A/N: This story fits into the same 'verse as Any Road Will Take You There, but it can stand alone as a separate story.

It started right at the beginning of the debriefing, as he was walking into the small conference room. He blinked and it was there: a tiny dead spot in the center of his vision.

Striding through the door, he was hoping to project confidence and authority, or failing that, at least maturity, the kind that came from the sudden shouldering of responsibilities. As he approached the wide table, he was focused on controlling his body language, on moving steadily despite the twinge in his ankle and the half-healed gash that still pulled at the muscles of his back. So when he noticed the blind spot, his features didn't immediately betray the concern that flashed through him.

He was painfully aware of how young and unimpressive he must look to them, with the darkening bruises ringing his neck and the red cadet uniform emphasizing how pale he was. He'd been snatching naps when he could, but he'd been sleep-deprived for days now. He hadn't had anything approaching a good night's sleep for over a week, not since the whole Narada business began. And from the looks of them, the five officers seated across from him hadn't slept much either; they looked tired, sober...and stern.

He recognized two of them: Admiral Barnett, the head of the Starfleet Academy Council, and Admiral Komack, head of cadet training. It was hard not to feel intimidated. The last time he saw them--Was it only a week ago?--they were glaring down at him from the raised podium as he was accused of cheating.

"This session has been called to resolve a troubling matter." He wondered if Barnett would use the same opening words this time.

Jim blinked and rubbed his eye-because maybe it was nothing, just a speck of dust, or a residual flash lingering from when he glanced up at the recessed lighting in the ceiling-keeping a bland smile still plastered over his face. But as he looked from admiral to admiral, holding out his hand for a (firm) handshake with each one, the tiny blind spot was growing bigger, and it was starting to shimmer. Swallowing unsteadily, he tried to make eye contact with Admiral Nogura, the head of Starfleet Command, but there was a foggy hole in the center of his vision right where the admiral's eyes should be.

Fuck. His timing sucked. He knew that the blind spot signalled the beginning of a completely inevitable downhill spiral. His stomach clenched in anticipated nausea. The shimmering was becoming a small jagged line that was dancing in the middle of his right eye, and from the way it was spreading so quickly, he could tell it was going to be followed by a killer headache. There was no stopping it.

Jim trained his gaze in the general direction of Admiral Barnett, who opened the proceedings in his slow, calm baritone. Jim couldn't really look directly at Barnett, much as he wanted to, because the blind spot made the admiral's face flicker in and out of his vision. It was distracting, so he settled for focusing on a spot somewhere on Barnett's forehead.

"This meeting is closed," Barnett said. "I remind everyone present that the information that will be presented in this room is classified and should not be discussed freely afterwards." Jim knew this; he had been asked to leave his comm in the outer room.

"Cadet Kirk," Barnett began, then stopped when Admiral Komack grunted. "Uh...Acting Captain Kirk," he corrected himself, "the circumstances of this debriefing are unique. We are all aware of the fact that your actions on the Enterprise helped save the Earth from Vulcan's tragic fate. We'd like to state at the outset that we are grateful to you, and to Commander Spock, for destroying the Romulan ship and rescuing Captain Pike."

"Thank you, sir." Jim nodded in acknowledgement; this was no time for false modesty, especially when he was pretty sure that Barnett wasn't leading up to an announcement that he was about to be handed the Starfleet Medal of Honor.

His fears were confirmed with Barnett's next words. "Frankly, we're not sure whether we need to congratulate you, reprimand you, or chuck you in the brig."

Jim took a deep breath. "Sir, I'm sure that when I explain-"

Admiral Komack cut him off. "Starfleet has never taken the position that the ends justify the means, Mr. Kirk. So while we all acknowledge that things turned out well, that doesn't explain, or even begin to excuse, what you did along the way. That's why we're here-for you to provide us with the fuller picture behind the dry language of the reports that we received from the Enterprise. We've got a lot of questions, and we're hoping that you've got answers."

"Of course." He wondered which of his answers were the right answers, the ones the admirals wanted to hear.

