V

In retrospect, he sometimes thought to himself, maybe going from cadet to Captain wasn't such a great idea. Because the Captains who had done it the normal way, with all the intermediate steps, surely had learned some of those things that he only found out once it was almost too late.

Diplomacy, for instance. Sure, he'd taken the class. Or at least he'd registered for it. And he'd gotten an A. But only after he'd spent all night cramming for the final. Because that was one of the classes he didn't so much bother showing up for on a regular basis. Or at all. Oh yeah. That really hot blonde helped him pass too. After they'd practically fucked their brains out, they used what was left of them to master the material that had been on every final in Dr. Clayton's class since there was a Starfleet Academy. Good thing attendance didn't count as part of their grade because if it did it would have wasted the 103 he'd made on the final.

As it turned out, making an A in that class didn't prepare him to lead an away team to the newly discovered planet of Really-needs-to-buy-a-vowel that happened to be a veritable storehouse of dilithium. Jim had the sense to take Uhura with him, along with planetary geologist Rachel Fuchs whom Spock assured him was the best geologist on his science staff. That was all Jim needed to know.

Who knew that the inhabitants of planet Wcbnqssx would think that the two women on his away team were with him because they were his wives? The inhabitants had multiple spouses. Surely that was the norm everywhere. Uhura cautioned the Captain against dissuading them from their misconception, both Uhura and Fuchs agreeing to go along with their incorrect assumption for the sake of the negotiations. The two other men on the away team, Scotty and Chekov, it was assumed, were either not married or they had left their wives on their cloud hopper. This error was also left unchallenged.

The misunderstanding became worse when the tall, purple inhabitants insisted that they all spend the night on their planet, better to continue talking well into night, and to share a meal in the morning. They were not going to be persuaded that their hospitality, while greatly appreciated, was entirely unnecessary. The away team was escorted to luxurious quarters, separate rooms for Scotty and for Chekov, the Captain and the two women shown to a splendid chamber dominated by a huge bed. They were also given nighttime apparel, the Wcbnqssx accommodating the understandable fact that the Humans had not planned for an overnight visit.

When their hosts had wished them excellent sleep, the three of them examined the garments they had been provided, discovering them to be far less modest than most Earth bathing suits.

"You don't think for a minute I'm wearing this anywhere near you, do you, Captain?" Uhura demanded. Fuchs eyes got a little bigger at Uhura's comment, 'they sure do things differently on the bridge' clearly written in her surprised expression.

"I don't know that we have a whole lot of choice, Lieutenant," Jim returned, studying the room once more. He went over to a set of doors that did not lead to the corridor to discover a walk-in closet. "I'll sleep in here," he said, reaching up on one of the shelves for a blanket.

"Captain?" Fuchs said in some uncertainty. Was it entirely appropriate for them to expect their Captain to sleep on the floor?

"It's fine, Lieutenant. I've slept in worse places," the Captain assured her.

"I'll bet you have," Uhura said before she could stop herself.

"I heard that," Jim told her. "Can one or both of you make sure I wake up in time to get into bed with you before they come to get us?"

"Yes sir," Fuchs agreed, still unsure about the appropriateness of their Captain sleeping in a closet of all places. "Wouldn't it just be easier to tell them the truth, sir?"

"Lt. Uhura thinks that would serve to insult them, Rachel. And I trust the Lieutenant implicitly in this," Jim said, glancing over at Uhura to see if he could detect any hint of guilt on her face. He could not and turned to enter his closet. "Good night," he said before closing the door. He made sure it was firmly latched before stripping off his uniform, deciding his Starfleet issued briefs, which he had actually worn this time, were a better alternative for sleeping compared to the string and tiny triangle of cloth they had provided.

As promised, Lt. Fuchs woke him early the next morning. He barely noticed that she too had opted for the underwear alternative and made very sure he did not notice what Lt. Uhura had chosen to wear as he climbed into bed in between them where they all feigned sleep until a quiet Wcbnqssx came in to invite them to repast.

