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Entering Orbit

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Entering Orbit

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"And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself...the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight..." —The Symposium, Plato

The fanfare that should have surrounded the Enterprise's return to Earth was tempered by the loss of a Federation planet. Though the crew members were glad to disembark and load onto transports to the planet's surface, one look at any of the stone-faced Vulcan elders waiting among them dampened any joy they felt at returning to their home world, replaced by a sensation of selfishness and guilt, for Earth had been saved.

One by one, the transports left space dock, carrying seventy five passengers each. It took six transports in total to carry the crew back into Earth's atmosphere and into San Francisco, which lay beneath a heavy blanket of fog that rolled off of the Pacific and blocked the sun, as though the city herself mourned. Jim Kirk was grateful for that.

Spock sat next to him in the transport, hands folded formally on his lap, his dark eyes pointed forward, unblinking. To the outside observer, he looked calm, but Jim knew the turbulent emotions he concealed. Fury and loss and responsibility over his mother's death had charged into Jim when Spock's hands locked around his throat. He knew exactly what Spock felt. If it had been Bones suffering, Jim would have clasped a friendly hand on his knee and said, "It's gonna be okay." But this was not Bones, so Jim kept his hand on the armrest, and the words remained unspoken.

When the transports landed, the senior bridge crew was escorted into Starfleet headquarters for debriefing. Jim envied Bones who, despite his rank aboard the ship, wasn't required to attend (something about Medical having a separate and much shorter debriefing in the morning, which was bullshit and totally unfair) and headed back to the apartment.

Debriefing took two hours in a room without windows or coffee, and it was obvious the admiralty cut things short only out of respect for Commander Spock, who blinked every time Vulcan was mentioned. Jim knew he was flinching, recoiling from the memories that must be conjured every time an Admiral asked for clarification on a point.

"Why did you risk beaming down to Vulcan knowing its destruction was imminent? Did you beam down out of personal obligation? Why did you maroon Mr. Kirk on Delta Vega instead of sending him to the brig? Why didn't you recognize your own emotional distress?"

Spock kept cool, answered their questions completely, a throbbing vein in his temple the only sign of unease.

They were equally brutal with Jim. He tried to sit up straight the way Spock did, but found himself leaning back in his chair, head cocked to the side, tapping a foot slowly on the ground to keep his composure.

"You weren't cleared for duty aboard the Enterprise. Did you bribe Dr. McCoy to bring you on the ship? How were you able to beam onto the Enterprise when it was moving at warp speed? Why did you attempt negotiations with a hostile Romulan, risking the Enterprise and its crew to do so? Do you wish to press charges against Commander Spock for violating Security Protocol 49.09 pertaining to the treatment of prisoners? Do you wish to press charges against Commander Spock for personal assault?"

Jim balled his hand into a fist under the conference table at the last suggestion and said, "Look, Spock didn't assault anyone. Can we go?"

All Jim wanted was to hole up in his apartment and enjoy a hot shower, with real water and clean towels, but Admiral Barnett insisted he stand beside Spock and Sulu in a brief press conference. "Just give them two minutes," the admiral said, slapping him on the shoulder. "Everyone wants to see the men who saved Earth. Then you're free to go. We'll contact you with further orders."

Reporters waited in a cramped press room with too-low ceilings that, by comparison, made debriefing seem relaxing. The moment they entered the room, lights from their recording and video devices assaulted Jim's eyes, and he held up an arm against the glare. The cacophony of voices swallowed them, a steady chatter that swelled as they approached the front of the room. The walls were gray and the carpet was gray, and the Starfleet Command emblem was emblazoned on a wooden lectern. Sulu walked straight ahead to the low stage and up the steps; Jim focused on his lower back and followed. Somehow he ended up being the one standing at the voice amplifier. Sulu stood directly to his right, and he could sense Spock behind him. The questions began to fly.

"How does it feel being back on Earth?"

"Feels great," he replied coolly.

"Can you comment as to the extent of Captain Pike's injuries?"

"I'm not a doctor."

"Is it true Captain Pike won't be able to resume command of the Enterprise due to his injuries?"

"I believe Mr. Kirk has already indicated that he is not qualified to answer medical questions," Spock interjected, coming into Jim's peripheral vision. Their shoulders brushed. Jim moved a step to the right.

"Is it true Starfleet is charging you with an academic offense, Mr. Kirk?"

"I don't know anything about that."

"Is it true you were on academic suspension and sneaked on board the Enterprise for this mission?"

