All in the Line of Duty: Class and Rank

By NekoYami911 and Phoenicem Argentum

Summary: Another diplomatic mission, another crisis. Luckily, this is not one of the 'run for your life' variety. This is more one of the 'keep Jim from mucking with the natives' kind. Bones isn't sure whether he wouldn't have preferred the former...

Here I am, sitting in the library(for the second time) beside my coauthor, and she's correcting things over my shoulder that are certainly no fault of my own(it's the fault of this damn archaic keyboard!) readying myself to post this after such a long time. All the difficulties that this has caused aside, and to forestall any further problems that Phoenicem may have with my typing style, let's just get on with the show, no?

Jim was spellbound by the lavishly ornamented beings walking all around them. Beside him stood Spock – as stoic as ever – and Bones, who seemed about ready to drag Jim away from this pathogen-laden environment by his command gold shirt collar.

"Dammit Jim, I am not helping you if you get whiplash from shaking your head around like a labrador!" Bones groused as the blond turned this way and that to take in all the variations of piercing and art laden bodies winding through the market center.

"No, Bones, this is great! I mean, look at that one!" Jim pointed unabashedly at one brightly tattooed individual. "And... and look, there! I mean, I didn't even know you could pierce that!"

Bones rolled his eyes with a growl, smacking Jim's hand back to his side before apologizing to the man who was staring wide-eyed at their captain. From beside him, Spock intoned, "Captain, if you truly wish to persist in joining the away teams, then I would suggest reading the cultural etiquette report that was sent to you. Twice. You just gave the Terran equivalent of propositioning that young man."

"Oh," said Jim, not looking at all ashamed. In fact, he very obviously gave the man a once-over before visibly refocusing himself on Spock, who was utilizing one of his 'I disapprove' eyebrow configurations to little effect. "Don't worry about it, Spock! I know better than to sleep around on a diplomatic assignment!"

Bones snorted derisively. "What about Nigalon 6? That virgin sacrifice? Or maybe on our last whip around in the Lintar system, with the ambassador's daughter?"

"Aw, Bones," Jim began to protest, but was cut off by Spock.

"Captain, I believe it would be prudent to return to the matter at hand."

"Of course!" Jim seized the conversation back to himself, completely ignoring Spock's attempt to direct him towards his diplomatic obligations. "We were talking about piercings! So, Spock, you got any?"

Spock's brow lifted as if to ask, 'Did you really just ask me that, you silly little human?' but said lamely, "No, I do not."

"Well I think we need to get them! Command Solidarity!" Jim crowed happily, practically vibrating on the spot.

Bones was a succinct as Spock as he replied with an emphatic, "No!"

"Aw, c'mon, Bones!"

"No!" Bones maintained. "And don't go thinking I'll treat you for infections or parasites or whatever the hell kind of alien disease you get from messing around with that stuff either!"

Jim whined piteously at the denial, entreating him, "But Bones, you have to take risks to live! Live a little! Get one with me, please? Just an ear, just one, no more if you don't want!" He clasped his hands before him, putting on his best puppy dog expression which the doctor resolutely ignored.

"Captain, are you aware that the Doctor already possesses such ornamentation?"

Jim rounded on the Vulcan with a scandalized "What?" before turning back to Bones with a determined air. He checked both his friend's ears, and lo and behold, nestled on the lobe of the right, Bones had an unassuming little light grey stud. It was nearly beige, and blended in so well with the flesh of the ear that it was no surprise Jim hadn't noticed it before.

"What's the point," Jim demanded as if personally offended, "of having a piercing if you don't put anything interesting in it?"

Bones frowned back at him. "I didn't want to let it close back up," he admitted, "but it's not exactly regulation."

As if called upon like a holotext, Spock seamlessly entered the conversation. "While proper uniform requirements must be met at all times, crew members are permitted accessories of adornment that do not impede upon or otherwise hamper the running of the ship. If a specific adornment is questioned, the matter may be brought to the ship's captain or leading officer for determination."

"And I'm not going to have a problem with it," assured Jim. "So. There's no way you can stop me now without being a hypocrite."

"Captain," interrupted Spock, sounding almost-but-not exasperated, "we are due to meet the Pernidian Council in five point three minutes. It would be advisable to depart."

Jim was about to speak, but suddenly a happy sound came from behind them, and then the Pernidian ambassador, Malok, was clapping Jim on the shoulders, nearly sending him sprawling with the force of the blow, before belting out as only rotund, happy people can, "Jim-Kirk! What is the Enterprise-Captain doing here? The hall is on the other side of the market! Were you wishing for a tour? I'm we could speak on a walk-about. It's a beauteous day!"

