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Out of Darkness

Chapter Text


Bones couldn’t stop crying.


It was ridiculous, really, he knew he was being ridiculous. Hell, he had every reason not to be crying, it was just…


God, he was just so relieved.


Jim was alive, Jim was himself. They saved him. Jim spoke to them, his personality tangibly intact— Hell, he’d made a joke upon waking. Bones had been so afraid…


So afraid that they would revive the body, but not the man.


But Jim was there. As snarky and stupid as always, healed enough to talk for a few minutes, however brief.


He was sleeping soundly again in his biobed, right on the other side of the bathroom door that Bones was leaning against.


Well... huddling against, more like.


McCoy sniffled noisily into his hands, and tried desperately to calm down some, but to no avail. He smothered a messy sob into his palms as another bout of tears rolled down his cheeks, and he rocked slightly in the fetal position he had found himself in.


Ah, fuck, he was getting wrinkles in his white uniform. He had to get it together. He had to stop crying. McCoy buried his nose into his knees for a moment while he tried to catch his breath.


It had been two weeks of silent and desperate praying for Jim to wake, of countless sleepless nights, of refusing to even leave the room Jim was in. McCoy had been lucky enough to use the ‘primary physician’ card on why he had to stay, and no one had argued him on it. Maybe they just didn’t want to stress him more.


After so many days of watching over a sleeping Jim, the thought that Jim never would wake had taken hold of Bones more than once. Now he felt ridiculous for being as terrified as he had been. Jim was all right. He would be all right.


Deep, wracking hiccups repeatedly punched him in the chest, and he tried to force out larger breaths of air to get himself to calm. He was mostly only managing to gasp pathetically, though.


A knock sounded on the door and McCoy choked on the sob in his throat.


“Doctor McCoy?”


Shit, shit, it was Spock. McCoy dragged his hands across his eyes in an attempt to rid himself of the relentless tears. He cleared his throat as best he could before he growled out a wet and unsteady, “Give me a second.”


Spock didn’t reply, so McCoy could only figure that that meant the vulcan was doing as he was told.


McCoy pushed himself to his feet, using the wall as support, and the ache in his knees reminded him why he shouldn’t let himself get emotionally compromised enough to curl into a cramped and tight position. He wasn’t as flexible as he used to be, and all the time spent with Jim was making him feel way older than thirty-two.


He chanced a glance at his reflection in the bathroom’s mirror, and he quickly dampened a nearby cloth with some warm water to press against his face. His eyes had gotten all puffy and red in the few minutes he had let himself break down, and his cheeks were flushed and rosy. He looked like he’d been attending a funeral.


After a quick wipe down, he figured he couldn’t let Spock wait forever, so he threw open the door and leveled Spock with a glare. He had to make it clear that no comment on his appearance would be necessary.


Spock’s dark eyes honed in on his face and he was quiet for a few seconds, but eventually Spock opened his mouth. “I wished to inform you that I will be leaving now. As it has become apparent that the captain shall recover, I no longer have a reason to remain within the city,” he whispered. His voice had hushed down exponentially, after Jim had fallen back asleep.


The poor kid was still exhausted, and had drifted off without any sort of warning while he had been talking with Spock. The few minutes they had to talk to him were the first in two weeks, and McCoy had to constantly remind himself that the kid had come back from death, and so he undoubtedly needed to rest more.


To expect him to be able to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time would be unreasonable, at least for a while.


McCoy’s eyes wandered to Jim’s sleeping form on the biobed, the soft light of San Francisco’s midday shrouding him in a gentle blue. He looked as still as he had in that body bag.


“Where are you going?” McCoy ground out, sob-roughened voice hushed as low as Spock’s. He didn’t take his eyes off Jim and the monitors displaying his frequencies as he spoke. “He wakes up for the first time in two weeks, and you take that as your cue to leave?”


Spock sighed quietly. “It is not by choice. If I could stay longer, I would. However, since the captain is still incapacitated and is expected to be out of commission indefinitely, there are many matters that I must attend to in his stead.”


Spock paused, and McCoy drew his gaze from Jim to the reserved commander before him.


“I wished to request,” Spock whispered, “that you contact me should his condition change, be it positive or otherwise. If need be, I will return immediately.”


McCoy swallowed back the lump in his throat that still hadn’t gone away completely, and his eyes wandered back over to Jim. McCoy shook his head, self-conscious of the wet tear marks he could feel drying on his cheeks. “There shouldn’t be any need for something like that. I’ll call you, of course, but I don’t think his condition will get any worse from here. I mean,” McCoy turned his gaze to Spock and cocked a subdued, though still smug brow. “Jim doesn’t call me the best doctor in the fleet for nothing.”


Spock’s face didn’t change, but McCoy could almost swear that his eyes softened as though he were smiling.


Fuck, he was definitely spending too much time with the vulcan if he was starting to be able to read him. He’d never wanted to give Jim’s claims as to how expressive Spock could be any sort of thought.


McCoy smeared a hand over the damp skin around his eyes and scowled. “It’ll be fine, Spock. Leave if you have to. Jim will understand why you won’t be around.” He huffed lightly. “Hell, there’s a good chance he’ll be sleeping all the way until you come back, so he might not even notice you were gone.”


Spock’s lips tightened just slightly. “That is true. He appeared very… withdrawn.”


“Yeah, well.” McCoy sniffed. “We can expect him to be beyond tired for a while now.”


Spock inclined his head, and his eyes softened as they settled over McCoy. “I do not believe him to be the only one who is tired.” He paused, before saying quietly, “Doctor… It would be all right to allow yourself the time to rest now. Our captain is safe. And if he is to remain safe, it would be best if his doctor were working at maximum efficiency.” Voice still hushed, his dark eyes gentle and imploring, Spock added, “You should sleep. I know that you have not been allowing yourself the time or opportunity to do so in recent days.”


McCoy exhaled slowly and frowned at the floor. So, Spock was the doctor now, huh? He knew what was best?


Part of him wanted to be angry with the weird turn of events, but he also… knew that Spock was right. His body was exhausted, and so was his mind. Jim deserved to receive the best possible care— especially from McCoy—and he wasn’t gonna get that if his caretaker wasn’t in the best state.


Spock was right. McCoy hated that.


Still, he didn’t have the energy to try and combat Spock on this. No point in starting a losing battle. McCoy sighed low and said, “Thanks for the advice, mom.”


For a moment, McCoy got the impression Spock was about to smile, but a slight chirp sounded before anything else could happen. It was Spock’s communicator. The vulcan glanced at whatever message it was he received, probably something telling him it was time to get a move on.


Places to be, people to deal with, all the bureaucracies Jim always had to suffer through. Surely the kid would be glad to have a break from it, at least for a little.


“Doctor,” Spock whispered. “I have been hailed. I do not know when I will next return, but I—”


McCoy cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Don’t worry about it, I know. Get outta here already.” As Spock straightened up to make his way out of the room, Bones added, “I’ll call you if I have to.”



Bones looked tired.


For a few long, dragging seconds, that was the only thought that could settle in Jim’s addled mind.


He blinked slowly, his eyesight fuzzy and his mouth full of cotton, and watched as Bones fiddled with medical instruments about a foot away. Bones was so focused, Jim suspected he didn’t even know his patient was awake.


Jim took the opportunity to analyze what he could of Bones’s appearance in the dim lighting of the room.


Dark, dark circles under his eyes. Like he was the one that belonged in a biobed. His usually immaculate uniform looked a little wrinkled. He was scowling, as usual, his lips pouted in a tight frown. With surprise—and a hint of amusement—Jim realized Bones even had stubble growing.


Was he not taking care of himself? Jim’s vision was muddled and blurry, and it was incredibly hard to focus on things, but to him it looked like Bones hadn’t been sleeping.


And even if he was, then it wasn’t the kind of sleep that was accomplishing any rest. Just the kind that forced your eyes to close, even though you were too concerned with whatever was happening in life to actually replenish what little energy you had.


Jim was plenty familiar with that kind of sleep. He didn’t like the idea that Bones would have any reason to experience something like that.


Jim dabbed his tongue at his lips and tried to wet his mouth, but it didn’t accomplish much. It would have to do. With as much force as he could put behind his airways, Jim rasped out a quiet, “You look tired.”


Bones dropped the instrument he had been holding and cursed in a harsh rush of breath, before shooting wild and wide eyes at Jim. “Jesus, Jim! You trying to give me a heart attack?”


A grin tried to pull at Jim’s lips, and he did his best to let it. He had a feeling, though, that whatever he managed to produce could hardly be called a smile. “Is it working?”


Bones sighed loudly, full of hot air as he was, and bent down to pick up what he had dropped. “Look at me, worrying over you not feeling good, and here you are cracking jokes at my expense.”


“Would you expect anything less?” While Bones was out of Jim’s immediate line of sight, there wasn’t an easy target for his overworked eyes to focus on, so he let them slide shut. Just for a little. Especially because they were starting to burn.


He wasn’t sure how much time passed in silence. It felt like hours, it felt like seconds. Something about his brain was weird at the moment.


Why was he in a biobed?


A warm hand settled over his cheek, and with great difficulty he opened his eyes to Bones’s concerned face. He was sitting in a chair next to the bed.


Once they made eye contact, Bones brushed his thumb over Jim’s cheekbone in a soothing and repetitive motion. His expression noticeably gentled as he asked, “How are you feeling?”


Jim swallowed around his dry throat. “Tired.”


“Yeah, I’ll bet.” McCoy nodded as he continued to stroke Jim’s cheek. His lips parted, but he didn’t say anything. Eventually, he furrowed his brows and managed out, “What do you remember?”


What did he remember?


Jim closed his eyes, so he could stop wasting so much time focusing on the external and instead redirect that attention to the internal. What did he remember?


Fire, screaming, alarms and flashing red lights. People falling, people bleeding, people dying. A head being crushed right in front of him. There was noise, and there was heat, and there was pain, pain, pain—


Jim opened his eyes in a quick inhale, as a burning and breathtaking sensation manifested in his chest. He couldn’t remember what happened, not yet, but his body definitely did. He took more seconds than necessary to refocus on Bones’s face. “Not a lot right now. Doesn’t make sense.”


“Hm.” Bones removed his hand and sat back, before reaching forward again to brush his fingers through Jim’s hair. Like he couldn't stop touching Jim, like he had to maintain constant contact, which was... unusual, but Jim wasn't about to complain. It felt nice. “That’s probably for the best," McCoy continued. "It’ll probably come back to you soon, but for now, just focus on resting and getting better. You hear me, kid?”


“I hear you.” Jim closed his eyes, trusting that if McCoy was right there, then he was safe. Safe enough to go back to sleep.


Which was good, because his body was charging down again. His energy was completely shot.


What had he done to get himself in this state?


He knew the memories were there, right below the surface, but… His brain was keeping them from him. Not buried deep, not like Tarsus or Vulcan, but far enough out of reach that he couldn’t grasp them.


If he knew anything about himself, it was that his subconscious had long mastered how to protect him. And if his brain decided that remembering would not be good for him, then he would trust it.


Besides, it would only be able to keep it away from him for so long. He knew, without a doubt, that it was going to come back to him.


And soon.


Maybe the next time he woke up.


Bones continued to card his fingers through Jim’s hair, and it was such a comfort that Jim willingly let it lull him out of consciousness. He was safe, and so was Bones, and for now that was the most important thing. Everything else could wait.






Chapter Text




Staying awake was hard. So, most of the time, Jim didn’t even try.



Sometimes he would fade into mild consciousness and would become aware of a hand that was smoothing over his hair. Sometimes he would wake and there would be darkness and silence, and a suffocating ache in the deepest part of his chest. Sometimes he would remember flashes of memories, and every single one brought him pain.


Sometimes physical, sometimes emotional.



The moment Jim remembered Pike had died, it was as though a cold hand had reached in and torn his heart out of his body, and he cried until he passed out.



“I’m worried about him,” McCoy confessed softly, as he and Chapel watched Jim sleep from the doorway.


“Why?” She asked, her own voice just as hushed.


McCoy crossed his arms as his brow furrowed, and he sighed. “His memories are coming back. It’s affecting him.”


She turned to eye McCoy. “In what way?”


“He’s…” McCoy chewed on his lip while he searched for the right words. “He’s very reserved right now. His heart rate keeps spiking up in a panic, his body temperature keeps fluctuating, his brain activity goes from resting to overactive at a moment’s notice. His memories keep forcing him to relive that high-stakes, adrenaline filled day, and it’s like— it’s like his body can’t get out of it. Each memory is putting him through the exact same shit he had to suffer through the first time, and he can only take so much strain.” He swallowed back a tightness in his throat, his eyes glued to the noticeably pale form of his captain and friend. “The physical healing process is bad enough as it is. I wish… I wish I had some way to spare him from whatever the fuck his brain is doing to him.”


Chapel was quiet for a few seconds, and when she did eventually reply, she placed a hand on McCoy’s uniform clad arm. “Perhaps, right now, the most you can do is be there for him. He’ll need someone that he can trust, that he can fall back on. I imagine that he will need a substantial amount of support.”


“I can give him that.” McCoy had the answer before he even had to think about it. He breathed deep, felt the ache in his eyelids from not sleeping and the discomfort in his lungs from being so worried about Jim, and nodded. “I will give him that.”


He could see Chapel smile out of the corner of his eye. “Then I wouldn’t worry too much. He’s in good hands.” She began to head back out into the hallway, but before she was out of earshot, she added, “According to Jim, the best in Starfleet.”



McCoy tried to keep himself from fidgeting too much, but damn it, he was worried.


Jim wouldn’t stop staring out the window. He wasn’t even blinking.


It didn’t spell good tidings at all for Jim’s mental health, but also, McCoy had to remind himself that this was likely the kid’s best way to process bad news.


He had just learned that he missed Pike’s funeral.


McCoy hadn’t wanted to let Jim know, since the kid was already dealing with so much as it was, but also… The sooner he knew, the better. It would have been more cruel to keep it from him, and at least in this way, there was a chance for him to have even more time to heal.


But… now McCoy was starting to worry that he had made the wrong choice.


The more time passed with Jim unresponsive and silent, the more convinced McCoy became that the news may have been too much too soon.


“I’m sorry, Jim,” McCoy said softly, hoping to engage him. “I’m sorry this happened.”


He still hadn’t fully processed Pike’s death himself. McCoy had liked the man, really liked him. He trusted him to do right by others, trusted his decisions and especially trusted his treatment of Jim. He’d only met less than a handful of people that he was comfortable with having around Jim, and Pike had topped them all.


He knew that he would never understand how deep Pike’s and Jim’s bond went, but he hoped that— hoped that Jim would be able to recover regardless. Then again...


Death was never easy.


And Jim, it seemed, had had to deal with more of it than most people ever should have. Hell, the kid had already died himself once.


“Why are you sorry?” Jim’s voice startled McCoy, both because he hadn’t been expecting him to speak and because the sound of it was so devoid of emotion, so un-Jim like. “It’s not like you’re the one who killed either him or me. What could you have done?”


McCoy didn’t have an answer for him. It made him feel useless and ashamed, and he really wanted nothing more than to grab Jim and just hold onto him. But, he had a feeling that Jim wasn’t in the mood for physical contact, as touchy as he was. Not with how things were.


