Dawn With No Chorus by Niobium
Summary:

A collection of microfics surrounding Star Trek Into Darkness. Every possible spoiler for Star Trek Into Darkness lies within. Seriously, things are getting spoiled.


Categories: Alternate Original Series Characters: Chekov, Pavel (Yelchin), Ensemble Cast - AOS, Kirk, James T. (Pine), McCoy, Leonard (Urban), Scott, Montgomery (Pegg), Spock (Quinto), Sulu, Hikaru (Cho), Uhura, Nyota (Saldana)
Genre: Angst, Drama, Family, Friendship, General
Warnings: Adult Language
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 12 Completed: Yes Word count: 10139 Read: 25243 Published: 02 Aug 2013 Updated: 02 Aug 2013
Story Notes:
This is a pared-down set of the drabbles, microfics, and ficlets I did on AO3 under the same title. I removed the fragmentary parts in this version, because it seemed appropriate to make it a more cohesive collection, but you can hit AO3 if you want to see all of it.

1. Chapter 1 by Niobium

2. Chapter 2 by Niobium

3. Chapter 3 by Niobium

4. Chapter 4 by Niobium

5. Chapter 5 by Niobium

6. Chapter 6 by Niobium

7. Chapter 7 by Niobium

8. Chapter 8 by Niobium

9. Chapter 9 by Niobium

10. Chapter 10 by Niobium

11. Chapter 11 by Niobium

12. Chapter 12 by Niobium

Chapter 1 by Niobium

***

Jim wakes up twice in the course of the treatment; the first time is much worse than the second. Minutes after his heart starts, he gasps awake, rigid and and to all appearances in excruciating pain. His eyes are clear and wide at first, then lose focus, and he starts to thrash. McCoy and his students dogpile Jim, sedatives and restraints at the ready, but Spock calmly steps forward, pushes McCoy's injector aside, and places one hand along the side of his friend's face just so.

The maelstrom raging inside Kirk's newly awakened mind isn't what Spock's expecting. Rage and grief and fear and loss and despair battle one another for supremacy. Pike's voice ripples through everything like heat lightning, saying, I'd like to see you do better. The grief redoubles at that, and Spoke feels his own chest tighten in response.

He waits for a gap in the billowing currents to reach out. Confusion seeps in between the other emotions at his presence, and he takes advantage of Jim's attention while he has it. You're alive. Try not to undo Dr. McCoy's hard work.

Doubt and suspicion join the confusion. They're murky and dart around like mad--why must he think so fast--but they're not the deafening, unthinking storm of before. You need to rest.

Spock's distraction lets exhaustion from the outburst overwhelm Jim, and the emotions begin to settle into more manageable patterns. He lets go and sees that Jim has collapsed back onto the bed, eyes shut and breathes deep and even. The only indication he's been awake is in the sheets, tubing, and equipment in disarray.

McCoy and the medical cadets stare at him, the later with wide eyes. Spock explains, "It made more sense to avoid using sedatives. With Khan's blood still working to repair all the damage, we can't even be sure they'd have an effect, much less the desired one."

McCoy huffs a breath, saying, "Right," then pockets his injector and waves the cadets off to do something else (another doctor who'd been hovering outside the room rounds them up and herds them away). He picks up his medical tri-corder and begins a thorough scan. After a moment, he says, "So the next time I've got an OD in here going berserk, breaking equipment and people, I'll just ring you up."

"On the contrary, doctor--that only worked because the captain and I are well acquainted." McCoy makes a low sound of amusement, and Spock wonders if the doctor realizes that he's as much an enigma to Spock as Spock is to him.

His scan finished, McCoy sends the readings to a wall monitor and goes to examine them. Spock joins him, and they consider the data in silence. Presently, Spock asks, "Was a coma what you expected?"

"I didn't really have expectations. I've never resurrected a guy who's died from massive radiation exposure." McCoy doesn't sound as sardonic as usual. He pages through the data and charts. "But I'm not surprised. There's a lot to repair, and medically induced comas have plenty of precedence in treating illness and significant injury that endangers conscious patients." He turns back to look at Jim, then shakes his head. "We're in uncharted territory. All we can do is wait and manage symptoms."

Spock nods. He hadn't expected this to resolve quickly, and tells himself he's not disappointed. "You'll tell me when the coma ends?"

"Of course."

"Thank you, doctor."

Chapter 2 by Niobium

***

While he's always had some hazy notions of what to expect when dying (and proceeded to miss them by a mile), he's never bothered to consider resurrection. Lacking any preconceived ideas, he finds the experience strange and unsettling, and not only due to what he himself goes through.

The return comes and goes quickly: one moment, he's in agony and his grip on consciousness is slipping and every light in his world winks out; the next, he's being dragged relentlessly out and up through a morass of memory and thought and emotion and pain, and startles awake on a hospital bed.

He's drugged to the gills; the sedation and the reality of being alive sit on him like a lead weight, clogging up his thoughts. McCoy looks satisfied with his results, claiming Jim was only a 'little' dead. He seems exasperated, too, maybe because if Jim Kirk can have his devil-may-care cake and eat it too, what's to stop him (or God forbid, anyone else) from doing even crazier things? (Everything that follows for the next three months, it turns out, is quite effective at making Jim think twice about partaking of that cake anymore.)

Spock is unreadable. That's not new, but the mask of stoicism is deliberate and forced, and that is new. Jim's fragmented memories of the end aren't very clear, yet he's sure there's explanations to be had in them if he bothers to look closely. He decides he will at some point, but right now being awake is a pretty major task all on its own, and McCoy clearly has no intentions of letting him stop at 'being alive'.

The last thing Jim expects of resurrection is for it to involve forced walking around the room with Spock as a make-shift crutch. McCoy wastes no time, though; Kirk is back in the waking world for only a few hours before the doctor has him on his feet. "Your muscles and nerves are brand new. It's like Khan's blood regrew everything," McCoy explains as Jim takes some very hesitant steps. It's not just his muscles that feel new; everything from his eyes to his feet is wobbly and untested and unreliable in the worst ways. As Spock guides him in a circuit of the bed, McCoy talks on. "They're really pliable. You need to get them strengthened back up while they're fresh. We'll have to work on your motor coordination, too. Get new muscle memory built in. And until your bone marrow's back, I've got you on shots for a temporary immune system. I've gotta warn you--they're pretty awful. But not as awful as dying of intergalactic flu." McCoy isn't exaggerating; the shots are teeth-grittingly painful and almost always make him nauseated and dizzy for several minutes after they're administered.

