Bracing his hands against the shower wall, Jim Kirk inhaled steam and let it out in a shaky sigh. When he opened his eyes, he focused intently on his hands against the pristine white tile. They were lined with minute scars, nothing anyone would think about twice. Nothing that suggested he'd given his life for the Enterprise and her crew. His friends.
Ten fingers, ten toes. Arms, legs, head. All intact.
A little worse for the wear maybe, but all there. One of these days he'd stop counting them every time he woke up.
You've survived worse.
That was the mantra he'd always lived by. Up until a few weeks ago, it had always held true. He drew in another shuddering breath. Over the sound of shower spray, his heart beat steadily, causing the rush of blood to pound between his ears. The more he listened, the more he started to loose it. A dream. It was a stupid dream. One where he hadn't entered the warp core and they'd plummeted to the earth like a carelessly tossed toy. Except he hadn't died and he'd emerged from the wreck to see his friends broken. He'd jolted awake, a shout on the tip of his tongue. The nightmares were infrequent, but still jarring.
Yesterday he'd taken his first good look at San Francisco since the incident-since Khan-and although he hadn't admitted it, he'd been shaken by the destruction. No doubt those broken buildings and the empty skyline were the cause of his nightmare. He was almost glad the Enterprise was at the space station. Seeing her might be too much right now. He couldn't shake the ache in his heart or the nausea turning in his gut. Jim leaned back and let the water hit his face, washing away the hot tears that threatened to spill from his eyes. He hated feeling helpless.
I was a Star Fleet captain. Wouldn't the brass laugh now if they could see my pity party in the shower? Maybe I don't deserve control of the Enterprise.
He held his breath, afraid he might have made a sound that alerted Bones he wasn't his usual cock-of-the-walk self. All this acting was wearing. The bathroom door was closed and in any other apartment in any other city, that meant Keep Out. But because he was James T. Kirk, recently returned to the land of the living, and Bones was Leonard I-will-use-this-hypo-so-help-me McCoy, it meant Jim's pity party was a bust. The door hit the opposite wall with a bang that made Jim jump.
"Can't a man get five minutes of privacy around here?" he groused, grateful his voice sounded normal.
"Dammit, man, try forty-five minutes. I thought you'd drowned." Bones's voice echoed sharply in the tiny bathroom.
Jim turned his palms face up and stared at the wrinkled pads of his fingers. He absorbed the words as he shut off the shower. Shit, he hadn't planned to take so long. Bones got suspicious any time he lingered over his uneaten dinner, took a nap, or stared into thin air. The doctor was clearly waiting for him to crack up. A towel flew over the curtain rod. He caught it just before it hit the wet shower floor.
"How many people do you know who've ever drowned in a shower?" The idea had some merit considering he'd rather do that than face the admiral panel in charge of his fate and the destination of the Enterprise.
The formal hearing on the incident-Admiral Marcus's deception-had happened last week. Thanks to the admiral's broadcast to the ship, Jim and the crew were cleared of any wrong-doing. Except that little blemish on his record showing he'd deliberately pursued a war criminal into Klingon territory. In the past he'd have brushed it off, drank it away, closed it off from his thoughts by entertaining himself with another pretty girl or two. None of those things appealed to him now.
That's three strikes. He was sure the Kobayashi Maru incident was still there to haunt him, right along with Nibiru. This time he didn't have Admiral Pike watching his back. The thought made him grimace.
"You're gonna be late to your own horse and pony show. You know the brass hates that," Bones said. "And maybe I would have liked a shower this morning. There's enough fog in here to hide the Golden Gate Bridge."
Jim wrapped the towel around his waist, then drew the curtain back. He ignored Bones's assessing look.
"Sorry." He wiped condensation off the mirror with his hand, eliciting an annoyed grunt from his friend.
Note to self: Clean bathroom mirror later per roommate agreement clause III, paragraph 2, subsection a, aka Bones Hates Any Messes.
