Okay, so here's the deal: I've been feeling a little emotional and angsty this Christmas, so this is what came out. It is not – repeat, NOT – part of my "Sestina/Both Ways" 'verse. It's just a little not-quite-one-shot that's not related to anything.
And yes, it will be schmaltzy, cliched, and sentimental as hell. If seeing these characters get sentimental bothers you, then please stop right here – because I warned you, and I'll be cranky if you then tell me that I've written them OOC. Maybe I have – and if so, I guarantee you I'm at peace with that.
I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.
"What do you mean, quiet? Like, he's not yelling? I mean… Jim doesn't usually yell, Pav."
"No, not that. Like – like, all this week, even a little before, he is not talking unless he has to. And at the end of a shift, he is just vanished, and then we don't see him again until we're back on duty. Haven't you noticed? I don't know, 'Karu – I thought maybe you'd know what was going on; sometimes he tells you things."
"Not really. I mean, we talk – but not usually about important stuff. We mostly just bullshit back and forth. And, well…"
Here comes the guilt, now; Hikaru's a shitty friend, and he knows it. "I guess I haven't been paying really close attention lately."
Hikaru sends up a silent prayer that his best friend won't ask why that is – because there isn't really any good way he can say, "Because ever since you started spending most of your free time with Nadya Baranova in Engineering, I've had to start dealing with the realization that I never really stood a chance with you, and it's kind of killing me."
He thinks that little admission might kind of do some serious damage to the friendship – and if friendship is all he's ever going to have with Pavel, he certainly isn't going to risk losing it.
But Pavel isn't asking – thank God. "Should we talk to Dr. McCoy, then? Since he knows the Keptin better than anybody, maybe he can tell us what is the problem."
"It's a good idea, Pav. But I guess I've gotta ask – why is it so important to you just now? I mean, it wouldn't be the first time that somebody on the ship was having some kind of problem, and I've never known you to get involved before."
"Because it isn't just 'somebody on the ship' this time; it is Keptin Kirk. He is our friend, 'Karu, and if something is upsetting to him, I want to help him if I can."
He runs a hand through his curls, looking distressed and painfully sincere. "Besides, it's almost Christmas. Nobody should feel this way at Christmas."
Hikaru nods silently in response, then sighs. Because that's just how Pavel thinks. No wonder I love him.
If Sulu is a shitty friend, it turns out that McCoy is, as well.
"No, Chekov – I hadn't noticed. But then again, I've been… pretty busy."
Busy, my ass. You've been holed up in your office and mad at the universe because it's going to be one more Christmas away from Jo-Jo. Leonard McCoy realizes, more than a little guiltily, that he hasn't actually seen his best friend in – could it really have been three days?
Shit – no, it's been four. Hasn't seen him, or heard from him, either.
"Now that you mention it, though – that is pretty weird for Jim." The CMO goes from vague concern to full-on worry in no time flat. "You've been up on the bridge with him – has he seemed like he's sick at all?" He grabs his tricorder, ready to do battle with any malady that Jim might have picked up.
"No – physically, at least, he seems fine." Sulu shakes his head. "Just like Pavel says, he doesn't say much of anything unless he actually needs to, and then he's nowhere to be found after the end of a shift."
"Well, let's see where he is now." McCoy speaks into his communicator. "Computer, locate Captain Kirk."
The tinny voice responds immediately. "No information on the location of Captain James Kirk."
If he didn't know better, McCoy would say that computer sounds oddly smug about that.
"He's the only person on this ship who knows how to disable that damn thing." Of course, he's also probably the only person on the ship who'd try it.
Not that Bones can really blame him; everybody else on board has the opportunity to get lost every now and then, fade into the background. But not Jim.
"I'll look into this, guys. Thanks for giving me the heads up." Nodding a goodbye to Chekov and Sulu, he leaves his office to go in search of his best friend.
Two hours later, McCoy has a much better idea of where Jim is not. Not in his quarters, not on any of the observation decks, not down in Engineering. Nor has anybody seen him since the end of Alpha shift – and that's been over five hours ago.
All the while he's been searching for Jim, he's been racking his brain for any clue to what might have happened – why he'd suddenly be pulling this disappearing act. It doesn't make any sense – especially not this close to Christmas, a holiday that Jim had tended to celebrate with an almost frantic intensity when they'd been at the Academy.
But come to think of it, the last time he'd been in Jim's room earlier in the week, there hadn't been any decorations up at all – and that's definitely weird, because when he and Jim had lived together in the dorm at the Academy, he'd driven Bones right straight up the boughs-of-holly-decked-wall by decorating anything in the room that didn't move just as soon as the Thanksgiving holiday ended.
But it's different now; it's their first Christmas in space. Maybe now that Jim is captain of the Enterprise, he doesn't think it's appropriate. And that kind of sucks, really.
Well, wherever Jim isn't, it's a pretty good bet that he'll be back in his quarters before too much more time has passed – after all, it's been almost a full shift since anyone has clapped eyes on him, and he'll have to go to bed at some point.
