Hello everyone! It has been a long time. I sincerely apologize on the long, long wait. I was originally thinking of explaining why at the end of the chapter, but I think I should let you all know ahead of time that this will most likely be the last chapter of this series. (I hate not knowing endings of things or be mentally prepared for it, so I wanted to give those who are like me a heads up). I'll explain the reasons at the end so it doesn't bog you down (it's a long chapter). But irregardless, I hope that you enjoy this chapter! And see you at the end!

Disclaimer: I do not own any Star Trek franchise.



Exhaustion pulled at the edges of Jim's consciousness. He rubbed his face tiredly, letting his eyes adjust to the brightness of his PADD in the darkness of his room. It had been a long couple of days since the Enterprise returned to Earth for a two-week shore leave after the fiasco on Elba II. Despite getting some respite, Jim was stuck hiding in his quarters, diligently doing paperwork in secret, while the rest of his crew went out to enjoy themselves on-planet.

Sulu, Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov had wanted Jim to join them in San Francisco for a couple of drinks – to loosen up after all that Spencer had done. Jim had smiled and lied, saying that he was too tired and wanted to just turn in early. In reality, he was busy covering all their asses for that mission. There had been a lot of regulations that his crew broke in order to come save him. There had been a lot of things that he had broken to face Spencer. So here he was, doing paperwork while the rest of his people were off enjoying themselves. Not that he minded it. He would happily cover for his people any day, but he hadn't been sleeping well and his body was on the verge of simply quitting on him.

He leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes and sighing. His only solace was that Spock was next door, working as well. At least, when he couldn't go on anymore, he could go over and both of them could wallow in misery together. Or play chess to procrastinate.

He rubbed his eyes again. The silence in his dark room was heavy. Bones had spent the last couple of nights in his room, keeping him company, but Jim had forced him to go with Uhura and the boys tonight. At least one of them should enjoy themselves. And to be honest, he could tell that Bones needed a good night out. Jim had not been easy to be around since Spencer got transferred into Pike's hands, and he knew it. As of late, he had been snappier and shorter in his attempt to get over what had happened, and Bones was probably getting to the end of his rope. God, he loved Bones and he knew Bones loved him, which is why he stuck around the way he did, but for both their sanities, he and Bones agreed that he go into town for a good night of fun.

Which left Jim here, sitting at his desk with his lamp barely lighting up that corner of his room, bored and tired out of his freaking mind.

All of a sudden, his PADD emitted a beeping ringtone. Without opening his eyes, Jim reached out blindly to bring it closer to him. He spared a second to glance at the screen and instantly, a frown crossed his face. All work was immediately forgotten as he pressed the screen to accept the call.

It was a face that he hadn't seen in a long time. The blond hair was exactly like his, though slightly more on the brown side compared to Jim's; the angular shape was similar as well. The only true difference were the eyes: Jim's were bright blue, exactly like their father's, while his brother's were brown, like their mother's.

"Sam…" Jim breathed. The surprise froze in his stomach and he felt like a deer in headlights. He hadn't seen his brother since Winona's funeral, and even then, they didn't speak. They simply didn't know how anymore. The bridge between the two of them had been broken long ago. A lifetime ago.

"Hello, Jimmy. How are you?" Sam sounded as tentative as he looked. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. There were lines on his face that hadn't been there before, but it wasn't from tiredness or stress like it was for Jim. No, beyond his awkwardness, there was genuine fear in Sam's eyes.

Instantly, Jim sat up straighter, completely awake and alert. "What's going on, Sam? You okay?"

"I know I don't have any right to ask this of you, after everything, but I don't know who else to turn to."

"What happened?"

"It's just…before I tell you, I just need you to promise that you won't bring Starfleet into this."

Jim hesitated. He had no problem going behind Starfleet's back – he did it on a daily basis. But he knew what Sam really meant: Sam wanted him to keep his friends out of whatever mess he had gotten into now.

This wasn't the first time Sam had found himself in trouble. There had been several times since Jim came back from Tarsus. After Frank, both Jim and Sam had developed their own unhealthy coping mechanisms: Jim slept with anything that moved and got into stupid-ass bar fights; Sam picked up a gambling addiction and fell into the wrong crowds to help feed it. He had gotten into some extremely shady situations in the past where Jim had to go blazing in to save him.

The last time Jim went to his aid, he was in the Academy and almost got thrown out for going completely AWOL for two weeks. Jim had even gotten shot a couple of times for his troubles (and ended up having to face Bones' wrath once again), just because Sam couldn't come up with the money for his gambling addiction. In fact, it was the whole reason why Jim had found himself back in Russia, running around with the Bratva and quietly taking them down in order to keep him off his brother's trail. It was lucky that Komack decided to take advantage of Jim's actions and pretend that it was his idea all along to send Jim after the Bratva.

Jim had tried to get Sam to shape up and get clean, but no matter what he said or did, Sam had belligerently denied any problems and even went as far as accuse Jim for being overly dramatic about him. Finally fed up, Jim had snapped and left without looking back.

He didn't hear from or see Sam until Winona's funeral, and even then, Sam had been too grief-stricken and guilt-ridden to speak one word to him. Jim found out later (after he was returned back to normal from that whole de-aging situation) that, in his grief, Sam had gone back to his old habits. Sam wasn't the only one to go back to his old habits though: Jim couldn't stop keeping tabs on his brother and kept breaking into Sam's bank account and secretly sending him money to cover all his debts.

Yes, Jim knew he was enabling his brother, but Jim was barely handling his own demons. He couldn't help Sam when he was barely keeping his own head above the water. Sending his brother money ensured that Sam paid his debts and stayed alive just one day more. But Jim knew that sooner or later, it wouldn't be enough.

That day came sooner than Jim had expected, but he shouldn't have been as surprised as he found himself.

"Jimmy…I don't need the Captain of the Enterprise right now. I need you," Sam pleaded.

The internal conflict faded away at those words. Like Jim was ever not going to help his own brother. The weariness from before settled heavily back into his bones again. Jim sighed. "Alright, Sam. Alright. What do you need?"

It was midday when Spock heard a knock on his door. He rose gracefully, careful to not disturb the mountain of PADDs that he had stacked up on his desk, before going to answer it. He had fully expected to see Jim at his door. He was sure that the two of them had worked through the night and had thought that Jim may have needed a break or advice on a certain document, so he was mildly surprised to see McCoy standing in front of him with a worried expression on his face. He had not expected the rest of the Command crew to be awake for another few hours.

"Doctor, how may I help you?" Spock asked cordially, his curiosity rising slightly.

"Jim's missing," McCoy said without any preamble.

"I am sure that you will find him somewhere, Doctor," Spock almost sighed. "You should not run to me every time he disappears from your sight. I am not his keeper, nor are you."

McCoy stepped into Spock's space, a dark look lining his features. "Spock, he's missing."

Spock paused, taking in how serious McCoy was. "What has led you to the conclusion that he is missing?"

At that, McCoy paused and cocked his head at Spock thoughtfully. "How much do you know about Sam?"

"Jim's brother? Only what he has shown me in his memories – I know they were close as children, but he left home when Jim was fairly young. Nothing further."

McCoy glanced down either side of the hallway before forcing himself into Spock's room. Spock found himself more than surprised that the action didn't bother him as it would have when they first set off under Jim. Instead, all Spock did was follow McCoy back into his quarters and lock the door behind him.

"What is wrong, Doctor?"

"First thing you gotta know is that Sam is a shit brother. Everyone and their mothers can see that, but Jim…Jim's a bleeding heart. He hasn't been able to let Sam go, but he should've ages ago," McCoy said. "Jim doesn't talk much about Sam, but from what little bits I've gathered, Sam has a bit of a problem with money. And I know Jim sends Sam money every so often, not that he'll never say it out loud."

"Why would he not tell you that he sends Sam financial assistance?"

"Sam's a dead weight that's dragging Jim down. I don't approve of Jim spending almost all his paycheck to pay off his brother's debts that shouldn't even exist in the first place."

"Then how do you know?"

McCoy looked at Spock. "Jim only really keeps about five to ten percent of his paycheck, you know, because he doesn't think he needs anything more than that. His plan is to live and die with this ship, so he doesn't see the point in having savings. But the idiot will put in twenty percent of his paycheck into a college savings fund for Joanna and give the remaining to orphanages or charities. But that's beside the point right now. Around 0200, Jim sent me a short message saying that he was meeting Sam in Chicago. And I haven't heard back from him since."

"Perhaps he is merely reacquainting himself with his brother."

"I don't think you understand me, Spock. That bridge between them as siblings? Burned and crushed to the ground. They don't get along, despite Jim trying to make it work. Jim wouldn't stay with his brother for this long. He can't. Otherwise it turns into a yelling match and Jim ends up skulking over it for days."

Spock considered it. He didn't quite understand the brokenness of Jim's relationship with his brother, but then and again, Jim was always such a complex individual that both baffled and confused Spock. It didn't matter that Spock didn't comprehend though. If Sam was a danger to Jim, then all that mattered was that Jim was safe.

"I assume that Jim beamed down to meet his brother. I am sure that we can figure out what the last coordinates were inputted," Spock said as he made his way out of his room. He didn't have to look to know that McCoy was following him closely.

The two didn't speak at first. McCoy had a thoughtful, yet furrowed expression on his face. No doubt, he was trying hard to figure out what happened to his friend. Spock was equally curious, but there was also another question on his mind.

"Doctor, does Jim truly not save anything for himself?"

"Some, but not a lot. It's fine though. I save some of mine for him."

Spock just nodded and walked on in silence, but he made sure to make a mental note to set aside some of his savings for Jim as well. Even if Jim couldn't see a future, Spock did, just like McCoy. And they'd make sure that Jim would have enough for the future with them.

By the time Spock and McCoy arrived at the transporters, Spock already had worked out a financial plan to include Jim. It wasn't like Spock required much either. He would have to work out the details a bit further at a later time.

He quickly typed a sequence into the console and found the last coordinates that Jim must've used. He turned to McCoy. "It seems that Jim did beam down to Chicago. What would you like to do?"

"Kick some sense into his ass."

"I think that can be arranged. Shall we call the others?"

McCoy nodded, smirking at Spock. "Let's."

It was raining when Jim beamed down on Earth. It had been a long time since he last found himself in Chicago, Illinois. Almost ten years. He had only been there once, when he was fifteen, but he had sworn to never go back. Last time he was here, he was still raw and cut open from Tarsus. He was volatile, careless, and incredibly alone, which meant he got into trouble. Messed with the wrong people. He was essentially banned from returning by those ruling the underworld.

In another life, Jim probably could have come to love Chicago. It had been hundreds and hundreds of years, but Chicago was still as strong as ever, despite the fact that bad crowds had slowly started to take over. The skyscrapers still reached to the stars, not that you could see the tops from the ground. They stood ever so silent and majestic. There was so much history written on those walls, but Jim neither had the time nor interest at the moment.

Thankfully, at three in the morning, the streets were essentially empty; the city a ghost town. Jim pulled up his hood and stuck his leather-gloved hands in the pockets of his jacket as he quietly trudged through the puddles. He had made sure to change into his civvies, wearing nothing but simple jeans, a black t-shirt, and a matching black hoodie with a leather jacket over it.

He didn't have to walk far before he reached his destination, going down the hidden staircase down to a dingy little bar in the corner of the north side of Chicago. Only in the recent years had this area gained the reputation of being the place where shadier things came and went. Black market dealings, mafia-related gatherings, and the occasional prostitution ran rampant in the underground, far below the surface of the grand city above.

Jim was quite familiar with this place. It was where he was picked up as a homeless and scavenging kid and transformed into a thief, trickster, and con man, but he knew that anyone who knew him back then was no longer around for various reasons. Jim hadn't looked too deeply into it. But to think that his brother had wanted to meet here, of all places? Maybe Jim should've let Spock know where he was going as well, but he didn't want anyone to meet Sam. At least not yet when he himself hadn't come to terms with his broken relationship with his brother.

Pulling up his hood more, Jim hid his recognizable features hidden well enough, unless one tried to look directly under the cloth. Jim purposely made himself seem smaller, blending into his surroundings, as he pushed open the rusted, metal door and stepped inside.

The pungent smell of alcohol, sweat, and cigarette smoke filled the air. Boisterous conversations and angry arguments intermingled with one another. The bar at the center had a bartender – one male and one female dressed in all black – on either side of an island full of alcohol bottles. The oasis was surrounded by several people sitting on bar stools. Wooden tables filled in the front of the bar with a few booths in the very back that were shrouded with darkness and mystery.

None of the fifty or so people in the bar even registered Jim walking in, but Jim also didn't draw attention to himself. He knew how to fade into the background.

He made his way to the booth, pausing at the bar to grab two beers first. As predicted, there was a lone man sitting in the far-left corner with the seat in front of him empty. He was wearing a black leather jacket with a red and black plaid button-down shirt underneath. He had wavy, light brown hair cut short on the sides, but slicked back to the left on the top. Though he was looking down at his hands wrapped around the near-empty bottle of beer on the table, Jim could imagine those troubled brown eyes and sharp angled features that were so like his own.

Without a word, Jim easily slid into the booth, pushing one of the beers towards his brother and taking a swig out of his own.

Sam's head snapped up with surprised evident all over his face even as he accepted the drink.

Jim rolled his eyes. "No need to act so surprised, Sam."

"I didn't think you would show," Sam said quietly.

That was a bold-faced lie – when did Jim not come for him? – but instead of being annoyed like he used to, Jim only felt more tired. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to face Sam who was just another reminder of his past; another thing that made him feel like shit. And he was pretty sure that he had already met that quota for the next month or two. This was not something that Jim wanted to deal with.

He wanted to be back on the Enterprise, even if it was just paperwork waiting for him. He wanted to bug Spock and convince him to finish up his work for him (which he would. Spock never said no to Jim, probably because he knew that Jim would only ask when he absolutely needed it), just so he could finally get some sleep. And not to mention how pissed Bones was going to be when he finally heard Jim's message that he was meeting up with Sam.

"What do you want, Sam?" Jim sighed.

Immediately, Jim could see his brother go on the defensive, his hackles rising. When was Sam ever going to learn to not lash out in anger when he fucked something up?

"Too busy for family now that you're a big-shot Captain?" Sam hissed.

There were so many things that Jim could've said to that. Since when were they "family"? Jim couldn't remember the warmth and love of "family" from Sam. Not anymore. Those memories that had kept him warm all those years ago was nothing compared to that of what he felt with Bones, Spock, Chekov, Sulu, Scotty, and Uhura. It was a mere ember now – something that Jim only kept alive just because he knew that if he let it go out, his bond with Sam would be gone forever.

Too busy for family…Jim nearly scoffed out loud. How many times did Jim have to bail Sam out? And it wasn't like Jim had ever rubbed his title in Sam's face. Hell, Jim hadn't even told Sam when he became Captain. Sam had found out like the rest of the universe: through official press announcements to the media. Though, Jim had to give Sam credit. Even after learning about his promotion, Sam didn't try to take advantage of it. He only asked for help when he desperately needed it – a Kirk trait, apparently.

So all Jim did was sigh again and take another pull of his beer. "I'm here, aren't I? What do you need, Sam?"

Sensing that Jim wanted to avoid an argument, Sam backed down immediately, his manners contrite. "Sorry. I'm a bit on edge."

"What happened?"

"I wanted to say that I'm only asking you because I have nowhere else to turn to."

Wasn't that how it always was?

Sam ran his fingers through his hair. "I made a mistake. A huge mistake, Jimmy. I placed a bet with the wrong people and borrowed money from even worse. Now they're after my head."

"How much?" Jim asked simply.

"With interest, it's quite a lot."

"How much," he repeated.

"About 3.2 million credits."

Jim's eyes widened. He had expected a large amount, but Jim didn't have that much saved up. It was close to maybe a third of that, if he added what he had in his savings (which wasn't much to begin with) and what he had set aside for Joanna's college funds, but he didn't want to dip into that. Because he dragged Joanna's father out into the deep black where dangers hid in every corner, he at least owed her a comfortable future where she would never want for anything (and also to make sure that Bones always went home to her, but that was another promise entirely).

"Shit. When do they want it by?"

"Two days."

Now it was Jim's turn to run his hand through his hair. "That's not enough time. Even with my means and what I have saved up, it's not enough time to get what you need."

Sam looked resigned, like a man on death's row. "I thought it would be much, even for you. But I had to give it a shot."

"What about a collateral? To buy yourself more time."

"I don't have anything of value."

It took a beat as the dots connected in Jim's mind. He closed his eyes briefly, steeling himself, before turning his blue irises on his brother. "And that's why you needed me. Not for the money, but for collateral."

"They're threatening to kill me, Jimmy! Can you blame me?"

"Blame you for putting my life in danger for your gambling addiction? No, why would I do that?" Jim snapped back sarcastically.

Sam opened his mouth to retort back, but Jim just held up a hand. "Save it. I don't care what your reasoning is. I don't want to hear it. I'll help you out this one last time, Sam. But no more. I can't keep bailing you out. We figure this out, but you get clean. Do you understand me?"

Though fear and obvious disbelief was clear in Sam's eyes, Sam nodded.

"Fuck, Bones and Spock are going to kill me…" Jim muttered, already calculating the possibilities in his mind. "And then Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty are going to pick at my remains."

Sam tilted his head, "Those your crew?"

"Yeah…they get mad at me when I do stupidly dangerous things." Jim leaned forward, "How did your conversation with – I'm assuming the mafia – go? How did you end up offering me as collateral?"

"I told them that you're my brother. Once they heard that, they said that they'd give me more time if I brought you to them."

"Do you know what for? Do they want to hold me for ransom? Because I'll tell you that Starfleet doesn't negotiate. Even for me. Or did they want me to tell them Starfleet secrets? I can't do that either. I won't do anything that'll put my crew in danger."

"Is your crew more important than your brother? Your own blood?!"

"It's not a competition on who means more to me, Sam. Don't twist my words. I'm Captain – I have a duty to my people. I won't ever compromise that."

"What if they want you to give up the codes to the Enterprise or they'd kill me? What do you do then?"

"That's hypothetical, Sam. And we'll deal with that when it comes to it. I have contingency plans in place in case I ever get kidnapped and tortured for information."

That gave Sam pause. "Wait, what? You expect to get kidnapped and tortured?"

Jim waved a hand. "It happens in my line of work."

"You make it sound like it happens a lot."

"Not often, but like I said, it happens. Don't worry too much about it. After the last time, my crew has become hypervigilant and ridiculously overprotective, so I'm sure they've got more back-up plans than I do."

"I…I don't know what to say to that."

"If you did, I'd be worried," Jim said, sipping at his beer. "Life of a Captain. When did you tell the mafia that you'd bring me over?"


"Which mafia did you piss off? Russian? Italian? Chinese? Japanese? Alien?"

Sam blinked, as if he hadn't been aware that there were so many sects that operated underground. "Italian."

"Sicilian? Roman? Venetian?"

"What the fuck? Why do you know so much about this?"

"I keep an eye out on most of them." In case they decided to come after Jim again – he had run-ins with some of them and did not leave on a good note for the majority. "I'm guessing Sicilian, since they're in Chicago. But it's rare that they've moved over here. I wouldn't be surprised if it triggered a territory war," he mused. Then he rubbed his face as the thought hit him. "Sam, please tell me you didn't step into the middle of a territory pissing contest."

"I don't know? I don't think so. But they were pretty happy to find out that you're my brother."

Aw fuck. Jim had an idea of what the mafia wanted now. Sam seriously was lucky that he was related to Jim; anyone else would never have been given such leniency. But that left Jim in an extremely precarious situation.

Yeah, his friends were going to kill him once they found out. A tiny voice in the back of his mind started to nag at him to tell Spock or Bones what he was getting himself into, but that was quickly overshadowed by a premonition that this was going to get very, very messy. And Jim just didn't want to get them involved in that.

Decision made, Jim chugged the rest of his beer. "Alright, you said that they wanted to meet me tonight? Take me there."

"Are you sure, Jimmy?"

"Yeah, yeah…Let's just get this over with."

Of course, the mafia would be parked within a shorter high-rise on the edge of town. It was about six stories and it obviously used to be a factory many, many years ago. Most of the windows on the top floors were blown out and the brick and wood had a decrepit look to it. With the slight tinge of the rising sun, it made the building seem more ominous.

Jim counted at least five guards at the front entrance, each armed with heavy artillery. Above, he could see two more walking the perimeter on the third floor. There was no movement within the other floors, but Jim had a feeling it was because they were trying to keep a low profile. Jim had no doubt that there was basically a small army within there.

It posed a problem – Jim was great at hand-to-hand combat, but even his skills couldn't compare when it came to a well-trained militia that he knew the Sicilian employed.

Damn it. He probably should've left that message for Spock too. Spock was like a bloodhound when it came to tracking him – in this case, that would've been a good backup.

He felt Sam at his back and he turned to him. "Sam, no matter what happens, you stick close to me, understand? Don't leave my side. And you listen to everything I say. If I tell you to run, you run. Got it?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I got it," Sam said a little breathlessly.

Jim couldn't help but note the huge difference between Sam's response and Chekov's when they were both captured by the Germans. Chekov would never leave Jim behind; Sam might. At least, Jim didn't trust Sam's track record thus far.

But Jim just couldn't leave his brother be. Not under these circumstances.

He patted Sam on the shoulder, trying to instill some reassurance if possible. He wasn't sure why he didn't know that Sam was about an inch or two taller than him earlier – he seemed smaller back in the bar. Fear and stress made everyone curl into themselves, especially when there doesn't seem to be any hope left. Sam had been pushed into a corner – a sensation that Jim was all too familiar with.

It made Jim miss his friends more. He didn't know if Sam had anyone to turn to. If the only one Sam had was Jim, an absentee little brother who had tried so desperately to run away from his past, it was just…sad.

When did Jim begin to think that he was the fortunate one of the two? Even when Jim wasn't even allowed to call their mother 'mom' and had been thrown into Kodos' clutches? Hell, Jim had been close to death more times than he could count, and yet, at this moment, Jim could only be thankful of where he was now – in a position that could help his brother.

Boldly, Jim sauntered up to the guards up front, his stance arrogant and proud. He knew he looked suspicious with his hood covering his face, and it made the guards raise their guns menacingly.

Jim felt Sam cower behind him, but Jim stood unflinchingly. He pushed his hood back, revealing his blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and cocky smirk. "Tell your boss I'm here to see him."

"O-of course, sir," stuttered one of the guards.

Within minutes, Jim and Sam were standing before someone who literally looked as though he had come out of the Godfather movies. An older gentleman was sitting behind a large oak desk. Greys lined the sides of his otherwise black hair, and he wore a sharp, black suit. On either side of him were two heavy-set bodyguards. Jim's keen eyes noted the Glocks hidden on their waistbands.

Old-fashioned, as Jim expected, but still able to do quite a bit of damage.

Jim jutted his chin out defiantly at the boss of the Sicilian mafia. "You're not going to even offer us chairs?" he asked.

He felt Sam hiss at him and tug at his sleeve, but Jim tended to poke the bear to know where the limits were.

The boss snapped his fingers and more henchmen from the side immediately set down heavy, wooden chairs. Jim confidently sat down, crossing his legs and making himself comfortable.

"I can't decide if you have the means to be this arrogant or if you're just plain foolish," the boss said.

"You know who I am, Patron," Jim replied. "You know which of the two I am."

"I should not be surprised that you know who I am either then, Captain James Tiberius Kirk."

"No, you shouldn't."

"The Enterprise will not be knocking down my doors, I hope. It will not end well for your brother or your people."

"Rest assured, I came alone. I like to avoid bloodshed as much as possible," Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "I came to discuss the parameters of my brother's debt with you."

"He has accumulated a large sum. You understand that I cannot just forgive it, even if you personally made an appearance here to speak on your brother's behalf."

"I understand. I have the means to pay it, but I will need to liquify some assets," lied Jim smoothly, "I'm here to request additional time for us to gather the funds."

"Unfortunately, I cannot allow that. You see, we are currently feuding with a rival and we require what Mr. George Kirk here owes us in order to continue on in the war."

"I know how this works, Patron. What do you want as collateral?"

The Patron leaned forward, folding his hands onto the table before him. "Consider it a trade of sorts."

"What do you want?"

"I've heard of your stories, Mr. Kirk."

"Captain Kirk," Jim corrected automatically. Snark was a hard habit for Jim to kick (not that he was actively trying to fix it).

"No, not your stories as Captain. About ten years ago, there were rumors swirling around the underworld about a certain individual who was wreaking havoc wherever he went. But then he went dark nearly five years ago, only to resurface quite recently. He made a decree that no one was to touch or deal with a man with the last name of Treadway. Is this beginning to sound familiar, Mr. Kirk? Or should I say, Dante's Inferno?"

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "Goddamn it. I knew that stupid cheesy-ass name was going to haunt me again one day."

"Dante's Inferno?" Sam questioned.

"I knew I should've chosen another moniker to go by…" Jim continued to mutter.

Sam's voice started to rise. "You were Dante's Inferno?!"

Jim sighed and glanced at his brother. "Remember when you had that run-in with the Bratva? I told you that I'd deal with it, didn't I?"

Sam's jaw dropped open. "You…did that to the Bratva?"

Jim couldn't maintain his eye contact anymore. "You needed an out. So I gave you one." He turned his attention to the Patron. "You need Dante's Inferno. What do you need him to do?"

"I need you to kill someone for me."

"What?" gasped Sam. "You can't!"

Jim pursed his lips. No doubt this had to do with that feud that was ongoing between the Sicilian mafia. But with who? Regardless, Jim couldn't just go execute a rival gang member. As a Starfleet figure and more importantly, as a human being, Jim had enough of killing. This wasn't a request that Jim could fulfill. There had to be another angle that Jim could take.

"I'm too well-known as Captain of the Enterprise. I can't act like a common hit man."

"If you do not, then your brother will be hunted down and killed to repay his debt."

Jim stood, pulling his brother with him. "What's to stop me from putting my brother into the witness protection program with Starfleet or bringing him with me to space?"

"He will never be safe, no matter where you bring him. You know this."

"I won't kill for you," Jim declared. "I'm not a common hit-man anymore."

"Then you shall die for me."

The Patron snapped his fingers and Jim immediately sprung into action.

Jim kicked up the hefty, wooden chair with his foot to use as a shield, and reached behind to press Sam's neck downwards, avoiding the sudden barrage of bullets. He pulled his brother along, keep himself bent at the waist and flinching every two seconds when a bullet got especially close.

There was loud shouting and suddenly, more men came running upstairs, blocking off their escape route. Jim didn't hesitate and shoved himself into the space of the first two people, punching on in the throat so hard that he went down, unconscious. Jim caught the firearm as it fell before it even hit the ground, and in one swift movement, started firing into the crowd.

But the sounds of more footsteps reached Jim's ears and he knew that they were hopelessly outnumbered. Jim dragged Sam back with him, running away from the people with guns, until they came to a dead end.

Shit…Jim surveyed their surroundings; they had no other route to go. Sam was still next to him, eyes closed in fear as he hid behind Jim. His back was pressed against the window. A quick glance outside and Jim knew that there was only one option.

He fired at the window, making it shatter, and then pressed the communicator that he had in his pocket into Sam's hands.

"Jimmy, what…?"

"Call my crew. Tell them to come for me. Don't look back, Sam. Go."

