This little one shot is so, so overdue! I promised it back in November! I'm sorry Please, have some sick!Jim to make up for it. Sick!Jim and math, my two favorite things!
Jim ignored him. That was the first sign that something was wrong. It wasn't that Spock expected a smile and a warm greeting every time he saw Jim after a few shifts apart, it was just…he had become used to it. Jim always seemed genuinely pleased to see him and that was a novelty that Spock had somehow come to associate with only him... and he'd allowed himself to become spoiled by it.
Early mornings in the mess were often considered 'their time'. Not Jim and Spock's exclusively, but 'them'. Their odd little family. On different shifts and different duties, breakfast was often the only mealtime they had in common. It was a time to congregate, share stories and moan about the ungodly hour. After two weeks of intense work manning a humanitarian crisis on one of the Federation's satellite planets, they all needed the time to relax and unwind. Spock had barely seen Jim or McCoy outside of official duties and even then there had been little time for pleasantries. Breakfast together now the crisis had passed was exactly what they needed.
Jim, unsurprisingly, was there first. He usually was when ship's duties didn't keep him away. He tended to bring work with him, and there was nothing unusual about the fact that he had his nose buried in a PADD. What was unusual was the way Spock and Nyota took their seats with him and received not so much as a twitch to acknowledge their presence.
"Morning Captain." Nyota smiled, digging in to her cinnamon oatmeal with relish. "Earth to Jim, anyone in there?"
Jim continued to stare at his PADD, quietly muttering under his breath. Spock, even with his superior hearing, was hard pressed to understand what he was saying.
"Jim? Are you well?" Spock asked in concern.
"Wrong." Jim answered distractedly. "Wrong, wrong…missed a point, carried over second decimal, doesn't make sense."
"What doesn't make sense, Jim?" Spock said, trying to catch a glimpse of what Jim was working on. He could see only the reflection of equations lighting up the pale planes of his face, and frowned. In the faintly blue light, Jim was ghostly pale.
They all jumped as a bowl suddenly clattered down onto the table, piping hot porridge sprinkled with nuts and honey almost slopping over the side of it. "Less working, more eating." McCoy said by way of greeting as he dropped into the seat on Jim's other side.
"I believe there is something wrong with the Captain, Doctor." Spock said, his eyes fixed in concern on Jim's hunched form.
McCoy scowled, his standard expression when dealing with a belligerent Jim, and leaned over his shoulder. "What you working on ki…ah shit." His demeanor shifted almost instantly and he pressed one hand to Jim's forehead, feeling his temperature. "Goddamnit, Jim, we talked about this."
"It's not right, Bones." Jim muttered, trying to pull away from McCoy's hands. "Why isn't it right?"
"It is right, Jim." McCoy said gently. "You're running a fever. You know how you get when your temperature spikes."
"It's right?" Jim asked, finally looking up from his PADD, his eyes wide and confused. Spock took the meaningful glance from McCoy and carefully extracted the PADD from Jim's vice-like grip. He frowned when he saw the contents.
"It's right, kid." McCoy said, uncharacteristically gentle. Nyota glanced between the three of them, worry in every line of her expression. "Come on now Jimmy. Time to get you back to bed."
"But I'm working…" Jim protested. "I have to get it right." He reached clumsily for the PADD as McCoy gently pulled him to his feet.
"You'll work better in your room." McCoy tried to cajole him out of his seat, surprising them all with his quiet gentleness. Usually he'd be cussing Jim up one side of the ship and down the other, dragging him to sickbay if he felt the need, regardless of Jim's thoughts on the matter. The fact that he wasn't shooting Jim down concerned them all.
"I will?" Jim didn't look convinced and swayed alarmingly against McCoy's side. Spock automatically moved to steady him and his eyebrow shot up when he felt the unnatural heat radiating from him in waves.
"Perhaps I can assist you in your endeavors, Jim?" Spock found himself offering his services purely out of the desire to get Jim back to his quarters.
The glassy stare Jim turned on him seemed to be looking right through him.
"There's an idea." McCoy said, steering Jim towards the entrance. "The hobgoblin can help you get it figured out."
