He's never been able to sleep well in Medical.
Starship captains are light sleepers, as a general stereotype. You have to be; it pretty much goes with the territory of having seven-hundred-odd souls depending on your command decisions at any given time, and of knowing that at any moment you must be ready to make those life-or-death choices due to a red alert being sounded. War and politics care not for any man's sleep schedule, as the old 'Fleet saying goes. Add to that, the stress and anxiety which come hand in hand with such a position, the insanely long hours, and a hundred other minor factors, and it's a wonder he doesn't have more sleep disorders than he does. There's a reason why the 'Fleet permits its captains higher access to chemical assistance in those matters than a normal crewman has, simply out of practicality and necessity.
He's a light sleeper as a rule, has been ever since a young teenager, and that's become even lighter since taking over the Enterprise; so he hates Sickbay for that exact reason – every sniffle and cough, every beep of machinery and wheeze of adjusting sensor, they all conspire to keep him awake or awaken him every chance they can with their claustrophobia-inducing mockery. Bones always had to all but tie him down aboard ship to keep him there long enough for convalescence, because not even he knows just how much Jim hates being confined in a bio-bed.
Now, every time he closes his eyes, there's just that one lingering ounce of terror, that tiny flutter of fear somewhere deep inside, that whispers he just might not wake up again.
No human, no being, is supposed to know what that feels like: that gut-wrenching, visceral, primal fear of the unknown that still scares him so much he doesn't even care if anyone thinks it's embarrassing that he has to have a night-light left on when the Medical staff leave for the evening. It's a principle of science; no one should be living, who knows what it feels like to die.
But he does, and every time he closes his eyes there's that tiny evil voice that whispers maybe his borrowed time is up, and it'll be the last time he does close them.
So. Not exactly conducive to restful slumber.
He's worrying Bones, he knows, but there's not a whole lot he can do about it right now. Therapy can only accomplish so much, in so much time, and he's always been more of the type that his demons just have to work their way out on their own. He can only hope they do, in time for him to pass the psych evals necessary to regain captaincy of the Enterprise when her refit is done. If he doesn't, then they're dead in the water. They'll give her to Spock, or worse, someone else, and he'll be grounded indefinitely, probably a guinea pig in medical research.
It's a topic he doesn't dare think about, because he knows neither Bones or Spock or any of his crew is going to let that happen if they can help it. Whether or not he has the same ability, is yet to be seen, but half the battle's won and it's a (very slightly) comforting feeling.
Dying is a humbling experience, to say the least.
Half-past midnight in the Observation wing of Starfleet Medical HQ in New San Francisco is deathly quiet; he's one of only three patients here right now (the other two are in comas, so…yeah, poor guys aren't exactly chatty or even anywhere near his room), which is both a blessing and a curse. There's no one really to gawk at him or question him about the events that landed him here, but it also leaves the wing basically a ghost town at night, eerie and echoing and altogether just a bit creepy.
But he refused to let Bones stay here another night, as of last week; the man's going to kill himself if he keeps up this pattern, and Jim isn't a child who needs a babysitter. Unfortunately, he's not yet even able to walk on his own for more than the few steps across the room to the lavatory (thank the Privacy Gods of the universe he finally managed that at least), and as such still has to remain in Observation for at least another week.
Three months, he's been stuck here, the most disappointing and grueling months of his entire life. Everyone had been so thrilled to see him alive that first week, that it had come as something as a shock to realize a few days later, that he was going to have to relearn to do nearly everything, as every cell in his body had been basically regrown from scratch after being heavily irradiated. Nerves, muscles, everything. Miracles come at a price, and there have been days where he wished they hadn't bothered to bring him back, because the price was too painful, too embarrassing.
And that's just the physical ramifications; the psychological, the emotional? He could write an entire series of books about those. Starship captains are supposed to be made of hardier stuff than this. Fear of death is natural, is human – but fear of living? That's another ball game entirely. He's stared the Grim Spectre in the face, and the idea of taking responsibility for sending men and women to meet it now makes him sick just to think about. Assuming he'll even pass a psychological evaluation, which is a mighty big if, he's not sure he actually can take command again – or that anyone will really trust him to, his senior staff included.
There are times he thinks it might have been easier if he'd just not woken up.
He's never said that, however, because he's not a cruel man by nature, and neither Bones or Spock have yet quite lost that haunted look in their eyes, every time he stumbles, every time he takes too long to remember something he should know inside and out, every time he wakes up a little too slowly, a little too uncertain of his surroundings.