Jim responded with equal enthusiasm. "We were checking out your planet! I love what you've done with the place," he added with a confidential air.

"However," Spock cut in again, "perhaps the tour can wait until after the proceedings."

"Of course!" agreed Malok jovially. Suddenly, he froze, and all the natural color drained from his face, leaving the jewel-like colors of his facial tattoos to stand out like warning flags against pasty skin. A deep frown settled onto his face, worsened by the deep laugh lines which contrasted sharply against the downward turn of his lips. Slowly, he looked between the three before hissing softly, "Jim-Kirk, are you not the Enterprise-Captain? The highest ranked on your ship? Why does your... medical officer hold the leadering-display?"

"Leader-display?" Jim tried to clarify.

"Yes!" exclaimed Malok, growing ever more agitated. "The healer has a stud in his ear, while you have none! Is this man then superior to you?"

Jim shook his head quickly, displaying the pips upon his collar before showing the fewer and different ones on Bone's collar. He explained hurriedly, "These are what we use to show rank. Where we're from, piercings and body art are just ornamental, ceremonial sometimes."

Malok shook his head as though the thought were an abhorrent concept, sending the braids and beads on his piercings jangling and clacking. He rumbled discontentedly deep in his chest. "This will not do, Jim-Kirk," he finally concluded. "I cannot respect a leader who does not show his position. If we continue, your healer is the leader and you a child. Your... scientist is alien, very, and his kind are not unheard of to us. We've dealt with them before and understand that they will not pierce or illustrate their bodies as a sign of position, but you..."

"Wait, so Spock doesn't get an awesome piece of body art?" asked Jim, already comprehending what would be expected.

"I assure you, Captain," said Spock delicately, "I have no desire for such ornamentation."

But Jim had already lost interest and was instead badgering Malok. "So what kind do I get... I mean, have to get?" he qualified for McCoy's' sake.

Despite his hasty self-correction, McCoy still sent a disapproving glower at Jim and received a look of irritation from one of the many guards surrounding Malok in return. Malok, on the other hand, was smiling again and guiding an exuberant Jim towards one of the many vendors that lined the street. Spock looked as though he wished to interfere, but seemed thoroughly at a loss as to what to do to ensure continued diplomatic relations.

Jim bounced on the balls of his feet at the sight of the variety of studs, rings, and other unidentifiable pieces of jewelry. He looked about ready to just start grabbing, and Bones was very tempted to say, 'Look with your eyes, not with your hands.' Somehow he managed to restrain himself, and miraculously, Jim didn't start touching the first piece that caught his eye.

Instead, he looked over them quickly, eyes lingering on only a few items. Hesitantly, he reached for a brilliant yellow stud, and the bright eyed man in charge of the shop, spry for his advanced age, sprung into motion, happily expounding on the properties of the piece and how utterly suited it was to the young 'ship-leader,' matching as it did his shirt and burnished hair.

Malok calmly overrode the elderly shopkeeper's enthusiastic sales pitch. "Jim-Kirk, as Enterprise-Captain, you must visibly outrank your team-mates. So. One stud, one ring in the same ear, and a tattoo on the back of the left hand." With a grin, he gestured at the stud Jim was currently coveting. "That will do nicely as the first piece."

Jim stared at him for a moment in stunned silence, as did Bones, but the doctor recovered much quicker, stepping forward and saying in none too calm a manner, "Okay, that's it! A stud is one thing, even two, but he cannot get a tattoo! How do you know that any of this is sanitary and won't affect him poorly? This man has an allergy list taller than he is!"

"The Doctor will naturally be allowed to oversee all procedures," Spock attempted to mediate.

"I'm not overseeing any procedures, because there won't be any!"

Spock somewhat reluctantly stepped in. "Doctor, I am afraid that for the purposes of the mission, it would be advisable to allow the Captain to undergo the procedures."

"Why're you all calling the procedures like I'm getting an implant or something? Bones, you're spending too much time around Spock – you're even starting to sound like him!"

"And you sound like a disgruntled teenager denied when his curfew hits!" Bones was happy to round on Jim. "Now go outside, we're getting off this planet!"

Malok seemed at a loss as to how to deal with the argument, and behind them the guards shifted restlessly. The situation was growing unstable, and Spock acted in a last attempt to regain control of the degenerating mission.

"Doctor..." - no response. "Doctor!" Also no response, just continued ranting. Finally Spock grasped Bones' shoulder and spun him around, saying firmly, "Leonard!" Instantly, Bones clammed up, and after a moment of staring at Spock glanced around at the gathering. Jim was giving him an infinitely amused look, grinning madly, and the Pernidians, particularly Malok's guards, were staring in confusion. A bright flood of scarlet lit up the already flushed doctor's face in embarrassment.

