Title: But Not Jim Kirk
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: Property of Roddenberry, Paramount, JJ Abrams, etc. Alas.
Summary: He hadn't thought about what it would sound like to Gary, who had four more years' service under his belt and not a chance in hell of following the same meteoric track. 2000 words.
Spoilers: Star Trek XI (2009)
Notes: Another for my Reboot continuity. Because as much as I love Bones, I hope Kirk had at least one more friend; and because I'm kind of fascinated by Gary Mitchell, from the second TOS pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Random backstory facts pilfered and rearranged from the Memory Alpha and Memory Beta wikis.
He'd heard the news from Pike that morning, and scanned through the casualty lists transmitted back from Starfleet Command himself, but some part of Jim Kirk simply refused to believe that it was true until he could hear his friend's voice with his own ears. He tapped his fingers agitatedly on the desk in the captain's ready room, waiting for the connection with the USS Constitution to go through, and tried not to let the nausea gripping him show.
He'd made a lot of friendly acquaintances during his time at the Academy, but only a few had ever made it past his reckless grin and disregard for limitations. Two, if he was going to be honest; and even that many was a surfeit of riches, after Riverside and Tarsus and a lifetime of 'you know who his father was, right?' And both of them had come damn close to dying in the last few days. If Bones had been posted to any ship but Enterprise; if Jim had wakened from that sedative shot even a few minutes later; if he hadn't fallen down that particular ice cliff on Delta Vega; if Nero's crew had been a little quicker on the draw when he and Spock beamed aboard the Narada-- there were so many ways that everything could have gone wrong. And as for Gary--
Jim sometimes thought of the two of them as the angel and devil on his shoulders; his anchor, and the wild wind goading him on. An ironic reversal, considering the circumstances in which he'd met them. He'd first had the pleasure of Bones' acerbic personality on the recruitment shuttle the day they'd both joined Starfleet; he'd walked on wearing a bloody tee shirt and a devil-may-care attitude, and stumbled off with blurred depth-perception and one arm slung around an equally out-of-uniform doctor with a sharp tongue, a keen mind, and a highly calibrated bullshit detector. Two years later, as the top of his class in tactics and survival, he'd been given the opportunity for a brief training tour aboard the USS Farragut; he'd ended up sharing a shift with a young Lieutenant as close to a kindred spirit as Jim had ever met, intelligent, fun-loving, reckless, and nearly as determined as Jim himself. They'd been partners in crime by the end of his first week aboard.
Jim had only served on the Farragut for a couple of months, but by the time he'd returned to the Academy he'd learned a lot about shipboard life, the nooks and crannies of Constitution-class starships, and 'Fleet procedure in action that had served him in good stead since. (He didn't even want to think about how much more difficult the last few days would have been if he'd been relying only on simulations, book learning, and Pike's example to guide him in taking charge of the Enterprise). But more than that, he'd made a lasting friend. Gary would never replace Bones, or Sam; but he'd filled a niche in Jim's life he hadn't realized was empty.
With Bones intent on a career someplace that didn't threaten to scramble his molecules on a regular basis, Jim had been just as glad to hear that Captain Chenoweth had requested him back as soon as he completed his graduation requirements. Teaming up with Gary again had sounded like the next best thing to shipping out with his more medically inclined friend, and more appealing than serving under Pike's paternally assessing eye. The distress call from Vulcan and everything that had followed had scrambled those plans, though; and it hadn't been until he'd finally had a chance to sit down and breathe that the personal side of the losses 'Fleet had taken had had a chance to sink in.
"Jim?" An incredulous voice interrupted his darkly circling thoughts, and he glanced up from the smooth surface of the desk to meet the startled dark eyes of his friend.
"Gary!" he exclaimed, relief loosening the tight muscles in his shoulders. "It's good to see your face; I thought you were still on the Farragut."
"I thought you were assigned to the Farragut until this morning," Gary replied, shaking his head. "With your luck, though, I should have known. How'd you swing Enterprise, anyway?"
"You have Dr. McCoy to thank for that," Jim shrugged. "I got myself suspended-- kind of a funny story, ask me about it later-- and wasn't going to get to go up at all, until he stuck me full of vaccine and dragged me onto a shuttle as his patient."
"You stowed away?" Gary laughed, eyebrows raised in disbelief. "Damn it, Jim. You lucky bastard. If you hadn't warped right into a crisis--" He trailed off, shaking his head. "But since you're wearing a uniform and not in the brig, I suppose you came up roses as usual. Scuttlebutt says Captain Pike was captured by the Romulans and lost half his command crew; it really must have been crazy over there if they tossed the regs and let you lend a hand."
Jim fingered the single Lieutenant's stripe on his gold sleeve, and thought about the conversations he'd had with Pike over the last few days; about the second full stripe that would join it soon, if the Captain had his way; about the view from the center seat-- and felt the stories he'd intended to share with his friend suddenly stack up in his throat. It was one thing, he realized suddenly, venting about the sudden weight of authority to Bones, who already knew it intimately from a career path that didn't conflict with Jim's; he hadn't thought about what it would sound like to Gary, who had four more years' service under his belt and not a chance in hell of following the same meteoric track.
