(c) 1998 Jungle Kitty
Star Trek and its characters are the property of Paramount. This not-for-profit piece of fan fiction is not intended to infringe on that ownership. The author's copyright applies only to the creative content and her original characters.
This story is one in a series about the relationship between James Kirk and Suzanne Brandt. The Kirk-Brandt Chronology lists all the stories, both in order of occurrence and order of creation.
"Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?"
Leonard McCoy glared at me from the comm screen.
"Quite possibly," I said. "But is there a specific reason why you're asking?"
"Don't get cute with me, Captain Brandt. You know damn well what this is about. I just heard what you gave Jim for his birthday."
Well, it was about time. Winona Kirk had read me the riot act the day after her son turned thirty-seven. I'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop for several weeks.
"I thought I'd hear from you sooner."
"I've been off-world. I just spoke to Jim, and he told me about your gift. I hate to repeat myself, but are you out of your cotton-picking mind?"
"You didn't say anything like this to Jim, did you?"
They hadn't spoken for more than a year after Leonard protested Jim's promotion to admiral. I didn't think he would jeopardize the tenuous friendship that was just getting back on its feet, but I had to be sure.
"But I am asking *you*. What in god's name were you thinking of? A speed club, of all things! Don't you know about those groundbikes? No tracers to keep them on the road, no sensors, no force buffers, no speed cap--nothing! The operator can disable as many safety features as he wants, and, knowing Jim, he'll junk them all! How could you set him up with a bunch of crazy people playing with their lives on uncontrolled paths!"
I kept saying, "I know," without really listening to his tirade. I'd heard it all from Jim's mother. I had finally implied that I was a bike enthusiast and couldn't understand her concern. I didn't think McCoy wouldn't let me get away with it.
Finally I said, "Leonard, I've thought about all that. I know he could hit a boulder or a tree or another bike. He's already done all three. He could go right off a cliff. He hasn't done that yet. But if he does, at least he'll have fun doing it. And if he doesn't have something like this, someday someone is going to come into this office and tell me he had an accident while charging his phaser."
I hadn't meant to say that, but it felt good to finally let it out.
Leonard went white and asked, "Is he that unhappy?"
"Suzanne, you don't really think--"
"I don't know what to think. But you've read his psych profile, and I haven't. So you tell me. Should I be worried?"
From the expression on his face, I knew the answer was yes.
"I thought so," I said, wishing I were wrong. "You wouldn't have protested his promotion so vehemently if it was just a bad career move."
"What's been going on?" he asked.
"First tell me what you know and I don't."
I watched as he weighed the value of medical privacy against Jim's well-being, knowing he was a man who understood loyalty as well as honor.
"His profile shows a slight potential for melancholy. I've never known him to give in to it, but Jim's always been pretty good as making things go his way."
"Well, things have changed. About two months ago, he stopped pretending he was happy at Fleet Operations. When he first accepted the promotion, I think he needed a break. Toward the end of the five-year mission, he was going on sheer nerve, wasn't he?"
Leonard nodded. "I thought about relieving him. But he never provided me with a medical reason for doing so. And it just didn't seem right for the Enterprise to come home without Jim in the captain's seat."
"I know. He would never let someone else bring her in. But when she was scheduled for a complete refit, I think he was relieved not to have to go back out again. But now he's sick of flying a desk and he wants to do something that matters. A couple of weeks before his birthday, he went to Admiral Nogura and asked for a command. The old man told him his days of star-hopping were over. You didn't know that, did you?"
"No, he didn't say anything about it."
"I'm not surprised. He didn't tell me either. I found out through fleet gossip. And after that, he was like a zombie. He walked and talked and smiled, but he wasn't alive."
"Have you talked to him about it?"
"I've tried. He just says, 'There's nothing wrong. Don't mother-hen me.'"
Sweetheart, I added silently. Lately he only calls me sweetheart when he wants to distract me.
