Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek or any of its characters. I'm simply writing this for fun, not profit.
Spock's voice was barely a whisper as he turned and spoke into his communicator. "How much time?"
"Ten minutes," Dr. McCoy panted, sounding deeply aggrieved. "We need to unlock the hangar and lower the torpedoes before we can activate them. Keep that arrogant son of a bitch on the phone for eight minutes and we should have enough time."
"Doctor, you should know that he has already incapacitated Doctor Marcus and slain Admiral Marcus," Spock relayed, easing back from the screen to keep the gesture casual. His shifting weight conveniently concealed the communicator in his sleeve from the empty monitor.
"Shit, Spock," Dr. McCoy swore. "What kind of maniac are we dealing with?"
"One that requires my immediate attention," Spock murmured, turning off the communicator as Khan breathed harshly against the monitor, a rolling, unpleasant laugh filling the air.
It took a moment for anything to appear - at first, they stared at the empty Admiral's seat in bewilderment - before Captain Kirk moved into the shot, one eye ringed in a thin line of red. Considerable damage, Spock calculated at once. Perhaps a fracture, though his vision appeared unaffected as he stared straight at them.
There was a moment when Kirk looked at them in quiet, anxious refusal - to accept that this was their fate, that any of this was real - before Khan struck him down from behind. Spock flinched. The rest of the crew paused, every hand stilling as they watched, tasks abandoned momentarily.
A single cutting look from Spock had them back on track, but Spock knew that their calculations, however important, were the last things on their minds.
He's alive, Spock thought and wondered, briefly, if he should be more relieved or wary.
"Khan," Spock said, sharp and clear, refusing to be unnerved so easily. Nine minutes, forty seconds.
"Mr. Spock," Khan breathed back, an equally sharp, uncanny smile on his lips. "I have your captain."
Spock stared at him, at Kirk, not needing to ask Sulu or any of the cadets to know that it would be impossible to transport Kirk through their shields and off Khan's bridge. Even if it were possible, they did not have the power to do so without risking the entire ship's safety; damage taken during their firefight with Admiral Marcus had been tremendous. If they rescued Captain Kirk only to be gunned down moments later by Khan's ship, then their efforts would be futile.
The fact that Khan held not one but three hostages made Spock's blood run cold. If we act first, then they will die.
We will all die.
The likelihood that any of them would survive was marginal at best. Khan acted on his own terms, Spock knew, listening carefully for any potential hook that he could use to manipulate him. He wants his crew, he reminded himself, at all costs.
It was their only chance, if Dr. McCoy failed.
"If we lower our shields, how will we know that you will not attack us?" Spock asked. His voice did not waver. Good.
Khan smiled. "How will you, indeed, Mr. Spock?" he crooned.
Now would be an excellent time for third party intervention, Spock thought, Khan's attention focused whole-heartedly on the screen in front of him. It was only wishful thinking: Kirk's breaths were harsh on the other line. He was weaponless and winded. He could not be expected to be of any aid until he secured a weapon. Khan is too deadly a foe to face in hand-to-hand combat unaided.
"I will have my crew," he said, utterly, completely unfazed. "If you should choose to resist, then I will open fire on your ship."
"If you open fire, then you will kill your crew as well as ours," Spock pointed out, feeling uneasy with the lack of concern Khan exhibited for the flaw in his plan. He is a superior intellectual; he would not miss such an obvious shortcoming.
"No, Mr. Spock," Khan said, almost softly, looking at him. "If you do not lower your shields and permit me to transport my crew aboard the U.S.S. Vengeance, then I will kill your captain to prove my resolve." Something - stilled in Spock, briefly. It might have been his heart. "If yours still holds, then I will target your life supports and destroy them. Your crew requires oxygen; mine does not. Once you and your entire crew have suffocated, then I will walk over your cold corpses and retrieve them."
Leaning forward, Khan said simply, "For the last time, lower your shields."
We have no alternative.
Then, remembering: We have one.
Spock turned, briefly, keeping his arm out of sight. "Doctor," he said, not daring raise his voice.
"I need more time, we're shorthanded down here," Dr. McCoy responded, voice loud and harsh in the silence - but only to Spock's ears. "Six minutes, tops."
