Reflections on Command

"Ahead to warp one," Kirk ordered crisply as he leaned back in the black leather chair, indisputably his once more, now that Willard Decker had transcended with Lieutenant Ilia and the V'ger probe into something else entirely, a new life form that was beyond their comprehension. There was a look of yearning on his face, a trace of sadness in his expressive hazel eyes, that had not been there when he had taken back the Enterprise, was it only days ago now?

"Warp one, sir. Acceleration beginning," Sulu called out, his voice lacking that easy familiarity Kirk remembered from his earlier command, watching as the helmsman's fingers slid over the spanking new boards before him.

Kirk's words were like an echo from the past that no one on the bridge had ever thought to hear again. It was like a dream come true, almost like a trip back in time, almost but not quite. Kirk felt the difference and knew that his old crew felt it too. It was an intangible awareness, an indefinable sensation of something out of place, dissimilarity; like wearing well-worn slippers on the wrong feet. However, much the slippers resembled one another they were still distinct, separate.

What was it, Kirk wondered, as the muted but powerful throb of the Enterprise' engines built beneath him, the star mass on the bridge screen congealing as they hurtled forward into hyperspace? What was wrong? He worried at the feeling like a dog gnawed a bone, trying to place the sensation, to pin it down, but it continued to elude him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sulu glance at him.

"Warp one achieved, sir."

The breathless hush that had descended on the bridge almost unnoticed broke on a collective sigh, and Kirk realized that he had been holding his breath, as if waiting for the ship to betray him. He glanced around at the old, familiar faces, and the few new ones, seeing relief, sudden smiles that hid distrust, the tension ebbing as fear released its hold. His crew were afraid of the ship -- and possibly his ability to command it. All the old trust, the conviction, had disappeared with the paneling and instrumentation ripped out to make way for this new, super-powerful, super- efficient, Enterprise.

He had thought, once he had completed the V'ger mission satisfactorily, that he could resume his command without difficulty, pick up where he had left off, but that had not happened, and he realized belatedly that he could never recapture the past. He was not the same Jim Kirk that had left the battered, but still beautiful Enterprise of over two years ago. Admiral's stars had changed him he realized; the knowledge of how easily Nogura had manipulated him had made him a bitter, angry man. Not only had he lost his ship but also the two closest friends he had ever had.

He became aware of Sulu waiting expectantly for his next order and straightened abruptly. "Take her up to warp six, Mr. Sulu. Steady as she goes."

"Aye, sir. Warp six it is."

The throbbing beat of the Enterprise's new heart quickened as matter and anti-matter shattered furiously into energy, a raw force directly under his control. It was a heady experience, despite his doubts, and he could not help one swift, proud glance at Spock who sat at his new station to Kirk's left. The Vulcan met his glance with one raised eyebrow, acknowledging his look with a slight upward tilt of the lips. Kirk recognized the smile with almost a sense of shock. Yes, even Spock had changed, was still in the process of changing since his experience with the living machine V'ger.

Kirk felt a moment of disorientation as he snapped away the safety harness over his knees and keyed the intercom. "Doctor McCoy, I'd be obliged if you'd join me in the officer's lounge in five minutes."

He stood up and crossed to the turbo lift, adding as he passed his First Officer. "And you too, Mr. Spock."

The elevator rushed them down to the luxurious environs of the lounge area, three decks below the bridge and they stepped out to find an almost cheerful McCoy confronting them, obviously having come to terms with his ill feelings at being 'drafted' back into service after swearing never to return.

When Kirk had accepted flag rank against all McCoy's dire warnings, irretrievably splitting the almost symbiotic relationship the three men shared, the doctor had taken his enraged fight right into Staff Country itself, bearding Heihachiro Nogura in his own den, achieving the very thing he had hoped to avoid. Despite all his arguments, Jim had failed to see the danger of leaving all the challenges, excitement and freedom that command of a starship had given him. He had not found that out until McCoy resigned from Starfleet and Spock, abruptly deserted by the only man he had given himself to unequivocally, decided to return to Vulcan, a scenario Kirk had never even considered.

Now McCoy glanced from one to the other of them, grinning sardonically.

"Well, I guess we're well and truly headed 'thataway', Jim. Why the long face? Don't tell me Nogura has recalled us."

"No, Bones." Kirk managed a grim smile, the old nickname coming back easily enough. "We've saved the Earth from V'ger, remember? That makes us one hell of a public figure. Not even Admiral Nogura can go against public opinion. They want us out here, and here we are going to stay."

He strolled absently over to an observation port where he could look out over the Enterprise's huge central 'saucer' and into space. The stars, distorted by the ship's incredible speed, appeared to whip brightly past to congeal in an eerie blaze of cold light before and behind them. For two long years, he had never been able to forget that sight. To him, it represented the ultimate experience, one that he knew he could never give up completely again.

"So, what's eating you?" McCoy broke into his thoughts. "This should be one of the happiest days of your life. Don't tell me you're having regrets."

Spock intervened smoothly, one eyebrow rising in a characteristic gesture that even the Masters of Gol had not managed to erase. "Doctor, I doubt leaving an Admiral's concerns is the cause of the ... Captain's disquiet."

