Welcome Back, My Friends

by Cheryl and David Petterson

(Standard Year 2252)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continum

Return To Part One


"New Security Chief?" Jilla questioned tonelessly.

Jeremy bit his tongue and fixed his eyes forward. He didn't have to be a sensitive to identify Lady Jilla's fear and jealousy. So far, Captain Spock's ‘surprise’ hadn’t come off too well.

"I didn’t know, hon," Sulu replied. "Spock sprung it on me."

"The Captain seems to have made a number of such decisions," was Jilla's response.

"Yeah, don't I know it." Sulu paused, awkward silence growing. "You two could say hello," he finally said.

"Mr. Paget," Jilla complied.

Jeremy took a deep breath. "Lady Takeda," he returned. He glanced at her, saw the dreadful doubt in her eyes and faced her fully. "I honor your bond, and your bondmate," he continued. "I'd never allow any outside interference, much less tolerate my own. What I feel stays here." He tapped his chest, then grinned. "Wakarimaskah?"

Jilla's skin shimmered faintly, her grey eyes mirroring not his smile but the depth of feeling in his. "Wakarimasu," she murmured.

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

Security Chief's quarters were on Deck Five, and Sulu escorted Jeremy there as ordered. As soon as they were in the turbolift, he gave the taller man an appropriately fierce hug.

"It's good to see you, Jer," he said.

Jeremy returned the embrace. "Likewise, babe. Your Lady's as pretty as ever."

Sulu grinned. "I know. And what was 'wakarimaskah’ about?"

Paget feigned shock. "You forget Japanese, Kamikaze?"

"Hush," Sulu returned with equally feigned sternness. "That's confidential information."

"That you know Japanese?"

Sulu scowled. "I forgot how obnoxious you are." Jeremy grinned. "So what did you mean asking Jilla if she understood?"

Paget shrugged. "Just doin’ my best to keep you out of hot water with your Lady." He leaned over conspiratorially. "She's a sensitive, y'know. She can feel what you - ah - desire." His smile was a leer and Sulu couldn't help laughing.

"And what you desire, Cobra."

"Yeah, but I'm not the one she's married to."

"Good point."

"Damn shame."

"Watch it."

"Is that permission?"

"Just don't touch. Wakarimaskah?"

Jeremy grinned again. "Wakarimasu."

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

Of course, there wasn't any ‘surprise’ after such an obvious set-up. Jim was certain that nothing would have 'delayed’ Bones or Scotty from being in the transporter room to greet him. He was half tempted to toy with Ruth and Jade a bit, to suggest that they wait on the Bridge, give him a chance to sit in the Center Seat once more, until his quarters were ready. It would've been amusing to see how they would’ve steered him to the rec room then. But Jim wasn't that much of a sadist.

Alright, he grinned to himself, try to act surprised.

The door hissed open and the shout echoed out into the corridor. Scotty was closest, his arms spread wide. His jovial face held an enormous smile and there were tears in his eyes. Somehow, the Scotsman's quiet voice cut through the happy din behind him. "Ach, it's good t'see ya, sir." the familiar brogue rolled over Jim's ears.

"I can't tell you how good it is to see you, Scotty." The men embraced warmly. For some reason, that appeared to be cause for a general cheer. Scott stepped back, laughing.

There was Bones, looking a bit greyer, his face a bit more lined, but grinning so broadly that Jim wondered if it made the doctor's cheeks hurt. He waved the mint julep he held in his left hand. "You're at least two behind the rest of us, Jim-boy," he said, slurring his words just a bit. He wrapped his right hand behind Jim's neck, pulling him into a hug. "Welcome back, Jim."

"Thank you, Bones." Another cheer went up and Jim felt himself being dragged into the room.

