A/N: I apologize from the bottom of my heart for taking so long to finish this story. I realize it's been a year since I started this, and several months since I last updated, but I have a pretty valid reason. This past April, my father suffered a heart attack and after a terrible week of life support, he passed away two days before my 26th birthday. It was a really hard summer.

I had been writing a different version of this chapter at the time, but every time I tried to go back to it, I hit a massive block, both in writing and emotionally. So I took a break, and when things got better, I tried again but I still had the same problem. Eventually I scrapped it and started from scratch. I'm not terribly proud of this chapter, but it's finished and I think it's the best I can do. I know it won't live up to the long wait and I'm really sorry for that, but I hope you like it even so.

WARNING: When the story ends, it says FINISH. There is a small scene after that, however, between Bones and Jim. It can be construed as slash, nothing graphic, it's mainly suggestive, but if you don't want to read it, I understand. It doesn't hurt the story, so just skip it!


Transcript from the emergency call placed at 23:22

Location: Gil's Bar, Key's Landing Settlement, Delta IV

"Emergency services, what's your emergency?"

(sounds of glass breaking) "Fucking Christ, they're gonna kill them! Get the police down here, now, Loretta. I swear to God, they're all insane!"

"Gil? What's going on?"

"Henke and his boys got into it again, but they picked the wrong group…(loud scream) Jesus! She just broke Hall's arm like a damn toothpick!"

"Calm down, Gil. Sheriff's on his way. Just-"

(Glass breaking, another scream abruptly cuts off)

"Holy shit! His...Oh, my God. His fucking eye…(gagging) Jesus, Loretta-"

"Gil, do you need an ambulance?"

(dry laugh) "More than one, babe."

"How many?"

(More breaking glass, more screams)

"All of them."

"This," Uhura said, drawing the word out with a hiss, "is entirely your fault."

Sulu tilted his head back until it hung over the edge of the bench, and cocked an eyebrow at the upside-down image of the lieutenant glaring at him through the twin set of metal bars.

"And how exactly do you figure that?" he asked, wincing as the cut on his lip split open. A hot bead of blood slipped onto his tongue, and he grimaced, trying not to gag.

"It was your idea to celebrate the captain's birthday-"

"He deserved to have a party."

"-on this archaic planet-"

"It was the closest place with actual civilization."

"-at a bar."

Sulu paused, "Alright. Point."

"To be fair to Hikaru, it was that syn sooka who threw the first punch," Chekov commented casually from the other side of the bench where he nursed a broken hand and served as a footrest for Sulu.

McCoy opened one eye to peer at him critically, "Thought I told you not to tuck your thumb?"

"Da," Chekov hissed at his swollen knuckles, "I forgot."

McCoy snorted, "Won't forget again." Holding his ribs lightly, he shifted his back against the wall and stretched out his legs, nearly kicking Scotty in the hip. The engineer was sprawled out on the concrete floor, drool dribbling down his chin to mix with the blood that had already dried there. Scotty- whether passed out from the drink, the exhaustion, or the concussion, Sulu wasn't sure- shifted in his sleep and smacked Keenser in the stomach. The Roylan growled and rolled to safety under Sulu and Chekov's bench.

From the other side of the bars, Julia sat cross legged, one elbow propped up on her knee and her chin cradled in her palm, "I'm with Nyota."

Sulu gaped at her, "What?"

"Remember what happened at the last bar?" Julia asked, "You know, the whole drugging Pavel, knife to the captain's guts fiasco?"

"The whole reason Pasha needed the defense lessons in the first place," Nancy Lavigne pointed out icily, glaring at her boyfriend's injury as if it were a personal insult.

Chekov smiled sweetly at her, "It is not so bad, Anushka."

In the far corner, Hendorff groaned, "Oh God. Stop with the mush already. We just got out of Sulu and Dawson's cutesy phase, and I'm in enough pain."

"I told you to duck!" Stephanie Paretsky called from her bench where she was braiding Lucy Donner's hair, "It's your own fault."

Hendorff glared with his right eye, his left eye being swollen shut and as purple as an eggplant, "You hit me with a chair."

"I was aiming for the meathead behind you," she smirked, "Meathead."

Christine Chapel rolled her eyes, "Now who's being cutesy?"

Stephanie snapped a hair tie at her, but it missed and hit Carrie Grafton in the arm, who had been using Christine's shoulder as a pillow, startling the sleeping ensign awake. She looked at the red mark quickly forming on her skin, at the rubberband lying innocently in her lap, and gave Stephanie a look that promised swift and painful retribution at a near point in the future. Christine, not forgetting she'd been the original target of the enemy fire, flipped Stephanie off with a bruised and jammed finger.

"Personally I think it's McCoy's fault," Lucy said.

As the entire crew froze in mild horror and awe, her boyfriend, Jake Matthews, bolted upright, choking on his own saliva.

"Are you crazy?!" he sputtered, "Why would you say that?!"

Lucy shrugged, "He can't do anything to me. I'm safely ensconced in a separate jail cell."

"I'm not!"

McCoy, barely glancing at the practically cowering Matthews, regarded Lucy with a mild expression, "What makes this my fault?"

"You were supposed to be the responsible one. Well, aside from Mr. Spock, of course."

"Your point?" McCoy growled. Sulu had the sneaking suspicion it was at being compared to Spock and not at his apparent failing at being a responsible crew member.

"My point is that as a doctor, sworn to heal not hurt, you were supposed to break up the fight, not join in," Lucy smirked, "Nice uppercut though."

Sulu chuckled, "Knocked him down with one punch."

McCoy grunted and rubbed his knuckles, "Guy deserved it." His eyes grew dark and he set his mouth in a grim line, "and a hell of a lot more."

Unconsciously, Sulu tightened his hands into fists, his entire body tensing as if anticipating a fight. Unbidden, the memory from earlier that night came back to him, and while it had been horrifying to see Kirk fall like dead weight to the ground, Sulu found it was the sound of the bottle crashing into Kirk's head, dull and hollow and resounding, that was the most horrifying. For the rest of his life, Sulu was certain he'd never forget that sound.

"It is not Doctor McCoy's fault, neither is it Mr. Sulu's."

At Spock's hushed declaration, Sulu sat up, catching Chekov in the chin with his toe. Muttering an apology, Sulu faced the commander at the end of the cell. Since they'd been put in the two cells nearly three hours ago, Spock had sat in the corner, meditating and stoically contemplating the fact that he would go down in Federation history as the only Vulcan to be arrested for a bar brawl. He would have been the picture of a perfectly unfeeling Vulcan if it weren't for the dark green blood on his knuckles and the emerald bruises dotting his cheekbones and forehead.

Lucy shrugged, "I'm still blaming them."

"I believe if we are to lay blame, it would be to the only truly guilty party- Frank Henke."

The name sent white hot anger rippling through Sulu's blood. Frank Henke's face conjured in his mind's eye- short graying hair, receding rapidly; dull, murky irises surrounded by red veins and yellow tint; pale skin the color of ash beneath untrimmed scruff. That image was Henke as Sulu had first seen him, but Sulu preferred the last image personally, the one with Henke unconscious, blood running from his nose and mouth and ears. Bastard had better be in a coma for what he'd done. He deserved nothing less.

"Who was he anyway?" Stephanie asked.

"I've been wondering the same thing," Lucy said, wincing as Stephanie pulled too tightly on her hair, "If I have to be locked up, I'd kind of like to know why."

Uhura turned, leaning against the bars, "You're locked up because you broke that guy's knee cap."

"Dislocated," Lucy corrected, smirking proudly, "and I know I'm locked up for the fighting. I'd like to know why I was fighting in the first place." She pointed two accusing fingers at Sulu and McCoy, "You two were the ones who started it."

"Technically, Henke started it," Sulu said.

McCoy grunted, "Yeah, about twenty years ago."

"Doctor, are you certain it is wise to reveal such details from the captain's past?"

McCoy waved a hand at the haggard and bruised crew, "Look at them, Spock. They're banged up and locked up, and all because they fought for Jim without really knowing why. They deserve to get the truth at least."

"Not if he doesn't want us knowing," Carrie countered as she stretched her sore muscles, lightly rubbing her bruised throat, "The captain has a right to his privacy."

"Personally, I don't need to know the reasons why," Hendorff said, "The bastard cold cocking Kirk with his back turned is reason enough."

"Seconded," Matthews said, raising his hand and then moaning when his broken wrist twinged in protest.

"Motion carried," Scotty slurred into his arm without raising his head or opening his eyes.

"I want to know," Christine said, "This is going on my record after all. Which I'd like to point out, was completely clean up until this point."

Julia laughed sharply, "Right, I totally believe that after watching you repeatedly beat a guy's head in with a napkin holder."

"Didn't she break that guy's arm?" Sulu asked.

"Nyet, that was Anushka," Chekov boasted, "Christine broke the ublyudok's nose."

