More to Living Than Being Alive
The hull was cracked, their warp core was in approximately a trillion little bits in the middle of a black hole, engineering was severely understaffed, everyone on the ship was beyond exhausted, and no one was entirely sure how many of their crew was dead but they knew it had to be a lot.
There had been one heartbeat's worth of relief when the Narada succumbed to overwhelming gravity and sank into the black hole, followed by an additional huge surge of adrenaline as the Enterprise almost followed. Then another half second of calm before the damage reports began to flood in.
Kirk had flung himself into the Captain's chair, pounded the appropriate button with one fist and began firing off orders, not the least of which was to his current bridge crew to leave and get at least eight hours of sleep before they returned at the time of what would have been their normal shift if this ship had been running on any type of regular schedule.
Beta shift filed in immediately and began to work. They were a much quieter bunch than alpha shift, possibly because they hadn't been in charge when the Enterprise had gone through hell and back and didn't have the well-earned overconfidence that came with that. As Scotty gave a long and rambling report through the communicator, Kirk glanced around the bridge and realized he didn't know a single one of these people. Nevertheless, they worked well enough, the new pilot heeding his orders to avoid the debris as he discussed with Scotty how in the hell they intended to get back to Earth with no warp core and a severely crippled sublight system.
In a moment between discussing repairs with Scotty, he had ordered a couple of ensigns to figure out exactly how many people were actually dead, and who they were, so their families could be notified. It was a difficult task, considering that most of them died by being sucked into space, and it was typically extremely hard to identify people without a body, but the ensigns assured him they could figure it out.
His PADD chirped every couple of seconds with another report he needed to sign, another repair order he needed to authorize, and there was an annoying blinking light that reminded him that no one had completed a Captain's log possibly since he had assumed the role of captain. He slumped in his chair, the enormity of it all overwhelming him for a moment. The people who died, the people who were injured, the planets that were destroyed, the possibility that he had sent the Narada through a wormhole to a different time to be someone else's problem…
Kirk could hear his pulse, and not only could he hear it, but he could feel it, just behind his eyes, in the ribs he was sure were broken, in his hand he knew was rebroken, in the scrapes and contusions and general lack of wholeness about his entire body. Uncomfortably, his pulse was matching that little blinking light and the chirps of his PADD, and each syllable Scotty rambled in his ear. He made a mental note to go see Bones as soon as he got the chance. Despite what Bones seemed to think, he did not have a death wish, nor did he enjoy pain, nor did he regard himself as unimportant. But there was often something just a little more important.
"Captain, we are being hailed by Star Fleet," an ensign in blue called out, and Kirk started.
"Patch them through," he said, clearing his throat and straightening up in his chair, wincing as he did so.
The admiral onscreen did not look at all pleased as he stared down at Kirk. After a long, uncomfortable moment, Kirk cleared his throat.
"Acting Captain James Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise," he identified. "The war criminal known as Nero has been defeated, and we are undergoing repairs in order to return to Earth. Sir."
The man continued to stare at him. Kirk shifted uncomfortably, unsure of what else to say. Finally, the man spoke.
"What is the condition of Captain Pike?"
"Captain Pike remains in surgery, in what I understand to be stable but critical condition, sir."
"Captain Kirk, what is the estimate of your earliest arrival back at Earth?"
"Sir, traveling at sublight, we should reach Earth in no less than two weeks, once repairs have been made. I estimate the repairs will take an additional 48 hours." Kirk cleared his throat again, uncomfortable with the hoarseness apparent in his voice.
"Very well. You are to report to Star Fleet upon your return for a debriefing and hearing." The transmission ended abruptly. Kirk squirmed uncomfortably, causing further wincing, before deciding his body obviously just wanted to be still. Sighing, he returned to his PADD, signing at least a dozen more reports before Scotty called with an update that took about as long as the repair he was reporting on, and Kirk wanted to ask him to submit his reports in writing from now on to save time, but he didn't because he liked Scotty.
"Mr. Scott," he broke in. "How long until the repair is finished?"
"At least two days, sir," Scott replied. "Hope not more than that."
"Thank you, Mr. Scott. Kirk out." He punched the button again. It hurt his hand.
He jabbed a couple buttons on his PADD to increase text size. He blinked forcefully and plowed through six more reports, signing off on each, incredibly grateful that his crew seemed so competent. He shivered. It was cold on the bridge, and he wasn't sure why. He didn't recall it having been so cold before and he briefly entertained the thought that it might have something to do with the cracked hull, but a cursory glance around at the other people on the bridge indicated that this was actually normal.
He suppressed another shiver and focused on the reports, his head pounding as he skimmed yet another repair request, forcing himself not to dwell on the emptiness of space, on the thought that that emptiness is what now took the place of Vulcan, had almost taken the place of Earth…
By the time he looked up, his bridge crew was back. He hadn't noticed beta shift leaving, and he found it disorienting how silently people had traded places, how seamlessly they all seemed to work when he was struggling to hit the correct buttons on his PADD and had twice been forced to retract a report because he had accidentally declined to authorize instead of authorizing, because the buttons were too damn small and his hand hurt a little too much.