"Crazy, that's one way to put it," Jim replied instead, a wry twist to his lips, and changed the subject. "Though I hear you've had an interesting time out at the Neutral Zone, too. When did you get transferred to the Constitution? And why didn't you tell me? Skipping out on me, Gary?"
Gary shrugged casually in return. "Orders happened, you know the drill. I suppose I didn't want to crush your poor little heart until I had something truly envious to report."
Jim scoffed at Gary's teasing tone, and wondered what story lay behind that evasion. "Like a battle with wayward Romulans?" he asked, trying to maintain the light-hearted mood.
"Something like that," Gary replied. "Should have known you'd still find a way to come out the winner."
Jim winced as the airy tone of the conversation collapsed again under the weight of everything they weren't saying. "Some win," he said roughly, eyes dropping to the desk. "Six billion Vulcans. Several thousand Starfleet officers and cadets." He swallowed. "Captain Chenoweth."
Gary let the silence lay a moment, then responded simply, "But not Jim Kirk."
"But not Jim Kirk." He rubbed at his nose, then looked up again, quirking a smile. It was Bones' job to be maudlin about things, not his. "Hey, though. Shouldn't you have known that before I commed you? Didn't that extra-sensory thing of yours tell you the universe wasn't done with me yet?"
Gary snorted, and let Jim's tone prod him back into a lighter mood. "It's only good for the little things like cards and dice, you know that. Though considering how little value you seem to put on your life sometimes, you're probably right; it should have qualified."
Jim chuckled wearily. "You're one to talk, you know."
"I know." Gary nodded, and looked him over again, a little more thoroughly this time. "Wish I'd been there. Not just for the excitement, either; you look like you could use a cold one."
"It shows that much, huh?" Jim asked. "I'm not sure the replicators on board even have the recipe for Bud Classic, actually; I haven't had a chance to check yet."
"You're kidding," Gary said, clapping a dramatic hand over his heart. "Jimmy T., going several days in a row without a drop to drink? You really are growing up."
"Had to happen sometime," Jim replied off-handedly, then took a deep breath and decided to just get it over with. He couldn't not tell, after all; Gary would never forgive him if he found out from the media after they arrived in spacedock. "Kind of hard not to, considering. Didn't you hear, I ended up Acting Captain of this tugboat? We've got Captain Pike back now, but considering he's still in sickbay..."
"Acting Captain?" Gary's jaw dropped open; he looked about as nauseous as Jim had felt before the connection went through. "You're the Acting Captain? Of the USS Enterprise? Pull the other one, Jim, that's not funny."
"Do you think I would joke about something like this?" Jim spread his hands before the vid pickup.
"How the hell did that happen?" Gary demanded, still aghast.
"How do I ever get myself into anything?" Jim parried, with a wan attempt at his usual smirk. "Don't go getting all jealous on me, though. I don't even know if they're going to lock me up or commend me when we get back; Pike's talking promotion, but who the hell even knows."
"Right, right, I forgot who I was talking to." Gary scrubbed a hand over his face, taking a moment to visibly scrape his composure back together. Then he shook his head and chuckled. "So. I guess I should put my bid in now, then?"
Jim blinked at the sudden turnaround. "What are you talking about?"
"For a spot on your crew," Gary replied. "Because if you're the jumped-up cadet who just saved the collective ass of the Federation, I'm putting my bet on promotion, not punishment. And if you don't offer me a place whenever you manage to get your own ship..."
"Would I do that to you?" Jim asked lightly, blinking away an unexpected prickle at the back of his eyes.
"Well, I don't know, Captain Kirk," his friend drawled. "Could be you're over there getting a swelled head, thinking you're too good for your acquaintances from days of yore."
"Not while I still have you and Bones to keep me on my toes," Jim promised solemnly, drawing one finger over his chest in an exaggerated X. And Spock, he added silently; even he didn't know how that was going to play out yet, no use dumping the whole strange situation on Gary at this point.
"I'll take you at your word on that, you hear me?" Gary pointed at him. "My life won't be complete until I get a chance to call you sir."
"I gotcha," Jim chuckled. "And if I do end up in the brig, just so you know-- I'll save a space for you there, too."
Gary rolled his eyes. "I suppose I'd better let you get back to your duties, then, Acting Captain."
"Acting First Officer, currently. But thank you; I appreciate the concern." Jim tilted his chin up and leaned back in his chair, doing his best approximation of 'command sprawl' in the limited space behind the desk.
Gary just snorted, and reached for his screen. "Mitchell, out."
Jim sat in silence for several minutes longer, thinking over the conversation. Gary was just one person; just one friend unexpectedly alive, against the countless victims of Nero's attacks. But he was alive, and Jim couldn't help but feel a shard of joy at that, like the speck of brightness in the elder Spock's thoughts at seeing him before the grieving Vulcan had shown him the full scope of the threat they faced.
A mass of indistinct, inchoate emotion surged up in his throat again; Jim swallowed it back down, then sighed and signaled Communications. No time for that now; Gary wasn't the only person he needed to let know he'd survived. Sam, for one. And--
"Commander Winona Kirk, aboard the USS Lake," he prompted the officer in charge.
Life went on.