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Saturn Ascends

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***

The Admiralty waited until Jim was declared fit for duty by McCoy to start the individual debriefings. They claimed this was because they wanted to start with him, which sounded like so much hilarious bullshit even through the fog of recovery that made concentrating on things problematic. He couldn't formulate a good argument against the delay, though; he just had a gut feeling something was off, and that didn't amount to much against the two-man team of Spock and McCoy, united against him overworking himself in any way.

So he didn't put a lot of thought into why the Admiralty waited so long, and focused instead of remembering how to walk and run and lift weights and other useful tasks. There were meetings before McCoy rubber-stamped him, especially for Spock, but the curtain didn't go up one the real show until the start of summer.

It didn't go the way he expected. He'd been braced for nothing short of a tribunal, with accusations flying and demands for answers about his incompetent decisions and how they'd lead to two hundred dead crew and untold thousands of dead and gravely injured civilians. He'd expected to lose the ship for sure, probably his rank, maybe get discharged. Dishonorably, if they were in particularly foul moods.

None of that happened. While he stared in near-mute shock, he was let off scot-free, with only a handful of softball questions lobbed his way, the kind he could have answered in his sleep (which was a blessing because when it became clear to him nothing was going to happen he almost passed out).

Khan received the bulk of the blame, especially for San Francisco. Barrett and Nogura made sniping remarks at Hamilton and Furlong while Chutani scowled throughout the whole proceeding. The others offered comments now and then. And nothing happened to him.

Jim was so dazed by what was going on that only later would he recognize that Hamilton and Furlong were all but defending Marcus, suggesting he'd just gotten carried away but had been correct in principle. Nogura and Barrett weren't going to drop the topic without a fight, and Jim stood in his ring-side seat to the circus, trying to figure out when he'd slipped into this nightmare.

He didn't really come back to himself until Nogura said, "It is the finding of this committee that Captain Kirk should be placed back on active duty effective immediately, and oversee the refit of the Enterprise." He swept at the small display in front of him, closing out the active file with an air of finality. "Thank you for your time, Captain. It's good to have you back."

Running on autopilot, Jim said, "Thank you, Admirals."

The entire proceeding left him chilled to the bone.

***

He made it home in just enough time to throw up in the sanctity of his own bathroom. Dry heaves followed once his lunch and breakfast were gone, and when those passed, he cleaned himself up and sat at his kitchen counter, trying to remember what thinking felt like.

He knew he should be relieved, because he was going to keep his rank and his ship and probably his crew, and in spite of this overwhelming victory there was a huge gaping hole inside of him that he didn't know how to start filling. He spent some time replaying his meager memories of the debriefing in his head, trying to figure out what was upsetting him so much, and during this his eyes landed on one of his bookshelves. On instinct, he picked out the scrimshaw whale tooth Pike had left him in his will, and in that instant he knew.

They wanted to act like Marcus hadn't been the real reason for everything, which in turn meant that Pike, Jim's crew, everyone in San Francisco, and the other casualties at Daystrom had died only because of Khan's fury, in a random act of violence, and not because Starfleet had stood around and let Marcus quietly foment war and chaos. They wanted to wash their hands clean of any wrong-doing, and that meant everyone--Pike included--had already received all the justice they'd be getting.

This can't be happening.

His communicator chirped, and he almost didn't answer, but remembered McCoy knew when to expect the debriefing to be over. "Kirk here."

"Jim. How'd it go?"

"It went."

There was a long pause, then McCoy asked, "What'd they do?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?" McCoy didn't sound like he could believe it. Jim didn't want to talk about it, because Pike was dead and the Admiralty couldn't be bothered to look into why or how beyond the obvious and undeniable parts, and it made him want to break things. Starting with his communicator.

"Nothing. Still Captain."

"You don't sound very happy about it."

"It's just the communicator. You bringing me dinner or am I fending for myself?"

"As if. I'll pick something up on my way back from Medical."

"See you then."

There was a bottle of scotch in his cupboard. After McCoy had come over with dinner and left for the night, he drank it until the urge to destroy his apartment passed, vaguely glad he didn't have any cars to throw off the Bay bridge, because he wasn't sure his motor coordination was good enough to get him out of the seat like it had been when he was younger.

***

Weeks passed, and he drifted through them, numb and just present enough to keep anyone from asking too many questions. McCoy and sometimes Spock and Uhura kept him focused on recovering, and since that took up most of his strength and a good deal of his attention span it was easy to not think about how Starfleet didn't care about Marcus. He worked on reading and approving and filing reports when he had the brainpower for it, and sat in silence (or got good and drunk and was yelled at by McCoy the following morning) and hated the universe when he didn't. Things stayed that way, punctuated by occasional breakdowns and episodes, until he received his new orders.

He was sweeping through the list of his morning messages on his tablet when the file landed in his inbox. He'd been dreading this ever since they'd put him back on active duty, and now it was here.

He set the tablet down, and rubbed at his eyes. It was way too early in the fucking morning for this.

"Bad news?" McCoy asked across his plate of breakfast. Jim nodded.

"They want us back at Riverside. The new core's going up at the end of the week."

McCoy made a low sound that was part sympathy and part resignation. He gestured at Jim's untouched plate of eggs, bacon, and toast. "Eat."

Jim opened his mouth to protest, got a dirty look for his trouble, and snapped it shut. He piled butter and preserve onto the toast and began to nibble at it. Only when McCoy scrutinized him again did he start to eat in earnest.

He'd lost a drastic amount of weight during his recovery, and as soon as he'd moved back to his Starfleet apartment and was eating regular food again, McCoy had been bound and determined to see him finish three complete meals a day. He showed up bright and early each morning on his way in to Starfleet Medical and left only after dinner was done that night.

"They schedule your debriefing yet?" Jim asked.

"Not yet. Heard from Spock?"

"His is today."

McCoy grunted. "Well, they didn't take your head, I don't think they'll go for his."

"He beat the ever-loving shit out of Khan before bringing him back."

"After Khan tried to kill him, and succeeded in killing twenty-odd thousand people. Trust me, he'll be fine."

"Probably."

"Count on it."

Jim sighed and turned to stare out his balcony door at the construction cranes. "What's the deal with yours, anyways?"

"They'll probably put it off for a while; the medical board's a different situation than the Admiralty. They have a lot of tests and data to go over first."

Jim murmured an agreement to the last statement. He saw another pointed look out of the corner of his eye, and set to finishing his breakfast. After he'd spent some time eating, McCoy resumed the conversation.

"Anything exciting for you today?"

"Uhura and I are going over the old science proposals, from before...everything. Seeing what we want to put forward for a five-year. You?"

"After my rounds, I have a bunch of medical students to entertain myself with."

"Sounds thrilling."

"Oh, you'd be surprised." McCoy actually appeared to be looking forward to it, and Jim wondered what kind of 'entertainment' was involved. Stashing live orderlies among the cadavers and seeing who passed out when one of them stood up and walked out?

Once their plates were clean, they rode the transit system together to Starfleet HQ. He spent his day going through project reports and discussing them with Uhura, who he could feel was watching him like a hawk. He tried to distract her with smalltalk, but he could tell it wasn't working. They heard from Spock a little after lunch (which Uhura oversaw on behalf of McCoy); his debriefing had been as uneventful as Kirk's. Jim forced himself to eat everything on his plate, and found that focusing on small, specific tasks kept him from succumbing to whatever strange episode was threatening to overtake him.

When he got home that evening--an hour ahead of McCoy--he opened his tablet and saw the message with their orders again.

He pulled a bottle of whiskey down from the cupboard and poured himself a drink.