Title: The Games We Play
Author: KCS (kcscribbler)
Series: AOS/TOS/TNG (Set in the Rebootverse, with elements and characters from both TOS and TNG)
Characters/Pairings: No pairings (though if you want to read as pre-slash I suppose you can). AOS Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, various; Q; little bit of TOS movie-era Kirk, TOS movie-era Spock
Genres: Friendship, h/c, angst, character study
Warnings: (apparent) major character death, on a massive scale but not really graphic. Trauma, mental and emotional, surrounding that. Basic spoilers for ST:XI, ST:TOS basic canon, and for my last year's STBB, Second-Best Destiny. A working knowledge of the history and playing rules of chess will be helpful (and slightly spoilery).
Rating: PG-13 for trauma and CD
Final Word Count: 59,055
Beta: PGF
Summary: 2011 StarTrekBigBang on LiveJournal, sequel to Second-Best Destiny.

Five years after the first appearance of the Q continuum in the Rebooted universe, the refitted Enterprise has set out on her second five-year mission. With the new mission comes new fame, and with that, new confidence – overconfidence, for one still very young starship captain. James T. Kirk, now-veteran captain but still not even thirty years old, is on a fast track to potential self-destruction, and not even his closest friends aboard can seem to convince him that as captain he is not as expendable as his crew. While the sentiment behind his self-sacrificing actions is admirable, it is extremely foolish – and it seems to those who love him that nothing short of Omnipotent intervention will convince him of that fact.

Fortunately, there is one particular Omnipotent who is only too happy to interfere.

Personal Notes: There is absolutely gorgeous artwork (watercolors, called A King in Check) by Yawmin and a fantastic fanmix by wyntreaurora for this novel-length fic. You can access both by clicking the homepage link on my profile or popping over to my LiveJournal (KCScribbler); the master post is unlocked for viewing and commenting.

Unrelated A/N: FF dot net appears to be eating the spaces between words that are italicized, so if you see those know that I tried to catch them but probably missed them since it does it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. *growls*

I. Prologue

"Kirk to Enterprise! Beam us out, I repeat, beam us out NOW!"

Phaser fire zinged past his ear, leaving the smell of burning ozone in its wake. Two meters away, he saw Spock vault what was left of the stone wall which had been their temporary shield. You technically weren't supposed be able to evade a phaser blast, since the laser-like stream was a particle beam traveling at the speed of light; and yet somehow Spock managed it, and also managed to look amazingly graceful doing it.

Jim just ran screaming like a girl and hoped nothing hit him.

Simmons disappeared in a swirl of particles, phasers still firing on the opposition, and he breathed a mutter of thankfulness; that was the last of them except him and Spock. Sometimes he wondered if their transporter didn't have some sort of ill-omen or curse on it, given the number of times the thing had malfunctioned just when the Enterprise needed it to be at full capacity. Blowing the primary power coupling within the pad itself meant five out of the six pads were out – beaming out one at a time was dangerous for those left behind, but safer than trying to materialize without the pad's stabilization. He'd take his chances against outrunning Klingons rather than melting into a puddle of carbon-based goo upon re-materialization.

Now, as the hair on the back of his neck prickled when a shot came close enough to scorch his scalp, he was rethinking that opinion.

Spock had made his way catlike over the rubble to his captain's position, and was now regarding him with something that looked too close to Vulcan irritation than anything else. This fragile friendship they shared danced between brotherly hate and something that went far too deep into his heart for Jim to want to start analyzing, and he had the awful feeling that right now it was leaning more toward I-wish-I-had-choked-you-when-I-had-the-chance than the whole friends-brothers-lover thing Old Spock had tried to tell him about (and wasn't that just a whole different boatload of awkward, especially with the old man himself aboard the Enterprise right now on his way to some peace conference between Delta and planet-needs-to-buy-a-vowel).

"I believe I predicted this outcome prior to your insistent beam-down instructions. Sir," was all the Vulcan said, and he winced, hearing the sarcasm in the title loud and clear.

