Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek or any of its characters. I'm simply writing this for fun, not profit.

"Permission to enter your quarters, Captain?"

Spock's voice interrupts his meditation as Kirk stares at the PADD in his hands, his fingers curled tightly around the edges.

"Granted," is all he says, and if his voice is a little more gravelly than usual, then at least Spock doesn't mention it. It's already been nine hours since Admiral Pike's death, but it sears him, settling into his chest and compressing all other emotions into tight, edgy impressions. He snaps at crew members, former ship engineer Scotty chief among them, because he needs their cooperation. He needs things to go as smoothly as possible so that he can ignore the painful side effects and focus his anger on Khan completely. Distraction is the last thing he needs.

Distraction comes, most unhelpfully, in the form of emotions, the same driving force that keeps him on his feet long past his shifts have ended, keep his morale high long after the rest of the crew's has waned. He is their beacon, their leader, and he can't afford to give off the impression that he's losing his own resolve. Khan is powerful; he needs every ounce of resolve that he can get.

"Forgive me if I am overstepping, Captain," Spock says, and Kirk keeps his back to him because even looking at the Vulcan, cool and calm and collected, might be enough to set off another tirade. Pike is dead, Spock. Don't you get that?

He remembers what happened the last time he pushed Spock so far that he broke, that he almost killed him in front of a room full of people. He has no intention to repeat it.

I did what needed to be done, he reminds himself. It's a hollow comfort; he's not sure he would have been as merciful if he was in Spock's place.

Completely untried and illegally on board the Enterprise, he was young and reckless and unseasoned, demanding control of the ship when his superiors denied him and even going so far as to beam back aboard the ship mid-warp utilizing the scientific resources of Spock's older, futuristic self and an exiled Starfleet officer. He didn't explain his actions nor did he provide a logical basis upon which they were sound. With the exception of the rescue mission gone awry, he had no credentials to back his claim, nothing to prove that going after the war criminal Nero was the right move. His gut feelings were hard to explain and, for someone like Spock, impossible to trust. Emotions were fickle and subject to change; logic was not.

And yet, there he stood, staring Spock down and pushing every button he could.

(Aren't you afraid? Aren't you scared, Spock? Doesn't this man terrify you, that he could destroy your entire planet in ten seconds without flinching? Or are you so cold-hearted that you don't know how to feel anymore? That's it, isn't it? You don't even know what true emotions are like, your entire life you've spent compartmentalizing them and pretending that they don't exist, that they're not anything. A mother's love means nothing to you because you can't love her in return. It doesn't even hurt, does it, Spock, because you don't choose not to feel, you can't feel. This devastation, this horror, it doesn't affect you, it doesn't mean anything to you, it must not even compute with you.

"You never loved her!")

The last was so singularly cruel and unfounded that Kirk flinches just recalling it.

"May I inquire as to what you are reading?" Spock asks, low and - soothing, Kirk thinks, and it would startle a laugh out of him any other time to think that Spock is being delicate. He's trying not to tread on any toes, but he's also trying to comprehend something somewhat beyond his own tutelage.

"You may," Kirk responds gruffly, turning the PADD over to him without a word. He watches Spock's brow crease as he takes the PADD, his eyebrows low on his forehead as he reads the first few sentences, the first few paragraphs; Kirk really has no idea how intelligent Spock is, how quickly he processes things. His expression is blank but his eyes are dark when he turns the PADD over to him seconds later.

"Admiral Pike secured many honors during his time as a Starfleet officer," Spock says, a neutral, safe topic.

Kirk turns to look at him fully, Spock's head bowed just so that they meet eye-to-eye. There's something unreadable there, an opacity that human eyes can't quite see but, Kirk knows, a fellow Vulcan might be able to distinguish. I still don't know you, he thinks, and he wonders why it makes him sad, why he feels a loss at that. I still don't know what kind of person you really are, Spock. I still don't know if you even care about me.

"Yes," Kirk says at last, swallowing back his unspoken questions as he looks down at the article briefly. "He did."

Spock watches him, barely three feet away but an ocean apart, emotionally, as they look at each other.

Kirk's lips twitch in a half-smile as he stares at Spock, regal, presentable, not a single hair out of place. "Why didn't you want to be captain, Spock?" he asks, unable to help himself.

Spock tilts his head slightly to one side. "It would not be logical to presume usurping your position without just cause, Captain."

"You could have your own ship," Kirk counters. Then, with an expansive gesture, he adds, "You could have this ship. I could be the one running around on the Farragut."

His throat tightens, then, his words coming out a little higher because there is no Farragut, not any more. Nero destroyed it in his first assault, along with hundreds of innocent cadets sent off to assist in a benign rescue mission of a highly technological and peaceful planet.

