The crew was abuzz with action when they landed in Zenobia. Rumors had spread through the ship that the person that they were picking up was someone extremely important. Someone that had high enough connections to merit personal valet service from the flagship itself. Most thought it was a Vice Admiral or some diplomat, but when their own Command crew and Acting Captain weren't sure of who they were picking up, the gossip ran wild.
There was a subdued tension when they docked in Zenobia's atmosphere. Spock gave a few quick commands, placing crew where they should be and putting Chekov in charge of the transport. He kept a small surveillance group in the transport room where they waited to beam down while he kept the transport crew busy to ensure that the beam up of the Starfleet officers went smoothly.
A beep on Spock's communicator indicated that the grounded Starfleet members were ready and at a crisp command, white lights started to swirl on the pads.
There were four people in total coming up. The figure on the second to the right that appeared was extremely familiar. From his blonde hair to his leather coat and denim jeans. He didn't even need to rematerialize completely for Spock and the rest of the people present to recognize who it was that just came back onboard.
The other officers, no doubt scientists that Starfleet had deployed to Zenobia, completely faded into the background as they all soaked in the sight of Jim.
Jim was wearing jeans and a simple, slightly tight t-shirt underneath his leather coat. His wind-blown hair was unruly and there was a touch of blush on his cheeks from being in the sun a bit too long. There was strength back in his body; he had regained all the muscle loss from before and was clearly back into top shape, as exemplified by the subtle outline of his abs through his shirt. He was standing casually with his backpack slung across one shoulder.
For all intents and purposes, it looked as though Jim was a simple traveler, hitchhiking to get back to Earth. But the sparkle and twinkle in his bright, blue eyes told another story.
Those eyes were the same as before, when he was Captain of the flagship Enterprise, when his legends and myths had been borne. There was vigor, wisdom, and excitement in those blues. The undercurrent of overwhelming pressure and grief that had been seen in the last few months leading up to Jim's arrest was gone now, replaced by an unfathomable strength.
He was back. In the flesh and spirit.
Under everyone's scrutiny, Jim just grinned and waved. "Honey, I'm home."
Like that, the spell of dumbfounded surprise was broken. Chekov let out a loud cry of happiness and launched himself at Jim. The momentum almost knocked both of them over, but Jim was able to compensate and adjust his stance. Chekov babbled in Russian and Standard, words blending into each other as he hugged Jim tightly.
Jim's face softened and he hugged Chekov back. "Yeah, I'm back for good," he murmured in response to one of Chekov's rapid-fire questions.
Then he looked up to see Spock staring at him, his arms clenched tightly behind him, as if he was trying so desperately to hold himself back. "Hey, Spock. You didn't scratch my girl while I was gone, did you?"
His lips twitched upwards just a fraction. "I would not dare," Spock replied. "It is gratifying to see you return, Captain."
Jim positively beamed at Spock, translating the Vulcan-speak to what it was: 'I'm so happy that you're back and I really want to hug you, but it's unbecoming of a Vulcan.' Jim laughed, the sound crisp and light like a bell. "It's good to be back, Spock. Now, let's talk about a welcome back party. I'm thinking lots and lots of alcohol. I want to see that vein in Bones' forehead pop."
Spock raised a disapproving eyebrow at Jim, who only grinned harder.
Clearly, some things just never changed. Spock could not be more thankful about it.
The news of Jim's return spread like wildfire. It seemed that everyone knew before Jim even managed to leave the transport room. Instantly, crowds were starting to form, plugging up hallways and making Jim shyly inch closer to Spock. As much as Jim was happy to be back on board, it was too much attention all at once. He was hoping to get settled in quietly before he faced the crew; he wasn't supposed to be on duty quite yet anyway.
Spock took one look at Jim and immediately barked out orders for everyone to return to their stations. After all, the crew still had to settle in the three other scientists and there were still quite a few things to be done on planet.
At the Vulcan's commands, Jim found himself alone with Spock and Chekov who quickly ushered Jim down the hallway towards his quarters before he could get cornered by someone else. Spock typed in the access code to Jim's room and the three entered in without another word.
Despite being unused for nearly ten months, the air didn't have any dusty or musky scent to it. The linens were clean and everything was well kempt. Like before, when Jim had been arrested and the Enterprise had left without him, his crew had maintained his quarters for his return. Jim could only smile at the warmth that blossomed in his chest.
Before he really realized what was going on, Chekov had slipped off his backpack, placing it by the bed, and moving towards the replicator to pull out some drinks. Spock, on the other hand, rapidly pulled out his communicator, his fingers ready to dial, but was completely distracted at the sound of someone pounding on the door.
"James Tiberius Kirk, you better open the door right now if you're in there!" a loud voice called out amidst the incessant knocking.
Jim almost laughed at the sound of his best friend's voice. His blue eyes made contact with Spock's as the Vulcan huffed out a sigh.
"You were about to call him, weren't you?" Jim asked. "He's going to be pissed that you didn't tell him before the rumors got to him."
"I should not be blamed for the fact that your crew seems to have a propensity of spreading information at an alarming rate."
That pulled another laugh from Jim. It didn't escape his notice that Jim only seemed to perk up more at Spock calling the crew his. Spock couldn't help but smile at little at Jim's brightness as he went to open the door.
He timed it so that he opened it in mid-pound. McCoy's fist was still in midair as Spock quirked an eyebrow at him. "Doctor, there is no need to create such a ruckus."
Uhura literally had no time for the usual banter between McCoy and Spock. "Oh, shut up, Spock, and let us in! He's back, right? We heard that he's back!"
Beside her was Sulu and Scotty, each with matching expressions of excitement.
Jim just poked his head around Spock with a smirk on his face. "Who's back?"
"Jim!" came the cries of happiness and Jim found himself bowled backwards as Sulu and Scotty both threw themselves on him, pushing him into his room.
He would've fallen over if it wasn't for Spock's steady hand against his back. Jim didn't mind though, and readily hugged the both of them back.
"It is so good to see you, man!" Sulu exclaimed, pretty much nuzzling Jim's neck.
