Characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, various
Word Count: about 4000 each chapter
Rating: T for movie-level language and violence
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for all AOS movies and various TOS episodes, any specifics notated in each section. This section, spoilers for the first AOS movie.
Summary: Five times Jim Kirk epically failed to keep a secret from his command crew, and one time his command crew kept it for him
In retrospect, he should have seen this coming.
After all, recent events considered, it's a (literal) miracle that he's even alive right now, much less a functional member of society. No one else would be performing any differently, is what he keeps telling himself, and it's not like he doesn't have a valid excuse. Half the crew – what's left of them, after Khan's brutal rampage – has already resigned or asked for a transfer, and he can't blame them; after over a year in space with zero casualties, to then have a third of their crew complement obliterated in a matter of hours…well. It's not every officer who can bounce back from that, and even fewer who can do so and remain on a ship haunted by ghosts in memoriam.
And that's just the scuttlebutt from the lower decks; he doesn't even want to think about what his senior staff might be contemplating, because that's a series of possibilities he can't quite bring himself to face, not yet.
He has bigger problems, right now. Much bigger.
Much, much bigger.
"What do you mean, you failed?" Bones's screech could shatter transparisteel, and if Jim wasn't wishing he was on another planet right now, the color his (former) CMO is currently turning would be kind of hilarious.
As it stands, however, it's not even a little funny. He just ignores the diatribe with the ease of depressive apathy, waves off the looks he's getting because of it. Tosses back the last shot he's allowed to have with the (legal) drugs currently in his system, and seriously contemplates the consequences of pushing past those limits. Because, well, if he's going to be a test subject for Starfleet Medical then he might as well test, right?
"Leonard." Uhura, bless her stupidly intercessory heart, tries to mediate with as much success as she's had this entire time in trying to bolster Jim's confidence – meaning, she fails with unusual finality. "You knew this was a possibility."
"Not for him!"
"Doctor. We are attracting undue attention in this establishment. Please lower your vocal register."
"No, no, Mr. Spock. Let him go ahead and broadcast it to the whole freaking quadrant," he mutters sourly into the glass in his hands. He rotates it slowly, snatching the light in a series of glowing fractals not at all reminiscent of phaser blasts. "After all, I'm sure there's someone on the orbital dry-dock who hasn't heard the news yet."
"Jim, look, I didn't –" His upraised hand is clearer than an order would have been, and Bones grinds to an awkward halt, looking pained.
"Just drop it, Doctor." He scrubs a hand over his face, wonders for a moment if it's always felt so unfamiliar. "It's done. Leave it."
Spock's dark eyes flicker to his in the mirror behind the bar, and he can't stand the knowing in them any more now than he has been able to stomach the sympathy and the patience and the kindness the last few weeks. He averts his gaze, fingers clenching tightly around the empty glass.
"It's not like you only get one chance, anyway," Uhura points out, annoyingly calm – she's been the voice of reason this entire mess, not that this is news to anyone – and she flicks him a look with an easy shrug. "Frankly, we could all use the extra time to recover, I think."
"Not arguin' that point, given the number of people still in and out of Medical for counseling," McCoy echoes fervently, though the words are hollow with anxiety, and he won't stop that annoying hover at Jim's other elbow. "But we weren't expecting this, Jim. A few hiccups along the way, yeah – a little trauma showing up on the scores, hell yes. But completely failing a psych eval? You've never failed one of those in your life, Jim. This isn't you."
He finally sets the glass down with way more force than necessary, and half-turns, sliding off the stool as he does. McCoy shrinks back just a fraction, a gesture that is as foreign as it is just sad, and it's that more than anything else which stalls his anger where it begins.
Deflated, he shakes his head, desperately pinching moisture out of his eyes. "Isn't it, Bones?" he asks at last, quiet with defeat. "I don't think I would even know."
"That is understandable, Captain," Spock interjects quietly from his other side.