Somewhere amid the confusion, the hellos, the repeated cheers, the glass of champagne that miraculously appeared in his hand, the glimpses of Jade beaming proudly, of Spock looking solemn ("Typical Vulcan partyin’ attitude," Bones explained, "indicatin’ he's enjoyin' things too damn much to admit it.") - somewhere in there, Jim recalled that he had resolved to look surprised. However, it didn't seem to matter much at that point, so he simply laughed at himself and sipped his champagne.

There were new people to meet, two years of tales to hear, old friends to seek out. In the hundred-odd weeks he'd been gone, there'd been transfers, promotions, accidents, affairs, rumors - and a few deaths. It was often said that a starship was really a small town with warp drive, and Jim had a lot of catching up to do: Two years in the lives of four hundred and thirty neighbors.

Spock stayed by his right shoulder like a tall, green shadow, Jade to his left. Daphne Gollub, who seemed just slightly tipsy (but with Daffy, how could one tell for certain?) started calling the two of them Jachin and Boaz. Jim didn't quite get the reference, though it sounded familiar somehow. Lieutenant Commander Gollub drifted off before he could ask her about it.

At one point, Dr. McCoy stumbled over to Jim and draped his arm around the Captain's shoulders. "I never thought I'd say this, Jim-boy," he said, gesturing, "but that supercilious - Vulcan made a damn fine captain. Didn't never talk to nobody, though. An’ he's got no idea what to do on leave. Don't know how to waste time proper-like."

"Thank you, Doctor," Spock answered.

"But don't neither of you get the wrong idea," Bones went on. "Jim-boy T. Kirk always was Fleet's finest. He's back where he belongs. And Spock, now, good a captain as you were, I'm happy to..." He paused, then scowled. "Help me out here, Jim. If you're Captain again, then Spocko is..."

"My First Officer and Chief of Science."

McCoy's grin flowed back onto his face. "Just like old times!" He slapped both of them on the back, and wandered off, shaking his head. "Imagine that! Just like old times."

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

Ruth had had about as much gaiety as she, in her disgruntled mood, could take. Daffy had just regaled her with her debatably hilarious observation concerning Spock, Jim and Jade's relative positions to one another and the alleged similarity to the ancient Kabbalistic Pillars of Light and Dark. Ruth didn't see the humor in it, and Daffy had flittered away with an airy comment on Ruth's inability to cope with adversity. "And she calls me a sentient butterfly," Ruth muttered. She really hadn't needed the reminder that Spock was playing shadow to Bwana Jim - even if it was mostly because she had ignored his attempts to speak to her. "But he's just yanked my world out from under me," she said to no one in particular, "so I don't have to be fair." Therefore, she decided to sit out the rest of the party in a corner, feeling sorry for herself. The only available place was along one wall, beside a small table. She set the glass of champagne she had accepted but not touched on the table and threw herself into the chair with melodramatic despair. "For this I wear a dress uniform," she grumbled.

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

Jeremy stowed his gear before beginning his first official observation period: attending Captain Kirk's homecoming party. He'd briefly met the soon-to-be-former occupant of his quarters and instantly regretted that Tara Ryan was leaving. She would’ve been more than able to distract him from thoughts of Sulu, and from the looks she gave him, more than willing. He promised himself to take full advantage of the next two weeks. At least then he'd have some recent memories with which to combat months of celibacy and overwhelming temptation.

"Remember LiLing," he chanted softly to himself. Yeah, like remember the Alamo, the Maine, Pearl Harbor...

Jeremy shook off the threatening depression. This is a party, he reminded, and the fact that you're a shrink on duty is a secret. Liven up.

He entered the rec room and was immediately greeted by Daffy Gollub, who gave him a properly passionate groupie's kiss, a glass of champagne, and pulled him over to a gathering of other former Clavists. He drank and joked with them, keeping one eye on the interaction of Kirk and Dr. Han, making mental notes for the briefing he had to give Baker before the Enterprise broke orbit.

When Sulu and Jilla arrived, he made his excuses, endured the snickers and lewd comments, and moved toward them. He ignored Daffy's final, "Hands to yourself, Cobra!"

