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Family Matters

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TitleFamily Matters
Characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, POV Uhura
Word Count: 7800
Rating: T for movie-level language and violence
Warnings/Spoilers: Major spoilers for Beyond.
Summary: When the Battle of Yorktown reopens old wounds in addition to creating new ones, it takes a little more than just rest and solitude to begin the healing process for the Enterprise's captain.


 

Seven Earth days, one Terran week, have transpired since the events which have already been given the carefully innocuous name The Battle of Yorktown. Seven simulated sunrises and sunsets in this slowly revolving miracle of modern construction and technology, in which every member of the crew – every remaining member of the crew, herself included, have attempted to create a new normality.

To have nearly three years of established habit suddenly obliterated in the space of a few days is no small thing. Despite always scoring very highly in the resiliency portions of psychological evaluations, she has found herself somewhat adrift – and to a Vulcan, a very creature of habit, the disruption is ten times more unpleasant. It has taken Spock a full five of these seven days to reach any kind of mental centering, she well knows; now he has only regained a sort of temporary mental peace until they are certain the formalities with Starfleet are dealt with, and he and the captain both placed on leave for the space of a few weeks to recuperate. As of right now, they both are still on call, to answer for the destruction of the Enterprise and the deaths of hundreds of her crewmen. It is not an enviable position, and she is again glad she did not yet agree to take the command classes which would have put her into the chain of command as a full Lieutenant-Commander.

The stress of the last week has definitely taken its toll on the captain; but Kirk had just last night once again brushed off Spock's inquiries with a tired smile and word of thanks for the concern before disappearing into his quarters. Par for the course, for him, but no less concerning. But the door's sensor had beeped as it locked behind him this time, clearly indicating he wished to be left alone, and they as always had respected his privacy.

She and Spock had spent the night together, in silence for the most part, after planning what course they would follow once the inquests were finished; she, back to Terra, to recuperate with family and perhaps audit some additional language classes at Starfleet Academy – and Spock, well. She shouldn't have been surprised to find that he was reluctant to form an itinerary until finding out what the captain planned to do during the interim. She is just pleased that he has apparently rethought his hasty decision to retreat to New Vulcan, probably under the shock of recent events. They all have been rudely shaken by the knowledge that life is indeed, very fleeting, and at any time any of them could be called upon to pay the ultimate price. They cannot afford to waste that time apart from each other, if it can be helped – in whatever capacity that time takes, romantic or otherwise.

While they are by no means back together, even Spock admitted that he found the presence of another being somewhat soothing, after such a week; and so they had agreed to platonically share an apartment while here on Yorktown, not only benefiting each other's emotional state but also allowing a more solitary crewman to have a room to himself in the crowded 'Fleet housing facility. The captain has quarters of his own next to theirs, but they have rarely seen him use them, and while it has been concerning, she really hasn't had time to think much about it, between volunteering at Medical, attending her own therapy, and trying to pretend that things might someday return to normal. And deities of the galaxy only know how Spock is coping.

But tonight, Spock is obviously making a valiant but ultimately futile attempt to engage himself in her story about a shopping trip in one of the boutique districts on the 'Base, in preparation for her return to Terra to visit her grandmother. She has to give him props for trying, at least, but he is failing miserably at pretending to be interested in her account of the rare textiles she found in an outdoor market; and so she finally stops, and nudges him with a gentle elbow.

"You are a hundred parsecs away, Spock," she says when he blinks, belatedly realizing the story has abruptly halted. "I know that look."

"I ask pardon, Nyota. To what look are you referring?"

She sees with a little dismay that he is pushing away a barely-touched plate. His digestive system having been slightly damaged in his recent injury, his food intake is still being monitored via a subcutaneous transmitter and as such is rather bland in content; she well knows he would much prefer to simply omit the social construct of a public meal entirely and subsist on nutritional cubes in the safety of his quarters. He is doing this for her, and she appreciates the effort.

She shakes her head, earrings jingling, and pats his arm in a brief gesture of fondness which he has learned to tolerate even if they no longer have a romantic component to their relationship. "That one. You're worried."

"That is an emotion which –"

"Save it, Spock." She rolls her eyes and returns to her salad, stabbing a plump little tomato with slightly too much enthusiasm and expertise. It feels a little too pleasing, a fact which her therapist probably will have a field day with; she mentally notes the incident to discuss during tomorrow's session. "Why haven't you just sat down and talked to him if you're that concerned?"

Spock blinks, obviously in genuine confusion. "With whom?"

