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Against Hope

Chapter Text

It's summer. Stardate-2246. Winona Kirk stays back at Starbase 7 for the conduct of some essential experiment. As a result, Jim gets stuck at the Iowa farmhouse with his stepfather with no school and no mother to run interference.

He tries his best to remain out of sight, spending most of his time at the creek, the barn, and on rare occasions, the shipyard. The times he has to face Frank, he puts on his best behaviour. He's soft spoken, obedient, and well mannered. It works too, for half of the summer months at least. And then one day Frank loses his job. He comes in rip roaring drunk and Jim knows the minute he sees those bloodshot eyes, he's going to get it tonight. Before, Sam had acted as a shield for him. Knobby-kneed, mild mannered Jim was invisible in the face of his rash, outspoken older brother. Then, one Christmas eve Sam disappears with only the words-
"I'm never coming back"
left behind.

That night, Jim suffers from a black eye, a swollen cheekbone, two bruised ribs and something that feels like a sprained ankle. To complete the routine, he also gets locked in the attic without dinner.

This continues for another two weeks. He tries to be inconspicuous, Frank beats him, Jim begs, Frank beats him some more, Jim crawls back to his room- rinse and repeat. That is until Jim drives Frank's car over the cliff. He figures if behaving well gets him beaten too, he might as well go down flipping the bird. He will show Frank and he will show the world- nothing can tame James T. Kirk, not Frank, not his family, not even the vast unknown space where he was born.

Frank gets rougher after that, it's like he has gotten over whatever little hesitation he had over beating up Jim. The punches come faster and harder. But Jim takes them. And in return Riverside pays for it. Within one single summer, the quiet, intelligent kid turns into a wild rebel. He always has a retort ready and if not, his fist does the job. Jim even makes sure Frank gets his message loud and clear, though that does not end well for him. He feels, for a while, he can deal with anything the world throws at him. He stands at the very edge of the cliff he had driven off a car from and screams -
"BRING IT ON!"

Then Tarsus happens.

**************************************************

Stardate:2246

There is a man behind him - a guard possibly - trying to hunt him down like a rabbit. Jim's fast, always has been, but he's tired and the only thing that he's had in the last couple of days is a moldy piece of half-eaten bread. He knows the man is going to catch up to him soon and he has a moment of visceral satisfaction that he had hid the stolen things in the hollow, to be collected later when there is no danger of it being taken.

The man's just about 20 feet behind him now and gaining fast. It'd have been easier and less painful to have given up before but he has to try at least. And by God, he tries. His lungs burn from the lack of air, the winter temperature making it difficult to breathe in, he's dizzy and his feet are numb from the melted snow.

10 feet.

5 feet.

Jim closes his eyes and tries to brace himself for the impact. But when it does come, a second after his estimate, it still knocks the breath out of him. His heart jumps to his throat, his arm hurts where it is twisted behind his back, his bruised cheek stings from the snow and bile rises in his throat in anticipation of what's to come.

"Thought ya could run, eh kid?", comes a raspy voice in his ear, in a decidedly British accent.

Jim thinks he's heard him somewhere, before everything went to shit, but he's not entirely sure. His arm gets twisted even more, in the absence of an answer.

"Answer me!"

So he does. In a cold, defiant voice he sneers-
"Fuck you."

And then he waits. He waits for the man to make up his mind, he waits to figure out what category he falls in.

The chances of him being a sympathetic he's-a-poor-hungry-kid have gone out the window a long time ago. Now it's a toss up between a sadist and a perverted sadist. Personally he prefers the former. It's less painful and quicker and he's not all that eager to be naked in -5 degrees.

The hand on his back presses down instead of easing and he knows what kind of a man he's ended up with.

Jim forces himself to relax. The last time, he had been in a particularly defiant mood and he is still paying for it with a sore ass and a bloody back. He can't afford something like that again. More of that means not being able to run at full speed which in turn means hungry mouths for days.

One hand digs beneath him to get to his trouser buttons and Jim tries to block it out. He tries to encase his mind from what is coming, fills his mind with what he knows best - advanced mathematics, astrophysics and warpcore mechanics.

1.37…π=e e√1+e√1+e√1+e√1+e√…=1.37… - 2.2222/θ=1.37..
19²/θ²=1.37… θ²/19=.137…
1.37…e -1.37…=2… 12.3456789/9=1.37…

His trousers and underwear are down to his knees, he suddenly realises as his body jerks from the cold, distracting him from the equation. The man digs one knee between his thighs, settling himself more heavily on Jim. His hand drags over his back and upper thighs and Jim swallows the bile rising in his throat. Self disgust and loathing fills him. He knows this isn't right, he knows what is happening would probably get the man prosecuted in a hundred different ways in other planets but this is Tarsus and normal rules stopped applying a long time ago. And anyways this is easier than being beaten black and blue or dying like Ria'ila did, head smashed in just because he decided to steal from the wrong person. The wandering hand creeps towards his butt crack and Jim nearly sobs from the rising panic. This should be old by now, he should be used to this, he thinks desperately but no, everytime the stiffening panic closes in, making it hard to breathe.
The hand starts to delve. . .