"Come on, Jimmy." McCoy had one hand firmly on Jim's elbow and the other locked around his wrist and used the grip to gently guide Jim towards the lift. Spock followed behind, hovering closer than he might normally do so just in case Jim fell. He seemed to be wavering on his feet with every step.
This was clearly an occurrence that had happened before. McCoy seemed to know exactly what he was dealing with and how to best navigate Jim's confusing temperament. Still, it was alarming to see Jim so compliant.
That alarm grew when they entered his quarters. McCoy swore under his breath and Jim took the chance to squirm free and march unsteadily towards his desk.
"Doctor," Spock said hesitantly. "I am confused."
"Not right now, Spock." McCoy said, following Jim and pulling him away once more. "Come over here, Jimmy." He encouraged, leading Jim to the bed. "How about you lay down for a bit?"
"But I have to make it work." Jim protested earnestly. "It has to make sense. I have to beat it."
"You did, Jim. Remember? You made it work."
"I did?" Jim looked around in confusion, reaching for one of the several piles of work scattered around, a large proportion of which was on his bed. "I don't remember."
"Because you have a fever." McCoy said again. "Aren't you tired? Don't you want to lay down?"
"No, Bones, I have to get it right." Jim moaned miserably, now trying to sit upright, despite McCoy keeping his shoulders pressed down to the pillows. "I have to get it right. I have to show him!"
Spock looked to McCoy for a clue on who it was Jim was so desperate to prove something to, but the doctor merely looked pained.
"You did." He said more urgently, his distress increasing alongside Jim's. "You beat the test, Jim. You saved the crew. You can sleep now, it's okay." He lifted up one of the hands holding Jim down to stroke his hair soothingly back off his forehead and the gesture seemed to flick a switch. Jim blinked tiredly and relaxed against the bed.
"Did it work? Did he make it?" The hope in Jim's eyes was breathtaking, the shock of it matched only by the misery on McCoy's face.
"Yeah kid, he made it."
"Good." Jim sighed, his eyes closing. "S'good."
"Go to sleep, Jimmy." McCoy encouraged. "Just close your eyes and go to sleep."
"M'not sleepy." Jim claimed, and seconds later he was out, boneless and breathing deeply, oblivious as McCoy fussed with his blankets and removed his boots.
"He is sick." Spock concluded, half expecting a scathing retort from McCoy. It would be the doctor's usual response. Instead he sighed deeply and ran his hand through his hair in distress.
"He'll be fine in a few days." McCoy said, uncharacteristically subdued. "I need to grab some things from sickbay. Keep an eye on him until I get back?"
"Of course." Spock said. "If he wakes-"
"He shouldn't." McCoy said, "he tends to go under pretty deep when I can get him down, but if he does then just keep him calm. Don't stop him if he tries to get out of bed, you'll just upset him and it's a bitch to calm him down when he's like this."
"Of course." Spock took a seat at Jim's bedside and folded his hands in his lap.
"I'll be back in a minute." McCoy said, departing quietly.
Of course it was more than a minute, and Jim did not wake as Spock feared he might. He did make soft sounds of distress, sweat beading on his forehead and his mouth pulled into a tight line of misery. Spock ached for a way to soothe him, but feared upsetting him as McCoy warned against. Unable to help, he turned his attention instead to the PADDs Jim had been working on, his confusion only growing.
He recognized the coding, he couldn't not. It was of his design, and Jim was running it through some rather unusual protocols, clearly attempting to find a way around the system. That in itself was confusing. Jim had already achieved his goals in that regard. His subroutine had been very elegant and for all that it had infuriated him at the time, he'd been most intrigued by the mind that had designed it. They had never really discussed their first encounter, not in detail. Spock had dropped the accusation of duplicity upon their return to Earth and there had been considerably more important things to focus upon.
He knew Jim had spent a great deal of time trying to beat the test, but seeing for himself just how deep that obsession seemed to have gone was chilling and incredibly disconcerting.
