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

Epilogue

The crowds were gathered to hear him speak.

Kirk had never been nervous in front of hundreds of people; captaincy desensitized people to such concerns relatively quickly, if they were even an issue to begin with. Still, he had opted not to speak at any of the funerals, only attending those that were private or organized by Starfleet itself. Many were curious about his opinion, his take on the matter, as though it were a political matter subject to debate. They wanted to hear him speak again, to assure the world that he had brought war to their doorstep by entering Klingon territory and averted it in the same maneuver.

Uncharacteristically, his palms were sweaty. He rubbed them against his gray pants, pacing the open hallway slowly, thoughts turning over in his mind.

Regarding the most obvious comments that were meant to be addressed, he was supposed to avoid them. Starfleet was still vulnerable and any controversy now could spark a further decline over conflicting opinion. Better to stay the straight and narrow path and orate instead upon the admiration he had for the recovery teams working tirelessly to repair San Francisco, for the engineers who toiled countless hours away restoring the Enterprise to her former glory. Better to leave them with a sense of hope and dignity in Starfleet than of trepidation and fear, an uncertainty that lurked in his heart even now.

He trusted Spock, and he trusted his crew, but Starfleet Command was another matter for Kirk entirely. Pledging his allegiance to any faction had never been an easy thing for him. He had put his faith in people and been repeatedly disappointed as a child; standing aside and waiting for them to unveil their true colors before carelessly offering a hand to shake was his preferred method of introduction. Sometimes it would take days before he would truly warm up to a person, extending a hand, offering something more than a curt, "Jim Kirk," and a brisk nod. He'd known that at the heart of Starfleet, there was an elite, and as with any organization, there was the opportunity for corruption.

Marcus had bred that corruption deep into the organization. Kirk didn't know where the trail began or ended, but he was not naïve enough to believe that all their worries were over regarding Section 31.

It would come back someday to haunt him, he knew. He had little choice but to proceed according to plan and prepare as well as he could for the inevitable confrontation.

It nagged at him, agitating his movements until he came to an abrupt halt, looking out the window at the clear blue sky, the crowds pressing in, a sea of red shirts. He was tempted to sneak out the back of the building and join them, slip seamlessly into their ranks, become a part of that inquisitive mixture of the seasoned and inexperienced.

Only through sheer effort of will did he avoid it.

As he turned, he nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw Spock Prime standing there, hands folded behind his back and expression cool, calm. He resembled Spock strikingly in such a stance, his jaw aligned the same way, his brow smooth yet intelligently lined, years of experience gazing out from those dark brown eyes.

Clearing his throat lightly, Kirk greeted, "I wasn't expecting to see you here."

"I need to return to New Vulcan soon," Spock Prime acknowledged, stepping forward, gazing at him with an unreadable intensity, a slight smile on his lips. "I wanted to see you, first. Congratulate you on your endeavors."

Kirk opened his mouth to speak, at a loss for words before he closed his mouth and shook his head instead, bewildered. "It wasn't me," he began, reflexively deflecting, but Spock Prime merely said, "Jim," and that was enough.

"The Enterprise is fortunate to have you at her command," he continued, nonchalant, dressed all in black, regal, implacable, as he turned to face the window briefly, gazing above and beyond. "I fear your trials are not yet over, but I know that you will be able to handle them." Smiling softly, he added quietly, "I hope to see you again, Jim."

Kirk's mouth ran unexpectedly dry at the notion that he might not see Spock Prime again, a legacy, an untold fortune of knowledge and experience and other, a curiosity beyond reaching, a being from another world, another timeline.

All he could say, straightening his shoulders cordially, was, "I hope so, too, Mr. Spock."

For a moment, he thought there would be an embrace, an echo of need and desire warring in Spock Prime's expression (the depth of his loneliness must have been profound, Kirk reflected, only avoiding initiating such a gesture out of courtesy) before he turned and departed.

Uhura replaced him a moment later, striding up to Kirk confidently and looking up, serious and unflinching. Spock shadowed her, his gaze over Kirk's shoulder, and Kirk turned just in time to see Spock Prime's robes disappearing after him around the corner, Spock's gaze adjusting to him accordingly.

The intensity was the same, black and bright and almost shining with an inner light, an inner curiosity that could not be understood. As he looked between them – Uhura and Spock both, one human and one another, mystifyingly so – he smiled.

"You ready for this?" Uhura asked, straightening the lapels of his uniform impulsively as he nodded and caught her hands, giving them a light squeeze.

"Of course I am," he assured, and that was enough, as she offered him a wry, doubtful smile before disappearing back around the opposite corner from where they had come.

Spock advanced slowly into the small hallway, back straight, hands folded behind it expectantly. "Though it would be redundant to do so," he began, halting three feet in front of Kirk and assessing him with calm, familiar eyes, "I wish you luck, Captain."

Kirk nodded once, straightening his shoulders and assuring, "We're ready for this."

Spock watched him, assessing him without words, and Kirk was unflinching under his scrutiny, following his back as he left. Drawing in a deep breath and pacing one last circuit around the empty corridor, he straightened his shoulders and marched to the back stage.

An escort awaited and, after a few moments more, a security guard opened the door, admitting him into the light.

The hush that fell over the crowd then was deep, his steps steady as he approached the podium. He carried no notes, no outline framing his ideas; he did not need them. Looking out into the crowd, he met their eyes and promised without words to speak not to but for them.

Lifting his head and staring, bright-eyed and fearless, out into the unknown, Captain James T. Kirk began simply: "There will always be those that mean to do us harm."

. o .

And as he stood on the bridge of his beloved ship two weeks later, emboldened by its newest mission and excited to venture out into deep space, Kirk settled into the command chair with those same words resonating through his mind. It was a sobering proclamation, a simple, serious acknowledgment that awaited every Starfleet member who dared to don the insignia and take the leap into space, a danger that could affect every person residing within the Federation, should Starfleet fail to protect them.

Yet it was a happy burden to bear, because it meant the lives of his crew, his ship, and Kirk knew that, above all else, it meant the lives of his family.

Khan might have taken Pike from him, but he had not taken everything.

As he sat back in the captain's seat, Kirk drew in a deep breath, steadying himself, before turning to Sulu and ordering simply, "Maximum warp. Punch it."

"Yes, sir," Sulu replied, and Kirk watched as the stars faded around them and the Enterprise leaped once more into the unknown, filled with an immense joy, fearless and undivided.


Author's Notes: What a journey it has been, my friends.

What began as a simple one shot now rounds off just shy of 30,000 words and nine chapters. I am so grateful for all of your support and would like to thank you once more for taking the time to review. Without your encouragement, this story would never have come this far.

I am sorry to leave this story, but I have other, exciting projects to attend, and I hope that you will share in my excitement for them, and I look forward to hearing your comments on this and other pieces.

Thank you, all.

Yours,

~truffles