We made it! I can't express enough just how wonderful it has been to explore these characters with you all. Thank you so much for the support and encouragement (and threats and creative suggestions on how Sam should die). As I said probably a dozen times, this story in particular was always geared at getting everyone into place for STID. Jim in particular, because while that damn film hurt my soul the one thing I found most interesting was that Jim finally goes up against someone – and loses. And I'm not talking about Harrison. There was a lot of talk about how arrogant Marcus was for thinking he could control Khan, but I found Kirk to be equally as arrogant and I loved the idea of a character who has always managed to prevail - no matter how bad the situation, no matter how scarred it left him- actually being beaten purely because he had faced worse in the past and assumed he could do so again. That more than anything was the motivation for making Marcus the bad guy here – because Pike's death is literally the last straw and Kirk will use any play he can to get revenge – even engaging an enemy he knows is dangerous and out to get him. Plus, I liked the parallels there were between Kirk and Khan in the film and wanted to up the ante with that a bit. So yeah... Sorry Sam, you were just a tool. Sucks to be him, I guess.

Aaaaaanyway, this last chapter is pretty laden with dramatic irony as it directly leads into STID – and everything that happens.

I hope it satisfies you all, and thank you once again for sticking with me, despite the cliffhangers of doom and the twisty turny plot that will still have some threads left loose for the next story.

I'm going to do my very best to respond to all the reviewers for the final part – I know I've been terrible at doing that for earlier chapters. It may take me some time, but I want to say thank you to as many as you as a can. (Anon reviewers, please know you make my entire day sunnier and thank you so much!)

Being restricted from duty didn't actually stop Jim from working and to his surprise, neither did McCoy. The doctor seemed to get that Jim needed to stay busy and allowed him to wander as he pleased as soon as the swelling in his skull had settled to a more acceptable level. He was still on a daily dose of hypos, but he'd faced worse from Bones in the past.

Jim wandered around his ship, playing over everything that had happened in the last few days and forcing himself not to seek Sam out in the brig.

Things with Marcus were dangerous, he knew that, and he knew the risk should the man ever become convinced that Jim wasn't one hundred percent under his thumb. For the moment, Kirk's reputation protected him and that was the best card he had to play, so he used it. He knew Pike and Spock were especially concerned, but flying under the radar was actually Jim's specialty.

Sam and his team – Thomas Leighton included – were due to be picked up in less than an hour. They were to be transferred via shuttle to a prisoner transport ship that would take them into holding. They were, once again, not entitled to a trial.

Jim suffered under no illusions. Marcus was going to have Sam killed, and if he didn't, Sam was going to break out and cause trouble all over again.

If Jim was looking for the easy way out, he'd let Marcus do what the man did best and cover the entire thing up.

But even if Sam wasn't his brother, Jim wouldn't let that happen. It galled him that he had to let Marcus continue to exist unpunished for Tarsus and for all that he abhorred Sam's methods, he did understand their motive.

Which was why the shuttle that was officially going to be used to transport the prisoners to their new transport was rigged with a faulty second engine that would, on Jim's calculation, explode once it had cleared the ship's shields. All inside would be killed instantly in what Jim could reasonably write off as a tragic accident, and Marcus would be convinced of Jim's loyalty. He'd never ask Jim to kill his brother, he wasn't that stupid, but Jim had read the suggestion loud and clear. If he wanted Marcus to trust him, he needed to cut all ties with Sam in the only way the Admiral accepted.

His command crew already knew his plan and no one else would suspect Jim's involvement to be anything but innocent. Captain Kirk wasn't a killer.

Which could probably be considered a truth, really.

Jim was the killer. He'd spilled blood in self-defense and he'd spilled blood on the offense. He'd done it for good reasons and he'd done it for bad ones and there was no changing that.

But Captain Kirk was different, and Jim was trying to be more like him every day.

Jim schemed, Kirk planned.

Jim would kill his brother for Marcus. Kirk would fuck him over big style.

