Warning: spoilers for Star Trek: Into Darkness...seriously, big spoilers, if you're one of the few people that haven't seen it, please do not read.
Summary: after the credits rolled...
AN: It's been ages, people, ages. Read, enjoy, and forgive dumb mistakes, please?
by kodiak bear
"How's our ship?" Jim asks. His breaths are rapid, pained. I kneel to be closer; I wish to breach the barrier between us because with it there, I cannot save him. "Out of danger," I whisper. "You saved the crew."
Spock jerked awake. That dream, again. His breathing was faster than normal, his heartbeat, too quick. Something had woken him. The dream did not normally end there. His subconscious did not spare Spock the remainder of that conversation nor the revelation that had publicly bared Spock's emotions.
He sat, staring into darkness. It was not quite morning. The voice was familiar and as nightmare retreated and reality asserted itself, Spock realized it was McCoy calling him. There was only one reason for McCoy to be calling Spock at this hour.
"The Captain -"
"We're ready Spock. I've got the serum finished."
"I understand, Doctor. I shall be there momentarily."
An unwelcome queasiness ghosted through Spock's middle. From the moment Nyota had shouted for him to stop because they needed Khan alive to save Kirk, Spock had been locked in a battle of emotions. Despair had given way to hope but hope had also brought fear. He tried to retreat from the onslaught but he failed. He'd been failing ever since that moment in engineering.
There was no need to get dressed; Spock had never changed. He'd simply laid down, ostensibly to meditate, but like the other four previous nights, meditation had been lost and sleep had claimed Spock. Taken him back time and time again to relive Jim's death. Spock called for lights and sought for his boots on the floor by his bed.
Arriving at Starfleet Medical, Spock was waved through the checkpoint. They knew and were expecting him. The fact that McCoy had been working night and day to ready the serum did not strike Spock as overzealous nor did it give him cause for concern. He simply wanted as McCoy did.
The acute care room was buzzing with people and electronics. The cryotube was already gone and Jim was on a bed, surrounded by machines and with so many wires attached. Jim's arms were strapped to immobilization splints, thick tubing ran into and out of the skin so very, very pale. Spock took in the motions, the actions; monitors recorded a dangerously low heartbeat and a hypothermic body temperature. He hadn't even realized they still used manual methods of transferring fluids to people.
"We've administered the serum and are warming him up, Spock. He's not going to be awake for a while." Turning his attention back to his patient, Spock heard McCoy mutter, "Human popsicles, superhuman blood, damn crazy world and we're not even in space..."
Meditation. Spock took the noises that surrounded him and slowly, precisely, turned them off; a murmur of many hushed voices speaking, the whirr-woosh of the artificial respirator, but the steady, although slow, beep, beep of his friend's heart, that Spock left and he let it become his focus. He let that sound erase painful memory; because this existed now that other time did not exist. Not any longer.
Someone grasped his arm. Though he had never closed his eyes, Spock had not been aware of McCoy leaving Jim's side and moving in front of him. "Did you hear me?" repeated McCoy.
"I am sorry, Doctor. I was...distracted."
McCoy sighed. "S'all right." Tiredness dogged the doctor's every movement and seemed to deflate the man. "Hell if you weren't I'd want to sign you in for treatment. He's going to be under for a while, Spock. We've got to transfuse his entire blood supply. The serum will repair the damage to his organs, least that's what we hope, and prevent long term complications, but his current blood cells are a mess. There's still a lot that can go wrong. The serum might not work on a human and I didn't have time to do any studies. His body could reject Khan's cells. Worse, it'll only be temporary."
"Captain, if this does not work, please tell Lieutenant Uhura-" Spock had said that not long ago, when they were on board the Narada. Kirk had told him, "It'll work." When Spock had quoted the odds Kirk had looked at him and repeated firmly, "Spock, it'll work," and he'd said it in such a way that Spock believed. His captain had that effect. Because Jim Kirk said it, it was so.
Spock squared his chin and said, "It will work, Doctor."
The bridge was nearly empty, minimal manning in effect. It was not just the absence of personnel that made it feel so lifeless. Spock sat in the captain's chair and wished to be somewhere else. "Helmsman, prepare for docking." Hikaru Sulu had already performed the tricky maneuver of bringing a wounded Enterprise through Earth's atmosphere. The shipyard where Enterprise had first resided waited for them again. Through the vidscreen they saw the buildings, the crewmen on the ground waiting to rush forward and begin the long work of rebuilding the fleet's flagship. The spectators were cheering.
