A/N: This story goes off of events in the novelization, so bits and pieces will be different than the movie. What is the reason for this? I have the audiobook version (which everyone should own – Zachary Quinto is the voice, so, yeah! Spock reading Spock's actions – it'll boggle your mind!), so checking facts for myself is simplified. Also, the novelization goes into more depth with the characters, and their motivations, as you get to see what they're thinking. As far as plot goes, there aren't any major differences, it continues mostly as in the movie.

I have Part One finished, which is 12 chapters. I will be releasing a chapter once a week, to give me time to write more. I want to keep the writing ahead of what is coming out, so that I never leave you guys without anything new to look forward to.

And, just so this is out in the beginning, this story will be finished. You know that bunny from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail? The evil killer bunny that slaughters thousands? Imagine that, but like 30 feet tall. Yeah, that's what my Plotbunny is like. And Herman will not leave me alone. He won't let me stop writing this story, and I don't want to make him hurt me by letting it fall to the wayside. And he won't let me hurt you guys, but stopping cruelly in the middle. Yeah, that's happened to me a lot too. And while I might be mean to Kirk (Herman also, apparently, owns an angst stick of DOOM) I'd never be able to do that to my readers.

I can't forget the important legal bits, either: I do not own Star Trek, or any of its components. I might want to, and be awfully possessive of one pointy-eared half-Vulcan, but I don't. Also, I don't own anything worth taking, so suing me wouldn't really be worthwhile to you, Mr. Rodenberry and his descendents.

Part One

Chapter One

He is leaving her.

In a matter of hours, his life has drastically changed. It all seemed so simple this morning. When he had awoken, the most he had to worry about was his classes taking place that day. He had no idea it was going to turn into defending himself from a tribunal, and the events that had escalated since then. While the day has certainly been one of the worst in his young life – his day of birth notwithstanding – it has turned out to be…well, still horrible. But there were certainly some bright, bright moments in it to elevate it beyond the purely devastating.

He pauses just inside the corridor, observing the last of his crew entering the shuttle. The shuttle bay looks dramatically different than it did just hours before. Its pristine white walls and floors are now covered in a coating of grime, and there are blast marks clearly visible on its sides. The bay is gigantic, taking up the entire section of the ship. Considering that her crew is over 400 strong, that many shuttles are necessary. At the moment, there are few left in the bay. They are the ones that are too damaged to be trusted leaving the protected area, and the one that was waiting for him to board. They look sad, and alone, and confused. Not only is there dirt and damage on nearly every surface in sight, there are also panels removed and set aside. Her engineers needed to access the computer networks beneath to go about the necessary task of saving all their lives, and restoring her to operating capacity. Their tools are still strewn across the floors and available counter space – there was not nearly enough time to put everything back in its rightful place. That would be task of the engineers manning the space station, as her crew tries to recover from the ordeal they have all just been through. There is also evidence of hasty meals, taken as a group, by the Vulcan refugees that were filling every spare breadth of the ship. They were among the first evacuated from the Enterprise, but the evidence of their plight is also undeniably left behind.

Her temporary captain looks as abused as she does. His yellow tunic is ripped and covered in blood – most of it his own. His lip is split, there is a crust of blood under his nose, dark rings under his eyes, and there are undeniable, stark, purple bruises ringing his neck. His tousled golden hair is damp with sweat, and crunchy in places where he ran his blood- and grime-coated hands through it. The startling blue eyes that are his trademark are no longer smiling, and instead look suspiciously close to exhaustion. There is no expression on his face, as he is too tired to think about all that has happened. He knows he'll get plenty of time later to process events, but for now he is just focused on getting down to the ground and getting some real food inside himself. And then falling into his regulation dorm bed and passing out for days.

But first he has to say goodbye. She has been more than he could ever have imagined, that day back in Iowa when he saw her form tentatively being birthed on the plain. He had daydreamed about being part of her crew since that moment, and now he did not know if he would ever have a chance to even see space again. After all, before this whole intergalactic war with an unbelievably powerful nemesis from a future alternate reality began – he was being brought up on grave charges of academic dishonesty.

He presses his palm against the smooth side of the corridor, running it oh-so-gently against her sleek curves. He whispers sweet nothings to his lady, hearing her response in the gentle thrumming beneath his fingertips. She speaks to him like no other woman has, and he can't bear the thought of leaving her.

"You'll get by without me, won't you, girl?" he murmurs gently, his throat constricting as his voice breaks on the emotion contained in that simple statement. She probably won't even notice his absence, but he'll think of her always.