"We do not have six minutes," Spock said, closing the communicator. They had no choice.
"Which will it be, Mr. Spock?" Khan asked. Spock almost didn't notice him as he stared at Kirk, bruised and bleeding but otherwise untouched, his brow drawn down as he panted, looking at them and trying to convey something. It's okay. Everything's going to be okay, don't give into the bastard.
Spock swallowed once and ordered, "Do not lower the shields."
"Oooh," Khan said, softly, as though the words had been a blow.
When Kirk doubled over with a cry moments later, Spock knew that he had not been the one to deal it. "Khan," Spock said, hoping that the steel in his voice might distract him. Three minutes. Three minutes will be sufficient time to transport the crew and wait for the activation sequence.
Khan ignored him, yanking Kirk upright, using one arm to hold him as the other pulled his right slowly, perilously backwards. Stop, Spock thought, stop, stop, stop -
Something popped and Kirk screamed.
"Which will it be, commander?" Khan asked, letting Kirk drop to the floor, hacking loudly a moment later as something connected with his side with a muted thud. "Your captain or my crew?" A sickening crack elicited another scream, this one cutting off with a wet wheeze as Kirk rolled, just out of their sight, and coughed onto the floor, loud, wracking, bloody.
"I can't - I can't breathe," he panted, breath whistling, and Spock couldn't tell if it was a plea for mercy or not as Khan kicked him again, again, again.
The cry exploded out of him, desperate, wailing, borderline inhuman.
"Enough," Spock ordered sharply, because he couldn't see anything, he couldn't do anything but it was enough. Khan didn't seem to hear him as he hauled Kirk back to his feet, face ashen, blood dribbling out of the corners of his mouth.
"S- Spock," he whispered. "S-Spock, don't - "
"Lower shields," Spock ordered, staring at him as Kirk stared back, his eyes wide, pupils blown.
Khan smiled and let Kirk drop, utterly unconcerned as he delivered another swift kick that made Kirk cough, choking on another warbling cry. "Thank you, Mr. Spock," Khan said, cool and clinical once more. Looking down at the display in front of him - doubtless searching for the crew's pods - his shoulders relaxed infinitesimally, something like relief passing over his expression as he spotted them.
Then he looked up, smiled, and terminated the transmission.
Spock's heart stopped beating.
Then, urgent, from his left comm: "Commander Spock, we have - "
Spock didn't wait for the end of the report, instead punching in his contact with Bones. "Report," was all he said.
"Torpedoes on the bay, cryos in custody. Thirty seconds to detonation."
Spock cancelled the call without a word, looking around the bridge. "Brace for immediate close-range detonation," Sulu said.
Spock slid into the captain's seat wordlessly, one hand tensing on the arm of the chair as he stared at the blank screen, the black ship -
And as the first explosions rebounded off the Vengeance's hull, all Spock could think was, I have failed.
But I will not fail again.
. o .
Kirk couldn't breathe.
His breath rattled in his chest like a broken toy, and he knew, looking across the room at Dr. Marcus as she held a quivering red hand to her leg, that Khan was toying with him. A single swift kick to the head would have been enough to fracture his face, but Khan didn't seem to want a quick end. No, there was something deliberately precise about each kick, something painfully, overwhelmingly accurate. He didn't want Kirk to bleed out, internally or otherwise. He just wanted time to savor his victory, and to hell if he thought Kirk was just going to let him.
So Kirk moved. He rolled back from the kicks, bringing his arms close to his chest to protect it. His left wrist broke even as he curled into a tighter ball, a muffled scream escaping him as Khan delivered three more kicks in rapid succession.
Every instinct in him screamed at him to fight back, fight back. He would die if he stayed on the ground, but he didn't dare leave his chest unprotected. He didn't dare rise; Khan would kick him over. Khan would sweep his legs out from underneath him and plant a foot on his chest just to keep him down if he so desired. It wouldn't take much to break him, Kirk thought, refusing to let his terror make him do something erratic. Something desperate. Pike would be proud at his restraint, knowing when to fight and when to flee.
I can't escape, he told Pike's ghost, breath increasingly labored as pain blossomed across his chest, hot and unrelentingly. I'm going to die.