"Wait, what about you?"

"I'll figure this out."

Jim forced Sam to the window. Four-story fall into a moving body of water – Sam should be fine, albeit bruised. At least he'll survive long enough to get help for the both of them.

"Keep your legs straight when you're about to hit the water," he instructed. Sam saw Jim smile apologetically. "Tell Bones I'm sorry."

And then Sam was falling, watching helplessly as Jim was dragged back by the Patron's men.

Jim raised his hands in surrender as he was surrounded. "Now, now, boys. No need to get rough."

"Move away from the window," ordered a henchman.

Jim slowly took a step back. The next second, he was barraged with punches and kicks. He found himself falling heavily on to the floor, curling up in a fetal position to protect his ribs and most of his vital points. Someone got in one extremely strong kick to the side of his head and everything went black.

His last thought was: goddamn, when will people stop hitting him in the head? One of these days, he seriously was going to get brain damaged.

McCoy shivered in the brisk Chicago morning, ducking his chin further into his scarf. He glanced over at Spock who was bundled up in several more layers and a down coat in the autumn weather. Next to him, Uhura and Sulu were both wearing pea coats and generally seemed to handle the cold better.

Spock touched his earpiece. "Mr. Chekov, you are certain this is where Jim beamed down to?"

"Yes, Commander. But knowing the Keptin, he didn't beam down to where he went exactly. He probably walked to the meeting point with his brother."

"The swirling lights are pretty obvious – if Jim was getting into something shady, he'd want to go incognito," McCoy agreed.

"So where's the nearest sleaziest bar?" wondered Sulu. "I mean, I know this isn't a good area, but where do you think the shadiest one is?"

"Why do you think it'd be a bar?" asked Uhura.

"Because if you're going to mess around with the underworld, the dingiest bars are the place to start."

"And you know that how?"

"Kirk told me one day," Sulu said simply. "He's full of interesting nuggets of information like that. I tend to just gather it all up like a squirrel."

"Same here," Chekov said in their ears.

"If yer looking fer a pub, try looking fer one tha's in a basement," Scotty suggested. "Chances are tha the laddie went there."

The group didn't take more than two steps before someone ran smack dab into Sulu's back.

"What the hell?" Sulu exclaimed, whirling around to see a man completely drenched from head to toe.

"I'm sorry," the man mumbled as he rubbed his face, and looked up. He had a frazzled expression and a wild look in his brown eyes. But there was something about his features that seemed familiar.

"Are you alright?" Sulu asked, stepping in closer to examine him.

"What? Oh, yeah…I'm sorry. I'm in a bit of a rush."

Though Spock only caught a glimpse within Jim's memories and many years had passed, but it was unmistakable. "Sam?" Spock suddenly said.

All heads flicked over to gape at the man.

Sam instantly moved back, a communicator grasped tightly in one hand; the other raised in defense. "Back off. Who are you?"

"Are you really Jim's brother?" asked McCoy, who immediately moved into Sam's space, heedless of how scared Sam looked. Despite all his years with Jim, he had never met Sam before.

That gave Sam pause. "Wait…you know Jimmy?"

"We are his Command crew. His friends," Spock responded. "Where is Jim?"

Sulu's eyes focused on what Sam was clutching. "Is that his communicator?" Sulu asked. He suddenly rushed forward, grabbing Sam by the collar of his clothes and shoving him against the wall. "Why the hell do you have Kirk's communicator? More importantly, why are you not with him?!" he snarled.

"Hikaru, don't hurt him! We need answers!" Uhura cried out, reaching out to pull Sulu away, but the moment she did, McCoy was right there, pushing Sam back into the wall.

"What the fuck happened to Jim? Speak quickly, or I'll have the Vulcan take care of you," McCoy threatened lowly.

Spock loomed menacingly over McCoy's shoulder, letting his threatening presence serve as evidence to McCoy's words.

"McCoy! Back off!"

"I…I was just about to call you…" Sam gasped out. He held the communicator out. "Here…"

McCoy backed off, snatching it from him. "At least the idiot had the mindset to bring his communicator. Why didn't we think to track it?"

"Because Jim does not have a history of bringing it with him," Spock said calmly. "Sam…"

Sam coughed a few times before interrupting Spock. "It's George, actually."

Spock tilted his head. "Jim called you Sam in his memories."

"Memories? What?" Sam shook his head. "That's besides the point. My name is George. George Samuel Kirk. Jimmy is the only one aside from our mom that calls me Sam. Who are you?"

"I am Commander Spock, first officer of the Enterprise. These are my fellow crewmates, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and Doctor Leonard McCoy."

"Wait, is there a 'Bones' among you? Jimmy wanted me to tell him that he's sorry."

McCoy sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'm Bones; it's his nickname for me. Goddamn it. If he's sorry, then he's done something stupid, hasn't he?"

"It's not his fault. It's mine."

"Tell us what happened."

"Not here…it's too dangerous. Can we go back to your ship? They're probably looking for me."

"Who's 'they'?" asked Sulu.

"The mafia."

Sulu groaned. "Which one? Please don't tell me it's the Bratva or the Germans."

"How many run-ins do you have with the mafia?!"

"Not often on this planet."

"What the hell has Jimmy been up to? He even said that you guys have contingency plans for when he got kidnapped and tortured!"

"Fuck, did he get kidnapped and tortured again?!" Sulu yelled.

"Hikaru, calm down. If the mafia is after George, we can't be out in the open like this," Uhura hissed. She pressed her earpiece. "Scotty, beam us back to the Enterprise."

She reached out and gripped George's arm tightly, her nails digging in. "George is coming with us."

The threat was practically dripping from her voice.

George gulped. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Never before had Jim woken up in such a pained haze before. Granted, he had had several hangovers that had made him want to crawl into a hole and die in his own filth, but this time was distinctly different. There was heavy throbbing at the side of his head; he could feel dampness trickling down, which meant that he had to have been hit or fell. He felt like he was churning through molasses, unable to pull out one full coherent thought. A deep, painful ache echoed from his ribs - it felt like a fracture, but Jim couldn't be sure. All he knew was that something felt loose every time he breathed. Not to mention the litany of bruises that he felt blossoming all over his body.

It was funny though - he couldn't for the life of him think of what the hell had happened to cause all of that.

He shifted a bit, frowning as he felt rope rub against his wrists and ankles. A touch of panic started to arise. He was a daring and reckless kid, but he never allowed himself to be tied up, even if it was for fun, if he could help it. Not after Tarsus. It had been nine years since, but never again. At least there was nothing around his neck. Cold ice ran down his spine at the thought, but he quickly shook it away. Now was not the time.

Cracking open his eyes, he realized he was in a darkened warehouse and bound to a steel chair. The air was chilly to the point he could see his breath fogging in front of him. Okay, this was definitely not the beachy coasts of Playa del Carmen. He had sworn that he was cozying up to this particularly hot bartender and was about to close the deal. What the fuck had he drank that he didn't remember relocating to what had to be more in a northern hemisphere (judging by how flipping cold it was compared to that of Mexico)?

"Are you awake now, Mr. Kirk?" came a low voice a short distance away.

Blearily, Jim bobbed his head up to see an older man wearing a smart three-piece suit. Jim swallowed harshly, recognizing the man, though he did seem to have aged quite a bit since the last time Jim found himself running from Italy. Regardless of how old the man looked, what the fuck happened that Jim found himself in the hands of the freaking Patron?! Jim had tried very hard to avoid him, especially after his encounters with the Irish in Chicago a couple of years back and he managed to piss off everyone who had any power in the city. Hell, he hadn't even gone back to the city since. How did he jump from sandy beaches to being tied up in the Patron's hideout?!

"I apologize for the treatment my men gave you. I hope you will be more amenable now that we have all calmed down."

Instinct kicked in. Jim knew that he was screwed, but he had to at least make this as advantageous as he could. "I'd be more amenable if you loosened these ropes here," Jim pushed back.

"Considering what you just did to my men, I think not."

"Let's not forget the number that your men did to me."

"I do not believe you are in the position to negotiate, Mr. Kirk. Your brother may have escaped, but it will only be a matter of time before he is fine. How he is brought back will depend on you."

Jim inwardly groaned. Goddamn. What the hell did Sam get him into now?! But he could still remember how his brother shielded him from Frank's blows and his mother's hatred. Even though Sam walked out, Jim would never forget that.

"What do you want from me?" Jim sighed. As confused as he was now, he needed all the information he could get. Everything else (and what the hell happened before this) could come later.

"As I said previously, I heard you have a particular set of skills. I would like you to utilize that and help us with a rival."

Jim was anything but stupid. He knew what they wanted immediately. He tilted his head, cockiness in the simple movement. Not that he was sure he had the ability to be a hit man. He'd killed before, sure, but that was on Tarsus. A different sort of life. He wasn't about to kill again. Not if he could help it. But he had to play along for now. "So what? You want me to off someone for you because you're too lazy to do it yourself. Or do you think that you can take me down in one fell swoop? Two birds with one stone?"

"Well, that is certainly a side benefit, but I don't think you'd let yourself get caught, now would you?"

"And what makes you think that I won't just go and tell people about your plans as soon as I agree?"

"If you do, we'll kill your brother."

Nothing showed on Jim's face. No sign of fear, panic, or concern. His expressions were blank, like he was merely conducting business and no lives were at stake. "Assuming that I agree, what's in it for me?"

"Your brother's slate is wiped clean. No more debt and his sins are expunged."

"I asked what's in it for me, not my brother. If you want my skills, you need to offer me more than that."

"I would think not killing your brother would be a decent motivator."

"You're not a very good negotiator, are you? Is that all you have as leverage? Sam's life? No. Here's what's going to happen: you wipe my brother's slate clean, you pay me fifty grand for my troubles, and you leave me and anyone I can possibly know, including my brother, the hell alone in the future. In return, I'll get your man. As a bonus, I won't report you to the authorities so they won't come after your sorry asses."

"You're in no position to be bargaining here, Mr. Kirk. Your brother owes us quite a bit of debt. There is no place in the universe he can run that we cannot reach."

"First of all, my brother is not a very good bargaining chip here. We're estranged. Sure, he's my brother by blood, but do you really think I'm going to stick my neck out for a guy who tried to give me up to save his life? Please. Even you can't be that much of an idiot to think that I'm doing all this for him alone."

"Second: I don't think you understand where I'm coming from. I don't have anything to lose. I have no qualms going down in flames, but I'll drag you to hell with me. So do you really think you still have all the power here?" Jim just smirked at them. "I would take my deal if I were you, or you're all finished."

"You just said that you'd go down with us. I'd consider that a win."

Jim just shrugged. "Sure, but remember who you'd end up in prison with. And I promise." Jim's voice dropped an octave lower. "I will not make it easy for you."

There was a moment of silence. "Fine. We agree to your terms."

Jim smiled and leaned forward. "Great. Let's talk details."

Half an hour later, Jim found himself being pushed out into the cold. Ignoring the chaffing around his wrists and the general achiness of his body, Jim stepped out into the sunlight. A breath later, and Jim could only curse out loud again when he saw the familiar skyline shaped by skyscrapers in the distance.

Of all the freaking places in the world, why the fuck did he end up back in Chicago?! More importantly, how did he get back here?

Regardless, he had to leave. Now.

Quickly pulling up his hood and shoving his hands in his pockets, hunching over to become unassuming.

He contemplated his next steps for a brief second, changing his plan in the next, and proceeded to abruptly turn around to head to the nearest transport.

It seemed like the most appropriate time to get drunk right about now, and where else to do that best but New York City?

"So, let me summarize what you just said," hissed McCoy as he rounded on George.

They had plopped the man into the ready room as soon as they returned to the ship and surrounded him menacingly as he stammered out what had happened in Chicago.

McCoy was about two seconds from grabbing George and shaking him senseless. "You got yourself in a crazy mess with the mafia and you dragged Jim into it so that you could use him as collateral?! Do you know what the fuck you just did?"

Ever on the same page with McCoy when it came to Jim's safety, Sulu was right there, his face was furious as he leaned in. "You just gave up James Tiberius Kirk – one of the most decorated Captains of Starfleet; the Captain of the flagship Enterprise – on a silver platter to the mafia. You've just put the entire Federation at risk." Sulu slammed his hands on either side of George's armrests. "More than that, you put our friend at risk. Now, what should we do with you?"

"I think ve should hand him over," Chekhov said darkly. "Give mafia what they vant."

"Now, ye know that Jim won't like tha," said Scotty, but he didn't sound particularly convincing while he was glaring at George.

"I'd rather that than go through the whole Germany fiasco again," Uhura added airily.

"Seconded," Sulu growled.

"What happened in Germany?" asked George.

Sulu's face twisted in anger. "I'll tell you what happened – Kirk was…"

"Lieutenant Sulu," Spock barked out, cutting Sulu mid-sentence. "That is not information that is privy to the public."

"I'm his brother," protested George. "Shouldn't I get to know what happened to my brother?"

"Do you really believe that you have that right anymore?" McCoy burst out. "You just ran away after Jim went to go save your sorry ass!"

George paused, scrutinizing them. The fear suddenly evaporated, filled with relief and softness. "You're more than just his Command crew, aren't you?"

Uhura flicked her hair behind her, crossing her arms. "It isn't obvious? He's ours and we're his, which is more than what you can claim."

George winced. It was a low blow, but it was not wrong. "Look, I didn't want to leave Jimmy behind. He made me swear to run if shit hit the fan."

"He tells us that all the time! But we never leave him behind," snarled Sulu.

At that, George bristled with anger. "I'm not here to argue about whether I'm a shit brother or not. We all know that I am. I came here because Jimmy told me to. But you're all wasting time here yelling at me when you could be looking for him. So do your goddamn jobs and find Jimmy!"

Everyone paused and fell silent, looking at one another before McCoy broke the silence. "I was honestly having a hard time seeing how the two of you are related, but I guess I see it now. You're both idiots."

"Excuse you?" growled George.

"Do you really think that the Enterprise doesn't have the technology to track her Captain on her home planet?"

"Besides, he goes off the radar and gets into trouble often enough – we've pretty much figured how to track him whenever he disappears," muttered Sulu.

George blinked. "That…that sounds excessive."

"With the crap that we go through, it's actually barely enough."

"Then what are we doing up here still? We need to go after Jimmy!"

"We can't. Not yet at least," sighed Scotty.

"Why not?"

"He's on the move. And with his skills, we won't be able to find him while he's moving. We have to wait until he stops somewhere," McCoy explained, a touch of exasperation in his voice.

"Besides, we don't know who his target is. I doubt he'll actually kill whoever the Patron wants him to, but he'll try to get close, so it'll make his movements more sporadic," added Uhura.

"He won't kill, will he?" George asked. "The Patron said that he was Dante's Inferno, but really? That can't be right."

Thinking on it, McCoy crossed his arms. "Well, it's true that Jim was Dante's Inferno – I mean, only he could come up with such a stupid-ass name. But whether or not he'll kill is really dependent on one thing."

"On what?"

McCoy sighed, resigned. "On how much your life depends on it."

Something beeped and Scotty quickly pulled out a PADD, scanning the lines on it rapidly.

Spock didn't even wait for Scotty to speak. He swiftly strolled out of the ready room, knowing full well that everyone would follow him.

Scotty and McCoy fell in line right next to Spock. "He's in New York City, Commander," Scotty reported as they walked. "Ah kin narrow down his location ta a few hundred feet. Seems like he's in a populated area."

"Understood. Doctor McCoy, Nyota, you are with me," Spock said, turning a corner and opening the door to the transporters.

"Wait, I want to come with," Sulu said.

"Negative. If Jim is truly on a mission to eliminate a rival for the Patron, large numbers will reveal his identity and potentially place him in more danger. In addition, George Samuel Kirk is now a wanted target. We cannot leave him unguarded."

"He'll be safe on the Enterprise," Sulu protested.

"Correct. He will be safe on the Enterprise under your guard." Spock paused to address Scotty who was already punching in the coordinates into the console. "Mr. Scott, the conn is yours. Mr. Chekov, please inform me of any changes in Captain Kirk's location."

"Yes, Commander," Chekov responded.

Spock turned to Sulu, who was clearly still hesitating. "Mr. Sulu, can I trust you with Mr. Kirk?"

Sulu sighed. "Yeah, I guess so. But you let me know if you need me at any point."

Spock nodded and stepped onto the pads where McCoy and Uhura were waiting. "Energize."

They were gone in a blink of an eye.

"You know," Sulu said to no one in particular, "If we really did stick to that rule of not letting Kirk beam down ever, this would not have been an issue."

Chekov sniggered. "I vould love to see you tell the Keptin that he is forbidden from leaving the ship."

"Whatever. I can kick his ass any day."

"I do not believe that is true, Hikaru."

"Fine. I'll get Spock to sit on him so he can't leave."

Scotty tilted his head. "Tha may not be a bad idea."

Sulu nodded thoughtfully. "And if we get the good doctor to chime in, I think we could definitely prevent Kirk from leaving the ship."

"But no bodily harm," Chekov added.

"Of course not," Sulu readily agreed with a breezy attitude. "Just lots of sedatives. What do you think, George?"

George gaped at them. "You're all crazy, aren't you?"

Scotty just patted George on the shoulder. "Welcome ta the Enterprise."

Spock, McCoy, and Uhura found themselves standing in an extremely dingy and murky alleyway deep in the belly of slums of New York City. The smell of air was filled with smoke, pollution, and an acrid, undistinguishable scent. Tall brick walls encapsulated the alley, but it was covered in so much grim, dirt, and other things that one didn't really want to think about, that the once bright red was almost the color of the inside of a chimney. A few feet ahead to the right was a large, steel door with a few bullet holes stuck in it that led to a seedy pub.

Leading the way, Spock let themselves into the bar. The moment the door shut behind them, they could feel that they stood out like a sore thumb, even though they were wearing plain civvies: jeans and a simple shirt with a light jacket over it. But there was something about the way that they held themselves and walked that made everyone glare and sneer at them as they moved through the dense crowd, searching for their friend.

Of course it was McCoy who found Jim first. He recognized the hunched figure sitting at the bar, even though he was wearing clothes that McCoy had never seen before and his hair was a darker brown. But McCoy would never not be able to find Jim in a crowd.

He made a beeline to the bar with Spock and Uhura close behind, noticing easily that Jim was nursing a tumbler of what looked like vodka with ice in it. A small part in McCoy's mind took note of that – Jim didn't drink vodka anymore. Not after that one night back in their second year of Academy. And he certainly didn't drink his hard liquors on the rocks. At least not since McCoy had known him. It was odd, but McCoy was more focused on other things at hand.

"You son of a bitch!" McCoy hissed as he grabbed Jim's shoulder and swung him around to face them. "If you were fine, you should've let us know!"

But his ire died just as quickly as it came.

Jim's eyes were no longer those beautiful blues - instead, they were a deep hazel color. McCoy easily noted that colored contacts were the reason for that. His now brown hair was slicked to one side and the way that he tilted his head as he looked at McCoy made him seem almost unrecognizable as a person.

"Whoa, whoa. Hands off. Bad touch," Jim scolded, pulling away from McCoy. His eyes were wide, but McCoy, Spock, and Uhura knew him well enough to know that that innocent air to him was faked. He barely glanced over the three of them, but somehow, they felt like Jim had read their entire story in a split second. It made them feel bare and violated, in a way.

What the hell was going on? This wasn't the Jim they knew and loved.

"Jim?" McCoy questioned. "What's going on with you?"

'Jim' took a swig of his vodka, resolutely disregarding the cut on his lower hip as he did, and turned to face them fully – a movement that put him on the offensive rather than defensive. "You've got the wrong person, big guy."

The doctor in McCoy instantly noted the dark, patchy bruise that was still trickling blood on 'Jim's' left temple and how his movements protected his ribs. He was injured. Was that why he was pretending that he did not know who they were? Because he was undercover?

But at the same time, those green eyes held no semblance of recognition at all, even though McCoy could see his own reflection in those irises.

When no one moved, 'Jim' just tilted his head comically. "Take a picture. It'll last longer. Or better yet, why don't you go to a museum or something and leave me alone?"

Uhura crossed her arms. "This isn't funny anymore, Kirk."

"No, what's funny is that you've clearly got the wrong guy and you keep thinking otherwise. But you know what, I'm more than happy to keep talking to ya, honey. What's your name?" 'Jim' grinned charmingly at her.

His smile wasn't sleazy - merely intrigued and obviously flirtatious, but it still put Uhura on edge, because their Jim would never smile like that at her. He always smiled at her with such pride - he had always been so proud that they were friends, of who she was and what she had accomplished and overcome.

"It's Uhura," she said cautiously, clearly trying to figure out 'Jim's' angle.

"They don't have last names on your planet?"

It was so reminiscent of their first encounter that Uhura felt like she was in a flashback. Numbly, she responded automatically. "That is my last name."

"Well then, Miss – I'm assuming it's Miss? – Uhura, can I buy you a drink?"

"Thanks, but no."

'Jim' ignored her and waved the bartender down, who put another glass of vodka down in front of Uhura, who didn't make a movement to grab it.

"What about your friends here?" 'Jim' asked, sipping at his drink again, watching them carefully.

McCoy rolled his eyes. "I don't know why we're doing this, Jim. You know me."

"You're a bit slow, aren't you? Didn't I just say that you've got the wrong guy? I'm pretty sure I've said that a couple of times now. I'm not Jim or whoever you think I am. I've never seen you in my life. Don't even know your name. Well, except for Miss Uhura over there."

"That's Spock," McCoy introduced, despite being obviously confused. "And I'm McCoy. Leonard McCoy."

"How very Bond of you," mused 'Jim'.

"And you?" McCoy pressed.

"Yeah, like I'm stupid enough to tell complete strangers my name," said 'Jim', "We're not that familiar."

"Jim," Spock tried, reaching out to touch Jim who instantly pulled away, just escaping Spock's grasp, as he threw up his hands for the universal sign to stop.

"Whoa, bad touch! What is it with you people and the bad touching?" 'Jim' said, "I know all about your Vulcan voodoo." He wiggled his fingers to mime magic. "Didn't your mother tell you not to touch strangers?"

With that, it solidified the notion that whoever was in front of them was not Jim. Because no matter how undercover Jim was, he would never jab Spock with such a careless statement about his mother.

While Spock was stunned back into silence, 'Jim' shifted, leaning forward slightly, his eyes narrowing.

"Well, if you won't leave me alone, I guess I'll just have to make my own exit then," 'Jim' said, irritation entering his words. "A guy can't even drink in peace anymore. Damn."

Seemingly unprovoked, 'Jim' stood, reached past Uhura and tapped the guy on the shoulder. He was massive – probably six-five with a huge, muscular physique and tattoos on his well-defined muscles.

"Hey, ugly!" 'Jim' taunted and proceeded to throw the drink that was meant for Uhura into the burly man's face.

Silence fell over the bar – like the calm before the storm. And before Spock or McCoy could even react, 'Jim' was lifted up by his collar.

"You'll pay for that!" the man growled.

'Jim' bared his teeth. "Make me, ya golem-looking bastard."

With a mighty roar, the man bodily threw 'Jim' over the bar where he promptly disappeared from view once he landed with a thud on the ground. In retaliation, McCoy punched the man, and immediately, the man's friends started to back him, forcing Spock to have to step in as well. But when he did, he accidentally pushed one guy into someone else, who angrily started to fight back.

Needless to say, a huge brawl broke out and nearly everyone had to be dragged out of the bar.

In the chaos, 'Jim' had snuck out, lost in the wind again.

Once the dust settled, Uhura hailed the Enterprise to beam them up to regroup. As she did, Spock thought carefully of the few minutes before 'Jim' threw that first metaphorical punch.

Spock was sure that he was the only one who noticed what actually happened in the midst of all that pandemonium.

The man that 'Jim' had picked a fight with had dropped something in Uhura's drink. She wasn't going to drink it, but it had gone unnoticed by her. Spock was a second away from warning her, but 'Jim' had his hand on it before he could even open his mouth. And then, Spock had seen 'Jim' slip out the backdoor right as the entire bar erupted, a proud smirk on his lips as he disappeared.

Clearly, the bar brawl that 'Jim' instigated had meant to be a quick and clean getaway, letting him escape completely unnoticed by the 'strangers' that were talking to him, but Spock couldn't shake the feeling that his actions were multifaceted.

Spock was still musing over it when they all beamed back onboard. The second Spock, Uhura, and McCoy returned, Chekov, Sulu, Scotty, and George were right there, barraging them with questions.

"Did you find the Keptin?" Chekov eagerly asked.

"That jerk!" exclaimed Uhura in response, "What the hell was all that?!"

"What? What happened?" pushed Sulu. "Do we need to go kick people's asses? Do we need to kick George's ass?"

"Hey!" protested George, but no one paid any attention to him.

Uhura angrily huffed. "He pretended to not know us!"

"I don't think that was it…" McCoy said, his tone worried.

"Vhat do you mean, Doctor?" questioned Chekov.

"Did you see that bruise on the side of his head, Spock?" McCoy asked. "It was dark, so the only other person that probably would have seen it was you."

"I did," Spock affirmed. "What are you thinking, Doctor?"

"I think it's retrograde amnesia. He must've been hit really hard on the head – it's been several hours since George said he left Jim, and it was still bleeding sluggishly."

"How much do you think he lost?"

"At least before the Academy."

"What makes you think that, Leonard?" wondered Uhura.

The pieces started to come together. McCoy rubbed his chin, thinking. "He was drinking vodka – he hasn't touched that stuff since our second year. He also didn't know me or you, Nyota. So at least before the shuttle, but I don't actually know. As much as I know Jim, there's a lot between the time he was on Tarsus and when we met that he's never told me. Spock, did you see anything in his memories that might be a hint?"

"Negative," Spock replied.

"So at least six years," Sulu decided. "But that's bad, isn't it?"

"Not necessarily, but it's not good either," sighed McCoy. "It's hard to tell without a brain scan. He needs a checkup, but he won't let us get close to him."

"Wait…Tarsus? What did you mean by Tarsus?" asked George.

Everyone absolutely stopped in their tracks and turned to stare at George.

"What?" he demanded, immediately defensive. "What did I do now?"

"Did you not know that Jim lived off-planet when he was thirteen?" Spock questioned.

"I knew he wasn't on Earth for a while, but I didn't really get back in touch with him until later. Frank was gone by the time I wandered back home – I think Jim had been off-planet for a year by then? But he came back when he was about fourteen, I think. He was there for less than ten minutes. He looked awful and super skinny, but Mom didn't want to see him, so he took off. Didn't get back in touch with him until I bumped into him in a gambling parlor in Chicago years later. It was always on and off since then."

All of them looked absolutely horrified. It bewildered George.

"Did…did your mom know where Jim went?" asked Sulu, his voice quivering.

George shrugged. "Maybe? I don't know. She never mentioned it."

"She couldn't have known, right?" breathed Uhura, tears in her eyes. "She couldn't have known and then sent him away when he came back from that, could she?"

But she wasn't looking at George anymore. She was looking at McCoy, who only looked more heartbroken by the second.

"She was the one who sent him there," McCoy said sadly. "To live with her sister."


"Do we tell 'im?" asked Scotty, his gaze hard as he stared at George. "He should know wha he left 'is brother to."

"No, it is not our story to tell," Spock said, his hands clasped so tight behind his back that he looked so rigid. "Leave that to Jim if he so chooses. Let us focus on the task at hand. We need to figure out where Jim is going next and who his potential target is."

