Actions

Work Header

Sotto Voce

Work Text:

1. Hikaru Sulu

 

Seriously, it’s just his luck that the first away mission he signs up to lead goes tits up not thirty minutes after it began. Hikaru really thinks this is the universe’s way of saying fuck you, go back to your plants, because really, what are the odds that, out of the more than eight hundred crewmembers on the Enterprise—only five of whom, himself included, are of Asian descent—he would be the one whose number came up on the roster next for this particular away mission, to a tiny little planet in the middle of the Bumfuck Star Cluster, inhabited by the one civilization in the whole fucking galaxy that equates Asians with basically the evilest, most reviled demons to ever exist?

Fuck all, that’s what the odds are.

The smirk must piss off his captors because in the next instant a meaty fist sinks into his cheek, snapping his world sideways and making everything explode with pain and harsh light. Hikaru coughs and spits blood into the dirt, lifting his head just enough to glare up at the two men standing guard over him, squinting to make out their features in the bright sunlight.

The humanoid species inhabiting this planet—damned if Hikaru remembers what they’re called, Tala-something, he’s just been using Spinies in his head because of the quill-like hairs dotting their bald scalps—has just about progressed to the equivalent of Earth’s Middle Ages, and it shows. All around the square, peasants dressed in drab, ripped clothing stagger about their business, faces haggard and worn. The guards standing on either side of him have large, menacing swords tied to their belts and crossbows hanging over their shoulders. One of them even has a goddamned flail, spiked ball swinging cheerfully back and forth on its rusted chain.

It wasn’t first contact, of course. Just a routine recon to confirm Mr. Spock’s data suggesting a possible dilithium deposit near the base of the northern mountains. They were supposed to get in, take a few readings, and then get out again—do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. In fact, Hikaru’s pretty sure he would’ve already been back by now, probably beating the pants off Chekov in Texas Hold ‘Em, or pinning the captain to the sparring mat for the fifth time in a row.

Instead, both Daniels and Brr’tu are dead, their severed heads impaled on pikes at the edge of the square—Hikaru tries not to look at them, he’ll lose it if he does, Daniels was his assistant in the botany lab, for fuck’s sake she’d been three months pregnant—and Hikaru himself is tied to a wooden stake atop a pile of branches, waiting for one of the guards to light a torch and treat the whole town to its first taste of Japanese barbecue.

He’s not exaggerating. According to their fucked-up religion, ingesting the flesh of a demon infuses them with strength or some other bullshit like that. Hikaru hopes they all choke on him and die.

At least he’s missed their check-in, which means the Enterprise knows something is wrong. Something about the upper atmosphere of this planet makes beaming spotty, but Hikaru’s going to keep hoping the captain and Spock will figure out a way to rescue him. And if not, well…at least he’ll go out in a blaze of glory. Literally.

One of the Spiny guards—the bigger one with the broad shoulders, Hikaru’s taken to calling him Hulk—straightens up and barks something at the smaller guard, whom Hikaru’s calling Hooked Nose. Hooked Nose mutters something back and walks away, disappearing around the edge of a nearby building.

Hulk turns to Hikaru and grins, all yellow, rotting teeth. Hikaru imagines shoving his katana right through the guy’s jaundiced eyeball, and feels a little better.

That is, until Hooked Nose returns from his romp with a burning torch.

All movement in the square stops. Several peasants drop their bundles, scooting closer to the square with blank faces, hypnotized by the light of the flame as Hooked Nose approaches the pyre. Hulk starts shouting something in their honking, guttural language, probably some sort of speech. Hikaru watches the fire, haunting and beautiful and the last thing he’s ever going to see, oh God, and prays it’ll be over quickly.

He’s shut his eyes without meaning to, a last-ditch effort to clamp down on the rising panic and helplessness and mind-numbing fear, so when the sharp whine sounds out, he at first doesn’t register it. Then people start screaming, and Hikaru opens his eyes and lifts his head just in time for everything to go to hell.

A wave of red tears its way through the crowd—a full security team, holy shit, bright blue phaser bolts shooting this way and that, and leading them are a flash of science blue and command gold: Spock and Kirk. Hikaru has never been happier to see his commanding officers in his life.

Next to him, Hooked Nose takes a shot to the chest and falls over with a wail. Hulk shouts something and ducks sideways, barely avoiding Ensign Mavi’s shot as he dives for shelter behind another building. Hikaru doesn’t have time to be disappointed, though, because in the next instant the captain is there, falling to his knees in front of him and flashing him his trademark grin through a mess of grime and sweat.

“So, Lieutenant,” Kirk says, as someone—flash of blue, Spock—gets to work undoing his bonds. “A little tied up, are we?”

Hikaru coughs. “Shut up, sir.” The ropes give and he groans, everything going pins and needles as the blood rushes back into his shoulders.

Kirk just laughs. “Come on, man, let’s get you out of here.” Then he and Spock are moving, hauling Hikaru up and draping his arms over their shoulders, and Hikaru groans again, more from anger than pain when he catches a glimpse of the two pikes at the corner of the square with their grisly decorations.

“Sir, Brr’tu and Daniels—”

“I know.” Kirk’s expression goes suddenly dark. “Don’t worry, Sulu. Let’s just work on getting you home.”

He nods at Spock, who flips open his communicator. “Spock to Enterprise. We have recovered our helmsman. Request immediate beam out.”

The communicator crackles around a burst of static before Scott’s voice pitches through. “Gimme a minute, locking onto your signal—”

A high-pitched whoosh and Kirk cries out, “Whoa!” and jerks them to the side, just as an arrow sails through the air right where Hikaru’s head used to be. More soon come flying, and Kirk curses and yells at Spock’s communicator, “Anytime now, Scotty, unless you want us all coming back as pincushions—”

“Got it, sir, got it!”

And then, thank God, the white obscures his vision, and when Hikaru lets his next breath out they’re back on the transporter pad, the Enterprise’s gleaming walls enclosing them like the warmest of embraces. Jesus. Hikaru’s never been more glad to see her.

Next to him, Kirk lets out a relieved breath. “Awesome timing as usual, Scotty,” he says, and Hikaru nods, trying to catch Scott’s eye to convey his gratitude as Kirk continues, “Keep that up and you…you’ll…”

He trails off, and even beaten-up and adrenaline-pumped as he is, Hikaru immediately knows something is very wrong. “Captain, are you—”

And that’s when Kirk collapses.

“Captain!” The support under his left arm suddenly gives out and Hikaru stumbles to his knees just in time to see Spock rush to Kirk, gently turning him over and oh God, there’s an arrow sticking out of his back and Hikaru’s blood runs cold when he sees the metal tip protruding out of Kirk’s front, and holy shit, that’s a piece of Kirk’s lung stuck to it—

“Jim!” Pounding footsteps rush by him as Dr. McCoy and his two techs hurry to their fallen captain, and as a nurse starts to help Hikaru to his feet he catches snatches of pulmonary laceration and collapsed lung and we need to get him into surgery, stat! And not a few seconds later they’re all rushing by him again, McCoy barking orders a mile a minute and Spock with a look on his face Hikaru hopes he never sees again, and holy shit that’s a lot of blood, and then they’re gone and the door is closing and the room is quiet once again.

When the nurse finishes patching up his wounds a few minutes later and clears him to return to his quarters, it takes Hikaru half an hour to get his hands to stop shaking.

Kirk ends up in sickbay for three days. During that time, Spock snaps at exactly twenty-nine people, makes three ensigns cry, and all around looks ready to murder anyone who even thinks at him the wrong way.

He doesn’t say anything to Hikaru, doesn’t give any indication of holding him in any way responsible for what happened to Kirk. It doesn’t stop Hikaru from completely nonsensically sleeping the next three nights with the light on and his katana by the bed, just in case the terrifying, stormy-faced Vulcan decides to come kill him in his sleep.

Spock doesn’t, but it still takes Hikaru a whole month to shake the habit.

 

2. Nyota Uhura

 

She’s not superstitious; never has been. She’s a Starfleet officer, for Christ’s sake. Still, that doesn’t keep Nyota from wishing she’d just followed her gut on this one. Superstition and pseudoscience aside, a bad feeling is still a bad feeling.

Now she’s sitting in a cold, dark room, naked except for the gold bangles dangling from her wrists and the heavy collar wrapped around her neck. And Nyota doesn’t get scared often, but she’s definitely scared now.

The Briga are an advanced people, something like Earth in terms of their technological advancements. In fact, it’s this technological advancement that ensured she had no weapons on her when the shit hit the fan, because the Briga have set up some sort of orbital scanning system that disables all arms—including phasers—as soon as someone passes through the atmosphere.

Nobody was too worried the first time they heard about it. It was supposed to be a diplomatic meeting, after all, just a brief visit by Starfleet’s flagship to renew a few trade treaties, shake a few hands, eat some good food and that was it. Nyota hadn’t even packed a knife.

She wishes like hell now that she had. Because sure, the Briga are friendly and advanced and devoted to scientific study, harmless on the surface…except for their thriving underground slave trade. And it was those traders who broke into her room at the embassy last night and kidnapped her, and it is those traders who are laughing and joking outside the room now, waiting until they finish their cigarettes to come in and rape her.

