A/N: The bulk of this story is prewritten, so I'll be posting a chapter a week from here on out, as well as cross-posting on Ao3 (username: OceanTiger23). Any chapters with content potentially-higher-than-T-rated will have a note at the top, and more detailed info in a note at the end of the chapter, at the risk of spoilers.

Disclaimer: All of my Ferengi acquaintances unfriended me after they found out I don't do this for money. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy disappointing them!


Prologue

[Stardate 2259.187, 1803 FST]

[Recorded subspace exchange between Research Vessel Eratosthenes, UFP Academy of Sciences, and UFP Starbase 14]

Starbase 14, this is UFP Academy of Sciences research vessel Eratosthenes, do you read us? We are currently located at [redacted], approximately [redacted] from you. Are you receiving us? Starbase 14?

[SB14]: Copy Eratosthenes, we read you.

Well thank fucking god for that! We've been trying to make contact for almost 48 hours!

[SB14]: Sir—

What the hell do you yahoos do all day?

[SB14]: Sir!

You're supposed to be the only authority for 300,000 kilometers—

[SB14]: Are you attempting to report an emergency? We have no record of your ship sending out a distress signal—

Because we aren't in distress!

[SB14]: Sir! ... What is the nature of your message?

We've run across what we think might be a refugee ship.

[SB14]: From what location?

Far side of the Neutral Zone.

[SB14]: What leads you to believe that?

Well, it's no bird of prey, that's for damn sure. And the passengers don't look anything like soldiers.

[SB14]: You've seen the inside of the ship?

They hailed us. Look, we really need some help out here. We're not diplomats; we're a bunch of stellar cartographers, and our universal translator system isn't worth shit. We're worried they might be…I don't know. They looked pretty beat up. We sent our resident MD over to try and help out.

[SB14]: Sir—

Listen, we weren't about to just leave them there, and when we tried to get a message through to you, we got a goddamn busy signal! Aren't there supposed to be starships patrolling this sector?

[SB14]: Is any member of your crew or anyone on the other ship in immediate distress?

No. The other guys all seem pretty dehydrated—that's what our doc told us—but otherwise they seem ok.

[SB14]: All right. I'm going to relay this to my superiors and we're going to have someone get back to you within the hour. If the situation changes at any time, contact us again on the following channel. I'm transmitting to you now. …Got all that?

Yeah. Copy. Ok, we'll expect your transmission. Eratosthenes out.

[End transmission]


Translated from Klingon:

[Stardate 2259.181, 0730 FST]

[Encrypted subspace exchange between Qo'noS, the Capitol, Klingon Defense Force Headquarters and Imperial Klingon Starship Muqtovor]

IKS Muqtovor: you are hereby ordered to locate and capture the rogue bird of prey IKS SaQuy, charged with treason against the Empire. General crew to be brought to Rura Penthe dilithium mines for immediate detention. Deadly force authorized. Senior command officers to be brought to Qo'noS. Capture alive.

[IKS Muqtovor]: Understood. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

[Encrypted subspace exchange between Unknown Location, Qo'noS and Unknown Signal]

...

[Stardate 2259.181, 0754 FST]

You have to leave, now. They've just called for your arrest. Noluy and QuSurgh have been taken.

[Unknown Signal]: Tlreth has your cargo.

Good. Good.

[Unknown Signal]: You will be remembered with honor.

Ha! How kind of you. Comfort an old man in his last hours.

[Unknown Signal]: I will remember you.

…Time runs short. Go.

...

[Encrypted subspace transmission from Unknown Signal to Imperial Freighter Sovjang]

[Stardate 2259.181, 0755 FST]

It's time.

[End transmission]


Chapter 1

San Francisco, CA, Earth

Stardate 2259.215

you're not gonna make it, you're not gonna make it, you're not gonna make it…

His fingers were tapping against the strap of his backpack, his heart pounding as he hurried down the dark path, scanning the houses for street numbers. He needed number sixty-three. Supposedly it was located at the dead-end of the road, but he was already in the low eighties, and there was no end in sight. His stomach churned painfully. All was quiet but for his footsteps, his over-controlled breathing, and the scrape of suitcase wheels on concrete behind him.

He stopped short as a wave of nausea swept through him, and pressed a hand over his mouth. It passed and he started moving again, trying to ignore the fact that he'd broken into a cold sweat.