His blurry reflection stared back at him. Like his hands, a few faint scars decorated his face. Old, new, they didn't matter. One more adventure he survived. It seemed like someone who'd been to the other side of the Great Beyond should look older, or wiser, but he looked the same as the photo that appeared beside the article on the PADD in his room. The photographer had taken it the day of the hearing.
James T. Kirk: Victim or Villain?
He braced his arms against the sink. A glob of blue toothpaste stood out against the white porcelain. He scratched at it with his fingernail, setting off the faucet motion sensor. Damn thing never worked when he actually wanted to wash his hands. Water gushed from the spout, swirling down the drain. Just like his life.
"Seriously? Bathroom. Privacy. A closed door. Sensing a theme here?"
It wasn't Bones' fault he was cranky. His apartment near campus had been destroyed when the Vengeance went down. Rooming with Bones was a logical choice. He knew his friends didn't worry about him so much with McCoy breathing down his neck.
Bones frowned. "Are you feeling all right? Because you can skip this meeting. In fact, as your doctor I can make up a pretty good excuse."
Jim straightened his back. "No. This is important. This is important."
One step at a time. Get out of the hospital. Move in with Bones. He hadn't even left the apartment in weeks. Not until yesterday. He was getting a little stir crazy, but nothing was holding him back except himself. And this meeting with the admirals. He pictured them sitting around a table. Do we give Kirk the ship, or do we send him back to the academy like we should have done in the first place?
Bones shook his head. "I really think-"
Jim met his eyes in the mirror. "Maybe it's time to think about finding a place of my own."
"No, you look." He turned away from the mirror. He held his arms up. "I'm okay."
Sort of. Physically, yes, he was fine. Better than ever.
Khan stared passively. "I'm better."
"At what?" Jim asked.
Emotionally...It didn't matter. He'd learned to hide his emotions a long time ago. If he could get some breathing room, he could probably work his troubles out alone.
"I know that. I know better than anyone." Bones glared. "We can talk about this after the hearing, all right?"
Jim nodded, but he wasn't reassured.
Star Fleet captains were supposed to maintain a cool countenance. Jim had often touted the I don't believe in no-win situations attitude throughout his career as a student and a captain. He couldn't muster a single ounce of it as he looked up at temporary Star Fleet headquarters.
He wiped his sleeve across his brow and swallowed the panic that threatened to consume him.
"I have no idea what I'm supposed to do! I only know what I can do!"
He wasn't sure about this. Twenty minutes remained until he had to appear before the admirals. Overhead, the sky was cloudy, a deep dark gray that threatened rain. It matched Jim's mood. He tugged at the collar of his uniform, feeling choked by the stiff material. If he didn't go inside, they'd never return the ship to his command. If he did, they might not anyway. Was it really worth the trouble?
At least this hearing was private. For weeks after the Vengeance disaster, reporters had hounded him, trying to get statements and learn every little detail. Fortunately, no one seemed to recognize him, or care that he stood out here, trying to build up the nerve to go inside. Just another Star Fleet officer going about Star Fleet business today. Maybe going home a civilian, or worse, a cadet.
"Captain, are you well?"
Spock stepped into his peripheral vision.
Startled, he took a step back. "I-yeah. What are you doing here?"
Uhura grasped Spock's arm. She clutched a brown paper bag stamped with a familiar donut shop's logo. "Hi, Captain. We were out for a morning stroll. What a coincidence, running into you."
They both knew Spock didn't believe in them.
She smiled in response.
"As we're here, it can't hurt to remind you that your meeting is in exactly 17.7 minutes, Captain. Perhaps an early arrival would impress the admirals," Spock suggested.
Jim could think of several things he could do with 17.7 minutes to go. Most of them including going the opposite direction of the building.
"Yeah, I know." He shook his head. "Wait a minute. Shouldn't you two be working?"
