Hey look, I'm finally writing again! It's been way too long, but life's just become a mess. But now I'm relatively settled, grad school done, new job, and since I'm no longer buried under a pile of papers and journal articles every night, I actually have free time!
So here we are, the threequel, and probably end of the road for this series (though, never say never…), so enjoy! Updates will come regularly, since the story's done. And the standard disclaimer: I don't own Star Trek, as much as I wish otherwise.
It was probably a beautiful night full of stars gleaming around the twin moons, but one would never be able to tell through the thick fog that permeated every inch of the planet. If you looked carefully, a low rise building could just barely be seen emerging from the mist.
The prison planet of Elba II was pretty much uninhabitable for humans, though it was possible to survive on the surface for brief periods of time. A person could breathe, but the presence of methanol in the atmosphere made it difficult, and if one were exposed to the unfiltered air for too long, it could cause lightheadedness, dizziness, and unconsciousness.
It was for that reason that the prison that had been installed on the surface utilized artificial oxygen and enclosed domes; no one who had been sentenced to life in prison on Elba II had ever set foot on the surface outside the large domes that encompassed the prison buildings.
Working as a guard on this planet was both boring and monotonous. Elba II was for the worst of the worst. The only times prisoners saw the outside of their cell was if they needed medical assistance.
It wasn't the kind of place anyone would choose to work, if they had any other option. Unfortunately, most of the guards at this particular facility had reached the end of the rope, and had no other options.
Inmate number 3574 had been sentenced to Elba II thirteen months ago. Since then, he had been something of a model prisoner. He ate when he was given a meal, stood against the far wall when guards had to enter his cell, and as far as any of the guards knew, he had yet to say a word. Which was why his sudden collapse was so startling. Rushed to medical, the doctor on duty did his job, and soon pronounced the prisoner fit to return to his cell.
Escorted by two guards, the prisoner shuffled along the corridor, wrists and ankles shackled to inhibit movement. As they passed one hallway and turned down another, the prisoner glanced upwards, eyes seeking out the camera near the ceiling. It swiveled from left to right, and that's when he made his move.
With a movement almost too fast to track, he swung his shackled hands over one guard's head, twisting sharply as a large crack echoed in the hallway. The guard dropped to the ground, neck broken.
The second guard barely had time to take a step before the prisoner tripped him, hands making quick work of this one as well.
The prisoner grabbed a key off the guard's belt and stood up. He used the key to open the utility closet they had stopped outside of, and dragged both guards inside with him. The door clicked closed just as the camera swiveled back around to show an empty hallway.
Inside the closet, the prisoner quickly undressed one guard, replacing his own dully gray outfit with the uniform. Counting silently, he waited three more seconds before leaving the closet, timing it perfectly so that the camera wouldn't catch his exit. He walked down the hall, glancing up at the camera as he went; making his way to the locked shuttle bay, he used the guard's access badge to open the door. One more glance up at the nearest camera, and Kodos smirked, satisfied, as he walked through the now open door.
As he fired up a shuttle and lifted off the ground, prison alarms started to blare.
"I think we should get married."
Carol blinked slowly, startled out of her reading, and glanced up at Jim. "What?" she asked, wondering if she had actually heard him right
Jim looked up as well, setting his PADD down on the sofa. "Married," he repeated. "We should get married."
Carol furrowed her brow, setting her own PADD down. "Are you asking me or telling me?" she wondered.
Jim shrugged, shifting slightly in his seat. "Well, we've been dating for years, we live together. We're practically married already, why not make it official?"
Carol blinked slowly, counting to ten in her head to avoid saying anything she might regret later. When she was certain she was calm, she stood up, grabbed her PADD, and turned to face Jim. "Jim, I love you, and I know you sometimes have the problem of engaging your mouth before your brain catches up, so I'm just going to leave now. If and when you decide to come back to me with a real proposal, I'll be prepared to listen."
She left quickly, and Jim sat back, confused. What the hell had just happened? How could things have gone so wrong?
He should probably go after her, figure out what this was and how to fix it. He wondered where she would go. Carol had given up her single room a year ago, after they had shipped back out for the start of their second five-year mission. He and Carol had finally submitted a form F287 – notice of personal relationship – to the Admiralty before leaving Earth, around the same time Carol had notified the Residences that she no longer needed her one bedroom apartment and moved in with Jim.
So Carol didn't have another room on board she could go to.
He really should go after her. But what would he say? Should he apologize? He didn't even know what he had done wrong. Yeah, going after her tonight was probably not the best idea. He'd give her some time to cool off first, maybe talk to her tomorrow.
With no better plan, Jim disappointedly picked himself up off the couch and headed to bed.
Alpha shift the next day was incredibly tense. The entire crew on the Bridge could tell something was going on. Jim was too alert, too professional. And he rarely glanced in the direction of the tactical station. In the same manner, Carol was sitting too straight in her seat, and her tone had a hard edge to it whenever someone asked her a question. Unless engaged, she didn't speak at all.