"There are so many," Chekov said, awed.
Nyota swiveled to the screen. "We won which means they won." She received a transmission. "Riverside control says we are cleared for dock, Commander. Captain." She winced over her verbal stumble. For now, Spock was the only captain Enterprise had.
"I wouldn't say we won," Sulu said. His face was grim and lacked any of the jubilation he'd shown when Enterprise had risen up out of the clouds.
Spock knew his shipmates needed bolstering, anything to lift their spirits, but he wasn't Jim. The right words did not seem to be there. Mouth dry, he said, "Though there has been tremendous loss, the enemy was defeated Ensign. Therefore people now look for those to rally behind. They need something to celebrate and it would appear we are that something."
He wasn't capable of poetry and was only beginning to appreciate things in life that did not flow from logic, so Spock did not share the feelings of those below that watched the wounded ship steered so very gently into her waiting berth. He did not feel the emotion they felt as they watched in awe as Enterprise flew with grace despite the blown out bulkheads, the burned, scarred and pitted hull. They saw Enterprise as a symbol of triumph whereas Spock, and those around him, felt only that they had lived through a great tragedy.
He simply wished to be somewhere else.
When Spock returned to Jim's room, he knew something was wrong. Jim was sweat-soaked, his cheeks colored by fever. Though the splints kept him from tearing loose the lines, it did little to still the restlessness that draped him as if a blanket. Spock was used to assessing situations quickly. He noted Doctor McCoy giving orders to two nurses – one was to get cooling blankets, the other to get a vial of Nythrine. Not being a doctor, Spock did not know the purpose of said medication.
"Doctor?" he queried.
McCoy turned around, surprised. When he saw Spock, he shook his head. "It's not as bad as it looks, Spock."
"I assure you otherwise." In fact, Spock was beginning to fear it was even worse than it appeared.
In juxtaposition to the state of the figure in the bed, the room was light and airy; glass windows let in generous sunlight that refused to be muted even with the automatic shading. It was an atmosphere that would generally inspire wellness in those on the mend. McCoy was dressed in the all-white hospital garb instead of his regular blue starship uniform. Sunlight haloed the man as he fiddled with more machinery, accepted the new vial from a male nurse, and injected it into a delivery system that seemed overly complicated.
Once McCoy was finished he gave the empty vial to the nurse. "Let me know if anything changes," he told them. He stood over Kirk and gave the unconscious man a crooked smile that was edged with undisguised affection. "I should've known you'd make things difficult."
That seen to, McCoy turned away with a final reassuring pat to Kirk's shoulder. He clasped Spock firmly on the shoulder and steered him towards the door. "Let's get a drink and I'll update you on Jim's progress."
"Doctor, I do not drink," Spock said, confused.
McCoy rolled his eyes at Spock. "You do now, come on."
Philosophy said time was the best healer. McCoy, as a physician, knew that was the biggest load of bullshit ever invented. Time only healed the surface wounds – the shallowest of cuts and briefest of viruses. The deeper wounds, the more virulent infections, those required extra help. As a doctor, he once took the oath to do no harm but Jim Kirk was putting that oath to the test.
Then again, Leonard McCoy knew that he was the arrogant ass that had dared to trivialize death
by bringing one back from the great beyond.
"I might throw up on you."
McCoy hadn't, but he'd come damn close. With the unwitting offer to share a flask, McCoy had initiated a friendship that had come to define him in ways he could never have guessed. The fact that he had more space-related phobias than he had degrees, said a great deal about his devotion to one crazy kid. To think that McCoy had taken a post on a starship.
It scared the hell out of him on a daily basis. He knew the risks. He knew the dangers. And he hovered over Jim worse than his Great Grandma McCoy over her many grandkids because he knew that every day brought a chance to lose a certain cocky captain. Jim seemed to have as much common sense when it came to his safety as a tribble in a grain bin.
McCoy had dragged Jim Kirk back into the world of the living and it wasn't exactly going according to plan. Khan's blood could work miracles but if there was trouble to be had, his friend was going to find it. He'd never seen one person so prone to weird reactions to medications, vaccines, illnesses. If it was an abnormal reaction, Jim Kirk was bound to have it. That was if he wasn't allergic to it in the first place.