"Sorry," he muttered to the assembled beings in general. "I wash my hands of it," he said to Spock. "Just... go."

Spock nodded shortly and withdrew his hand, which had been resting on the doctor's shoulder as if as a precautionary measure. "Leader-Malok," he addressed the ambassador, "please proceed with the... fittings."

Scowling, Bones stepped back to lean against a wall, remaining only because his conscience as a doctor and a friend wouldn't allow him to leave his companion to alien hands. With a more reserved demeanor, Malok went back to pointing out suitable ornaments, "The second piercing should be of another color to the first. This pale gold would be suitable..."

"No," disagreed Jim, "It's too big – it could be torn out in a fight or something. That would be better," he concluded, pointing out a smaller ring of the same color.

Malok looked skeptical, but nodded his assent. "I cannot choose your display for you. It is as well, Jim-Kirk, for you are not of this world. Who is to say what such a display would mean among your own people? Now you must find an appropriate skin-etching."

"Ooh!" Jim practically squealed, regaining some of his earlier vigor. "Something... respectably understated – isn't that all the rage right now?" he asked of the air.

Bones, who had snorted at the words 'respectably understated' now broke his self-imposed vow of non-interference and put in, "Jim, you've never been understated a day in your life."

Jim laughed, too giddy to be brought down by Bones' caustic words, saying, "There was that one time, but I don't really think it counts because I was drugged up like a racehorse... you know, and not hyper."

Bones looked ready to enter into another argument, but Spock stepped up in his well-practiced role as mediator. "In keeping with the spirit of the tradition and the significance of the marking, I suggest the captain's tattoo be the Starfleet emblem."

Jim's eyes lit up, and he nodded happily. Even Bones grudgingly nodded his assent. Jim turned back to Malok, asking excitedly, "That'd be okay, wouldn't it? I'm only captain because of Starfleet."

Malok seemed pleased with the officer's conclusion. "This is being the symbol on your chest there? That is most excellent! We will begin immediately!"

The jeweler stepped back, and upon calling out in the strange melodic sounds of the Pernidian language, a younger man came out from the back of the hut-like shop. His tattoos were by far the most intricate they had seen so far during their time on the planet, and when he came forward and bowed, they saw that nearly every inch of his skin was covered in markings. His words were in broken but clearly enunciated Standard, "Hel-lo. I Mendor. Come. We create beauty now. Father do piercings after etching."

Jim nodded and Malok looked at the young man proudly. "Mendor is my nephew. He is the best and youngest skin-etcher our people have known. Come. I'll speak while he works." And with that, they went to the hut's back and set about making Jim look the part of a captain in the eyes of the Pernidians.

Jim winced as Bones 'accidentally' bumped the still-raw tattoo with the dermal regenerator. The doctor was muttering under his breath, and Jim caught the odd phrase -
"...don't know why! Should just... whole damn thing off... Pernidian tattooist bastards!"

Spock wasn't even there to support Jim, having made a hasty escape, saying, "The Bridge will need a superior officer after such an extended away mission."

The coward.

He cringed back but didn't withdraw his wrist as the regenerator singed normal skin, creating calluses. He had much experience with the markings and knew they wouldn't go away for weeks.

"Damn, Bones, just leave it! It's nice and raw but I'm not reacting to the ink – Mendor made sure I wouldn't – and I can handle a bit of pain! Why don't you want me to keep it?"

McCoy teetered on the edge of another temperamental explosion before deflating with a sigh. "I just..." he paused, as if trying to determine his exact motivation. "You see Jim," he finally continued, "as much as you don't like to hear it, it's my job as a doctor, an officer, and as a friend to look after you. And then you go and jump into stuff like this..."

Jim opened his mouth to protest, but Bones cut him off. Now that he was getting all soppy he better well be allowed to finish! "Look, this was just the last straw, okay? Keep the tattoo if you really want, but hell, Jim! Stop not letting me fuss!"

Jim stared up at him for a moment before nodding, a small, genuine smile growing on his face. For all of his acting skills when it counted, Jim couldn't restrain a smile whenever a friend, specifically Bones or Spock, let him know that they cared. So he sat quietly and let Bones heal the reddened flesh around the tattoo on his wrist, and when Bones grumbled a bit more, let the smile grow unrestrained. Mentally, he thanked the Pernidians for allowing him this little moment of insight.

Also, he had gotten a really awesome tattoo.