Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek or any of its characters. I'm simply writing this for fun, not profit.

"I have your captain."

Four words that no first officer ever wanted to hear.

Spock stared stoically at the transmission on screen, knowing that if he broke, the rest of his crew (his crew, Kirk's) would break, too. He had only one prerogative in Kirk's absence: keep everyone safe.

Looking at the screen filling three quarters of the central panel and staring at Khan's blank, unyielding face, Spock felt a slow, creeping terror steal over him. He suppressed it, because logic dictated that no sentient being would seek destruction for no gain. Even if it was used solely as a balm for past wrongs, then there was some purpose, some means, some ends, and he would find them. Then he could begin the process of negotiation - surely a superior being such as Khan would acquiesce if the terms were rational, if not reasonable - and then they could beam Kirk and Dr. Marcus back aboard the ship (and head engineer Montgomery Scott, who was looking paler by the moment in the background).

All of this passed through his mind in barely a second, the urgency of the situation making his heart rate accelerate. There was no margin for error. Khan did not have any human propensities for melodramatics or sentiment: he would not respond to a plea for mercy. He would not even respond to acquiescence, Spock realized, with a cold sinking feeling in his stomach as he watched the duo on screen.

Still, he had to try. He had to buy time, if nothing else: Dr. McCoy was only human and a self-proclaimed non-torpedo technician. Humans and machines, though fundamentally similar (removing the gorier details, hearts and engines were much alike in their primary purpose), were still worlds apart when it came to analysis. A machine could not provide any clues to its inner workings, nor could it repeat a prior sequence or mimic a coding on its own. They were cold, ruthless, clinical, obedient to superior masters and lethal to subservient minds.

Spock could not conceal his flinch when Khan lifted his gun and in one quick, clean gesture drove it into the back of Kirk's shoulder.

Such a blow will render him unconscious, Spock thought, feeling more restless than consoled. The heavy, erratic breathing on the other end, barely audible over Khan's cool speech, was impossible to mistake, and Spock knew at once that Kirk was awake in spite of his prior calculations, a hard set to his jaw as he offered his own terms.

"How will I know that you will ensure the safety of my crew?" Spock demanded, boldly. One misstep and Khan would kick in one of Kirk's ribs. One misstep and Khan would break Dr. Marcus' skull, or Scotty's, simply to prove his resolve.

Or maybe it would be Kirk's skull next. Spock couldn't deny the way his stomach tensed at that, either.

No, he decided, amazed and horrified as logic interceded once more. We cannot hope to besiege him, we are stranded in the middle of a neutral belt with no reinforcements likely to arrive for the next twelve hours, and our main power grid is failing. We are defenseless, weaponless, and without our captain, head engineer, and advanced weapons' technician.

We cannot fight. We cannot flee.

Looking into Khan's eyes, Spock knew at once that he would not kill Kirk quickly. He would incapacitate Scotty and Marcus (minimal threats: Dr. Marcus was already down with a compound fracture, Scotty pale and silent above her, defenseless and weaponless) and proceed to torture the resolve out of Spock via Kirk. Once he started, he would not stop, regardless of Spock's pleas for mercy (logical terms, he once would have called them). Kirk would die, slowly, painfully, and Spock would be left with nothing more than blood on his hands.

I cannot allow this to happen, he thought, listening to Khan speak, laugh about the complete vulnerability of his crew.

"And when you and your entire crew have suffocated," Khan continued, ruthless and unwavering, "then I will walk over your cold corpses and retrieve my crew."

Spock allowed himself a brief look at acting captain Sulu, who shook his head once, wordlessly. We have no other options. Help is not coming.

"We cannot beam the torpedoes onto your ship," Spock said delicately. He dared not spare a glance at the panel itself; any slightest indication that they were not being entirely honest could mean the end of both them and their entire ship.

And Kirk.

He did not relish the imminent possibility that both Mr. Scott and Dr. Marcus were about to die, but watching someone be tortured to death was scarcely an idea he could stomach. Vulcans were, in spite of their highly trained combative skills in the Star Fleet's ranks, peaceful. Their desensitization to violence did not include a particular level of comfort with torture. Though he would endure for the sake of his crew (Kirk's crew), his breathing was already shallow, his heart rate quick.

I do not want to watch this, he thought, longing and dreading the moment Kirk reappeared on screen.

"Fortunately, my transportation systems are sound," Khan said coolly. Several seconds passed, Kirk's heavy breathing persisting, erratic and more sparse than Spock would like. He is hurt.

Looking at Dr. Marcus (bent over one leg and staring blankly at the gory remains of her father), Spock tried to convey some small ounce of comfort, of certainty.

Dr. Marcus did not look at him.

When he redirected his gaze to Montgomery, he stared back in wordless, wide-eyed horror.

A slow, satisfied smile crossed Khan's lips before he tapped in a quick sequence on one of the boards in front of him. Spock held his breath, not relaxing until Kirk, Mr. Scott, and Dr. Marcus vanished from view.

"Thank you," he breathed, but the transmission had already been terminated.

"Where are they?" he demanded, turning to look at the bridge crew expectantly.

"Just outside medical bay," Sulu reported, tapping in a coding sequence. "He's locking lasers on our bridge."