The continued caress of her mechanized hum is the only response he can expect. And so, he takes the last steps out into her shuttle bay, striding across the empty floor until he boards the shuttle awaiting his presence. He nods to his crew as they give him sympathetic smiles – they know, just as well as he does, what is waiting for him back on the ground.

He musters up enough energy to wiggle his eyebrows at Spock – just to piss him off – on his way to his own seat. And is unsurprised when it fails to elicit a response, but it gives him a sense of accomplishment nonetheless. He takes the seat reserved for him at the window, nodding at his Chief Medical Officer as he straps himself in.

That is all the time he has before the shuttle is gently taking off from its landing pad. He watches through the window as the bay doors spiral open, like a large iris retracting. Then they slip out into the vacuum of space, turning swiftly until they are on a trajectory with the planet.

His attention is focused on the windowpane before him. So thick, but so thin when compared to the vast emptiness on the other side. For several moments, she is filling his vision. The pride of the fleet, the Enterprise is a master of modern technology, and a joy to behold. Her sleek lines and powerful nacelles promise speed and maneuverability, while her size manages to intimidate. But to him, her image also holds the promise of exploring the freedom of the unknown galaxies, and of a home full of friends and trusted confidants.

Involuntarily, his hand reaches up to splay against the windowpane. He sees all the hastily repaired damage: the torpedo tracks on her saucer, the blast marks from photon lasers. The holes ripped out of her. With all the damage, she looks so vulnerable, suspended there in that void. She was so beautiful, and only just that morning. Virgin, untested, untried. Her surfaces lovingly polished with a last coat of varnish before the engineers that created her sent her on her unexpected maiden voyage. Now she is damaged; battered, but not broken. Her strong lines are still clearly visible, but the newness has been stripped from her in the most brutal way possible.

He thinks, if anything, that she is more beautiful than she was before. There was something artificial about the newness that has disappeared, and left something stronger in its wake. Now she knows what can be thrown at her, she has sheltered her crew through the worst time-paradoxes and a crazed Romulan could throw at her, and come out shining on the other side. Her personality has been forged in the heat of battle, and she is the better for it.

He only hopes they will be able to say the same for him.

And then the shuttle picks up speed, as it leaves the influence of the space station she is docked at. She is dwindling in his sight, and he suppresses a gasp of loss. He drinks in one last long glance at her, and then forcibly pulls his attention from the window. Bones, seated next to him, grasps his shoulder and gives it a squeeze. It is a great gesture, considering his fear of space and their current predicament. He turns towards his friend, and gives him a half-hearted smile. He doesn't have to say anything: Bones already knows his feelings, and how much trepidation fills him at their imminent landing. He was there when Kirk's world was shattered this morning. There is understanding in his brown eyes: that is, until Bones accidentally glances out the window and turns a little green.

Kirk returns the offer of support, nudging his elbow into Bones' side to take his attention back away from the haunting emptiness of space. Grins at his friend, trying to ease some of the tension lines he sees around those brown eyes. As CMO of the recent mission, McCoy still has many patients' stats running through his mind, best courses of treatments and other lists of pertinent facts that must be communicated to the teams back on Earth. Especially regarding Pike, who was in stable but still critical condition when he departed for the extensive medical facilities at the Academy in an earlier shuttle. His brown hair looks like it has been pulled in a million different directions, and causes a more truthful smile to tug at the corners of Kirk's lips. He can imagine his friend tugging at it in frustration while he calls orders to his team. And Bones' blue tunic is as covered in blood as Kirk's own – but the blood of the lives he has saved. It was due to this man that most of the crew was able to get back to Earth: oftentimes, it had been only his skills as a medic and his refusal to give up on a patient that had carried many of his people through.

Still worried about the morale of his crew, Kirk lets his eyes travel through the rows of people in the shuttle. Chekov is seated at the window across from him, golden-curled forehead pressed against the glass as he whispers something unintelligible to himself in Russian. His thin frame is trembling with either excitement or exhaustion, Kirk can't quite tell which. Overall, the seventeen year old prodigy seems to be taking events better than expected. His seat-mate, Hikaru Sulu, also seems to be faring well. Kirk can't tell as easily with him, as the cocky attitude seems to be a permanent fixture of the Japanese pilot. And then he corrects himself – Kirk did, after all, see the fear in Sulu's eyes that matched his own, before that desperate jump to the drill platform.