So, was it any surprise that Jim's body was doing it's damnedest to reject Khan's blood?
Surprise or not, it wasn't exactly making McCoy feel sunshine and roses.
He'd dragged Spock to the local bar, reassured him that he had it under control. Spock had listened, humored McCoy by finishing his scotch, then proceeded to make McCoy feel even worse by asserting his faith in McCoy's skills.
McCoy swore and tossed back his drink. "At least one of us does," he muttered.
Starfleet Academy was familiar ground, yet Spock did not find himself enjoying his return. Ever since he'd left to answer the emergency distress call on Vulcan, he was different, changed. Logically he understood that changes were a part of living but he had always felt assured that he was fully capable of navigating those changes. That was until he'd watched his homeworld implode. Nothing had been the same since. In fact, the only constant had been being locked in a state of emotional upheaval, coupled by loss after loss.
Spock stood in front of the observation window, staring at the darkened sim-bridge for the Kobayshi Maru exam. A team of 4th year cadets was scheduled in an hour and Admiral Archer had requested Spock help in the evaluation.
"Part of being a Captain is facing death. Facing one's fear in the face of danger." Spock had believed he knew so much more than he really had back then.
Early estimates put Enterprise in repair dock for fifteen months. Spock did not say that he thought Scotty's numbers were generous. They would all get to see if the man could work further miracles than he had already wrought in saving them from the Vengeance's weapons. Fortunate timing, Sarek would say. Spock did not know what to call it as the chain of events leading to that moment remained inexplicable to him.
"This reminds you of him, doesn't it?"
Nyota had joined him and he had not even sensed her presence. He remained as he was; standing still, staring through the glass. She touched him lightly on the arm. "I can't believe I'm saying this but even then he was winning me over."
"Our conversation after he defeated the exam said otherwise."
"I was aggravated."
Spock leaned slightly into her. "He has that effect as well."
She took his hands within hers and turned Spock so they were face-to-face. Her hands were warm and soft and, as she had done before, she simply offered quiet support. A few moments and she let his hands go, cupping his face in her hands and drawing him down for a gentle kiss, murmuring, "He will be fine, Spock. We all will."
Later, when the hangover was gone, McCoy started to believe Kirk would live. The high fever that had gripped his friend had toppled in the face of an onslaught of modern medicine. The massive transfusions were working. He stayed in Jim's room long into the evening. He stole a blanket, moved a chair, and watched as the sun set and rose.
He startled awake, spilling the glass of water in his lap. He had meant to put it back on the table but his eyes had closed and the cup had slipped between his leg and the arm of the chair. He swore, harsh and loud in the quiet, early morning.
A guilty-looking nurse handed McCoy a towel. "Sorry Doctor, but Admiral Archer is looking for you."
He straightened, toweling off his leg. Habit directed his eyes to the monitors and he was satisfied to see numbers even better than last night.
The nurse cleared her throat.
McCoy pulled his eyes away from Jim and thrust the towel at the nurse. "Fine. I suppose he expects me to jump at his command as if I were one of his precious beagles."
She wisely kept quiet.
McCoy was surprised to find Spock already waiting. The commander inclined his head, greeting him quietly. Admiral Archer, bowed by age, and generally cranky after being pulled out of retirement, waved irritably for McCoy to join them and sit beside Spock.
The decimation of personnel had required sacrifices of young and old alike.
"Doctor, I apologize for pulling you away from your duties – "
"This couldn't wait? Admiral, I've got a captain on death's door."
Archer frowned. His desk seemed dwarfed by the man's larger-than-life presence and it didn't surprise McCoy to see an occupied dog bed in the back of the office. The tall glass windows were already shaded; much like the medical building, this side of the San Francisco bay received full sunlight. Fortunately these buildings had been spared the worst of the damage.
"I wasn't aware that Captain Kirk was doing poorly, Doctor." Archer glanced at the PADD on his desk. "This latest update reports his continued improvement and it's signed by..." Archer glanced up and peered at McCoy over the rim of his glasses.
Damn stubborn man refused corrective eye surgery. "Myself," McCoy admitted, irritable. "So I exaggerated. I don't like to leave a recovering patient's bedside."