"By your own report, you began by undermining your duty restriction and smuggling yourself aboard the ship, even though you were grounded."

"With all due respect, sir, I was having an allergic reaction to a vaccine, and Dr. McCoy decided that he couldn't leave me behind while-"

Barnett's voice was steel. "You may not have instigated that act of medical deception, but you cooperated with it fully." Jim opened his mouth to protest that being dragged onto the ship as he struggled to put one foot in front of the other without puking all over the floor didn't really count as "full cooperation," but one look from Barnett silenced him. Jim knew that Bones was undergoing his own grilling right now with his own set of unsmiling medical officers, and he didn't want to get him into any more trouble. And Barnett was right, anyway, because he would have done anything at that point to get on board the Enterprise, and damn the consequences.

Barnett consulted the PADD in front of him. "You then entered the Bridge, the most secure area of the ship, without permission and while the ship was on alert."

"I had just confirmed crucial information, sir, and we were only minutes away from Vulcan..."

Barnett held up a hand, and the words died in Jim's throat. "You'll get your turn to talk later, Kirk. I am simply reviewing the bare facts as we know them. Next, after Commander Spock took command, you disobeyed a direct order to leave the Bridge and struck two senior officers as they attempted to escort you out." Jim tried to appear untroubled, but a muscle twitched involuntarily in his jaw. "Then, after you were removed to Delta Vega, you somehow managed to beam yourself back onto the Enterprise without asking permission to come aboard, a feat you have yet to explain in detail..."

Jim sighed. "I will, sir." The jagged lines in his vision had coalesced into a wavering halo that was growing and expanding toward the periphery of his vision. He could look Barnett in the eye now, which was a relief, although he could already feel the tendrils of nausea creeping up his throat. There was a gathering tightness at the back of his head on the left side, a hint of things to come.

"...and then verbally provoked the ship's commander at the height of the crisis. All this was, of course, in addition to your violation of Regulation 17.3 of the Academy Code of Ethical Conduct-your performance on the Kobayashi Maru-which we didn't have a chance to fully discuss earlier." Barnett looked at the other officers, who were nodding. "Have I left anything out?"

"Conduct unbecoming," supplied Admiral Stone.

Asshole. A hot flash ran through him, and Jim could feel himself starting to sweat.

"So noted." Shit. "Kirk, is there anything you'd like to say now, before we begin?"

Yes, sir. I'd like to grab a painkiller and sleep for the next twelve hours, if that's all right with you. Can we do this another time?

"No, sir." He took a shaky breath, composed his features, and nodded. "I'm ready."

"Then please begin with how you got on board the Enterprise, Mr. Kirk."

He could get through this.

The first time it happened, Jim thought he was having a stroke.

He was fourteen, newly back on Earth, overly thin and barely holding himself together. He'd refused to go back to school, spending his days instead sitting along the banks of the English River, doing math tutorials on his PADD and researching whatever topic interested him, or tinkering with the antique motorcycle that Frank had left behind.

The bike didn't work, which probably explained why Frank had abandoned it. But he'd learned enough from watching him over the years to realize that you could make anything run if you could find the right people to help and were willing to spend a little money on it. There were dealers for the kind of spare parts he needed, in Vancouver and Mexico City and Rome. And thanks to the Starfleet Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, Jim had money. He'd sent off a brief note to Captain Pike, explaining what he wanted and how much it cost. A few days later, the funds had arrived in Winona's bank account, no questions asked. He supposed that Pike considered his new hobby as a form of therapy; Jim didn't care.

If his mother had been surprised to receive the bank notification that 560 credits had been transferred to her account, she didn't mention it. They didn't talk much anyway. She'd simply forwarded the money to Jim's account, with a brief message: I assume you compared prices before you asked for this amount.

You have to pay more if you don't want damaged goods, he'd sent back. She hadn't responded.

He'd been working alone in the barn, trying to figure out how to dismantle the ancient carburetor, when he'd noticed the shimmering light that stayed in the center of his vision, no matter which direction he looked. At first he'd thought that he'd caught a flash of filtered sunlight reflecting off the metal of the fender, but when the blind spot didn't go away, he stood up uncertainly. Covering each of his eyes, one after the other, he realized that it was only his right eye that was affected. Even when he closed the eye and covered it with the palm of his hand, he could still see the jagged line on the back of his eyelids. So he knew it was something neurological, not visual, and the thought terrified him.