They’ll all be lucky to escape this without being required to have a whole team of shrinks on board for the five-year mission, if they do actually end up being given it and somehow all make it on board.
The darkness at the edges of his room presses with malicious eagerness at the glowing circle of light that rings his bed, kept at bay by the ridiculous loyalty and affection of a crew he doesn't deserve and won't take for granted ever again. One night, in pain and sleep-deprived, he'd mentioned something over dinner with his alpha crew about hating the fact that he went blind in the reactor chamber before the rest of his senses went completely, because he really hates darkness now.
The next morning he was abruptly woken up by an aborted shriek and his young navigator losing his balance from a small hover-step, falling directly on top of him while trying to stealthily hang a string of fairy-lights over his bed. The surprised squeak and subsequent air rushing out of his weak lungs had set off every medical alarm on the bio-bed, causing a minor uproar that ended with Chekov and Sulu being banned from the wing for twelve hours before Bones came on shift and was able to lift the restriction, laughing his head off the entire time.
Jim had insisted on the lights being put back up, which totally made the duo's day, bless their hearts; and between them and the soft white glow-ball on his bedside table that had magically appeared one day while he was napping, the room's just a tiny bit less terrifying.
The hall beyond, half-reflected and half-seen through a wide transparisteel window, is still dark and strange, lit only by dim wall-sconces to conserve power amid the eerie silence of a deserted ward. Despite knowing Medical personnel are only a corridor away and could be at his side in ten seconds with the touch of a button or any indication of distress from one of the machines, it's still a lonely feeling. The thickness of a closed door doesn't feel like protection, it feels more like a prison.
One that even when he leaves, he may never really leave completely. Demons tend to follow you, when they're rooted too deep for mere medicine to kill.
He sighs, and closes his eyes again, willing himself back to sleep for what feels like the thirtieth time tonight. The faint, muffled clicks and beeps of distant machinery, a mechanical wheeze of the wing's air filtration system, his own pulse…all sounds that thrum steady and slow in his ears.
A soft whisssssh as the door slides open, startling him into bolting upright with self-preservational instincts that even death cannot dull.
"Chill, Captain. Lights, thirty percent." The familiarity of the tone lets him relax even before the lights brighten to a warm glow, sending the shadows receding to their hiding places in the corners of the room.
"How'd you know I wasn't sleeping, anyway?"
"McCoy's a remote stalker. Are you aware he's got you on some kind of glorified baby monitor hooked up to his personal data-padd?"
He laughs. "It was easier to get him to go home if I gave medical consent, yeah. If he gets creepy about it I can always hack it, he knows it and I know it. Let him have his fun."
"You're so weird." Two drink cups deftly balanced in one hand, a bag in the other, and a bundle of datapadds under her arm, she finally makes it inside and the door shuts behind her.
"Do I want to know how you sneaked past the staff on duty?" he asks wryly, eyebrows raised as a chair is kicked across the room with very little regard for the god-awful screeching noise that resounds all the way down the corridor beyond.
"Christine's on duty tonight. And despite your colorful history she's still a friend of mine and Carol's, she's willing to look the other way as long as you don't do something stupid like trying to escape, which I won't let happen." Uhura tosses the bag in the general vicinity of his head so she has a hand free to drop the padds on the seat and move the chair into a better position. "McCoy wants her for the new Enterprise, by the way, so you'd better get busy trying to win her over."
"Look, after way too many drinks we were both in no condition to give informed consent that night. Not my finest moment, but at the time I thought we were just screwing around, not that she was under the impression we were going to like, do the dating thing. And literally everyone knows I was a moron way back then, anyway, it was like my second trimester in the Academy. Cut me some slack."
"Nope. You were a dick, you clean up your mess like a grownup. Here." He scowls, and takes the proffered drink with a huff as she plops down into the chair beside the bed. "And that vegetable wrap is mine, keep your hands off it. We don't know if you're still allergic to avocado anyway. McCoy's not finished the allergy tests on your new blood, Captain 2.0."
"Gross, you're welcome to it. Speaking of vegetarians, why are you bugging me and not your boyfriend at…almost 0100 hours?"
She looks shifty as hell, and he raises an eyebrow over top of the burger he's trying not to scarf too fast. Bones hasn't let him have anything good to eat in like a week so he's starving; Nyota knows both of them too well, bless her. He’s also full after like three bites but those three bites are so, so worth it.
"Everything okay with you two?"
"We're…taking a break. Not that it's any of your business."
"No, it's not." He chomps on a pickle with a shrug. "But you wouldn't have told me if you really cared about me knowing, so. What'd he do."
