Title: Touching the Impossible
Characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, various
Word Count: 44K+ total
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for all AOS movies and various TOS episodes, footnoted where necessary. No knowledge of TOS necessary to understand chapters, though kudos to you if you catch the references tossed in here and there.
This chapter, spoilers for Beyond, as it picks up almost right after the movie ends.
Summary: Five times Jim touched something he shouldn't have, and one time he literally couldn't touch anything at all.
The news, when it breaks, is not a surprise.
To him, at least. He's been waiting for that other steel-toed boot to drop, and honestly it's a little bit of a relief to know that it has, quite effectively. He had a couple hours of warning before it hit the holo-nets, thanks to Commodore Paris's not unsympathetic assistance, and that plus a third of the bottle containing whatever amber-hued liquid courage Bones had gifted him at the close of his birthday party has kept him relatively calm about the entire thing.
Probably a licensed therapist would just call that numbness depression or apathy or some kind of survivor's syndrome; but then again he's not sure he would even know the difference now so here's to not feeling anything for a while, hopefully. He can keep it together for a few more days; the last thing his crew (what's left of them) needs is for him to fall apart right when all of them must be the strongest.
Uhura's the first one to call, showing up on his vid-comm screen in a fluffy gray robe and slippers and gesticulating furiously with the hand not holding a coffee mug, hair flying all around her face. She probably has zero idea that halfway through the tirade she slips into speaking Tellarite, likely because no one swears like a Tellarite and sometimes there just is no Standard equivalent. He coughs awkwardly at the end and tries not to laugh when she flops back in the chair with a huff, scowling at the viewscreen as she fixes her hair into a sloppy bun.
"You do know I didn't understand a word of that, right."
"Not the point!"
He gives her a tired smile. "You need to chill, Lieutenant."
"How can you be so calm about it!"
"Because I'm basically out of anger and grief and everything else right now, Nyota. Gods. I can't even think anymore, I'm so tired." He pinches his forehead, and then jerks his head up as his door chimes. Scowling, he turns back to the screen, eyes narrowed. "Did you –"
"That better be him, I kicked him out twenty minutes ago and it doesn't take that long to walk across a damn courtyard."
"Great, that means he probably stopped and got Bones." He sighs and slaps the button on the wall to deactivate the studio's alarm system. "Come! You didn't send anyone else over here, I hope?"
"No, of course not. But it is all over the holonets, Jim." He groans, and lets his head hit the desk atop his arms as the door opens behind him. "I wouldn't count on going out for a while, if I were you. There's only so much we can do to minimize the press, much as I'd like to hack into the 'Fleet databanks. Spock had to turn our public comm-link off, it was ringing off the hook when the news hit."
"I'm sorry. And look, you do anything to get yourselves on the hot seat for this too and I will ground all of you, understood?" He tilts his head to glare at the monitor. "I'll have no martyrs among this crew, what's left of us."
She rolls her eyes, totally unfazed. "Spock, tell him that applies to him too."
"For all the good it'll do, she's right, Jim." Yeah, Bones is here, somewhere behind him. A rustling of bags indicates why they were delayed in coming up to his apartment. "Now hang up and come eat your dinner."
He swats in annoyance at the hand on his shoulder, and belatedly realizes that's Spock, not Bones, when Uhura laughs and his First edges primly out of reach to his right.
"Sorry," he says, grinning up from his still-slumped desk position.
Spock's eyebrow is far more patient than the Board had been today, and it's that which reassures him more than anything else. At least it was not his First Officer's report which was responsible for this mess. Not this time around. He'd seen Spock's reports before they went to the Board, and they were the one thing that calmed him down earlier.
"Night, Captain," Uhura says quietly, and turns off the monitor with one last look at his First. Jim still can't tell if they're back together, just friends, friends with benefits, or some weird thing in-between, but as long as they're happy it doesn't matter. He's happy for them, and happy for his command chain to not be disrupted any further.
If it still is his command chain, 48 hours from today. If it isn't, then Spock could be captain and she could be first officer, who knows.
"Jim, come on. I know you haven't eaten anything today."
"God, you are worse planetside than you are aboard ship." He hauls himself to his feet and slouches the three meters to the table, flopping into a chair with the same lack of energy. "Haven't really felt like eating much, Bones."