π-1.37θ²=1.37… √e+√e+√e+/θ=1.37…
- (111111)²/9=1.37…x10⁴

Just when he thinks it's the usual run of the mill, the hand creeps to his front and the careful dam that he had created on his panic breaks. NO, he thinks. He can deal with it to some extent when the only thing he experiences is pain but not this, not when his own body betrays him. His brain tells him it's not his fault, he can't possibly control this but that makes it even worse. How can he be so depraved to actually find pleasure? He thrashes and buckles, anything to get the man off of him. He thinks that death is better than this, in fact he knows death is better than this but then that would mean he would be leaving a bunch of children unprotected, to be starved and diseased and abused. It is a paradox. It is a battle that he cannot win but has to win because the other option is not viable. He cannot give up. He hasn't had the luxury to give up in a long time. There are no no-win situations in his life simply because there can't be. Because the other outcome would be so, so much worse. And that thought breaks the haze of terror long enough for him to see that his compliance has made the man loosen his one-handed hold on him. Taking advantage of it, he buckles and throws the man off. He scrambles in the snow, knowing that its only a little while before the man regains himself from the momentary confusion. But as it is with hastily made plans, crucial details are often overlooked in the dearth of time. Jim has forgotten that his pants are down to his knees. The edge of his ratty trouser and the snow stings at his bruised knee making him lose a precious second and then it tangles up with his legs making him fall face first in the snow again. By this time, the man has recovered and is on him again like a predator on his food. This time however that man is even more brutal. He pushes Jim's face hard into the snow making him gasp in pain. The hand is back at twisting his arms again. The other digs into his hips hard enough that he feels the trickle of blood. The man straddles one of his thighs and leans down to lick the shell of his ear. He whispers-
"Next time you do this, I'll fuck you and then kill you"
That stills Jim. He doesn't heed to threats easily but this one he can't ignore. He knows that this one threat is the easiest to follow up here and die is the one thing he isn't allowed to do. He goes compliant again and the man carries on. He hears the tell tale sign of a buckle being undone. His butt cheeks are parted again and the weight comes down more heavily on him. The cock presses against the crack of his ass and then pushed inside. It hurts just as much as the first time did if not more. It was already sore before and this one tears a ragged sob from his throat. It doesn't deter him at all though, in fact his enthusiasm increases by half a dose. Jim sets about painstakingly building his barriers again. He forces himself to ignore the pain and the slap of skin against skin. He starts with a new equation, the hardest one, the one that he knows will occupy his mind. . .

0=-(ρu1"u2") dξ/dx²- (ρξ"u2") du1^/dx1 -d/x2 (ρu1"u2ξ")
+d/dx2 (μ/Sc u1" δξ/δx2 + ξ"τ1.2 -τ1'j δξ/δxj - μ/Sc δξ/δxj δμ1"/δxj

A particularly hard thrust pulls him out of the equation. He registers the pain in his ass, the pain in his bruised knee, the sticky dried blood on hip, the numbness of his twisted arms and the crick in his neck where the man's other hand has been holding him down. He pushes the physical world out of his brain again and immerses himself just in time to catch the last threads of the fading equation. . .

Φ= 0.369 π/9^ q+ñ1ζ/δu=3.6
(1.45763/θ2)+ q+ñ1 ζ/δu - (π2/δμ)ξ" (ρν"ρζñ/M2Ce) δρ'-δζ δρ/δθ

This time its the wetness that drags him out. The man grunts and groans above him and Jim feels liquid drip down his inner thighs, hot against his cold skin. The pressure against his neck and arms increases for a moment as the man slumps down in satisfaction, making Jim choke and gasp in order to take in a proper breath.

"Good boy. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?"

The pressure disappears and Jim thinks he hears the sound of a zip being done and a buckle being tied. Jim curls into himself trying to make himself disappear but clearly he fails. The very next moment a swift kick is delivered to his head that makes him see black for a moment or two. When his vision returns, the man is gone and the snow around his face is steadily turning red.

Jim pushes himself up, does his pants and drags himself towards the place where he hid the food. He could have died today, maybe he will die, given the extensive bruises he now sports. But he knows he won't, simply because he cannot afford to do so. So he does what he has always done. He survives.

**************************************************

Starfleet arrives 2 months 6 days after that, called in by Jim in a fortunate and desperate raid to the Town Hall.

Starfleet arrives 7 days after little Isa dies, screaming and writhing in pain in Jim's bony arms as the fungus ruthlessly attacked one organ after another.

The officers try to be kind and understanding but all Jim sees is pity. He does what is asked of him, answers all the questions that are asked but he's detached. He tries to feel but there's nothing, not even relief. He thinks that Tarsus took it as the final payment for survival. Likewise there is no pain as the two precious kids he's managed to save, two out of eight lives, are taken away to different ships. They are crying out and reaching for him but he doesn't move. Jim just stands and stares until the officers finally ask him to come with them.

**************************************************

Jim returns to Nowhere, Riverside, Iowa. By now the people know to avoid him. They don't know what to make of him. He changes from the victim to the perpetrator to the victim again faster that one can blink. At first Jim appreciates it. He cannot bear to come in contact with normal people and he cannot feel what they expect him to feel.

But then human urges take over. He wants to feel. The hollowness inside him is unbearable. Thick and suffocating. He tries his mother first. He hasn't seen her since she left two months after his return but he thinks she might be able to dig something out of him now, even if it is anger. But she makes excuses, tells him that she has experiments. But Jim knows it's guilt. First it had been guilt over surviving and now it's over not being there.

So he searches for other methods. He gets into a fight at school and feels something, triumph, for the first time in months. He fucks Tina Turner in a barn and that makes him feel pleasure and satisfaction. He also fucks Nate Thomas but doesn't let him fuck Jim back. He doesn't think he'll ever be ready to let go of the control or tamp down the panic that rises at the thought.

But these feelings become too much. As soon as the novelty wears off, they remind him off Tarsus, bringing back memories at a dizzying speed. Jim flails about trying to find the right balance, to be able to feel and not remember.

Then he discovers drugs and alcohol. And it turns out to be exactly what he needs. They magnify the feelings and mute out Tarsus. So he lets himself drown. His life becomes an endless parade of fights, sex, drugs and booze. It occurs to him once or twice that of all the things, he's never even come close to feeling contentment or happiness but then again, he's too far gone to stop by that time.

**************************************************

Stardate:2255

Jim gets into a fight with three Starfleet cadets. He had had every intention of quietly drinking himself to oblivion and dragging himself home. But then a girl in cadet red turns up beside him and he flirts with her out of habit. He doesn't expect anything out of it but what the heck. No harm done. But then he's interrupted by a rugged giant of a man.

The man rubs Jim in all the wrong ways. He's obviously jealous of the attention Uhura has given him and wants to assert his importance over others. He brings the memories of Tarsus too close to the surface and Jim feels his blood boil. He could have stopped himself but Starfleet has never really had a calming effect on him. So he rolls with it. Throws in punch for punch, gets high on the euphoria.