"I don't know what to do, Leonard!" I blurted out angrily. "I'm completely tapped out on this one. I've even considered killing Nogura, in hopes that his successor will realize what a valuable asset is being wasted. And half the time, I think I'm serious."
"I can't even talk about it to anyone here at Starfleet!" I realized I was babbling, but I couldn't stop. Until that moment, I hadn't been aware of how much I'd been keeping inside or how alone and frustrated I felt. "He's got them all fooled, and I can't betray him that way. My brother says I should leave him. He likes Jim, but he says Jim's problems aren't my fault, and I shouldn't go on trying to solve them."
"Are you considering that?"
"No, of course not. I can't leave him, Leonard. I can't stand seeing him miserable, but not seeing him at all is unthinkable."
"Suzanne, a speed club isn't the answer."
"I know that." I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. "But unfortunately, I'm not in charge of giving out starships."
"That's not all he needs."
"I can't bring Spock back, either."
After that, there was really nothing else to say.
* Personal Log, Suzanne Brandt *
There were times when I was jealous of the Enterprise. It seemed that she had so much of Jim, and I had so little. But I loved the Wozniak when she was mine, and I couldn't blame Jim for what he felt about his ship. He needed her, and she never let him down. For all the dangers he faced, he had some very impressive safeguards. A titanium hull, photon torpedoes, phasers, a crew of over four hundred, and Spock. Most of all, Spock.
I think I was jealous of Spock, too. If you measured the minutes, he was much more a part of Jim's life than I was. He saw Jim every day. He could relax in his presence, have a casual conversation, play chess. For me, pleasures like that were few and far between. Jim and I spent so much time apart that every moment together had to count. We shared feverish lovemaking and soul-baring confessions, but simple togetherness was a luxury we rarely enjoyed. Spock had that. And he walked away from it.
I never wanted Spock to leave. Jealous or not, I could see how important he was to Jim. He was as much a part of that ship as the warp engines, and Jim had taken every piece of the Enterprise into his soul. But Spock wanted more. I didn't blame him. I know Jim's appeal and how impossible it is to resist. But Spock broke his promise, and I *do* blame him for that.
We had an agreement, Spock and I. He would bring Jim home safely, and I would send him back. But he left, and Jim had to find his way home alone. And I'm still trying to send him back.
It's hard for me to feel much sympathy for Spock, not when I've lived with Jim's pain for over a year. Spock has a whole order of Vulcan masters helping him sort through the mess he's made of his life. All Jim has is me. And all I can come up with is the speed club.
God, I hate that place. I hated it the minute I heard about it. I've never been there and I never want to go, no matter how much Jim wants me to give it a try.
I know that manually controlled vehicles were the norm until about two hundred years ago, but it's almost unimaginable now. I can't understand why the average person would put himself in that kind of danger simply to go to work or shopping. I admire many people who took enormous risks, but they did it to save lives or achieve something of importance. What is the value of risk for its own sake?
But maybe life on earth is too safe nowadays, so people forget how precious it is, and how fragile. Speed clubs are very popular. I had to call in a few favors so that Jim wouldn't end up on a two-year waiting list.
He loves the club, just as I knew he would. He goes at least three times a month. He comes home completely exhilerated, always with cuts and bruises, and sometimes a broken bone or two. But alive. Not just breathing and walking and talking. Alive.
The club feeds his hunger, and for a short time, that part of him is a little less empty. He needs excitement and adventure. I know that's not all he needs and the speed club isn't the solution, but I'm hoping it will buy some time, until things turn Jim's way again. They always have before. It can't be over for him yet. It just can't.
* End Personal Log *
"Come on, Suzanne. You'll love it. You can't believe the sense of freedom."
"Jim, this is yours. Go and enjoy it."
"I'd enjoy it more if you would go with me. Come on, Brat. Life on the edge, right?"