Slowly, exquisitely, with every care taken not to die too soon. He didn't know how patient Khan was, but he knew that this was only an appetizer, a slow build to whet his appetite. By the time Kirk was in any serious dangerous, he would back off, letting him endure for as long as he could restrain himself before unleashing his full fury.
Dismemberment, suffocation, and mutilation were all strong contenders. Kirk had no doubt that his skull would be crushed as a final show of resolution, but - what happened between then and now, what happened now terrified him. I can't die.
His breath whistled with each exhale, wheezed as he tried desperately to draw in a deeper breath.
I don't want to die, he thought, panting, as his breath came out wetly, blood splattering his lips. I can't die. My ship's still in danger.
Black spots dotted his vision as he coughed wetly upon the black floor, painting it red. Quiet, meticulous fingers tapped out a simple sequence before Khan said simply, "A ship should not go down without her captain," as though it amused him.
Sentiment, Kirk thought, amazed, seconds before being teleported back onto the Enterprise.
"Mother of God," Bones breathed, as he hacked up another globule of blood onto the pristine white floors of medical bay seconds later. "Jim!"
He heard Dr. Marcus gasping in a corner, a pair of medical technicians hurrying to support her while Scotty stared in wide-eyed horror nearby, his face white.
"Bones," was all Kirk said, the word ending in a red spatter as blackness overtook his vision completely.
. o .
Kirk jerked awake minutes later as he felt the ship rock once, resurfacing with a deep, terrible gasp of pain as his lungs expanded to fill a chest that didn't want to move. "Bones," he rasped, even as the power flickered out and two dozen medical technicians paused in their various work, bewildered and afraid as the ship began to list. "Bones," he repeated, because he could barely speak, there was blood in his mouth and his chest hurt abominably but he had to speak. "What's going on?"
"We're losing power, dammit," Bones said, reflexively, a set of hypos in one hand and a PADD in the other. "Hold still."
"Bones, I have to - "
"You have to stay still," Bones ordered, cutting his uniform apart. "Shit, Jim," he added, rummaging underneath his cart for a jar as the ship continued to sink.
"We're falling," Kirk rasped, trying to push himself upright. "I have to -"
"You will die if you move," Bones said loudly, looking right at him as he uncapped the jar. "Give me ten seconds, God dammit. And get me one of those God damn towels already," he barked at someone out of sight. Kirk noticed - vaguely, absentmindedly, through the haze of pain surrounding his torso that there were at least two technicians on hand, one holding a cuff to his wrist while the other scurried to do as told. Kirk closed his eyes, gritting his teeth when he felt Bones smear a wide swath of cool cream over his torso. "What're you doing?" he asked, feeling vaguely nauseated as the ship continued to sink.
"Topical anesthetic - hold still."
"Mr. Scott," Kirk rasped, ignoring him as he held up his left arm. "Mr. Scott, can you hear me?"
"Aye, Captain. You called?"
Kirk swallowed once, feeling his stomach twist as he said, "Meet me in engineering."
"Oh, to hell with that," Bones growled, dark and ominous even as the ship tilted dangerously to the left. "Secure it, God dammit!"
"Bones," Kirk said, concentrating, because whatever the hell they did to his lungs seemed to have done enough - enough - to let him breathe. "If I don't - " He had to stop, then, because the ship was falling and his head was spinning and he couldn't even move - "If the ship goes down, then none of this matters."
"Yeah, well, if you go down you won't be doing any of us a God damn favor," Bones snarled. "Secure it," he ordered, even as the ship jolted violently, sinking more rapidly.
Kirk gasped, fingers scrabbling at the edges of the cot before he pushed himself upright, gritting his teeth to keep the black dots at bay. "Do not sedate me," he ordered, thunderous and implacable. "That's an order, Dr. McCoy."
Bones stared at him for several long, silent moments, hypo in hand and a dark, unwavering resolution in his eyes. Then he cursed and replaced the hypo in his box, gruffly helping Kirk to his feet.