"I was on board the Enterprise under physician's orders and later promoted to first officer."

"Any response to allegations that your illness was faked?"

"I had a skull-splitting headache and no vision in my left eye," Jim responded. "I don't know how you fake that." Which was mostly true. He hadn't feigned the symptoms, after all, even if Bones had intentionally infected him with whatever.

"Do you believe you were promoted due to Captain Pike's regard for your father's actions aboard the Kelvin?"

"Look," Jim stated firmly, looking down at his hands. "Almost six billion Vulcans lost their lives just days ago. Let's keep things in perspective. Last question."

"Commander Spock, is it true you were unable to rescue your own mother before Vulcan's destruction?"

"Yes," Spock answered, and Jim clenched his jaw and nodded toward the door. Spock made a small motion in agreement, and they left the room with Sulu in tow, to the sound of their own names being called after them.

"You lied," Spock observed as he and Jim walked down the wide front steps into the temperate February air. The grounds were oddly quiet. "You could have confirmed my negative actions toward you, yet you did not."

He regarded Jim with a slight frown, a crease forming between his eyebrows.

"I'm not going to air personal issues in front of a bunch of reporters or the admiralty," Jim said, sighing. "Are you going to find your dad?"


"Give him my best," Jim said, stopping in the grass and touching Spock's arm to still him. "Listen, I'm sorry for what they said in there. And I really am sorry about your mom."

He was met with unblinking dark eyes and a subtle nod. Jim smiled and knocked him on the shoulder.

"See you around, Commander."

"I want a hot shower and a cold beer," Jim announced as soon as McCoy opened the door to their apartment, pushing his way inside. "Please tell me that we left beer in the fridge. I can't stomach synthehol tonight."

"That bad, huh? I didn't watch. How was debriefing?"

"Brutal. Did you already eat?"

"An hour ago."

Dropping his duffel bag in the hallway, Jim shuffled to the refrigerator and poked around its meager contents, coming up with a convenient six pack of craft lager. They had little in the way of food, and he was suddenly starving but didn't feel up to cooking. Instead, he punched in the code for a turkey sandwich and had a third of it in his mouth by the time he reached his bathroom and turned on the shower, a beer in his left hand and a second in the crook of his elbow. He set both on the counter beside the sink, stripped off his uniform and kicked it from his ankles, opened the first and took a long sip. Around his neck was a collar of bruises. He touched them gingerly and winced. He shoved the rest of the sandwich in his mouth and swallowed without chewing well.

The water was satisfyingly hot and ran over his face and chest, beating down on him until Bones knocked loudly on the door and said, "Are you planning to live in there?" Reluctantly, Jim shut off the water and toweled dry, pulling on sweats and his black Starfleet Does It In Space t-shirt, and padded out to find him, opening Beer Number Two as he did so.

"I could fuck this beer, I love it so much," he announced. Bones rolled his eyes.

Jim flopped down on the couch. It was a welcome change from the captain's seat on the bridge, and certainly came with less heart-stopping action. He settled back among the cushions and propped his bare feet on the edge of the coffee table despite the glare the good doctor shot him.

"What?" he said. "They're clean."

Bones dropped into the armchair and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I'm beat."

"Me too."

"Hard to believe all of that happened in just a couple of days."

"Hard to believe how quiet the building is." And how quiet it would remain, Jim continued in thought, with the loss of so many cadets. The building housed mostly third and fourth year students. Jim imagined personal belongings left in each of the apartments, individual lives defined by a framed family hologram, or a treasured alien souvenir, or a closet of clothing no one would wear again. There was usually music in the building, palpable through the floors until late into the night, intermixed with the cadence of indistinguishable voices talking, whispering, laughing, moaning. He'd heard the guy two doors down having sex more than he liked to think about. He'd wished often that Starfleet would install noise cancelling devices in the hallways, because the chaos made studying difficult and unappealing (and despite his propensity to party and party hard, Jim was a dedicated and outstanding student when it suited him). But now that the air was still and silent, and all that he could discern was the odd body moving about, Jim craved and mourned the loss of life around him.

"You need sleep."

"Just gonna finish this one," he promised Bones. "And then I'll go to bed."

"I don't want to see you anywhere near the coffee maker. It's not a night for it."

"I swear. Just beer."

Bones usually tolerated his habit of ingesting more than the recommended amount of caffeine for a standard Earth day within an hour, but not tonight. Jim leaned his head against the couch and touched his neck absentmindedly.

"That Vulcan really did a number on you. Come by the clinic tomorrow and I'll remove those."