What could I say? 'Thanks, but I don't risk my neck unless there's a point to it.' 'I get my thrills from my job.' 'I don't need this, and you do.'
Yes, that would make him withdraw the invitation, but it would also hurt him beyond anything I could imagine.
The whole point of the speed club was to give him an outlet for a side of his nature that was dying from neglect. But I had to act as if it was just a slightly extravagant birthday gift.
And what was one more well-intentioned pretense among so many? Rumors that the greatest hero in the galaxy was discontented at Fleet Ops? Absolutely unfounded. Special Ops' top commander asked to be excused from long, off-world assignments? Don't be ridiculous. Admiral Kirk was far too busy to make a daily check of the Enterprise's progress...and Captain Brandt wasn't aware that he did so...
Lately, it seemed like we were happy only because we were so good at pretending we were happy. No weeds in our paradise, no sir.
So I finally gave in. I had no choice. If I'd held out any longer, it would have made him suspicious.
It was a Sunday afternoon. We took a flitter to the clubhouse in the hills above Santa Cruz, where Jim checked out a ferocious-looking black groundbike.
"Here's your crash helmet," he said.
"Gosh, I wonder why they call it that."
He laughed, and I knew he loved me for saying it. Good old Brat, always ready with a clever remark.
He climbed onto the bike, slapped the seat behind him, and told me to hang on. So I wrapped my arms around his waist and we were off.
We roared up and down steep mountain trails and careened around hairpin curves. His joy and exhileration were tangible, and I was overwhelmed by a vitality I'd almost forgotten he possessed. I could feel the lifeforce singing through him and I knew that this was why he loved the speed club. So I held on tight and told myself I was happy for him, happy that I'd given this to him, happy that he was once more inspiring terror in me.
Every now and then, he'd turn his head and yell over the engine noise, "All right?" I'd shout, "Yeah, great!" and he'd kick it up a notch.
After we'd been riding for about an hour, we zipped around a sharp curve and suddenly, the bike spun wildly and slipped out from under us. I flew through the air and slammed into the ground at the base of a redwood. I scrambled to my feet and ran back to the road. The bike lay on its side near a fallen tree that was blocking the path. Jim was nowhere in sight. I screamed his name.
He stood up on the other side of the tree, dusting himself off casually. The left side of his face was badly scraped and there was blood at the corner of his mouth. He climbed over the tree grinning.
"Whew! What a rush, huh?"
I stared at him, too shocked to move. He walked toward me and I didn't know if I was going to hold him or hit him.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "Suzanne? Are you all right?"
Shaking with fear and anger, I stomped off.
"Hey!" He came after me. "Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm not *hurt*!"
"Then what is it?"
I kept going.
"How the hell was I to know there was a tree in the road--"
"Dammit, Brandt, stop being childish--"
I shot him a look so vicious that it stopped him dead in his tracks.
He called after me, "You can't walk back! It's over forty kilometers!"
A few minutes later, I heard the sound of a motor coming up behind me. It stopped and then Jim was at my side again.
"Get on the bike," he said tersely.
I ignored him.
"I *said*--" He grabbed me by the arm. "Get. On. The bike."
I glared at him, refusing to be intimidated by the temper he usually kept carefully in check. And what did he have to be mad about, anyway? His anger was only a response to mine. My outrage was real and justified and--I felt myself tensing the same way I did right before the do-or-die point of a mission. A voice in the back of my head whispered that we had never been violent with each other, and did I really want to compound the situation by crossing that line? So, much as I wanted to haul off and slug him, much as I felt that he *deserved* whatever pain I could inflict, I backed down. In retrospect, a knock-down, drag-out brawl in the middle of the road might have been preferable to what was to come. But I didn't know that a downed tree wasn't the only obstacle in our path and I threw myself onto the back of the bike. Jim got on and pulled my arms roughly around his waist.
Despite our mutual fury, we completed the rest of the ride without mishap and at a speed that even Leonard McCoy would have found tame.