They were both dressed casually. Uhura wore skinny jeans and a dark purple top made from shiny material. Spock had chosen slacks and a blue shirt. They wore light coats to protect against the morning chill. No Star Fleet paraphernalia in sight.
Spock glanced at Uhura. "I suggested the same thing, however-"
Uhura pinched his arm and glared, then turned a forced smile on Jim. "It's our day off."
The false cheer in her voice made his stomach clench. Surely they hadn't come to wait for the verdict. They'd find out soon enough if they were going to be reassigned, or if the Enterprise's crew was coming together again.
"Oh, look. Eet's the keptin, Mr. Spock, and Lieutenant Uhura."
Jim turned when he heard Chekov's voice. The young ensign waved enthusiastically. He carried a cup holder with five paper cups jammed into it. Sulu walked beside him, one hand in the pocket of his leather jacket, the other clutching another cup holder. They both smiled. He felt sure he was the only one surprised by their appearance.
"What's going on?" Jim asked, looking between Sulu and Chekov.
"Vell, ve thought to get ko-fee-"
"No." He held up his hand and used his captain's voice. "What are all of you doing here?"
"It seems like it's just a few friends accidentally meeting in the same location. It's been known to happen, hasn't it, Spock?" Uhura looked up at him.
"The chances of five people who call themselves friends meeting up at a random location is-"
"Six." Bones approached on Jim's other side. He didn't look happy. "But I'm sure Spock's got the odds figured out for that number too."
"How fast do ye think he can figure odds on eight?"
Scotty grinned, lifting a disposable coffee cup in an imaginary toast. Beside him, Carol Marcus beamed at the others, her smile bright enough to cast light on the cloudy sky.
"Captain Kirk. It's so good to see you."
Except for the moment he'd stared at her toned body while she changed clothing on his ship, he'd never seen her dressed so casually. A light sweater dress hugged her curves and gold stockings covered her legs, tucked into short boots. Carol looked as though she'd always belonged with his crew. He wondered if their time working together on the ship would be a one-off.
"Coffee. Great idea. I might have brought enough donuts for all of us too. A happy accident," Uhura said, shaking the bag.
Jim wasn't really listening. His breath caught. He studied them one by one, these faces he was so accustomed to serving with on the Enterprise. They might have been out for brunch instead of a meeting that might separate them from working together for good.
Unbelievable. "Who told you guys about this? It was supposed to be hush-hush."
Bones looked away, innocently nibbling a cheese danish.
"Been reading my messages, roomie?" For a brief second, Jim smiled.
Spock glanced at the building. "It is 9.4 minutes until the admirals wish to see you, Captain. I truly believe it's in your best interests to go inside."
Jim swallowed. "You'll all be here when I get back?"
They agreed, smiling and nodding. Scotty gave him a thumbs-up.
"Save me a bear claw."
I'm okay. He repositioned his hat and mounted the steps to the glass front doors. No matter what the admirals decide, I've survived worse than this.
From his mother's long absences, his fights with his step-father, his escape from Tarsus, his battle with Nero, and Pike's death. The ultimate betrayal of one of Star Fleet's top admirals and the hard work to regain his health were all memories. He felt his crew's eyes on him as he opened the door. Jim's footsteps echoed in the sterile white hallway as he made his way to the meeting room.
Fresh sweat broke out across his body.
Could be worse. They might have convened a full panel instead of four admirals. I've survived worse than this.
He had his disgruntled roommate, his pointy-eared friend, and tough-as-nails lieutenant to thank for that. Whatever happened, he knew his crew-his family-had his back.
The meeting room door stood ajar and four admirals wearing uniforms decorated with the Star Fleet logo and assortments of medals talked quietly among themselves.
Jim knocked on the doorfame and removed his hat. Four sets of eyes turned toward him.
"Captain Kirk. How are you?"
Suddenly, his nervousness fled. Seven good men and women waited for him outside the building.
Jim smiled. "I'm okay."