It's brain damage, he thought wildly. A delayed, undiagnosed aftereffect of starvation and abuse, maybe. He thought briefly of calling for help, but Winona was out at the Fleet shipyards for the day. His comm was in the house, and he wasn't sure he could walk that far. He felt shaky and weak. He sank down to the floor of the barn, resting his back against the old wooden planks of the wall, hoping he wouldn't be paralyzed-Oh God-or lose the capacity to speak. He covered his eyes with his hands and waited.

The shimmering lines expanded slowly outward over the next twenty minutes, until he was left with a nauseating sort of tunnel vision, rimmed with hazy, flickering edges. But to his immense relief, the dazzling lines had gradually faded, leaving him queasy and weak, but with his vision intact.

It's over, he thought with relief. It was nothing. But he was inexplicably tired. He yawned ferociously, over and over, and he was sweating, despite the early morning chill.

It was only when the pounding on the left side of his head began that he'd recognized the migraine for what it was. Fuck this, he thought in disgust. He wasn't sure what he'd inherited from his father besides a pair of blue eyes and a stubborn willingness to push the limits, but from his mother, he'd gotten his mathematical ability, his capacity for denial, an allergic constitution…and now this.

Jim had learned early on to associate his mother with a darkened room, a closed door, and a request for quiet. "Jimmy, please! I can't stand that noise!" Winona would curl up in bed, clutching her hand to the side of her head, not even opening her eyes as she instructed him to bring her another cup of tea or program the replicator for dinner.

"Why don't you just go to a doctor, Mom?"

"The best thing for me is rest, Jimmy. It's nothing, just a headache. I'll be fine by tomorrow." Winona had an instinctive distrust of doctors—that was something else they had in common—and she always seemed fine the next day, so he never questioned her answer when he was little.

But by the time he was eleven or twelve, he'd come to resent what he considered her monthly self-indulgence. Everybody got headaches, didn't they? That didn't mean that she had to collapse. When Winona got one of her migraines, the whole house would have to come to a standstill; he and Sam would tiptoe around and speak in whispers. "Mom's day off," they would call it with a cynical laugh. Jim was used to taking care of himself during her long absences, but at least once a month, when she was finally home and supposed to be acting maternal, the roles would suddenly reverse and her needs would become paramount. Again.

Jim got up from the floor of the barn and walked shakily back to the house. Once he'd recognized the migraine for what it was, he knew what to do. He rummaged in his mother's medicine closet for a strong painkiller, and spent the rest of the day in bed with the lights off. He didn't tell Winona when she came home, not wanting to hear her sympathy-not about this-and unwilling to see a doctor for any reason that wasn't life-threatening. He'd had enough of doctors, hypos, and unpleasant medical treatments to last a lifetime.

The attacks recurred every few months, but he learned to deal with them: gulp down an analgesic and get to a bed as fast as possible. By the time he was sixteen, self-reliance and autonomy had become his guiding principles, and if he decided to call in sick to work and spend the day in bed, that was his business, wasn't it? On the rare occasions when he had no choice, toughing his way through the pain and nausea became a point of pride. The only doctors he saw were during his occasional visits to the emergency room for a broken bone or a cut that wouldn't stop bleeding.

When he'd enlisted in Starfleet, he'd seen no reason to mention the migraines during his preliminary physical. That exam had been problematic enough; the examining physician had been so focused on his allergies (which he did admit to) and the old injuries from Tarsus (which he didn't) that she'd sent him on to a more involved exam with a detailed intake. The next doctor, although he was more thorough and less inclined to accept Jim's bullshit answers, still wasn't a mind-reader. "No chronic diseases. I'm healthy," Jim had told him. Short of a full neuro scan, there was no way to detect migraine susceptibility unless Jim decided to mention it, which was the last thing he intended to do.