McCoy decides to wait him out, stretching out in Jim's best easy chair; his med school training has made him such a light sleeper that the slightest noise at Jim's door will wake him up, and he can take the opportunity to find out what the hell is going on with the little shit, anyway.
Not until his communicator wakes him at 06:30 does he realize that Jim never made it back, after all.
"McCoy here," he speaks into his comm, his voice even gruffer than usual from lack of use.
"Doctor, it's Scott – and I need you to come down here to Engineering before Alpha Shift starts. And you'll need to bring Spock and Uhura with you – Chekov and Sulu, too, if you can." He sounds uncharacteristically serious.
"Don't suppose you wanna explain why the hell you're summoning us like somebody died and left you king, do you?" McCoy can't decide whether he's more ticked off or worried; he's got a niggling feeling this has got something to do with Jim, and would very much like for Scotty to stop being so damn mysterious.
"Sorry, Doc. But it's something I can only explain in person. Just sayin' that I've got something down here that you all need to hear."
By 07:00, Sulu and Chekov have made it down to Sickbay, followed by a decidedly cranky-looking Lt. Uhura.
"Doctor, do you want to explain why you felt the need to drag us down here a full hour before the beginning of our shift?"
Yep, McCoy thinks – she's definitely cranky.
Then again, the Enterprise's lovely Communications Officer hasn't been particularly pleasant to be around for quite a while – not that McCoy listens to ship's gossip, but he finds himself wondering if the rumors that she and Spock have called it quits are actually true.
Honestly, he'd kind of expected Spock to show up with her – but the hobgoblin had sent a somewhat terse text message a couple of minutes ago to the effect that he would meet them all in Engineering at approximately 07:10.
And what kind of stick-up-the-ass control freak says approximately fucking 07:10, anyway? Leonard knows that Jim has enormous respect for his First Officer, but the CMO has never found him to be anything but insufferable.
Smart? Yeah, beyond anything he's ever encountered – except for possibly Jim himself.
Smug, self-satisfied prick? Oh, hell yeah.
But be that as it may, he's not here with Uhura – which may have something to do with the little frown line that seems to have become semi-permanent between those perfect eyebrows.
"Not actually my idea, Lieutenant," Leonard says with a courtly tone that only those who knew him well would realize was almost entirely sarcastic. "Mr. Scott tells me he's got something in Engineering that we need to hear – and I'm supposing it has something to do with the fact that none of us have clapped eyes on the captain of this bucket of bolts since the end of Alpha Shift."
Uhura gives him a look that all but shouts, "And I should care about this why…?" She may even be on the verge of saying something to that effect – but stops when she sees the genuine concern on the doctor's face, choosing instead to remain resolutely silent.
For that matter, Chekov is uncharacteristically quiet this morning, too, Leonard notes – not that he's complaining, because honestly, sometimes the kid's non-stop chatter can drive him right around the bend. Sulu's not saying anything, either – but then again, he's a man of few words.
At least compared to Pavel…
Without further delay, the four of them leave McCoy's office to head down to the deck below, where Scotty is waiting for them – presumably accompanied by Spock by now.
Because after all, Leonard thinks with an inward eye roll, it is approximately 07:10.
As it turns out, Jim actually had been in Engineering last night – Leonard had just been asking the wrong people. He and Scotty had holed up together in a little-used meeting room – barely more than a glorified closet – with a couple of bottles of Glenlivet that Scott had been saving for a special occasion.
"So, do tell – what was the special occasion?" Uhura seems to have held back the Snark Monster for as long as she could; her voice is dripping with the same undisguised distaste that shows so clearly on her face. Spock stiffens almost imperceptibly as she speaks, but his eyes remain fixed on an indeterminate spot on the wall over Mr. Scott's shoulder.
"Well, now – it is almost Christmas, lass. And besides that, it was lookin' to me like the captain needed a bit of real, honest-to-goodness drink. Of course, it ended up being more than a bit by the time we were done."
Scott rubs a hand ruefully through his short blond hair. "Got the devil of a head on me this morning; I'd have to think Kirk's got it even worse. Good thing for him he's not on duty today – wish the hell I weren't."
McCoy's patience has run out. "How long was Jim with you? Do you know where he is now? And what's this you say we've gotta hear?"
"Don't rightly know where the captain gets to when he's in one of these moods," the engineer replies. "He never says, and I figure it's better that I don't ask. That way I'm not needin' to lie to anyone if they come lookin' for him."
"Like your people didn't lie to me last night?" McCoy almost growls that last rejoinder, and Sulu and Chekov exchange worried glances, wondering if their CMO is going to finally knock the living hell out of their Chief Engineer.
But Scotty goes on as though he doesn't notice McCoy's tenuous grip on his temper. "That's right, Doc. As far as they knew, the captain wasn't down here – and I never bothered to tell them otherwise. None of their business, the way I see it."