Until the other two join in from nowhere.

He's been beaten up black and blue but it isn't too bad. For a while he thinks he's had the worse for the day. And then Admiral Pike walks in, half honour, half courage, all authority. He sits down beside Jim and persuades him to join the one organisation that Jim associates with everything bad in his life. Jim laughs at him. Pike tells him that he could have his own ship in eight years. He dares Jim to do better than his father.

Well, everyone knows what Jim is like with dares.

That night he lies awake, unable to sleep. His thoughts refuse to be organised. The rational part of his brain tells him that he should refuse. Starfleet is a life of danger, a life where you just give and give. But then there's that tiny part of him, the part that suspiciously sounds like the little boy who once dreamed of spaceships and exploring stars, that tells him to take the risk. That that is where his destiny lies. That he's meant for more than this.

So the next day, he's off to San Francisco and just because he likes the look of surprise on Pike's face, he tosses a-

"Four years? I'll do it in three"

**************************************************

As it turns out, completing one of the hardest courses in the universe one year ahead of schedule is not at all easy. He does not revert to his usual routine simply because there's no time for it. The occasional drug becomes a thing of the past because the academy does routine drug tests. Booze is demoted to occasional because the pub is a half an hour walk away. Sex too becomes a once in two or three weeks thing because he has too much work to do. And Jim realises that he doesn't need them to function anymore. His brain rarely strays to the darker corners as long as it is kept occupied with astrophysics and advanced mathematics.
He tries the Kobayashi Maru twice. First time was just to see what all the fuss was about. But the loss strikes something deep and dangerous within him. After going to unimaginable extents just to survive, Jim cannot accept that there are "no-win situations" out there. It feels like a kick to the gut, as if he's being told he's overcome every obstacle in his life for nothing.

The second time yields the same results and that makes him desperate. He no longer cares what's right or wrong. He has to win. He decides to cheat. He goes to the extent of sleeping with Gaila to get the access codes. There is a twinge of guilt in his heart for that but then again, for him sex has always been a bargain chip, no different than credits.

He passes the test but the euphoria last for only a few days until he's called before a tribunal to answer for his methods. And suddenly, the vindictive voice on his head, telling him that he has no right to survive has a face and a name. Commander Spock. A vulcan with surprisingly human eyes.

Spock brings out the brutal, vengeful side of him that has no problem in tearing someone apart with bare hands. He wants to scream at the guy. What does a well born son of an ambassador know what it is like to be in a no-win situation? What does Spock know what its like to survive when survival's impossible? Jim does. His life has been nothing but one no-win situation after another.

**************************************************

Stardate-2258

Jim sneaks into the Starfleet flagship, jumps off a huge-ass drill to save a man he barely knows, watches a planet get destroyed, gets marooned on a frozen planet, meets an old and future friend, is nearly choked to death by an angry Vulcan (Oh, the irony of it), hijacks said flagship and saves earth.

All in a day's work.

Starfleet rewards him. He's commended and given command of the very ship he had so-called hijacked. They tell him he's his father's son. Jim tries hard not to snort at that. He mostly fails.

**************************************************

This new life Jim gains is probably the closest to happiness he's ever come. Yes, the Satrfleet créme de la créme weren't exactly happy with his rise to intergalactic fame but that was inconsequential out in the vastness of space. Jim has an awesome crew, teeming with some of the greatest minds in the universe, if he does say so himself. And that includes Spock too. Jim considers Spock his friend, there are some things that one can't do without gaining a certain camaraderie. But that camaraderie is one of the most precarious things in the ship. Usually they are professional with each other, working seamlessly as the command pair, other times they are achingly familiar, especially when playing chess, Jim teasing and cracking jokes and Spock raising the 'eyebrow'. But then there are also times when they can't fit together no matter how hard they try. Those times are something every member of the crew abhors. Jim shouts and screams his opinions and Spock tries to out logic him in a cold voice.

As time passes, however, the railing matches become less and less. They come to know what makes the other person tick and make the necessary adjustments. At times, Jim even gets away with imagining the great friendship they are supposed to share later on in their lives.

All in all, when Jim's lying in his bed, dead into the gamma shift, he sends out a thanks to whoever is listening for making him take Pike's offer. Maybe he'll finally heal, Jim thinks.

**************************************************

Stardate: 2259

Jim Kirk dies. Jim Kirk dies in the warp core chamber of his beloved ship, separated by a thick glass from the person, he now realises, might have become more than a friend to him one day.

**************************************************

Chapter Text

'Because you are my friend.'

He hears it repeated over and over again, echoing in the hollowness of the space he resides in. Jim knows it's a simple sentence spoken in his mother tongue but the meaning somehow escapes him. Whenever he tries to grasp them, the words slip through his fingers like sand. Neither can he remember who had spoken them. The voice belongs to someone important, he knows that but again, the information exists only at the fringes of his consciousness, there and not there at the same time.

Jim's floating somewhere. It's a blank scenery, like a canvas wiped clean. 'There should have been something there', Jim thinks time and time again. 'My life is not this unmarked page. It has blacks and reds (so much of it), and tears and scars. But there are also golds and blues. And cello tape too perhaps. Anything but nothing.'

There's a pulse of blue through the background. A vibrant shade that pulses to the beat of some foreign, unknown music for barely a second before disappearing as fast as it appeared. The blankness is here again. But it had been there. Jim can hope now. The blue (Science Blue his mind supplies) tells him it will come back. So Jim settles down and lets himself drift through the darkness, losing every semblance of time.

But then, there are more voices.

'What is it?’, it’s a male baritone too but different from the first one, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

'It’s a boy', a woman replies and Jim thinks: I know you.

'Lets call him Jim', comes the reply.

'Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives.'

'I dare you to do better.', the sentence that changed his life, for better or worse he doesn't know yet, spoken by someone whose no longer here, something tells him.

Then finally, the blue is back. Lighting up his mind, jolting his consciousness out of whatever limbo he had been trapped inside of.

'I'm scared, Spock. Help me not be. How do you choose not to feel?'

'I do not know. Right now I am failing.'

