Yay! Final part! I hope you enjoy the feels and thank you all so much for all the support and encouragement. This was a tough one, and you made it so much more bearable.
Now we are canon compliant again, it's time to throw all that out the window and bring back the long, twisty turny plots and the much-loved cliffhangers! You know you missed them! :p)
Stay tuned! xx
A tentative stillness settled over the ship. If Spock were to follow the rules to the letter now would be the time to start writing the entire bridge crew up for insubordination. Spock met Sulu's relieved gaze and the thought fled his mind as if it had never existed. The men and women around him had shown the utmost loyalty and stalwart courage. They deserved commendations not reprimands, despite what the rules told him.
Jim would be proud of them all and Spock imagined for a moment the look on their captain's face as he recounted each and every admirable act he had witnessed.
It felt strange, having prevailed against such insurmountable odds, to not be able to turn and see the flicker of a grin on Jim's face and hear the see Spock, have a little faith.
A flicker of concern set in. They had received no word that Jim, Scott and Doctor Marcus had been returned to the ship, and while he did not doubt Khan's desire to see Jim die along with them all, he had no knowledge of what physical state the captain might currently be in. He had been bruised and bloody when Khan had held him at phaser point on screen and that was before he'd taken the blow to the head.
He reached for the communication button on the chair, ready to contact either Jim directly or McCoy if necessary, when Scott's sober voice interrupted the process.
"Sir, you better come down here. Better come quick."
Without pause to think about why, Spock ran.
Gut instinct, that was what Jim called it. A move made without rhyme or reason, just feeling. He had no empirical evidence that anything was wrong, no logically reason to break the unwritten rule that said no officer should run unless the situation be dire, as to avoid creating panic in the crew. Spock simply ran, mindless of the people in his path. Though Scott had given him no location, he knew where he was needed. Engineering was the heart and soul of the ship. It was where the miracles happened, as Scott often said, and it was apparently the only place in the universe James Kirk felt safe enough to sleep.
Spock did not dwell on that fact often, having made the discovery quite by accident some weeks prior. He'd sought out Jim's company off hours, wishing to bring closure to an argument he no longer recalled the source of. When he'd failed to locate Jim in his quarters and the ship's computer had revealed him to be in the lower levels of Engineering, Spock had ventured into the bowels of the Enterprise with every intent of continuing their discussion. Instead he'd found Jim curled up between generators, fast asleep. The sight had robbed him of his desire for debate and he'd hastily retreated, but not before a sharp eyed Scott had warned him off disturbing the captain's rest.
"So the lad needs a wee lullaby to help him nod off, no harm in it." At the time he'd not understood Scott's meaning, but as he found himself running through the metal walkways, the ship alive again after such a close brush with death, Spock thought he might perhaps appreciate why Scott and the captain found such solace there.
And for a split second, when he saw Jim curled against the glass safety door, Spock wished he could believe he had simply imposed himself on the captain's rest once again. There was just no hiding the pain on Jim's face.
Spock's mind was a vault of knowledge and it quickly told him exactly how radiation exposure killed. The Gy levels in the reactor would kill in minutes as the body broke down at a genetic level. Spock calculated the time it would have taken Jim to reach the core and added the long minutes between the ship's salvation and his own arrival. He estimated a period of twelve minutes and marveled at the fact that Jim was alive. Spock could not comprehend the pain he must be in.
"Open the door." He demanded of Scott, hands against the glass, helplessly separated from Jim.
Scott was crying silently. "I can't." He said. "I'd flood the whole compartment."
Jim needed to close the chamber door from the inside. Clearly hearing them, Jim opened his eyes and raised his arm to enter the sequence. It looked like the effort cost him every ounce of energy he had left because his arm fell down limply to his side.
Spock dropped to his knees, unable to comprehend the reality he was facing.
"How's our ship?" Jim said tiredly. He was stripped of all the bravado and wit, all the anger and ego, layers he wore like armor and none more real than another.
"Out of danger." Spock answered, transfixed by the purity of emotion he could see in Jim's eyes now he lacked the energy or will to hide. "You saved your crew."
"My crew." Jim smiled drowsily, his eyes closing before he was able to force them open again. "You used what he wanted against him. Nice move."
"It is what you would have done." Spock said, wishing he could explain to Jim just how much Spock had learned from him, not just about others, but about himself. He simply did not have the words.
"And this is what you would have done. It was logical."
"A captain cannot cheat death." Jim said, uttering some of the first words Spock had ever spoken to him. At the time he'd believed them true, but then he'd not known Jim Kirk. Now, they shamed him.
"This was never what I meant." Spock confessed bitterly, his eyes welling with tears he had not shed in decades.
"I know." Jim said gently, his yaw suddenly tensing as his face creased with pain and he too wept. "Spock, I'm scared." The quiet confession broke something inside Spock. He'd never imagined Jim could sound as young as he actually was. "Help me not be. How do you chose not to feel?"
He recalled the conversation he'd had with Jim and Nyota in the shuttle. What he'd failed to tell Jim at the time was that when he had melded with Pike, he had felt his fear and his pain and most of all the pure, overwhelming love Pike had had for James Kirk. He'd not felt it appropriate at the time, not when Kirk balanced so precariously on the edge. He imagined what it must be like to feel such love and fear the loss of it, and wondered if it hurt half as much as he was hurting now.