"Ah," Sulu said, remembering Nancy cleanly breaking one of Henke's thug's arms while Christine slammed the antique metal napkin holder into his face. There had been an audible crack, a crunch, a strangled scream, and then a whole lot of blood.

"I find it curious," Spock said slowly as he stood and clasped his hands behind his back, "that you would participate in a physical altercation that did not affect you without knowing the clear reasons behind it."

"It did affect us." Sulu didn't try to decipher who said it since the words came from several mouths, but he was certain every one of the women took Spock's words as a personal insult.

"Not personally," Spock insisted, "Half of you were across the room, engaged in your own conversations and activities. Only Doctor McCoy, Mr. Sulu, and myself were within the proximity of the melee. The rest of you deliberately involved yourselves."

"Damn right we did," Hendorff grumbled, and then added almost sheepishly, "sir."

"He attacked the captain," Carrie said, "It didn't matter why."

"Did you see that Frank Henke attacked Captain Kirk? Or was that something you inferred?" Spock questioned, "What if the captain had been the one to instigate the fight, would you have still joined?"


The answer was resounding. It echoed off the walls and bars of their cells, having been uttered loudly and with determination from every other crew member present. Spock, never one to be startled, raised an eyebrow at them.


"I had a personal investment in defending the captain," Julia told them.

"And that would be?" Christine asked.

"It's very simple. No Jim Kirk. No wedding."

"Excuse me?!" Sulu sputtered.

"He's marrying us, Hikaru," Julia reminded him with a tone that begged for an argument.

"I know that," Sulu said patiently, "but I also know he isn't the only one capable of doing it."

Her eyes narrowed to tiny slits, "You listen to me, Hikaru Sulu. That man is the reason we got together in the first place, and why we've stayed together since, despite both of us having repeated bouts of stupidity. Not only is he our captain, he's our friend, and the only way I'm going to marry you is if he's the one that says 'I now pronounce you husband and wife.' If he can't do that, then I'm not getting married, and we will stay perpetually engaged for the rest of our lives and you will have to explain to Gramps why he'll never see his oldest granddaughter walk down the aisle."

Sulu raised his hands in surrender, knowing Julia wasn't kidding in the slightest, "Yes, ma'am."

"While I find your reasoning...intriguing," Spock told her, "I do not believe it applies to the rest of the crew." He looked at the rest of them expectantly, and they were all too happy to answer him.

"First of all," Uhura started, pulling herself upright and ticking off her points on her fingers, "while Kirk can be headstrong and impulsive, he's passed the days where he'd start a fight just for the sake of a fight."

"Are you sure?" Stephanie grinned wickedly, "Maybe we should ask someone who's had experience with Captain Kirk's brawl skills. Anything to add, Cupcake?"

Cupcake-Hendorff, Sulu corrected himself-scowled at her in response.

"Point the second," Lucy said, "Kirk isn't the kind to fight without good reason."

Matthews snorted, "This coming from the girl who once broke a guy's thumb for saying vanilla isn't a flavor."

"That's a good reason!" Lucy defended, jerking forward and then wincing when Stephanie pulled on her hair, "That's beside the point. Kirk has standards, most of which we all agree with. If he walked up to Henke and punched him in the face without a word, then he had a good reason."

Smirking, McCoy said, "That's not what he did."

"That's the third point," Nancy interjected quietly, "He should have."

The quiet conviction in her voice startled Sulu. He had no idea who Henke was or why he attacked Kirk, but from her tone and the slightly sorrowful yet pissed off look on her face, Nancy seemed to know what Sulu didn't.

"Nance," Julia began gently.

"You know something, Lavigne?" Hendorff asked in his usual tactless grunt.

"Carrie's right, I can't tell you the captain's story," Nancy explained, "but I can tell you mine."

Chekov leaned forward, eyebrows drawn down, jaw clenched tightly, "You do not have to, Anushka."

"I want to, Pasha," she insisted, shaking her head, "Julia and Pasha are the only ones who know this, but two years ago at the academy, I was in a relationship with Gary Mitchell. He was Jim's roommate and...friend, I guess. They got along but they weren't close. I met Jim a few times while Gary and I were dating. He was the only one to notice."

"Notice what?" Carrie asked hesitantly.

"The bruises."

"He was abusive to you," Spock stated.

Nancy nodded, "It started slowly at first. He'd hold my wrist or arms too tight when we argued, but then he'd hit me when he was angry, but only just once and always in places people couldn't see. Julia knew something was up, but never saw the bruises and I never told her. But Jim, somehow he knew."

"He's good at that," McCoy muttered, "For the record, I never liked Mitchell and knowing this doesn't make me think any better of him."

From under his arms, Scotty agreed with an acerbic, "Asshole."

"So what happened?" Lucy wondered with a hopeful smirk, "Did Kirk cave his teeth in?"

Hendorff turned to Matthews, "You're girl is vicious." Matthews nodded solemnly.

"He trained me," Nancy said proudly, "Did you think they taught us how to break a man's arm in two places in medical school?"

Uhura arched her eyebrow skeptically, "He trained to you fight Mitchell? Wasn't that dangerous?"

"Impulsive," Christine agreed.

"Necessary," Stephanie countered.

"Risky," Carrie added.

"Awesome," Lucy grinned.

Hendorff nudged Matthews, pointing at Lucy, "Bloodthirsty."

"He didn't train me to fight back," Nancy elaborated, "He trained me to fight. And as he did, he told me stories. Stories of a woman who came home from missions for Starfleet and turned a blind eye to the way her sons shied away from their stepfather. Of a little boy, brilliant and kind, being called No One and Nobody instead of his name. About broken bottles and beer and blood and bruises. About the day the older boy finally couldn't take it anymore and left the little boy all alone with a monster he couldn't fight."

The jovial, nonchalant air in their cells vanished and in its place was a black cloud of anger and regret. Deep down, Sulu was glad he hadn't heard this story before the bar fight. He'd never taken a life that wasn't in combat or out of self defense, but if he were ever to murder a man in anger, Henke was at the very top of that list, and like Lucy Donner, it would be vicious and bloodthirsty.

"He showed me how to be strong," Nancy told them softly, "He made me see that I was capable of fighting back, that I was worth more than what Gary did to me. And one night when Gary was yelling, throwing insults and slaps, I broke. I fought back, but not the way Gary did. That was the biggest thing Jim taught me. Just because I could hurt someone didn't mean I should. So I called campus police and got a restraining order, and a week later, Gary was kicked out of the academy."

"Yeah," McCoy drawled, "with broken ribs, broken hands, and a dislocated jaw." At Nancy's shocked look, he chuckled, "Jim's no saint, darlin', but he's got the patience of one, especially when it comes to revenge. Kid can hold a grudge like nobody's business."

Lucy snorted derisively, "Isn't that the truth."

"The stories he told you," Christine asked softly, "they were about him?"

Nancy shrugged, "He never told me names, but the way he told them, the pain and anger that was in his voice, if they weren't about him directly, they were about someone he knew and loved. They were personal."

"Frank Henke," Spock said, "was Jim's stepfather."

No one knew what to say to this solemn declaration, but judging from their expressions, Sulu knew the crew was imagining getting their hands on Henke a second time. Finally, Stephanie broke the silence.

"So Kirk had a good reason."

"He had the best of reasons," Sulu agreed, "but he didn't hit Henke. He was walking away."

"Kirk?" Uhura exclaimed, "Jim Kirk was walking away from a fight?"

Christine cocked her head at her friend, "I thought you were advocating Kirk's new responsible, no-fighting attitude."

"I said he didn't start fights just for the sake of fighting anymore," Uhura corrected, "I didn't say anything about him walking away from one. It's in his genes to fight. He never backs down."

"I didn't say he was backing down," Sulu said, "I said he was walking away. Henke started it. Once he recognized Kirk, he laid into him, insulted him, called him a bunch of shit that didn't stick, but Kirk gave as good as he got. And then he told Henke that he wasn't worth the effort and started to leave."

"And Henke beaned him with the bottle," Hendorff growled, "Fucking coward."

"That's a given," Carrie stated firmly, "He abused children. A man who is deliberately cruel to those weaker than him is always a coward," she paused thoughtfully and then added, "and an asshole."

"Your statements do not negate my argument," Spock said, "but only further my curiosity. You did not have this knowledge when the fight began, yet none of you hesitated to join the altercation. You have put your well being as well as your careers on the line for reasons you did not fully understand. Why?"

"Because he's our captain," Stephanie said simply.

"Because he'd do the same for us," Matthews answered.

"Because we're loyal," Julia said, smiling at Sulu.

And at that moment, because it was Julia saying the words, Sulu finally understood what he had been witnessing all these months.

It wasn't loyalty.

It was love.

The moments he'd been so curious about, the list he'd kept so carefully hidden in his quarters, they weren't the moments these people had devoted their loyalty to Kirk; they were the moments they saw him as more than his title or rank. When they saw him as human, as a person who cared about them. They didn't follow him because they were loyal; they were loyal because they loved him.