'I want you to know why I couldn't let you die. Why I went back for you.'

'Because you are my friend.'

'Because you are my friend.'

Jim comes back to life with a deep, choking breath like he's surfacing from the depths of the ocean after a century. In a sense, maybe he is. But damn, if it isn't nice to feel his chest expand.

He's considered what it feels like to die numerous times, considered different ways he could go, from mortal wounds to infections to honest-to-God hunger. Okay, so maybe that's not where he needs to go at this moment but really he's never once thought of coming back from the beyond. Even if he had, it wouldn't have been . . . this. Slowly floating into his mortal shell maybe? Angels blowing trumpets and showering him with divine flowers? This was just . . . horrendously mundane.

"Don't be so melodramatic. You were barely dead. It was the transfusion that really took its toll." Bones pops up into his sight from seemingly nowhere, the same annoyed, exasperated expression stuck on his face.

Huh. Being dead surely warrants a bit of sympathy doesn't it. But then, Jim isn't sure he's ready to accept the reality of what happened at this moment. Better pretend it's just another botched up mission. Oh wait . . . it is.

"You were out cold for two weeks."

Two weeks? That's not too long. 14 days is perfectly viable. Not too long, not too short.

Then his CMO's previous words finally register in his mind.

"Transfusion?"

"Your cells were heavily irradiated. We had no choice." Bones looks guilty.

Oh. OH. His blood chills a little at what that could mean. Khan.

"Khan?", he has to ask because that particularly unexpected bag of cats is too much for even Jim.

"Once we caught him, I synthesized a serum from his superblood." Bones looks nauseous for a second. "Tell me, are you feeling homicidal? Power mad? Despotic?"

"No more than usual." He replies 'cuz Bones has this terrified light in his eyes like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop, despite what his face says and because well. . .he isn't. Feeling all that, that is.

"How'd you catch him?" Curiosity: 2. Jim: 0

"I didn't." And he turns towards the foot of Jim's bed to reveal . . . Spock.

Okay, why the fuck are people popping out of nowhere today?

"You saved my life." Jim finally says after a frantic debate. And he means not just the catching Khan thing, but also all the other instances that had either been a result of his rotten luck or his own instincts.

He means: You saved me from myself.

And Jim thinks, from the softness in Spock's eyes, that he understands.

"Uhura and I had something to do with it, too, you know." Of course, Bones intrudes. It's his mission in life to intrude upon Jim's meaningful conversation, even when he's having them with that big lug himself.

"You saved my life, Captain." Spock words mean more than they seem too and Jim's blown away with the acknowledgement. He did not expect that. And then in the way of the emotionally malnourished he deflects. . 'And the lives...'

'Spock, just...' He interrupts because Spock is not allowed to do that, not now when Jim's still not over the novelty of breathing.

"Thank you."

And Spock understands. "You are welcome, Jim."

Spock gives a brief summary of the condition of the ship, tells him about the death of crew members (36 his subconscious screams), details the repairs and upgrades assigned to the Enterprise and excuses himself. It bothers him a bit. Spock had sounded like he was quoting a report verbatim. But Jim guesses that he's probably met his quota of emotions for the year and decides to let it go.

He kind of drifts off after that. Bones occasionally mutters and groans but he otherwise remains quite. Jim tries to sleep, probably has enough of the good stuff in him to be knocked out cold but somehow he's unable to slip into unconsciousness. He lingers in that blissful and torturous state between awake and sleeping. Aware of the various beeps and buzzes and mutterings but oblivious of the context or time.

When he's finally dragged out, it’s by a sharp pain in his neck, one he knows very well.

"Ow! Bones! Have mercy on the recently dead will you?"

"Recently dead people do not have the right to complain about hypos. And particularly those your weak, atrophied muscles are very much in need of."

"I'm fine. Seriously! You need to stop overreacting Bone-o." Jim grouches.

Bones' scowl is something fierce, one he only brings out in special occasions.

"I have watched your corpse be put in a body bag. I have committed a deed of questionable ethics just to bring you back. I have barely slept in the last 2 weeks just 'cuz your fucking self kept flat lining. So if I'm overreacting, shut your mouth and just take it."

That does shut Jim up for a while. A retort of 'No one asked you to' is on the tip of his tongue but he at least has enough self-preservation to know that's not going to end well.

Okay . . . shutting up has never really worked out for Jim. So he fiddles with the sheet, stares at the wall, the machines, the half drawn blinds and opens and closes his mouth nearly a dozen times before Bones finally lets out an exasperated but somewhat amused sigh.

"Out with it Kirk."

"Were the others effected by my . . . uh. .”

This time the amusement is clearly visible on Bones' face.

"Well, Mr. Scott was pissed off, which is kind of justified given how you punched his lights out, Uhura was a bit teary, Chekov probably sobbed in secret somewhere judging by his. . ."

"Bones."

"Oh I'm sorry. I didn't remember that 'other' clearly means a certain green-blooded, pointy eared hobgoblin."

Jim just huffs and lets his head fall back on his pillow.

"It’s just that Spock was so stiff!" Bones raises an eyebrow at him. "Not his usual stick-up-his-ass stiff! But . . . but like looking-alive-will-kill-me stiff."

Bones sighs and puts the pad he had been meddling with down at the foot of Jim's bed.

"Go easy on him kid. He . . . when you died Spock just kind of lost it, ya know. All that Vulcan teaching went out of the window. He just wanted to kill Khan, damn the consequences." Bones stops after that, seemingly lost in his own thoughts. Then after a moment he recovers and his focus is back on Jim again.

"He chased Khan through probably half of San Francisco before he . . . If Uhura hadn't beamed down when she did, he probably would have killed the man in cold blood."

It doesn't seem there's an appropriate reply to that so Jim remains quiet. Frankly he is a bit lost at the moment. Yes, Jim was Spock's friend, the man had claimed as much when he . . . well. .but what Bones described just now, Spock didn't do that kind of shit no matter how much emotional Jim suspected he was deep down.

