Chapter Ten: Preparations
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The English River that gives Riverside, Iowa, its name curlicues through flat farmland before emptying into the larger Iowa River on its run to the Mississippi. Once when he was a young teenager, Jim Kirk kayaked from Kalona to River Junction, not because the river held much interest in itself, but because it crossed restricted Starfleet property. From several bends in the river he could get close enough to the shipyard silos to make out individual workers on the scaffolds of two starship saucers being assembled there.
Having grown up with the hazy blue silhouettes of the shipyard silos on the horizon, he looked without actually seeing them until he was old enough to understand that his mother's frequent absences and his father's permanent one were somehow connected to what was being made there—starships, majestic and dangerous—and because of that, more alluring than anything else in his life.
Before he ran into Christopher Pike and his cadets traveling on a barnstorming PR recruiting tour through the Midwest, Jim had given up on Starfleet as an option. His mother, Winona, was disappointed that he didn't apply, but she knew her younger son had probably done too much, had too checkered a legal record, to be able to gain admission to the Academy.
When he wasn't serving time in the juvenile detention center in Sioux City, Jim lived alone in the farmhouse where he grew up. His mother was deployed on survey missions along the Outer Rim, her expertise in stellar cartography giving her a choice of assignments, most of them taking her off-planet for at least six months at a time.
His older brother Sam left home early for the Martian Colony, finding a job as a knockabout repairman, easy work for a farm kid looking for a space adventure. One rare summer when both Jim and Winona were home on the farm at the same time, Sam made a surprise visit with his new bride, a pretty, curvaceous brunette with such luminous hazel eyes that Jim walked around miserably aroused for the three weeks they were there.
"Aurelan and I want to start a family right away," Sam announced one evening at dinner, and Winona pointed her fork at him and said, "And just how do you plan to afford a baby on your salary?"
"I won't," Sam said quickly. "I'm starting to school when the new quarter begins. There's a xenobiology program at the Martian University I'm enrolling in—"
Winona's fork clattered to her plate.
"Tell me you're joking."
From across the table, Jim watched Sam's face cloud over. Sitting beside Sam, Aurelan folded her hands in her lap and looked down.
Sam had always been the good child, the dutiful son, the one who had gotten along with Frank before Winona divorced him. Running off to the Martian Colony had been the most rebellious thing he had ever done. At least until now.
"What's wrong with that?" Sam said irritably. "When I finish the program, I can get a position with a research team—"
"Then why start a family now?" Winona was clearly miffed that Sam had turned up suddenly with a wife in tow. "You're both too young to make that sort of decision. And if you are starting school, you don't need the distraction."
Aurelan spoke up then.
"We've been saving money," she said, glancing from Winona to Sam and back again. "And Sam will finish the program in two years. We have enough to live on until then."
"But a baby is a big decision," Winona said, her brow creased, her lips thinned. "You've always been so level-headed, Sam. It's not like you to be this impulsive."
Although she didn't look in his direction, Jim knew he was being referenced. It might not be like Sam to be impulsive, but Jim—
Sam slipped his hand into Aurelan's. "It's not your decision," he said, and then softening his tone, he added, "Besides, it's too late."
The room went silent. Then Winona took a breath and let it out noisily.
Her tone was flat and weary, as if someone had leached all her energy away.
"It'll be okay, Mom," Sam said.
It had been, too. Against all odds, or perhaps to spite them, Sam and Aurelan were happy together. When their first son, Peter, was born and the young family came back to Iowa for a short visit, Winona seemed to forget any reservations about what her firstborn was up to, instead mooning over the new baby with such an undisguised crush that Jim was almost embarrassed for her.
A year later when Sam finished his degree, Aurelan was pregnant with their second son and they stayed on the Martian Colony, Sam taking a job with a terra-forming company. By then Jim was at the Academy and Winona had taken a posting on a deep space explorer. The farmhouse was boarded up and empty for the next few years.
Now that he takes a Starfleet shuttle from San Francisco to Riverside Shipyard at least twice a week—sometimes more—to check on the progress of the materiel and parts being machined to repair the Enterprise, Jim has opened up the house again, preferring to stay there instead of in Fleet housing at the yard. The solitude suits him.
The Enterprise herself remains at Space Dock, her berth a veritable beehive of activity. Scotty practically lives there, keeping quarters on the visitors' deck, keeping an eye on work being done to his beloved engines.