"And I believe I told you we didn't have a choice, if we wanted to prove to Command that the Klingons were responsible and not the Romulans," he shot back, firing at a madly-grinning Klingon. Yeah, today was a good day to die, evidently.

"Regarding that, I was entirely in agreement, Captain. But your presence in the landing party was both unwarranted and an unnecessary risk, indeed our presence in this matter at all, given that our primary duty is to convey the ambassadorial party to the negotiations at Delta. Drop." Jim flattened himself against the rock, and heard the whine of a deadly aim streak over where his head had been.

"Thanks. And it was definitely necessary; you can't intimidate a Klingon by directing from behind the business end of a starship!"

"You also cannot intimidate one if you are dead, Captain. Three targets incoming, twenty-five degrees."

"I'll take the left, you the other two. And I'm not dead, now am I? Therefore your argument is invalid." He smirked and shot the left-hand Klingon, who roared and charged ahead for another ten feet before a second blast finally dropped him. "Scotty, I need good news from you, buddy!"

"Ye know as much as I do, Captain! Still can only beam out a one of you!"

"Then what are you waiting for? We're getting roasted down here by a fully-prepared Klingon war squadron!" he demanded, yanking on Spock's arm to pull him out of the way as a boulder clattered down nearby. "Do it!"

"He is waiting," Spock intoned with infuriating calm, "because my communicator was shattered by a rock some three minutes and fifteen seconds ago. Without its transponder, he cannot lock onto my life-sign."

"Well crap."

He didn't realize he was still on an open channel until Scotty's doleful echo, somewhat more crudely phrased, sounded above the enemy fire.

He saw Spock close his eyes, which was the Vulcan equivalent of rolling them. "Indeed. Mr. Scott, kindly beam up the Captain."

"Mr. Scott, kindly ignore Commander Spock's entire lack of self-preservation," he snapped into the communicator, glaring at his First.

The age-old argument; it was pretty much a cliché by now, and while under some circumstances it was funny and a bit endearing, in times like this he just wanted to kill Spock himself. The guy just didn't get it.

But apparently the threat of Vulcan wrath was stronger than Captainal loyalty, because he felt the hairs on his arm twitch – a clear indication of a transporter lock and primary sequencing.

"So not happening on my watch," he muttered, eyes flicking over Spock's smug shoulder to the hillside behind. Then they widened, and he yanked his phaser out, shoving the communicator into the startled Vulcan's hands. "DOWN!"

Suitably obedient, Spock ducked out of his captain's line of fire and behind the nearest rock, communicator clenched unconsciously in his free hand. Jim saw the comprehension dawn just nanoseconds before the transporter lock engaged, and knew from the look on his First's face that if he survived the next ten minutes, he'd have seven kinds of hell to pay when he got back to the ship. He could remember when he'd last seen Spock so utterly furious; it had been before their first five-year mission started, and it had ended with his nearly asphyxiating on a Bridge console.

Then Spock was gone, leaving a shimmer of dissipating energy in the wake of the transport.

He turned his attention back to the approaching squadron, estimating how much time he had before Spock had terrified Chekov into modifying a sensor to indicate the difference in Klingon and human physiology in the vicinity, from there deciphering which of the life-signs was his based upon medical information. The colonists on the outpost were human, but they were on the side of the Klingons, obviously, having done the grunt work to blame the outbreaks of hostility on the Romulans in their reports to Starfleet Command. He just had to be picked out of about fifty human life-signs in this vicinity.

Maybe ten minutes? Ish? He could hold out for ten minutes.

Ducking a shower of dislodged pebbles, he scrambled up the nearest boulder set for cover. Let's see, a royally PO'd Spock, or war-hungry Klingons.

He was a dead man, either way.

The worst part about this job was the waking up. Starfleet officers soon came into the habit of sleeping like the dead but being able to wake at the slightest sound. Being a bit more paranoid than most, he'd been doing that for most of his life – but as captain of the Federation's flagship, it had only grown more pronounced. He could be dreaming with all his might and snap awake on the instant if an alert sounded or someone entered his room. The resulting adrenaline rush made it impossible to return to sleep after being jolted out of it most times. The other shipboard wake-ups were more unpleasant, usually when he'd fallen asleep at his desk doing paperwork long into the night, in an effort to stay on top of everything he could so that Command never regretted giving him the Enterprise because he was too young to get his work done on time.