She sighs, pushes a few wilted leaves aimlessly around the plate. "The captain? He's the only one who can make you look like that. You're worried about him, and frankly I think you have good reason to be. McCoy says every time he's been by to check on him Kirk isn't in his quarters, and I haven't even seen him since we've been back, other than last night."

"The solitude is most unlike him," Spock muses slowly.

"Have you seen him eat?" She is genuinely concerned now, which probably does not put her ex-whatever-they-were's mind more at ease, bless his sweet but ultimately clueless Vulcan heart. Kirk is a social animal, everyone knows that; and so to find out that he's not been seen in almost a week by anyone is a little alarming. Of course the man is grieving the loss of his ship and his crew, but he never has been the type to do so completely alone, not for that long of a period. And besides, he was acting a little weird aboard ship, even before this mess blew up in their faces. "Leonard's actually kind of freaked about the whole thing, because he doesn't have the kind of access to Kirk here like he would on the Enterprise, like being able to see his meal card and sleeping sensors."

"One might make the argument that such monitoring is an invasion of privacy," Spock ventures mildly.

She snorts. "The man passed out on the Bridge right after blasting three pirate freighters out of the stars, because he forgot to eat four meals in a row. That was what, only three months ago? He's a child sometimes."

Spock cannot truthfully argue this, apparently, because he inclines his head in a gesture of yeah, okay, but still.

"Besides, you know McCoy's still a little paranoid after, well. We all were, for a while." She does not specify the Warp Core Incident, but neither is it necessary. "I think Jim's well aware and lets him do it for peace of mind. None of which is happening here on Yorktown, unfortunately."

Spock sits back in his chair, a slight frown pulling at his lips. "I have yet to see the captain other than upon his return in the evenings. I do not know of his whereabouts during the day."

She is even more concerned at this, and puts her fork down for a moment. "It wouldn't surprise me if he was trying to help with the Enterprise redesign, or making a nuisance of himself in the 'Fleet offices, or making calls to the families of deceased crewmen or something, but even Commodore Paris hasn't seen much of him, if what McCoy says is true. He has no family or friends on the 'Base, does he?"

"I believe he considers himself to have none outside the ship, Nyota," Spock replies softly.

Screw this. She is about to introduce her former boyfriend to the human activity known as an intervention, when they espy the doctor they have been discussing entering the small restaurant which is attached to their temporary high-rise apartment housing, given them courtesy of a grateful (and adept at damage-control) Starfleet Command. McCoy is obviously looking for them, for he is at their table in a matter of seconds, unceremoniously ordering them to finish up.

"Doctor, what –"

"I found out what he's been doing," the man snarls, with enough fury that the two nearest tables look askance their direction and edge their chairs in the opposite. "And I swear to God, Spock, if you knew and you didn't do anything to stop him –"

"I assure you, Doctor, I am as much in the dark as you have been." Spock stands after using his thumbprint to sign his holocheck, knowing they will charge the apartment and therefore Starfleet for the bill, and waits for her to do the same. Then they follow one fuming Leonard McCoy out into the streets of Yorktown Base, which is now softly lit by the artificial solar-powered streetlights and a simulated purple-red sunset.

"Doctor, I fail to understand your anger. The captain's business is his own."

"Not this business, damn it. And you'll see why when we get there." McCoy's face is almost paper-white with fury, but she can see there is something else, something far more painful, hiding behind the anger in the man's eyes. That mask of fury is only half-directed at the captain; the rest, is directed no doubt at the rest of them as a group, for not foreseeing whatever Kirk has been doing.

She glances up in surprise as they enter a dimly-lit building with a stately quadrangle surrounding it. "The remote branch of Starfleet Academy? Has he been teaching classes?" she asks, looking around with curiosity.

"Not that I know of, although they'd be damn fools not to ask him while he's grounded." McCoy turns down a corridor toward the technological wing. "But this Base's got the most advanced tech in the quadrant, and most of it's housed in the Academy complex. I'm guessin' he charmed his way into being allowed to borrow it."

They continue down a few more corridors and finally stop before what looks to be a sizable simulation or observation room of some kind, beyond the next set of doors. This outer room's walls are broken up by several large observation windows and a set of computer banks, which are currently whirring excitedly, obviously in full use.

"Some kind of simulation's being run here," she murmurs absently, glancing at the code scrolling across the screen.

"Yeah." McCoy's glare could strip tritanium alloy. "And it's been running for almost six hours."

She turns in surprise. "Six?"

"Six hours a day for the last four days, according to the usage logs."

"Doing what?" She turns back to the board curiously, trying to mentally translate the code into the more readable language of program actions – a habit of hers, just for fun, one which had long ago developed into a love of translation. Her particular skills had veered into the actual spoken portion of linguistics, not the technological portion, but she had still been a part of the Universal Translator project her final year at the Academy, and the technology behind it had fascinated her.

