A/N: Sorry for the wait. Not a lot of excitement in this chapter, but the climax of the story is definitely right around the corner! Enjoy!
The Needs of The One
"Question, Mr. Spock?" His head jerked slightly in surprise when his counterpart's eyes opened to regard him curiously. Inclining his head a fraction, the elder added, "You have been staring for the past 10.8 minutes."
The shuttle rattled loudly as it penetrated the outer layer of New Vulcan's magnetic field, which extended out a remarkable distance from the planet itself; a sign that indicated to Spock that the impending conference with the council was fast approaching.
Shifting minutely in his seat, he opened his mouth to speak, but quickly closed it—uncertain how to broach the subject. Although his counterpart deemed himself a guide, he could not suppress the disconcertment he felt over the matter of a life he had not lived. The warm chocolate eyes harbored a vast amount of knowledge that rivaled even that of the elders within his clan.
It was unsettling.
A grey brow inched upwards as the silence stretched, wrinkled hands clasped loosely together. "The matter must be of consequence for you to stall," the elder plainly said, "I can only assume it pertains to Jim." Spock dropped his gaze in affirmation. "Ah, I see," he continued, "You wish to discuss mine." It was not a question.
Spock nodded curtly, "If that would not troublesome."
The elder's eyes slid shut again, this time not appearing as peaceful as he had previously, "I will never find his memory to be so."
"Forgive me," Spock said softly, "I had not meant to imply—"
"It is all right, young one." The elder's eyes remained closed. "What do you wish to know?"
Grey brows furrowed as he released a breath. "Yes."
"Jim was a survivor."
"Yes," the elder repeated, finally meeting Spock's gaze; a light within the dark pools dimmed.
"Why did you refrain from mentioning that significant piece of information?" Although Spock had merely meant to question him on the subject, the tone in which he used became more accusatory—anger, he recognized, steadily building inside him.
The elder nodded, as though ashamed, "I was not certain whether this universe's James Kirk had endured the same fate." Dark eyes glossing over, his counterpart glanced toward the viewing window, his bottom lip trembling ever so slightly, "I- …I had rather hoped that incident in particular had been altered by the arrival of Nero."
Spock's brows creased at his counterpart's reaction, "It is illogical to omit information simply because you did not wish to investigate if Jim may or may not have—"
"Mr. Spock," the once warm, amicable voice firmed as he curtly interjected—eyes weighed with horror and pain flicked back in his direction, "James Kirk confided in me a piece of his past that damaged him in ways you could not conceive. I could not divulge information that I had sworn to keep only to myself, even to you—my own counterpart." There was a fire of echoing anger inside the dark pools of his eyes, "I would never betray him by speaking of his affliction without given consent."
An almost interminable silence followed directly afterward, until Spock finally decided to break it. "My apologies," he replied, voice soft; placating, "I am only…concerned."
The fire abated, the elder's gaze now rueful and plaintive, "I know." His voice wavered as he closed his eyes, inhaling a steadying breath, "I do not know of the horrors this young Jim has faced, and I…" he trailed off, eyes clenching as though in agony, "I could not bear to learn of it. However, if he should ever wish for me to know, I will accept the information, and comfort him to the best of my abilities."
Something akin to fear replaced the anger within Spock as he absorbed the severity of the topic by none too sublte subtext, "His pain…it is that substantial?"
"You could not sense it?"
Spock dropped his gaze to his hands that were now knitted together, muscles straining as he clasped them tightly. "No, I…," he paused as he remembered standing before the tribunal, lashing out at a man that had not only cheated the system, but outsmarted Spock as well as it took him countless hours to comprehend just how a lowly cadet had managed such an outstanding feat. Then, unrepentantly, utilized the man's deceased father as a proverbial noose to hang him with when he realized the cadet's reasoning was quite logical—recalling the way the light in those illustrious blue eyes had darkened, as though the name itself had triggered unwanted memories.
"You of all people should know, Cadet Kirk. A captain cannot cheat death," Spock said, satisfied by the way the blue eyes flashed with pain as though the man had endured a physical blow.
"I of all people…" Kirk repeated, jaw locking, gaze averting to the stand. A pink tongue darted out to lick at his bottom lip before biting down upon it—a typical, and unusual habit humans tended to do, almost subconsciously, while immeasurably upset.
Yet, Jim had cheated death long before Spock had ever encountered him. James Kirk had survived famine, starvation—mass genocide.
"I don't believe in no-win scenarios."
"Of course," Spock murmured suddenly, realization dawning on him, "I had dismissed it as arrogance and smugness." Glancing up toward the elder, he whispered, "How had I not seen it?"
"I will go with you," Spock said quickly, a sense of dread filling him by Jim's refusal to listen to reason.
"No, I need you on the bridge," came the predictable reply, inciting Spock to reach out and grab him, which, thankfully, forced him to come to a standstill.
"It is my function aboard this ship to advise you when making the wisest decisions possible—something I firmly believe you are incapable of doing in this moment—"
"You're right!" Jim interjected, taking Spock aback by his outburst—a pained look crossing his captain's face as though it had cost him his dignity to speak those words. "What I'm about to do…it doesn't make any sense, it's not logical—it is a gut feeling."
Glancing away only briefly, he turned back to regard Spock with an emotion Spock could hardly discern. Was Jim in…pain? "I have no idea what I'm supposed to do," Jim's voice wavered; hopeless. "I only know what I can do. The Enterprise and her crew need someone in that chair who knows what he's doing…" The skin around those startling blue eyes tightened as he solemnly admitted, "…and it's not me." A short interval of silence fell between them before he murmured, "It's you, Spock."