He offers his former First a slightly bitter smile. "Drop the title, Spock; it's not looking like I'll have it back anytime soon."
Spock's flicker of expression is concealed quickly, but not quickly enough. This hasn't been easy on any of them, but probably least of all on his former First, current Acting Captain.
Probably just plain Captain, actually, and that's likely the cause of that look. He knows what the beginning of Vulcan panic looks like by now.
Sorry, Spock. Can't really deal with anyone else's freak-out right now but mine. Despite knowing his thoughts can only be transmitted telepathically through touch, he sends the silent apology over his shoulder anyway as he leaves, just one more shadow in the mass that slip silently into the night.
Of course Bones must have him chipped, like some sort of sickly runaway puppy. Either that or he's losing his touch.
He scowls and takes his communicator back from a patient hand, wishing he'd tossed it in the Bay instead of just leaving it on the bar. "You just can't take a hint, can you, Commander."
Spock doesn't even bother to respond to that. "The Doctor is concerned for your health, both physically and mentally, at the moment."
Jim glances sideways, eyes narrowed. "So he sent you instead of tracking me down himself?"
Spock looks shifty as hell. "We…differed in opinion as to your prospective whereabouts," he replies, slowly.
Jim snorts, a puff of crystalline derision in the night air – a chill he doesn't feel anymore, courtesy of new and improved blood pressure. "So he's, what, gone back to Starfleet Medical thinking I ran back to my hidey-hole?"
Spock's lips thin. "On the contrary, he seemed to be under the impression that you would be attempting to beam up to the dry-docked Enterprise with, and I quote, 'something to prove to those asshats in the brass.'"
He wants to laugh, he really does – but it dies choked in his throat, and he can only look away before his eyes betray him too.
"He doesn't know," he finds himself saying, despite everything; because if he's ever going to get past this – if they're ever going to move beyond that last disaster of a mission on Nibiru, before it all went wrong so many months ago – then they have to start with complete honesty.
"I had surmised as much, based upon his uncharacteristically volatile reaction to what should have been an expected event."
"That's a very Vulcan way of saying you, on the other hand, were totally unsurprised that Starfleet thinks I'm too traumatized to be trusted back on a starship Bridge. Well you know what, Spock? Screw you." He turns away, arms folded to hide the fact that his hands have begun to shake again.
He stares out over the choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay, lights twinkling softly in the far distance. In this twilight, it's much harder to see the evidence of Khan's rampage through the downtown, almost impossible to determine the outlines of the Vengeance's wreckage still jutting like a deathly skyscraper out of the ground some streets away.
The air still smells vaguely of death and smoke, even twelve weeks later.
Sighing, he finally drops his head over his arms, resting on the faux wooden railing of the restored ancient walkway.
"I don't know what to do, Spock." Behind him, the ghostly shadows of memorial stones stretch like accusatory fingers. "I wouldn't trust me with a command right now, either." And he had wanted that new deep-space mission so very, very badly! It was the dream of a lifetime, now crashed and burned under so much rubble somewhere in the city, somewhere deep inside his mind.
Is it even his mind, anymore, if it's been completely rewired from scratch?
Warmth at his shoulder as Spock edges closer. "Your self-doubt does not negate the truth, Captain."
Here we go. "Yeah? And what is that, exactly?"
"That you were born to be a starship captain, Jim." He looks up incredulously, but that actually is genuine intensity in his former First's eyes, burning like a Vulcan firestorm. "That you refuse to accept inevitable defeat."
His hands clench involuntarily, jaw set. "And who exactly was it, Commander, who pointed out that the real test of a starship captain is in how he accepts inevitable defeat?"
Spock looks out over the Bay for a moment, eyes dark.
"I was…a different being then," he finally says, almost to himself.
Jim's anger dissipates slightly. "We all were," he sighs. "We grew up fast, Spock. Maybe too fast. God knows I had enough arrogance stored up in me to last a decade, it was only a matter of time before my decisions got someone killed."