Spock, too, seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on Space Dock overseeing the repairs. Every time Jim goes up he runs into him, even though Spock has also taken a temporary teaching assignment at the Academy filling in for an Andorian professor who is on emergency leave from the language department.
The rest of the crew have scattered as well—Sulu helming the Reliant on milk runs shuttling supplies to New Vulcan, Chekov getting an additional certification in warp physics at some off-world university Jim's never heard of.
Sometimes he stops by Uhura's office at headquarters and they go to lunch and commiserate—he about the inevitable bumps in the pipeline to getting the Enterprise ready to launch, and she about working as a liaison between Starfleet and the civilian media. Like the rest of the scattered crew, they know their situations are temporary, that when the ship comes back on line they will gather again for her rechristening.
The person he sees the most is Bones, though the doctor often cancels on him when emergencies come up at the specialty hospital where he's doing a rotation in an alien ward.
"If I'm going to be traipsing around the galaxy for five years, I better get ready to run into some weird shit," he told Jim when he accepted the post.
For the most part, however, Jim spends his free time alone. The women he meets are beautiful and interesting—at first. But at some point during that first conversation, he catches a whiff of off-putting hero-worship or notices his own attention starting to wander.
"Don't worry about it," Bones told him. "You've been dead. It takes some time to figure out how to be alive again."
Compass plants and butterfly milkweed and purple prairie clover are in bloom when Winona and Jim and Sam are again under the same roof. Three sons later, Aurelan is still attractive, though Jim is relieved that his youthful lusty thoughts have been replaced by his genuine regard and appreciation for how she and Sam work as a team to raise their boys.
The occasion is their imminent departure for Deneva, a remote planet near the border of the Beta Quadrant. Both Sam and Aurelan have jobs waiting for them there—Sam as a research biologist, Aurelan working with a child nutrition program. They will be gone for years and Winona has organized this reunion before they leave.
In the past year Jim and Sam have made a tentative rapprochement, calling each other and sending mail, getting to know each other in a way they never would have thought possible when they were two unhappy children competing for their mother's scarce attention. The first night that they are all back together under one roof, the brothers stay up later than everyone else, drinking good wine and sharing funny stories. As they head up the stairs to their bedrooms, Sam says, "You know, Dad would have been proud of us, I think," and Jim nods, remembering the elderly Spock's words on Delta Vega.
He proudly lived to see you become captain of the Enterprise.
For months Jim has avoided thinking about anything other than the immediate future—has kept his focus on getting the ship ready for launch, has marked time by watching the bayside buildings destroyed by Khan slowly going back up.
The time with his mother and brother bring him full circle to the past again. For the three days of the visit, they speak of it often, until Jim is finally able to recount for them the horror of having crewmembers die under his command, of pleading with Admiral Marcus to spare the rest of them, of knowing all their lives were forfeit if he didn't give up his own.
Somehow being able to speak of such things breaks a spell Jim hadn't realized needed to be broken.
On the day Sam and his family are scheduled to depart, the adults stand outside as the boys run around in the yard breaking off stalks of switchgrass and waving them like swords. The prairie stretches out in all directions, and with a start, Jim realizes that he's suddenly tired of the view.
And lonely, too.
For the first time he understands why his mother keeps returning to space, how she can feel burdened by the gravity of Earth.
"I'll miss you so much," she says to Sam, running her hand along his shoulder blades. "Your boys will be grown the next time I see them."
"You can always visit us on Deneva," Sam replies, but Jim knows that such a visit is unlikely. So does his mother, who blinks back tears.
Turning to Jim she says, "And you! Heading off for five years. At least Sam will have his family with him. You'll be all alone."
She steps to his side and leans into him, her gray-blonde hair tickling his cheek.
"Hardly alone," he says. "And I will have family with me. I have my crew."
X X X
That's how many seconds it takes before Sarek looks up from his computer monitor and sees Spock standing in the doorway of the embassy office.
4.87 seconds is sufficient time for Spock to notice that his father has lost weight—at least four kilos since he saw him last. Now his cheekbones are in sharp relief, his hair more noticeably gray.
Normal ageing, of course, accelerated by grief and stress.
As soon as he sees his son, Sarek rises and crosses the distance.
"Forgive the interruption," Spock begins, but Sarek makes a small motion of dismissal with his hand.
