Spoilers: That new Star Trek thingamajig.
Summary: "I didn't know ribs even could bruise."
After sabotaging the drill, destroying Nero's ship, escaping the black hole, and generally saving the day, the world does not, Kirk finds, stop and give them a chance to breathe; now they have to deal with the overtaxed engines, the numerous injuries, the repeating hails from different Starfleet top brass who apparently never talk to each other even in crises such as this, and the general chaos that descends after a job well done.
So when the commander of the spacedock insists on taking responsibility for checking out the Enterprise and making sure it's fighting fit, Kirk doesn't bother protesting too much. For one thing, he's on slightly sketchy legal ground, as he wasn't supposed to be on board in the first place, let alone in command; for another, the last time he slept was when he was nerve-pinched and he can't stop thinking longingly of mattresses and pillows.
"Your orders, and the orders for all the current crew of the ship, are to return to the spacedock until enough shuttles have arrived to return you to Earth, where you will debriefed and hopefully some sense will be made of this whole debacle," says the fifth Admiral to hail them.
"Sounds good," drawls Kirk. He considers flashing a thumbs-up, then realizes that he's probably punch-drunk - quite literally - and decides to err on the side of caution. For once. "Will do."
The Admiral shoots him a dirty look, but the viewscreen goes blank.
Kirk pats the armrests of the Captain's chair. "Well," he says to the bridge in general. "You heard the man."
From the opposite side of the bridge, he sees Spock watching him. He's too tired to care.
As he's wading through the throngs of people getting their asses off his ship, he feels a hand on his elbow, and turns to see McCoy towing him along.
"Nice to see you, too," says Kirk. "How's Captain Pike?"
"Paralyzed from the waist down, possibly permanently," says McCoy. "But stable. You never came to sickbay."
"I'm fine," lies Kirk immediately.
"Your neck is bruised," says McCoy.
Kirk stops dead in the middle of the hallway by a particularly shiny access panel and checks. There's a faint purple band across his throat, which promises to turn into a spectacular bruise. Kirk's long personal experiences with bruises tells him there might even be deep tissue damage.
"So it is," Kirk agrees. "Look at that."
McCoy begins hauling him through the hallways, and Kirk gives up on resisting.
Once they reach the medical bay of the spacedock, McCoy commandeers a bed and deposits Kirk onto it. "Okay," says McCoy, pulling out a flashlight and shining it directly in Kirk's eyes. "Is there anything in particular that hurts?"
"You mean other than the light in my eyes?" asks Kirk, blinking away tears. "Thanks for the warning, by the way."
"You're not concussed," McCoy tells him, dropping the flashlight onto the bed beside Kirk. He then puts his fingers gently on either side of Kirk's throat and gently applies pressure. "Does that hurt?"
"Ow ow ow yes," says Kirk.
McCoy grabs a medical tricorder and begins scanning as Kirk massages his throat gingerly. McCoy's eyebrows shoot up, and he whistles. "That's a lot of bruising," he says appreciatively.
"Didn't realize it was so impressive," says Kirk.
"You even bruised your ribs," adds McCoy.
"I didn't even know ribs could bruise," says Kirk.
"Well, you learn something new every day," McCoy responds, and turns away to fiddle with something vaguely medical.
Kirk looks around. "I don't see Pike anywhere," he says.
"They were probably waiting for the exodus before they transferred him over," says McCoy absently. "No need to waste the energy on transporters when they can just be patient. Hold still."
"Why - oh, no - " Kirk doesn't get away fast enough, and McCoy jabs him in the neck with a hypospray.
"In my medical opinion, you should really spend the night here in sickbay," says McCoy, then adds, "Also, that was a sedative."
And everything goes black.
He wakes up during the night-cycle, when the lights are cut to half-power. The sickbay is quiet, but not empty - Kirk can see a silhouette standing by one of the nearby beds. Someone has thrown a blanket over him as he slept, which was very thoughtful. In the dim light, it appears to be pink, which was slightly less so.
He tries to sit up, but his ribs protest, and he can't hold back a quiet grunt of pain. The silhouette turns, and Kirk sees the faint outline of distinctly pointed ears.
"I did not mean to wake you," says Spock quietly, crossing over to Kirk's bed. "I merely wished to ascertain the condition of Captain Pike." After a brief hesitation, Spock adds, "And yourself."