Another thing he doesn't expect are the black outs. McCoy does, though, and reassures Jim they won't get worse and will stop in short order. He's coping with nerve regrowth, and the rerouting is complicated by how quickly Khan's blood has laid down fresh tissue. His brain has some catching up to do.

If he expects these episodes or not, Spock seems unperturbed by them. For his part, Jim is relieved when they stop happening a month later, because each time the world dissolves under a tidal wave of black and red and orange, his body goes cold, and he tastes the metallic flavor of blood in his mouth (he always checks afterwards and it's always his imagination). Terror grips him like a vise, and for several long seconds he's sure he's imagined it all and these have just been the last wild thoughts of a man dying on the floor of a reactor core containment chamber.

And each time, the roaring in his head recedes and he comes back to himself in a tilting hospital room with Spock or McCoy sitting him back on the bed. They're both unflappable in the face of it (sometimes he thinks Spock's jaw looks set), which is good because Jim has to spend several minutes collecting himself each time.

Later, under the influence of McCoy's amazing painkillers, Jim tells Spock that there's no such thing as dying 'a little', and definitely not under those kinds of circumstances; it's horrible no matter how you slice it.

"In that case, can I suggest you not try it again, captain," Spock says. He sounds so serious, Jim wonders if it's the sedatives messing with his hearing. He laughs, trying to get enough words together to assure Spock he thinks that's a fantastic idea, and somewhere in the process falls blissfully asleep. (Much later McCoy reveals that Spock watches over him for that entire first night, taking rest only in brief periods of meditation.)

He forms new expectations, and hopes they won't be so far off the mark.

Chapter 3 by Niobium

***

He toys with an almost-empty pilsner glass, tilting it at the base and turning it from the rim. Finally, he spits it out. "Look, Spock--I'm sorry about what I said. You know, when...in engineering."

Spock looks confused. "Sorry about it?"

"When I said I'd done what I thought you would do, I didn't mean--" He'd rehearsed his end of this conversation for weeks, and now none of it would come to mind. "I wasn't getting back at you for the volcano. Or anything like that."

Spock's expression clears. "Captain, please be assured, I didn't think that's what you meant."

He feels something in his chest loosen. "Okay. Good. Because I wasn't trying to make it worse."

Spock raises one eyebrow. "Short of failing to come back in one piece so McCoy's treatment would work, I'm not sure how you could have, nor do I wish to consider the possibility."

There's a succinct note of 'I am never going to think about that' in his voice that Jim is positive he's never heard, and since it's his own death at issue, he drops that subject like a hot rock and forges on to another. "Right. Okay." He drains his beer. "So are you and Uhura still fighting?"

Spock doesn't look interested in discussing that topic either.

***

"You know, any time we're not in front of an Admiral, you can call me Jim. That's something you're allowed to do. Not just when you forget to call me captain."

"I wouldn't want to suggest impropriety, captain."

"I am explicitly saying you can do it, so it's not against protocol."

"There are a number of things you give anyone, most notably yourself, leeway to do, but that does not mean--"

"Your future-self does it all the time and you don't, what the hell is that about?"

Spock has the deceny to look abashed. Has he noticed that too? Jim thinks he has. "The Ambassador was quite familiar with the James Kirk he knew in his time, captain, it only makes--"

"Jim. Just, Jim."

Spock stops and studies him for several seconds. Finally, speaking like the name is a fragile thing he's afraid to mishandle, he agrees, "...Jim."

"There. See? Was that so hard?"

"Harder than you think."

Jim rolls his eyes and waves his glass for another round.

***

Chapter 4 by Niobium

***

On the fifth night, he develops a massive fever.

Nyota's been visiting in the evening, ostensibly because she's busy, though in reality it's because she wants to be able to vent at Jim without prying eyes. (And the fact that he can't interrupt her with his ridiculous excuses takes some of the edge off of how rattled she's feeling.)

"You have to make it through this," she informs him the first night. "You didn't see what he was like when he thought you were dead. And if after all of this you die anyways, he's going to be devastated, and it would be just like you to leave me to clean up after your damned mess, but you don't get to do that this time." She manages not to cry through considerable effort.

By the third night she has most of her irritation at him off her chest and is down to updating him on what's going on. It's almost soothing to sit there and talk at him, relating her own version of events.

It's his fifth night in a coma and she's well into telling him the story of how difficult it was to get the Enterprise back to being space-worthy and docked to Starfleet 6 when one of the monitors chips.

"So, Spock gives Sulu the bridge, and goes down to engineering to..." The formerly green numbers reading various vitals have turned yellow. Out in the hall, she hears someone approach, and one of McCoy's attendings comes in. She's an Orion, short for her people and with a boyish haircut.

"Did he move or wake up?" she asks, pulling out a tri-corder. Nyota shakes her head, and the doctor--her coat identifies her as Nabara--starts a scan. Once it's done, she frowns at what the readouts on the wall display, sighs, and calls over her shoulder, "Mattie. Wake him up."

Nyota leans down to hiss at Jim, "Don't you dare."

***

By the time McCoy arrives the readouts have various orange warning labels on them. He's working on what Nyota is positive isn't his first cup of coffee. He nods at her and goes to examine the results of the last scan while Dr. Nabara starts a fresh one. During it, she glances up at Nyota.

"Ma'am, you might want to wait out in the hall."

"No, it's fine," McCoy says, his eyes still on the data. Dr. Nabara looks to him, then Nyota, then nods and goes back to her tri-corder.

In truth, Nyota's not sure if she should stay. Normally she'd be home by now, and she's certain that once Spock returns from the Enterprise, if he doesn't find her there, he'll know why.

Kirk's temperature readout turns red. Even with her limited medical knowledge, the number puts Nyota's teeth on edge. McCoy curses and tells Nabara, "Get the kit," and she sends what data she's collected to the computer before hurrying out the door.

"What's happening?"

"His BP's up, he's got a hell of a fever, and his heart's pounding." He adjusts settings on the various instruments that feed Jim a steady stream of whatever's necessary. "The fever's the bad part, considering he doesn't even have an immune system of his own, and the shots are engineered to prevent this kind of thing."