Nyota closes her eyes and tries to calm the rising panic by reminding herself that the others got out okay. Briga find dark skin sexually appealing, so she’s pretty sure she was the only one taken. If they’d gotten Spock, or, God forbid, Ensign Watters, who just turned nineteen last month…

Beyond the door, a new voice sounds out and the tone of the traders’ conversation changes. She can’t make out the exact words, but instead of smug they now sound…curious? And excited. Oh god, are they going to take her all at once? What if they—what if she—oh god, she can’t breathe—

The door heaves open with a groan and Nyota scrambles back into the corner, unable to stifle her cry of panic. She slams her eyes shut and thinks of Spock, the captain, the whole crew of the Enterprise who must all now be working tirelessly to rescue her—they’ll find her, they won’t let these men hurt her—

Rough hands seize her arms and Nyota screams, kicking out wildly. That brings only laughter, though, as the traders seize her ankles too, hauling her up as she wails and struggles, and the fear is so strong, blocking everything else out in her mind so that it takes her a few moments to realize one of them is talking—talking to her—

“Calm down, pretty pet. We ain’t gonna hurt ya. Come on, shh, that’s it. Yeah, pet, good…”

Hiccupping, she looks up at the lead trader, an asshole with shaggy hair and missing teeth who calls himself Mor. When Mor sees her watching, he smiles. “Yer a lucky one today, pet,” he says, bringing a hand up to stroke Nyota’s cheek with his thumb, ignoring the way she tries to jerk away. “Already caught a customer’s eye, and he wants to trade for ya.”

Nyota swallows. Trade? Oh god, no, that means it’ll be even harder for the crew to find her, she’ll disappear, she’ll…

The traders yank her to her feet, keeping bruising grips on her wrists as they shove her out the door and down the long, dank hallway. As they force her along she tries to look for exits, tries to catch an opening for escape, but there isn’t one, of course there isn’t, she’s trapped, she can’t get out…

There’s an open doorway near the end of the hall and Mor shoves her through it, so hard that she loses her balance and stumbles, scraping her knees raw on the rough floor. Clomping footsteps come up behind her before Mor barks, “This the one ya want?”

A new voice clears his throat. “Yeah.”

Nyota gasps and snaps her head up.

Dr. McCoy stands on the other side of the room, dressed in black civilian clothing. His hair is mussed and he hasn’t shaved, giving him a roughened, country look—perfect for a fellow slave trader. It’s obvious he’d give anything not to be here, though: he’s looking at Mor, not her, but even so there’s no mistaking the scowl on his face, the hard line of his jaw. But that’s not what catches Nyota’s attention. It’s the fact that McCoy is holding the end of a chain in his left hand, and connected to the other end is…

No.

The captain is also stark naked, the harsh light from the overhead bulb playing strange shadows on his bare skin as he kneels on the floor next to the doctor. He’s done something to his hair, slicked it back with gel, and dark charcoal outlines his eyes, bringing out their brilliant blue. Kirk hasn’t moved yet, but when he senses Nyota looking he turns his head just enough to catch her gaze before abruptly cutting his eyes away. It is all Nyota can do not to start screaming again, when she realizes why he’s here, why McCoy is here, why Mor’s eyes gleam in the darkness like he’s just won the biggest jackpot in the galaxy.

Kirk is trading himself for her. And Nyota knows Mor won’t be able to refuse, because to the Briga, blond hair is even more desirable than dark skin.

She also knows the instant McCoy hands Kirk over to Mor and his men, they’ll be on him like animals.

“Well.” Mor steps around her and approaches McCoy and Kirk. “Better inspect the goods first, hm?” He kneels down in front of Kirk and grabs him by the chin, turning him this way and that. And Kirk just lets him, keeping his gaze on the floor, quiet and submissive like a good slave. A good pet.

By the time Mor finally nods and straightens up, McCoy’s free hand has clenched into a shaking fist by his side. Nyota feels faint.

Then Mor offers his hand to McCoy with a smile. “Deal,” he says, and Nyota doesn’t see if McCoy shakes his hand or not because in the next instant the other traders grab her, haul her up, and shove her in McCoy’s direction.

The doctor catches her before she can fall, and Nyota looks up at him and feels the tears spill down her cheeks as she whispers, “Please, no.”

McCoy squeezes her hand but doesn’t reply. Instead, he calls over her shoulder to Mor, “He’s all yours.” His voice trembles around the words.

Then they’re through the door and out of the room, and she’s breathing the fresh Briga air but Nyota still feels like she’s choking, suffocating, because Kirk is still in there, they’ve left him in the hands of those monsters and she can’t—she can’t

It is only dimly that she registers McCoy’s soft voice calling for a beam out, an instant before the transporter room materializes around them. The doctor turns to her immediately, concern in his eyes. “They hurt you?”

Nyota swallows and wipes stubbornly at the tears that continue to flow. “N-No. Not yet.”

“Okay.” McCoy turns to watch the far wall, but not before Nyota catches the fury and pain that rise like embers in those dark eyes. “Lieutenant,” he says, each word careful and taut with emotion. “I would greatly appreciate it if you could go help Spock figure out how to disable that Briga weapons neutralizer, so we can rescue Jim. Because if we don’t get him back…if they…”

Something breaks in his expression, and without another word he turns and hurries out of the room.

Nyota wraps her arms around herself, ducks her head, and lets herself cry. She doesn’t know what it is that she’s mourning, but it feels like she’s lost a part of herself all the same. A few minutes later, when she looks up again, someone has left a fresh uniform next to her on the transporter pad. She dresses, scrubs the tears from her face, straightens her shoulders, and heads for the bridge.

Six hours later, she and Chekov finally crack the Briga database and bring their entire network down. Spock immediately takes twenty security officers down to the planet, armed to the teeth.

Nyota is still on the bridge when they beam back up, fifteen minutes later. She’s the first to comm the transporter room, though, breathless and barely able to get the words out as she whispers, “Spock. Is the captain okay?”

It takes him ten seconds to answer, which is exactly nine seconds too long. And when he does, she wishes he hadn’t answered at all.

“No, Lieutenant. He is not.”

Two ensigns have to help her off the bridge after that.

Kirk spends the next twenty-four hours in sickbay, refusing all visitors except for Spock. Nobody talks about it, but everything on the Enterprise becomes hushed and tense. Nyota gets halfway through drafting her letter of resignation before the rage takes over and she shatters her padd against the wall.

Four days later, the captain returns to active duty. It only makes Nyota feel worse. Kirk still does his job, still gives orders and signs forms and reviews reports, but he’s skittish and withdrawn now, barely speaking a word to anyone outside of official business as his eyes dart about the room like a frightened animal. At one point, Security Chief Weston—who’s perfected the art of the silent approach—comes up behind him with a form to sign, and Kirk bolts from the chair, slamming into Spock. Weston clears out in a flash, and everyone turns steadfastly to their stations and pretends not to see Spock gather Kirk close, whispering soft words of comfort as the captain trembles.

About a week after that, things start to get better. Kirk stops tensing up every time someone approaches, and when Chekov starts babbling excitedly in Russian about their latest mission, he even smiles briefly. Spock remains a permanent fixture at Kirk’s side, following him everywhere like a silent, protective shadow, but their old captain slowly starts to return, bits and pieces coming together like a child’s broken jigsaw puzzle.

It’s only by coincidence that Nyota runs into Kirk in the hallway of the officers’ quarters a few days after that. She hasn’t been avoiding him, per se, but she hasn’t really known what to say to him before. She still doesn’t, but when she sees him standing there in front of his closed door, staring blankly at the control panel as if lost in some faraway place, she can’t put it off any longer.

Kirk jerks sideways a little when she touches his arm, but he doesn’t look ready to flee so Nyota counts her blessings. He blinks at her, then smiles, a crooked little upturning of his lip as he asks, “What can I do for you, Lieutenant?”

And Nyota doesn’t even think about it. Her body moves of its own accord and she pulls him in, ignoring his soft noise of surprise as she wraps her arms around his shoulders and buries her face in his neck. Kirk stiffens at first, but then she feels him return the embrace, and she knows he can feel her trembling but she doesn’t care.

“Thank you,” she whispers, and if the words come out a little choked, neither of them say anything about it. “I…just. Thank you.

Kirk sighs, a soft exhalation of breath that washes warm over her shoulder. “Yeah,” he answers, and squeezes her harder.

 

3. Leonard McCoy

 

Damnit, he’s a doctor, not an invalid. How the fuck did this happen, anyway? He was supposed to be isolating the virus, not getting a face full of it, and now he’s lying in sickbay with this fucking tube down his throat and he can’t fucking talk and everything fucking hurts and oh here comes Nurse Plawi and is she giving him more sedatives and oh hey, that feels pretty good, actually…

The next time he surfaces, it’s to the soft murmur of voices from the other end of sickbay. Everything still hurts—hell, his fucking eyelids hurt, how is that even possible—and Leonard tries to move, tries to call out but finds that he can’t. They’ve intubated him—he remembers doing that with the other patients too, before the virus blindsided him; it targets areas of the brainstem and the autonomic nervous system, and voluntary respiration is one of the first things to go.

At least they only have him on the light sedatives: the tingle in his extremities might be Paltirimate, or perhaps a double dose of Vaxadrim. He’s not exactly thinking clearly right now. Still, when the voices drift to him again, he’s able to sort out the words, even though the concentration makes his head throb with the effort.

“…may have synthesized a viable cure, using Dr. McCoy’s previous notes,” says one voice, M’Benga. He sounds stressed. Leonard can give him something for that, if they’ll just give him his hypos.

“How viable?” asks Spock’s voice. He most certainly does not sound stressed.

…Leonard can give him something for that too.

“Well.” A rustle of cloth, and Leonard can see in his mind’s eye M’Benga crossing his arms. “The serum’s worked well in preliminary tests so far on several blood cultures, targeting the virus specifically while not destroying any other cells. I still need to finish testing with different platelet concentrations, though, before we’ll know for sure…”

“And then what?” That’s Jim’s voice. Somehow, Leonard feels himself relax in response to the sound. He doesn’t let himself think too deeply on why that might be.

“Then…I suppose the only thing left is to administer the serum to patients and see what happens,” M’Benga says.

Brief silence. Sickbay hums around him, playing its familiar symphony of soft beeps and steady whirs, and Leonard is just on the verge of fading out again when Jim speaks. “No,” he says. “You skipped a step.”

No one says anything in response, so Jim continues, “I’m not letting you inject any of the patients until you test the cure out on a human subject first.”