Jim gallantly stayed in bed with the covers over his head as the two women put their uniforms back on, knowing they were watching with some interest as he did the same, Fuchs trying not to look, Uhura watching with a mix of admiration and contempt. At least he thought that was what her expression represented. But he wasn't going to chance looking at her long enough to really figure it out.

They were escorted to the main dining hall where they were provided an incredibly large and delicious breakfast, none of them trying to understand any of the names of the food and not inquiring as to the ingredients. It wasn't moving on their plates and that was all they really needed to know.

Jim thought Chekov and Scotty exchanged knowing looks across the table from Jim and his "wives" but he would address their possibly inappropriate thoughts at a more appropriate time and place.

When the Wcbnqssx were certain their honored guests had eaten their fill, they invited the Humans to adjourn with them to the opulent room where they had talked the night before. It didn't take especially long for the inhabitants to agree to sell the dilithium to their new friends, pleased that Jim, his wives, and his bnwwcv (which Uhura said translated loosely into family) were happy with the terms.

That all treaties and negotiations on Wcbnqssx were celebrated with a ceremonial dip in the mud baths was something else Jim might have known had he actually attended his Diplomacy and Interstellar Negotiations class. But then again, until Enterprise had happened onto the planet, no one knew of the Wcbnqssx, so even perfect attendance in the class would not have prepared him or his away team for the necessity of stripping naked and jumping gleefully into the mud that turned out to be very purple and very very cold. It also turned out that the mud accounted for the coloring of the Wcbnqssx's skin.

When Jim and the other four beamed aboard Enterprise, they were still naked and still covered from their plunge in the mud that stained their skin purple for two weeks. Bones claimed that there was absolutely nothing he could do and they would simply have to wait for it to fade. Jim wasn't entirely sure he believed Dr. McCoy but Spock concurred with his assessment so they had to content themselves with being purple until they weren't any longer.

All in all, the negotiations with the Wcbnqssx was a huge win and would have been nearly perfect if the Admiralty hadn't decided that the day after the negotiations were completed they should have a general inspection of their flagship. Check to make sure everything was going smoothly. That Jim was handling his responsibilities in a manner appropriate to his station. Fortunately, Admiral Pike was on the visiting cadre and after laughing at Jim standing at attention in his dress uniform with a really and truly purple face, assured the other Admirals that, yes, Captain Kirk he had been turned that particular color in the line of duty and, no, he most definitely did not make it a habit.

Jim would have given almost anything to have been able to absent himself from the receiving party but a missing Captain did not tend to send a reassuring "everything's going really well" message. So he and the other four stood at attention, patiently waiting for the Admirals to finish laughing and to collect themselves enough to be escorted to the Bridge.

IV

"I could totally tap that," Jim said to Bones as they enjoyed one last drink at the outdoor café on the planet where they were enjoying a brief shoreleave. "That" was a beautiful ensign recently assigned to Spock's science staff, flowing black hair swinging down her back as she walked away with two of her friends, all three wearing sundresses that showed considerable leg, shoulders, and beautiful toned skin.

"There was a time," Bones agreed. "Not any longer."

"Yeah," Jim sighed. "Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've gotten laid?"

"No. And I am perfectly happy living in ignorance," Bones replied but Jim either didn't or wouldn't hear his response.

"Seven months, eight days, and…some hours."

"Yeah. Sucks to be you, Captain," Bones said with a distinct lack of the sympathy which Jim really thought he deserved considering the amount of maturity his abstinence showed.

"You have no idea," Jim said with absolutely no bitterness because neither of them really and truly believed it. "You ready to go back?"

"Yeah," Bones agreed, not grousing, this time, about the unnaturalness of having your cells scattered every which way as Jim requested transport back to the ship.

"I am assuming command," Jim told Lt. Sulu when he arrived on the Bridge.

"Yes sir," Sulu agreed, wishing again that the Captain would have taken the five days he was due for shoreleave instead of the two and a half days he kept telling everyone was all he really needed when in fact he wouldn't take any longer because with the Captain aboard everyone else could have extra time on the planet.

"Have fun, everybody," Jim said as they left, leaving only him and Spock still on the Bridge.

Spock left his station to wander casually over to stand next to Jim who was staring at the viewscreen in a vague kind of trance. "It was admirable for you to do that."

