Appreciated and Accepted
Jim was pleased that Starfleet had the good sense to hold the mass memorial a few days before the commendation ceremony – but no more than a few. The number of people lost during the Crisis was absolutely mind-boggling. The loss of an entire planet was, alone, almost too horrific to believe even for those who had personally witnessed the destruction. When the adrenaline had worn off, and the exhausted crew of the Enterprise was finally able to come out of fight-or-flight mode, the enormity of what had happened truly sunk in.
Seven Federation ships had been lost. Over three thousand fellow cadets and officers had died. In number, it was small compared to the billions lost on Vulcan, but the sheer incomprehensibility of such a loss left a haze of shock that was almost numbing. Every single member of the crew had personally known, or in some cases, been related to someone who had died in the first attack. Grief counselors had their hands full, and Starfleet requested reinforcements from the UFPMA to deal with the immense number of grief-stricken men and women who finally had a chance to stop and think.
Before his crew – no, the homecoming cadets – could completely sink into the mire of sadness and regret, the commencement and commendation ceremony was held. The graduating class was given their honorary graduation, along with commendations for valor for every single survivor. All field promotions that were to be upheld were officially announced, and they were able to see Captain Pike officially promoted to Admiral.
Jim was so pleased and proud of the people who’d served under him that he barely noticed his own name had yet to be called. He knew that they were going to make his captaincy official, but he had a fleeting worry that they might bring up the academic dishonesty trial that had never been completed. All nervousness was wiped away, however, when he heard the way Admiral Barnett called his name. He heard the man’s pride in every word, and he smiled as he stood before the assembly to receive his commendation.
The captaincy had not been a surprise, but he was absolutely floored when Admiral Barnett gave him the order to relieve Admiral Pike. He hid it well – closed his mouth before all but Barnett had a chance to see his shock. He relieved Admiral Pike, priding himself on not tripping and falling flat on his face in his excitement. He felt his chest swell at Pike’s assertion – your father would be proud. It spoke volumes of Pike’s own pride in him. That, combined with the knowledge that by telling him to relieve the Admiral, Starfleet had given him command of The Enterprise, was enough to completely make his life.
He turned and acknowledged the applause – drinking it all in. He couldn’t help thinking that this moment – this very second, seeing all the lives he’d helped to save -this was proof that he’d been right. There was no such thing as a no-win scenario.
Jim floated on the elation of the assembly for the rest of the day. Bones took him out for drinks with some of the crew that evening. He wasn’t really surprised that Spock was the only member of the bridge crew who didn’t show up but, but he felt a twinge of disappointment all the same.
He was again disappointed when, the next morning, he reviewed the assignment requests to the Enterprise and found the names of all the crew who’d served with him except Spock. Bones didn’t seem to think it strange – “He probably wants to find a way to help rebuild his species, Jim. Going out on a dangerous five-year mission into unknown space isn’t exactly the logical thing for a member of an endangered species to do.”
Jim had tried to accept that answer, but he wasn’t satisfied. They’d been to the edge of death together, but he hadn’t seen Spock since the memorial, and he hadn’t spoken to him since they’d arrived back on Earth. He felt sure something must be wrong, but he didn’t want to intrude on Spock’s time with his people, either.
Early in the afternoon the day after the commendation ceremony, Jim received a private, high-priority call. He took the communication in his quarters, and felt a huge grin spread across his face when his mother appeared on the screen. “Hi, Ma!”
“Jim!” Her smile was bright, and she shook her head. “I saw the ceremony on subspace. I might have known you’d manage to make Captain on your first day of work.”
Jim laughed. “What else could you expect from the son of the illustrious-"
“Oh, don’t you go crediting your father for this, kid. You-“
He snickered. “Ma! I was going to say, what else could you expect from the son of the illustrious Commander Winona Kirk?”
That got her. She actually blushed before glaring at him and giving him a good-natured tirade. Jim didn’t hear half of what she said – he was too busy laughing. Then there was “all kidding aside” and Winona checked to make sure he was all right, and that he was talking to a counselor. “I don’t want you to try to shoulder all this on your own, Jim.”
“I know, Ma, don’t worry. It’s mandatory, anyway.”
“I’m getting something out of it, Ma, really. Don’t worry.”
She smiled. “Okay, kid. And if you need to talk to me you know where to find me.”
“Of course. Thanks, Ma.”
She disconnected, and Jim grinned at the screen for a few seconds after her image faded. Then, suddenly, the image of Amanda – Spock’s mother – fading from the transporter pad flashed unbidden through his mind. Then, the hollow, haunted look on Spock’s face as they all stood frozen in shock and horror, unable to believe what had happened. He remembered the split second of unfathomable hurt that flashed through Spock’s eyes after the murderous rage subsided.
Jim sat back in his seat, utterly deflated. He’d worked to shove aside any guilt for his actions that day. Future Spock himself had told him what to do, even if he hadn’t given him a script. Spock’s sheer dogged insistence that there was no other alternative was its own proof that he must have been “compromised”. But, of course, following Captain Pike’s orders couldn’t really be considered problematic, no matter how inappropriate the orders might have been when an enemy was headed straight for Earth. Still. If he hadn’t taken command, Spock would have gone on with his original plan, and Earth would have been destroyed.