Another pause, pregnant with tension. When at last Spock speaks, Leonard can almost see that wrinkle between his eyebrows, the slight downward tilt of his mouth that Spock gets whenever he is truly pissed. Yeah, Leonard can actually read Spock a lot better than most people think. He’s pretty awesome like that.

“Jim,” Spock says. “If you are proposing what I think you are…”

“Yeah, I am.” A soft grunt and the sound of two booted feet hitting the floor as Jim heaves himself off the edge of the biobed he’d been sitting on. “M’Benga, let me know the instant you finish your tests. Once we’ve confirmed that the serum won’t kill me, you’re cleared to administer it to Bones and the other patients. Understood?”

“Sir, I would not recommend—”

“That’s an order, Doctor.”

And that’s about when the pain in his head gets to be too much, and Leonard goes away for a while.

When he comes to, the pain is worse. Every breath is a struggle, even with the tube, and his lungs burn like he’s just run a thousand miles. There’s a jackhammer going at his kidneys, and someone is stabbing him repeatedly in the stomach, a sharp, throbbing pain and dear God, if he can just die and get it over with…

More voices, and Leonard grasps desperately at them, anything to take his attention away from the pain for even an instant. Through the haze of agony, it takes him a moment to recognize the murmured words as Jim and Spock.

“…no other choice,” Jim is saying, voice resigned, and Leonard forces himself to focus, hangs on to his friend’s words like a lifeline to pull himself briefly from the molten fire of his traitorous body. “I have to do this, Spock.”

“That is incorrect,” Spock answers, a bare tremble in his voice. “All of Dr. M’Benga’s tests came back with positive results. Administering the serum directly to Dr. McCoy is—”

“Unacceptable, as long as there’s even the tiniest chance it’ll make things worse,” Jim interrupts. “I can’t let him die, Spock, but neither will I let M’Benga just shoot him up with his magic voodoo potion without testing it on a live subject first. I’m not taking that risk.”

It’s a testament to the depth of Spock’s anxiety that he doesn’t even bother correcting Jim about the voodoo thing. “I have reviewed the formulas. The serum is derived from a live, attenuated strain of the virus. If it is administered to you, it could kill you.”

Jim doesn’t answer for a moment. Leonard hears him take a deep breath, then let it out in a soft, shaky exhale. When he speaks, his voice is so thick with emotion that Leonard feels the prickle of tears in the corners of his own eyes.

“He’s my brother, Spock. I have to do this.”

No, Jim, Leonard thinks, just before succumbing to the blackness again. Please, no.

When next he claws his way through the cobwebs of his mind back into full awareness, sickbay is dark. It must be in the middle of ship’s night, nothing but a skeleton crew on duty, everything still and asleep.

Leonard shifts on the bed and coughs. Where the fuck is Plawi? She’d signed up for the night shift during their last conference; he knows, he’d signed off on the request, so—

Wait. He had coughed, before.

Leonard blinks and licks his lips. The tube is gone. And now that he thinks about it, the pain is only mild now, a dull, almost resentful ache like he worked out too hard last night, like the agony has been forcibly kicked out of his body and told never to come back, so now all it can do is stand on his front lawn and shout obscenities like a crazy person.

…Metaphors have never been his strong suit.

Shifting on the biobed, Leonard strains to see the readings on the monitors over his head. Heart rate and blood pressure both normal. Body temperature and respiratory rate within functional limits. Endocrine and blood workups all within acceptable range. Negative for immunodeficiency.

For all intents and purposes, he’s healthy. So what the fuck happened?

A soft rustle sounds out in the quiet of the room, and Leonard turns just in time to see Jim shift on the biobed next to his, mumbling something incoherent as he buries further into his pillow. He’s dressed in a hospital gown, and instantly the conversations from earlier come flooding back. Leonard has to swallow against the sudden lump in his throat.

Fuck, the idiot could’ve died. Leonard wasn’t even sure the serum he was constructing would work, even before the virus put him down for the count. What if M’Benga had read his notes wrong? What if he’d screwed up the structure of one molecule, or missed an enzyme, or miscalculated the dosage?

A cold draft blows through the room—sickbay is the most well-ventilated area on the ship, but as a result it’s colder than a well-digger’s ass in winter—and Jim makes an uncomfortable noise, drawing in on himself. He doesn’t have a blanket. Leonard’ll get him one; they keep extras in the drawer next to the disinfectants, he just has to turn these goddamned monitors off so they don’t go nuts and wake Jim up—

The door to sickbay slides open with a hiss. Leonard panics and does the first thing he can think of: he drops back down on the bed and closes his eyes. Whoever their visitor is apparently didn’t catch the movement, because soft, steady footsteps cross the room, pass his biobed, and approach Jim’s. Unable to resist his curiosity—and somewhere in the back of his mind a voice suspiciously like his Ma’s tsks and says One day, Lenny, you’ll stick your nose so far in someone else’s business they’ll end up owning it—he tilts his head and cracks an eye open just enough to make out Jim’s visitor in the darkness.

It’s Spock. Of course it’s Spock, and he’s brought a blanket. Good. Maybe Leonard can go back to sleep for the rest of the night. He did just barely survive one of the deadliest diseases to ever wrack the Enterprise, and he deserves a break, what with all the times he’s had to regenerate pus-filled chemical burns and suture people’s limbs right back onto their bodies. Seriously, how does the world think they’re the best crew in the ‘Fleet when no one on the goddamned ship can make it a day without doing something completely stupid?

He’s so distracted by his usual grumbling inner monologue that he forgets about Spock for a moment. When he does look over again, it’s just in time to see Spock finish drawing the blanket over Jim, patting down the sides like the best of mother hens, and oh man, how Leonard wishes he had a recorder right now because there’s no way anyone’s going to believe him when he tells them Spock tucked Jim into bed like a five-year-old, and now he’s reaching out and—

Leonard blinks, staring as Spock gently brushes the hair back from Jim’s forehead, delicate fingers tracing the curve of Jim’s ear, and that? That is certainly not a First Officer looking after his captain. Jim himself doesn’t respond, too deeply asleep to feel it, but that doesn’t seem to deter Spock, who draws a finger down Jim’s cheek one last time before finally straightening up, taking a breath, and leaving the room.

Leonard is left to gape after him, feeling like his world has just tilted off its axis. Holy shit, is Spock…? Does Spock…?

On the other biobed, Jim starts to snore. Leonard settles back on his pillow and shuts his eyes tightly. He’s a doctor, not a psychologist. He can’t deal with this right now.

He somehow manages to fall asleep a few minutes later, lulled down by the rhythm of Jim’s breathing.

The next morning, after he wakes up and clears himself for active duty over M’Benga’s pinched expression and Jim’s amused chuckle, Leonard tells himself he hallucinated the whole thing. No way was Spock fucking pining for Jim last night; pining is about as illogical as you can get, after all. No, it must have been a hallucination, from the virus or the medications or something. A hallucination. Yeah.

The next time he’s on the bridge and sees Spock watching Jim, eyes shining with affection and longing, it is all Leonard can manage not to bang his head on the nearest wall until he renders himself unconscious.

 

4. Pavel Chekov

 

He believes the appropriate phrase to describe his current situation is FUBAR.

Actually, he doesn’t even know what FUBAR stands for. But Sulu used it when their shuttle was seconds away from being blown out of the sky by angry Nmians, and the captain used it when they emerged from warp into the middle of a Klingon-Romulan skirmish. So Pavel thinks FUBAR is probably the right term.

He’d panicked: that’s what happened. When the alert went off in the lab, when the computer’s flat voice had informed him the fungus he’d been analyzing had escaped its container and been released into the air, Pavel should have started the air filtration system and then gotten out of the lab to warn the others. Instead, he’d run into the room he was closest to—an isolation room, barely bigger than a closet—and sealed it behind him. As a result, one giant laboratory room full of deadly space fungus currently stands between him and the decontamination room at the entrance to the lab, and past that the exit, where the captain, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and three Science officers are working frantically to get to him.

And he is running out of air.

Luckily the intercom still works, so when the captain’s voice floats over to him and asks, “How you doing there, Chekov?” he tries to find what comfort he can in it.

“I…I am okay, sir,” he answers, even though he feels anything but okay. The panel on the wall tells him the oxygen levels in this room will drop to critical levels in three minutes.

“Just hang in there,” the captain says. “Don’t worry. We’ll have remote access to the filtration system any minute now.”

And even though Chekov wants to hope, he knows the captain is lying. A moment later, his suspicions are confirmed when Mr. Spock says, “Jim, I have already informed you that this particular laboratory station contains its own isolated air filtration system. Remote access is impossible.”

One of the Science officers, Ensign Aguilar, nods at that. “He’s right, sir. The only way to turn on the filtration is through the central access panel, in the middle of the room with all the fungus.” Chekov feels a pang in his heart when he hears the guilt in her voice. She was the one who asked him to help her with the fungus samples in the first place.

“Look,” the captain says, and he speaks with that hardened tint to his voice like he does when they are preparing for battle, “he’s got, what, five minutes of air left in that room?”

“Two and a half, sir,” Chekov says, and ducks his head.

“Two and a half,” the captain repeats. “So if I were you, I’d either work on hacking the system so we can turn that goddamned filtration system on, or come up with some sort of protective suit that isn’t permeable to the spores. Because I’ll be damned if I’m letting my chief  navigator suffocate and die in a room all by himself because of a fucking fungus, you hear me?”

Aguilar and her colleagues all exchange chagrined looks. Mr. Spock straightens his spine and turns back to the access panel without another word. Dr. McCoy shakes his head, mutters something under his breath, and goes back to sorting through his hyposprays in search of something to counteract the fungus.

Chekov sinks down onto the floor and wraps his arms around his knees. He looks up at the panel on the wall. Two minutes left.