"Commander, Lady Takeda," he said in greeting. Sulu grinned, Jilla nodded. "Some reception," he continued, gesturing.

"Captain Kirk was popular," Sulu returned.

"And starships love any excuse to party."

"That, too."

"I do not see Ruth," Jilla put in.

As short as she is, Jeremy found himself wondering, how can she see much of anything in a crowd like this? At over six feet tall, he towered above her.

"Well, with Spock taking over as Chief of Science, she can't be too thrilled," Sulu said. "Maybe she went home to beat on him."

"No, Spock's with Kirk," Jeremy rejoined. "Has been since I got here."

"Perhaps I should look for her," Jilla suggested.

"You worried, hon?" Sulu asked her.

"Not precisely worried..."

Sulu smiled, bending his head to kiss hers. "Okay, go on and be a sounding board."

Jilla shimmered faintly. "Enjoy yourself, Sulu."

"I will, hon."

"And you, Mr. Paget."

Surprised to be included, Jeremy looked down at her. Her gaze was open, obviously determined to be friendly and trusting. He returned it with all the sincerity he could express.

"Please," he said, "call me Jeremy."

Her shimmer brightened as she lowered her eyes. "Jeremy," she repeated softly. The shiver her voice sent down his spine surprised him and he determinedly ignored it. Maybe it was her accent, the way she pronounced 'j' more like 'zh’... "Thank you, Lady," he murmured. He watched her move away, a smile coming over his features, then heard Sulu clearing his throat and became aware that he was watching her. He turned.

"Hey," he protested innocently, mostly to cover his reaction, "you said I could look."

"You're too damn charming for your own good, you know that?" Sulu said with a scowl.

"Takes one to know one, babe," Jeremy replied with a wink.

Sulu's scowl was replaced with a relenting grin. "Obnoxious," he said.

Jeremy shrugged. "Is she really worried about Spike?" he asked, changing the subject as they headed for the refreshment table.

Sulu shook his head. "No. She doesn't really like parties. Emotional overload. So this is a good excuse."

"Why doesn't she just stay home?"

"I like parties."

"Ah," Jeremy said, nodding. "A wise woman."

"Still, it's got to be a shock for Ruth. And Spock not telling her... Well, let's just say she's had way too much of secrecy from her husband."

Jeremy nodded again in sympathetic understanding. The past year had done a lot to negate the effects of Captain Bastard's reign, but the wounds were still healing. Spock's attempt at surprises was poking at them rather precariously.

Leonard McCoy came up to the table as they each took a glass of champagne, grinning in bleary-eyed contentment. His expression didn't alter as Sulu introduced them.

"Doc, this is Jeremy Paget. He'll be our new Security Chief. Jer, Dr. McCoy."

"New Security Chief?" McCoy repeated, obviously not comprehending. "We can't have that, boy. Gotta be just like old times."

Sulu shrugged. "Life goes on, Doc."

"Hell yes, and it all comes back around." McCoy gestured expansively with one mint-julep-laden hand. "Y'see there - over there? There's Jim-boy, as good as new. Takin' back his lady just like he should. It all comes around."

Sulu was smiling. "Yeah, I see what you mean. I hope I can be a good Exec for him."

McCoy suddenly draped a companionable arm around Jeremy's shoulders. "So you're gonna be the Chief of Security, huh?"

"That's what they tell me," Paget replied.

"Y'all better do him proud, boy," McCoy lectured. "'Cause if ya don't, them pointed ears'll fall right down on ya."

"Not to mention the First Officer," Sulu put in with a grin.

McCoy stared at him. "That's what I said, boy. Best damn First Officer in Fleet - even if he does have them pointed ears."

"Yeah, Doc," Sulu rejoined, "but he'll be Chief of Sciences, not..."

"That, too. Comes right back around," McCoy interrupted. "Just like old times. Jim in command and Spock right by his side. Best damned command team in Fleet."