"Do what?" Jim asked, focusing instead on his first officer.

"Sacrifice your shoreleave to provide it to crew."

Jim shrugged and smiled, a small sort of sad smile. "They deserve it."

"As do you," Spock said.

"Yeah. Well. They keep my butt out of the fire enough times that if I can pay them back, it's worth it," Jim admitted. "Are you sure you don't want to go down?"

"I do not. I believe my views on shore leave are clear," Spock said in his best 'just because I live among humans I refuse to act like one' voice.

"Crystal clear," Jim assured him with a fond laugh. Spock nodded and returned to his station, working quietly until he informed the Captain that their shift was at an end and would he care to play chess? Jim readily agreed, Bones joining them in the nearly deserted rec room where they ate and chatted and Jim lost to Spock three straight times which he found he did not mind in the least.

III

"Cap'ain," Scotty said when he was standing next to Jim's chair on the Bridge, startling Jim as he hadn't heard the turbolift doors open to announce his arrival.

"Scotty," Jim returned, studying his chief engineer who looked slightly frazzled. "What can I do for you?"

"Yesterday, when Those Damn Klingons fired on us, they knocked the dilithium chamber out of alignment," Scotty said, furious that anyone would dare do anything that could harm his precious ship. Jim figured Enterprise was enough ship for them both and never bothered to remind Scotty that in fact Enterprise was his ship.

"Oh," Jim said, understanding that a misaligned dilithium chamber was in no way a good thing.

"Can ye come down with me, sir?" Scotty requested with an expression that said something had to be down right then or he absolutely could not be held responsible for the results.

"Of course. Mr. Spock, would you join us?" Jim requested, fairly sure that Spock would have a better idea of the problem and possible repairs than he would although he was not a complete stranger to the inner workings of his starship.

"Certainly, sir," Spock agreed and the three of them entered the turbolift, Scotty prattling on about the damage Those Damn Klingons had caused. When they arrived in Engineering, Scotty pointed at the dilithium chamber, explaining how it had happened and what had to be done.

To Jim, who was trying very hard to follow the line of Scotty's thoughts and to understand the entire situation, Scotty was saying that the function of the junction was conjunction with the luction and that the nunction of the bucntion was dependent on the munction fitting with the runction. Did they suddenly inhabit a world where the engines were repaired according to the Dr. Seuss Manual of Warp Drive Mechanics? Why wasn't Scotty wearing a really tall hat with red and white strips? Oh god, had he hit his head yesterday and nobody thought to tell him?

"Mr. Scott," the Captain finally said, holding up one hand in self defense and in an attempt to stem the flow words that were threatening to drown him. "What do you want to do?"

"We have two choices, Cap'ain," Scotty said. "We can limp to starbase and hope the chamber doesn't blow up in our faces. Or we can take it offline and repair it."

"Which means we won't have warp drive capabilities," Jim said to Scotty's nods. "What are the odds that the chamber will explode if we don't deactivate it?"

"Approximately 231.4, sir," Spock responded

"Okay. Now what does that mean?" Jim asked.

"The chamber is 231.4 times more likely to explode than if it had not been damaged," Spock explained way too patiently which just pissed off Jim more than it should have. Yeah, maybe he did have brain damage. He'd stop by medbay to check as soon as he finished with this seminar on Repairs According to Dr. Seuss.

"I don't relish not having warp drive this close to Klingon space, considering they know we're here," Jim pointed out. "How long will it take us to get to starbase?"

"On impulse only, 2.543 days, sir," Spock said.

"At warp?" Jim asked, holding up his hand again to forestall Scotty's verbal tsunami.

"At warp 4, 5.8 hours," Spock said.

"Okay, Scotty. Sentimental preferences aside, can we maintain warp 4 long enough to reach the spacestation?" Jim asked Scotty.

"Aye sir," Scotty agreed reluctantly. "But the chamber could still explode."

"Understood," Jim said. "Keep all of your people clear of the area. If it explodes, I don't want it to take any of the crew with it. And this section of the hull is reinforced so if the worst happens, it won't damage the rest of the ship."

