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Jim’s breath left his lungs the minute his tongue came into contact with the blue liquid. He gripped Bones’ sickbay desk to steady himself.
“What… is… this?”
Bones frowned. “Oh please, Jim, you’re not feeling weak, are you?”
“No, no, I’m… I’m ok.”
“Good! That’s what I like to hear. As to what it is, well, it was a gift from the Coridanite ambassador.”
Jim let go of the desk, straightened up, shook himself and rested his back against the office wall. When light streamed through the liquid in his glass, its color reminded him of the summer sky. At the same time, it reminded him of vile drinks in sleazy bars. He shoved those memories away.
Bones leaned back in his chair and shrugged. “I’ve had worse; I’ve also had much better. This stuff is cough syrup. I think I'll keep it here in sickbay, if you don't mind… purely for medicinal purposes.”
“I feel tipsy already,” he replied, “Is this normal?”
“You lightweight. Can’t have that. I prescribe you spend more time drinking with your chief medical officer. In preparation for diplomatic functions.”
“I mean it. What with every alien race we encounter bragging that a human will hit the floor the minute they just lay eyes on a glass of their local poison, we’re going to have to toughen you up. Remember our last meeting with the Klingons? Their blood wine nearly killed you.”
Jim raised his drink for a toast. "Here's to me continuing to defy Spock’s carefully calculated odds against my survival.”
Bones rolled his eyes. “Only thanks to my surgical skills.”
“Thanks for this.” Jim smiled. “I know I should’ve been relaxing. We’re between missions. But somehow I … it just feels wrong not to be rushing around, dodging phaser fire, or having to coax Scotty into performing miracles down in engineering.”
“You fully deserve this break. We all do.” Bones poured himself another glass of the blue poison. “We haven’t really had time to put our feet up in ages, not since some crazy people put you in charge of this ship. Wow, it’s been a whole half a year already, hasn’t it?”
He stared off into the distance and Jim knew where Bones’ mind had gone, for he couldn’t hold back his own memories of the genocide that had led to him being in charge of the Enterprise. The blue stuff burnt Jim’s throat as he finished the remainder of his drink.
“Well,” Bones said, “I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better now.”
Jim didn’t. There was a hiss as the office door opened, which took him by surprise; he hadn’t heard anyone enter sickbay. Spock walked up to him, a PADD tucked under one arm—no doubt the report Jim had been waiting for.
Spock raised one eyebrow slowly, with precision. “I believe you may not want to mention this particular gift in any of your official reports.”
Jim frowned. “Why not?”
Spock took the glass from him and sniffed at it before taking a sip. “As I thought.”
Jim watched Bones put his glass down; they both turned their eyes on Spock.
“This substance is illegal.”***
High above the Coridanites' planet the Enterprise soared through the night sky, towards the dawn. The star system’s bright, young star was surging above the horizon. That same star glittered small in the diamond sky above Paris, where the nightshift had only just started for one news editor.
Stone-faced Vulcans, thousands of them, moved through the streets of San Francisco like ghosts. At a flick of Maxime’s wrist the video on his screen was replaced with a series of still images: close-ups of pale children, their jet black hair tucked neatly behind small pointed ears. It wasn’t cold in the room, but the images made the hairs on Maxime’s arms stand on end. His eyes lingered on the image of a small Vulcan boy in particular—Maxime’s children, Pierre and Marc, were about the same age. How many of these Vulcan kids were orphans? Would Pierre and Marc have been just as stoic if Earth had been destroyed, leaving them on Mars without a father?
He waved his hand at the data terminal, sending the images on his screen spinning. Ned walked up behind him, bringing with him the smell of strong coffee.
“Thanks, Ned,” Maxime said, “That’s just what I needed.”
The mug was very hot, and after taking a sip he put it down. His fingers traced slowly over the script on it: UE News 24.
“Anything interesting?” Ned, a fellow deputy editor, asked.
“Not really, just the usual.”
Maxime turned around in his seat. “It isn’t even that I want a promotion or to be moved to an extra-solar planet. Not that I’d turn down an offer from the Centauri Network, of course.” He laughed and took another sip of coffee. “No, all I’m asking for is… a bit of life around here, you know?”
“Yeah, I get you,” Ned said.
Maxime’s terminal was buzzing with the pulse of electricity. Flashing lights and the occasional ‘ping’ vied for both his and Ned’s attention: incoming messages, memos, reports, voice recordings, holos.
“Take a look at that holo-flick.” Ned pointed at one of the files. “Might help us for our special report on the Vulcan survivors.”