Kirk cried out at the movement involuntarily, biting his lip to keep a groan from escaping him. "Get me a shirt," he ordered brusquely, discarding the tattered, bloody remains of his old one. One of the technicians helped ease him into it as he bit his lip and stared over their shoulder. I didn't survive Khan to die now, he thought as he ran, a jarring, awkward sprint across the medical bay that made his ribs ache and his chest heave. We're sinking, was all he could think as walls flashed and people passed in a blur, oddly grateful for the anesthetic salve muting the sharpest edges of pain. By the time he reached engineering, Scotty was there, working frantically on one of the programs, cursing as he stepped away from the monitor, shaking his head and no no noing.
"What's wrong?" Kirk asked, breathless and stiff as he came to a halt beside him. Ribs still broken, he assessed silently, flexing his hands and wincing. Hand still broken, too. Shoulder intact. Lungs sound. He'd survive. He'd taken a beating from Spock barely a year prior that had hurt almost as much. Not the same, he decided, as each breath came to him slowly, painfully. It's not the same.
"The engines are misaligned," Scotty reported, staring at him with wretched, miserable eyes. "I can't do anything. The ship is dead, sir."
Not on my watch.
Kirk was already moving, speaking as he walked - we'll re-align them manually - while Scotty trailed him, protesting loudly.
"We can't go in there, it's radioactive. If we go in there, we'll be dead before we make the climb. Do you hear me? We will die if we go in there."
We're already dead, Scotty, Kirk thought in a fit of morbid humor, because there was nothing else they could do. But I have to save the ship.
"We're not going anywhere," he told Scotty, who for one millisecond looked relieved.
Then Kirk punched him in the face, not letting himself dwell on it as he dragged Scotty over to a chair and buckled him in after a moment's thought. Gonna be a bumpy ride. Then: God I hope you get to wake up.
If he failed, then it wouldn't matter. He never would.
Gathering his resolve, Kirk approached the chamber door and punched in the opening sequence, a hiss of steam greeting him as he crawled inside.
It shut with a metallic click behind him. A safety precaution: no one could accidentally open the chamber from within if there was no keypad to command it inside.
No turning back, Kirk thought, as he made the long, slow crawl up the tower.
. o .
Spock's head ached.
He'd refused all but one of the most basic painkiller hypos, not flinching when one of the medical technicians administered it. Vulcans were good at healing, given time and rest. Even a cracked skull could mend in fair time, treated properly.
Spock slept for six hours. Then he arose to resume activity duty on the bridge.
Ny - Lieutenant Uhura was there, as were Mr. Scott and Dr. Marcus. The rest of the cadets had reported for duty as well, willing to keep the ship afloat in their captain's absence. Spock was there as acting captain, assisting with the restoration of the Enterprise to working order as best as he was able. Once they got communications back online, it was relatively simple to hail a nearby Star Fleet ship for repairs. Within forty eight hours, the U.S.S. Bradbury arrived to assist with returning the Enterprise to one of the space ports for docking and repairs.
From there, Star Fleet command took over.
Spock's position as First Officer required reports. He contacted the Fleet and, via private transmission to an emergency board, relayed the story of their encounter with the war criminal Khan. It was all very methodical, with questions asked and answered and officers satisfied to various degrees. He did not waver in the retelling, nor did he flinch at the casualty count. (I've never lost anyone, Captain James T. Kirk once boasted. Not one.)
By the time he was finished, he was weary again, but in a different way. He wasn't used to intense emotional expression, and even the assurance from Dr. McCoy had not been sufficient to calm his conscience. I failed him, Spock thought, as he descended through the ship and arrived on medical bay, walking briskly across the floor and pausing outside Kirk's door.
He knocked twice, brusquely. Dr. McCoy answered.
"Reconsider that hypo?" he quipped, tired and unreadable as he returned to Kirk's bedside.
"How is he?" Spock asked, ignoring the jibe.
Dr. McCoy gave him a borderline exasperated look as he waved a sensor over Kirk's chest. "Comatose."
Spock nodded once, settling into the sole chair at the opposite corner of the room. "When will he awaken?"
"Do I look like a fortune teller?" Dr. McCoy asked. Then, sighing, he added, "I don't know, Spock, but it won't be tonight."
Spock nodded once. It had only been three days. "You should rest, Doctor."
