Notes: This is the last chapter of Mid-Afternoon! The sequel, The Fierceness of a Storm, will arrive after my papers are handed in. (I still haven't written them.)

Jim hovered at the door to the guest room as Pike and McCoy entered to see to Spock.

"He doesn't know you're here," Pike had told him, "and the last thing he needs is a rude surprise right now."

Jim hadn't argued, and found himself staring at the light silver wheelchair in the hall. It didn't look like anything special - just another wheelchair, just like the one Pike had had...but it still gave him shivers. Imagining Spock in...well. He didn't have to imagine now, did he? He was about to find out - and part of him still wanted to walk away, to deny it had happened, to keep that perfect image of Spock in his head and...

Only now he didn't have the choice. Keep that image, and let him die? Jim could freely admit he was a prick sometimes, but that...that was...

"Jim," Pike's voice was low, and his face pinched. "We're not sure how much he's aware of right now, but..."

He shrugged, and let Jim into the bedroom.

The room was almost clinical in its cleanliness and colouring. It was large and spacious, with pristine wooden furniture and plain white walls, a beige carpet trying to achieve the medium between the two colours. The sunlight lay in stripes across the floor, broken up by the white blinds that had only been half-raised. The window was open, Jim surmised from the gentle clatter of said blinds, and a faint breeze ghosted through the air. A single bed, with white sheets and a wooden frame, jutted into the room from the west wall, framed by bedside tables and a dark red armchair that seemed out of place in here. It had to come from another room; even men like Pike and Kirk knew more about household decor than that.

And in the bed...

Jim choked, and stopped dead.

From the doorway, he couldn't see Spock's upper body; McCoy was leaning over him, murmuring quietly in that soothing southern drawl he reserved for the very sick, and hiding Spock's head and most of his chest from view.

But Jim didn't need that view.

Because what he got was the sight of the bedsheets, flat and smoothed down, from the end of the bed to roughly halfway up, when they rose sharply over...over Spock's thighs. They rose with none of the gradual increase of feet lain sideways, or even the points of feet lying heel-down on the mattress, but the dull-yet-sharp jut of a volcano rising out of a flatland, no foothills or slopes to support it. And the sheets were smoothed down, almost tucked in under the...under his legs, accentuating the damage, and they were so far up the bed...

Jim vaguely noticed Pike lay a hand on his shoulder.

"Oh God," he breathed, feeling suddenly sick. More than sick - the nausea swelled and rose, and he turned sharply and bolted into the bathroom across the hall just in time for the tide to crest, and vomit spectacularly into the toilet.

The sight of that...those...oh God, he was literally half gone...

Pike had followed him, and handed over a damp facecloth when Jim had stopped emptying his stomach of everything he'd had in the last day and a half. He looked suddenly old, the lines on his face thrown into sharp relief by the droop of his mouth, and he nodded.

"First time you've seen it, isn't it?" he asked rhetorically. "I just about did the same. It's a damn shock."

Jim sat on the cool bathroom tiles, shivering. "He's...oh God, that's..."

Pike shrugged. "Nobody can look at an amputee for the first time and not recoil - no matter what they tell you. It's too shocking to us. It's too far away from what we're trained to think is the norm."

"I didn't want to see it," Jim whispered, closing his eyes and grinding the heel of his hand into the right eye socket. "I didn't want accept that..."

"Don't accept it," Pike said sharply. "You should never accept it. Get used to it, cope with it, work around it, yes. But don't accept something like that, Kirk. If you do - if he does - then he's never getting out of that chair. Maybe even that bed. And trust me - I know what I'm talking about."

Jim nodded, hand still pressed into his eyes. "I..." he began, then tried again. "I didn't want to see him like that..."

"Nobody does," Pike said. "But we can't get around that. He needs you."

Jim laughed bitterly and shook his head. "I'm crap at that. He needed me then - it's obvious now - and I wasn't there. I just...I left him. That's what it comes down to. I left him."

Pike said nothing.

"I'm not up to this," Jim breathed.