Somewhere beyond the residual fear, the fluttering in his stomach, and the shakiness in his limbs, he was pissed. Beyond pissed. He had been ready—to step onto the transport pad, to put his faith in clunky civilian-operated machinery, to ignore the burning, needle-sharp terror that he'd come out the other side missing a limb or an eye, or just plain missing—and what had happened? The damn thing had broken down, and he'd been herded into an ancient transit shuttle, bouncing from Atlanta to New York to Chicago to Los Angeles to San Francisco—and all the little stops in-between—for three hours. His stomach lurched again at the thought and he picked up his pace. He'd be damned if he was gonna let this happen on the sidewalk.

sixty-three, sixty-three, you're not gonna…

The road curved to the left, and suddenly a high, untamed wall of eucalyptus and ivy was looming ahead of him, defining the edge of the park and the street. Relief welled in his chest. He hurried to the last house on the block. It was similar to the others, with dark wood paneling, overflowing plant beds, and a tiny hovercar garage. But sure enough, courtesy of a far-off streetlamp, he could see the glint of a debossed number sixty-three on the doorjamb.

Holy shit, you're gonna make it.

He dragged his suitcase up the short, concrete front walk and up a step, stopping on the bristly welcome mat to ring the doorbell. From inside he could hear voices and faint laughter, then the scraping of chair legs on hardwood. He'd been rehearsing what he'd say to side-step the pleasantries, and the line ran through his mind again as footsteps drew near from within: hi Jim, sorry I'm late, can I use your bathroom?

The door swung open and he flinched as light flooded the porch. From somewhere in the back of the room he was blasted by a duet of "AAAAAY!" A lean silhouette filled the doorway, threw open its arms and laughed: "Behold, the prodigal son!"

you made it you made it you made it

He opened his dry mouth: "Hi Jim—"

Nope.

Leonard McCoy turned to his left, doubled over, and vomited into the azaleas.


Jim Kirk let his hands drop and stepped out into the chilly night. As his socks started to absorb dew from the damp porch, he reflected that he probably should have seen this coming. Earlier in the evening, somewhere between chopping mushrooms and putting drinks on ice, he'd gotten a string increasingly panicked, pissed-off texts:

Bones: problem with transporter. tech difficulties

Bones: small delay, 10 min

Bones: taking longer than expected

Bones: shit

Bones: it's broken

Bones: oh fucking hell they're gonna put us on a shuttle

Bones: it MAKES STOPS?!

Bones: SF IS THE LAST STOP

Bones: im gonna be late, 3 or 4 hours

Bones: sweet jesus these things are the opposite of safe, its not even Starfleet operated

At that point, he'd taken pity and texted back—

Jim: Bones you're gonna be fine. I'll save you a plate

—and received a prompt reply:

Bones: the hell I am. take you up on it if i survive

Bones was now leaning over the splintered banister, heaving the contents of his stomach into the plants. That was thoughtful of him—at least Jim didn't have to break out a mop. He clapped a hand onto Bones's shoulder. "That bad, huh?"

The doctor moaned. "Almost made it."

"Hey, A for effort."

"Kirk?"

Jim leaned back into the doorway. From the dining room table, Uhura, Spock, and Scotty were looking on in concern. Uhura was turned around in her seat. "Everything ok?" she asked.

"Yeah, it will be."

"I have anti-nausea pills if ye like!" Scotty called.

Bones retched again before answering. "No—m'fine, thanks…"

Spock then added his two cents: "Doctor, it is hardly logical for you of all people to refuse medication that could improve your current situation."

Jim stifled a laugh. Between ragged breaths, Bones muttered something that sounded vaguely like "pointy-eared hobgoblin."

"I think he's fine, Spock." Jim turned back to the porch, where Bones seemed to be done throwing up. "I thought you did ok with shuttles now."

"Not this one. Damn thing rattled like a tin can in an earthquake. There was something seriously wrong with the inertial dampeners."

"Uh-huh," Jim said dryly. "Should I break out the ginger ale and fuzzy blankets?"

"Ass. Just point me to the bathroom." Bones drew himself up, the derisive edge of his reply tempered by exhaustion. He was tall when he stood up straight, but now he was slouching, his eyes vaguely haunted: defeated by public transit.

Jim grinned and pulled him into a hug. "It's good to see you."

"You too."

"How was Atlanta?"

"Some from column A, some from column B," Bones said darkly.