Jim finally reached one of the least used hangers and took a breath. Scotty had made sure the area was clear. Spock had arranged the transportation. Sulu, Chekov and Uhura were covering his tracks up in the bridge.

Keeping a secret on a starship only worked if everyone knew about it.

So while the prisoners were officially loaded into the shuttle in hanger six by Spock and Riley, Jim was herding Sam and his men into a comfortable diplomatic shuttle Admiral Pike was scheduled to be departing the ship in.

Pike had beamed down to Risa the day before and wouldn't step foot aboard again. According to the transporter room logs, he'd returned with Jim from a meeting with the city's council that morning.

"You have enough fuel to get you to Sector 9. It should get you as far as Cestus if you're careful with it. After that, you're on your own." Jim informed them as they filled into the shuttle. It would be a tight squeeze but they'd endured worse he was sure.

Joxer nodded at Jim in thanks as he boarded. Bones had begrudginglypatched up the blow to the head Jim had given him. Jim couldn't blame him given how traumatized Medical were by Sam's actions. Christine Chapel had already put in a transfer request. Jim had signed it immediately, promising her she could go wherever she wanted. He hated Sam for that.

His actions clearly confused his brother, who hesitated at the entrance. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because you don't deserve to die." Jim said coldly. "Because in another life we might have been friends." He'd seen enough in his mind meld with Ambassador Spock to know as much. "And because Marcus doesn't get to hurt anyone else."

"So you believe me then?" Sam said hopefully.

"Doesn't matter what I believe." Jim shrugged. "Let it go. For the sake of your crew, let it go. You're going to get them all killed if you keep up this vendetta."

"Let it go…I can't just let it go!" Sam hissed.

Jim shook his head sadly. "Then you might as well be handing me back over to Marcus because if you show your face in Federation space again he's going to know I helped you." And more importantly, that Jim's crew had. "And if that happens, if you endanger my crew ever again, I will personally hunt you down and show you exactly what Kodos taught me."

Sam flinched at Kodos' name. "Jim, I didn't want to to be like this. I'm-"

"Don't you dare apologize to me." Jim snarled. "Get off my ship and stay the hell out of my life."

Sam nodded briskly, finally getting the message that Jim was skirting the edge of violence. He turned and boarded the shuttle and Jim hoped to god he'd never see him again.

His anger shifted to something closer to grief when Tommy made the final step to board. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but then turned away.

"Tommy." Jim called after him. Tommy looked back hopefully and Jim swallowed. "Take care of yourself."

Tommy nodded, tears on his cheeks. "You too."

Jim closed the shuttle door behind him and triggered the launch sequence.

On one side of the ship, fifteen prisoners were jettisoned into space.

On the other, Admiral Pike's shuttle began it's trip back to Earth.

Only one reached it's destination.

McCoy made his way across the bar and Jim fought the urge to bang his head against the counter. Around him, the rest of his command crew had adopted expressions of varying degrees of sheepishness. Apparently it was too much for a starship captain to get a drink in peace. The three days following Sam's escape had been one long exercise in frustration as he'd officially overseen the investigation. Marcus had made no comment which was clear indication of his pleasure, and the official channels of investigation had opened and closed quickly. Finally free of the reports, Jim had wanted nothing more than to get absolutely obliterated. His crew, however, seemed to have other opinions.

"Bones." Jim greeted, lacking his usual enthusiasm and knowing his friend wouldn't care. He and Bones had gotten disgustingly drunk together enough times to recognize the kind of drinking mood they were in.

Today Jim was in angry drinking mode.

"Jim." McCoy nodded, ordering himself a shot of brandy and putting it on Jim's tab with a challenging raise of his eyebrow. Since he'd spent several days patching Jim up over the last few weeks, Jim probably owed him more than a few cheap shots of alcohol.

"Well I think that makes half the ship now." Jim jerked his head towards the rest of his gathered crew. "Uhura wants to pick my brains about the dialects spoken on Qo'noS. Scotty apparently has some urgent schematics that need my attention right this very minute. Sulu…I've forgotten what Sulu wanted." Jim frowned.

