The Man Trap
Sparks and stabs of agony pricked his head, tore into his chest and made breathing become a burning, horrid sensation. The pain was so great that memory, thought, and consciousness fled in its wake, terrified and overwhelmed by the maddening rush. But no… no, he couldn't give in, because he was needed, he needed to get up, he had to…
Lifting his head hurt more than anything, made his throat burn and his head explode with sharp, excruciating feeling. Sight and sound escaped him; everything was too bright, sounds too high pitched and squealing, making his ears feel raw. But as he forced himself to fight the pain and return to consciousness, memory returned as well.
The first thing he heard when the squealing stopped was a deadening thunk. Kirk forced dry, burning eyes upward, and his gaze fell on Leonard McCoy, still using the wall as support, his shaking hands finally having lost the strength to hold his phaser. It was as if that moment had unraveled him, as the doctor immediately slumped to the floor, head falling back against the wall, shoulders barely shaking.
Bones. How had he let it come to this? How had he failed to handle this in a way that spared his friend this heartbreak? Suddenly he remembered the presence of a third, another he'd failed to protect, and his weary gaze turned to find Spock, settled on the ground, his placid expression back in place but weakened by the remnants of emotion – tense jaw, widened eyes, clenched hands upon the carpet. His burning gaze lifted and met Kirk's and the Captain felt a burst of shame. I should have prevented this. I'm the captain, and I had to be rescued by my own men! Bones had to…
"Bones." Stumbling to his feet, Kirk didn't make it a single step before he collapsed on the ground and an even greater shame scalded his throat. Bones and Spock were both up in an instant, seemingly broken from their reverie, kneeling at either side of their leader.
"Jim, dammit, Jim!" McCoy gripped his upper arm tight enough to bruise, sweat-laden hands still trembling even as they gripped him.
Spock was promptly at his other side, better coordinated and composed but when he spoke his voice was tense, low, tremulous. "Captain, I would not recommend moving without assistance."
Kirk could hear them, could hear the words, but didn't comprehending past the emotions he could hear in their tones, even Spock's. He had failed. The youngest captain in the fleet, still relatively fresh and early on in the journey, and here he was floundering in front of his SIC and CMO, jelly-legged and sweating and so naïve. He'd thought to take it on alone, and he'd… damn it all!
Their hands were lifting him, one on each of his shoulders and under his arms: McCoy's thin and deceptively strong, still trembling but holding so tight as if terrified Kirk might slip away, refusing to let him go without a fight; and Spock, burning hotter than any human, with strength greater than anyone else on the ship, holding him gently, very much aware of his strength and expressing it just so, a supportive and unwavering figure at Kirk's side.
What had he done to deserve these two, he wondered as darkness threatened to take him again; What had he done to deserve this unfaltering loyalty and support?
He couldn't stop and think, not about a damn thing, because as soon as he did, his legs would fall out from under him.
"Dammit, Jim," Bones muttered again, a huff under his breath, as his captain succumbed to unconsciousness. How many times would James T. Kirk throw himself at danger without thought for himself before it would sink in that he wasn't immortal? That his death would eventually catch up to him and would be a permanent inescapable fate? That in dying he would leave behind people who cared, who cared a lot dammit…
"Doctor, if I may, it would be logical for me to take over supporting the Captain. My strength is vastly superior to your own, and you seem to be on the verge of a panic attack."
At the Vulcan's dulcet baritone, Bones snapped, "Well, gee, you think? It's not like I didn't just kill Nancy and almost watch my best friend die!" Because of me, he couldn't bring himself to say. Because I was lost in a memory and couldn't do it.
It was no surprise when Spock simply quirked an eyebrow, as he was wont to do, and move his left arm to wrap around Kirk's shoulders. But when he tried taking on the rest of the Captain's weight, the doctor stubbornly held on, just barely refraining from tugging Jim out of his grasp by remembering that that would help no one, least of all the Captain.
"I may not be green blooded or pointy-eared but I can damn well carry my own damn patient!" The doctor insisted as they stumbled down the hall. Well, he and the unconsciousness Captain stumbled; Spock managed in his infuriating way to keep his composure despite everything that had happened and was happening and if that didn't just make his blood boil…
Spock didn't force the issue, and they stumbled along to sick bay well enough. Chapel, bless her heart, let her eyes widen but immediately got to work. They escorted Jim to a bed and laid him down, and McCoy turned to take over. Simultaneously he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder and a voice.
"Doctor, I would not recommend your participation at this time." Spock, from where he stood opposite McCoy, began. Chapel quirked an eyebrow in an oddly similar gesture and smirked, obviously thinking the same thing.
"What's it to you, Spock?" He spat, burned out and exhausted and frayed at every nerve. "When did you become a member of my staff?"
