Jim pulled a chair near the bed and handed Spock a mug with steam rising from it along with the promise “It’s not replicated.”
Spock accepted the mug. “Thank you.”
Jim craned his head for a better look at the data padd balanced on Spock’s knee. “Work?” he questioned.
“No. I thought to finish perusing my sources on the Yar.”
Sitting back, Jim took a sip from his own cup (of coffee, as opposed to Spock’s tea) then ran fingers through his short hair. He hadn’t woken up that long ago, hadn’t showered or done more than rummage through their decent-sized kitchen and make use of the complimentary coffee and tea packets. It had taken a while for all of them to fall asleep once they had been released from questioning by the ship’s commanding officer.
At that thought, his gaze landed on the lump of covers next to Spock on the bed.
Spock flicked a glance in Jim’s direction. “He is not asleep.”
Jim suppressed a grin when he heard a muffled “I am too!“
“Bones,” he pointed out, “you might as well get up. It’s of no use lying there.”
The bed covers came down enough to reveal unruly brown hair. “Why? So we can find more dead bodies?”
Jim gave the top of Leonard’s head an exasperated look. “Bones.”
The man flung back the covers and sat up. With wild hair and pillow creases on his face, Leonard’s look of exasperation was much more comical than Kirk’s.
“We can’t get on one ship—one ship—without disaster striking! Now whose fault do you think that is?”
“No one’s,” input Spock.
“That question was for Jim!”
“Are you blaming me?” Jim asked a bit sharply.
Leonard’s disgruntled expression held out for another second before he deflated. “No—no, Jim, I’m not blaming you. It’s just bad luck. Honest-to-God bad luck.”
Spock set his padd on the bedside table. “Leonard, when the ship docks at Starbase 45, we can leave if that is what you wish.”
“Absolutely,” Jim agreed, meaning it. “I didn’t sign us up for a murder mystery.” He stifled a pang of disappointment. “We’ll go home.”
Leonard had always been able to see right through him. “I know you’re disappointed, Jim. I am too.” He glanced away. “But getting off this ship isn’t an option anymore. Well, for me at least—as a murder suspect.” He turned his gaze back to them, looking grimly amused.
Jim wasn’t amused at all. He had to stop himself from snapping out that that was nonsense because a show of temper would be taken amiss. Jim clutched at his coffee cup instead. “You’re not, Bones.”
“Right… as if saying, ‘I vouch for his character’ is enough to get me off the hook.” Leonard shook his head slightly. “Thanks, by the way. At least they didn’t lock me up in the brig for the night.”
“To do so would have been highly illogical. You have an alibi.”
“Alibis don’t matter without a time of death, Spock.”
“Which,” Jim pointed out, “they should know by now.”
“Maybe,” Leonard muttered, his tone indicating his lack of confidence in the ship’s medic.
Jim wanted to comfort him but he also knew that Leonard wouldn’t tolerate any babying. He shrugged his shoulders and said, somewhat mischievously, “At least we got a swanky room out of it.”
Leonard heaved a sigh and flopped back down on the bed to fling an arm over his eyes. “Oh, yes, the silver lining!” he said dramatically. “Silk sheets.”
“I think them strange,” Spock remarked.
“‘Cause they are! Who in their right mind pays a month’s salary for these?”
Jim bit his bottom lip.
Leonard chuckled and said without removing the arm from his eyes, “Jim’s looking guilty right about now, isn’t he?”
“Enough, you two,” retorted Jim. “I won’t apologize for my superior taste in bed sheets.”
“If it’s anything like your taste in clothes, ‘superior’ ain’t the word, Jim-boy.”
“Bones,” he growled playfully.
Sticking his mug on the table beside Spock’s, Jim reached across Spock’s legs to grab at Leonard. Leonard used the opportunity to latch onto Jim’s shoulders and roll him into bed. They grappled for a moment, settled for a kiss, then broke apart with a grin. Jim laid a hand on the top of Spock’s thigh, pleased when the Vulcan’s fingers wandered across the back of his hand.
Leonard seemed content to stay squished between them.
Jim was thinking that there was nothing on this ship that would be more enticing than staying in bed with these two today when the door chimed.
“Well, there comes Life a’knockin’,” said Leonard dryly.