"How very thoughtful," says Kirk, sitting up again, more slowly this time and to better results. "How is he?"
"Recovering," says Spock. "He will live."
"Good," says Kirk, then frowns. "Why the hell haven't you been checked in here?"
Kirk can't quite see, but he's pretty sure Spock raises an eyebrow. "I flew a ship. You attacked Romulans' fists with your face."
"Fair enough," says Kirk. "Although to be fair, it's really more like all of me." He straightens a bit, and winces. "Or at least it feels like it."
Spock's eyes flick over him, but linger momentarily on his throat. "Yes. I also - I wish to apologize for my outburst on the bridge. It was unprofessional and inexcusable - "
"And exactly what I was goading you into." Kirk shakes his head. "Don't worry about it."
Spock's eyebrows are definitely raised now. "Don't - worry about it," he echoes disbelievingly.
"Careful," warns Kirk. "That might be a little emotion on your face, just there."
Spock's lips tighten just a little, and he schools his face back to blankness. "I find it difficult to believe you are willing to let such an event pass so lightly."
Kirk shrugs. "What's a little strangling between friends?"
"Friends," Spock repeats, with that same utterly emotionless tone again, the one that's beginning to annoy Kirk - except then he realizes that yeah, without meaning to he had made a pretty big assumption there, and really he'd been making it for the past few days and when the hell had that happened?
He quickly thinks back, tries to remember when it happened, when Spock's scales tipped from the constant need to punch him in the face to something suspiciously like friendship - not camaraderie, not a stable professional relationship, but full-on friendship. When Spock had come onto the bridge to volunteer for the mission - no, even before that; when he had had to provoke Spock to an emotional reaction, he distinctly remembers regretting that he had to hurt him. Hell, when the older Spock had told him that he was already emotionally compromised, Kirk had felt a twinge suspiciously like sympathy, and that's pretty much his answer right there, isn't it?
The mind meld. Emotional transference.
"Yeah," says Kirk, after a long and pregnant pause. "Friends. We make a good team," he adds. "I do stupid things and you tell me they're illogical."
"And then you ignore me," Spock agrees pointedly.
"You made good points," says Kirk, suddenly having the distinct feeling that he's stuck in one of the buddy-cop comedies his stepfather used to drag him out to as a bonding activity. "Just. Wrong."
"And you were correct," Spock admits.
"They are remarkably difficult to tell apart in circumstances such as these," says Spock. He lifts one hand, and Kirk can see his fingers begin to form the Vulcan salute - abruptly he stops, and holds out his hand instead. "We do make a good team."
Kirk takes it, and they shake, very businesslike. Spock clearly has no idea how to shake hands and mean it, but Kirk figures he's trying. "Well, it was an honor working with you, Mister Spock," says Kirk.
"It was...certainly an experience," says Spock. "Perhaps we will work together again one day."
"Assuming I don't get kicked out of Starfleet for the Kobayashi Maru thing," Kirk reminds him.
Spock raises an eyebrow. "I believe you will find that you just saved the Earth. It would hardly be appropriate to reprimand you at this time."
"Or the mutiny thing," adds Kirk. "Or my record, or any of the five billion things they can complain about."
Spock looks vaguely uncomfortable. "As I said. It would hardly be appropriate."
"Wow, you're on my side," says Kirk. "That's a first."
They're interrupted when a nurse - Nurse Chapel, maybe? Kirk can't quite remember - enters and sees that he's awake. "Cadet Kirk," she says, surprised, and Kirk realizes that he is Cadet Kirk again, isn't he? 'Captain' sounded so much better. "You should be resting."
"Forgive me," says Spock, "I was just leaving." He turns back to Kirk and inclines his head oh-so-briefly, then flees like the coward he is in the face of Nurse Chapel with a hypospray.
The meeting - they're at least not calling it a court-martial, which is nice of them - is inevitable once they return to Earth, and Kirk once more finds himself standing alone at a lectern in front of seven admirals and an informal jury of his peers. They're talking amongst themselves again, still in hushed tones, although this time the general tone is less 'what punishment is he going to get' but 'what the fuck are they going to do with him?' Kirk can't say he doesn't sympathize with that last sentiment.
There's a gong, which is just overkill, and it begins.
"This session has been called...again...to resolve the matter of Cadet Kirk's performance on the Kobayashi Maru exam," says Admiral Barnett. "The events of the past few days have certainly cast a new light on the entire experience. You have been in the field and shown tenacity, bravery, and valor...not to mention levels of insubordination that have hitherto been thought to be impossible."