When that doctor became a close enough friend for him to notice when Jim skipped a day of classes or took to his bed unexpectedly, Jim still stuck stubbornly to his old habits and misdirections. "Hangover," Jim would tell him, and spin him a story of late-night debauchery. Or, "Spent the whole night studying astral navigation. I'm sleeping in today."

McCoy would give him his patented "you're a moron" look, and tell him not to come running to him for a hangover cure, or a stimulant, because he wouldn't get it. "Grow up, Jim!" he said once in exasperation, after Jim had told him he'd spent the night watching old holovids and was too tired to meet him for lunch. "It's time to start taking responsibility for yourself. If you won't do it, who will?"

"I don't need your help," Jim grumbled. "I am taking responsibility."

Barnett was looking at him incredulously. "Let me get this straight, Kirk. While you were unconscious, you were placed in an escape pod and jettisoned to Delta Vega, where you were warned that the planet was unsafe. You were instructed to wait in your pod."

Jim struggled to concentrate. The aura had finally disappeared an hour ago, but now a painful vise had clamped itself around his brain. He took a deep breath, hoping to dispel the nausea that was threatening to turn into full-blown vomiting. Worst-case scenario: dash for the waste bin in the corner. "Uh, that's correct, sir."

"But instead, you decided to walk fourteen kilometers in adverse weather conditions to the Starfleet outpost? Isn't Delta Vega an ice planet?"

"Yes. I-"

"Sounds like tempers got a little heated on the Bridge," said Komack. "Maybe you needed to cool down a bit." The others laughed.

Despite himself, Jim gave a weak grin. "Maybe I did. Anyway, I knew the Enterprise was heading to the Laurentian system and wouldn't be back for days..." He paused, recalling his horror and fury at realizing that he'd been abandoned on the ice planet. "If it even came back at all. I couldn't believe that I'd been jettisoned off the ship." He felt his face flush. "I didn't really consider staying in the pod, frankly. I could only think about getting back to try to convince Spock that he needed to pursue Nero's ship. I knew that an outpost would have powerful communications equipment, maybe a transporter or a shuttle. So I left."

Barnett nodded. "And while you were walking, you were attacked by hostile native creatures, which you barely managed to outrun."

The left side of his head was throbbing unmercifully. "That's right, sir. A drakoulias and a hengrauggi."

Stone's voice dripped with sarcasm. "And you were rescued by a 'future version' of Commander Spock." Put that way, even Jim could hear how ridiculous it sounded.

"Yes, sir."

"Who was also marooned on Delta Vega, after he'd tried to create a black hole in order to save the Romulan home planet."

"Yes, sir." Stone and Komack exchanged looks of disbelief.

Admiral Komack frowned at him. "Why wasn't this mentioned in the reports you sent from the ship?"

His stomach churned again, and he reached for the glass of water in front of him. He took a sip, trying to gather his thoughts, but he knew that he was heading into the stickiest part of his story. "I thought it would be better to tell you this in person. I didn't want my science officer to find out. He... Uh, the elder Spock, that is... He told me that I couldn't let his younger counterpart be aware of his existence. 'Under no circumstances,' he said..."

"Why not?" Stone pressed. "If his existence is a fact, then it seems to me that it would be logically relevant for Spock to know about it. Did you question him further on this point?"

"No, sir, I... There wasn't time." Jim could hear the self-doubt creeping into his voice, and mentally cursed. Keep it together, dumbass. Fuck, my head hurts.

Stone turned to the other officers. "I find Kirk's account about this future Spock unreliable in the extreme, to say the least. Does anyone in this room actually believe what we're hearing?"

Jim said hurriedly, "He stayed behind on the Delta Vega outpost by choice while we beamed out. Captain Mills of the Grissom picked him up four days ago. He's here, in San Francisco, with the other Vulcan refugees. I spoke with him yesterday."

"We'll need to talk with him, too," Komack said.

Barnett tapped the PADD in front of him, scrutinizing the transcript of the debriefing. "You say that this future Spock provided the Starfleet duty officer at the outpost, Lt. Commander Scott, with his own equation for trans-warp beaming, which he hadn't discovered yet."