With a groan, Jim dropped his forehead to the bedspread.
“And, look, Spock’s gettin’ up to answer the door. Hey, Hobgoblin, put on a shirt! There’s no need to put that chest on display for everybody in the galaxy.”
Jim turned his face into Leonard’s shoulder and laughed.
A hand patted the top of his head lazily.
“I love you, Bones.”
“Sure, darlin’. I love you too. Now move over. If we’re going to have guests, I should at least look decent and not like I’ve been rolling around in the hay with Jim Kirk.”
Jim pulled back and propped his head up on his fist. “You know, I would love to show you Iowa, Bones.” He let his smile widen into a grin. “And we could definitely work on that hay fantasy of yours.”
He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised when Leonard shoved a pillow into his face and leapt away with a grin of his own. The man had a playful side that few ever saw, something Jim loved about him.
Jim knocked away the pillow and slid off the bed with the notion of following Leonard into the bathroom to see how far he could take their ‘game’ when Spock appeared at the opening of the short hallway that led to the other areas of their new accommodations.
“Jim, Captain Roraqk and his second-in-command are here and wish to speak with you.”
With regret, Jim placed aside his plans for Bones and nodded his acceptance. “All right. Give me a minute to find a robe.”
Spock studied him, head tilted in such a way that meant he was thinking about something very diligently.
“Why don’t you entertain Bones?” suggested Jim, indicating the closed bathroom door. “I can handle Roraqk.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes.” He knew that Spock would understand.
And the Vulcan did. Spock headed to the bathroom to keep Leonard occupied while Jim held a private conversation with someone who could potentially ruin their entire vacation.
Never in a million light years did Essler imagine he would occupy the same starship as James Tiberius Kirk. Now he didn’t have to imagine it.
It was better than earning his lieutenant’s stripes. It was better than his first encounter with space pirates, and that one time he tried the highly intoxicating Bolian Brew, which had been outlawed in at least seven different sectors of the quadrant.
James T. Kirk. Captain Kirk.
Last night the man had said, “Call me Jim.”
Now Essler could call him Jim!
As they approached Kirk’s quarters, he was too slow to stifle an excited squeak. Roraqk turned to glare at him, and the young officer had the distinct impression that if he didn’t contain himself within a nanosecond, Roraqk would use one of his claws to eviscerate him.
Damn. And he hadn’t been in this position very long.
The pair came abreast of the double doors that marked the most expensive suite on the ship which, ironically, had been the only available space to relocate their passengers. Roraqk had nearly thrown the special key card at Kirk and his companions following the end of an hours-long interrogation and had told them to stay there and stay put. The ship’s captain had a gruff manner on a good day, but Essler didn’t think last night had cast him in the best light by a long shot.
Personally, he was of the opinion that Kirk deserved the affluence and comfort of the suite, or better. If he had known the greatest hero of the Federation was on the Maiden‘s roster (and why hadn’t he checked for that possibility, why?!), he would have tried to assign Kirk to the Captain’s Quarters.
Imagine, working under a guy like Jim Kirk!
Essler must have let his excitement slip again because this time Roraqk growled an order at him that, even un-translated, meant shut the hell up.
The young man grinned. “We’re here, sir,” he said unnecessarily and went for the door chime.
“Stand down, Lieutenant-Commander.”
Essler ducked his head a little and shuffled back behind his superior.
Roraqk contemplated the door with a sour expression and a hint of pointed teeth. When he jabbed at the call system like it had personally offended him, Essler wanted to tell him to lighten up. Of course, doing that could potentially cost him his salary (not to mention his life) so he felt it was wiser to keep his advice to himself.
A companion of Kirk’s and a Vulcan who honestly hadn’t needed to introduce himself as Kirk’s First, Mr. Spock (Essler could recite the names of Kirk’s alpha crew by heart; he liked to stay up-to-date) let them in to the foyer. Essler tried surreptitiously to peek around Mr. Spock for signs of his hero as Roraqk said in his usual straightforward and rather rude way, “So you didn’t skip out during the shipnight. Guess that’s a point in your favor. Now, your captain—bring him here.”
“Yes, please! Can we speak to Captain Kirk again?” Essler added.