When we arrived at the clubhouse, I jumped off that hateful contraption before it came to a full stop. I shoved my helmet at the attendant and pounded up the steps and into the ladies room.
As I washed the blood and dirt from my hands and knees, I worked at staying angry. If Jim thought I was mad because he'd lost control of the bike, it would be all right. A good blazing argument, a shouting match to bring the house down--yes, that's what was called for. Anything to distract me from my real feelings.
I went to the front desk and was informed that Admiral Kirk was in the lounge.
Admiral Kirk is about to get his ass kicked, I told myself firmly.
I saw him sitting at the bar. I walked up behind him and exercised a rarely used but extremely valuable command skill--the expression of rage in a completely neutral tone.
"Jim, let's go."
He turned to me and the look on his face completely undid me. Didn't he understand that he was supposed to be angry, too?
He put his arms around me and whispered, "I'm sorry."
He crushed me to his chest, almost trying to take me inside himself. I recognized the anxiety and guilt in his touch. How could I miss it? I felt those same things, and with more reason.
I hugged him hard, seeking reassurance in the solid reality of him. His muscles under my hands, his warm breath against my neck, the smell of his sweat-soaked hair--they mocked me with their impermanence. All his strength could not protect him from himself. And neither could I.
In complete despair and unable to stop myself, I said the shattering words that had never been spoken between us, no matter how dangerous the mission or how narrow the escape.
"You could have been killed."
He pulled away and looked at me, frowning. Then understanding clouded his face, and I looked down, unable to meet his eyes. My cover was blown, and I started shaking. I tried to push him away, I wanted to run from him, but he wouldn't let me go. He called for a whiskey and led me to a chair. I stumbled into it, choking on shame and wondering how we would ever get past this.
I was afraid. For him. And he knew it. He'd seen it on my face and heard the pleading in my voice. I'd tried to help him and ended up hurting him as no one else could.
When the drink arrived, he pressed it into my hands and waited until I'd taken a couple of good swallows. Then he said he was resigning his membership.
I was surprised at how calm I sounded when I finally responded.
"That's not necessary."
"It's not a question of necessity," he explained quietly. "It's simply not worth it. I won't scare you like that--not when it's so pointless."
That's when I finally understood that it wasn't pointless. He needed it. That was the point.
On the way home, I tried to talk him into keeping the membership. I told him there was no reason for him to give up something he enjoyed, just because we couldn't share it. He didn't say anything. Then I told him I was sorry I had ruined it for him.
He smiled and said, "Didn't Bones tell you? Since he's so far away, that's your job."
My job. I should have been fired for gross incompetency.
* Personal Log, Suzanne Brandt *
Jim's asleep, exhausted from the strain of making love to me as if I was made of bone china. I almost wish he'd beaten me or called me a stupid, cowardly bitch. It would not be undeserved.
I think I've been afraid for Jim ever since we were cadets. I remember when he beat the Kobayashi Maru. I was the navigator that day and I honestly felt we were all going to die--the simulation is that real. But I remember feeling more scared afterward, when I started to get an inkling of why Jim had been so driven to win. As captain of the Enterprise, he didn't mind scaring me or anyone else when something important was at stake. Although he enjoyed the thrill of danger, that was never the reason for his actions. Any fool can risk his neck, and he wouldn't have stayed alive very long if that was all there was to it. Jim loves winning. Making a difference. The greater the odds against him, the better. But the prize must be worthy of his efforts.
For a brief time, the power and speed of those hideous bikes made him forget that there was no point to the danger, nothing of value to be gained. The engine's roar drowned out the reality. It was an exciting illusion, but now, thanks to me, the artifice has been stripped away and he sees the emptiness behind it. He'll never be fooled again. No more cheap thrills. All thrills from now on will be dearly bought.
I hated the speed club, and I feared what would happen there. But right now, the thought of Jim without it freezes me to the bone.
* End Personal Log *
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