Spock actually flinches. "They did," he says quietly.
Now it's his turn to cringe.
"So we've established we're both a freaking mess, what else is new. It doesn't change the fact that I failed that evaluation so spectacularly I'll be lucky if they even let me take another one."
"I doubt that is quite what ha-"
"I walked into a simulated Engineering department and had a panic attack, Spock. Pretty sure that qualifies." He quirks a rueful, bitter smile. "Wasn't expecting that, I have to tell you."
"The attack, or the simulation?"
He laughs, genuinely this time. "Both. I just…freaked. It wasn't even the engine room, and it's like it was just…"
"Straight out of a nightmare," is the almost whispered response, barely heard over the wind.
It's his turn to raise an eyebrow. "Well…yeah, but not even Bones knows that. Wait, you're not spying on my dreams, are you? Can Vulcans even do that? Mind-eaves-dropping?"
Spock looks annoyed, which is a welcome change from this weird emotional thing he's been doing, and the return to normality helps ground him, bring him back from the dangerous drift he's been trapped inside.
"That is impossible without physical contact, and a moral crime when done without consent. Also, I have no desire to inflict further trauma upon either of us by performing such an act."
Jim thinks he should probably be vaguely offended by that, but he lets it slide. The silence slips into seconds into minutes, broken only by the choppy waves and a distant siren. Then –
"So…Engineering, radiation leaks and hull breaches. And yours?" he asks quietly.
Spock side-eyes him again, but it's enough.
"Well, you're at least keeping it together better than I am," he murmurs, staring out at the water. "You'll make a good captain, Spock."
"I will not."
A little startled at the bald contradiction, calm though it had been, he half-turns, leaning with one elbow on the railing. "Now who's self-doubting?"
A glint of moonlight on choppy waves reflects briefly in dark eyes before they are hidden again, as his First turns away, shaking his head. "This is not the time or place for such a discussion, Captain. Nor was it the reason I located you."
"Somehow, I think it might be, though," he calls over the sound of a sea breeze picking up around them. Spock pauses, a meter away, one hand on the railing. "If you're looking for my blessing or whatever, Spock, you have it. I owe you that much, at least."
His back slams into the railing with a bone-jarring thud as he scrambles back a half-step, away from the incoming photon torpedo he's obviously just launched – whatever he said, it was a really bad idea. Spock is pissed, that much is obvious, even if the only outward indication of it is the fact that he's totally disregarded personal space and is doing that weird looming thing he does when he's trying to intimidate somebody. Usually it's in the crew's defense; to be on the receiving end? Is just frightening.
He is so damn tired of being scared.
"The hell is wrong with you?" he demands, arms folded. If anybody has a right to have an attitude problem right now, he definitely has dibs, all things considered.
"I could make the same inquiry." Spock's eyes flash cold fire across the intervening inches. "Your behavior in this matter has gone beyond that which is a tolerable human reaction to recent events. It now borders upon cowardice."
"I suffered no speech impediment. Sir." Wow, the sass. It would be funny if he didn't feel like punching the guy. Seriously, the old Ambassador was obviously a few pawns short of a chess set when he was talking about some Epic BFFness to last the ages or whatever, because he seriously could kill Spock sometimes.
"Are you kidding me right now? I just freaking died, Spock. Maybe this is hard for you to comprehend, but us humans kind of have an emotional reaction to that!"
A look of cold steel is leveled at him. "And exactly how long, Captain, do you intend to hide behind that excuse?"
His mouth goes dry. "What?"
"You are not the only one on the ship who suffered during recent events, Captain." Spock's eyes flick to the side for a brief instant before returning, just as pained as before. "You simply have not been forced to fully confront the consequences of those events until today."
"I…" Okay, that's fair enough. "Look, Spock, I just –"
"You made an inquiry a moment ago," Spock interrupts him, turning away to look over the moonlit water. A wave splashes loudly somewhere nearby as the wind whistles, then dies away.