Uhura had managed a seat next to Spock – not that anyone would be fighting to be near that stiff form. He exuded "don't touch me vibes," and Kirk does not know how Uhura had gotten past those to see any kind of warmth beneath. She is murmuring softly into his ear, and he nods every once in a while in response. Otherwise, he gives no outward sign that he is anything other than a statue. Shaking his head, as he has no time to contemplate their relationship, he scans the rest of his people for signs of overt stress. It is only the bridge crew in this last shuttle, so they are the ones that typically had the most stress involved in their – encounter. There are obvious signs of tension, but nothing showing they are about to crack. And he is full of pride for them, and how they handled themselves today. They seem to be weathering the storm better than his precious Enterprise.

But then again, flesh is always more resilient than stone.


As they approach for their landing at Starfleet Academy, Kirk is struck by how much has changed…and how much is still the same. What immediately steals his attention, and the gaze of all the passengers on the shuttle, is San Francisco Bay and the destruction wrought there. The normally clear water is a murky black color, still whipped into a frenzy that sucks at the shore and threatens to overwhelm the beaches. And the hole….even hours later, there is a whirlpool in the center of the body of water, as the liquid is pulled away from the surface and deep into the earth. In the center of the devastation lies the remains of the drill platform, the massive construct rising prominently from the waters of the bay. The exposed pieces of its underside are clearly visible above the surface of the waves, as if it is still full of hatred for Earth, and refuses to give in and sink beneath the surface.

Other than the deep hole marring its surface, the planet itself is largely unchanged. Most of what has occurred this day happened in the space surrounding the blue orb, but that does not detract from the catastrophe that nearly occurred.

The Academy itself is still whole, and a feeling of relief washes through Kirk. He has been afraid, because Nero had intentionally been targeting Starfleet. But, while all of its buildings are still intact, it is hardly recognizable. The campus looks like it has been attacked by a swarm of angry beasts. Its parking lots are full to overflowing, the hover cars coating the grass like shattered pieces of glass. And the people….so many people. Camera crews and civilians, a giant mass of people rippling back and forth like the waves on the bay. For a moment, Kirk fears that there will not be anywhere to land: then he notices the conspicuous empty place left in the middle of the throng.

Kirk gulps, and pulls self consciously at the collar of his purloined uniform. It did take several hours to get back to Earth on only impulse engines, but he has not expected this sort of reaction so quickly. He is surprised, to say the least. But….it is harder to expel a member of the team that saved your Academy and your planet, especially if that person is publically visible. He wants nothing more than to have a chance to stay in Starfleet, and get back to his lady again someday.

So he squares his shoulders, and sits up straighter in his seat as they touchdown. Waves out the window at the reporters and civilians crowded around the ship for good measure.

They all disengage their safety harnesses and stand at the same time, nervous fear fluttering across their features as they look to each other for support. Apparently, none of the others – not even smug-bastard-superior Spock – expected this sort of homecoming. Chekov is no longer shaking with excitement, but instead looks like he swallowed a cat. A rush of sympathy flashes through Kirk, before the nervous tension suffuses every particle of him.

They part expectantly in front of him, allowing him to maneuver to the doors of the shuttle. As acting captain, he has the right to be the first one out the door. He jolts momentarily when Spock appears at his side, materializing quietly out of the anxious group of bridge officers. Damn Space-Elf moves like a shadow sometimes: Kirk blames it on that martial-arts mumbo jumbo he'd spoken of back on the Narada.

Not wanting to be too rude, Kirk turns to his temporary First Officer and offers him a genuine smile. Spock nods in response, no expression on his face, before he shifts his attention back to the shuttle doors. No other preparation seems to be required for the Vulcan before the doors open, but Kirk needs to take a few breathes to ready himself. He also throws back his shoulders, standing up straight. And changes the genuine smile into his best cocky grin.

And when the doors are opened, there are so many lights. Flashes everywhere, so many it is blinding. Kirk resists the urge to lift his hand, his eyes watering under the assault of light. He blinks for a couple of seconds before he sees the pathway that has been kept clear before them. It threads through the crowd in the direction of the main administrative building.

He walks forward, the rest of his bridge officers sticking close to his back. He risks a glance at Spock, and sees that same impeccable expression on his face. Everyone else is obviously affected by the media blitz, why can't the prickly Vulcan even twitch an eyebrow at the attention?

Instead of the typical horde of engineers and medical personnel flowing over them and the shuttle like fleas, there is a noticeable absence of Starfleet uniforms. The only uniforms that are visible – besides those of the various media crews in the crowd – are the regulation law enforcement personnel keeping the throng from the thin path.

As they flow down the short ramp and onto the grounds, the officers behind him merge into two perfect columns. In synchronous step, and proud military bearing, they make their way to the administrative building. With all the attention, they know they have to serve the Academy proud.