"Even if we find him, I don't know how happy he'll be to see us," muttered McCoy.

"He did seem like an entirely different person," Uhura added. "Hostile, even. Didn't seem to care about anyone when he started that bar fight. He seemed to want to fight just for the sake of fighting."

Spock thought back to the fact that Jim's own drink had been left on the counter – abandoned in exchange for the drugged one – and that smile he had on his face when he made his escape. Spock couldn't be sure if Jim was proud that he had given them the slip or because he got back at a man who had tried to drug a woman that Jim thought was a complete stranger. He was definitely leaning towards a combination of both.

So Spock just shook his head. "No, he was not that different."

Jim would always be Jim, no matter what point of his life he thought he was in.

"What do we do now?" asked George. "Is Jimmy going to be okay?"

"The Keptin is the Keptin. He'll be fine," Chekov said confidently.

"Are we just going to leave him?"

All eyes glared at George and in one voice, they responded. "Never."

While they all waited for Jim to resurface, they set George up in a room for the guests and each went to get some sleep. It wouldn't help anyone if they exhausted themselves worrying. Spock did ask the Security team to spare one member to keep watch over George, just in case someone found him or if he wanted to leave earlier on his own. Either or, Spock wasn't going to let George slip through their fingers. Jim had given George his communicator because he knew and trusted his friends to take care of his brother. If Spock couldn't help Jim at the moment, he was going to do what he could and make sure that George was safe.

The next time Scotty's program on tracing Jim's biosignature pinged, it was more than a day later, and Jim had made his way to London. Having been to the city many times, Scotty instantly recognized the area where Jim had gone, and it made Scotty very, very worried.

It was where all the seediest people congregated. It was a hodgepodge of gambling rings, fight clubs, prostitution, and essentially everything one could think of that belonged in the underworld. One only went there to lose their souls, or worse, if they had already lost it.

In the end, because they weren't sure what sort of trouble they would find Jim in, Spock, McCoy, and Sulu were the only ones that beamed down.

Shockingly, it wasn't hard to find Jim this time. They had entered a run-down gym with a fighting ring in the center. The room was filled with people, several of whom were smoking, drinking, or arguing with whoever got into their range. There were two people fighting in the ring, surrounded by shouting gamblers who cheered on their bets.

In a corner by a couch that had an unknown teenager slouched over it with his eyes completely glazed over was 'Jim' going unnoticed by anyone not looking. He had his hood pulled up and looking extremely shifty, sadly making him fit into his surroundings easily. His hands were tucked in the pockets of his hoodie and his body was tilted so that it blocked the view of his right side.

He was speaking quietly and curtly to another man who was much shorter and older. Probably in his mid-forties. His hair was balding, and he wore big, round glasses. With his small facial features and the plain black pants with a matching turtleneck, he almost looked like a tortoise.

A few words later and 'Jim' slyly reached out to shake the man's hand. As they did, an exchange occurred – 'Jim' handed over an envelope, but what the man gave him was hidden by how 'Jim' positioned himself. But whatever it was, it fit easily into the pocket of the dark-grey joggers that 'Jim' was wearing.

"Did we just see Kirk make a drug deal?" breathed Sulu, bewildered.

"I don't know…" replied McCoy, equally shocked.

"Shall we ask him?" Spock suggested, already moving towards 'Jim'.

'Jim' quite obviously saw the three of them coming, but didn't seem to react to it much. Instead, he just plopped down at a table, bending over to tighten the laces on his sneakers. He had pulled back his hood, revealing that same brown hair, still slicked back in that very not-Jim manner.

"I feel like I should be concerned that you're following me," he said without much of a preamble when he straightened up and saw that Spock, Sulu, and McCoy stood around him. "But I'm honestly more curious about the why and the how."

"You may not believe me, but we're actually your friends," McCoy tried.

"So you still think I'm your friend. How many times do I have to tell you that you've got the wrong guy?" 'Jim' responded as he crossed his arms and eyed Sulu with those hazel irises. "You brought someone new. A bodyguard? Or someone to intimidate me with? I gotta say, you're not a very scary guy. That girl from last time seems like she would be feistier than you."

Now Sulu could see why Uhura and McCoy were so confused. This wasn't the Jim that they knew at all. Not even a trace seemed to remain. "I'm Hikaru Sulu," Sulu replied, his mouth feeling dry. "I'm another friend."

"Again, doubtful. Who sent you?"

"Your brother."

"You definitely have the wrong person," 'Jim' said. "I don't have a brother. You're wasting your time here."

"If you are truly not the one that we are searching for, what is your name then?" Spock asked.

"Like I said before, we're not that familiar enough for that."

"I do believe we are familiar enough to warrant us learning your name. After all, this is the second time we have encountered you, is it not? Additionally, by telling us your name, it may put to rest our misconception of your identity."

'Jim' considered it. "Logical, as I expect coming from a Vulcan. But humans aren't logical creatures."

"No, they are not," Spock agreed. "I have found that humans are extremely unpredictable. Yet, that makes them predictable, in a way. I hypothesize that you will act logically in response to our question regarding your name."

There was an amused glint in 'Jim's' eyes as he tried to figure out where Spock was going with this. It was the same look that Spock would often see while they played chess. "How so?"

"It is obvious that you do not trust us, nor have we given you a reason to do so. It would be logical that you do not wish to disclose your identity to us. However, from a normal human interaction, it would also be logical for you to introduce yourself now that we have as well. Therefore, it does not matter if you tell us your name."

"So, in essence, whatever I do is illogical, which makes me logical. Unpredictable, yet predictable."


'Jim' quirked a smirk. "Interesting. Well, in that case, I guess I have to meet expectations then, don't I? The name's Jack. I would say it's nice to meet you all," Jack continued, standing up. "But I really hope it's the last time. Stop following me. Or I'll make you, and you won't want that."

He walked away, heading towards the ring.

"How did that logic get him to tell us his name?" wondered Sulu. "It was so convoluted that it didn't make sense."

"That's exactly why it worked," McCoy explained with a sigh. "Jim's always loved unsolvable puzzles."

"What do we do now?"

"Let us observe him further," Spock proposed. "As 'Jack,' he is an enigma to us. By watching him, we may be able to gain more insight into his next steps."

"And figure out what Jim just got from that man," added Sulu.

Spock considered going after that man – he was sure that he would still be able to find him, but from the corner of his eye, he noticed Jack sliding under the ropes to enter the ring.

Immediately, his entire attention was on Jack. "Doctor," he warned.

McCoy and Sulu both turned to look at Jack, jumping slightly on nimble feet to warm up and shaking out his hands, which were tied tightly with a white wrap, to loosen up. He had taken off his hoodie, leaving it in a pile at a corner of the ring. All he wore on his upper body was a plain, black wife-beater the extenuated his toned muscles. At the same time, it revealed the various bruises that he had in a few places down his arms. By the yellowish-green tinge that was starting to enter those blue marks, he had had them for a while, probably from the same time that he got hit in the head.

He hadn't changed out of his fitted joggers though, which was a shame. Sulu was going to pickpocket to see if he could find out what it was that Jack got during that drug deal. Regardless, this whole thing felt off to Sulu. He felt as though the air had changed around the gamblers. He wasn't sure why, but he was damn sure going to find out. Especially if his friend was going to be in danger for fighting.

"I'm going to see if I can get more information about these fights," Sulu murmured and proceeded to disappear into the crowd surrounding the ring.

"Are you worried, Spock?" McCoy said, watching Jack with wary eyes.

"I would say that worry is illogical, but I have found that it is difficult to adhere to logic when it comes to Jim."

"So that's a yes. I think the world is coming to an end if you agree with me."

The sad thing was, all Spock could say in response to that was: "I concur."

McCoy crossed his arms, gripping himself hard. "Jim always said that he liked to fight. Didn't matter where. I usually picked him off the floor of bars, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did things like this even after we met. He stopped getting into fights around our second year of school when he realized it could get him kicked out. But every so often, I still ended up finding him in the seediest of bars that no one would have ever found him in, engaged in brawl."

"Did Jim ever mention why?"

"I think he wanted to feel like he was real. Like he existed. He once mumbled to me in a drunken haze that after Tarsus, he felt like he was a ghost. Something that no one would ever pay attention to. And he fought because the pain made him feel alive."

Spock frowned. "He required pain to feel alive?"

"That's what he said. It's stupid, but it was the only thing he knew after Tarsus."

Spock thought back to all those times that he found Jim banging away at a punching bag, almost beating his body into submission. It was a rare occurrence, but Spock only ever found Jim like that when he was extraordinarily stressed or a death occurred after a mission had gone sideways. He had never seen Jim seek out pain to validate his existence.

"Does he continue to do so?" Spock questioned, finding himself somewhat worried about what McCoy's response would be.

McCoy shook his head. "No, it stopped after Nero. After he met the rest of you. He didn't need it anymore after that." McCoy's expression became somber and downcast. "I had hoped that he wouldn't ever go back to that again. It was awful seeing him go to such lengths to feel like he existed. I fucking hate his mother and brother for making him ever believe that he didn't matter. We all spend most of our time with Jim showing and telling him that he's important. It took so fucking long and he still doesn't believe it all the time, hence the recklessness on missions even now."

Horrified, Spock realized what McCoy was so concerned about: "Jim will be more prone to danger in his current state."

"Yeah, because at this time, he doesn't care if he gets hurt or not."

"And he is more likely to seek out dangerous situations."

McCoy nodded. "Like getting into a fight in the seedy, dark underbelly of London."

The officiator whistled, and immediately, their full attention was on Jack. His opponent had hopped into the ring.

The fighter was tall and extremely well-built with a linebacker type figure. Scars and tattoos covered the man's bare arms, though his torso muscles made the tank top stretch tightly across his chest. He towered over Jack.

Judging by the cheers and jeers, this man was the favorite to win. The sounds of people betting on the fighter – the Dominator – could be heard over the noisy din of the crowd.

Jack, completely unperturbed by his surroundings, had moved on to cracking his knuckles before positioning himself into a ready position. His legs were situated with his left leg in front and the other slightly out to the right behind – prepared to leap forward at any time. Both hands were raised to eye level, defending his face and head, but his stance didn't seem to be defensive. The determination made his hazel eyes look harder; he was going for offense then.

His opponent mirrored Jack's actions. Once both were prepared, the bell rang. Instantly, Jack leapt forward, jabbing and punching in rapid succession.

Jack's movements were unrefined. It wasn't the same graceful movements that Spock was used to seeing; instead, it was like a wild animal. Brutal and looking to cause as much damage as possible. There was so much anger in every punch that there was no finesse in his actions and he relied on railing on his opponent until one of them dropped. The differences in fighting styles were so clear: Jim used his intelligence to be as efficient and effective as possible, like a lethal dance; Jack used aggression to beat his opponent into submission.

Despite the crude nature of his actions, Jack was powerful, pushing back his opponent. He got several good shots in, but the size difference and strength of the other fighter was taking a toll. The larger man landed a hard hit to Jack's lower ribs, making Jack stagger. Seeing the opening, the Dominator immediately began barraging Jack heavily.

Almost helplessly, Jack could only raise his arms in defense, hiding behind them like a shield. The Dominator slammed his fist against the side of Jack's head. Though Jack defended against it, he still went down, sprawling onto the ground with sweat dripping down his face. He spat out blood, having bit the inside of his cheek open with that last hit.

The Dominator gave Jack no reprieve and kicked out at him. Jack curled into a ball, protecting his vital points.

The cheers and jeers of the crowd rose to a whole new volume. They were so close to winning their bet that they could taste it.

Hidden amongst them, Sulu could see a small group of four men standing near the far-right corner of the ring looking incredibly satisfied. Somewhere, Sulu's gut instinct told him that that meant nothing good.

Just as Sulu came to that conclusion, the din of the masses sounded decreased tremendously. Sulu's head snapped back up to the fight in time to see Jack kick out viciously, slamming his strong leg against Dominator's who had come too close in exactly the right angle.

A loud crack could be heard, and with a mighty scream, the Dominator went down, clutching his broken kneecap.

Panting heavily, Jack took the opportunity to get to his feet, an odd elated smirk on his face. He made a move to attack the downed man, but the whistle screeched loudly in the air. A referee jumped between Jack and the Dominator. Jack was pushed back, though at a closer glance, it was more accurate to say that he let himself be led away from the Dominator.

The referee leaned down to check on the Dominator and after a moment, he went to raise Jack's arm – declaring him as the winner.

Jack smirked as he was booed out of the ring. He winked at the far-right corner of the ring as he slipped out. The anger was rolling off the four men that even Sulu could feel it from where he was. Sulu turned his attention back onto Jack quickly and caught sight of him accepting money from a bookie. The lines connected rapidly, and Sulu leapt into action, trying to catch Jack, but Jack had disappeared.

Changing tracks, Sulu ran to find McCoy and Spock. The two hadn't moved from where they had been watching the fight and in the chaos of the crowd's revolt against Jack's victory, they had lost sight of Jack.

"We have to go find him," Sulu said urgently, grabbing onto McCoy's arm tightly. "He's in trouble."

"What do you mean, Mr. Sulu?" asked Spock.

"I think this was a fixed fight. Jack was supposed to go down, but since the odds were too good against him, I think he changed his mind and bet on himself instead. The people running this didn't look happy at all that Jack double-crossed them."

Realization hit both Spock and McCoy at the same time. "They're going to go after him," breathed McCoy. "Do we know where he went?"

Sulu shook his head. "I tried to follow him, but he's slippery as always."

Spock was already on the line with Chekov and Scotty. "Mr. Chekov, Mr. Scott, we have reason to believe that Jim is in danger. What is his location currently?"

"He's on the move, Commander. Ve can see that he has left building and is heading east, but he hasn't stopped yet," Chekov responded. "Should ve beam you up vhile we search for him?"

"Negative. Keep me updated on his location, Mr. Chekov," Spock commanded, hanging up on the Navigator.

"What do we do now?" asked Sulu.

McCoy and Sulu made eye contact and gave each other a miniscule nod at the shared thought.

"We track him down the old-fashioned way," McCoy responded, already heading out the door with Spock next to him.

Sulu was immediately at his heels. "I thought we couldn't follow him that way?"

"We noticed something while he was fighting," explained McCoy. "Jack's not Jim. At least not the Jim we know."

"Yeah, we've kind of established that already."

Spock shook his head, adjusting to the bright sunlight faster than Sulu or McCoy when they emerged outdoors. "No, he is stating that Jack's skills are not up to par with Jim's. At least not as of this moment."

"Which means that Jack probably isn't as good as covering his tracks as Jim is," McCoy finished.

Both McCoy's and Spock's strides didn't stop – in fact, they were quite synchronized in their dogged movements down the street.

That gave Sulu pause. "I know this is a serious situation and all, but does it not freak you guys out that you're merging into one?"

Turns out, McCoy and Spock had no patience for Sulu's antics. They turned around, an eyebrow raised, and their expressions basically saying: 'Are you for real right now? Stop wasting our time.'

"N-nevermind…" Sulu quickly stuttered out.

And they returned to leading the way, speaking softly between themselves. Sulu trailed after them, a little numb from being surprised, though he wasn't sure why he was. He knew that the reason why the crew of the Enterprise fell in line so well was because their First Officer and Chief Medical Officer revolved around Jim like he was the sun. While Spock and McCoy didn't always see eye to eye (almost never, if one had to be honest), they always had Jim's best interest at heart. No matter what, they would protect Jim. Yet, rarely did one have the opportunity to see their teamwork firsthand.

When it involved Jim, McCoy and Spock were a well-oiled machine. They could read each other just as well as they could read Jim. Honestly, there was no other word for it: together, they were amazing.

Jack had no idea what was coming for him.

Keeping one eye behind him, Jim quickly rushed down an alley, still hanging onto a duffle bag full of his winnings. He wasn't sure how much time he had before the owners of the fight club caught up with him, but it couldn't be much longer. If that McCoy and Spock guy could find him after leaving the freaking country, Jim knew he didn't stand a chance against these people while he was still in their backyard.

It was supposed to be a simple job – something to get some cash to tide him over before he made his way to his next place. Jim didn't know what went through his stupid ass head to decide to not go down as instructed.

No. That was a lie. Jim knew exactly why. For one, he was quite shaken to see that he had been followed all the way to London. Was he losing his touch? He was good at disappearing – it had been a survival skill for him. And yet, he had been found again. Jim didn't understand why they kept going after him. He had no recollection of ever meeting these people. How did they even know his name? Jim had been going by Jack Dodson ever since he returned from Tarsus. Jim Kirk didn't exist in this world – he had made sure of that – but that McCoy guy didn't even hesitate when he saw Jim.

Instinctively, Jim knew that they were going to be a problem, but oddly, he felt no ill will towards them. All he wanted to do was run as far away as possible. Which meant they were dangerous. Probably just as dangerous as Kodos was. Maybe even more so. And Jim didn't even know goddamn why!

When Jim made eye contact with McCoy and Spock who were both so obviously worried during his fight, especially when he went down, something deep within him flared up. Defiance and need to prove that he was fine – to be stronger – overwhelmed him and, all of a sudden, Jim found himself doing exactly the opposite of what he was hired to do.

Though, it wasn't quite out of Jim's calculations. He had planned on making a comeback in the second round to make some money off the bets – he honestly couldn't help himself when the odds were so skewed against him. Not to mention, the adrenaline rushing through his veins when he knew that he was putting himself in a dangerous situation. There was no better high.

Jim turned a corner and immediately came to a halting stop. "Shit…" he breathed as he came face to face with two slightly overweight men with five obviously hired muscles.

Not ideal – Jim could handle maybe two or three, but five was definitely pushing it.

"Did you really think you could get away with our bloody money, Dodson?" snarled Boss A.

Boss B was equally livid. "We own this fucking town. There's nowhere you can go that we wouldn't find you."

Jim just shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "Didn't think you'd be smart enough for that," he drawled.

The goons moved threateningly forward. From just a few steps and how they held themselves, Jim guessed that they probably had some sort of experience in fighting, which meant that Jim was definitely screwed.

Well, if he was going to fight, he might as well enjoy it. There wasn't much nowadays that allowed him to feel. The pumping of adrenaline, the tittering edge towards true danger…it made Jim feel alive, which was something that hadn't felt in so long.

Grinning, Jim raised his fists and readied himself.

"Take him down," Boss A commanded.

If anything, Jim was quite proud that he lasted as long as he did. Hell, he held his own well for the first few minutes, ducking and swerving, relying on reflexes that he didn't even know he had. But then one of the goons got a good shot at the back of his neck.

Jim staggered away, his vision blurred and the surroundings started revolving nauseatingly.

The moment he landed on his knees, he knew he was done for.

Blows and kicks rained down upon him, and all he could do was take it. His world exploded in pain, but he was unable to move. He was sure he was bleeding in several places, a couple more ribs must've cracked, and he had to be covered in bruises by the time the assailants stopped.

One of the bosses spat on Jim's broken body on the ground as he kicked him again. "Rat. Better not see your face around here again." He spoke over Jim, "Take the duffle bag."

And then Jim was essentially left there for dead.

Jim didn't know how long he laid there, breathing through the growing pain and hovering in semi-consciousness. Jim had no means of keeping track of the time. He was trying to focus on breathing.

Suddenly, he heard someone shout out his name, and unbidden, he felt hope soar in his chest. It was so out of nowhere that Jim ruthlessly clamped it down. He had no need for such useless emotions.

There was an exchange of words going on near him – but he couldn't quite make it out. It was like everything was underwater.

"Jesus. They beat the shit out of him!" came the first worried words. The voice was familiar, but Jim couldn't place it. "Should I go after them?"

"Negative, Mr. Sulu. Jim is our priority. Doctor, I can handle him if you so choose."

"No, it's fine. I've got him."

Jim heard footsteps come to a stop before him. His mind screamed at him, telling him to get up and fight. To protect himself. But his body was done. Broken and surrendered.

Out of nowhere, he felt himself being lifted into the air by gentle arms, cradling him close. At the movement, his head lolled over to rest against someone's shoulder.

He could feel the soft heartbeat of the person carrying him; the quiet, steady sound was a metronome, grounding Jim in ways that he couldn't explain. As he was brought out of the dark, dank alleyway, a rush of water cascaded over him, soothing his damaged soul.

The vulnerability horrified him, but yet, it felt right. Familiar. Which was absolutely bewildering, because Jim hadn't felt closeness of another human being like this since he was twelve years old and was last hugged by his aunt. And that had been a lifetime ago.

A low voice drifted over his head. "You've lost weight again, Jimmy..."

The Southern accent was something that he somehow knew intimately. The concern was heavy, and there was genuine sadness in the man's words. It made Jim's heart tighten painfully, but he didn't know why. Hadn't his heart died years ago?

"I don't know if you can hear me. I don't know if you even want to hear me right now, but please, listen to me. Because I wish I was there to tell you this years ago. I know you don't feel safe. I know you feel lost. Angry. Alone. But you can hear my heart beating. And this warmth you feel? It's real. It's just as real as you and me. You're real, Jim. You're alive. And most importantly, you matter. You may not remember it, but you're one of the most important people in my life, and I can't live without you. So stop doing this, okay? You have nothing to prove. Not to me and certainly not to yourself. You're the best man I know. You are destined for great things, Jim. So please, don't waste it in alleys and bars. Please..."

The brokenness of those words and the sound of the man's voice choking up at the end made Jim feel like someone had reached into his chest and ripped his heart out. It made him ache so much. Almost more than the time he had to leave all his kids behind on Tarsus. He didn't know why, but he felt the inexplicable and desperate need to comfort the person speaking. If only to alleviate his own pain.

Jim shifted his head, pressing his face into the man's neck and just sighed. He didn't know if it was enough. His body was too numb to do anything more.

He heard an exhale of relief, and he knew that whoever was looking out for him got the message. The hands around him tightened.

They were strong. Unwavering. Protecting. And warm.

Instinctively, Jim knew that he was safe with this man. But that couldn't be right. No one in this world cared about him; no one would shed any tears for him. It was a truth that Jim had come to terms with a long, long time ago. He was just a ghost who was too much of a coward to just do the world a favor and disappear.

So why did he feel like crying the moment he heard that Southern accent? Like he just wanted to melt away in the man's arms and have him tell him everything was okay. The relief and joy that he felt when those gentle hands touched his face was impalpable. Indescribable. He had never felt such...kindness before.

His chest twisted more painfully, as if he had been stabbed with a blunt knife. It felt like he was missing something so vitally important that he literally couldn't live without it. He was breaking apart at the seams. Or maybe the head injuries were worse than he thought.

Ah. That had to be it. Because Jim was too smart to be fooled by his ridiculous hallucinations, however pleasant and comforting they were. His own mother and brother scorned his existence, so why would it be different with anyone else?

But this was a hallucination, Jim guessed there wasn't any harm in humoring himself. Jim leaned in more, pressing his face against the man's collarbone, and soaked in the warmth. Since this was just a dream, why not enjoy it while it lasted? It was the best thing that had ever happened in his entire, miserable life, even if it wasn't real.

As the last of Jim's consciousness slipped away, he let himself drown in that warmth.

Well, at least it was a nice dream while it lasted.

Sulu was the first to find Jim lying in a small puddle of blood, half-hidden by the darkness of the alley. He was halfway on his back and his side, seemingly unconscious. A quick shout of his name caught both Spock's and McCoy's attention and the three went running to their friend's side.

A closer look revealed how badly beaten Jim was. There were dark bruises already forming on his face and places where his skin was exposed. His lip was cut and there were lacerations on his arms. There were numerous other defensive wounds, but Sulu was almost certain that the worst of the damage had to be internal.

"Jesus. They beat the shit out of him!" he swore, running his hands through his hair. He wanted to check on him, but with McCoy around, he knew that he would only be in the way. Frustrated at being helpless, Sulu glanced down the alleyway. "Should I go after them?"

"Negative, Mr. Sulu," Spock responded. "Jim is our priority. Doctor, I can handle him if you so choose."

McCoy had an incredibly sad expression on his face as he looked at the downed figure of his best friend. He sighed and replied softly, "No, it's fine. I've got him."

Spock nodded curtly. Sensing that taking care of Jim was something that McCoy had to do alone right now, Spock pulled Sulu along with him, leaving McCoy to say whatever it was that he needed to say.

"Should we bring him back on the ship?" Sulu asked.

"If he does not recall us, that may not be ideal. He may not react well to being brought upon a Starfleet ship."

"Then what should we do? We can't just leave him be. He's injured!"

"I am well aware of that, Mister Sulu," Spock nearly snapped. He immediately froze, taking in a deep breath to control himself.

He sensed McCoy coming up behind him and he turned to see Jim cradled delicately in the doctor's arms.

"We should get him a hotel," McCoy said, "To treat him and so that he has somewhere warm to stay for at least a night."

"I concur. I shall make arrangements." Spock pulled up his communicator and stepped away so as to not disturb Jim further.

"He okay?" asked Sulu, peering over.

"He's not doing so hot, but his injuries are easily treatable."

Something in McCoy's voice - the monotone cadence and a tinge of sadness - made Sulu frown at McCoy's sober face. "Are you doing okay?"

McCoy hesitated, but his shoulders sagged in surrender. "I forgot how much he used to hate himself…" he said quietly. "It's hard, seeing him like this."

Sulu had no words to console McCoy. It was hard to deal with this Jim. With J.T. and James back when Jim had been de-aged, it was easier to distinguish them from Jim. But this Jim was a mixture and cesspool of all of Jim's doubts, anger, fear, and pain. There was too much overlap with the Jim that they knew and loved, and this "Jack" character only reminded them how much Jim had suffered before they found each other.

How could anyone have lived like "Jack" - without love and sense of existence - as long as he did?

For the people who truly loved Jim, the reality of "Jack" only made them want to cry.

Jim wasn't Jim without Bones or the rest of the Enterprise.

Hell, Sulu was sure that Jim wouldn't have broken out of his "Jack" persona if it wasn't for McCoy. But looking at McCoy staring ever so sad at Jim, Sulu was reminded of their co-dependent relationship. He wasn't sure what had happened when they first met, but there was one thing that was certain: if there wasn't a Jim without Bones, then there wasn't a Bones without Jim.

Sulu could only hope that Jim remembered them soon. Because he was sure that McCoy was going to break if he didn't.

The hotel Spock had booked was off the grid and outside of town. Away from prying eyes. Sulu had paid in cash for them (Spock's appearance would have been too memorable and McCoy didn't want to bring attention to an unconscious, bloody man for good reason) before he returned to the ship to report back to the rest of their friends.

Spock helped McCoy sneak Jim in through a back entrance. Once inside the room, McCoy spent no time laying Jim down on a bed and was already reaching into his med pack for everything that he needed to treat him.

Spock sat on the other bed watching McCoy work.

The silence only lasted for a few minutes before McCoy snapped at him. "Your staring doesn't help anything, hobgoblin."

Spock considered McCoy's words. There was more bite in his voice than usual. He seemed almost deliberately cruel.

Something in Spock cracked. He didn't understand why McCoy was having mood swings. He was just as concerned about Jim as McCoy was. There was something deeper going on with the doctor. Spock had to get to the bottom of it.

"Your behavior has become quite erratic," Spock said simply, as if stating fact. "Jim will be fine."

"I know."

"Then please, explain why your temperament has been irrational as of late."