"Aye sir," Scotty agreed with a nod.

"I know it's not perfect, Scotty," Jim told him, one hand on the engineer's shoulder. "But we've gambled on longer odds and won."

"That we have sir," Scotty agreed, assuring the Captain that he would monitor the chamber for signs of strain and take the engines off line if he detected the very first hint of trouble.

Jim entered the turbolift with Spock, requesting that it take him to medbay.

"Sir?" Spock said in concern, studying him with a critical eye.

"Just going for a chat," Jim claimed, leaving him as soon as the lift arrived and finding Bones in his office working on the never-ending paperwork that piled up every time Jim did something stupid enough to get any of his crew injured.

"What are you doing here?" Bones asked, looking up at his Captain.

"Yesterday, when we were attacked by the Klingons, I didn't suffer a head injury, did I?" Jim asked.

"No. Why? Are you dizzy?" Bones asked, standing to better see him.

"Nope. Might be going crazy but no one would be surprised by that," Jim said, leaving medbay before Bones could ask him any more questions. He returned to his bridge, keeping his mental fingers crossed, and watching the stars streak by as they made their way to the starbase where they arrived in exactly 5.8 hours without any exploding dilithium chambers or any need for him to venture back down to engineering to make sure Dr. Seuss had not returned.

II

"Captain," Lt. Sulu said from where he was standing beside the Captain's table. The mess was only a quarter full, the late hour not a normal time for most of the crew to eat. Jim, Bones, Spock, and Scotty were eating late because they had only just returned to the ship from the planet where they had successfully concluded the three day long negotiations to harvest the plants that Bones said were an excellent source of vitamins for the sunlight deprived crew.

"Yes, Lieutenant," Jim said as he drank his Pepsi, ignoring Bones' faint scowl at his habit.

"While you were gone, sir, Lt. McSwan…" Sulu stopped when Jim held up one hand.

"If this is about the blood feud between you and Angus, I told you I'm not mediating. Deal with it, preferably like adults."

"But sir," Sulu tried to protest.

"Let me guess. He tried to steal your swords, again. Or he told Pavel to," Jim said.

"They are my personal property, sir," Sulu said, coming way closer to actually whining than any Starfleet officer ever should.

"Yes, I know," Jim sighed. "He does it to annoy you, Hikaru. Stop letting him get under your skin and he'll stop doing it."

"Will you talk to him, please, Captain?"

"No. I told you I am staying out of it. If the two of you can't resolve your petty differences like adults, I'm putting you both on report. And I'll confine you to quarters – the same quarters until only one of you emerges alive. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly clear, sir," Sulu said, leaving and looking like Jim had kicked his puppy, again.

"Well," Bones said with some degree of satisfaction. "That was quite…." The rest of his statement was cut off by the arrival of Lt. McSwan, a distinctly unhappy expression on his otherwise pleasant face.

"Sir," Lt. McSwan said when he stood by the table.

"Lt. McSwan," the Captain responded, waiting as patiently as he could.

"Did Lt. Sulu speak with you, sir?" McSwan asked with a petulant frown.

"Why do you ask?" the Captain asked, careful not to look at the others at his table because he had the distinct impression that at least two of them were having trouble disguising their amusement at his predicament.

"I did not take his swords, sir," McSwan said.

"I didn't say you did, Lieutenant," the Captain replied.

"Did he say I did?"

"I'm going to tell you the same thing I told Sulu. I am not mediating this feud. You are both supposedly adults. Work it out. If you don't, I'm putting you on report," Jim said, drinking more Pepsi as McSwan considered his calm words.

"But sir…."

"No, Angus. Stop complaining to me. The next time either of you come to me, I'm confining you to quarters. The same quarters," Jim told him.

"Understood, sir," McSwan said in disappointment, turning to walk away utterly dissatisfied with his attempt to win the strongest ally either of them could have had.

The Captain drank more Pepsi before looking at his companions, not surprised that Bones and Scotty were laughing. Spock had one eyebrow elevated which Jim took to mean amusement but he chose to ignore him the same as he did the other two. "I can put you all on report, you know."