He thinks about his mother, how she’ll cry so hard it’ll shake her entire frame when she receives the captain’s message informing her of his death. He sees her standing in their kitchen, gasping for breath in great, heaving sobs, with his siblings all gathered around her, trying to figure out what’s wrong, trying to make her feel better.

He wonders if she received his gift yet, the hand-painted ornamental statue he sent her from the last time they had shore leave on Risa, which reminded him so much of a traditional matryoshka doll. Will it be the last piece of himself she holds? Why didn’t he send her more things over the years, more keepsakes to remember him by?

“Chekov.”

The intercom interrupts his thoughts, and he wipes stubbornly at the burning tears and straightens up. “Yes, Keptin.”

The captain sighs. “So it doesn’t look like we’re gonna be able to get to you without exposing someone to the fungus.”

Chekov nods, but doesn’t look through the glass at them. He doesn’t want to see their pitying stares, their grieving faces as he slowly suffocates to death. “I…understand, sir.”

“Do you?” The captain sounds resigned. Or maybe that is just Chekov’s brain starting to experience oxygen deprivation. “Well, promise me one thing, okay?”

He nods without thinking about it. It makes no difference now, anyway. “Yes, Keptin.”

A beat of silence. Then: “Don’t beat yourself up over this.”

Then all of a sudden there’s a commotion on the other end of the intercom, yelling and frantic shouts and the hiss of a door, and when Chekov looks up, the captain is standing in the decontamination room with the door securely locked behind him. Mr. Spock is picking himself up from the floor where the captain must have shoved him, Aguilar and her two colleagues look frantic, and Dr. McCoy’s face has darkened into a thunderous expression, as if he is contemplating murdering everyone in the immediate vicinity.

Chekov cannot believe his eyes. He must be seeing things, the lack of oxygen or something, because that cannot be the captain crossing the contamination room, it cannot be Jim Kirk giving him a wink before keying in his entry code to open the door to the lab…

“Jim, no!” Mr. Spock’s voice comes desperate and strangled over the intercom, but it is too late.

The door slides open. Chekov can only stare as the captain rushes through the room—the contaminated room, the room filled with a 95.64% concentration of fungus—to the control panel on the far wall, inputting a rapid stream of commands. A low hum starts up, followed by a loud, continuous hiss, and the current ruffles the captain’s hair as the filtration system comes online and starts sucking the fungus out of the room.

Ten seconds later, the decontamination process finishes with a short beep. The panel in Chekov’s room tells him the fungus concentration in the lab has now dropped to 0.00%. He stares at it, uncomprehending.

Footsteps approach, before a series of beeps comes through and the door to the isolation room slides open. Cool, fresh air seeps into the space and Chekov coughs, gasping for breath, marveling in the feeling of the cold oxygen entering his lungs.

“Yeah, that’s it,” comes the captain’s voice. “Deep breaths, Chekov. You’re okay.”

He looks up, and there is the captain, squatting just outside the isolation room, barely inches away. Chekov coughs again and feels the gratitude rise up like a wave, but when he reaches out the captain quickly draws back.

“Probably not a good idea, Ensign,” he says, quiet. “We don’t know how contagious I am, after all.”

And, just like that, all Chekov’s insides freeze to ice. The captain exposed himself to the fungus. He allowed himself to be infected with what could be one of the deadliest toxins in the galaxy, all so he could get Chekov out.

The tears come again, but Chekov blinks them angrily away, turning his head so that the captain will not see his weakness. “Thank you, sir,” he says instead, and feels more than sees the captain’s smile.

“No problem.”

“Are you…okay?”

The captain stands and cracks his neck. “Yeah, I don’t feel too bad,” he says, continuing to smile at Chekov as they start to cross the room back toward the exit and a very angry-looking Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. “Who knows? Maybe my fucked-up immune system is finally giving me a break for once.”

“I hope that is so, sir,” Chekov says, entering the sequence to unlock the front lab doors.

“Yeah. Who knew all it’d take is some freaky space fungus to…to…”

One second later, just as Chekov finishes unlocking the door, something heavy hits the ground behind him. When he spins around, it is just in time to see the captain sprawled on the floor, an instant before his eyes roll back in his head and he begins to seize.

“Jim!” Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock rush by him, the Vulcan’s shoulder colliding with his so hard it sends Chekov to his knees. From there, he can only stare as Dr. McCoy scans the captain with his tricorder in one hand and preps a hypospray with the other, as Mr. Spock tries his best to hold the captain’s heaving body still.

“Shit. Shit!” Dr. McCoy tosses the tricorder away and stabs his hypospray into the captain’s neck. A hiss as the drugs enter his system, and an instant later the captain goes completely still.

Dr. McCoy looks up at Mr. Spock. “Sickbay. Now!”

They are gone an instant later, the captain hoisted over Mr. Spock’s shoulder and Dr. McCoy running after them, cursing all the while. One of the Science officers follows them, while Aguilar and the other one stand in the room for a moment longer, looking around at everything as if seeing it all for the first time.

After another minute, Aguilar turns to him. “Mr. Chekov, I am so sorry,” she whispers.

Chekov gets to his feet. “Po’shyol na hui,” he snaps, and walks out of the room.

Several hours later, he makes his way to sickbay with one of Sulu’s potted plants under his arm. He does not even know if the captain likes plants, but Sulu assured him it is the thought that counts.

The place is quiet when he enters; the only bed occupied is the captain’s. Chekov freezes as soon as he steps inside.

The captain is still unconscious, skin pale with dark bruises under his eyes. He is also hooked up to what looks like a full life-support system, including a ventilator, the machine hissing loudly each time it forces oxygen into his lungs. But that is not what makes Chekov pause.

Mr. Spock is seated next to the bed, and he has the captain’s hand clasped tightly between his own. His head is bowed, and when Chekov looks closer, he sees that Mr. Spock’s eyes are closed, lips moving as he whispers soft Vulcan words: a prayer or a plea, Chekov does not know.

Neither does he have to.

He sets the plant quietly down on a nearby counter and leaves the room as quickly as he can, feeling as if he has just walked in on something intensely sacred.

 

5. Spock

 

He calculates their likelihood of escaping this situation intact at 5.6%. Then a disruptor blast slings over their heads, blowing a chunk out of the rock wall, and his estimate drops to 2.3%.

Still leaning almost all his weight on Spock’s shoulder, Jim ducks his head and hisses, “That was close.” Spock isn’t sure if his grimace is from the proximity of the blast or from the pain of his broken leg.

Spock doesn’t bother to answer; just continues half-supporting, half-dragging Jim down the narrow rocky corridor. His sensitive Vulcan hearing picks up the harsh shouts of the Klingons currently pursuing them; they sound much closer than when they first began the chase. Spock has a very bad feeling about this.

Up ahead, Hendorff spins midstride and shouts, “I see an opening!” He is the only one of the security team left; Ensign Shikoda fell to the Klingon ambush, and Lieutenant Bradshaw was buried under a rock fall several minutes back.

Jim stumbles over a pothole and nearly loses his balance, crying out as the shift puts undue pressure on his injured leg. Quickly Spock grabs him and hefts him back up, trying to ignore the paleness of the captain’s face, the quick, too-shallow breaths he is taking.

“Only a little further, Jim,” he says, as another disruptor blast barely misses them, singing the hair atop Spock’s head. “Please, hold on.”

They are almost there; he can see the light up ahead, the opening to the tunnel now only fifty or so paces away. Once they are out in the open, the Enterprise can beam them up. They will be okay. Everything will be okay.

More Klingon snarls, even closer now. Spock risks a glance back and sees their shadows playing on the walls behind them; any moment now they will round the bend in the tunnel and gain a direct line of sight. He grits his teeth, calling on his Vulcan strength, and tries to move them along faster.

“Spock.” Jim coughs, stumbles again; Spock barely catches him in time. His blue eyes are pained. “Spock, you gotta—you won’t make it if you don’t let me go—”

No.” And if he could spare the time and the extra hands, Spock would stop and shake some sense into Jim. “I will not leave you behind. It is not an option.”

“Spock—”

“Come on!” Hendorff shouts, already running into the bright sunlight up ahead. “Come on, sirs, hurry!” He aims his phaser past them and fires a few shots; Spock hears a guttural grunt behind them followed closely by the impact of a body to the dirt. This seems to anger the Klingons further, their snarls and yells elevating in volume and pitch, but they are already so close to freedom—just a few more steps—

Pain explodes in his shoulder, an eruption of fire like being hit by a moving vehicle and Spock cries out, loses his balance, and tumbles into the dirt. Everything spins, becomes suddenly fuzzy and far away for a moment, and Spock claws for awareness, calls on all his iron will and Vulcan training to grasp the thread of his consciousness that had been jolted by the impact, to grab it and pull

He comes back to the grit of dirt beneath his fingernails, the skitter of falling rocks, and the shouts of the rapidly-approaching Klingons. His shoulder burns, fire and acid all in one and he grits his teeth against the pain, casting around for Jim—

The captain is lying on the ground a few feet behind him, struggling to push himself up on his elbows. Spock coughs, reaches for him. “Jim…”

Tu’lu’!” The first of the Klingons rounds the corner, spots them, and immediately raises his disruptor, aimed right at Spock. Spock freezes. A heartbeat later, Jim’s phaser bolt blows a hole in the Klingon’s chest, sending him flying into the arms of his snarling compatriots, who shout obscenities and pound down the tunnel toward them.

Jim turns back to look at Spock from his position still sprawled on the ground. His blue eyes shine, defiance and sorrow and apology all in one. He lets out a shaky breath and whispers, “Spock. I’m sorry.”

Then, before Spock can move, before he can do anything, Jim raises his phaser, points it at the ceiling, and fires.

The tunnel around them shudders. A horrible cracking sound starts up. Spock shouts Jim’s name and tries to force himself to his feet, tries to reach Jim, to save him…

The tunnel gives. Rock tumbles everywhere: the walls, the ceiling, the sky itself.