He wished he could do more for Jim. Desperately, desperately he wished.


“I don’t know,” he finally whispered, knowing that his response was more than insufficient.


Jim didn’t speak further and his face was betraying nothing. McCoy was having trouble reading him, and that fact alone scared him more than he could explain. If Jim kept pulling so far away… what if he couldn’t be pulled back?


McCoy had already brought him back from death, but how was he going to be able to bring Jim back to life?


So far, he was definitely failing.



Jim wanted to see Spock.


The few times he woke up after that first instance, he had attributed Spock’s absence to the vulcan being busy elsewhere, and Jim just so happened to be waking up at the times when he would miss him.


But, Jim was able to stay awake more consistently in recent days, and it was becoming apparent that Spock didn’t visit. Ever.


At first he had been okay with it, since he could only stand so much interaction with others as it was, but… The more he healed, the more he dreamed.


And he had been dreaming about Spock more than anything else lately.


Most of the time his dreams were nothing more than vague images splattered together, maybe strings of words here and there, but things were steadily becoming more concrete in his mind.


He had been dreaming about Spock during the Narada Incident, dreaming about their fist fight and the moment Spock choked him out, dreaming about the times they meditated together, played chess together, walked through an empty Starfleet Academy campus together. The press briefings, the arguments on the bridge, moments when one saved the other during away missions that had gone south.


He dreamed about being carried through New Vulcan’s ruined construction when that Gorn ship had crashed, the feeling of Spock’s arms around him and the horrible pain in his leg until they had managed to get back to the Enterprise.


He dreamed about Kronos, Khan’s gunfire, the ache from being beat and the sense of safety when Spock had dragged him out of danger. He dreamed of Spock crouching over him protectively, Klingon blaster raised, and the way he hadn’t been able to meet Spock’s eyes after he had tried to attack Khan.


All of those memories were rushing through his dreams on an almost nightly basis, but the one that was the loudest, the one that dwarfed all others…


Was that moment in the radiation chamber.


Spock’s dark eyes not moving from his own. Spock’s tear, Spock’s voice, his hand right there on the other side of that horrible glass. He was there with Jim, through to the very end, he stayed and he watched and he had cried.


For Jim.


His whole life… His whole life, Jim had thought he was going to die alone. That when his time finally came, the only company he would have when the darkness took over would be his own. That was one aspect of life that he'd been sure he had figured out.


Jim, who lived alone, would ultimately and definitely die alone.


That was how it was supposed to go, he had been sure, and then Spock was there and he didn’t— He didn’t leave.


And, now…


Now, to not see him beyond the time he spent asleep, Jim was feeling disheveled. Like a piece was missing, like something was off, like there was a buzzing under his skin that wouldn’t go away.


It was pissing him off.


He didn’t need Spock, not in the way his brain seemed to think he did. He was Jim Kirk. He didn’t— couldn’t rely on anyone. He couldn’t be dependent, he couldn’t expect for people to stay all the time, and especially not while serving in Starfleet.


They were busy. He was a captain. And he had no doubt that Spock had his hands full dealing with all the crap that Jim left behind.


So Jim had no right to yearn for Spock’s presence. He had no right to yearn for anyone, but least of all Spock.


Jim stared at the ceiling above him, at the occasional flashing of monitor lights in the dark. He had been lying in bed for hours, refusing to sleep, because he didn’t want to see Spock’s face again. Lately, it had practically been the only thing he was seeing.


He closed his eyes and willed his mind to still. He was going to have a dreamless night. He was.


Jim wanted to see Spock.


And that was exactly why he had to get himself under control. Seeing Spock in the flesh obviously wasn’t going to happen any time soon, so he had to stop dreaming about him before his mind grew anymore attached.





Chapter Text



After three weeks, Jim was released from the hospital and was given permission to recover at home. To no one’s surprise, Bones followed him and took on the job as Jim’s personal caretaker. As if he wasn’t already that before.


But McCoy wasn’t complaining.


At least, this way, he’d be able to monitor Jim’s recovery himself. Especially his emotional health.


McCoy couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to come back from life. If the emotional toll that the whole tragedy itself had wasn’t enough, then just the matter of having to reclaim control over your own body was sure to be more than a little disparaging.


He squeezed his hands around the back of Jim’s wheelchair as the turbolift carried them towards the kid’s apartment.


When he had injected Khan’s blood into Jim’s body, he hadn’t really thought about the recovery process when it came to coming back from death. Hadn’t bothered, not when Jim was cold under his hands and nearing the point of no return.


There had never been a case like Jim’s. Nobody had ever been brought back to life after having been pronounced dead for more than an hour. Nobody had any idea what would happen, how Jim’s body would react—least of all McCoy.


It was going to be a learning process, and an arduous one.


The way Khan’s blood had mixed with Jim’s brain chemistry did something he hadn’t expected. Jim’s frontal lobe, everything that made him him, was more or less fine. His motor control, on the other hand, had been absolutely ravaged.


It was like it had nearly forgotten its years of fine tuning and muscle memory, and they had months of PT ahead of them. McCoy was anticipating that they would have to do neurological, orthopedic, and some cardiovascular physical therapy. He wanted to get Jim back to how he had been before, and he was sure Jim wanted the same.


Also, there were still trace amounts of radiation in Jim’s body, and that was doing weird things when mixed with Khan’s blood.


So in addition to the physical therapy, Jim was also going to have to take a medicine to fight off the shit that was fucking up his body still. They had had Jim on some light stuff at the hospital, just enough to keep his condition from worsening, but neither was it really improving. What was designed to help fight the radiation off completely was McCoy’s own concoction, and though it had never been used before, he already knew that it was going to take a lot out of Jim. Which was why he waited to start getting Jim on it until after he was discharged from critical care.


McCoy sighed and stared at the top of Jim’s head, his pale blond strands noticeably devoid of their usual golden luster.


Jim had a long road ahead of him.


A long, hard road.


The turbolift finally opened out onto Jim’s floor, and they made their way into Jim’s apartment after McCoy keyed them in. As soon as Jim had bought the unit, McCoy had demanded he get access. After all, it was only fair. Jim had never given McCoy any space at the academy and had his locks and codes to everything, so McCoy had insisted the favor be returned.


Now, McCoy was glad he had. It was going to make the coming weeks way easier if he wasn’t relying on Jim the whole time to let him in.


The door to the apartment slid open quietly, and McCoy carefully maneuvered Jim into his unit. Even though Jim had had the place for a few months, McCoy was still a little surprised by its appearance.


It more or less had an open floor plan, and a lot of curves integrated into its general design. There was a large window on the far end that had a gorgeous view of the bay, nothing but green mountains and blue water. The apartment was nice, luxurious even, save for the fact that it had almost no decor.


McCoy had his suspicions that Jim hadn’t grown up with much, and if that were true, then there was a good chance the kid hadn’t had much experience with amassing objects that were his own, things he could display and show off as his. If you didn’t grow up surrounded by things that were yours, how would you know what to do when you were finally able to have things of your own?


There was a couch, a table, a few chairs, and a rug that Uhura had given Jim as a homecoming gift. It was a beautiful item, apparently from her hometown in Kenya, and really the only thing that gave the area any sort of personality. The only items in the whole apartment that were distinctly Jim’s were the chess set and the bookshelf lined with actual paper books.


Everything else was just a general object that could have belonged to anyone, and it made it feel like the apartment hadn’t been bought or lived in at all. Then again, as busy as Jim was, the apartment probably hadn’t been lived in as of late. 


McCoy came around to Jim’s front and paused, heart jerking unexpectedly when he realized Jim had fallen asleep again.


Poor kid…


He wondered, briefly, how long it would take before Jim could stay awake for extended lengths of time. He would have to keep an eye on that, especially when they started the radiation treatments.


He analyzed Jim’s sallow cheeks and his pale pallor, the redness rimming his eyelids. Jim looked like someone who had come back from death.


Every time McCoy remembered that Jim had actually died,  an agonizing burst of fear clouded McCoy’s lungs and threatened to suffocate him with the same nauseating grief he had felt that day.


He almost lost Jim. Forever.


McCoy blinked away a sudden stinging in his eyes and brushed his fingers across Jim’s cheek, needing to remind himself that Jim was warm with life, he was there, he wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead.


Jim’s eyes fluttered open, and they were notably dim with exhaustion.


“Hey, kid,” McCoy murmured. “We’re home. Let’s move you to the couch so you can rest a little, and then we’ll need to get started on your new treatment regimen.”



Jim was angry all the time now.


He couldn’t help it, he was just so— so mad. He hated not being able to move. He hated how he couldn’t stay awake. He hated the incessant memories, the countless nightmares, the ache of fear that still hadn’t disappeared from his chest.


He hated hurting all the time.


His lungs felt too small, too tight, like they could never pull in enough air. His muscles ached like he had been using them nonstop, like he had traversed the Narada all over again, and it just pissed him off. He wished he could move enough to feel muscle fatigue in his body, but he could hardly even lift his head, let alone his arms.


And Bones was being so fucking gentle with him.


He couldn’t figure out why that was making him so angry, but he just— God, he hated being treated so fragile. What he hated more, though, was that he was fragile.


The exhaustion and pain was nonstop, and he couldn’t do anything to distract himself from it all. He couldn’t focus enough to read, his hands shook too much to hold anything, and because of his dreams even napping was taking its toll.


Bones’s tender touches weren’t helping either, and he couldn’t figure out why. But anytime his pain started to flare up, any time he made a sound of distress, Bones would be right there to comfort him.


He’d been using soft words and softer hands, careful with every point of contact he made with Jim.


Bones was currently holding Jim’s face with the light touch of his fingertips, while he smoothed a razor over Jim’s jaw to remove the stubble that had been growing. Jim had constant tremors in his hands and arms, so he hadn’t been able to shave himself and that fact alone was making him hot with anger.


He hated feeling so useless.


He was Jim fucking Kirk. He had always been able to do everything on his own, by himself, he had always had to. It was what he knew, it was how his life was meant to be. To have his independence taken from him like this filled his stomach with a sour, roiling feeling, and he was just so, so mad.


It didn’t help that his skin was too sensitive and always cold, so every time McCoy did touch him it was like a hot press of needles across flesh that already hurt. It was making him irritable, because Bones was having to touch him a lot, and— and he knew it wasn’t the doctor’s fault.


Bones was just doing his job. He was helping Jim.


Jim knew that, he did, but he couldn’t stop feeling what he was feeling… Regardless of how much he wanted to stop.


He was frustrated, with everything. Himself included.


There was no good reason for him to be feeling so upset. He was alive, for God’s sake.


And there were so many people who weren’t as lucky... So much of his crew weren’t as lucky as he.


He had no right to be mad, no right at all.


Jim scowled at the ceiling as McCoy tilted his head to get under his jaw.


All this fury, all this frustration…


This happened last time, too. After Tarsus. His life was saved. He was spared. And the only thing he could be was angry.


His skin was constantly crawling and he felt wound up, tight like a drum head, and every day he was getting closer to exploding. He couldn’t take all of this, couldn’t take the pain, and anger, and guilt, and nightmares.


He just knew that it was only a matter of time before enough was enough.


After returning to Earth when he was a teen, his breaking point had been when Frank laid his hands on him for the first time since Tarsus had happened. He had run away that night, set out on the road, and nobody even looked for him. Nobody had wanted him.


He hadn’t slowed down in his fast descent of rage and pain until that night in that bar, when—


...When Pike had found him… and saved him.


But... After Tarsus, all that build up of hurt and anger, both with himself and everything that had happened, eventually lead to years and years of trying to run from it all. From the memories, from the threats, from any contact beyond one night stands and fist fights.


When he had returned from Tarsus, for weeks his skin had crawled and his lungs had ached.


And now, after everything with Khan and Marcus… he was feeling the exact same sensations all over again.


Jim didn’t know what that meant. But… but he was afraid. The last time he felt the way he currently was, it put him on a path that likely would have ended in a sure and violent and lonely death at the ripe old age of twenty-two.


After everything with Starfleet, with his life and career finally looking up, Jim had dared to hope that he would never experience those old feelings again.


But they were back, as strong and furious as ever. It made his hands shake, and he knew he couldn’t blame it on his merely weakened muscles. The phantom pain, the age-old wrath in his chest, was back.


None of the people in his life knew him as a kid. They didn’t know what he was capable of. What he could do. What a hurt like this could push him to do.


Jim scowled harder at the floor while Bones went to pick out some clothes for him, and he refused to acknowledge how his eyes were burning.


He was so angry. He was so hurt.


He didn’t want to upset or harm those around him—least of all Bones—but everything was too loud, everything was too painful, everything was too much.


He knew himself well enough to recognize that he was once again nearing a breaking point. He had no idea what that meant, what he would even be able to do in the state that he was in—after all, it wasn't like he could just run away again. But still…


It made him scared. He knew himself.


He knew that there really was only so much that he could take. And what that meant, he didn't dare think about.






Chapter Text



The radiation treatment was the absolute fucking worst, and it was seriously making Jim wish he had never been revived in the first place— not if it meant suffering through the “healing” process like this.


He was doubled over the toilet, puking his guts out and overcome with the urge to claw his own overheated skin off. He’d been dizzy all day, like the room had slowly been rotating all around him, like his apartment had been put on a turntable—too slow to see but fast enough to feel.


His eyes felt too big for his skull, like they were swollen and constantly pressing against his eyelids, and they kept watering and making his cheeks and eyelids sticky. His head throbbed nonstop, his chest squeezed with every heartbeat, he was too hot and too cold and his skin was too sensitive for contact with anything.


Jim shoved his shaking fingers into his own hair and tugged desperately, wishing that it could all just end. He didn’t want to do this anymore. He didn’t want any of it.


He’d been wanting to cry so much lately.


But he couldn’t.


Bones was always around, and sometimes other nurses when Bones needed to get food or sleep. And as long as others were around him, Jim couldn’t let himself weaken at all. He had to be strong for them, he fucking had to, everybody needed him to stay strong.


He was still a captain.


And after everything that he couldn’t control anymore, that was one thing that he had to hold onto, that he had to keep to himself. He’d been more than weak enough for a lifetime, and to break down in front of others would be the last straw.


It made him sick enough that so many were already seeing him in such a physically weakened state, so he had to do everything he could to maintain emotional strength.


But… God, fuck, it was getting so fucking exhausting.


Jim screwed his sore eyes shut and squeezed fists around his sweaty hair, and tried not to flinch when a too-hot yet too-cold hand touched the back of his neck.


“It’s all right, kid,” Bones whispered, as his thumb rubbed gently on Jim’s nape.


The usually comforting motion hurt on Jim’s skin, and he wanted to shake Bones off, get him to stop, but he knew Bones was only trying to help. And Jim still wasn’t ready to admit exactly how bad of a state he was in.


He wanted to be better already, so if he kept pretending that he wasn’t feeling as bad as his body kept trying to tell him he was, then surely it would get him that much closer to being in working order, and sooner rather than later.


Before he could process what was happening, another bout of vomit forced its way out of Jim’s abused throat, and all he could do was take it and wait for it to end.


He wished… Every day, he wished it would end.



Jim couldn’t sleep any more.