Nyota takes a breath to steady herself. They'd known this would be, at best, a shot in the dark. "Khan's blood?"

"Could be. Or could be something else. Infection, maybe." Dr. Nabara returns with the 'kit' in question: a blue, hard-sided case with medical labeling in numerous alien languages. After translating a few, Nyota determines it's to help combat the fever. McCoy draws a blood sample and trades it to Nabara for a vial of something clear and sluggish.

"What do you do if this doesn't work?" Nyota asks as McCoy loads the solution into an injector.

"We get a little more old school," he gives Kirk the shot and watches the monitors, "and put him in cryo."

***

A full cryo tube doesn't turn out to be necessary; instead, they make due with a liner. Though the kit's various solutions prevent the fever from going up, McCoy's not happy with where it's hovering, and when Kirk's vitals don't improve further they pull out a white and silver bag and slide it around him. They zip it to mid-chest, hook it up to a line set into the wall, and in a handful of minutes are rewarded with a few ticks down in his temperature and a less nerve-wracking pulse. Out of the corner of her eye Nyota sees Dr. Nabara sigh with evident relief.

Spock shows up shortly after that. The warnings are still orange, and McCoy is staring hard at the lab results. The doctor's posture says he knows who's just come in the room, yet he doesn't turn around, maybe to let Spock assess the situation (and Kirk, face flushed and sweating, lying in a casing not unlike the one he'd laid in, dead, just under a week ago).

Nyota moves to stand next to Spock and takes his hand. He holds it tight for several seconds, then lets go. "Have you isolated the cause of the fever, doctor?"

"Reaction between our miracle serum and the immune boosters," McCoy replies, tapping a few graphs and data tables so they'll blow up larger. There's cellular images as well, with green and blue arrows pointing out items of interest; Spock's eyes flick here and there as he studies the micrographs, picking out a variety of details. Presently Spock nods at him, and McCoy gathers up the tables, images, and some notes he's made with a gesture on the wall's surface, saying, "Biotech'll have to mix up something custom." He taps a handful of panels, and the lab order flickers, then displays a blocky, bold 'Sent' message before shrinking into a corner of the screen. "They should be able to get it to us by tomorrow morning." McCoy pauses, glances out the window, then corrects himself. "*This* morning."

"If I can be of assistance, doctor, I would be glad to do so."

McCoy turns around and folds his arms. "Because you don't have a thousand other things to do. Have you even slept in the last three days?"

"I could ask the same of you."

McCoy gives Spock a more sour, surly look than usual. Nyota touches Spock's shoulder, and he glances back at her, then to McCoy. "I only mean, doctor, that I am well aware all of Starfleet's staff is stretched thin. If the molecular biotechnology officers could make use of my help, I am glad to give it."

A staring contest ensues, and Nyota waits in silence, because this sort of thing was always inevitable. As one of the few Commander-or-better officers still alive, Spock is needed in every avenue. Pulling him from those duties so he can see to something specific to Kirk isn't fair to the rest of Starfleet, and as a doctor, that's the very sort of thing McCoy would be keenly aware of.

McCoy gives in first with a sigh, and shakes his head, muttering something unflattering under his breath. "Talk to Jan Reddy, he's the one heading up that team right now. I'll tell him to expect you." McCoy downs the last of his coffee. "And don't be a jackass at them just because it's about Jim."

Spock blinks at McCoy, surprised, then recovers his composure. "Thank you doctor."

"Yeah yeah." McCoy gives the instruments a black look, then heads out of the room just as Dr. Nabara comes in. "Wake me when it's ready," he tells her, and she nods, then he disappears down the hall.

Spock watches Kirk for a short time, then turns to Nyota. "You should go home and rest."

She raises an eyebrow at him, knowing her expression alone will explain what she thinks of that. His mouth forms a thin line, but she's unwavering, and he gives up in short order. (She suspects it's because he doesn't mind the thought of someone being there.) He takes her hand and squeezes it, then kisses her on the forehead. She smiles at him, which he returns with a softer expression than he's shown in days, and quits the room at a ground-eating pace.

When Dr. Nabara steps out for a moment, Nyota leans down to Kirk once more and says, "Nice try."

Chapter 5 by Niobium

***

Everyone else is relieved Kirk's alive, and truth be told, so is he, but his first time seeing the captain in the hospital begins with, "You're a goddamned asshole, you know that?"

Kirk blinks at him, then grimaces and otherwise stays silent. Scotty takes this as leave to keep going. His keeps his voice at a conversational level so as not to summon any unwanted interlopers, wishing all the while he could shout at the top of his lungs. "You just, mug me, and get yourself killed fixing the warp core, and leave me there to explain things to Spock? You should've seen him! I've never been so scared in my damned life. And then, and then, Chekov and I have to put you in one of those goddamned bags." He's shaking, so he gets out his flask and has a sip. Much better. "And take you to McCoy--Christ, he's the one who's known you the longest, that was completely horrible. And then everyone staring at you there in sickbay. Just--you're a selfish prick, is what you are." With all of it out, he feels exhausted, and throws himself into the chair next to Kirk's bed. "You've no idea how long I've been waiting to tell you this." As an afterthought, he adds, "Captain."

Kirk's reply is a strained, quiet, and rough, "Sorry."

Scotty finally looks at him. He's alive, though clearly in no shape to leave the hospital. He also seems embarassed and humble, and the later isn't something Scotty's seen much of from the captain.

"Are you really?" Scotty demands. "Actually?"

"I'm not sorry I did it." Oh, there's the Kirk he knows so well. Scotty can feel his anger flaring back up until Kirk continues with, "I'm sorry I put us and the ship in a position so that it even came up. I'm sorry I let those torpedos on booard. And I'm sorry the only way to save the crew was to put you through that."

Scotty lets Kirk stew while he thinks that olive branch over. He finds he's much too tired to stay mad, and at least Kirk understands the real causes of his death (which is to say, rampant stupidity in the face of Marcus' duplicity), so he sags further into the chair. "Just, for the love of God, if you ever try anything like that again, I'll make certain Spock's there to stop you, and you know he'll break your damned legs if that's what it takes."

Kirk looks away; outside the hospital, the view-dominating wreckage of the Vengeance is slowly being torn down and sorted into various scrap piles. "Yeah," he says, his voice low and distracted.