He had believed that Jim simply needed to win. Jim Kirk never backed down from a challenge and always took the words 'impossible' as a personal dare to prove otherwise. This was something everyone knew about him. Spock had assumed that those facts could be credited with the unprecedented three attempts at doing what everyone believed could not be done.
Assumption, he had learned, was a dangerous thing to apply to Jim Kirk.
There was more to Jim's obsession with the Kobayashi Maru than mere competitiveness. Why was it so important to him to win?
McCoy returned swiftly, a medkit in hand. He sat himself on the edge of Jim's bed and scanned him over before administering several shots.
"Should he not be in sickbay?" Spock asked cautiously.
McCoy shook his head. "He'll sleep better here. That's all he needs. Someone needs to stay with him until the fever breaks but that usually happens about twenty four hours in." He fussed with the edge of Jim's sheets and looked down sadly at his sleeping friend. "I'm sorry I didn't notice something earlier, kid." He said regretfully.
"This has happened before I presume." Spock queried.
"This," McCoy said, "is what happens when he burns the candle at both ends and no one keeps a close eye on him. Reckless brat." The insult, though fond, was more in keeping of the doctor's usual interaction with Jim and that calmed Spock more than he understood. When McCoy was this gentle with Jim it meant only one of two things: he was deathly unwell, or one of the demons from his past had risen up to haunt him.
It was no comfort to know it was likely the later.
"I do not understand. Why is he attempting to beat the Kobayshi Maru? He has already done so."
"Wasn't always the Maru." McCoy said, not rising from his position. Jim's sleep had settled and Spock imagined there had been a sedative in one of the hypos McCoy had given him. "Before he took the test the first time it was his Fibonacci primes and that was a goddamn nightmare. Came back from a clinic shift and he'd covered half the dorm with equations. Housing went apeshit."
"I am familiar with the problem." Spock said. As a mathematician himself he had dipped in to the field, but there had been other conundrums that had engaged his attention more than the infamous and highly disputed problem of the Infinite Fibonacci Primes. He knew Jim dabbled in math, and was certainly gifted enough in the field to keep pace with Scott and Chekov, but the question as to whether there were an infinite number of Fibonacci Primes was a highly complex, exceedingly elegant segment of mathematics. He supposed he should not be surprised. "What changed his focus?"
"He started prepping for that damn test." McCoy growled.
"I wasn't aware it caused him such distress." Spock said quietly.
"Really?" Sarcasm was thick in McCoy's voice. "Why would a kid whose dad died saving his ship have problems with a simulator that demanded the death of everyone he was responsible for?" The McCoy's shoulders slumped. "Drove him absolutely goddamn crazy. Drove me crazy and I wasn't even Command Track. He studied every simulation that had run, must have planned out a hundred or more different scenarios…did you watch him take the test? The first time I mean?"
"I did not." Indeed he only sat in on Jim's third attempt out of curiosity. No one else had ever made so many attempts.
"He was brilliant." McCoy said softly. "Everyone said so. He should have beat it, should have pulled it off and saved everyone, but of course you programmed it so that no one could win, even if logic said they should."
Spock recalled what he'd said to Jim at his academic hearing. Jim had missed the purpose of the test. It was not to assess tactical brilliance, but courage. In many ways, Jim had passed, despite the simulation's results. He never once lost his cool, he never hesitated or panicked. He behaved as a Captain should have. But of course, that had not been enough for Jim.
"Didn't matter how well people told him he'd done." McCoy sighed. "Me, Pike, his instructors, the other cadets… all he could see was that he'd gone in to a situation where lives depended on him, and he'd not been able to do a damn thing to save them."
"It was designed to be challenging." Spock said quietly.
"Yeah, well for Jim it was fucking traumatizing. He walked out of that room and I didn't see him again until the following week. Nearly went out of my mind." McCoy absently reached over and checked Jim's pulse with his fingertips, something he did more to calm his own nerves than because Jim required it.
"If it caused him such distress, why did he take it again?" Spock wanted to know.
"Because he's a masochist, and an idiot, and he wants more than anything else in the world to keep the people he loves safe. Could have killed him when I found out. Could have killed Pike for letting him do it." McCoy grumbled, shaking his head down at Jim. "But I thought…maybe if he got it out of his system, got it into his thick skull that the whole point was to lose… but if I thought he went all out the first time…"
"I know his second attempt hold's the record for the longest duration of the simulation."