Because every time he did, he’d have nothing but nightmares.


At first, most of his dreams had been about Spock. But he wasn’t so lucky anymore. Now… Now, all he could dream about was his dead crew, and Khan, and Marcus, and— and Tarsus.


He’d been so desperate to keep everyone alive during his entire captaincy. That was his plan, his intent, to just— not have to deal with anymore fucking death.


And for so long, ever since the Narada Incident, he’d been successful. He hadn’t had one crew member die for almost a whole year, and then in just a few hours, Marcus and Khan had killed almost half of his crew. If not more.


It made him feel so fucking useless. So Goddamn sick to his stomach.


When he’d been a kid, after everything with Kodos and all that shit, he’d vowed to not let anyone else under his leadership die. That was his promise. His purpose.


And he’d fucking failed.


He had failed spectacularly. Because not only had he allowed so much of his own crew to die, but he also had heard passing rumors that a massive portion of their city got killed.


Bones hadn’t been letting him watch the news or access his PADD, claiming that looking up the info would be too much for Jim in his current state. And he was probably right, Jim trusted his judgment, so he’d been keeping himself from looking anything up.


But… But he had a feeling he knew exactly how bad it had been.


And just the thought of how many people died because of him made him queasy and cold, and his body would start quivering everytime he remembered how many people died when he was supposed to be there to protect all of them.


What good was he if he couldn’t even keep one person alive?


He’d let Pike die, he’d watched Pike get shot, and he hadn’t been able to do anything right after that happened.


Was he so incompetent that after one domino fell, he couldn’t keep the rest from toppling over as well? Fuck, fuck, what was he even fucking good for if he couldn’t even do this right?


And if him letting so many people die wasn’t bad enough, he didn’t even have the decency to let himself die as well. How many fucking people was he going to have to outlive? How many times were people more important or worthy than him going to be stolen from the world, and instead have him be the only thing left behind?


He wasn’t supposed to live. He wasn’t supposed to be alive.


How many fucking times was he going to have to go through this?


Jim squeezed his shaking hands around his pillow and smothered his face into it, while the rest of his body trembled in unadulterated anger.


The doctors on Tarsus loved toying with his life when he was in their grasp. They had killed him and brought him back too many times for Jim to keep track of, all to see if they could, all to show him that he belonged to them, to the doctors, that his life never would and never could be his own.


And now it was fucking happening all over again.


Just like back then, just like when he was a kid, he once again deserved death more than anyone. Countless people were killed, on his watch, and though he deserved to join them more than anything, he was kept from dying.


The doctors always had to grab his soul, his life, pull him back from the brink to remind him that he couldn’t even be allowed the luxury of atonement through death.


He didn’t deserve to live. He didn’t deserve to live.


Jim’s pillow was growing damp beneath his face, as an unbridled stream of tears poured from his aching eyelids.


He knew that Bones didn’t know what he had done to Jim.


He knew nothing of Jim’s past on Tarsus, had no idea that he was forcing him to relive that fucking hell that he had suffered through as a kid. Jim was aware that the doctor was only doing his job.


But that didn’t change anything.


It didn’t change how much Jim hurt, it didn’t change how unbelievably furious he was with Bones, it didn’t change that he was the last person that should have been resurrected. There were so many others who were more worthy, more innocent than he, and instead he got to live again.


It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fucking fair.


Jim sobbed quietly—just once—into his pillow.


Why couldn’t Jim die? Why wasn’t he allowed to die?


Why had Bones stolen this from him? Did the doctor think he was God? What was he fucking playing at?


Jim buried his face as deep into his pillow as he could, and his body ached and burned and shook. Everything hurt. His body, his heart, his very soul hurt. How could Bones bring him back to this? Why couldn’t Jim stop being so angry?


He didn’t want to be mad at his friend, he didn’t want to take his anger out on anyone. He knew the only person who deserved his wrath was himself, but his ruined mind couldn’t even keep all of his anger reigned in. He was going to start lashing out, and despite how desperately he was trying to maintain control, he knew he couldn’t hold back for much longer.


He could only handle so much, after all.



“Atta boy, keep that up,” Bones muttered, letting his hands hover right underneath Jim’s raised leg. “Three, two… All right, lower it back down.”


Jim did as he was instructed, and puffed hot gusts of air against the mat. The kid was sweating a lot from the few exercises they had so far done, and Bones had to remind himself that they had made a lot of progress already.


Rebuilding Jim’s mobility and muscle control wasn’t going to be an easy feat, and it was going to take them a long time. Bones knew that. But, still, it was definitely hard to see Jim’s physical control so ravaged.


He could only imagine how hard all of this was for Jim.


Being unable to do more than imagine was due largely in part to the fact that Jim wasn’t talking to him anymore. He’d gone silent about a day or two back, and to say it worried Bones would be an understatement.


He was supposed to be helping Jim through all of this, just like he always had in the past, and this was the first time he’d had Jim be this closed off with him. It made him nervous and scared, because if he didn’t know what was going on with Jim, then he wouldn’t be able to help him work through anything.


In addition to going nonverbal, Jim’s complexion had worsened significantly. He’d somehow gone more pale, and there were these red rings around his eyes as though he’d been rubbing at his eyelids nonstop. He looked ill.


He looked like he was still dying.


It made Bones’s chest ache. Jim was his patient, his charge, and the fact that Jim’s appearance had hardly improved made Bones feel like he was doing something wrong.


Like he was failing.


“Let’s do it again,” Bones said, once he was sure Jim had caught his breath.


Jim was on his stomach, his hands curled into shaking fists against the mat. There was perspiration dotting his hairline and a drop of sweat crawled down his temple every now and then. Jim glanced at him, the closest thing to acknowledgment Bones was gonna get.


Jim slowly raised his leg backwards again, and McCoy held his hands just underneath the kid’s leg in case Jim lost control. It would be bad for his leg to fall back down too quickly.


Bones counted down from five in his head, and told Jim when to lower his leg once more.


Again, Jim puffed out breaths of overexertion, the simple exercise obviously taking a lot of the kid’s energy.


Bones waited for his breaths to even out. Jim had so little energy, he didn’t want to use too much too soon. “Again,” Bones instructed.


Bones held his hands out, ready to let them hover under Jim’s raised knee, but Jim didn’t move.


The kid had his eyes screwed shut and his lips clenched together. The red blush of overexertion was spreading down his neck, and his hands continued to shake.


“C’mon, Jim, one more time,” Bones prompted, frowning down at his friend.


He waited for Jim to move, but the kid continued to pant through his nostrils, his face twisted in pain. Jim bared his teeth. “I can’t.”


Bones’s heart squeezed hard in his chest, those words having been the first he’d heard from Jim in days. A strange stinging sensation tickled at his eyes, but he ignored it.


“You can,” Bones whispered, hoping to get Jim to keep going. Just one more time. “You can’t give up yet.”


Jim’s breaths kept coming out hot and fast, his limbs shaking, and Bones could see his leg was quivering like it was trying to move. Jim suddenly pushed up from the mat and rolled himself over onto his back, blue eyes open and bright with apparent frustration. “I can, and I am,” he snarled.


Bones froze. He’d never known Jim to give up on anything. “Jim—”


Jim shoved himself into a sitting position and visibly swayed, his eyelids fluttering over his unfocused eyes for just a moment, before they refocused into a glare directed at the opposite wall. “I’m done for today,” he bit out.




How badly was Jim doing? He’d never known the kid to be pushed to retreating from a challenge. Was his body hurting him that much? Was it not something Bones could help with?


He reached a hand out to Jim’s shoulder, needing to assure himself that he could still comfort Jim, that he could still help him, that Jim was still warm and alive and within reach.


But as soon as his fingers grazed Jim’s skin, the kid flinched back and hissed, “Don’t touch me.”


A cold shard of ice struck Bones in the chest. He’d never had Jim refuse contact before. Hell, it was always Jim that always touched people, was always making physical contact. For Jim to reject him so blatantly, so vocally…


It… it hurt.


Bones’s throat started to close, so he spent a few seconds trying to swallow it back while his eyes threatened to water. He wasn’t going to cry over this. That wasn’t what Jim needed. If Jim was insisting on no contact, then it had to be for a reason. His skin was likely oversensitive, especially after their exercises.


As Bones got up to retrieve Jim’s wheelchair, he kept telling himself that it would be understandable for Jim to have a low tolerance of touch. He wouldn’t want physical contact in general.


It wasn’t Bones that Jim was rejecting. Just touch.



Bones watched Jim from across the table, as exhaustion and mounting frustration weighed heavy on his already tired shoulders. He was propping his head up in one hand, while a cup of coffee grew stagnant and cold in his other.


Jim wasn’t eating.


This wasn’t the first time Bones had seen Jim lose his appetite, but this was getting ridiculous. He needed to eat. It had been well over twenty-four hours since he’d last since the kid eat anything, and considering how weak he still was, and how often he ended up puking because of his medicine, Jim couldn’t afford not to eat.


Didn’t he want to get better? Didn’t he want to get stronger?


Bones was trying to understand Jim, but he’d been getting so little sleep lately, he was having difficulty putting himself in Jim’s shoes. Why wouldn’t the kid just eat?


“Jim,” McCoy grumbled, and watched how Jim didn’t react at all to the breaking of silence. “You gonna eat, or what?”


Jim’s eyes were focused on the bowl of oatmeal in front of him, but McCoy had a feeling Jim wasn’t seeing it at all. Jim hadn’t blinked in way too long—possibly minutes—so McCoy could only suspect that Jim was dissociating. It looked like he had completely checked out.


Rain was pattering softly against Jim’s apartment windows, and the blue light of a rainy morning was putting McCoy in a bad mood. He didn’t have the energy for any of this.


“Please, Jim?” McCoy tried again, voice quieter. “Will you please eat?”


Jim continued to stare unblinking at the tabletop, but this time, he actually responded. “I’m not fucking hungry,” he whispered.


McCoy studied the slope of Jim’s shoulders, his white knuckled fists on either side of his breakfast, the way his eyes appeared gray in the light. Jim’s face was slack with a lack of emotion, and his voice had been so quiet that McCoy could hardly hear what sort of mood the kid was in.


He sighed and rubbed his face into his hand. “Jim,” he muttered, “you have to.”


Jim shook his head slowly. “No,” the young captain whispered again.


It made McCoy feel like he was trying to work with a child. Did Jim not understand how important it was for him to eat? Did he not understand that he wasn’t going to be able to heal if he didn’t keep himself well fed?


McCoy watched the shadows of rain droplets slide across the tabletop, over Jim’s pale skin. His eyes ached so much. When was the last time he’d slept for more than four hours? “You’re not going to feel any better if you don’t eat,” he told the quiet room.


Jim’s fists twitched. “I told you I’m not fucking hungry.” Jim’s voice was still low, but there was noticeably a tinge of heat behind his words.


McCoy frowned at him. Why was he acting like this? McCoy didn’t have any patience for this, not after the past week of trying to coax Jim, trying to work with an unresponsive and petulant captain. Why did Jim always make everything so complicated?


A small voice at the back of McCoy’s head suggested that he himself was too tired and strung out to be helping others, but he quickly dismissed it. It wasn’t like he could just leave Jim, not again. He hadn’t even been there when Jim died. He couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from him just yet, couldn’t handle the idea of not having him within sight.


He couldn’t lose Jim, not again.


McCoy sighed and stood from his seat to come around beside Jim. The kid obviously wasn’t going to feed himself. He picked up Jim’s bowl and poked the spoon around, while he placed himself in the chair closest to Jim.


He’d barely lifted a spoonful of oatmeal before Jim struck out and smacked all of it out of McCoy’s hands, and the bowl shattered across the kitchen floor in a shockingly loud explosion.



Jim stared dumbly at the oatmeal and ceramic that had splattered across the floor, and his heart pounded wildly in his chest—hard and painful and nauseating.


God, what had he just done?


McCoy had shot to his feet when the bowl had shattered, and he shook his hands out as though Jim’s strike had hurt them. Fuck, maybe it had.


“What the fuck, Jim?” Bones said, voice teetering on the edge of yelling.


A sickening cacophony of emotions erupted in Jim’s chest, all too complex and intense and too much for him to navigate at the moment. He couldn’t look away from the oatmeal across the floor, and couldn’t shake the images of maggots and rotten food and burnt bodies out of his head.


It’s the doctors all over again, they won’t let you die, you can’t eat, you can’t eat, it’s Tarsus all over again.


“I told you I’m not fucking hungry,” Jim responded through a tight and barely working mouth, his unsteady breaths and vocal cords causing his words to shake. The oatmeal appeared to be shifting, writhing, like it was full of long dead larvae and something deep inside him whispered that his lack of sleep and lack of food was causing him to hallucinate.


The food was bad, the crops were gone, there was blood all over Jim’s hands and there weren’t even bugs to eat, and people kept touching him and hurting him and killing him and it wouldn’t stop, he couldn’t get it to stop, why do they keep bringing him back? Why won’t they let him die? Why can’t he die? Why can’t he die?


“Jesus—” McCoy covered his face with his hands, obviously exhausted and frustrated and Jim’s mind was screaming at him in disappointment for having pushed McCoy to this point.


He couldn’t do anything right, he couldn’t even be a patient right. He was causing McCoy so much trouble, but he couldn’t— he couldn’t stop.


“Jim, if you don’t eat, you’re not gonna get better,” McCoy growled into his hands.


Jim swallowed back the lump in his throat and the stinging in his eyes, and ignored how his jaw quivered. “Maybe I don’t want to get better,” he whispered, his mouth working against his will. He didn’t want McCoy to know what he was feeling, the doctor wouldn’t be able to take it, but— but he couldn’t get his mouth to stop. “Maybe I don’t want to be here.”


“The fuck do you mean,” McCoy removed his hands to stare incredulously at Jim, “you don’t want to be here?”


McCoy’s eyes were wide with confusion and hurt, and an unquenchable anger flared up inside of Jim. What right did McCoy have to feel hurt? Was he the one trying to relearn how to move, how to live? Was he the one that was brought back to life for what felt like the hundredth time?


What did Bones know of confusion and hurt?


As these mounting feelings began to cloud Jim’s weary head, a frantic voice inside him insisted that he wasn’t thinking straight, he didn’t really feel this way, but he couldn’t control himself anymore. The pressure build up of the past few weeks was at its max. He’d finally reached his breaking point.


“I mean,” Jim snarled, “you never should have brought me back in the first place.” The flare of a bomb was fizzling in his chest, the wick was growing shorter and shorter with every moment, and Jim could see the explosion that was looming before him. Quietly, his chest burning with fury, Jim asked, “Why did you do it?”


Bones’s eyes widened further. “What?”


Jim slammed his fist against the table and McCoy flinched. “Why the hell did you do it?!” Jim shouted, as the explosion finally set off in his chest and sent sharp shrapnel into his heart and lungs, making it that much harder to breathe. “How could you?!”


Bones faltered for only a moment, before understanding flit through his eyes and his face pulled into a scowl of disbelief. “How could I save you? How can you ask me something like that, Jim?”


Jim could hear the hurt in Bones’s voice, and— No, no, McCoy didn’t have any right to feel hurt. Jim squeezed his fists around the hem of his shirt and glared at McCoy with all of the fury that was slicing and destroying the inside of his lungs. “I didn’t fucking ask to be saved!!”