Just then, a light seems to come on for the doctor. "Wait just one minute, here. You said, 'when he's in one of these moods.' You tellin' me that Jim makes a habit of hiding out down here?"
Scott shakes his head slowly. "I wouldn't put it like that, no." He pulls a chair back from the table, sitting down and sweeping an arm toward other chairs in the room as a mute invitation to the others to do so as well.
Chekov and Sulu sit, and after a brief pause, McCoy does too. He notices that Uhura remains close to the door, looking ready to bolt – and Spock? Well, the hobgoblin's barely moved a muscle since they all got down there, and he sure as hell doesn't seem to be wanting to participate in this line of discussion. He's still standing at parade rest, and looking for all the world as though there's nobody else in the room.
The Chief Engineer is looking thoughtful. "You've got to understand – or at least I'd think you'd understand – that running this ship is one hell of a big job. And a damn lonely one, I think – I know I wouldn't want it. Because no matter how many people are involved in the little decisions or the big ones, at the end of the day, all of it – the little things, and the life-or-death things – it all ends up on Kirk's shoulders."
He sighs, shakes his head. "And he hasn't been at it so long that he feels like he can ask for help, I think – maybe it's like he's thinking he's admitting weakness if he doesn't know every answer. Can't really say what goes on in his head – that's just what I'm guessing, is all."
Bones leans back in his chair, looking more closely than usual at the guy he's always considered to be more or less just some mechanical genius who's otherwise, well… kind of a whack job.
Except just now, the damn crazy Scotsman seems to be doing a better job of figuring Jim out than he himself – Jim's supposed best friend – has managed to do lately.
"Seems like a decent guess, Scott." There's significantly less irritation in the doctor's tone now. "And you think he comes down here when the pressure starts gettin' to him?"
The engineer nods sagely. "You wouldn't understand this – wouldn't expect you to – but there's something powerful comforting about being right here where you can hear the lady's heart beating – you can even feel it if you want to. Not everybody feels that way, of course – but I do. And Kirk does."
He shrugs, at a loss for words. "The Enterprise, she'll make all kinds of things better, if you're of a mind to let her."
Spock startles everyone briefly by taking a step forward; they'd almost forgotten he was there, he'd been so still and silent.
"Mr. Scott," he interjects, a hint of what might be impatience in his tone, "I believe you called us to Engineering on a matter of what you considered to be of some importance. Since our time is limited by the upcoming beginning of Alpha Shift, I might request that you share the information you wish for us to have."
Sulu almost laughs at that – trust Spock to be able to take the sentiment of "shut up and get the hell on with it" and make it sound like a memo to Starfleet Command.
Scotty gets the point, though.
"Yes, sir." He nods briefly before pulling out a small, personal-sized PADD that had been lying unnoticed on the table. "All of this started last night with us talking about Christmas, of all things."
He slides the PADD across the table to McCoy, nodding toward it as if to indicate that he should switch it on. When the screen lights up, a list is there – no title, just dates, and cryptic notes alongside them.
Which figures. He thinks back to their Academy days – not that long ago, really. McCoy can remember a few instances – memorable because of how rare they were – when Jim would almost seem to disappear into his own head. He'd get almost frighteningly quiet and introspective, and it would take Bones a day or two to figure out what was causing it so that he could sort of talk Jim down off the ledge, as it were.
Besides himself and maybe Pike, McCoy was pretty sure that nobody would believe that Jim's cocky façade hid a seething mass of insecurity; for all that he was the smartest person Leonard had ever met, the kid seemed to always feel that he still had something to prove to somebody – though God only knew who. Everyone who'd ever dealt with Jim Kirk for any length of time at all knew that he was something truly special, and a force to be reckoned with – but Jim Kirk himself had yet to figure that out.
And when something would happen to crack that façade of Jim's and send him into a tailspin of self-doubt, he'd hole himself up somewhere –
Like right now, you idiot.
He really is the shittiest excuse for a best friend ever if it's taken him this long to make the connection.
Jim would hole himself up somewhere – and he'd make lists. Bones had found them lying around sometimes after Jim had gotten back to his annoyingly cheerful self again – and sometimes they made sense to him. More often, they didn't – but they seemed to help Jim out, so he'd always supposed that was worth something.
This one – he looks at it again, and he's thinking that maybe it's not so cryptic, after all.
2233 - ?
2234-38: Christmas with Grandma & Grandpa K and Sam
All right, McCoy realizes, this is about Christmas somehow. He still can't figure out why, but this is a start.
And he can remember Jim, in some of his more idiotic and over-the-top moments of Christmas festivity, talking about his Grandma Kirk and how she'd decorate the house, the mantel, the tree – pretty much everything, from the sounds of it. They'd bake cookies and sing carols – and it sounded like something off of one of the vids they always showed this time of year back on Earth. Nauseating, but kind of sweet, really.
The way Jim had talked about it, Bones had never realized that those Christmases had all happened before he was – he looks at the dates on the list again – what, five years old? He was Jo-Jo's age the last time he'd had Christmas with his grandparents.