"Eleven and a half fucking hours." McCoy said grimly. "And he wouldn't let up, not for a second. He got the best out of everybody, pulled some stunts I couldn't believe at the time. He was goddamn heroic, that's what he was…and we all died anyway."
"I presume the second fallout mirrored the first?" Spock found himself looking sadly at the sleeping man in the bed. He found it immensely disturbing that his work had caused anyone such harm, and infinitely more so to know he had caused pain to a man he considered his closest friend. He knew he could not take all the blame – Jim was responsible for his own actions – but he had presumed at the time that the cadets who took the test understood what it was they were doing. Knowing he was mistaken was difficult to process.
"He closed down. Stopped eating, stopped sleeping, shut everybody out. Pike and I were freaking out, he landed himself in the ER twice…took Jo, my momma and several bottles of very expensive bourbon to pull him out of his funk. Finally thought he'd got it out of his system and moved on….then he tells me he's taking it again in a day's time, no warning, no lead up, just bam. And he pulled it off."
"Did you suspect he had cheated?" Spock asked curiously.
"I suspected he'd lost his damn mind." McCoy snorted. "But he went in relaxed and came out of it on top of the world, at least until you got your panties in a knot and bitchslapped him with the dead daddy card. Did I ever tell you that was a monumentally shitty thing to do?"
"You did not." Spock said mildly, "but know I am most ashamed of the way I handled that entire incident. I did not have a complete understanding of the complexities of those involved and I miscalculated Jim's intentions."
"You thought he was after the glory." McCoy accused, though his voice was without heat.
"Can you blame me?" Spock asked, equally as level. "To those not familiar with his motivations, his conduct record seemed littered with one attention seeking stunt after another. His attitude did not help matters."
"No kidding." McCoy shook his head fondly. "Little shit drove everyone crazy."
They lapsed into silence, listening to Jim's slow, steady breathing. Eventually though Spock could not contain one last question. "Leonard?" He asked tentatively.
McCoy frowned at the use of his given name. "What is it Spock?"
"When Jim was awake, he spoke of having to show someone something. To whom was he referring?"
"You really want me to answer that?" McCoy asked sadly.
In the end, Spock did not need him to. "George Kirk could not have made any other choice in his situation. His actions were beyond reproach."
"Tell that to the kid he left behind." McCoy said. "He won't ever admit it, but I know he used to think about it, about what his life would have been like if his dad could have found another way. If he could have saved his crew without having to die for them."
But of course he would not do so any more. He had followed too closely in his father's footsteps to not understand the choice George had made.
If there could be a single positive to be gained from Jim's sacrifice for them, Spock hoped it was acceptance…closure.
They fell into silence once more, and Spock set about removing the evidence of Jim's temporary relapse from his PADDs. Jim had not been in control of his own thoughts or emotions, and Spock would not have him inadvertently causing himself distress once the fever had broken and his rationality returned.
Eventually McCoy sighed and stood. "I need to head down to sickbay. My shift starts in ten minutes. I can send Chapel up to sit with him."
"I am off duty." Spock said simply. "I will stay."
To his surprise, McCoy smiled at him. "I'll check in on you every couple of hours."
"Whatever is required." Spock inclined his head.
"He doesn't blame you for it." McCoy said from the doorway, surprising him. "That isn't what this is about."
"I know that." And he did. "Do not trouble yourself, Doctor."
"You gonna just sit here and brood?" McCoy asked him.
Spock held up the PADD in his lap. "I thought I might perhaps see if I can cast some light on Jim's efforts with the Fibonacci Primes." He said. Better to turn Jim's attention back to a cause less riddled with personal tragedy.
It pleased him when McCoy swore. "You two idiots deserve each other," he grumbled.
Spock merely glanced over at Jim and booted the PADD. If Jim was going to be sleeping for the rest of the day, surely Spock could have some breakthrough ready to distract him.
There really was no such thing as a mathematical impossibility after all.