"You're gonna have your hands full with the survivors tomorrow," Jim said. He raked a hand through his hair. "Why does it seem like we've been gone for months?"

"Just imagine when you've been away for years."

A knock at the door threatened to pull Jim from his 0730 pre-caffeinated stupor, which consisted of lounging on the couch. He yawned and ignored it.

"Get that," Bones barked from his room where he was undoubtedly dressing in his regulation uniform in preparation for Medical debriefing, while Jim bummed around their shared living room in his underwear with a mug of steaming hot coffee in his hand (not replicated, but honest-to-god roasted and freshly ground) that Bones would have to surgically remove to prevent him drinking it.

He was forced to set the mug—it was cadet red and said Academy or Bust in bold white letters, an inside joke courtesy of Captain Pike—on the nightstand in his room as he hurried to pull on a pair of jeans from the floor, but scooped it back up and drank greedily as he slumped to the door. He detoured to the kitchen for a refill when knocking sounded a second time. Again Bones yelled for him to answer it, Jim, dammit. He expected to find Scotty, whom he'd given his address before docking, or Sulu, or even Nurse Chapel come to collect Bones, but it was—

"Spock," Jim exclaimed with a frown, stepping back and allowing room for his former acting captain to pass into the apartment. Spock wore black robes, neat hair, and his typical expression, standing with his arms clasped; his was an austere presence next to Jim's tousled, bed headed, shirtless one. Spock glanced at Jim's bare chest, then steadied his eyes on Jim's face.

"Um. Coffee?" Jim offered before he took another sip. It was still too hot to drink comfortably, but he ignored the way the roof of his mouth stung. It would be sore tomorrow and probably peel. He didn't care and drank again, willing his eyes to open fully.

"You did not respond to my message, so I thought it prudent to come."

He yawned widely. "I've been asleep."

"I sent the message within the last hour."

"I've been awake for fifteen minutes. Checking official Starfleet communications wasn't first on my list this morning, sorry."

"Your hearing has been rescheduled for Friday morning."

"My what?"

"Your academic hearing," Spock clarified. "I received notification of the new date and time this morning, hence my contacting you. When I did not receive a reply to my inquiry, I presumed, correctly, that you had not yet received the communication from Starfleet Academy and were unaware the trial would continue. I surmised you might prefer to learn of this in person."

"You're still bringing me up on charges of—"

"No," Spock said firmly. "I have no wish to pursue this course of action against you any longer."

"So drop the complaint!"

"I already submitted the necessary form to retract allegations; however, the academy insists you be retried, since proceedings had already begun."

"Bullshit," Jim swore as Bones came into the shared space, still buttoning his collar. "This is bullshit." He paced near the window, pulling the curtains shut roughly. "We just saved the planet, and this is how they're gonna thank me, by dragging me back into an academic disciplinary hearing about alleged cheating on the Kobayashi fucking Maru?"

"You did cheat," Spock pointed out.

"You know as well as I do that test proves nothing compared to what we all went through these last few days, especially you, and to dredge it all back up is, I repeat, bullshit."

"Starfleet maintains the trial is required according to academy policy. The hearing is scheduled for 0800 hours."

"This is such crap. I'm not going."

"Jim," Bones interjected. "This isn't exactly a wedding invitation! You're not being offered a choice here."

"There's always a choice."

"The council will view your refusal to appear as an admission of guilt," Spock said. "I see no logic in these proceedings, but my recommendation is to appear and defend your case. I have no wish to see you reprimanded after your assistance with Vulcan's evacuation."

"Pretty sure they've made up their minds already."

"You'd have to be a damned fool to gamble your career over this," Bones said, poking him in the neck in the approximation of his beloved hyposprays. His finger hit a sore spot. Jim covered it automatically with his hand and glared at him. "It reeks of bureaucratic nonsense, but you're going, even if I have to sedate your ass and drag you there by the balls."

"If you will permit it," Spock said. "I will advocate on your behalf."

"I can stand up for myself," Jim's brain said on autopilot.

"I am glad you have decided to attend," Spock said. "I will see you at 0800 hours."

With that, he left.

"Dammit," Jim said, staring at the door. "He tricked me."

"Better get that uniform cleaned."

"I hate you."

"Don't worry," Bones said, slapping him on the shoulder. "You can thank me later."

Bones was out of bed and dressed and looming over him with an annoyed expression when Jim cracked his eyes open on Friday morning.

"Get your ass out of bed," Bones barked, yanking the sheets away. "I made pancakes."