Adjacent to Maxime’s screen a holo-vid projector sprang to life, filling the air above with hard light. The vid showed a drab street lined with pre-fab houses before zooming out at a dizzying speed. As Maxime looked on, the street shrank before his eyes, while new streets, exact replicas, were added to the map until an entire grid filled the projection space.
Ned shook his head, turned and sat back down at his own desk. They both worked on as outside the sun crept over the horizon, flooding their office with light the color of thick honey.
Ned made fresh coffee. Together they drank in silence, sat in front of Maxime’s terminal. All the while Maxime’s eyes were dividing their time between tracking Ned’s face and following the relentless stream of information that flowed into the room.
“Did you see that?” Ned asked, but Maxime was already onto it, fingers darting towards the image. He grabbed hold of it on his monitor and pulled it onto the larger screen.
“Tell me, is that who I think it is?”
Ned whistled in appreciation. “Who sent you that?”
Maxime leaned forward in his chair and manipulated the open tabs.
“Guy over the pond in San Fran. Starfleet doesn’t take well to paparazzi on their grounds, so I’ll have to find out if he broke any laws taking this. I’ll make a few calls, but I think… what we’ve got here could be quite a story.”***
Jim awoke with his head resting on a cool, hard surface while the grogginess of sleep cleared only slowly from his mind. Realization came to him when he opened his eyes; he was in his office, slumped over his desk where he had fallen asleep last night. A groan escaped him involuntarily when he forced himself into an upright position in his chair. As soon as he moved, the lights switched back on.
He quickly closed his eyes again. After a minute or so he massaged his neck, trying to ease the pain there. He had a headache, too. Now he understood why that blue stuff was illegal. Wait… Spock had only been able to identify it properly once he’d tasted it. Jim frowned. He’d always thought of Vulcans as the designated drivers of the galaxy, since Spock had always refused any drink offered to him. Hmm… interesting.
Slowly he opened his eyes. The feel of a bad hangover was all too familiar to Jim. Memories of all the other times he’d woken up like this came to him, causing him to feel both regret and anger. Back then, in his lost years, this had been the norm, hadn’t it? Before Pike had dragged him out of the gutter. The total quantity of alcohol he’d drunk in his lifetime was hardly worth regretting, though; not when compared to some of the other things he’d done back then.
Why couldn’t the ship run itself when he had a headache? There was no way he was going to ask Spock to step in for him, though. He’d just have to go to Bones and get a hypo to deal with the problem. Jim tapped his access code into the terminal to start his leisurely day’s work. Soon they’d get a new mission, but for now he would take Bones’ advice and enjoy the freedom this small respite could offer him.***
The next day the captain’s period of rest was already over. Drama that Jim and his crew didn't need was causing his blood to boil as he stared glumly at the news channel podcast.
”Well, could anyone have made up such a bizarre love story? I don’t know about you, Inès, but I certainly don’t see the media interest in this affair dying down anytime soon.”
“I agree, Thomas. Especially with new details emerging that suggest the two were lovers before serving on the Enterprise together—cadet and Academy instructor! Needless to say, Starfleet is being very tight-lipped, but no doubt an investigation into the Commander’s conduct is already underway.”
“I dare say you’re right on that one. And if we find out anything, we will of course share it with you, our viewers, first.”
“Stay tuned for more exclusive coverage of this story, brought to you by UE News 24, live from Paris, the capital of the Federation. We’re where the news is when it breaks—.”
Jim slammed his fist down on his desk. The screen flickered briefly, then the connection was lost. The smooth surface of his view screen reflected the harsh artificial light that illuminated the office area in his quarters. For a few seconds he studied it before forcing himself to look across his desk to where Spock and Uhura were seated.
“If I get my hands on whoever sent this ‘memo’ out to the press, I swear,” he said, “that person will not live long enough to regret their actions.”
“It matters little now,” Spock said.
Jim looked from Spock’s drawn face to Uhura’s. It was equally resigned.
“Jim, Spock is right. The damage is already done.”
Jim leaned forward in his chair.
Uhura sighed. “We’d already been given an off-the-record warning once. Neither of us have any energy to spare for the media now, because I have no doubt Starfleet is already launching an inquiry.”
“If you need any back up—whatsoever,” Jim said, his fists clenched in front of him on his desk, “I'm sure I speak for all of us here on the Enterprise when I say that we are one hundred percent behind you both.” He ran his hands through his hair. “Hell, Spock, you really shouldn’t have to be dealing with some disciplinary hearing over your relationship.”
