A/N: I can't believe I left this for five months. *hides in shame* I've had a horrendously busy RL these last two months, part of which entailed fifty- or sixty-hour work weeks and ergo little time for writing. I'm trying my best to complete some WIPs before starting on any of my new fic ideas, so at long last here's the last part of this fourshot.
Spock had just finished his fifteenth report of the morning (half his usual; he had taken more time to meditate during the night due to the emotional upheaval he had participated in, though certainly willingly) when the door to his quarters opened. Soon after their departure on this five-year mission, he had programmed his quarters to unlock and open to the Captain's voice without the trouble of an override, as he was the only person who ever visited, save McCoy once in a great while for medical reasons.
Kirk had been oddly touched by the gesture of trust, and never abused the privilege by entering immediately when the doors opened. Now he hesitated in the entrance until the Vulcan glanced up from his monitor, his stern features relaxing in the closest equivalent he had to a welcoming smile.
As he rose to hand the man two reports needing Captain's authorization, he noted that though the captain appeared still tired, the dark circles beneath his eyes had lessened slightly, and the lines deeply creasing the young face had softened with the aid of a restful sleep for the first time in over a week. Jim was wearing his softer, avocado-colored tunic, instead of the usual command gold; a clear indication that he was more relaxed than he had been in days and intended to stay that way if possible.
"Good morning, Captain," he greeted the human, and passed the PADDs to him with the usual efficiency, well aware that a return to normality would be the man's preference.
"You know something, Spock?" Kirk glanced up, stylus paused, and smiled. "I really think it is."
He was about to answer when the communications unit in his computer monitor screeched in a familiar Southern drawl. Without taking his eyes off Kirk's relaxed face, he reached back and opened the channel.
"What is it, Doctor?" he answered dryly.
"Do me a favor, Spock, remind Jim that – GET DOWN FROM THERE PETER GEORGE KIRK OR SO HELP ME I WILL SEDATE YOU – that he's supposed to eat breakfast before goin' up to the Bridge!"
Jim was laughing so hard he could barely wheeze an affirmative. "Having trouble with my nephew, Bones?" he asked, grinning at his First, who returned the look with an amused tilt of the head.
"That kid! Honestly, you don't need a DNA test to tell whose blood's runnin' through his veins," came the answering growl. "Already took apart a dermal regenerator and put it back together, charmed Nurse Chapel into givin' him chocolate-chip pancakes, and was just now climbing up to see how the bio-function monitor above his head works – all before 0800 hours!"
As if in answer to part of that list, the captain's stomach growled loudly. Spock raised an eyebrow as the human flushed in slight mortification. "I shall see the captain eats before going on duty, Doctor," he spoke into the comm.
"And no pancakes or danishes, Jim!"
"I mean it, Jim. Carbohydrates and emotional stress aren't a good combination for your metabolism type, and you know it," the physician reminded him, though more gently than he had been speaking previously. "I'll see you on the Bridge in an hour, and you can take the Boy Wonder off my hands for the morning."
Kirk attempted a wheedling, you're-not-going-to-take-his-side-are-you? expression in Spock's direction but received only a stern set of eyebrows in return. Finally aborting the attempt, he threw up his hands in a gesture of mock exasperation and followed his First from the cabin, earning strange looks from two passing Lieutenants as he rolled his eyes expressively ceiling-ward.
Yes, it was shaping up to be a good morning, indeed.
Two strawberry waffles (Spock had reluctantly agreed with the captain's warped logic when he gleefully pointed out McCoy had only said no pancakes) and three cups of coffee later, they walked onto the Enterprise Bridge to see the alpha shift crew already at their stations and setting the initial morning reports in order for their captain.
Kirk felt a sharp pang of remorse and a warmth of love for his crew. After he'd snapped at a beta shift crewman for being sixty seconds late two days ago, his alpha shift had all been showing up at least five minutes early for their duty roster. Instead of subtly showing their displeasure at his rudeness, as he deserved, they had simply banded together to make his days easier. They knew him better than he knew himself, obviously, and only cared that their commander was grieving, not that he wasn't controlling that grief as he should while on duty. By all regulations, he should have been relieved of command long ago due to emotional compromise, and yet no one had relieved him; an expression of tolerance and love that he knew no other captain in the 'Fleet would have received in the same position. He'd been threatened by Spock and McCoy before to be relieved of command, when it had been necessary, and so this gesture of trust and affection, however understated, did not go unremarked.