"You say your dreams are of Engineering, of radiation leaks and hull breaches." He nods, and Spock looks up, eyes haunted. "Mine are of the Enterprise's command Bridge, and an empty chair."
Well, that sucks.
"I will not accept the captaincy of the Enterprise while the man who should, refuses to do so."
"I am not refusing anything!"
"You, the only man in history who demanded to take the Kobayashi Maru three times, are refusing to even contemplate passing a secondary psychological evaluation."
"That's...look, Spock, it's not that simple."
"I never conjectured it might be. But your crew has continued to perform their duties to the highest demand during your recovery period, in the expectation that their captain would at some point then do the same." He finds himself pinned by too-knowing eyes. "If that man is so paralyzed by fear, now, that he cannot do so, then we are all lost, Jim."
He swallows whatever sharp-cornered thing has taken up residence in his throat, and drops his eyes.
"You have an unhealthy amount of blind faith for a Vulcan, Mr. Spock," he finally manages, shaking his head.
"Faith is by definition blind, Captain."
"Not the point. I appreciate your support, Spock, don't think I don't. I just…" He makes a helpless gesture of frustration in the space between them. "I don't even know who I am anymore. Maybe I don't even want to be captain anymore – maybe I'm not capable of the job."
"I believe both those statements are inaccurate."
"Yeah, well, I wish I was as sure as you."
Spock takes a step forward, then catches himself and settles back into calm attention. Only his eyes clearly show just how unsettled he really is. "Your crew believes in you, Captain. As do I." He glances up at the hillside, the memorial stones dotting the grassy knoll. "As did Christopher Pike."
Pain spreads in his chest like a living thing, a wound still not healed.
"If you cannot believe in yourself, Jim – perhaps you should consider trusting another opinion until you can."
One thing he's learned the hard way – he won't make promises he has little hope of keeping.
"I don't know if I can, Spock." This whole mess has stripped him raw, from start to finish – and he has no idea if he can even recover, no idea if he even wants to come back from that.
His First regards him in silence for a moment, hands clasped behind him.
"Then perhaps we did not, after all, truly bring back James Kirk," Spock says, deathly quiet, before he disappears into the night like a wraith in smoke.
The words are so sad, so resigned, that they hurt worse than any amount of radiation poisoning ever could.
They're eating in Officers' Mess when he finally locates them, and he doesn't allow himself to feel hurt because he wasn't invited; he is the one who's been withdrawing of late, not them, and God knows they've moved beyond such petty things by now as jealousy. The universe is too big, and they are too small, to waste time in stupidity.
He's grown up.
They all have, in different ways, but he thinks probably he most of all: and no wonder, because dying does seem to give a new appreciation for life. Also, he probably had the most growing up to do.
Granted, it's a little annoying how they all just stop talking when he walks up – nothing makes it more obvious they were talking about him than dead silence and Chekov turning the color of Scotty's uniform tunic – but he lets it slide, because, well. He can.
"Evening, gentlemen." He flicks a glance at Uhura, who rolls her eyes but smiles at him behind her tea cup. He remembers the first time he made the mistake of adding "and lady" to the end of that in their first officers' briefing, over a year ago – an outdated linguistics error he never made again.
"Keptin! It is good to see you!"
He grins, because the kid's enthusiasm is contagious, even if it's obviously half nerves. "Mr. Chekov. You've been auditing some Engineering classes while grounded, I hear."
"Aye, sir. I do not want repeats of what happened up there." A vigorous shake of the head, and a sidelong glance at their Chief Engineer's tolerant expression. "Meester Scott is giving me pointers as well, sir."
"Excellent. I'll keep your new skills in mind moving forward."
He feels Bones's eyes on him and turns, pulling one foot up to rest on the empty chair at the head of the table. He only just noticed, actually…did they leave that open on purpose, the one he normally sits in? The idea is oddly heartwarming, and it fills something inside him he hadn't realized had been missing.