"Doctor." There's something…off, about Spock's voice; something strange, something almost painful, and she turns in concern to see him standing at the large glass windows, which she can tell are likely two-way mirrors if they're anything like most observation windows in these labs. He has one hand lightly touching the glass, like his fingertips need to make connection with what's happening inside, and his face –

His face.

She is almost afraid to look, but she comes up beside him and peers through the windows at the program running within the room. For a moment she can't understand what's happening, but then something rings eerily familiar, and suddenly she realizes.

"Oh, God."

"God had nothin' to do with this," McCoy says softly, the anger in his voice having turned to miserable concern.

"What does – has he been doing this this whole time? Four days, you said?"

"According to the logs, yeah." The doctor runs a weary hand over his face, and she is reminded again of how much recent events have suddenly aged all of them. "Given what we know of the man, is that so surprising?"

"No," she replies quietly.

The entire roomful of equipment suddenly explodes in a blinding burst of holographic flames, and they all three flinch with instinctive, remembered pain.

Ten seconds later, the lone figure in the central seat buries his face in his hands for a moment, then sits up, swivels the chair toward the side of the room.

"Computer, replay program."

The holographs change to a familiar scene, one they all can only remember with fondness now, never to be seen in that exact form again – the pristine white and gray and beautiful sleek sharpness of their ship's Bridge, before she crashed and burned in the skies over Altamid.

"He's really been –"

"Replaying the whole thing start to finish, I think, over and over," McCoy whispers, shaking his head. "I watched it run twice before I came to get you two. He's changin' something every time, trying to figure out what he should've done differently. If there was a way he could've saved everyone, saved the ship. He's probably run through two hundred different variations by this point, and nothing's worked yet. She burns every time, and the crew along with her."

"He's just torturing himself, Leonard."

"Y'think I don't know that?!"

Inside the room, the drone ships have already begun their holographic bombardment of the Enterprise. She is impressed by, and also slightly nauseated by, the accuracy of these holograms which replicate their crew members, their actions and dialogue, the scenery of their now destroyed ship. She's heard of this holodeck technology, in fact there were rumors about the Enterprise being the first to receive it, but it wasn't ready for use by the time they launched the mission three years ago; but obviously, it's ready now, because it's exceedingly lifelike and replicating events perfectly, the scenery switching from the Bridge to the corridors to the Engineering section and back to the Bridge around the captain as the simulation moves and reforms in holographic detail around him.

"Fire everything we've got," Kirk says deliberately, as before, and the hologram of Chekov moves to obey.

Behind him, she sees the image of Spock start to turn, about to warn they are not able to withstand that amount of prolonged engagement, but Kirk stands suddenly.

"Computer, rewind twenty seconds."

"Rewinding. Resume program?"

"Resume."

The drone ships approach, tiny dots on the viewscreen.

"Magnify that image, Mr. Sulu. Go to yellow alert."

The drones increase their approach, and she cringes instinctively, the pain still raw. There was nothing they could have done; she's done the research herself, to help Spock prepare for his report to Command.

Still no sign of panic from the central seat. "Magnify further, Mr. Sulu." The screen changes, showing a breaking cascade of tiny ships rapidly growing larger.

"Shields up, red alert." The klaxon starts blaring, and the image on screen suddenly sharpens, showing clearly that it is a massive swarm.

"There's no way we can withstand bombardment like that – get us out of here, Mr. Sulu."

"Aye, sir." The helmsman punches the navigation console and pulls back on the warp drive engagement lever – just as the swarm hits the port nacelle. The resulting ignition of matter/antimatter mix produces an explosion that nukes the entire surrounding area for a space of a hundred square parsecs, according to the computer's cheerfully droned program end result.

Inside the room, Jim Kirk collapses back into the command chair, staring at the blanked screen with an even blanker expression.

"Jesus, Jim." McCoy's eyes are dark with unshed tears. "Give it up already."

As if in instinctual defiance, Kirk stands again, wavering alarmingly on his feet for a moment, and then steps down into the space before the command chair, close to the reforming navigation console. Determination sets his features, granite-sharp, as he snaps a command without looking away from the screen.

"Computer, replay program."


"Captain, there is a chance I could redirect energy from the warp core to the impulse engines!"

"Forget the engines, just get your people out of there!"

Fifteen more lives saved in Engineering, but the ship still burns.


"Sir, the nacelles – they're just…gone!"