"What?" Sulu asked, his voice hoarse.

Jeremy felt his stomach tensing, his heart sinking. No, Spock couldn't’ve neglected - couldn't've thought to leave that as a surprise. McCoy was drunk, he must be mistaken...

"Yep, just like old times," McCoy beamed. "Told me so himself. Jim's got his ship back and Spock back too. Captain and First Officer." He sighed happily, taking a long swallow of his drink.

Sulu stared, all the color draining from him. Jeremy grimaced to himself. How could Fleet do this? And I’m supposed to take the only senior position left open to him? Jesus Christ...

"Shit," Sulu said softly. "The bastard's screwed me. Again." His voice rose. "Shit! How could he - why would he - shit!"

"Sulu, babe," Jeremy began, "there's got to be some reason..."

"SHIT!" Sulu exclaimed, then abruptly downed his glass of champagne. "Where’s Spike?" he muttered and moved determinedly away. Jeremy watched him go, knowing now was not the time for comfort or logical speculation. Later, after he'd bitched it all out; but not now. His heart ached for Sulu's pain and sense of betrayal, but as always he knew when to back off. At least, he consoled himself, this time there'll be a ‘later.’ He finished his own drink, then resignedly went back to Kirk-watching.

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

"Ruth, are you alright?" Jilla's concerned voice asked. Ruth looked up from her sulk.

"Oh sure, yeah, just peachy," she scowled. "I just got demoted because of some stupid-ass agreement my stupid-ass husband made two years ago without consulting me or telling me even but I'm just dandy."

Jilla found another chair and pulled it up beside Ruth, sitting down next to her. "Has he offered any explanation?"

"Him? He's too busy playing 'Boss and Bwana: Reunited at Last.'"

"You have not given him the opportunity," Jilla translated.

Ruth made a face. "You know me too well." She sighed. "How is Sulu taking it?"

"With surprisingly little difficulty," Jilla returned. "I have not felt any but the faintest resentment or anger, and that has been mostly for your sake. Of course," she admitted, "we have not discussed it overmuch."

"You haven't talked to him about it," Ruth translated in turn.

"You know me too well," Jilla repeated.

"Cobra bother you too much?" Ruth asked, changing the subject.

"Mr. Paget - Jeremy is friendly and respectful. I have no cause to resent Sulu's oldest friend."

"And lover."

Jilla glowed in annoyance and mild embarrassment. "Ruth, must you?"

Ruth shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, I don't mean to take my bad mood out on you. Misery loves company, I guess."

"Must it be so miserable?" Jilla questioned. "I realize the circumstances are not ideal, but such a 'demotion' is in title only..."

"And what about Roy? What's he gonna do? Paget is Security, Spock is First Officer. Is he supposed to go back to being just a helmsman? Jilla, he was Chief of Security when I met him! That's nearly six years ago!"

Jilla gazed down at the deck in discomfort. "It will be a difficult adjustment..."

"Adjustment, hell! It's..."

Ruth's voice was cut off as Sulu bore down on them with a quiet but piercing, "Spike, do you know what that son-of-a-bitch has done?"

Ruth bared her teeth. "Difficult adjustment," she said to Jilla, then looked up at Sulu. "I assume you're speaking of my husband son-of-a-bitch?"

"Not only has he bumped you out of your job, the bastard's taking mine, too!"

"Yeah, I know," Ruth replied sourly. "Hot shit Spock, First Officer and Chief..."

"YOU KNOW!" Sulu shouted, staring down at her. Ruth's eyes went wide and she sat up straighter.

"Uh, yeah. Didn't Jilla tell..."

"DIDN'T JILLA TELL ME?!?" His venomous gaze switched to the Indiian.

Jilla was a bright as a nova. "I thought you knew, Sulu," she said breathlessly.

"Turn it off, Jilla," Ruth whispered urgently as Sulu slumped into a chair on the other side of her. Several people in the room had turned to stare at them.