“I wasn’t going to just leave you there!” Bones shouted back, as hurt continued to bleed into his eyes.


He didn’t understand, he didn’t understand, Bones didn’t get how cruel it was for him to bring Jim back, how cruel it was for someone like him to be saved when so many other people weren’t allowed the same. A sob choked Jim for a second, but he forced himself to scream past it. “But I didn’t ask to live!” A grimace of sorrow threatened to contort his face, but he willed it back into a scowl. “You took that choice away from me!!”


Just like the doctors, just like the doctors, just like the doctors.


Horror colored Bones’s face for a second, before he shouted back, “You wanted to die?!”


Jim shook his head vehemently, face pulling into a snarl. Bones didn’t get it. It wasn’t that he wanted to die, he just didn’t deserve to live. The horrid pain of sitting in all of that radiation burned through his memory and Jim could feel that aching fire in his muscles, in his lungs, and the pain of being alone and of dying—this time for good—would never leave his memory.


He would have died that day, he was supposed to die that day.


“No, but I wasn’t supposed to live!” Jim insisted, shaking his head. “I shouldn’t be alive!”


“But you are, Jim!!”


Jim looked up at Bones, at the way his voice had cracked, and realized how Bones’s eyes were brimming with tears. He could feel the tears welling up in his own, and Bones’s face was suddenly blurred by the images of all the other doctors that had resurrected Jim back on Tarsus.


“Not by my own fucking choice!” Jim cried, staring up at Bones with wide and wet eyes, as his face continued to twitch in its attempts to contort itself enough that he’d have no choice but to succumb to his tears. “How could you do this to me?! How could you make that decision for me?!” The sob in his throat finally gripped his voice and he choked around it as he continued, and to his horror he could no longer hold the tears at bay. “How can I live when so many others died?”


Bones didn’t say anything further, and the ensuing silence was deafening to Jim’s ears, especially after all of the yelling that had been echoing in the too-large kitchen. Bones watched tears drip down Jim’s cheeks, and it made Jim feel stupid and worthless and so fucking incompetent and out of control, and—


Fuck, he was out of control. He’d just yelled at his best friend, and he was still so angry, and he just—


God, he wanted it all to end already.


He wiped at his eyes furiously and willed the tears to stop flowing. He couldn’t keep crying. He had to maintain what semblance of control that he could, though after this outburst, he doubted that was an option.


He was so fucking upset with himself.


He was so upset.


“Jim,” McCoy whispered, the difference in volume making Jim’s ears inexplicably ache. “I was only trying to help—”


“I don’t want your help anymore!” The words had burst out of Jim before he could stop, his tolerance and control still out of his reach. He was still angry, despite how much he wished he wasn't.


He just couldn’t keep talking to Bones, not right now. He couldn’t stand the other man at the moment.


“You’ve done enough, all right?!” He shot his burning, aching gaze at McCoy and ignored how much his own fists were quivering. “Just get out!”


McCoy hesitated, before he frowned back, the hurt still visible in his usually warm eyes. “Jim, you know I can’t just leave you—”


“Then send someone else.” Jim clenched his teeth together and redirected his gaze to the oatmeal all over the floor, and hated how his body was shaking. He couldn’t take much more of this, there was a well inside of him that was threatening to overflow, and he didn’t want Bones to be near him in case he lost control again.


Why couldn’t the doctor understand that he’d taken all that he could take?


McCoy was still just watching him quietly and Jim refused to meet his gaze. He’d said what he had said, and as loathe as he was to admit it, it was what he was feeling. It was the truth.


He couldn’t take it back now. He couldn’t take any of it back.


“Get out,” Jim repeated quietly, his voice completely shot and depleted of what little energy he had to spare. “Leave me alone. Please.”


He couldn’t look at Bones. He couldn’t. Not with the way his chest hurt, not with the way his eyes stung, not with the way he couldn’t breathe.


Without another word, Bones stepped away from him. Jim couldn’t bring himself to watch his friend leave him, but it was by his own doing. This was what he pushed for.


Why do you always do this? Why do you have to push everyone away?


The urge to cry was becoming almost impossible to ignore, but he had to hold it back just a little longer. Just until he was alone. Just until he didn’t have to be Captain anymore.


Bones had reached the door already, and the sound of the apartment unlocking echoed through the horridly quiet space. The door slid open and Bones paused. Quietly, his voice barely audible, McCoy said, “I’m sorry, Jim. I didn’t want to live in a world that didn’t have you in it.”


And then he was gone.


Jim’s shaking hands gripped his knees and he started to rock in his seat, as his face finally twisted to accommodate the overwhelming surge of sorrow that rushed through his whole entire being.


The tears fell unbidden from his eyes and he allowed his lip to tremble while he continued to rock back and forth in an attempt to process how much hurt was throbbing through his body. What had he done? How could he have done that to Bones?


He folded himself in half enough to bury his face against his knees, and for the first time in too long, allowed himself to openly sob. His whole body hurt, he felt sick, how could he have said those things?


This was why he shouldn’t have lived, this was why he never should have been spared.


He didn’t deserve any of it. All he could ever do was push others away, hurt those who only wanted to help him, he couldn’t even be fucking thankful that he was alive.


What was wrong with him? Why did he have to be like this? Why did he have to hurt so much?


Pike’s words rang out in his head, declaring that “ if anyone deserves a second chance, it’s Jim Kirk.”


How fucking wrong he’d been.






Chapter Text


McCoy rode the turbolift out of Jim’s building in a shocked stupor, the suffocating amount of emotions inside of him too much to process just yet.


Jim had kicked him out. Had yelled at him.


Had made it very clear that McCoy wasn’t helping him.


A surge of tears clouded McCoy’s vision and he was too tired to blink them away, and couldn’t even bring himself to care when they spilled over and began a steady stream down his cheeks.


Jim was hurting so much worse than he had thought, and there was nothing he could do.


He’d never felt so useless before.


How had he not realized sooner that Jim was suffering from survivor’s guilt? It was so obvious in hindsight, what with the closed off nature, the nightmares, the mounting irritability, the fact that he died and came back.


Of course… of course he would feel guilty for that.


McCoy knew what kind of person Jim was. He should have anticipated such a reaction. Jim, along with thousands of others, had died. And he was the only one that was brought back.


McCoy squeezed his eyes shut and focused on regulating his breathing, but didn’t make any attempt to wipe away or stem the flow of tears. He couldn’t imagine what Jim was going through.


He knew that Jim’s physical and emotional ailments from having gone through such a trauma would have been plenty to deal with, but there was also Pike’s death to take into account, as well as so much of their crew and city having died.


It was simply too much for anyone to bear.


And, despite how much he wanted to, McCoy knew that he wouldn’t be able to support Jim through this. At least…


At least, not by himself.


There was no way that they would be able to heal from this, just the two of them. As close as they were, as much as they loved each other, McCoy knew that their particular personalities and coping methods would not compliment each other in the current situation.


They both tended to get too abrasive and closed off when working through stuff, and especially when they were sleep deprived.


McCoy often appreciated how alike they were, but when it came down to something like this—how similarly they were reacting to their own traumas and ravaged health—he knew that they probably weren’t the best things for each other.


They were both too tight. Too tired. Too hurt, too strained, too sad.


The turbolift opened out onto the ground floor and McCoy let his feet carry him out, though he wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. He was still crying, but he didn’t… didn’t really feel like getting himself together. He didn’t care.


He couldn’t care. Not when he thought about how badly Jim was hurting just floors above him. Not when he thought about how there was nothing he could do to help his captain.


The cold chill of the outside bit at his cheeks, and it was so frigid it was as though it were reflecting how he was feeling inside. A few people stared at his tears as he passed them on the street, but he ignored them. He didn’t care.


He was walking away from the only thing he did care about, but he had no other choice than to keep moving. Jim didn’t want to see him. He couldn’t quite blame the kid.


This wasn’t… This wasn’t a hurt that Bones could just hypo away.


And it wasn’t a hurt that he could heal by himself.


The tears were starting to become painfully cold on his flushed skin. He took deep, shaking breaths, and finally started to wipe the moisture off of his cheeks. He couldn’t keep wallowing in his own emotions, not when there was still stuff he had to do. For Jim.


Bones located a bench through the wall of tears that still hadn’t disappeared completely, and continued to wipe at his eyes while he sat down. Sniffling, he drew out his PADD and immediately sent a message to Chapel, asking her to tend to Jim for the night.


He had a feeling Jim wouldn’t want to see him until at least tomorrow. Maybe even… maybe even not for a few days.


That thought alone brought up a whole new slew of unbidden tears, and McCoy scowled at his knees while he did his best to wipe them away. Now wasn’t the time to be getting so worked up. He had no right to be miserable, no right at all.


Besides… He had a feeling that the next person he was going to contact wouldn’t appreciate having to decipher his words between his blubbering. He had to get it together. For Jim, for himself, and for Spock to be able to figure out what the fuck he was gonna say.

Spock had been in meetings with Starfleet’s commanding officers almost nonstop in recent days. Starfleet had numerous matters to discuss, to mend, and to address. The destruction of the Enterprise and her crew was enough of an issue as it was, but the amount of destruction that Starfleet had suffered—and, arguably, caused— was infinitely more pressing.


A majority of the meetings were focused on deciding exactly what Starfleet was responsible for, and to what extent. Due to the fact that Marcus had been their Fleet Admiral, more destruction than not could be blamed on Starfleet.


Admiral Marcus’s acts of treason and warmongering were nothing short of catastrophic, as he had been the root cause of all that had happened with the Enterprise, with the Klingons, with San Francisco, and with Khan.


Spock clenched his fist without meaning to, the same reaction that seemed to manifest every time he thought of that genetically modified soldier’s name.


The… emotions that threatened his control every time he thought of the man, were not dissimilar to those that materialized whenever he thought of Nero.


It was… a concerning matter. Nero had been responsible for the deaths of billions of lives, of his planet, of his mother. The amount of life that Nero had stolen far outweighed that which Khan took. And yet…


Khan had killed Kirk.


Spock’s fists clenched again and he forced himself to relax, though it only made him feel more tense. His emotional control had been abysmal ever since that day. He closed his eyes for just a second and took a deep breath.


Now was not the time to focus too deeply on Khan. Not while he was busy with the meeting.


They were discussing the exact role that Marcus had played—or at least, that was what they were supposed to be discussing. For reasons that Spock could not fathom, the discussion had once again veered towards Captain Kirk and the actions he took—or, in the opinions of some, those that he did not.


There was one rear admiral in particular that Spock had always struggled to tolerate, and unfortunately he was the one that had been holding the ground floor in recent minutes.


“I don’t think we should completely dismiss Kirk as far as responsibility,” Rear Admiral Howerd said as he eyed all commanding officers sat at the table. “I mean, was he not demoted just before this all happened? We already know that he causes more trouble than not—” Howerd cut himself off to raise a hand and brow, as smug self-righteousness wafted off of him. “Just look at what he did to Nibiru. It is obvious that he has zero respect for the Federation. He has consistently shown himself to be an instigator and a short fuse at best, and he has been a constant cause for concern. In fact, Commander Spock...”


Spock instinctively bristled once Howerd’s attention turned to him, and he tensed as he anticipated whatever accusation the rear admiral would likely make in regards to himself or Jim.


“Did you not once call him to an academic trial for cheating, Commander?” Howerd’s brows rose imploringly, as though he did not already know the answer.


Spock clenched his jaw before answering. “Yes, Rear Admiral, however—”


“I just find it real suspicious that every time he gets in trouble, every time he commits an unforgivable act—” Howerd once again cut himself off to start counting on his fingers. “Cheating, sneaking onto a Starfleet vessel despite academic suspension, using manipulative tactics to climb the chain of command, taking liberties with the rules and using his own God-given luck to justify his actions, violating the prime directive. Any time he does something that would get anybody else kicked out of the ‘Fleet, he conveniently becomes a full blown hero not days after.” He paused to squint his gaze at Spock. “Doesn’t that bother you at all, Commander? That when you tried to make him answer for what he’d done, he just so happened to be in the right place at the right time and never came to justice, and instead became lauded as a hero despite the fact that he didn’t even save your planet—”


“I was the one that had rescinded the call for an academic trial,” Spock cut in, and made an active effort not to let his frustration seethe through his voice.


He knew Jim Kirk felt guilty for having been unable to do more for Vulcan. Spock knew that Jim would carry the weight of all of those deaths for the rest of his life, despite the fact that they had never been his responsibility in the first place. Jim cared so hard, so deeply, and Spock knew that his supposed “failings” continued to haunt him even still.


To hear someone who did not even know Jim claim that the captain had not done enough, to try to word it as though he had failed Spock, stoked the flames of an infuriated rage within Spock’s lungs.


“I do not hold Captain Kirk accountable for what transpired regarding my planet’s demise,” Spock continued, his voice and throat tight with thinly veiled emotions. “After working alongside him at that time, it became apparent to me that he is a capable man, and an even more capable officer. To continue with the trial would have been illogical. Your accusations as to his character are entirely unfounded and hold no merit to the discussion at hand.” Spock paused to eye every officer at the table, in an attempt to convey his disappointment in all of them for having allowed the meeting to derail to such an extent. “We are not here to discuss Captain Kirk. We are here to gauge the exact level of responsibility Alexander Marcus has had in all that has transpired. Not the role my captain played in saving as many as he could.”


“I get he’s your captain and all,” Captain DeMuir cut in, distaste clear in his tone, “but you call that saving? Half of San Francisco was killed. Under his watch.


Spock’s muscles clenched with an unanticipated wave of hot anger, and he slowly squeezed his hands into fists. He did his best to keep his voice calm and collected, but he had his suspicions that he was not entirely successful. “I should not have to remind you that it is not Captain Kirk’s responsibility to keep San Francisco safe. His duties are relegated to off-world matters, not the defense of Earth.”


“The Commander is right,” Admiral Park said from across the table, her eyes steady on Spock. “This meeting was called solely to discuss what must be done about Marcus and his actions. Captain Kirk may be discussed at a later date, but now is not the time to let personal opinions distract from the issues that are of real concern.”


She turned her gaze on Howerd as she spoke, and to have her support—however minor—eased some of the tension that had been building throughout Spock’s body.


He did not understand what it was about Jim Kirk that made so many so against him. Jim was entirely undeserving of such unforgiving scrutiny, particularly from those that did not even know him.


With relief, Spock noted that many of the officers at the table had shifted to better face Admiral Park as she rerouted the course of the discussion to Marcus and Khan, and what would be told to the public.


Before he could relax entirely, however, his communicator vibrated in the way that heralded an incoming call. He glanced down at the contact, and his heart jolted unexpectedly when his eyes landed on Doctor McCoy’s name.


The doctor would not call unless there was an emergency.


An emergency regarding Jim.


Spock quickly rose from his seat and before stepping away, made sure his communicator was visible. “I must take this call.” Some of the urgency running through his lungs must have bled into his voice, because no officer made any move to stop him.


He answered the call as soon as he had stepped out of the room and into the sunlit hall, and walked farther from the door as he spoke. “Doctor McCoy?”




