Jim wakes up, sob tearing through him like a chainsaw slicing into the bark xylem heartwood. Chest aching, heart thudding unevenly through his ribcage and in his ears.
"When you wake up, try to get control of your breathing. Deep inhales and slow exhales."
"I can't. You know I can't. It doesn't do shit for my heartbeat."
"I never said it would. But it helps your mind calm down a bit. Panic can only exacerbate the situation. So try that, the next time you get an attack."
He shudders as he inhales, the muscles of his back spasm like an electric current is being run through the myofibrils. Heart pounds and irregular beat while Jim tries to push some air into his lungs. All he hears are his desperate gasps and he knows if he doesn't hypo himself, he's going to pass out.
"What if it doesn't work?"
"Try to make it work."
"I need something if it doesn't work."
Bones narrows his eyes at Jim. He holds out a pack of hyposprays and refill capsules.
"Only if nothing else works. You could get dependent on these, and that's not what's supposed to happen. You've been avoiding issues—"
"Thanks. I'll see you later."
Maybe it'd be better to pass out. Then he wouldn't be aware of anything.
No. This isn't who he is. Jim reaches back into his mind and recalls a meditative exercise that's helped him through these episodes before. First concentrate on his heart. Imagine it pulsing asymmetrically, imagine where the mitral valve isn't closing completely like it should, sending the rest of the muscle and thick arteries into fits. Now, inhale.
The voice that tells him these things in his mind is never his own. He pushes that thought aside.
Inhale deeply, into the pit of your stomach. Hold the breath there and feel it expanding inside, concentrate on the tension of your muscles. Do not imagine yourself to be filling your lungs, Jim. If you do so, your breaths will continue to be shallow. Exhale slowly, control the flow of air internally, not simply through your mouth. Inhale.
He can feel his mind settling and his consciousness grabbing the reigns of his bodily panic. He can do this. Just breathe in and out, don't think about anything except trying to breathe.
"I called my mother."
"She said two summers."
"Two summers for what?"
"Two summers before the grief rides itself out."
"You realize that's a completely Terran concept of time? We don't have seasons here. And where am I supposed to begin counting? Summer in Iowa is winter in Australia."
"I just wanted you to know."
He can feel his heart relaxing. Sometimes he thinks that it's literally trying to break free from its prison to join its other half. The first time the thought occurred to him, he began laughing hysterically until tears and snot spewed out of the orifices of his face, his hand clutching his heart again and air slowly choking out of his system. He passed out on the floor. Woke up in Sickbay, Bones wearing a tired look on his face.
"I have no idea how, but you've developed a mitral valve prolapse."
"You've got yourself a heart problem."
"You diagnosed and cured me of that other one."
"I've got a theory in the works that this is somehow related to your episode of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, but I have no idea how. There's nothing in the literature about something like this."
"Will my work be affected?"
"It doesn't look too severe. But I want to monitor you for a couple days."
"I've got another theory. Jim, you need to take some time off. Have Nyota or Sulu take the conn for a few shifts."
"You're trying to suppress this and it's wreaking havoc on your body."
"I've got to get to the bridge. Are we done here."
"Keep me posted on anything new."
For a few minutes, he just sits, breathing, occasionally shuddering. The tightness in his body uncurls, leaving feeling absolutely boneless and liquid. Mind blank. That's the most he can ask for these days—a state of grey. Routine days when he doesn't think or feel anything, just goes through the motions of diplomatic scientific trade exploratory military reconnaissance missions. Or adrenaline. Firefights are always good. Instincts and feelings and remnants of logic roaring in his blood, Jim's become the best military tactician Starfleet's got.
"Scotty, I need more."
"I'm giving it everything she's got, captain!"
"It's not good enough. Did you reroute the secondary valves and bypass directly into the antimatter pods?"
"I can't do it fast enough, Jim! The only person who was able to pull that trick was—"
"Do it now that's an order or I will court martial you for insubordination, Scotty."
Sometimes he forgets that others are hurting just as much as he is. Once, he gave Chekov the reprimand of his life. Everyone on the bridge gaped. Sulu gave him one angry look then didn't speak to him for the rest of the shift, Uhura tensed and blinked back tears. He saw all their reactions and got defensive. After a few rounds against a punching bag, his feelings poured out with the sweat soaking his skin.
He apologized to everyone personally. They said they understood. He knows they did. But he doesn't allow himself a lapse like that again. The crew takes a lot of confidence in him and they're looking to him to lead them. Not break. There's no time for emotion or that shore leave Bones keeps talking about. Jim stuffs a world of thought and feeling into a box and doesn't let himself think about the irony of the situation.