"Ah've missed ye, laddie," murmured Scotty.
Jim smiled and gently pulled himself out of their embrace. "I've missed you guys too. Spock hasn't been too much of a tyrant since I've been gone, has he?"
Uhura stepped forward, kissing him on the cheek and giving him a quick hug as well. "No more than usual. McCoy, on the other hand, has been insufferable."
"Now, are you just saying that because Sulu won that bet against you?" quipped Jim.
"I know you were in on it, Kirk. The two of you will pay."
Jim's grin only grew larger. "Looking forward to it." He glanced around Uhura to see Bones leaning by the door. "Heya, Bones. You going to give me a hug too?"
"Maybe," Bones said, critically eyeing Jim. "I haven't heard from you in about a month and in the last couple, you were out frolicking in different planets by yourself. I haven't quite decided if I want to just shoot you up with vaccinations right now or take you down to the Sickbay to do a full workup on ya."
The Command crew expected Jim to blanch at the mention of being hypo'ed or sent to his least favorite place in the entire ship, but he winked at Bones and held out his arms. "You missed me. Don't front. Let's hug it out, you big lug."
McCoy rolled his eyes and stepped forward. "You infant," he grouched, but he still wrapped Jim up in a tight embrace. "Good to have you back," he whispered into Jim's ear before he pulled away.
"So you're back on duty now?" asked Sulu.
As he spoke, Chekov came back with a bottle of fine whiskey and seven tumblers on a tray. He set it on the table, gesturing for all of them to sit down around it.
There wasn't enough room after Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov made themselves comfortable around the desk. Spock remained standing by them while Uhura and Bones sandwiched Jim on the bed.
A glass of whiskey was passed to each person.
Jim tilted his head as he stared at the whiskey. "Since when did we have whiskey programmed into the replicator?" he wondered.
"That's my question too," Bones seconded.
Chekov grinned. "I only just figured it out last week."
"Is this in every replicator?" asked Sulu.
"Just the Keptin's."
"Yes!" Jim cheered.
Bones groaned. "That won't end well."
It didn't escape anyone's notice that Jim didn't react to Chekov calling him 'Keptin' again. Warmth spread through them more.
Chekov nodded solemnly. "It is only temporary." Then he winked at Jim who cackled at how obvious Chekov was.
"Putting a pin in that for now, and we will come back to it, you never answered Sulu's question," said Uhura.
"Oh, yeah, I'm not on duty yet. I don't officially start until after you guys are done on Zenobia and head back to Earth. My official orders haven't actually come in yet."
"Pike was in on this, wasn't he?" surmised Bones.
"At the end of last month, Pike basically just told me that I had thirty days to get my shit together and get my ass back on the Enterprise," Jim laughed. "Apparently, Starfleet couldn't keep paying for my 'vacation'."
Sulu frowned, a bit hesitant. "But why end up in Zenobia? I didn't think you'd want to come back."
Jim's smile grew softer. "I had a promise to keep."
Taking a deep breath, Jim opened his bright blue eyes to see the familiar green landscape around him. Wind rustled through the leaves, gently blowing past him, as if encouraging him to move forward along with it.
Jim didn't need any more bidding. It had been quite a while since Jim had been back here, but he knew every step like it was the back of his hand. With confidence, Jim trekked deeper into the forest until he found himself in the middle of a small clearing with three gravestones at its center.
Quietly, Jim put down his backpack and pulled out a few trinkets that he had gotten while traveling. Leaning forward, Jim placed a silver pendant that was in the shape of a star in front of Thea's grave.
"It's beautiful. Thank you," came a sudden voice behind Jim.
Jim didn't even flinch. He was sure that Thea, as the new Goddess of Zenobia, would have known the exact second that he had landed onto the planet.
"I found in it Grecian market near one of the ancient temples for the Greek goddesses. I thought it would be perfect for you," he said as he smiled and turned to face Thea.
Thea was as translucent as the last time he had seen her, but there was a new ethereal glow to her. Like the previous Goddess, she was barefoot and drifted a couple of inches off the ground. Her hair had been let loose, falling gracefully and smoothly around her shoulders. Her outfit had changed as well. She was no longer wearing the olive green jacket with tight black pants; she wore a delicate, yet simple white dress that flowed continuously around her. It resembled what the Greek goddesses would have worn back in their time. It was fitting. She had always been as strong; everything about her now emitted strength.
Jim couldn't have been prouder.
"You look good, Thea. Finally fully came into your powers?" he asked, smiling at her.
She floated closer as she nodded, her eyes sparkling and a matching smile on her face. "You look good too, Jim. How are you doing?"
Jim spread his arms, sincerity in his movements. "Better."
"So what did you do? Tell me all about your adventures!" she asked, excitement making her image shimmer a bit.
There was no hesitation. Jim immediately launched into his misfits while exploring Earth all over again. At some point, Jim found himself sitting on the ground, leaning against Thea's headstone with her lying on her stomach on the grass right next to him, her head propped up on her arms as she listened intently to Jim's tales.
Hours passed and as Jim's voice started to get sore, Thea took over, telling him all about Zenobia and how she was healing the world. She talked about Liam and how he was acing all his classes and reading all these books about politics, government, and law, even though they were a bit beyond his level at the moment. Pride was in every word. She smiled and laughed. There was no spark of darkness in her, which made Jim feel in awe of her all over again.
Even if she couldn't physically be there for her brother and even though she probably had to watch her brother grow old without her, she didn't let it consume her or let it grow.
She truly was the strongest being Jim had ever had the fortune of meeting.
Slowly, their words trailed off. Thea shifted so that her head was now lying on Jim's lap. Jim started to run his fingers through her hair, like how Bones always did for him.
He hummed for a couple of moments, just letting the gesture comfort the both of them. "Why can I still touch you?" he murmured, unable to really stop his mind from questioning everything.
Thea laughed quietly. "You saved my soul and I saved yours. We're connected in ways that no one else is."
"Does that mean that I'll never grow old or live forever like you?"
"No, silly," chuckled Thea. "But you'll always be able to see me."
