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

The notion of death is distant from him, yet he sits at Kirk's bedside for hours.

"It's late," Dr. McCoy tells him, when he enters the room clad in Starfleet Medical whites and wearing a grim, beaten expression. He laments the fourth evening of their vigil with a cup of steaming black coffee and a tired expression on his face, blue-gray shadows ringing his eyes.

Spock inclines his head to acknowledge the statement and says nothing. He cannot take his eyes away from Kirk, daring the world to interrupt them in his repose, willing every shallow breath to continue unimpeded. It seems the aches are more distant here, the pain less obvious when he sees that Jim is alive.

Something deep within him has broken, and he does not know if he is strong enough to fix it. Vulcans are notoriously inscrutable, unflinching in the face of disaster and unmoved by casual sentiments, yet somehow they are capable of experiencing so many breathtaking emotions that it is a near constant battle to suppress them.

He wants to tell his father that it is impossible to be both human and Vulcan because the two species are incompatible: Vulcans repress whereas Humans expound. The emotions run deeper in the Vulcan race, a race that dates back eons before Humanity arose, yet Human fragility and mortality procurs more violent emotions in starbursts of expression than Vulcans are often capable of emitting.

Spock lacks the words to describe the torrent that deluged him when he saw Kirk behind the glass door of the warp core reactor. He thinks that anguish comes closest.

"He seems to be doing well," Dr. McCoy remarks, keeping his tone oddly gentle in the quiet, not wanting to disturb Kirk's rest. Spock stares ahead at the unseeing, unflinching eyelids, wondering when they will open, when Kirk will smile and tell him that staring is impolite.

"His heart rate's up," Dr. McCoy adds, adjusting the intravenous line leading into Kirk's arms. Spock graces him with a single immutable look before watching Kirk's eyelids flicker once and tensing, reflexive anticipation coiling in his stomach.

He knows it is an unfounded hope – Dr. McCoy has flooded Kirk's system in sedatives in an attempt to prevent him from awakening prematurely, even though it is clear that the measure is purely secondary to the primary need of Kirk's body to rest and recover – but he cannot ignore the disappointment that follows when Kirk fails to comment on the matter.

"Blood pressure looks good," Dr. McCoy muses clinically, scrolling through the readings on-screen while the night drags quietly on around them, unmoved by their presence. "No sign of any arrythmias. Brain function appears normal. Comatose, but normal. Kidney and liver function within normal ranges. Respiration normal." Looking down at Kirk then, Dr. McCoy looks away after a moment, drawing in a deep breath. "He's fighting it. His body doesn't want to become what Khan's blood wants it to, but he's losing that battle. Physically, he should be fine, but I don't know what he'll be like when he wakes up."

It seems extraordinary to Spock that awakening is a given. "When he wakes up," he echoes quietly, "he will tell us."

Dr. McCoy grunts, dropping heavily into a chair across from him and dropping his head into his hands. "Kid doesn't know when to quit," he muses. "Suppose we should be grateful for that. I told him he'd never pass your damn suicide run and he did it anyway."

Spock quirks an eyebrow, curiosity itching at the edges of his consciousness in spite of himself. "I am unfamiliar with –"

"The Kobayashi Maru," Dr. McCoy clarifies.

Spock opens his mouth, closes it, and settles on a deep, close-mouthed sigh. "I miscalculated."

Dr. McCoy laughs, a startling sound in the near-silence. "Is that supposed to be an apology?" he asks, turning to look at him, incredulity dancing in his eyes. "You're incorrigible."

"In a disciplined regime, complacency flourishes in the absence of a natural enemy," Spock explains, cool and methodical, using the simplicity of his most unflappable tone to collect his own thoughts. Dr. McCoy watches him, dark eyes darker in the dimly lit room. "While the Klingons continued to submit their petitions for war, those outside of the immediate contacts had lost touch with the severity of the situation. They did not know how dangerous space could be. Our weaponry and defense systems had advanced to such a point that most officers graduating the Academy had lost the ability to recognize a starship's fragility. I merely intended to reacquaint them with the reality of being in the command circuit on a starship." Staring hard at Kirk, he finishes quietly, "For every James Kirk, there are a thousands others who do not pass the test, and those numbers would have multiplied if had not devised a means to temper their complacency."

"He didn't pass," Dr. McCoy points out gruffly, getting up from his chair in a fit of restlessness only to settle at the foot of the bed, staring out the windows onto San Francisco bay unseeingly. "He died."

"The test is not about survival, Doctor," Spock points out, almost gently, as he stands, feeling the rift between Kirk and himself grow. "It is about principle. Integrity. Character."

"What you're saying is that the person doesn't matter," Dr. McCoy retorts, heatedly, as he turns to face him fully, shorter by mere centimeters but bolder, somehow. Willing to stare down a challenge until it submits. Spock respects that, even as he speaks.

"The person matters, Doctor. But not every life can be saved. And when survival is no longer the final outcome, we see what people are truly, as it were, made of."

Dr. McCoy huffs but says nothing, letting the silence deepen between them.

At last, Spock says simply, "He passed."

Dr. McCoy nods without a word, his throat working noiselessly as he reaches for Kirk's foot and squeezes it once, hard. A peculiar gesture, one which alludes Spock in meaning, yet it calms Dr. McCoy, somehow, as though the presence of something firm and alive and real underneath him is grounding. "He cheated."

Spock tilts his head in a disinclining manner, yet he cannot refute it. Spock's intervention alone is proof, Dr. McCoy's further evidence to the contrary. Kirk would not be alive without their interference.

He would not be alive without Khan's blood.

As Spock stares at the transfusion line, he cannot help but wonder what the consequences of this particular tampering will have.

It is not a waste, he decides, because no matter how ugly the reality is, the alternative is worse.

Emptiness – absence – a blank space where once presence used to be – always, that is worse.

Dr. McCoy leans against the foot of the bed more heavily, and it takes him a moment to collect his bearings enough to straighten, releasing Kirk's foot and groaning softly as he stretches. Spock declines to comment, meeting his gaze across the bed and wordlessly questioning him.

When Dr. McCoy leaves with only a silent nod, the door clicking shut behind him, Spock settles gingerly inot the chair once more, resuming a more meditative pose, open palms relaxed.

He closes his eyes, breathes deeply, and without a word reaches for that presence at his side, savoring the warm, soft flesh against his palm as he rests it gently, reverently against Kirk's side, keenly aware of every slow breath. He holds it there for an uncountable time, feeling indefinably some piece finally resettle itself in his soul as he does so.

When he pulls away at last an uncountable time later, it is only as the meditative realm of almost-sleep claims him, fingers reaching quietly after him, gentled, eased.

He is alive, he thinks, and for the first time in days, he rests easily.


Author's Notes: Hello, everyone.

This is a companion piece to Stillness.

Thank you for your time. You are the reason that I write. I hope you enjoyed this. Let me know what you thought? Any remarks are always appreciated.

~truffles