"That's great, just fucking great," Sulu muttered. "Does everybody on the whole goddamned ship know but me?"

"Sulu," Jilla began cautiously, her voice breaking as she struggled with his turmoil, "I assumed that - that you understood - my - my reference to Captain - Cap - Commander Spock's - recent decisions..."

"Shit! I thought you were just talking about Ruth and his goddamned 'surprises,'" Sulu replied sullenly. "Shit!!" He sat up, turning to face her. "When did he tell you?"

Jilla fought the renewing glow. "He - he did not," she managed. "Ruth did."

Sulu glared at Ruth. "Well?"

Ruth scowled back. "Don't take it out on me, Roy. He told me just before you beamed down to Jude. When did I have time to tell you? He'd just hit me with the same bombshell, y'know!"

"Yeah, I know," Sulu grumbled. "Shit!"

"Jilla was just saying that it wouldn't be that bad," Ruth rejoined with false cheerfulness. Jilla sighed tremulously.

"Yeah, right. Not that bad," Sulu snarled. "What the hell am I supposed to do with my career? Commander Sulu? Oh, yeah, he's the helmsman for the Enterprise. Been one for, oh, almost nine years now. Shows a lot of initiative, doesn't he?"

"Sulu," Jilla's tentative voice put in, "no one will think..."

"The hell they won't," Ruth snapped.

"What are you complaining about?" Sulu asked. "At least you've still got a command position."

"Assistant Chief of Science. Big deal," Ruth sneered.

"Better than helmsman," Sulu rejoined. "Hell, I was that when I was commissioned."

"Face it, our former Captain simply wasn't that impressed with us as a command team."

"Well, not when compared to his own super-Vulcan standards."

"And he wouldn't dare offer the great Bwana Jim anything less than perfection."

"Fuck no. Wouldn't want to insult the man."

Jilla sighed again, and Ruth abruptly sat up, reaching toward the small table. "Here, Roy," she said, handing him something. "A toast to our fortune and fate."

"What...?" Sulu began, looking down at his hand. In it was a cracker covered with a brownish paste.

"Chopped liver," Ruth supplied.

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

Uhura had greeted him with an ardent kiss and not a few tears. Chekov had been as correct as always, but not as stiff nor as over-anxious. Jim wondered how much of that was due to maturity and how much due to the navigator’s on-going association with Daffy Gollub; the chemist had been draped on Chekov’s arm, grinning drunkenly. Tara Ryan expressed some regret that she was leaving so soon after his return, but Jim got the definite impression that he wasn't the only reason. Perhaps it was the way her eyes followed the new Security Chief - whose eyes were following right back. M'ress and Mrraal had purred genuine pleasure at him, and he noted that Ramon Ordona and Monique DuBois were still caught up in their tempestuous non-relationship. As the party went on, he felt more and more at home, and couldn't attribute it to any chemically induced effects: he'd sipped only two glasses of champagne, despite the toasts and Bones' attempt to push alcohol into his hands.

"You're enjoying yourself, James," Jade murmured in his ear.

He nodded. "It all feels very natural, Jade."

She smiled. "And why shouldn't it?"

"I've been gone two years, for a start." He took another sip from his glass.

"I told you you were going to meet friends," Jade reminded. "Friends don't count the months."

He grinned ruefully. "I guess you're right."

Her eyes opened wide. "Did you ever doubt it?"

The grin turned to laughter. "Ah, yes, I forgot. You're infallible."

"No. Just right."

Jim laughed again, and finished his champagne, looking around the room. The party was winding down. Most of the crew had duty in the morning, and McCoy's detox shots worked better on at least a few hours' sleep. Suddenly Jim realized he hadn't seen either Sulu or Ruth since the party had started. He turned to Spock, who had been speaking quietly with, of all people, Miss Gollub.

