Disclaimer: Star Trek doesn't belong to me.

AN: A Conscience of the King, prequel...post Tarsus IV. Riley recognizes Kirk.


Recognition


Kevin knew the first moment he saw him. The eyes were unmistakable.

No one could forget that color of blue. Like the sky, he'd thought at the time. The years had not changed the intensity of the color. If anything it was bolder now than it ever had been. No, he had never forgotten those eyes. He'd had reason to remember them.

He'd just never thought he'd ever see them again. None of them had.

His commanding officer. How ironic. How many times had the other saved his life?

How many lives had he saved? Even then, when the man couldn't have been more than what… fourteen?

Kirk made so much sense now.

And Kevin wondered whether he should mention it. The captain. Gods. Everything fit so perfectly. No wonder the man seemed born to command. Never before had a man ever had such intimate experience with command before they got it of a ship. No wonder he gotten a ship so early. Even at fourteen, he'd led. The ability was in him, not hammered home like some dull academy lessons. The boy had possessed a better ability to lead then than most adult ship captains did now.

He'd stayed alive. Kevin had never really doubted that he would. No person with that kind of will would have allowed himself to die or be killed. No, Kirk had kept them going on air and determination alone. Of course, none of them had known his name was Kirk at the time.

None of them had even known who he was. They got together sometimes, the survivors. And they always talked of him, their savior. They'd called him JT. It was the only name they knew him by. But their mysterious angel of protection had never come to any of their meetings. Not that they blamed him. None of the group had been sure he'd made it. But none of them could bear the thought that he hadn't.

Kirk had kept them all alive. At what price to himself, they'd never known. They'd all been younger than he, and he'd lead them. He'd not allowed them to give up. And they'd survived. They'd had him. But he'd had no one.

He'd done it all alone.

He'd saved as many as he could, stealing them in the night sometimes. He'd established a camp and organized patrols for safety and for foraging food. There hadn't been much, but there had been determination. And strength. He'd given them both.

He had always let them eat first. There were many nights that he hadn't eaten.

Kevin had been the youngest. Only six at the time of the massacre. But he still remembered the eyes. They all did.

You didn't forget the face of the man who'd carried you through the valley of the shadow of death.

In Kevin's case, the sentiment had been literal, not figurative. Kirk had carried him for miles. Kodo's patrols had starting getting close, and they all knew they were close to capture. JT had moved the whole lot of them to a different spot, further up the valley. Kevin, terrified of heights and too sick to walk, had wrapped around his protector and refused to let go. Afraid to look down, he had stared into JT's eyes the whole trip, noticing the impossible color. But the figurative sense applied as well. JT had been the only reason that any of them had survived. He'd gotten them through it.

Kevin wanted to approach the man. He had much to say. But how did you say you knew a person when you hadn't even know his name? How could he tell the man that he'd thought of him everyday.

Kevin only knew his name because he recognized the eyes.

Kevin didn't know how Kirk would take it. There was no record of Kirk's presence on Tarsus in the captain's file, or if there was it'd been classified far above his level to hack.

Kevin had been trying to find Kirk for twelve years. And now, just when Kevin had given up, here he was.

Kevin had only been on the Enterprise a week, but he was sure about his theory.

He only wanted to thank his rescuer, his savior. He wanted to explain that the memory of Kirk had been his everything. He'd gone into Starfleet because they did things like JT had done. They saved people. He wanted to honor the debt he could never repay. He owed this man his very existence. They all did.

And he didn't know if he should tell them, the rest of the group. Kirk didn't seem to want any credit for what he'd done.

And that was the crux of the matter. He didn't want to embarrass Kirk or bring up bad memories. He didn't want to put the other man in some sort of untenable position. He just wanted to thank him.

So here he was…stuck, outside the captain's quarters, trying to work up the courage to ring the buzzer. Kevin just didn't know if he should bring this up.

But no. He'd come this far.

Kirk deserved gratitude. As far as Kevin knew, no one had ever given Kirk any.

Not for this.

JT deserved to know how many of his kids had made it.

That thought stiffened his resolve. Before he allowed his brain to talk him out of it, he pressed the buzzer.

Kevin realized he was hoping the captain would not be in. Maybe he would be exercising or---

"Come."

The voice was similar. If he'd had any doubts about his theories. He dismissed them now. Kevin knew he was right.

He stepped inside.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk was seated at his desk, clearly immersed in paperwork. James Tiberius. JT. Of course. And this man was famous. Amazing no one had figured it out before now. Looking at him now, knowing what Kevin did, there was no question. Kevin could see the boy he'd known in the man before him.

The man looked up, clearly surprised at the identity of his visitor. The captain probably didn't often get people just come aboard visiting his quarters without an invitation.