Kirk's hands tighten on the chair's armrests. "Let the record show that I take full responsibility for issuing a possibly premature General Order Thirteen. All hands, abandon ship. I repeat, abandon ship. This is not a drill."

He goes down with his ship, and Krall's drones follow him with his crew.


"Computer, replay program."

"Spock? Spock!" He spins on one heel, already moving toward the simulated turbolift doors. "You two, you're with me. Sulu, you have the conn."

"Aye, sir."

The doors are about to close, and he steps back out, pausing the sensor. "And Sulu."

"Yes, Captain."

"If you feel at any time that this ship has lost all chance of surviving this encounter? You call for an abandon ship. You do not wait for my orders, you do not try to contact me first, you take command of this Bridge and you call it, do you understand?"

"Yes, sir. Understood."

Getting himself killed by Krall's henchmen might not have changed much, but that extra five-minute start in evacuation saves another forty-five crewmen before the ship goes down.


"Computer, save results and replay program."


"The hell does he think he's accomplishing by this?" McCoy's pacing has all but worn a small track in the flooring by now, as he strides back and forth in front of the window, one elbow resting in the palm of his other hand, worrying at one knuckle as in front of them the Enterprise's Engineering section, this time, is the one that explodes into so much shrapnel and radiation warning sirens. "Is he…purposely decompressurizing the entire aft section, all decks simultaneously?"

"Well, that would rip the saucer free of its moorings, hurl it clear of Altamid's atmosphere, possibly blow the trapped escape shuttles out of their bays, and kill every living thing in Engineering, and the only ones left in there now are him and Krall's men," she whispers.

"Good God."

"He is a genius, Doctor. We should be grateful he doesn't usually have the time to think of these things."

The saucer makes it clear of the planet's atmosphere, able to navigate under impulse power on its self-propulsion systems – but the drone ships make short work of it, and with no remaining defensive capabilities the results aren't pretty.


She watches, helpless, as Kirk beats her hologram to the control panel which detaches the saucer section. Just by a hair, that's all, but that's enough – and the saucer section drifts safely away into space before being pulled into the upper atmosphere of Altamid. With the capture of James Kirk, Krall now has all the leverage he needs to get information from his crew, and while his senior officers are hardened enough to know he'd rather die than see them break due to their feelings for him, not all of the crew are able to stand watching Krall's interrogation methods.

The Abronath is handed over. Krall has the time for entertainment, and decides to use it on all of them, beginning with the command chain downward.


Another twenty minutes of this, and she can't watch any longer. It's the last one that did it, watching Kirk choke back tears as the holographs of half his crew – McCoy and Spock included – are blown out of C Deck into empty space because he asked Spock to linger a few more seconds in an effort to try and get information from the dying crewman.

"This has to stop," she says unnecessarily, trying not to give in to the nausea that wants to make good use of the recycling canister in the corner.

"Seal off C-Deck." Hands brush quickly over blue eyes before they come down on the command seat console. "Computer, initiate self-destruct sequence, voice authorization Kirk, James T., Captain, Security clearance alpha one one zero one. Delay countdown by five minutes and originate ignition point in secondary engineering. Remotely detonate nacelles if possible."

Beside her, McCoy swears into his hands, dragging them down his face.

"Detonation of starboard nacelle possible via subspace signal only. Countdown delay initiated. Countdown in five minutes."

"All hands, this is the captain. Abandon ship. I repeat, abandon ship. This is not a drill. Proceed to your designated escape pods and shuttle bays immediately."

What's left of the holographic Bridge crew immediately begins moving toward their Kelvin pods, though they have to know that when the ship blows it will take their pods with it, along with most of the drone force, because they will still be too close to the explosion and pods have no antimatter radiation shields to speak of. A necessary sacrifice, and they all know it. They stand a better chance in the pods than in the saucer, though, because he's set the self-destruct to originate in secondary Engineering, meaning it will tear through the front of the ship before hitting the engines and completing the blowup – it will be very thorough.

Within seconds, the Bridge is empty, and he looks around for a moment in silence before bowing his head, listening to the crashes and wails of a dying ship. Finally he looks up, stares unblinking at the screen. Drawn in by the sudden influx of escape pods, the drone ships veer suddenly toward the drifting, crippled ship, hovering around her like so many predatory bees.

"Computer, number of life signs remaining aboard the saucer section."

"One life-sign detected. Location: main Bridge. Identification: James Tiberius Kirk, Capt-"

"Computer, override previous instructions. Initiate self-destruct sequence, thirty-second countdown."

