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

Kirk grunted as Spock eased him to his feet, Bones' voice echoing in his head: Jim, your vitals are way off. He could feel his left leg dragging slightly, excruciating pain blossoming from the center of his chest and radiating outward as his lower ribs screamed in protest. Spock's touch was light but firm, steadying him as he moved and applying as little pressure as physically possible. Kirk appreciated the consideration: he did not think he would be able to hold back a hiss of pain if Spock touched any of the injuries themselves. Thankfully, the walk was not far, and he was able to brush off Spock's hold comfortably as they shambled back to the shuttlecraft.

They found two of their guards waiting inside, weapons set to stun as Kirk and his companions approached. At once, they zeroed in on John Harrison, his windswept hair the only slight to his visible character as he strolled calmly alongside them. Spock had Harrison's own weapon trained on him, ready to act if he demonstrated even the slightest wavering in loyalty.

Predictably, Harrison did not. Kirk could not tell if he was disappointed or relieved, uncertainty twisting in his gut as he stumbled up to the platform, gratefully letting one of the guards take his weight as he held out a hand to steady him. "Captain?" he blurted out, bewildered and amazed, but Kirk reached out (another sunburst of pain shot through him, making his vision cloud over briefly before he regained control) and squeezed his shoulder once reassuringly.

"Not Captain," he reminded hoarsely, surprised at his own voice as he clambered inside the shuttlepod.

Half-expecting Harrison to strike him down from behind, he was not overtly surprised when Uhura came after him, Harrison following at her footsteps. "Weapons on stun," Kirk ordered his men, their shoulders snapping to attention as they leveled both guns pointedly at Harrison's chest. One of Harrison's eyebrows ticked upwards in mild amusement, but there was no other outward sign of his unease, not a single hint to suggest that he was anything other than content. Wordlessly, Kirk met Spock's gaze as he entered the room and told him, Kill if you have to.

Spock inclined his head a fraction of an inch and waited until Kirk seated himself in his captain's chair before assuming his position at his right hand. In the span of six seconds, he disengaged the stabilization field at the base of the seat so he could swivel around, re-engaging the same field as he held the weapon at the ready, takng no chances with Harrison. Kirk did not need to tell him that he was grateful for his attention; he was too busy powering the shuttlepod back on to worry about as much.

"Engines ready, Captain," Spock reported without moving an inch, weapon still raised.

Kirk did not acknowledge him, waiting for the hiss of the doors to finish shutting before powering the ship up, its thrusters engaged. They rose slowly from the ground, Kirk's head swimming briefly before he gripped the center console tightly to steady himself. He noticed Uhura eyeing him doubtfully from her seat at his lefthand side and said nothing, not wanting to give her further reason to doubt. Steering them skyward until the ground below became nothing more than dust and darkness, the craters and corpses distance scars on the earth, he itched to question Harrison further.

It would be inconclusive at best, but he could not deny the desire.

"We're approaching the Enterprise," Uhura said aloud, after seven long minutes of silence. Kirk inclined his head, maximizing the thrusters, eager to be home and done. He felt suddenly, irrationally tired, as though the world itself had fallen from beneath his feet and left him with nothing but dust to cling to. Straightening his shoulders as he breathed in slowly and gave the shuttlepod the last nudge it needed to glide into the transporter bay, Kirk focused on the mission at hand, knowing that apprehension was only phase one of the assignment.

Phase two was transport. Somehow he doubted that Harrison would be so quiescent aboard Kirk's ship, seeking an out while Kirk was unaware.

You won't get away, he promised silently, landing the shuttlepod and grunting at the impact, stiffly rising from his seat and ignoring the untouched safety harness at his shoulder. "Kirk to Enterprise, come in, Enterprise."

"Enterprise to Kirk, we read you," Sulu replied, his calm, authoritative voice soothing in the silence.

It took Kirk a moment to recall that he had promoted Sulu to acting captain, shaking his head a little in disbelief before responding, "We have John Harrison in our custody. We're bringing him aboard now."

"Aye," Sulu said, and then, after a moment's deliberation: "Captain."

"Kirk out," was all Kirk said, snapping his communicator shut and looking at Spock expectantly.

Harrison rose from his seat in one fluid motion, his safety harness similarly untouched. Somehow Kirk doubted that his reasons were the same; in spite of the punishing blows Kirk had thrown at him, he appeared utterly unaffected, his entire visage bespeaking nothing more than irrepressible contempt.

Is this the best you can do?

Kirk's jaw stiffened as he led the way out of the shuttlepod, Uhura once more at his heels. Half a dozen security officers met them at the foot of the shuttelepod, two converging around Kirk at once, flanking him on either side. Kirk allowed it, assuring them, "I'm fine," as Harrison was led out of the shuttlepod, Spock's weapon trained at his back while Kirk's other security officers filed after him.