Spock raised an eyebrow.
McCoy glared at Spock and said, "And you can knock off the eyebrow thing."
"I assure you the topic of this discussion is of vital importance." Archer pushed another PADD across the desk and motioned for McCoy to pick it up. "We have before us a difficult decision."
McCoy watched as Spock's face grew stony. Well, stonier than usual. He also noticed Spock's hands clench into fists and the knuckles whiten from the effort.
When he saw the face on the static image, McCoy understood. He felt his mouth thin into an angry line. Khan was to blame for a whole lot of death and destruction and though the doctor within him couldn't willingly take a life, he wasn't sure he'd speak against someone else doing it. "What does this have to do with me?"
"You used Khan's blood to save the life of your friend," Archer reminded him. "A person is not something we can just dispose of, Doctor. I thought if anyone you could present an argument for leniency."
Spock sat whipcord straight, as tightly wound as one could be just before snapping. "Khan is an unparallelled threat. Normally I would express my opinion against such a barbaric practice as putting to death one's enemy, but this time must be the exception. I do not think it is wise to let him live."
"The proposition has been raised to return him to cryostasis." Admiral Archer leaned back in his chair and studied McCoy and Spock. "Frankly, I'm inclined to agree."
"Are you out of your bloody mind!"
"Admiral, I advise strongly against such a decision."
McCoy glanced at Spock; the two of them had spoken over top of each other.
Archer banged a fist on his desk. "We're not in the business of killing our threats, Gentlemen! We either ship him off to a high-security remediation facility or we freeze him. Which would you rather see happen?"
Just the thought of handing Khan over, awake and fully capable of freeing himself, along with the other dangerous criminals he'd be placed into custody with... McCoy shook his head. "You're two cards short of a full deck, that's what I think."
"I'm sorry, Doctor, but did or didn't they teach protocol in your academy courses?"
McCoy didn't let the jab fluster him. "Admiral, where I come from we believe in telling it like it is. I can add a 'Sir' if that'd make you feel better."
Archer sighed and waved away his annoyance. "That won't be necessary. I'd say your honesty is refreshing but I'd be lying. Truth is I find it damn annoying but maybe I've gotten too used to people being afraid of me." He pushed himself out of his chair and went to look out over the bay.
Spock said, "If the decision has already been made, why did you bring us here?"
"Because I needed to know just how far down to bury this man's cryotube." He turned to look at them, his lines and wrinkles standing out more to McCoy. "I may not be able to kill Khan but I can damn well make sure the odds of his being revived are as low as possible."
Spock rose gracefully from his chair. "Admiral, the only safe destination for Khan's cryotube would be in a decaying orbit around this planet's sun."
"I'm with him." McCoy agreed.
For a closed meeting, the conference room was filled. What bothered Spock the most though wasn't the number of individuals but the missing. Admiral Pike, Captain Kirk, and even Admiral Marcus, a person Spock would forever hold in a special place within him. A place in which a deepening anger bred. You could say the seed had been planted by Nero, but you could also say that Khan and Marcus had placed that seed within a hothouse. When Jim had died, Spock had quite literally seen red. It had been the first time he'd fully understood one's need for revenge.
He tried not to dwell on the fact that he had not felt that way with the loss of his mother. Spock had been a different person then.
Spock answered their questions. He directed them to his report, filed within twenty-four hours of capturing Khan. They said it was somewhat terse and Spock knew he'd left many things unsaid. It was an uncomfortable turn of events. Spock knew his reports were used as examples of thoroughness.
By the time the meeting ended, Spock felt exhausted. He needed more rest than he was getting but every time he slept that nightmare returned. Sometimes it only got as far as receiving Scotty's call from engineering, other times it progressed to the moment immediately after Jim's death. He'd screamed Khan's name with every fiber of his being before collapsing, his back pressed against the same barrier that had kept him from Jim. Spock had felt shattered. He still did.
His communicator beeped.
He stopped descending the stone stairs, aware of cadets passing around him as if he were an immovable rock in a stream. "Doctor," Spock's heart skipped a beat as he answered.
"He's showing signs of waking, finally. Damn kid makes us wait two weeks –"
The communicator closed and Spock ran, his dress uniform hat gripped tight in his hand.