"Oh, good. Don't tell Bones that we're connected though. He'd throw a conniption and I'll have to go through all these tests that I would much rather avoid, thank you very much."
"So you're going back?" she asked.
Jim smiled, "Yeah, I am."
"Will you be okay? You do seem much lighter without all those burdens weighed you down."
Jim nodded. "It's true. I've come to terms that as Captain, people will die under my command. Whether it be for me or because of someone else like Wolff, it's something that I will never ever get used to or be alright with. But as much as it hurts or weighs me down, it's not something I would want to change. Because after all the hell that I have seen and lived through, it's one of the things that still keeps me human. From turning into another Wolff. So yeah, it'll suck and that is one thing that I'm not looking forward to, but I've missed the stars. I really have. After all the traveling and soul-searching that I've done, there's still nowhere else that I'd rather be."
"And if another Zenobia happens? What will you do then?"
Turning a bit to look at Thea's expression, Jim felt warmed at the sight of deep concern and worry written in her features. Her train of thought was not wrong - he had broken once (shattered, actually, but that was neither here nor there) - what was to say that he wouldn't again? As long as Jim continued to walk down this path as the Captain of Starfleet's flagship, there was a high possibility that Jim would encounter another Zenobia, another Wolff, and lose another Thea. Or even worse, find himself in Tarsus again. It was something that Jim had thought about over and over again. It had been holding Jim back, the question of whether or not he would break again. But during his travels, every time he asked himself that same question, he always came back to the same answer.
Jim just smiled at Thea, putting his whole soul behind his response to her. "I'll be okay. Because I won't be alone."
He looked upwards, thinking about his next words. "As ironic as it sounds, it took me wandering around on my own to realize how much I've actually started to rely on Bones, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov, and how good that actually feels. But I knew that I had to get to a place where I could truly start to lean on them. To believe that it wasn't a weakness to have people to care about and to be cared about."
Thea sat up and touched Jim's cheek. "I'm so proud of you, Jim."
"Thanks, it means a lot."
"The Enterprise just arrived, but I'm sure you know that."
"I told you I was going to come back," Jim said, smiling a little softer now. "I hope I'm the man that you wanted me to be."
"Oh, Jim. You've always been the man that I wanted you to be. You've always been a good man."
"I think I'm finally starting to believe it." He reached out and held one of Thea's hands. "Thank you, Thea, for everything."
Thea grinned with proud tears in her eyes. "Right back at you, Jim. Be happy. And be brilliant."
"I will. I've got to go see my family. It's been too long."
She nodded. "Goodbye, Jim."
Jim gave her a tight hug, which she returned just as tightly. "Goodbye, Thea. I'll see you again."
"Til next time, Jim."
Bones nudged Jim when fell silent for a moment too long, jolting him out of his memories. "Jesus, your attention span is worse than before. Anything you want to share with the class?"
"What were you even doing on Zenobia? Did you go see Liam?" asked Sulu.
Subconsciously, Jim rubbed the spot on his chest where Wolf had shot him. Though it had long ago healed, leaving a small scar, it had become a nervous habit – one that he hadn't really fully become aware of quite yet. His friends noticed immediately. Of course they would, and Bones stepped in a bit closer, letting their arms touch.
"I was visiting Thea," Jim replied, not really looking at any of them.
Even nine months later, they could see that it was still hard for Jim. They had not doubt that Jim would forever be haunted by the ghost of Thea, just like he was with the memories of Tarsus.
Hesitation and concern began to emanate from them, but before they could take action to comfort their friend, Jim made eye contact with them again, a full blown grin on his face.
"I ran into Liam right as I was making my way into town. He's doing really well!" Jim gushed.
There was hesitation in Jim's footsteps as he toed the line to the entrance of the village that he knew Liam was in. He had at first wanted to avoid seeing Liam, too afraid and ashamed for running away, but he knew that this was another closure that he needed before he could step foot on the Enterprise again.
He shuffled his feet and continued to find all these excuses to not go for a few more minutes before a voice pulled him out of his thoughts.
"You know, I'm pretty sure that we have a law against strange people lurking around."
Jim swung around so quickly that he almost gave himself whiplash. Before him, only a few feet away, was Liam. He had grown a bit in the nine months since Jim saw him. His brown hair was shorter and he was wearing clothes that actually fit him, made from fabric that was of higher quality. His figure was filled out more and his eyes sparkled in amusement when he saw Jim bewildered before him, like a deer caught in headlights.
"Hi Jim. Long time no see," grinned Liam.
"Hello, Liam," Jim tentatively smiled back. And then Liam's words actually sunk in. "Hey, I'm not strange!"
"Ah, but you don't deny lurking around? Also, you're a little strange. Even you have to admit that."
Jim just stared. "Jesus, you're almost as bad as Bones. Since when were you so cheeky? Respect your elders!"
Liam raised an eyebrow, making Jim think that maybe he had been taking lessons from Spock. "Are you admitting to being an elder? Aren't you only in like your thirties?"
"Late twenties, thank you very much."
"Very late twenties, more likely."
"That's neither here or there," Jim said, waving a hand dismissively. He then stuck both his hands into his jacket pockets. "It's good to see you, Liam."
Liam didn't hesitate and rushed forward, hugging Jim tightly around his waist. "It's really good to see you too."
Jim hugged him back tightly before pulling away. "Has Stan and Jill been treating you well? What have you been up to?"
"Mostly studying. I'm going to be Governor one day, you know. And they've been amazing. They've been doing everything they can for me."
"I'm really glad. It looks like Thea has been doing really well in bringing life back to Zenobia."
Liam's brightness didn't dim at all. He nodded fervently. "She's made her appearance as the New Goddess a few times. She doesn't stay very long though. Apparently, she has to stay neutral and being near humanity for a while may sway that."
"Did you see her?"
"Yeah, just before I came here."
"I could kind of tell. You're not as weighed down as before. Are you going back to the Enterprise?"
"Yeah. They're coming to pick me up soon."