She rolls her eyes, hands him a disposawipe. "It was mutual, Kirk. Stop trying to read something into it. We both need to focus on other things right now, and his head still isn't quite on straight anyway. Probably won't be until you're out of here."
He chokes on a lettuce leaf.
"Oh, for pity's sake, stop trying to read something into it." She rolls her eyes, kicking the bed in warning. "I'm just saying. We're all a hot mess right now, and it would be pretty heartless of me to pressure him for something he's not equipped to deal with at the present time. And I'd rather not share his attention with you, no offense."
"Uh." He gulps a hard swallow of some truly ghastly iced tea, and clears his throat. "You don't think…"
"God, no. We'd be having a totally different conversation if I did. And I'd have let that idiot in the sandwich shop put avocado on your burger." She picks out a limp brown piece of what's probably supposed to be zucchini and looks at it with disgust, flicks it into the biodegradable bag. "You've got your faults, Kirk, but betraying someone's trust isn't one of them, not that I've ever seen."
"I would never. I'd transfer you both off the ship first."
"I believe you. Which is why I told him to get his head back in the game before we go any further. He was so freaked about trying to decipher the 'human relationship expectations' I had of him, when all he wanted to do was be here while you were in a coma and trying to learn how to walk again and everything, it was just sad. If I'd spent all that time bitching at him for never being around he'd have ended up hating me for it, and I'd never make him have to choose. Not after this."
He sets the burger down, appetite gone. "Uhura, I never would have wanted this to be the reason you felt you –"
"Don't flatter yourself, Kirk." She throws a fry at his head, hitting him square in the eye with deadly accuracy. Ignoring his yelp of salt-laced tears, she points the next one at him. "This isn't about you. And like I said, it's none of your business."
"God, woman, you are a menace. And gimme some of those."
"He did at least get up the nerve to ask if you wanted to head out to New Vulcan for a couple of weeks for recuperation, didn't he?"
He nods, chewing pensively.
"Something about wanting to put the old Ambassador's mind at ease, and seeing him one last time before we head out on a long mission, if we end up getting one like the rumors have it. He was being ridiculous about not wanting to leave Terra in case 'the Enterprise had need of him,'" and Jim can almost see the air-quotes as she rolls her eyes, "until I suggested he just take 'the Enterprise' with him, the idiot."
He laughs, because if he doesn't he's likely to start crying, and he never yet has done that in front of his senior staff.
"He doesn't deserve you, you know that right?"
She snorts, grinning. "I'm aware. Wouldn't hurt for you to remind him, though, while you're gone."
"Deal." He chokes down another drink, shuddering. "Where the hell did you get this stuff from, it's horrible."
"Leonard recommended the place." She eyes her own untouched drink warily. "Is it that bad?"
"Ah, Bones. That explains the sugary shuttle fuel I just drank. Blech."
"He said you weren't allowed to have soda or alcohol, so."
"And here I was hoping there was a bottle of vodka still in that bag." He sighs mournfully. "Six more nights of this, Lieutenant."
She pats his arm commiseratingly. "That's not that bad, considering how long it's been. And wasn't the original prognosis six months of complete bed rest? Not three?"
"Yeah." He grins. "Nobody counted on me being so pissed off at that estimation I was determined to cut it in half."
A brief smile. "Don't rush it. We still have four months before the Enterprise is even close to primary inspection-ready."
"Yeah." He clears his throat, picks uneasily at the remains of his sandwich.
"I don't like that look. Or that tone."
"You and me both, Lieutenant, but it's a possibility I have to consider."
"It's not. I might not even pass the final psychological evaluation in three months – and if I don't, then I'll be indefinitely grounded and the Enterprise will go to some other captain. If you're lucky they'll give her to Spock, at least."
"That's not lucky, for any of us, because he's just as likely to drop her and us like a hot potato and go become a hermit somewhere," she retorts, wadding up the sandwich wrapper with more force than necessary. "Pull yourself together, or ask for the help you need in doing it, Jim. You are not sticking us with some jackass from the recent Academy graduate pool!"
He blinks at her incredulously.
"What?" she demands, arms folded. "None of us deserve that. Get your head back in the game, because we're all screwed if you don't. This is about more than just you – you have a ship full of people who've waived a ground or mid-space posting in hopes you'll have your act together in another three months. They're counting on you, Jim."
"Then they're probably too stupid to be serving on the ship in the first place," he mutters, slugging another drink of the awful tea just to hide the fact that he can't look at her.