"Oh, come on. You know this is just a formality, Jim. They'd be idiots to take her away from you permanently."
"I hope so."
"We did discuss this eventuality, Captain," Spock interjects quietly from his left, seating himself in front of the vegetarian sushi. "I remained hopeful it would not arise."
"Unfortunately, Starfleet Command did not share that very human emotion with you, Mr. Spock." He pokes absently at a spicy tuna roll, picks a piece of rice out of it with a chopstick. "But you're right, I'm not surprised. Frankly, I'd be more surprised if they didn't court martial me."
"It's a goddamn circus is what it is," McCoy retorts hotly. "You did everything you could, Jim. Nobody could've done anything else. Even Spock's simulations proved every time the ship would've been lost with most hands."
"I wish I was that convinced, Bones." Nauseated, he shoves the plate to the side, takes a drink of water instead. "Regardless, it was still a wholesale loss of ship and two-thirds of the crew. They'd court-martial a rear admiral for that. I'm nobody special."
"I believe the one hundred seventeen crewmen rescued from Altamid under nearly impossible circumstances would strongly disagree, Captain."
He smiles down into his glass, and shoots Spock a grateful look over the rim.
"All I can say is, they'd be damn fools to do anything but pin a medal on you, Jim. Court martial, my ass."
"I didn't do anything worth a medal, Bones. I've already written commendations for those who did."
"I read 'em. We read 'em," Bones corrects, as Spock tilts his head in agreement. "And while I'm not disagreeing on most of them, 'cept all I did was fly that stupid pile of alien scrap metal, we'd still all be dead if it weren't for you, Jim. Everybody needs to remember you almost died saving Yorktown at the last second."
"Yeah, well." He rests his chin on his laced fingers, staring out at the starlit night beyond the bay windows, now forever a graveyard for so many faces, so many people he was responsible for. "Things might've been easier for most of them if I had."
The loud snap of a breaking chopstick makes him blink, and he drifts back to see Spock staring at him, and the guy's as white as the takeout container at his elbow. Before he can even think about what he said, Bones is scooting closer to him, cautiously, and leaning in with a hand on his shoulder.
"Now, look, Jim. Are you…I need you to tell me what you're thinking, okay?"
Oh. Right, that had probably not come out like he meant.
"Uh. Yeah, I didn't mean I was…no, Bones, I'm not thinking like that." He says it with as much earnest sincerity as he can muster, and sees the panic recede slightly, lurking just below the surface. "I just meant…there's never really supposed to have to be a court martial like this. Because a captain's supposed to go up with his ship, you know?"
"While poetic, that scenario is rarely necessary and certainly never preferable," Spock says severely.
"I know. I just…never mind. I'm not very good company tonight, guys. Sorry."
"We didn't come for your sparkling conversation, dumbass." Bones shoves his plate back in front of him, looking slightly less worried. "Finish that, or I'm pouring all the booze in this apartment down your sink. Spock said you meet with your lawyer at noon tomorrow and you are not gonna be hungover for that."
"I need a lawyer?"
"It would be wise, Captain. One well versed in this type of tragedy and the possible consequences for a verdict of negligence, including the possibility of higher appeal and alternative posting."
"Well aren't you a pointy-eared bundle of sunshine." McCoy smacks his First with the plasticene sushi tray lid as he passes behind them toward the kitchenette. Jim hides a laugh in his glass at the annoyed look fired at the physician's retreating back; the blunt explanation hadn't offended him in the slightest. "Don't listen to him, Jim!"
"He any good?" he asks, finally shoving the sushi roll whole into his mouth. He tries not to gag on the taste; seafood is not the best thing on an upset stomach.
Spock's eyebrow inclines an inch. "He is Vulcan," he replies primly.
A snort drifts from the kitchenette's small disposal unit.
"You guys have lawyers?"
"Obviously." Spock appropriates McCoy's chopsticks in lieu of the broken pair, seeing the man is starting on his own dish with a fork on his way back to the table. "He is a member of the ambassadorial contingent who originally traveled to meet the Enterprise here at Yorktown, to carry out the last legal matters for Ambassador Spock's estate settlement."