Spock froze in his step for just a moment, the raw emotion in the doctor’s voice having sent a pang of fear through his whole body. Did the Captain—?


“Has something happened to the Captain?” Spock’s voice trembled just slightly, and he wondered if McCoy could hear it.


For a few seconds, the only sound from the other end was that of the doctor breathing roughly. It sounded as though he had been crying. “He’s—” McCoy’s voice caught, and Spock found that he could not breathe until the doctor continued. “He’s all right, he’s— His condition hasn’t gotten worse. We just…”


Spock stepped into a private corner, away from the light coming from the windows and any possible prying ears. He bowed his head and listened intently for McCoy to continue. “Doctor?” he prompted.


McCoy audibly drew in a breath. “We got in a fight, Spock.” His voice cracked, fragile as falling glass, and Spock was shocked by the amount of pain he could hear. “I can’t… I can’t help him.”


A chill caressed Spock’s skin. For McCoy to make such a claim…


He was the only doctor that could help Jim Kirk. So if he couldn’t , what… What did that mean?


“Please elaborate,” Spock said. “What happened?” McCoy sniffled, and Spock wondered if he was crying again. “Doctor…” he whispered, intending to soothe, though it quickly became apparent that it could have been taken as a command to continue.


“He’s mad that I brought him back to life. And I— I understand. I’m forcing him to live with the trauma of having died, and— And the survivor’s guilt. He can’t— This is so much for him to deal with. I don’t blame him. But, Spock…” The doctor was definitely crying, and it made Spock’s chest unexpectedly tight to listen to him continue. “Spock, having me around him isn’t helping him. We can’t— We keep butting heads. We’re not… We’re not good for each other. I’m the last person that should be around him right now. But I also— I don’t trust anyone else to take care of him. And that’s probably a failing on my part, but he’s…” A sob cut the doctor off, and the sound of it caused Spock to frown as a wave of worry rolled through his body. “Spock, I don’t know who else to turn to. I hate to ask this of you, but… When’s the soonest you can come back?”


His gut reaction was to say immediately, but the knowledge of how vastly important his presence was for the meetings stilled his tongue. He wanted to return to San Francisco as soon as possible. He wanted to return to Jim as soon as possible. He had been dealing with the politics of Khan’s disaster for three weeks. He had wanted to leave before, but now that he knew that he was needed elsewhere, the yearning to go back to Jim and the doctor nearly suffocated him.


“As soon as I possibly can, Doctor,” he finally replied. “No more than three days.”


“Okay.” McCoy’s voice was so uncharacteristically subdued on the other end of the call.


It was… unnerving. Not right. Spock hated that he wasn’t there.


“I’ll… do what I can for him in the meantime,” McCoy mumbled. “I’m sorry to drag you back here like this, Spock, but— I think you’re the only person that he would be okay with having near him right now.”


Spock’s heart stuttered in his side. He had hoped, desperately, that Jim’s condition would improve in his absence… To know that he was still suffering, even after everything that had happened, made Spock wish his captain could just rest, just for a while. He deserved to have some reprieve.


Yet, for some unknown reason, it seemed Jim would not be allowed such a luxury.


“I am sorry that I cannot return sooner, Doctor,” Spock whispered.


“It’s okay. I understand.” McCoy sniffled a few more times, before clearing his throat. “I’ll give you daily updates on his condition until you come back. I hope— I hope being around you will help his condition improve, at least a little.” There was a long pause on both ends, and McCoy finally said, “Okay. McCoy out.”


Spock held his communicator to his chest while thoughts of Jim ran rampant through his head. Why… could he never seem to be there for his captain? Why did this always happen, when Jim seemed to need him most?


The current situation felt no different from the moment of Jim’s death.


Spock was once again separated from him, so close yet so far, helpless to assist Jim regardless of how desperately he wanted to. The few times he’d managed to sleep since that day had left him susceptible to dreams of that horrid glass— that rueful, hateful pane of glass that kept him from doing anything more than watch as Jim withered only centimeters away.


Even still, he could not yet help Jim.


Spock wondered, desperately, when the glass would be removed and he could finally reach Jim— finally help him.






Chapter Text


Jim woke up with sticky and damp cheeks, which meant he had been crying in his sleep again. He stared at his ceiling unblinking, and was too tired to even bother wiping at his face.


It had been two days since his screaming match with Bones.


He had felt hollow before their fight, but now… Now, he was barely even a shell. All of his energy—especially emotional—had been completely exhausted. His body was hurting worse than ever, but he couldn’t even muster up the strength to be bothered by it.


A bone-deep ache, the kind that usually accompanied a cold or fever, thrummed through his whole body. His chest was tight, but that wasn’t unusual.


Mind-numbing pain had been permeating his whole entire being for weeks, and it had become such a constant that he was having difficulty remembering the days when he wasn’t hurting.


And... his nightmares were getting worse.


And because of the nightmares, he knew he was clenching up in his sleep—from stress and fear and fury—and it was leaving his muscles sore from over-exertion and constant tension.


To add to that, he was becoming incredibly dehydrated from all of the crying. Since it was happening in his sleep, he was helpless against his own emotions and couldn’t keep himself from releasing more tears than he could afford to lose.


It made him feel so incompetent. So weak.


He was Jim Kirk. He was supposed to be in complete control of himself.


Self-hatred had been squeezing its hot fist around his heart for days, and with every hour its hold was growing tighter. His breaths were shallow and short because of it, and Bones was always watching him quietly.


It made his skin crawl, but he also knew that it was Bones’s job to. He couldn't be mad at Bones for doing what he was supposed to. He just wished…


He just wished that they could talk again.


But they weren’t saying anything beyond what was necessary when they were around each other. He knew it was his fault. If he’d never blown up the way he had, if he’d had better control of himself, if he’d just been a better person, then he wouldn’t have fucked up the one good thing in his life that he’d been able to rely on for the past four years.


It just took one mistake from him to have it all come crashing down.


Jim blinked sluggishly and his gummy eyelids clung together. He wanted to laugh at how fucking predictable he was.


He could never keep anything good. He didn’t deserve anything good.


Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if McCoy was inclined to cut ties after Jim was all healed. Now that McCoy’d gotten a better taste of what a piece of shit Jim was, he was all the more informed that Jim wasn’t the kind of person one would willingly keep in their life.


Jim had let people die. His own crew, his own city, countless deaths that were added to the blood always staining his hands. Bones was surely getting a clearer idea as to how ugly Jim was inside. They’d had fights before, of course, but— But none quite as sour as this.


This fight was only worsened because of Jim. It wasn’t going to get any better—because of Jim. He always made living worse for those around him, and if Bones hadn’t figured that out yet, then he would soon.


Besides… Bones didn’t even want to be in space. So Jim wouldn’t begrudge him the want to leave, especially now that he was surely starting to realize staying only for Jim would never be worth it.


Jim was never worth it. Never had been, never would be.


Nobody ever wanted to stay with Jim, and he knew that.


He closed his eyes and exhaled shallowly. He didn’t want Bones to leave. He liked the man, liked being around him. They’d had a lot of fun together.


But if McCoy could be spared the pain of seeing how fucking awful Jim was, then maybe… Maybe him leaving would be for the best.


Jim didn’t want to drive him away. But it was going to happen no matter what. It always did.


You’d either be smart enough to leave Jim Kirk on your own, or you died on his watch.


The memory of calling Pike’s name right before the man got shot flashed through Jim’s head, and he squeezed his sheets as much as his shaking hands would allow.


Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.


If he hadn’t called Pike’s name, hadn’t distracted him, then he probably never would have been caught by that gunfire. It was Jim’s fault. It was Jim’s fucking fault.


Why couldn’t he keep anything good?


Why did he bring ruin and destruction and suffocating pain to everyone near him? How many deaths was he going to be responsible for?


Tears were beginning to prick at the corners of his eyes again, but he froze when he heard his front door open.


“It’s me,” called Bones’s voice, and Jim’s chest clenched at the sound of it.


He didn’t respond. Never did, anymore.


Couldn’t bring himself to force sound out of his throat. Besides… it felt raw enough already, which led him to suspect that he had been vocalizing—maybe screaming—in his sleep.


No. He didn’t feel like talking. But he still missed it. Still missed Bones.


The noise of things being moved around came from the kitchen, though McCoy wasn’t saying anything beyond his first declaration as to his presence. He was probably fixing up food. Jim’s stomach rumbled at the thought, even though the very idea of eating made him feel horribly nauseous.


He closed his eyes.


Maybe he could sleep his hunger away. It was what he’d done plenty of times back on Tarsus.


A suddenly vivid, burning, merciless memory ripped its way across his skull, tearing at the flesh of his brain, and the sounds of Bones in the kitchen were drowned out by the horrified screams of a girl no older than seven as she grabbed at her brother’s body.


“Simon!! Wake up!! Why is he so cold? Why is he stuck like that?!”




Jim shot up and his head swam from moving so fast, but to be pulled from sleep by such awful screams forced adrenaline through his veins, replacing everything else that belonged there.


Too loud!! Too loud!! She was being too loud!!


Their cave of a hideout was too cramped for such loud screaming, and the shape of it was surely projecting her voice across the landscape outside like some sort of megaphone. Jim scrambled towards the back of the cave, not bothering to apologize as he accidentally kneed and trampled some of the other kids.


She had to shut up!


“Clary, shh!” He grabbed her by the shoulders and hid her face against his own chest, as his eyes landed on the stiff body of five year old Simon, already caught in the deep stages of rigor mortis.


Fuck, he must have died a little over 3 hours ago. Jim hadn’t even realized the kid had been on death’s doorstep.


“Take her!” He hissed behind himself, as he passed Clary off to either Eddie or T’Risa. He wasn’t paying attention, he didn’t care who took her. He had to get Simon out of there before the other kids could see him.


Jim yanked the thin blanket out from under the five year old and wrapped it around the kid’s stiff body, and barely refrained from gagging as he lifted the hard, cold, solid form of the kid that had been one of their only sources of laughter lately. It felt like holding a mannequin, or— or a mummy.


He was so stiff.


The wrongness of it sent buzzing prickles all across Jim's skin, his natural instincts recoiling at having to hold something so clearly dead. But he couldn't— he couldn't just  leave him.


As Jim carried Simon’s body out of their hideout, he hissed at Eddie to help him start digging. They would have to bury him before the sun rose, because otherwise he would start rotting in the heat and the stench would be enough to make them have to leave. But they couldn’t afford to leave. Jim hadn’t found another safe space yet, they couldn’t leave. They couldn’t.


And they still hadn’t found a new shovel yet, so as Jim carried Simon’s still cold body to the bottom of the valley, he accepted that he was probably going to lose the last of his fingernails to the bare handed digging he was going to have to do.


A disorienting weightlessness overcame Jim for a long, brief moment, before an explosion of pain suddenly erupted throughout his shoulder. He yelped on reflex and slammed his head back against the floor, and it took him a few seconds of suffocating around his own throat before he realized that he had fucking fallen out of bed.


“Fuck!” he wheezed, just as a warm pair of hands grabbed onto him and eased him onto his back.


“Jim! Are you okay?!”


He wanted to scream that NO HE WASN’T FUCKING OKAY, but instead all he could manage to do was struggle to breathe while Bones helped him into a sitting position. Pulses of pain radiated down his right shoulder, and he squeezed his eyes shut against how much it hurt. He could hardly breathe.


“C’mon, c’mon, easy,” Bones soothed, as he half-carried, half-dragged Jim over to a couch. “Let me see what you did to yourself.”


Jim glared at Bones through watering eyes, wishing he could find his voice just so he could yell at the other man for implying he had meant to do this to himself. But as it was, he could barely figure out what to do with the air he did have in his lungs, and so he put all of his focus on actually breathing through the pain of landing on his shoulder and the pain of having to relive that fucking moment on Tarsus.


Why in the fucking God damn hell was he having Tarsus flashbacks again?!


He was supposed to be done with that! That was supposed to be all locked up, he had locked it all up! After the Narada Incident, he’d done what he needed to do to rebuild his mental walls!


Fuck getting resurrected! Of fucking course this shit with Khan would undo all his hard work! He hadn’t had a lapse in control in well over a year, why the fuck—


Why the fuck couldn’t he catch a fucking break?!


“Jim, you have to calm down,” McCoy said, as one of his hands smoothed over Jim’s good shoulder to reassure and gently squeeze. “Try to breathe. I’m gonna help you out, but you have to breathe through this before I get the hypo ready.”


No, no, he didn’t want to deal with any hypos right now!


Grimy hands were holding him by the shoulders and shoving him against the cold metal of the medical table, as the straps over his body were tightened to the point of hurting. “Fucking hold still, kid!” A hypo glinted in the yellow, flickering light of the medbay, and Kodos’s doctor smiled down at him. “This’ll only sting a bit!”


“Whoah, whoah!” McCoy’s grip on him tightened, and it took Jim too many seconds to realize that he had started thrashing away from the hypo in McCoy’s hand. “Jim, holy shit, calm down! You’re all right!”


A weird, garbled choking sound came out of Jim’s throat, and he pressed himself against the couch as much as he could. He was too weak to try and shove McCoy away, or fight him off, or— or do anything more than shake and struggle to breathe.


He could still fucking feel Simon’s cold, hard body in his arms!


The hypo hissed against Jim’s neck almost quicker than Jim could perceive it—possibly gentler than McCoy had ever administered a hypo for him before—but then it was immediately replaced by a tricorder, and the doctor held it over Jim while his other hand kept a firm but still gentle grip on his arm.


Jim’s chest was hurting so fucking bad. At first he had thought all the pain was coming from his lungs, but now the majority of it was focused around the center of his chest, right at his heart.


God, was he— Was he having a fucking heart attack or something?! It felt like someone had stuck him with a jagged knife in the middle of his chest, and was slowly twisting it deeper and deeper. He couldn’t stop shaking, his teeth were even starting to click together.


Bones’s warm hands were suddenly cradling Jim’s cheeks, and Jim hadn’t realized exactly how much he had missed them. It took effort, but he managed to focus on Bones’s wide, worried eyes, and he found the strength to speak past the suffocating pain in his chest. “Is this— a heart attack?”


He held his own cold, trembling fingers against the backs of Bones’s hands, too weak to actually grip them, but wanting the contact all the same. Bones visibly swallowed, while his eyes darted at their surroundings before settling for a few long seconds on the couch Jim was on.


Bones was biting hard on his lip, and glanced into Jim’s eyes. “Do… do you trust me?”


That— That was a dumb question. Of course he did.


Jim scowled at Bones’s apparent stupidity, and at how he still couldn’t breathe, and at the pain that was only getting worse in his chest. He nodded, stilted and stiff.


Bones inhaled deep, like a reverse sigh, before he wrapped his hands around Jim’s upper arms and sat himself on the couch beside Jim. He turned the young captain to face him as he moved, and didn’t let go as he began to lie back.


For a few seconds, confusion drowned out everything Jim was feeling as he was manhandled atop the couch. It wasn’t until he was sprawled across Bones’s chest, their legs tangled together, that he realized they were snuggling.


It was so Goddamn confusing and jarring, that it took him way too long to realize he had stopped breathing.