Jim winced. "Lemme get you a drink."


Bones disappeared down the hall with a short wave to Spock, Scotty, and Uhura, and Jim retrieved a bottle of Kentucky bourbon from a high cupboard in the kitchen. It would've been nice if he could say he'd been holding onto it for awhile now, for the occasion of their humble reunion, but he'd be lying. He'd run down to the bodega on the corner earlier that day to pick it up.

"Who's in?" he asked, holding the bottle out to the table.

While Spock declined politely and Uhura held up two fingers, pinched an inch or two apart, Scotty returned an enthusiastic yes.

"As I was saying," the engineer said, "we get to the hotel, and it's not like any of the three of us has ever been particularly fussy about accommodations. But after about ten minutes, my brother Greg comes stormin' out of his room, just hysterical, yellin' about feckin' moon bugs, there are feckin' moon bugs all over the damn sheets, we're not stayin' here, we are leaving right now!"

Jim snorted, and Spock arched an eyebrow at him. "You'll see," he said, pouring out a couple of fingers of bourbon and passing the glass to Uhura.

After a solid month (or so he claimed) of cajoling from his siblings, Scotty had agreed to a brief hiatus from supervising the Enterprise refit, which had left him jumping between San Francisco and spacedock since early March. He'd returned from Earth's moon about a week ago, moaning about needing a vacation from his vacation. Between catching up over breakfast at a Marin County diner and the bar crawl they'd done through the North Beach, Jim had heard this story at least three times, at varying levels of sobriety.

"Well, out of the supply room comes this poor young Andorian lady, who's clearly quite new on the job," Scotty continued, animated, more to Uhura and Spock than to Jim. "And she comes over and says somethin' like, is there something wrong with your room, sir? And oh, god, Greg just goes ballistic, not just about the hotel room, mind, but about his job, his boss, his ex, his bloody medical problems…"

As he poured out a glass for the engineer, Jim's thoughts trailed away from the "Moon Motel Incident" and inevitably toward the following afternoon. He had a briefing at 1400 with Admiral Barnett about the Enterprise's next mission, slated for after the refit completion and rechristening in January. Their first assignment was likely to be nothing special, although part of him was still holding out hope for a five-year-mission. He'd renewed his request in April, but when he'd asked about it a month ago, the admiral had returned a chuckle.

"You were just dead, Kirk. Give yourself a few months to get back into it."

It was the kind of comment he might have chafed under, if he hadn't grown to like Barnett over the last two years. That, and he was one of the few at Command who knew, and wasn't treating Jim like he needed to be handled. It was after a month of far more tentative remarks from well-meaning doctors at Starfleet Medical that he'd skipped town on a rented motorcycle with no real planned return date. He'd forewarned only two people. Bones, of course, had scolded him, but it had been Spock who'd convinced him to go back. Jim remembered receiving the comm message, at a quiet bar in Yosemite. Three lines, nothing more:

[Stardate 2259.90, 2101 FST. Message from Spock, New Vulcan]

Jim, I suspect you have left San Francisco out of anger, for which I do not believe you can be blamed. I need not explain the necessity of your return. However, know that your frustrations will have an end date once you allow them to.

He'd been right, of course. Pointy-eared bastard. Jim hadn't returned to San Francisco immediately, but he had returned, and three months later he'd completed the evaluations for his return to active duty. The physical exam, he'd passed with flying colors. The psych exam…well, he'd passed. That was the important thing.

"…and then Katharine, my sister, comes out of her room in a bloody towel…" Scotty's voice brought Jim back to the table. They were nearing the punchline.

"Anyways, after about fifteen minutes of this," Scotty gestured incomprehensibly, "I decide to go have a look around myself, because there's nothin' wrong with my room. So I go in, and sure enough, all over the sheets there are these little specks. But they're not movin' or anything. So I get closer and I take a whiff."

"And what happened?" Uhura asked.

Scotty leaned forward. "It's lavender."

Jim laughed silently into his glass as Uhura clapped a hand to her mouth.

"No," she said.

"Yeah. And later we found out that they only do that if it's your first time on the moon, comin' from Earth. It's like shavin' your head when ye cross the equator. Or somethin'."

"Did you stay?" Uhura asked.

"Oh, we stayed," Scotty confirmed. "And that young lady got a very large tip."