The room explodes again, the computer's informational result screen showing that no drone ships survived – and for a moment it looks as if many of the escape pods made it into the upper atmosphere of Altamid, until it becomes evident that radiation fallout has destroyed their entry shields, and none of them make it through the atmosphere without being incinerated.

"No! Damn it! Computer, rewind program sixty seconds!"

"Pull the plug, Leonard," she finally says, hand over her mouth.

"I can't, he's locked out all the commands except his, and this routine will play and replay until he tells it to stop. I would've done that before comin' to get you, if I could." The doctor's haunted eyes sweep over the empty room, now just holographic rubble that is already fading from view. "I can't stop it any more than you can."

"I can."

Spock's voice from behind them is dark with determination, an emotion so open that it surprises all three of them, she thinks. Neither she nor McCoy had noticed that he had ended up leaving the window several minutes ago and seating himself at the programming computer on the other side of the room, typing intently and with a silent focus that is almost frightening.

Behind them, the room explodes again. The figure inside moves to the sole working computer screen, watching the final readout to see if the escape pods make it through the atmosphere – and then slumps for a moment, head hanging between his shoulders, as it is obvious that they did not.

"Whatever you're gonna do, Spock, do it now, before he starts another simulation," McCoy says, swallowing hard.

Spock nods solemnly, and finishes typing what looks like a command into the computer, pressing a button which causes a momentary flash of computation lights to flicker through the system before they return to normal.

In front of them, James Kirk stands back up, hands running slowly through his hair, and turns back to the central dais, which has already begun to re-form from the holographic rubble around them.

She can't help but think that his eyes are as dead as those hundreds of his crewmen.

"Computer, replay the damn program."


He bursts onto the Bridge, firing mercilessly on the three drones who hold weapons on his remaining Bridge crew.

"How many of the crew are still aboard the saucer?"

One terrified look from Sulu and Chekov – still at their posts, refusing to abandon the ship even under order until he returns, loyal to the end – is all he needs to know, because he can see the planet's looming expanse out the viewscreen as they hurtle toward the atmosphere at an increasing speed. There is no time now to save the saucer, or anyone left aboard her; escape pods are their only chance of survival now.

"Get to your Kelvin pods."

Sulu hesitates for only a second, before nodding and taking control of the remaining crew, herding them to their positions around the Bridge while he stands for a moment, watching his ship fall apart as they hit the atmosphere with a sickening lurch of flickering inertial dampeners. The hull heats to an incredible temperature, pieces of the ship burning away around them, the viewscreen ringed in a deadly halo as they plummet downward.

The turbolift door opens, just as he hears the last Kelvin pod eject, and he turns around in incredulity, because those systems should have gone offline along with most of the rest of the ship once they hit the atmosphere – only the emergency systems were built to withstand that kind of impact heat.

"What are you doing here?" he demands, punching a button on the navigation console to shift their descent seventeen degrees – it's not much, but it might help land them with Engineering at an angle, less chance of a warp core explosion that way. Last thing they need is to nuke the entire planet and the surrounding area for the next twenty years.

"We were forced to evacuate C Deck due to imminent hull rupture, Captain," Spock replies, calm as always, as he takes a seat at the science station and begins inputting numbers, no doubt to help slow and rotate their descent to optimal trajectory. "As all escape pods had already been ejected from that deck, I sent Doctor McCoy to Shuttle Bay Seventeen and returned here, as the computer showed at that time that the Bridge crew still remained aboard ship."

"Well, they're not anymore so get your ass into one of those pods and off this thing before we hit a mountain!"

Spock's eyebrows are the equivalent of a Vulcan glare. "If our planetary collision is indeed that imminent, why are you still aboard, Captain?"

Kirk rolls his eyes, a bitter smile twisting his lips as he types a final command into the computer, jettisoning the ship's logs and imputing a final security code to lock any remaining Starfleet records from possible scavengers. "I'm not pulling another suicide run, Spock, I was about to get in one myself. Have a little more faith in me, for God's sake."

"My faith in you has not wavered, Captain."

"Yeah, well then you're a fool, Commander." A bitter laugh, and the captain hangs his head, as if uncaring that the ground is rapidly rising up to meet the viewscreen now. The sound is painful, unfamiliar – so unlike the determined fighter she knows the man to be, that it is nothing short of alarming.

"I do not believe so."

"Tell that to our dead crew." The whisper is threaded with grief, as Kirk looks up briefly at the stars far above them, before his eyes flick back to the ground rushing to meet them. "Face it, Spock. We lost."

"Sir, you do not believe in losing."

"I do now." The words are heart-breaking in their simple finality. "Either get yourself to a pod or brace for impact in thirty seconds, Mr. Spock."