"You can," Bones agreed. "But you won't."

Jim sighed at that, suppressing a shudder when he saw Ensign Meck making a beeline toward him.

"Captain," the ensign said, brushing her red curls away from her face, her round face marred by an expression of immense unhappiness.

"Ensign," Jim replied, looking up at her.

"I…uhm…that is…well," she said, the blush creeping up her face beneath the liberal sprinkling of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

"Yes, ensign," Jim prompted patiently although his patience was frankly about at an end with this particular crewmember who seemed to have a never-ending list of complaints or suggestions or points to make about just about everything.

"Could I…uhm…well, sir, might I speak with you, you know, privately?" she requested uncharacteristically hesitant.

"Certainly," Jim agreed, nodding in appreciation when his officers excused themselves, scattering to their offices or quarters, or in Scotty's case returning to Engineering because no place on the ship was more comfortable to him than to be surrounded by his bairns.

"What did Meck want?" Bones asked Jim later that night when Bones stopped by to offer some liquid relaxation.

"She requested a transfer," Jim said.

"A transfer?" Bones repeated in surprise. "I thought she was settling in, finally."

"She was. But she had been dating Lt. Colvin. She thought if she transferred to a new ship, there wouldn't be quite as many memories to deal with," Jim said, still feeling a measure of sadness at the Lieutenant's death on an away mission gone bad.

"But we are her family. Doesn't she know it will be worse if she separates herself from those of us also mourning his death?"

"She does now. I told her to give it another month. If she still felt that way, I'd put in the paperwork to have her transferred with no prejudice."

Bones nodded at that, refilling Jim's glass. "You really are a fine Captain."

Jim laughed at that, studying his friend. "Thanks. Who knew being a surrogate father would be such a prominent part of it."

I

Being Captain was a head rush. It was also often lonely, mind numbingly, stupidly, hermit-inducing, fucking lonely. Jim supposed he had known, on some level, that it would be. But on another level, the life-of-the-party, pretty-boy-who-turned-every-head-when-he-walked-into-a-room level, he hadn't really stopped to consider how isolating it would be to be The Captain. Every head still turned when he walked into a room. But he detected some low level of anxiety in those eyes – what is he looking for? Does he think we shouldn't be eating lunch? Should we tell him we're off duty? Will he think I didn't finish my assignments before I came to the rec room?

Jim only told Bones about the isolation he was feeling, knowing that his friend would never judge him for it. Nor would he ever repeat it.

"You need to tell Spock, Jim," Bones said, refilling his glass from a bottle of his best stuff. "Don't you know he feels it too?"

"That's rich. Spock feels it," Jim scoffed.

"You know better than anyone he's not as stoic and emotionless as he wants us to believe," Bones pointed out.

"Yeah," Jim said, throwing back the last of his bourbon, enjoying the slow creep of burn as it moved lower.

"And imagine what it's like to be him. He's the only half human half Vulcan in existence. And his Vulcan people are an endangered species. You have it bad as Captain. He has it bad every day."

"You think so?" Jim asked, his eyes squinted to see past his own misery that he was allowing himself to wallow in.

"I know so. Talk to him. If you reach out, he'll be your friend too."

"You're only saying that so I won't drink all your bourbon," Jim claimed.

"I'm saying it because it's a professional hazard for the Captain to completely isolate himself. Learned it at the Academy. Some of us actually went to class," Bones said, standing up to shove Jim's feet off his desk. "Go talk to him."

"Now?"

"Why not now? You're just drunk enough to be honest but not drunk enough to get all slobbery."

"I never get slobbery," Jim said in great indignation.

"You forget who you're talking to?" Bones asked, one eyebrow raised, in mockery Jim was sure.

"Humph," Jim said, leaving Bones' office and deciding maybe, just maybe, Bones was right. He paused by a corridor terminal requesting the location of Commander Spock. The computer was good enough to inform him that Commander Spock was in his quarters, quite alone the computer assured the Captain when he inquired.

"Come," Spock invited when Jim reached Spock's quarters. "Captain," Spock said in greeting, standing as Jim entered.