McCoy glares at him over his water glass, sets it down with a definitive thud. "Where've you been, Jim?"
"Mm. here and there. You know."
A snort. "Uh-huh."
"Sir, why don't you grab a plate and sit down?" Sulu's well-meaning attempt at intervention elicits a well-aimed glare his direction. Totally unfazed, the young pilot rolls his eyes and returns to his sandwich after nodding pointedly to the empty chair.
Jim hides a smile at their interactions; they are totally becoming a family. A really weird, dysfunctional family, but a family. "Thank you, Mr. Sulu, but I can't stay. I just came by to see Commander Spock, actually."
Spock has been icily silent this whole time, dissecting what looks like some kind of alien salad, full of puke-colored vegetables Jim doesn't recognize and doesn't really want to. They haven't talked much, the last few weeks, and so the rest of his command crew looks at him a little warily now, as if wondering if they should just hunker down and wait it out or go get popcorn for the show.
At his last words, Spock raises a condescending eyebrow over his fork but says nothing. Uhura shifts slightly, and he hears what is likely steel-toed boot meeting Vulcan shin, since his First then jumps a little and shoots an annoyed look across the table.
"How may I assist you, sir?" he finally inquires coolly, continuing to pick at his salad.
Jim leans forward and tosses a data-padd onto the table. "You may report to the quartermaster tomorrow morning at 0900 hours, Mr. Spock. You are relieved as acting captain of the Enterprise, effective immediately."
There's a small clang as the fork drops to the table, and both his First and McCoy make a somewhat uncoordinated grab for the instrument. The doctor is just a fraction quicker and snatches it with a look of triumph, whereupon Spock yanks his hand back in defeat. McCoy begins scrolling through the new orders, incredulous.
Sulu's eyes look like they're going to pop out of his head, and Chekov is bobbing back and forth in his excitement like a puppy about to get a treat dropped to him.
"Jim, what the hell is this!"
"Our new orders," he replies, grinning. "So start packing, people. We leave in thirty days, and we won't be back for a long time. Five years, guys, in deep space!"
"But – but –" The spluttering is almost hilarious, but he does feel sorry for Bones; the last few weeks have not been easy for any of them, but they've been especially difficult for his longsuffering CMO. "How –"
He leans over, hand on McCoy's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Bones," he says seriously. "I just…I dunno, I had to figure some things out. I'm sorry."
He blinks in surprise as instead of getting punched like he deserves, he's suddenly wrapped up in a hug so tight he can barely breathe.
"Uh…okay," he says slowly.
McCoy steps back, hands still on his shoulders. "You're a damn fool, kid," he says, shaking him a little.
"I think we all knew that," he answers, glancing around the table. Scott nods solemnly and toasts him with his glass, though the rest gallantly refrain from comment.
"But I'm proud of you, Jim. This can't have been easy."
He glances away, a little embarrassed, and rubs the back of his neck. McCoy claps him on the shoulder one last time and then returns to his seat, still shaking his head. "I dunno how you did it, but these are pretty high scores," he continues, scrolling through the medical reports he of course now has access to. Pausing, he looks up suspiciously. "Y'didn't cheat on these, did you Jim?"
He snorts. "Tempting, but no. I'm not a total idiot."
"Debatable, but I'll take it." McCoy tosses the padd back onto the table and leans back, grinning. "How did you do it, anyway?"
"Well…" he glances across the table, and is met with an innocently raised eyebrow. "Call it…blind faith, Bones."
Bones looks considerably unimpressed, and not at all convinced.
"Also, Spock may have seriously pissed me off by calling me a coward."
His First's ears darken slightly, and he grins without a trace of repentance as Bones cackles and gives their resident Vulcan a hearty slap on the back. Spock promptly looks much aggrieved and scoots several feet down the long bench.
Jim takes advantage of the gap and plops down in between both of them, stealing a handful of Uhura's fries on the way and only narrowly missing being stabbed by a deadly fork.
It's going to be an amazing five years.