his back since it was Pavel who came to him a month into their mission, crying because of the guilt he felt for not being able to save Spock's mother.

He didn't call her by it, but Nyota should have been on his leg. Uhura might have been the one to refuse his flirting for years, but it was Nyota's hand he held in sickbay after a mission gone wrong had left her with a mild concussion and a black eye.

And Spock, well he knew Spock had other names, ones that Jim couldn't hope to pronounce, but there was a difference in the way Mott called his name and Jim did. Black ink couldn't convey the irritation and respect that colored Jim's voice when he said Spock's name while they played chess and the sneaky Vulcan crushed him again and again, or the gratefulness that leaked out when Spock stood by him even when he bent and snapped regulations like they were toothpicks.

And McCoy should definitely have been Bones, because Jim rarely, if ever, thought of him as anything else. It was Bones that patched him up time and time again when Jim came back broken and bloody. Bones that shouted and raged like a Klingon when he was trying to show he cared. Bones that would sit quietly with him in his quarters when they'd had a bad day and Jim just didn't know what to do anymore.

No, Mott had definitely chosen the wrong names to label on his skin. They didn't do well in expressing how much Jim's crew meant to him. Didn't even come close.

But, Jim had to wonder, what did his name, and every variation thereof, mean to them?

His arm was mostly healed and the pain had all but faded. Except for the few times he forgot himself and reached too far, pulling the new skin taut. There was only a faint scar on his upper arm, and not even a trace on his forearm. He was grateful for that, and for long sleeves. It was five days later, and Uhura had only just stopped glancing at his arm with a firm frown and shrouded eyes he couldn't read. Sulu still refused his offers to spar, his eyes always lingering on his left arm warily before he shook his head and walked away. And it did not escape his notice that both Chekov and Spock deliberately stood on his right side when he talked to them, and never handed anything to him on the left. Like they were afraid that even the smallest amount of pressure was going to snap his left arm off like a Lego piece.

Jim was getting tired of it.

When he'd given the full debriefing and logged his report, they had seemed to understand. Granted, understanding didn't keep Uhura from berating him for thirteen minutes about how stupid he was for not taking the pain killer and allowing them to cut his arm in half. But they had known that he wasn't being deliberately reckless, that he really didn't have any other options. He suspected that that was the real reason they were upset. Not because of what he'd done, but because there was nothing, absolutely nothing, they could have done to prevent it.

Bones was the only one that treated him normal, and for that, he would forever be grateful. If he'd decided to treat him like a fragile crystal vase too, he wouldn't have been able to take it. He'd even put him back on full duty without much of a fuss. Something else he was grateful for since they'd just received new orders.

He stepped into the conference room two minutes early and found that the five people he'd been thinking about were already there. He frowned, wondering why they were so early and why they all looked like they were up to something.

"Captain," Spock greeted, "You are early."

"It does happen on occasion."

"Indeed, however, normally you are 4.3 minutes late to all scheduled meetings."

Jim rolled his eyes, "Yeah, well. There's a first time for everything."

Spock inclined his head. Uhura cleared her throat. Chekov studiously stared at the ground.

"Alright, what's going on?"

"What're you talking about, Jim?" Bones asked, but Jim could see the smirk twitching at his lips.

"You're up to something," he turned his gaze to every one of them, frowning when he didn't get an answer, "Is it something I should be worried about?"

"Of course not," Uhura said, "I think you're being paranoid, sir."

"Uh huh."

"Perhaps we should begin the meeting," Spock suggest, "Since we are all here on time."

"Sure," Jim said and took his seat at the table. The others moved to their places: Spock on his right, Bones on his left, Uhura beside Spock, and Sulu then Chekov beside Bones. It wasn't until they'd all sat down that Jim noticed the writing on Uhura's left leg.

"Lieutenant," he said in a distinctly not strangled voice, "what is that on your leg?"

She held his gaze and said, "My allegiance."

He stared at the word on her leg, mouth hanging slightly open, his mind unable to wrap itself around the word written on her shin and the word that had come out of her mouth. Beside her, Spock laid his hands on the table and Jim nearly fell out of his chair when he saw the word written across the back of the Vulcan's hand.

"Captain, are you well?" Spock asked, and damn him if his eyebrow didn't quirk.

Jim couldn't breathe. Confusion and panic and anger swirled in his chest until it surrounded his lungs like cotton, rendering him breathless. He looked to Bones, out of habit or desperation he didn't know, only to find the Doctor leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest, a black word written across his forearm. Beside him, Sulu tilted his head to the side and revealed a word printed down his neck, starting at his hairline and disappearing under the collar of his shirt. Chekov proudly displayed the words written on both of his hands, one in Standard and the other in Russian.

James T. Kirk was a strong man, one of the bravest (most insane) captains of Starfleet. He had faced down time-travelling Romulans hell bent on revenge, a handful of vicious alien predators intent on devouring him, alien diplomats with way too many zany customs, and a magistrate with a laser and an affinity for taking body parts. All of them he had done without flinching, without hesitation, without weakness.

But sitting at the head of the conference table that day, he was not ashamed to admit to the tears that streamed in twin lines down his face.

"Thank you," he said, voice ragged and unguarded and totally, completely, utterly honest.

He had wondered what his team would call him and what those names meant to them. And this was their answer:

To Uhura, he was Kirk, a last name that held honor and heroism and sacrifice all in one syllable. She'd chosen her leg because in the last year he had become a pillar of support, a column of strength, one that she didn't think she could live without, and very much tried not to imagine it.

For Spock, he was simply Captain, a title that at one time Spock never thought Jim could live up to, but had come to find that the simple title did not convey all that his captain was. He chose his hand because as a Vulcan, he'd hoped the symbolism of losing one of his means of touch telepathy would show the high regard he had come to feel for the human he once despised.

Sulu had stamped Brother across his neck for two very simple reasons: The first, Jim was his brother in combat, in life, and in death, and the second, he would gladly give his life to keep the last one from coming true.

Chekov had written Friend on his right hand, and on his left, he'd put Geroy, meaning 'hero'. He'd used two words, not because he felt like the Captain meant more to him than the others, but because he knew the Captain was never just one thing. He switched hats more often than he wore them, but he was always a friend and he was always a hero. And Chekov chose his hands because without them he wouldn't be able to do his job and he would be pointless and useless, much like how he'd be if he ever lost his Keptin.

If Bones was always Bones to Jim, then Jim was always Jim to Bones. And while he'd only written Jim across his arm because it was visible, he'd also written it across his chest, just above his heart, because there was nothing Bones wouldn't do, nothing he wouldn't give to keep Jim alive. Loyalty went both ways.

Maybe Jim should have known all of this from the beginning. Maybe he should have realized months ago that his crew was not just a crew, but a family, exactly as he'd hoped it'd be, and that they'd sacrifice just as much for him as he would for them. Maybe he could have avoided the injuries and the pain and the near death experience that way.

But if he had, he wouldn't be James T. Kirk, and his crew, his friends, his family wouldn't follow him to the ends of the universe and back again.

And maybe that's just the way it was supposed to be.

A/N:The Russian conversations were "Pasha, my son" "Happy Birthday, ma'am" and "Thank you, Captain". At least, I hope that's what they were. Blame Google Translate if they're not and I said something offensive.

So thanks for reading! If you feel so inclined, please leave your thoughts in a review. I thrive off of them!