"I need a shower," Jim complained, curling into himself where the cold air met his skin.

"Hurry the hell up," Bones called on his way out of the room. "That council isn't going to wait, and I don't exactly trust Spock's patience where you're concerned."

"He can't maroon me for being late to my own trial."

"Up. Shower. Now."

"Isn't there a flesh-eating disease somewhere you should be curing?" he muttered on his way to the shower.

He emerged, clean and more alert, to find his uniform laid out on his now-made bed (Bones still harbored domestic tendencies left over from his marriage, such as making beds and delicious breakfasts). Jim begrudgingly pulled on the uniform, found matching socks, and located both dress shoes. He brushed his teeth before eating.

"I left the cleaner's receipt on your nightstand," Bones remarked as he watched Jim devour a short stack. "I knew you wouldn't bother. Eat up, Sleeping Beauty. We need to get going."

Spock stood next to him during the trial this time. Jim set his jaw when the Academic Council once again called his name, and he folded his hands over the edges of the lectern. The room was far from full. Only a handful of observers were sprinkled around the auditorium.

He spoke his piece, rehashing what he'd said the last time, without an aggravating Vulcan going back at him. If any member of the assembly was surprised to see Spock standing beside him, no one said so.

"You are the first to interfere with the simulation's programming. How did you accomplish this?"

"I spent over twelve hours programming the subroutine itself. I used a technician's email to get the subroutine installed."

"You coerced a technician into helping you cheat?"

"No. She didn't know anything about it. I sent her a message containing the patch for the program. The patch self installed when she opened the email during the simulation."

"So you admit not only to cheating, but to abusing the trust of a fellow cadet, and infecting an Academy computer with a virus?"

"Why are you wasting your time with this?" Jim shot back. "Shouldn't you be planning memorial services for the hundreds of cadets who lost their lives a few days ago?"

"This council is aware of the great sacrifice made by those cadets," the Admiral replied smoothly. "Their memories will be honored. However, we are gathered today to discuss whether you have a future with Starfleet."

There was a murmuring among the council members, who looked at each other nervously. Out of the corner of his eye, Bones shook his head. The admiral cleared his throat and resumed his seat. He spoke to the members on either side of him in hushed tones, nodding carefully, and made a note on the document in front of him.

"Mister Kirk, my fellow council members have requested additional time for deliberation on this matter. We will contact you once we have reached our decision. You are dismissed."

Jim was the first one out the door with Bones on his heels griping, "Are you trying to get discharged?"

The pair retreated to a favorite coffee shop two blocks away. Jim felt obliged to invite Spock, who agreed to accompany them, to Jim's surprise, and sat to Jim's left sipping peppermint tea. Jim lavished his attention on a double espresso. It was a small cafe, with only twelve tables, strong coffee, and good food. They sat in the corner, at the largest table, Spock closest to the fireplace. Bones muttered something about sweating to death and loosened his collar. Jim turned his chair to face the fire.

"Do you consume liquids other than coffee?" Spock asked.

Jim thought for a moment. "I consume beer. Does that count?"

"Jim's a health nut, as you can plainly see," Bones drawled, sipping his water and scanning the menu. "I'm ordering a sandwich. Do you two want anything?"

"I am meeting my father shortly," Spock said.

"I'll take that as a no," Bones said. "Jim?"

"Get me one of those grilled cheese panini things," Jim piped up. "The one with the bacon. Just make sure they don't use peanut oil on the grill this time, unless we all want a fun-filled afternoon in the wonderful world of anaphylactic shock. Oh, and see if they'll do extra bacon."

"Like I said, health nut," Bones said, pushing away from the table and starting toward the counter. "By the way? I'm not sitting in the emergency room with you, so you're getting a salad."

Jim rolled his eyes at him affectionately.

"I know you must still be mad about the test," Jim said, turning back to Spock and resting his forearms on his knees. "But thanks for coming with me."

"I am not mad," Spock said, "though it is regretful you involved Cadet Vro."

"How did you...?" Jim stared at him, incredulous.

"Cadet Uhura informed me that you saw her roommate on a few occasions. Logically, I drew the conclusion, once I heard your testimony, that she must be the technician to whom you referred."

"Makes me sound like an asshole," Jim admitted, hanging his head. "I liked Gaila. Or, I came to like her. I admit I went out with her initially because I needed access to the test's code."

"Which indicates you researched the test, and were familiar with the group of us responsible for programming it, and yet you did not attempt to manipulate me."

