A/N: Hey, sorry about the wait, exams are coming up and they are attacking my soul. Anyway, this chapter didn't mean to be Jim-centric, it just sort of turned out that way. Jim has been feeling neglected lately, and I thought he deserved a bit of time in the sun. But hopefully he'll be appeased by this and quiet down for a bit so we can get back to Ella and Spocky.

And by the way, that whole spiel with bloodwine mixing badly with the transporter is total bullshit from my own imagination, I just wanted to have them stumble through the airlock. And my only knowledge of string theory is what wikipedia and "String Theory for Dummies" have told me. If there are any physicists in the crowd who I have offended with my butchering of the theory I apologize in advance.

On with the show!


"I'd furgotten 'bout blood wine," Ella slurred before passing out into Spock's waiting arms. He'd been anticipating this for some time and was prepared.

Four hours after having entered the banquet hall, not knowing what awaited them, the away team stumbled back onto the Enterprise. Uhura was supported by a giggling Chekov, who'd learned the Klingon word for "toast" and found it hysterically funny. He'd learned it over an hour before. The communications officer was, for her part, less embarrassing, but she was pondering aloud to herself in what Jim recognized as Denobulan. As captain, he'd declined the blood wine after his first goblet, and being about as far from a lightweight as a person could possibly be, he was only vaguely buzzed. His crewmates suffered a different fate.

"JIM?" Bones all but yelled as he stumbled through the airlock after his friend, holding the doorframe for support. "I am… SO SORRY!"

"For what, Bones?" Jim asked him calmly, helping him to scale the step into the main body of the ship.

"I was gonna marry her, I promise!" Bones whispered in his ear. Jim wiped at the slobber that went with it. And this man said he could hold his liquor… That red shit must have been pretty potent to reduce Jim's bordering-on-alcoholic CMO to this blabbering loudmouth. "Then she up and lef'."

"Now is not the time or place for this conversation, Bones," Jim said. "Let's just get you to your quarters."

"I got it," Bones snapped, pulling away and starting down the hallway.

"Uh, Bones? You live the other way." Without a word, Bones stomped past Jim with alarming stability and out of sight around the corner. Jim just shook his head. Hopeless, all of them.

"Captain, may I transport Commander Jones to her cabin?" Jim heard from behind him. He turned around and found himself facing Spock, who was supporting a very stoic-faced Ella. "She seems to have overindulged in… shall we say 'diplomatic non-refusal of alcoholic substances'."

"Yeah, you're dismissed, Spock," Jim said, glancing worriedly at the young curly-haired ensign beside them, who had dissolved from giggling into snorting, and was starting to double over. Now there was a lightweight. The Klingons themselves had cut him off after only one cup. At the beginning of the evening. "Take care of her: Ella drunk is not a nice thing. Trust me, I know."

"I was under impression that she did not make a habit of imbibing alcohol," Spock said, lifting her into his arms for ease's sake. She stared at his shoulder with a very serious expression.

"Once," Jim said. "Whiskey. Wasn't pretty."

"I cannot imagine a situation where she would be any less than pretty, however, your point is taken," Spock said.

"Get out of here, you sap," Jim said, shoving at his arm playfully. It didn't move, and Spock just gave him a look that blatantly told him he was being illogical and started off down the hall with Ella, who started to spout information about string theory.

"…but if supersymmetry did exist between the bosons and fermions, then the fact that two bosons can occupy the same space compared to the fact that two fermions cannot indicates that the bosons are force carriers, whereas fermions are associated with matter…"

Jim was glad when she was carried out of earshot. Particle physics made his head hurt. One of the many reasons he'd chosen to apply his brilliance to command instead of science. He dealt with the rest of the away team (it would have been so much easier if blood wine didn't react adversely with the transporter!), seeing that they all headed for their rooms. When everyone was safely tucked in, so to speak, Jim headed for his quarters.

He didn't even bother to turn on the lights when he got there, knowing the positions of all the furniture like the back of his hand. He stripped off the leather vest and tights and collapsed onto the bed, heaving a great sigh and going over the evening's events in his mind.

It had started a bit ominously. The away team had entered the banquet hall to find the table filled with glaring Klingons, not all of whom seemed as interested in a diplomatic meeting as their captain. However, as they approached the table, Ella and Uhura had snarled out some sort of greeting and given a weird, jerky salute. The Klingons all seemed pleased with this, and the scowls were replaced by feral smiles. Their favor had been won.

Then the captain entered with a striking Klingon woman who Jim assumed to be his wife on his arm, and everything went uphill from there. Apparently Ella and the woman knew each other well, and their reunion was loud and joyful. The rest of the crew was baffled for a few moments, before they explained how they knew each other.

"This is Akhil, Jim," Ella said, gesturing to the grinning woman.

Realization dawned, and Jim felt a great weight lifted from his shoulders. This was their way in. He felt like they had nothing to worry about anymore: the captain's wife was like family to Ella, and she didn't look like the kind of woman who would let anyone mess with her family.