Uhura broke into laughter, throwing her head back. "Scotty, your brother—"

"Oh, he's a disaster." Scotty nodded. "Off-planet fellowship and unity? Forget it. He's walking around with his foot in his mouth. Silly git." He paused for a sip of bourbon and glanced up at Jim. "That is good. Did you splurge on this?"

Jim shrugged. "No more than usual."

"You've gotta let me pitch in. A little." Scotty spread his hands. "Please? I'm drinkin' my fair share."

Spock gave a small, almost imperceptible shake of his head. "Mr. Scott, the intricacies of your stories remain, to my ear, quite abstract."

Scotty, in the middle of another sip of bourbon, scoffed good-naturedly and waved him off. "Lassie, I thought you also made it off-planet," he said to Uhura. "Agh—" he paused as his fork clattered to the floor, and leaned over to pick it up. As a result, he missed the tiny, split-second glance that flicked between Spock and Uhura—one which was not lost on Jim. In the last six months, aside from the Yosemite incident, he'd spoken to Spock only once, enough to learn that Uhura had been on New Vulcan for barely a week before heading back to Earth alone.

"Are you guys OK?" Jim had asked, hesitantly.

"Lieutenant Uhura and I have long had different plans for our time away from the Enterprise," Spock had replied. "As we will see each other again in mere months, separating during this period to accomplish our respective goals is logical."

It was a non-answer, and Jim had forced himself not to pry.

After a moment's pause, Uhura answered Scotty, wearing a strained smile. "Not really."

And now Jim could see Spock shift, just ever so slightly.

"I thought you were puddle-jumping all over the place," Scotty said, oblivious to Uhura's discomfort. "London, Shanghai—you were bloody everywhere."

Uhura took in a deep breath through her nose, which was all Jim needed to know the situation needed salvaging. "Preparing for the semester, right?" he asked, leaning back in his chair. "Professor Uhura."

Despite herself, a smile tugged at Uhura's mouth. "Visiting lecturer," she corrected him.

Jim shrugged. "You still get to grade papers and terrify xenolinguistics freshmen for four whole months."

"Inspiring fear in the incoming student body is hardly the point." Spock sent Jim the ghost of a frown.

Jim shot him a look. What gives? Spock was never this obtuse unless he was doing it intentionally.

"He's kidding, Spock," Uhura said, then added to Jim, "Although he is right. The point is I have to eat for the next five months." She turned to Scotty, recovering some of her natural ease. "Actually, Janice Rand and I had made plans to go camping on Parsis V, but something came up. There was some vague FCDC warning about a Bynerian fly fever outbreak. We ended up hanging around London instead."

"You know, I heard about that outbreak," Scotty said, thoughtfully. "I heard it was somethin' else. Bigger, maybe."

Uhura tilted her head. "Like what?"

"Well, Katharine did the whole Federation traveler safety registration thing when we were on the moon. She kept gettin' updates about somethin' dodgy in that part of the quadrant. Not fly fever. Some new, superfast kind of flu or something," Scotty said, sending them all a conspiratorial look over the rim of his glass.

Jim exchanged a skeptical glance with Uhura. "Where were you hearing this?" he asked.

Scotty waved a vague hand. "Here and there. I've got an old friend, runs seed stores back and forth to some of the border planets. Seemed concerned."

Uhura cast him a wry smile. "Not to doubt your friend, Monty, but that sounds a little sketchy to me."

"I'm just tellin' ye what I've heard, lassie."

"I would think that if there was some kind of…large-scale outer rim disease outbreak we'd know about it, don't you?"

"Not necessarily," said Spock.

Jim, Uhura and Scotty turned to look at him.

He arched an eyebrow at them. "For all the benefits of long-range sensor technology, it is not always easy to find reliable information in transmissions intercepted from the outer rim, particularly from undeveloped colonial settlements or non-Federation worlds. It is, as a result, conceivable that news of such an event might have escaped our knowledge."

Jim resisted the urge to play devil's advocate. Privately he agreed with Spock. Months spent hiding in the woods at age thirteen, eating tree bark and trying not to get killed, had taught him to know better than to assume the cavalry was coming. But Spock's comment was clearly directed at Uhura, and Jim had no interest in helping him pick a fight, if that was what was happening.

Uhura was the first to respond. "Fair enough, but disease outbreaks happen all the time," she said. She cast a glance at Scotty. "They don't necessarily have universe-ending ramifications."