"Sit," Jim requested, waving Spock back in his chair. "You busy?"

"Not at the moment, sir. Was there something you required?"

"Not required. Not exactly. Mostly I wanted to talk. To you. If you have time," Jim said, sitting in the chair opposite Spock who was studying him with an unreadable expression. "Do you have the time?"

"Certainly, sir. What did you want to discuss?" Spock asked certain Jim wasn't asking what time it was although he did on occasion inquire in the same manner.

"Uhmm…well." Jim stopped to let his head catch up. The bourbon was slowing his thought processes down a little which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. He was far from drunk but had a pleasant buzz which made everything less….urgent and significant in a God-I-wish-I-could-figure-this-out kind of way. "I was talkin', before, to Bones. He said I ought to come talk to you."

"I see," Spock said, even though Jim was quite certain he did not see at all.

"I was telling him about that it's sometimes hard, you know, to be Captain," Jim admitted, watching carefully to see if Spock's expression changed. He was pretty sure it hadn't. Which he thought was a good sign.

"It has its inherent difficulties," Spock agreed. "Is there a particular aspect you are struggling with, sir?"

"Yeah," Jim confirmed, looking down at his hands clutching the edge of Spock's desk, wondering why he had a death grip on it. He made himself relax, leaning back in his chair, assuming an air of indifference he was far from feeling. "It's…uhm…well…maybe this isn't such a good idea," Jim decided, slowly standing.

"Jim," Spock said. His tone stopped Jim from turning for the door. "Surely you know there isn't anything you cannot tell me."

"Uhm…" Jim said, nodding and returning to the chair. "It's just that sometimes I feel so…isolated. I mean, I can talk to you and Bones. And the Bridge crew is more comfortable around us. But…."

"The casual conversation in the mess stops when you enter. Those in the rec room look as though they have been caught disregarding regulations by their presence. Laughter never seems to include you. Am I close?" Spock asked quietly.

"Yeah," Jim admitted. "I'm not sorry I'm Captain. I'm really not. But…."

"That does not mean it is not difficult at times," Spock agreed.

"Did Chris feel like this? Did he ever tell you?"

"Yes to both. However he was somewhat older when he was made Captain. I believe your relative young age increases your sense of isolation."

"Oh. I hadn't thought about it like that," Jim admitted. "I guess I thought I'd have more time to sow wild oats. But I can't as Captain."

"You cannot. Not many people are given so much responsibility at 25. It is not that you are not ready. It is that you have yet to determine how to balance who you are with who you must be."

"Wow. You do get it," Jim said. "What do you think I should do? I mean, is there a line that I can walk? Being who I am, minus the drinking and fighting and…well, other inappropriate behavior. And still being The Captain?"

"Yes. And I know that you will achieve that balance. Might I suggest that you not hold yourself apart quite so rigidly? No one will doubt your position of Captain if you occasionally indulge in a game of poker or laugh at some of the more ridiculous jokes told in Mess."

"I never thought you'd be the one to tell me to loosen up," Jim admitted with a laugh.

"I am one of the few who can. The crew respects and reveres you. I can think of very few things that would change either of those sentiments," Spock told him.

"That helps a lot more than you know," Jim responded with a smile. "What can I do for you?"

"Continue being the Captain and the person that you are. No one could ask more than that of you," Spock said, warming Jim inside and turning some part of him into mush.

"Thank you, Spock," Jim said, his happiness not to be contained. "Would you like to play a game of chess?"

"That would be a welcome diversion," Spock agreed, getting the chess board from his side board. They played three games, enjoying their company, their conversation, and their silences.

And One of The Times It Really, Really Rocked

"What the hell?" Jim said before he could stop himself. The rec room seemed to be filled beyond capacity with members of his crew dressed in casual clothes, streamers and balloons everywhere, Earth rock music playing, the lights low and welcoming.

"It's a party, moron," Bones said with a laugh. He had been the one assigned to get the Captain into jeans and to arrive at the Rec Room precisely at 1830.

"I see it's a party. Why?" Jim asked him, the others maintaining their distance as Jim regained his equilibrium from the surprise.