The Vulcan didn’t visibly react to either of their requests, although his gaze did seem rather cool when it considered Roraqk.
Essler had no intentions of leaving without seeing Kirk. He straightened and gave the Vulcan his best smile. “Mr. Spock, I apologize profusely that we might have disturbed you at an inconvenient time, but it is a matter of urgency. Please, might we have a moment with all of you to discuss…” Upon seeing the twitchiness of his captain’s left eye, Essler lowered his voice. “… last night’s affair?”
“There has been much discussion on the matter,” the Vulcan replied mildly. “You have our statements. Therefore I see no value in revisiting what is already known.”
Essler leaned in. “Yes, but now we have a cause of death!”
“I would talk with your doctor again also,” Roraqk said.
Wow… Essler had never met a Vulcan who could sound so politely unyielding as this one. Then again, technically Mr. Spock was the first Vulcan to cross his path. He had long since decided (that was, as of last night) that if Kirk was vacationing with Mr. Spock, then Mr. Spock had to be a very upstanding fellow.
Come to think of it, though… Essler had some misgivings over their third companion. It wasn’t just because the man could be a murderer, of course, but also due to the fact that Dr. McCoy had had a lot of things to say earlier on about the competency of their staff. None of those things had been nice.
But Kirk obviously trusted the man and had vouched for him, so once again Essler would give this McCoy the benefit of the doubt.
At that moment, Essler realized with some chagrin that both Roraqk and Mr. Spock were staring at him. Clearly he had let his mind wander too long as he pondered the qualities of the men accompanying Captain Kirk (which would, of course, be honorable qualities but not quite up to par with Kirk himself).
“Sorry,” he apologized. “Didn’t you say we could meet with the Captain?”
“I did not,” replied Mr. Spock.
Roraqk made a noise between a grunt and a groan. “Just bring one of them out, Vulcan, before I have to fire this squirt for poor taste.”
Essler’s hand shot up. “It has to be Kirk!”
Mr. Spock gave them a scrutinizing stare for a moment longer before he replied, “Very well,” and left them standing in the foyer.
Roraqk bared his teeth and hissed, “I dislike Vulcans.”
“I’m sure Vulcans dislike you too, sir.”
He wasn’t sorry, though. Roraqk would never be as awesome as Jim Kirk, and they both knew it.
In the chilled, odorless air and low lighting of the engine rooms, the ship’s most vital structure ran like clockwork, kept in prime condition by a maintenance crew who flitted from station to station with a presence hardly more discernible than shadows. Their feet made no sound on the gangways as they crossed and climbed. When they communicated to one another, their voices registered as quiet clicks and chitters that blended well with the hum of the surrounding machinery. To the ones who were unknown to them, they would not be seen or heard from at all. They were called the Yar. For those who worked aboard the Star Maiden, it was their home.
The Yar were most active when the rest of the ship slept. On this particular shipnight, one such was traveling the length of the tube that bridged the dual engine rooms. He stopped midway and released a hatch disguised on the outside to look like a corridor panel. His eyes, round and somewhat luminescent, appeared at the hatch’s edge as he squatted low so he could peer into the corridor without being in full view. From the opening his spindly, cloth-clad arm stretched across the floor and drew towards the hatch a square object like a box with no lid. The Yar made a tiny click-clack of appreciation once he had it in his hands. He sealed the hatch and hurried through the rest of the tube with the gift tucked under an arm.
Elsewhere, a figure detached itself from a nook in the corridor and proceeded with soft footfalls in the opposite direction. The hiss of the turbolift doors could be heard as the observer left.
Jim was no fool. He knew a fan when he saw one.
“Hello, Commander,” he said warmly as he came in view of Essler. To the captain, he gave the greeting, “Roraqk.”
The slits in Roraqk’s face, which might have served as nostrils on someone more humanoid in appearance, flared.
Essler’s face lit up. “Captain Kirk!” the young man cried. He came forward in one great leap and pumped one of Jim’s hands enthusiastically. “Good morning—and, well, sorry to say but it’s Lieutenant-Commander, sir.”
Jim smiled. “Oh, my apologies. Such a silly thing to forget.” Although he hadn’t forgotten in the least. “You’re young, but you have the bearing of a commander.”