"How much time until the torpedoes detonate?" Spock asked, stepping around to place one firm hand on the empty captain's seat. He dared not show fear or uncertainty; if Dr. McCoy had not been successful -

"Twelve seconds," Sulu replied. "Eleven, ten, nine - "

Spock watched the screen, staring at the dark ship barely ten thousand feet away. "Shields," he ordered. Sulu was already barking orders into the intercom, warning all crew to hold on and prepare for immediate, close proximity detonat-

The first explosions rocked the entire ship, U.S.S. Vengeance's side exploding in a burst of color. The ship was too massive to go down in a single wave, though, each successive concussion reverberating off its hull, shattering segments of engineering apart. Spock could almost hear Khan's scream, horrified and feral, animal, as the ship destroyed itself from within, boom, boom, boom, boom.

Each boom rocked the Enterprise almost as fiercely, battering its sides and crushing its shields. Six percent shields quickly dropped to zero, the ship listing dangerously, boom, boom, boom.

At last, it was over, silence settling in. Spock's heart was beating so hard that he feared that he might pass out, forcing himself to calm, to focus. The war was not over until Khan was dead, and though the Vengeance had taken more blows than any ship could hope to sustain, Spock knew that he would not die until every final option had been exhausted.

Pursuit is our only option, he thought, settling into the captain's chair (no time to think about Kirk or Dr. Marcus or Mr. Scott, no time) just as the main power grid flickered once and went out.

That was not supposed to happen, he thought, already speaking - get us on emergency power, I need thrusters - as the ship began to slowly, almost gently, free fall.

We do not have time to hail assistance, he knew at once. "I will stay behind to direct all power to life support," he said aloud. "I order you to abandon ship and evacuate," he told them, pressing a button and feeling a small measure of security, of serenity enter him as the chair buckled him in. I am captain now. I must save the ship.

The ship was sinking, though, and he had no means to stop it. The closer they came to Earth's gravitational pull, the more rapidly they would fall, increasingly exponentially until their ship crashed into the surface of the earth, instantly pulverizing.

We will not make it that far, Spock amended, because with no power they had no shields, nothing to protect the ship from the unsustainable heat created by dropping at such a velocity, friction turning harmless air into fire.

Looking around the bridge, he felt his tenuous grasp on calmness wane when he realized that none of them had left their positions, none of them had even moved. "I order you to abandon ship," he repeated, voice only wavering a little as he stared at them.

I must save the crew.

They didn't move, though, and slowly, Spock realized that there was nothing he could do to save the ship. When Sulu spoke, he knew.

"With all due respect, Captain," he said, buckling in. "We're not going anywhere."

The others quickly mirrored the gesture, buckling in.

I will have to make a note of this mutiny in the report, Spock thought.

Then: I will not have time to write a report. And, even more boldly: I would not qualify this as a mutiny.

They were disobeying orders, true, but not for their own needs, not even for the needs of the many. They could not save the many, but they could refuse to abandon ship, to abandon them.

There had to be something that they could do. As he punched in as many re-coding sequences as he dared, hoping that maybe by shutting off various power systems and rebooting them one of them would revive (damaged by the earlier firefight with former Admiral Marcus, no doubt), he worked quickly and cautiously. One wrong move and they would not only lose external power but internal as well. If more than the lights went - heating, air pressure, oxygen - then everyone would die. Not instantly, but close enough to it that there would be no time for rescues.

Be careful, he thought, as the ship began to free fall more rapidly, as the internal power systems began showing insufficient readings - sixty percent where ninety was needed, eighty when one hundred was required - in addition to the dead external readings. "If we don't get power soon we're going to fry," Sulu said.

Fry was, perhaps, the best word for it. Spock didn't want to think about the logistics of it very much.

I am about to die, he realized, as he looked around, more assuredly than by any torpedo launch or laser blast.

No one could survive a crash from this altitude, even with the systems fully functional. More likely than not, suffocation would kill him first; if that failed, then his skin would burn and his blood would boil as they re-entered Earth's atmosphere.

Closing his eyes briefly - fear confusion pain horror sadness longing defeat regret want - Spock opened them and braced for impact as the readings finally dropped down to zero.

"We're dead in the air, Captain," one of the cadets reported. Sulu was quiet, the heat already beginning to bathe them as they descended, falling so quickly now that Spock could feel it in his stomach even as they leveled out, tiny flames appearing across their field of vision along the ship.

"I am sorry," he told them, because there was nothing else he could say, and when they looked back, he met their gazes and repeated it tenfold.

I am sorry, Ki -

Lights came on so quickly that for a moment no one moved, Spock blinking once before ordering that they put everything they had into warp, thrusters, main engines, anything. Sulu was the first to respond, the others quickly following their leads as Spock held onto the ship's central controls and urged the ship to move, move, move.

They dropped through a sea of white, puffy, heavy clouds rolling over them, a sharp hiss of steam fogging their central panel before the Enterprise rose once more, her thrusters stabilizing the ship in seconds.

We are alive, Spock reflected, staring at the dozen relieved, happy, disbelieving faces around him. How?

"One of our main engines came back online," Sulu told the room at large. "Full power restored."

"It's a miracle," one of the lesser cadets said.

"There are no such things," Spock retorted softly, unbuckling and staring at the familiar blue skies, the puffy white clouds, and remembering a beaten, broken face there, heavy, harsh, wheezing breath echoing in his ears.

His communicator beeped and he picked it up at once, listening to Mr. Scott.

"Spock?"

"Mr. Scott."

A pause, and then: "You're gonna want to see this. Best hurry."

Spock ran.