"To discuss foil maintenance." Sulu said without a hint of shame for having established such a poor cover story.

"Right." Jim flicked his fingers. "Chekov shouldn't even be here but it's Risa and I don't think they actually have a legal drinking age." Jim had still vetoed alcohol of the kid because apparently he was that much of a hypocrite. "And Spock has decided that now is the perfect time to discuss chess strategy." The resounding cringes that traveled through his crew failed to trigger a reaction from Spock who merely looked serenely around and somehow managed not to look out of place in the decidedly shady establishment Jim had tried to hide in. McCoy however snorted, clearly enjoying Jim's irritation. "So what's your excuse?" Jim asked the doctor.

McCoy sat down. 'My best friend's a goddamn moron and drives me to drink."

In an instant, Jim's irritation vanished and he laughed. Bones' grouchiness never failed to please him and it also reminded him that irritability was best left to the professionals.

He looked at his crew and sighed. They'd all meant well, but he'd not had a minute's peace since being released to his quarters and it was clear they had no idea how to handle him when they weren't working.

To be fair, Jim wasn't all that sure either. "Am I being an asshole?" He asked them.

"No more so than usual." Uhura shrugged.

Jim chuckled again. "Yeah. Okay." He turned to the waitress behind the bar and put in an order. A few minutes later a large pitcher of lurid green liquid was set down at the table they surrounded. "If we're going to do this." Jim informed them, smirking at the wide eyed looks of alarm that he was met with. "We do it properly. Grab a glass and kiss tonight goodbye." A hopeful face looked up at him. "Yes Chekov, you too." The kid grabbed a glass before Jim could change his mind. Jim just had to remind himself that by the time he was Chekov's age he'd been drinking solidly for several years. "Hangovers will not be an excuse for missing your shift and anyone who throws up on me has to help Bones alphabetize bacteria samples."

With his warning ringing a challenge in his highly competitive crew, Jim sat back and watched the carnage unfold.

He had just the one shot himself, but within twenty five minutes he, Spock and Bones were the only ones close to being sober.

Under Spock's disapproving frown, Jim hustled them together and had them beamed back aboard, his mission accomplished. He'd feel guilty about it in the morning when they stumbled onto the bridge, but a hungover crew who thought they'd won him over was better than the inevitable damage Jim would do when he finally got tired of being treated like he was fragile.

Spock hadn't looked all that impressed when he'd escorted them all back to the ship, and even McCoy had sighed in resignation. "Don't do anything stupid." He'd warned Jim. "I'm serious."

Jim had merely jerked his head in the direction of the curvaceous woman who'd been flirtatiously smiling at him all night. That had won him an eye roll and the order that he use protection, damnit.

But when he'd eventually been left alone, the desire to seek out company, even for sex, seemed less appealing than ordering another drink.

And when it arrived, Jim simply held the glass and looked at it for the best part of twenty minutes.

He'd been so absorbed he'd not noticed Pike arrive beside him. "I saw your crew." He said with a wry grin. "Didn't you get new orders today?"

Pike was due to leave on his own transport from Risa the following morning. "Yeah. Crew get recalled at 1300 and we move out for Nibiru at 1830."

"Geological survey?" Pike asked.

"Milk run." Kirk agreed. "Marcus probably wants us creating as little trouble as possible for a while."

"So keep your nose clean." Pike advised. "Don't do anything stupid."

"Wouldn't dream of it." Kirk smirked, kicking over a stool for the Admiral.

"Uh huh. So that's why you're here drinking by yourself when you have plenty of people who'd gladly keep you company. I know your MO, Jim." Pike took the seat next to him and propped his cane against the bar. "Get wasted and fuck a pretty girl."

"Or guy." Jim shrugged. "I'm an equal opportunities slut."

"Right." Pike said dryly. "Better than getting your ass kicked in a bar fight at least."

