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***

Whenever he dreamed of Pike, it was with the perfect clarity of memories etched in place. He hadn't decided yet if that made coming to terms with his death easier or harder, though suspected it was a combination of the two.

He paced back and forth in his dorm room, more nervous than he'd ever been in his life. He'd managed to calm down enough to stop sweating, but the nausea continued to riot in his stomach, and the only solution was motion, and that meant pacing around the room.

McCoy had already received his Starfleet housing assignment, and until Jim's came through he had their Academy accommodations to himself. That gave him more room to panic in, and left him feeling very alone and with his own thoughts. After three years of living with someone, it was hard to talk out loud and not expect to receive a response.

Calm down, Kirk. It's fine, you're hardly saying a damned thing.

God, he hoped his voice didn't choke or squeak on the tiny sentence he was expected to spit out. He went to the kitchenette and poured himself some water, eyes on the clock. Twenty minutes until he had to go.

He jumped at the sound of his doorchime and almost dropped the glass. He put it down, because now his hands were shaking, and called, "Come in."

"I figured you'd be ready. Nogura's not going to like covering the first round at the Officer's Club, though."

Jim stilled at the sound of Pike's voice; he'd been expecting McCoy. He came around the corner and found Pike wheeling into the room. An Andorian Yeoman was standing out in the hall, and shut the door behind Pike once he was inside.

Jim's brain started to thaw and he tried to come up with a response. "I'll, ah, be sure to send him something nice to make up for it." He smiled. "It's good to see you, Admiral."

Pike was still in the chair, though McCoy had assured Jim that he’d recover well enough to walk, maybe even without the assistance of a cane. (Jim was just glad they'd pulled him off the Narada alive.)

"And you, Captain."

Jim ducked his head. "Not yet, sir. Still Lieutenant Commander."

Pike's mouth twitched in amusement. "Modesty looks pretty strange on you, son."

"It's a new thing, sir, I'm still trying it out."

"Try harder. You'll never get an act like that past Barrett."

He cleared his throat. "I will, sir."

They stood in silence while Pike studied him. Then, "So. What is it?"

"Sir?"

"Whatever's got you so wound up you were ready by the time I showed up."

Jim glanced away, out the door room’s meager window. "Just nerves, sir."

Pike gave him an amused look. "Nervous about a little ceremony where you have to say a single sentence and watch people applaud at you?"

Jim hadn't actually expected Pike to believe it, but he'd been hoping. He took a breath to steady himself, and voiced the one thing he hadn’t even said to McCoy. "What if I'm not any good at this?"

Pike snorted a laugh. "You and the crew of my ship, some of you not even graduated, just saved Earth and dealt with the madman who destroyed Vulcan and a large portion of the Fleet. But you're worried you might not be any good at this?"

"It's not really the same thing as being captain, sir."

"It's not," Pike agreed. "But you managed this, and I think you can do the rest too. Just take it one day at a time." When Jim met his eyes again, Pike went on, "All of you did good, including you. And I wouldn't have approved turning my ship over to you if I thought you couldn't do this. I think your parents would be proud."

Jim willed his voice to be steady, and succeeded. "Thank you, sir."

"You're welcome, James. Now," he nodded at the door, "Let's get moving. Brun and I'll walk you there."

A little of Jim's usual manner re-asserted itself. "Giving me a head start on my relations with the Admiralty, sir?"

"Don't you wish."

As Jim turned to shut the door to his room, he cast one last look around it, realizing that when he came back he was going to be a Captain, and nothing was going to be the same.

Story of his life. He shut the door and hurried to join Yeoman Brun and Pike.

***

Jim opened his eyes and saw the dim, dusty light of the storm shelter. His chest ached as he remembered that this was a time and place where he didn't have Pike to talk to about his uncertainties, though before he could really get going with that, his communicator chirped. He pulled it out and flipped it open.

"Kirk here."

"Jim, where the hell are you, I've been trying to find you for over an hour."

He winced; McCoy's voice was loud in the small space. "Storm shelter. I'll be back in fifteen."

"Storm shelter? What did you--"

"Kirk out." He flipped his communicator shut. If they were doing to have this conversation, it should be face to face. He owed McCoy--and Spock, and Uhura, and all the rest of them--that much (and really a whole lot more).

As he tucked his communicator back into his jacket, his hand bumped against something smooth, rounded, flat, and metal, and he remembered what it was even as his hand closed around it and he took it out: Pike’s old pocket watch, another gift from his will.

Scotty had fixed it for him, remarking several times that it was probably worth a fair amount to the right collector, so Jim might be better off leaving it safe and sound in his apartment. Jim hadn't been able to let it get very far from him, though, not even now, when he was running around during deadly storms, trying to figure himself out.

He ran a hand over the fragment of poetry inscribed on the back, then gripped it in his hand.