Bones probably notices his lost expression because he looks up at the ceiling with his patented why-me look. "Get some sleep kid. Your body needs it"

**************************************************

Spock roams the halls of Starfleet aimlessly for hours. If anyone dares to ask him, he will say he is on official business, he even has the paper work to prove it but he knows the truth. He is here because this time had been set aside to be at his Captain's bedside but him gaining consciousness has nullified the necessity of Spock's vigil and hence Spock is free to do his other work. Only he finds himself unable to concentrate. So he walks. And he thinks.

As long as Jim had still been in a critical stage, Spock had not allowed himself to examine the incident closely. At least, that is what he tells himself. A voice that sounds suspiciously like his mother's tells him he is just making excuses.

Vulcans do not make excuses.

But now Jim is alright. He is awake, fully cognizant, perfectly verbal and likely to make a quick recovery. And Spock finds himself unable to keep his mind otherwise occupied. Thinking of his Captain's blue eyes brimming with life reminds him repeatedly of the same eyes being lifeless. The images flash in his mind- a glass door, a ta'al raised in a final farewell, a desperate need to just touch, to grab, absorb, keep safe, of failure and grief, so much grief, worse than losing a mother or even billions of brethren and of anger, a thirst to kill.

Spock falters in his step for a moment. Even as the image fades, he can feel the anger right there beneath the surface of his mind, ready to be unleashed at the first sign of a threat. He has not felt anything like this before. Had not thought it possible to feel this way, as if years of Vulcan training meant nothing and he was back in the barbaric, pre-Surakian times.

Even now, after weeks of meditation, he is no closer to satisfying that part of his katra. It unsettles him as nothing has done before.

And at this point, his mind seeks the comfort of home, a solace from this . . . turmoil. Before Jim's awakening there had been no opportunity of that. He was needed here. But now, he thinks he can perhaps go to the colony, calm his soul, organise his mind and if opportunity allows ask some important questions to a certain person.

Yes, he thinks. He will make the necessary arrangements with his father tonight and leave for New Vulcan within a week. The Captain will surely be in a far less critical state by then and Spock will be able to fully concentrate on himself.

When the voices of workers and the grinding of machines finally make him aware of his surroundings, he finds himself in the congregation hall, where he had once accused Jim Kirk of cheating and where that same man had been awarded his captaincy. The outer wall, with its glass panels and balconies, is in complete ruins like so much of the city, the room now opening directly into the campus grounds. The workers are cleaning up the rubble, breaking down the larger debris and transporting the smaller ones.

So much destruction, Spock thinks, just to satisfy one man's greed. But perhaps that is the way of the universe. It only takes one to destroy so many. After all, the loss Vulcan had also been the outcome of one Romulan's grief. Then again, the universe also seems to have placed the burden of preserving it on the shoulders of one man. And what capable shoulders they are, to have come through no matter the obstacle or the limitations. Even death has bowed down to the force that is Jim Kirk.

But how much longer?

Spock finds himself in a paradox of sorts. He is in wonder of his Captain's invincibility and at the same time painfully aware of his mortality, of the fragility of human life. There are innumerable ways in which this could have gone down and so many of them end with Jim Kirk as merely a name on the Starfleet Memorial Wall instead of recovering in Starfleet Medical. Merely the thought of it makes him want to react violently but his Vulcan mind controls him. He consciously pulls his mind away from that dark, convoluted mass of emotions. Not now - he tells himself.

He is about to leave the hall, has already turned around towards the corridor when a familiar voice drifts over the cacophony. Spock hesitates for a moment, finding himself strangely reluctant to participate in the conversation that is to follow, but then pushes it away to turn around again. It is his personal duty to inform her of his leave and he suddenly finds himself desperate to, as Jim often states, just get it over with.

Nyota is standing there at the very bottom, shifting through her pad and voicing orders at the workers time to time. Spock has known for quite some time that the crew are volunteering with the clean-up process. However he had been unaware of her assignment in this particular part of the academy.

Spock takes in a deep breath and starts to trek his way down the steps, moving around debris and broken chairs. Nyota does not see him until he has nearly reached her. When she does, there is moment where she freezes and stares at him with a caught expression.

Spock refrains from commenting on the behaviour and raises his hand in greeting.

"Spock." He merely waits as Nyota composes herself. "I wasn't aware that you would be on this side of the campus today."

Her voice holds a thinly veiled thread of accusation and Spock accepts it without any argument. He deserves it, he is aware of that, particularly given the fact that he has not initiated any contact with her since she had left him outside Jim's room two weeks ago. He is even aware of the times she had left messages on his comm asking for him to meet her. But he had been in a haze of anger and terror, unable to concentrate on anything other than his Captain. Hence, he had simply ignored it, put his guilt at the back of his mind and gone on with his day. Now however, he is unable to do so with Nyota's brown eyes fixed on him. So he does the one thing he can. He answers her truthfully.

"The Captain has woken up."

Nyota's eyes soften on hearing that and slowly her face breaks out in a broad smile, he now realises, he has not seen in a long while.

"Oh Spock. That is. . ." Her eyes are glistening now. "I am very happy that he is awake. He's alright though, isn't he?"

"He was his usual self when I left."

She hums at his answer, amusement clear in her voice but then the slight smile drops off and she arranges her face in an unreadable expression. It had been one of the qualities in her that had persuaded him to court her, this seemingly Vulcan trait in a terran. But now he wonders if it had been the right decision. It is, as they say, impossible to build a bridge if neither side wish to start the work.

"Was there something you required?", she asks.

"I believed it necessary to inform you in person that I will be departing for the Vulcan colony within a week."

Nyota stares at him with surprise on her face for a moment before speaking in a strangely rough voice.

"You are leaving." It was not a question.

"Temporarily. Since there is time before we are assigned our next mission, I have decided to take the opportunity to visit my father."

"And you are informing me now?", she lets out a disbelieving laugh.

"I have just decided. I have not had the opportunity to inform anyone else"

"The Captain doesn't know?"

"No."

Nyota stares at him for a moment, as if unsure of his sincerity and then says:

"Alright."

Spock nods his assent and is about to raise his hand in farewell when she continues.