"I figured I'd go easy on Bones. His blood pressure isn't looking great." Jim said flippantly. Truth was he was itching for a fight. It was why he'd sent his crew away. They deserved better. He couldn't go getting into a brawl on liberty, but he was self aware enough to know that when he really craved violence, if he was pressed for options he'd take a verbal battle in lieu of something more physical. When he got like this he could be nasty and malicious, and no one knew that better than the man beside him.

"Lucky for you, my blood pressure is fine." Pike ordered them both a fresh shot.

Jim accepted the glass and raised it in thanks. "No offense but you weren't really the kind of pretty I had in mind."

"I'm hurt, kid." Pike downed his shot like an old pro. "I thought we had a connection."

Jim laughed. He couldn't help it. It felt good. Pike recognized the look on his face and his smile became something softer.

"I'm sorry, Jim." He said, not insulting Kirk's intelligence by trying to ease them in to the conversation. "I know I said that in the past, but I'll never be able to say it enough." Pike's eyes were immeasurably sad and Jim was struck with the sharp pang of longing that he always felt whenever he allowed himself to wonder what his life might have been like. Maybe he'd still be captain, maybe he wouldn't. Maybe he'd never have saved Earth. One of his deepest, most shameful secrets was that sometimes even that thought didn't stop him wanting it.

"Wasn't your fault then." Jim swallowed, looking into the bottom of his glass. "Isn't your fault now."

"You haven't always thought that way." Pike said calmly, drawing Jim back to a time shortly after Tarsus. Pike had visited him in hospital wearing the same look Jim had seen on parents whose children had been slaughtered right in front of them. Looking at Jim had clearly been agony for him, and Jim had felt so ashamed, so angry, that merely the thought of someone actually caring for him despite what he'd become had almost been worse than the journey that had taken him there.

"Yeah well, I was a little shit back then." Jim admitted uncomfortably. That was probably an understatement. Actually, it definitely was.

"Still are." Pike nudged him with his shoulder, pulling a tired smile from Jim that he didn't begrudge.

"When…when we get back. I'll tell you. Everything. If you want."

He could tell Pike wanted to reach out and touch him from the way his fingers clenched. But he didn't, and Jim was glad.

"You don't have to tell me a damn thing if you don't want to. It's not…it won't change anything."


Pike did touch him then and Jim forced himself not to recoil. He was far twitchier than he had been in years and angry with himself for being so childish.

"Listen to me, Jim." Pike made Jim look at him. He did, reluctantly, afraid what he would see and surprised by the absolute certainty in his expression. "Nothing you could possibly do would ever make me turn my back on you. I left you once, Jim. I'm not making that mistake again. God knows you drive me absolutely crazy and I'm pretty sure McCoy and I are gonna start a race towards our first worry related heart attack, but I'm reliably informed that's how all parents feel about their kids."

Jim had never been much of a crier. As a child it hadn't won him any extra attention from his mom and later in life he'd learned that crying didn't stop people from hurting him. Hell, he was fairly convinced Frank had actually enjoyed it more when he cried. As a rule, Jim wasn't prone to floods of tears or any great dramatic show of emotion, despite what Spock might think.

Which failed to explain why he found it so damn hard to bite back on the tears that welled under Pike's warm, steady gaze. He swallowed roughly and nodded, the closest he could get to voicing what he felt – gratefulness, hopefulness, love.

Then he flagged down their waitress and ordered another round of drinks. They sat in silence until they arrived. Then Jim said, "When we get back from Nibiru. I'll tell you everything. All of it." Then he'd see if Pike still felt the same way.

"There's no rush, kiddo." Pike took his drink and smiled. "I'm not going anywhere." He swallowed the drink and stood, clasping Jim's shoulder and grabbing his cane. "Old habits die hard, I get that. I'll make your excuses and see you in the morning."

Jim swallowed gratefully as Pike left him in the peace he'd been craving.

He finished his drink and decided to go home. Like he told Sam: he wasn't thirteen years old any more. Time to make some new habits.