She also didn't look at Jim once during the entire eight hour shift. It made the entire crew very uncomfortable. They weren't used to the lack of banter, the lack of friendliness. Jim and Carol's relationship hadn't been a secret on the Enterprise since about a week after they had gotten together, so it was very obvious that something bad had happened between them.
Uhura didn't waste any time in dragging Carol to a private corner of the mess hall once the shift was over. She wanted answers. Jim and Carol were always in sync, always seeming to move in perfect harmony, like extensions of each other. It amazed her and made her wonder if she and Spock could ever be like that – oh, she loved her boyfriend, and had no doubts that they were both in it for the long haul. But she would be the first to admit that sometimes she wondered what was really going on inside her boyfriend's head. Jim and Carol never seemed to have that issue. Jim wasn't exactly the kind of guy to share a lot with others, and inside his head was a total mystery, but Carol always seemed to know what was going on there, and always seemed to know what he needed.
Uhura liked that. Jim was one of her best friends, and she was glad he had someone like Carol in his life. So what the hell was going on?
Unfortunately, she was left with more questions than answers, as Carol barely said two words between bites of salad. As soon as she was finished, Carol nodded a silent good bye, and left the mess hall.
Nyota watched her go and sighed, disappointedly.
McCoy waited exactly five minutes before he'd had enough. He spent the day in Medical, so he hadn't personally witnessed the odd behavior change, but Jim was his best friend. He could tell something was wrong immediately. There had been no lighthearted quip when he showed up at Jim's door after his shift, and the last five minutes had been spent in silence, both on their PADDs working through paperwork as they ate dinner.
Perhaps most telling though, was that Carol wasn't there.
"So, you gonna talk or am I going to have to start demanding answers?" the doctor asked, gaze still focused on the PADD in his hands.
Jim glanced up, concentration broken. "What?" he asked.
McCoy rolled his eyes and set his PADD aside. "Whatever's going on with you, Jim. Something's bothering you, so out with it. Tell me what's up."
Jim bit his lip, suddenly uncertain. "I don't know," he admitted quietly. McCoy made a questioning noise, and Jim sighed, slumping in his seat. "Something happened last night. I did something wrong, and I'm not really sure what."
"Tell me," McCoy said simply.
Jim shrugged, and told the doctor about his and Carol's conversation the night before.
McCoy was silent for approximately thirty seconds, before he let out a long breath of air and shook his head resignedly. "You're an idiot. What the hell were you thinking?"
Jim raised an eyebrow. "What? I asked her to marry me! And she just threw it back in my face."
McCoy rolled his eyes and shifted so that he was facing Jim head on. "That wasn't a proposal, Jim. That was a random comment you made while the both of you were working. It wasn't romantic at all." He sighed again. "Jim, I might not be an expert on marriage, but I do have a daughter, and one thing I do know is that girls tend to dream of the proposal and the wedding from a young age. Carol's probably thought about how she would get asked for years. And you just threw it out there like you were asking her what she wanted for dinner."
Jim was quiet after that. He looked down, clasping his hands together tightly. When he did finally speak, his voice was barely above a whisper. "I know," he admitted, sounding defeated. "I probably should have done it better. But Bones, I'm not good at commitment, or expressing my feelings. Carol knows this, you know this. We've been together for years, it's not like I'm thinking we're going to break up or anything, but…" he let out a sound almost like a growl, and leaned back into the couch, looking up at the ceiling. "Going all out on a proposal just makes it an even bigger deal, and if it becomes that, I'll just screw it up somehow."
McCoy blinked, startled. "That's the biggest load of crap I've ever heard." Jim looked over at him, confused, and the doctor reached out and slapped his shoulder lightly. "You're an idiot, Jim. And I'm not using that as a term of endearment. You love her, she loves you. If you really want to spend forever with her, then ante up and commit already. You need to make the grand gesture. Show her that you mean it. Because Jim, Carol's worth more than a throwaway comment. She deserves better."
Jim nodded, and sat back up, running a hand through his hair. "I know," he admitted.
McCoy nodded as well, expression understanding though his eyes were hard. "You need to be sure, Jim. When you're ready to make that step, you'll be able to give her a real proposal."
Jim grimaced, not wanting to hear what his friend was saying, but knowing that he was right. "So what about you?" he asked, wanting to change the subject.
McCoy raised an eyebrow. "What about me?" he repeated.
Jim gave him a half smirk. "You and April. You've been together just about as long as Carol and I, you telling me you haven't thought about next steps?"
McCoy rolled his eyes. "Because marriage worked out so well for me the first time around." Jim just kept looking at him, waiting. After another minute of silence, the doctor sighed. "I've thought about it," he admitted. "Things are going well, and she gets along so well with Joanna."
"I know," Jim said consolingly. "Joanna loves her." He hesitated briefly, wondering if he should tell McCoy about some of the conversations he had had with his unofficial niece. After a moment, he grimaced. "She wants to call April mom, you know."
