Author's Note. So returning (slowly) to writing.
This is a rewrite. I've never been satisfied with this chapter. Never liked it much. So I rewrote it. This work is complete.
Standard Disclaimers apply. I do not own Star Trek.
Later that day...
Riley didn't know how long he'd been sitting next to Kirk. Hours, probably. He' d been expecting on of the captain's friends to have found them by now. But no one had come yet. Maybe they were respecting the man's privacy. Or maybe, they just hadn't realized where the captain was hiding.
Kirk hadn't moved. He was standing exactly where he had been when Kevin came in, just staring out the the viewport at the stars, with his forehead pressed tight to the glass. Riley didn't think the captain was truly seeing the stars though. No. The captain was seeing things long past, things practically forgotten from a barren, famine-ridden planet many, many years ago.
Riley was surprised that he'd found the captain first. He'd thought it would be the doctor, or Commander Spock. They both knew the man better. But no. It had been Riley. And Riley wasn't sure what to think about that. The other man was kind, certainly, and had lived through all manner of shit with him, but they weren't...close. Not really. Not in any way that counted.
But maybe, in the only way that counted.
Riley slid to the floor, unspeaking. He could guess that the captain didn't really want to talk right now. Especially not about his feelings. Not to anyone. Least of all to someone who might expect him to talk about why he had not said anything about being the ONLY hero of the greatest clusterfuck the Federation had ever seen.
Riley knew this would be asked of Kirk. He knew it because he knew that Kirk wasn't listed among the survivors. Nor among the dead.
Riley knew that the captain wasn't ashamed of what he'd done on Tarsus. Not exactly...but just...he'd lost so many. The man had given up so much of himself, of his innocence. His childhood. Riley didn't think the captain should have to share his feelings about what he saw as his failures too.
Riley would worship the man forever. In Riley's mind, Kirk had made no mistakes. But he understood the way his captain thought.
Riley shifted his back against the glass, trying to get comfortable. He heard the captain sigh. He could tell that Kirk was tired. Kirk pressed his hands against the glass beside his head and sighed again.
The captain's head hit the glass with a small thud. Riley looked up at him sharply. Kirk did not appear to notice. The captain let his head hit the glass again. And again. And again.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Riley wrapped his head around his captain's ankle. Kirk looked down at him. Riley shook his head, ever so slightly.
Kirk smiled faintly. "All right, Lieutenant, I'll stop."
Riley nodded. "Thank you, sir." He was sure his relief must have shown on his face.
Kirk's look softened into something incredibly fond. "You know, with that look on your face, Mister Riley, look just like that orphaned boy I found all those years ago."
"Yes, Kev." Kev. That had been what Kirk called him all those years ago.
"You were only six or so. You remember?"
"There's no way I could ever forget it, JT. You carried me," Riley smiled at the memory.
"I had nothing to offer you. But, I couldn't leave you there." Kirk said wistfully.
"I am exceedingly glad you didn't, sir."
Kirk laughed a little. "Yeah, me too." He looked down at Riley.
" to face the music. Stay a bit, Kev?"
Riley knew immediately what Kirk was asking. "As long as you need, sir."
"Okay, then." Kirk nodded. He squared his shoulders, and pressed the comm button on the panel beside the viewer. "Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy to the Observation Deck."
Kirk was silent for a while. Then he said, "Parts of this might be uncomfortable for you to listen to."
The captain hadn't phrased it as a question, but Riley knew it for what it was. "I'll stay, Captain."
"Okay," Kirk nodded again.
Riley didn't really know the captain all that well, but years ago he had known JT, and he could see the other man was bracing himself for something. Riley looked away to give the man some privacy. He stared at the carpet between his feet.
He heard the other two men enter, and he listened to the tread of their shoes on the soft carpet and determined that, yes, they were both here. Walking side by side, from the sound of it.
Kirk waited to speak until they had come to a stop behind him. Riley pictured them without looking up. Commander Spock would have assumed parade rest, hands behind his back. And McCoy would likely be leaning against the wall, his weight propped one hip as he fidgeted restlessly. Riley glanced up at Kirk, and foundhis guess confirmed by the positions of the other two officers.