Somehow, the idea of Jim holding on so tightly to those memories for over twenty years starts a dull ache in the doctor's chest.
2239-40: Iowa. Christmas with Sam
His big brother Sam – Jim idolized him, Leonard knows. And he also knows that he hasn't seen Sam in years, that Sam's barely been in touch with anybody in the family since he ran away from home when Jim was eight. But it looks as though they'd managed a couple of Christmases together.
2241-45: with Frank
Bones notes that the word "Christmas" is totally absent from that entry. Probably because there wasn't any; though Jim didn't have a lot to say about it, McCoy had still managed to figure out that there had been some pretty shocking abuse and neglect in his friend's past – and that son of a bitch Frank has a lot to answer for.
2246: off planet
Off planet. McCoy hears himself swallowing hard in the silence of the room. He realizes suddenly that everyone has stopped and is watching him read this list – and he finds that he doesn't give a shit.
They don't know what he does – that Jim's terse notation of "off planet" is his shorthand for the year he spent on the colony at Tarsus IV. That the last four months of that year had been a hideous combination of famine and mass murder on the planet. That Jim – barely into his teens himself – had become the protector of a ragtag group of starving orphaned children, struggling to keep them all alive through what was nothing less than a living hell, until Starfleet arrived, much too late, to rescue them all.
No Christmas there, obviously.
Eight years – nothing. Jim never really talked about that time in his life, and didn't give anything in the way of details when he did. Bones knew that he'd spent quite a bit of it developing the reputation that followed him into Starfleet Academy – of being what Pike had called "the only genius level repeat offender in the Midwest" – but not much else. Jim could be pretty cagey when he wanted to be, even with his best friend.
Eight years, though – and Jim made this list about his Christmases, there aren't any here, either.
2255-58: Academy. Christmas with Bones
He swallows hard again – partly because it feels kind of good to know that he rates a mention on the list, and partly because… well. Now, all of a sudden, Jim's seemingly insane Christmas celebrations at the Academy make a lot more sense. Little shit had a lot of catching up to do.
He feels bad in retrospect for all of the bah-humbuggery he'd thrown at Jim over those years as he'd put up yet more decorations in their tiny room – though Jim had always shrugged him off cheerfully, and kept doing what he was doing. And for all that most of it was truly garish – tinsel upon tinsel and lights that went on forever – even Bones had had to admit that the hologram of the fireplace had been pretty amazing. And he really hadn't minded the tree that much.
That's now. Christmas is tomorrow.
And Jim is making lists.
He puts down the PADD, meeting Scotty's eyes. "Okay. This makes more sense to me, now – but what is it that we need to listen to?"
Scott grins ruefully. "It's like this, Doc – for all that I'm pretty nimble when I'm sober, get a few too many into me and I get clumsy. The captain and I were sittin' in here for a long time, and we both got fair blootered by the time we'd gotten through a couple bottles of the good stuff."
Pavel looks baffled. "Blootered?"
"Aye, lad. You know - sloshed, blitzed, guttered, smashed, sozzled, poleaxed, and awa' wi' the fairies."
The explanation does not seem to have helped Pavel any, but Uhura has had it by now, and is fairly dripping scorn.
"He's trying to pull off the 'oh, I'm Scottish and aren't I adorable' bit, Ensign. In Standard, they were drunk. Very drunk, if I have my guess." She wrinkles her nose as though she can still smell the alcohol in the room.
Scotty is unfazed by Uhura's less-than-flattering description. "You're right, Lieutenant – that we were. And, as men tend to do when we've had too many, we found ourselves havin' quite the talk."
He gestured to the small communications station that was standard equipment in every meeting room. "It wasn't long before I figured out we oughtn't to be getting any interruptions, so I went to turn this wee monster off. Only thing is, I wasn't paying attention, and hit the wrong button. Or one of the wrong buttons, I suppose. I did manage to turn off the receiver, but accidentally turned on the recorder."
Sulu's eyes are wide with surprise. "You mean to say, you two got loaded and you ended up recording the conversation you had?" Because if that's the case – holy crap. Between Kirk and Scott, that could be epic.
"That's exactly what I mean to say. Though honestly, I didn't realize I'd done it 'til I woke up in here this morning and the light was still flashing at me. Then I thought I'd better play it back – make sure I hadn't said anything to the captain that was going to get me thrown off the ship. And… " he sighs. "For all that my own drunken ramblings aren't something I like to listen to sober, I'm thinking you all need to hear some of what got said last night."
He looks over to Uhura and Spock. "You'll want to sit, I think." He waits, then, just watching them quietly until they finally do take seats around the table.
Scott might not want a command position, McCoy thinks with some amusement, but he'd probably be pretty damn good at it.
Without ceremony, Scotty flips a switch, and the sound of his voice fills the room.
"… the hell you keep yourself, Captain – down in the damn Jefferies tubes?"
