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Kirk stared at the closing door, savagely controlling his gut reaction; losing his temper would profit no-one but the Orions. His eyes fell to his clenched, white-knuckled fists, a paler shade of the desk-top's mock-mahogany surface.
The tension in them angered him still further, and he opened them, palms down, pushing himself abruptly up and out of his chair, setting it swinging steadily.
Ignoring its muffled thumping he strode to the window and stood looking out, gazing down over the city, finding cold comfort in its clean lines, its famous bridge a midget meccano construction from this height.
Damn the Orions! And damn all planetside politicians who worked themselves into a frenzy of righteous anger instead of quietly sitting down and trying to see someone else's point of view for a change. Was it really so different out there? Had he learned so much out in the chill infinity of space? He spread his hands on the wide window-sill, leaning his head against the unbreakable inner window, his eyes unfocussed.
Back on Janus IV they'd come to terms with the Horta, adjusted to the idea there could be more than one way to see things. They hadn't lashed out indiscriminately, senselessly killing without trying to understand.
A memory swam back, of himself saying sharply, "Your orders are 'Shoot to kill'"; of Spock's impassive face as he accepted the subsequent reprimand; of the deep voice, its resonance subtly altered by the communicator, saying urgently, "Kill it, Captain. Quickly!"
He let out the breath he had been holding. No, it wasn't in the chill of space he'd learned so much, it was in the warmth of a cold, black gaze...
How often had he said that every Human Captain should have a Vulcan to temper his impulsiveness and teach him the value of looking at things from every angle, of not judging prematurely?
But his own tutor had gone, slipping back to the harsh deserts of his own world without an explanation, without a word, and now he no longer had Lori's understanding presence to go home to, to seek refuge with, doubts and uncertain ties were finally swamping him, shortening his temper, catching on his ragged nerve-endings.
This afternoon he'd barely kept his temper, courted disaster with a reckless freedom that had shocked him even while it fed his need.
"Damn you, Spock," he whispered. "Why did you go?"
He turned fiercely away from the window, holding himself in check, ignoring the hollowness within, the aching sense of loss, of misdirection, a bitter smile just touching his lips. McCoy had been right after all, his own certainty just a blanking out, the subsequent euphoria with Lori a self-deceiving extra layer of false content. He'd got it wrong, lost the famous Kirk nerve, fled from problems that had suddenly seemed too great to solve. Out there, out in the clean, cold honesty of space he'd been alive, part of his ship, his silver lady...
He shook his head wearily, stacked the piles of documents and tapes in order, committed them to his safe, and left without looking back.
* * * * * * * *
Riding down in the lift he avoided the eye of a hopeful stenographer; the girl wasn't much older than Peter, for Heaven's sake! Being the youngest Admiral around brings more problems in its wake than even McCoy envisaged, he thought sourly as he left the building, acknowledging salutes and farewells with an illusive serenity, and allowed his driver to take him home in a taciturn silence, slumped against the cushioning force-web in a pose of uncharacteristic defeat.
Keying his lock, he let himself in to his empty apartment and went straight to his bedroom, wrenching his uniform off carelessly, angrily; and sloppily letting it lie where it fell he marched into the fresher, closing the door with a snap.
The cloud of warm, pine-scented water enveloped him in its humid embrace. Suddenly its luxury disgusted him, and he found himself irrationally longing to bathe in the cold, muddy water of the creek close by his childhood home, wanting to run back damp and shivering to the warmth of the family kitchen, to Sam's teasing and his mother's unspoken, gentle support. He thrust the door open again, reaching for a towel, nauseated by its soft folds. Everything in his life was perfect, too goddammed perfect and out of his control.
Yes, that was what frightened him; he was no longer master of his own destiny, had no more command over even trivial things.
"You've finally done it, Kirk," he whispered aloud. "You've finally lost command... and you stood still and let it happen to you, let them take it away. You fool! You blind, stupid fool."
Still damp, he threw the towel down and went back into his bedroom. Ignoring the littered clothes he went to the press set in its deep recess, dragging out fresh clothes without conscious thought... anonymous dark-green jumpsuit, sneakers, fashionably huge dark glasses. He surveyed himself in the full-length mirror, cynically amused at his youthful appearance. It was bad enough always to be the youngest achiever, it compounded the problems to look it as well.
Turning away he bent to retrieve his credit card from his pants pocket, transferring it to the tabbed, inner pocket of his jumpsuit, defiantly left the top ten inches unzipped, and went out of his apartment.