"I want to meet you before you leave, Spock. We need to talk." Spock remembers Jim's murmured comment, about two months into the mission, when one of their crew members had been called away with the same words. 'Let me tell you one thing Mr. Spock. No good comes out of a conversation that begins with that.' Spock now wonders how much truth those words had held.

"I would be amiable to that."

Nyota nods once to herself and then raises her hand in the Vulcan traditional farewell.

Spock returns it and watches as Nyota turns to the right and goes over to one of the workers. He stares at her for a while, looks at the broken wall and then at the rubble. He feels as if this was the end of something. It unsettles him but he lets it go.

Turning around, he leaves the building.

*******************************************

He doesn't know what wakes him up but the room is quite except for the occasional sounds made by the machines monitoring him. He feels disorientated for a moment, unable to place himself. His skin feels clammy and he's pretty sure his hands will shake if he unfists them from his sheet. There's a drop of cold sweat rolling down his neck and there's a sour aftertaste at the back of his throat, like he's swallowed a bolt of thunder or something, not that Jim's ever done that. He knows this feeling intimately, has been familiar with it since his teens but this one feels different. Like he's still trapped in the nightmare with no way out.

The particularly loud beep from the monitor, indicating his increased heartbeat, makes him jump and the monitor lets out another series of protesting beeps. Jim tries to rein in his heart, concentrates on his breathing: in and out, in and out and the noise drops down. He waits with abated breath for someone to come to check on him but the corridor outside his room remains blissfully devoid of any footsteps. Finally, he is sure enough to breathe again.

"So they managed to save you."

Jim flinches and backs away against his pillows. It’s not much but he'll take whatever he's offered. Khan stands near the half drawn blinds of his room, his face as pale as before, almost glowing in the street lights, a sharp contrast to his black hair.

"What-"

The smile comes sharp and bright, more of a baring of teeth than anything else. Just like a predator on a hunt.

"Not expecting me were you, Captain?"

"You're . . . how? You're supposed to. . ." Jim wildly looks around the room but there's nothing he can use to defend himself.

"What? Frozen back in?", Khan sneers.

"Bones did it himself. He wouldn't make mistakes."

"Ah yes!", the sneer turns up a notch. "The Enterprise crew can do no mistakes, can they? Starfleet's best and the brightest, on a mission to save worlds."

Jim opens his mouth to . . . what he doesn't know. It turns out that it doesn't matter because Khan is isn't finished yet.

"However in this case, you are right Captain. I am indeed asleep in a cryo tube somewhere. So the question remains: why am I here? Most likely answer is that you are envisioning me."

"You. ."

"Now you might be hallucinating because I am essentially within you, in your very blood. Or is it because I strike a very familiar chord within you, Captain?"

Jim would say no but something stops him.

"We are similar creatures, are we not?”, Khan takes a step forward. “Our crew is everything to us. Without them, we are monsters. Perhaps we are monsters even with them. We will kill for them, die for them."

"I am not like you!", Jim sneers back. "You're dead but I survived. I survived."

"But you couldn't have survived without help, could you? You dragged your crew in danger and you failed to bring them out of it when it mattered Captain. You couldn't even live long enough to protect what is important to you."

"You're wrong! I. . ."

"Jim!"

Bones is standing at the door, looking rumpled and harried.

Jim looks back at the corner but there's nothing except for shadows with thin strips of street light falling on the floor. With a start, he realises that the heart monitor is screeching at full volume indicating his elevated heartbeat. The green 105 blinks on the screen in indicating his heart beat while the ECG draws a whacky, jagged line across the screen just below it. He, himself is backed away against the head of the bed, drenched in sweat and short of breath, choking on air like he's had a spar with Spock.

"I . . . he . .", he tries to explain what just happened. But here's the twist. How do you explain something that you don't understand yourself?

"Had a bad dream, huh?", Bones says, sagging against the door.

"Bones,. . .", Jim is still unable to form the words.

McCoy looks at him for a moment and something flits across his face, something Jim doesn't clearly understand.

"Why don't you go back to sleep, kid? And I'll carry on with my work right here."

Jim knows Bones was sleeping, can see it in the crease marks on his face and the way his hair is flattened on the left but right at that moment he doesn't point it out. He's not so masochistic that he wants to give dream-Khan a chance to come back and if anyone can keep him at bay, Jim knows that man is Leonard McCoy.

So Jim gingerly climbs down from his perch on his pillows and straightens his twisted sheets. Bones stares at him for a moment and then goes to his office, probably to fetch his pad. Jim reaches for the glass of water at his bedside with hands that are NOT shaking. The water just splashes out a bit because of some mild earthquake or something. He gulps down the water, all the while keeping an eye on the corner. Well, to be fair, he just imagined a mass murderer to be occupying it. But Bones comes back soon enough which relaxes Jim a bit. In the typical manner of a clinical mother-hen, Bones fusses over him, fluffs his pillows and arranges his sheets around him. And then jabs him with a hypo.

"Ow! What the fuck Bones?"

"Shut up and go to sleep Kirk. I am not equipped to deal with you at shit-o'clock in the morning."

Jim goes to sleep and if he dreams of cruel, black eyes and misaligned warp cores, well, no one needs to know about it.

Chapter Text

So the dreams? The ones where he sees tilted warpcores and cruel, black eyes? They continue. And at times, they increase to such an intensity that he's no longer sure of whether he's dreaming or has been sent back to the past to relive every second of that day. Bones says it's just PTSD. He'd died in a manner that was pretty traumatic and painful. Of course he has PTSD. It'll go away with time and medication.

Jim's not so sure about that. Jim wants to believe him, he does, but this is not exactly his first stint into the traumatic and the devastating. He even tells Bones so. Bones just gives him a frustrated huff and mutters about inefficient therapy and denial. So after a day or two of Bones trying to ring in every damn therapist Starfleet has and Jim being sleep-deprived and weak and borderline dillusional, he decides he's had enough. He's dealt with shitty situations before and he figures he can do it again. He just needs a bit of booze and drugs to ease the way. But he can't do that while he's under the watchful eye of one Doctor Leonard McCoy. And that is making him cagey and frustrated. He's been trying to keep his cool and not explode but the fact that he cannot even move his head without jumping at a shadow is probably not helping.

