Spock's first thought upon regaining consciousness from a partial healing trance was the conjecture that Dr. McCoy had again decided to experiment upon his alien physiology with an assortment of xenospecist pain relievers, as he was rather nauseated.
His second thought, however, soon superseded the first due to its deadly importance; namely, that the ship was running on auto-pilot and a skeleton crew, and was under attack by renegade Romulan warbirds.
Also that the captain of said ship was no more than a sixteen-year-old adolescent human.
He bolted upright so quickly that the blurred figure beside his bed let out a startled squawk of surprise, and after blinking his vision clear he turned to see Dr. McCoy standing there, holding a medical scanner. One quick glance around the ward revealed no red alert lights flashing, and so he could only presume that somehow, by some miracle, the ship had been able to escape its impending destruction.
"You with us this time?" McCoy inquired, lowering the scanner with a look of satisfaction.
He raised an eyebrow in wordless question, and the man continued.
"You came to for a few seconds when we were movin' you, said something about calling Scotty to the Bridge and reversing power, but it didn't look like you were really awake," the physician informed him calmly. "Given that your heart, God knows how I was able to find it in that crazy hodgepodge y'call Vulcan anatomy, was experiencing slight arrhythmia from electrical shock and you had a nasty concussion that even your thick head couldn't bounce back from right away, that wasn't surprising."
Indeed, Spock could feel the vestiges of confusion which signified the head injury was nearly healed but not quite. Of course, the haze could simply be due to Dr. McCoy's irascible tone against his throbbing eardrums…
"All scans say you'll be fine, but I'm placin' you on light duty for two days just to be safe. Any human would be dead now if they'd been hit by that many volts," the physician continued without any hint of sarcasm, as the wrinkles between his eyes deepened.
Spock wondered irrationally why he seemed to be attracting near-fatal danger just as often with the adolescent Jim Kirk as he did when the captain was an adult. Statistically, surely it should not 'always happen to him'.
McCoy continued, rocking backward on his heels, "But thankfully, you either don't have a heart, which is my personal and unbiased opinion," he drawled with a smirk, "or it's just sturdier than a human's - wherever the darn thing is."
Spock resisted the urge to knead his temples and instead favored the doctor with his best intimidating glare. Judging from McCoy's skeptical eyebrows, he was not succeeding in looking anything other than in pain.
"You were only out for a few hours, Commander, just a light healing trance to correct your heart rhythm and recuperate. Ship's fine, by the way," the doctor added mischievously.
A cold flash of horror fluttered through him, for that should indeed have been his first question, regardless of his slight confusion. Truly, he had experienced a head injury.
"At the risk of sounding far too much like the captain after a similar experience, Doctor…what exactly happened?" he asked, leaning back with a silent sigh.
McCoy's worried face smoothed slightly into a smile. "I'll let you watch it," he said, pulling the computer monitor into place over Spock's lap and flipping the power switch. "Then, if you promise to behave, I'll let you out of here. After," he added, shoving a finger into the Vulcan's personal space, "you eat something nutritious and having more substance than that mess you call Vulcan vegetable soup. Now you sit tight and watch that, and I'll be back in a little while."
Spock looked after the retreating figure with some dismay, for he well knew McCoy's predilection for continually trying to entice him to eat twice his body weight in food (no doubt stemming from that infamous 'Southern hospitality' in which carbohydrate-laden meals were the rule and not the exception), but he eventually leaned back and pulled up the Security footage for the Bridge battle.
He hoped wryly that there was actually a Bridge to return to when their resident witch doctor decided to release him…
For a few minutes, McCoy watched with glee from the doorway as Spock's eyebrows climbed higher and higher as the battle waged on his vid-screen, until they were almost invisible under his fringe.
"Incredible, isn't it?" he asked quietly as the security footage ended and the Vulcan leaned back, looking slightly flabbergasted. "I'd swear he was himself again. Amazing what adrenaline will do to a man."
"He is certainly a man now," Spock agreed, glancing again at the screen. "I take it the rapid leap in age took its toll upon Jim's already fragile physiology?"