Loved him as a brother who fought beside them in battle, held them up when things got hard, and teased and pranked them when times were boring.

Loved him as a mentor who corrected them when they made mistakes, praised them when they succeeded, and kicked their asses when they deserved it.

Loved him as a friend who held their hand in the infirmary when a mission went wrong, had their favorite dessert made on their birthday, and went to the mat with them to work off that day's frustration.

It wasn't just loyalty to Captain Kirk.

It was love for Jim.

The epiphany left Sulu slightly awed, but before he could decide if he should share his revelation, the door to the cells opened and the officer who'd arrested them strolled into the hall. As he approached the men's cell, Sulu counted the stains on the front of his shirt, noted that there were four more than earlier, and grimaced at the two growing ones showing under his arms. Garner, if his badge was to be believed, stopped at the cell door, hooked his thumbs in his belt loops, and narrowed his eyes.

"You're all a bunch of lucky sons of bitches," he grumbled and reached beneath his massive belly to unhook his key ring.

Matthews scrambled away from the cell door as Garner swung it open.

"You're releasing us?" Matthews asked, yelping as he braced his weight on his injured wrist.

Garner grunted but offered nothing else as he moved to the women's cell.

"What is transpiring?" Spock asked. When Garner ignored him, Spock exited his cell and stood beside him with an imposing posture only a Vulcan could achieve, "As an official of this planet's authority you have a duty to inform your prisoners of changes in their circumstances. You will do so now."

Garner visibly flinched. As they left their cell, Christine couldn't stop her amused giggle, earning a smile from Uhura.

"He hates repeating himself," she whispered to her friend, "Says it's a sign of an incompetent mind."

"You're bein' released," Garner said.

"We got that," McCoy groused, "We want to know why."

"We got the security data," Garner clarified with all the enthusiasm of having teeth pulled, "Henke started it. He's bein' charged and you're goin' free. Your captain's s'posed to take care of your discipline since you're Starfleet."

"You saw the captain?" Julia demanded, "Is he alright?"

Garner scratched one of his chins, "He was walkin' and talkin'. Can't be that bad off."

"You'd be surprised," Sulu muttered, watching with mild interest as McCoy turned the color of a well-cooked beat.

"You tellin' me that moron's here?" the doctor hissed through clenched teeth.

Garner ignored him, "If you all are done interrogatin' me, I'll take you out now. I'm 'bout as anxious as you to get you gone."

"Doubt it," Lucy told him with a smile that promised painful things.

With Hendorff and Sulu shouldering Scotty's weight between them, the fifteen battered crew members followed Garner through the corridors and locked doors to the lobby. Waiting for them, with all of his weight braced on the counter, dried blood flaking on his neck, and even more staining the back of his shirt, was Kirk. He straightened when he saw them, swaying slightly as he squared his shoulders and gripped the counter's edge until his knuckles were white. It looked as if a sneeze could knock him flat.

"Here ya go, Cap'n," Garner said cheerily, "One crew, as promised."

Kirk's bloodshot eyes roved over them and turned sharply to Garner, "Why weren't their injuries seen to?"

Garner shrugged, "We had more serious injuries to worry 'bout. Injuries inflicted by your crew, I might add."

"There's a doctor and three nurses right there." Kirk waved a slightly trembling arm at his crew, "You could have given them a first aid kit and let them care for themselves."

"Dangerous givin' prisoners things. Could use anything as a weapon. I saw what that one did with a salt shaker," Garner hooked a thumb at Lucy, "Moran nearly lost his eye."

Lucy beamed like she'd been given a trophy. Hendorff, not so subtly, took a step away from her.

"I'm adding it to my list," Kirk told Garner, "You'll be lucky if you can get a sewer job after this."

Garner bristled, "I've done my job and your people are just fine."

Spock stepped forward, "You have neglected-"

"Commander," Kirk snapped harshly, "Shut up." As his second fell silent, Kirk glared at the rest of them, "That goes for all of you. Not a word."

Stunned, no one made a sound. Satisfied, their captain turned back to Garner.

"You know what you did," he said slowly, "and don't think for a second that when we walk out that door that this will all go away. I'm following this through and if I see the charges against that bastard dropped or changed in any way, I'm coming after your ass."

Garner snorted, "You can't touch me."

"I won't have to," Kirk said, "I'll just let my crew do whatever they want to you. Imagine your medical chart matching those more serious injuries you had to care for," Kirk cocked his head, "We clear?"

"As crystal," Garner muttered, "Now get gone."

"Gladly," Kirk turned to his crew and reluctantly let go of the counter, "Let's go."

As he stepped forward and wavered, half of the crew moved to help him, but Kirk's irate glare stopped them cold. He moved by them stiffly, and Sulu realized that Kirk's anger wasn't just directed at the incompetent officer.

They exited the building, guarding their injured limbs and glancing at each other with confused apprehension. When they'd gone twenty feet from the door and turned the corner, Kirk abruptly collapsed against the wall, bracing his shoulder against the bricks and breathing heavily through his nose. McCoy was instantly by his side, supporting his other half and running nimble fingers across the raging wound at the base of his skull.

"Fuckin' butchers," he hissed when he saw black thread stitching the skin together, "Jesus, Jim, we have to-"

Just as abruptly as the fatigue had hit him, adrenaline brought Kirk back to life. He stood upright, jerking away from McCoy's ministrations, his anger barely contained.

"I ordered you to keep quiet, Lieutenant Commander," he snapped, "and I mean it."

Sulu's mouth fell open. He'd heard Kirk and McCoy bicker. He'd heard them argue about the serious and the inconsequential. He'd watched them laugh, debate, cry, and everything in between. But never had he seen one of them truly and thoroughly angry at the other. Even when McCoy had raged at Kirk after the mission with the flying dinosaur, his anger had been a front for his worry. But this, this was real, and from his wide eyes and open mouth, Sulu guessed that McCoy was just as shocked as the rest of them.

Eyeing them all with the same reprimand, Kirk pulled out his communicator and snapped it open.

"Enterprise, we're ready for extraction. Begin the beam up."

"Aye, Captain," came the ready reply, "Beaming up the first group now."

White light enveloped Uhura, Carrie, Stephanie, Lucy, Julia, and Christine. When they'd vanished, Nancy, Chekov, Scotty, Matthews, Hendorff, and Keenser followed. It was a relief when Sulu felt the familiar tingle of the transporter, not only to get off the hellhole of a planet, but also to get away from Kirk's angry glare, if only for the second it took to travel to the Enterprise.

The rest of the crew were waiting anxiously as the last of their motley band appeared on the transporter pad. Julia reached out for Sulu's hand as he stepped down and clung to it tightly as they watched Kirk stumble down the step. This time, no one attempted to help him, fearful that what patience he was showing would evaporate.

"Thank you, Gaila," Kirk said to the Orion standing behind the console, "I need you and Keenser to escort Commander Scott to the infirmary." His voice was kind when he addressed her, but when he turned back to them, it was as hard as the bottle Henke had bashed against his head, "The rest of you to the conference room. Now."

Turning on his heel, he didn't wait for their acknowledgements. Stunned and terrified, the crew watched his stiff back disappear down the hall. Gaila leaned her hip against the console and whistled sharply.

"You guys are in deep," she said, "I've never seen Jimmy that angry," she paused and added thoughtfully, "Well, besides that time he beat down Mitchell. Whatever you did, I suggest grovelling."

"It'd help if we knew what we did," Uhura said, "What's his problem?"

"Perhaps we should endeavor to find out," Spock said and headed down the hall.

The others followed reluctantly, and Sulu had the distinct feeling that this was how prisoners felt as they were walked to their execution. Kirk was leaning against the window in the conference room, one arm raised above his head and pressed against the glass. His head hung down and his shoulders slumped, as if the anger had completely drained him.

Or, Sulu mused, it could have been the severe concussion.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Kirk demanded without turning. When no one answered, he lifted his head and glared at their reflections, "Well?"

"Oh, are we allowed to talk now?" McCoy growled.

Kirk spun around sharply, "Don't push me, Bones."

Well, Sulu thought tiredly, at least we're back to names instead of ranks.

"I asked you a question," Kirk said, "and I'm still waiting for an answer. What the hell were you thinking getting into a fucking bar brawl? Do you know how many strings I had to pull to get you out of lockup? Not to mention the favors I had to cash in to keep your sorry asses out of a disciplinary trial!"

For a moment, no one uttered a sound. Beside Sulu, Julia blinked several times as if focusing her vision would somehow make Kirk's words more clear.

"You're angry with us," Uhura enunciated slowly, "because we fought for you?"

"I'm angry because you put yourselves at risk," Kirk snapped, "for nothing!"

"We did it for you, dumbass," McCoy snapped back, "You think we like getting our asses kicked?"

"Speak for yourself," Hendorff grumbled, crossing his arms. Aside from the black eye caused by friendly fire, he didn't have a scratch on him and he wanted it known that he was the ass kicker, not the ass kickee.