"Aw, c'mon, Scotty. That'd be telling." There's Jim – and he's already sounding more than a little worse for wear. "Besides, then you'd know where I am, and that wouldn't do at all. Not at all, at all, at all."
"All right, then – it's your little secret. But you're running low – shall I pour you another?" The clink of glass signals Jim's response in the affirmative.
"But what brings you down here tonight, Jim? Because you'll excuse me, I hope, but I know you're enough like me to know that you come down to be with our lady when something's troubling you. Is there anything the matter?"
Jim's laugh is surprisingly bitter, Bones thinks – he's usually such a happy drunk. "The matter? Nah, Scotty. Everything's fine. It's just this time of year. Gets to me every time."
"Is that so? That surprises me – I'd have pegged you as a man who just loves Christmas."
"Yeah, I guess most people would. It's all those parties and decorations and junk food and loud singing – all the shit I'm the most fond of, right?"
"Suppose that's one way of putting it. But that wasn't what I was thinking, Jim. I was thinking about you and how you feel about family – and that's always what Christmas was about for me."
"How do you know how I feel about family?" Suddenly, Jim's voice is tense, accusatory.
Scotty cuts in quickly, his tone conciliatory. "Of course I don't – it was just what I always thought, seein' how you always treat us like we're your family. That's all."
There's a long silence – long enough for the people at the table to glance uncomfortably at one another. This is a breach of privacy, and they all know it.
"Do I, Scotty? Do I treat you all like family?" The anger is gone from Jim's voice now, replaced by an uncertainty that makes McCoy's chest ache all over again. "I've always hoped I did."
There's a quiet, self-deprecatory laugh that doesn't really sound like a laugh ought to. "Problem with me is, I never really figured out how family is supposed to treat each other, so I'm sorta flying blind."
The silence stretches out again before Jim continues. "And, when it comes down to it, that's probably why I'm down here with the engines and way the fuck too much scotch."
He pauses again, sighs. "Just like you said – Christmas is all about families. With one thing and another, I've kinda never had one – not for any length of time, really. Mom's never been around – hell, if it weren't for current Starfleet rosters, I wouldn't know where she is right now. Grandma and Grandpa Kirk both died when I was just little – and my brother Sam… well, he's out of the picture, too, and has been for a long time. So Christmas has been kind of a non-event for me for most of my life."
That humorless laugh again, then there's the sound of glass sliding across the table. "Fuck, Scotty. I've gotten to the 'Embarrassing Maudlin Confessions' stage. Gimme some more of that shit so I can bypass this and get to the 'Slurring Uncontrollably' and 'Drooling on the Table' stages a little bit faster, willya?"
"Sure, Jim." Scott is sounding unusually serious. "Have a double."
"Thank you, my good man." The sound of Jim drinking, then smacking his lips exaggeratedly. "Knew I hired you on for a reason."
"But you didn't say what the problem was now, Jim – and you've gotta know you've got my curiosity piqued."
He doesn't really sound all that drunk on the recording just now, and McCoy looks suspiciously over at the Chief Engineer at the other end of the table. Scotty is avoiding him, looking carefully down at his hands.
"Piqued? I've got your curiosity piqued?" Jim giggles a little at that. "Who the fuck says 'piqued,' Scotty?"
"Piqued, piqued, piqued." Scotty laughs a little, too. "So I the fuck say it."
But then he doesn't say any more, and there is another quiet pause.
"Fine. Won't kill me to tell you – 'specially since neither of us are likely to remember it in the norming. The morning. Whatever."
There's a creaking sound – probably the same chair Sulu's sitting in now – as Jim draws a deep breath.
"So, yeah. Family. Mine kinda sucked. Closest thing I've ever really had to a brother is Bones. 'Cause, really. Sam? When things really started going to shit at home, he ran away. Bones? If things go to hell and he starts running, you can bet it's to pull my ass out of trouble rather than to leave me there."
Everyone at the table sneaks a surreptitious glance over at McCoy – quickly looking away again when it becomes clear that the chronically surly doctor is actually fighting back tears.
"But having Bones with me at the Academy," Jim is continuing, "that was an excuse to have Christmas again. I drove him fucking nuts – but he put up with me. He always does, no matter how big of a pain in his ass I am."
"I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have it any other way, Jim." Scotty sounds a little emotional now, too – though the scotch probably has more than a little to do with that.
"So, here's the crazy part, Scotty." Jim's on a roll, now. "This. This is our first Christmas out in space, right? And it's like you said – it's like we're a family out here. So, I thought that maybe… shit. I'd hoped that we could have some sort of a Christmas, all of us. Not a real Earth Christmas – but kind of a family Christmas, all the same. You know – the tree, the lights, the cookies, hanging out together and just enjoying each other – all that stupid shit that probably shouldn't matter, but it really does. But it turned out I was wrong."
When he doesn't go on, Scotty prompts him, "Wrong, how?"