Scotty stares at him hard. "I mean it. You shoulda seen him."

Kirk gives another nod, and though he doesn't reply he does meet Scotty's eyes. Satisfied by the chastened look in them, Scotty has another drink, and Kirk's gaze falls on the the flask. He looks back up and raises his brows at Scotty in a silent question.

You have got to be kidding me, Scotty thinks, though he's not sure why he should be the least bit surprised that Jim Kirk has died and returned from the dead still every inch Jim Kirk.

He sighs, leans over to check the hall, then passes Kirk the flask. The captain's hand has a slight tremor, but he takes the swig and hands it back without spilling a drop. Capping and stowing the flask in his jacket, Scotty mutters, "If McCoy or Spock catch me giving you this, it's my legs that'll get broken."

"Mum's the word."

"You bet your ass it is. Captain. Also, I'll tell them you ordered me to do it."

Kirk clears his throat. "Right. So. How's the ship?"

Scotty groans. "You don't want to know. But since you asked."

Chapter 6 by Niobium

***

Pavel hasn't kept a precise list of the horrible things he wants to never do, but helping Chief Engineer Scott load his captain into a radiation-absorbent casualty liner was definitely near the top.

He flees sickbay for engineering as quickly as he can without drawing attention. On the way he formulates the convenient fiction that it's because the ship is barely functional, and thankfully never has to put it to use. (He soon recognizes that he's not the only member of the Enterprise's crew functioning on an autopilot mode grounded in emotional shock, yet that brings him no comfort.)

There's plenty to do, and Pavel throws himself into it. The adrenaline of his own imminent death is slow to wear off; as it does, he feels like a towel that's been wrung too tight. He makes a good dent in the work that's facing engineering, though; hands off a few things, clears up others, and identifies possible solutions for outstanding ones.

Just as he's thinking he might have earned some rest, Mr. Scott finds him and tells him the impossible story of the captain's return to the world of the living. He's too ragged to feel the relief he knows is there, but he makes an effort, and it's enough for Mr. Scott (who also isn't effusive, and later Pavel will wonder about that). They go over the status of engineering and what remains to be done and what order to do it in. When Pavel slips into Russian for the third time without realizing it, the Chief orders him to go to sleep, and of all the orders anyone has ever given Pavel it's one of the easiest to follow.

***

It takes them nearly a week to get the Enterprise docked to Starfleet 6, at which point Mr. Scott stops putting off the unavoidable task of powering down the warp core so they can replace it. (Starfleet wants the Enterprise back up and running as fast as possible, and repairs would take much longer that a full replacement. The Chief uses it as an excuse to get an upgrade for the ship.) Pavel's noticed the Chief doesn't relish the idea of being around the old core, so he offers to be on the team.

The first session is the worst, because there's still tiny spots of blood in the outer chamber, on the glass and the wall. Pavel cleans it up the second he notices it; out of the corner of his eye, he sees a stricken look flicker over the Chief's face before he clears his throat and starts issuing orders. Pavel is proud that his hands don't shake the whole time they're at work.

He hears a variety of stories from other engineers: the Vengeance destroying a large portion of San Francisco, the Commander chasing Khan down in the resulting ruins, the captain's successful return to life. He keeps his mind on the work, though, since what lurks outside the focus needed to repair the ship isn't something he's ready to face.

***

A week later, he finds himself working with Mr. Scott on the final plans for installing the new core when the Chief Engineer says, out of the blue, "You know none of it's your fault, or anything, right?"

Pavel freezes, and feels his breath come short. He tells himself it's fine, everything's going to be fine, then can't stop himself from blurting out, "I--can't help but think, sir, that if I'd just been able to--"

"No, son, just--look." The Chief steers him to a seat on the steps leading to the warp core and drops into place beside him. (Pavel sees, at this proximity, that Mr. Scott is battling much more than mere physical exhaustion.) "There's only room to blame three people for everything that happened, and those seats are currently occupied by Admiral Marcus, Khan, and the captain himself. You'll have to unpack your bags for this guilt trip. The shuttle's full up."

Pavel swallows and looks down at the floor, toying with his communicator. "Maybe if--"

"No. No maybes, not buts, no ifs. What got the captain killed was horrible people doing horrible things and some incredibly pig-headed decisions." Mr. Scott looks away, his expression bleak. "Not all of them the captain's, when you get down to it."

Pavel feels confusion replace some of his self-doubt. "Sir?"

"I mean, me, *my* decision to quit. I could've--I could've stayed on the ship and figured something out. I don't know, maybe engaged in some creative excuse-making and mutiny to get the torpedos off-loaded when the captain wasn't looking." The Chief shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. "I put you in a horrible position, Pavel. For which I apologize."

"Sir, you don't need to apologize."

"I rather think I do," Mr. Scott gently assures him. "Trust me, you did the absolute best you could in a completely fucked situation. Maybe better than I would have, and definitely not any worse. Anyone who says otherwise can answer to me, and the captain now that he's back in the waking world."

Pavel flings himself at the opportunity for a subject change. "Is he doing well, sir?"

"Well enough for me to give him a piece of my mind." Pavel is sure his horror is clear on his face, but the Chief looks unashamed, proud even. "Oh, he had it coming, after what he put all of us through. Plus, he's still pretty sedated, so I doubt he'll even remember a word I said."

Pavel blinks a handful of times, unable to conjure an image of anyone yelling at the captain. (Usually it's the captain doing the yelling at the commander, who is only ever placid and stoic in the face of it.) He says the first thing that comes to mind, since that's easy, and easy is about all he has the mental energy for. "I accept your apology, sir. And, if you could teach me more about engineering, maybe next time it will not go so bad."

"Good Lord, there'd better bloody well not be a next time," the Chief says, throwing his head back to stare at the ceiling. "But with that madman still our captain you're right, there probably will. You've got yourself a deal."

Pavel manages a weak smile. "Thank you, sir."

"Oh, don't go thanking me yet--the first opportunity I get, I'm leaving it all to you again so I can have some shore leave and get well and truly plastered."

His smile strengthens and feels more genuine. "Of course, sir."

When they return to the warp core installation, Pavel feels less afraid to think about the previous three weeks and where he fits into them.