Spock stepped forward to add logic to the otherwise illogical argument, "Our intentions were not to anger you, Captain, nor to put our lives in jeopardy. However, given the circumstances and your opponent, we intervened to insure your safety."

"Bullshit," Kirk hissed, "I saw their injuries, Spock. That wasn't self-defense; that was an outright vicious attack." With the last accusation, he glared at Lucy.

The young woman met the heat of his glare degree for degree, "I'm not apologizing. They deserved it."

"Richard Moran deserved to have his eye nearly gouged out?" Kirk demanded, "Navir D'Tell deserved hours of surgery for a ruptured spleen?"

"I'll take credit for Moran," Lucy said, "but I had nothing to do with D'Tell."

Behind her, red with embarrassment, Carrie squeaked out, "Ruptured spleen?"

"Carrie, weren't you the one beating D'Tell with that table leg?" Stephanie gave her two thumbs up, "Kudos."

"Enough!" Kirk slammed his palm on the table, effectively silencing them all, "This isn't a fucking game! You have no idea what you did. Henke and his crew are locals. They're friends with Garner and half of the other deputies. When I woke up in that hospital, Garner was five minutes away from transferring the men to a different base and releasing the women just so they could have an "accident" on the way back to the ship. Do you understand what that means?"

Sulu tightened his grip on Julia's hand, chasing off thoughts of what Kirk was implying. Granted, the women had more than proven they could take care of themselves, but in the dark against several men, unaware they were in danger? It would give him nightmares if he thought about it too long. As Matthews wrapped an arm around Lucy's waist and Hendorff stepped closer to Stephanie, Sulu knew Kirk's point had hit home.

"You're lucky I got there when I did," Kirk told them, still leaning on the table, "If I hadn't, half of you would be in the morgue and the other half would be on their way to a Starfleet base they wouldn't have made it to."

"All due respect, sir," Christine said softly, "but what did you expect us to do?"

"The syn sooka hit you from behind," Chekov said vehemently, "We could not ignore that."

"That's exactly what you should have done!"

Nancy foolishly protested, "But, sir-"

"No!" Kirk shouted, "You should have done nothing. You sure as hell shouldn't have put your lives and careers on the line. Look at yourselves! You're going to be in med bay for hours and for what?"

"For you," Sulu said quietly, his soft words out weighing Kirk's furious ones, "We did it for you, and we'd do it again."

"Damn straight," Matthews and Hendorff grunted.

Kirk, leaning more and more on the table, was shaking from exhaustion and emotion. Sulu knew it was sheer willpower and stubbornness holding his captain on his feet. And even that had to run out soon.

"Not for me," Kirk hissed in clipped and certain tones, "You don't do it for me. Never again. Is that clear?"

Before anyone else could answer, before the full anger and indignation of Kirk's order could fully boil to the surface, Julia let go of Sulu's hand, took one sharp step forward, and said two words with unmistakable clarity.

"Fuck you."

As Kirk's eyes widened in disbelief and his mouth flattened with renewed anger, Sulu took two steps back.

"Oh, shit," he heard Nancy mutter under her breath. She grabbed Chekov by the arm and pulled him back to her, well away from her friend.

Kirk bristled, "You are way out of line, Lieutenant-"

"Shut up, Jim," Julia ordered in the same soft and innocently calm voice, "You've said your piece. Now you're going to listen, you stupid idiot."

"Lieutenant Dawson," Spock said, "I highly advise that you-"

"Don't, Spock," McCoy warned, "You really don't want to."

Kirk sighed heavily, softening slightly, "Julia, you don't understand-"

"I understand perfectly. You're scared."

Kirk's eyebrows shot upwards, "Excuse me?"

"You're afraid of losing us," Julia told him gently, "It's okay. We're afraid of losing you, too."

Kirk stared at her uncomprehendingly, but when he blinked, the wall of anger and frustration he'd erected around him crumbled. The bravado he'd been holding onto by a thread broke and left him wilted, head hanging and fears bared for his crew to see.

But they weren't just his crew.

"It isn't worth it," Kirk whispered.

"Fuck you, it 're our lives to choose what they're worth and what's worthy of them. If we can choose to give them up for a stranger on a mission to a planet we don't even know the name of, why can't we give them up for you?"

"It's not the same," Kirk shook his head, not willing to admit defeat, "I'm not worth that, Jules."

"You are because we say you are," Julia said firmly, "and there isn't a soul behind me that would disagree."

Still unbelieving, still skeptical, Kirk asked, "Why?"

"You are our captain, you're our friend.," Julia stepped forward, gentle hands cupping Kirk's bruised jaw, and spoke just as gentle, "You're our family and we're yours. It's as simple as that. Are we clear?"

Finally, Kirk nodded, accepting what the rest of them had already known, "Yeah, Jules, we're clear."

"Good," Julia said with a smile, a smile Sulu knew was the calm before the storm. And he was proven right when without dropping the smile, Julia slapped Kirk with an open palm and absolutely no remorse.

Kirk stumbled back and plopped into the chair behind him, holding his cheek with wide eyes, "What the hell, Jules?!"

"Jesus, Dawson, he's got a damn concussion," McCoy raged, "You trying to put him in a coma?"

Julia ignored him, her flashing eyes fixed on Kirk, "If you ever call yourself nothing or tell us to leave you behind again, I will make what Lucy did with that salt shaker look like a paper cut."


"I mean it, Jim Kirk," Julia said, suddenly dangerously close to tears, "You do no doubt your worth to us, or as a person in general, and you sure as hell better never doubt our loyalty again. You ever do and I will end you, and I will make it hurt. And when I'm done, I'll let Lucy have a go."

"And I will," Lucy promised sweetly.

"Can I hold him down?" Stephanie asked.

Smirking at her friends, Uhura asked Kirk, "Do you know what we were thinking now, sir?"

"Yes, Lieutenant," Kirk said, smiling softly as he rubbed the red mark growing on his cheek, "I think I do."

"Fantastic," McCoy grumbled, "Can we move this side show to the infirmary now? I have some pains to look after, and the biggest one is you."

"Such a downer, Bones," Kirk smirked.

"Captain," Spock, ever the first officer, asked, "shall we address Lieutenant Dawson's insubordination and physical assault on your person?"

Kirk chuckled, "No, Spock. I think I needed some sense knocked into me. Literally. Don't you?"

Spock inclined his head, "Indeed."

"Alright, you're all dismissed. Report to the infirmary. For the rest of the leave you're all confined to the ship. Consider it your discipline for what I'm going to call 'conduct unbecoming of an officer' on your records."

"Aye, sir."

As nearly everyone but Spock, McCoy, Christine, and Julia left the room, Sulu held back. He watched as McCoy approached Kirk, slightly wary and entirely pissed.

"Some birthday, huh, Bones?" Kirk muttered tiredly.

"You sure make 'em memorable, kid," McCoy agreed, "and don't think I'm letting you off for this stunt. Dawson's love tap is nothing compared to what I'm going to do to you."

"Looking forward to it," Kirk said cheekily and stood up from his chair.

He remained upright for three seconds before his knees buckled.

McCoy, already waiting for the inevitable, was there to catch him. Spock moved with grace and speed to help lower the captain's limp and listless body to the ground while Christine knelt beside him, aiding McCoy in examining Kirk, and Julia used the intercom at the wall to call down to medical for a gurney.

Sulu watched them buzzing around Kirk, worrying quietly but working with the utmost calm, and as he turned to leave only to find the others waiting in the corridor, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that his early revelation was completely true.

They were a family: small, slightly broken, and highly unconventional, but held together by loyalty so fierce it could never be undone.

God help anyone who tried.

From the report of Deputy Sheriff Daniel Garner

Location: Gil's Bar, Key's Landing Settlement, Delta IV

At 22:32, Captain James T. Kirk entered Gil's Bar with 15 members of his crew: Commander S'chn T'gai Spock, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott, Commander Christine Chapel, Ensign Pavel Chekov, Lieutenant Julia Dawson, Ensign Lucy Donner, Ensign Stephanie Paretsky, Lieutenant Jake Matthews, Lieutenant Nancy Lavigne, Lieutenant G.P. Hendorff, Lieutenant Commander Leonard McCoy, Ensign Carrie Grafton, and Ensign Keenser (no other name given).

At 23:19, Frank Henke entered the bar with 8 others: Richard Moran, Chuck Lowell, Trax Icas, Rebecca "Bek" Langley, Uzao Jorvig, Navir D'Tell, Johnny Ng, and Rurali Kalach. There, as usual, they met up with the remaining 6 members of their group: Grissom Mallor, Yoko Black, Lucius Krauss, Sax Hall, Vexx Voxxen, and Gnash (no other name given). Lowell reported that they had already begun drinking before entering the establishment but were not "wasted". The group spread out, going to their usual tables and drinking heavily.

