More to Living Than Being Alive
There are not enough words for pain. The words available to describe the way pain feels are almost always related to what is causing the pain. Stabbing. Burning. Searing. Pounding. But when nothing was stabbing or burning, there were far fewer ways to describe a pain that might be even more treacherous.
The pain Jim was experiencing was not any of those. It was an all-encompassing pain that morphed as it traveled so that the pain in his abdomen felt nothing like the pain in his throat or the pain in his head or the pain in his chest.
If someone lined up razorblades, so that the whisper-thin edge of each blade was sandwiched between the edge of the blades around it, a million times over, in a huge sheet, a huge sheet of knife edges just far enough apart that each one could slice into his skin individually, if this sheet was applied to the inside of his body, pressed up against every organ and the walls of his muscles, that would be akin to the pain of peritonitis. An infinite series of razor slashes every time his muscles moved a single millimeter, with every breath he took and even when he refused to breathe at all.
His mouth and throat were different. The syrup lightly coated everything and blood rose to the surface to meet it, stretching the membranes tight until he was sure his skin would tear. He felt around with his tongue at the swelling, the heat and anger of a reaction.
His head was heavy and the far over-worked muscles of his neck could no longer support it. He felt the weight of it behind his eyes, pressing outwards, his vision brightening with each contraction of his heart and fading with each relaxation.
His chest worked overtime trying not to move his abdomen as he breathed, and the muscles were exhausted, stretching and contracting and not stretching quite as far again, his own ribs strangling him.
Jim wanted Bones to make it stop hurting, but he knew there was nothing to be done. He had seen Bones turn up his medication three times, and reach to turn it up a fourth, only to hesitate and draw his hand back. Through the haze of his vision that still throbbed with his heartbeat, he could see the conflict on Bones' face and he had told Bones that it was okay, it didn't hurt.
But it did. It hurt more than he could have imagined and it hurt in ways he didn't know were possible, and he had been unprepared. He was exhausted just trying not to make it any worse and yet each time he closed his eyes, he was left with no stimuli but the pain and somehow it grew to fill that void. So he forced his eyelids open once more and stared at Bones, wondering how in the world he was going to live through the next dose.
Bones said something he didn't catch and he started to ask but it that would require a deeper breath and he just couldn't do that so he let it go, watching his short exhalation fog the mask Bones had slipped back over his face as Jim's respiration rate dropped precipitously. Bones held up his tricorder, tapping several buttons to alter the readout, and then he hovered it over Jim, waiting for the readout. The tricorder chirped and Bones retracted it, but reached out and brushed his fingers over Jim's forehead, checking once more for fever. Jim leaned into Bones' hand just slightly, strangely grateful for the contact. He closed his eyes for a moment and immediately regretted it, opening them to see Bones beaming at him.
"That's it, Jim," Bones exclaimed and Jim frowned at him, confused. "It looks like you don't need that last dose after all. I'm going to hook up the IV." He turned to hang up the bag, adjusting the lines meticulously.
Jim frowned again, uncertain. Not forcing down any more of that syrup sounded fantastic but he could only imagine the feel of it in his veins. He started to ask, but Bones anticipated his question.
"No. No, it won't hurt," Bones said, pushing the end of the plastic tubing into the port on Jim's IV. "The worst of it is over." He brushed Jim's hair back and put his hand on Jim's arm.
"Even better, it looks like the infection is already starting to get better," he said softly. "We're not out of the woods yet, but I can see some sunlight."
Jim nodded slowly, studying Bones' face, the obvious relief there and he realized he and Bones were not nearly as different as he thought. Because Jim had always been able to read between the lines, and between the relief and excitement in Bones' voice, he heard what Bones had not said: that he had never believed this would work.
Jim Kirk believed in long shots, in defeating the odds. From the moment of his birth, he had been defying the odds, and he kept up the pattern, to the point of daring the universe to challenge him. But in the back of his mind, he knew someday the universe would do just that, that someday the long shot would not come through, that the odds would win out. Every time he concocted another impossible plan, every time he put his full faith in something flimsy, he felt that impending doom, even as he set himself on a crash course with it and prayed he would somehow miss.
But he had always assumed Bones was nothing like him. Bones was cautious, thoughtful, mature. He considered the consequences of his actions before enacting them, planned meticulously. Bones had patched Jim up after countless bar fights and several training incidents. He had headed off approximately twenty severe allergic reactions and probably a hundred minor ones. He had brought Jim back from near-deathly illness four times, because when Jim did something, he did it all the way. And never once, in all of these interactions, had Jim ever had any kind of inkling that Bones might not come through, that Bones' ability to counteract the consequences of his antics might not be absolute. Jim would bet on a long shot any day, but he had never thought Bones would be one of them.
"Bones," he mumbled, barely audible through the mask.
"How close?" It was so much effort to force out the first two words that he left it there and trusted Bones to divine his meaning. Bones paused, clearly considering, in the way he always did when Jim decided to check just how disproportionate his ego really was.
"In less than two days, you died three times," Bones finally said, not meeting Jim's eyes. "You've had some close calls, Jim, but this was the closest. At least as far as I know."
"I'm sorry," Jim whispered because he knew the lines forming on Bones' forehead were his fault, because he knew sometimes he was the reason Bones drank and the reason, at least half the time, that he was woken up in the middle of the night.