Hitherto? thinks Kirk.
"And yet we are not here to discuss those events. What we are here to discuss," says Barnett, "is the fact that you cheated."
"I prefer to think of it as using creative resources," says Kirk, thinking of the captain's chair on the Enterprise and the viewscreen filled with stars and he abruptly realizes that oh god, he doesn't want to lose that.
"I am inclined to agree," comes another voice, and after a moment's shock, Kirk has to keep himself from smiling as Spock comes down the aisle, taking his place at the lectern next to Kirk's. "I have reviewed the regulations for the Kobayashi Maru exam and they explicitly state to use any and all resources available to ward off Klingon attack, rescue the survivors of the Kobayashi Maru, and leave the Neutral Zone. There is no mention made of reprogramming the simulation itself...yet." Spock's eyes flicker to Kirk, then back to the Admiral. "Accusing Cadet Kirk of cheating is illogical - it is true, but it was never technically against regulations.
"In addition, Cadet Kirk's insight has shown that I have become lax in my security protocols, an oversight which I intend to rectify."
"Anything else, Commander Spock?" asks Barnett, frowning.
"Only one more point, if I may, Admiral," says Spock, seemingly oblivious to Barnett's discomfort. "In the last meeting I stated that Cadet Kirk failed to even grasp the point of the simulation. I have since reconsidered. I believe that Cadet Kirk has redefined the nature of the Kobayashi Maru exam and has furthermore shown in the field that he has the...lateral thinking abilities to follow through on his convictions. Therefore dismissing Cadet Kirk from service would not only be a mistake, but a loss."
Barnett's eyebrows shoot up. "And all of this was deduced through logic, I presume."
Kirk has no idea how, but Spock keeps a straight face. "Of course, Admiral."
"I am inclined to agree with Commander Spock," says Admiral Komack, and several other admirals seem to agree, or at least look marginally less intimidating.
Admiral Barnett looks at Spock, then at Kirk, then sighs. "As am I," says Barnett. "Are there any objections?"
The rest of the admirals are silent, and Kirk's stomach flip-flops.
"Then we are in agreement. Cadet Kirk, you are hereby off suspension to be assigned your next post with the rest of your class. Congratulations. Assembly dismissed!"
Kirk is so relieved he just barely avoids bursting into laughter on the spot. Someone reaches over from the observation section and claps him on the shoulder while the rest of the cadets stand up to file out; Kirk grins at them, then hurries over to Spock, who is also preparing to leave.
"Spock!" he says, and Spock looks up, his attention got. "I just wanted to say - thanks."
"I said nothing I believe to be untrue," says Spock primly. He hesitates for a moment, then adds, "It was also brought to my attention that after marooning you on an ice planet and attempting to strangle you to death, failing to speak out for your defense would make me, in the popular vernacular, a douche."
The dizzying sensation of relief coupled with the utter bizarreness of that word coming out of Spock's mouth really does make Kirk laugh. "Uhura said that, didn't she?"
Spock raises an eyebrow, but doesn't disagree. "Congratulations, Jim."
Jim. Kirk grins. "Thanks."
"Jim!" He turns to see McCoy coming towards him, then turns back to see that Spock is already gone. McCoy claps a hand on his shoulder and starts steering him towards the exit. "Relieved?"
"Unbelievably," Kirk admits. "Was it that obvious?"
"Thought you were gonna throw up for a minute there," says McCoy.
"Yeah, well, so did I," says Kirk.
"And hey - you made it through the Academy without getting thrown out," McCoy adds. "Congratulations."
"So did you," Kirk points out. "And without throwing up on me."
McCoy grins innocently. "Oh, we haven't graduated yet. There's still time for a drink or five."
"Music to my ears," says Kirk. "Let's go."
"Of course, now you've got something new to worry about," says McCoy. "Where they'll assign you. You've got a reputation now - can't imagine too many of the captains will be glad to see you working under them."
"Well, the easiest way to solve that problem is just to put me in command," jokes Kirk, as they finally emerge out of the lecture hall into the sunlight.
"Yeah, like that'll happen," snorts McCoy.
"Yeah," Kirk agrees, looking up through the glass at the blue San Francisco skies. "Still. Hope they put us somewhere decent."