"It is never an interruption to speak with you," he says, leading the way down the corridor to the break room where a pot of tea is always waiting. He fills two cups and takes them to a small round table beside a window with frosted glass, the muted light creating a pleasing, calming atmosphere.
For a few moments both men are occupied with settling into their chairs. From the corner of his eye Spock sees that his father is watching him, apparently content to wait for his son to begin the conversation.
"I was uncertain," Spock says, "if I would have a chance to speak with you tomorrow at the rechristening."
When Sarek doesn't reply, Spock goes on.
"The Enterprise may not return to Earth for some time. I wanted to take my leave of you in private, and in person."
Sarek nods slowly and lifts his tea mug to his lips, taking a measured sip.
Hesitating another moment, Spock waits to see if he will respond. When he doesn't, he goes on.
"A year ago we sat here and you told me that you approved of Captain Kirk's violation of the Prime Directive," he says.
"I said that I was glad the outcome saved your life," Sarek amends. "That is not the same thing as approving the action itself."
To his surprise Spock feels a flush of embarrassment that his father has chastised him for being imprecise.
"I stand corrected," he says, struggling not to give himself away. "However, I now find myself in your situation, disapproving of an action that has rendered beneficial results."
"Explain," Sarek says, setting his cup on the table and crossing his hands in front of him, as if he is prepared to listen even more intensely that he already is.
"Dr. McCoy's vaccine," Spock says, and Sarek nods.
"You owe your captain's life to it," he says.
"And for that I am grateful. But I also have serious reservations about what happens now. The Federation may decide to exploit the Augments in a way that is both unethical and dangerous."
"You are not alone in your concerns," Sarek says. "But this is not an issue that can be resolved quickly. I suspect it will continue to be a topic of discussion for some time."
"But it should be resolved," Spock says, again struggling not to show the emotions he feels—his growing frustration and genuine alarm.
"And it will be, in time," Sarek says. "The more complex the issue, the longer it takes to unfold. That's as true in diplomacy as it is in our personal relationships. You must cultivate patience."
Clearly the Augments are a topic his father does not wish to discuss with him now. Repressing a sigh, Spock tries to take his advice.
How often had he heard his parents dance around in the same dynamic, his mother insistent that something needed to be done, his father counseling a wait-and-see attitude.
"Be patient, Amanda," Sarek would say when she fretted over her slow blooming flower beds, when she worried about Spock's lagging social life at school, when she chafed at Vulcan traditions that felt more limiting than liberating to her.
She reacted to such advice the same way every time, bristling out loud. Sometimes she left the room noisily or became very silent for a day. On those occasions Spock knew his father had to take his own advice—waiting for Amanda's good humor to return, and more often than not, facilitating its return with a gift. Rare words of affection, perhaps, or a small token offered to speed up the process.
As it always does, thinking of his mother unsettles him, and he peers closely at his father, wondering if he, too, is troubled by dreams of her.
Spock finishes his tea and stands up, taking his cup to the cleaning bin. Following him, his father does the same and they head back toward his office.
"Do you have much to do to prepare for tomorrow?" Sarek asks, and Spock says, "The Enterprise will be ready to launch on time."
Although Sarek's expression does not change, Spock can see that he is amused.
"Forgive my imprecision," Sarek says, making clear that he recognized Spock's embarrassment earlier about being called out for it, "but I meant what do you have to do to get yourself ready before tomorrow."
"For the ceremony, nothing," Spock says quickly. The captain is scheduled to speak, but Spock only has to be in attendance, nothing more. "And my personal effects are already aboard."
With a start, he realizes that he does have something else to do.
Lifting one brow, he says, "You remind me that I do, indeed, have one more errand. A trip to the pottery shop on Kober Street to buy a replacement mug for Lieutenant Uhura. I was on my way there a year ago when we received news of the attack in London."
They are standing at the end of the short hallway that leads to the front door of the embassy. Sarek raises his hand in the ta'al and says, "Live long and prosper, both of you," and Spock returns the gesture and turns to leave. Not until he steps out into the late afternoon sunlight does he register how unusual his father's words are, how they break with accepted practice and tradition.
Both of you.
As he heads to Kober Street he imagines handing Nyota the mug and seeing her face light up with the kind of undisguised pleasure that she shows him when he surprises her. It takes so little to make her truly happy—a touch to her hand, a whispered endearment in her ear. That image quickens his breath and makes him slightly aroused.