"He still needs you," Pike said flatly. "You need to step up to the plate now. If you don't..." he trailed off, but they both knew the consequence.

Jim nodded, struggling to his feet and swallowing hard against the sting in his throat.

"Mouthwash is in the cabinet," Pike nodded at it, rising from where he'd been sitting on the side of the bath. "I'll go back and see if he noticed that display or not."

Jim walked back into the bedroom five minutes later, the iron clench in his guts now a familiar enemy, and found McCoy tapping away at a datapadd and opening his collection of hyposprays, grim-faced. Instead of pausing to talk to him, however, Jim found himself staring at Spock again, this time bypassing the...legs...entirely and going straight for the face.

But on the way to the face was the arm.

Both arms had been lain over the sheets rather than under them, and Jim didn't know whether to be thankful for the black undershirt that Spock was wearing. It had long sleeves, with the sleeve of the missing arm folded up and pinned together just underneath where his arm now ended. It...

It softened the blow. That gentle end was not so blindingly horrifying as the absence of his legs, and the soft black material made the amputation seem less sharp, less abrupt. Although half the arm was missing, and Jim knew intellectually that to look at the bare flesh would be a shock in itself, the sight of it like this...

He took a deep breath, and ruthlessly suppressed the nausea, eyes flying up to Spock's face.

His eyes were open, but staring off at the window blankly. Even Vulcan faces held a bit of expression, and mostly in the eyes - their intelligence and curiosity showed even when their faces didn't move. But Spock's eyes were blank: dark, empty pools that sent a shiver up Jim's spine.

"Is he...?" he fished.

"Think he's zoned out again," McCoy drawled, sounding distinctly unhappy about the fact. "I'm not sure how much he picks up when he's zoned out, so..."

Jim stopped listening, peeling himself from the doorframe and approaching the bed. Even when he gingerly sat on the edge of the mattress, and the bed dipped under his weight, Spock didn't respond to him, and those eyes didn't flicker.

From this perspective, the picture only got worse. Spock had always been lean, but he couldn't have been described as thin. In Vulcan terms, he looked aged: Vulcan males, Jim knew, tended to be stockier in build in their youth, much closer to Human men, and lost that muscle as they got older. Old Vulcans - of either gender - were thin. Young ones...were not, and Spock was no exception.

But the man lying there was thin - cheeks hollowed, face gaunt, the black only serving to accentuate the weight loss. Jim experimentally placed a heavy hand on his chest, and could feel the ribs flexing with every shallow breath.

Jim walked his hand up Spock's chest and neck to cup his jaw - clean-shaven, but he suspected somebody else was doing that for him - and frowned. He was no telepath - completely psi-null, in fact - but Spock had never shielded much around Jim in the entirety of their relationship, and even Jim had been able to feel the, like a very mild electric shock, humming under Spock's skin - particularly his face and hands.

Jim reached for the hand then, wrapping it up tightly in both of his and rubbing at the fingers hopefully. He knew the significance - of course he did - and hoped that such a blatant display would get a reaction. Spock's hands were sensitive, and even while meditating, he had responded if Jim rubbed his fingers like this.

McCoy made a faint noise; simultaneously, Spock's hand shifted slightly in Jim's - and a faint current of electrical thought warmed his palm.

"Spock?" he whispered. "Can you hear me?"

Those dark eyes closed, briefly, and the head turned towards Jim's voice before they opened again, hazy and confused as though he were waking from a long sleep. Jim smiled and squeezed his hand, then - quite suddenly - burst into tears. He scrubbed furiously at the upswell with one hand, unable to tear his eyes from Spock's, and squeezing that hand fiercely in his.

"I'm sorry," he choked. "Just...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't...I'm so sorry..."

Spock closed his eyes again, hand going limp in Jim's, and the electrical thought dying down to silence once more.

But judging by the elated look on McCoy's face, it was a start.

"Well, I woke up in mid-afternoon, 'cos that's when it all hurts the most." - Counting Crows, Mrs. Potter's Lullaby.