Now, though, he couldn’t shake the oppressive feeling that he had been unfair and wrong to Spock. It was a horribly low blow, bringing up the man’s mother like that. Yes, he’d been right in the end. He’d done what he had to do to save them all, but… that split second of hurt crushed him, and even nearly getting the life choked out of him didn’t seem able to wipe away the guilt. Jim sighed and squeezed his eyes shut when he felt the telltale tingle that meant he was close to tears.
He hastily pulled himself together and left the room. He checked a public console for Spock’s location and moved brusquely toward shuttle bay 43. If Bones was right and Spock was really going to stay to help Vulcan, Jim definitely couldn’t afford to let him go away before he had the chance to apologize.
The shuttle bay was bustling with several Vulcan survivors and Starfleet personnel. Jim paused and scanned the room. He caught sight of what he hoped was Spock speaking to one of the Elders near a shuttle craft. He wandered over slowly, not wanting to interrupt, but wanting to make sure he was able to catch Spock’s eye when they’d finished talking.
He saw the older man give Spock the Vulcan greeting/parting. His movements seemed very familiar, but Spock was blocking his view of the man's face. Before he could put his finger on why, the older Vulcan had turned away was lost among the shuttles. Spock started to walk away as well, but Jim trotted toward him. “Spock!”
Spock turned back, a look of open surprise on his face for a brief moment. He glanced in the direction the older Vulcan had taken, before nodding to Jim. “Congratulations on your promotion, Captain Kirk.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “Listen, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Certainly, Captain.” Spock stood with his hands behind his back, looking expectantly at Jim.
“I-" Jim was immediately interrupted by the loud hiss of welding equipment on the nearby shuttle. He frowned. “Could we maybe go somewhere a little more private?” Spock glanced at a small group of Vulcans speaking with a Federation Ambassador. Kirk felt his face flush with embarrassment. “If this isn’t a good time, I can wait,” he said, hoping Spock wouldn’t take his discomfort for arrogance.
Spock didn’t seem to notice – or maybe it was just rude for Vulcans to acknowledge emotions. The commander shook his head slightly. “No, Captain. I am not engaged and my presence here should not be required for some time. Would officer’s lounge six be an acceptable location?”
Jim nodded. The officer’s lounges weren’t exactly private, but they were quiet enough, and if two people looked like they wanted privacy, they would be left alone. Spock led the way, walking with a natural grace and confidence through the bay, nodding greetings to those he knew. Jim found himself thinking what a shame it would be for Starfleet to lose such a man. He was brilliant, and excellent in a fight. Yeah, he could rub people the wrong way, but humans tended to hold non-emotionalism against Vulcans, which wasn’t strictly fair. Besides, Spock might be the only Vulcan in Starfleet, but he certainly wasn’t the only officer in the fleet with a somewhat prickly demeanor.
They headed toward the lounge, managing to get by with only three stops so that a cadet could reverently shake Jim’s hand, offer Spock deepest condolences and offer them both heartfelt, immeasurable gratitude. All but one of the cadets made it through without bursting into tears at the mention of what they could have lost, and what Spock had lost. Jim had given the cryer (a six-foot-four Rigelian boy, barely out of secondary) a tight hug, looking helplessly at Spock while the boy gushed into his shoulder. Spock had merely raised an eyebrow, then turned to look straight ahead. Jim noticed with surprised pleasure, that Spock turned a very cold eye toward anyone he caught staring too long at the young man. After the Rigelian pulled himself together, apologized profusely, and was comforted (by Jim) and excused (by Spock), they were able to make it to the officer’s lounge without further incident.
When they arrived at the lounge, Jim requested coffee from the actual coffee machine – avoiding the dirt-flavored sludge the academy replicators always spat out. He joined Spock who’d also availed himself of the benefits of being an officer. He stirred the ice in his peach-colored nectar, and looked at Jim with a slight, puzzled frown. “Something wrong, Mr. Spock?” Jim asked.
“The young cadet’s behavior,” he said. “While I understand the concept of empathy, and I am aware that Rigelians are habitually even less emotionally restrained than Humans, I do not understand his intense emotional reaction to his own outburst.”
Jim frowned. “So… you mean you don’t understand why he apologized for crying?”
Spock nodded. “Vulcans do not apologize for failing to show emotions when other cultures would deem it acceptable – indeed, required - to do so.”
“Well, yeah, but… surely you must have done or said something you regretted, even if it was totally justifiable, right?”
Spock stiffened and glanced at Jim’s neck for the briefest second. Oh, hell. “I have,” he said tightly, looking past Jim’s face.