Chapter 7 by Niobium
Author's Notes:
I went with 'Gaila died in ST2009' for this one, but in general I think she made it and have written such elsewhere. I didn't really feel like changing this one, though.

***

"He can be so infuriating." Nyota is well aware that she's preaching to the choir, but after two glasses of wine that's what she needs to do. The wonderful thing about Spock is he doesn't mind one bit. "Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to have to work so hard at something, while someone like him doesn't have to expend a single ounce of effort?"

Spock looks up from his tablet raises an eyebrow at her.

"In our engineering and math classes, he'd do some of his assignments an hour before class. Or during another class, and still get good marks in that class too. Meanwhile Gaila," her voice doesn't crack on saying her former roommate's name, thankfully, "and I'd be up half the night trying to work out those proofs and warp diagrams." She sighs again and shakes her head. "So much comes naturally to him. I don't think he really knows what it's like to not be able to do something. Even the basic linguistics classes, the ones everyone has to take? He had good scores in those too."

"Yet the captain can only speak two languages."

"Three."

Spock frowns. "Three?"

"He can speak Latin. His parents made him learn it, something about religion when he was a kid."

Spock blinks at her, and Nyota shrugs, so he amends his assessment to, "Two living languages, one dead. A good deal fewer than you in either case. The captain will not be able to converse with Klingons, probably at any point in his career, with the fluency and idiomatic comprehension you can, Nyota. That is an invaluable skill."

She finds Spock's compliment soothes her a little, and admits, "I guess it's at least as good as being able to understand Scotty's reports."

"To be sure, the captain is very talented. And so are you." Spock surveys one of said reports. "And one can argue that things coming too easily to someone sets that person up for failure when they inevitably are faced with something which is truly difficult for them."

Nyota watches him, certain she can see strain in his features. "Well. Maybe he's learned a lesson or two from...all of this," she says, and tops off Spock's glass.

He meets her eyes, then takes a sip of the wine. "Perhaps."

She gives him a dry look. "That sounded like 'if he didn't, I'll beat one into him'."

"Regulations would label such an act as insubordination at best, and mutiny at worst."

"And yet I think you'd do it anyways."

"Let us hope I am never faced with such a possibility."

She's been joking, mostly, but now she knows he's not. She reaches across the table and takes one of his hands, giving it a gentle squeeze. He stops reading the report and looks up at her, and she can see he's worried this isn't the last time something like this will happen. She says, "If we ever are? I get first dibs."

Her support seems to ease some of his concern, and one corner of his mouth quirks in a suppressed smile. "I believe you will have to take that up with numerous other members of the crew."

She laughs, and has another drink of wine.

Chapter 8 by Niobium

***

Spock isn't winded at all, damn him, but Jim sits down, groans, then proceeds to lay out on the cool grass, staring up at the sky. Overhead the summer sun comes and goes between busy thunderheads, keeping him just warm enough to be comfortable. It takes him at least a minute to catch his breath, which is better, though not better enough for him.

He sees, out of the corner of his eye, Spock take a seat on the grass as well. "That was a slight improvement over yesterday, captain. Dr. McCoy will be pleased with your progress."

"I'm not pleased."

"This is a remarkable recovery for new musculature and nerves. I would advise you to not set expectations you cannot hope to meet. Emotional stress is as much a factor as physical in human recovery."

Jim knows Spock is right, and this is just his own grumpiness at how long the entire process of coming back to life is taking. "Well, when you're getting used to a re-grown body, I'll make sure to tell you that."

"Should I ever find myself in such a position, I would be grateful to have you remind me of such things."

Jim can't help himself; he cracks up. He doesn't know why the idea of him being the one to tell Spock to take it easy and not push himself has him in near hysterics, yet finds himself powerless to stop the laughter. And then his chest tightens and his laughter threatens to turn into something else, something a lot more out of place given that he's physically improving and alive when he should be dead, and he finds himself saying, "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you." It leaves him breathless, but at least he's got it out, and the laughing's stopped.

When there's no reply forthcoming, Jim lifts his head. Although Spock is looking out at the Bay with an air of forced detachment, his eyes glance to Jim for a second. After numerous false starts, he says, "I am sorry, captain, that I was unable to convince you."

"I'm not sure how much harder you could've tried. I wasn't exactly listening."

"There were steps I could have taken."

"Steps? Like what, like--having Bones drug me and locking me up in medical, those kinds of steps?"

"Among others."

"You're not actually trying to apologize to me for not leading a mutiny, are you?" Jim doesn't wait for a response; he rolls his eyes and lets his head fall to the ground. "Spock, if there is a single person in the whole galaxy who doesn't need to apologize to me for anything for the rest of my life, it's you." He pauses to consider that. "I guess it's more like a few hundred people who don't, with you right at the top of the list."

Now Spock does face him, and before he can respond, Jim levers himself up and reiterates, "I'm not letting you apologize to me for not doing something that goes against everything that you think is right. That's insane. So, don't try."

Either Jim is getting better at reading Spock, or Spock's not trying very hard (and maybe the difference isn't worth quibbling about), because he can see a variety of things pass over his friend's features before that calm, stoic demeanor goes back into place. "As you wish, captain."

"Jim."

"...Jim."

Jim flops back onto the grass. "And if this kind of thing does happen to you, it's not going to just be jogging and laps in the pool. There'll be push-ups. Maybe pull-ups. Stair-climbing."

"Are you trying to dissuade me or convince me?"

"Which one will work?"

"Possibly neither."

Jim blows out a breath. "I'll just get Uhura to help me."

Spock gives him a look that Jim has come to associate with accusations of cheating. Jim just smiles in return.

The next day, the physical therapist has him doing pull-ups.

Chapter 9 by Niobium

***

"It's fine, it's fine, I've gotcha," McCoy is saying. Jim struggles to process what's happened as the sounds of explosions and the ship falling from the sky and engineering sirens merge into a dull roar that gives way to the sound of his own blood throbbing in his head. His mottled black and red vision clears, and he comes to himself sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, dragging each breath in and out.

He shudders as a chill passes through him. "That can stop any damned day now," he says, running a shaking hand over his face.

"It will," McCoy assures Jim as he takes readings and watches the wall display. "That's the first one you've had all day."