Bones’s hands drifted from Jim’s arms to his back, where he was rubbing in soothing circles. The motion spurred Jim to start breathing again, and the cacophony of emotions knocking around inside his already hurting chest drained him of any fight he might have had.


Jim let his head flop onto Bones’s shoulder, and took the time to just focus on breathing.


He… had missed this. He missed being close to Bones like this.


His own arms cradled Bones’s sides, but he couldn’t bring himself to hold on. They’d been so distant from each other lately, he didn’t feel like he had any right to make any sort of contact beyond what Bones was initiating. His eyes stung, so he made sure to keep them shut tight. He just had to focus on breathing.


Bones’s pulse was thumping wildly in the doctor’s neck, right where Jim’s forehead was pressed. “I’m sorry if this is uncomfortable for you,” McCoy whispered. “But it was all I could think to do.”


Somehow, beyond the ever present ache and the tightness in his lungs, Jim managed to pull words out of his strained throat. “Hugging cures heart attacks?” His hoarse voice hardly reached a whisper, but as close as they were, he knew Bones would have no problem hearing him.


Bones’s fingers drifted to scratch gently at Jim’s neck and into the short hairs on the back of his head. Jim was beyond shocked to find that it didn’t feel irritating, or uncomfortable, or painful like so much contact had lately. Breathing was getting easier.


The doctor inhaled slowly, and Jim found the sensation of laying on Bones’s rising chest more comforting than he wanted to admit.


“Not a heart attack, Jim,” Bones whispered. “Panic attack.”


Oh. That made sense.


But… what didn’t make sense was why they were just… lying on the couch the way they were. Or— or why the vice around Jim’s chest was loosening with every second. Jim swallowed carefully. “So why the cuddling?”


Bones’s hand settled against the back of Jim’s head, just a warm press of weight against his skull. His other hand was still occupied with smoothing over Jim’s back. “It was… It was a guess. I’m working blind, here. I don’t know what I’m doing.” His fingers went back to carding through Jim’s hair. “But… it made sense in the moment. You’re one of the most tactile people I’ve ever met, Jim.”


Jim continued to breathe slowly with his eyes closed, let himself relax under Bones’s gentle hands. His lungs were almost starting to feel normal. “And?” he whispered.


“And you haven’t had any contact for weeks.” Bones’s hold on him got just a little tighter, and still, it didn’t hurt. “I think you’re touch starved, kid. And I think it’s making your condition worse. It’s making your stress worse. You don’t… You don’t do good when you’re isolated.”


Jim continued to focus on the rise and fall of Bones’s chest against his own, let Bones’s words stew around in his brain.


Touch starved, huh? 


It seemed probable. He… loved touch. Loved being able to be in physical contact with others, even though— even though he didn’t deserve it. He'd always, always wanted to be close to those around him, especially physically, but he could rarely bring himself to. Some days he felt like his skin, his hands, his very being was tainted. Like if he were to touch someone, then they would crumple into a pile of ash right before him, and it would be his fault.


Now that he thought about it... He'd probably spent most of his life touch starved. Fuckin' figured.


And as much as he didn't want to accept it, he couldn’t deny that what they were doing... Being as close together as they were... made him feel the most relaxed he had since he first woke up in the hospital.


It made his heart squeeze in hurt, but in an entirely different way than it had been in the past few minutes.

“When Joanna was little…” Bones muttered, as his thumb caressed behind Jim’s ear. “When she would get upset, I would have her lie on my chest because the proximity and connection helped her calm down. I mean, you’re obviously not a baby, but— Your body is still trying to remember how to work like it’s supposed to. I figured that it might have forgotten how to regulate itself after too little physical contact.” Quieter, he added, “Was I… Was I wrong? Is this okay, Jim?”


Jim barely refrained from nuzzling himself closer. Breathing wasn’t a chore anymore. His chest didn’t hurt, either, regardless of the light squeeze on his heart that he was starting to suspect would never go away.


He still… He still had a feeling that Bones was going to leave him sooner rather than later. It would be better for Bones if he did.


But Jim wasn’t a good enough person to not be selfish. He… liked being so close to McCoy. It was stupid to let himself stay attached. But he couldn’t help it. Didn’t want to.


Jim sighed quietly and let his fingers grip onto the sides of Bones’s shirt. “It’s okay.”


At least, now… He was no longer feeling the stiff dead body of a child in his arms, and instead the warm, sturdy torso of his doctor was all that he held.






Chapter Text


Jim watched a small flock of birds pass in front of his window, and realized he couldn’t remember the last time he had blinked. He’d been awake for at least thirty minutes already, but he had yet to move. 


He just… He didn’t feel like it. There was no point.


A black hole had been growing inside of his chest ever since he first woke up in the hospital. It was a yawning, gaping mass of hopelessness that had been eating at his lungs for weeks.


Mentally, emotionally, he was getting worse. Definitely, definitely getting worse.


And even though his fucking weird cuddle session with Bones the day before had been nice, it hadn’t exactly fixed anything. Jim still couldn’t bring himself to talk to the man.


It was like every time they were in the same room, or made eye contact, or made physical contact, an overwhelming urge to let Bones in, to just fucking talk to him would stir itself through Jim’s whole body. And yet, it was like the words would hit the wall he’d built around himself, and nothing but wheezed breaths could escape Jim’s throat. He couldn’t talk.


He couldn’t even fucking talk.


It felt like he was cocooned in a swell of darkness and silence, as though his body—his soul were still dead and trapped in the black of space.


He was still… He was still trapped behind the glass of the radiation chamber. He was just a carcass, still hot from his life having literally been burned from his body.


Jim wrung his clammy hands around his sheets, and wondered when—if—he’d ever feel okay again.


Was he… Was he not still dead? Was his heart even beating?


He drew in a shuddering breath, the action feeling unnatural and strained. His body hadn’t felt like his since he was resurrected. It was like…


Like Khan had stolen his whole entire being. 


Khan’s blood was in him, rushing through his veins. Khan was irrevocably a part of Jim, and always would be. As if Jim didn’t already have enough blood on his hands, as if he hadn’t already been responsible for the deaths of so many, he now carried Khan’s legacy with him.


And he always would. There would be… no escape from it. Not unless he had a permanent death, which…


The more time passed where Jim just didn’t fucking die, the more afraid he became that he never would.


What if—what if he was doomed to live? He was sure that he had long outstayed his welcome, but what if he was never allowed to leave? What if he was going to be forced to outlive everyone he’d ever fucking known?


The very thought kicked his heart into a painful panic. He squeezed his sheets tighter, and his gaze drifted towards his ceiling. His chest was tightening again. He couldn’t breathe.


He sucked in sharp, shallow gasps of air, and though he could feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest, he still couldn’t fucking breathe.


Jim was so fucking stressed out. He was past stressed. He clenched his eyes shut as he mentally, against his will, went down the list of everything going on. 


He had died. He’d fucking died. And Pike—one of the only safe people in his whole life—was dead. Half of his crew was killed on his watch, their blood was staining his hands to the point that he feared his skin was forever going to be stained red. And he had tried—he had tried so hard not to let anyone die. He’d tried so hard. What’s more… everything that had happened, had happened because of a corrupt admiral—someone he had trusted. His confidence in the Federation was shaken as badly as his body, and that was another thing—his fucking body.


He’d lost physical control, and he was once again losing his mental control. His Tarsus memories were seeping back into his dreams and his thoughts. He couldn’t fight it all off, not as weak as he was, and he couldn’t ask for help. He couldn’t talk. Not even to Bones. He was cut off from one of his last remaining safe people, not including his first officer that he hadn't seen in weeks. 


Jim felt… so alone. So helpless, so overwhelmed, so scared. 


Tremors beyond his control coursed down his arms, causing his muscles to clench and ache. A wave of… fuzziness cascaded over his body, like dulled pins and needles washing down every inch of skin.


It felt like his atoms were vibrating, trying to separate, trying to make him shake into nothing. Like a thin cloud dissipating in the sun. It would almost be fascinating if it didn’t also aggravate the pain that clung to his bones, causing it to reverberate through his flesh and joints.


What the fuck was happening? Was it another fucking panic attack?


His breaths somehow got even tighter, as he was struck by an unadulterated terror at the prospect of losing control of himself again. It was almost like Khan was still trying to wring the life out of him, and was ripping him apart from the inside out. His body was not his own. 


Every single fucking thing had been stolen from Jim.


His life, his death, his very body and soul.


The buzzing that was enveloping him was accompanied by a dizzying wave of confusion, like his thoughts could no longer stick together in any feasible way.


Great. Now his fucking brain, too?


The ceiling above him came in and out of focus, like he was staring at it through water or something. He felt weightless, like he was falling, like he was drowning, and his uncooperative lungs were acting as though he were being buried alive. 


A familiar pang of fear shivered from his shoulders to his toes, reminiscent of the feeling that had hold of his gut the moment Khan had turned against him.


“Leave me alone,” he slurred through chattering teeth, desperately willing whatever the fuck was in his blood to stop freaking messing with him. “Leave me alone.”


Bones had not been staying over that often, and less so after they’d had their fight. Not for the first time since being released from the hospital, but definitely the fiercest, Jim wished Bones was in the flat. He wished he was there.


But it was barely past dawn, and Bones wouldn’t get in for another half hour or so. 


Jim wished he was there, to make it better, to bring him back, to ground him, but— he wasn’t. And an unfamiliar sensation of both being smothered and shattered into pieces overcame Jim, until all remaining coherent thoughts were suffocated completely.

Bones squeezed the cups of tea he held, trying to will their warmth to spread through his hands. He tapped his foot against the pavement, his every muscle thrumming with a weird sort of nervousness that he couldn’t quite bite down, and exhaled until he could see his breath. 


He pressed into the wall he was leaning against and checked the clock for what felt like the millionth time. 


Spock’s shuttle was bound to arrive any minute. 


He was up earlier than he had been for days, due largely in part to the message he’d received form the Vulcan the night before. He had been winding down for the night in his own apartment, when his PADD lit up with the words, “ I will be arriving in San Francisco at 0700 tomorrow morning. --First Officer Spock of the USS Enterprise”. (Bones had tried not to be surprised by how formally Spock signed his messages.)


That had led to a scramble of texts verifying that Bones would be there to meet him, and would take him to Jim’s after.


And now here he was. Waiting on the damned Vulcan to finally show his face again after weeks of being gone. 


He sighed and closed his eyes. It wasn’t Spock’s fault he had work to do. It was just… With the way the past few days had been going, Bones was desperate to put blame on someone, something. It was all just too much, and if there was someone to blame for everything—or some things—then he’d be able to reclaim some sense of order.


He knew all that blame ought to go to Khan. And he wasn’t sure to what extent yet, but Admiral Marcus as well. He wasn’t sure when he was going to talk to Jim or Spock about exactly what had been done to them. He didn’t want to… delve too deep into what they were recovering from.


That would make it all too real. Everything that was happening was already hard enough to deal with. 


The gentle rumble of a shuttle caught his attention, and McCoy straightened up at its approach. Once it landed, he held back from joining the small crowd of people meeting arriving passengers.


He’d had a hard time getting too physically close to other people lately, especially crowds. His hackles had been getting bristled more often than usual and he wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it, other than keep his distance.


Unfortunately, that seemed to be happening with Jim, too. Which was not... something he ever wanted. The distance between the two of them was starting to feel like a chasm that would never be crossed.


His heart squeezed painfully in his chest at the thought of Jim, and he forced his mind elsewhere. Like on keeping an eye out for Spock’s stupid bangs or pointed ears.


When the tall Vulcan finally exited from the shuttle, it was like his dark eyes immediately landed on Bones, like he knew exactly where the doctor was. It was weird, and it made Bones’s chest ache strangely, which was even weirder.


He ignored it in lieu of building up the courage to push through the crowd so he could get to Spock. Once they were toe to toe, neither really said anything and just held eye contact. Bones knew he was frowning, but he didn’t try to stop it. 


It was such a gray, pale morning, and the light wasn’t the best, but even if it was a beautiful day it wouldn’t change the fact that Spock looked exhausted. There were dark circles under his eyes, marring his usually smooth complexion. Dealing with the other officers looked like it took a lot out of him. It made Bones feel a little worse, forcing Spock to go from one emotionally trying situation to another.


At least Spock liked Jim. Bones didn’t think the Vulcan liked most officers, including the higher-ranking ones, so he was a little glad to give Spock an excuse to get away from people who left him so visibly drained.


Bones held out the tea he got for Spock. “Welcome back,” he grumbled softly.


Spock blinked slowly, like he was mimicking a cat’s method of smiling. “Thank you, Doctor,” he replied just as softly, before taking the offered tea.


“Don’t mention it. That should you warm you up on our way over.” McCoy turned his back on the Vulcan to start heading to Jim’s, and trusted that Spock would follow. He sipped at his own cup, and noted the sense of relief at finally having someone else to be with he and Jim through all of this.


He had a feeling they were all going to fare better as a trio.

Bones gave Spock as much of a rundown as he could on their trek to Jim’s. Told him the details of Jim’s condition, the kid’s irritability, their own strained relationship. The lack of sleep, the lack of eating. 


“To be honest,” McCoy muttered as he started the lift, “I’m kind of hoping your being here will… I don’t know. Calm him, or something.” He paused, before adding quietly, “He’s different when he’s with you.”


Spock didn’t say anything, so McCoy glanced at him. Spock was watching him silently and McCoy realized he couldn’t read the Vulcan if his life depended on it. That was something only Jim could consistently do.


He sighed. “Thanks for coming back to town, Spock. I appreciate it. And I know Jim will, too.”


The lift doors opened onto Jim’s flat, and Spock said, “I am happy to be here, Doctor.”


Before McCoy could comment on Spock’s use of the word happy (despite the vulcan’s constant insistence that he didn’t feel anything) a loud thump caught his ears.


A thump from Jim’s room.


A frigid cascade of fear rushed down McCoy’s body and he shared the briefest wide-eyed gaze with Spock, before the two of them hurried to the back of the apartment.


Jim was on the floor beside his bed, twisted and tangled in his sheets, his face smothered into the carpet, and his body was caught in the throes of tremors and minor convulsions.


Oh fuck, shit, he was having a seizure.


McCoy threw himself beside Jim and as quickly and gently as he could manage, grabbed Jim to turn him onto his side to give him a chance to breathe. 


Jim’s face was red and splotchy, his eyelids lax, and quiet huffing sounds were rushing from his mouth. McCoy’s own body was nearly folded over Jim’s, and he ran the hand that wasn’t keeping Jim upright through the kid’s hair and across his brow. It was covered in sweat.


Spock had settled on Jim’s other side, watching grimly. “Doctor?” There was a hint of… quiet fear in his voice.


“It’s a seizure,” McCoy told him, and having to vocally confirm what was happening sent a wave of worry crashing through his lungs. Jim did not have a history of seizures. This was a new and wholly unwelcome development. “I don’t know how long he’s been in it, but if it goes on for more than five minutes we’ll have to take him to the hospital.”


Spock did not speak or move for a few long seconds, and the only sound was Jim’s strained gasps and his body scraping against the surrounding fabric with every twitch. Unable to bear seeing Jim in such a state, McCoy to turn his gaze elsewhere and settled for watching Spock.