There was a snarl on McCoy's face as he readied to lash out, but Spock had seen enough of McCoy's temper to know how to mitigate it.

"Doctor, I only mean to understand. Jim has always told me that if I do not understand human emotion, I should only ask. You are understandably worried - as are all of us - however, there seems to be something more. I do not wish to pry, but I am currently more concerned of your wellbeing than Jim's."

McCoy reacted exactly as Spock had predicted. "Why do you care, hobgoblin?" McCoy growled.

Spock tilted his head. "Is it not logical to be concerned of a friend's wellbeing? I believe that, despite our differences, we have become good friends. Unless I have interpreted the situation incorrectly."

McCoy froze, his ire dying quickly. One more strike and Spock knew that he could break through the doctor's shell.

"Besides, Jim would never forgive me if I let any harm come to you."

McCoy sighed, his grip on the dermal regenerator loosening. He had already finished treating Jim - Spock wasn't surprised at the doctor's efficiency anymore. Glancing down at the sleeping figure, McCoy set down his tools and pulled Spock into the bathroom where they could continue their conversation without fear of waking Jim.

Settling against the sink, McCoy crossed his arms and watched as Spock stood in front of the door, his concerned brown eyes never leaving McCoy's.

"I don't know what I'd do if Jim doesn't remember us," McCoy started, "It's been him and me against the world for so long, I don't know if I know how to handle being on my own anymore."

"When we first met, we were both broken. I had literally been chased out of my home and forced to leave everything and everyone that I had ever known behind. That left a void that I didn't think I could recover from. And Jim had never known what it was like to have someone care about him, even though he secretly yearned for it. We fit together like a jigsaw puzzle: Jim chased away my loneliness with his ridiculousness, and by caring about him, I validated his existence. It worked for us."

"I don't really know what happened for us to become so attached at the hip. Or when my world started revolving around him and my daughter. He's my blood brother, but it's more than that. Deeper than that. I think it's a bond that only people who literally have no one else can have. And maybe it's selfish of me to cling to him like I do. But he was the one to remind me what it was like to live again. And I still constantly need that reminder when there's no one else in this world that cares if I'm dead or alive other than my daughter. I need him to remind me that I'm not alone."

"So I'm afraid. I'm afraid what I'll turn into without Jim showing me the goddamn stars with that eager puppy-dog brightness that he has."

"But you are not alone, Doctor," Spock said gently. "We also care about you."

"I know, but it's just not the same as what I have with Jim." McCoy's eyes connected with Spock's. "You understand. I know you do. Your bond with Jim goes as deep as ours. You know what I'm talking about."

And Spock did. He really did. There was no way that the stars would shine the way they did without Jim being who he was to light it all up.

Even with Jim lying just outside of the door, Spock could feel an aching yearning for his friend. To see Jim laugh and that twinkle in his eyes whenever he was amused.

Spock missed his friend. Deeply and desperately. Like a limb had been cut from him.

Dipping his head, Spock said, "I understand now. And I am sorry."

"It's not your fault," muttered McCoy, turning around to turn on the faucet and splash some water on his tired face. "It's that stupid mafia's fault and his stupid ass useless brother."

"Since you treated him now, will he regain his memory?"

"I don't know. Chances are no. The injury may be healed, but retrograde amnesia is usually recovered by spontaneous recovery and plasticity. And there's no way to tell how long it'll take for Jim to regain his memory. It could be tomorrow, next year...It could be never..."

"He will recover," Spock said resolutely.

"How do you know?"

"Because Jim always beats the odds. It is one of the qualities that makes him so uniquely Jim."

Yes, Jim would always be who he was. Which was why neither of the men were surprised in the slightest that Jim had already escaped the room by the time they emerged from the bathroom.

Guess the hunt was back on. And it was going to be harder this time around. They had seen Jim vulnerable - Jim wouldn't allow it again. He was going to completely disappear.

It was just too bad that he couldn't remember the lengths that his friends would go for him.

There was no where Jim could go that they wouldn't follow.

When Jim woke up again, he was surprisingly not in any pain. He jolted up, senses on hyperdrive when he realized that he wasn't lying in an alley like he expected. One look told him that he was in some sort of hotel. He was on one of the two queen beds and completely shirtless.

Well, at least he had his pants on. He considered that a win.

Glancing down, he noted that all the bruises and injuries that he had had were now gone. Across the room on the table was an open med pack with equipment scattered on it. Someone had taken the time to heal all of his wounds with top of the line medical supplies.

Speaking of, Jim looked over to the closed door to his right. He could hear the sounds of people talking inside. So whoever helped him was still here, but the other bed hadn't been touched and there were no signs of luggage or anything.

This hotel had been booked specifically for Jim then.

Jim wasn't sure how to take that. He didn't have friends. He was a ghost. He didn't exist. This just didn't make sense to him.

He closed his eyes, remembering the lingering tendrils of the warmth in his dreams. But that was all it was. A dream. Someone like him could never hope to have that.

It was daytime - the dream was over.

Soundlessly, Jim got out of bed. He found his shirt and jacket on a nearby chair.

He slipped out without a word in less than two minutes.

Within the next hour, he was on a bullet train traveling to an entirely different country.

Despite never seeing who it was behind that closed door, Jim had an inkling who it was. It had to be the people who were following him around.

Sighing, he leaned his head against the cold window, closing his eyes against the rushing of the green scenery outside. A tiredness deep within his bones ached. Something in him kept screaming at him. Telling him not to run anymore. That he could trust them.

It was driving Jim insane.

He was getting soft, and that was horrifying. It left him open and vulnerable. An easy target. He had sworn that he would never be one again, and yet, he let them heal him and take care of him.

God, if Jim wasn't careful, history was going to repeat itself.

He was right from the beginning: those people were the most dangerous things Jim had ever encountered.

After all, hope was the greatest enemy of all. If Jim didn't have hope, he couldn't be hurt anymore.

It was safer to be alone. It was easier to be alone.

So why was it that he couldn't stop thinking about that warmth?

"He was in pretty bad shape when we found him," Sulu said quietly to Chekov. "Not the worst we've seen him, but still, not great."

Chekov frowned, "But Doctor McCoy vas able to treat him?"

The two were in one of the rooms meant for diplomats and other dignitaries. It was quite private - technically, they shouldn't even be in there - but it happened to have a small bar built into a corner and they both desperately needed a quiet respite.

Sulu stood in the back of the bar, pouring drinks for both of them. "Yeah," he sighed, leaning forward to hand over a vodka neat to Chekov. "Well, he was still treating him when I beamed back up."

He took a long drag of his gin and tonic. "I'm worried about McCoy. And Spock, but Spock's keeping it together because McCoy isn't."

"It must be hard on them."

"It's hard on all of us - it's awful to look into those eyes and see nothing there. No recognition, no nothing. You should've seen him fighting. Every time he got hit, there was a gleeful look on his face. He was more alive getting punched in the entire time he's lost his memory. I can't believe that that was what he was like before the Academy."

"I can."

Sulu tilted his head. "What do you mean?"

"The Keptin survived Tarsus with just shred of sanity. And vhen he tried to go home, he vas turned away. His own brother didn't stop it. There vas no one left to care about him. Not until Doctor McCoy. It vas no vonder that he felt like he didn't exist."

"He's just so different…" Sulu said. "God, I wish I was there for him back then."

"Ve all do."

"It's no wonder that he and McCoy are wound together as tight as they are. McCoy was probably a lifeline - no doubt they saved each other. Kirk was already that super cocky Cadet by the time I met him in person during our third year."

"Do ve need to keep an eye on Doctor McCoy?"

Sulu shook his head, "Spock's got him. He's the best person to keep McCoy afloat anyway. The three of them revolve around each other."

Chekov nodded quietly in agreement.

"How's George?" Sulu asked.

"Confused. Vorried."

"He asking questions?"

"Yes. As he should."

"Are we answering?"

"Commander Spock told us not to. The Keptin vould also not appreciate it."

Sulu hummed as a response, letting silence fill the room again. "Do you think we should?"

"Yes." There was a fire in Chekov's word.

"But is it what's best for Kirk?"

At that, Chekov looked down. "I don't know."

"What are Uhura and Scotty doing when he tries to talk to them?"

"Mr. Scott starts talking about the ship; she is blatantly ignoring his existence."

"So that leaves the two of us."

Chekov nodded. "He's been looking for us, judging by how many stops he has made in last half hour. He is fairly close now."

Sulu shot him a look. "Are you tracking him?"

Chekov adopted an innocent expression.

"Did you put a tracker on him?"

The smirk on the Russian's face was all Sulu needed to know.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door and George stepped through, asking "Hello, do you know where I can find Lieutenants Sulu and Chek...Oh, found you."

Sulu lifted his glass. "Would you care for a drink?"

George closed the door behind him. "Yeah, that'll be great."

"What's your poison?"

"Bourbon, if you have it," George responded, settling down on the chair next to Chekov.

In lieu of an answer, Sulu just grabbed a bottle from underneath the bar and waved it at George. "On the rocks or neat?" he asked.

"Neat, please."

"Guess I shouldn't be surprised that you and Kirk have similar tastes," Sulu commented as he poured a glass for George.

"Thanks," sighed George.

Sulu watched him drink for a moment before getting to the crux of the matter. He and Kirk always shared the same philosophy of pre-emptive strikes. "So what can we help you with?"

"I was hoping you guys could answer some questions for me. Lieutenant Commander Scott and Lieutenant Uhura haven't been very forthcoming."

"No, I wouldn't think they would be."

"Will you two be?"

Sulu and Chekov shared a glance before turning back to George.

"I think it vill depend on your questions, Mr. Kirk," said Chekov.

"And you'll have to answer our questions. Tit for tat and all," added Sulu. "Those are our terms. If you agree, we'll try to answer what we can. But some stories are not ours to tell. You need to respect that."

George nodded, agreeing readily. "I know I'm a shit brother. I know, but once upon a time, Jimmy was my little brother. I protected him. You guys need to remember that. Despite all the shit that happened later. I once did my best to protect him from everything."

Chekov's eyes were hard. "Yes, but ve protect him now."

"I get it, you're his family now. And I'm honestly very happy that he has all of you. But I still care about him, despite what it may seem. He's my brother. I know I don't have a right, but I just want to understand."

"What do you want to understand?" Sulu said before he sipped his drink.

"Why everyone is so worried about Jimmy right now."

"Because you gave him up to the mafia and he's currently running around the world without any backup." The anger made the words come out much sharper than what Sulu had intended.

"No, I know that. That much I know, but there's an edge to everyone. I get that he's on his own and in danger, but the way you're all acting...it's like the world is ending. Why is that?"

There was a pause as Sulu tried to think of the right words. "Like you said - he's on his own. The problem is that he can't remember us. So he actually believes that he's on his own."

"The two of us have always been on our own."

"He shouldn't have been," Sulu snapped before calming himself. "Look, he's a daring one. And selfless to a fault, but nowadays, he tends to think of the consequences somewhat before doing something stupid. We've made sure of that. But when he's off alone and doesn't think there's anyone out there that'll care if he gets hurt or not? I don't think that'll end well for anyone."

"That is vhy ve are so worried," continued Chekov. "He vill do anything for the people he cares about. You are one of them. Ve are scared he von't care for himself."

George sat quietly, considering their words. Sulu didn't wait.

"Our turn: why did you take off when you were kids?"

If George was taken aback by the abrasive bluntness, he didn't show it. "Frank, our stepfather, was a raging, abusive alcoholic. I protected Jimmy as much as I could, but one day, I woke up and couldn't take it anymore. Not even Jimmy mattered at that point. I know it was a shit thing, but I'm only human. It's not an excuse. It's just...what happened."

Reading their unchanging expressions, he sighed. He should've known that the first question would've been a test to see if he was going to answer truthfully. More importantly, to see if he was smart enough to know how to read between the lines and answer the real question. "But you already knew that. You want to know why I never came back for him. Why I left him to Frank."

The answer was unanimous. "Yes."

"I told myself that once I made something of myself, got myself stable, I'd go back for him. But the real world was hard. I'm not as smart as Jimmy. I barely got by on my own. I wasn't able to really find my way back until I was in my twenties. By then, Jimmy had been sent off-world and Frank long gone. It wasn't that I wasn't coming back for him - I was just too late."

George didn't miss the slight flinch on both Sulu's and Chekov's end when he said "off-world." He had an idea why that was, but he still had to ask. "You mentioned Tarsus earlier. That's where Jimmy went, wasn't it?"

The two hesitated. That was something they knew that Jim wouldn't want his brother to know. "We can't comment on that," they said together.

George merely nodded, feeling extraordinarily numb, like he had been drenched in ice water. That only solidified his hunch. God, how did he not know about this? That his little brother had survived Tarsus?! He remembered that day Jim had showed up on the footsteps of their Riverside home. The teenager was gaunt and had a haunted look to himself. He was nothing but bones, but there was so much anger and hatred in his grey eyes. George thought it was because he had left him. And he had no idea how to fix it, so in cowardice, he kept his mouth shut. But then, their mother was screaming and having one of her psychotic fits, yelling about how Jim had killed their father and had to leave, never to come back. She didn't want to see him ever again.

Jim hadn't spoken a single word standing before them. And he had left without saying one. George only saw him five years later in Chicago by accident. Their vices had somehow made them run in the same shit circles in the underworld. They spent the next few years running from each other, but they never quite lost touch. After all, Jim had been better at swindling money; George had been better at losing it to the same people. Without Jim, George wouldn't have survived. He knew that intimately.

And here he was again, putting his little brother in trouble again. He had sworn that he wouldn't do it again. When Jim became Captain of the Enterprise, George had been so proud. His little brother had gotten his life together and done absolutely miraculous things. Both of them had been living in the dirt and muck for so long that George never thought either of them would be able to get out, but Jim did the impossible and landed in the stars. Like their heroic father. If he could, George could. He couldn't drag Jim down any farther.

He had gotten clean, kicked his gambling addiction and properly took care of their mother. But it just took one trip-up for it to all come crashing down. So here he was again, letting his little brother clean up after him.

When this was all over, things had to change. George had no right to keep dragging Jim down with him.

"I vas going to ask if you regretted not helping the Keptin back then, but judging by your expression, it seems you do."

For the first time, Chekov had a tone of approval in his words.

George had no idea what sort of expression he had or what it revealed, but they didn't press for another question, no doubt giving him some reprieve.

Somehow, George felt that there was a shift in the air - he had earned the approval from Jim's guardians to move forward one step closer to Jim.

He cleared his throat, pushing aside some of the tumultuous emotions that were threatening to erupt. "Why does Jimmy know so much about the mafia?"

Sulu physically paused, as if he never really questioned why Jim would know so much. George was getting a sense that they revered Jim - as if anything and everything was possible with the man. If Jim had told them that he had met a Pegasus, George was pretty sure that his entire crew would believe him without a moment's hesitation.

George didn't know what had gone down while Jim was Captain, but he was fairly certain it was earned. Otherwise, why else would his crew be so damn overly protective of him? He had never met a more loyal bunch.

"We actually don't know all the details," admitted Sulu. "Just that he's had run-ins with them before."

"Is that why he has contingency plans for when he gets captured and tortured?"

"He's a Starfleet Captain. Of the flagship, no less. It kind of comes with the job description."

The look of pure alarm on George's face made Sulu feel a little bad about saying that so flippantly.

"It doesn't happen often," Sulu tried to reassure.

"That's what he said. It shouldn't happen at all! He shouldn't be so nonchalant about that!"

"Well, when you go through the same shit as us, you'd understand why."

"Then you guys shouldn't be so flippant about it!"

A dark look passed across Sulu's face. "We're not. Believe us. We're not."

With that tone and expression, George believed his words instantly, the panic and fear abating rapidly. "I'm glad that he finally has someone reliable to watch his back."

Sulu hummed, nodding. Accepting. "So what are you planning to do after all of this?" he asked.

"After Jimmy figures out how to save me from the mafia?"


"I've thought about it a lot. I thought it might be better for me to disappear from his life completely. So I don't ever cause him trouble again."

Chekov's eyes were so knowing. "But…?"

"But that's not right either. And not fair to Jimmy. If he manages to get me a clean slate, I'm going to walk the straight and narrow after this. Find myself some good and honest work."

"You really think you can manage it?"

George looked straight at Sulu, determination in his eyes. "Yes, I'll do it. For Jimmy."

Despite himself, Sulu chuckled. "You Kirks seriously are a special breed. I shouldn't be surprised. So smart, yet not so bright."

Indignant, George blustered. "What?"

"Vhat you said is not correct," Chekov said gently. "You should do it for yourself. The Keptin also spent his entire life taking care of others. Is not correct."

"We've been teaching him the meaning of putting himself first once in a while," Sulu explained, "For himself, and to be a bit more selfish around us. He's still working on it, but we like to think that he's doing better on it."

It made sense. Jim had always been more like their father than George. George had always feared that he'd hear the news that his little brother fulfilled their father's legacy. It was good he had all these people looking out for him and keeping him alive.

"One last question: is he happy?" George couldn't quite hide the pleading tone in his voice.

It reminded Sulu and Chekov that yes, George was once Jimmy's older brother. The one who sheltered him from their stepfather's blows; the one whom Jim had looked up to more than anything else. That once upon a time, Jim had looked at George like he looked at the stars now.

They understood the true meaning behind George's question. As Jimmy's older brother, no matter how shitty he had been, he had to make sure that he was leaving Jim in good hands.

The least Sulu and Chekov could do was tell him the honest truth.

"Kirk's met a lot of hardships, he's gone through more than anyone can ever imagine. Yet, he's come out the other end as one of the best and strongest men I have ever met. The crew of the Enterprise would go to the ends of the universe for him. And I won't lie to you, some days are harder than others. But at the end of the day, Kirk's family. We will always be there for him."

Chekov nodded. "The Keptin is ours as ve are his. Always. That is our promise to him."

Sulu gave George a small smile. "Does that answer your question?"

Though they didn't give a direct answer, it was more than enough.

Jimmy was going to be fine. Fine and happy with these people who had adopted Jim and filled in the void that George had left.

Perhaps, without the mantle of being the older brother - without the pressure of being bound and trapped by blood and familial obligations, Jim and he could start anew. Build a new bridge and create a new definition for themselves. And maybe, one day, George could earn back his title as Jimmy's older brother.

Again, his thoughts must have been transparent on his face, because both Sulu's and Chekov's face broke out into a broad grin.

Sulu patted George on the shoulder as he got up to leave. "Good talk, man."

And without another word, they started to head out, leaving George to his drink.

Not for the first time, George found himself wondering about the crew of the Enterprise.

Were any of them actually sane, normal human beings?

Sulu cackled - apparently, he had asked that question out loud by accident. Sulu turned to look back at George, but didn't break stride. "You tell me, buddy." And promptly left with Chekov at his side wearing the same, amused expression.

Yeah, no. They definitely weren't sane or normal.

Welcome to the Enterprise indeed.

The crew of the Enterprise kept a watchful eye on Jim's progress through Europe and into Asia. They had caught up with Jim - no, Jack - once more in Morocco. It had left both Spock and Chekov absolutely shaken.

Chekov had managed to get some solo facetime with Jack in a dark hallway, but upon realizing that Chekov was one of the ones following him, Jack had shoved him against the wall with a solid chokehold, snarling threats to leave him the fuck alone, or else. Spock nearly had to step in when he found them and saw that the young Navigator's lips had taken on a bluish tinge.

They had clearly gotten on Jack's last nerve, but luckily, Jack had backed off at the last second, leaving Chekov to crumble to the ground. As he passed Spock, he had threatened bodily harm in creative expletives if they were to follow him again. And then promptly disappeared into thin air.

The incident left Chekov and Spock perturbed for different reasons: Chekov for seeing those empty, yet horrifyingly angry eyes, and Spock for being a second away from Vulcan pinching his best friend again. It brought back dark memories for Spock and he had refused to leave his room without a few hours of mediation.

But it seemed that the end was fast approaching. Because Jack's movements had gotten less erratic and he didn't seem to move farther than a particular area in one city for a couple of days. Then, it was finally clear that he had made it to his goal destination: Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was hot and humid, almost making it feel like Spock, McCoy, Sulu, and Uhura had stepped into a steam room. The flashing lights of the stores and attractions were loud and ostentatious. Shouts and cheers of inebriated people from balconies and the streets made everything seem overwhelming.

For Jack who was trying to keep a low profile, it was quite out of character.

In Spock's mind, it could only mean one thing - whatever Jack was planning, it was coming to an end. Still, Spock couldn't piece together what Jack was after. Perhaps, this was where the Patron's target was. They were nearing the end of the deadline that was set for George, after all. With Jim's amnesia, he had no means of knowing where his brother actually was, let alone know that he had already sent him to safety.

For all Jim knew, George was in the Patron's hands, which meant Jack was going to get desperate and reckless. With absolutely no backup.

The Enterprise had tracked Jack to an extremely high-end casino - the type that only millionaires and trust fund babies tended to frequent. Spock, McCoy, Sulu, and Uhura dressed accordingly - the men in tailored suits and Uhura in a tight, floor-length evening gown. They kept to themselves in a corner, keeping an eye out for Jack, all the while wondering what he was doing there.

It had taken around twenty minutes before they caught sight of Jack.

It was hard not to miss him.

He was in a tailored, three-piece suit, looking quite like he had stepped out of a fashion magazine. His brown hair was slicked back and his green eyes dazzled in the bright lights of the casino. He was accompanied by twin Asian women who were dressed in similar beautiful green dresses.

He was laughing with the women, only removing them from his arms when he stopped to sit down at a poker table. He was within earshot and they could hear him saying something to the waitress in Cantonese.

"He's ordering drinks," Uhura translated quietly. "For himself and his 'friends'," she said disapprovingly.

But no one else spoke, choosing instead to watch silently. After all, they weren't sure how Jack would react to seeing them again. They did not want a repeat of Chekov.

Spock and Sulu both noticed that they weren't the only ones that took interest in Jack.

His table was composed of five people, including himself. There were two men on either side of him and a woman on the farthest seat on Jack's right, all of whom were Chinese. There was another male - Caucasian - in the opposite seat of the woman to Jack's left.

Of the table, only the woman truly stood out. She had long black hair that fell straight behind her back. She was young - most likely in her early thirties - and her figure was absolutely cutting in her crimson low-back gown.

She smiled with her bright red lips intriguingly at Jack while the Chinese man to his right frowned at him.

Jack, noticing her interest, glanced up and smiled back. "You're going to make me blush if you keep staring at me like that. Not that I mind very much."

His Cantonese had an accent to it - not an extremely heavy one, but a fairly noticeable one - which confused Uhura. She had heard him speak in that language before and he almost sounded like a native - there were, of course, a few tones that he could never quite master, but he was fairly close. Either he was doing it on purpose to lower the guards around him or he simply wasn't at the age in which he had learned the proper accent.

The woman at the table tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, her eyes very much flirtatious. "You look quite similar to that of Captain James T. Kirk," she said with perfect Standard. "Any relation?"

Jack laughed and switched back to Standard. "I get that a lot, but no. No relation." He spoke with a crisp Londonian accent. Flawlessly. Scotty would be proud. "I just happen to look a lot like him. Can't imagine being him though. I have a fear of heights. And being in space. Sounds absolutely dreary to me."

"Then what is it that you do? I haven't seen you around our circles before."

"I'm a businessman. I deal with high-end antiquities. My partner used to always make these appearances for us - I'm more of the behind the scenes type of man."

"Is that so? Then why have you graced us with your presence today?"

"Unfortunately, my partner is a bit indisposed at the moment. Would you have preferred my friend?" Jack's green eyes glittered with amusement.

"Not at all. I'm sure you are an improvement," laughed the woman.

"I'm Jack. Jack Dodson. Can I buy you a drink, Miss…?"

"Chen. Mei Chen."

"Well then, Miss Chen…"

"Mei, please."

Jack grinned brightly, the women standing behind him promptly forgotten. "Mei, then, what about that drink?"

Mei ordered on her own, flitting her eyes at Jack as she did so. The twins that Jack had brought with him huffed angrily and stalked off, but Jack didn't paid any more attention to them.

"The game is no-limit Texas Hold'em. Minimum buy-in is five thousand credits," the dealer said, seemingly undistracted by Jack's and Mei's interaction. "Small blind and large blind, please place your bets."

Mei placed a five thousand chip down - the man to her left put down two chips.

The dealer then dealt out two cards each, and the table collectively called. And the game officially started.

The beginning of the game was all about learning how to read one's opponents, and it was quite obvious that the others at the table were trying to play coy until they had a feel of everyone else. Jack didn't seem to mind being brash and daring.

At one point, he laid down one million dollars as a bet and Sulu nearly fainted. But his audacity was paying off. He was winning far more than he lost. Clearly, he had already learned his card tricks by this period of time. Or his luck was just that damn good. It honestly was a toss-up at the moment.

One by one, the people at his table folded, bankrupt. In the end, it was just Jack and Mei playing.

Never once did he seem to notice Spock, McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu watching him from a distance, too enthralled by Mei.

Ultimately, it was Jack who won the whole pot of three million credits. Mei sidled up to Jack, touching his upper arm as he gathered all his winnings.

He bent low, whispering something into her ear with a sly smile.

She giggled, and tucked her arm into his, and together, they walked off towards the clerk to cash out.

Sulu immediately began following, keeping an eye on Jack. Uhura walked in the other direction, almost circling Sulu's movements while McCoy and Spock waited for a beat before heading off in a different route. This way, between the four of them, they could cover more ground and exits in case Jack slipped away again.

Jack was in full view with Mei when he left his winnings at the cashier - apparently, he would return for his money later, but then, they disappeared around a corner.

As they did, Jack's eyes flickered over to McCoy's, connecting for a brief moment. In that second, Leonard that he saw something familiar in those eyes. A sense of confusion sparked across those strange, green irises, but it was gone in a single blink, hardened with angry steel.

All of a sudden, Leonard felt like it was now or never. Either they grab him or he'd disappear forever.

"Shit, he made me," McCoy hissed into his comm. "What do I do?"

"Fuck, that can't be good…" Sulu muttered, remembering the bruises on Chekov's neck.

"Proceed with caution," said Spock calmly. "Do not let him out of our sights. We cannot lose him again."

McCoy was no longer surprised that Spock was on the same page as him. "Sulu, it looked like he was heading your way. You got eyes on him?"

"Yeah, I'm going after him."

"Be careful."

Sulu laughed mirthlessly. "You kidding? I can definitely take him right now. He's not quite the ninja that we know. At least not yet. I'm going black for a bit. I'll report in soon."

And his line went silent.

Leonard took a deep breath. And another. It did nothing to calm his nerves.

"He'll be fine, Doctor," came Spock's gentle voice in his ear. "He is Jim. He will be alright."

Yeah, that much Leonard knew. But there was no Bones without Jim Kirk. Even if they caught Jack, it didn't bring Jim back. And McCoy didn't have a cure. It seemed that, despite all his intelligence and skills as a doctor, he couldn't be one when it mattered the most. He'd be all alone again. No annoying thorn in his side to remind him how much fun life was, how much more there was to life than that hellhole he left behind in Georgia. And most importantly, how to breathe when he didn't have his daughter near him.

Jim was going to be okay - that was always a given. Jim was a survivor. He didn't necessarily know how to live, but he'd survive.

McCoy was never good at that. Jim had taught him otherwise.