"Captain." Kirk turned, craning his neck awkwardly upward to see Spock's face where he stood at the arm of his chair.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Spock?" he tried to ask, but his voice barely came out, and that little effort made his throat burn. He coughed forcefully to restore his voice, and his vision went white as the marrow of his ribs turned to magma.
"Mr. Spock," he managed, as his vision cleared.
"Due to your appearance, I am given to believe you have not rested following our return from the Narada, and it was my impression that you had not had sleep for many hours prior to that expedition." Spock's face didn't even seem to move as he talked, and Kirk wasn't sure what exactly Spock was trying to communicate at this moment besides making a somewhat insulting observation of his general appearance. He glanced down at his black shirt, noting the dirt and the darker splotches that were probably blood, and noting how badly it hurt his neck to look down like that.
"Captain, perhaps it would be wise for you to-"
"Captain, if yeh have a moment, I could use another set of eyes in engineering," Scotty said through the communicator.
Kirk hit the button, wincing again as his hand throbbed. "I'll be right there." He glanced up at Spock. "Can this wait until later, Mr. Spock?"
Without waiting for an answer, he pushed himself from his chair, but his head didn't take kindly to the change in altitude, nor did his ribs like being jostled, and his hand didn't like being used, and all of a sudden his knees were buckling as black flooded his vision and he could hear a couple of gasps, and he felt hands catch him and they did it as gently as they could, he was sure, but damn it all, everything in his body hurt and it hurt more when it was touched.
Kirk blinked rapidly, trying to clear the dark spots from his vision, the glaring white of the bridge bursting through and making his eyes hurt and his stomach turn. He found himself on the floor, halfway sitting up, propped against his chair, one leg folded awkwardly beneath him.
"Lieutenant Uhura, please call down to medical and ask them to bring up a stretcher," Spock called, and Kirk shook his head.
"No, Lieutenant, do not ask for a stretcher. I can walk," he commanded. Spock quirked one eyebrow at him, but did not press the issue, dropping his hands from Kirk's shoulders to his wrist, the right one, the one that didn't hurt, to find his pulse. Kirk shook him off and made to stand once more, and Spock immediately hovered at his side, reaching out to steady him as he wobbled.
"Sulu, you have the conn," Kirk muttered, realizing with dismay that Spock intended to follow him down to sickbay.
"Yes, Captain," Sulu replied, meeting his eyes, and Kirk nodded to him, grateful that he wasn't going to comment on that little spell.
They reached the lift and Kirk tightly grabbed one of the handles and leaned heavily on the wall, exhausted from the effort of walking that far. He glanced over at Spock, feeling the Vulcan's gaze boring into him.
"Spock," he rasped, and, coughing once more, he almost collapsed again, but Spock caught him by a bicep and supported him. "Spock, what I said about your mother, I was out of line. I'm sorry." He forced the words out, even as his throat ached and the walls of the lift and the door that had opened at some point without his noticing danced before his eyes.
"You were correct to take command," Spock said. "In my emotionally compromised state, I failed to realize I was unfit to captain this vessel." He paused. "Though your methods were perhaps questionable, I believe in this instance, the ends justified the means."
Kirk nodded, suddenly exhausted, unable to express the guilt and the fear and the uncertainty. He allowed Spock to support him down the short hallway to medical, allowed himself to be deposited on a biobed, but when a cadet approached him with a tricorder, he balked.
"I need Dr. McCoy," he stated in the most commanding voice he could muster.
"Dr. McCoy is still in surgery with Captain Pike. I'd be happy to help you," the cadet said, not even meeting his eyes, but watching the tricorder intently as he waved it over Kirk.
"Then I'll wait for him to finish surgery," Kirk insisted, pushing the tricorder away. "I have allergies –"
"Your blood pressure is extremely low," the cadet interrupted. "And your pulse is pretty weak. There really isn't time to wait."
Kirk looked at Spock imploringly. "I need McCoy. Please. Just tell him it's me, he'll come."
Spock nodded, turning on his heel and walking away quickly.
Kirk turned his attention back to the cadet, just in time to see the flash of a hypo before he felt the sting in his neck, just before he felt the burning sensation spreading through his veins.
"What was that?" he gasped, hand at his neck, his vision darkening around the edges as he looked frantically for Bones.
"Just a painkiller," the cadet said. "You've got broken ribs and all kinds of other damage, I just thought –"
"I'm…allergic…" Kirk ground out, both fists clenching as he struggled to breathe, as the alarms of the bed started to blare, as the cadet met his eyes and he saw the panic and the uncertainty written on his face, as his vision darkened further until all he could see was a blurred motion as the cadet was pushed out of the way, as two people in blue crowded his bedside, a cool hand on his head, orders barked in a thick southern accent, and it was Bones, he was there, and Kirk struggled one more second for air before submitting himself to the dark.