"That is not to say they have no ramifications. If you will recall, in the early 2230s Earth experienced a resurgence of Avian Flu," Spock replied, "which did claim lives."

"And was promptly addressed by Federation medical researchers," Uhura told him.

"I remember that," Scotty interrupted, darkly. "I had it."

"But obviously you were treated," Uhura said.

"Oh aye, right away. But the entire family was stuck in the house for a week. Nearly killed Greg and Katharine out of boredom," Scotty said.

There was a brief pause.

"Whatever the seriousness," Spock said, finally, "the point is moot. The statistical likelihood that such an event would ever reach Federation space is…low."

"Well, there's a first."

Jim turned with a grin as a familiar tired drawl cut through the tension.

Bones looked ready to pass out, but he managed a small smirk. "I don't think I've ever heard you use that sentence without tacking a number on the end of it."


Leaning on the back of Uhura's chair, McCoy felt somewhat less like death warmed over. Standing at the table gave him a palpable sense of relief, removing the residual stress from the shuttle ride and replacing it with exhaustion. He stepped back as Uhura got up and gave him a hug. "Glad you got here in one piece," she chuckled.

"More or less."

Spock inclined his head. "Doctor."

"Spock." McCoy returned a nod and took the empty seat next to Scotty. Jim passed him a plate.

"Have a drink, laddie," Scotty said, placing a glass in front of him, "Jim got the good stuff, and he's refusing to let us chip in."

"Is he now?"

Jim glanced at him. "I may have picked up your favorite."

"Well, then by all means."

"How was Atlanta?" Uhura asked.

"Less disastrous than usual."

Technically this wasn't true. He'd spent the last few months working at a xenobiology clinic in Washington DC: a way to pay the bills during the refit, and a way to be close to Joanna while he was still Earthside. He'd ended the summer with two weeks in Atlanta, before Command needed him back at Starfleet Medical. Parts of the visit had been encouraging, but a lot of it had been, well…a shitshow. Coordinating with Jocelyn after the divorce had always been a nightmare, but it was running into Clay, her new…whatever the hell she was calling him, at the grocery store that had really been the highlight.

McCoy took a bite of broccoli before he could be expected to provide more of an answer. He ignored the look Jim shot him across the table. "What about all of you?" he asked. "Not all taking ill-advised solo trips to Half Dome, I hope?"

Jim rolled his eyes, and McCoy ignored that too. The kid was the proverbial patient from hell. He'd up and taken off about a month after the Khan madness, crying cabin fever and the uselessness of mandated therapy. By then in DC, having turned over Jim's recovery treatment to the attending physician at Starfleet General, McCoy had received a short, frustrated message on his PADD by way of a confession:

[Stardate 2259.89, 1400 EST. Message from Jim, San Francisco, CA, Earth]

So, I was just told I should think about taking up Vulcan meditation. Fuck this. I'm going to Glen Aulin.

McCoy had sent a reply he knew to be mostly bluster—Dammit Jim, you can't just skip out on treatment and you're in no shape to be climbing mountains right now!—to which he had never received an answer. Jim had eventually resurfaced, fortunately without incident, and McCoy had made a point of berating him for it.

"Nothin' quite so short-notice," Scotty laughed. "Although this one made her way around half the planet before circling back to us." He gestured at Uhura.

"Half the planet, huh?"

Uhura grinned. "I saw a production of your favorite play."

"Oh, wonderful."

In the same xenosociology section as first-semester cadets, he and Uhura had been handed a particularly thorny group assignment: presenting on an adaptation of Shakespeare from a non-Terran perspective. Macbeth in Romulan had plagued him for weeks. He took a sip of bourbon. "And you, Spock? Shakespeare must have some obscure shred of logic to be appreciated somewhere."

The Vulcan steepled his fingers. "A query I cannot properly answer, as I did not view the performance in question. I spent the bulk of my time away from the Enterprise at the colony on New Vulcan."

"Oh. I thought—" McCoy broke off; Uhura had abruptly busied herself with refilling her drink. He turned back to Spock. "Um. And how was that?"

"The colony's infrastructure development has progressed quickly since my last visit to the planet, but there remain significant challenges. Our healers have had particular difficulty in addressing the mental recovery of the inhabitants."

Nice, Len. Tactful.

McCoy suppressed a grimace. In the last two years, he had begun to recognize the subtleties of Spock's expressions, and there was something just slightly off about the Vulcan's face now. Something a little too guarded. "I'm sure they're using…everything they have at their disposal," he finished, lamely.