"Can I help you, Lieutenant?"

"Lt. Kevin Riley, and you already have, sir."

Kirk raised his eyebrows. "Lieutenant, you are going to have to enlighten me."

Kevin took a deep breath and walked closer to the captain. This would not be easy to say. "Sir, I—." He trailed off, not knowing where or how to begin. "I only wished…." Kevin trailed off again, as his courage failed him.

What was he supposed to say to this man?

Kirk put his stylus down and stared hard at Kevin. "I'm not going to bite, Lieutenant. Out with it. You say I've helped you?"

"Actually, yes, sir. You did. You carried me. Twelve years ago. On Tarsus. You carried all of us."

Kirk had gone very, very still.

Kevin shut his eyes against the intensity of the blue stare. "I haven't told anyone," he backpedaled. "I recognized your eyes. And then the sound of your voice. I wasn't sure until just now, outside your quarters."

Kirk still had not spoken.

Kevin rushed on, "I just…I wanted to thank you. For my life. My future. It's all thanks to you."

He still could not look the captain in the eyes.

Kirk moved around the desk. "Kevin...Riley." The captain's tone was thoughtful, hesitant, his mind searching memories long repressed. His blue glance caught Kevin's and held him. The sapphire gaze searched Kevin's face, seeking something. Familiarity or recognition. After a moment, the scrutiny paused, and Kirk spoke.

"Kevin. I've thought of you often. You were so young." The captain's voice was very quiet. "I'm glad you made it."

"And I'm glad you made it. We weren't any of us sure, sir. You were so sick, there at the end. We never knew what happened to you after the shuttles came, or if they came in time."

Kirk nodded. "Nearly died. Spent almost a year in the hospital, but...here I am."

Kevin nodded too. He reached out and put a hand on one of the captain's biceps. Right now their difference in rank didn't matter. He wanted, no, he needed to convey his gratitude and his relief. JT was alive. That it made it one of the best days of Kevin's life.

"Thank you."

Kirk swallowed against a lump in his throat. "You're welcome."

They stood that way a long while.

Kirk finally cleared his throat. "How many…" He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't have to.

Kevin knew what he wanted to know.

"There are thirty of us, sir. All thanks to you. We all survived."

Kirk couldn't hold the tears anymore. They filled eyes and spilled over down his cheeks. The captain brought a hand up to cover his mouth. "I always wondered. I never knew....God, I never knew."

Kevin steadied him as the man's knees buckled, and settled him against the edge of the desk. This man, so strong in all things, the leader at fourteen, had folded, not in anguish, but in relief. Somehow Kevin was not surprised. The captain had been carrying a weighty burden all these years, wondering about the fate of his very first charges. Kirk was like a parent finding out his missing child had been found alive.

Kevin rocked the man gently. He could remember, once upon a time, JT doing this for him. Hell, he'd done if for all of them.

"All thirty." The captain sounded like he was in shock. He must have not conceived of so many of them making it. Maybe he'd thought that most of them had died. It occurred to Kevin then that it would have been just as hard for JT to find information about them as it had been for them to find information about him.

"Yes, sir," he responded.

"Wow." Kirk had stilled. He moved awkwardly out of Kevin's grasp and sat beside him on the floor.

Kevin smiled. "Wow, indeed. Thanks to you."

"I'm grateful."

"As are we. Everyone always asks about you, if anyone's seen you, or heard of you. Most everybody thinks you died. But I didn't. I knew you were out there." Kevin said it softly. He hoped the captain understood the question he was trying to ask.

"You can tell them that I made it out, Lieutenant." The man had understood.

The smile that graced the captain's features was proud and paternal.

"Well, I'm glad you made it, Kevin Riley."

Kevin smiled. "And I, you, James Kirk."


AN: It bothered me until I wrote it down. Please read and review.

Special thanks to Audriel, who noticed that if it had been twenty years later, it would have been a long time after Kirk got the Enterprise. My bad.

Also. Those of you interested in Tarsus, there is a book by William Shatner in the series which references it. Star Trek:Academy --Collision Course deals with Tarsus. I haven't read it yet, but I do own it. Shatner also wrote Ashes of Eden, which I thought, kicked some serious ass, so the Tarsus book might be good. I dunno.


"He commands. It is in him, not hammered home by some dull school lesson."—Horatio Hornblower: Retribution.

"Honor a debt that could never be repaid"—Star Trek: Voyager, "Caretaker", Season One.

"See the boy he'd known in the man before him". Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

"just come aboard"-In naval tradition, it would be more correct than saying "people who had just come aboard."…so I kept the naval traditions. Yeah, I know that they don't all translate to Starfleet, but it is my fiction.