He walked for a long time, aimlessly, not even thinking properly, letting the twilight grey of evening soak into him, welcoming the warm blackness of night for its comforting camouflage. Tired at last, he came to the warm orange glow of a bar, spilling its conviviality across the sidewalk in a welter of confused sounds and scents. He plunged inside.
With Saurian brandy spreading its familiar heat through his misery he began to relax, able to look at memories he usually shied away from. He caught at the fatuous smile crossing his face, willing it back. He ordered a second glass and sipped it. Oh, those memories. The smile began to grow again. Anyone would think he'd been an habitual lush in those days to recall the scenes so vividly, but in reality those quiet, shared moments had been all too rare. The quietness of his quarters in the early hours of night, all three of them with tasks completed, no pressures or worries, the brandy and the Vulcan hilva on the table between them, relaxed and at home with each other. God, it had been good to be alive in those days! Another sip of brandy, the glow flushing through him, releasing the months of rejection, admitting self-knowledge.
He should never have accepted promotion, should have listened to McCoy and stayed in space. It was where he belonged, where he was alive and alert, his mind incisive. Decisions had never been so hard out there, even the life-and-death ones he had loathed so deeply. They had never been easy - never that - but they had had to be made, the guilt lived with afterwards. And they had mattered, really mattered; were not made after weighing the balance of aggression or offence, but out of the real stuff of life, out of a need for contact, for understanding, for freedom and the right to maturity.
And he'd survived, against all the odds, all the hardships; survived to bring his ship back home. He paused a moment, quietly honouring the deaths among his crew, the sometimes avoidable deaths his conscience would never let him forget but that he had learned to accept for his own survival.
And then he'd let it go, succumbing to the perfectly-timed, impeccably executed sales talk of Heihachiro Nogura; a cunning, devious mind as incisive as his own, picking at his vulnerability, exposing his doubts, offering a haven - a perfect, face-saving, important-seeming haven.
God, he was a fool!
Impatiently he dialled for yet another brandy, gazing into its swirling brown depths with fierce concentration.
It was time he faced up to it. He did not belong here.
Extraordinary how the acceptance calmed him, tension flowing from him like the gentle ebbing of the sea. He straightened, no longer intent upon the world within himself and in his glass.
Tomorrow he would go to Nogura, talk to him openly. He couldn't take this life another month, smothering himself in comfortable living, unearned ease. He needed... black space, a challenge, the jolt of adrenalin through his system... he wanted to live again.
He lifted his gaze from the no-longer-needed alcoholic crutch and met a pair of blue eyes fixed on his, a face smiling hopefully.
Content in his new-found peace he smiled back, unaware that the forceful charm he had once used to blatantly was still a most potent weapon.
The young face flushed and the boy rose and came closer. "It... it is Admiral Kirk, isn't it?"
Kirk flicked a rueful glance at the disguising glasses, now lying useless beside his drink. "Yes, I'm Kirk - but I don't know you, do I?"
"Oh, no sir, but I wanted to say thank you."
"For... for that marvellous speech you made at the Congress the other day." The boy flushed a deeper pink and added disarmingly, "There's been a lot of dissension recently about Starfleet, you know. What you had to say explained it all so clearly. Tom and I... uh, Tom's my friend from school... we've wanted to go to the Academy since... oh, 'way-back when we were just kids... and yesterday they said yes... my Dad and Tom's. We'll be going next month."
Kirk was pleased for him. "It's a great life," he said softly, his eyes shadowing reminiscently.
The boy nodded. "I know several others too, who are going to apply... even my sister Nancy!"
Kirk's eyes crinkled in amusement. "I can remember what it was to be star-crazy," he agreed.
"Yes." The boy's face was alight. "You do understand, and you're making other people see it, you're making it real and important, immediate." He paused, seeing unmistakable withdrawal on the older face. "I... I'm sorry..."
Kirk's head moved in a slow negative. "You haven't done anything."
A sour, trapped feeling was rising in him, smothering his elation, strangling the impotent, new-born self-awareness even as it drew its first, struggling breaths. He picked up the dark-lensed glasses and slipped them on, hiding the hurt he knew his eyes would betray.
"I'm pleased for you. Very pleased. What's your name so I can watch the class lists?"
"Donovan. Joe Donovan, sir."
"I won't forget," Kirk promised. He held out his hand. "All the best, Joe. Do well."
"Thank you." The smooth, young face was practically purple, bursting with pride. "I'll do my very best."
Kirk watched him go, slowly bleeding inside, feeling reality draining from him, leaving him dead.
He picked up the abandoned brandy, drank it in one savage gulp, and walked steadily out into the darkness.
Copyright Meg Wright