Jim sighed, feeling the already high awkwardness level at the table shoot up into the stratosphere. “Well… I just think he knew he might have made us uncomfortable, and he wanted to acknowledge it.” Spock seemed to accept this. He took a sip of his juice, and Jim cleared his throat. “That’s… I wanted to talk to you about something like that.” Spock raised his eyebrow and looked expectantly at him. Jim swallowed, feeling more like a green cadet facing an angry instructor than one of the heroes of the Federation. “I want to apologize to you, Spock,” he said. Spock actually looked surprised for more than a half second. “I took advantage of your loss to take over the ship, and I… well I can’t exactly explain why I did it, but I’m sorry I had to hurt you that way.”
Spock looked impassively at Jim for a few moments, his mask back in place. He studied the inside of his cube-glass. Jim tried not to assign any emotion to the look, but he felt his heart sink all the same. After a moment, he began to speak - still looking down at his drink. “Jim.” He felt a smile coming on, but quelled it. First name. “The fact that your words, no matter how… hurtful… could induce me to physical violence – especially of the degree which I showed you – is proof that I was unfit for the captaincy at that point in our mission. Because of your intervention, this planet has been saved and Admiral Pike, for whom I hold a high amount of respect and admiration, has been spared a painful death aboard an enemy vessel. On the whole, I believe that the successful outcome of the mission precludes the need for an apology.”
Jim regarded the cool, unruffled countenance of his former captain/crew member, and shook his head. “Spock, I appreciate that,” he said. “But I don’t necessarily believe the ends justify the means. I’m not sure you believe it, either.”
The eyebrow went up again. “That is illogical. You cannot compare the feelings of one person to the lives of billions. You cannot-“
“I can, Spock. I know what the outcome was, and I’m swimming in laurel leaves because of it. But I’m not logical, and it tears me up inside to think that I… that you might think I really believed you didn’t care about her.” Jim winced the moment he said “her”, but he couldn’t take it back. The corner’s of Spock’s mouth tightened ever so slightly, and he looked back down at his drink.
After a few moments, he spoke again. “Jim, I do not believe that you think I do not love my mother, or that I am indifferent to her death. Even if you had believed such a thing, the fact that you provoked me to such rage that I almost killed would surely have convinced you otherwise. The very fact that you used her to induce me to show my emotional state proves the very opposite – you obviously knew, or suspected, that I cared very much for her. After carefully considering your actions once I left the bridge, your motives became obvious to me, and in the end, you were right.”
“You used your knowledge of your crew and the circumstances at hand to effect changes that saved lives, Captain Kirk,” he said, allowing a little heat to creep into his voice. “You did so despite the fact that your actions were personally distasteful to you. This is also a quality that Starfleet would like to see in all of its starship captains. You should not apologize for being a good captain.”
“However.” He looked directly into Jim’s eyes. “It is gratifying to know that you felt it appropriate to apologize for causing me pain, even in the midst of the… abundance of laurel leaves.” His eyes seemed to soften just a little, and the corners of his mouth edged up so slightly that Jim wondered if it was an optical illusion. “Your apology is appreciated and accepted, Jim.”
Kirk smiled broadly. “I’m glad, Spock. I’m glad we had the chance to talk.”
“As am I.” They sipped their drinks in companionable silence for a few moments. Then, Spock said, “I know that my attack on you was your desired intention-“
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.”
Jim was almost certain Spock smirked. “You will allow that it served your purpose. But I feel that I should apologize for marooning you on Delta Vega. Remanding you to the brig would have been sufficient, but my… emotions clouded my judgement.”
Jim’s own eyebrows rose this time. That was quite an admission for a Vulcan to make, and from the way Spock suddenly seemed to think his juice was the most fascinating thing in the solar system, Jim knew it had been a difficult one for him to make. “I appreciate that, Spock,” he said. “But if you’d sent me to the brig, I would never have met the other… engineer, Mr. Scott, we couldn’t have beamed back aboard, and Earth couldn’t have been saved. So… let’s call it even, shall we?”
“That is acceptable,” he said with a nod.
They were silent again, each sipping his drink, lost in thought. Jim wanted to ask what Spock’s plans were, but he was almost afraid to ask. He didn’t want to pry, and he wasn’t sure how he would react if Spock told him he was leaving Starfleet. Still, fear had never stopped him before, so he cleared his throat, looked up at Spock, and spat it out. “So. I noticed you haven’t requested assignment aboard a ship yet. Do you plan to stay with Starfleet, or do you think you’ll be taking some time off?”
Spock looked surprised – as far as he would allow himself to, anyway. “You checked my request record?”
Jim nodded, unashamed. “You’re an excellent officer. When you didn’t show up on any of my rosters, I got curious.”
Spock’s surprised expression held for another second. “I have yet to determine the best course of action at this juncture. Therefore, I have decided to… ‘keep my options open’.”
Jim smiled. Not yes, but not no, either. “Seems sensible,” he said.
“I have noticed that you have yet to finalize your crew selections.”
“The Enterprise won’t be repaired for at least two more weeks. I have plenty of time.”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “Most captains choose a first officer early in the selection process, regardless of the readiness of their vessels. Yet, you have waited.”
Jim wanted to comment on the fact that Spock had apparently been paying attention to his activities as well, but he kept it to himself. He swallowed the rest of his coffee, and considered Spock for several seconds. He smiled. “I’ve decided to keep my options open.”