He reflected once more on the words he'd said to Spock last night – he had the best crew in the Fleet, and he didn't deserve them.
Then he noted with fond amusement that they all visibly relaxed upon seeing his Vulcan shadow close at hand. No doubt his state of mind and disposition had been topics of discreet discussion recently, and they were all relieved to see him looking less like death-with-a-hangover, as McCoy would so quaintly put it.
Accepting a hesitantly-proffered report on fuel consumption from a fidgety yeoman, he signed it off before dismissing her to turn his attention to his crew. He cleared his throat, preparatory to beginning the worst item of business on his day's itinerary: apologizing.
And he winced when each of them jumped nervously at the noise.
"At ease, all of you," he sighed.
Uhura was the first one to both follow that instruction and give him a sisterly, appraising look from where she sat monitoring subspace transmissions between the Federation and supply and research ships headed toward Deneva.
"How are you feeling, Captain?" Sulu spoke up suddenly from behind him, braving the odds of a curt rebuff.
He turned and gave his subordinate a nod. One of the first rules of business that Starfleet Academy taught Command track cadets was to keep your command image intact. Do whatever it takes to keep up a front of invincibility. To admit weakness is to lose respect, supposedly, and to show that weakness is to lose command.
He had never really believed that, for honesty was to be respected far more than an image; and besides, he wasn't about to start testing the theory now, not when they all knew the truth.
"…Better, Mr. Sulu, thank you," he replied honestly, and received a relieved smile in return as the young helmsman exchanged pleased glances with the navigator.
But if he didn't start apologizing now he was going to lose his nerve and talk himself out of it. He whirled and placed a foot on the upper deck of the Bridge. "Lieutenant Uhura?"
The woman turned in her chair and, transmissions being completely ordinary and requiring no special attention, removed the earpiece to give him her complete attention. "Aye, sir?"
He remained in that position, only one foot on the upper deck, because it placed him more on eye level; apologies just were wrong, somehow, delivered from an intimidating position.
"Lieutenant," he began, and hoped that the wariness in her expression was due more to apprehension than real dread of what he was going to say, "I believe I owe you an apology, for my behavior during the Deneva approach. The communications issues with the planet had nothing to do with your expertise, and for…implying a lack of proficiency, I am very sorry."
Obviously, judging from her wide-eyed expression, Uhura hadn't been expecting that. And no wonder; another rule of the 'Fleet Command was never apologize to your subordinates for your actions or expressions; to do so is to undermine your authority as captain and to engender the idea that not everything a captain does is entirely correct.
He had never liked that one, even as a cadet, because there was never a time or place where common courtesy wasn't necessary on a starship between officers. If he expected his crew's behavior to be exemplary, then he must himself set the example, and he wasn't about to pretend that he hadn't been at fault.
"Sir, I –"
"No," he interrupted gently, hand upraised, and Uhura fell silent, eyes warmly locked on his expression. He needed to do this, though he appreciated her attempt at minimizing the gesture. "There is never an occasion where it is acceptable for a commander to treat his subordinates with anything but the respect they deserve. For that, I apologize, Lieutenant."
"Captain," and the woman's voice was sweet and gentle, soothing after the hair-raising events he had not quite allowed himself to assimilate yet, "I am fairly certain you had a valid excuse for not being yourself."
He smiled tightly, and flicked a glance at Spock, who still stood impassively to the side of the command chair, listening but not interjecting or letting on to anyone else that he was listening.
"A valid excuse? Possibly," he agreed, "but an excuse is not a reason, Lieutenant, and as such remains unjustified." Please understand, he begged her with his eyes, and allow me to do this.
In her usual brilliantly-perceptive way, his Communications genius did so. A gentle nod, and all was set right again; he felt himself relaxing, and let his eyes show both it and his gratitude.