If Jim never regained his memories, what was McCoy going to do in the bleak, blackness of space all by himself?

In the darkened hallway, Mei slammed Jack against the wall, her leg spreading Jack's apart. He swooped in and kissed her. She ran her hands upwards along his spine, coming to a rest at the back of his neck.

Subtly, he shifted, dislodging her hand. He still couldn't handle anything around his neck.

"So what are you doing here, Miss Mei?" Jack breathed into her ear.

"Making out with a stranger, apparently," she gasped as he kissed the nape of her neck. "And you? You never mentioned what you're doing here."

"Didn't I say that I'm a high-end antiques dealer?"

She smiled against his lips. "Yes, but you never mentioned exactly what you were doing at my casino."

"Your casino? I didn't realize that you were one of those 'Chen's'."

"Liar," she said throatily.

"Chen is a very common last name," Jack responded innocently.

"You never answered my question, Mr. Dodson."

Jack brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "You're right. I'm here for a deal."

"What sort of deal?"

"Well, I was hoping you'd help me out with that."

"And what were you looking for?"

"There are certain people who have something on me. I was hoping you'd help me get them off my back."

"And who are these audacious people who dare to blackmail you?"

"I believe you've heard of the Patron?"

Mei pushed him back a bit to make eye contact with him. "I'm familiar with the name."

"I have some information that might help you out, which, well, let's just say, all parties involved will benefit."

She smiled at him, running her fingers up his arm. "Let's talk some more in a more...private place."

Jack grinned. "Let's."

He began to turn, only to jerk in shock when he felt a needle enter the side of his neck.

Ah shit, he let his guard down. And this was also why he didn't fucking like anyone near his neck. Kudos liked his hallucinogens too. Jack had barely had a hold of his sanity in the last few days that he was in Kodos' hands.

Clamping his hand over the injection spot, he shoved her away, albeit weakly, confusion in his green eyes.

She smiled at him, swaying. "You're not fooling anyone, Captain. No matter how you disguise yourself. Is your crew right behind you?"

"C-crew?" Jack mumbled. "What? I'm not...I don't…"

He couldn't figure out the words. Holy shit, this was some fast acting sedative. He estimated that he probably had less than a minute to escape, if he could. He had to try. If he got caught here, it was going to be the end for him. No one was going to save him.

Surging forward, he tried to get past Mei, who caught him easily. A sharp pain lanced through his lower right side and he shakily glanced down to see a small knife buried into his flesh. It wasn't deep enough to cause long-term harm, but it was enough to incapacitate him. Also, where the hell did that come from? Was she hiding those knives under her dress? What the hell?

He fell to his knees, collapsing onto his side soundlessly. Immediately, he felt more than saw four pairs of feet surround him.

"Take him," Mei's voice snapped in Cantonese, the words echoing in the fog.

It was the last thing he heard before everything went dark.

Ah shit. He was fucked.

Unbeknownst to Jack, Sulu had managed to catch the tail end of his abduction. Hearing familiar voices, Sulu had quickly wandered over. The moment he saw Mei and her men, he hid behind a corner to assess the situation. He was greatly outnumbered - there was no way he could beat all those thugs and protect Jack if he was completely knocked unconscious.

He heard Mei say something in Cantonese and he knew that he had to act now.

"I'm going to do something really stupid," he whispered into his comms. "I'm going to pull a Kirk."

"Explain, Lieutenant," came the instant reply from Spock.

"No time, but you better have eyes on us. Otherwise, I think we're both going to be dead."

"Wait, what?!" McCoy yelled.

Without another beat, Sulu threw himself into view, shouting, "Hey! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Mei and her men swung around to look at him.

Sulu raised his phaser. "Let him go."

"Who are you? His crew?" Mei asked instead, unfazed by the phaser before her.

"A friend," Sulu responded. "Now let him go."

Mei laughed. "You truly think you have the high ground here, don't you?"

"I have very good aim."

"That means nothing. I know what I have in my hands."

"And what is that?"

"Leverage." With that, she grabbed a pistol out of the holster of the man nearest to her and held it against Jack's head. "I know who he is. I know what this means."

Shit, shit, shit. This was the worst case scenario. Sulu thought quickly. "Then you know the punishment for harming a Starfleet Captain."

"I do, but I don't seem to care."

"You'll bring the full might of Starfleet down upon you."

"Will it? Apparently, this man here has been dealing with the Patron. The Sicilian mafia has been blackmailing the decorated Captain of Starfleet. Will Starfleet act for such a scandal?"


There was fire in Sulu's eyes that it made Mei cock her head. "You care about him. Truly and deeply. Does he care about you the same way?"

Sulu elected to not respond. He wasn't sure how to, in actuality. There was no question of that if Kirk was normal; he had no idea if Jack cared even an ounce.

She smiled brightly. "Perfect."

And suddenly, Sulu found himself facing down the barrel of a gun.

A shot rang out.

When Spock and McCoy arrived at the scene, it was empty, save for a puddle of blood on the ground.

McCoy closed his eyes and punched the wall. "Fuck."

He was met with silence.

Jack woke to a slap against the face. Everything came online like a burst of lightning, including the aching pain in his side. The faces and words around him were still blurry, warped by drugs, but he was adjusting quickly.

Mei's face was the first to become clear, followed by a small crowd of five or so henchmen. Great. This should be fun.

Noticing that he was awake, Mei smiled at him. "Good afternoon, Captain."

Jack glanced down, noting that he was bound tightly by ropes to a chair. Not the most original idea for capturing a person, but it was effective. Even as he strained against the ropes, he couldn't do much when it wrapped around his torso like a boa constrictor and tied his arms to the back of the chair.

"Is it?" Jack snarked back, still in that British accent that he had maintained before. "I think you should change your definition of what constitutes as 'good'."

"Give up the act, Captain. You're fooling no one."

"What act? Also, you keep calling me Captain. I'm not Captain of anything."

"Captain James Tiberius Kirk, do you really think you can pretend to be anyone else?"

Jack let his head fall backwards in exasperation. "That guy again. I've spent most of my life getting mistaken for that guy. I'm so far from him that it's laughable. You've got the wrong guy."

He wasn't lying. That much, Mei could tell - she survived her world by knowing when people were lying to her - but Jack truly believed what he was saying. Confusion filled her.

"Then who are you?"

"Jack Dodson. Businessman. Like I said."

He was met with a resounding smack on his cheek that made his view suddenly jerk to the right.

"Lies," hissed Mei. "Who are you?"

"Jack Dodson," Jack said.

"I don't believe you." She turned to one of her men, "Bring him out," she snarled in Cantonese.

With confusion, Jack watched as the man dragged someone into view. The Asian man was familiar and Jack had a weird, tingling sense that he should be wearing something gold, not that black turtleneck.

He was conscious, but moving sluggishly. Jack's keen eyes noticed a small wet patch in the man's upper left shoulder. Bullet wound, his mind supplied helpfully. There was concern that emitted quietly somewhere, but Jack pushed it down. Jack had no ties to anyone. There was no need to worry about others when his own life was in danger.

"I found your friend following you around," Mei said. "Tell me who you are or I will hurt him further."

She kicked the Asian man over, and Jack got a full glimpse of the man's face. Ah. It was one of the people who were following him around. The idiot. Jack had warned them to back off, and now he got himself captured. Whatever happened now was his own damn fault. Jack just had to be concerned about his own skin, not anyone else's.

But something inside him kept itching, scratching at a wall that Jack didn't know he had. It almost physically hurt.

Ah, goddamn it. This was going to be the death of him. And he didn't even fucking know why.

Jack snorted, letting nonchalance show on his expressions. "Go for it," he said. "I don't know who this guy is."

The more he didn't seem to care, the less likely that man/stalker would be touched.

And to Sulu's credit, he didn't even flinch.

Mei's eyes narrowed. "I heard that Captain Kirk was very protective of his crew."

"Yeah? Good for him. Too bad I'm not him. Do what you want with the guy."

She raised a knife, ready to stab Sulu, testing Jack.

Jack just shrugged. "Look, if you think hurting strangers is going to make me talk, then you're not as smart as I thought you were."

Mei frowned. "You really don't seem to know him."


"He isn't one of your crew?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "What is it with everyone and making me repeat myself over and over again? No, he isn't one of my 'crew'. I work alone."

"Then who the hell are you?"

"Jack Dodson!"

"What are you?"

"A grifter? Con man? Thief? You know what, there really isn't a term for what I am. I'm quite complex that way, but let's just settle on the idiot who got caught by you for now."

That earned Jack another hard hit, this time to his gut. He couldn't help the hiss of pain that escaped when it exacerbated his previous wound.

The noise made Sulu start to struggle against his own bindings, but there wasn't much he could do either. At least he wasn't shouting. That would've been annoying.

Jack coughed a couple of times, pulling himself together. "Look, I was hired by the Patron to take someone out."

"And what does that have to do with me?"


Understanding lit in Mei's eyes. "I was your target."

"Take out the mastermind of the Cantonese mafia and the rest crumbles. It's quite brilliant, actually. The Patron really thought it out."

"So why shouldn't I kill you now for trying to take my life?"

"Think about it - if I wanted to kill you, I would've earlier. I have had so many opportunities."

"You have had one," Mei sneered. "And I believe I won that round."

Jack shook his head. "I let you win. I could've done anything yesterday while you were at that restaurant on third street at 1900, or when you went to get a manicure the day before at 1435. Or even when you went on that trip to Morocco. I've been casing you for weeks. I have had many chances to take you out, and I'm very good at what I do."

So that answered the question of Jack's spontaneous and seemingly random pop-ups in Hong Kong and the rest of the globe, Sulu noted silently.

Mei's face paled. "Then why didn't you?"

"I told you before, I wanted to make a deal. And to let you know that it's probably in your best interest to work with me here."

"What sort of deal?"

"The Patron has something on me, and I want that expunged. And the only way I can do that is a hefty sum of money. So instead of killing you, how about you pay me to spare your life?"

Mei laughed incredulously. "You must be a fool to think that'll work."

"I can also give you details of the Patron's finances to bring them down. Completely eliminating all of your issues with the…'trading'...that occurs down at the docks here and in Europe."

That gave Mei pause. "You're lying."

Jack shrugged. "Believe it or not, it's up to you."

"Why help us and go against the Patron?"

"I don't bite until provoked," Jack said, baring his teeth, "And the Patron has most definitely provoked me."

"What is preventing you from back-stabbing me?"

"One way or another, I will get the Patron off my back, whether it be with your help or not."

Mei sniffed. "I think I'd rather beat you to death."

Jack leaned forward, his hands in fists and defiance in his snarling face. "Fine. Bring it on then, bitch. Don't come crying to me when everything blows up in your face."

Below him, Sulu groaned - no doubt at the fact that Jack had goaded them into torturing him - but it wasn't like Jack had any other options. There was no other way to completely free Sam from the Patron.

Mei snapped her fingers and immediately, her men took turns whaling on him. He could distantly hear Sulu shout at them to stop, but they all knew that it was futile. All Jack could do was hold on as pain lanced through every single one of his nerves.

He felt the instant his ribs cracked, the bruises that blossomed like paint being thrown on a blank canvas. Consciousness ebbed and waned, and he just took it. He had to. And that's what Jack clung to as lacerations split open and bones snapped.

Amidst the beatings and shouting, Jack didn't feel any fear or panic at the fact that he had no way out, no sign of reprieve or a possibility of an escape. The idea of death didn't even cross his mind. Oddly enough, all Jack felt was a sense of serenity. As if he knew that he was never really in danger. As if someone was coming for him. To save him as always, but he didn't know why, let alone who would save him. He had never had anyone. It had always just been him...hasn't it?

There was something lurking within him, just pounding against that impenetrable wall. Jack could sense the spider-web cracks grow with each second until the wall completely shattered and something suddenly clicked in Jim's mind. All his doubts and confusion dispelled immediately, and he started to laugh out hysterically.

"What's so funny?" demanded Mei.

"I remember..." Jim whispered, faux-accent gone. He looked up, his eyes shining. "I remember."

How could he have forgotten? How could he have forgotten all those times of laughter and those bursts of happiness that had grown so big that it made him dizzy with disbelief? And God, were those tears in his eyes?!

"What the hell?!" one of the men exclaimed, unnerved by the man in front of them.

Jim just laughed harder, grinning his bloody teeth at them. "Man, are you guys fucked."


"They're coming."

"Who's coming? The police? The cartel?"

"Someone much, much worse."

"Damn it, who?!"

"My crew."

Sulu's head perked up immediately, and his eyes made contact with Jim's. The recognition, love, and friendship was everything that Sulu had been looking for since this whole ordeal happened.

Sulu let his head drop to the ground with an exhale of relief. "Oh, thank God you're back."

"You're an idiot, Sulu," Jim quipped back.

"I don't want to hear that from you, Captain."

Jim chuckled.

Mei took a step back. "Captain? But...What is going on?"

"Don't worry too much about it, Miss Mei," grinned Jim. "I wasn't exactly myself until a second ago. Amnesia is a bitch. Not sure how I got my memory back so suddenly, honestly. Regardless, you're under arrest for assaulting two Starfleet officers."

To her credit, she regained her composure quickly. "You're still in no position to be saying such things, Kirk."

"Captain Kirk," said Jim. "And I do believe I do. You see, you mafia type, you always seem to underestimate Starfleet. Did you even bother to check to see if Sulu here had any sort of tracking device on him?"

"Of course we did! We removed everything!"

"It's true," Sulu admitted sheepishly. "They even got my boot knife."

"I can't believe you let them do that," scolded Kirk.

"Again, I don't want to hear that from you!"

"I'm at least not lying on the ground!"

"I was shot!"

"Don't be dramatic. It's just a flesh wound."

"Still hurts like a bitch."



"Is that any way to speak to your Captain?"

Mei snapped, shouting loudly, "SHUT UP."

The two quieted, staring at her like unruly children.

"What the hell is going on here?" she growled.

"You can't tell? We're buying time," Jim said innocently.


Suddenly, a controlled explosion blew out the wall behind Mei. Shouts and yells for everyone to get down could be heard all over as Starfleet officers rushed in with phasers drawn out.

Leading the charge were the absolutely furious duo of McCoy and Spock, coming in quickly and mercilessly.

Jim cheekily smiled at Mei. "Like I said, you're under arrest for the assault of Starfleet officers."

Seeing how it was the end for her, Mei lifted her pistol again, pointing at Jim. "If I'm not escaping, you won't either."

"I really wouldn't do that if I were you."

"And why not?"

"The stories of me being overprotective of my crew? It goes double for my crew for me. Also, how have you not understood the concept of buying time yet?"

The next second, Spock had Vulcan pinched her and the gun landed on the ground beside her, harmless.

"Perfect timing, Spock," grinned Jim. "As always."

"Jim?" Spock and McCoy gaped.

"You guys going to stand there and stare at me all day? Or are you going to let me go? If I have to hear Sulu winge about his flesh wound again, I'm going to be fairly cranky."

"Flesh wound?!" came Sulu's indignant splutter. "I got shot for you!"

"And I saved you from being killed, while not knowing who you were, no less, so I think you owe me."

"Goddamn it, Kirk. When we get out of this, I'm going to punch you so hard that you're going to see stars."

"I think that's insubordination. Spock, that's insubordination, right?"

Jim turned to look at Spock, who hadn't replied. Both he and McCoy were standing stupefied in front of him, as if too scared to touch him.

"Spock? Bones?" Jim tried tentatively, worried now. "You guys okay?"

It was Jim's nickname for McCoy that snapped them both out of their reverence.

Immediately, Spock was behind him, untying him, while McCoy checked him out. He felt McCoy's usually steady hands shake slightly and Spock's smooth fingers brushing against his - definitely to confirm that Jim had regained his memories.

The moment he was freed, he felt himself being enveloped into McCoy's warm arms. He leaned in, relishing in the sensation. He hadn't realized how cold he was until he felt the heat of another person.

"Hi, Bones…" Jim breathed.

"Welcome back, Jimbo."

Jim just smiled into McCoy's shoulder before patting him once and backing off. "Where's Sam? He's okay?"

"Mr. Kirk is currently onboard with Lieutenant Commander Scott and Lieutenant Chekov," Spock responded smoothly as he helped Sulu to his feet, acting as the Asian man's support. "He is well."

"You brought him onboard? To the Enterprise? With all of you?" Jim's words were of disbelief.

"Where else would we have taken him?" asked McCoy with an eye roll.

Jim glanced at Sulu, wincing. "Yikes. Is he traumatized yet?"

"Hey, we're perfectly lovable people!" protested Sulu.

"We're insane! You can't even deny that!"

"You're our boss! Are you surprised?!"

"How did he take everything? What happened after Chicago? Did he call you guys?"

"We found him first," McCoy replied.

"I figured you'd be out looking," Jim nodded to himself. "Wasn't counting on the amnesia to stop you guys from bailing me out of the situation."

"Speaking of," Sulu said, "What are you going to do about the Patron? He still has that kill order on you and George."

Jim just gave them a toothy grin, giving them an impression of a predator that finally got his prey.

Honestly, they should have known better than to underestimate Jim Kirk, no matter what stage in life he was in.

The moment Jim was beamed back onboard, he was immediately accosted by Chekov, Scotty, and Uhura, each giving him a once-over to make sure he wasn't too damaged, and gave him a quick hug. There was a brief second during the hug that they remembered that Jack was a jackass, but Jim was happily hugging them back and all was right again.

The relief that Jim had regained his memory was palpable.

Sam hung back, hesitant, and even shifted uncomfortably under Jim's gaze once his crew gave him some room.

"Sam," Jim greeted. "Hope my people treated you well?"

He nodded, "They were good to me."

"It's okay - you can tell me the truth. They're crazy, aren't they?"

"A little."

Jim snorted. "A little? Now I know you're lying. Scotty here is insane on a good day; Sulu is trigger happy and Bones here is the grumpiest cat you'll ever meet." He winked at Chekov. "Not you though, Chekov. You're everyone's favorite."

Chekov laughed, grinning proudly.

Sulu just rolled his eyes. "Trigger happy? Pot, meet kettle. Also, I notice that you didn't say anything about Uhura or Spock."

Uhura smiled. "Because he knows better than to say anything about me."

Jim pointed at her. "That's why I said nothing. Nothing needs to be said about her. She's in her own category of badassery. And Spock is unflappable in front of guests, so there's no way that Sam thought that he was of any threat at all. He's a Vulcan after all."

"That's true. The hobgoblin only ever gets annoyed at you. What does that say about you?" quipped Bones.

"That I'm awesome."

Sam was looking a little confused. Jim decided to take pity on his brother. After all, Sam hadn't seen him like this before - comfortable, happy, and at his best. So he patted Sam on the shoulder, gave him a small smile, and said, "Sorry - it must've been awful for you. But you're going to be fine. Promise."

Those familiar hazel eyes just teared up and Sam pulled Jim into a tight hug. "I'm just so glad that you're okay."

Jim couldn't help wincing when he felt the low twinge of pain rear up loudly. Ah yes. There were those cracked ribs again.

He immediately felt hands separating him and his brother and he looked up, bewildered at Bones' slightly angry expression.

"You. MedBay. Now."

"Reverted to caveman speak, have we?" Jim said, amused.

"How bad are your injuries?"

"Aren't you the doctor? Didn't you look me over already?"

"Glanced. But you're clearly hiding more injuries than you're letting on."

"I'm fine, Bones."

Bones ran a hand over his haggard face, not even caring about the audience around them. "No, you're not doing this to me. Not right now. We've been through too much shit these last few days worrying about you. You don't get to play the 'I'm Jim Kirk and always fine when I'm not' card today. What injuries do you have? Do not lie to me either, Jim. Not right now."

Jim's features softened, hearing the desperation behind the words and seeing the crumbled expression on Bones' face, and he reached out to grip Bones' wrist. "I'm fine," he said gently. "Covered in bruises, at least two broken ribs, one minor stab wound, and I think that's it. Nothing too bad. We've definitely had worse, all things considered."

"You have a stab wound?!" yelped Sam.

"Minor stab wound," Jim insisted. "It's barely a scratch."

"It's definitely the best aftermath so far out of all the kidnapping situations that you've been in," agreed Sulu.

"I still don't understand how you can make light of such a thing," Sam exclaimed with exasperation.

The crew (except for Spock) shrugged.

"Honestly, it's better than the alternative. And we've been down that road before," sighed Uhura. "This way, McCoy won't have an aneurysm."

"At some point, you guys will have to talk about your codependency, you know that, right?" Sulu said.

Jim wrapped an arm around Bones, flashing a bright grin, "Yes, but not today!"

McCoy rolled his eyes, but if he leaned into Jim's embrace a bit more, no one mentioned anything. Nor did they comment when Spock stepped closer to the two, barely brushing his shoulder with Jim's. As if he needed to have physical contact with Jim to reassure himself as well. And Jim just looked content to be surrounded by the two of them.

Yes, the codependency of the three of them would need to be addressed someday.

Jim thought that he deserved a reward for being so well behaved at Sickbay, letting Bones prod and poke him under Spock's, Sulu's, and Sam's watchful eyes. But every time he opened his mouth to mention it, he would see the dark circles under Bones' eyes and the tight lines on Spock's face, and everything would fade away in an apologetic sigh.

The majority of his injuries had been taken care of already - the small stab wound made Sam and Bones hiss, but that was the easiest to fix. They were working on his ribs when Sam glanced around, realizing that most of the Command crew had disappeared off somewhere, leaving just the four of them there.

"Where did the rest of your people go?" Sam asked. He had been sure that they had accompanied them to the Sickbay.

"Scotty and Chekov probably went to make sure all of Mei's people are good and stuck in the Brig. Uhura's definitely letting Pike know about everything." Jim sighed at the last bit. "Either she's throwing me under the bus or she's conspiring with Pike to make me owe him a favor again. She's mean that way."

"Pike…Is that that Commander that used to visit us when we were kids?"

"The very same, though he's an Admiral now. And he's usually up my ass about something."

"It's because you usually deserve it," Sulu quipped from where he laid on the Biobed next to Jim's.

Jim glanced at Sulu, as he did every so often, to check on the status of the dermal regenerator on his friend. The bullet wound was almost healed already, he noted with relief.

"You're an idiot, you know," Jim said.

Sulu huffed. "So you've said."

"Next time you pull a bullheaded move like you did today, I'll court-martial you."

"You'd have to remember me first. And be alive," Sulu shot back without any hesitation. "Can't do jack to me if you're not alive to do it."

"I wasn't going to die. Stop being so melodramatic."

"Sure. They were just going to torture you until you broke, which would've been never. So of course their big guns and knives wouldn't lead to an untimely end for you."

"The sarcasm is strong in you today, Sulu."

"Tends to happen when my friend is being an idiot."

Jim sighed. "I wasn't going in blindly. I had a plan."

"Did you now. Didn't seem like Jack was making a lot of smart decisions from what we were seeing."

"Hey, you can't hold those actions against me. I had amnesia!"

"Yeah, made me miss your usual brand of insanity. Didn't think that was possible."

Jim's eyes fell to the ground. "Yeah, wasn't fun for me either."

The tone made Spock, Bones, and Sulu look at Jim in concern, which made Sam worried. He had clearly missed something important, but he wasn't even remotely close to Jim anymore, not like his friends.

"Jim?" Spock questioned. "Are you alright?"

A beat. "Yeah, I'm fine," came the flippant reply.


Even Sam could hear the disapproving tone in the Vulcan's words.

"It's just weird," Jim grated out. "'Jack Dodson' wasn't a fond period of my life, and all those memories are currently at the forefront and it's like I'm seeing all my actions in the last few days as an out of body experience. It almost feels like there's an overlap on everything - Jack's perspective and my own on a parallel track, but viewing it at the same time. I keep remembering what I did and thinking now that I was an idiot."

Jim rubbed his face. "God, Chekov was so scared. I can't believe I did that to him…" But then he glared at the rest of them. "But you guys really shouldn't have followed me around."

Sulu frowned, reading between the lines. "Are you saying that you attacked Chekov on purpose? And not just because we annoyed you?"

"Patron's men were following me. They've been following me since Chicago. I had to make it seem like you weren't out to help me. And they were closing in when Chekov came around."

"Even when you did not remember us, you were still protecting us," Spock commented.

"I can tell you that that wasn't what Jack was thinking," Jim sighed. "You were a hindrance to my plans."

"Despite what you may think, I saw what you did for Lieutenant Uhura at that bar in New York. You had seen that her drink had been drugged. You instigated the fight in retaliation to that."

"That's why he started that fight?" gaped McCoy.

"I wanted an adrenaline rush," Jim shrugged. "And I don't like drugs."

The stilted movement made McCoy's trained eyes narrow. "Your neck is stiff. You have a headache?"

Jim smiled up at McCoy. "A roaring one."

"You should've mentioned it earlier."

"Would this be related to his brain injury earlier?" asked Spock.

"No, that was healed on its own. I'm assuming this more has to do with the inundation of information when Jim regained his memory. I'll get you a painkiller, Jim."

The hypospray came near Jim's neck, and unbiddenly, his entire body flinched away, as if he was about to get hit.

Bones frowned, freezing in midair. "Jim?"

There was a slight glaze of Jim's eyes as he shook his head, clearing a memory. "Sorry, sorry. It's just...I didn't like anything touching my neck for a while. I got over it, but it kind of came roaring back all of a sudden."

Jim took a deep breath. "I'm good. Go for it." He tilted his head slightly, giving Bones access.

Though hesitant, Bones brought the hypospray closer to Jim's neck, but he could see Jim's hands clenched tightly into fists and the strain of his muscles as he tried to keep himself still.

"Jim, we don't have to do this if you don't want to," Bones said gently.

"It's fine...it's fine," Jim insisted, but Bones could tell that he was far from it.

"You didn't have this aversion when I met you," said Bones.

"What are you talking about? I've always hated hyposprays."

"Yes, but you didn't have an issue with anything against your neck."

"Like I said, I got over it."


Jim sighed, looking away. He was hesitant and glanced up at Sam, not sure if he should share as much when his brother was around. As far as he knew, Sam didn't know about Tarsus. He stared at the floor, not looking at anyone. "When I was off-planet, he kept me tied up against a wall, eagle-spread around my wrists and ankles, and he kept a constant thick collar of rope around my neck, just to tug around however he pleased. Wasn't that big of a fan of being tied up after that. He also really enjoyed testing certain drugs, which he always injected into my neck."

Suddenly, Jim not liking hyposprays made more sense - having such sharp objects near his neck couldn't have helped his fear. And those memories were closer to the surface now. It definitely didn't help Jim's dislike of hyposprays at the moment.

"By the time I met you, I had mostly gotten over it. I mean, I still don't like being tied up, but that's usually because I'm in trouble or something now, so it's more that I'm not pleased with the situation?"

"Would it help if I held your hand?"

Jim squinted up at Bones. "Are you patronizing me?" he asked, a bit incredulously.

"No, I'm honestly offering."

"Oh." Jim thought about it. And then shyly reached out to hold onto Bones' free hand.

On Jim's other side, Spock reached down and held Jim's other hand, sending waves of calmness to the subdued man. At the contact, Jim just flashed the Vulcan a grateful smile. In fact, it seemed that Jim was at his happiest at this moment since he returned, despite all the shit that went down - between his two best friends.

With the two of them at his side, he allowed Bones to hypospray the headache away with minimum fanfare.