Dr. McCoy looked at him, not saying anything for several long, unbearable moments.
There was something . . . dark, in his eyes. Deeply distrustful.
It is not directed at you, Spock reminded himself, as he said aloud, gently, "I will not harm the captain."
"Yeah, well, until he wakes up, you're the captain," Dr. McCoy pointed out.
Spock said nothing, watching him for a time as he moved back to Kirk, assessing the components of the blood transfusion carefully. Staring at the fragility of the line connecting Kirk and the only thing keeping him alive - Khan's blood - Spock understood Dr. McCoy's skepticism.
"Mercy killing is not a practice I aspire to, Doctor," was all he said. "In this case, it would not be merciful to do so."
Dr. McCoy nodded and, after checking one last machine, departed.
Spock rose slowly from his chair, walking over to the bed and resting a hand on the edge. "I am sorry," he told Kirk, running a hand over the railing once, lightly. "I failed you."
Hesitating a moment, he reached out and held a hand just above the place where Kirk's heart was, listening closely.
For a time, he heard nothing but the machine. Slipping into an almost meditative state, not wanting to touch him for fear of harming him, he waited, until -
There it was. Slowly, steady, soft.
Our ship is safe, he told him, even though he knew Kirk couldn't hear him as he withdrew and took his seat once more, far away. You saved us.
You saved me.
When Dr. McCoy returned eight hours later, Spock let him take over the vigil, walking back to the main bridge slowly.
He felt calmer, somehow. His headache had abated, his limbs - relaxed.
He will wake, he knew, sliding into the captain's chair, already issuing orders, settling back into a quasi-routine as he conferred with one of Bradbury's engineers. He will be fine.
. o .
Eleven days later, Kirk awoke.
Spock was there, silent, unmoving (He's waking up, Dr. McCoy had told him, seconds before he took off for the medical bay) as James Tiberius Kirk regained consciousness, blinking sluggishly at his surroundings. "Don't be so dramatic," Dr. McCoy chastised, bone-weary but fond, somehow, as he added, "You were just barely dead."
"Bones," Kirk said, and Spock closed his eyes in relief. Judging by the instant relaxation of his shoulders, Dr. McCoy was relieved as well.
"Thanks," Kirk added, looking at Dr. McCoy seriously. "For stopping him."
"Wasn't me," Dr. McCoy said.
Spock stepped forward and Kirk's grin widened. "You saved my life," he told him, quiet and sincere.
I failed you. "You saved mine and the lives of the - "
"Spock." Kirk's voice was heavy, tired, but not unkind as he said, "Stop." And then, smiling once more, he added, "Thank you."
There was something - forgiving about his gaze. Something soft. "You are welcome," Spock said quietly.
Dr. McCoy left them, Spock's hand coming to rest on the railing once more.
"I don't - blame you, Spock," Kirk said, voice a little halting after two weeks of silence.
"Your conclusion is illogical," Spock pointed out, looking at the smooth silver railing instead of Kirk's face. "I am to blame."
"You did everything you could."
"I did not act quickly enough."
"You saved me," Kirk reminded. Spock flinched when Kirk's hand touched his own, brief, intensely intimate. He relaxed after a moment, pulling his hand away but meeting Kirk's eyes, bright and blue and alive. "That counts."
Spock inclined his head slightly, calm and immaculate underneath his gray suit, his voice clear as he said, "I am not sure that qualifies, but thank you."
Kirk nodded, squeezing his hand briefly as though he would have liked to clap Spock on the shoulder. "You're welcome." Eyelids sliding shut, he added, "How's the ship?"
"All is well, Captain."
Kirk nodded again, hand releasing as his eyes opened. "Good job, Spock."
And then, more quietly, he raised his hand in a salute. "At ease, Commander."
Spock wordlessly lifted a hand, mirroring the gesture, before departing.
And for a moment, he believed it: All is well.
Author's Notes: As I mentioned in my summary, Saileasa requested an alternate scenario to the Kirk hostage scene where Khan does torture him.
I hope you found it interesting, if nothing else. I did my best to remain within the canonical timeline, only slightly altered to accommodate the torture scene.
Review? (And feel free to leave prompts/requests!)