"I do not know." He admitted honestly. "Right now I am failing." Tears fell, laced with both grief and reproach as he was unable to give Jim even that comfort.
"Spock, I…you have to know why I went back for you." Jim said, trying and failing to hoist himself upright, suddenly desperate to get the words out though he clearly struggled.
Spock didn't need him to finish. He knew and he understood and in that moment there was not a law in the universe he would not gladly break to keep Jim with him. "Because you are my friend."
Jim's eyes lit up with a warmth he was unable to speak. He reached for Spock and the movement caused another stab of pain to lace through Spock's chest. He knew how Jim craved physical connections and now he was denied even the most basic human comfort as he died. Spock did the only thing he could, pressing his hand to the glass between them, willing it away so he could take Jim's hand in his own and prove to him that he was not alone and never would be.
The glass did not go away, and Jim's hand fell a second time.
It did not move again.
The supernova known as Jim Kirk blinked out of existence and Spock tumbled into the black hole left in his wake.
He was not aware of anything that happened between watching the life leave Jim's eyes and Nyota screaming his name. As neither sound nor light could escape a black hole, nothing could penetrate the depths of the agony Spock suddenly found himself in.
His control snapped and everything came pouring out in a cascade of anger and hurt, of which Jim's death was only the very pinnacle.
Nyota called his name over and over, but it was not until she screamed Jim's that he was finally able to pull himself free of the gravitational pull his emotions had created.
Beneath him, Khan lay dazed and barely conscious. Agony laced through Spock's head and their blood mingled. None of that computed. He looked at Nyota as if seeing her for the first time. "What did you say?"
"McCoy thinks his blood can save Jim." She rushed to explain, clearly fearing he would slip back into madness. "We need him alive."
Alive. Jim could be alive again.
He hit Khan solidly in the jaw, knocking him unconscious. "What must we do?"
"Put him down there." McCoy waved at an empty biobed and Spock dumped Khan none too gently down. He was immediately strapped down by two nurses and a stasis field employed to keep him immobile. It was just in time because a moment later, Khan jerked into full consciousness.
His cold eyes fixed up on Spock in utter hatred before his expression broke. "You lied." He breathed, his gaze transfixed by the cryotubes littered around medical. Spock was stunned to see tears stream down his face as Khan's gaze turned back to him. "You lied."
"I inferred." Spock said coldly. "Doctor McCoy believes your blood can save our captain. While I do not doubt his medical expertise I am reluctant to believe that a miracle could be so simple. Please understand that if it means even the possibility of saving Jim's life, I will slit your throat and drain every last drop of your blood to do so."
The tears ceased to flow as Khan frowned. He looked around, his vision limited by the stasis field. "Kirk is dead."
There was a scuffle across the room as Uhura, Scott and Doctor Marcus all had to restrain Doctor McCoy from moving any closer. McCoy had been impassively efficient when Spock had arrived, but the mask had slipped and the raw desperation on his face was agonizing to witness.
"He is." Spock said. "He gave his life for ours and entered the warp core chamber to repair the damage caused by your actions."
To his surprise, Khan actually smiled and it was genuine, not mocking. "As any good captain should." His gaze moved to McCoy. "I will help you synthesize a serum that will repair the damage caused by the radiation – that is what killed him, yes?"
McCoy nodded, his expression murderous. "It is."
"I ask only one thing." Khan said.
"You've got no right to ask for anything you murdering bastard!" McCoy snarled, all but throwing the restraining sets of hands off him and storming across the room.
"Doctor," Spock said, laying a gentle hand on McCoy's arm. "What is it you want?"
Khan looked up at him, his gaze open and honest. "Let us sleep."
"You do not desire your freedom?" Spock asked curiously.
"I believed I had lost the people that I love most dearly." Khan said, pain in his voice that Spock could sympathize with. "I cannot do so again. I know how to pick my battles, Mr Spock. Do you?"
Spock nodded. "Your crew will be safe and none of you shall be harmed. I will let you sleep. If," he paused, stilling the rise of emotions on Khan's face, "Jim lives."
"He will live." Khan promised.
McCoy had stalled as long as he could before they would need to transfer Jim to SFM. Khan had been put into an induced coma only moments before and they now all stood around the cryotube Jim had been placed in. McCoy nodded to Doctor Marcus and she keyed in the opening sequence.
They had only minutes after the end of the cryo cycle for the serum to work. If Jim's body did not respond quickly, his brain functions would be lost and even if they did eventually bring him he wouldn't be Jim.
McCoy pressed the hypo against Jim's neck with utmost tenderness. "Come on kid," he whispered, "come back to us."
The serum dispensed. They waited.
One minute passed.
Spock felt the pull of the black hole start to drag him in again.
The first, hesitant beat of Jim's heart registered on the monitor.
No one breathed, waiting for a second.
Then a third.
Slowly, it became regular. McCoy pressed his fingers to Jim's throat and suddenly collapsed to his knees, leaning against the bed. "You absolute bastard." He sobbed.
Jim's pulse strengthened as excited cheers rang out around them. Nyota and Doctor Marcus both started to cry, a strange human reaction to joy that he only now understood.
He did not join them, however.
Instead, he did what he wished he had been able to do before.
He reached out and took Jim's hand.