"Up for a round of fencing, captain?"
"Yeah. I could go for that."
These matches can get really intense.
Then Jim collapses, heart squeezing and chest exploding in pain.
"Captain? Mattila, get Doc McCoy. Captain, can you hear me? Someone get a tricorder, is he going into cardiac arrest?"
No, he's not arresting. He doesn't know how he knows this, but he knows.
In the back of his mind, he wishes he had Sulu's magic ability to appear calm no matter what.
"Sulu, get him on the gurney."
Lying in Sickbay. Lying on a biobed. Lying in his quarters. Lying in—they're no one's quarters now. A hole in the heart of the ship, a hole the heart of his body, a hole in the back of his mind, a hole in the crew and in his life. There's nothing he can do about it. Jim clenches his teeth and his knuckles strain as he makes a fist.
He's learned a lot of self control. It makes him a killer diplomat, the cold neutrality that people thought only Vulcans could pull off mixed with the charming manners that only humans can produce. It's why they were such a great team. But now Jim's trying to fill two places at once and that's impossible. He won't let anyone else replace the missing half, but he can't live without his right hand and shadow and so tries to compensate by spreading himself too thin.
"Why didn't you tell me things were getting worse."
"They were getting better. I've got it under control."
"My tricorder and your body don't lie, Jim. Unlike you."
"I only use the hypos if I think I'm gonna pass out."
"Other than that, I try to do that breathing exercise. It works, most of the time."
"I don't know what happened in there. I guess I'm just tired."
"Jim, Spock's dead."
"I know. I was there when it happened. You were there for the funeral. Funerals."
"No, listen to me. Spock's dead."
"I heard you the first time."
Bones grabs him.
"Spock. Is. Dead."
Jim shoves him.
"Don't fuck with me, Bones."
The doctor's got a firm grip.
"Spock is dead. He's not coming back. You did the best you could, but he's dead. You've got to move on, Jim."
"Will you just shut the fuck up!"
Chest heaving, heart pounding, wails and screaming and gnashing of teeth and tearing out hair and sackcloth and ashes and sores under his skin beneath it all is a heart literally bleeding because the valve doesn't shut properly a heart broken and sobbing the only way it knows how.
"Fuck this, I'm leaving."
Jim runs to the Observation Deck and locks it with his captain's code. He falls to his knees, heart rattling and sending bursts of pain through his chest. Breathing is impossible. Jim finds himself on the floor of the deck, vision blurring as he stares out at the stars and blackness.
He forces himself back up to his feet, only have a scream yell despair rip through him and send him reeling. Suddenly he's pummeling the shit out of walls and stars and the galaxy. His hands are a mess, bleeding and broken, leaving smears on the panels.
Anger and grief and betrayal coursing through him like a wildfire his heart is beating madly and Jim vaguely remembers that time when Spock must've been feeling the same thing but Jim emotionally compromised him and Jim thinks he's a sick sonuvabitch to use that—this—against anyone and the only thing he can think is that Spock is gone Spock is dead Spock left me I'll never see him again never feel touch smell taste hear share talk laugh smile joke fight fuck love hate lean want feel touch smell him again he's dead and green blood and cold body that was a furnace buried on Vulcan body returning to sand and ashes and dust and Spock oh Spock please come back please be alive this is just a dream I love you please be alive I can't live without you I can't even fucking breathe without you this is just a dream I'll wake up and you'll be in my bed and we'll make love and you'll whisper to me and I'll kiss you and hold you and never let you go this isn't real you can't leave me I can't live without you don't die that's an order hang on and don't die but that's not even how it happened I love you I love you don't leave me alone in this universe you promised me you'd never leave you promised you bastard you promised you'd always be there fuck you I hate you breaking your promise we were supposed to live forever you can't die you can't be dead how do I breathe without you
It's Chapel who finds him in the Observation Deck. He knows it's not logical but he latches onto her tight enough to expel all the air from her lungs. She doesn't protest. Instead, her embrace is as fierce as his and she rocks him back and forth as if he's a little boy, rubbing circles into his back.
Jim just hangs on, grasping and gasping for his life.
"Go easy on him, Leonard."
"I will. That was necessary."
She shakes her head. "It takes time."
"Do you? When they told me Roger was missing, likely dead... It takes time."
"We'll pull through. For Jim, and for Spock."
"Two summers. That's how long it took me."
"Spock died in the winter, so it'll be shorter, then. We'll pull through. Two summers isn't that long."
"Two summers are a grey eternity."