Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek or any of its characters. I'm simply writing this for fun, not profit.
There are many kinds of bravery in this world, and many more responses of human nature to the unthinkable.
It is obvious to Kirk at once what has happened, even as the smoke begins to crowd everything out from his senses. His courage is the sort that speaks clearly: the ability to act rationally in a situation that, by any stretch of the imagination, does not fall under the category of rational. It is an instinctive urge to leap into the fray, a need to stop at nothing before the crisis has been diverted and subdued. It does not occur to him that the next shot could sink a red-hot slug into his chest so deep it would be out the other side before he had a second to realize that the trigger had been pulled; he cannot think that way without losing all nerve and reverting to a primitive, useless huddle of humanity.
No. Starfleet commends the type of nobility he exhibits. Passing cadets on the grounds will eye him with quiet reverence, awe and gratitude mingling. Everyone knows the type of bravery Captain Kirk possesses. No one seems to doubt it.
But when the ashes clear and reality sinks in, a cold wash of dread seeps into his soul.
He struggles to detach himself from the present scene, absorbed totally by the blaring sirens that make the ringing in his ears almost inconsequential. His hands are shaking, and it occurs to him as he stares at the carnage around him that this would qualify as his first honest-to-God firefight. He's been engaged by hostile parties before in hand-to-hand combat, even in considerable military array (Nero's crew had not been selected for their timidity), but nothing of this scope had ever intruded upon his perfect Starfleet world before.
The organization – the fundamental gathering of human beings – was meant to be infallible. It projected to new recruits an air of austerity, incapable of being tainted or reduced from its highest form. Though lowly and undeserving members might arise in its ranks, the institution itself remained unblemished and whole, always able to recover, always able to get back up again.
The stark reality that it was vulnerable – painfully, debilitatingly so – sobered Kirk.
He made his way through the debris, shattered glass pricking at the soles of his shoes. He had not bothered to change into the full standard of a Starfleet commander, knowing that his position might change should the board rule against him once more; his history had not always been tolerantly excused. Still, his boots were good, solid material, yet even they could not resist the inexplicable pressure of shards of glass. He let out a sharp yelp when he came down directly on a piece, barely aware of the other sounds and smells and hideous realities emerging around him.
His head spinning, vision whirling in and out of focus, he follows the trail of human anguish, listening to the cries of the wounded, the aggrieved. His heart thunders in his chest, high, almost in his throat as he approaches a prone figure, another kneeling at its side like a statuesque tributary, unspeaking, unmoving.
Neither of them move to acknowledge his presence, and as Kirk's entire world zeroes in on the still, unmoving form of his commanding officer, everything seems to crumple.
He does not notice the tears pouring out of his eyes, more prominently aware of the burn obscuring his vision, the ache deep in his soul drowning out all other discomforts. He cannot breathe for several long seconds as he gropes for a stronghold in the face of the reality. I trust you, son. I know you can do this. I know you were destined to be captain of a starship, and I'm not the kind of person to stand between a man and his destiny.
Words from long ago – mere hours after his indoctrination into Starfleet command, sought out after his official promotion to captain of the USS Enterprise – yet they stand out in his mind amid a dozen other consolations, reprimands, and pieces of advice, spoken over a half-decade of trial and error.
You think you can't make mistakes?
Kirk shudders, breathing raggedly as he surfaces, pulling back and rocking onto his heels. He has to put a hand on Spock's shoulder to steady himself, flattening his palm, attempting to offer consolation he cannot hope to bear. Spock says nothing, solid and silent underneath him, and Kirk does not know if he is more or less comforted by the refusal to pretend the reality is anything less than crippling.
It's all my fault.
At once, he realizes the folly in his plan, the fatal flaw in his desperately devised endeavor to stop Harrison's ruthless attack: he never thought about anyone but himself. Not once did the thought cross his mind that Spock or Pike or any of the other officers were in danger; he knew that they were in danger but did not act, knowing that it was imperative that he neutralize the threat before dealing with the ramifications. Pike was still crippled after his time under Nero's care, however, and could not have been expected to walk on his own and find a safe haven.
Pike coped the best the best that he had been able to – but it had not been enough.
Bravery, Kirk thinks, through the fog, the hallucination of movement as he lurches forward, staring down the building at the wreckage far below. He can hear a security and a medical team moving in, assessing the damage and tending to those with greatest ease. A room away is not far for any experienced technician to deduce, but he might as well have been on another planet for the attention they spared him.
He was not dead nor dying nor irreparably maimed, and so he could stand silent for a while longer as they tended those who were.
Spock did not join him, and as Kirk slowly regains feeling in his legs, his senses, he finds himself in the center of an empty turbolift, shockingly alone. The sirens are loud above him, blaring, and his eyelids slide shut of their own accord, exhaustion almost bringing him to his knees. As he descends, he breathes in and out slowly, hoping that the simple, methodical process will calm the frayed edges of his consciousness.
It's gonna be okay, son.
He almost bursts out of the turbolift doors and is suddenly, intensely overwhelmed at the sight of people. Straying blindly in the enhanced light, struck by the paradox of normalcy amid such wrongness, he cuts his way through the crowd without speaking to anyone.
Something about his face must deter them, as he is not stopped by anyone, not even a rushing medic hoping to catch his ascending turbolift.