"Yeah." At a pause in McCoy's proceedings, Jim has a drink from his waterglass to wash the imagined taste of blood from his mouth; unfortunately, his hand proves unequal to the task of setting it back down. McCoy is just in time to catch it. "Dammit," Jim mutters, working his fingers.

"Hey." The sharpness in McCoy's tone draws Jim's attention, and he finds the doctor's eyes to be every bit as hard as his voice. "Go easy on yourself. You've been awake for a whole week."

Jim sighs and looks elsewhere, nodding in agreement. He reminds himself that no matter how drained the blackouts leave him, they're not a setback.

McCoy leans in with yet another device and starts running it along Jim's skull. Jim watches the numbers and graphs and lines that have become part of his life change colors in response to what they find, and says, "You shouldn't be spending all your time on me."

"Oh, I'm not. Why do you think I've got Spock and Nabara in here torturing you so much? I have important things to do, most of them not involving my friend the madman who fixes warp cores with his bare hands."

"I kicked it back into place."

"Whatever." The scanner chirps when it slides across Jim's neck. "CNS function's up. That's good. Probably also why you passed out."

"Passing out's good now?"

"Look who's a comedian." McCoy sets the scanner aside and pulls out the injector Jim has come to dread the most: steel gray, labeled with his name in Spock's neat, precise handwriting, and filled with a viscous, cloudy solution. "Ready?"

"No." He takes a deep breath, lets it out, then nods. As always, the shot is painful in the extreme, and his free hand grips the side of the bed so hard his knuckles go white. It's fast, though, and once it's done the throbbing sensation that radiates along his arm fades quickly. (The first time McCoy and Spock had needed to hold him down; his nerves were so new they were overreacting to the slightest stimuli, Spock told him.)

Jim moves to lay back on the bed without bothering to ask for permission, and McCoy helps him get into place. "When does my bone marrow finish growing back?" he asks for what feels like the fifteenth time. The nausea and dizziness from the shot are already clawing at him.

"Another week. After that, we can start tapering the dose. It shouldn't hurt so much then."

"A week," Jim echoes. As McCoy puts things away and checks the equipment strewn around the bed, Jim says, "Thanks for doing this."

"You're not gonna be thanking me once we get your physical therapy started."

Jim laughs, but he's so winded it comes out weak and voiceless. "No, I mean--I mean thanks for being the one who does it."

McCoy goes still, looking at Jim with a gaunt expression the likes of which he's only seen a handful of times. "You really think I'd leave you to someone else?"

Jim glances towards the wall for a distraction. "I think you have plenty of reasons to."

McCoy snorts and sits down on the edge of the bed, crossing his arms. "Maybe. Or maybe I'm enjoying torturing you with horrible shots and want to make the most of it."

Jim's eyes meet his. "Even if you are. Thank you."

McCoy grunts. "You wanna thank me? No more running into warp cores without a radiation suit."

"I was thinking of aiming for 'listen to your Commander and Chief Medical Officer'." His voice is a murmur.

"That's probably more thanks than I deserve." Dizzy as he is, Jim's certain he see a vulnerable look on McCoy's face for a handful of seconds. Then the doctor is clearing his throat and standing up. "But I'll take it, since I did resurrect you and all."

"You had help."

"A little." McCoy turns for the door. "Get some rest. Nabara'll be in to take you on a tour of the deck in couple of hours. You can have some lunch after that."

"Broth and pudding and jello?"

"Do well enough on your walk and you might get a thin soup."

Jim doesn't bother to mask his sarcasm. "Sounds delicious."

McCoy rolls his eyes at him and quits the room. Once the nausea fades, a nap steals over Jim, blessedly dreamless and calm.

Chapter 10 by Niobium

***

"You know what one of the most amazing parts of a five-year mission would be?"

"Surveying and exploring solar systems and planets that have, until now, only been detected with long-range sensors?"

Jim sighs and swipes at his tablet. "Less of these."

Now that Jim is awake several hours at a stretch, he's restless and hard to contain. McCoy is sure the escape attempts will begin any day now, so Spock came up with a simple solution: bury Jim in captainly duties.

'These' are the several hundred reports and briefs he has to fill out or read and pass judgment on. They've backed up to enormous proportions while he was in the coma, and although Spock could have done them all, he'd known in advance that (were Jim to pull through) this time would come. They're the perfect sort of busy-work to occupy him.

Spock is pleased to see Jim isn't evading them, though is certain the reason isn't just because Spock is sitting right there, managing the downstream effects of Jim's decisions. (He suspects it's related to conversations Pike and the captain had just prior to the Admiral's death, which makes Spock feel a little guilty over his chosen tactic, but not enough to not go forward with it.)

"Do they really expect me to be able to describe the interior of the Vengeance in this kind of detail?" Jim taps here and there before swiping again. "Scotty's doing that one. I'll double check his before its submitted."

Spock nods and shuttles the request in question to Mr. Scott.

"And this one about the ship's diagnostics before we fell out of warp, Chekov can do that." A few briefs later, Jim says, "Half of these just need to be done by somebody else."

"Captain Okoro told me once the most important skill a captain could possess was knowing the correct person to which they should delegate a task."

"Yeah, well, careful, or I'm gonna delegate the rest of these to you."

"That would be an option."

Jim glances up and narrows his eyes at Spock, maybe trying to figure out if he's joking, then goes back to the next form. "No, it's fine. I need something to do that's not your girlfriend beating my ass at every two-person card-game in the galaxy. She's a shark, by the way, don't ever play her for anything except candy or paperclips."

"I can only assume that there is a human idiomatic expression relating skill at cardgames with Selachii species, and not that you believe Nyota to be an actual cartilaginous oceanic apex predator."

Jim chokes on a laugh. Spock knows what it looks like when the captain is withholding a joke.

"Yes," Jim manages, and clears his throat. "I meant that she's good at cards." He rubs his eyes. "This would be a lot easier over a beer."

"As Dr. McCoy has strict orders regarding your consumption of alcohol, would tea be an acceptable alternative?"

Jim's initially sullen expression gives way to one of gratitude. "Yeah, thanks."

On his way out of the room, Spock pauses in the doorway to look back over his shoulder; Jim is back to making faces at his tablet and muttering, "Seriously?" while jabbing at the screen.

Spock allows himself a small, private smile on his way to the cafeteria.