Yeah, Sulu thought internally, the co-dependency of those three definitely needed to be addressed at some point.

After a moment of silence as McCoy finished up with the treatment for both Jim and Sulu, Sam couldn't help himself. "When you say 'off-planet', did you mean Tarsus?" Sam asked quietly.

The bodily flinch was enough to answer that question.

"Who the fuck told him?" Jim hissed, daggers shooting from his eyes.

"No one per se," Sulu said. "He figured it out."

"Because you guys are as subtle as a neon light in Vegas."

"Jimmy…" Sam started, but whatever he was about to say was interrupted by Uhura knocking as she poked her head around the door to the Sickbay with a concerned frown on her face.

"Leonard, is he good?"

"I'm fine," Jim said, rolling his eyes. "And present. You can ask me personally."

"You're notoriously unreliable when it comes to your health," Uhura shot back. "Leonard, Spock, he good?"

"Yeah, he's fine now," McCoy replied. "What's going on?"

"Interpol called, asking for Kirk. Someone named Koch. He wanted to remind you, and I quote, 'to cough up what you promised him or he's going to arrest you like he wanted to, Starfleet be damned.' What did you do, Kirk?"

"Okay, for the record, it was not my fault."

"Your stories always start off that way, but it doesn't end well."

Jim shrugged. "How was I to know that he had an undercover agent in the seedy underbelly of London?"

"What. Did. You. Do."

"Ye of little faith!"

Uhura crossed her arms. "Kirk."

"I may or may not have punched his agent," Jim responded sheepishly. "I didn't know he was an agent!"

"Why did you punch him?"

"He was getting in my way."

"We've been hearing that phrase quite a bit today. It does not sound better the more you say it," Sulu commented.

"I told you I had a plan," Jim growled. "Tell Koch that he'll get what he wants when I'm good and ready to give it to him."

"He does not sound pleased, Kirk," Uhura warned.

"Of course not. Grumpiest man I've ever met aside from Bones. But you tell him that he can wait for another couple of hours, and if he has a problem, I'll sic Spock on him."

She had no doubt that Spock would definitely rise to defend his Captain and bare his fangs for Jim, but Uhura rolled her eyes. "I'll tell him you'll call him back."

"And tell him that he can call off his people."

"What people?"

"I'm surprised you guys didn't notice - Interpol has been dogging me since London," said Jim. He glanced at Bones. "Am I good?"

Bones nodded. "You're good to go. Why was Interpol following you?"

"I called them."

Everyone frowned at him in confusion as he stood, stretching to test his body.

Noticing the silence in the room, Jim looked up and rolled his eyes. "Guys, I'm a genius. Didn't take me long to realize that I had lost quite a few years and that I've become pretty recognizable in the last couple of years. There's something called the internet. So I knew that I was Captain of the Enterprise."

"Wait, did you know that you were Captain when we met up with you at that bar in New York?" McCoy asked as he checked Sulu one last time before giving him a pat of assurance.

"Why do you think I was drinking?"

"Because you had the mafia coming after you?" Sulu supplied, sitting up and testing his shoulder.

Feeling satisfied that Sulu was fine, Jim started walking out with everyone following him. Sam noted that Spock and McCoy instantly fell in line with Jim, walking side by side with him, while Sulu and Uhura were just barely a step behind. Always at his six.

There was much more to their bonds that an outsider like him would never be able to understand. As he looked at Jim's back before him, half hidden by his people, Sam had never felt the distance between them more than he did at that moment.

Sad thing was, he didn't know if he was happy or lost.

Unknown to his inner thoughts, Jim had continued speaking. "That wasn't something new, unfortunately. Not at that age. I didn't think I'd sell out after what happened with Tarsus."

"Then why did you not let us help you, Jim?" asked Spock. "You must have seen holos of all of us with you during your research."

"Yeah, but it didn't mean I trusted you enough to tell you anything. All I knew was that you were my crew. Didn't know what you guys actually were to me. Sam's life was on the line, Patron's men were following me, and I was just tasked to kill someone from the Cantonese mafia. I wasn't going to just trust people because I took some pictures with you."

"But you never let on that you knew who we were!" exclaimed Sulu.

Jim could only sigh again. "Immense trust issues, Sulu. Immense. Thought I could handle it on my own. In my mind then, it was just safer and easier. Didn't quite count on you guys following me everywhere. You guys almost blew my cover a few times."

"So why did you call Interpol?" Sam wondered. "If you knew that you were Starfleet, why count on an external agency?"

Jim looked forward, obviously avoiding eye contact with Sam. "I didn't have the funds to free you from the Patron and I didn't want to kill someone again. I had a plan, but they were my backup for you in very likely case that shit went sideways."

Sulu frowned. "How was Interpol your backup plan? Do you even have contacts in Interpol?"

At that, Jim grinned at Sulu. "You'll find out in a bit. Shall we?"

And all of them suddenly realized that Jim had led them to his ready room without any of them noticing.

He chuckled at their confusion. "I'm about to settle the whole thing. Call up Chekov and Scotty, Spock. I'm sure that they'll want to hear about my ingenious plan."

Bones rolled his eyes. "You just like their hero worship of you."

"Can't deny that," laughed Jim.

Chekov and Scotty arrived in mere minutes after Spock hailed them, and everyone settled down at the table as Jim called Pike.

As Pike's face appeared on screen, George couldn't help but feel a sense of nostalgia. He had very minimal memories of the man, but the little that he had was filled with warmth and a sense of security. And Pike always had a particular fondness of little Jimmy, giving him the love and adoration that he should have gotten from their mother and stepfather. But George had run away soon after he'd met him. He had always hoped that Pike would continue to stop by and check on Jimmy, and maybe even adopt him. It was easier to take on one child versus two anyway, and Jimmy deserved someone like Pike more than he did.

Now, years later, the fondness for Jim clearly still hadn't dissipated. George could see it in Pike's eyes. And he could see how Jim's back straightened just a bit when Pike answered the call. Jimmy clearly looked up to Pike, despite the cocky and almost borderline defiant smirk on his face.

"Admiral," Jim greeted, a little too cheerily.

George could see realization that Jim had regained his memories hit Pike like a light bulb brightening a dark room. And a warm smile crossed his expression before his eyes narrowed, immediately suspicious. "What did you do now, Jim?" Pike grumbled.

Jim widened his blue eyes innocently. "Why do you think I did anything?"

"Because you usually always do something."

No one in the room reacted, George noted. Clearly, this was a normal interaction for the two.

"You'll like this, Chris. Promise. It helps build interagency relationships!"

"Alright, before you give me an ulcer and bury me in a mountain of paperwork, first things first: welcome back, Jim," Pike said warmly. "It was a nightmare dealing with you when you hated Starfleet. Let's make sure that never happens again, shall we?"

"I'll endeavor to do so in the future, sir. Wasn't fun for me either," Jim admitted, rubbing the back of his head.

"Wait," started Uhura, dots connecting in her head. "You were in contact with Pike this entire time?" she asked bewildered.

"Genius, remember?" Jim shrugged. "I had a massive target on my back and no one that I thought had my back, so I called Pike soon after you guys ran into me in New York."

"And you still didn't trust us? Didn't Pike tell you who we were?"

"I knew of you," Jim corrected. "Didn't mean I knew to trust you. Hell, I didn't even trust Pike and I've known him longer."

"He was an absolute nightmare," Pike agreed, shaking his head. "You cussed me out quite a few times."

"I would say that I'm sorry, but it wouldn't really be sincere," Jim quipped with a smirk. "Never liked rules and regulations after all."

Pike rolled his eyes and then turned his gaze onto George. "It's nice to see you as well, George. It's been a long time."

"H-hello," stammered George, caught off guard.

"And I see that your crew is still being overprotective as always, Jim. I assume Spock and McCoy haven't let you out of their sights yet?"

Jim chuckled. "You know them. Plus, Bones is a menace until all injuries are healed."

At that, Pike frowned. "You were injured?"

Jim waved the concern away. "Mild injuries. It's not like Sulu who got shot."

"Don't throw me under the bus, Kirk!" Sulu protested. "You got stabbed!"

"Mildly," Jim hissed. "Mildly stabbed."

To his credit, Pike merely sighed. "Start from the beginning, Jim. Report everything, even if you've already told me. Knowing you, you didn't tell your people anything."

"In my defense, I didn't know who they were," but he didn't disagree and glanced around the table. "As you guys know, Sam got into a spot of trouble with the Patron and I agreed to help him. The Patron wanted the money that Sam owed, but neither of us had enough funds to settle the debt. So a collateral was offered - I take out someone for them and Sam's records would be expunged."

"Don't you have some funds saved up?" asked Bones. "Why didn't you just pay for everything partially?"

"The thought did cross my mind, but I honestly don't think it would've worked. Patron wanted me to act as his hit-man. It was a win-win situation for him: either I offed his rival or I get caught and he eliminates a potential thorn in his side." Jim then started looking sheepish, "Besides, by the time I had seriously considered the idea, I had lost my memories and couldn't remember my password…"

"Thought you'd be the kind of person to use the same password for everything," McCoy snorted.

"You're not wrong, but it doesn't help if that password is something I set much later," said Jim a bit cryptically. "Anyway, after I helped Sam escape, I had a little kerfuffle with the Patron's men. Someone whacked me on the head good and I lost about six to seven years. I realized really quickly that I had lost memories - I mean, it's not a hard jump when the last thing you remember is being on a beach in Mexico and then all of a sudden, you're freezing your ass off in Chicago. And people kept calling me Captain and wanting my photograph or autograph. A quick search later and I figured that I was Captain of the Enterprise. Thought that I would use that to my advantage."

"And yet you dragged Interpol in. I don't think that I've ever met a man more disagreeable than Doctor McCoy when he's worried about you," Pike said, obviously not pleased with this Koch character..

"That's because Bones is actually secretly a teddy bear," grinned Jim, expertly dodging a whack from the aforementioned man. "But you're not wrong about Koch. I wouldn't have called him if it wasn't for the fact that I hated Starfleet more than I hated him at that moment."

"What was the point of calling Interpol, Captain?" Spock questioned.

"First of all, remember that I had amnesia and I didn't know that I could trust you guys," Jim started.

"That doesn't sound ominous at all. You said you had a plan, Kirk," said Sulu.

Jim rubbed his eyes. "Yeah, but it's not a plan that any of you would have agreed with. Look, all I knew was that Sam was in trouble with the kind of people that would've offed him without a trace and I didn't have the means to pay off his debt. Not to mention, if the Patron knew that I was his brother, there was no chance in hell that he would ever let Sam go again. To free Sam, to really free him from the Patron, I had to do something drastic. Extremely drastic."

Already knowing where Jim was going with this, Spock just said with a slight sigh in his words. "You had to remove the Patron from power. As you did with the Bratva."

"Bingo. But the Bratva didn't happen for me yet - I wish I did. Would've been a lot more cleaner than what ended up happening."

"Cleaner?" wondered Chekov.

"Let's just say that you shouldn't look too deeply into the situation, Pike," Jim said with a sad resignation. "It won't look too good for Starfleet, no matter how you spin it."

All the people at the table, except for George, froze. They knew what that meant.

Jim hadn't thought he had anything to lose - he didn't consider the consequences of his actions. And Jim, when pushed into a corner and trying desperately to protect someone he cared about, could be absolutely...feral. They had seen it in the many missions that they've had - George had no idea what his little brother could be capable of, and clearly, Jim wanted to keep it that way with how cryptic he was being.

"So, wha was yer plan, laddie?" Scotty asked, trying to break the dark and heavy atmosphere.

"Find the weak points and crumble their organizations. All mafias rely heavily on their finances to keep their operations going. The Patron's men did it through loan sharks, the Chen's do it through swindling people out of their money at the casino. The difference is, for the Patron, his finances equated to his power. The Chen's were built on a pyramid scheme that needed Mei Chen to keep it going. And if they were at war with each other, it only made sense to utilize that as well."

"I went underground, looking for the smoking gun for the Patron. Ended up finding a weak link in his chain of command and got my hands on a bookie's ledger. Found out that the Patron was smart about his logs - he spread them out so that one wasn't enough to bring him down. You needed all of them. So I spent quite a bit of time looking for them. I got access to maybe about seventy percent of them, but I have the locations for the others. I just didn't have that much time to go hunting for them. Besides, by that point, the Patron had figured that I was up to something. He didn't know what I was doing though - I had made copies of everything and left the original where it was. But it was getting too hot for me to keep going. That's when you guys caught up with me in the underground ring in London."

"Underground ring? You hadn't told me about this. Were you voluntarily involved in illicit matters that you kept off the books, Jim?" Pike asked.

Jim rolled his eyes. "What wasn't illicit about anything I did? I'll spare you the details, Pike. You'll have an aneurysm otherwise."

"Oh! That's what you were handing to that guy then!" Sulu exclaimed. "We thought you were buying drugs or something."

"Buying drugs?!"

"Thanks, Sulu," Jim shot. "No, it wasn't drugs. That was my contact from Interpol - I was handing off the last of the books that I had on hand."

"He didn't seem to like you much."

"That tends to happen when you punch someone in the face the first time you meet him."

"I'm almost afraid to ask why you hit him…" sighed Bones.

"It was at the first bookie's place - he was there. I was trying to talk my way into getting access, but he kept insisting that he didn't recognize me. So I had to resort to force."

"Ah, that's what you meant about him getting in your way."

"Yeah, didn't know he was an undercover agent who was trying to do the same thing as I was. I got stupidly captured by the people of Interpol after that, thought I was in the inner workings of the Patron's circle. Koch had to bail me out from getting arrested." Jim drummed his fingers on the table irritatedly. "He could have just told me that they had another operation going on. The bastard."

"Hold on, you were 'captured'?" Uhura asked. "What does that mean?"

Jim frowned. "By this point, I would've figured you know what that means, Uhura. Knocked out, tied up, got punched a couple of times here and there. The whole shebang. It's not new news for me."

"Wha?! Interpol beat ye?!" Scotty yelled.

"Not much," Jim said with an air of nonchalance. "It honestly wasn't much. There wasn't any lasting damage except for a few bruises and a wounded pride. Koch stopped it pretty quickly. Wanted to avoid interagency conflict after all."

"Did Koch know that you did not hawe your memories, Keptin?" asked Chekov.

"Of course not. I trusted him less than I trusted you guys. For all he knew, I was working undercover for Starfleet, and I kept it that way. By the way, Pike, he still thinks I was undercover. I figure it's not great if it got out that I had amnesia and mucked about in the underground."

Pike nodded. "I'll make sure that we have some paperwork to back you up. You mentioned that the Patron got suspicious of you? What happened then?"

"Once I caught the ire of the Patron, his men explicitly told me to do what I was told. Finish the job and all."

"I'm scared to ask what 'explicitly' meant…" Sulu muttered.

"How about we just have a blanket statement that I got beat up a lot through this whole thing?" Jim said with feigned brightness.

"Goddamn it, Jim," McCoy sighed, rubbing his face.

"I'm fine, guys. Honestly. I wouldn't have gotten very far if I got too hurt, would I? The Neanderthal in me at least had the conscience to avoid any major injuries."

"You realize that that does not make us feel better," Uhura said.

Jim shrugged. "I was playing a dangerous game. Had to happen. Anyway, after Patron's men 'kindly' let me go, I went off after Chen. She was a tricky one too, but easier to tackle. All I had to do was get her attention."

He leaned back in his chair. "I watched her and her people for a couple of weeks. I didn't have as much time as I would've liked, but it was clear that she made the majority of the decisions for the organization, despite the fact that her brother was the one on the 'throne'. The Chens were still relatively new to the mafia scene, so their organization wasn't quite as complex as the Patron. This last part, most of my people saw and/or were involved."

"I made sure that I was visible when I got to the casino and that I didn't look too far off from 'Captain Kirk'. I wanted her to know who I was; I wanted her to grab me."

"Wait," Sulu interrupted. "You played bait again?! What did we say about this? You're not allowed to do that anymore! You promised!"

Jim winced. "I agreed, Sulu. I didn't promise anything." He couldn't. They knew that implicitly. "Besides, I didn't remember that." He trailed off, not looking anywhere. "I wouldn't have done it if I remembered…" he said quietly.

There were a lot of things he wouldn't have done if he had remembered anything about his time with Bones, them, and the Enterprise.

Jim wasn't sure what sort of expression he had on his face that made Chekov reach out and lay a comforting hand on Jim's. He gave Chekov a grateful smile before continuing his story.

"I needed Chen to take me - that was my endgame. If she captured me and whacked me about a bit, Starfleet had every authority to arrest her and she would never see the light of freedom again. Without her, there won't be anyone else to take up her mantle and the Chen mafia would disband on their own volition."

"That was why you allowed us to follow you to Hong Kong," Spock commented. "You saw us at the casino, but you did not react. You used us for your own purposes even though you had no recollection of us."

"You know me - I'm quite resourceful. Point is, Starfleet gets credit for taking down the Cantonese mafia; Interpol gets the Patron. See? Interagency relationships," Jim grinned broadly. "Well, I'll have to call Koch and give him the rest of the stuff I sequestered elsewhere, but I'm fine with giving him the credit. You agree, Pike?"

Pike smiled. "Yes, that's fine with me. But you get to deal with him."

"As long as you got the backdated paperwork, sure."

"Of course. I'll make sure you're airtight." And then Pike's expression grew somber. "With everything that happened and knowing what we've asked of you before, I have to ask this, Jim. Did you leave a body count?"

Jim hesitated, eyes flickering over to both Bones and Spock and stopped at his brother, before he looked back at Pike. "No, but I definitely toed the line quite a bit a few times when I got found out."

"What does that mean?"

A shadow crossed Jim's face. "I didn't kill anyone, that's all you need to know," he gritted out with a finality. "Can we put this behind us now? I'd like to get Koch off my back as soon as possible."

Pike stared at Jim, studying his tight expressions and jittery fingers. His attention slid over to Bones and Spock. "McCoy, Spock…" he started.

Spock gave a curt nod. "We will look into it, Admiral."

"I just told you guys to let it go," Jim growled.

Bones laid a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Not what we're going to look into, Jim," he said comfortingly.

Jim looked confused.

Uhura sighed. "So much for being a self-proclaimed genius."

Jim pointed a finger at her. "I am a genius."

She rolled her eyes, waving a hand across the table. "We're all geniuses. But at least we're not dense like you."

Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty nodded in tempo with each other.

"Hey! I'm not that bad!"

"Yes, you are," chuckled Pike. "Spock, McCoy, keep me updated. Let me know if you need anything."

"Thanks, Chris," McCoy replied.

"Good work, Jim. Get some rest. Pike out." And Pike logged off, the screen zipping to black.

"Of course it was good work," Jim huffed with feigned annoyance. "When is it ever less than that?"

He suddenly reached across the table and stole the PADD from Chekov before typing a few things in.

"What are you doing, Jim?" asked Spock.

"Calling Koch." He paused, and glanced up at his people. "You guys should probably clear out."

Uhura crossed her arms. "Why?"

"Don't you have things to do? Like processing Chen and her people? I don't pay you to sit around."

"You don't pay us," she returned.

"I sign your paychecks."

"You get Rand to forge your signature."

Jim grinned. "Forgot you knew that bit. Thanks for blowing my cover, Uhura."

She shrugged, unapologetic.

Chekov took pity on Jim (like always). "Vhat are your orders, Keptin?"

"The conn is yours, Chekov. You and Uhura, finish up the paperwork for Chen. Sulu, make sure they're doing fine in the Brig and prep for their transfer to Starfleet. And Scotty, take Sam with you to engineering. Keep an eye on him until the situation with the Patron is settled down. I'll send word to you."

They all nodded and rose as one. Scotty and Sulu guided a protesting Sam out. The doors closed and the last thing Sam saw was Jim frowning down at the PADD and typing something furiously. McCoy and Spock were at his side, their entire attention drawn to Jim and whatever he was doing.

"I thought McCoy and Spock are part of the core Command team," he said as he walked with the rest of them.

"They are," Uhura replied.

"Shouldn't the conn be going to one of them?"

"Usually it goes to Spock, but Kirk knows that neither Spock or Leonard will leave him alone any time soon, so he just leans into it now."

"But...why?" George was honestly very confused. "Isn't everything settled? Mostly, at least?"

Uhura didn't respond, but Sulu nudged her. "We should tell him. He needs to understand," he said quietly.

"No," was her instant reply. There was anger lacing that one word. Scathing, almost.

"Ve vetted him," Chekov joined in. "It is alright."

"Not everyone can be as forgiving as the two of you," she hissed. "I won't forgive him."

"Kirk isn't mad, nor does he blame him. You know that," Sulu said gently.

"Someone should!" Uhura shot George a furious glare. "Jim Kirk is too kind of a soul to hold a grudge against someone that he cares about. He is a good person, one of the best people I have ever met in my life. He may not hate you, but I'm not that kind."

Scotty laid a hand on her. "Jim would nae want tha."

"No, he wouldn't. Which is why I will."

She swiftly turned away and stormed away, leaving that guilt in George's stomach to twist even more painfully.

"She'll come around," Sulu comforted. "She's especially protective of Kirk when it comes to matters such as these, not that she would ever tell him."

"I don't think she will…" he said, mouth dry. "And I don't blame her."

"Don't worry about it. She's more on edge than usual because she's worried about him."

"You all seem so worried. Even Pike looked worried. Why?"

Sulu sighed, looking tired. "There's not a lot that we can tell you that you'll understand. You don't know what Kirk is capable of. What he was capable of. He hasn't needed to dig into that part of himself in a while now. We're just worried about the aftermath. Just because he's capable of things doesn't mean he enjoys it. And now that he has his memories back, we're concerned that he might take it badly, you know?"

"But if you're that worried about it, why aren't you guys doing anything about it?"

"The Commander and Doctor McCoy are there," supplied Chekov, shrugging. "He vill be fine."

They had kept saying that - to leave Jim to those two. The three of them had to be close. "What is the exact nature of their relationship?" he found himself asking.

"The planets and the sun," answered Scotty.

"That doesn't make any sense."

"No, ah don't think it would. But they've got the laddie. Don't ye worry yer pretty head about it. Come on, let me show you my girl."


"The Enterprise, laddie! The Enterprise! Gorgeous beaut," Scotty rambled as he pulled George in another direction. "Ah don't think ye got an official tour yet. Let me tell ye…"

Sulu and Chekov shook their heads and split off on their own to complete their respective duties, confident that Spock and McCoy were there for Jim.

Jim typed on the PADD for a good couple of minutes before anyone in the ready room spoke. By then, he had mostly finished compiling everything and was just double checking his work.

"So, what's the real reason why you didn't want the rest of them here while you talk to Koch?" Bones asked lightly, leaning back in his chair and giving a nonchalant impression.

"What makes you think there was any particular reason?" Jim responded, a bit distracted.

"You have made it amply clear that you are not fond of this Koch character," Spock said.

"He's a right bastard for sure," nodded Jim.

McCoy crossed his arms. "So I'm guessing you cleared everyone out because you don't want them to be on his radar?"

Jim didn't respond, which was an answer in of itself.

"And you didn't make us go as well. Why?"

At that, Jim rolled his eyes at McCoy. "Would either of you left if I told you to?"

"Hell no," Bones said jovially.

"Exactly." Jim turned back to the PADD. "Besides, you guys can handle whatever Koch throws at you. Spock can run circles around me and you literally could care less about any form of authority except for Pike's, Spock's, and mine. Not much Koch can do to you guys."

"Do you anticipate that he will move against you?" Spock asked.

"Well, he can't touch me, so no."

"You idiot," Bones grouches. "We all know that you don't care about what happens to you either, but you sure as hell care if someone bothers any one of us. Just last month, you punched a dignitary because he insulted Spock."

"What kind of 'peace-making' delegate is xenophobic?!" Jim grumbled.

"Point is, an attack on us is an attack on you. So answer the damn question, you infant."

"I don't think he will, but I'm not risking it."

"Then why did you call him in the first place?"

"I didn't know anyone else."

It hit them then, the timing of it all: the fact that it was Jack that had known Koch, his continued dislike of him…

"Jim," Spock started cautiously. "How did you meet Koch?"

All of Jim's movements stopped, frozen in time. His blue eyes became distant, seeing something from long ago.


He shook himself from his reverie with an imperceivable jolt. "I ran into him a few times after Tarsus. I mean, I was messing about with the wrong crowds - people that Koch has spent his entire life taking down. I'm honestly surprised that he didn't hunt me down earlier. But it was harmless at first. He'd glare at me, find that I didn't partake in the illegal activities enough to warrant any arrests, or at least any that he could actually tie to me, and let me go. But then I helped Sam out once. It got messy and I was a bit too...J.T. still. Too angry, too volatile. And Sam had begged me to help."

"What happened?"

"Koch's partner got involved. He didn't come out of it unscathed," Jim said quietly. "He...uh...he had to take an early retirement. Koch's had it out for me ever since. Not that I blame him."

Spock mulled over his words, reading between the lines as one must when it came to Jim. "You blame yourself for Koch's partner's injuries, despite not being the one who caused it."

"Indirectly, I'm responsible."

"And knowing you, you let him blame you and walk all over you because you think it's your fault," sighed Bones.

"I didn't. Didn't care at that point in my life," Jim said tersely. "But I tried to stay out of his way as much as possible. He made things quite difficult for a while. Spent a lot of time in various prisons because of him."

"You were imprisoned previously?" Spock questioned, an eyebrow raised. "The Academy does not enroll students with a history of felonies."

Jim sighed. "They do if they're the son of a famous Captain. Winona was also pretty high up the food chain too. They couldn't not admit me. Legacies and all."

"That's also why Jim was tied up with Komack for so long - he used the fact that Starfleet had looked the other way for him as blackmail," Bones explained, but he frowned at Jim. "You told me that you had some run-ins with the wrong side of the law before. You didn't tell me it was all because of this Koch guy."

"It wasn't all because of him," Jim huffed. "I did a lot of damage on my own, thank you very much."

"Weird thing to be proud of…" Bones muttered.

"Look, Koch made my life miserable for a good many years. And he kept going after Sam too. I know what he's capable of - he's not above whatever he can to get what he wants. Hell, Koch almost arrested me on the spot the moment he recognized me, regardless if I punched his agent or not."

"You were always going to give him the Patron, weren't you?"

"It was the only way to get him off my back and Sam's."

Spock tilted his head at Jim. "You did not seem to care much for George when you were Jack. Yet, you have gone to such great lengths to protect him."

Jim ran his hand through his hair, looking more and more frazzled by the second. The adrenaline of everything had to be wearing off and the reality of all that went down was slowly eating away at Jim. "Yeah, some part of me definitely hated him by that time. But he was all I had left after Tarsus, despite how shitty he was."

It had kept him human, after he lost his children. Just the idea of Sam and what he was kept Jim from going somewhere that he could not come back from. For that, Jim would, and still did, continue to go to the end of the universe to keep that.

A flash of anger spread from the pit of Jim's stomach. He was so over all of this. He just wanted it to be done with. God - he had spent so long chasing away "Jack," and now his ghost was haunting Jim again. It sucked. All Jim wanted to do was curl up in bed and hide from the world. He still felt cold, but he had a feeling that no amount of clothing or blankets would fix it anytime soon.

Gritting his teeth, he tapped on his PADD and hailed Koch.