And that right there, is what pisses him off. He's known through out the galaxy for his fearlessness. He's Jim I-can-fucking-badmouth-a-Gorn-and-not-be-scared Kirk. And yet here he is, trembling over nightmares. Thankfully though, Khan doesn't make an appearence again. But at the same time that enrages him even more. He wants to fight him, even as his mind tells him that's not possible, to just get it over with so that this. . . this flux that he's been existing in, will just end and he can get back to his beloved ship and escape into space.

But no, apparently that's not going to happen because when has the universe ever laid the cards in Jim Kirk's favour.

Probably the only good thing in his existence at the moment is Spock. The guy visits him for an hour or two every day and sits at his bedside giving Jim a report on the progress on repairs while Jim tries to coax out gossip about the crew because don't let that marble exterior fool you, Spock knows everything about everyone. So while Spock is talking about engine modifications, Jim will speak about how Scotty looked very neat during his visit to Jim the previous day and then pout and nag at Spock until he caves in and informs Jim tersely that he suspects "Mr. Scott has been participating in social engagements."

Of course Jim leers, "Romantic or Sexual?".

And Spock glares at him and says, "Intention is not yet clear Captain." And then he proceeds with his report, staunchly ignoring Jim's further attempts at gossip.

And really those hours are what keep him hanging on for a couple more days. He does not want to disappoint Spock, cannot bear to see that old look in his face again, especially not now when this new 'thing' that he has realised about himself, quite literally at the doors of death, pulses just beneath his skin, thrumming at his fingers and making him warm. And maybe it's because he's defeated Khan for Jim before or maybe for some other deeper reason that Jim does not care to analyse, Jim does not worry about Khan when Spock's there. He does not worry about his sanity nor does he worry about his future. That is until Uhura comes to visit him.

It's been exactly four days since he has woken up and he and Spock are in a heated debate over whether the new interactive screens will be useful on the deck or not when the door to the cabin slides open and Bones strides in, with his usual frown pasted on his face. Both of them stop their discussion to stare at him and Jim thinks he probably fails to hide his annoyance at his friend.

"Got someone to see you Jim." Bones says, looking weirdly constipated for some reason.

Jim just raises his eyebrow (both of his eyebrows really because he's not as cool as Spock dammit) in question.

And as if on cue, Uhura strides in, her face set in a neutral mask. Jim is kind of shocked for a moment. He has wondered why she has not been by before but had avoided giving thought to it for reasons unknown. Now though, the reason becomes quite clear to him as she stands there looking strikingly beautiful in a muted yellow dress, her hair piled up high and big earrings dangling from her ears and Spock stands up from his seat beside Jim's bed so fast that the chair makes a terrifying screech as it is pushed back with force. Jim flinches at the sound but tries to pass it of by fiddling with his sheets.

Uhura looks at Spock for a moment, something unknown passing through her face before she turns her gaze to settle on him.

"It's nice to see you awake, Captain."

"It's nice to be awake, Lieutenant.", he says, wondering why she's being so formal when everyone else to visit have staunchly referred to him as Jim. "I heard that you were badass as fuck."

She smiles a bit at that.

"I was doing my job, Captain. Though I would advice you against making it so hard to do so."

An awkward silence falls after that as Uhura keeps her eyes fixed on him while Spock bores holes into her face, something that makes Jim's innards ache. Bones looks at the three of them, his frown dropping away and a familiar grimace takes its place and Jim wants to whine at him 'See what happens when you don't use that brain of yours?'. But he can't say that now so he settles on glowering at him. And just when the awkward level increases and Jim's eyes start to water from the constant glowering, Spock speaks up.

"I was not aware that it was time for our appointment, Nyota.", and the tone is bland and accusatory at the same time.

But Jim's attention is taken up by the casual use of Uhura's given name to take much notice. Not because even now Jim's not been given the privilege of the name but because that coupled with Spock's frequent usage of his rank to address him and Nyota doing so just now makes it hard to ignore the fact that while Spock and Nyota are a couple, a unit, linked on a personal level, Jim will always be on the outside. To Spock, Jim is the senior officer, colleague and a friend at most but nothing more, because that place is already taken.

"I thought I could meet the Captain before we went for our dinner, seeing as I had the time and had not been to see him before", Uhura replies.

It's the 'dinner' word that finally drives the metaphorical nail on Jim's coffin. These last few days, he's somehow managed to ignore thinking about his feelings and what their consequences could be. But now, seeing Uhura and Spock, he realises just how futile it really is. Yes, Spock did persue Khan and essentially saved Jim's life, but that had been his duty, both as his subordinate and his friend. For god's sake, the man had even said so, when Jim was dying. It really was Jim's own fault for seeing things that weren't there to begin with. Here Jim's been luxuriating in the time Spock's been spending wih him, thinking it meant something and that Spock was his personal shield, there to protect him from his own demons when all along, all he's been doing is keeping Spock from being with his girlfriend.

"Mr. Spock! You should have told me that I was keeping you from having dinner with your girlfriend!", he says pulling a look of mild accusation, all the while he's tring to stamp down the panic that rises within him. It's just another name, he tells himself, to add to the list of people that he lost before he even had them, people he had wished to keep to himself, people whose world, he wanted, to revolve around him. It's what his life is, he's survived it so long and he will survive it in the future. Except, it's different this time around. Jim can't trust himself to survive and to make sure that the others do so too because he has failed. He had failed when he had been so sure he never would. He wasn't able to protect himself from Khan and his nightmares and he wasn't able to protect his crew. And now he does not even have Spock to act as his backbone, never had him really because Spock's Uhura's and she will always come before Jim and the next time a situation happens where Jim has to take decisions, or save people he'll fuck things up and, and-

"Our appointment was set for 7 in the evening, Captain. As it is yet 5: 53, I believe you are not keeping me from anything". Spock has not moved his eyes from Uhura or even dialed down the intensity of his stare even though it's Jim he's been addressing.