"You're shaking," Uhura commented, drawing Kirk back to his immediate present as pain rippled through him, threatening to cease the ragged breaths in his chest as crippling discomfort seared through him. He shook his head slightly to discourage her, keeping both eyes trained on Harrison as he was transferred delicately to the heart of a six guard formation, phaser guns held at the ready, weapons set for stun.

He'll kill you, you know that.

Your survival is unlikely.

Kirk met Spock's gaze and saw a flicker of concern there, his own weapon swiftly surrendered to the chief of security as they filed away, leading Harrison off to the brig. "Lieutenant Uhura is right," he said, advancing towards them and meeting Kirk's gaze unflinchingly. "You are not well."

"Not now, Spock," Kirk said, turning on his heel, already pulling out his communicator as he spoke. "Mr. Sulu, let Starfleet Command know that we have Harrison in our custody. Tell them we'll be bringing him back to Earth as soon as our warp core has been repaired."

"Aye, Captain," Sulu answered confidently.

Nodding once to himself as he entered the turbolift, still flanked by his guards, Kirk allowed his eyes to shut for half a second, feeling the aches all the way down to his toes.

Romulans were exceptional fighters, and he knew from personal experience that they were stronger than the average Human (three times stronger, just like Vulcans), but Klingons were worse, somehow, even though their strength was only twice as much. They wore armor, their tough, hide-like flesh repulsing blows and absorbing impacts far more effectively than tender Human skin. It was a well-known biological phenomenon that Klingons had extensive organ redundancy: even their spines could be regrown, in the case of exceptional circumstances, and they had no less than three cardiac chambers capable of regrowing into a full heart if need be. Their stamina was legendary in battle, and Kirk knew that if the fighting had lasted any longer that they would have been painfully ripped from limb to limb after being questioned extensively for their presence. As it was, he felt as if he had already been partially pulverized, his chest heaving as he drew in wet, silent breaths.

When he appeared on the bridge, Bones descended on him in an instant, tricorder in hand. He ached to tell him to leave him be, but he knew that argument would only make Bones more insistent, and he did not have the strength to resist him even for minor injuries. "Bones," he warned half-heartedly, brushing past him as he turned to Sulu for a full report. "How's our warp core coming along?" he asked, limping to the center of the bridge and ignoring the concerned looks from half a dozen officers on either side. As soon as he flicked his gaze to them, they returned to their stations, their gazes there and gone so quickly that Kirk knew it would be impossible to confirm that they had been looking at all. They were curious and afraid: two emotions Kirk knew unfortunately well, given their present predicament.

"Chekov hasn't been able to get it back online," Sulu admitted, grimly dissastisfied. "There's been a major leak in the antimatter compartment as well. They're working on containing that right now before repairing the damage to the warp core itself. So far the core temperature has been brought back down thirty percent."

"See that it continues," Kirk said, as Sulu nodded and relieved the captain's chair.

Kirk hesitated for a moment, tempted to tell him to sit down and resume the duties of captaincy so he could retire to his quarters for some sleep. He had not slept all night, Pike's death weighing heavily on his soul. He knew that if he had been faster, if he had somehow known that Pike was in imminent danger alongside Spock and the rest of the officers present, that he would have saved him. Instead he had been selfishly, stupidly focused on his own self-preservation, and he had not thought twice about it when the phaser fire had first blasted through the windows. He had dived for the floor, staying as low as possible as he scrambled from the room and hurried to disable the shuttlecraft before it destroyed them all. He had not been fast enough then, either, for by the time he successfully crashed Harrison's shuttle, there was nothing left to save but Spock and a few wounded officers, the rest already dead.

Sleep had been far from his mind that night, but nothing sounded more tempting as he stepped forward and slid slowly into the command chair. "Mr. Spock," he began, paging his communicator as Spock stepped out of the turbolift, brusque and unruffled.

"Captain," he replied calmly, stepping forward.

Kirk looked up at him, knowing that he could see every line of fatigue tracing his face and, equally, his obstinacy not to let it overcome him. He had failed to save Pike, but he would not fail to avenge him, and that began with John Harrison. Determination swept over him, giving him the strength to rise from the captain's chair without trembling and order, "Come with me."

"Jim, you're –"

"Not now, Bones," Kirk said, holding Spock's gaze as Bones made a frustrated sound behind him and let him go.

He knew, too. Thank God for intuition. "I need you to come with me," he said after a moment, breaking away from Spock's gaze to look at Bones. He faltered a moment at the intensity of Bones' stare, recognizing the genuine concern underlying his frustration, but he did not let his resolve waver as he finished in a low voice meant for their ears only, "He isn't human. I don't know what he is, but he isn't human."

