Captain Kirk was peacefully asleep in one of Sick Bay's private rooms, IlnZahi by his side. Spock checked in on them periodically, but he made sure to stay close to the Doctor, who was watching the tapes from Xyla.
He observed McCoy out of concern for him, but also as a clue to his own reactions. The Doctor wore the horror plainly on his face, which once in a while he hid in both hands, moaning. He also cursed a great deal, out loud, and watched in a prayer-like silence. He cried.
By watching McCoy Spock found it possible to admit that these emotions, which he had felt, and still felt, were appropriate. That the fact that he was a Vulcan feeling them, having, even, expressed them, was irrelevant. That only the fact that Jim Kirk was his friend was relevant. That to have felt anger, hopelessness, mourning, and now, joy, was logical.
Finally McCoy had reached the end. He sat in silence for quite a while.
"Did Jim kill Varek," McCoy asked softly, "with his mind?"
"No, Doctor. He merely broke the link, abruptly enough to make Varek stagger. It was sufficient. Varek saw that I would gain the upper hand and that I would draw the location of the bomb from him. He committed suicide."
"Have you found out anything about him?"
"Nothing beyond what I learned from IlnZahi and the recordings. I relayed all that information to Starfleet and the Vulcan High Council. Starfleet Security has removed the agent we captured on Xyla from the Enterprise for interrogation, as well General Naren, who, I suspect, will not be helpful because he knew nothing. The extra information from Zent's database has also been taken. I have no doubt that they will get to the bottom of all this soon. And that they will not share it with us."
"Damn it!" McCoy burst out. "They kidnapped and tortured a Federation Officer, turned him into a weapon to blow up a starship with a hundred ambassadors on board. And they're hushing it all up!" He stopped, his rant arrested when his eyes lit on the screen, now dark, where the horror had played itself out, once more.
"We may have to rest assured," Spock said softly, "that matters are dealt with. In the meantime, those records" – he nodded at the screen – "have become classified."
"Maybe that's for the best," McCoy grumbled darkly. Then he burst out: "How could I have let that monster meld with Jim!"
"You had no choice, Doctor" Spock replied instantly. "And though it was self-serving on Varek's part, it saved the Captain's life."
"How do you mean?" McCoy huffed, reluctantly listening.
"Most of the damage to the Captain's mind was not done by Varek, Doctor, either during the melds on Xyla or during that meld in Sick Bay. Varek hid the Vulcan link. He wiped and rearranged the Captain's memories . He planted the order. While I do not want to dismiss the harm of those actions, they could not have caused such devastation."
"He did it to himself, didn't he?" whispered McCoy.
"Indeed, Doctor. Subconsciously he knew what was happening, what he was about to do, and so he went on self destruct. Gradually but relentlessly, and forcefully every time he was reminded of what happened on Xyla. Varek must have perceived this in him, and he made sure to be there when the crisis hit – possibly the crisis that would have allowed the Captain to complete his self sabotage. Varek's meld in Sick Bay was, as he said, superficial, just enough to stabilize Jim's mind until he executed his orders. Had you not allowed Varek to meld, Jim would be dead now. Varek would have set the bomb himself. I would have come too late."
McCoy opened his mouth to say something, then shut it again.
Nurse Chapel stuck her head around the office door.
"The Captain is awake."
Even after his sleep, the Captain looked exhausted. He was grey-faced, his eyes sunken. The ordeal of the last months was not going to fade away so easily. But the sunken eyes and his ashen lips were smiling up at Zahi.
"Thank you," he said to her. "You saved my life, many times over."
Zahi shook her head. "I was also the one who delivered you to them, KirkJim."
"You didn't know," he said simply. "But then you made good."
"I was so surprised when they brought you out, after. We had said goodbye. I knew it was all wrong, youwere all wrong. I saw there was… less of you. I can't explain it. But I thought it was better to have less of KirkJim than no KirkJim at all!"
"I agree with you there," McCoy put in – showing his gratitude to her, whom he had derided all this time. "But it was hard, nevertheless, to see that less diminishing to less and even less."
Kirk turned to the Doctor to reward him with a sad smile.
"What will you do now?" he asked Zahi.
"I will work with the new authorities on Xyla to locate Zent's victims, to see that justice is done for them. After that?" She smiled, a bit sadly, a bit mischievously. "You come and visit me, KirkJim." Then she looked at Spock. "You too, SpockVulcan. We worked well together, you and I, though you climb like a four-legged spider!"
To top off her mischief, she turned to the Doctor, expressly not smiling, not saying anything, just squinting at him, daring him, they all knew, to call her a 'witch' again. When McCoy turned red, and looked away, she burst out in laughter to show she had just joked, and forgave him, which made him even redder, and grin awkwardly.
Zahi then bent over Kirk and kissed him, passionately, making McCoy roll his eyes and Nurse Chapel leave the room, shaking her head. Spock raised an eyebrow, but felt no surprise, and only joy. Kirk finally laughed, the sound muffled by her mouth and his breathlessness, and Zahi released him. She squeezed Kirk's hand, let go, and strode proudly out of the room.
"Did you-did you relay all the data to Starfleet, Spock?" Kirk asked after a second.
Spock couldn't reply. He was aware that he stood there, at Jim's bedside, speechless, battling his emotions. McCoy rescued him;
"We did, Jim. But I don't think you should watch those recordings," he added quickly.
"I don't need to, Bones," Kirk said mildly, tiredly. "I remember each and every second of it."
McCoy looked at him closely. "You seem awfully… calm about it," he observed.
"I've been grieving and raving about it for a long time now, though I didn't know it. Now I know it, and I'm done with it."
McCoy nodded, glanced at the silent Spock, and discreetly left the room.
"Jim," Spock started, but his voice was too hoarse.
Kirk lifted that hand, just as he had done when he regained consciousness after his first seizure. For a moment Spock felt himself sicken as he fell into a déjà-vu, but then Kirk's smile struck into him like a hook, drawing him back. The hand too, which had merely gestured him to be quiet, beckoned him.
Spock approached and Kirk clasped his hand, hard.
"I can feel it now, Spock," he said, his voice low. His eyes were filled with a wonder. "Our link."
"May it be a source of your healing, Jim," Spock said.
"Yours," Kirk said, "as it is mine."