“So go fix it, Commander Schmuck,” Daffy said as she turned back to her escort, who muttered alarmingly, “Dafshka!” then grinned weakly at the Vulcan.

“Excuse her, Mr. Spock, Captain, Dr. Han,” Chekov added. “She’s drunk.”

“Not hardly, bubee,” Gollub returned as the Russian dragged her away.

Jim grinned, shaking his head, hearing Jade’s suppressed chuckles. Then he went on as he had intended. "Spock, I haven't seen Ruth. She is still here, isn't she?"

Spock hesitated. "I trust so, Captain."

It was an odd answer, and Jim was about to comment on it when Spock continued.

"I am afraid I have made a serious miscalculation," he said. He took a deep breath, and Jim felt his nervousness begin all over again. Had he been too accepting, too 'natural?' Had he said or done something to indicate he wasn't dealing with reality? Was this party some test, or - worse thought - only another simulation? No, I know who and what and where I am. This is real and I am in command of myself and of the situation. I will not let fear rule me.

"I - intended this to be a surprise," Spock went on. "I have tried to tailor my interactions with the crew to Human norms. I find, however, that I am singularly lacking in understanding the nuances of such norms."

"Spock, what are you talking about?" Jim cut in.

Spock sighed. Deeply and audibly. Jim's eyebrows shot up. "As you know, you are to resume command of the Enterprise at First Shift tomorrow. At that time, I will also assume the duties of First and Science Officer. I wanted to surprise the former holders of those offices with their new assignments. But I did not allow for the emotional reaction they would have during the hours between learning of my return to my former duties and being given their new ones."

Jade was shaking her head, her hands covering her face. "Spock, Spock..." she murmured.

"You mean," Jim said, "that your First Officer and your Chief of Science have no idea... Spock, to say you're lacking in understanding is - "

"Yes," Spock agreed. "How do I remedy this?"

"You tell them," Jim directed. "Now."

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

Jeremy stood with his arms folded, watching Sulu and Ruth make bitterly elaborate 'toasts' with crackers and paté.

“To ruined careers.”

“To wasted years and effort.”

“To temporary promotions.”

“Retractable gold braid.”

“Eternal assistant-hood.”

“Perpetual helm occupancy.”

It was getting more than a little pathetic, yet Jeremy knew the depth of the hurt such a childish display was covering. Jilla, too, was painfully aware of it. She sat next to Ruth, her head bent, hands clenched tightly together. He couldn't see her face; it was hidden by her thick, burgundy hair. But she seemed drawn into herself, and Jeremy recognized it as the only shield she had against such strong emotion. He was about to barge in and suggest they begin to get over their mutual sulking - as justified as that sulking was - and get on with life. After all, nothing was really changing - at least nothing that would affect what was most important to them. Career-wise this was the pits, granted, but there was more to life than careers. He opened his mouth to tell them so when he saw Spock and Kirk approaching. Spock looked nervous and contrite, and Kirk looked...

...like a captain. Confident, decisive, in charge, despite the fact that he'd been partying for well over three hours. The partying itself had been relaxed and easy, his interactions with the crew understated but completely natural. Jeremy had seen no indication of overprotective or inappropriate behavior from Dr. Han, nor any action that would lead one to think she was biased - that she was in love with Kirk wasn't any reason, in Jeremy's opinion, to doubt her professional objectivity. Captain Kirk didn't seem to mind her attention, and his reaction to it was proper in every respect. Jeremy smiled to himself. Captain James T. Kirk, to all appearances so far, was definitely playing fizzbin with a full deck.

He glanced back at Sulu and Ruth, then again to Spock. He hoped with all his might that the same could be said about the former Captain Spock.

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

Jilla's head came up as Spock stepped toward the small table. The strength of his chagrin almost brought tears to her eyes. Is there yet another logical explanation? she wondered. Have you not yet learned to trust us?

"Miss Valley, Mr. Sulu,” Spock began.