He'll get back to his apartment before she does—McCoy is assembling some of the crew for a send-off party at Moe's, his preferred location for public consumption of alcoholic beverages—and Nyota has indicated that she will go.
But soon enough she'll be back, and when she returns, he will show her the mug and strongly suggest that they have a private celebration.
Until then he simply has to follow his father's advice and be patient.
X X X
"Over here, Lieutenant!"
As soon as she enters the bar, Nyota sees Leonard McCoy waving her over to his table. The bar is still fairly empty, with only two other customers sitting together in a booth.
"Did I get the time wrong?" she asks as she settles into the chair next to his. Before she can answer, a waiter is at her elbow and she points to the glass in the doctor's hand.
"I'll have the same," she says and the waiter nods and melts away.
"They'll be here," McCoy says, frowning. "I hope."
"Well, Spock isn't coming," Nyota says. "At least I don't think so. He had a meeting at the Vulcan embassy."
She pauses and then adds, "But he probably wouldn't have come anyway."
Immediately she's sorry she spoke, her words sounding more critical and annoyed than she feels. She was disappointed when Spock wouldn't commit to coming with her to this pre-launch get-together, but she appreciates how uncomfortable these social gatherings make him feel, how draining they are.
"Not his cup of tea," McCoy says, lifting his glass to his lips. "Or rather, not his bourbon."
Nyota gives a rueful grin at his attempt at a joke. She doesn't like laughing at Spock's expense, even in this lighthearted way. It makes her feel disloyal.
From behind her she hears a soft rustle as the waiter leans forward and sets down her glass.
"You two okay?" McCoy asks abruptly, and for a moment Nyota debates telling him off for springing such a personal question on her or thanking him for caring enough to ask. She decides on the latter.
"We're good," she says. "We're still…finding our way. You know, like any couple."
She says this lightly, hoping to deflect his concern. McCoy, however, frowns and takes another sip of his drink.
"Not every couple finds their way," he says, rattling the ice in his glass. "Look at me."
They've had variations of this conversation before, McCoy growing morose when he thinks about his failed marriage, his daughter he rarely sees.
He always ends with some cautionary words for her, something along the lines of don't make the same mistakes I did, words she takes to heart, even if she feels that the challenges she and Spock face are unique, beyond the sphere of the ordinary.
Part of her uneasiness today is nerves, of course, and excitement about the Enterprise's rechristening tomorrow.
But another larger part of her roiling emotions comes from Spock himself, his own deep concern about what Starfleet is doing with the Augments. Just last night he had been almost agitated after meeting with the staff admirals at HQ.
"Admiral Keen told me that keeping the Augments in the central storehouse was preferable to isolating them in an undisclosed setting," he told her as they ate a late evening meal of reheated soup. "Such an action is extremely ill-advised."
"At least in central storage they will be well guarded," she said, trying to sound reasonable. Spock sat ramrod straight, one hand holding his spoon, his other palm flat on the table like someone having to anchor himself.
"They require additional security beyond what central storage offers," he said. "Now that the regenerative properties of their blood has been publicized, the number of parties interested in obtaining it is incalculable."
Nyota put down her own spoon and said, "But all that publicity—all those Starfleet press releases explaining how difficult it is to actually use that blood. That long explanation that reporter did about how long it takes to make the blood usable. Surely that makes it clear that the blood isn't some magic elixir, that it's actually really hard to work with."
She was talking about a flurry of reports that came out soon after Jim Kirk's story made the news. One explained how the vaccine made from Khan's blood basically jumpstarted Jim's irradiated cells. The reporter had gone to great lengths to put to rest any hope that something similar could be used on someone else.
"It's not an immortality drug," a Starfleet doctor said directly into the camera.
Another report detailed the toxic mix of chemicals found in the Augments' blood—propylene glycol, for one, to keep their blood from completely freezing, taking months after waking to finally dissipate from the bloodstream.
Khan had been awake for at least half a year working for Admiral Marcus. That's why only his blood could save the captain, why McCoy didn't simply crack open one of the other cryotubes and take what he needed from another Augment.
"I am less concerned with such obstacles," Spock said, "than I am with the probability that unethical people will find ways around them. Using the Augments' blood for personal gain is not only immoral, it is dangerous."
Even as she opened her mouth, she knew it was a mistake, but Nyota heard herself say, "Still, I'm glad we had it. The captain would be dead otherwise."