"Fuck – all kinds of wrong." Jim stops to take another drink; he's amazingly coherent, especially considering the amount of alcohol that has to be in his system. "I'd kind of forgotten how bad it bothers Bones when he can't see Joanna at Christmas – I don't blame him, of course, that's his little girl – but it's not like when we lived together and I could sort of force myself on him. Now he's busy, I'm busy – and I haven't seen him in days, now, so it's not like I can attack him with tinsel like I used to."
"Maybe you should comm him and talk to him?" Scotty sounds dubious.
"And get my head bitten off for even suggesting that we do something festive? No, thank you. I get my head bitten off plenty as it is without ever leaving the bridge, thanks so much."
The eyes at the table all focus on their Communications Officer – and Uhura has the grace to look self-conscious.
"Swear to God, Scotty – I don't know what I've done to Uhura, but it's way beyond disrespect these days; she hates my fucking guts. I guess I should be grateful that she manages to stay more or less professional about it and doesn't actually spit on me when I speak to her." Jim sighs. "I mean, seriously. Usually when a woman wants me to die slowly and painfully, I've got a pretty good idea as to why – but this time? No fucking clue."
"Beats me – who knows about women?" Certainly not Scotty, that's for sure.
"Well, let's just say I'm not likely to be meeting her under the mistletoe, and leave it at that. You know, somebody said that maybe she and Spock… but that doesn't matter."
A brief pause again. "Then there's Sulu – have you seen him lately?"
"Not as much as usual – but why do you ask?"
"Well, he's miserable, that's why. Walks around looking like he's lost his best friend. Which I guess he sort of has, come to think of it – he and Chekov used to be Frick and Frack, joined at the hip, and now I don't ever see them together anymore."
"I've been seeing a good bit more of Chekov down here since we got our new lass, Baranova – turns out they're from the same hometown, and they go rattlin' off in Russian at damn near Warp Ten. It drives us all fair batty just listening to it."
"Do you suppose he even knows he's broken poor Sulu's heart?" Jim stops for a moment, as though he's considering that. "Nah – of course he doesn't. Chekov's a little ditzy, but he's never mean. The kid probably never even realized that Sulu's crazy about him."
"Then he'd be the only one – but you're probably right. Sometimes those genius types don't pay any attention to the stuff that really matters, I think. And it probably doesn't help that he's, what – eighteen?"
"Yeah. Guess this time the equation goes, 'kid plus genius equals clueless,' eh? So – you can see where I'm going with that, anyway. From the look of things, Chekov's going to want to do some sort of Russian Christmas with his new little friend, and Sulu isn't going to want to celebrate at all."
Over the course of this part of the conversation, Sulu has gone positively white – then red, then white again. It's clear that only the fact that he's trapped behind the table has kept him from fleeing from the room. He is ignoring them all, staring at his hands with a laser-like intensity as they hang onto the table in a white-knuckled grip. He looks for all the world as though he's trying to make the recording stop, make the rest of them simply disappear, just by the sheer force of his will alone.
Pavel's expression, on the other hand, is unreadable. His eyes are almost comically wide as he stares at Sulu, his jaw quite literally dropped as he leans far back in his seat – and he could be expressing amazement, shock, horror, bewilderment, or any combination of those emotions. One way or the other, he doesn't move from that position for a very long time.
"And I know I'm not much help down here, am I? You knew my idea of a big family Christmas would be to go sit in the nacelles. Not so festive, right?" Scotty sounds regretful.
"Nah, don't worry about it, Scotty. It really isn't that big of a deal."
Maybe not – but something, something is a huge deal with Jim just now, and McCoy thinks that he's right on the verge of figuring out what it is.
Then Scotty's voice asks the question for him. "What about Spock?"
There's a long silence before Jim responds. "You'd better pour me another one for that, buddy."
The sound of glass and liquid indicates that Scott is complying with that request – but he's not letting the question go unanswered. "I thought you two were getting along – no?"
"Who the fuck even knows? Dammit, Scotty – I thought so. I thought we were friends – maybe even really good friends. I mean – shit, this sounds so stupid I can't believe I'm saying it – but I let him get closer to me than I do most people. Almost anybody, really."
He draws a deep breath, lets it out in a gusty sigh. "Special. That's what it was - it was special. Or, at least – well, shit. At least I thought it was. I thought maybe... fuck it. Never mind."
Now, finally, Jim is starting to sound like most drunk people usually sound. And now, finally, it's Spock's turn to look blankly shocked, and Uhura is looking at him with wide, surprised eyes.
"I don't know what I did, Scotty. Musta said something wrong, or got in his space, or… hell, I don't know what. But he won't even talk to me now unless he's got something to tell me about the ship – and we're hardly ever on the same shift anymore. He does the rosters, Scotty, so I know he's adverting me on purpose. Avoiding me. Whatever. He doesn't want to be in the same room with me."
"Gotta admit I'd wondered about that."
"Fuck, Scotty – really?" Jim sounds even more upset. "Oh, God – please don't tell me I've been mooning around like some kind of an idiot lovesick teenage girl."