Jim sends up another silent prayer for the old Vulcan to find peace somewhere in the universe; no one deserved it more, surely. It makes him unaccountably sad to think of his Spock, dying alone someday. Surely the universe has some kind of karmic justice to prevent such a thing from happening twice.
"And he's willing to defend a human in a ridiculous petty Starfleet drama?" he asks aloud, incredulous. "Did you blackmail him or something, Spock?"
Spock regards him patiently over mid-air chopsticks. "Captain, he is a logical being. And, as I do, he believes that remaining alive aboard this space station to be quite reason enough to offer his services to a worthy starship captain. Even were that man not the one who less than five years ago defeated the Romulan fanatic Nero and was instrumental last year in orchestrating the protected trade routes between New Vulcan, Babel and Organia," he adds, pointedly.
Huh. He might have more friends in the galaxy than he thought. Who knew.
He tries to steal a piece of Bones's New California roll and gets stabbed with a spork for his pains.
"I don't care if you've not had a reaction since Khan, you're not chancin' anaphylactic shock over a piece of sushi. Yours is the tray without avocado, I gave 'em a whole allergy rundown."
"But if I end up in Medical, they can't court martial me, can they?"
"Technically, they can," Spock replies, pushing aside a limp piece of cucumber. "Your verbal testimony is of course primary evidence but the rest of the trial would proceed on schedule until your release since none of the following deposition would involve your direct response."
"Look, all they gotta do is get you up there on the stand, toss up Spock's simulations and the official logs, and it'll be pretty clear that there's no evidence anywhere of gross negligence or being unfit to command on your part, Jim."
He would love to be so confident. But if his personal logs get pulled in as evidence that he was mentally unfit to command…if they had some kind of data leak that left them vulnerable to attack…if he missed even one inspection or series of tests that would have caught said programming leak…if he was ten seconds late calling a decision on the Bridge that might have resulted in their being able to leave the area before the nacelles were severed…
Spock's eyes narrow. "Captain, we have discussed at length the causes and effects which transpired as a result of multiple decisions. In no way was any one of them to blame for the eventual loss of life and ship."
He swallows the chunk of tuna stuck in his throat and forces what he hopes is a reassuring smile. "So we did, Commander. And you made excellent arguments to that effect."
He just hopes that Vulcan lawyer friend of his is just as good.
The news spreads like radiation, of course, and he doesn't bother to even attempt leaving the apartment for the next two days; he can see news crews camped out on the street fifteen stories below and he has to call security on a drone that buzzes the studio window at breakfast the morning of the trial.
He gets it; Yorktown is probably boring as hell 99% of the time, and this recent fiasco is the most excitement it's seen since its construction – and, frankly, he'd rather his face be flashing all over the holo-nets than those of his dead crew, which is what was happening until this news broke. And, once the verdict is in, give it twelve hours and something else will grab the rabid public's attention and he'll be forgotten once again; it's the due process of lurid news.
He might just be okay with fading away, forgotten. Would it really be such a terrible thing, to be demoted and grounded, anyway?
Can he even be trusted behind the helm of a starship again? Should he be?
That's not something he can afford to think about, or even hint at, not if he wants to get past this thing today, and while he's pretty sure this Vulcan lawyer suspects something of the kind the dude is actually pretty decent about the whole thing, and coaches him like he's a human, not a very poor imitation of a Vulcan.
It's a little shocking, actually, until Spock wearily informs him that Stonn is, or was, one of Ambassador Spock's young protégés, who studied closely under him for the last few years and as a result is regarded as something of a radical by his peers for his unusual outlook upon the Vulcan Way.
Bless him, the old Vulcan is still looking out for him, even from beyond the grave.
Spock does not appear to particularly like Stonn – there's obviously some kind of not-quite-bad blood there, though they're civil enough – but he is at least genuine when he thanks the guy for taking on the case, just before they are separated at the door of the courtroom. Thankfully, like all Starfleet tribunals, it is closed to the public, and only his primary command crew and those needed to testify are present. No news crews, and only a few of his people.
He still feels very, very alone.
The tribunal is comprised of Commodore Paris, a Starfleet representative he's never met before and barely pays attention to, and two captains, one a seasoned veteran who looks kind enough and one a young man barely older than himself – he remembers seeing something about the guy waiting on a ship being built here on Yorktown, preparing to take her when she's finished in a year.