Henke approached the bar where Kirk, Spock, Sulu and McCoy were talking. Henke recognized Kirk, the two apparently having a history. John "Gil" Gillhouse overheard most of the conversation and was quoted, saying, "I'm surprised the kid didn't haul off and hit Frank in the face. He had enough reason, what with what Frank was callin' him and how he was pushin' him. Hell, I almost did it for him."

Kirk reportedly ignored Henke and finally walked away which was when, reported by several patrons and shown on the security data, Henke grabbed the bottle beside him and hit Kirk in the back of the head. Kirk went down, clearly unconscious.

His crew retaliated.

McCoy dropped Henke with one punch. Before he could do more, Grissom Mallor jumped him and rushed him into the bar. Sulu kicked Henke in the head as Henke was attempting to rise, and was then taken to the floor by Rurali Kalach and Trax Icas. Spock easily took down Johnny Ng by pinching his neck, but found more difficulty with Gnash.

As the fight escalated, the rest of Henke's gang attempted to jump in. However, the rest of Kirk's crew were just as eager.

From the security data the following scenes were clear:

Nyota Uhura put Yoko Black in a headlock and struck her head against the table edge.

Nancy Lavigne broke Sax Hall's arm in two places while Christine Chapel rammed a napkin holder into his face, breaking his nose.

Jake Matthews cracked Lucius Krauss's jaw but was thrown against the wall by Richard Moran. In retaliation, Lucy Donner gouged his face with a broken salt shaker.

Julia Dawson flipped Bek Langley over the bar and knocked her out with a metal bucket of ice.

Grissom Mallor punched McCoy twice in the ribs before G.P. Hendorff pulled him off and threw him across the room into the antique jukebox player. Chuck Lowell attempted to stab Hendorff in the back with a broken bottle but, at the last second, ducked as Stephanie Paretsky swung a chair at his head, hitting Hendorff on the left side of his face instead. Paretsky then took the broken chair and smashed it repeatedly against Lowell's back.

Keenser was seen crawling across the floor hitting people's feet with a full liquor bottle. Voxxen, Kalach, and Krauss all reported broken bones in their feet.

Uzao Jorvig attempted to catch Nancy Lavigne from behind only to be hit repeatedly in the face by Pavel Chekov for a full two minutes.

Vexx Voxxen viciously attacked Carrie Grafton, pinning her to a table and trying to choke her. Montgomery Scott crashed a barstool over her head, knocking her out. As he helped Grafton to her feet, Navir D'Tell retaliated by smashing half of a table upside Scott's head. Dazed, Scott fell to the floor and D'Tell closed in, but before he could attack again, Grafton used the broken table's leg to repeatedly beat him in the midsection.

Sulu struggled with Rurali Kalach and Trax Icas until Kalach suddenly stumbled away (due to a broken foot, courtesy of Keenser). Icas pulled a knife, a weapon forbidden in Key's Landing's public places, and charged Sulu. Using a barstool, Sulu dodged Icas, tripped him, and used his forward momentum to ram his head through the wooden counter under the bar. With his back turned, Sulu didn't see Kalach until the bigger man had wrapped an arm around his neck, lifting Sulu off the floor. Dawson repeatedly hit him with a broken barstool, but Kalach didn't release his hold until Donner dislocated his knee. Howling, Kalach hit the floor and Dawson, using the barstool as a bat, knocked him out.

Spock, having contended with Gnash for most of the fray and decidedly fed up with the giant, tossed him through the glass window at the front of the bar.

The altercation lasted seven minutes.

During the seven minutes, Henke somehow ended up with several broken bones, numerous contusions, and internal bleeding. There is no clear data of the attack on Henke. An anonymous witness accused McCoy of the beating, but the footage shows the doctor attending to Kirk after Hendorff pulled Mallor off of him. Another witness accused both Spock and Sulu, and another pointed the finger at Lucy Donner. With no clear evidence, no charges were added to any suspect.

Kirk's crew were arrested for disorderly conduct, public endangerment, assault, and destruction of property. They were taken directly to holding cells as their injuries were minor.

Four of Henke's gang were treated on the scene for minor injuries and taken to a different location to be held for disorderly conduct, public endangerment, assault, and destruction of property.

The other ten of Henke's gang were admitted to the hospital for the following serious injuries:

Yoko Black: severe head trauma, broken hand, deep laceration to head

Sax Hall: compound fracture in right arm, broken nose, split lip, broken zygomatic bone

Vexx Voxxen: moderate concussion, laceration to the back of head, whiplash, three broken toes

Gnash: numerous lacerations, blood loss, lower back injury

Richard Moran: deep laceration around left eye requiring surgery

Navir D'Tell: internal bleeding, ruptured spleen, two cracked ribs, one broken rib, fractured pelvis

Trax Icas: severe concussion, fractured vertebrae in the neck, fractured shoulder blade

Bek Langley: broken ankle, mild concussion

Uzao Jorvig: broken nose, broken zygomatic bone, broken maxilla, broken lacrimal bone, two broken teeth, one missing, deep laceration to bottom lip and tongue

Rurali Kalach: broken left foot, dislocated right knee, severe concussion, fractured temporal bone

It wasn't a bar brawl; it was a battle. A battle Henke's gang lost. Badly.

Official Charges:

Security data shows Enterprise crew acting in defense of their captain and their own persons. All charges dropped.

Charges lightened to disorderly conduct against Grissom Mallor, Yoko Black, Lucius Krauss, Sax Hall, Vexx Voxxen, Richard Moran, Navir D'Tell, Chuck Lowell, Bek Langley, Johnny Ng, Uzao Jorvig, Rurali Kalach, and Gnash.

Trax Icas was charged with disorderly conduct and concealing a weapon.

Frank Henke was charged with aggravated assault and battery, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct.

Loyalty is not given. It is not deserved. It is not a right, an obligation, or an entitlement. It's not instantaneous nor begrudging.

"We hear you're asking for stories."

Sulu looked up from his plant and blinked at the expectant face of Carrie Grafton. Behind her stood Stephanie Paretsky, arms crossed, chin jutted, and some sort of batter dried in her hair. They looked determined, and also like a headache in the making that Sulu didn't want to deal with. Adjusting his magnifying glasses, he went back to studying the Denuvian fern in front of him.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Lucy told us," Stephanie said, blocking the fern with her hand, "so there's no point playing dumb about it."

Sighing, Sulu put down his tweezers and pulled off his glasses, "Fine. What about it?"

"We want to add ours to the list," Carrie informed him. Next to her, a giant plant from Pheta V moved eagerly at the sound of her voice, its vines slithering like snakes. As one vine emerged from the rest and hovered in the air, Carrie jumped sideways to cower behind Stephanie.

Sulu chuckled. The flytrap, or Bob as Sulu called it, was perfectly harmless, but it did cut a terrifying figure, standing at nearly eight feet tall and three and a half feet wide. Its head, nestled in the mass of vines, was nearly three feet wide and as far as the biology department could tell, it was at least partially sentient. Sentient enough to trip Ensign Rune, and no one else, every time she walked by.

"I'm not a scribe," Sulu grumbled at them, "Why do you want to talk to me? Just tell Julia. She'll tell me eventually."

"That's hearsay," Carrie told him, barely peeking out from behind her friend, "and we feel it's important to have a complete list, heard from the source. You already have the bridge crews' stories. Why not ours?"

"Besides," Stephanie said with a smirk, "you're curious and you know it."

Sulu was, but he wasn't going to say that out loud, "Fine. Lay it on me."

"That's not very polite," Stephanie said, "You could be a little nicer about it."

Sulu's eyebrow twitched and he resisted the urge to dump the fern over Stephanie's head. He felt minutely better when Bob draped a vine over Stephanie's shoulder and the ensign squeaked in terror.

"Alright, Carrie, why are you loyal to Kirk?" Sulu asked when the blonde had finished dancing away from her human shield.

"Um, right. So it was about a week into our first mission," Carrie began, eyeing Bob nervously, "and the captain came to me for lessons in Russian. He said that Chekov would mutter to himself when he was trying to do his work and Kirk wanted to be able to understand him in case it was important."

"You taught the captain Russian?" Sulu asked incredulously, "That's your big moment?"

"It wasn't just Russian," Carrie snapped indignantly. Bob raised another vine and gently patted Carrie's curly hair, "Is this thing petting me?"

"It likes blondes," Sulu informed her, "So if it wasn't the Russian lessons, what was it?"

"It was Vulcan, Andorian, and Risan. Kirk's learned four languages since he started his command. I thought it was just a hobby or a diplomatic thing, but…" she trailed off as she ducked under Bob's ministrations and stood next to Sulu, "He has crew under his command that speak those languages. And just last week, he asked for lessons in Italian."

"And that's shocking why?" Sulu swallowed a laugh as Bob added another vine to the three it'd draped over Stephanie. The normally witty ensign was frozen still, eyes wide and mouth clamped shut.

"Where in the universe besides earth would he use that language?" Carrie asked him, "Nowhere. Except with Lieutenant Alessandro Cremonesi."

"So you're saying Kirk learned all these languages to...what? Talk with his crew in their native languages?"