After the delicious but slightly questionable dinner of what Ella called gagh (Jim's food wriggled), the strongest warriors of the Klingon crew gave a demonstration of moQ'bara, their formal martial art. Jim knew it was posturing, showing the puny humans how talented and valiant their warriors were. They invited Ella to join, but she politely declined, stating that their skill was too far beyond her own. They admired her bat'leth, however, at great length, explaining its history with help from Akhil. Ella listened raptly, drinking in their stories of battle, and Jim found himself watching her closely. She spoke louder than usual when she talked with them, and bared her teeth more when she smiled. Clearly it didn't take much for her to re-immerse herself in the world she'd lived in for most of her formative years.

The bloodwine started to kick in as the empty plates were taken away. The Klingons got louder while the team tried to keep up, eventually digressing into simply yelling at each other in an attempt to be heard. Ella was singing with Akhil and Captain Rokhin, and Chekov was getting propositioned by a large Klingon woman. McCoy saw this and intervened, despite his apparent inability to stay totally stable. Spock was glaring at his still full goblet of bloodwine suspiciously. He'd declined the food on the grounds that it "conflicted with his cultural beliefs", and Jim could tell he was hungry. Ella soon asked for some bread for him, though, and all was well.

Eventually the Klingons suggested that the two captains engage in some sort of competition, if only just for amusement. Jim was skeptical, but agreed, suggesting an arm wrestle and regretting it immediately after. Rokhin seemed to think it was a good idea, however, and before long Jim found himself across the table from the muscular alien. The two crews were cheering on their respective commanders as they clasped hands. Jim braced himself, and when the word "go" was spoken, he pushed against his opponent with all his might. The strength behind that arm was ferocious, and Jim could feel his muscles burning as he tried his best not to fold beneath that power. He'd always been strong; Frank never wanted to pop for farm implements, and Jim had ended up doing everything on their property the hard way. But against this giant of a man, Jim felt like his chance of winning was slim to none.

However, Rokhin had imbibed much more alcohol than Jim had by that point, and this worked to Jim's advantage. Rokhin's unsteadiness allowed Jim to push his arm past the point where he would be able to recover and slam it onto the table.

There was silence. For a long, awkward moment, Jim wondered if winning had been a giant faux-pas. Then Rokhin gave a triumphant sort of yell and hoisted Jim's arm up into the air in victory. Everyone cheered. Seemed Rokhin is a good loser.

The evening wrapped up soon after, and the Klingons docked with the Enterprise, stating that it would be inadvisable to mix bloodwine with the transporter. Jim felt good about the whole event, hoping that this might be a step towards establishing a sort of bridge between their cultures. It was worth the headaches he knew his bridge crew would be experiencing in the morning (according to Ella's warning, anti-hangover hypos didn't affect bloodwine hangovers).

As his mind wound down, Jim's thoughts wandered to the couples beginning to crop up amongst his crew. Ella and Spock, Chekov and that cute young thing from astrometrics… even Uhura was getting into the game: Jim had seen her getting cozy with Scotty at the crew's last movie night. As captain, his choice was very limited. The only people on the ship he could viably be with were Spock and McCoy, and neither of those prospects were very appealing to Jim. That limited him to shore leave and the occasional dignitary that the Enterprise happened to be hosting. Even those relations usually ended badly. Jim realized, in his state of half-sleep, that he was lonely. That would have to be remedied.

In the morning.

Meanwhile, the rest of the away team members were finding their way into bed. McCoy had gone back to his room and considered drinking some more, but declined in favor of listening to some Johnny Cash and sulking. Whenever he got particularly tanked, McCoy's regrets often pushed themselves to the forefront of his soused mind. He missed his daughter the most sharply at those times (he never missed her mother, however, no matter how drunk he was), and lately he found himself delving deeper into the well of things he wished he'd done differently. Especially with Ella.

He had been kicking himself for eight years for not going after her. Although he understood now that it was for the best and she'd never been meant for him anyway, a small selfish part of him rebelled against that. He'd spent long, inebriated hours going through all the possible situations that could have arisen had Ella stayed with him. Most of them were just wishful thinking, but one day while imagining a life where Ella had stayed with him, not gone to the Academy and they'd lived happily ever after, his scattered mind had stumbled across a startling potential chain of events. Had Ella stayed, McCoy would never have married Jocelyn, his ex-wife, and would have had no reason to flee to Starfleet. If McCoy had never gone to the Academy, he would never have met and become friends with Jim. Consequently, Jim wouldn't have been brought aboard the Enterprise by McCoy. Without Jim's influence, Earth would most likely no longer exist. This unsettling prospect was usually enough to dispel McCoy's selfish musings. But some days (particularly when bloodwine was involved, apparently), even the thought of the end of the world wasn't enough to dismiss McCoy's regrets and what-ifs.

He passed out that night with thoughts of polka-dot dresses and red hair in his mind.

Elsewhere on the ship, Ella was drunkenly trying to seduce Spock, who was having none of it. He stated repeatedly that while he loved her very much, he was not going to be with her that evening. She pouted and redoubled her efforts. It wasn't until he threatened to take her back to her own quarters and leave her to the tender mercies of her very non-sympathetic roommate. Charlie was practically a professional drinker and had had too many experiences with worshipping the porcelain god to be entirely sympathetic. Ella relented after that and consented to be put to bed. Neither of them knew that both their captain and chief medical officer had been thinking about them that night.

Uhura went straight to her quarters and fell asleep. She dreamt in Denobulan.

Chekov kept himself up all night, giggling.

None of them knew how drastically the next few weeks would upend their lives.