"Thirty-three seconds, sir. And were you not the one who taught me, Jim, that sometimes, accepting a loss is inevitable - that moving on is the only 'win' which a scenario offers us?"

Kirk freezes for a second, hands still on the navigation console, and then his eyes dart to the side, narrowing as they zero in on the holographic form of his First, still sitting calmly at his Science station.

"You're right, I did," he says, and she can fairly see the lights go on as it dawns on him. "But that's not something that would ever come out of my programming for this simulation, so what the hell, Spock!" This last is yelled at the top of those formidable lungs, straight at the double-mirrored window.

They all three instinctively take a step back, despite the fact that they cannot be seen, because seldom have they seen such fury directed at them; usually, it is directed at a threat to the ship, and that threat seems to realize in short order what a bad idea it is to come between this captain and his crew. In this instance, she is quite glad she was not the one who interrupted the programming, because this is not a man she wants to cross.

"Annnnnd we've moved from denial on to the anger stage," McCoy mutters, hands in his hair. "Only three more to go."

"How dare you!"

"Will he hurt himself taking a swing at that hologram?" she asks, only half in jest, because while they've never actually come to blows (not since that first day on the Bridge, at least) there's a first time for everything.

"Negative. The technology utilized in these simulations will cause any object physically harmful to the user to immediately revert to an energy-only state, enabling the user to create harmful scenarios without harming themselves."

"You had no right!"

"He does know that's not you, right?" McCoy asks rhetorically, as the captain turns his angry attentions upon the calm Spock-hologram now standing at his elbow.

"On the contrary, Captain, I had every right. According to Starfleet Regulation 1049.24, subsection 3, if the captain persists in an action deemed harmful to the physical or mental state of himself or his crew, it is the First Officer's duty to first point out said action, and then to relieve the captain of duty should he not desist."

The completely dumbfounded WTF expression on the man's face would make them laugh, if it weren't for the fact that those eyes look closer to tears than anything else.

"I'm doing this so I won't make the same mistakes if they ever even give me another crew, Spock – which if I were Starfleet Command, that'd be a big hell no, given that I got two-thirds of them killed out there!"

The intake of breath beside her lets her know those numbers hit home, and she reaches over to close her fingers briefly around the physician's cold ones. McCoy has had a rough few days, working double shifts as both physical therapist and emotional therapist to a traumatized crew; she can only hope he's taken enough care of himself as well. Spock's expression as he stands behind them, hands clasped behind his back, is as calm as always, though she can tell from the tension around his eyes that he is more concerned than he appears to be.

"Nevertheless, your actions have become detrimental to your mental and physical health, and have become a cause for concern to the remaining members of your crew. Continuing to put yourself through these scenarios in the vain hopes of discovering a miracle where none exists accomplishes nothing."

Kirk's eyes flash cold fire. "You should know by now I don't believe in resigning yourself to the inevitable."

"I do indeed know this." The hologram's eyes soften, very realistically actually, and moves a step closer. "What I also know, is that turning that inevitable into a fighting chance for survival is a particular skill of the Enterprise crew, and of her captain. This, you taught me yourself, Jim, whether you have forgotten the fact or are choosing to ignore it by continually putting yourself through a scenario with no possible resolution. This particular defeat was inevitable, even for you."

"I…that's not fair," he whispers. "It isn't the same."

"It is not, sir. But the principle remains. You do your crew – living, and not – an injustice, by continuing in the past when the future is all that they have left. You will not find your absolution here, Jim."

In the end, that's really all it takes; she is actually surprised there's not more of a fight, but then Spock has always been uncannily able to pinpoint other people's emotional weak spots even though he can't seem to acknowledge his own. Kirk stares at the hologram for another moment, and then leans heavily with one hand on the command chair, as if too tired to hold himself up any longer.

"Computer, end program. Send results to personal data terminal Kirk, James T, voice authorization only. Once completed, destroy program."

The setup disappears, giving them little time to say goodbye to their beloved Bridge. The pristine white and gray fade to the solid black of a plain holo-room, graced only by the single command chair in the middle of the expanse, placed for the purposes of command simulations given to Academy cadets.

The captain slowly slides to the floor to the left of the dais, legs pulled up close to his chest, and stares into nothing.

"That's almost scarier than what he was doin' before," McCoy mutters, puttering with a medical tricorder in an attempt to get a reading through the window. "'S like he just gave up."

"That is in essence what had to happen, Doctor." Spock looks up as the panel next to the door turns green, signaling that it has unlocked along with the destruction of the computer program. "Remain here," he commands, and before either of them can sputter a protest he's inside. The panel turns orange again, and Spock should be glad he can't hear the doctor's very inventive swearing now directed at the window.