"If I say 'thank you' to you now, what would you say? Last time, you couldn't bear to hear it."
Jim gave Liam a gentle smile. "I didn't understand then. I do a little better now."
"Well then, thank you, Jim, for everything."
"You're welcome, Liam. And thank you. For being who you are. I'm really glad that I met the two of you."
Liam's smile lit up the world. Jim could almost see Thea ghosting behind him with an identical expression. "Same."
"That kid is going to be real menace when he grows up," Jim said, "Cheeky little bastard. Basically called me old. Reminds me of you, Bones."
"I don't call you old. I call you an infant," Bones quipped.
"That's because you are old, Bones."
"You know, I think you're due for a couple more vaccinations than what I had originally thought."
Jim stepped back from Bones, still with a smile on his face. "He's still aiming to be governor someday. It's too bad. I was hoping to steal him for the 'fleet."
"He's too similar to you," Uhura added. "Starfleet can't handle two Kirks. Pike would retire so much earlier."
"Pike would be so bored in retirement." Jim then glanced at his Command crew, speculating. "Speaking of the 'fleet, don't you guys have better things to do than spend all this time in my room?"
"No," came the unanimous response. Even Spock replied too, despite being fairly reticent throughout the whole conversation.
Jim smiled wider, letting the warm fuzzy feeling grow in his stomach. "I love you guys too, but I'm serious. Don't you all have duties? I'm not going anywhere, so just stop by whenever if you wanna visit."
They all couldn't help but grin at Jim's words. If anything, that was what reassured them that Jim was truly back with them.
"I guess we do have to check on the status of the Zenobian government and see how it has been going," Sulu reluctantly said.
"I'll have to let Starfleet know that we've picked up Kirk and the rest of the science officers," added Uhura thoughtfully.
Scotty shifted around. "The equipment that we placed here last time needs a checkup too."
"I have to do the same for their consoles," Chekov murmured.
"And the rest of the crew can't be without all of their Command officers," Jim nodded in agreement as he specifically made eye contact with a particular stubborn Vulcan who looked as though he had made his home against the wall of Jim's quarters. He made a shooing movement. "You guys can go. I'll see you all later."
Bones crossed his arms. "I'm not leaving," he said gruffly.
"Of course not," Jim rolled his eyes. "I can see you're just itching to stab me with hyposprays. I want you to know, I hate you."
"You literally just said that you loved us."
"That did not include you. I'm still holding a grudge about Texas."
"What happened in Texas?" Chekov grinned.
"Story for another time," waved Jim. "Seriously though, if you stay here longer, Pike is going to yell at me for being a hindrance to the Enterprise's mission."
"Well, we can't have that now, can we?" smirked Sulu. "We'll have to wait until you're back on duty before we start to drive Pike nuts again. We'll see you after our shifts, Kirk. You best be ready!"
"Can't wait," Jim responded, a lazy smile on his face.
Then a thought suddenly hit Jim. "Oh, wait," Jim said, drawing their attention again. "I know this is long overdue, mostly because I never asked, but how did you guys end up escaping Greenaway anyway?"
Spock, Sulu, Scotty, McCoy, and Uhura shared a meaningful look before Uhura broke away from the pack and went up to Jim. She gently caressed his cheek. "We followed the rules of a good man," she said warmly, and kissed him on his forehead.
And then she turned and left without any further explanation. One by one, his friends filed out of his room until on McCoy was left with him.
"Rules of a good man?" he asked Bones once the door shut.
"Rule number nineteen: semper fortis, semper fidealis." (Always loyal, always faithful.)
"Wait, you guys actually followed my set of rules?"
Bones couldn't help but smile more when Jim didn't correct the fact he was a good man, despite vehemently protesting against it before. "I can't believe you have the mottos of the old US Navy and Marines as part of your rules. I think it's the only that the others don't know yet."
"How did that get you guys out of prison?"
"We pulled a Kirk."
"That explains nothing."
"Exactly. That's how we feel all the time when you pull off something ridiculous."
"Like getting knighted after getting buried alive?"
Bones pinched the bridge of his nose. "I still don't quite understand how you managed to wrangle that."
Jim laughed. "I'm just awesome that way."
Bones huffed. "By the way, we'll need to change your rule number one. I don't like it anymore."
"But I do lie. All the time. You know that."
"Yeah, but I don't like it anymore. Besides, you haven't lied to us in a while, and if you do, we'll call you out on it."
"What do you propose then?"
Bones thought about it for a second. "How about 'never stop fighting'?"
Jim smiled softly. "Especially when you have family waiting."
Bones grinned. "Yeah, I like that. 'Never stop fighting, especially when you have family waiting.' It's got a ring to it."
Shyly, Jim swirled the whiskey in his glass. "I still can't believe that you guys remembered all of that."
"And that's why you're an ingenious idiot."
Jim chuckled and finished up his drink, moving around his bed to begin unpacking. Silence fell between the two of them, but Jim didn't pay it any mind.
He didn't have much to unpack, so he spent more time reacquainting himself with the objects that he had left behind. The only materialistic things, other than the Enterprise herself, that he valued.
He traced the edges of the wooden Celtic Tree of Life that Scotty had carved himself; brushed off some of the dust on the curves of the guitar Uhura had gifted him. Nostalgically, he moved a couple of pieces on the chessboard that Spock gave him and then caressed a finger against the worn spine of The Lord of the Rings book that Sulu must've read hundreds of times. Smiling softly to himself, he booped the nose of the Yuri the Rabbit from Chekov.
The last thing on his shelf was that picture of himself, Bones, and Joanna. It had been the only picture Jim actually kept and displayed, but now, Jim couldn't wait to add to the collection with new ones.
Bones watched his best friend reverently remind himself what he came back for, and he could only feel his chest swell with such pride.
"Glad to be back, Jimbo?" Bones asked.
"Yeah…" Jim replied softly, rubbing the rabbit's furry ears. He turned his head and gave Bones a blinding smile. "Yeah, it's good to be back."