The last thing Spock sees is his captain, closing his eyes in resignation before he disappears behind a wall of rock.

Someone screams. It’s an animal sound, a wail like something in the throes of death, and Spock doesn’t even register it issuing from his own throat as he stumbles forward, clawing at the rock. “Jim! Jim!

“Commander!” Pounding footsteps approach before Hendorff’s hands are on him, trying to pull him back from the pile of rock. “Commander, we need to get back to the ship!”

Spock snarls and shoves him, and as Hendorff stumbles back with a cry he launches himself anew at the rock, scrabbling at it with fingers already turned bloody, needing to get to Jim—he can’t leave Jim here, not with the Klingons, they will kill him, put him down like a dog—

Then he hears it: the simple, quick report of a Klingon disruptor, the sound slightly muffled by the wall of rock.

After that, only silence.

Everything fades out. The color seeps out of his vision, and sound becomes nothing but a faint buzz in his ears so that he barely registers Hendorff barking into his communicator for a beam out, barely feels the tug of his molecules dissembling, barely acknowledges the bright lights of the transporter pad melting into focus around him.

Next to him, Hendorff hurls his communicator to the floor, then snarls out a curse and punches the wall. Spock doesn’t respond. Then Dr. McCoy rushes into the room, demanding to know what happened and why the fuck’re you bleeding all over the floor, holy shit is that a disruptor wound, you didn’t say anything about Klingons being down on that planet and…oh god. Spock. Where’s Jim? Where the fuck is Jim?

Spock doesn’t respond to that either, just sits there in the middle of the transporter pad and stares at the far wall, and sees not the gleaming metal but Jim’s haunting blue eyes, fixed on him that one instant before the rocks fell.

Jim’s last words echo in his head. I’m sorry.

And Spock’s entire world crumbles into dust.

 * * *

They all grieve in their own ways over the next few days. Nyota sings soft hymns as she traverses the halls, delicate voice quavering around the individual syllables. Commander Scott disappears into the bowels of Engineering and does not respond to comms for two days. Sulu puts three sparring partners in sickbay before Spock finally forbids him from visiting the gym. Chekov doesn’t speak to anyone, and takes to watching the stars streak by for hours on the observation deck, eyes large and lost.

Dr. McCoy retreats into his office with a bottle and locks everyone else’s override codes out of the system. Twenty-four hours later, M’Benga, two orderlies, and a nurse finally succeed in hacking the lock, and McCoy is in his quarters ten minutes after that. Spock never asks what transpired in between.

Spock himself continues to operate at maximum efficiency. He sends official reports to Command and the Office of Personnel Management, and private transmissions to Winona Kirk and Admiral Pike. He takes over all captain’s duties in addition to his own, and if he averages 2.9 fewer hours of sleep each night as a result, it does not affect his daytime proficiency.

He ignores the softly pained looks Nyota sends him on the bridge, and Sulu’s quiet, awkward inquiries into the state of his health. And each night, after he has finished his duties and tried—and failed—to meditate, he crosses through the bathroom into Jim’s quarters and crawls under the covers of Jim’s bed, breathes in the remnants of the captain’s scent and allows the darkness, the emptiness and the gaping sense of loss to take over.

He should have told Jim. Even though it scared him, stirred up within him a well of insecurity and immeasurable fear every time he considered it, he still should have told Jim. Because Spock has known for months now, perhaps even years, the depth of his feelings for his captain. He cannot identify when it first began, and somehow, he does not wish to. Jim is—was—the immutable constant of Spock’s universe, the brilliant sun with an inescapable gravity, everything that was bright and wonderful in Spock’s world, and Spock should have told him.

And now it is too late, because Jim is dead. He died alone and abandoned, put down like an animal, and he never knew what Spock felt for him, how Spock loved him with every fiber of his being. Jim died without knowing he would take Spock’s soul with him.

Enclosed in the safety of the scratchy, ‘Fleet-issue covers, Spock burrows into Jim’s pillow and scrabbles after Jim’s fading scent, which grows fainter and fainter with each passing day. Soon, he will lose Jim completely. Soon, he will have nothing.

Jim died, but Spock is the one now lost.

* * * 

The next morning, Spock snaps awake to half-screamed melodies and wailing guitar riffs: Jim’s alarm. It engenders no feeling within him, and as he has done all the past week, he pushes aside the memories before they can take full form—a wisp of Jim’s smile, echoes of Dare ya to sleep through that—and proceeds through his morning routine, the motions familiar and automatic and utterly without feeling. He skips breakfast—in fact, he cannot remember when he last ate—and at last, when he is ready, he takes a deep breath, draws his shields more tightly about himself, pulls on the cloak of Vulcan control like a second uniform, and proceeds to the bridge.

The shift is quiet, as it has been since Jim’s death. Spock sits in the captain’s chair and watches the stars fly by on the viewscreen, willing himself to focus on them instead of the echoes of Jim’s voice, the soft laughter and lighthearted words that suffuse the bridge like a fog. Spock knows he is not the only one who suffers from it. Twice he catches Sulu turning toward the chair, a smirk on his face no doubt preempting his usual sarcastic banter with Jim, before he sees Spock and the smile drops like a physical weight. Chekov calls him ‘Commander’ three times, and blinks very rapidly each time he corrects himself. Even Dr. McCoy, who has taken the last two days to prowling the bridge like a grief-stricken, half-drunk panther, missteps and says, “So, Ji—” before his face goes drawn and pale, and he suddenly becomes very interested in the corner of an unused console.

Spock, for his part, says nothing. There is nothing to say. Without Jim, there isn’t anything anymore.

The still blankness that has permeated his awareness the entire shift is so strong that, when Nyota suddenly takes a sharp, indrawn breath at her station, Spock at first doesn’t even register it. But then, five seconds later, she makes another sound: a shaky, choked moan, and it is enough to break through the haze.

He turns in the chair to face her. “Lieutenant, are you adequate?” It is not the first time in the past week that a crewmember has become emotionally distraught on the bridge. Just yesterday, Engineer Narawi entered in order to deliver some forms, cast one look at Spock in the captain’s chair, broke into uncontrollable, hysterical sobs, and had to be helped from the room.

But when, a moment later, Nyota turns toward him, Spock realizes this is different. The lieutenant’s eyes are wet and her cheeks flushed, yes, but her expression is not one of grieving—rather, it seems a strange mixture of confusion and hope.

“Sir, I—” Nyota’s voice cracks. She clears it and begins again. “I intercepted a message from Klingon space.”

Spock nods. “That is a duty you have continued to perform competently throughout your time here.”

“Yes, but…” She swallows. “This time, it…it’s different.”

Her tone wakes something in Spock. He cannot identify it, indeed does not think he would ever be able to, but it’s a flicker of warmth in a world gone cold. He straightens in the chair, fingers tightening on the armrest. “Clarify.”

Nyota closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and lets it out. Then she does it again. When at last she looks at Spock once more, her eyes flash with a fire Spock has not seen in so long that he barely recognizes it. “Sir, the message concerned the transport of a prisoner.” Another breath. “A top-priority prisoner, from Starfleet.”

Something changes in the atmosphere of the room. Chekov drops his padd with a sharp clatter. Sulu whispers, “Jesus,” in a voice that shakes so hard he barely gets the word out.

Spock can’t move. Everything draws in, sharpening into singular focus on Nyota. Nothing else matters but her next words, the words that reveal…

“They say he was captured a week ago.”

The sputtering flame from before ignites into an inferno. For a long moment, Spock can’t even breathe for how strong it is, the wave of pure emotion that rises within him, breaking through all his fragile controls like a tsunami over a flimsy wall. Of course, he thinks, suddenly, nonsensically. Of course Jim would not leave without him.

There is no logic in it. But then again there never was, when it came to Jim. Jim Kirk has always been the one piece of the puzzle that never quite fit, the supernova that could never be contained.

Spock loves him all the more for it.

At her station, Nyota clenches her fists in her lap, expression pained as if each of her next words is a fresh physical injury. “Spock. You…You should know that the transmission…it wasn’t just from Klingon space. It was from the ToQ’Daw, their flagship. The most heavily guarded ship in their fleet.”

She says nothing more. She doesn’t have to. Spock knows what her words imply, knew even before Nyota said anything. Very slowly, he leans forward in the chair, rests his forehead against his steepled fingers, and closes his eyes. He feels the gazes of all the other crewmembers on him, burning like brands. They know, too: that going after the ToQ’Daw—even so much as trespassing an inch inside Klingon space—will start a war. Further, the Enterprise is only one ship, and to pit her against what may well turn out to be half the entire Klingon fleet, just because of a rumor about a prisoner who may not even turn out to be Jim…

But Spock already knows that it is Jim. He cannot explain it, not with thought or calculation or logic, but he feels it in the very core of his being, the shining part of himself that sings of bond and love and forever. And in the end, the decision is as easy as signing a form or pressing a button, or crossing the expanse of a galaxy just to see a smile again.

Jim is alive. And Spock will rend the entire universe asunder to get him back.

When he finally lifts his head and opens his eyes, everyone is still watching him. Chekov’s eyes hold a focus Spock has never seen before, and Sulu has one hand under his console, doing a poor job of concealing his phaser.

Spock clears his throat. “Dr. McCoy, please lower your hypospray.”

The footsteps sneaking up behind him come to an abrupt stop, followed by a shaky inhale. Spock straightens in the chair and doesn’t bother turning around as he continues, “I would ask that you save your drugs for Jim, when we have him back on board.”

The tension in the room, which before had been thick enough to touch, instantly dissipates. Sulu lets out a relieved breath and his phaser clatters to the floor, blue light winking. Spock ignores it and turns instead to Nyota. “Lieutenant, please send a transmission to Command detailing our undertaking.” She nods and flashes him a watery smile before turning back to her station.

Spock returns front. “Mr. Chekov, set course for the ToQ’Daw.”