Kirk turned to face the Vulcan at Spock's hesitation over his rank, smiling tightly, but he saw only concern reflected in the deep-set eyes. The First Officer, after all, could understand very well what he might be going through.

"I've never regretted anything less in my life," he murmured, quietly. "It just took me two years longer than you to realize my mistake, Bones. No, that's not the problem ."

"Then what is?" McCoy persisted. He glanced at Spock's enigmatic expression, but received no joy there. The Vulcan might have thawed since coming aboard, but not that much.

Kirk shook his head. "You said it yourself, Doctor. V'ger was a heaven- sent opportunity for me, one I used to further my own ends and get back command of the Enterprise." He hesitated, finding the truth painful to acknowledge but unable to conceal it any longer. "I have to admit you were right. I didn't intend to hand her back to Decker, or anyone else."

His balled fist lightly struck the streamlined bulkhead beside him. "Damn it, this ship was ... is my life, Bones."

"So, what's changed?" McCoy asked shrewdly, watching Kirk's agonised expression.

"That's just it. I'm the one who's changed, perhaps too much. My actions prove that. I risked over four hundred lives, and millions of others on Earth, for my own gain. Would the old Jim Kirk have done that?"

"No," McCoy agreed, and saw the pain intensify in Kirk's eyes. "But the Captain James T. Kirk I once knew doesn't exist any more."

Bones reached out as Kirk turned away and clasped his arm. "We all change, Jim. None of us is the same. Whoever thought that Spock could smile and not feel guilty? The fact that you're two years older, and a hell of a lot wiser, doesn't make you any less of a damn fine Captain."

"The crew have stopped trusting the ship, and me. I've lost them as I lost Decker, through my own stupidity."

"Because you were trying to go back, Jim. The past is finished, over. Not even you can recreate what's gone. This is a new ship and we all need to get used to it, and to each other. Remember that and you won't go far wrong."

McCoy's direct blue eyes met Kirk's, softening slightly as he saw the concern still mirrored there, recognising Kirk's need to search his soul. He'll get over it eventually, Bones thought, relying on his own homespun Georgian good sense. Kirk was resilient. He had shown that by bouncing back from a job he hated and which had made him desperately unhappy. "Stop crucifying yourself, Captain."

He emphasized the title with a wry grin. "We're all home again, for better or for worse, and on your side, if you'll let us."

He strode over to the turbo lift, leaving the two officers staring after him.

"Talk some sense into him, Spock. You're the only one who can do it, apparently. Use logic, if you have to. Doctor's orders."

There was a brief silence after McCoy left, a mutually gauging moment of truth, when each man realized how much he relied upon the other. Spock, deeply hurt by his Captain's departure, had run back to Vulcan hoping to exorcise Kirk's influence along with the ghosts of his human half, only to appreciate that he might as well amputate a limb as free himself from something so deeply ingrained.

The truth, learned from V'ger, that sentience was an essential ingredient for existence had rocked the foundation of his life. Spock now recognised that he needed his human half as a counter-balance to the greater, logical, Vulcan element. Without the capacity to feel fear, pain, loneliness, or love, he would no more be a living, thinking, being than the computers he programmed.

Kirk, bereft of the Enterprise, the special relationship he shared with his crew, and above all, McCoy and Spock, had found himself only half alive. Once the wounds and exhaustion gained on that first five-year mission had sufficiently healed, he had quickly found out that McCoy had been right and he had made a terrible, unforgivable error.

Spock quietly cleared his throat, automatically straightening, his hands clasped loosely in the small of his back. The stance brought back endless memories to Kirk as he faced his First Officer.

"Well, Mr. Spock, what pearls of logic do you have for me?" he asked, unable to hide his sudden amusement.

Spock's eyebrow rose as he stared back at Kirk, an answering smile coming strangely to his lips. "For any problem, there is a solution, Captain. However, in this case I believe logic would not be entirely appropriate. I do have a suggestion, nonetheless."

"Such as?" Kirk prompted, his brows drawing together in a straight line as he frowned, his interest sharpening.

The Vulcan paced sedately over to the wall com. and thumbed the control. Instantly there was a muted buzz of activity from the bridge. Voices demanded information from Engineering, Life Sciences and other key points around the ship, checking and rechecking that the giant organism they called 'home' was functioning safely and efficiently as per Kirk's orders. Spock, head tilted to one side, looked pointedly at his commanding officer as they listened to the organised chatter.

"I don't think I ... understand," Kirk said a little bemused.

"Precisely, sir," Spock replied softly. "Those two years away have separated you from the life you once knew intimately. You have lost touch with your crew, but most importantly with yourself. Perhaps the solution is not so difficult as you imagine. Find the time to understand, listen to that which is inside of you. It is not only the Enterprise that is being tested, Captain."

Kirk nodded slowly, his expression thoughtful. Sound advice from someone he could trust implicitly. He knew he would take it. Kirk smiled, the old slow smile, before holding out his hand.

"It's good to have you home, Mr. Spock."

Without hesitation, Spock reached out across the years they had known each other and took the outstretched hand firmly in his own. Instantly, it became the warm clasp of two old friends, once separated but now back together again.

"It ... is good to be here, Jim."