"Irrefutably," Spock replied.

McCoy took another sip of his drink, and felt the silence settle heavily on the small table. Across from him, Jim looked like he was searching for something to say, but it was ultimately Scotty who pulled the conversation back from the brink.

"So, I know we've all been scattered to the winds these last few months, but has anyone else heard the news about Sulu?"

McCoy glanced over. "What about him?"

"He and Ben adopted a baby."

Uhura's head snapped up. "They what? When did this happen?"

"'Bout two weeks ago."

Jim looked sidelong at the engineer. "You're full of it."

Scotty was wearing a smug smile as he pulled out his PADD and scrolled to a picture of the lieutenant and his husband. Sulu was cradling a small bundle in his arms: a tiny child, barely a newborn, by the look of it.

"Evidently not," Spock remarked, and McCoy was relieved to see the caginess in his eyes had disappeared.

"That son of a bitch." Jim made an incredulous noise in the back of his throat. He pushed out his chair. "Yeah. Ok. We're calling him. What time is it on Mars?" He was already halfway down the hall. "You know what? I don't care. We're calling him."


As it turned out, it was four a.m. at the Mars settlement where Sulu's husband worked, and Sulu didn't pick up. They left a video message, replete with congratulations and expletives, then made another dent in the bourbon pressing Scotty for details. At eleven, Uhura noted with a yawn that she was fifteen hours ahead, and that if she was going to be a functional human anytime soon, she had better start readjusting now. She thanked Jim for dinner and left, taking Spock with her. The evening wound down quickly after that.

Scotty, who had taken the liberty of refilling their glasses, listed off a string of predictions about their next mission that ran the gamut from ongoing diplomatic problems in the Laurentian System to a shortage of sandwich bread in the commissary. ("There's no peanut butter to be found beyond the Alpha Quadrant, gentlemen, and if that's not a daunting prospect, I don't know what is.") As he talked, Jim stacked plates and utensils, fielding another of the engineer's not-quite-joking requests to put a panini press in the ship's mess, giving Bones space to finish his food in peace.

A quiet half-hour passed, and Scotty yawned and glanced at his watch. "All right, gents. Now that I've got to be back in spacedock in seven hours, I think I'll go try and get a little sleep." He stood and stretched, clapping Bones's shoulder. "Nighty night."

"Night Scotty," Jim said, and Bones gave him a two-fingered salute off the side of his glass.

When the engineer had shuffled off upstairs Jim turned and asked, "So, what did happen in Atlanta?"

"Same as usual. Joce didn't want to let me within a mile of Jo."

"Yeah, but you've bitched to me about 'same as usual' before, and you don't get half as maudlin as this."

Bones shrugged. When Jim waited, he relented. "She's seeing someone. Joce is, I mean."

Jim frowned. For all the grief it caused him where his daughter was concerned, Bones had never expressed regret for getting divorced in the first place. "She's dated before now, hasn't she?"

"It seemed more serious than the others. He'd met Jo."

Ah.

Bones glanced at him. "It's not a big deal, Jim."

Jim doubted it, but he knew when Bones was trying to get him to drop something. "You did get to see her, right? Jo?"

Bones's expression softened. He pulled out his PADD and turned the screen to Jim, revealing a picture of a smiling little girl, with knobby, grass-stained knees, dimples, and hazel eyes like her father's.

"Holy shit," Jim said. The last time he'd seen Joanna in person, she'd been wearing footy pajamas and sucking on a pacifier. "Bones, she grew up."

"Yeah, they do that," Bones said, dryly. "Despite one's best efforts."

"I'll bet." There was something about his expression, Jim realized. His mouth was twisted up in a smirk, but in his eyes was a genuine smile. "OK, c'mon. What is it?"

"What's what?"

"You obviously know something I don't."

Bones set down his glass. "Tell me something. How much crazy do you have planned in the next month?"

"No more than usual. Why?"

"In a few days here, I'm gonna be playing tour guide for a very important person, and I'd like to make sure San Francisco doesn't go up in flames before I get the chance."

Jim blinked. "She's coming here?"

"For two weeks," Bones nodded. "Figured she should probably know at least a little about what I do, and why I'm not around for months at a time."

Or years, Jim added silently. Outwardly he laughed in disbelief. "How the hell did you swing that?"