The elder released a breath, "If there is one constant with James Kirk, regardless of universe, it is his ability to hide in plain sight." When Spock looked inquiringly at him, his counterpart elaborated, "He is capable of presenting his pain in a form in which you could not be able to recognize, unless you knew what you were searching for." A beat. "Once you learn to see this, you will understand that it is his own method of requesting validation for his existence."
A hard lump was suddenly lodged in Spock's throat, acknowledging the truth in that statement. "What was the grave mistake you had made when you discovered the connection with your captain?"
"Nearing the end of our five-year mission, I had not acknowledged the pain I caused him with my avoidance of his person as I struggled to balance both the Vulcan and Human sides of myself. So, understandably, he sought out comfort during his time of emotional need." Dark eyes locked with his. "He made a mistake that, in retrospect, I could have forgiven; however, I could not accept his apology at the time." He sighed, shaking his head minutely, "I left." Clenching his eyes closed once again, he repeated, voice scarcely audible, "…I left him."
"What do you mean, no?" Jim scoffed, hovering over the doctor's shoulder who was currently busy injecting a hypo into a patient. "You're the only person who knows how to use the herbs!"
"Which is the reason I'm staying here," Bones muttered with a huff, moving toward the next biobed, and running his tricorder over the patient's prone frame, "Besides, I need to help with the outpouring of infected."
"Have M'Benga do it," Jim tried, trailing behind him as he hustled from bed to bed, "He's more than capable."
Sighing, Bones turned to him, weary hazel eyes locking with his. "He can't. It seems those who'd been grounded while we were en route to Babel had been exposed to it long before we were. His symptoms are more debilitating than mine."
"What?" Jim's breath hitched slightly, fear creeping over him, "Yours?" As McCoy turned away, Jim reached out and grabbed him, whipping him back around, "You're sick." It wasn't a question. Even with fabric separating his hand from the man's skin, Jim could feel the unusual heat radiating from his friend, the perspiration dampening his scrubs.
"Don't worry about me, Jim," he said plainly, pulling away to attend to a woman still clad in her cadet uniform, "I'm a stubborn old doctor, remember? I won't let this beat me."
"Does the crew have it too? What about Spock?"
"I just finished testing the crew a few hours ago, and they all have it save for Sulu who grows his own food." Huffing, he shook his head. "Spock, I couldn't say. You two idiots disappeared on me, so I wasn't able to examine him."
Jim was silent for a moment, absorbing the information. "I can't do this without you," he murmured. I can't lose you.
Bones seemed to understand the underlining message in that statement, and he gripped the sidebar of the biobed; his head drooping slightly. "Listen…kid," glancing sidelong at him, the doctor continued, "No matter what happens, you'll be okay." Releasing the bar, he took a few steps to bridge the gap between them, working to remove the ring on his pinkie finger before extending it out to him.
"Bones," Jim's voice strained, shaking his head and taking a step backward, "Don't."
"I can do whatever I damn well please. Now take it, and give it to me when you get back." Grasping Jim's wrist, he turned his hand until the palm faced upward, then pressed the ring into it. "And don't you dare lose it," he grumbled, eyes averting to gaze at something particular over Jim's shoulder, "or I'll have your head."
His lips twitched slightly at the corners, eyes glossing over as his fingers curled around the small metal ring. "You always have such a way with words, Bones."
The man snorted, eyes rolling toward the ceiling, "What more do you want, Jim? I'm a doctor, not a poet." Jim embraced him, then. Mildly surprised when the man returned the gesture. "Alright, Jim. Get out of here," he murmured in his ear, "I don't need you crying on me."
By the end of the day, Jim managed to gather a small party of cadets who were specializing in agriculture at the academy, as well as a few science officers from the Enterprise. He had hoped for more, but understood the pickings were slim with the entire Federation out of commission. Sulu had volunteered immediately, and Jim was grateful to have at least one of the bridge crew accompanying him other than Spock—not desiring to impose on the others who were suffering the adverse effects of the illness.
Then again, he should have known better than to assume Uhura would be willing to stay behind.
"I'm coming with you," Uhura announced as soon as he turned the corner, beholding the sight of her standing idly in the hallway outside Barnett's office. Jim opened his mouth to protest, but she quickly placed her hands on her hips and added, "Barnett's already signed off on it."
"You can't—you're sick," he tried to reason with her as she approached him.
"True, but I'm not helpless," she countered, stopping a few inches shy of him. "Besides, you need all the help you can get. Scotty's assigned to repairs on the Enterprise, and the rest of the crew are either confined to the medical ward, or are busy preparing for war."
Shaking his head, he rubbed two fingers over his eyes as he released a breath. "You know Bones will kill me if something happens to you."
Offering him a sweet, knowing smile, she replied, "I could say the same thing about you."
"Nah, he'd be glad to be rid of me. I'm a pain in the ass."
She made a soft, amused noise in agreement, "That's true."
Jim lips upturned, his eyes downcast as he shuffled his feet casually. "So," he cleared his throat, following her as she brushed passed him to stroll back down the hallway, "New Vulcan isn't going to be as hot as Vulcan was, right?"
Her laughter echoed loudly in the empty hallway.
A/N: Thank you for reading and please review!