The Enterprise was docked at Zenobia for a total of three days before they set off towards Earth again where they were told to report to the Admiralty for their next official orders. Jim spent all this time wandering down the halls of his precious ship, hanging out with his crew, and honestly, being the biggest distraction to anyone that he could find. Not that they minded at all.
All at once, the lights were back to their maximal brightness; there was a lightness in the atmosphere and laughter could be heard ringing down the hallways. There was always chatter upon the ship. The wound that Wolff had left was a mere scar – one that could barely be seen anymore.
Speaking of Wolff, as Jim found out later from his updates with Spock, the man had been dishonorably discharged from the Starfleet and charged with first degree murder of Admiral Dreyes and treason of the highest order. He was given a public trial and had made sure that Jim's involvement in the execution of Greenaway was loudly on record. At the time that Wolff had announced that the universe's favored golden boy had killed someone in cold blood out of revenge, Jim had been traipsing in the Alps with Bones, who had purposely kept Jim from any news outlets.
McCoy had been given a heads up on Wolff's trial from a secret message sent by Spock and purposely sent the two of them up the mountain where signal from any electronics would be minimal. And also, McCoy wanted to make sure they were away from people, in case Jim's actions did not go over well with the public. Despite all the actions the two of them took to hide their identities, Jim (and even McCoy) were too large of a figure to be kept hidden for too long, which was why they bounced from one place to another within a month, if not in weeks. The last thing McCoy wanted while Jim was recovering was being barraged by reporters or angry citizens.
But the overwhelming response wasn't what Spock or McCoy had expected. Yes, there were people who were outraged at Jim – that he dared to take justice into his own hands and take a man's life. Jim wasn't God; he didn't have the right to act like one. Yet, those numbers were minimal (and the Command crew did keep a close eye on the ones who were the most outspoken on the matter – after all, it was this sort of dissent that caused the birth of Wolff and his followers).
The majority of the world began to see Jim as human, as one who bled and cried and hurt. For so long, Jim was untouchable and invulnerable. A star that no one could reach. It made him seem god-like, and not someone who would fight for the little people. Yes, he had saved the universe, but it almost seemed big picture – that they were only saved because the universe survived. But to hear of how distraught he was of not being able to protect a young girl, it made the world truly understand why the crew of the Enterprise was so loyal to Jim. Because Jim cared. About everyone. And that was someone that they wanted to be looking out for them.
Wolff got no such sympathy. His trial was a short couple of weeks and he was sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment at the strongest maximum-security facility in the universe with no parole. He was never going to see the light of a star again.
Jim had learned all of this about a month after everything had concluded. He had no idea how Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov managed to keep it from him – and honestly, he was quite impressed with their teamwork. He was quite thankful that they had worked together to find a good time to give him the news when he was actually ready for it. Even still, he had sunk to his knees at the news. He hadn't spared much thought about the fate of Wolff or even what the world would think of him so even he was shocked at how relieved he was at how this part of the saga that involved Wolff was finally over.
If Jim had to be honest, that ended up being a huge step for him. And here he was, back onboard his beloved ship. It felt like Jim was walking through a dream. He was spending time in the bowels of his girl with Scotty by his side, getting grime and oil on their skins as they fiddled with the Enterprise, making her run smoother and more efficiently. A blink later, and he was hiding in one of the botany labs, planning epic pranks with Sulu and Chekov that were more on how to execute them without Spock or McCoy getting a wind of it than the composition of the prank itself. A breath later, he was lying against Uhura's headboard with her right next to him – a pint of ice cream with two spoons between them as they gossiped, spoke of the woes in their lives, and discussed the last novel that they chose for their book club.
Bones still spent most of his nights with Jim, either just sleeping with each other's company or staying up reading, drinking, or whatever served as a comfortable distraction for the two of them. Because no matter how much time had passed, Jim had died in Bones' arms, and that was something that neither was ever truly going to get over. Hell, Bones tended to get more nightmares at this point than Jim, which was saying something. But whenever Bones woke up in a panic or with tears running down his cheeks, Jim simply put Bones' hand on his chest and let his steady heartbeat lull them both back to sleep. And whenever Jim jerked into panicked alertness, Bones would coax Jim to lie back down and sleepily run his fingers through Jim's hair until he calmed down.
It was an unusual arrangement and their co-dependency was seriously getting out of hand – it was something that they'd have to talk about at one point in the future – but for now, it worked for the two of them, so they just let it be.
Most of Jim's afternoons or evenings were spent playing chess quietly with Spock. Occasionally, they would speak about the ship and how things were going; others, it would be filled with stories of each other's life. Spock's steady company was soothing and never failed to ease Jim's nerves if they flared up. And honestly, it helped ground Spock as well. Because he will never stop seeing his dear friend from dying, but having Jim kick his ass in chess (or him beating Jim) was the best sort of therapy that Spock could ask for. For the both of them.
It was during one of these sessions that Uhura knocked on his door and entered with a slightly troubled expression on her face. The Enterprise was about a day out from arriving in San Francisco and they shouldn't have had anything urgent that required Jim's attention. When Jim glanced up from the chessboard and took one look at Uhura gnawing on her lower lip, his only reaction was to smile calmly.
"It's time, huh?" he said, standing.
"Time for what, Jim?" Spock asked, both eyebrows rising as the only sign of bewilderment.
"The Admirals want to speak to him," Uhura replied.
Jim's blue eyes were twinkling. "Why, the terms of my probation, of course."
Spock immediately stood. "Why was I not informed of this? I should attend as well."
"They called for me, Spock. Just me. It's fine. Don't worry," Jim said, waving a nonchalant hand as he left.
Uhura stared at the closed down long after Jim disappeared without another word. "Why does that make me more worried?"
Spock just nodded. "Indeed."
They shared a look. "I'll call up the Command crew and you hack into the feed?" suggested Uhura.
"The Captain's ready room in five," Spock agreed, already on the move.
The Vulcan's back muscles were rigid as he swept out of the room, the chess game long forgotten, but Uhura was close on his heels.
They had not worked this hard to just have Jim taken away from them. If the Admirals gave Jim impossible terms for his probation, they were just going to have to rain hell on the Admirals.