"As soon as you can stand upright for more than ten seconds, I'm kicking your ass for saying that."
"Yeah, okay, whatever. Look, Lieutenant –"
"Shut up." Her eyes are snapping fire, and he's just a little bit afraid she's about to quite literally turn into her not-boyfriend and choke him. "Don't you lieutenant me. My captain would never give up on his people without a fight."
"Your captain died in the Enterprise's warp core, Lieutenant!" he snaps, anger fueling the words with a venom that's been building up under the guise of inactivity and boredom and self-loathing. The fact that he knows this is going to end ugly doesn't stop him in the least. "I have no idea who this person even is anymore!"
"Apparently, neither do we!"
He laughs mirthlessly, tossing his own sandwich wrapper with a little too much force at the discard bag. "Not expecting your little science experiment to come back with an altered personality, were you?"
"Not expecting regeneration to turn you into an asshole, no. Sir." The sarcasm is more biting than his last regen drug injection had been.
"Yeah, well. The whole thing's been unexpected for all of us," he mutters, yanking the uncooperative sheet out from under his even more uncooperative legs.
"The hell is that supposed to mean?"
He looks up, annoyed. "What do you think it means? You think I went in there expecting you people to somehow come up with a miracle? I wasn't planning on waking up, Uhura. Sorry if my brain's still trying to process the fact that oh, yeah, by the way, that whole dying thing you had going on? Just kidding."
She leans forward, eyes flashing. "Seriously? How long are you going to hide behind that excuse, Kirk? Because I'm sick of hearing the man who mouthed off to the Kobayashi Maru committee take the coward's way out."
"You heard me. You're still using that crutch to sideline yourself so you don't have to captain up and get back in the game."
"This is not a game, Uhura!"
Her chair actually rolls backward a few inches at his sudden burst of vehemence, exploding like a volcano from somewhere he hadn't even realized was lying dormant, angry as molten lava under the surface storm of frustration and self-doubt.
"This is not just a game, I am not just sidelining myself for the hell of it, and I will not put other people in danger prematurely under my command just because you or any other officer on this ship thinks I should. Not now, not ever. Is that clear?"
Over his head, the blood pressure monitor is shrieking its displeasure to what sounds like the entire sector, and he reaches up without glancing at it to shut it off with probably a little too much force.
Uhura just looks at him for a moment in silence, and then leans back in the chair, one long leg crossed over the other and arms folded.
Then she starts laughing.
Okay, he's obviously losing it.
Fingers tapping absently, she smiles. "That's more like it."
He hits the alarm again because it won't shut up, and then turns back to her, still furious. "What."
"Well, that's the first time in, what, almost three months? That I've seen you look like you. You were starting to scare all of us."
"I…hang on a second." He finally punches the right button to shut off the klaxon, shoots a text-comm to Bones to let him know it was a false alarm so the man can relax and also call off the staff who are probably heading his direction, and then squirrels back down into the bed, turning his full attention on his subordinate. She's still waiting patiently in the chair beside him, looking vaguely amused by his antics. "Okay, run that by me again?"
She nudges the bed with a boot-toe. "Your staff isn't as oblivious as you seem to think, Captain. While some level of depression and self-doubt is to be expected after a traumatic event, as Leonard put it, you were starting to worry us."
"My psyche is none of your business."
"It is our business. Like I said earlier, this isn't about you," she replies calmly, with a pointed look. "You assume that chair on the Bridge, you lose the right to be selfish. We don't need a hero, Jim. We need a captain. Baggage and all."
"You have no idea what you're asking for," he murmurs, shaking his head.
"We've already asked for a miracle and gotten it. Anything else? We can deal with." She leans back, shrugging. "So. Someone had to try and shake you out of this funk you were in, and no way was I letting Spock try it, heaven only knows what he'd come up with."
"And your expert solution was to come in and do your best to piss me off?" he asks, incredulous.
"Yes," she replies dryly. "It's a strategy I learned from the best. You should know."
"Touche." He gives her a wary side-eye. "Are you saying…"
"Oh, yes, everything I said was still technically true. I will kick your ass if you don't stop this self-destruct cycle and get it together. I'll just have help doing it."
"Captain, most of your crew has already signed on for the five-year-mission. On faith that you're going to qualify. So if you don't? You're going to have over seven hundred very unhappy crewmen coming for your head."
He stares at her.
She smiles sweetly. "So don't screw this up. Comprende?"
"Man, I don't blame Spock for taking a break from you, you're damn scary when you want to be."
"You are aware that in your current condition I could very easily drown you in that lavatory, right?"