There was a crease between the Vulcan’s brows, an undeniable show of his worry for Jim. Quietly, Spock shuffled a little bit closer, and slowly stretched his hands towards Jim’s face.


Without looking away from their captain, Spock muttered, “I am going to attempt a shallow meld. I believe… I may be able to help ease him out of this.” Only after revealing his plan did Spock flick his dark eyes to McCoy. The look was a definite plea for permission.


A want for Jim to come back to himself as soon as possible was headily overwhelming McCoy, so he quickly nodded. He trusted Spock. Especially with Jim.


And after the ramifications from when Spock Prime melded with Jim, back during the time of the Narada, McCoy knew their Spock wouldn’t dare press too deep in a meld with their captain. 


“All right,” McCoy whispered.


Without any further prompting, Spock pressed his fingertips to where McCoy assumed the meld points were, and closed his eyes.


McCoy could feel Jim shiver, almost a tremor but a tad more gentle. Spock didn’t move, and McCoy wasn’t even entirely sure he was breathing, but… Whatever he was doing, it was helping.


Jim’s tense muscles relaxed marginally with every passing second, and his breaths evened steadily. He leaned into the parts of McCoy’s body that were pressed against him, like his arms and knees, and Jim’s full weight was so sudden that it was like he was a puppet whose strings were cut.


The tremors had almost completely stopped, until all that was left were the small trembles Jim had been dealing with since his resurrection. Spock opened his eyes and withdrew his fingertips, and as soon as he did, Jim drew up an unsteady hand to grasp Spock’s wrist. The vulcan froze.


Jim breathed slow and shallow, his face still slack and his cheeks reddened from exertion. His eyelids flickered open, and his blue eyes—normally so bright and clear—were faded and hazy as they landed on Spock.


He only stared at first, while he gasped softly on the ground in what had to be an uncomfortable position for his already weakened lungs. Eventually, Jim swallowed, and it seemed to push moisture to the edges of his bloodshot eyes. “Spock?”


It was subtle, and McCoy wasn’t entirely sure how he caught it, but Spock seemed to deflate at the sound of Jim’s voice. But whether it was in relief or concern, that he couldn’t tell.


“It is me, Jim,” Spock whispered.


Jim forced a few more breaths through his chest while Spock’s words settled. Then, delicate and gentle, a smile drew at Jim’s lips. “Hey,” he sighed.


Bones hadn’t seen a smile on him in weeks, and his chest ached at the sight of it. And he didn’t want to acknowledge it, but… a part of him was hurt that he wasn’t the one that put it there.


Now wasn’t the time for that. McCoy pushed that unnecessary thought aside, and instead focused on getting Jim comfortable. Their morning was already off to a rough start, so he was gonna do what he could to make the rest of it as painless as possible.






Chapter Text


It was not far past dawn. The weather was overcast, and so Jim’s apartment was lit only by the pale blues of a cold morning.


Spock did his utmost best not to stare at his captain in the dim atmosphere.


And he was… failing. Considerably so.


He simply couldn’t help but analyze the condition of his friend; the drastically pallid complexion, the deep bruises circling Jim’s eyes, the way every draw of breath seemed to cause him discomfort.


When they had been apart from each other, it had been easier for Spock to forget how badly Jim was faring. But to be back, and to once again be face to face with him… 


It made Spock wish he had never left.


The emotional and physical toll that Khan and Marcus had wrought was clearly too much for Jim to handle, even with Doctor McCoy’s assistance.


Jim was lying on his couch, his eyes closed and breaths shallow, his head cushioned on the multiple pillows that the doctor had laid out. He was not asleep, of that much Spock was sure. Even though… he more than likely required sleep above all else. 


Spock, sitting in the recliner closest to the couch, had his hands clasped together in his lap and was squeezing them softly to bring himself comfort. 


Seeing Jim caught in the throes of a seizure had unsettled Spock more than he dared acknowledge. 


When he thought of Jim Kirk, he thought of strength, recklessness and stubbornness, unyielding bravery, and golden light. But with the Jim he was looking at now, he saw…


Vulnerability. Frailty. Withered health, grief, sorrow. Exhaustion.


To see how severely Jim was being affected by everything filled Spock with a fury reminiscent to what he had felt when he had chased down Khan.


How dare they have harmed Jim so? How dare they have done this to him?


Illogically, Spock was overcome with a desire that Marcus and Khan were before him once more, so that he could be the one to kill them himself.


Spock squeezed his hands together tighter and conceded that the fact that one was dead and the other frozen would have to do. So long as neither could touch Jim again, it had to be good enough.


McCoy returned from the kitchen, a silhouette against the blues of the windows. He had a steaming mug in hand. “Jim, you awake?” 


Jim’s eyelids fluttered, though they didn’t open. The young captain gave an airy grunt in acknowledgment. 


The doctor brushed a hand across Jim’s forehead, and his fingers teased into his hair. “Think you can sit up for me?”


This time Jim’s eyes did open, though the action seemed to have been arduous to manage. Without a word, Jim drew an elbow beneath himself, and his face pinched in strain as he struggled upright. 


The doctor grabbed Jim’s upper arm to help ease him into a sitting position, and didn’t withdraw his hand until Jim was settled against the couch’s cushions. “Drink this, would you?” McCoy muttered, holding out the mug he had brought with him. 


Jim did as the doctor asked, and Spock was very unused to hearing so little backtalk from his captain. It was… unnatural. By all rights, it should have been a relief to receive so little fuss from Jim. But it wasn’t.


Spock did not realize how much he had come to treasure the banter Jim provided until it was no longer there.


A fiery ball of hatred for Khan flared up within Spock’s chest, a sensation that was becoming increasingly familiar with every passing day. He never should have let Jim leave his sight on that mission. Never should have left him alone with Khan.


“So, Spock,” Jim sighed into his cup, his voice low and posture hunched with weakness. He blinked sluggishly, before bringing his dulled blue eyes to lock with Spock’s gaze. “How have meetings with Starfleet been going?”


Before Spock could answer, the doctor held up a hand to keep him from talking. “Don’t answer,” McCoy whispered, his eyes never leaving Jim’s tired form. “And don’t you worry about that stuff right now, Jim. We need to talk about your seizure.”


Jim released a groaned sigh and looked away, the first Jim-like sound of annoyance that Spock had heard since arriving.


“What’s there to talk about?” Jim grumbled, setting his cup on the coffee table.


Spock did his best to act like he could not hear the way the mug rattled against the table’s surface, due to the tremors in Jim’s hands.


McCoy didn’t seem deterred by Jim’s standoff-ish attitude, and grabbed the tricorder he had left on the side table before he’d gone to get Jim something to drink. “You’ve never had one before, have you?”


Jim shook his head, barely.


“Right. So I don’t like that you’re starting a history now.” McCoy sat himself on the arm of the chair Spock was sitting in, and Spock stared in confusion at the doctor’s unexpected closeness. McCoy continued as though him being near wasn’t a strange thing. “I’ve gone over your readings, and my best guess is that it was stress induced. It’s rare, but seizures can have nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with stress.” The doctor paused, and averted his gaze to the floor. “I doubt anyone would disagree that coming back from death is stressful.”


Jim snorted, a humorless and empty sound. It didn’t suit him at all.


“So with that in mind,” McCoy continued, his tone stronger as though Jim hadn’t reacted at all. “I think it’ll be a good idea for either me or Spock to be with you at all times. I was happy to respect your wishes before and give you the space and privacy you wanted, but this changes things. If you get into another seizure while you’re on your own, or while you’re asleep…” He trailed off, before his lips tightened into something that could never be considered a smile. “Well. We can’t have that, now can we?”


Jim didn’t respond, and instead sat very still with his arms crossed tight against his chest. He was looking to the side, and every bit of his demeanor seemed to be sending the message that he didn’t want to talk.


McCoy watched him a moment longer, before sighing. “Jim, whether you like it or not, we’re gonna start staying nights here. You won’t be left alone anymore.” 


Still, Jim did not respond. Did not move. 


To see him so withdrawn… made Spock’s side ache.


And Jim’s lack of acknowledgment only seemed to agitate Doctor McCoy further. McCoy rubbed at his face, frustration clear on his features. He held up his hands in a gesture of defeat, before standing from his perch. “Ok. I’m getting your message loud and clear, Jim. Silent treatment it is.” He stepped away from the seating area and stalked towards the kitchen island, where he had left his things. “I don’t have the energy to be dealing with this right now. I’m outta here, you two are free to catch up and shit.” McCoy had his coat secured around himself, and what few things he’d brought with him back in his possession. He glanced at the back of Jim’s head, and a frown more akin to concern flit itself over his face. “Jim…”


Jim did not move, did not outwardly react whatsoever. He merely remained tight-lipped and tense. Spock was watching his face intently, but he could not tell if the shifting shine in Jim’s eyes was due to the poor light or not.


“Fine, fuck it,” McCoy muttered when it became apparent that Jim was not going to respond in the foreseeable future. 


As McCoy passed by them to head to the door, Jim’s eyes caught onto the doctor’s retreating figure. Almost imperceptibly, his gaze changed into one seeming… pained. Sorrowful.


As though… As though he did not want McCoy to leave, or was sad to see him go. But the doctor’s back was to them, and so he did not see the expression on Jim’s face.


Spock turned to watch Leonard unlock the door, as a sensation akin to sinking shivered down his skin. Jim’s relationship with the doctor really had become strained. Spock had not known either of them for very long, but he did know that they were close.


Closer to each other than anyone else. 


To see them so at odds with each other was…


It was not right. The distress festering in Spock’s lungs kindled into that same fury that was distinctly reserved for Khan and Marcus. 


Both men had manipulated Jim to the neutral zone, to the sole responsibility of countless lives, to the destruction of the Enterprise and of San Francisco, to his death. If they had never done such harm to him, if they had never burdened him with so much more weight than he already carried, if they had never left both Jim and McCoy so traumatized--


Spock drew in a deep breath as the door to the apartment closed, leaving he and Jim alone for the first time in nearly a month. To think about ifs would not be conducive to actively fixing the situation. Or, to at least alleviating  the situation.


Turning from the door, it became apparent to Spock that Jim’s expression remained locked in one of undeniable hurt. Spock weighed the option of trying to engage Jim in conversation, and ultimately decided that leaving him to himself would be the best course of action. 


If he had not been open with McCoy , chances were low that he would be open with Spock. 


A strip of sunlight appeared across the carpet for a moment, as the clouds parted outside and allowed for more gold than blue for the first time since Spock had arrived. 


It seemed he would be spending the rest of the day with Jim. He had had his luggage set to be brought to his apartment, but it occurred to him that it would be more reasonable to have it rerouted to Jim’s home. 


He had come back to San Francisco solely to spend time with Jim, after all. It would be wise to anticipate for himself to be around Jim more often than not in the coming days. 


Spock was tapping at his PADD, finalizing the steps to have his baggage rerouted, when a nearly inaudible, “I’m sorry,” reached his sensitive ears. He snapped his head up to look at Jim, his heart thudding frantically in his side.


The same expression of grief was contorting Jim’s face, and he was still staring at the door McCoy had exited out of. He blinked, then, and drew in a shallow breath. “I am sorry,” Jim whispered again. “I’m not gonna be a very good host anytime soon.”


The sincere regret in his voice made Spock’s chest squeeze, and it took an immense amount of control to keep from frowning in concern. “That is all right, Captain. I did not come here expecting anything from you. I am merely here to offer assistance where I can.”


Jim drew his gaze to Spock’s, and he… he really did look very tired. “That’s nice of you, Spock,” Jim mumbled. “But I’m gonna warn you, that-- That I’m not easy to deal with right now. I've been shit company. And there’s a good chance I’m gonna make you pissed with me, so--” The tone of his voice tightened, as though his emotions were trying to choke him, and Jim averted his gaze with a scowl. “I’m giving you an... anticipatory apology, is all. I’m sorry you’ll have to deal with me.”


Hearing Jim apologize for needing to heal, for being emotional, made Spock’s chest hurt. He was filled with regret that he could not immediately ease Jim of his pains and worries, that he could not protect his friend from all that was troubling him.


He knew that it was not McCoy’s fault for how things were faring between he and Jim, and he also knew that it wasn’t Jim’s fault.


It was Khan’s, and it was Marcus’s. 


Jim’s furious and visible self-hatred was the fault of the men that had wronged him.


“There is no need to apologize to me, Captain. I am happy to be here,” Spock assured quietly. “If you are having difficulty at this time, then it is my duty as your first officer to help you through it.”


Jim blinked at the floor a few times, before glancing at Spock. They held eye contact for a moment, until a small smile pulled at Jim’s lips. Nothing was said for a while, and another strip of sunlight traveled across the carpet and blanketed them in a soft glow of gold. 


“I’m glad you’re here, Spock,” Jim whispered.


“As am I, Captain.”






Chapter Text



Spock had not spent very much time in Jim’s apartment before. He had been there, once or twice, and always on business. 


Now, he’d spent an entire day in the man’s living space. Night had long fallen, and Jim managed to find sleep an hour or so back. 


Spock had been spending most of his time on his PADD, so as to give Jim the relative sense of privacy. But his captain had insisted that he get comfortable “while he could”. Spock was still not entirely sure what Jim had meant by that.


He was wandering through the apartment as unobtrusively as he could, so as to get an idea of the layout.


It became quickly apparent to him that Jim had very few personal items. A few decorative pieces, here or there, but nothing that really seemed to belong to Jim. There was no sense of the man’s character anywhere, which for a human was unusual. They had a tendency to turn their living spaces into reflections of themselves, but Jim, once again, was defying expectation.


Spock ran his fingers over the spine of one of the books on Jim’s shelf—the one thing in the apartment that felt well loved. He eyed the chess set sitting on the top of the shelf, and had the quiet thought that Jim’s appreciation of intellectual recreation was one of his favorite things about his captain. That was one interest the two of them had in common.


He pulled Ender’s Game from the shelf, a yellowed and worn paperback, and thumbed through the pages as carefully as though he were holding a frail flower. It appeared to be about a century old, at the least.


After a few seconds, he realized that some of the pages had been written on in pencil. The lead had grown soft and faded, its edges rounded, but it was still legible. The notes were mostly a commentary on the book’s story, and occasionally what appeared to be addresses or phone numbers. 


The handwriting… looked a little bit like Jim’s, but a tad less graceful than the man’s already wild and messy scrawl. Spock’s brows pinched together as he read a note saying “mom’s new ship = USS Nordstrom”, when it occurred to him that it really was Jim’s handwriting.


Just when he was much, much younger. A teenager, possibly. 


Spock read through some of the notes with a newfound reverence, but when his eyes glanced over what appeared to be the prices for certain drugs and where to find them, he was overcome with the sense that he was prying too deeply. He closed the pages carefully, not wanting to breach Jim’s privacy any further. 


However, as he closed it, his eyes caught on something that was written on the back of the front cover. This time it wasn’t Jim’s handwriting. He peeled the cover up slowly, tilting his head a little to read.


Keep reading, Jim. I promise it’s a good way to escape. Good stories are good for the soul.


If you ever need anything, you know where to find me. Mind your health or I’ll mind it for you.