Ruth glared up at him, baring her teeth, and offered him a cracker. "Paté, Boss?" she asked acidly.

"Paté?" he questioned.

"Yeah, you know," Ruth returned. "Chopped liver? What we are?"

Spock nodded wearily. "I see." He inhaled slowly. "I wish to apologize. I have made an error in judgment..."

"In judgment," Sulu muttered, looking up at the Vulcan with bitter eyes. "No, that was mine. I trusted you."

"Mister," Kirk began, "that's no way to..."

Spock held up a hand. "No, Captain. His words are justified." He met Sulu's eyes. "I mentioned before, my friend, that I was lax in the area of timing. I wanted to surprise you." His glance shifted to Ruth. "And you, my wife, and Jilla."

"Don't tell me," Ruth interrupted. "You're gonna be Assistant Engineer too."

"No, that position..." Spock stopped abruptly. "Will you allow me to explain?"

"Sure," Ruth said airily. "Go right ahead."

"Will you listen, my wife?"

She shifted uncomfortably, glancing at Jilla. "So he knows me, too," she muttered. Then, at Spock's questioning gaze, answered, "Yes, I'll listen."

Spock straightened. "It is true that I am replacing both you and Mr. Sulu in your current assignments on the Enterprise. It is equally true that I accepted a demotion in order to fill these positions." Ruth and Sulu bristled. "However," Spock went on, a little louder, "I did not, nor would I accept demotions for you. On the contrary, I accepted an increase in rank and position on your behalves." Sulu and Ruth suddenly sat up, and Jilla concentrated on keeping her emotional reaction in check. "As I stated, I had wanted this to be a surprise, to be announced to the rest of the crew tomorrow when Captain Kirk officially resumes command of this vessel. I see now that it was an ill-considered attempt. For that I ask your forgiveness, for my intentions were, I assure you..."

"Spock," Kirk broke in again, "get to the point."

Spock nodded. "Ruth, Jilla, you are being given temporary assignment to the San Francisco Shipyards, as Chief of Starfleet Computer Sciences and of Engineering respectively, to complete construction and installation of the computers and engines for the Class Two Heavy Cruisers."

Ruth let out a whoop and jumped up from her chair, throwing her arms around Spock. "I get to work on the Nests? Spock, why didn't you... Never mind, you just told me why you didn't tell me! Just don't ever not tell me something like this again!"

Jilla was smiling, overwhelmed tears unshed in her eyes. "I am most gratified you and Mr. Scott have such confidence in me," she stated quietly.

"What about me?" Sulu asked, his voice half wary, half excited.

Spock pried Ruth from his arms. She immediately grabbed Jilla and they hugged, beginning an animated, whispered conversation. "You, Mr. Sulu," Spock replied, "will be briefed along with Miss Ryan, in order to assume your new command."

It took several seconds for Spock's words to sink in. Sulu stared, then stood, then swallowed. "My -- command?" he finally managed. "You mean...?"

"The U.S.S. Drake," Spock confirmed.

"Captain?" Sulu whispered.

"Captain," Spock returned. "Sir."

Sulu smiled from ear to ear. "Captain," he repeated. He spun to Jilla, who was already coming into his arms. "Jilla, captain!!"

She nodded, the tears spilling from her eyes. With a whoop to match Ruth's, Sulu picked her up and swung her around, kissing her with radiant passion. Ruth again threw her arms around Spock.

Remind me never to doubt you again, she whispered in his mind.

Will it help?

Probably not, but do it anyway. She paused. On second thought, make sure you never do anything this brainless to make me doubt you again.

As you wish, beloved.

"Would you object if I kissed you, Commander Spock?" she asked out loud.

"You are my superior in Starfleet standings, Commander Valley," he replied.

She grinned wickedly. "Yeah, that's right." She nodded to Kirk. "If you'll excuse us, Captain?"

Jim nodded graciously. "Of course, Commander."