She felt a burr of unnamed emotions running between them and she hurried on.
"Yes, I realize I am being hypocritical here. That I don't think the blood should be used by anyone else for any other purpose. But I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't glad we were able to use it for Jim."
Spock said nothing else but the burr of emotions felt like a prickle under her skin all night as she tossed and turned and finally fell asleep.
In the morning when she woke he was already gone—not unusual in itself, but after their conversation the night before, it felt like an omen.
Looking up, she sees Sulu coming through the door. He's wearing his gold uniform shirt—making Nyota laugh.
"You aren't on duty yet," she says as he sits down beside her.
"But I'm ready," he says with a lopsided grin. Before she can think of a snappy response, Chekov joins them. In a few minutes, the table is full of returning crewmembers. Half an hour later, the bar is so noisy that Nyota can't hear herself speak.
She finishes her bourbon and is getting up to make her way to the bar to get another when she feels him—that peculiar aura that warms her skin when they stand close. Looking over her shoulder, she isn't surprised to see Spock standing there.
What does surprise her is that he is holding a glass of bourbon.
"For you," he says, his voice carrying over the roar of the crowd.
His fingers brush her own as he hands her the drink and suddenly she wants nothing more than to go home with him, to wrap her arms around his neck and nibble his ear until his eyes close of their own accord and his breath is uneven and ragged.
Wants to slide her hands under his shirt and up his chest, making him shiver with the sudden chill of exposed skin.
Wants to twine her fingers in his until their thoughts melt together, the sensations of her body drifting into the pleasure he feels, the electric charge of his lok pressed against her thigh making her clothes feel unnecessary and silly.
Wants to lead him to the bed and press him down in willing surrender—
She takes a gulp of her bourbon and rolls it around her mouth, running her tongue over her teeth. Spock watches her closely.
"Let's go," she says, reaching behind her and pouring the remaining contents of her glass into McCoy's. Startled, he glances up.
"We're leaving," she shouts into his ear and he nods as she stands up. As she starts across the crowded room, Spock takes her hand, a rare public display of affection that makes her heart race.
They have just stepped outside the bar when the captain comes walking up, his jacket slung over one shoulder.
"Whoa!" he says. "You aren't leaving, are you?"
"We have an early day tomorrow," Nyota says coyly, but she has the unshakeable feeling that Kirk knows what's up. He grins like a schoolboy and reaches into his pocket.
"But I need my communications officer," he says slyly. She starts to protest and he raises one hand to silence her. "You can take it with you."
He hands her a pocket PADD.
"What is it?" she asks, and the captain says, "My speech. What I'm going to say tomorrow. I need you to read it and tell me if it's okay. Make any changes you think it needs, too."
He looks up at Spock and says, "It's not like you have anything planned for the rest of the evening."
She laughs then, and at her side Spock lifts one brow.
The bar isn't far from the faculty housing—a twenty-minute walk at most—but the evening is cool and wet and without discussing it, they cross the street and head to the shelter to wait for the next hoverbus. Nyota sits on the bench and Spock slides next to her, draping his arm around her shoulders to keep her warm. Pulling the PADD out, she angles it so they can both read it.
There will always be those who mean us harm…
An image of Khan advancing toward her on the garbage scow flashes through her mind and she shivers, not from the cold. She reads on until the captain mentions Admiral Pike, and she feels a catch in her throat. After all this time, and she still has trouble believing that he is gone.
He had me recite the captain's pledge…Space, the final frontier…
She can imagine how Jim Kirk will sound tomorrow saying these words before the assembled crowd of Starfleet personnel and civilian dignitaries. He will stand as a symbol of sacrifice and renewal as the missing man formation flies overhead, his voice echoing over the newly rebuilt assembly plaza.
He'll stand on the platform alone speaking words about the importance of exploration, of expanding their horizons.
But he won't be alone. Not really. Not as long as he is her captain. She'll be there, and so will Spock, and Sulu, and Chekov, and Dr. McCoy, and so many others that her heart wells up when she thinks of them gathered in the bar tonight, thinks of them sitting shoulder to shoulder tomorrow at the rechristening, thinks of the days and years to come when they will work and play together—and do all the things that families do.
Because that is what they are. What they always will be.
A/N: The end! Sorry for such a long chapter, but it is the last one. Thanks for reading this story and for all the helpful reviews. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!