"I didn't think a Vulcan could be manipulated, to be honest. Besides, Gaila was sweet. We had a good time. She liked my eyes." He batted them at Spock who did not react. "See? Much easier with Orions. I'm sorry she..."

He couldn't say it. Taking a deep breath, he sat upright and faced the table. Spock nodded his understanding.

Tray in hand, Bones returned to the table several minutes later and set a large house salad in front of Jim. Jim speared a grape tomato with a fork and consumed it reluctantly.

"Always looking out for me," Jim said flatly. He dripped salad dressing down his uniform and wiped it away sloppily with a napkin.

"That's because I'm the one stuck taking care of you. Would you like a bib?" Bones offered before starting on his own hold-the-mayo, whole wheat, turkey, and sprout creation which was so healthy, Jim considered it exercise just to stare at it.

"Would you like tastebuds?"

"Shut up and eat your salad."

"Mister Kirk?" an unfamiliar voice called, and the three of them looked up at a moderately attractive woman in her mid twenties, in business casual attire, holding a recording device. "I'm from the San Francisco Examiner. Can I get a statement from you about your hearing this morning? What do you think the outcome will be?"

"No comment," Jim stated, returning his stare to the fireplace.

"Commander Spock," she said without a pause, pushing the recording device toward his face, "your thoughts on the outcome of Mister Kirk's trial?"

"I do not wish to make a statement," Spock responded.

"Can you confirm the rumors of a proposed Vulcan colony?"

Spock said nothing. Jim turned his head and watched Spock's face.

"By your best estimate, how many survivors of Vulcan are seeking refuge on Earth currently?"

There was obvious tension in Spock's jaw.

"Where were you when you learned of your mother's death?"

"Jesus!" Jim snapped, turning to face her. "What is it with you? He said he doesn't want to make a statement. Get the hell out of his face."

"I'm just trying to report the news, Mister Kirk. It is my right."

"You're trying to exploit someone's loss so you can sell a few more papers. You're not getting any statements here, from any of us."

He turned back around and drained the last drops of coffee from his espresso cup, setting it too hard on the table. A chip fell from the edge nearest him. The reporter huffed. Jim heard the click of her recording machine being turned off, and she left. A few patrons applauded. Shrugging, Jim picked up the ceramic chip and turned it over on his palm. It was sharp, but he pressed a fingertip against it just firmly enough to feel pain. His anger abated.

"It was not necessary for you to defend me," Spock said.

"I hate reporters," Jim insisted, throwing the chip to the floor. "Every year on my birthday as a kid, we'd have to go to the Starfleet shipyard for a ceremony in honor of my dad. The things those people can ask is mind boggling. They'd ask how I felt knowing he'd died to save my life. If I could say anything to him, what would it be? I've been asked if I miss him. I never met him! You know what that's like as a little kid?" He rocked back on his chair. "It's like they don't have feelings of their own. No wonder my mom took up drinking."

"It's not going to stop," Bones told him. "You know that. They're going to camp outside your door, follow you around campus, insert themselves into your life until they get what they want from you. In this case, a soundbyte. That's true for both of you."

"I just won't go outside for a while," Jim joked.

"That hardly seems plausible," Spock said.

"Kidding, Spock. You know, my mom's off planet." Again. "The house is just sitting empty. With the ship undergoing repairs, we won't go back out for at least a month, that is if we get to go back. Might be time for me to take a vacation."

"You're going to run away to Iowa?" Bones deadpanned.

Jim shrugged. "Why not? Better than staying here and humoring these clowns. Spock can call me if anything happens with the trial."

"How will I contact you?" Spock asked. "Official communication channels are clearly ineffective."

"Give me your comm."

With a prim hand—and that was a laugh, considering how much power Spock's hands actually possessed—Spock took his comm device from his robes and placed it in Jim's offered palm. Jim tapped in the ID for his own comm and handed it back.

"That's my personal line," he said.

"Make sure you check the name he entered," Bones advised. "When he put himself into my address book, he ID'd himself as Captain Fine Ass. Try explaining that to a woman when you're out to dinner and some jerk is blowing up your comm with messages."

"Don't worry," Jim assured Spock, punching him lightly on the arm. "I put Jim Kirk. Found out the hard way it's best not to piss you off."

Spock cast his eyes downward and pressed his lips together but said nothing. Jim opened his mouth to apologize—it was too soon for jokes—but Bones spoke before he could.

"You sure about this, kid?"

"I'm gonna need a ride to the station tomorrow."

"Yeah, yeah," Bones said and bit into his sandwich.