Kirk emerges into the crisp night air shaken, barely able to breathe and walk at the same time as he hobbles down the path, gaining momentum and confidence by the second. As soon as he has managed to put a hundred meters, two hundred, between himself and Starfleet Headquarters he begins to breathe normally in spite of his ruthless pace.
His apartment is not far. In spite of the commotion, it does not take him long to reach it.
For a moment, he is struck dumb outside his door, unable to recall the password to his latest key design. Staring blankly at the screen, he experiences a moment of certainty that he will be forced to find a corner on the street or, better yet, a secluded realm in a nameless bar, something that will permit him a moment of peace.
Then he remembers the six digit combination, enters it, and steps inside.
The lights awaken to his presence, a gentle luminescence permeating the air. Although tempted, he resists the instinctive urge to get a drink at the bar; his hands will not stop trembling long enough for him to do more than find a chair and sit in it, perilously close to the window.
Rather than fear at the relativistic height – four stories above ground – he experiences a disquieting sense of futility, aware that there is little and less that he can do to change anything.
He's brave in their eyes, he knows, staring down at Starfleet below, at Starfleet above as it converges on the decimated rooftop. He's brave to them because he stopped Harrison's ship from destroying them all, killing their reinforcements until the bodies mounted on the wall. He's brave because he took action when he could have sought shelter and stood aside, waiting for more experienced personnel to handle the crisis.
But he's not noble. He let another man die because he couldn't think about anyone but himself.
Hours pass and tears come and go, slow, sluggish movements marking the passage of time. His hands prickle with nerves as he reaches up to pinch his rigid brow, willing the grief to taper off, to stem. Harrison is still a threat to them, he knows, in some distant, rational corner of his mind. He needs to be thinking about the future, not the past; what he can change, not what is.
Spock tries calling him. Once, twice, his communicator beeps, chiming in the primary sequence to indicate his senior most officer. The first call doesn't come until 0200 hours, but twelve consecutive attempts follow until 443 hours, at which point the comm falls meticulously silent. Kirk wonders if Spock is presumptuous enough to presume that he has fallen asleep; logically, he knows that Spock recognizes the futility of the act.
Guilt sweeps over him as he recalls Spock's willingness to be a shoulder for him to lean on, both metaphorically and physically. You're the captain, he thinks disparagingly, staring at his communicator and knowing what he needs to do. Act like it.
Not the captain, he reminds himself.
Pike wanted him to be, he thinks dully, as he stares at the far wall in blank fixation. Pike always saw something in him – greatness. He picked him up and dusted him off even when he was at his lowest, caught on the bad end of a brawl at a dive in Riverside, Iowa. He nurtured him – he protected him – and for all Kirk did not know it at the time, he saved him many times from expulsion.
Kirk's brilliance is a terrifying and magnetic thing to Starfleet Command. Only Pike seemed skilled enough to interpret Kirk's genius without compromising his character; Starfleet would sooner have a talented if mechanical officer than a recklessly enthusiastic paradigm.
Once, he might have seen Spock as the perfect example of the former, but that was a long time ago, and Spock and he had both grown since.
Thus, when the communicator chimes innocuously once more, Kirk pulled himself out of his owlish, miserable contemplation and answered with a rumbling, "Kirk here."
"Commander," Spock's acerbic, unflinching tone helps steady him, even as a trace of some unspeakable emotion continues to lace his voice. "Mr. Scott has located something in the wreckage of Harrison's ship and requests our presence immediately."
"I'll be there," Kirk replies, dumbfounded by the light seeping in from his windows, the fresh, crisp world beyond.
The nightmarish image of Starfleet Headquarters in ruins stands out irrefutably against the bright blue skies; Kirk does not deign to reflect upon it further as he rises to his feet.
Be the captain, he orders himself, even as every flinching, creaking muscle protests the movement, demanding his attention. Be the captain.
He's not the captain, though, and he knows it. Pike promoted him to first officer, enabling him to remain on board the Enterprise in spite of the board's official ruling.
In the event that the commanding officer of a vessel – be it starship or otherwise – cannot report for duty, then it is the inherent responsibilities of his senior most officer to assume command until permanent instillation can be finalized or a suitable replacement located.
Kirk knows the chain of command well. He knows that taking command of the Enterprsie the first time meant removing Pike from his seat, his chair.
He was grateful, then, immeasurably so. Even if he did express regret that it was not possible to have it both ways, he was grateful that Pike had so graciously permitted him the opportunity to lead.
You can do this.
Pike never anticipated this, though, and neither did he; utterly unprepared for such an invasive, terrifying attack to destroy their sense of security in one humbling blow.
Don't let his death be in vain, Kirk thinks, squaring his shoulders, ignoring the aches and pains of a sleepless night, an unsalvageable fate. Don't let Harrison get away.
Sparing one last look for the towers, he walks, promising with each small acknowledgment of his own life, his own vitality, that he will work to keep Pike's memory alive.
I won't let you down, he thinks, stepping through the doors and, with a deep breath to fortify himself, moving off to report for duty.
Author's Notes: Hey, y'all.
I want to say that I have not abandoned "Revival" or "Predatorial." I have not forgotten the prompts. I have not shelved other ideas that I have been planning in the lines of Star Trek fanfiction.
I have, however, decided that it is worthwhile to pursue those plot bunnies that arise unexpectedly, and this was one of them.
So, hopefully, an update to one of the aforementioned stories will be next. Thank you all so much for your continued support.
I hope you enjoyed!