Carrie nodded, "That's exactly what he's doing. And that's why I'm loyal to him. What other captain would take the time to do that just to communicate better with his crew?"

Not many, Sulu had to agree. Not that it surprised Sulu. Kirk had, after all, called him out for his swearing in Japanese in tense situations.

"Good story," Sulu said, offering Carrie a genuine smile before turning to Stephanie, "What about you, Paretsky?"

Stephanie, now covered from head to toe in vines, whimpered.

Sighing, Sulu reached across his desk and tapped the triangular head bobbing happily in the mass of vines, "Knock it off, Bob."

Reluctantly, the vines slithered back to their owner. The last one hovered over Stephanie's head and gently caressed her cheek before disappearing with its brothers.

"Thanks," Stephanie grumbled, cupping her cheek where Bob had essentially 'kissed' her.

"He likes you," Sulu said, "So what's your reason for following Kirk?"

Stephanie grinned and said seriously, "Potatoes."

Sulu leaned against his desk, tempted to bang his head against it, "Fascinating."

"Kirk wanted a real Thanksgiving dinner for the crew," Stephanie explained, "No replicated food. Nothing synthesized. Just real food, cooked by hand, for over a thousand people. Do you know how much food that is? And how long the prep took, not to mention the actual cooking process?"

"I can only imagine. So potatoes?"

"The mashed potatoes," Stephanie scowled, "Each crew member was allotted a serving of two potatoes. That's two thousand potatoes and every one of them had to be peeled. I haven't eaten a potato in months because of it."

Sulu didn't blame her. "And Kirk?"

"He helped. He showed up one night unannounced and sat with me and peeled three hundred potatoes. He talked the whole time and then he showed up the next night to finish. I'd been cursing his name because it was his stupid idea to have real food, and most people in command don't think about all the work has to go into the orders they give. But there was Kirk, working alongside us like it was expected of him," Stephanie shrugged, suddenly looking sheepish, "It was just...he didn't have to, you know? But he did, and I thought, any big wig that puts himself down with the minions to do the same work must be worth following."

"Yeah, he must be," Sulu agreed, "So languages and potatoes. You've made the list. Can I get back to my fern now?"

"Yes," Carrie said.

"No," Stephanie said, "When are you and Julia getting hitched? We've been waiting for ages, you know."

"It's been two months!" Sulu cried indignantly, "And it's none of your business."

"It is my business unless you want your replicator card to only give you brussel sprouts for the next three weeks."

Glaring at her, Sulu stood, "Maybe we should ask Bob about that."

The vines slithered excitedly. Both girls shrieked and scrambled out of the lab, nearly toppling the shelf of Risan roses on their way out. Bob's vines drooped miserably. Laughing, Sulu patted its massive head and gave it half of an orange to cheer it up.

If Carrie and Stephanie didn't know Bob was a vegetarian, Sulu certainly wasn't going to tell them.

It is not something that can be forged or stolen. It cannot be fabricated, faked, or falsified. But neither is it earned.

"He's transferring me."

Sulu gaped at Christine like she'd grown a third eye. For her part, the head nurse continued with the after mission exam as if nothing earth shattering had been said.

"He's trans...why?!" Sulu demanded.

Why the hell would Kirk transfer one of the best nurses in the 'fleet off his ship? Chapel had saved half the crew a dozen times over, not to mention she'd kept McCoy from killing the other half. Sulu couldn't imagine Medbay running without her, and Jesus, McCoy would be impossible to handle now.

"Because he knew I wanted it," Christine told him, "and he knew I'd never ask for it."

"I don't understand," Sulu said honestly, "Why would you want to transfer? And why wouldn't you ask for it?"

"Well, I didn't ask because I know I'm best used here," Christine said. She readied a hypo and without pausing in her explanation, jabbed it into his shoulder, "Asking to leave would be purely selfish and I didn't sign up to be selfish. I signed up to be used where I'm needed. That, and I didn't want to be the one to deliver the news to McCoy."

"How'd he take it?"

Christine smirked, "As well as could be expected. He didn't talk to Kirk for three days when the order crossed his desk."

"I bet. So why is he transferring you then?"

"He's transferring me to a starbase," Christine ducked her head, "where my fiance is already stationed."

"Fi-Ouch!" Sulu yelped as Christine ruthlessly jabbed another hypo in his neck. Rubbing the throbbing spot, he glared at her, "I didn't know you had a fiance."

"Not many do. I kept it quiet for a reason. Roger has been wonderfully patient with me, but talking about him only makes it harder to stay here," she sighed, "It's your fault really. Well, yours and Julia's."

"Sorry to be blissfully happy," Sulu snarked.

"Watching the two of you made me miss Roger all the more and feel guilty. We've been engaged for five years."

"Holy crap. I can't imagine having to wait that long."

"Exactly," Christine said, "and Kirk...I don't know how he found out about Roger, but a few weeks ago he came to me and asked if I was alright. I guess he'd noticed that I'd been down recently. I told him I was fine, but he didn't believe me. Two days later, he called me to his ready room and gave me my orders. I about had a meltdown until I saw where I was being stationed. I could have kissed him."

"So," Sulu drawled, grinning, "he's kicking you off his ship and that's why you're loyal to him. Isn't that a little counterproductive? Like an oxymoron."

Christine scowled at him, "I'll show you a moron. You've got one more hypo."

"What are you waiting for?"

She grinned wickedly, "It's not for your shoulder or neck, Mr. Sulu."

Sulu paled, and vowed that the rest of his after mission check ups would be done by Julia and no one else.

It is a consequence, the product of something else entirely. Loyalty, like a tree, grows from a tiny seed, a moment that shifts the perspective and changes everything.

Sulu wondered if there was an away mission in the history of the Enterprise that had ever gone according to plan. If there was a record for Most Bombed Missions, they'd definitely broken it. Hell, they'd set a torpedo off on it.

But, all things considered, this particular mishap wasn't as bad as the rest.

"How long are we stuck here?" Matthews asked as he joined Sulu in the cockpit of the shuttle.

Sulu studied the readouts, "The ion storm should pass in a few hours. We'll be back on board in time for supper...Hopefully."

"Great," Matthews muttered, wrapping his coat more firmly around him, "It's freaking cold here, you know that? It's a good thing we didn't take Mr. Spock."

Sulu chuckled, "You mean it's a good thing the captain grounded him. I still don't know why he'd want to come here. It's an ice planet, ten degrees below Celsius, and it's snowing. Not exactly a Vulcan friendly climate."

"I think he just didn't want the captain coming," Matthews mused, glancing back into the shuttle where Kirk slept huddled under three blankets, "Dr. McCoy is going to be rubbing this in his face for weeks."

Sulu nodded, "His cold better not become anything worse. I don't know how, but McCoy will end up blaming me."

"And Julia."

Sulu groaned, "Don't remind me."

"Hey, at least the worse you'll get from her is a lecture and maybe the cold shoulder. Lucy hates it when I go on away missions, and now she's got three hours to think of creative ways to punish me for worrying her. And they will all involve bleach."

Sulu looked at him thoughtfully, "Is she the reason you follow Kirk like you do?"

Matthews cocked his head, bewildered, "What do you mean?"

"I mean, Lucy is fiercely loyal to Kirk. We all saw the way she fought on Delta, but you fought too. So I'm just wondering if you fought because she did. You know, if you're loyal just because she's loyal."

"I was wondering when you'd get to me," Matthews smirked, "and to answer your question. No, Lucy isn't why I follow Kirk. And, also yes, Lucy is why I follow Kirk."

"Now you're just being deliberately irritating."

Chuckling, Matthews shook his head, "I have my own reasons for being loyal to the captain and they involve Lucy, but not Lucy's loyalty. You understand?"

"Not in the slightest."

"Alright, I'll try to explain it better. You may have noticed that Lucy can be a bit…"

"Violent. Intimidating. Scary as hell."

"All of the above. But what you don't know is how she came to be that way, and you're not going to," Matthews said pointedly, narrowing his eyes.

Sulu held his hands up in surrender, "Hey, I wasn't going to ask."

"Good because I wasn't going to tell you anyway. Not the details at least. But you should know that Lucy's had a hard life. Really hard. Something really traumatic happened when she was younger and it left her angry and hurt, but more than anything, it left her scared."

"Scared? That is not an adjective I'd ever associate with a woman who can take down a Klingon by herself."

"Why do you think she learned to fight? She's scared of being helpless. Lucy's worst fear is being unable to protect herself and the people she loves."

Sulu nodded, thinking back to the argument he'd had with Julia on that plateau months earlier, "I can get behind that."

Matthews tapped his fingers against his chin, "Lucy would hate it if she knew I was telling you this, you know. She hates being thought of as weak, and I keep telling her that weakness has nothing to do with it, but when does she ever listen to me?"

"Being afraid doesn't make you weak."

"Yeah, and neither do nightmares."

"From her past?"