Waking up after dying was a surprise. It was also painful. Jim couldn't find the words, or the energy, to tell Bones and Spock all the things that ran through his muddled thoughts. He knew he'd thanked Spock but things grew hazy after that until they weren't, and he was awake again; visual cues told him he'd lost time.
If Jim thought about his physical state, and trust that he really tried not to, but if he allowed himself to linger on it for a moment, he realized he was dreadfully thirsty.
Good thing he fell asleep, with the whole 'no one around' to get him some water. Jim would say it was ironic that the one time he wanted something he was alone but really it was just pathetic. Or he was pathetic. Or was that the wrong word? Maybe dying killed off brain cells.
Soon vague time became concrete.
"I'd really like to get back to the Enterprise," Jim told Bones.
"And I'd really like to make sure you're in shape to do so, so just lay there and shut up until I tell you you're ready."
Jim opened his mouth to bitch more but thought better of it and instead opted to shut it, as Bones so delicately put it. He was still recovering but he had enough cognitive function restored to get that seeing your friend die had to leave some scars. Even on a good day, McCoy's bedside manner was usually set to one mode – abrasive, with a side order of caring. So really, you'd feel like you'd been sandpapered and then wrapped in a quilt. That was Bones.
Damn it, though, Jim was restless. He'd been horizontal for too long and it wasn't in his nature to be still. His ship was out there and while he trusted her in Scotty's reliable care, it wasn't the same as being there and seeing her. Seeing her injuries repaired little by little, piece by piece. He needed to see it as much as Bones needed to see Jim stuck in this bed, safe in the doctor's home territory.
Bones grasped Jim on his shoulder; it was a reassuring, familiar touch. "Jim, rest. Please. Just...a little longer. You died."
"So I've been told," Jim mumbled. He frowned at his feet poking up through the blanket. "You know, I was there." People seemed to be forgetting that fact. Jim looked up at Bones. His friend was quiet, his troubled expression saying volumes. Then again, maybe the problem was that they hadn't forgotten...
Jim must have not been as recovered as he thought because next thing he knew, he was waking up and he was pretty sure it was the afternoon of the following day. Frustration snaked through his thoughts. How could he expect to return to normal duty when he couldn't even stay awake?
The room was quiet, Jim realized. No nurse, no Bones, no anyone. Jim felt a spark of excitement and an idea formed. He threw off the blanket and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Enough was enough. He pushed himself up and stood, swaying unsteadily, trying to find his footing amidst protesting muscles. Jim took a step and was delighted to realize he was still upright. Another step and his delight turned to alarm as his leg gave way and the floor caught him, painfully.
"Son of a – ."
Jim rolled onto his back and saw Spock staring down at him with a quizzical expression. Jim waved. "Just checking the, uh, firmness of the flooring." He gave a thumb's up sign. "It's great. Good. Real firm."
"I do not believe you," Spock said. "I find it far more likely you found yourself alone and seized the opportunity to attempt an unauthorized departure."
There were two ways Jim could go about this. Deny everything or...never mind, there was just one way. "I don't know what you're talking about." He flashed his most charming smile at Spock.
"I am sure you do not." Spock knelt and gathered Jim up in his arms.
The Vulcan's grip was steel and it embarrassed Jim how easily he was lifted and placed back in his biobed; he couldn't help but feel he was a recalcitrant kid being tucked back in by his parent. It made him cranky. He glared at Spock; Spock remained unaffected. Figures. He tried another tactic, the truth. "Spock, I need to get out of here. I've got to see the Enterprise. Until I do, none of it seems real."
"It is against Doctor McCoy's orders."
Jim looked at Spock, really looked. In his eyes Jim knew the weight of every moment had to surely be reflected; the loss of the Enterprise, Pike, every misstep and mistake. "If it were you in this bed, I'd help you." Jim didn't always play fair. "You know I would."
Spock straightened, but Jim saw his eyes soften. "Because you are my friend," he said quietly.
Jim swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Yes, Spock," he said, fighting to keep his voice even. He didn't want to push too hard, appear too eager. "Because we're friends and breaking the rules is sometimes the only thing we can do for a friend."
"Except when breaking the rules puts them in danger." Spock said it firmly, breaking the spell that had made Jim believe they were having a moment.