Roraqk snorted and pushed his way in front of Essler. “Kirk, no need to inflate the squirt’s ego needlessly. This isn’t your Starfleet.”
“Maybe I’m just saying he should have gone into Starfleet.”
Essler flushed with pleasure.
Roraqk drew himself up to a formidable height, leaving no doubt that his reason for being there had nothing to do with listening to the humans praise each other.
Jim had a fought a Gorn nearly that big once. He appraised the captain’s form, thinking that he would make a fine opponent in a fight. Unfortunately, the kind of fighting he had to do now was not physical. “Captain,” he said, offering respect as one commander to another, “will you update me on the situation?”
Roraqk subsided a little bit, making a working motion with his large jaws. “Don’t know that I should share information with a potential suspect.”
So much for respect, Jim thought briefly.
“Oh, but he’s not a suspect!” interjected Roraqk’s second-in-command. In fact, Essler looked downright appalled by the idea. “Captain Kirk, as of this morning you and your men are cleared of suspicion. We reviewed the ship’s security logs and matched them to your statements. Also, we found evidence that the victim wasn’t—”
Roraqk growled something unintelligible which was clearly a warning for Essler to stop.
The young officer dropped his gaze and shifted from foot to foot. “Um, I’m sorry, sir. I would tell you more but I am prohibited by—” Here Essler glanced at the looming presence of his displeased captain. “—regulation.”
“In other words, we’re not required to report to you.”
Jim met Roraqk’s gaze. “And if I demanded to know?”
“A Federation captaincy doesn’t grant you privileges on my ship, Kirk.”
Essler looked like he wished the ship’s floor would swallow him up. Jim could sympathize—as ironically he also would have sympathized with Roraqk’s position if it were not for Roraqk’s belligerence that prevented their collaboration rather than a need to follow protocol in a delicate situation.
Jim nodded nonetheless, accepting the decision with a diplomacy he had learned to acquire through years of unpleasant confrontation. “What’s our ETA to Starbase 45?”
“Two solar days,” Roraqk told him. “The body’s iced until then, and we’re on alert for suspicious activity. Discretely, of course. The last thing I want is several hundred panicking tourists on my hands.”
“If someone catches wind of the fatality onboard,” Essler added, “we will try to avoid saying outright that it was murder.”
Jim gave them a sharp look. “So you believe it’s murder?”
“Yes,” said Roraqk. “Unless someone comes forward with different information, we will proceed under that assumption.”
“And the identity of the victim?” Jim asked softly.
Roraqk seemed to consider how much more he wished to reveal. At length he said, “The victim wasn’t Federation-registered.”
Damn, thought Jim. That could leave the case in the hands of an entirely different authority despite the crime being committed in Federation space. Intergalactic politics were never straightforward. Maybe there was a way he could demand an investigation from their side. Maybe—he stopped there, since those thoughts should be for later. Jim certainly didn’t intend to share them with his current company.
“If it’s any consolation to you,” he told Roraqk, “I’d like to spend the next two days as I originally intended—and that’s on vacation.”
“Better for me.”
No doubt. Jim smiled thinly. “Are you done with us, then?”
Roraqk conceded, “For now.”
“But we’ll check in frequently,” piped up Essler, “to make certain you’re safe.”
Jim narrowed his eyes. “Do you think there’s a reason to be concerned for our safety?” His tone said, If there is, you had better tell me right now.
“No, Captain—I mean, Jim.” Essler grinned and repeated. “Jim.”
This boy was amusing. He felt himself relax. “Yes, it’s Jim.”
Roraqk rolled his eyes and turned away, marching out the door. “Squirt, let’s go.”
“Yes, sir!” cried the young man but he lingered, still grinning at Kirk.
“Essler!” bellowed his captain from the hallway.
Essler jumped and scurried out. He waved goodbye until the sliding door hid him from sight.
With folded arms, Jim stared at the closed door for a long time, trying to decide exactly how he felt about the encounter.
Jim turned to find Leonard lingering in the archway leading to the bedroom, Spock at his back.
“How about breakfast?” he asked.
Leonard stepped forward. “What’d he say?”
Jim sighed. “It wasn’t an accident.”
“As we suspected,” Spock pointed out.
“I told y’all it wasn’t. I’m a doctor, for Christ’s sake. I know an unnatural death when I see one. What else?”