"Gentlemen." Kirk spoke without turning, keeping his head against the cool glass. He looked like the point of contact between the glass and his head was the only thing keeping him from floating into space.
The other two officers spoke nearly at the same time. Both of their voices were soft, and neither seemed to hold any demands of Kirk. That was good. Kirk probably couldn't handle many more demands.
The two of them had moved to stand on either side of Kirk. After a long period had passed, the doctor spoke up. "I still don't like space, but damn...this is beautiful."
Kirk cleared his throat. "Yeah, it is. I've always liked it."
Riley knew that whatever conversation was about to happen, was not necessarily one in which he was supposed to speak.
"So, I guess I owe the two of you a story." Kirk's manner seemed resigned, but not defeated.
"Only if you want, Jim. We don't want to push you into anything," McCoy's draw was warm and comforting to Riley's ears, and he thought that it must have been very comforting to Kirk, who knew him better.
"Doctor McCoy is correct, Captain. We do not wish to intrude, merely to offer you support," interjected Commander Spock.
"I'm guessing that you've seen the news holos." Kirk asked. He did not wait for them to answer before he spoke again. But Kevin supposed an answer was not necessary.
"Every night in my dreams, I'm fourteen and I'm holding this girl Emily that I don't even fucking know, and she's so hungry, she's begging me to kill her. Or I'm killing some guard I've never seen before with my bare hands, because he found the camp and I can't afford to have him get back to them. Or I'm eating shit and rubber, and grass and throwing it all up anyway. And at the end, I was so fucking sick, and I didn't even know who had survived until more than a year later when I got out of the hospital. I'm not a fucking hero, okay. I wasn't being brave, I was scared shitless the whole fucking time. And this, fucking this, is what I have to show for it." Kirk pulled up the back of his golden pull-over.
The whip scars had silvered over time, faded to white. But the captain's back was covered with scars. There was barely an inch of the man's back not covered in scar tissue. The scarring was so extensive that it could be seen easily, even in the dim light from the stars out the viewport. Riley didn't really need to look. He'd seen it the day it happened.
"Jim." McCoy moved towards the captain as if pulled to him a string.
"It's alright, Bones." The captain held up a hand to keep the doctor at a distance. Kirk might have needed the space to get through this. "It infected almost immediately and went untreated. There was some sort of venom in the whip. It was healed by the time the Federation ships came."
Riley saw movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to see Doctor McCoy's gentle hands drawing the shirt back down. Covering the scars. And then, slowly, rubbing careful circles on the captain's shoulder blades. "You could have the scar tissue fixed, Jim," McCoy said quietly.
"No. I can't." The captain said. "It's a reminder. I have to keep it."
Riley risked a glance at the first officer, who had been very quiet during this exchange. Commander Spock was staring at Kirk, with a strange expression on his face.
Kirk was speaking again. "You know, no one has ever seen my back since it healed. It was...too private, you know. I've never exposed it to anyone. Before today."
Kirk paused, and took several deep breaths as though he needed to prepare for himself for what he was about to say. "Now the whole fucking Federation has seen it. Saw it happen. Saw me screaming as my back was torn open."
Kirk banged his head off the glass again. "Fuck my life."
Riley noticed that McCoy was still rubbing circles into Kirk's back, and murmuring softly.
"The other holo you probably saw was of me and Riley at the museum." Kirk said after some time.
Riley started at the mention of his name. McCoy looked startled, as though he'd forgotten that Riley was there. Riley didn't mind. The captain was the focus of this little meeting, after all.
"Mr. Riley's name appears on the Federation manifests as a survivor of the Tarsus massacre. He is one of only eight survivors known to have seen the face of Kodos." Commander Spock spoke up.
McCoy looked down at Riley wide-eyed.
"Nine." Riley corrected.
The other two men looked down at Riley in surprise. He nodded towards his captain. "Nine," he repeated.
The other two officers both started speaking at the same time, but both stopped immediately.
