The Latin Series: Vir by AndromedaMarine
Author's Note: One Year on Fanfiction! This is story number 133!
He's hailed as a hero. The new cadets want to shake his hand. The Starfleet alumni give him a smile that's drastically different from the usual glare. The officers sometimes salute him, sometimes not. His friends have it firmly in their heads that if not for him, they'd be non-existent now.
Jim, on the other hand, considers his apparent "heroism" (not that he calls or even thinks himself a hero) only what he had to do to make sure his hide didn't get lost in space. It was what he had to do to not let his friends (Bones, Unknown-First-Name Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekhov...) die in the void. He did it for his father.
Later on, he rationalized some of his irrational decisions while Acting Captain as necessary actions to preserve the life of Starfleet and the endangered existence of Captain Christopher Pike. Only after meeting Spock Prime did he even consider the possibility of his captaining the U.S.S. Enterprise.
When back on Earth he foregoes the over-the-top bar brawls, endless women (who now throw themselves at him), and bottomless beer mugs. He's still young, he knows, but this Jim Kirk is different from the Jim Kirk that Captain Pike dared to do better than George. The George Kirk who held the title of Captain for only twelve minutes. This Kirk did much better in the eyes of Starfleet. But to Jim, his dad is the hero. He's learned to look at his father's sacrifice as the heroic action.
James T. Kirk doesn't think of himself as the hero the cadets, alumni, officers, and friends do.
Spock, when more or less yielding to his human side, defines "hero" as the one who rises above in difficult situations, the one who takes the extra step to complete what is extraordinary when the ordinary has already been done, the one who does whatever necessary to avert disaster when disaster is imminent.
Frankly, Spock defines Jim (or whatever part of him that isn't the arrogant bastard who first cheated on his test) as a hero, among other things.
Despite the stoic, unreadable features that can only be Vulcan, Spock tries to make it clear that (even though Starfleet already gave Jim the Enterprise and the title of Captain) the councilors aren't playing a cruel joke on him. Starfleet's finest won't boot him out of the Academy for sneaking onto a Federation Starship.
Jim seems to forget the rest of Starfleet's council looks at him as a hero. He wants to shove the title off onto Bones, maybe, who assumed the Chief Medical Officer position when the original one died in Narada's first attack. Perhaps the word should be attributed to Chekhov, who worked his magic at the transporter station to save both Jim and Sulu. But oh, maybe it should go to Spock. The Acting Captain whose cool, calm (and Vulcan) exterior pulled him through the worst of tragedies. Other than the little incident involving jettisoning Kirk onto Delta Vega, Jim thinks Spock handled the Enterprise quite well.
Pike's a hero for going over to Nero of his own free will, just to give the Enterprise a chance to save Vulcan...or, at least, rescue what few Vulcans they could.
But he's still hailed as a hero. The new cadets still want to shake his hand, and he reluctantly obliges. The Starfleet alumni now recognize that he doesn't want to be called a hero, and that makes them sure that he's worthy of the title. So they still smile at him, but genuinely. The officers still salute him, and the ones who don't only refrain because they don't want to make Jim feel like he's accepting an honor that isn't his, even though the officers have it on good authority that Kirk is a hero. Jim's friends still have it firmly in their heads that if not for him, they'd be non-existent.
And Spock knows that what matters is everyone else remembers what James T. Kirk did for Starfleet, the Federation, and Earth. It doesn't matter that Kirk is uncomfortable with being called the hero – it matters that Jim is reminded of all the lives he saved. What matters is that he is the hero.