A Caucasian older man with tight lines and a frown answered the call. His brown eyes narrowed at the sight of Jim with Spock and McCoy at his sides. Everything about his body language screamed hostility and irritation. There were no signs or any micro-expressions of warmth that McCoy and Spock had seen with Pike or any other higher ranked people that directly interacted with Jim.

No, this man truly did not like Jim. Whatsoever.

Jim responded in kind, his body straightening and his face wiped of any emotions. "Koch," he greeted through clenched teeth.

"Where the hell are my ledgers, Kirk?" Koch growled. "You agreed to hand those over two days ago."

"Pardon me if I had to tie up some loose ends," Jim returned hotly. "Your men were being followed, you know. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have had to drop off your grid."

"Don't lie. The Patron's men were after you. I know your past. I've seen what you're capable of. Now give me the ledgers before I arrest you for obstructing our operation."

"Your man was about to give all of us up! I did what I had to do."

"As you always do," spat Koch.

Spock and McCoy watched Jim's fists clench under the table, though nothing changed in his expression.

Jim's voice was hard and gave no quarter. "The rest of the ledgers are in Chicago. Englewood U.S. Post Office. P.O. Box 2831."

Koch noted something down off screen as he nodded. "I'll send my men on that right away."

"No. You have to get it yourself. The only people who have authorization to that P.O. box is you or me. Anyone else and there are strict instructions to shred the contents of that box."

"You bullshitting with me, Kirk?! Is this because of what happened seven years ago?"

Something very fragile that Jim had been tenuously keeping together shattered in anger. To pieces.

Koch knew absolutely nothing. He thought that Jim was a troubled kid, acting out because he could never live up to his father or his mother.

He knew nothing. He didn't understand what Jim had survived. He didn't know the man that he had become because of his friends.

Koch didn't know shit.

How dare he judge him for his past? Sure, most people didn't change, but Jim had to. He had to in order to survive. He didn't go through all that pain and trauma to have this man who had a preconceived notion of who he was seven to ten years ago think that he could put Jim down like this. Seven to ten years ago, he was Jack Dodson. And Jack had been running from something ever so dark. Jack was something much different; someone from an entirely different lifetime.

Captain Jim fucking Kirk was someone better (at least he hoped). A better man, because he wanted to do right by the people who were far, far better than he would ever be. Not that Koch would ever see that. To him, Jim would forever be that fucked up kid that was far too smart for his own fucking good.

But before he got the chance to bite back, his ever loyal "guard dogs" barked back. Both Spock and McCoy rose to their feet, fury blazing in their eyes.

"Sir, I do not believe that we have been introduced. I am Commander Spock of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I have been told a brief history between Captain Kirk and yourself, and I am here to assure you that your conceptions of him are inaccurate and quite frankly, offensive." Spock said, much louder than he normally would have. "If you continue to disparage my Captain's character, I will have no choice but to take action."

McCoy crossed his arms, "And that means that he will logically systematically break you down to pieces, asshole. Don't talk to our Captain like that."

Immediately, Koch bristled in such ferocious anger that it rivaled that of Komack's. "Do you know who you're even speaking to?! How dare you?!"

"How dare you?" McCoy snapped back. "We are the Command officers of Starfleet's flagship Enterprise. As far as I know, we outrank you, regardless of what your title is. Besides, I'm not scared of you. I'm a doctor that has access to some of the worst viruses in the known and unknown universe. Try that again with our Captain, and I'll come after you too."

Slightly scared that Spock and McCoy would actually carry out their threats, Jim quickly tried to calm the situation down. He stood with them, placing a hand on McCoy's elbow, forcing the doctor to bite back his ire, and he shot Spock a look to stand down before he turned his attention back to Koch.

"Koch, we're not looking for trouble," Jim said with a sigh. "I promised the Patron, and I delivered. We had a deal. It's your turn to uphold it."

For a brief second, there was a flash of an upward twitch on one side of Koch's lips. Jim easily recognized it as an expression of contempt. (And boy did he wish that contempt wasn't the easiest expression for Jim to read).

Pulling his bravado around him like a protective cloak, Jim's posture changed, becoming more predatory. "Like I said, Koch, we're not looking for trouble. But if you don't take this as the gift it is, then I can't help what my crew or Starfleet will do in retaliation." Jim gave him a blinding, cocky smile. "I'm not the decorated and most distinguished Captain of Starfleet for nothing, after all."

"Are you threatening me?!"

"A threat would be much more obvious, Koch. No, this is just me telling you to let bygones be bygones. As politely as I can be. I'm giving you the means to dismantle the entire Patron mafia. In exchange, you forget my name and George Kirk's. That was our deal. Either you uphold it or I will find a way."

At the sight of Koch sneering at him, Jim laid a hand on the table, his blue eyes steel. "I'm not that teenager that you can bully anymore, Koch. And I won't let you touch anyone I care about, including my brother. So take this and run with it. Because I swear, if you come after any of us - George, my people, or myself - I will make your life a miserable hell. And that, Koch, is a threat." Jim gave him an icy, venomous smile. "Be smart, Koch. Take it or leave it."

Koch's entire face contorted, and while there was still fire in him, he couldn't let the Patron slip through his grasps. Not when he had sent numerous undercover agents for years to handle him. To those who did and did not make it back, Koch owed it to them to dismantle everything that made the Patron what he was.

"Fine," he hissed. "Hope we never cross paths again, Kirk."

"Same," Jim replied. He hesitated for a brief second, but he knew he had to get this off his chest. "And for what it's worth, I am sorry for what happened to Agent Daniels. He's a good man, a good agent. I wasn't directly involved, but he deserved better."

There was such anger in Koch's entire body that it almost looked like he was vibrating, but he never broke eye contact with Jim. He could see the honest apology and regret in those blue eyes and when he glanced at Spock and McCoy, he could see how they stood by him, fought for him. Despite Koch's dislike of Jim, he could see that Jim was a good Captain if his people were that loyal to him.

His shoulders slumped just a centimeter. "I know," he admitted in a quieter tone. "You were just protecting your brother."

Jim stayed quiet and rigid. He hadn't expected those words to come from Koch.

"Doesn't mean I don't like you, Kirk. Watch your step. Interpol won't come running again just because you called me."

It was an olive branch. At least the best that Jim was ever going to get from Koch. So Jim just smiled. "Don't worry. Won't happen again. Only called you because I thought it'd help give you closure on your partner."

"He'll be glad to hear the Patron is done for."

"Do me a favor? Leave my name out of it all."

It honestly wasn't anything heroic or anything like that - the Patron had many allies. Jim didn't want another goddamn target on his back.

Koch gave him a grim smile. "It'll be like you never existed."

He hung up at the same exact time as Jim bodily flinched from those words. At least he didn't have to worry about Koch seeing his weak point, but Bones and Spock definitely saw his aborted movement (well, he hoped it was aborted. He had a feeling he didn't do a good job on it.)

Jim fell silent, feeling jittery and exposed.

"Jim?" Bones questioned, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

Jim shuddered at the contact, and as instinct, he flinched away. Tearing away from the warmth even though he had no idea why he did. He was feeling so cold, so horrid.

There had been an emptiness inside him, a yearning that kept screaming. Kept crying out for something. But he didn't know what it was begging for. That loneliness, that heartache. He had forgotten how crippling that was. How much it tore at him despite how desperately he fought against it.

Jim rubbed his face, sighing. "God, I forgot how awful it was to be a ghost...Didn't think I'd ever go back to that."

"You're back now, and that's what matters. Besides, you'll never lose us," Bones assured, standing and pulling Jim into a tight hug. "I've missed ya."

Jim was silent, but he shoved his face into Bones' soft shirt. He lifted his arms and hugged Bones back, his hands wound in an almost uncomfortable tightness. It was subtle, but Bones could feel Jim trembling against him.

"I'm so glad I met you," Jim mumbled. He reached out and grabbed Spock's sleeve, pulling him into the embrace. "You too, Spock."

It was almost alarming how long Jim held on to his best friends, using them to warm his body up again. A testament of how badly he truly was affected by his past.

Spock and McCoy couldn't even begin to imagine what Jim was going through. They had both seen him in the throes of his memories of Frank and Tarsus, but this? The feeling of absolute nothingness and nonexistence? That was not something that they could empathize with. Both had been ostracized and essentially thrown out of their communities - Spock as a 'half-breed' and McCoy because everyone he had cared about sided with Jocelyn - but nothing could compare to Jim's life as a ghost.

Jim didn't let go of Spock or McCoy and his shaking never stopped, but he had been running ragged from the moment he lost his memories (and he wasn't that well rested beforehand either). The constant distrust of everyone that he saw, looking over his shoulder every two seconds, and playing a con game against two massive mafias was now catching up to him.

Complete exhaustion suddenly slammed into Jim, his body giving into the warmth, and he sagged in the hug - a movement that was easily felt by both Spock and McCoy.

The two reluctantly pulled away, eyeing Jim with concerned gazes.

Bones sighed. "Come on, kiddo. Let's get you to bed. You look like you need a long nap."

"What about Sam?" Jim mumbled, but not fighting either of them as they started leading him to his room.

"He will still be there in the morning, Jim," Spock soothed. "We will keep him safe."

The rest of the short trip was in silence and continued on as Bones tucked Jim into bed.

Jim's eyes were already falling shut by the time Bones turned off the lights, but as Bones moved to leave, Jim's hand snatched his wrist.

"Stay…" he murmured, already half-asleep.

Bones glanced up at Spock, making eye contact. Spock wordlessly nodded, and wandered to the wall facing the end of the bed. He settled down in his meditation pose as Bones made his way to Jim's other side, slipping into the bed easily.

Jim immediately turned to face Bones, his hand almost smacking Bones on the face. Blearily, he opened his eyes halfway. "Where's…?" he started to ask, but Bones cut him off, knowing exactly what he was going to say.

"Spock's keeping an eye on you over there, don't worry," he said soothingly. "Sleep. We'll both be here for as long as you want."

Jim's eyes closed, and he quietly gripped Bones' wrist with one hand, as if reassuring himself that he was solid. "Always…" he murmured as he drifted off to sleep.

He'd want them both to be with him always.

Once Jim was in a deep enough sleep, Bones' eyes never left Jim's face, but he asked Spock in a quiet voice. "You think he's going to be okay?"

"He would not be Jim Kirk otherwise, doctor," Spock replied. "He is also not alone anymore."

"What can we do?"

"Other than being here by his side, there is not much else we can assist with. Jim will need to come to terms on his own."

An hour passed, and Spock hesitantly looked up at McCoy. He silently conveyed to McCoy that he was going to return to his duties with a single nod. McCoy could read the reluctance in that simple movement, but they were both well aware that Jim would rest more easily knowing that Spock was taking care of everything else that he cared about. And Spock knew from McCoy's responding nod that he would take care of Jim.

The relief on Spock's face was palpable. It surprised McCoy slightly - he didn't think that he was one of the few privileged ones that could read the nuances of Spock's expressions. Or better phrased, he didn't know he was one of the ones that Spock let his human side out to. He thought that that belonged exclusively to Uhura and Jim.

As Spock quietly left the room, McCoy came to wonder when he and Spock started to be able to understand each other in the same way as Jim and himself. When did he and Spock start working like a well-oiled machine like Jim and Spock on the Bridge?

He glanced down at Jim, still curled up on his side of the bed, one hand outstretched to the other side. Simply waiting for his Bones.

Smiling softly, McCoy reached out and ran his hand through Jim's hair.

"We're glad we met you too, kiddo."

Jim didn't really have any concept of how long he had been asleep for when he jolted awake from a memory that had turned into a nightmare. The blankets pooled down towards his lap as he breathed heavily, trying to calm the rapid beating of his heart. He rubbed his eyes with his left hand, and as he did, he noticed Bones sleeping soundly next to him.

He smiled, reaching out to brush away a stray hair. Words could never describe how grateful he was to this man who had filled in the void that his own family had left.

Spock was nowhere to be seen, but Jim was absolutely sure that the Vulcan was managing his ship - his home - for him.

Oddly, the sense of security - the feeling that he knew that everyone on his ship was looking out for him, backing and supporting him - was calming, despite the fact that he was a ghost mere hours ago.

Shaking the uneasiness of that particular memory, Jim silently slid out of the bed, leaving Bones in his deep sleep.

Even now, Jim could still see the tense lines of Bones' face - no doubt from stress and concern of the situation. Bones needed the sleep, but Jim could sleep no more.

He needed to get the antsiness out of his system. He needed to do something to get his hands to stop shaking; to chase away the ghosts. To wash away Jack Dodson and all that he had represented.

Sparring was out - there was no way Spock or Sulu would agree to it so soon after he had been treated. Along the same lines, Bones and Spock would never let Jim punch a bag in his usual workout. And honestly, his body was still fatigued from his time as Jack.

That left one last option. He was pretty sure Bones would forgive it this one time.

He left a note on one of his PADDs to let Bones know where he was going. After a second, he also sent a message to Spock via his comms, letting him know that he was alright and was going to the Ambassador's suite to decompress.

Spock sent a quick reply, asking if Jim needed company, but Jim had said gently declined. He needed some time alone to sort out all those memories in his mind - he'd reach out to Spock if anything changed.

Wandering out into his pristine, white halls, Jim avoided all of his crew members as he made his way to his newest secret hideout. He rubbed his arms, almost hugging himself, as he walked. It felt as though something was trying to crawl out of his skin.

He needed a drink. A strong one.

He pressed in the code to the Ambassador's suite and made a beeline to the bar. He was rummaging in the cabinets when he heard the door open again. Jim figured it was one of his crew - most likely someone from Command - who had seen him enter the room, but he didn't bother to double check.

"I'm not on duty," Jim called out, still looking for the extremely expensive bottle of bourbon that he had hidden in the back. "If Bones told you to tell me to lay off on the alcohol, now is not a good time. And also, I'm your Captain. Bones does not outrank me, despite what you may all think."

A throat cleared close to the bar, and Jim found himself freezing. His crew would usually react a certain way with those words - either with laughter or telling him straight up that Bones does indeed outrank him because he still hadn't upgraded from survival instincts of a mayfly.

It meant that it could only be one person.

Sighing internally, Jim grabbed the bourbon but its neck and pulled it out. "Hello, Sam," he said without looking. He turned, setting the bottle onto the counter between himself and his older brother as he eyed Sam wearily.

"How did you know it was me?" Sam asked, sitting down on the high chair.

"My crew are disrespectful assholes that would have quipped back," explained Jim, nonchalantly. "Bourbon?"

"Yes, please." Sam frowned. "I thought that officers couldn't talk back to their superior officers?"

Jim poured a hefty amount into two crystal glasses and slid one towards his brother. "Generally, yes, but I didn't want my crew to be afraid to call me out if I did something stupid, so now I get to deal with massive amounts of sarcasm."

"That seems...unorthodox."

"Very," said Jim, and he drained the bourbon in one draw, relishing in the burn as it went down his esophagus.

Sam's eyes grew huge at the action.

Jim could only smile sheepishly at him. "Sorry - it's been a long day."

"You definitely could say that."

Sam looked down at his glass, swirling it in his hand. He seemed mesmerized by the twirl of the amber liquid, consumed by his own thoughts.

Jim really looked at him then - the dark circles, the tired lines. The guilt and exhaustion was written all over Sam's expressions.

"Not sleeping well?" Jim ventured a guess as he poured himself another glass.

"No. You?"


"Why did you come here?"

"Bones looked like he needed some more sleep, so I thought I'd come somewhere quieter." Jim raised an eyebrow. "How did you know about this place? Only a few of us should have access to this room."

"Lieutenants Sulu and Chekov were here one day and let me in."

Jim tsked. "I knew I shouldn't have told Chekov the code to this place."

"Something tells me that he would've known even if you didn't tell him. If you've spent enough time here to hide that bottle of bourbon, then I'm sure your crew already knew that you come here and would have the means to get in."

Well, Jim couldn't deny that. Sam wasn't wrong. Jim just sipped at the alcohol again.

"You didn't get into too much trouble for helping me out?" asked Sam.

Jim snorted. "I'm getting a medal."

Sam raised an eyebrow.

Jim shrugged. "Tends to happen when you bring down two problematic cartels."

"Your crew does not seem to be celebrating you getting a medal."

"I don't particularly care for awards and ceremony," Jim explained. "I usually don't even bother to go pick up the damn thing."

"And Starfleet is alright with that?"

"Someone picks them up. It's probably Spock. I don't really know. I don't tend to keep track of it. I think Bones mentioned once that he and Spock both have a drawer full of my shit from Starfleet."

The confusion was still on Sam's face, but Jim just kept drinking. It wasn't like he was in Starfleet for the honors. He hadn't even wanted to join in the first place, but he chose to stay for his people - to keep them safe. Everything else was superlative.

"Well, I guess, irregardless of the medal then, thank you. For helping me."

"What are brothers for?"

"But I haven't really been a brother to you for a long time, have I?"

Jim sighed again, draining his glass again before pouring himself another one. "We're really going to do this now?"

"When else then? I barely get to talk to you."

The tone somehow disagreed with Jim. Or maybe he was still sensitive with all those memories still at the forefront. Either or, Jim bristled slightly. "Is that my fault?"

"No, it's not," Sam said quietly and sadly. He looked down at his hands. "I remember the last time we met in Riverside. You were fourteen, I think. Super skinny and super angry. And Mom couldn't stop screaming at you because of one of her fits. You left. And you didn't even look back at us once. Why was that?"

Jim shrugged, not really willing to pick that particular scab open at the moment. "Winona told me to leave."

"Since when did you ever do what people told you to?"

"What do you want me to say, Sam?" Jim shot back, exasperation in his words. "That I wanted to stay? Why should I? She sent me away in the first place! And if she didn't want me back, then she didn't want me back. Why the hell should I stay in another place that didn't want me to be alive?!"

There was the opening - Sam had to go for it. Even if it damaged his already broken relationship with Jim further. He had to, otherwise, he had a feeling that neither of them could ever move on. "Jimmy, why didn't you tell me about Tarsus?" Sam asked sadly, pain evident in every word.

"What would you have done even if you knew?!" Jim snapped. "Tell Winona to let me stay? You and I both know that that wouldn't have worked."

Jim took a deep breath, calming himself down. "It wouldn't have changed anything," he said quietly.

That was perhaps the saddest part of this all. It wasn't the fact that Sam left Jim or even Sam turning his back on Jim when his whole world had fallen apart at the hands of a tyrant - it was the fact that it didn't matter if Sam had taken him in or not.

There was nothing that Sam could've done at that point. Jim knew that now.

Jim could remember what he felt then even more distinctively than he did before - and God, did he hate that period of his life.

It wouldn't have changed anything.

Jim had been too broken for Sam to have saved him. It wasn't until he met Pike, Bones, Spock, and the rest of his amazing family now that he felt that he had finally been able to move on from all the skeletons in his closet.

"Maybe it would have." Sam buried his face into his hands. "I didn't know, Jimmy. I didn't know."

Jim sighed. "I know. I never blamed you for anything."

"But why didn't you? I left you behind. I did. I swore that I would come back for you, but…"

"I know. I looked for you after I left Riverside." And boy was that a telling statement. That Jim had once been that little kid that yearned for his big brother to come save him from the big bad world. But Jim had seen the red in Sam's bank statements and the trouble spots with the authorities. His big brother couldn't have protected Jim. If he did, both of them would never have made it past twenty years old.

Jim looked at Sam with kinder eyes, hopefully instilling the forgiveness he felt. "I knew you didn't have the means to come back. Like I said, I never blamed you for anything."

Sam's words became even more broken. "Why didn't you tell me about Tarsus, Jimmy?"

There was a moment of silence. The only sound was Jim swirling the bourbon. "It wasn't exactly something I could easily talk about, Sam. Hell, I hadn't told anyone about it until just recently."

"But you told people."

"Not really. They found out. It wasn't exactly planned, but shit happens. And it's not like they know everything. Just bits and pieces - just enough for a blurred picture."

Other than Bones and Spock who knew the most, Jim doubted that anyone aside from him would ever know the depths of the abyss that he had gone through. Some things were not meant to ever see the light.

"Were you ever going to tell me?"

Jim drank. "No."

"Why not?"

"Honestly? I hadn't planned on telling anyone. I was going to go to my grave keeping Tarsus a secret."


"Because Tarsus is something I don't want to revisit, Sam," Jim said tiredly. With Jack's volatile memories at the forefront, Tarsus was definitely the last thing Jim wanted to talk about. The pain of having his kids ripped away from him and spending the next ten or so years as a ghost was too fresh, too much. Jim couldn't talk about it right now, least of all with Sam who couldn't possibly understand an iota of Jim's past. "Just drop it, alright?"

"Just answer one more question for me. What happened to Auntie Ellie? And her family?"

Jim swallowed hard and kept his eyes on the brown liquor. He knew that Sam knew that none of their relatives on Tarsus had survived - he simply didn't know that Jim had been with them. But he also knew what Sam was actually asking - if they suffered, if they were scared, if they had done right by Jim. All were loaded questions. Jim didn't know how to respond. It took a moment for Jim to collect his courage. Sam deserved to know the truth about Auntie Ellie and her family's courage, even to the last moment.

"Gone," Jim said quietly. And he looked up to make eye contact with his brother. "But they never gave in. In the end, it was just me and Auntie Ellie left, and she was the one who saved me. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her."

In so many ways. She saved Jim from Frank, from Winona, and gave him a chance against Kodos. If it wasn't for her sacrifice, Jim would've given up so long ago when he was a mere ghost and it would've been easy for him to simply disappear. But he would have disappointed Auntie Ellie, and Jim could and would never do that.

Sam looked down again, tears filling his eyes. "I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"So many things. For Auntie Ellie and her family, for leaving you behind, for not shielding you better from Mom and Frank, but mostly, for not being there for you after Tarsus."

Jim shrugged, not really knowing what to say. Or if there was anything to say to that. The gap between them was wide, particularly when it came to Tarsus. Jim didn't know if words alone could bridge it.

As if knowing exactly what Jim was thinking, Sam tried to move away from Tarsus. "I also heard that you're the reason why Frank is in jail?"

"Yep," Jim replied, a bit too happy about what happened to Frank (and also the change of topic, if he had to be honest). "The idiot thought that he could go after my ship and get away with it. He underestimated how overprotective my crew is."

"What happened?"

"He kidnapped me, drugged me, and tried to plant explosives on my beautiful girl. But my crew had my back, so it was fine."

"Fine? You got kidnapped and drugged and you're saying that you're fine?"

"Not the first time that happened."

"I'm still not understanding how you and your crew are so nonchalant about that."

"I'm sure someone has tried to explain to you how crazy our missions get?"

"Yeah, they have. I don't get it."

"I wouldn't think you would, but trust me. You can't make shit like that up. But my crew's got my back. It's fine."

"They seem like good people."

Jim smiled, thinking of the bunny, tree statue, guitar, chess set, and books that were kept so well in his room. "They really are. The best."

Sam had never seen Jim smile like that. So carefree, so full of love and pride. It hurt that Sam wasn't able to evoke the same emotion, but he was relieved that Jim had people that he could count on.

"I'm glad you have them."

"I am too," Jim said softly. "I don't know what I'd do without them."

There was genuine love in Jim's voice, and Sam felt that sense of jealousy all over again, but he knew very well that that emotion was unfounded. He had no right. Not after everything he didn't do.

"So, you're the big bad Captain of the flagship Enterprise," Sam began to tease. "Far cry from the little kid that just messed around with Dad's old motorcycle."

Jim grinned, recognizing that the two of them had overcome some barrier in their relationship. "I rebuilt that bike later, did you know?"

"Did you? Where did it go?"

"It's in Bones' storage locker. He's got a lot of my stuff there."

"You don't have one for yourself?"

"I haven't accumulated enough things to. I honestly was just going to toss everything when I was assigned to the Enterprise, but Bones got mad at me and literally stole everything I owned and threw it into his storage locker."

"You and Dr. McCoy are pretty close, aren't you?"

Jim snorted. "My crew makes jokes all the time that we're co-dependent."

"Are you?"

Jim paused midway through his next sip. He took a quick gulp and deliberately did not make any eye contact. "Probably," he answered truthfully.

"Is that healthy?"

"Not if none of us dies," he quipped, and then winced as he did. Bones would not have appreciated that joke. Actually, none of his friends enjoy that sort of dark humor anymore. Not after the many, many close calls.

At that exact same moment, the door to the suite swished open and in entered Chekhov and Sulu. Both looked slightly panicked and breathless as they tumbled into the room.

Jim just raised an eyebrow at the two of them. "If you were looking for me, you could've asked Spock or Bones," he said, amused. "No need to panic like that."

"McCoy didn't respond to our comms and Spock wouldn't tell us where you were," Sulu replied, making his way to the brothers.

Hm. Guess Jim wasn't too surprised at that outcome. Bones was probably still dead to the world and Spock was always very serious when it came to Jim needing space. But it didn't explain how Chekov and Sulu knew where he was.

"Did you put a tracker on me again? I'm onboard - putting one on me is moot at this point. And excessive."

"Of course not! Spock wouldn't have approved," Sulu said without missing a beat, settling down next to George.

Chekov sat beside Sulu with a slightly more sheepish look.

Jim took one glance at the two of them and sighed once he realized how they knew where he was. He made a mental note to teach Chekov to lie better as he bent down to pull out two more glasses from the shelves within the bar and filled them before passing it over to the two. "Make sure you remove the tracker from my brother before he leaves the ship, you overprotective assholes."

"You wanted us to protect him," reasoned Sulu. "We can't exactly do that if we don't know where he is, right?"

"Wait, you guys put a tracker on me?" George exclaimed.

"Chances are, it was Chekov that put the tracker on you," Jim said. "Did you drink or eat anything that Chekov gave you when you came on board?"

Now that George thought about it…"He gave me a glass of water, but there was no way that I didn't see a tracker in there. I may not be as smart as you, Jimmy, but I'm by no means dumb. I would've seen one in there."

"Not if it's something Chekov designed. The kid's smarter than me," sighed Jim.

"I did not design the tracker!" Chekov protested.

Jim eyed Chekov. "But you don't deny implanting the tracker?"

Chekov blushed.

Yeah, the kid really needed to learn how to lie or deflect better. Jim shook his head. "So I'm assuming Scotty designed the tracker? Nanotechnology?"

"Yes, Keptin."

"And why didn't either of you tell me about this?"

Sulu and Chekov both looked away this time.

Jim face palmed. "Bones asked you all to create this to track me. Goddamn it. That man needs to calm the hell down."

"Can you blame him?" Sam asked.

All three Starfleet officers stared at Sam in bewilderment.

Sam smirked, feeling kind of satisfied that he managed to get one up over them for the first time. "Based on what you all told me, shit goes down a lot on your missions. Jimmy here gets kidnapped so often that the idea doesn't even faze any of you anymore. And there's definitely some sort of co-dependency between Jimmy, that grouchy doctor, and that Vulcan. I'm frankly surprised that you haven't been tagged earlier, Jimmy."

Jim blinked twice. And then pointed very threateningly at Sam. "I already have my crew being super overprotective. Do not enable them, understand, Sam? Do. Not. Enable."

"But you don't deny the potential necessity of it?" Sam asked innocently, though his eyes sparkled with amusement.

It was a look that Sulu and Chekov were quite familiar with - it seems that there were a few things that were the same between the brothers.