“Coordinates confirmed, Commander,” Chekov answers without even glancing at his console. He has never sounded more satisfied.

Spock leans back in the chair. He remembers how Jim would sit, sprawled out and lazy, and thinks he would appreciate the effort.

“Ready for warp, sir,” Sulu says, and Spock nods. He looks around at each of them in turn, the determined set of their faces, the loyalty in their eyes. The inferno from within expands until he feels nothing but fire: fury, hope, and promise.

He turns his attention straight forward to the endless black, the speckling of stars, and, somewhere out there, Jim, always Jim.

“To borrow a turn of phrase from the captain…‘Punch it.’”

 

6. James T. Kirk

 

He wants to die.

He knows that’s melodramatic, and also super out-of-character. He’s the one always telling other people he doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios, right? Although in this case, dying would probably count as a win. Especially after enduring a week of torture at the hands of some truly pissed-off Klingons.

At least, he thinks it’s been a week. Hard to tell in the dark, tiny, windowless cell they’ve got him in, the Klingons’ fucked-up version of a brig. The guards are supposed to come in once a day to inject him with nutrients and just enough medication to keep the infection at bay, but seeing as he’s been drifting in and out of consciousness basically ever since they pulled him out of that godforsaken tunnel, Jim’s not exactly keeping track.

Everything hurts. Seriously, Jim thought he knew pain before this, but it’s like every single cell in his body is on fire, wave after wave of mind-numbing agony that’s pushed him from silent all the way past full-out screaming and back to silent again. His throat is nothing but raw sandpaper now, but he can’t even bring himself to be ashamed at all the shrieking he’s done. He held out okay, actually, through the cracked ribs and broken fingers, and even through that one Klingon asshole with the dirty smile and the heated knife. But then the wound in his leg had gotten infected, and his captors had taken one look at it and then the Klingon with the knife had swapped for a goddamned machete, and then two of his companions had grabbed Jim and held him down as the Klingon seized his leg and began to hack…

Pain erupts up his body, a wave of agony like being stabbed with a thousand knives at once. Jim gasps and slams his eyes shut, moaning hoarsely. God, please, no more, and his hands move of their own accord, scrabbling at the dirty, blood-soaked cloth that his torturers had tied around the stump—if he can undo the knot, if he can make himself bleed out right here, just close his eyes and go to sleep and never wake up again…

But he can’t. With half his fingers broken, all he can manage is a few feeble pushes at the knot, the makeshift tourniquet refusing to give despite his mind’s anguished howl for release. Fuck, he can’t even kill himself properly. What a fucking failure James T. Kirk has turned out to be.

The floor beneath him abruptly trembles. Somewhere far away, metal groans, followed by what sounds like a muffled explosion. Jim curls into himself as much as he can, whimpering when the movement sends a fresh wave of pain shooting up from his severed leg. It must be his captors, working on their latest torture technique, their latest way to make him scream and blubber like a little child. The fear rises without thought, panic turning his blood cold and making his throat close up, and Jim quickly takes a breath, retreating to the only place he still feels safe, the only part of himself the Klingons haven’t destroyed yet.

He thinks of Spock. Imagines the delicate arch of an eyebrow, the soft brown eyes, the slight, barely-there twitch of the lips whenever Jim said something particularly amusing. He sees Spock standing next to him on the bridge of the Enterprise, a solid support, a universal constant no matter where Jim looked or what Jim did. He remembers late-night chess games, the scent of spiced Vulcan tea, and Spock’s soft eyes watching him across the board, the way they sometimes twinkled whenever Jim bitched about losing. He thinks of Spock working on a high-priority experiment in his lab, the focus of his attention so sharp and intense on the subject of his study that it made Jim shiver, sometimes, with the sudden longing to have that attention on him.

He wonders if Spock knows. If Spock has somehow sensed how, over the months and years and innumerable parsecs, across planets and stars too many to count, he has slowly become the center of Jim’s universe, the glowing heart around which everything about Jim has come to revolve. He wonders if Spock knows about all the nights Jim has awoken from feverish, hot dreams with Spock’s name on his lips. He wonders if Spock knows how many times Jim has watched him across the chessboard and barely restrained himself from reaching out to touch. He wonders if Spock knows how much Jim loved him, enough to fire his phaser at the ceiling of that tunnel without any hesitation, willing and ready to die if it meant Spock would live.

He thinks Spock probably does. Jim’s felt it, sometimes: the weight of the Vulcan’s gaze on him when they’re on the bridge. The fact that Spock’s is always the first face he sees whenever he wakes up in sickbay. The way, sometimes, Spock will stop just before the door of his quarters, after they have wrapped up their chess game, and will look at Jim and open his mouth as if wanting to say something, before he clams up and hurries from the room.

There was something brewing between them; Jim sensed it pretty much from the moment Spock first stepped onto the Enterprise’s bridge so long ago, smiling that not-smile as he basically appointed himself Jim’s First Officer. It has only grown as they’ve spent more time together, working and sparring and fighting and bleeding together, and Jim already knows that not having Spock here, not being able to find out for sure if their destinies intertwine the way Jim wants them to, will be his greatest regret when he dies.

And he will die. Broken and alone on this godforsaken ship, Jim’s going to waste away and crumble and eventually disappear. After all, no one’s coming for him. Everyone on the Enterprise thinks he’s dead, and even if they somehow didn’t—even if Spock somehow knew that the Klingons hadn’t executed him in that tunnel, had merely shot his phaser out of his hand to make sure he couldn’t do the job himself—there’s no way they’re going to risk a rescue mission into Klingon space. That’s an open invitation for intergalactic war, practically a fucking guarantee. And Jim knows he’s got a lot of clout with Starfleet—most of it undeserved—but the Federation isn’t going to risk its entire infrastructure and all its citizens for one measly starship captain.

Another groan from the ship, followed by two short, muffled blasts. They sound closer than before. Footsteps pound past the locked door, accompanied by the now-familiar snarls and shouts of their Klingon owners. Jim thinks they sound angry, but it’s hard to tell. In Klingon, everything sounds angry.

The floor trembles again, before the entire ship seems to lurch sideways. The movement jolts Jim’s leg, fire erupting everywhere, and he tries to scream and it comes out more a scratchy groan. Fuck, he wants them to end it. Just come in and sneer down at him and put a bullet in his brain, please, he can’t take this anymore—

He’s so deep in the agony that the shouts and screams and the sound of phaser fire only register as a faint blip on the edge of his awareness. But then all of a sudden there are more footsteps, approaching the door and coming to a stop, and more muffled shouts but they don’t sound Klingon—oh fuck did they decide to recruit fucking Romulans or something, Jim just hopes they make it quick—

A series of beeps through the door, followed by a muffled thump. Then the door gives, cracking open with an ear-splitting groan and letting in a flood of light that pierces Jim’s eyeballs like needles. He grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut, bracing himself for the pain, the blows that will rain down on him any second now…

Silence, followed by a long, shaky inhale. Then footsteps approach, hurried and light, before someone touches his shoulder and whispers, “Jim?”

The sound makes something inside him catch a spark. That…that is…but no, it can’t. It wouldn’t, it can’t possibly be…

It takes all his strength to crack an eye open—the other swelled shut long ago—and lift his head just enough to make out the face now hovering over him. His first thought is that he’s hallucinating: they’ve finally cracked him and he’s gone off the deep end, because that can’t be Spock crouched over him right now. It can’t be. Spock’s on the Enterprise, safe and alive and lightyears away. There’s no way he’s here now, it isn’t possible…

But then there are gentle fingers on his face, trembling as they touch his skin. A warm, familiar presence brushes his mind, everything Jim has come to associate with safety and home. And then, the whisper, so reverent and filled with emotion it’s almost painful.

Jim. Mine. Never leave me.

And that’s how he knows he isn’t hallucinating—that, despite all the odds, Spock is here. The cold that has occupied him for so long washes away. Warmth suffuses him in its wake, numbing the pain into a dull ache as he squints up at Spock. Spock, who is here, who, as usual, has come when Jim needed him the most.

“Spock.” The name comes out little more than a hoarse whisper, but Jim doesn’t care. He needs to say it, he needs to know. “Why…?”

In answer, Spock leans down and lays his forehead gently against Jim’s. When he speaks, the words are soft, like a confession, like a promise.

“For you, Jim,” he whispers. “Always, for you.”

Jim feels something deep inside himself unravel and expand. It has no name, no neat little labels, but somehow he feels it has always been there, just waiting to be awakened by Spock’s words. It is the part of himself that looks at Spock, and no matter what, no matter the time, or the place, or the faces they wear, always sees Spock and says yes.

“Sir,” comes another voice—Hendorff, and holy shit but Jim is gonna promote the hell out of him later. “I’m sorry, but we gotta move. Sulu’s team created a good diversion but it won’t last.”

At that, Spock draws back from him—and Jim for once is glad he’s basically a pile of broken bones right now, because otherwise he’d probably do something embarrassing like latch himself onto Spock like a limpet—and unhooks a hypospray from his belt. “Take point, Lieutenant. I will carry the captain.”

Then he turns back to Jim, and his voice softens once again. “Jim. I am going to sedate you. Otherwise our journey back to the Enterprise will likely cause you discomfort.”

Jim snickers and tries to reply, “I’ll show you discomfort,” but he’s pretty sure it comes out as a garbled moan. Spock seems to understand, though, if the soft play of fingertips over his cheek is any indication, an instant before the hiss of the injection sounds out and everything kind of goes fuzzy and distant for a while.

