The elation that followed the Enterprise's escape from the maw of the black hole that swallowed the Narrada was fleeting. Limping along at impulse power, they knew it would take quite a while (by their standards) to return to Earth and the comparative safety of Starfleet Academy. But that was not the reason for the subdued state of the crew.

Everyone aboard the ship was well aware that their victory was pyrrhic at best. The danger the Narrada and her crew posed was gone, but the losses accrued by the Federation were vast. The majority of Vulcan's six billion inhabitants--gone. Vulcan itself--gone. Seven Federation starships and their crews--gone. Eighty-five percent of Starfleet Academy's upperclassmen--gone.

"Lieutenant Uhura, please hail Starfleet."

Jim Kirk-- Acting Captain Jim Kirk's voice broke the silence that had descended over the bridge. The young man sank gingerly into the command chair, biting back a wince as some of the injuries he had collected over the past couple of days came into contact with the seat. He had the fleeting though that it was a good thing Bones was busy in sickbay, because, had he been free, the doctor would have been on the bridge, demanding Jim allow himself to be examined and treated. Immediately. And he would have backed up his threats with that thrice damned hypospray he seemed to have a deeply troubling affection for and crazy, sneaky ninja skills with.

Nyota Uhura--Acting Lieutenant in charge of communications, gave herself a figurative shake and replied, "Aye, Captain."

As the cracked view screen at the front of the bridge flared to life, Jim allowed himself a little smile. Uhura had sounded neither annoyed or amazed when she called him captain. There might have even been a hint of respect in her voice, so different from the usual slightly amused distain she usually projected at him.

After a few seconds of static, the picture resolved itself into the face of Admiral Parker Spencer. Jim had never actually met the older woman, but knew of her reputation. Smart, tough as nails, not someone you wanted to cross. In her mid 50's, she was fit and attractive, and if she hadn't borne a more than slight resemblance to Jim's own mother, he would have entertained the idea of flirting with her at a later date.

At the moment, however, he was all business. "Admiral, we'd like to report the Narrada has been destroyed and we have retrieved Captain Pike," Jim reported as she blinked at him.

A tiny, relieved smile graced her face for an instant and Jim could feel her eyes on him. He hoped he didn't look quite as beaten as he felt, but as his face was starting to get that hot, tight feeling, he was fairly sure the bruising had begun to swell in earnest. Between that and the variety of cuts and scrapes that littered his face, not to mention the two or three pairs of hands that had left visible bruising on his throat, he was aware he probably wasn't giving the best impression.

"That's good to hear," the Admiral was saying. "Might I ask where Captain Pike is…and who are you?"

Kirk shifted awkwardly. "Captain Pike is in Sickbay, Ma'am, being treated for injuries sustained aboard the Romulan ship. I'm James Kirk, Acting Captain…Cadet Kirk, Ma'am."

Her eyes widened. "Cadet!" she sounded shocked and Jim thought she shook her head, but the view screen flared and he couldn't be sure. When it stabilized she said, "I look forward to hearing exactly how a cadet came to be in command of our new flagship during a combat situation. I'm sure your reports will have a lot of folks around here frothing at the mouths. You should probably expect a more than standard debrief."

"I thought as much," Kirk sighed, then tacked on a, "Ma'am. We'll be a while getting back to Earth. We had to eject our warp core to pull out of a black hole's gravity well."

She blinked again. "Now I'm really eager to see those reports." The screen blurred out again, and when it stabilized, she said, "I suppose, I'll let you get back to dealing with shipboard issues, but expect to be hailed again before you make it home." She paused a moment before adding, "Hell of a job son. Good work."

The screen blinked out. Kirk took a deep breath and instantly regretted it as the action put strain on his injured ribs. Placing a hand over the painful spot, Kirk looked over at Spock. "How bad's the damage."

The Vulcan looked slightly perturbed. "There are stress fractures in the hull on nearly all decks. The damage sustained during earlier engagements has not yet been fully repaired and we now have no warp core."

"Sounds pretty bad," Kirk replied. "Okay, first…."

"First Doctor McCoy insists you come down to sickbay."

A voice behind Jim made him whip his head around, an action that made him grateful he was seated. As a sort of fuzzy cloud pressed in around him, he was vaguely aware of a strong hand levering him back into the chair as he tipped forward. Smaller, softer hands touched his face and someone stepped close to him, someone who smelled of smoke, antiseptic, blood and lavender.

"Captain, perhaps a visit to sickbay would be a prudent course of action."

As things came into focus again, Jim became aware of the bridge crew gazing at him with varying degrees of concern. Even Spock seemed worried. A woman in medical blue was in front of him, scanning him with a tricorder. From the scowl on her face, he assumed she didn't like what she was seeing.

But Jim wasn't about to give in without a fight. It just wasn't in his nature. "I'm okay, just a bit…."

"I have no idea how you're still conscious, let alone coherent and verbal," the medical officer said sharply. Jim was fairly certain her name was Abigail and she worked at the campus medical center with Bones. "Sickbay. Now. Doctor's orders."

Jim's eyes flicked from her serious face, to Spock's, then back to Abigail and the hypospray that had appeared in her hand.

"Okay," he finally conceded. "Commander Spock, you have the bridge. I'll be in sickbay."

Attempting to retain his dignity despite the exaustion he could feel encroaching on his energy reserves, Kirk shrugged away from the doctor's assisting hands and pushed himself to his feet. This turned out to be a very bad idea, as the bridge suddenly pitched to one side and he was unable to retain his balance, though no one else seemed to be having similar issues. He didn't hit the hard deck though, bruised cheek landing on a blue clad chest. Even dazed and more unconscious than not, Jim recognized the soft, rounded body beneath his head as a woman's and let out a wheezing laugh. Bones would totally mock him about this later, he knew, almost hearing the older man's voice in his head. Passing out and you still manage to cop a feel. Only you, Jim.

The last thing Jim Kirk was aware of was being gently lowered to the floor. Then the black that had been lingering at the edges of his vision closed in and he knew no more.


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