Arms folded across his drawn-up legs and head bent over them, the captain doesn't even twitch as Spock gracefully folds into a lotus position on the floor beside him, silent. Then –

"I can't believe you hacked my program." The words are muffled slightly into his sleeves, but unmistakable.

Spock raises an eyebrow. "I thought you might appreciate the irony. Sir."

A snort turns into what can only be described as a giggle, as Kirk shakes his head and obviously makes a valiant effort not to completely lose it right then and there. "God, I hate you."

"I do not think so."

A tired smile. "Your tact could use some work, Commander."

Spock inclines his head in agreement. "Acknowledged. I have found, however, that subtle methods are not always effective where you are concerned."

"Also acknowledged." Kirk rests his chin on his arms for a moment, staring into space. Finally he turns his head, eyes glinting suspiciously. "Speak freely, Spock – was there something else I should have done? You've had no problems making a full disclosure before to Starfleet; are you about to tell the Admiralty a list of decisions I should have made instead of those I did?"

The mild accusation isn't really fair, after all this time, although it does have some basis in the distant past, and she knows Spock won't blame the man for his insecurities at this time. Spock straightens instinctively under the inquiry, as if preparing to give an official report – in this moment, acting as the First Officer of the destroyed flagship, not as the friend – and turns slightly so as to give Kirk his full attention.

"Sir, from the moment it became clear we were under attack, you followed Starfleet crisis protocol to the very letter of the regulation. You did not falter, you did not waver, you did not hesitate in your orders. That is one of your strengths as a leader: the ability to ensure your crew acts promptly because you do not hesitate. Your command decisions were the best that could be made under the circumstances; and they enabled the one hundred seventeen crewmen who escaped to do so. Under another captain, possessing less intuition, they might not have been so fortunate. The outcome was regrettable, certainly, but I do not believe that to be due to any command decision you made."

Kirk's eyes are wide with a mixture of pain and relief, as he slowly uncurls, legs lowering to the floor in a more relaxed position. "You really believe that?"

"I do. Moreover, and in answer to what I suspect is your actual inquiry, you did indeed exemplify my admittedly hasty assessment in years prior, of the quality required of a Starfleet captain: calm acceptance in the face of certain death, and the maintaining of command, of one's self and one's crew." She recognizes the words easily, from that hearing so long ago that they laugh about now – but Spock has hit the magnetic fastener on the head, she can tell; and the similarities of this testing room and that infamous Kobayashi Maru simulation of their Academy days are not lost on any of them.

"This is your official, unbiased opinion?"

"It is."

Staring at his hands, Kirk shakes his head. "Why do I find it so hard to believe it myself then?" he whispers.

Spock hesitantly reaches out, places one gentle hand on the man's wrist. She is surprised, but really shouldn't be, to hear his next words, because he's always been remarkably able to say in just a few sentences what humans struggle to formulate into page-long declarations – and just because he appears to be functioning normally, does not mean that he is not unaffected by this as they all are.

"Because you are the captain of the Enterprise, and that is part of who you are. That is also why your crew will remain loyal to their captain until such time that they are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. No one expects for you to give up that burden, Jim; we only ask that you permit others to assist you in sharing it."

A weak smile. "Bones'll tell you, I don't like to share, Spock."

Spock inclines an eyebrow, and sits back, withdrawing his hand after a moment. "I believe your human expression is, too bad?"

The laugh which sounds almost hysterical in the stillness of the room is genuine enough, and if Kirk is wiping his eyes suspiciously by the time he's done, Spock – and she and McCoy – are certainly not going to mention it. The captain leans back against the chair's dais with a tired sigh.

"They're sending out the first salvage crew tomorrow." Fingers pick nervously at the cuff of the off-duty uniform. "Initial reconnaissance, safety assessment, feasibility of retrieving personal effects..."

Spock's head tilts in understanding. "At what time shall I meet you at the transport terminal?"

Blue eyes flick sideways at him. "You don't have to come, Spock."

"I will not leave you to return to the Enterprise alone, Captain. At what time shall I meet you?"

A shuddering sigh of relief, and Kirk closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb as if to ward off a headache. "The shuttle leaves at 0830, from Bay 106. And…thank you."

"Of course, sir."

She turns to McCoy with a question on her lips, and sees him already typing a message on his padd to the other members of the alpha crew; none of them will allow Kirk to make this first journey back alone. Painful as it is, they are a family, and family does these things together. Granted, they are a somewhat weird, very dysfunctional, intensely loyal, slightly psychotic family, but still a family; destroying the ship did nothing to change that. They need to make sure the captain still knows that.