Chapter 11 by Niobium
Author's Notes:
I highly recommend checking out articles on the Lawrence Livermore National Ignition Facility, where a lot of the STID Enterprise's interiors were filmed: http://lasers.llnl.gov/

***

On his first day back aboard the Enterprise, he forces himself to go to Engineering.

He's some time in working up to it, stalling with a tour of the bridge to check out the sensor enhancements, a look at medbay to see if Bones' new equipment is installed (no), and a quiet minute in his quarters going through some of his things. By then he has to admit that he's avoiding the very thing he came up to the ship to do, and so steels himself and makes the walk.

With the Enterprise functioning entirely on Starfleet 6's power, only the most essential personnel are present, and large portions of the ship sit dark and empty. This leaves her quiet compared to what he's used to as captain, and it's more than a little unnerving. He thinks of the painful silence that haunted the Academy's halls after the Nerada, the crater in London where the Kelvin Memorial Library once stood, and the charred corpse of the Vengeance lying in the ashen grave it carved out of San Francisco, and worries that loss is now a staple of Starfleet's diet.

Though he's intentionally neglected his rank shirt, numerous crew members pause to give him a nod or formal greeting. He keeps his acknowledgements low-key, since he's not here to scrutinize anyone except himself. Sometimes he can feel them staring after him with wariness and wonder in equal measure, and he resolves to try and put them at ease. He's still Jim Kirk and still their captain. Mostly.

Engineering is the one place with some life to it. The old reactor has been gutted and the new one is being tested and prepped for its first firing. While he doesn't know the intimate differences between them, he thinks he can spot one now and again as he meanders through the labyrinth of tanks and conduits and focusing bays. (Scotty's report comparing the two is somewhere around the bottom third of the slowly diminishing queue of reports on his tablet; he makes a mental note to bump it to the top.)

The core's exterior hasn't changed much. The beam path aggregators are narrower and the walls aren't so croweded, but the overall configuration is how he's always known it: a tear-drop shaped chamber with the pointed, lower half dropping beneath the floor, its blue shell coated in housings and wiring, and ringed by a long, white chamber with a solid glass door at one end.

Despite the core sitting quiet and inert, the door is shut and locked to anyone lacking authorization. He wonders if that's his fault, and his mouth twitches at a flash of black humor laced with irony; the captain's override code allows access to anywhere on the ship. He doesn't open it, though; he just looks down into the hallway that he lately crawled through, dying.

Sometimes he thinks he can remember things between when he lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital bed, but they're not the kind of memories that surface under scrutiny. They wait for moments of distraction and lurk in the corners of his mind's eye until he's least ready for them, and any time he recognizes one for what it is, he becomes less certain he wants to know the rest. (The roar of an icy, alien river closing over his head while something screams; a vision of himself on the other side of the glass door and Spock being the one to die; the gray dust of Tarsus IV getting under his fingernails as he and Kevin pry open another array control tower in a desparate bid to survive; the Ambassador's crushing grief at the loss of Vulcan; the sound of his mother crying in another room.) The process of coming back has smashed him apart and rearranged and compacted the resulting pieces, like spacedust gathering up to form something new.

He stares at the glass door for a long time, trying to figure out what Pike would want him to learn from all of it. He's so focused inward that he doesn't know someone's there until he hears a familiar voice say, "Captain?"

Jim turns to find Sulu standing behind him, holding a large bin of parts. "Mr. Sulu."

"It's good to see you back on board, sir." Sulu's eyes flick to the chamber door, and Jim murmurs an apology and steps clear, reaching over to punch in his authorization code into the panel out of habit. By the time he has the last number in he can feel his heart pounding. The readout switches from red to green, followed by the loud, metallic clank of the lock bolts sliding back and then the smooth shhh of the door opening.

Jim realizes he should say something. "Good to be back on board." He ignores the cold sweat that's broken out along his back. As Sulu moves into the chamber, Jim finds he can't follow; his breath catches in his throat and he feels rooted to the spot. The hallway is a bottomless cave yawning before him, holding only pain and death and regret. Then he hears Spock's voice in his mind asserting that any comparison involving caves is flawed in numerous ways, and exasperation at his First Officer's imagined critique propels him across the threshhold.

Small victory aside, it takes a good deal of willpower to keep his voice from shaking. "Volunteering with the engineering crew?"

If Sulu notices any of this, he doesn't show it. (This is something Jim has always appreciated about Sulu; he knows when not to push.) "Yes sir. It's not often you get an opporunity to help install a new warp core." At the back of the corridor a panel sits open into a mass of pipes and cables. Sulu sets his bin down beneath it and stats taking things out.

"No it's not." Jim stops some distance short of Sulu, in front of the core access hatch. Being in the corridor is enough, he knows that it is, except for all the ways it's not, and so he enters his code and opens that door too.

Behind him he hears Sulu stop what he's doing and stand up. The helmsman doesn't say anything, and Jim steps up to the ledge.

It's a very different view without the blue glare of the functional core; the running lights cast harsh, angular shadows and leave large portions in darkness behind the bulk of the projectors and their bundles of cabling. The interior has only subtle changes: the projector braces are heavier, and there's proper stairs and ladders bolted into the smooth, concave sides. Otherwise it's the same.

Sulu moves to stand next to him, looking into the dim space. "How did you do it, sir?" His voice is hushed, like their talking might awaken the core and compell it to finish its handiwork.

"I braced myself against the top housing," he points at the railing, "and kicked the bottom back into place."

"You kicked it, sir?"

"Kind of jumped on it, really. It's heavier than it looks."

Sulu's laugh is small and quiet, and out of the corner of his eye Jim sees a look of 'you are completely insane' cross the his features. "Isn't this the sort of thing we could use robotic arms for, sir?"

Jim considers the idea. There's been discussion of some contingency measures, but most of those measures have focused on preventing the deadly fix rather than actually making a safe way to do it. "I like that," he says, and gives Sulu an appraising look. "One of your secondaries was robotics, wasn't it?"

"Yes sir."

Jim nods. "If you've got the time for it, I'll tell Mr. Scott and Mr. Chekov to find you."

Sulu looks nervous and excited. "Absolutely, sir. Thank you."

"I'm the one who should be thanking you for keeping her from falling," Jim says. "A functioning warp core's not worth much to a ship without a good pilot. So, thank you."

Sulu's reply is less automatic this time. "Yes sir."