There were also the times he woke up and had no clue where he was; it might be a planetary jail, or an enemy laboratory, or some other hostile situation – and those were the times that cold fear broke through the fuzziness of drugs or pain and brought him fully alert in a matter of instants; hostile situation, and someone was going to need him to be awake and ready with a plan in short order.

And then there were the times he woke up in his own Sickbay, painfully aware within seconds of why he was there in the first place.

This was one of those times. He cringed as awareness returned sensory perception to his auditory systems before he had managed to get his eyes open.

Bones. And Spock. And they were both going at it near his head like two vultures over a fresh roadkill.

His stomach roiled unpleasantly at the analogy, and he groaned, hoping against hope he wasn't going to be sick before he could come awake enough to roll over.

The voices stopped mid-sentence at his noise of discomfort, followed by footsteps, and he felt the glare of the lights through his eyelids dim as a shadow leaned over him.

"Jim? You awake?"

Well, concern made a nice change from the ranting he'd heard a minute ago; he tried his best to answer. All that emerged through the haze of pain medication was a tired sort of gargle, but it was enough.

A clink of instruments nearby, and the whir of a medical scanner. "Open your eyes, Jim, c'mon," he heard Bones mutter next to his ear, and while he didn't really want to he knew the guy wouldn't let it drop until he did.

His eyelids felt like ten tons of lead but he tried valiantly. "That's it; open 'em for me, Jim…gotta check your pupil response, that was one heck of a concussion you got."

Finally two small cracks of light shot through the opening straight into his aching skull, and he screwed them up again with a whimper of pain.

"Okaayyy, I'm guessin' your pupils are still dilated, then," the mutter moved away from his head, probably to check the bio-bed monitors. "Over-bed lights, ten percent. There, try again, Jim."

The fuzziness of the good stuff Bones was pumping through his system was fading slightly, leaving him more alert, and it wasn't as hard to do so this time around. Slowly cracking his eyelids, he relaxed when the dimmer light didn't send a knife into his brain this time around. He blinked a few times, and then the nearest objects came into focus.

Bones on his right, shining a small penlight into his eyes for just a second, then running a scanner over a bandage on his left temple. He blinked, sight traveling around to the dim cubicle lighting, to the table nearby, the computer monitor, his socked feet poking through the Sickbay blanket at the end of the bed, around to a very, very expressionless Spock standing silently on his other side.


Only that particular half-Vulcan could look that pure Vulcan; he'd seen full-blooded Vulcans who had less of a poker face. Spock only looked that cold and emotionless when he was anything but. Not good. Ever since Starfleet Command had offered Spock his own captaincy last year, and Spock had told them he would think about it for six months, he and his First been practically at each other's throats over the littlest things. This latest stunt (not little) couldn't have helped matters.

"Well, the bad news is your head's hard enough to repel large chunks of rock without damaging your brain more than it already is, but you're going to have a whopper of a headache for a day or two," McCoy growled, snapping the scanner back into its protective sheath with an emphatic thwack.

"And the good news?" he asked weakly, hating how hoarse his voice sounded.

"The good news is that you're going to be in a lot of pain for a few days from the bruises you took in that fall down the hillside," the physician said, arms folded.

He reached up an aching arm to feel gingerly at the bandage on his head. "And that's goodnews?"

"Yes, because then maybe it'll be a reminder to you to stop being such a self-sacrificing idiot with no blasted sense of self-preservation!"

Now was so not the time to be having this conversation. He closed his eyes, ignoring the familiar tirade.

"Don't you just lie there and ignore me, you reckless excuse for a starship captain!"

"Doctor, this is counter-productive," Spock's voice interrupted, and he was never more glad to hear it in his life. "Repeating what the captain knows to be true accomplishes nothing and will not, apparently, change his self-destructive behavior."