The first officer looked down at Riley. "Please continue, Lieutenant."
Riley looked at Kirk. Kirk stared back, and then gave him a small nod.
"I was really young. I don't remember it that well. I...I..." he trailed off. Riley didn't know what to say. He had chosen to be part of the survivor's network. But the captain had hidden his involvement. And Riley didn't have the right to tell Kirk's story.
Kirk rescued him, again. "Kevin about six or so. I found him. He was trying to wake his mother. She'd been dead for days. "So picked him up and brought him with me. He was my youngest."
Riley closed his eyes. It was never easy to think about. The doctor made an abortive move towards him, but stopped himself. "For which I have been forever grateful, sir."
McCoy nodded, pulling Kirk from his position at the window and into an embrace. And Kirk appeared momentarily disoriented at the loss of his anchor against the cool surface of the viewer and stumbled a bit, tripping forward. McCoy wrapped both arms around him and held him tight.
Kirk protested. "Aw, Bones-"
"Shut up, Jim," growled McCoy. He squeezed the captain a little bit tighter, and said, "You are a good man, Jim Kirk. A good man." Kirk seemed momentarily speechless. That was quite an accomplishment. "Even if you are a pain in the ass," McCoy continued.
Kirk smiled for what had to be the only the second time all day. "Thanks."
"I, too, think you have many positive attributes, captain." Spock spoke for the first time in many minutes.
"Wow, Spock, um...thanks." Riley could tell that Kirk wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that statement, but he figured that Spock had meant it as a compliment.
There was a brief awkward silence when Riley offered, "Captain, you are the one man in my life by which all others are judged."
Kirk looked down at him with shock in his eyes. Then his expression softened, and he said, "Well, it was a life worth saving." And he smiled.
The four of them were quiet for a while longer, when McCoy finally asked, "Which list were you on, Jim?"
Kirk had been waiting for that. "I was blond, with blue eyes and Kodos picked according to eugenics. I was his favorite until I refused to sleep with him. After that he mostly left me alone until he caught me stealing food for the other kids. That's when he had me whipped and sentenced me to death. I remember praying that I wouldn't survive the whipping. Almost didn't actually. After that they just left me in a cell to die." Kirk shrugged. "I don't remember that much of it. My kids all thought I died."
"Yeah, we did." Riley spoke up. "There are about thirty of us, that he saved. We never knew what happened to him. Most of the group thought he had died. But some had not given up searching for him. When I came aboard-"
"You recognized him."
"Yes, I did."
"You are not on any of the Federation lists, Jim, for having survived or perished." Commander Spock supplied.
Kirk smiled. "I know Spock. No one can even prove I was present. The coding on Kobyashi Maru was a joke compared to hacking the Federation Intelligence Database when I was fifteen. Took me the better part of year."
Spock nodded, raising one eyebrow, but evidently Kirk knew that expression. "Better you don't ask, Spock. Plausible deniability. God forbid the Federation finds out about all the things hacked into at that age. Let's just say I was very angry young man. I thought most of my kids had died.
Spock's eyebrows rose even further at that comment.
The silence that followed seemed very natural. Comfortable even. Riley liked it. No one was fighting to find appropriate words.
Kirk slid down the wall to sit on the floor beside Riley. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys, it's just...it's something I don't talk about. Not ever. There just aren't words for what happened."
McCoy slid to the floor beside Kirk, and after a few moments of the doctor's concerted glaring at the Vulcan, Commander Spock did as well. McCoy spoke first, "Jim, we know why you didn't tell us. We just wanted to make sure you were alright."
Good. That was good, Riley thought. These were good friends. Good people to support the best man he knew.
"The doctor is correct." Commander Spock's words were simple, but heart-warming.
Kirk nodded, his head in his hands. "I'm not you know. Not okay," he clarified, looking up.
The first officer nodded. "We know, Jim."
And the four of them returned to sitting in silence. McCoy placed his hand on Kirk's shoulder, and squeezed it gently. "It's okay, kid."
"No, it isn't. But will be." Kirk said.