Spock looked at him implacably. Bones' jaw stiffened, but he did not speak, as he followed Kirk off the bridge. "Sulu, you have the conn," Kirk said, disappearing inside the turbolift, Bones and Spock at his sides this time as the security officers remained behind, vanishing with the rest of them as the turbolift doors slid shut.

For one dizzying moment, vertigo swept Kirk, and he swayed where he stood as he leaned forward with the turbolift's descent. One of Bones' hands slid into place underneath his arm, oddly comforting as darkness briefly occluded hisvision, making it impossible to see. He smothered the panic that attempted to rise in him as it became near impossible to breathe, forcing himself to calm down as the turbolift slowed, Bones' grip never once loosing under his arm. Exhaustion washed over him, making it difficult to do more than swallow thin lungfuls of air, a steady hand on his lower back noticeably warmer than the other. Spock.

"I've got you, Jim," Bones assured, releasing his grip under his arm to slide a hypo into place instead, Kirk flinching as the needle pierced his neck. "That should help."

It did: whatever it was, the panicky feeling of asphyxiation dissipated as the drug took effect, Kirk relaxing against Spock's hold even as the turbolift doors slid open. Taking three staggering steps forward – inexplicably grateful for Bones' hand under his arm once more as he resumed his former position, Spock gracefully stepping aside as half a dozen crew members turned to acknowledge their commanding officers – Kirk managed to regain his footing enough that he could walk on his own feet without stumbling. "Thank you," he managed, Bones' expression softening as he released his hold on him.

"Any time," was all he said.

Spock remained silent at Kirk's side, but he could feel his concern radiating off him. Tempted though he was, he resisted the urge to acknowledge that aloud – no, I'm not – as he approached the glass wall separating Harrison and them.

Suddenly Harrison's cool, utterly nonplussed demeanor infuriated him. Even as he watched Bones take a blood sample, he could not look away from those cold blue eyes, somehow so terribly like his own. Intense and ruthlessly determined, they cut through the layers of projected strength that Kirk emitted and rattled him to his core. He wanted to look away, to pretend that he had never met that gaze, that he had never seen the predator lurking within, but he could not, because this was the man that had killed Pike, and he would not be allowed to get away with it.

Not so long as Kirk lived.

"Why aren't we moving, Captain?" Harrison asked, low and silky, as Bones continued to take his sample, pointedly refusing to meet Harrison's gaze. Kirk was reassured to see that Spock was staring the war criminal down as well: what the half-Vulcan saw in him, Kirk would never know. Doubtless the same predator that Kirk did, but beyond that – the intense, overwhelming uneasiness – he would never know. "Perhaps an unexpected malfunction with your warp core, conveniently stranding you in the middle of Klingon space?"

"How the hell do you know that?" Bones demanded.

Kirk almost pinched him. Almost. "Bones," he settled on, quiet, cutting, and Bones' mouth snapped shut, too late.

"I think you would find my insight quite valuable," Harrison remarked.

Kirk was spared the necessity of answering as Bones finished collecting his sample, assuring that he would let him know what he found as he turned on his heel and strode off. Quenching the urge to call him back, knowing that he could not avoid nor deflect Harrison's presence, Kirk stared him down for a moment before turning and striding off, Spock at his side.

"Ignore me and you will get everyone on this ship killed," Harrison warned, his voice rising above its cool monotone enough that Kirk halted, almost staggering a step as Spock froze at his side, instantaneously alert.

Kirk did not move, but Spock must have seen it on his face – of course he did, Spock always knew, Spock saw everything – for he said, "Captain, I would not advise engaging the prisoner further, as I believe he will only attempt to manipulate you."

"Spock." And he wanted to tell him to stay, too, to back him up, to keep him strong, but he knew that Spock would not allow it. So he did the only thing he could, replying, "Give me a moment."

Spock stared at him in silence for two full seconds before quietly departing.

Kirk waited until he was out of sight, ignoring the hollow feeling in his stomach as he whirled on his heel and paced up to the glass itself, shoulders so tense the uniform itself stretched tightly to accommodate them. "Let me explain what's happening here: you are a criminal," he spat, not caring that his breath was ragged again, raging lashing out and drowning out all other emotions. It made it easy to ignore the other pains, focusing all of his attention on Harrison, and he unleashed every pent up emotion on him without pausing for breath.

"I watched you murder innocent men and women," Kirk continued, staring Harrison down, picturing the nine Starfleet officers that would never return to their command, Pike among them, and feeling his anger reach a fever pitch, abruptly grateful that he had dismissed Spock. "I was authorized to end you. And the only reason you are still alive is because I am allowing it. So shut. Your. Mouth."

His breathing was even heavier by the end than it had been before, and he knew that if he was not careful, he would collapse, but Harrison did not appear even remotely perturbed by Kirk's proclamation, calmly assessing him from behind the reinforced glass. "Ooh, Captain, are you going to punch me again, over and over until your arm weakens?" he asked, dull curiosity lacing his voice, slapping Kirk more bluntly across the face than any shouting ever could have. "Clearly you want to. So tell me – why did you allow me to live?" he asked, soft and insidious.