Bones took a sip of bourbon. "Very carefully."

"Well, obviously, I plan to be a terrible influence. Criminal, potentially. Hope that's OK."

"Jim."

"I mean, clearly this is a prime opportunity to go wreak havoc in the Tenderloin."

"Jim."

"You think it'd piss off Komack if I showed her all the top-secret war room stuff?"

"Kid, you may be my captain, but I'm not above punching your lights out."

Jim grinned. "I'll take that risk. Just as long as I still get to be the fun uncle."

Bones rolled his eyes. They lapsed into silence as Jim finished off his drink, watching as Bones stifled a yawn behind his hand. "Time to turn in?" he asked.

Bones nodded. The shuttle really hadn't done him any favors.

"Unfortunately for you," Jim said, "Scotty claimed the spare room. However, I have an exceedingly comfortable couch."

Bones raised his glass. "I'll take it."

Rising, Jim took Bones's empty plate and headed into the kitchen. "All right. Tell me if you need anything. Wake-up call and wind-sprints at 0600."

"Har har."


Exceedingly comfortable, McCoy found, was a stretch, but ultimately it didn't matter. The nausea may have subsided, but he was jetlagged and restless.

Jim had left him a sleeping bag, so he curled up in it and stared through the glass balcony doors at the mess of fog and orange street lights down the hill. It amazed him that Jim could afford to hang onto this place. As far as he knew, he was timesharing it with another captain who was on long-term assignment in the Beta Quadrant.

It struck McCoy that since enlisting, he had strayed into the realm of functional homelessness, dividing his time between Atlanta, San Francisco, and the Enterprise. In Atlanta, depending on the length of visit—he really did only visit now—he stayed with friends or subletted. In San Francisco, he stayed in Starfleet's officer quarters, temporary accommodations that were only marginally less cramped and soulless than the Academy dorms. And while the Enterprise was getting more familiar, it was hard to get comfortable anywhere you were only stationed a couple months at a time.

He was too old for this. This was what people did in their early 20s, not ten years on, when they'd acquired an advanced degree, a failed marriage, and a kid.

Still, thinking of Joanna brought a smile to his face. He'd been more than a little surprised when he'd received the message greenlighting her visit:

[Stardate 2259.199, 2052 EST. Message from Jocelyn Darnell, Atlanta, GA, Earth]

That all seems fine to me, Leonard. Let me know when you nail down the dates, and make sure you give her a couple days of recovery after she gets back from summer camp. This sounds like the best opportunity for her to get to know you, given the circumstances.

She might as well have added "don't fuck it up," at the end, but Jocelyn's style tended more towards the passive aggressive than the direct. And as much as McCoy hated to admit it, he wasn't entirely sure he wasn't going to fuck it up.

He didn't want to bore Jojo with Starfleet stuff, but he hadn't exactly played tourist in the city during his time as a cadet. San Francisco was full of extended walks up steep hills when he'd needed to clear his head, and shitty dive bars where he'd had to drag Jim out of fights. Not exactly wholesome fare.

There was always the Discovery Museum. Cliché, true, but she was five. That was ok, wasn't it? And he knew she'd love the Presidio. The first time they'd talked when he'd visited Atlanta in March, she'd spent twenty straight minutes telling him about how she wanted to become a National Park Ranger. How much time did the average kindergartener spend on career plans before moving onto the next thing?

McCoy rolled over and faced the ceiling.

It hadn't come up over dinner, at least not since he'd arrived, but he knew Jim was angling for a five-year-mission. He'd been talking about it since he'd gotten the Enterprise in the first place, and in April, McCoy knew, he'd resubmitted his bid for candidacy. If that was, in fact, the point of Jim's briefing with Barnett the next day, McCoy would have a lot more on his plate to worry about.

Five years in deep space meant five years without solid ground under his feet. Five years of violent away missions and mechanical disasters waiting to happen. Of treating new diseases with unknown and catastrophic potential. Five years of recording video messages for Joanna, because once you got far out enough, there was no such thing as real-time communication with Earth.

Of course, he would go. At the end of the day, he knew he was of more use out there in the black than he'd ever been on Earth. As long as there were people like Jim, boldly going, sticking their necks out to explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations, there would have to be people like McCoy there too, making sure they didn't get killed in the process.

He glanced at his watch and winced at the time, then rolled over, willing himself to sleep.