All the Admirals were already waiting on the screen when Jim entered the room. Sitting impassively at their desk was, from the far left to right, Pike, Archer, Lui, Chandra, Barnett, and lastly Komack. Jim stood before them with his back straight as he faced the powers that be that determined his entire future.
"It looks like you've recovered well, Captain Kirk," commented Lui. "I'm glad to see it."
"Thank you, Admiral Lui," Jim responded. He made direct contact with Pike and gave him a small reassuring smile. "I'm back to top condition."
Pike let out an immeasurable sigh of relief and his tense posture relaxed a bit.
"You know why we are here today, don't you, Captain?" Chandra asked.
Jim nodded. "To discuss the parameters of my probation for the next two years."
"I think you're mistaken here, Kirk," Komack snapped. "There won't be a discussion. You should know your current position better than anyone. You're standing on thin ice here. What we've discussed last time still stands. Your mere existence poses a threat to Starfleet. Hell, nearly all the crew of the Enterprise threatened to resign if you were taken from command. We cannot let that stand, do you understand?"
Jim placed his arms behind his back. "I understand. I will agree to your terms if they are reasonable."
"If they are reasonable?" Barnett exclaimed in disbelief. "You seem to think that you have a leg to stand on here, Kirk."
Kirk took a deep breath and let some of his usual cocky confidence ooze through his words. "With all due respect, Admiral, I do. Despite what some may think, I am loyal to Starfleet and the Federation. Starfleet picked me up when I was rolling around in the muck and going nowhere and gave me a future, a place to be and belong. I will always be loyal to Starfleet for that reason alone. But as much as I will live and die with the Federation, I am loyal to my crew first."
"That was the reason why you made me Captain, was it not? We are the ones that are constantly in the spotlight – our actions and the public's opinion of the Captains are reflective of their thoughts on Starfleet. How are we to protect the innocent and our citizens if we cannot protect our own? Every single one of my crew members have lives, dreams, and goals. They are not expendable."
"The ideal that a Captain and his or her Command crew is more important and worth more than the rest of the crew is archaic and foolish. I will not abide by that. If I have a choice between saving my crew or protecting the reputation of Starfleet, I will always choose my crew."
"Now if you have a problem with that, then by all means, fire me. Discharge me. But remember, if I go, the rest of my crew goes. And I doubt Starfleet can take such a hit, scandal or not. After all, the crew of the Enterprise are the best of the 'fleet. There is no replacement for them."
Komack rose, his livid face red. "How dare you leverage the careers of your crew in order to keep your place?!"
"I didn't leverage their careers – it was their choice. You see, a Captain is nothing without his crew, and of course, I want what's best for them. And they happen to think that I am what's best for them. I have a duty to keep going. For them. The moment they no longer think I'm befitting of a Captain for them is the moment I resign without question. But until then, I will do what I think is best to make them proud and happy to serve under me."
"That's quite a change from the last we spoke," Lui said with a contemplating tone, her soft words easily cutting off whatever protests that Barnett, Chandra, and Komack were about to spit out.
Jim smiled. "I've had quite a bit of time to reflect. I have to thank my crew for being so understanding and patient with me as I worked out a few issues. I'm only standing here because of them."
"Your words are not wrong. The public opinion of Starfleet is heavily stringent on the actions of our Captains, especially on those who have a name above all others, such as you. Your reputation is that of one who will go to the ends of the universe to protect his crew and our citizens, by extension. It is in our best interest to maintain you within our ranks. But you understand that we cannot simply let you go unchecked, Captain."
"But I'm not unchecked, am I?" Jim replied, tilting his head thoughtfully.
There was a beat of silence as his words sank in. Pike's amused chuckle broke the confusion atmosphere. "He isn't unchecked," Pike mused, clearly impressed at Jim's line of thinking.
All Admirals' eyes were on Pike. "Do explain, Chris," Archer pressed.
"He's said it himself – a Captain is nothing without his crew. He has a duty to keep going for them. His crew is what keeps him in check."
"That makes no sense," Chandra protested. "A Captain is there to keep the crew in order: to give out commands and directions to make everything on the ship run smoothly."
Archer quirked a smile. "Ah, I see. Kirk will do what he thinks is best to keep the crew wanting to stay under him; his crew expects Kirk to do what is best for them. It's a checks and balance between Kirk and his crew. It's the most ideal situation that we would have wanted to see on our ships, but it requires the utmost respect and trust between the Captain and all the crew. It's not something that we see often. However, you do realize the full weight of this system, don't you, Kirk? The moment that trust is broken, that's when everything will fall apart. And that is something that we cannot risk."
"In addition," Chandra added, "It completely undermines the authority of Starfleet on our ships. We cannot allow that."
"It is a risky gambit, I won't deny that, and yes, it does undermine Starfleet's authority, but that is only if you don't have faith in your Captains. We are carefully chosen and vetted before we can even take command. You put us here because you trust our judgement in the field. You trust us to do what is best and befitting of Starfleet."
"In the Zenobian situation, my crew was kidnapped and essentially held hostage. Against orders and breaking quite a few laws and regulations, I chose to save them. In turn, they saved Zenobia. I would say that that was befitting of Starfleet, despite all the rules that I broke. I'm not saying that I will break the rules all the time to protect my crew – just when it is necessary. Again, if we cannot protect our own, how are we expected to protect those under the Federation flag?"
"It almost sounds as though we're not going to put you on probation then, seeing as our 'authority' doesn't seem much to you anymore," Barnett growled.
Jim resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Sometimes, it was like talking to a brick wall with these Admirals. "I told you that I am loyal to Starfleet. If not for myself, then for my crew. Because they staked their careers and lives for me. For that, I will do everything I can to ensure their futures. Your authority tends to play a huge role in that, which means that you still have the means to bind me."
Pike's eyes widened at Jim's words. "Are you saying what I think you're saying, Kirk?"
There was a determination in Jim's blue eyes. "Yes, I will obey and abide by your authority for as long as my crew continues to want to serve under me."