* * * 

He startles awake with a gasp, sensory overload like he’s never experienced: the deafening wail of the red alert klaxons, the blinding flash of the emergency lights, the cacophony of shouting voices and pounding footsteps—and underneath all that, the jittery wave of tension that sings through his blood, screams go go go even as the pain tears at him like a beast, everything focused and too-sharp and yet coming apart at the seams at the same time and holy shit, he can’t think, what the fuck is going on, somebody help him

“Jim!” A grip on his shoulder firm but gentle, an instant before Bones’s face swims into focus. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen his friend look so harrowed before. “Jim. It’s okay. Take a second, just breathe. That’s right, in…and out. You’re okay…”

But even though Bones’s voice calms him a little, even though seeing his friend here and in the flesh makes relief sit heavy in his gut, Jim is anything but okay. The agony from before has dulled but only barely, needle-stabs continuing to shoot up from his leg, his hands, his chest—his whole fucking body—and dear god, he just wants to go back to sleep. Why the hell did they wake him? What the fuck is going on?

“Jim.” Spock’s voice is close, warm breath over his ear, and Jim finally realizes he’s half-sprawled over Spock’s lap in the middle of the transporter room. Well. Hello.

The leer he tries for must not work, because neither Spock nor Bones acknowledge it. When Spock speaks again, his voice is strained and tight, more stressed than Jim has ever heard it. “Captain. You are needed on the bridge.”

You have got to be kidding. Jim groans as the emergency lights overhead continue to stab him in the eyes, the wail of the red alert pounding inside his skull. “Think I…earned some leave, Spock…”

“No doubt,” Spock answers, and Jim senses his apology in the brush of his fingers over the back of his hand. “But the Klingon fleet currently has us surrounded, and their commander is refusing to negotiate with anyone except you.”

As if to drive the point home, something impacts hard enough to shake the whole ship, metal groaning as the Enterprise buckles under the assault. Somewhere far away, a series of explosions sounds out. More alarms go off.

And Jim abruptly finds himself back at square one, wanting to die.

He knew. Even before Spock sedated him, Jim always knew they were never going to escape from this alive. The ship he was on had been in the middle of Klingon territory, and there was no way the Klingons would’ve let them go without a fight. And with the Enterprise being just one ship…

Another impact; more explosions. An automated voice comes over the system: Warning. Life-support systems on Decks Three and Seven failing. Auxiliary power at sixteen percent. Warning…

They’re dying. The Enterprise is crumbling around them: she’s fighting the good fight, but Jim already knows they’re going to lose. They’ve already lost. The fact that he’s awake right now, Spock and Bones both looking down at him with pain in their expressions, is more than proof of that.

They made a gamble and they lost. Jim wishes with all his heart that they hadn’t done it for him, hadn’t all decided to throw their lives away for him, but he knows it’s done. They can’t change it now. All he can do is come up with a way to save as many lives as possible, and right now, he’s only got one option.

He coughs and looks up at Spock. “I’m…gonna need a little help.”

Something shutters in Spock’s expression, and fresh pain explodes in Jim’s chest, nothing at all to do with his injuries. But Spock just nods and, looping Jim’s arm over his shoulder, gently lifts him from the floor.

Jim grits his teeth and whimpers at the fresh onslaught of agony that causes, but waves Bones away when he approaches with another hypo. He’ll need to think clearly for this. Bones, for his part, seems to understand, although the haunted look doesn’t leave his eyes as he gathers his medkit and stands.

“I’m going with you,” he says, quietly. “The adrenaline’ll wear off in about five minutes. I’ll give you another dose if you need it.”

Jim thinks, with a sinking feeling in his heart, that he probably won’t.

The journey to the bridge is arduous and slow. By the time they finally emerge from the turbolift, Jim feels half-gone already, the noise from the ship coupled with the agony from his body mixing together to make his head spin. He leans more of his weight on Spock, and feels the Vulcan respond by tightening his grip around his waist. Together, they shuffle forward onto the bridge.

The reaction from the crew to his current state varies. Uhura makes this half-strangled, half-sobbing sound, covering her mouth with her hands. Sulu, still covered in dirt and sweat and what might be a few streaks of blood, grips the siding of his console so hard he actually cracks it. Chekov turns deathly white and starts to shake.

Jim doesn’t look at any of them. Instead, he leans briefly into Spock—one last moment of closeness—before drawing back and clearing his throat, ignoring the taste of blood at the back of his mouth. “Mr. Sulu. S…Status report.”

It takes him a moment to respond. When he does, his voice quakes. “Sir. We’re currently three-point-five lightyears from the Neutral Zone. Seven Klingon ships, including the ToQ’Daw, have us surrounded. Shields at eight percent.”

“Catastrophic damage to the warp core,” Chekov adds, quiet.

Jim spares a quick, painful thought for Scotty. He hopes he is still alive.

“And their…” A fresh wave of pain blindsides him, and he has to pause for a breath. Spock’s hand finds an unbroken finger and squeezes, gently. “And their message?”

Uhura’s voice floats over his shoulder. “They’re accusing us of starting a war,” she says, voice shaking around every word. “Their commander is demanding a direct communication from you, or he will destroy the ship.”

Jim lets out a breath. “Patch him through, on screen.”

The viewscreen flickers before unfolding into an image of a sneering Klingon face. Jim doesn’t recognize him, but it’s clear from his attire and markings that he’s important. The Klingon regards them for a moment before beginning to talk, the ship’s computer automatically translating each word as he speaks it.

Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise. You have run from us like a dog, but now you cannot escape. We have unfinished business. If you lower your shields and allow us to transport you back to our ship, we may consider sparing the lives of your measly crew. If you do not respond in three minutes, we will destroy you.

Then the screen flicks off.

Silence descends. Everyone turns to look at him, and Jim lowers his gaze. He’s not surprised; in fact, he’d suspected from the start that it would end this way. He was never going to get away from them. All he did was buy a little more time.

He closes his eyes, pushing the pain back for a moment so that he can focus on the feel of Spock against him. At least…at least Spock knows, now. At least they both do. Jim thinks, because of that, death will not be as painful as it was before.

It doesn’t make it any less terrifying, but it does make him feel less alone. And if he can get that tiny concession in return for the lives of his crew…well. He always knew what the decision would be.

“Mr. Sulu,” he says, and even to himself his voice sounds far away, everything shutting down as his mind finally recognizes the defeat, finally realizes that it’s time to stop running. “Lower shields.”

Spock’s entire body tenses against him. Jim tries to ignore that, instead lifting his head to look at Sulu. His helmsman goes pale, then glares at him with glittering fury in his eyes.

A few seconds pass. Then Sulu, very pointedly, crosses his arms.

Jim clears his throat, tries to force command into his voice, although he’s pretty sure he fails. God, he just wants it to be over. “Lieutenant. That’s an order.”

Sulu lifts his chin. His arms are shaking. “With all due respect, sir,” he answers, speaking slowly, “You can take that order and shove it, sir.”

Jim can’t help it; he gapes. Somewhere over his shoulder, Bones growls, “You really are an idiot, you know that?”

Chekov squares his shoulders and looks straight at him. “We go vith you, Keptin,” he says. “And…it has been an honor, sir.”

“You’re not getting rid of us that easily,” Uhura adds from her station. Her voice is resolute.

Jim can’t believe them. They’re crazy. He isn’t…he’s just one man, there are nine hundred fucking people on this ship, they can’t just lay their lives down for him like this, he doesn’t deserve it, they can’t…

He looks up at Spock, intending to ask for help. He’s Vulcan, after all—he of all people will know there is no logic in this; it’s not just irrational, it’s fucking insane

Spock looks right back at him. Then, very slowly, he reaches up to touch Jim’s face. “I lost you once,” he whispers. “Never again, Jim.”

And even though it’s stupid and completely unbefitting a Starfleet captain, Jim kind of wants to cry as, despite his best efforts, the relief takes over. It’s selfish, he knows, but he was so scared of dying alone. And even though he knows the right thing to do would be to punch Sulu and lower the goddamned shields himself, he can’t do it. He is just too tired, too weak, too done.

More alarms go off from various consoles, adding to the cacophony from before. At her station, Uhura straightens and says, softly, “Sir. They’re locking weapons on us.”

No one says anything in response. Instead, Sulu and Chekov exchange a look. Bones lets out a tired sigh, like he does when he gets off shift at the end of a very long day. Uhura takes the hand of Lieutenant Qutar next to her, and they share shaky, brave smiles.

Jim turns to Spock. He wants to say something, but he’ll be damned if he can come up with even one word right now. Spock seems to understand, though, as he brings their faces close, warm breaths mingling in shared air. That soothing presence fills Jim’s mind again, suffusing him with a sense of safety and home, an instant before the echo of Spock’s consciousness unfurls into a whisper of promise.

Forever, it murmurs, carrying with it the weight of a universe, and more. Always.

Jim closes his eyes and thinks, as hard as he can, Yes. Then he waits for the pain, the unending nothingness.

A proximity alert abruptly goes off from Sulu’s console. Jim doesn’t see it, but he does hear his helmsman’s surprised intake of breath. “Sir, I’m picking up another ship.”

The Enterprise gives a sudden lurch, and for half an instant Jim thinks this is it. But nothing explodes, nobody dies, and a second later his brain finally catches up with him and informs him that wasn’t an attack. It was a secondary sonic wave, from the emergence of another ship from warp nearby.

The Enterprise lurches again. Then again. Jim counts seven more waves before he finally opens his eyes…and can only stare at the display before them now on the viewscreen.

Ten Federation starships now surround them, a protective net of gleaming chrome and glowing phasers. And before the shock has even finished settling in his bones, before Jim has even fully realized what this means, the screen flickers and presents a new, overwhelmingly familiar face.

“Good morning,” Admiral Pike says. He’s settled back in the captain’s chair of the USS Huygens, calm as you please. Like he just happened to decide to take a little stroll in this godforsaken corner of the quadrant. And bring half their fucking fleet with him.

Another transmission window unfolds, revealing a very stormy-faced, very pissed-off Klingon commander. “You dare trespass within our borders?

Pike inspects his fingernails. “Come now. We’re close enough to the Neutral Zone. And what’s a couple lightyears between friends, anyway?”