Unbelievable as it seems, there's McCoy's answer in one little word, and it hits him like a bolt out of the blue. Somehow, without him noticing, the damn fool has managed to fall in love with the one sentient being on this ship who would be absolutely certain not to return his feelings. He doesn't know whether to be mad at Jim for being so goddamn stupid – or to be furious with Spock for breaking Jim's heart.
Always easier to go with the hobgoblin – and he has a nuclear-grade glare ready to fix on him, until he notices an expression on Spock's face he's never seen there before.
Face it – other than anger, he's never seen any expression there at all – but Spock looks… hell, he looks devastated.
And Uhura? She looks absolutely ready to kill somebody – and for once, it doesn't seem to be Jim Kirk.
Scotty's voice on the recording is reassuring. "Nah – you haven't been acting like anything. But you've been down here a lot of an evening – and usually, you'd spent your evenings with the commander. So I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew something was different – that's all."
"That's enough, though, isn't it?" The sound of a chair scraping across the floor indicates that one of them is getting up. It's probably Jim – and he's sounding increasingly upset. "Enough to tell me that any ideas I had about us being some kind of a fucking family – any of us – it was all just bullshit. I shoulda known it's bullshit, just like my idea of Christmas is complete and utter total fucking bullshit."
There's a loud, metallic clatter – probably the chair falling backwards onto the floor. "Enough of this sentimental crap, right? I'm going to go find a place to sleep this off, Mr. Scott, and you can finish off the bottle on your own if you want. Shut me the fuck up before I decide I want to fucking throw myself out of an airlock or something."
The awful, humorless attempt at a laugh was the last they hear of Jim before the pneumatic hiss of the door indicates that he's left the room –
- and Scotty reaches over to turn off the recording.
"That was all of it," he announces simply, into the most profound silence he's ever heard.
Then, almost as if a switch flips, Sulu is bolting from the room, followed in short order by Spock. Uhura takes off after Spock like a cat with her tail on fire, and finally, after a long moment of contemplation, Chekov gets up and leaves the room without a word.
McCoy and Scott are left staring at one another across the table.
"Two things," the doctor says quietly. "One – that was no accident, you putting on that recording, and you know it." The engineer looks self-conscious – but not guilty.
"Another thing – so, all right, make it three – that was one hell of a violation of Jim's privacy, but I can see why you did it. You're a good friend, and I'm glad you did do it, privacy or not."
McCoy rolls his chair back from the table. "So, three – I think you and I have some serious work to get done."
The buzzer at Sulu's door is going off again – for the fifth time in less than a minute. He knows who it is – there's a fucking reason he's not answering the door, for God's sake.
"Pavel, please. I know it's you. Please go away." He raises his voice enough that he knows Pavel can hear him.
A long, uninterrupted buzz at his door is the only reply – what, is he leaning on the button or something?
This is absolutely the last conversation he wants to have – he can't think of anything worse than Pavel's affectionate remorse and pity – but it looks as though Hikaru doesn't have much of a choice. He opens the door.
Pavel immediately steps in – he looks a little pale, but also unusually determined. Hikaru is looking for pity in that expression, and doesn't see it – which is a relief, but confusing, all the same.
"We must talk now, Hikaru – and you must promise to answer me honestly, no matter what."
Sulu closes his eyes, covers them with his hand. Usually, this is the person for whom honesty comes as easily as breathing – he and Pav have been best friends for years, and Hikaru has always been able to tell him anything.
But not this – God, never this – and now this is what Pavel wants to talk about, and he knows it. He nods silently in response.
"Nyet. Say it. Say you promise."
Opening his eyes again, he looks back up at Pavel – who looks more serious than Hikaru has ever seen him look.
"All right – I promise." He takes a deep breath, wishing he were anywhere but here right now.
"It is true what the Keptin says? That I have hurt you when I go to talk with Nadya instead of spending time with you like we did before?"
"Pav, it doesn't matter. I – "
"Yes or no. Answer, please."
Forget wishing he were anywhere else – Hikaru wishes he could just fucking die. "Yes."
Pavel flinches at that, as though Hikaru has reached out and hit him instead of just answering the question – the question that he asked, after all. What the hell did he think I was going to say?
But then he squares his shoulders again, as if he's about to do battle with Hikaru rather than talk to him. This isn't anything like their usual rambling, comfortable conversations – and Hikaru hates it.
Hates it for so, so many reasons...
"Is it true also what he says, Hikaru, that you are…"
Pavel seems to lose his nerve, here; his eyes have gotten absolutely huge, and he's breathing fast.
"What – that I'm in love with you?"
What the hell, Sulu – might as well get it over with. "Yeah. Also true – have been for ages. But I swear, Pav, I can –mmph..."
Pavel has effectively silenced him by throwing his arms around Hikaru and kissing him fiercely. After a moment of shocked immobility, Hikaru manages to wrap his arms around Pavel as well, returning the kiss with equal fervor.