"It's for you. Today is the one year anniversary that you were officially made Captain," Bones explained, watching the light dawn on Jim's face.

"Oh. Oh my god. I had no idea y'all would remember."

"Certainly we remember," Spock said when he had detached himself from the crowd, looking pleased with himself.

"Wow," Jim said, looking at all his crewmembers waiting to celebrate with him. With the encouragement of Bones and Spock, he waded into the sea of people, accepting their congratulations, their warmest appreciation, their accolades for him being the best Captain they or anyone had ever had the privilege of serving. When Bones determined he'd been center of attention long enough, he gently guided him over to the comfortable chairs scattered out before the windows, Spock sitting on one side as Bones sat on the other. The rest of the chairs were silently acknowledged as belonging to the Bridge crew, no one else presuming to sit where they did not deserve to be seated.

"I can't believe you did this," Jim said to Spock and Bones as they enjoyed some of the punch one of the yeomen had brought to them, Jim and Bones also enjoying the real potato chips with real french onion dip.

"The crew determined it was appropriate," Spock said. "They collected the credits necessary to purchase the requisite supplies."

"They insisted," Bones said, wanting to make sure the intent of the crew was not lost in 'Spock-speak.'

"Wow," Jim said, again looking at all of the party-goes, dancing, talking, enjoying themselves as they rarely had to opportunity to do. He watched Sulu and McSwan approach, their arms around each other's shoulders looking for all the world like BFFs.

"Captain," Sulu said with a nod.

"Sir," McSwan added.

"Hikaru, Angus," Jim responded.

"You havin' fun?" Sulu asked.

"'Course he is, Hikaru. How could he not?" McSwan answered for him.

"True, true. You need anything, sir?" Sulu asked with a broad smile.

"More cake?" Jim requested with a laugh.

"Comin' right up," Sulu said, tugging on McSwan's elbow. "Com'on Angus. Captain wants cake."

"Yep," McSwan responded as they wondered somewhat unsteadily away, Jim fairly sure that if he wanted to ever eat the cake, he could not depend on those two to bring it to him.

He had to smile when Lt. Fuchs and Lt. Uhura came over, both wearing dresses of the exact purple of the Wcbnqssx, both of his temporary "wives" looking especially beautiful as they laughed in delight. "Ladies," he said in greeting.

"Captain," Uhura said with a beaming smile. "You need anything?"

"Not at present, Nyota. Thank you. Are you having fun, Rachel?" he asked her as she sipped her punch.

"Yes sir. How could we not? This is a kick-ass party. Oh," she said, suddenly realizing what she had said and to whom she had said it. "I'm sorry, sir."

"No need, Rachel. It is very much a kick-ass party," Jim agreed with a laugh.

"And you are a kick-ass Captain," Uhura leaned down to whisper for his ears alone.

"Your secret is safe with me," he assured her with a saucy wink.

"It better be, Captain," she warned before she sashayed away, Rachel by her side, still laughing.

The parade continued unabated, the crew wanting to come by and say thanks, express their admiration mixed liberally with love, their loyalty coming through with their words and actions, filling him with contentment and wonder.

He had to smile when the newly promoted Lt. Adriana Meck came over to him.

"Thank you, Captain," she said, standing beside him and smiling a truly happy smile just for him.

"Thank you for your excellent work, Lieutenant," Jim returned, giving her a very light and completely appropriate kiss on her freckle-covered cheek. "I'm very pleased you stayed with us."

"Me too, sir. I think Martin would be glad I stayed with our family," she said with a nod.

"So tell me about you and Lt. Lee," Jim said with a wink.

"There's nothing to tell yet, sir," she said with an adorable blush.

"If that changes, be sure and let me know, Andy," he requested.

"Of course, sir," she agreed, turning her beaming smile to the same Lt. Lee when he came to claim her for the next dance.

When Jim sat back down and looked at Bones, there was an expression of appreciation and acknowledgement that warmed him all the way through. He also glanced over at Spock who nodded at him, Jim understanding that Spock was telling him that he had found that middle ground between being The Captain and being who he really was. And that totally rocked as far as Jim was concerned.