"What? No, wait, what? I thought –"
"Captain, you thought to emotionally manipulate me in order to get my assistance in breaking out of Starfleet Medical against Doctor McCoy's orders."
Jim opened his mouth to deny it but couldn't. He was desperate.
Spock strode across the room and pulled a duffel bag from the closet. Confused, Jim barely caught the bag that was tossed at him before it bounced off his chest. He unzipped it and pulled out a pair of clothes; jeans, t-shirt and his leather jacket. Surprised, he glanced up at Spock, aware his mouth was, once again, hanging open.
"However," Spock said, "Doctor McCoy was unwise to confide that you are well enough to be discharged. Therefore, I will assist you."
"Spock, I could almost kiss you."
Jim wasted little time in getting dressed and did not complain when Spock arrived with a hover chair. He wouldn't use it when they got to the ship. Jim would crawl to the bridge if he had to.
It was quiet. That was the first thing Jim thought. Repair crews had quit for the day; night on a functioning starship was never quiet. No, the only time it was like this was when it was first being built or home to be put back together. Jim didn't like it but he understood it. Scotty would fix her up in no time.
The second thing Jim thought was I'm home.
He'd left the hover chair behind, left Spock behind, and paced his bridge. So much had happened; so many things done that could never be undone. Jim gripped the rail with one hand and traced the upper lines of the helm with his other. He'd done his best. He'd given his all. He'd done the only thing he'd known how to do and that was fight until the bitter end. It's just...Jim felt the weight of those that had done the same and weren't ever coming back. Men and women he'd sent to their deaths.
Jim turned and walked, somewhat unsteadily, to his chair.
"You don't respect the chair," Pike had said. "You're not ready for it."
"You were right," Jim murmured.
Truth...he probably still wasn't. But the difference was this time he knew it. This time he'd learned the hard way just what costs could be demanded due. Jim grasped the handles of the captain's chair, pressed against its unyielding strength, let it sink into him. Jim turned and let himself fall into it.
He wasn't really sure how much time had passed before he realized Spock was standing beside him.
Spock waited patiently at the rear of the bridge, the hover chair discarded and empty in the turbo-lift behind him. He watched as Jim circled forward. Spock noted but did not comment on the captain's need to hold the rail as he walked along the front consoles.
The Enterprise was not ready for flight nor was her captain, but they were both operational. It was... Spock searched his memories for the right word... satisfactory.
When Jim spoke, Spock almost asked for clarification but something in the captain's posture made him pause. Spock realized it was not an attempt at conversation but rather Jim talking to himself. Humans were often confusing. He had observed this phenomenon before with others.
They had not spoken of those things said in engineering. Perhaps avoidance was as much a vulcan trait as human. Perhaps speaking of it was not necessary. Spock had acknowledged a friendship and Jim had admitted to feeling fear.
Vulcans were ruled by logic but as Jim had once reminded him, Spock was only half-vulcan. Logic could not override emotion and logic could not account for the sorrow and rage Spock had felt when Jim had died. He was beginning to realize there was a great deal that logic could not account for.
Spock walked lightly to Jim's side.
His older self had said, "I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together." Spock was only now beginning to understand what he had meant.
Together they had defeated Khan.
Together they had defeated Nero.
Such a simple yet complicated word.
Leonard McCoy often let that slow, southern drawl trick people into assuming he wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack. Well, he wasn't slow and he sure as hell hadn't fallen off the turnip truck yesterday. McCoy knew his friend like he knew himself and Jim Kirk needed to feel like life was a challenge. Give him something and Jim would wind up tossing it in a drawer and forgetting about it, metaphorically speaking that is. The man needed an uphill battle more than any other man Leonard had met in his life. McCoy had conveniently left his latest report on Jim's health on his desk while talking to Spock and then found an excuse to leave. Better Jim make his escape under the watchful eye of that green-blooded hobgoblin.
He watched Jim and Spock through the viewer in engineering; he turned to Scotty and lifted his glass of scotch in salute. He'd agreed to patch McCoy through so he could observe without giving away his secret. Jim was still recovering.
"You're a good man, Mr. Scott. A good man."
Scotty smiled and tossed back his drink. "Aye, Doctor. I'll toast to that."
And that, my friends, is not the end, but the beginning because now there's plenty of adventures awaiting our illustrious crew!