Matthews nodded, "Bad ones. Most of the time, she can handle them. They only come once in awhile anymore. She says it's because I'm with her, makes it easier for her to remember they're just dreams and aren't real. But sometimes...sometimes they get really bad. To the point she can't sleep for days. She'll get angry beyond reason and nothing I do can help her. That's where Kirk comes in."

"How's that?"

"He taught her to knit."

Sulu stared at him, "Sorry, what?"

"Knitting," Matthews repeated slowly, "He taught her how to knit. They knit together. I don't know how to make this more clear to you."

Sulu blinked a few times, looked at the still sleeping Kirk, and back at Matthews, "Couple questions."


"How does knitting fix nightmares? Where did Kirk learn to knit? And why the hell would he teach someone with anger issues and that many fighting skills a hobby that involves pointed metal needles?"

"I'm ignoring the last question on the basis that my girlfriend is not a mental patient," Matthews grumbled, "As for the other two, I don't know where Kirk learned to knit. But I do know that when Lucy's nightmares get overwhelming, she takes her basket of yarn and sits with Kirk in his quarters for hours. When she comes back, it's usually with a lopsided hat and a smile. She sleeps like a baby for the next few months."

"Huh," Sulu scratched his neck, "They just knit?"

"Yep. They might talk a little, but mostly they just sit there, listen to old music, and knit."

Sulu shook his head, "You're shitting me, Matthews."

Matthews pressed his hand to his heart, "Swear to God, I'm not."

"And that's why you're loyal, because the captain taught your girlfriend to knit."

"No, because the captain cares enough about his crew to help them when they need it most. Not just because regulations say so, not to keep Starfleet happy, but just because he cares. Any other captain would ground Lucy, but Kirk knows how important it is for her to be out here, so he does what he can to keep her here. That's why I follow Kirk."

Sulu couldn't help smiling, "That's a pretty damn good reason."

Matthews blushed, "Yeah, well, I gotta tell you, him carrying me through a war zone certainly didn't diminish my loyalty, either. Let's face it, the guy's pretty hard to hate."

"That's for sure. So does Lucy-"


"You don't even know what I'm going to ask."

"I can guess. I'm not telling you why Lucy is loyal to Kirk, and do yourself a favor. Don't ask."

"Come on, Jake. There has to be a pretty good reason. I mean, she did nearly kill Henke-"

"She did not!"

Sulu raised an eyebrow sardonically, "I was right there, dumbass. The only other people close enough to Henke were McCoy, Spock, and Julia. And since McCoy was caring for Captain Hard Head, Spock was fighting Gigantor, and Julia was helping me, that leaves only one option. Not to mention I saw you pulling her off him."

Matthews set his jaw and lifted his chin, "He deserved it."

"No argument, but it doesn't answer why either."

He heaved a sigh, "You don't want to go there, Hikaru. If you ask, Lucy will go on the defensive and clam up tight. Plus, you'll have bleach stains on all your pants."

Sulu grimaced, "So how do I find out?"

"You don't."

Sulu crossed his arms and sank deeper into his chair, "Well, that sucks."

It may start from duty and give way to respect, but respect does not become loyalty. It grows, it thrives, it transforms from a moment to a devotion born from the emotion that defines it.

Two days after the botched mission, which ended with Kirk spiking a fever and his cold nearly developing into pneumonia, Sulu was reading up on the latest biology articles when his door chimed. Thinking it was either Julia getting off shift, or Pavel coming to ask to be his best man for the twentieth time (he would be, Sulu just enjoyed making him sweat), Sulu didn't bother putting down his PADD.

"It's open."

The door opened and hummed shut, and light footsteps crossed his quarters. A petite shadow crossed over him and stood by the bed. Marking his spot on the PADD, he put it down, looked up, and shrieked like a child, tumbling out of bed and landing on his ass.

Lucy crossed her arms and smirked down at him, "Problem there, Sulu?"

Rubbing his elbow, Sulu pulled himself up, "What are you doing in here?"

"You said come in."

"Right," Sulu stood awkwardly, waiting for her to continue, "So...did you need something?"


After a long pause, Sulu asked, "And that would be?"

She studied him quietly, "How many people are on your list?"

Startled, Sulu glanced at his desk where the PADD containing his Kirk Loyalist Stories was kept, "Um, I'm not sure. Twenty something, I think."

"Right. And how many of those people's stories have you told other people?"

"I haven't told anybody."

"Not even Julia?"

"No, not unless she already knew about them. What's this about, Lucy?"

"I want to tell you mine," she told him. He had a moment of excitement, but it died a quick death when the ensign stepped forward, shoulders squared, muscles coiled, and jaw clenched, "but if you tell anyone, if you write it down, or breathe a word of it, even in your sleep, I will make you regret it."

Swallowing thickly, Sulu nodded.

"Good." With that, Lucy sat down on the edge of Sulu's bed and smacked the spot next to her, "Have a seat."

Sulu sat.

"I know what Jake told you," she said.

"You're not mad at him, are you?"

She shook her head, "No, he didn't tell you anything I wouldn't have. To be honest, I've wanted to tell you since Julia mentioned you were asking people, but I couldn't. Not unless Jim told me I could."

Curious, Sulu turned to face her, "Why did you need his permission?"

"Because it's his secret too," she turned fierce eyes to him, "Before I start, you have to understand that what I'm telling you is big, Sulu. It's not like your other stories. It's dark and it's painful, and it's going to change how you look at Jim and at me. You have to promise never to bring it up to him, don't even hint at it. If you can't do that, then tell me now and I'll walk out the door and we'll forget this whole thing."

"I won't," Sulu promised, "Kirk is the best captain I've ever known. More than that, he's my friend and my brother. I wouldn't do anything to hurt him."

"I know," Lucy said, tension melting out of her shoulders, "I know. That's why I wanted to tell you, but I needed to hear you say that."

Watching her haunted eyes, Sulu asked quietly, "I'm not going to like this story, am I?"

"No, you really won't," she whispered.

She closed her eyes, clenching her fists on her knees until her knuckles were white and her nails left crescent marks in her palms. When she faced him again, Sulu was shocked to see tears gathering in her eyes.

"When I was nine," she began softly, "my parents were assigned as scientists to a new colony. They were part of a team experimenting with new ways to grow food. We lived there for a little while and everything seemed fine. There was food, the colony was growing, people were happy. But then," she swallowed, fighting for the words, "then the crops started dying."

Something cold slithered up Sulu's spine and filled his stomach. He said nothing, unable to speak past the sudden tightness of his throat.

"Everything died," Lucy went on, "In a matter of days, there was nothing. I was ten. I didn't understand what that meant. We had food in our house. There was enough for us. But not for 8,000 people."

"Eight-" Sulu swallowed convulsively, "Lucy, please don't tell me-"

"It was Tarsus," she said through tears, "You know it was."

"Jesus," he hissed.

"You know the story. Kodos separated us. My parents and I, we were in the 'less necessary'. My parents knew they were coming for us, so they gave me a bag with a little water and food, and they told me to run. I never saw them again."

They sat in silence for a few moments. Sulu tried to imagine what Lucy was feeling that night, only ten and not understanding that her parents were about to be murdered. He tried to imagine how she felt now, telling him this story so many years later. Not wanting to push her, he waited quietly.

"I ran as far as I could," she said softly, staring at the floor but seeing nothing, "but I tripped and twisted my ankle. I spent the night huddled by a tree, listening to screaming in the distance, smelling the smoke from the homes they burnt down. I fell asleep and when I woke up, someone was standing over me. I thought it was Kodos' men come to get me. But it was just a boy. He was covered in soot and dirt and blood, but even with all of that, I could only see how blue his eyes were."

Sulu groaned as if he'd received a heavy blow to his chest. He knew, of course, that this was always where the story was headed, but that didn't make it hurt any less.

"He had two other boys with him and a little girl on his back. He didn't say anything. He just gave the little girl to one of the boys, knelt down, and picked me up. We walked for what seemed like forever until we came to a small cave. He left us there until dark. We didn't know where he went or if he was coming back, but somehow we'd all agreed without talking that he was our protector. He was who we followed."

She paused, whether to gather her words or chase away the demons haunting her, Sulu wasn't sure. He wanted to reach out for her hand, to wrap an arm around her shoulders, to do something to ease her pain, but he doubted that a woman like Lucy would want that kind of comfort. So he sat and he waited and he wished like hell this was a story of potatoes and knitting.

Finally, Lucy lifted her head and said, "When he came back, he had two more children and water. The next morning, we moved on. It became a routine. We found somewhere to stay for the night, he left, came back with more kids and more supplies, and then we went somewhere else."

"He saved you all," Sulu whispered.

Lucy nodded, "He kept us alive. He kept us fed as well as he could. He kept us sane. Without him, we would have been dead, and he gave us all of himself to do it. He got hurt towards the end when he was stealing rations and medicine for one of the boys. But he didn't stop," she bit her lip hard, trading the threatening tears for the taste of blood, "I wish he had."