The door slid open and a loud voice announced new arrivals. "Drinking already, infant?" Bones drawled out, walking in. "You're a bad example for the young ones."

Spock was behind McCoy, silently joining the doctor. Clearly, he too had given up on the fight to give Jim space while also being extremely worried.

"Sulu and Sam are both older than me," Jim pointed out with a small smile.

There had been a tenseness in Jim's shoulders that Sulu, Chekov, and Sam hadn't really noticed until it was suddenly gone with McCoy's and Spock's entrance.

Both Sulu and Chekov frowned. Jim still had things on his mind then - ghosts that he hadn't exorcised yet.

Bones ignored the rest of the group and immediately made his way towards Jim, sidling up to Jim behind the bar. The older man eyed Jim up and down with a critical eye. He rose an eyebrow at Jim, who merely shrugged, but nodded with a small smile.

Apparently somewhat satisfied with their nonverbal communication, Bones just grabbed the bourbon from Jim's hand and downed the rest of it.

Jim smiled fondly. "There are other glasses, you know."

"But you got a headstart on me. This makes it more fair."

While Bones busied himself pouring another glass for himself (using Jim's glass, Sulu and Chekov noted), Jim glanced over around Bones' shoulder at Spock who was also crowding the back of the bar. The Vulcan stood at attention at the entrance, a few inches away from Bones' chaotic movements.

He was holding himself more tightly than usual and his expressionless face was actually motionless.

Something in Jim melted - he couldn't believe that he could have ever forgotten Bones or Spock. He would never be able to find people who meant to him more than they did at this moment.

"Hey," Jim said softly, a gentle expression on his face. He reached out, knowing full well that Spock would close the short distance with a few steps if it meant that Jim wouldn't strain himself to grab hold him.

Jim tugged at Spock's shirt sleeve and not so subtly pushed Bones a bit out of the way so that he could pull Spock to his left side while the doctor rambunctiously stayed on his right.

It was quite telling how much trust Spock had in Jim that he let Jim basically manhandle him into position. He subtly let his hand grasp Jim's and pressed a concerned pulse to him.

Jim just smiled wider and fonder, and let his feelings flow through. In pieces of both memories and vague pictures of emotions, Jim hoped that he conveyed that while he was not one-hundred percent and he needed some more time to sort through everything, he was getting there. And that Spock and McCoy were a very welcome sight. Especially when Jim was a bit stuck on where to go with his brother.

Right now, Jim needed them. He hadn't really known that until they both showed up. Thank heavens they did, because they reminded him that he wasn't a ghost. That he was loved and cherished. That he fucking meant something to someone and wasn't just a tool to be used. There was no one better than Spock and Bones to prove just that.

Before Chekov's and Sulu's shocked eyes, they saw Spock give Jim a little smile (a massive one in Vulcan terms) and let go of Jim's hand. Spock glanced up and noticed their stares and immediately schooled his expressions back into his normal Vulcan self.

"You're such a softie, Spock," Jim laughed. "I swear, it's a tie between you and Bones on who's the biggest teddy bear."

"McCoy is a teddy bear?" Sulu asked incredulously just as Chekov said at the same time, "Commander Spock is a softie?"

Jim just winked at them. "Only to me, of course."

"You're insane," Sulu said.

"Well, you already knew that. It's not my fault you didn't realize that Spock and Bones are just as crazy as me."

"No, we knew McCoy was…"

"Hey!" McCoy protested, though he didn't put much heat into it.

"But we didn't think Spock was there too."

Jim beamed up at Spock. "Of course he is, right, Spock?"

Spock froze for a brief millisecond before nodding once.

Jim's face only brightened.

It made McCoy, Spock, Sulu, and Chekov feel lighter than they had in days.

"So let me ask you a question, Kirk," Sulu said, a curious look on his face after he took another sip. "You insisted that you weren't Jim Kirk when we met you. Why was that? I mean, the other pseudonyms that we know of you is J. Kirk from the Enterprise's engineering manifest and Tiberius Kirkland. It seemed like you always did some variation of your name. So why Jack Dodson? That seems like such a random name compared to everything else."

Jim smiled lazily. "Jack always seemed like such a badass name. I mean, you got Jack Reacher, Jack Ryan, Jack and the Beanstalk...It felt super cool at the time. A nice, simple, but strong name."

Bones rolled his eyes at the Jack and the Beanstalk comment, but Sulu frowned and asked Jim, "But why Dodson then?"

Jim shrugged. "Just felt like it, I guess."

Sam tilted his head. "Wasn't that Auntie Ellie's husband's last name?"

Jim shot Sam a look, a half-angry look that made Sam look sheepish.

"Sorry," Sam muttered.

"Wait. Who's your Auntie Ellie? How come you never mentioned her?" asked Bones.

"She passed away many years ago," Jim replied. "I lived with her briefly when I was younger."

Suddenly, Jim stole his glass of bourbon back. "Stop drinking all my good bourbon, Bones!"

The fact that Jim had so quickly brushed away Auntie Ellie's existence and refused to speak on it further, Bones and the others understood immediately who this woman was to Jim. She was the one who had given him hope and love on another planet, in another life. She had been the reason why when Kodos made his decree, Tarsus had been something that Jim had barely been able to survive.

Hope was both a beautiful and dangerous thing, as Jim always liked to say. And Auntie Ellie had been the most beautiful of them all.

When Jim no longer had a self, no longer could call himself a Kirk because his own family had turned him away, he fell back on the one and only person that Jim had felt such blinding warmth from.

And since the Dodson's were gone, it only made to be a more fitting name for a ghost. But at the same time, it was a whisper of hope that kept Jim Kirk alive as his soul quietly and slowly recovered under Jack's facade.

Dodson had saved him once. It had only made sense for Jim to stick with what he knew.

Dodson. Ellie Dodson and Jack Dodson. It would always be a part of Jim, and that was something that Jim would never give up, no matter how many awful memories Jack had given him.

McCoy, Spock, Sulu, and Chekov now understood with greater clarity how Jim was able to survive Tarsus the way he did. Jim always did know how to survive after all, and Auntie Ellie was his guardian angel.

Without missing a beat, McCoy stole the glass of bourbon back from Jim. "It's my bourbon, you asshole. You stole it from me!"

Sulu purposely made his mouth drop open. "You stole a bottle of bourbon from McCoy?!"

Jim widened his eyes comically. "He gifted it to me!"

"I did not! You refused to let me bring it back to my room!"

Spock sighed and grabbed the glass from Jim's hand. In one go, he downed the alcohol without a single change to his expression.

Jim and Bones stared at Spock incredulously.

"If you two do not calm down, I will drink the rest of your bourbon," Spock said calmly.

"But you don't even like bourbon!" Jim practically cried out.

"I do not. However, if it will stop the two of you from arguing, I will continue to do so. As you know, bourbon does not affect my inhibition."

McCoy huffed and crossed his arms. "What a waste of bourbon, you fucking hobgoblin."

"Yeah, seriously, Spock. What the hell?" Jim chimed in, but there was a giant smile on his face.

Sulu chuckled and raised his glass. "Glad to see things never change here."

Chekov lifted his as well, and said, "Hear, hear!"

Jim swiftly stole his glass back from Spock as he heard McCoy rummage below to grab glasses for himself and Spock. Happily, they all cheered to Jim's return.

"So, where are we on banning Kirk from leaving the ship again?" asked Sulu, apropos of nothing.

Jim rolled his eyes. "This again?"

"Yes, you ingenious idiot. Always."

A rush of warmth spread within Jim, making him smile even more fondly at the people he loved so much.


Jim could forget himself, he could forget everything that made him who he was - his pain, his family, the Enterprise - but he had people now that would always be there for him. No matter what.

It was such a solid feeling to know that there was someone standing at his back, supporting him. Because he had just been in a place where he had no one. Where it was empty, cold, and dark. Where the sensation had been numbing, apathetic, and so utterly lonely. He had been in a place where not even depression could touch him because there was just nothing. No amount of alcohol, fights, or sex could have changed anything.

Jim knew that now, because he now had the real article of what saved him. From everything.

Always was their promise to him. And it was his promise to them.

So Jim could only say with an absolute bright smile on his face, "Love you guys too. Now, are we drinking or what?"

An hour later, Sulu, Chekov, Sam, and Jim were heavily feeling the alcohol. Sam had been dragged into Sulu's and Chekov's little group at the bar and was swaying, unable to focus on a single point on the wall; Sulu was giggling at something that Chekov was saying in Russian. Jim had migrated over to the suite's couch and was slumped on it, his head leaning on the back of it. McCoy and Spock sat on either side of him - Spock watching over him and everyone else to make sure that they were all still alright while McCoy (whose tolerance could match Jim's) just kept his eye on Jim.

Jim felt like he was floating on a cloud. The antsiness that he had felt earlier, like he was crawling out of his skin, had faded. And he was content. That was the only way he could describe it. Content.

Bones nudged Jim and asked him quietly so that the trio at the bar couldn't hear him. "Hey, you said that Sam owed the Patron money."

"Yep, the idiot owed a shit ton of money," Jim replied, still staring at the ceiling. It was swirling, but Jim found that he didn't mind that much at the moment. (He'd probably regret it in the morning though. Good thing Bones has the fantastic hangover cure, even if it was in the form of a hypospray).

"I know you have some money saved up. Even if it wasn't enough to pay all of his debt, why did you try to win the money from the fight in London too? Sulu said that you were supposed to throw the fight. If you were going to get paid for throwing it, why did you..."

"Why did I decide to get my ass kicked by the goons for not throwing it?" Jim finished for him. "Which, by the way, thanks for getting me out of that alley."

Bones just nodded, a tightness in his eyes. Jim knew it was because Bones had hated seeing Jim like that: lost and bloody. Bones had most likely gotten shocked at how awful Jack was - he had only been around at the tail end when Jim was shedding Jack's persona.

Jim smiled at Bones and then looked back up at the ceiling, imagining that the stars were up there. "I needed more money to get what I needed to get done. It was a gamble, but in the end, a bigger buck, and at that point, that was what I was going for."

"Why did you need money? If you knew that you were Captain of the Enterprise, why didn't you just withdraw from your account?"

He sighed, closing his eyes. "I didn't know my password."

"What do you mean? You've used the same password for years - since back in the Academy. It's always been the VIN number of that motorcycle you used to tinker with in Riverside."

"I changed it. When I became Captain."

Bones frowned. Even with his eyes closed, Jim could sense it and the question that Bones had.

He opened his eyes and gave him a small smile. "I didn't know it when I was Jack because I had changed it to something that meant something more to me later on." He sat up a little so that he would wiggle closer to both Spock and Bones. "I guess I should probably tell it to you guys. In case something happens to me down the road and you either need to get into my account or remind me what it is."

"You do not have to, Jim," Spock said.

"Naw, it's alright. I trust you guys. My password is now 3F1272230.06."

Both Bones and Spock froze, processing it.

"That's..." Bones said slowly, "That first part is my assigned quarters on the Enterprise…"

Spock blinked and added, "2230.06 is the date of my birth."

"So you get why I wouldn't know it while I was Jack?"

"Why...what?" Bones blurted out. He could feel his ears grow red. Even Spock felt a warmth in his chest blossom. They had no words to express how honored they were to be that important to Jim.

Jim chuckled at their expressions and patted both their legs. This was where he was happiest: on his beautiful girl with his two closest friends who were more than what his biological brother was. "At some point, boys, we're really going to have to talk about this co-dependency issue thing between us."

Bones groaned and leaned his head back onto the couch too. "Do we have to? Can't we just leave it how it is?"

"I second Doctor McCoy," Spock said.

Jim laughed. "Well, I guess it doesn't have to be now."

"Agreed," Bones muttered as he rubbed his face. "Damn it. I'm seeing double of everything now."

"Welcome to the club, Bones. I'm pretty sure Sulu, Chekov, and Sam are far more wasted than us."

Spock glanced over and saw Sulu and Chekov slumped against each other, snoring away, while Sam was right next to them, his face planted onto the bar surface, also asleep.


"Shit. How do you think we're going to get back to our quarters?"

"That's your problem, not mine," Bones replied. "I'm quite happy to park my ass here and just call it a night."

"Is it nighttime?"

"No, it's in the middle of the fucking day because you've decided to start drinking at like 1000."

"Oof. Uhura does not approve of us day drinking."

"No, she doesn't approve of you day drinking."

"Why me specifically?"

"Because you drag the rest of us into your shenanigans."

"I do not!"

Bones waved a hand at all of them. "Point. I rest my case.

Jim finally noticed the unconscious trio. "Shit," he groaned. "We really are going to have a hard time getting back to our quarters. We're not even supposed to be in this room."

"Now you're abiding by the rules?" Bones asked, exasperated.

"I guess we'll just have Spock here drag us all back."

"Absolutely not," Spock replied, dryly.

"This is mutiny," Jim said with a huff and zero heat. A pause. "Well, I guess it's fine. Tell Uhura and Scotty to join us when they're free. That'll make this more fun."

"The majority of us have already passed out," Bones protested.

"Then we'll just wake them up."

That last phrase was said in a low mumble, and both Bones and Spock looked over to see Jim's eyes closed and a happy smile on his face.

Spock and McCoy made eye contact with each other and let out a collective sigh of relief. It looked like Jim was actually going to fall asleep.

"Fine," Bones agreed softly. "We'll be here until they come."

Spock simply made an agreeing noise.

Jim's smile grew wider. He knew that that meant that they'd be right by his side.

With no worries and Jack shoved back into the past where he belonged, Jim let go. Happily.

George spent another few days onboard the Enterprise, spending time with Jim and each of his crew members. Through each of them, George learned more about his little brother - of the man that he had become, of all the amazing feats that he had achieved. (And of all the shenanigans that he had managed to pull off. Honestly, Pike was an absolute saint.) He was proud, but at the same time, it made him feel ashamed.

He had known that his lifestyle wasn't sustainable. He had always known that at some point, he would hit a wall and fall so hard that he didn't have the means to stand back up. There was a part of him, a tiny voice that would whisper that he could just lean on Jim. Like an addict, George couldn't kick the habit of knowing that Jim would come running, no matter what, even though he was well aware that it wasn't fair to Jim. At all.

George had known for a long, long time that he was the worst kind of older brother. He had abandoned him, despite promising to himself that he would come back for him. He had never tried to understand things from his brother's standpoint. What Jim had gone through, why he had turned out the way he was. All George wanted was to run away, to live on his own terms. He didn't care who else suffered the consequences. He had learned, much later, that Jim was the one that absorbed all the pain and torment for him, allowing him that freedom.

When he had left Riverside the first time, Frank supplemented Jim for him. Their mother only grew to hate Jim further until she literally left him on Tarsus in the hands of a madman (not that she had known at that time. The fault came when she turned him away after he had come back broken into tiny, jagged pieces.) And then George's vices were enabled because Jim had no other means to help him or reach him except through financial means (that were also obtained through illegal means back then; Jim was just better at getting himself out of trouble).

George had only ever known Jim as Jack - not that he had known the alias. Jack fit in with George's dirty, messed up life. Perhaps that was why he had only ever really gotten along with Jim when he was Jack. He felt better about himself, somehow. Like if they both were these fucked up people, they could continue on being brothers in a terrible, toxic relationship. But that was the only way that either of them had known to keep each other.

It wasn't until later when Jim suddenly made the headlines that he had saved the universe and was named the youngest Starfleet Captain in history, of the flagship no less, that George came to the realization that Jim wasn't like him. Jim had taken all of his pain and horrible childhood and transformed it into something better. Driven himself to be better. George knew full well that Jim had been trying to fight and surpass their father's ghost his entire life, which was ironic, because George was literally named after him. But it was Jim who had to fight for his own identity. And he did, and managed to fly past anything that George Kirk had accomplished.

It was the proudest moment of George's life, but also the lowest. Because Jim hadn't even told him personally of what he had achieved. And George knew that it was because Jim didn't want him to feel bad or awful. Jim had moved on without George, but George was still stuck where he was.

At that point, he had honestly tried to change his life around. He wanted Jim to be proud of his brother; to feel like it was alright to tell him things. And he had done a pretty good job until Winona died.

It took one trigger for everything to go spiraling down. One thing for him to go and desperately seek anything, anything, that could make all those feelings of grief and negativity go away.

And the worst thing was, he knew full well what he was doing, what his actions meant. But it only made him feel worse and guiltier. It was a vicious cycle that George couldn't pull himself out of.

George knew all along that he was a horrible person to Jim. And god was he so happy that Jim was able to find his way to the Enterprise. He would forever be grateful to McCoy, Spock, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, and Uhura for filling in the voids that he had left; to be able to pull Jim out of that horrible downwards cycle that he was trapped in. They kept his little brother happy, alive, and sane. They were a true family. Nothing like what he, Winona, and Frank had been to Jim.

There wasn't anything George could do to make up for the past. There wasn't anything he could do about the years of misunderstanding, of the parasitic toxicity that encircled the two of them for years. But George could do one thing now, and that was to move on and not be a burden to Jim. The time for apologies was long gone. It was time for George to grow up and be accountable for his own actions. And perhaps, this time, he could make something of himself and build a new and different bridge with Jim.

Start over anew.

It was a lovely start, but George didn't know where to start. He shouldn't have underestimated Jim's crew though.

It seemed that they had pulled George into their tight-knit group and tried very hard to befriend him. They never asked any questions about Jim or their past together though - they respected Jim and his secrets - but they accepted George easily because they knew how much George meant to Jim. Honestly, George felt like he spent more time with Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov than he did with Jim. Spock and McCoy also hung out with him, but it was more in context of if Jim was around as well. Uhura ignored him completely, despite Jim trying to talk her out of it, choosing to be the one person to hold a grudge against him. It was well deserved, so George tried hard to not take it personally.

In the end, it actually was Uhura that ended up giving him the best idea of what he was going to do next. She had sauntered up to him one day and slapped down a document of a position off-planet before walking off with a glare. It was completely up his wheelhouse and he had the skill set for it. He could see himself climbing higher and higher if he took the position.

The next day, George had gone to ask Uhura who he could talk to about increasing his chances of getting the position.

"How serious are you?" Uhura had asked with a hard look.

"One hundred percent," George had replied. "This...this is perfect for me."

She had raised an eyebrow. "For you?"

"Yes. For me."

"You'd be leaving Earth."

"There's nothing left tying me to Earth."

"So why do you want this job?"

"I want a new start. I want to do something that I can be proud of."

There had been a pause, but Uhura had flickered her hair with something akin to acceptance in her expressions. "You're a bit different than your little brother."


"It's taken him much longer to realize that sometimes, you have to do things for yourself first before you can do anything for anyone else."

George had given her a sad smile. "I'm just not as altruistic as Jimmy is, I guess."

She had eyed him. "No, but it's not necessarily all your fault either. We all have to protect ourselves when things are awful. At least you didn't throw him away completely."

She had leaned in then, her brown eyes ever so knowing. "You know what Kirk told me after I asked him why he was such an idiot to go as far as he did for you? I specifically said to him that if he did what he did because you're related by blood, then he's an absolute moron. He told me that being related by blood didn't mean much to him - hell, McCoy's more of a brother to him than you are, but even so you were once there for him. You once protected him, made him feel safe. The least he could do was repay that."

"So that's what I'm doing. Repaying that. If you want this job, I'll pull some strings and get you there. But if you fuck up, if you pull Kirk into another dangerous situation, I will kick your ass. And the rest of us have means to make you disappear forever, regardless of how sad it'll make Kirk. Because then at least he'll be alive and we can work on helping him through his grief. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

George could only nod.

"And you are sure that this is what you want?"


"Then I'll make it happen. Go enjoy the rest of your time on the Enterprise with Kirk and the rest of them. It'll be awhile before you see them again."

So that was what George did. He spent the next couple of days with Jim, rebuilding their bond as much as they could.

One day, he and Jim were sitting in Observation Deck #3 and watching the stars float on by them. Jim turned and asked him, "What are you thinking of doing next?"

"You know how I studied biology in college? Wrote a thesis and everything?"

"Yeah, you were brilliant, from what I was told."

"I think I'll pursue that again. I've always wanted to do research, but with my record, I couldn't get any jobs like that."

"Did you find one? I can help put in a good word for you. There's no way in hell no institute won't accept you if you come with a recommendation from the Captain James T. Kirk. Or better yet, I'll have Spock write you one! That'll probably hold more weight than mine."

George smiled and shook his head. His little brother would always be a better man than he would ever be. "No, but thanks. Uhura actually gave me a recommendation. I just got word that I got it."

"Uhura gave you a recommendation?"


"How did you wrangle that? Did you bribe her?"

George laughed. "No, she and the rest of your Command crew have been trying to help me find a job that'll land me on my feet again. She had the best one though."

"They're meddling bastards, but effective. So what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to be a research biologist."

"Wow, sounds glamorous."

George playfully punched Jim in the shoulder. "It will be. I'll make it amazing."

"Well, you are a Kirk, which means you're smarter than most. So I believe it."

"Hey, you think you can give me a ride?"



Jim clasped a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Yeah, I think I can wrangle it. Proud of you, Sam."

"Proud of you too, Jimmy. Even if you are an ingenious idiot."

Jim spluttered. "What? Stop talking to my crew!"

"I will, once you get a survival instinct more than a mayfly."

Which would be never. And oddly, Jim was alright with that. It'd take some time, but he and Sam would get there - to a place where they would be brothers by bond, not just by blood.

And Jim couldn't wait.

Jim dropped Sam off at Deneva with his entire Command crew at his back. (Sam would become an extremely research biologist at Deneva, meet the love of his life and make Jim an uncle, but that would be years later and another story entirely.)

Jim had given Sam a hug and a smile as he waved goodbye. The two of them were always meant to walk a different path. Jim's was always meant to be in the stars with the Enterprise and his true family. (Sam would come to find his own later.) And sure enough, when Jim turned to walk back on board his beautiful girl, Bones, Spock, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, and Scotty were standing there, waiting for him.

Smiling, Jim patted Bones and Spock on the shoulders as he walked past them. The two fell in step next to him while the others followed him closely, as they always would.

He plopped down on his Captain's chair and swiveled around as he proudly watched his Command crew make their way to their stations and settle in.

Spock stood to his right and Bones stood to his left, at the ready.

"What are your orders, Captain?" Spock asked.

Jim looked at him and smirked. "Well, exactly the same as what the Admiralty commanded: to continue our five-year mission. To explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "No, we knew that, you infant."

"That's Captain Infant to you, Bones," quipped Jim with a sparkle in his blue, blue eyes.

"Captain Idiot, I would say," Uhura added.

"Keptin is not an idiot!" Chekov protested.

"Well, you have to admit that sometimes, he does not so smart things," commented Sulu.

Scotty chuckled. "The laddie does the best tha he can!"

Jim just rubbed his eyes. "I can't even with you guys sometimes."

"You love us," smiled Uhura.

Jim raised his eyes to the ceiling. "I do, heaven help me. I do love you guys. But I will also court martial you all. This is mutiny!"

Spock just laid a hand on Jim's shoulder with an amused quirk of his eyebrow. "What are your orders, Captain?" he asked gently.

Jim sat up straighter, his brilliant blue eyes dancing with thousands of possibilities as he took in his phenomenal crew. "To boldly go where no man has gone before. You all with me?"

They all responded in unison. "Always."

Jim smiled, bright as the stars surrounding them. "Take us out, Sulu."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

Depending on who you asked, Captain James Tiberius Kirk was a man of many things. To the citizens of Earth, he was a hero. To his classmates back at Starfleet Academy, he was a womanizer and a brash fool who liked to fight. Admiral Pike would say that Kirk was the son that he never had and the rest of the Admirals would have varying degrees of dislikes and likes of the man.

Either or, most people began to realize that behind his many masks and fronts, Jim Kirk was a genius. Not just a genius. He was a fucking genius. There were some exaggerations to his stories that had spread across the universe, but his crew knew better. His crew knew how loyal the man was, how he was a good man that did his best to protect and save as many people as he could. They knew the shadows and darkness that followed the man, but Jim was the sun that his Command crew revolved around, and he brought that light everywhere he went.

Jim had proved it time after time again that he was a man worth serving, despite the insanity and craziness that seemed to follow them all on their missions.

The truth was plain and simple: James T. Kirk was a freaking genius, especially under the most unfavorable conditions. An ingenious idiot, that was. But that was fine. He had the crew of the Enterprise backing him.

And together, they were legends that wrote their stories in the stars.

The End.

Author's Note:

I want to explain why this last chapter took so long for me to write. For one, Sam's relationship with Jim and vise versa was somewhat molded after my own with my older brother. We're not estranged, but we used to be super close as kids, but as we grew older and the heavy weight of Asian parents started to come down, it pulled us apart, because like Sam and Jim, my brother and I had different means of handling it. He was able to be like Sam and just break away from all expectations while I was the one who sought out praise and accolades to prove my worth. My brother was like Jim too (though I'm definitely more like Jim in the context of this story), in that he was able to pave his way with some struggles, but he did on his own. And is now able to stand on his own and come back and try to be my older brother. I mean, I'm able to stand on my own as well, but still in the confides of what my parents had expected of me (Asian pharmacist here - wanted to be a writer or a curator for a museum). But it's fine. I've found my silver lining and got a job that I absolutely love (I get to travel all over the US to talk science! It's awesome). Silver lining is beautiful, y'all. Just gotta find that. Anyway, the point is that once my brother and I both went our separate ways and grew up, we were able to get closer again. Build that bridge that had worn down ages ago. But there're still bumps in the road, still some misunderstandings, but we're working through them. So this chapter took a bit of time because I knew that I wanted to write about my brother, but I had some difficulties figuring it out enough to write it out (remember: a bit emotionally stunted here). Hence this chapter taking a bit of time.

The second reason is definitely very different. As many of you know, you can be in a fandom for ages and feel like you'd be there forever. But one day, the magic just doesn't seem to be there anymore, as much as you want it to be. I started off writing this series as a means for me to learn how to write better and explore different types of writing. I loved the Star Trek universe. It was fun and that was honestly all it was in the beginning, but as I kept going, as I kept developing the characters in my own way, I found that certain parts resonated with me and I started to frame my stories around my own issues and troubles. These stories helped me through some of my darkest times and allowed me to figure out how to make changes in my personal life. I got cut out the toxic friendships I had, starting finding myself beyond what people had expected me to be, and most importantly, learned how to put myself first - something I had long forgotten. I'm still making changes, and I'm still learning, but this story became super dear to me because of all that it represented in my life. And you all made me feel like I wasn't alone thanks to your comments and favoriting.

I loved this story and everything it brought me. I love Star Trek still, but it had been getting harder and harder to write this story because I started to create my own characters, my own stories. At some point, my mind was more full of those characters that I had a harder time getting back into the mindsets of the Star Trek crew. And also, I knew deep down that when I finished this chapter, it would be the last chapter. For a long time, I wasn't ready for that because I had fallen in love with these characters and these stories. So I procrastinated. And procrastinated. But everything must come to an end, and I feel like I've reached as far as I can go with this story. Otherwise, I wouldn't do myself or these characters justice. As much as I will miss the magic of this story, I wanted to finish this with a bow.

So I've come to the end of this. It's been a fantastic seven or so years. Thank you so much for supporting me and being there for me as I grew up with this story. I love you all. I hope that we'll connect again down the road, hopefully with my own published work.

Thank you all so much for everything. Thank you for reading, and for the last time for Ingenious Idiot, please review!