None of that really matters, because the tribunals are supposed to be impartial, and Paris at least has always been known for her fair judgment. Stonn looks exceptionally bored with the proceedings until Jim is called to the stand to begin his testimony, and then it's only because he knows Vulcans so well that he can see the guy is very much aware of his entire surroundings.
The computer verifies his bio-signature; chirps his name, rank, serial number, and then begins to drone out a list of his commendations and citations for bravery, blah blah blah, he hates this part of every formal briefing or introduction and usually such formality is waived because who needs to hear all that.
Commodore Paris looks their direction expectantly, and he stifles a laugh as Stonn just raises a bored eyebrow at her and lets it spin out the entire stupid list as the tribunal squirms uneasily.
He can hear that Bones has no such qualms about snickering and gets an elbow to the ribs from Uhura before the list is finished. Paris tells Stonn to go ahead in a tone dryer than Saharan sand.
Well, at least if he goes down for this, he'll be remembered.
He should have had more faith in Vulcan intermediary abilities.
"Thanks are illogical, Captain Kirk," Stonn says patiently, closing down his data-padd and glancing toward the courtroom doors as they slide open.
"Yeah, well, something tells me Ambassador Spock still said it at times so let me carry on the tradition. Lesek, Stonn. I am in your debt."
"The honor is to serve, Captain. I am gratified my presence here was of benefit to you and your crew. May I remind you of the political and local consequences for violating the privacy of a Federation representative of an endangered species," Stonn continues loudly without skipping a beat, sending the most pissed-off glare Jim's ever seen on a Vulcan at the approaching journalist who is clearly hellbent on grilling him.
He snickers as the Andorian turns the palest shade of blue and skitters away nervously into the throng, soon disappearing as his crew starts to surround them in a protective wall against any other overly adventurous onlookers.
"Though I would suggest, in future, you take better care with the communications made aboard and from the next Enterprise. Privacy is an illusion, Captain, and the most secure of facilities can be exposed by exploiting the smallest of weaknesses."
"Point taken." He runs a hand through his hair, exhaling slowly.
Those logs had been the tipping point; for a few minutes he'd really thought they might be the one thing that could destroy it all, so disapproving had the seasoned captain and 'Fleet rep been of them. It had been the official logs which had allowed Krall the information he needed to lure the Enterprise in, and Jim's personal ones which allowed the man to play on Jim's sympathies and predict his movements, know he wouldn't back out of the trap until it was too late. It was a personal violation more than anything else, though, and it makes his skin crawl thinking about it; he's not likely to make the mistake again of saying anything in a personal log he would mind having someone overhear. Does that defeat their purpose? Yes. But he’s never going to trust himself again, not after this.
No, it wasn't his fault that they'd been leaked, and personal logs could not be admissible in court as official evidence since they were just that – meant to be personal. But they did show a man doubting his own command abilities and contemplating stepping down from that position, and having that broadcast to the whole courtroom was not something he was looking forward to addressing with his command staff later.
Thankfully, as Stonn had easily pointed out, humanity is prone to talking through personal issues aloud and a contemplation of career change is in no way indicative of incapability or incompetence, merely discontent with circumstance. And, he had noted with dry humor, there are far easier ways to initiate a career change than getting one's self court-martialed, unless his knowledge of Starfleet protocol was woefully outdated.
Paris had shot Jim a pointed look at that, but of course did not bring up his application for the vice-admiral position since that was irrelevant to the case at hand. That's another photon torpedo he hasn't had time yet to launch at his unsuspecting crew, and he still has no idea what he really wants to do about it.
He probably should feel a lot happier than he does, about this verdict.
Maybe someday, when he no longer sees the fireball of his saucer section streaking across the sky every time he closes his eyes, he will.
Maybe someday, the thought of eight hundred lives depending again on his command decisions, well knowing what has happened to officers before them, won't turn his stomach and tighten his lungs.
Maybe someday, he'll be able to think of the modifications already being done on a constitution-class starship in the Yorktown shipyard, and not wonder if it will ever really feel like home.
Maybe someday, he will be able to watch his command crew, clustered together almost too closely as they laugh and make dinner plans, and not have waking nightmares of what might have been.
But until then, well.
We will do what we have always done, Jim. We will find hope in the impossible.
Why break the habit now?