After the dazzling light of the sun and the flashes outside, the administrative building is dark and quiet. Kirk steps aside, squinting to help his sight adjust, and allows those following him to enter the quiet building. He sees a silhouette before him, and after his eyes clear, he sees that it is Admiral Barnett waiting for them. The door, thankfully, is closed at last – blocking out all the light and sound from outside.

The Admiral clears his throat, and they all stand rigidly at attention. And then, to all of their surprise, he snaps them a perfect salute.

Which they promptly return.

"At ease, men." Barnett tells them, looking each one in the eye as they shift to parade rest, "I know you are all dead on your feet after the ordeal of the past hours, but we must ask one more thing of you. We need your statements about events now, while they are fresh on your mind and all the details have not been diluted by time. Once you're done telling us all that you can remember, we're releasing you. We have rooms set aside in the building, specifically so you don't have to drag yourselves through that hornet's nest to get back to the dorms."

Finally, they all visibly relax. The tension eases out of their shoulders and postures, and they allow their exhaustion to actually show. They get seated in straight-backed chairs aligned in rows to await their turns. Then, one by one, they split off and disappear into the offices lining the hallway. There are three offices in use, and as one becomes available another officer gets summoned.

Slowly, his bridge crew disappears around him. As they trickle in to do their reports, his fears grow again. Kirk cannot stand the waiting: he is by nature an impatient person, and sitting here waiting to be called upon is about all he can take. His foot tap-tap-taps on the floor, the silence complete except for his movement: all the others have been called away.

It feels like forever, and then finally Barnett is standing before him. Kirk makes a conscious effort to clear the lines of frustration from his face, and then looks up at his superior. Without saying a word, Barnett jerks his head in the direction of his office. Kirk rises and follows, his heartbeat increasing in trepidation.

Barnett sits behind his desk, resting his elbows on the wooden top, and steeples his fingertips together. Spends some time gazing at Kirk – seated opposite him – through considering eyes.

"So, Cadet Kirk. We have received quite an interesting story from the rest of the crew, regarding events and how you came to be acting Captain on our flagship. What we are curious about, now, is how you interpret events, and your thought processes behind what transpired. Would you please elaborate?"

He takes a deep breath, and then begins. It starts out choppy at first, a stuttered sentence or two that finally strings into a strong dialog. He is as truthful as he can be, not glossing over the – touchy – bits of his behavior, but not focusing on them either. What Kirk does focus on is the behavior of his crew. He paints them in as glowing of terms as he can, describing their bravery, their ingenuity and resilience… and while he's talking, he is filled with pride yet again. He knows, deep inside, how rare an opportunity he has had: a singularly spectacular crew was under his command for several hours, and nothing else will compare.

When he is finished, there is silence. Barnett regards him over his fingers, the tips tapping together gently as he mulls over all he has heard. Then he nods, once, and turns his attention to the PADD before him that has been recording the narration. "Thank you, Cadet Kirk: that should be more than enough for the admirals to put together a statement for that media frenzy outside. Unless you have anything else to add, the ensign outside the door will be able to direct you to your temporary quarters. I know you must be exhausted from your ordeal."

Kirk stands, getting ready to leave. He is stuck in indecision, clearly able to recognize the dismissal that it is – but the most significant issue has not yet been brought up. And he has never been one to dance around a question, or avoid a problem.

"With all due respect, sir, I was hoping I could receive an update on the events that were interrupted this morning. When is the tribunal going to convene again?"

The Admiral's expression softens, with something like compassion passing over his features, "Son, there isn't going to be another tribunal."

He continues talking, but the rush of blood in Kirk's ears makes his words unintelligible. Kirk is overcome by a momentary flash of confused clarity – if his heart has stopped, how can the blood still flow in his veins – before despair and loss overwhelm him. They weren't going to give him a chance to defend himself further, the decision had already been made…they didn't care what his motives were, how much he loved the Academy and all it stood for – they were throwing him away, banishing him, ripping him from the only thing he had –

"…and then Mr. Spock dropped the charges, so even if we had to consider everything else that's happened, we have no recourse but to allow you to graduate with the rest of your classmates…"

The statement penetrated through the fog enshrouding his thoughts, through the mind awhirl with desperation and the pleading pounding against his skull. "Wait, What?"

Barnett pauses in his explanation, looking at Kirk with confusion, and then – when he catches the expression on Kirk's face – a focused understanding.

"The charges were dropped, cadet. Mr. Spock no longer wishes to pursue the tribunal."

The words don't make sense at first, his brain trying to grasp the threads of reason.

"Kirk, that means you're still going to be one of us."