Komack looked doubtful. "I know Scotty. He's a little eccentric, but he's brilliant. He could have used his time on the outpost to come up with the equation."

"Has anyone told Archer yet that he's back?" Barnett asked. He seemed to be suppressing a smile. "For his sake, I hope Scott's found that damn dog."

Stone leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. "This is absurd. We have no proof, other than Kirk's word, that any of this actually transpired. Richard," he said to Barnett, "I think we need a recess to discuss these issues in private."

Jim met his skeptical gaze unflinchingly. "I know this sounds crazy, Admiral. But that's what happened."

"Just a moment." Admiral Fitzgerald tapped on her PADD, flicking through files. "I have your medical report here, Mr. Kirk. It says that you were mauled by the hengrauggi, and you sustained injuries to your right leg." She looked meaningfully at the others. "Hengra venom is highly toxic. Kirk, could it be that you were hallucinating?"

Oh, for God's sake. "I wasn't hallucinating," he said, trying to keep his voice calm. He ran a hand through his hair, surreptitiously rubbing his left temple. "Commander Scott came back with us. Talk to him, he was there." And then-Dammit!-his mouth opened in a huge yawn. He clapped a hand belatedly to his mouth, cheeks burning, wishing he could explain that it was a symptom of the migraine, and not an expression of boredom.

Admiral Nogura, who had been silent for most of the proceedings, raised an eyebrow. "Are we tiring you, Kirk?"

God, I want to go to bed. "No, sir. I'm sorry. I just...haven't gotten much sleep lately." As if to emphasize his words, he yawned reflexively again.

"Maybe we should break for lunch." Nogura's tone was surprisingly kind. "I read your medical report, Kirk. You've had a rough week."

"Yes, sir."

Barnett looked down at his PADD. "My aide has just informed me that one of the Vulcan elders has asked to speak with me on an urgent matter." He stood. "Let's take a break for lunch. We'll reconvene at 1300."

Jim went out to the bathroom down the hallway and threw up.

"Cadet Kirk!" someone was hissing in his ear. Jim flinched and opened his eyes. Barnett's secretary was standing over him, looking concerned. "It's time. They're starting again."

Shit. "Right..." Jim pushed himself to his feet, momentarily disoriented. He'd collapsed in a chair at the end of the hallway, near the bathroom. He must have dozed off. His head was still throbbing. He blinked groggily; his ears felt stuffy.

He walked quickly back to the conference room, straightening his uniform and smoothing down his hair as he went. Someone was just exiting the room as he hurried forward, and Jim came to a surprised halt as he recognized him.

"Spock!" The elder Spock turned slowly in his direction. He looked composed and calm, and Jim was embarrassingly aware of how disheveled and strained he must look. "What are you doing here?" he blurted.

Spock inclined his head, lips quirking in what was almost a smile. "It is good to see you again, Jim." The look he gave him was affectionate and familiar. "I believe that they are waiting for you inside."

"Kirk, come in," Barnett called, spotting him through the open doors. "We're ready to begin."

Jim looked back at Spock, but he was already striding down the hall. Confused, he walked back into the conference room and sat down again across from the officers. Komack and Nogura were whispering quietly to each other. Stone looked stunned.

"This debriefing is reconvened," Barnett said. He tapped on the PADD in front of him. "I am appending the recording of the previous conversation into the official records of this incident. Mr. Kirk, we have just received some additional information that corroborates the story that you gave us earlier."

"That's good to hear, sir," Kirk said. Good timing, Spock.

Barnett gave him a sympathetic look. "I admit, son, I didn't believe it myself. But there's no arguing with what we've just heard. Unlikely as your account sounded to us at first, Ambassador Spock, as we will refer to him, has confirmed everything that you told us." Barnett looked around the table at the other officers, who all nodded, although Stone seemed reluctant. "We accept that you were, in fact, provided with the means to return to the ship through trans-warp beaming."

Komack leaned forward. "However, what is still unclear to us is why you were so insistent on pursuing Nero and attempting to destroy his ship, when in fact, Commander Spock's decision to rendezvous with the main part of the Fleet was reasonable."