"Apology accepted, Captain," was the soft reply, and with its simplicity the tension on the Bridge vanished as simply as if it had been released out an airlock.
"And that goes for the rest of you as well," he added for good measure, turning to face his crew. "It has been brought to my attention," and here he rolled his eyes pointedly toward the aloof figure beside his chair, "that I have been extremely hard to live with the last six days." A wave of small titters swept around the stations as Spock raised a pointed eyebrow and sighed quietly through his nose. "For that I apologize," he continued, grinning outright at the change in atmosphere.
Various expressions of "No problem, Captain," "Accepted, sir," and the like were voiced into the ensuing murmur of conversation, and he nodded curtly in acknowledgement of the sentiments before finally stalling them with a hand.
"I have already asked forgiveness of both Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy for my actions toward them this past week." The clarification was necessary; he did not wish anyone who might have overheard the three at any point to think that he was above apologizing to his closest friends or his overly-tolerant First. "Each of you," he added, feeling uncomfortably like he was giving a speech at a formal dinner, so pleasantly eager did his crew seem to hear him, "performed admirably in the face of the Denevan crisis and the…recovery period."
He opened his mouth to continue, to thank those who had under McCoy's direction seen to the burial arrangements for his brother and sister-in-law, but found that if he tried he'd most likely not be able to finish without an embarrassing display. Instead, he simply closed his mouth, waved a hand around in a semi-circle to include the entirety of the crew, and plopped himself down into his chair. "Carry on," he finished simply, and the chorus of affirmatives finished the job of expelling the tension that had clouded the Bridge for days.
A familiar warm presence at his right manifested itself, and he glanced up, vulnerable question in his eyes.
Spock looked down at him and gave him that peculiar, unique combination of a nod and a slow closing of the eyes, which always denoted approval and, though he knew the Vulcan would never admit it, fondness.
He beamed, and settled into his chair with a sigh of contentment.
Then the pleasant peace was shattered explosively by the turbolift disgorging a cranky, sleep-deprived Chief Medical Officer onto the Bridge, nine-year-old bundle of befreckled Kirkian supernova in tow.
"Uncle Jim! Dr. Bones says this is where you steer the ship from and I wanted to see and he said I can't be a pain in the neck to you like I was to him this mornin' but I said I wouldn't and o hi, Mr. Spock, I'm glad you can see now an' thanks for the book you lent me last night it was kind of boring but it was better than Dr. Bones's bedtime story and didya know he let me take apart a dermal regeneratidor this mornin' an' put it back together Uncle Jim and hel-LO his Head Nurse is drop-dead gorgeous, and –"
"You shut that smart mouth of yours," McCoy growled at the navigation console, where Sulu was trying to muffle his chortling in his gold sleeve.
Spock's eyebrows had long since decided retreat into his hairline was the better part of valor, and the combination of McCoy's red face and Uhura's soft giggle of delight from behind them all set the captain off into a fit of coughing in a futile attempt to disguise his howls of laughter.
"Peter. PETER," he finally managed to be heard over the onslaught, clapping a hand down on the child's shoulder and grinning at the upturned face. "Impulse power only, kiddo. Dr. Bones will have a seizure trying to keep up with you."
"Dr. Bones," McCoy ground out through a clenched jaw, "is going to give the both of you a live vaccination against Melkotian swamp measles if you don't stay out of my sight and out of trouble for at least six hours. Sir."
Peter Kirk's blue eyes enveloped the rest of his face, and he edged behind Spock's long legs, eyeing the physician with newfound wariness.
"You are frightening the child, Doctor." A disapproving eyebrow narrowed in the CMO's direction. "Which, although not unexpected in my experience with your bedside manner, is not ideal for one so young. Have you no crewmen to terrify instead?"
"I swear, Spock, one of these days –"
"Bones," the captain interjected suddenly, and reached up to close the gap between them. Hazel eyes had gone a soft sage color, changing from amused into concerned in that instantaneous metamorphosis that characterized his moods so vividly.
McCoy glared, arms folded protectively across his wrinkled blue tunic. "What."
"Go get some rest, Doctor, and that's an order." Kirk squeezed his CMO's arm tightly, wishing he had seen before now that the physician had barely slept more than the captain himself had for the last week. "And in your quarters, not on your office couch, is that clear?"