--Christopher Pike


Spock’s heart slammed painfully in his side in a surprised stutter, and he hurriedly put the book back in its place on the shelf. His hands lingered on the book’s spine while his heart hammered away, and he had to swallow back an unexpected influx of saliva.




Knowing the book was from Pike made it feel weighted and delicate, its value suddenly and infinitely precious. Spock felt guilty for having looked.


His lungs squeezed as he stared at the worn out book, his mind torn between focusing on Jim and focusing on Pike.


He missed Pike, almost as much as he missed his own mother. He had been fond of the man. Had trusted him and his judgment.


The warmth of Pike’s blood sticking to Spock’s hand reverberated through the Vulcan’s memory, and the skin of his palm itched as though it was still clinging to the last of the man’s soul. Spock clenched his fist, in an illogical attempt to rid himself of the memory of Pike’s dying feelings. 


The fear, the pain, the shock, the overwhelming undercurrent of love.


Pike was a good man, who had cared about others unerringly. That included Spock, when so few had ever included Spock before.


Spock squeezed his hands together tighter.


Sometimes… he felt as though Pike was still with him. As though a part of the man’s very being never left him, as though the connection was never broken, as though… as though it were possible for him to hold the man’s katra. But he knew that that was not the case, being that Pike was only human. It was just… wishful thinking on Spock’s part.


Illogical and useless. 


It accomplished nothing, aside from leaving him feeling hollow and hopeful and resoundingly sad. 


Spock closed his eyes, focused on evening his breaths and emptying his mind. If this was how Pike’s death affected him, he could only imagine how Jim was feeling.


A soft whine reached Spock’s ear, and he perked up immediately. He turned to the direction of Jim’s bedroom with bated breath, straining to listen for any worrying sounds.


A whimper, barely squeezed out of a strained throat.


He strode to his captain’s room without a second thought, afraid that, perhaps, he was falling into another seizure. He opened the door without preamble, took stock of the surroundings—floor to ceiling windows, bed with its headboard against the wall, nightstands, a reading chair in the corner—and Jim writhing in jerked movements within his sheets.


Spock rushed over, his heart pounding in his side, and it was only once he reached Jim that he realized his captain wasn’t caught in the throes of a seizure—but a nightmare.


He didn’t know what to do.


Jim’s face was contorted in blatant distress, sweat was dotted across his skin, and the breathy keening sounds coming from his lips filled Spock with a desperate tension. A strained sob was wrung from Jim’s throat, and it was what finally prompted Spock to grip his captain by the shoulders.


Perhaps physical stimuli could rouse him from sleep. Spock squeezed gently, mindful not to hurt but hoping to give enough pressure to pull him from his dream. 


Jim struggled against his hold, apparently vaguely aware of being touched but still not being able to wake.


“Jim,” Spock called, resorting to auditory stimuli. He did not know what the protocol for nightmares was. “Jim, you are asleep and dreaming. It is not real.”


Jim sobbed again, as one of his arms clumsily swung up to grip Spock by the elbow, the movement so unlike Jim’s flawless body control that was usually apparent whenever the two of them sparred. He squeezed Spock’s sleeve, the grip strong even with his lack of consciousness. 


“Jim,” Spock tried again, but his captain only rolled away from his voice, his eyes squeezed shut and teeth clenched.


“Stop,” Jim whimpered, the word barely discernible among his wheezed breaths. “Stop, stop it.”


He was begging.


A shivering cascade of horror and fear crashed through Spock’s veins, as a mounting desperation to rid Jim of his troubles gripped him hard in the chest. What could he do to wake him? 


He shook Jim carefully, but even that did not seem to work. What could he do?


The memory from that morning flitted through Spock’s head, of melding shallowly with Jim’s seizing mind. It had been like trying to wade through thick fog, faintly crackling as though laced with electricity, and he had projected the thought of his own presence being a beacon—a guide—back to consciousness. It had worked then.


It should work again.


Spock crawled atop the bed to better situate himself beside his captain, and was momentarily grateful that Jim had such an unreasonably large bed. It would easily be able to fit three full grown adults.


He braced one hand against Jim’s shoulder, and carefully pressed the fingertips of his other against Jim’s meld points. He was not sure how deep into sleep Jim was, and he had no intention of going too deep himself. He just needed to go in enough to draw Jim back to himself.


“My mind to your mind,” he whispered, as Jim’s hand swung up to grip his thigh in a tight grip. “My thoughts to your thoughts.”


Unlike last time, there was no fog. There was no electricity. 


There was nothing.


No sense of life, no sense of thoughts, no stray feelings or emotions were reaching him. 


Spock envisioned himself in the space of Jim’s mind, but all he was met with was a vast darkness that seemed endless and closed all at once. He had never encountered anything like it.


Granted, he had not melded with too many when he was not merely gathering information—his most recent legitimate mind meld being that with the gorn from a few months prior. Even with that gorn unconscious, he had at least been able to retrieve some memories, some stray thoughts and emotions.


But here, with Jim… he could not feel anything. Could not even feel a trace of what would distress Jim so much in his sleep. He was vaguely aware of the warm human hand gripping his thigh, but it was distant, as though his body was currently totally separate from himself.


Spock frowned within the mind, unable to hold back such a blatant show of emotion. It did not matter. It was not as though anyone were there to see it.


Spock, acquiescing that he did not have as much experience or knowledge regarding mind melds as some other vulcans he had known, decided to think back on other accounts he had heard of.


The memory of an elder discussing mental protection, mental walls, slowly returned to him. Mental walls manifested themselves in numerous ways, and depending on the severity of the mental defenses, that would affect how a mind showed itself in a mind meld.


Occasionally, Spock recalled Jim mentioning his own mental defenses in the past. Spock did not realize that Jim had been undermining the intensity of what he was talking about.


Spock refocused his efforts in the meld, now that he knew what to look for. He had to find the walls themselves. He had to find where Jim was hiding if he wanted to wake his captain. He could not stay trapped in here forever.




Spock was standing before the manifestation of an actual mental wall, so high that he could not see the top and so far across on either side that he could not see the end. It was as though it went on forever. The thought bothered him in a way he could not explain.


Jim’s mental wall manifested itself as something made out of bricks so dark in hue they were almost black. Their visual appearance was the complete opposite of “welcoming”, and Spock couldn’t help but wonder what had driven Jim to build such tight, cold, lonely defenses.


Spock envisioned himself raising a hand to the bricks slowly. Jim, he thought aloud, hoping to pull Jim towards his own mind’s voice. 


His fingers neared the wall slowly, his movements dragging as though being pulled through a current of water. His fingertips grazed the rough, freezing bricks before him and he was taken aback by the continued lack of Jim’s presence that he could feel. He rubbed his palm across the bricks, his mind somehow perceiving a scratching sensation from them. 


How could he not sense Jim yet? 


He believed that one was supposed to be able to sense an individual even from behind their mental defenses, and the sensation of presence was supposed to increase when coming into contact with the defenses themselves. But, still, even with his mental projection of his hand pressing against Jim’s walls, Spock felt completely alone.


Jim was deeper in than he thought.


He paused to ponder. He did not want to breach Jim’s privacy, had no intention of ever doing so. If he was careful enough with his mental control, then he would conceivably be able to push a little into the defenses, just barely, to better let Jim become aware of him. To better help him.


He just had to be careful about it.


Spock laid his palm flat, and focused on the point that he touched, and pressed in just barely— and was immediately rushed by a directionless wave of Jim.


The back of his mother’s head, her blonde locks glistening in the early morning sunlight, shining around her like a halo as she stepped out the door with suitcases in both hands—


His knees scraping across the gravel driveway of their house, blood caking into the dust and tears making his hands wet, he had to find the band-aids himself because his uncle wouldn’t help him, but he was too small to reach the first aid kit without having to climb the counters and he was falling towards the hard tiles—


A stinging slap cracking across his cheek, it made him feel dizzy, and like a bad kid, like he deserved it, and his uncle was yelling and his breath smelled bad—


A teacher yelling at him for starting a fight, but he had only been defending the other kid, he wasn’t the one that started it—


His aunt, smiling at him, the light around her orange and soft and she was thanking him for helping with the dishes, his uncle never thanked him, his mom never smiled at him like that—


There were large hands raking across his body, their grip rough and unapologetic, and it hurt what they were doing to him but he told them they could, he had to let them, he needed to let them—


Chains were biting into his skin, his stomach burned, his throat was raw from screaming so much and his muscles were spasming, he was shouting as much as he could but they wouldn’t stop doing what they were doing to him, his head hurt, there was blood everywhere, some of the blood was his but some of it wasn’t, the room was dark aside from the yellowed light in the corner, there were puddles everywhere, of blood and spit and urine and someone was bringing a knife to his back, and they were pressing, digging, scraping into his body—


A loud, choked scream burst from Spock’s throat just before Jim’s fist struck him in the chest, the force of it knocking them both to the ground in a heap of blankets and limbs.


“What the fuck were you doing?!”


Spock only sat on Jim’s carpet for a few moments, unable to answer Jim’s question as reverberations of horror ricocheted within his body and mind. He was vaguely aware that he was shaking, and he brought an unsteady hand towards his side where he could still feel a knife digging, as acutely as though one were stuck in his flesh. He struggled to breathe around the ghost of pain.


He brought his eyes up to Jim’s, and he was caught off guard by how wide and vulnerable Jim’s were. Tears were brimming at the edges, threatening to fall at any moment.


Spock was overcome with a need to help Jim, to ascertain his exact current state, but he could not do so unless he talked to him. Despite how tight his own throat was, Spock forced shaken words through. “Was that all memory?”


Jim only stared at him, his entire body trembling and his fists clenched around the sheets, his posture simultaneously defensive and ready to attack. Jim’s chest was heaving with labored breaths, his complexion unnervingly pale, his irises glistening cold in the moonlight.


Spock had difficulty maintaining his own breathing through the building concern he had for his friend, and was barely keeping himself from drowning under the information he had inadvertently received. He did not understand what any of it meant, other than that it all told him Jim had been wronged.


He was not sure how old those memories were, but regardless of Jim’s age, the sort of treatment he had undergone was unacceptable. Fury was warring with sadness in Spock’s whole body, and he was doing his best to suffocate the unwarranted want to hold Jim close, to reassure him with physical contact. “Jim?”


Somehow, Jim’s face paled further, and his lips thinned together.


Was it… Was it really all memory, none of it mere dreams at all?


Did Jim only see memories when he slept?


Before he could question further, Jim suddenly shot to his feet and darted past Spock, with more fervor than Spock had seen of him since before he’d died.


Spock hurried to follow, but Jim slammed and locked the bathroom door as soon as he entered.


Spock hesitated on the other side, pressed his hand against the closed door, and was struck by the sense memory of being in the same position on the other side of Jim’s defenses. To have what was happening in real life mirror what had happened in their minds left Spock feeling uneasy and dizzy, but he kept his hand pressed to the closed door that was keeping him from Jim.


It was just like the radiation chamber.


Spock’s face distorted in distress against his meaning it to, and he quickly schooled it back into place. It would not do to lose control, not now, not as things were. He pressed his forehead to the closed door, ignored the ripples of his and Jim’s interwoven feelings of fear that were still racing through his veins.


“I am sorry,” Spock said, his own throat tightening once again. He focused on steadying his breaths. “I am sorry, Jim. I did not intend to see anything. I only wanted to wake you.”


“Oh, and you sure were fucking successful with that, weren’t you?!” Jim screamed through the door, his voice laden with barely restrained emotion.


Spock did not blame him. He had every right to be angry.


He should have anticipated for Jim’s mind to work differently than a vulcan’s—than anyone else’s. He was Jim. It should not have surprised him that Jim’s mind had been able to rush him and overtake his own defenses so quickly and efficiently. He should have been better guarded. He shouldn’t have underestimated what his captain’s mind was capable of.


“You were having a nightmare,” Spock explained. Not to defend himself, but in an attempt to help Jim understand what had happened. “I tried to release you from it.”


“All you fucking did was bring me from one to another!” Jim shouted, his voice cracking. “It doesn’t end when I wake up! The nightmare never fucking ends!” There was a pound on the other side of the door, as Jim apparently punched at it. “I mean, Jesus, what gave you the fucking right to meld with me, Spock?! What’d you think was gonna happen? Do all Spocks do this? Are you all gonna dive into someone else’s mind without any kind of warning or anything?!”


Spock pressed his other hand to the door, as guilt bloomed into a suffocating mass of frigid petals within his lungs. “It was not supposed to be a legitimate meld. I was only trying to pull you from unconsciousness.”


Spock kept from adding that it was Jim’s subconscious that had lashed out and found him, feeling unwilling to make Jim feel responsible for any of what happened. Jim could not control what his unconscious mind did, he could not help that it grabbed onto Spock’s own psyche with an intensity that left them both susceptible to a tangling of memories.


It had the ferocity of a starved animal lunging at long overdue food, desperate and scared and unyielding.


A softer thump sounded from the door, and Spock wondered if it was Jim resting his own head in the same way that Spock was. “Fuck you, Spock,” he said, voice unsteady and broken. “You fucking bastard. Fuck you for being here. I fucking hate you.”


Spock refrained from apologizing further, as he knew that Jim was unlikely to hear it in his current state. He did not take Jim’s anger personally.


Trauma had just been dragged out and intensified between their two minds, and though he was not positive, he suspected that Jim had received some of his own emotionally charged recollections. To be confronted with such emotionally trying material would leave anyone strung up, but especially someone who was already physically weak and emotionally tired.


And, based on what he had seen…


Spock believed that Jim had every reason to be upset from the yanking of memories. It was as though the clash of their minds pulled memories from deep within, like a spring of water exploding from disturbed earth—completely out of control and leaving everything drenched in its wake.


It was nobody’s fault, not really, and Spock knew that. His intentions and actions had been logical as far as helping his friend, and there was no reason for him to have anticipated the result. 


It was not his fault. But that did not mean Jim could not be mad at him. He understood why Jim was lashing out, why he was talking to him so viciously. And though it hurt, he would not let himself become defensive or upset.


“I only want to help you, Jim,” Spock told the door.


“You’ve done enough!” Jim shouted. “I want you to get the fuck out of my house!”


Hurt squeezed his heart, but Spock brushed the feeling away. “You know I cannot do that.”


“I don’t want you here,” Jim sobbed. “Leave me alone.”




“Fuck,” Jim whispered against the door, when there was another thunk—one Spock could not identify. “Fuck, it… it hurts.”


Spock’s mounting sadness quickly morphed into alert concern. He was in pain? “Are you hurt, Captain?”


Another thunk, louder this time—from the bottom of the door, as though Jim had fallen to the ground.


“Jim?” There was no response, and with his heart tightening in his side, Spock rapped a fist against the door. “Captain!”


A strained, “I’m fine, I— fuck, I’m okay,” came from the bathroom, but Jim’s voice was blatantly pained. He sounded very far from okay. Perhaps the sudden onslaught of unbidden emotional trauma was affecting his already weakened physical state worse than assumed.


With reluctant steps, Spock abandoned the locked bathroom door and instead went to find his communicator.


Jim was likely going to become more frustrated with him for this, become less likely to forgive him anytime soon, but… Spock believed that it would be in Jim’s best interest for Doctor McCoy to come back and check on his condition.


He hoped Jim would understand. Eventually.