Jim turns away from the dark room, and is glad it doesn't feel like turning his back on a treacherous enemy. "Anything I can help you out with here? The shuttle doesn't head back for another couple of hours."

Sulu hesitates, then says, "I could use help testing the actuators on the beam aligners, sir. There's an awful lot of them between here and the generators, and every one of them needs to be checked."

Jim kneels down and pulls a tri-corder and tablet out of the bin of supplies. "At your service, Mr. Sulu."

Chapter 12 by Niobium
Author's Notes:
Since there's not a lot of canon about Pike's personal life (and certainly not in the AOS movies themselves), I made some stuff up. Apologies if it is completely out there like Pluto.

***

He's playing Hearts with Uhura when the young woman knocks on the door frame to his room. She can't be much older than mid-twenties, with olive-toned skin, wiry black hair pulled into an elaborate braid that trails down her back, and a short, curvy body she's still growing into. With Uhura sitting right there the only thing Jim does is stare at the visitor (he can feel Uhura giving him a 'don't even think about it' look).

"Lieutenant, Captain. I'm sorry, I hope I'm not interrupting."

"Ah, no, not at all," Jim says. "Come in." She has a small bundle tucked under one of her arms, something flat and rectangular and wrapped in a plain, linen bag.

"Thank you." After crossing the threshold, she pauses, teetering on the edge of something. Then she says, "Sir, ma'am, my name is Amanda. Amanda Pike."

Jim feels the entire room lurch sideways. He sets his cards down (because otherwise he's going to drop them) and takes a second to gather his scattered thoughts. Next to him, Uhura is getting up and saying, "Maybe I should--"

"No, no. It's okay." Jim holds out his arm in a plea for her to stay, and she stops, half-risen, studying him. She sits back down, and he asks Amanda, "If that's alright?" He feels breathless all of a sudden.

Amanda's expression clouds with understanding and something else he can't name. "It's fine."

"Well in that case, I'm Nyota Uhura."

"Very nice to meet you, ma'am."

"Likewise, Amanda."

There's an awkward pause where Amanda hesitates, then she brings the bag up. "We, um, they read dad's will, the other day." Her voice gets a little rough. "And he left you some things."

Jim swallows and reminds himself that it's been weeks now, and is disappointed that it doesn't ease the lump in his throat. Amanda comes around the opposite side of the bed from Uhura and pulls a plain, white, padded envelope out of the bag, maybe a foot in length and half that wide, and offers it to Jim. It's not very heavy, and when he takes it, he can see his hands are shaking now.

Jim clears his throat. "Thank you," he says, focusing on a convenient place on the bed until he can get himself under control. When he looks up at Amanda again, he can see how grief has left its mark on her too, though she manages a small smile.

"He always wanted us to meet you," she says, and that seems to give her new strength. "So, please--don't be a stranger."

"I won't."

She nods to them and leaves, and Jim finds himself gripping the corners of his bed like it's a life raft. He's terrified to look inside the envelope.

Next to him, Uhura gently touches his arm, and he forces himself to relax and take a deep breath. "I didn't know he had children," she's saying, eyes on Amanda's retreating form.

"Adopted," Jim says. "Two of them. A boy and a girl. He said she works with computers. His son's a scientist. In South America somewhere, I think." He realizes he doesn't feel like he's going to rattle apart, and is in that moment sure he can't be more grateful for Uhura's presence. "He never gave up on me," he says, relieved it comes out without the added pain of thinking on how his mother and stepfather had. "I never thanked him for that."

"Yes you did." He looks askance at her, and Uhura explains, "You got through the academy, and were made captain of a starship. I think that's the kind of thanks he would have wanted." Her eyes indicate he shouldn't bother arguing this point, so he just nods and looks away. Uhura sighs and rubs his arm.

"How about I get us something to drink."

"Sure."

On her way out, Uhura pauses in the doorway. "You should take her up on that offer."

Jim blinks and leaves off his assessment of their abandoned game of Hearts. (He was about to lose, quite pathetically.) While in the past he would've answered her with whatever came to mind that had a chance of evading the conversation, now he finds himself saying, "Yeah. I think I will," and meaning it.

She gives him a small smile and leaves to fetch them tea.

***

Later, after Uhura has gone home and his mug sits empty, Jim considers the envelope. Exhaustion is encroaching, and he could leave this until morning, except he's afraid then he'll never be able to, and Pike deserves much better from him than that.

Inside is an orange velvet bag, faded and worn bare in some places, and inside that is a small collection of items: a pale, curling, glass and sand tube about the length of his hand that Jim recognizes as a fulgurite; an old, stainless steel stopwatch with a black sunray dial and pearl backing on the numbers, still ticking; an intricately carved scrimshaw tooth, perhaps from a whale; and one of Pike's rank badges, sharp-edged in gold and gray and white.

He examines each gift in turn, running his fingers over them and trying to understand why Pike would have chosen to give him these in particular. He had mentioned growing up in a desert to Jim once; the fulgurite is no doubt a piece of home. The rank badge could be another challenge ('let's see you get one of these'), or maybe it's just a simple reminder of how much Pike saw in him. The watch has an inscription on the back, a bit of poetry he doesn't recognize: I saw you sink and vanish, pitiless Arcturus, you will not stay to share our lengthening night. The fact that it's in working order makes him wonder if Pike had been wearing it at Daystrom, and he stares at the numbers for several long minutes as that nightmare plays out in his head yet again. The tooth looks like a family heirloom, or at least it's old enough to be one, and accordingly he gives it the most scrutiny. Is this part of a collection dispersed to Amanda and her brother, with Pike sparing one small piece for Jim? Or is this the only one, with Jim now carrying that fragment of Pike's family history? He could have the answers to these questions, but first, he would need to reach out.

Once he's looked at everything, he takes up the fulgurite again. He grips it, letting the hard points bite at his hand. Before looking inside the old velvet bag, he'd felt like he had much more in common with Khan when it came to family, and had been worried about all the things that implied for his future. Now he's not so sure, and maybe that was Pike's real intent: to remind Jim that he wasn't just a captain with a crew and no one else to look after him and to look after in turn.

Don't be a stranger, Amanda had said.

He looks down at the bag and its gifts, and thinks maybe now he won't be.

This story archived at http://www.adastrafanfic.com/viewstory.php?sid=1665