The tense shoulders slumped perceptibly, and to everyone's surprise the physician did not explode into a defensive fit as expected, only nodded and turned back toward the lift, ambling more slowly than anyone had seen him move in many weeks.
The doctor paused, looked back over his shoulder. Jim Kirk stood with one hand on his nephew's head, and the other hovering close behind Spock's back, and everyone present knew they were all thinking of what might have been – would have been, but for the hard work and sacrifice of a few exceptional people.
"Thank you," the Captain whispered. "Thank you so much."
A slow smile spread across McCoy's exhaustion-lined face, and he nodded in silent acceptance.
"Take care of that kid, Jim," he admonished then, nodding at the youngster peeping over the arm of the Captain's chair, and they both understood the silent warning that the child's recovery was nowhere near as advanced at it might seem at the moment. Grief in children is dealt with by various mechanisms, and despite his resilience Peter Kirk was probably not dealing with his loss any better than his uncle had been the past week.
Kirk grinned, and swung the smiling child up onto the command chair. "Of course," he said, waving at his CMO. "Go sleep, Bones. No, don't touch that, Peter. You'll put the whole ship on red alert."
The turbolift door shut behind the retreating figure, and he glanced over his nephew's head at his Communications Officer. "Make sure he actually gets to his quarters in the next ten minutes, will you?"
Uhura nodded, eyes soft as she turned back to the switchboard.
"I suppose it would be useless, Captain, to point out," Spock intoned dryly from the other side of the chair, "the regulation stating that no unauthorized personnel should have access to the Bridge, especially those under sufficient age to –"
"What does this button do, Uncle Jim?"
"Don't push that, Peter! It manually ejects all escape pods in the event the automatic overrides don't work. Yes, it would, Mr. Spock."
"I thought as much."
"Excellent. I do like it when we agree on things, Mr. Spock."
"No doubt," the Vulcan returned dryly, though the tone of his voice betrayed the fact that he was only citing the regulation out of sheer duty, not any real wish to see the child leave the Bridge.
"Captain," Uhura spoke up, half-turning in her chair, "Doctor McCoy has reported to his quarters and is asleep already, according to the bio-monitor in his room."
"Good. Thank you, Lieutenant."
Peter Kirk had lost interest in the blinking lights on the armrest-panel, and was watching his uncle and the crew converse over his head.
"Uncle Jim, what's a hobgoblin?"
Kirk refrained from groaning into his hand, vowed to kill McCoy (after the man had gotten some sleep), and cast a glance at his First. Spock's brown eyes were glinting with golden amusement. "You want to handle that one?"
"A hobgoblin, young one, is a small mythological creature feared in ancient Terran folklore as a practical jokester and general wreaker of mischief in households. Dr. McCoy seems to have adopted the creature as a substantive expletive when referring to my Vulcan heritage, for reasons I am utterly unable to discern due to their usual illogicality."
Blue eyes blinked three times, accompanied by a look of utter blankness. "Huh?"
Kirk chuckled. "Never mind, Peter. And while we're on the subject, don't repeat everything Dr. Bones says about Mr. Spock, okay?"
Peter Kirk nodded solemnly, and blew a lock of shaggy red hair off his forehead with a small pffff before continuing. "'Course not, 'cause he ain't right all the time."
The captain exchanged a raised eyebrow with his First, and turned his attention back to the child. "How so, Peter?"
The youngster poked experimentally at the padding on the chair's seat cushion and then spared his uncle a glance. "He said Mr. Spock don't smile, 'cause Vulcans don't smile. What does this light mean?"
Kirk gently nudged the inquiring fingers off the incoming transmission light and the accompanying switch. "Hold that transmission, Lieutenant," he said, and turned a mischievous gaze back to his nephew. "Scootch out of that seat for a minute, sport. And you don't think Dr. Bones was right about Mr. Spock?"
"Nope," the child responded promptly, and wandered over to Uhura's console as Kirk resumed the command chair. "Gee, you're pretty. My name is Peter," he added with a winsome smile, and instantly earned himself another friend aboard.