"Jim, listen to me," Bones said, leaning in and speaking slowly. Jim blinked, a little taken aback. "You are reckless and brilliant and a little insane and that frustrates me to no end. But that doesn't mean that I won't patch you up or that you don't deserve for me to patch you up. I'm always going to be here. Always."
Jim blinked rapidly, and broke eye contact, staring at a point on the wall behind Bones' left shoulder until everything stopped swimming. "Thank you," he said finally, when he thought he could manage it.
"Yeah," Bones said gruffly, just as uncomfortable as Jim was at the unusual display of affection. "Just don't make it a habit."
Jim smiled at Bones' attempt at normalcy and Bones scowled.
"You need to sleep. Do you want me to give you something to help?"
Jim considered, and while he was considering, Bones pressed the hypo against his neck.
"If you have to think about if you need a hypo, you need a hypo," he said over Jim's protests.
"You just like drugging me," Jim mumbled as the drugs took effect, as his eyes dropped closed and he was surprised to find the pain not growing in the void but receding, and for a brief moment, he stopped questioning long shots.
After a full six days, McCoy was finally starting to believe that Jim might be ready to be released from sick bay. Not back to work or even out of bed, but into his own quarters, at least. He could tell this from the lack of fever, lack of bacterial colonies in Jim's peritoneum, the lack of symptoms, and the presence of all the annoying behaviors Jim exhibited when he was tired of lying down.
The IV was gone; Jim was eating again, albeit not a lot. It took two days for him to be able to hold anything down and even after that, he was cautious. He was still a little weak and the couple of times he had attempted to sneak out of bed to snag a communicator had not been successful – the first had resulted in McCoy having to pick Jim up off the floor.
Spock had visited every day, filling both of them in on the repairs to the Enterprise and the antics of Scotty. Jim would snicker, then groan at the lingering pain of moving his abdomen, and Spock would draw those absurd eyebrows together in concern. After a couple days, McCoy had mentioned to Spock that Jim enjoyed chess, and from then on, Spock brought a board with him and for a few hours a day, Jim quit asking to leave.
But aside from the few hours of chess and the long hours of sleeping, Jim was a constant source of annoyance to McCoy. Each and every time McCoy moved past his bed, which was frequently since Jim's bed was just outside of McCoy's office, Jim asked when he could leave.
"Just what is it you think you're going to do when you leave here?" McCoy finally demanded gruffly.
"To my chair?" Jim said meekly, quelling a little under McCoy's annoyed glare.
"Uh-uh," McCoy grunted. "Not for at least another few days, not until you pass a full physical."
"Bones," Jim whined, but McCoy cut him off.
"No. Just how do you expect to get up there? I'm certainly not going to carry you."
"I can walk," Jim said indignantly.
"Like hell," McCoy retorted. Jim sank back against his pillow and sighed petulantly.
"Bones, there's so much to get done," he said, trying to sound as though this was the most reasonable excuse in the world. "I won't be able to once we get back to Earth…" he trailed off.
"They won't take the Enterprise from you," McCoy said, sinking into the chair by Jim's bed. "They can't."
"You don't know that," Jim said darkly, eyes distant.
"How are the dreams?" McCoy asked, and Jim started a little and met his eyes.
"Fine," he said, and anyone else would have believed it but McCoy wasn't fooled.
"Jim…" he intoned. "They aren't going to go away just because you pretend they aren't there."
"I can handle a couple of dreams, Bones," Jim said tiredly. "Just a couple more to add to the list."
McCoy winced at the reminder. Jim had been through too much to be phased by anything anymore, or at least, he liked to think so. Enough that he never tolerated McCoy's efforts to repair any kind of psychological trauma.
As the pair glared at each other, McCoy frustrated beyond belief and Jim as stubborn as ever, someone cleared his throat.
"Captain, I have information which I believe will be of interest to you," he said. "The admiralty communicated this morning and, barring extenuating circumstance, they intend to heed Captain Pike's recommendation that you retain captaincy of the Enterprise."
"What?" Jim said, momentarily stunned, and McCoy grinned, in spite of all that had transpired, because he rarely saw the genius actually surprised.
"Which means," McCoy added, forcing his face into a more severe expression, "that you are not going anywhere until I am confident you're completely well. You're damn well not going to go traipsing all over space until I'm sure you aren't going to collapse while doing it. I don't want to die on this tin can."
Jim leaned back against his pillows, interlacing his fingers behind his head in an exaggerated pose of total relaxation. "Bones, don't call my ship a tin can. That's an order."
"Order my ass," McCoy muttered, waving a hypo threateningly. "You ungrateful little brat." But even he couldn't help smiling as Jim amended:
"That's Captain ungrateful little brat."
A/N: Thank you all so much for sticking with this to the end and for not murdering me for slow updates! I know the end might feel a little rushed but I felt like the story was really over at this point and also I developed some numbers OCD and didn't want to have 11 chapters where ten would suffice. Thank you to all who reviewed and favorited and followed this story! I have another one in the works, so be on the lookout for that if you're interested. I am happy to report that I have been accepted to medical school, so I will have much more time to write now (at least in this glorious interlude between applications and actually starting medical school). Thank you all once again! ~procrastin8or951