McCoy looked up sharply. "What?"
Jim shrugged. "She's holding back, because she's not sure how your or April would react, but she sees April as her mother, Bones. So maybe you should follow your own advice." McCoy looked at him questioningly. Jim grinned. "Ante up and commit already."
McCoy looked at him for a moment longer, and then smiled ruefully. "I'm planning on it," he admitted. "But first, I wanted to ask you something."
Jim tilted his head. "What did you want to ask me?"
McCoy took a deep breath. "Your permission."
Jim looked confused, frowning slightly. "Huh?"
McCoy shrugged. "I'm an old fashioned Southern gentleman, Jim. Where I come from, you ask the father for permission. I can't do that, but you're basically April's brother. And April sees you the same way. So if I can't ask her father, the least I could do is ask her brother."
Jim was speechless for a good thirty seconds, unable to make his brain respond. Finally, he swallowed and nodded slowly. "I'm touched," he said softly. "And I'm happy for you guys. You make her happy, Bones." He grinned slightly, a devilish look appearing in his eyes. "I'll give you permission on one hand – I get to be best man."
McCoy spluttered for a moment. "What the – damn it Jim, she has to say yes first!"
Three days later, and things between Carol and Jim hadn't really changed. At least they were talking to each other, though conversation was stilted and more often than not they chose not to communicate unless absolutely necessary when on the Bridge. Carol still hadn't returned to the Captain's quarters, though Jim had done some digging and found that she had quietly requisitioned a single room in the guest quarters. Jim had been teaching her a few things about computers, so she was able to bury the request so far down that the quartermaster would never see it. So at least the entire ship wasn't aware of their issues. It was bad enough that the Bridge crew had started to share looks when they thought Jim wasn't looking.
His command crew were definitely starting to plan some sort of intervention. Which meant if he wanted to keep this from blowing up in his face, he would need to bite the bullet and talk to Carol.
McCoy was visibly nervous as he passed Joanna a bag of chips from his spot on the floor. The two of them had taken a daddy-daughter afternoon on one of the holodecks, though the doctor had an ulterior motive.
And Joanna definitely noticed. "Why don't you just tell me what's on your mind, dad? Before you implode or something."
McCoy looked at her oddly. "What?"
Joanna rolled her eyes. "An idiot could tell there's something bothering you. Something you don't want to tell me. And I'm definitely not an idiot."
McCoy smiled slightly. "Of course not, Jo. You're my daughter after all." Joanna just looked at him, and after a moment, he lost the smile and sighed ruefully. "It's not that I don't want to tell you, Jo, I was just trying to figure out how to bring it up."
Joanna shrugged and grabbed a handful of chips. "Well, I brought it up first, so out with it." She ate the chips and looked at him expectantly.
McCoy let out a soft chuckle. "All right. I'm planning to propose to April, and I wanted to make sure you were all right with that."
Joanna's face immediately split into a large grin. "Seriously! You thought I wouldn't be? I've been waiting for this for like five years!"
McCoy couldn't help but smile at his daughter's excitement. "I know you love her, Jo. And April loves you right back. You know she would never try to replace your mom, right?"
Joanna was quiet for a moment. "What if I want her to?" she finally asked.
McCoy frowned, leaning forward. Jim had mentioned something like this, but he wanted to hear Joanna's thoughts. "What do you mean?"
Joanna bit her lip and looked up, eyes wet with unshed tears. "April's awesome. I don't really remember mom much, but she never really seemed to want me around. April never makes me feel like that. Even when I know you'd rather spend time together, she always asks me if I want to come along." Joanna hesitated briefly, and a few tears slipped down her cheeks. "I don't even miss mom. I haven't even really thought about her at all in the last couple of years."
"Jo," McCoy whispered, heart clenching painfully. "I wish you didn't have to deal with this. Your mom's issues are her own, and she should never have put them on you."
Joanna shrugged, smiling again as she wiped the tears away. "But that's why I'm with you! I'm glad you came to get me, dad. I love living with you, and I'm really glad you're going to ask April to marry you."
McCoy smiled back. "I'm glad you're happy. I love you, Jo-Jo." He paused for a moment, and then continued, "Jim told me what you told him, about wanting to call April mom."
Joanna frowned. "He wasn't supposed to say anything."
McCoy reached out quickly and took her hand. "Don't be mad at him, kiddo. Uncle Jim loves you more than life itself. All he wants is for you to be happy. And I promise, I won't tell April anything. But if you want to call her mom, it's ok with me. And I think it might be ok with her too. Just talk to her."
Joanna looked down. "Yeah," she replied noncommittedly.
And McCoy knew that was the best he was going to get. He and Joanna had a pretty close relationship, but she was still a twelve year old girl, and there were some things that were just universal. Preteen angst and not wanting to talk to her dad about certain topics was one of them.
So McCoy did the smart thing and changed the subject.