Spock and Uhura didn’t reply.
Jim stood and leaned over the table. “I can’t imagine anyone really wants this hearing to go ahead,” he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll only be given the minimum penalty, I’m sure of it.”
He was worried for the two of them, especially for Spock, who really didn’t need to deal with this kind of shit right now.
The couple in front of him weren’t holding hands. Okay, Spock was uptight—would this thorny, arctic man he knew ever mellow out and become the old Spock he’d met on Delta Vega? —but still, he had grown to know Spock over the past few months, so he could tell that the body language of both was somehow “off”. He couldn’t think of a better way to describe it to himself. How he hated bureaucrats!
“And just so you know,” Jim continued, “I don’t give a damn about what any inquiry has to say on the matter. I knew you two were together when you took up your appointments on the bridge. I have no issue with your relationship whatsoever. Not in the past, not now and not in the future.” He made sure to stress the last word.
They didn’t look at one another, just continued to sit there. Jim realized his face felt rather flushed and that he had been raising his voice. He straightened his shirt, and then sat down again.
“Thank you for your support,” Uhura said quietly, “We both really appreciate it.”
Spock nodded in agreement and Jim studied his face from across his desk. He was glad to still see some spark there even though it was not nearly as bright as it usually was.
They all got up and Jim led them to the door. It had been important to him that they hear the news from him – it was his duty to look after all his crew and he also knew that the gesture probably was appreciated. As Spock stepped out of his quarters, he turned his head and nodded briefly to Jim, conveying his thanks. For a heartbeat their eyes locked, their faces separated by less than an arm’s length.
In his brown eyes Spock possessed a depth, both alluring and terrifying at the same time, that made Jim feel as if he were standing on the precipice of a cliff; all he had to do was jump and his whole being would belong to Spock. He had to suppress a shudder.
When the doors closed he was left alone again. He flung himself into his seat, twisting in his chair so that he could look out of his window at the stationary stars, violent balls of impossibly hot gasses consuming their fuel, inexorably heading towards their doom and that of thousands of worlds. The news report had swept all calm thoughts from his mind, leaving behind a burning fury. All he wanted to do was shoot those news reporters straight into the heart of the Coridanite sun.
Jim was fond of Spock. While he wasn’t sure he deserved for Spock to hold him in as high esteem as he did—considering everything that had transpired between them the day they’d met—there was something to be said for facing certain death together while fighting a Romulan mass murderer. That had been the start of their bond and their new friendship.
His memories of that day rushed through his mind, and he instinctively put his hands over his eyes as if that were enough to stop them. Amid the torrent he found his mind focused on one line that Spock had said.
‘Jim, please tell Lieutenant Uhura—.’
When he had started that sentence, Spock had no doubt thought that it would be the last thing he’d ever say to another living being. He’d never know for sure how the sentence would have ended, but he had a pretty good idea.***
A thin film of the blue liquid clung to the bottle’s walls—that was all that was left. The rest of the ale was sloshing around Spock’s stomach. He should probably call for a doctor to come to his quarters, but that would be the end of his career for sure; too drunk to be of any use in an emergency. He bent over in his chair, burying his head in his hands.
The inquest would not rule in their favor. How could it? He wanted to curse his human half for the lapse in logic that had allowed him to get involved with a student. And that had now gotten him into this sorry state. It was illogical to dwell on events that could not be undone and illogical to think a single bottle of ale would be sufficient to silence the mess of emotions inside him forever. No, he’d have to continue suppress them for as long as he lived.
The intoxicating ale tried to make its way back up his throat. Being stripped of his tight self-control was both relief and unbearably anguish all rolled up in one. His chest constricted, every beat of his heart squeezing out more of his will to live. What was the point in anything anymore?
He opened his damp eyes and stared down at the red floor. Vulcan. Red matter. Human blood.
When he shut them again the inside of his eyelids turned his vision into a dark green blur. The images that color brought up in his mind were no better than the previous ones.
Spock stumbled to bed and, fully clothed, he lay there for what he estimated to be two point eight… point five… point nine hours. Feeling oddly detached from his body, he noted how the ale’s active ingredient was slowly killing vital cells en masse. There was no point in living, but there was no point in risking death either, he decided eventually. So he heaved himself off the bed and toppled into the bathroom, where he dropped to his knees. That was agreeable. The emergency med kit was in the cupboard under the wash basin. He resolved never to look at the mess inside himself again so that there could be no repeat of this wretched night.