"So basically, you're saying that you'll be a loyal dog and do all of our bidding without any complaints so long as your crew remains safe?" Archer clarified.
Archer turned to his colleagues. "It's not a bad deal – James, you're always worried about Kirk being a loose cannon. With this, he can't."
"Unless he thinks his crew is in danger," Komack fought. "He'll go against our orders if he doesn't think that his crew will be safe."
"But we shouldn't be giving them orders that will lead to blatant danger. Like Kirk said, we look out for our own."
"They're Starfleet officers! Their jobs are innately dangerous! You can't have our flagship too timid to even step outside of our doorstep!"
"I'd just like to add in here," Jim interrupted, patience completely worn out. "Have you ever seen us timid? I mean, seriously, Komack, I know you don't like me, but get your head out of your ass."
Komack immediately rose to his feet, his face beet red. "Excuse you?!"
"Look, it's a very simple matter – I'm not going to fight the terms of the probation. If you send me on milk runs or to go babysit dignitaries, fine. You do what you think is best. I'm not arguing that. The only clause I want to put into this is that you let me do what I need to do to protect my crew if the situation goes sideways and is beyond anyone's control, including mine. Now, if I royally fuck up because of my own stupidity or arrogance, you can discharge me without a question and my crew won't have any say in it. They'll stay on and be the best crew that they are. Does that sound reasonable to you all?"
"It doesn't seem like we have much choice here, do we, Kirk?" Lui said with an edge of amusement in her tone. "We are of agreement. Before we reinstate you to the Enterprise, we will require a full mental and physical evaluation when you return to Headquarters. Your official orders will be given once you've been cleared for duty. Good luck. Lui out."
One by one, the Admirals all signed off, leaving just Pike hanging on to the call. Pike smiled proudly at Jim.
"Glad to see you're doing good, son."
Jim grinned. "Couldn't let you down, now could I?"
"Never," Pike replied solemnly. "You're going to be okay?"
"Yeah, I think I am. Thanks for everything, Chris."
"You should thank your crew – they fought just as hard to keep you on."
"I know. They're the best, aren't they? Even though I'm pretty sure that they've hacked into this feed because they're also nosy little assholes too."
Chris just laughed. "I noticed. I'm pretty sure Archer and Lui did too. I'm surprised you let them stay on the line."
Jim shrugged. "I didn't have anything to hide. Besides, I only had any ground to stand on because they threatened to leave if I was fired. I'm only here because of them."
"They're good people."
Jim's smile became more soft and genuine. "I know. They're why I decided to stay, no matter what comes."
"Take care, Jim. I'll talk to you later."
"Bye, Pike. See you on the other side."
The moment Pike ended the call, Jim turned and made a beeline to his ready room. As expected, his entire Command crew had crowded in, hastily trying to turn off all the technology. It was utter chaos. Chekov was on the ground with Sulu pressed underneath him – no doubt the result of Chekov tripping over Sulu and Sulu falling over when he tried to steady him. Scotty had hidden underneath a chair and Bones had buried his face in his hands. Uhura and Spock were the only unflappable ones there, completely unashamed that they had been caught.
"Really, Kirk?" asked Uhura, rising an eyebrow. "Assholes?"
"I was being kind. I was really going for sons of bitches," Kirk shot back, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he watched Chekov and Sulu struggle to get back up. "Scotty, you would be absolutely shit at hide-and-seek."
"I'm surrounded by morons," sighed McCoy as he pulled his hands away and stared up at the ceiling.
"Nosy morons, at that," agreed Jim.
"You could've easily kicked us off," argued Uhura.
"Yes, but then, I wouldn't get to tease you guys like this."
"Says the eavesdroppers."
"I still can't believe you talked to the Admirals like that," Sulu exclaimed. "It was so badass."
"Well, I knew that you guys had done something for them to call me in for a discussion so early. I was expecting some sort of legit trial when we got back to San Francisco."
"You knew we had threatened the Admiralty that we'd leave if you did?"
"I guessed it. You're not exactly the subtlest person in the world, Sulu. And Komack idiotically confirmed it at right from the start. But thanks to that, they can't just find a silly reason to remove me from post. So the probation problem is now no longer an issue."
"We were never concerned about your probation," Spock commented.
At that, Jim pointed his index finger at Spock. "Yeah, about that. I don't know what you have on Chandra or Barnett, but I know you had something to do with the fact that they weren't more vocal today. Stop threatening people for me, Spock. That's my job."
Spock kept a perfectly blank face. "I did not threaten Admiral Chandra or Admiral Barnett."
"Fine, implied threat. Regardless, you can stop it now. They can't touch me at the moment. There's no need to expose yourself to that sort of danger." He grinned at Spock who was on the verge of protesting again. "Save it for when I do fuck up. Gotta keep all our cards hidden while we can, right?"
Sulu laughed loudly. "That's the Kirk we all know and love."
Jim shifted forward, tugging Sulu into a brotherly side-hug. "Of course. Now who wants to eat? I'm starving."
And it was like everything had just slotted in place, finally completing the puzzle.
Jim was back and he was here to stay.
Upon return to San Francisco, Jim passed his physical and mental exams with flying colors. Of course. No one was surprised by that. In the end, to keep an eye on Jim as best as they could, the Admirals switched it up a bit. Instead of reporting to Pike, the Enterprise now was directly under Archer, which Jim didn't mind (though Scotty was definitely terrified upon learning of this change). Archer had the reputation of being strict, but he was at least fair. Jim respected the man almost as much as he respected Pike. Besides, Jim knew that Pike and Archer were good friends. The Enterprise was safe in Archer's hands.
Once Jim was given the all-clear, his new orders were formally given: he and the Enterprise was to continue on in their exploration of the unknown for a full two-year mission. It was better than what Jim had expected. He honestly thought that they would be sent on milk runs, but he guessed that this was how the Admiralty were going to test Jim and his crew.
Well, that was fine by Jim. He was going back into the dark, surrounded by all the stars and the people he loved. This was where he wanted to be.