The physician nodded. "He's still asleep, and it's been almost seven hours," he said, automatically glancing at the neighboring cubicle. "Was showing signs of severe dehydration and malnutrition until I got a saline drip in him and a few hypos of vitamins. It'll tide his body over until he wakes up and can eat something, anyhow." McCoy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "The last reading I took an hour ago said he's almost twenty; nineteen months later than when Chapel scanned him on the Bridge. The aging trailed off and stopped about four hours into his fainting spell. I'm guessing it was one of the last few leaps he's gonna have, and that's part of the reason it was so draining to his systems. Kid's growing up literally right in front of us, Spock. "
Spock closed his still-sensitive eyes for a moment against the harsh glare of the lights. Finally he blinked, focusing again on the morose figure standing before him. "You do wish him to return to his rightful age, Doctor," he stated, not really an inquiry.
"Of course, Commander," was the slow response. "I just…am gonna miss him, that's all. You know he'll be too embarrassed to let us talk about it."
"Indeed." One eyebrow inclined slightly. "But then you do possess a considerable addition to your stores of potential blackmail material to revisit in the child's absence, do you not?"
A wide grin creased the physician's weary face. "You bet your pointed ears I do," he chuckled, relaxing for the first time in eight hours. "All right, I'm done with being the emotional human, Mr. Spock. I'm gonna go wake up our little Captain Sunshine and send him in with your dinner."
"Doctor, I assure you I am quite capable -"
"Of staying right there in that bed or I'll tell Chapel to sit on you, Mr. Spock," McCoy hollered over his shoulder at the mortified Vulcan, loud enough to be heard in his office where an equally mortified Christine Chapel was filing digital paperwork.
Whatever Spock had been expecting from the now young adult-aged Jim Kirk, it was not to see what appeared to be nervousness from the young man as he ambled reluctantly around the edge of Spock's cubicle, carefully balancing two dinner trays.
While he was still quite recognizable as the teenager he had been only that morning, the young man had in the nine or so hours since the Romulan skirmish filled out some of that youthful frame, and Spock could easily see the adult human the boy had become, serious and wise beyond his years. It was, if Spock were to be completely honest, a rather fascinating glimpse at what might have been had he met this extraordinary young man while at Starfleet Academy. Unfortunately, he had already been on his first deep space assignment aboard Pike's Enterprise by the time Kirk arrived in San Francisco, early though they both had been in respective age for their species. They had never met, and he spared one solitary, shamefully illogical thought for how less unpleasant his Academy days might have been had he but one human acquaintance who understood him as well as this brilliant young man.
Jim dropped the trays with an unceremonious clang, sending a spork skittering across the bedside table. Spock's raised eyebrow got him nothing more than a frustrated huff as the young man flopped down into the chair beside the bed and regarded him with a sour expression.
"Because you've got a crack on the head, Bones gives me a plateful of those god-awful replicated string beans," the young man announced with an air of grievous injury. "Explain to me logically, Spock, how that's remotely fair."
A faint snort from the outer ward told him that McCoy was (typically) eavesdropping to make certain they did, indeed, eat what was put before them.
His lips twitched, repressing amusement at the young man's apparent resilience; Jim looked, to all appearances, like a healthy, if a bit undernourished, adult male of the age just prior to graduating from Starfleet Academy.
"I daresay the good doctor will, as they say, make our lives miserable should we not comply, Jim," he replied with innocent commiseration. "Life experience would dictate that surrender is far preferable to being forced to undergo yet another of his nutritional diatribes."
"Yeah, well, I'm eating the brownie first and THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, BONES, I'M NOT TWELVE ANYMORE!" the young man hollered out the cubicle's opening.
Spock winced internally at the assault upon his eardrums, while simultaneously shaking his head at his prior assumption that the child had grown up. Obviously, his hypothesis had been premature.
"Right, sorry. Here's your water," Jim continued, grinning sheepishly as he handed over a cup with a lid and a ridiculously tall, highly convoluted bright pink straw. Spock regarded it silently, eyebrows raised, and debated the merits of refusing to drink from such a frivolously childish accoutrement. "Don't look at me - Bones did it!"
"That I am prepared to believe," he responded dryly, removing the lid and straw and placing the cup on his tray. "Now, Jim. I have viewed the footage from the Bridge during the recent battle against the rogue Romulan vessels, and -"
"Oh right, Admiral Cartwright said he wants a full report from you within twenty-four hours," Jim interrupted. A poor attempt not utilizing a great deal of diplomatic skill, Spock noticed, for the young man looked decidedly uneasy. "Didn't have a chance to tell you. Chekov's got the official one sketched out if you don't want to write it…"
Spock dismissed the official business with a perfunctory wave. "I am more concerned with a review of your performance, Mr. Kirk," he stated directly, and saw the young man pale further. Spock had presumed that treating the aging adolescent like a young crewman was the best approach, and it had seemed to work thus far, but now…possibly not. "Is something wrong, Jim?"