“There is nothing else, Bones.”
Leonard pressed his mouth into an unhappy line.
Jim didn’t like his answer any better than Leonard did. “Bones.”
“I get it, Jim. You can’t tell me anything because you don’t have anything to tell me.” Leonard turned to leave but stopped to stare at a Vulcan shoulder that wasn’t moving out of his way. “It’s not you I’m angry at. I just don’t think it’s right.”
“Bones,” Jim tried again, “this isn’t our ship. Officially, we’re civilians here. While I don’t know about you, I think the less we have to do with a murder investigation, the better off we are.”
Leonard spoke to Spock’s shoulder. “Somebody killed a man, Jim, in our room. Doesn’t that bother you?”
Spock placed a hand on Leonard’s upper arm.
Jim closed the distance between them. “It bothers me. Actually… it frightens me.”
Leonard lifted his head and looked back at him.
“I can’t begin to guess why he was there,” Jim continued on, “but I can be thankful that none of us were with him. Maybe that sounds selfish, Bones, but it’s how I feel. I would rather accept the mystery of his death than risk our lives in trying to find the explanation for it. Bones… please. Let this one go.”
“I know he’s a stranger, Jim, but someone should care.”
“Someone does,” interceded Spock.
“Surely you don’t mean the ship’s captain. He’s more worried about bad publicity than a killer running loose! Why else do you think he wished he could pin it on me and be done with it?”
“Regardless of motivation, the duty is his and not ours.”
“Quiet, both of you! I can’t think.” Leonard pushed past Spock and disappeared down the hallway.
“I didn’t think he would be like this,” Jim said to Spock.
“He has no information with which to rationalize the death, and the notion of violence is intolerable to him. I would not expect him to react differently.”
Jim eyed the Vulcan. “How did you come to know him so well?”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “Through no fault of my own.”
“Implying that it was mine?”
“You were a common factor in the progression of our acquaintance.”
“Spock, sometimes I can’t tell if you are complimenting me or insulting me.”
“In this case, it is neither. Leonard and I have persevered through a tumultuous history in large part due to your meddlesome nature.”
“That,” Jim decided, stroking Spock’s arm, “was a compliment.”
“Your ability to find light in the darkest corner never ceases to amaze me.”
“What can I say? I was always a gifted child.”
Leonard poked his head into the hallway. “Are you two done flirting? ‘Cause I want breakfast.”
Jim and Spock shared a look, weighing the unspoken apology. Spock nodded almost imperceptibly.
Jim smiled at Leonard. “Great idea, Bones. But first…” He turned up the wattage of his smile to a full-blown charm. “How about a shower?”
“I showered with Spock.”
Jim punched Spock lightly in the arm. “You dog!”
“He’s annoyingly methodical, even in the shower,” Leonard remarked. “So maybe I could use a second one. Let’s try the water this time. You were right, Jim: this suite has some swanky advantages.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice.”
But Leonard held out his hand before Jim could take a single step in his direction. “I wasn’t asking you, Jim. I was asking Spock.”
There was a beat of silence while Leonard looked serious and Jim looked at Leonard like he couldn’t possibly mean what he said; then the moment collapsed with Leonard laughing hard enough that he had to hold onto the doorway, Jim flushing red, and Spock simply switching his gaze between the humans as if he had missed the joke.
“Bones, I’m going to kill you.”
“Last one in the shower has to scrub the other two’s backs!” Leonard declared and vanished.
Jim barked out a laugh of his own and started forward, stopped, and reached backwards to take a hold of Spock’s hand. “Come on!” he said.
“Jim,” the Vulcan protested as he was hurried along, “Jim—the size of the shower cubicle will not accommodate more than two persons.”
“We will not fit.”
“I said we’ll fit. I have special abilities, remember?” Kirk added as he pushed Spock ahead of him into the bathroom. “I can make this work.” He paused with a hand on the Vulcan’s shoulder and held Spock’s gaze. “Do you doubt me, Spock?”
“Never, Jim” was the reply.
This was perfect.
A convenient murder, and suddenly Kirk was within reach.
Was it time for a visit, perhaps—neighbor to neighbor?
Then there would be a second body en route to the nearest starbase. How splendid!