Ruth placed her hands on the sides of Spock's face and kissed him quite deliberately on the lips.To her astonishment, Jim applauded.

"It's about time something other than me got celebrated around here," he said.

===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*=== ===*===

It wasn't until the next morning that reality began to sink in. Jeremy woke depressed, despite waking next to Tara Ryan, realizing that he wasn't going to serve with Sulu after all. After Tara left to report for duty, he sent a concise report to Admiral Baker, asserting his professional opinion that there was nothing for Fleet Brass to worry about. Baker's response was a terse, "Let's see what real action does." Jeremy bit his tongue and agreed to continue - as if he'd had a choice. He heard the official announcement of Captain Kirk's resumption of his command, and of Ruth, Jilla and Sulu's promotions and new assignments. Something about it struck him, something that felt like trouble, but he couldn't identify it, and was too depressed to really want to try very hard. He went down to the gym to take up some of the slack of three days of inactivity with a good, hard workout. It helped his depression as well, and he took a quick shower before heading to the messhall to meet Sulu for a mid-morning coffee break.

Sulu was already there, along with Ruth and Jilla. Jeremy got his coffee, watching a small stream of well-wishers approach them and offer their congratulations. He sauntered over to the table and sat down with a cheerful, "Good morning, Ma'ams, Captain, sir."

Ruth grinned. Jilla beamed at Sulu. Sulu's smile was still ear to ear. They were obviously still in the throes of the all-encompassing relief that they were not doomed to eternal assistant-hood. Jeremy decided not to depress them with his reality.

"Captain, Jer," Sulu said.

Jeremy smiled back at him. "Yeah, I heard."

"And it's even the Drake," Ruth put in. "Pretty fitting, huh, Sir Francis?"

"It hit me last night..." Sulu went on.

"Very late last night, no doubt," Ruth giggled. Jilla blushed.

"...that I really am getting promoted the hell out from under him."

Jeremy chuckled. He remembered the tapes from a frustrated First Officer, begging the gods at large to accomplish just that feat.

"You should've seen Bwana in the con," Ruth enthused. "He sat down on it almost reverently."

"And told everyone 'enough and get back to work' when we all cheered like sentimental idiots," Sulu rejoined.

"And loved every minute of it," Ruth added.

"Uhura couldn't make up her mind whether to cry or laugh," Sulu went on. "Scotty looked ready to explode from sheer joy."

"Bones got a big kick out of calling Spock 'Commander’ again," Ruth said.

Sulu grinned at her. "You got a kick out of bossing him around."

"Well, after his 'surprise,' he deserved it."

"Who's arguing?"

Jeremy reflected that Sulu and Ruth must have made a very efficient command team. Their minds seemed to work along the same lines. He also reflected that if Jilla's eyes held any more pride, she'd probably burst - and that the subdued glow of pleasure that infused her was very, very attractive. Almost as attractive as Sulu's glow of pride made him. And we can stop this train of thought right here, he chided himself.

"It's just like him to expect us to get ready for a major change like this in only two weeks," Sulu continued, shaking his head. "Spock really doesn't understand Human needs. He could be packed, cleared, briefed, and saying goodbye in..."

"Hours," Ruth supplied, "like he did when Jim disappeared."

The silence was only momentary, and thoughtful rather than bitter. But it turned abruptly panicked when Sulu's words, like Jeremy's reality, began to sink in.

"Say - goodbye?" Jilla whispered, looking up at Sulu, her face paling with growing dread.

"Goodbye?" Ruth repeated, staring off across the room.

"Goodbye?" Sulu rejoined, meeting Jilla's despairing gaze.

And Jeremy identified the 'something' that had disturbed him. While he wasn't going to be serving with Sulu, neither was Sulu going to be with his Lady. Spike wasn't going to be with her relatively recently un-estranged husband. Release from their worry for their careers had clouded the real issue. For them, Jim Kirk's 'welcome back’ meant only one thing. "Goodbye," he echoed.

The End

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