Okay, so he wasn't going to let that slide. "My self-destructive behavior, as you put it, Commander," he said, opening his eyes long enough to glare at Spock, "is my own business and neither of yours."

"Anything which involves the safety of this crew complement is my business as much as yours, sir," Spock replied coldly.

"And the health of a crew member is mine," Bones added with heat.

"Therefore your increasingly blatant disregard for your own safety is encompassed by my duties as First Officer, part of which includes identifying dangers to the ship and her crew."

He wasn't clear in the head enough to have an argument-fest of these proportions. Rubbing painfully at his left temple, he tried to focus his thoughts. "You just don't get it, do you?" he finally mumbled, pain slurring the words into something less confident-sounding than he would have preferred.

"Don't get what?" was the dry retort from the angry physician. "Don't get that you apparently have no care for your own life, or that this ship could lose her captain because you refuse to let your Security force do their jobs and keep you safe?"

He bit his lip so hard he tasted blood, anger fueling adrenaline through his veins to push back the drug-induced lethargy. "You don't get it," he spat, "that Starfleet isn't decimated and desperate anymore, and all they'd need is one good excuse to boot me and install an older, better captain!" Like Spock, actually; the thought had occurred to him more than once during the last year.

Blank astonishment showed on both faces staring down at him.

He sighed, massaging his aching head. "No one else dies on my watch, Bones," he murmured tiredly. "We sacrificed way too many supposedly 'expendable' people during the last five-year mission, so many that Command nearly didn't let us have this second one 'cause of the risks. It's not going to happen again if I can help it."

He was relieved to see some of the cold fury suddenly die in Spock's eyes as comprehension – not approval, but understanding – dawned, though his wonderfully human BFF still looked mad enough to stab him with a dozen hypos without flinching.

"Your reasoning, while understandable, is flawed, sir," the Vulcan finally spoke up, his voice gentle. "The unusually high death toll during the first five-year mission was due to inexperience and political unrest; not due to any command mistakes of yours. Taking responsibility for those casualties is as ludicrous as blaming ourselves that we two alone were not capable of defeating Nero prior to his destruction of Vulcan."

It was an old argument, and they both knew it – which didn't negate its truthfulness. He was glad that they could talk about it now without the agonizing pain-clarity of years past, but knowing was different than believing, and he still wouldn't ever believe that he didn't shoulder the responsibility for his crew.

He shook his head slowly, regretting the motion when pain spiked through his left eyeball. "I'm not having this discussion right now with either of you," he said through a clenched jaw. He'd never before felt like he had to justify himself so often toward his closest subordinates, and he didn't like it. "If you want to have me on the carpet for whatever you think I did that makes me unfit for command, then you can do it once I can see straight. Until then, leave me and my command decisions alone. See that we continue on our way to Delta as soon as Command gives the okay to leave the system."

He closed his eyes against the startled silence, and carefully tuned out whatever was said after that; he wouldn't apologize for saving Spock's life before his own, any more than he'd apologize for beaming out his brave and so very young Security team before the Command team. It wasn't regulation, but he believed it was the right thing to do – and they were all alive now, so what was the big deal?

Omnipotence by definition meant not being constrained by the bounds of time; three billion light-years and four universes away, the thought-waves and effect/cause time awareness rippled against the consciousness of an entity who had, in all honesty, completely forgotten about a tiny little splinter universe floating in the flux of alternate time-stream, in favor of wreaking fantastically brilliant havoc among a dozen non-corporeal races on the verge of destroying themselves in a telepathic war.

"Really, little captain mine," he sniffed, sending one last thought-bomb into the fray and applauding with glee as the combatants scattered, wailing, under its impact. "I just can't leave you pathetic humans alone for more than a half-decade, can I."

Pleas for mercy flickered against his awareness from the beings he was toying with, and he sighed. "Yes, yes, begone with you," he muttered, waving a hand and resetting their mental ecology with one thought. A wry smirk twisted the Omnipotent's mouth, and he rubbed his hands in anticipatory glee.

"Cleanup on aisle five," Q chortled, as he disappeared into the void of time-space.