"He's not, but I am," Chapel began. "And I agree. You look a mess." And didn't he know it, but that was Jim on the bed behind him, Jim who needed him. Chapel seemed to understand because she nodded. "Don't worry sir. You've trained your people well – we'll take care of him."
Too exhausted to fight the doctor gave in with dark grumbles and slumped shoulders, walking on auto-pilot out of the room. He didn't go far; McCoy collapsed on a chair nearby, burying his face in his hands, fighting the loss of control that was surely incoming. Thoughts were building in the back of his mind behind a dam which kept him from acknowledging them; it was a technique he used to focus on the work, on saving lives, and not on whose life was in the balance or what was happening around him, who was dead or dying. But Chapel had taken the work from him and there was no distraction and his control was steadily slipping.
Tension built in the human's spine, his shoulders, and his already dry, sore throat tightened. McCoy lifted tired eyes towards the First Officer, narrowed his gaze and felt his lip curl.
"You mentioned earlier that you had killed Nancy." His heart stutters at the words, his eyes narrowing on the Vulcan's trim, composed, seemingly unbothered form. "That is illogical. That which you killed was the creature who took Nancy's life, not the woman herself."
McCoy can't help it. On a normal day his patience for Vulcan literalism is low, and today his patience is raw, burned by loss and death. "Don't you think I know that Spock? You think anybody with round ears is dumb enough to not realize the monster sucking salt out of their best friend's skin is the same as the woman he loved?" Scoffing he gestures wildly with his arms, leaning back, never allowing Spock a chance to reply. "If you'd let yourself feel for a damn minute you might think it wouldn't matter if it was really her, because it looked like her, because it was just as final, just as –" He voice cracks and he stops mid-yell, passion coloring his face as he is forced to remember the truth. Nancy is dead. Has been for months, killed by the creature who stole her face. He may have only shot a look-a-like, but it was her, what was left of her, and she's gone…
His head falls into his hands again and his shoulders shake, but he doesn't cry, not in front of the Vulcan. The tears and sobs escape only when the med bay doors open and close. Despite the fact he knows Spock can hear him with those damn huge ears, though he knows he's not alone in the room, McCoy succumbs to the knowledge of his losses, of those gone and those who just barely escaped the same fate.
First Officer Spock patrols the halls of the ship, stalking through with urgency not typically present in his actions between ship emergencies. Those who pass are silent; very few acknowledge him. Most try to rush by, as if he might bite should they linger too long. Some days, it does create a flicker of feeling, of blasted annoyance, which Spock shoves away without a second's thought. Today, he finds the lack of interaction acceptable. He would rather not interact with anyone at all.
He will return to his duties, momentarily, just… not yet. Not just now, with his control fracturing, his emotions pulsating and thrumming beneath his skin. But he does have control, though strenuous. He can keep himself in check, but he would rather not wrestle with it on the bridge. So he walks, and contemplates.
He attempts to think over his current projects, his duties, his work, but images swirl in front of his eyes unbidden. Kirk's face, sweat laden and panicked, gripped by alien strength. McCoy's usually bright eyes widened in horror and pain, his usually steady, firm hands trembling and slick. Kirk, always so composed and kept together, struggling to stand or breathe. McCoy, typically emotional in violent outbursts, falling prey to human feelings of mourning and grief.
He cannot shake these images, no matter how strong his control. He can suppress his fear for the Captain's health, his concern for the Doctor's mental state. Logically, it will take time for them to heal, but they will. He arrived in time, the Captain was saved, and the danger over. So why did the scenario play continuously through his mind's eye, focusing upon those two men with their so human reactions?
He remembers vividly his first interactions with both men. Kirk, replacing Captain Pike, a man Spock had found to be an acceptable captain, despite his human failings; and his first interactions with his new captain, the surprise at his intellect, his talent for chess, and the only human on the ship who could match him.
Then his first physical with the Doctor, which had somehow irascibly fallen apart into bitter arguing, arguments which seemed to have never ended between them; paused temporarily, only to pick up as soon as they were again sharing the same space.
Two humans who, for all their abilities and intelligence, represented that which he held in least regard, acted in ways which were anathema to him; now, Spock wonders if perhaps his interactions with them and the others have somehow weakened his shields, his control. Why else would their emotional faces flash before his eyes, again and again, despite the danger having passed and their lives having been saved? Why did that brief moment between safety and death still concern him so? It was illogical to focus on what might have occurred, for it had not. And yet… and yet…
Unable to fully return to his previous state of control, Spock retired to his room to meditate. He would find as little success in the act as he had in the hall, storming like thunder, sending others rushing out of the way even more so than usual.