We will destroy you, Starfleet! We will rip you apart until there is not even a piece of you left for the scavengers!

“Big words for someone who felt the need to chase one starship with an entire armada.”

We are sending a message!

“Well, here’s one back. Get off my lawn.”

Brief, confused silence. If it wouldn’t result in his lungs collapsing, Jim might laugh at the constipated look on the Klingon commander’s face. “You dare to—

“Let me put it in terms more understandable for you,” Pike interrupts, and all of a sudden his face goes dark and stormy, more terrifying than anything the Klingons could ever come up with. “Fuck. Off.

The Klingon snarls and his transmission disconnects. Jim doesn’t breathe in the silence that follows, watching the two fleets outside mere inches from all-out war. Pike continues to glare from the bridge of the Huygens.

Spock’s fingers find his wrist and squeeze once. Jim can’t squeeze back, but he does lean more into him. If it’s going to end this way…

Then, abruptly, the lead Klingon ship gives a full-length shudder. Its engines glow blinding bright and it disappears into warp. A heartbeat later, the rest of the Klingon armada follows, vanishing into the endless black.

Jim can’t even believe it at first. It has to be some sort of trick, right? A double-feint or something. There’s no fucking way Pike just scared a bunch of warmongering people from the most violent civilization in the galaxy into running away, as cleanly as a homeowner with a shotgun clearing his backyard of a bunch of homeless bums.

The rest of the bridge crew seems to have the same idea, if the continued tension in their stances is any indication. No one speaks for a long time. But then, after another moment, Pike turns to look at them and says, “You’re very lucky I received that transmission in time, Lieutenant Uhura,” and the spell breaks.

Bones sits down on the floor. “Holy shit, I need a drink. Possibly two. Possibly ten.

The murmurs and watery laughs of joy and disbelief that erupt around them follow largely the same theme. Spock keeps his hold on Jim’s wrist, and when he speaks, each word vibrates with relief and gratitude so palpable Jim can almost taste it. “We appreciate the expediency of your intercession, Admiral.”

“Yeah,” answers Pike, before his voice softens. “How’re you doing there, James?”

Jim coughs and tastes fresh copper at the back of his throat. “I’m pretty sure I owe you lunch, sir.”

Pike chuckles. “I’ll hold you to that, son. Damn, the paperwork for this is gonna be a bitch.” He shakes his head and smiles again. “Better get to it. And James?”

“Sir?”

“Get your ass back to Earth and into a hospital. You look like shit.”

And even though it cracks his chapped lips and probably makes him look even more of a mess than before, Jim manages a grin. “Yes, sir.”

Pike’s transmission ends. Outside, the Huygens leads the other ships into an escort formation. Uhura says, out of the blue, “When we get home, I’m gonna build a goddamned altar to that man. Candles and chicken heads and everything.”

Spock blinks. “I do not believe Admiral Pike to be a practitioner of—”

“Hyperbole, Spock,” Jim says, patting him on the shoulder without thinking about it, and oops, broken fingers. “Ow.

Spock frowns. “Jim. We must get you to sickbay immediately.”

No shit, Jim thinks, and he opens his mouth to say it…and that’s about when his body decides it’s finally had enough of this bullshit. The last thing he hears is Spock’s frantic “Jim!” before everything goes black.

* * * 

Waking is a struggle. Jim fights it as hard as he can, wanting nothing more than to burrow back into the blackness. He’d been floating, drifting on an endless fluffy sea of nothing, and he wants that back, wants to enjoy it just a little longer…

“Oh no, you don’t. Wake up, princess.”

Bones’s face swims into view as his vision focuses, looking altogether too smug and self-satisfied. Jim groans and turns his head further into the pillow. “Fuck. You are so court-martialed.”

“Nice try, but we’d have to be on the Enterprise for that.”

The way Bones says it, casual and matter-of-fact before he moves around the bed to squint at some monitors, makes it so that a few seconds pass before Jim registers the meaning of his words. When he finally does, he blinks, peering muzzily about the room, taking in the sprawling blue of San Francisco’s bay through the wall-length glass window.

“We’re on Earth?”

“The one and only,” Bones answers, as he starts to scan Jim with a tricorder.

Jim squints at him. “How long’ve I been out?”

“Six days, seven hours, and forty-two minutes, Captain,” comes a new voice. Warmth drips down Jim’s spine, and he thinks he might prefer being awake after all as he smiles at the tall, straight-backed Vulcan who comes around Bones to approach the bed.

“Spock.”

“Jim.” Spock comes to a stop a few inches from the bed. Jim knows without even having to look that it must take a monumental effort for him to do so.

He remembers everything, of course. His brain’s always been kind of funny that way: never truly shuts off, so every time he gets knocked out or sedated or otherwise takes a vacation from the land of the living, it’s more like a pause button is hit rather than a full-on stop. It’s the same now: he looks at Spock and immediately remembers leaning on him on the bridge of the Enterprise, the snarl of the Klingon commander on the viewscreen, and the way Spock’s mind had brushed his own during those last few moments, soft and reverent and so very right.

They watch each other for a long time, and the tension builds in the room like a gathering storm. Bones darts a quick glance between them both before straightening up and coughing into his sleeve. “So, uh. I’m gonna go do that thing. At the place.” He turns toward the door, then pauses and jabs a finger at Spock. “Don’t break him,” he says with a scowl, before walking out of the room.

Spock is moving even before the white of Bones’s uniform has finished vanishing through the doorway. Jim welcomes him in, tangling fingers (healed now, bless Bones and his wonderful little machines) in soft black hair as they kiss for the first time, a slow brush of lips that easily trumps every other kiss Jim’s had in his life. Spock’s skin is hot to the touch, almost but not quite enough to scald, and Jim hums, pressing his lips one more time to Spock’s before finally drawing back to smile. “Hi.”

A tiny furrow forms between Spock’s eyebrows as he clearly tries to work through the logic of Jim’s greeting. Jim just waits, still grinning. Finally, the furrow disappears and Spock’s eyes soften. “It is…good to have you awake, Jim.”

“Yeah.” Jim traces his thumb over Spock’s bottom lip, watching the Vulcan’s eyes darken in response. “It’s good to be back.” And then, because he is still a captain with responsibilities, he asks, “How’s the ship?”

Spock hums and straightens up, but his hand finds Jim’s immediately, fingers stroking gently over his palm. “The Enterprise was heavily damaged by the Klingon attack. Repairs are estimated to take four months.”

“Okay.” Jim takes a breath, curling his fingers over Spock’s. He doesn’t want to ask, but… “How many dead?”

Spock’s lips curl downward a fraction, but Jim knows he isn’t frowning at him. “Thirty-nine, Captain, with sixty-two more currently in varying states of health within hospitals much like this one.” He pauses, then adds, “Commander Scott sustained several fractured ribs and a concussion when a staircase reportedly fell on him. However, I have been assured he will make a full recovery.”

Jim nods and hangs on to that, using it to anchor him against the wave of sorrow and regret that washes over him like a tide breaking on a beach. Shit, thirty-nine of his crew, dead. And yeah, it’s not like he hasn’t lost people before, but it never gets easier, never hurts any less.

Spock must sense his thoughts either in his expression or through their touch, because he brings Jim’s hand up, brushing a soft kiss over the knuckles. “They chose this, Jim, as we all did. We will honor them accordingly.”

“Yeah.” Jim sighs and casts about for something else to talk about. “Um. So how long do you figure I’ll be stuck here?”

Spock squeezes his hand to acknowledge the change of subject and answers, “Dr. McCoy has estimated your inpatient stay to last no more than another week. However, he also implied you would likely demand to be released long before then, due to your being, quote, ‘more insufferable in a hospital than a cat in a bath’. Of course, outpatient treatment is projected to continue for some weeks after.” He pauses, and his voice drops. “Physical therapy will be especially strenuous, in order for you to familiarize yourself with the use of an artificial limb.”

Jim closes his eyes and nods. He’d remembered, of course—there’s no way he could forget—but it had been pushed to the back of his mind, something terrifying yet out of sight like the monster in the closet. But now…he looks further down the bed, where a dip in the sheet just above his knee indicates where his leg ends. There’s no pain—Bones must have him on the good stuff—but that doesn’t stop the sinking feeling in his heart, or the sudden churn of his stomach.

He doesn’t know what’s going to happen now. A physical disability like this won’t cost him his captaincy—Pike is more than proof enough of that—but after everything that’s happened…Jim just doesn’t know. He loves his job, he loves the Enterprise and her crew and her mission to the stars, but the Klingons almost broke him. They got this close to destroying everything that Jim was, to sending him over an edge he could never come back from, and now…now he just doesn’t know.

Next to him, Spock shifts. An instant later, Jim feels the brush of fingers through his hair, and he turns to see Spock looking down at him. The look in the Vulcan’s eyes makes him simultaneously want to shy away and grab Spock to kiss him again.

“Jim,” Spock says. “For now, you must focus on getting better. Everything else can wait.”

Jim sighs. “Yeah.” Spock’s right. There will be other days for that, for decisions that will probably require a lot of yelling and tears and punching of walls. But it’s not today. Today, he’s just Jim. And it’s enough.

One of the monitors over his head beeps, followed shortly by a soft hiss. Spock glances up and says, “You are being administered another dose of medications.”

He’s right: Jim can already feel his world starting to go gray and fuzzy around the edges. Wow, but Bones has got him on the really good stuff. Man, he loves Bones, he really does. But not as much as Spock, of course.

Above him, Spock’s lips twitch before curling slowly upward, and Jim realizes belatedly he said that last part aloud. “Sleep, Jim,” he murmurs.

Jim yawns, eyes sliding slowly shut. “Be here…when I wake up?”

Fingertips settle on his meld points, followed by Spock’s soothing presence in his mind, the other half of himself he never knew was missing until now. The answer comes on a whisper, for him and him alone.

Always.