Jim nodded. This, then, was the crux, the heart of the matter. He'd pursued that course of action single-mindedly, from the minute he realized what the ship was and what it had done. "I was in command," he began simply. "It was my decision to make, and in my judgment, the only reasonable course of action was to try to stop that ship before it came any closer to Earth. We'd already heard how the Narada had taken out a Klingon armada, and we'd seen how easily it had destroyed our own ships. What good would it do to attack it with the Fleet? We'd just lose those ships too, and then we'd be completely helpless."

Nogura was giving him an inscrutable look. Jim plunged on. "Once I explained to the command team what we needed-something different, not a frontal attack, but a way to get aboard their ship and defeat them from the inside-they came up with a workable plan. I knew, and so did they, that the chances were slim. But it was the only plan we had. We all knew what was at stake. We'd all seen what happened to Vulcan." He raised his eyes, looking at each officer in turn. "It was a good plan. I was able to retrieve Captain Pike, and Spock destroyed the drill."

Nogura smiled. "And you were very, very lucky. Never forget that, Kirk."

Jim let out a breath. "Yes, sir, we were."


Jim groaned in protest. "Lights off." He blinked, then remembered. He'd stumbled back to McCoy's apartment after the debriefing-he knew the entry code, of course-and he'd intended to leave him a message, but he hadn't had the energy.

"What the-? Lights thirty percent." McCoy was there, looking annoyed. "What're you doing in my bed, Jim?"

"Sleeping, obviously. Shut the fuck up."

"Why the hell does it have to be my bed, Jim? You've got your own room with your own bed in your own dorm, and this is-"

Jim lifted his head, squinting across the room at McCoy. "I couldn't go back there, Bones," he said quietly. "It was just...empty."

McCoy sighed in aggravation. "Never mind, kid. You can stay here if you want." He paused. "On the couch. Come on, get up now, you've been sleeping all day and I'm tired."

Jim flipped over onto his side, facing the wall, and burrowed further into the blankets. "Got a headache. 'm not moving."

McCoy was stomping around the room. Jim could hear him flinging something down onto the desk and kicking off his boots. "I don't care what you've got, get the hell out or make room for me. I spent the morning getting reprimanded for dragging your sorry ass onto the ship. They're giving me an admonishment in my personal file for facilitating the entry of unauthorized personnel onto a vessel. That's you, dickhead. A goddamn breach of security."

His voice was rising steadily toward full rant mode. "I came this close to telling them to take their admonishment and shove it up their-"

"Bones," Jim ground out weakly. "Not now."

"And then I spent the next five hours making sure Starfleet Medical doesn't undo all the work I did with the casualties from the ship. I practically had a shouting match with the chief neurologist. He wanted to start Captain Pike on neural regen today even though the toxins from that damned slug are still playing havoc with his neurotransmitters! Don't these people keep up with the medical literature? 'Thank you for your contribution, Dr. McCoy,' he tells me! 'We'll take it from here.' Unbelievable! And then they wanted me to fill out an astronomical amount of paperwork, which is apparently the most important part of the CMO's job..."

"Later," Jim pleaded. "Tell me later. Now you need to be quiet."

"Where the hell is the PADD I left lying by the bed? There's a journal article on it that I need to look at..." Ignoring Jim's protestations, McCoy pushed the blankets aside, shoved a hand under his pillow, and reached over him to search on the far side of the bed next to the wall. "Can't see anything in this gloom. Lights on full!" he barked.

The light stabbing into his eyes was sharply painful. Jim cried out and recoiled, screwing his eyes tightly shut. "Lights on half!" he gasped.

"What the hell's the matter with you?" McCoy asked, taken aback. He reached a cool hand out to feel Jim's forehead. "You're sweating."

Jim pushed McCoy's hand away and slammed the pillow over his eyes. "I told you," he mumbled, voice muffled. "I have a headache. Leave me alone."

"A headache, huh," McCoy said as if to himself. "With photosensitivity." He sounded suspicious, but Jim didn't care anymore.