It should have been so easy, Kirk thinks, and his chest constricts but he doesn't let the tears come, keeps his eyes as cool and clear as Spock's as he waits.

Spock stays quiet, measuring him, weighing his answers, and Kirk almost thinks that he won't answer at all before he says at last, "My brief encounter with captaincy cured me of the delusion that I would be more useful in a higher station. I seek to perform at maximum efficiency towards the greatest collective good." Looking at him, his eyes so intent that Kirk was fairly sure he could see through them, see who Kirk was even if Kirk couldn't even understand his most outward persona, he adds, "Morale serves as a fundamental pillar upon which a functional ship runs. I am not - nor will I ever be - the heart of this ship, Captain."

Quietly - because he can tread lightly, too, if Spock is willing to put the effort with him - Kirk asks, "Then why don't you transfer?"

Spock blinks once, a subtle but undeniable gesture of affront. Then, schooling his expression more carefully, he says, "If you so desire, Captain, then I will seek service elsewhere. Otherwise. . . ." He looks away from Kirk, then, soaking in his quarters, his humble, human existence outside of the captain's chair with curious eyes.

Kirk wonders if it surprises him, how little of him permeates the room, a room that's barely his. Starfleet quarters are always well-stocked with the basic necessities and modern comforts. In additional to functional and well, cadets and captains alike are expected to be presentable: clean-shaven, neatly dressed, and well-rested. They are the face of the Federation, the ones responsible for soothing tensions, for inspiring new life, and for bringing a more universal acceptance and understanding of cultural differences. Even the most primal tribes demand some form of allotment, of time and care and respect, and each Starfleet officer is expected to behave accordingly, adopting their prerequisites to avoid unnecessary confrontation. As captain, Kirk has few more commodities than even the lowest cadets, with the acceptance of larger quarters and a monitor installed for emergency transmissions.

Aside from a small model of the U.S.S. Enterprise sitting placidly on a desk beside his bed, there is little else to indicate that Kirk ever occupied these quarters. He can almost see Spock resetting some pre-determined evaluation of him and tuning it to include this newest piece of information.

"This ship holds . . . sentimental value for me," Spock says at last.

Kirk thinks it's the closest that he's ever come to admitting that it's like a second home to him. Earth might be their last home, the one place in the universe that they can return to and be among their people and not only the Federation's populace, but they've cast aside those specific loyalties long ago and accepted new lives in space, where time and location and even origin seems almost irrelevant outside the ship's bridge.

Kirk nods once in response and has to blink twice before he can say, "We should . . . we should return to the bridge."

Spock looks at him and nods wordlessly.

Kirk turns, donning his gold tunic over his black undershirt once more - Spock hasn't mentioned his state of undress, logical as he is - before making a lead-the-way gesture with one hand.

Spock doesn't move, saying simply, "Admiral Pike was a good man, Captain. We will avenge him."

To hear it so bluntly - we will avenge him - calms something within Kirk, some restless, reckless urge. It's not just me, he thinks. I'm not the only one that feels this way.

It's comforting, and as he nods and leads the way, Spock falling into step behind and then beside him as they progress down the hallway, he leaves behind the mourning Kirk and resumes his duties as captain, as him, as the ship warps through space.

Maybe we won't kill Khan, he thinks, because he needs to use logic, too, sometimes, even when all his emotions point towards complete vengeance. But we'll stop him.

With the rest of the crew at his side - with Spock at his side - he settles into the captain's chair once more, in over his head and unable to predict what will happen next but confident, in some way, that they'll do this.

We can do this.

Spock meets his eyes during the ship-wide broadcast, and he seems something akin to relief there when he announces the change of plans.

Pike would be proud, he thinks, hopes, needs, because even if he hasn't earned it yet, hasn't earned his complete respect, he's working there, he's on the right path.

Pike would be proud, he knows, staring at the eyes of his crew, at their resolve, and knowing that it is, in some small, undeniable way, a reflection of his own.

When Spock approaches him after he releases the comm and offers his own service for the landing party, he can't help but think that maybe Spock is proud of him, too.

Author's Notes: Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for your tremendous support for my other Star Trek stories. I will be filling prompts/requests shortly, as well as indulging in the aforementioned hurt/comfort aftermath fics I mentioned in two of my previous fics.

I wrote this piece as a fill-in, an alternate reality moment between Spock and Kirk grieving over Admiral Pike's death. It serves more as a 'deleted scene' in the movie verse than anything. (Irregularity also falls under this category). Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed; I love writing Spock and Kirk's relationship and it's great to know that others feel the same.

Until next time!