It's a long, long time before either of them find the presence of mind to carry on a conversation – but when they finally do, it's all either of them could have wanted to hear. Pav hadn't had any idea – none at all – about Hikaru's real feelings for him. When Nadya had come aboard, Pavel was so glad to find an old friend to whom he could vent about his hopelessly unrequited (or so he'd thought) love for his best friend – and Nadya was glad to listen, sharing stories about her girlfriend back in Yekaterinburg, as well.
"I'd never hurt you, not on purpose – you know that, yes?" Pavel's voice is somewhat muffled; he's essentially speaking into Hikaru's shirt at this point.
"Of course I do," Hikaru replies, nuzzling into Pavel's curls as Pav leans against his shoulder. "I never thought it was on purpose."
Pavel sighs happily. "I think we are owing the Keptin a debt of gratitude."
Hikaru's arms tighten around him. "I think," he says, considering, "we are owing the captain a Christmas."
Reluctantly, he lets go of Pavel, dropping one last kiss onto the top of his head. "Let's call McCoy."
The sound of a slap echoes in the empty and otherwise silent corridor.
"You.. you absolute bastard. How could you?"
Spock stands in silence as well, looking at Nyota as though he has never seen her before. And indeed, he has not – not like this, at least. In the course of their relationship, he had seen her expressing any number of emotions – especially most recently, when he had terminated their romantic involvement – but he has never encountered a truly furiously angry Nyota.
She is glaring murderously at him, and he realizes that his hand has gone up instinctively to the spot on his face where her hand had so recently struck him.
In addition to having never seen her so angry, he has also been unaware up until now, he realizes, of exactly how strong she is – especially for a Human woman.
"I fail to understand why you are –"
"Oh, shut up, and don't give me that goddamn 'I fail to understand' shit. You forget, I know you – and playing 'dumb unemotional Vulcan' doesn't work with me, remember?"
Her hands are clenched in fists at her sides now, and her cheeks are flushed slightly red. "You know what you've done. What you've done to me, what you've done to him – and to think I've been treating him like dirt because I thought he'd broken your heart! You… I've thought a lot of things about you, but I'd never figured that you would be so cruel."
"Nyota," Spock sounds stern, now, his voice cold in juxtaposition to Nyota's heat. "My emotional involvements – or the lack thereof – are no longer a matter of your concern."
"That's where you're wrong." She's not backing down. "You broke it off with me because you couldn't return my feelings. We went round and round and round until you finally admitted it – you couldn't return my feelings because you'd fallen in love with Jim Fucking Kirk."
She takes a deep, shuddering breath, finding her own considerable self-control. "So, all right. So I let you go, I don't make any waves – and I assume, idiot that I seem to be, that you will, oh… maybe tell him? Because I don't know, Spock. I don't know if Jim loves you or not – but if he doesn't, I'm pretty sure he could, if he knew how you feel. And I'm damn sure he deserves to know it."
Spock has gone very still, now, watching her – and Nyota has transitioned from blind fury to a fierce intensity that is possibly as startling as the earlier physical blow had been.
"Spock. I know what's going on, or at least I think you do. You've never told another living being that you loved them – and of course it's hard. It's probably even terrifying – it was for me, I know."
She stops, then, taking a deep breath and blinking back tears. That particular confession –and the rather devastating aftermath thereof – isn't one she wants to relive anytime soon, really.
"But, Spock… you heard him – you heard what you're doing to him. He doesn't have any idea why you're doing this – all he knows is what he sees, that his friend, the person he spent most of his time with, is just gone. And he's hurt."
She gives him a long, direct stare. "Do you get that? You're hurting him, Spock, and you've got to fix it, don't you see? Maybe you can't tell him you love him – maybe that's just too much for you. I get that. But you can't just stop being his friend because you're afraid of your feelings for him; he doesn't understand it, and you mean too much to him to keep doing what you're doing."
Finally, he seems to shake himself mentally – just slightly. "You are correct, Nyota. Until hearing him express his feelings on the subject a few minutes ago, I did not realize the effects of my actions upon Jim."
Nyota stares him down – is that guilt on his face? "Or perhaps I did, and chose to ignore them, or to attribute his change in mood to other factors."
He tilts his head, considering. "At any rate, you are also correct that I need, at the very least, to remedy the damage I have done to Jim, and to our friendship." He rubs his cheek again. "Though I cannot say that I particularly appreciated the method in which your advice was delivered, I am willing to admit that it was rather badly needed. I have behaved inappropriately, and need to consider options for making amends to Jim."
She graces him with a tiny smile as they both turn toward the lift to the bridge – Alpha Shift is about to start, after all. "That you do, my friend. And I might have to go through any number of my Federation languages to find a suitable apology for how I've been treating the captain. I mean, I've been a prize bitch – it's a wonder he didn't transfer me to another ship –" she smiles wryly – " or toss me out the airlock."
Well, all right. I was originally going for a one-shot, but it turns out that it's not gonna roll like that. So sue me. :-)
Next chapter will be up shortly.