The young man muttered something unintelligible before shoving a sporkful of green beans in his mouth, obviously hoping that would relieve him of the duty of responding to the inquiry.
"I do not speak Terran vegetable, Jim," he said dryly.
Jim choked a little on a stray bean, and coughed awkwardly into his hand, eyes peering suspiciously over the top. "Sorry," he finally muttered gracelessly. "Nothing's wrong, Spock."
"Your reactions would seem to say otherwise."
His young captain poked mournfully at the replicated pork chop on his plate, dragging the spork tines through the viscous sauce.
"Are you under the impression you performed less than satisfactorily?" Spock inquired with genuine curiosity.
"I know that you were considerably more conversant than that at your age the first time around," he chided gently, and watched as the young man's pout morphed into a scowl. "Jim, your performance as acting captain was..." Spock paused, mulling over the proper words.
Jim's head jerked up in wary interest. "Was what?" he asked hesitantly.
"It was…unsurprisingly inspired," Spock finally articulated, with complete sincerity. Jim's eyes gleamed suddenly, recognizing it for the compliment most less-attuned beings would never interpret it as. Spock continued, well knowing that the next few minutes would be crucial in the child gaining the requisite self-confidence to continue the last stages of his retransformation. "While I have never doubted your ability to command, Jim, this if nothing else would serve to reinforce that conviction."
And it was true; he never had doubted Kirk's command ability, a loyalty so complete and so steadfast it had drawn attention in both Starfleet and elsewhere. And, a loyalty thoroughly deserved by the adult version of the young man sitting across from him.
Jim's apprehension dissipated like vapor in a high wind, as he relaxed and grinned from ear to ear. "Really?"
"Affirmative," he replied. "Were you in doubt?"
"Well, I mean I know it turned out okay, but still." Jim stared down at his plate for a moment, then looked up hesitantly. "I hadn't expected it to be so…"
"Natural?" Spock hazarded.
The young man snorted. "I was going to say terrifying," he responded quietly, with a wry half-smile. "I was scared to death, Spock. I'm not sure I want to go through that every time someone threatens to blow up my ship and everyone on board. What right do I have to hold so many lives in my hands? There's nothing more special about me than anyone else in the 'Fleet."
Spock set the dinner tray aside, as this required more than casual dinner conversation, and within seconds the child-version of his captain followed his example. He leaned back on the thin Sickbay pillow, choosing his words with great care.
"Jim, you – the fully-competent, adult version of the captain you will soon become – you have every right," he said seriously, watching the young man nervously hang on his words. He continued slowly. "You have earned the loyalty of your crew and command chain, earned it fairly. Ask any crewman aboard the Enterprise, and he will state the same; your crew would, if I may use Lieutenant-Commander Scott's favorite expression, follow you to the mouth of hell and back. And he is quite correct; your crew has deemed you worthy, and you are."
"I don't think so," Jim disagreed in a near-whisper. He fidgeted nervously with the hem of his tunic, twisting his fingers into the soft gold fabric. "That kind of responsibility resting on one ordinary man, that ridiculously blind loyalty from an extraordinary crew…I don't think I'll ever deserve something that valuable."
"And that, Jim," Spock replied quietly, letting the intensity of his words give weight to them, "is precisely why there is no man in the galaxy more competent to command the Enterprise than James T. Kirk. You are no ordinary man, Captain."
The young man's eyes shot up, glowing with pleasure. "You called me 'captain,'" he said, smiling.
Spock raised one eyebrow, hoping it disguised the slight flush of mortification at his slip. "I shall not make the mistake again, I assure you. As you have yet to demonstrate your ability to eat your vegetables prior to your dessert, one would never –"
"You called me caaap-tain," Jim chirped in a delirious sing-song, smirking at his discomfiture.
"Captain Kirk," the young man corrected, flashing him an impish grin. "And don't you forget it, mister."
The teasing inflection was so achingly familiar, yet so subtly wrong, that it would have made a human's heart ache.
However, being Vulcan, Spock only met McCoy's eyes over the content twenty-year-old's head and indulged in the illogical action of hope; namely, that it would not be long before what they suspected to be the ultimate and final leap of age would occur, bringing their captain back to them whole in mind and spirit as well as in body.