But, somehow, on his first official day back, the gold uniform felt too tight, too scratchy. He tugged at it uncomfortably as he stood in the turbolift, heading up to the Bridge.
"Is everything all right, Jim?" asked Spock.
Jim nearly flinched. He had forgotten in the midst of his inner turmoil that Spock had accompanied him this morning. He gave Spock a small smile. "Yeah, I am. Just a little nervous."
"Being nervous is illogical."
"Well, maybe for a Vulcan…"
"For you, Jim. We did not fight this hard to bring you back for you to be nervous upon returning."
"I know, I know." Jim bit the bottom of his lip, rubbing that particular spot on his chest again. "It's just…what if I fuck this up again? Komack is out to get me – he's got Barnett and Chandra on his side too."
"Then, and I quote Doctor McCoy: 'Komack can shove it up his ass,'" Spock said smartly. "Also, as you have gleaned, Barnett and Chandra will not move for as long as I am by your side."
Hearing the expletive come out of Spock's mouth nearly made Jim faceplant onto the ground in shock. Laughter burst out of Jim's chest, nerves gone, and he patted Spock on the shoulder. "Oh my god, you're the best, Spock."
"Are you feeling better now, Jim?"
Jim wiped some tears from his eyes, just as the turbolift reached the floor for the Bridge. "Yeah, thanks, Spock."
Spock pulled his arms behind his back, standing straighter, like he usually did when they were both in command on the Bridge. The change was a bit bewildering, and Jim tilted his head curiously.
"Stand up straight, Captain. Your crew is waiting for you," Spock said with that little Vulcan smile on his face.
And then the doors opened.
Every single one of his Command crew – Bones and Scotty included – were standing at the ready around the Bridge. Ensigns, Lieutenants, anyone who could fit onto the Bridge were there, all at attention in a colorful array of red, blue, and gold as Jim wordlessly stepped forward.
Sulu, with such pride in his voice and expressions snapped a smart salute, barking, "Captain on deck!"
Everyone immediately saluted Jim, just as proud and bright as Sulu was. Some were so happy that they were openly crying as they saluted Jim (namely Scotty).
Not that Jim could really fault Scotty. He felt tears come to his eyes and quickly turned back to look at Spock for answers. "Did you tell them to do this?" he asked breathlessly.
"Negative. This was all their idea." Spock slowly unclasped his arms and saluted Jim as well. "Welcome back, Captain."
"Welcome back, Captain!" shouted the chorus of people on the Bridge.
Jim could only grin so hard that he felt like his cheeks were going to crack. "It's good to be back. Thank you. I hope to do you all proud."
"Always, sir," came the unanimous voice.
Surreptitiously, Jim wiped away the hot tears in his eyes. He then snapped his heels together, standing up straighter, saluting them right back. "Carry on, officers."
There was a quiet murmur as Ensigns who weren't on Bridge duty started to file out, each one stopping in front of Jim to say 'welcome back' and give him a hug or a handshake. It was probably the best start to any day that Jim had ever had.
God, he loved his crew so much.
In the end, it was just his Command crew left on the Bridge with a few other officers. They remained standing, waiting for Jim's orders.
Jim, in his usual cocky fashion, sauntered over to his Captain's chair and plopped down with gusto. His bright, blues twinkled as he took each and every single one of them in. "Shall we get started?" he asked, teasingly. "Everyone, to your stations."
"Great, going out into space again…" Bones muttered as everyone obeyed. But he still walked to Jim, squeezing Jim's shoulder briefly in support and taking up the space on Jim's left.
"That is the nature of our job, Doctor," Spock said dryly, coming up to stand at attention at Jim's right.
"Now now, don't fight in front of the children," grinned Jim.
"The only child here is you," Bones retorted.
"Seconded," Uhura and Sulu echoed together.
"It's my first day back and already there's mutiny in my crew. Spock, tell them to stop."
"Ah do believe that's your job, Captain," snickered Scotty.
Chekov smacked Sulu on the arm. "Do not tease the Keptin, Hikaru," he scolded.
"Thank you, Lieutenant Chekov," Jim nodded solemnly, "This is why you're my favorite."
Chekov practically beamed at that.
Uhura just flicked her ponytail to sit comfortably behind her back as she swiveled around in her chair to face Jim. "We're all set for you, Captain."
At that, Jim sat up a little straighter. Anxiousness crept into the edges of his eyes and he subconsciously started rubbing his chest again. It didn't go unnoticed by his crew, but they knew they didn't need to worry. Not when Spock and McCoy flanked Jim on both sides.
"We'll follow you wherever you go, Jim," Bones said softly. "Always, Jim, remember? Always."
"What are your orders, Captain?" Spock asked, somehow making Jim's title sounding so strong and powerful in those two syllables.
Jim took a deep breath and put both hands on the armrests of his chair and stared directly in front of him – straight at the bright stars that awaited them.
He shifted slightly, making himself more comfortable in his chair. He glanced up at Bones, grinning. "Buckle up, Bones," and chuckling as Bones rolled his eyes at Jim. "Lieutenant Sulu," Jim called out in his best 'Captain' voice.
Sulu sat up straight at the console. "Yes, sir!"
Sulu grinned, his expression infecting everyone else on the Bridge. "Aye, sir!"
The whirl of his girl hummed under Jim, filling him with such excitement and happiness that Jim couldn't even imagine being anywhere else. Ever.
He had finally found where he belonged – in the stars with his friends right by his side.
Jim leaned back, his blue eyes dancing as he watched the stars zip by him, breathing out just one word:
Welp, it's a been a wild ride, but this story is finally finished! Yay! Hope you all liked it! Thank you all so much for supporting me, despite my chaotic life. I've had a blast writing this story. Since I don't like stories to end on an odd number, I'm going to add another chapter to this and it'll be a list of all of Jim's rules. I've added the ones that are mentioned in this story, but I've got quite a few openings left, so if you have any that you want to throw on the list, let me know in a comment or PM and maybe you'll see it!
Thanks again for staying with me this entire time! You are all so amazing for being so supportive.
Til next time, everyone!