The pillow was suddenly tugged out of his hands, and he heard the soft whirr of McCoy's medical scanner near his left ear, and then his right. "When did this start?" McCoy asked briskly.

"This morning, just as the meeting started."

"And you didn't think to call me?" His voice was deceptively soft, but Jim could hear the growl underneath.

"With what? They took my comm away."

"Nausea? Vomiting?"

"Yes, so just leave me alone, I need some sleep and then I'll be fine." Jim yelped as he felt the sharp pinch of a hypo at his neck. "Bones, I don't need anything!"

"The hell you don't," McCoy told him, voice laced with disgust. "You're an idiot."

The pounding in his skull was fading rapidly. Despite his annoyance, Jim was grateful. He opened his eyes cautiously, but the light didn't bother him this time. He looked nervously at McCoy, who looked thoroughly displeased. "Thanks, Bones." He sat up and took a deep breath. For the first time in hours, the nausea was gone. "That's much better, you have no idea-"

McCoy interrupted him impatiently. "How old were you when the migraines started?"

"About fourteen, I guess."

McCoy nodded, as if Jim had confirmed something he expected. "And how often do you get them?"

"Maybe once every few months, Bones, but it's nothing, I usually just sleep it off, so-"

"I'm your physician, Jim!" McCoy looked livid. "I've even been your CMO for the last week. I have complete access to your medical file, and you know what? Nowhere does it say that you suffer migraines. Nowhere, even though it's a chronic condition that you've had for the past eleven years! That's a pretty big omission, wouldn't you say?"

"I suppose," Jim said reluctantly. He knew where this was leading.

"And do you know why it's not in your records?"

Because that's the way I wanted it. "Maybe because I never told you."

"That's right. Because it's better to suffer in silence, right? Because you're a big tough guy who doesn't need help from his friends or his doctor, right?" Beneath the anger, Jim thought he looked hurt.

"I didn't need your help. I was dealing with it on my own."

McCoy sighed. "But you shouldn't have to, kid. Don't you trust me enough yet to let me help?"

Jim couldn't quite meet his eyes. "Of course I do, Bones. I-"

McCoy scowled and looked away. "I can't believe I bothered to sneak you onto that damn ship. Next time you get put on suspension, don't come to me again looking pathetic."

The corners of Jim's mouth quirked. "If it makes you feel any better, I just spent the last six hours trying not to puke while I was being grilled by the admiralty. I thought my head was going to explode."

McCoy looked appalled. "Shit, Jim, I forgot. How did it go?"

"They're going to drop most of the charges about insubordination and not following the regs. They said that there were 'unforeseen mitigating circumstances.'"

"Portions of this debriefing will remain classified. All information pertaining to Ambassador Spock is to be kept confidential until further notice."

"Damn straight. Do they know about Nero and the Kelvin?"

Jim sighed. "They know about all of it, Bones."

"As an acting first officer, you were expected to conduct yourself at all times in a manner which will set a good example and earn for you the respect of the other officers and crew who were looking to you for leadership and guidance. Let it therefore be noted in the record that Cadet James Kirk is hereby reprimanded for his conduct in refusing to exit the Bridge upon request, refusing to cooperate with a security escort and striking a superior officer."

Jim gave him a sheepish look. "I got an official reprimand for trying to kick the shit out of those security guys."

Bones grinned. "Well, you deserve that one, kid. That was pretty stupid. But what's the bottom line?" he asked quietly. "Did they tell you?"

"That being said, there is no doubt among the members of this panel that Mr. Kirk's personal integrity, persistence in the face of nearly insurmountable odds, and devotion to duty were above reproach at all times during this incident. From the moment he assumed command of the Enterprise, Acting Captain Kirk demonstrated maturity, leadership, and an aura of command which enabled his crew to complete their mission successfully. Mr. Kirk's actions reflect credit upon him and uphold the highest traditions of Starfleet."

Jim smiled openly for what felt like the first time in a week. "I think it went pretty well."

"That's great, kid." McCoy looked genuinely relieved. "Now get the hell out of my bed."