"What happened?"

"His wound got infected," Lucy said softly, "and when he went out to gather food, he got caught. They had him for three days before Starfleet showed up. They wanted to know where we were," she looked Sulu in the eyes, "He never told them."

"He wouldn't."

"We thought he was dead. When we were picked up, we were all bad off. Starving, sick, dehydrated, bruised, and traumatized. We asked about him, but they never said anything. The survivors were listed, but we didn't know his name. We only ever called him JT. We didn't know."

"How did you find out?"

"The Narada. After it was all done, when the Enterprise was limping back to Earth, I was helping out in engineering. They said the acting captain was coming down to lend a hand, and we all wanted to meet him, to thank him for saving us and Earth. I was deep in the back and he came through with Scotty, so I went up to meet him and he turned around. And I saw his eyes," she shook her head ruefully, "I never forgot those eyes. I started bawling like a baby, couldn't even get a word out. Scotty thought I was having a nervous breakdown and wanted to call McCoy, but Jim just told him to go on without him. When Scotty left, Jim didn't say anything, just like when he found me. He just hugged me, and we cried for a really long time."

Sulu wondered how long he was going to be crying over this himself.

Lucy gave him a watery smile, "So now you know. I'm a bitch because of Kodos, and I'm loyal to Jim because I could never be anything else."

Tentatively, Sulu laid his hand on hers, "You're not a bitch, Donner."

"Thanks, Sulu," she said, squeezing his fingers, "Don't ever breathe a word of this."

"Cross my heart, stick a salt shaker in my eye."

She laughed, genuine and deep. In a rare moment of tenderness, she kissed his cheek then stood and headed for the door.

As she touched the panel, she turned back, "Thank you for listening, and for not treating me like I'm a basket case."

"Any time," he told her sincerely.

When she was gone, Sulu went to his desk, pulled out his PADD, went to the bottom of the list, and added another entry.

Lucy Donner: classified

Loyalty, true loyalty, does not begin with anger. Or hatred. Or pride.

The seed that bears it is planted in the heart where it takes root and becomes what it was always going to be.

"Nice hat."

Sulu pulled at the left side of the knit hat to even it out with the much longer right side and grinned at Uhura, "It was a gift."

She poked him in the back of the head, "There's a hole here. And here. And-"

He batted her hands away, "Don't nit pick."

"It is good color," Chekov said from his other side, "but technique needs vork."

Sulu glared at him, "No one asked you."

Chekov shrugged and turned back to his screen, unperturbed by Sulu's dark look. The kid had gotten cocky since Sulu'd finally admitted that he'd be Sulu's best man.

Should have milked it longer, Sulu thought as he flung a stylus at his friend's head. It hit Chekov on his temple and bounced to the floor, skidding out of reach. Sulu grinned innocently and spread his hands in front of him when Chekov glared daggers at him.

Uhura rolled her eyes, "Children."

"Lieutenant Sulu, I believe this is yours."

Sulu jumped in his seat, ducking his head as he took the stylus from Spock's hand, "Uh, yes, Commander. Sorry. It must have slipped."

"Indeed," Spock said, flicking keen eyes over Sulu's head wear, "You are aware a hat such as yours, or any headgear, is not part of the Starfleet issued uniform, unless issued for specific purpose within mission parameters."

"Uh…" Sulu flicked his eyes to Uhura who was of no help, smirking as she was, "Yes, sir, but it was a gift and I just wanted...I'll take it off, sir."

"No need, Lieutenant," Spock told him, "I simply wanted to make you aware of the matter. It is not a regulation, only an observation. I must commend you for wearing it on the bridge under public eye."

Sulu's eyes widened, "Sir?"

"I am not so courageous," Spock said, "The captain's efforts, though valiant, were not successful in completing the hat he gifted me with. It is, in a word, horrendous."

Stifling a laugh, Sulu nodded, "I'm sure. He gave Julia a scarf yesterday. It started the same width as the span of my hand and ended the same width as my arm."

"At least hers was a pretty color," Uhura commented, "Mine's the color of vomit."

"If you don't like it, Lieutenant, I'd be happy to take it off your hands."

Uhura turned to Kirk as he breezed on the bridge, McCoy right on his heels. As the captain headed for his chair, Sulu noted that he was still pale and drawn. McCoy had cleared him for duty, but he was still tired from fighting off the fever and McCoy or Julia were always within sight of him, not trusting him to follow directions and not over do it. Not that they had good reason to think that, or anything.

Uhura flipped her ponytail over her shoulder, "Not on your life."

"Why, Uhura. That almost sounded like a threat. You don't actually like your vomit colored scarf, do you?"

Sulu saw the smile Uhura was trying to hide as she ignored her captain and went back to her station. With one target gone, Kirk immediately turned to another.

"Spock! You're not wearing your hat."

"It is not part of the uniform, Captain, as I'm sure you know."

"Sulu's wearing his," Kirk pointed out, settling into his chair, "He doesn't have a problem with it clashing with his uniform."

"That is his prerogative," Spock informed him, "I am exercising mine."

"I'm going to get you to wear it, Spock. Mark my words. It's going to happen."

Spock folded his hands behind his back, planted his feet, and looked Kirk unflinchingly in the eye. "No," he said, and went to the science station without another word.

Watching him go, Kirk shook his head, "So ungrateful. Have you ever seen a more ungrateful crew, Bones?"

"I saw the atrocities you gifted them with, Jim," McCoy grumbled, "I'd say you're lucky they aren't strangling you with them, and leave it at that."

Kirk scowled at him, "I don't know why I asked you. You're just like them! Where's the hat I made you?"

"In the bottom of my closet, where it's gonna stay."

Glaring, Kirk swiveled away from him, "Sulu! You're the only one with any gratitude. You get a promotion."

"I do not believe Starfleet will approve such a promotion," Spock informed him as gleefully as a Vulcan could.

"Maybe you should get off the hat thing and get on with where we're goin'," McCoy suggested.

Before Kirk could snark back at him, Sulu spoke up, "Course for Nibiru laid in, Captain."

Sighing wearily, Kirk leaned back in his chair, "Alright, I get the hint. Let's get this show on the road. Sulu, punch it."

Grinning, Sulu pushed his hat back out of his eyes, "Aye, sir."

It's love. It is, was, and always will be love.


"Say it again."

"Bones, come on-"

"Say it again, damn it."

Jim sighed, "I am wanted. I am needed. I am loved."


"Frank Henke is an asshole that doesn't know gold from dog shit, and his dumbass opinion has no bearing on my worth, to myself or others." Jim pinched Bones' side, "Are you ever gonna be done with this?"

"Not till you believe it."

"For crying out loud, you've been making me say this every night for the last few weeks. I get it, okay?"

"Sure you do, kid," Bones shoved him sideways, stretching out his legs until he could curl his toes over the edge of the bed, "You believe it just as much as I believe Spock likes to cuddle by the fire and read romance novels."

Jim rolled over on his stomach, pulling his pillow under his chin, "How do you know he doesn't?"

Bones grunted, but didn't answer. He stared up at the ceiling, seemingly relaxed, but there was tension around his eyes, and his jaw was clenched tight enough to chip a tooth.

"Why does this bother you so much, Bones?" Jim asked softly.

"You askin' that doesn't make it bother me less," Bones muttered. Sighing, he turned on his side to face Jim, "Jim, how would you feel if I'd been the one tellin' you and everyone else I wasn't worth savin'?"

"Bones...it's not the same. You…"Jim bit his lip, "You matter."

"So do you, dumbass," Bones growled.

"I feel the love, Bones."

"You should. Especially after watchin' our friends fight for you." At Jim's startled expression, Bones' rolled his eyes, "Like you wouldn't watch the security data. Give me a break, kid."

"Alright, maybe I watched it," Jim shrugged, "And I think we need to rethink our psych-evals. Did you see the way Uhura slammed that chick's head into the table?"

"Had other things on my mind, actually."

Jim gave a small smile, but it didn't last, "I know they'd fight for me, Bones. And you have no idea what that means to me, but I can't let them do that."

"You can't let them?"

"They're my crew, Bones, my responsibility, and, yes, they're the closest thing to family I've ever had. I can't lose them."

"I get it, kid. I'm not askin' you to stop protectin' them, or bein' the best captain you know how. I'm just sayin' that you gotta think about us when you're doin' it. Like Dawson said, we're scared of losin' you just as much as you're scared of losin' us. You hear me?"

"Yeah, I hear you, Bones," Jim said softly.

And for the first time, Bones thought maybe he did.

They lay in comfortable silence for several moments, and just as Bones was drifting into sleep, a warm hand settled on his stomach.


"What?" Bones asked, cracking an eye at Jim, and watched a smile stretch across his face.

"Can I have my cookie now?"

A/N: And there it is, my friends. I want to thank all of you that stuck with it and for everyone that reviewed. It means a lot that you took the time to leave me a note! You kept me motivated when I wanted to throw in the towel, so thank you lots.