It's gonna be okay, son.

Maybe Pike had been right; maybe it was. Nothing would be the same, but nothing ever was with him. It might, however, be okay.

He tucked the watch back into his pocket and slid out of the bunk. The monitors showed the bulk of the storm throwing out the twisters had moved south, and although it was still dark and windy out, it wasn't hailing.

He went outside and surveyed the damage. The tornado's track ran right by the shelter, defined by splintered trees, torn ground, mounds of grass, and the occasional piece of debris (side-paneling from a house, a motorcycle wheel, a section of wrought-iron fencing). The transit center sat in the distance, battered but still standing; one side had clearly taken more of a beating than the other. The shelter light had been built to withstand such forces, and stood unbent.

He looked up at the light, sighed, and began the walk back to the transit center, feeling truly awake for the first time since he'd come out of his coma in the hospital.

***

The lecture was more parental than Jim was expecting. "I cannot believe you, running around in one of the worst storm systems in twenty years like it was a little spring shower." McCoy had laid an ambush in Jim’s quarters, complete with a midday meal. He pushed a glass of sweet tea, silverware, and a plate of food (sausage, carrots, and grits--where had Bones found grits in this town?) at Jim. "Look at you, you look like you took a ride in it."

"Thought about it."

McCoy's eyes widened. Jim knew he had to keep the conversation moving lest an interrogation ensue, so he asked, "When did you get in?" and took a few bites.

McCoy’s glare promised they'd be discussing Jim’s adventure at some indeterminate and inconvenient time in the future. "About two hours before I called you." His accusation was clear, and Jim groaned. He kept eating, because it seemed to be easing McCoy’s irritation.

"Sorry, I just, had to get out and do some thinking."

McCoy gestured at the still-turbulent skies. "In that?"

Jim shrugged, and McCoy shook his head. "So when are we going up?"

"Monday." McCoy grunted, and Jim said, "You know you don't have to. If you'd rather not."

McCoy looked at him for a long minute, then shook his head and drank some tea. "Someone's got to keep an eye on you, and I'm not making Spock do that alone."

"Uhura will be there."

"She has more important shit to do than herd you."

"And you and Spock don't?"

"Spock's the First Officer and I'm the Chief Medical Officer, so, no."

Jim was suddenly reminded of something. "You are, right? Still Chief Medical Officer?"

McCoy gave a sharp laugh. "Yes. Don't get your hopes up."

"I wasn't--" Jim caught the amusement glinting in McCoy's eyes, and threw a carrot at him, which McCoy caught and proceeded to eat. "You're a dick."

"Careful, I am the one who decides the frequency of immunizations on the ship."

Jim rolled his eyes. "When's your debriefing?"

"Already had my verbal beatdown."

The food Jim had already eaten turned to lead in his stomach. "What? When?"

"Yesterday. That's why I was on today's shuttle."

"And you didn't tell me?"

"What, so you could freak out about it and insist on coming along and watching them do it?"

That same old urge to do something, anything at all, had him standing up out of his chair. "So I could have been there with you."

McCoy sighed. "I appreciate the sentiment, but if I was going to lose my medical license, there were not going to be any witnesses."

Jim's breath came short, then he remembered that McCoy had said he still was the CMO, and his chest eased. "What did they do?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"Nothing. Zilch. Didn't even so much as slap my wrist." McCoy met Jim's stunned look with a bland expression. "Lectured me a lot, but I'd expected that. Various reminders of the codes of ethics and the Hippocratic Oath and what have you."

"And that's it?"

"That's it." McCoy took a drink. "So. Is it cozy under this rug?" Jim shook his head, not understanding, and McCoy clarified, "The one we're being swept under."

Jim blinked. "Why--how could they even think they can do that? Our entire ship heard Marcus say he was going to kill everyone on board, that he'd been planning to."

"I don't mean deny that it happened, I mean cover up how and why. They're not going to just serve up his accomplices."

Jim collapsed back into his chair. He watched McCoy, who watched him in turn. Several things made sense: everyone else's wholly anticlimactic debriefings; why Starfleet had been so eager to work with Spock to keep everything surrounding the events in the warp core quiet while Jim struggled to live again; why they couldn't get the Enterprise repaired fast enough. If there were no more careers made into martyrs and if the Enterprise went back into duty to marvelous fanfare, everyone would just stop caring.

"Can we do anything about it?"

"Probably. Question is, should we."

Jim narrowed his eyes at McCoy, which got him long-suffering look in response. "I'm not saying I wouldn't back you, I'm saying it's not just your career on the line if you decide to."

Spock. McCoy. The entire bridge crew. And then there was Carol Marcus--what would happen to her? How much had she known?

Jim's communicator chirped, and he pulled it out. "Kirk here."

"Captain."

"Spock."

"We have a visitor."



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