"Oh, they'll be there all right, or they'll regret it during their next physicals," McCoy mutters in answer to her inquiry, as his padd begins to beep with returning messages. "Scotty wants to know if he can bring booze, because he 'canna stand to look at the poor gal like that'."

"Let me know if he needs help smuggling it aboard the transport" she replies, entirely seriously.

The doctor's snort of laughter distracts her momentarily from the simulation room, and when she looks back it appears that the two of them have gotten their emotional drama out of the way and are somewhat back to normal. Whatever constitutes normal for the two of them.

"You know, we should really get one of these rooms on the next ship we get, Spock."

Good, at least he's thinking about another ship, not stuck in that rut from before of thinking he doesn't want or deserve another one. Idiot.

"Not if you intend to utilize the holo-room in the manner you did for the last four days, Captain."

"Can you not…"

"Jim."

"Thanks. It just, reminds me, you know?"

"Of course."

"But even if it's just a few programs for relaxation, I think it'd do the crew some good. There's one pre-loaded on here, the sample program is some star-gazing thing I think – computer, load sample program alpha zero one one four. Yeah, there we go. Pretty awesome, right?"

Spock's head cranes backward crazily as he looks around them, engrossed in the admittedly remarkable technology. "It is a most impressive feat of technological advancement." A passing nebula overhead, illogically large, nonetheless receives his scrutiny from where they sit, while the captain leans back with his arms behind his head, smiling silently at the slowly passing stars.

She watches them for a moment, and then turns away from the window, tugging at the doctor's arm.

McCoy bats her away with a disgruntled "What?"

"Come on, Doctor. Let them be for a while."

"I am not leavin' Jim until I've –"

"Leonard, you need to stop treating him like he's made of glass, or he's going to end up hating you for it," she says. His worried eyes flick from her to the window. "This is – I don't know what this is, but they need each other. Look at them."

They glance through the window, and see Spock pointing at something in the passing star-field, the captain listing comfortably toward his First, blinking sleepily and nodding at whatever Spock is saying.

"Yeah, okay," the doctor mutters grudgingly, and they move toward the corridor. "Fancy gettin' a drink with a Southern gentleman?"

She snorts. "Why, do you know of any?"

"Now that hurts, Lieutenant. You and Spock are made for each other. Don't give me that look, you didn't scare me when you were pickin' off Romulan snipers with a homemade phaser on the Bola IV mission, you ain't gonna scare me now."

"Just for that, you're buying."

"Darlin', a gentleman always buys."

"Sweetheart, how did you ever pass the gender studies course at the Academy?"

The doctor winks, waggles his eyebrows. "Private tutor. Ow! Dammit, woman! What did I say!"

"I speak seventy-four languages, Leonard, and one of them is body language. Watch it."

"All right, all right. Remind me never to really piss you off, you're scarier than your not-boyfriend. Who, by the way, totally wants to be your boyfriend again. If you care."

"Oh, my God, you are a gossipy old man."

"Hey now, I'm speakin' as your friendly family physician here!" McCoy's eyes are wide with pious innocence. "…And also because he's too chicken to tell you himself that his Vulcan version of a mid-life crisis is over with. One-quarter Vulcan babies, three-quarter Vulcan babies, same difference."

She sighs, and dials up her padd's locator application to look for the nearest dive bar. There is not enough synthehol on Yorktown to deal with this right now, they need the real deal.

"Although, if you two ever did have kids, they would rule the frickin' galaxy, so let's keep that horse in the barn for as long as possible. Ain't nobody got time for that aboard that flyin’ death trap…"

Jim Kirk owes her. Big time.

But for now? For now, they’re all in good hands, strange as it may sound to someone who doesn't know the Enterprise crew. As much of a pain in the ass as McCoy is, there’s no one who’s more deserving of a night out right now, having spent days caring for a traumatized crew as he has – and despite his prickly demeanor, the man is and always has been a perfect, almost old-fashioned gentleman. As for her, she can damn well take care of herself, thank you very much.

And the two commanding officers of the fallen Enterprise? Well, this is a burden of command, and command is a lonely thing; Spock is best suited right now to help the captain shoulder and sort through what has happened, and Spock is by far most qualified to remind him of how it is possible to move on, after a monstrous wholesale tragedy. It's part of why they just fit together, despite so many people's bets to the contrary; and why she has known since the very beginning, that whatever weirdly codependent relationship they have, it's something very special, something she will never have – and that's totally okay, because different doesn't have to be threatening, not if it's family.

And that's what they are.