Rolling one's eyes is a human emotion, and therefore Spock did not do it.
The captain tried not to laugh. "Why not?" he asked over his shoulder.
"'Cause he smiles with his eyes, not his mouth." The child shrugged easily, and crawled under the library console to inspect the durasteel plating.
A grin tugged at the edges of Kirk's lips. "Out of the mouth of babes, eh, Mr. Spock?" he asked companionably, pretending to not notice the slight olive blush that had colored his First's austere features.
"I'm not a babe!" was the indignant squawk from below the console.
"Transmission complete, Captain," Uhura finally managed after a silent laugh of delight. "Starfleet Command, Priority One."
The viewscreen filled with the face of Admiral Robert Cartwright, and the recorded message played over the communications system.
"Captain Kirk, your request for three weeks' leave to set in order the affairs of your family has been approved by Starfleet Command."
Kirk blinked. "They sure changed their minds in a hurry; they turned me down a week ago…" Sandy brows knitted in sudden confusion. "And I only asked for one week's leave, anyway…"
"A 'Fleet transport ship has been reserved for you and your nephew at Starbase Fifteen, to transport you back to Earth. All traveling and lodging expenses have been cared for, and you will release command of the Enterprise to Acting Captain Spock upon your arrival at the Starbase. You will resume command three weeks from that Stardate, rendezvous arrangements to be made as you see fit."
Absolutely confused, he rubbed his eyes and released an expressive "What the heck?" toward the recorded message. "Spock, what in the universe is he talking about?"
"Captain…" The Vulcan's normally impassive face flinched. "Sir, I…"
Cartwright's face creased in a small smile. "Tell your First Officer I'm sorry for the delay, but it took several days to convince the Admiralty of this necessity. You've got one very…persuasive Vulcan aboard there, Kirk."
"Spock…" The word was drawn-out, fondly accusatory as the realization hit.
"Our condolences upon your loss, Captain Kirk," Cartwright resumed, official tone back in place. "Please inform Starfleet Command of your receipt of this transmission. Cartwright out."
The command chair rocked slightly as its captain shot out of it over to the science station, where the Enterprise's Chief Science Officer seemed to be extremely interested in the lack of fascinating information on his scanner.
Kirk shot him a don't-give-me-that-innocent-routine look. "I do believe you've been going behind my back in a certain matter, Mr. Spock."
The Vulcan had the grace to look affronted. "Certainly not, sir. All transmissions were clearly accessible from your queue, had you cared to inspect the records."
"I asked Command for leave eight days ago, and they turned me down. Said the situation on Deneva needed monitoring and that we had to investigate nearby planets for more of the parasitic creatures."
"I was aware."
"Which means someone had to either convince or blackmail them into letting me have it."
"Both of which are sometimes one and the same."
"And I know full well that Starfleet Command does not pay its officers' traveling expenses for unplanned leave privileges outside the Sol system."
"Quite correct, Captain."
"Which means someone else had to pay for them, because it's a long way back to Earth from Starbase Fifteen."
"Long is a relative term, Captain, dependent upon which standard of measurement one utilizes when –"
"Spock!" Kirk slumped to a sitting position on the rail behind the Science station, staring at the deck in a blurry-eyed effort to not broadcast deep emotion into his Vulcan officer's consciousness. "Spock, I…don't know what to say. Three whole weeks is…"
When he glanced up, he saw an eyebrow rise elegantly – and Peter was right, Spock did smile with his eyes, and it was warmer and more comforting than a thermal blanket on a wintry night. "You might begin by instructing your nephew that removing the plating from the library console to inspect the circuitry beneath is not a safe action for one his age?"
"Peter George Kirk, get out from under there this instant!"
A red head popped up promptly, expression contorted into a disappointed scowl. "Tattling ain't nice, Mr. Spock," the child grumbled, scrambling out from under the console.
"Is not nice," the Vulcan corrected.
"That's what I said!"
He couldn't help it; it had been too long a week, too traumatic a last few days, too many tragedies to assimilate, too many losses to grieve, too many things to be grateful for.
Too many people to love for what they had done for him.
Captain James T. Kirk laughed until he cried, and didn't know which felt better.