Kirk suppressed the immediate urge to tell him that he could remedy that, if Harrison so preferred. Spock was right: he would not only violate orders but dishonor Pike if he killed indiscriminately. A trial would find Harrison guilty of his crimes and safely incarcerated for the rest of his life: a murder would result in the end of Kirk's career and a similar fate, albeit less time served. He had to wait; he had to be patient. Reigning his emotions back under control, he said simply, "We all make mistakes," knowing that Harrison could see right through the diplomatic façade.

Predictably, Harrison tutted, shaking his head slowly. "I surrendered to you because, despite your attempts to convince me otherwise, you seem to have a conscience, Mr. Kirk," he said slowly. Kirk listened raptly in spite of himself, knowing that Spock was right – he will only attempt to manipulate you – even as he found himself waiting, needing to know Harrison's motivations. Why did you kill Pike? he wanted to know, even though he knew in his heart of hearts that it was simple. Pike had been present, and Harrison had wanted to kill them all. The fact that Kirk and Spock had escaped alongside Admiral Marcus was irrelevant to him. "If you did not," Harrison continued, staring at Kirk in that same piercing way as before, seizing Kirk inescapably in his hold as he said, "then it would be impossible for me to convince you of the truth."

For a moment, Harrison was silent, and Kirk almost wondered if he would refrain from telling him, withholding precious knowledge that Kirk knew with utter certainty would cripple his ship if he did not know it. He knew about the warp core. He knows. He knows what's wrong. Maybe he knows how to fix it.

Do not trust him, a tiny voice that might have been Spock's whispered. Do not trust him.

"Two-three, one-seven, four-six, one-one," Harrison recited, crushing the voice into oblivion as Kirk stared at him, every nerve suddenly on edge. "Coordinates not far from Earth," Harrison informed him, unnecessarily.

Kirk knew that they were not far from Earth, and his stomach twisted at the thought that anything in connection to Harrison could be so close to his homeworld. It had been one thing to witness the destruction of Vulcan nearly a year prior; the thought that the same might happen to Earth made his blood run cold.

He almost did not catch Harrison's next words as he said simply, "If you want to know why I did what I did . . . go and take a look."

Kirk resisted the immediate urge to take off and order Sulu to plot a course for home. Fatigue aside, he felt adrenaline coursing through him once more, propelling his emotions before his mind had half a second to catch up with them. Swallowing back the compulsion, he ordered, "Give me one good reason why I should listen to you."

Harrison's eyes flashed, predatorial, triumphant. "I can give you seventy-two," he allowed smoothly. "And they're on board your ship, Captain. They have been all along."

Utterly at a loss for words, Kirk turned on his heel and staggered off, not caring that Harrison could see the way that he favored his left leg. "Mr. Chekov," he barked, once he was firmly out of earshot of Harrison and halfway down the corridor to the turbolifts. "Mr. Chekov?" he repeated, receiving nothing more than silence from the other end of his communicator.

Squashing the immediate rush of irritation that swept over him, he stepped into the lift and stared at the wall blankly until the doors opened again and he stepped onto the bridge, Spock converging on him almost as once, black eyes flashing.

"I'm fine," he wanted to say, but he could not bring himself to speak the words as he stepped further into the room, his eyes ringed in darkening bruises. Bones was standing near the helmsman's seat with his arms crossed, immediately turning to Kirk when he entered the bridge as Sulu looked at him, unmoving.

"Jim," Bones began, silencing himself as Kirk stepped forward, already shaking his head slowly as he opened his mouth, closed it, before clearing his throat and saying simply, "We need to open one of those torpedoes."

Spock placed a single steadying hand on his shoulder. Kirk closed his eyes, soaking in the comfort from his presence – you're alive you're alive we're alive – before opening them again and stepping quietly out of his embrace.

Spock let him, Bones already launching a tirade as Kirk stood before them both, trying to assure without words that he would not fail them.

I failed Pike. I won't fail you.

Author's Notes: Hello, everyone!

First of all, I would like to thank you all for your continued support, interest, and enthusiasm. It means so much to me. I respond to all reviews, even if I am not always prompt in my responses; sometimes I get carried away with my next work, but I always get around to all signed reviews eventually.

That being said, this acts as a 'sequel' to Irregularity by popular demand. It takes place immediately after the fight with the Klingon squadron on Qo'noS during Star Trek: Into Darkness.

I hope you enjoyed!

Also, as of this story, I have officially logged over 700,000 words on ffnet! I'm thrilled that it's a Star Trek story that allows me to break this barrier and I hope to write many more Star Trek fics in the future. I will be updating my multi-chapter, Revival, soon.

Thank you again.