And Jim doesn't need this. He does not need Spock to cut down on his personal time to keep Jim entertained and the last thing he wants to do is come between Spock and Uhura. He's better than that. He may want Spock to himself forever but he had promised himself a long time ago, that he would not come between people just because they have what he doesn't. Their lives are hard as it is and Uhura's great, damn it. No way is Jim going to let himself fuck that up.

"Mr. Spock, have I taught you nothing in these six months? A little spontaneity adds to the spice of life. Go and frolic about with the lovely Uhura.", he gets a quelling glare from all the occupants of the room, "Okay maybe not frolic, but you can discuss xenolinguistics or maybe you can teach her some of those forbidden Vulcan words, huh?" For good measure he adds in a waggle of eyebrows at Spock. Spock's glare turns up a notch.

"I really did come to visit you, Captain." Uhura finally speaks up.

"Meh!" Jim plonks back down on his pillows in a huff. "Lieutenant, I'm fine. I can talk, I can sit, I can even walk. If it wasn't for Bonesy there, I wouldn't even be in the hospital now. You've come and seen me and now please go out and enjoy being young and sexy since I'm not allowed to do so" He grumbles the last part to Bones, with an exaggerated pout. Bones purses his lips.

Uhura laughs softly. "I'll make sure I enjoy being young on your behalf, Jim"

Jim's congratulating himself on successfully making Uhura call him by his name when Spock speaks up, "Captain-"

"Nope. Not gonna listen to any excuse, Spock. The reports you have been droning on about for hours each day can be sent to my pad too. No need to waste your ground-time couped up in a hospital room. And really, if there are problems we can just discuss it sometime later this week right?"

"Jim-"

"Didn't he tell you yet?" Uhura cuts Spock off, an incredulous look pasted on her face.

"Uh. . .about what exactly?"

"That he is leaving for New Vulcan tomorrow."

Jim's head snaps towards Spock, whose staring at him with something akin to guilt in his eyes.

"You are leaving." Jim doesn't ask but states it like the fact it is. He has seen the truth lurking in Spock's eyes.

"Temporarily, Captain." Spock says, hands folded defensively behind his back, face a little more wooden than it was before. "I intend to return within an estimated 15 days."

"And you were going to tell me when?"

"In 20 minutes Captain."

Yup, this is about as much of a heartbreak as Jim can take in a single day. The fact that it's obvious that Uhura's been in the know for a long time and that Spock thought it appropriate to only inform Jim literally the night before, sits on his heart about as comfortably as a jagged piece of glass. It isn't right to feel enraged at that, Jim knows that. It isn't his place in Spock's life to know such things and Spock definitely isn't responsible for keeping Jim in the know how but still. . . The wound is still fresh and bleeding and his demons are practically crawling back in through the door. At this moment, all Jim can be is disappointed - in Spock for not being what Jim wanted him to be and in himself, for wanting Spock to be more. And as is Jim's way of coping with things, he channels everything to stoke the anger that has been burning within him at his inability to deal with his problems, because anger is better, way better than feeling the pain in his chest or the burning behind his eyes. Anger, he can deal with.

"Well, now you have informed me of your temporary leave, Commander.", his voice has gone frosty and by the way Spock tenses even more, Jim knows he notices. "I believe you have already sent in your application. Please redirect your duties to Lieutenant Sulu, and inform the authorities of your estimated date of return."

"Jim. . ", Spock takes an aborted step but Jim speaks over him. He cannot let him do that, he knows Spock speaking will lessen his anger and he absolutely cannot let that happen.

"You should leave for your appointment Mr. Spock. I would like to take some rest now"

He doesn't move his eyes from Spock's and Spock holds it for a couple of moments, something unknown passing through his before giving a curt nod and raising his hand in the Ta'al.

"Live long and prosper, Captain." He turns and walks out of the room, head held high and hand crossed behind his back.

Uhura, whose been watching them quitely for so long, eyes shifting like she's following a tennis match, suddenly seems to come to the realisation that she might not be welcome here anymore. Jim turns his eyes on her and watches as she fidgets uncomfortably for a moment and then composes herself.

"I will leave you to rest Captain." She throws a glance towards Bones who is standing at the foot of Jim's bed, arms crossed and scowling. "Dr.McCoy." Bones just grunts as Uhura turns on her heels and walks away.

And the silence that she leaves in her wake is one of the most awkward that Jim and Bones have ever shared.

"Jimmy-"

"Bones. No." Because Jim can't deal with this now. He is right back to where he started, scared of his own shadow and the sound of his breath, except now there is no chance of it ending. Spock will be gone for 15 days and even when he is returns Jim knows with certainty that today's realisation will stop him from relying on Spock. And in a way it's kind of freeing, the fact that his insane urge to not disappoint Spock is really that, insane and he can finally deal with shit like he's dealt with it before.

"But-"

"Shut up Bones.", Jim tries to face himself away from Bones and just stop this conversation because he knows he won't give up. Leonard McCoy has never been and never will be impressed with Jim's bullshit. But Jim has absolutely no energy left for this and really, just as Jim had anticipated, Bones begins again in the very next breathe.

"For fuck's sake, Jim, you can't-"

"Please.", Jim practically begs him because he is exhausted and scared and just very, very sad and he cannot handle anymore of this. "We'll talk later, I promise. Just. . .not now."

Bones stares at him for a few moments and then nods, sharp and small.

"I'll let you rest." With that, he dims the lights in the room and leaves, the door sliding shut with a morbid hiss.

And Jim just stares at the door, for an hour or a minute, he doesn't know, but he stares until he can feel that old blanket of nothingness creep over his turmoiled emotions. Then he lies down on his bed, pulls his covers up and closes his eyes. And if he studiously ignores the shadows while doing so, that's between him and his empty room.

***********************************************

"So are you going to speak to me or not?", Nyota asks him, staring at him across the table, her hands placed pertly on her lap.

They are, at present, in a restaurant two blocks away from the hospital that caters to terran cuisine specifically. Spock's taste of terran food is acquired at best and indigestible at worst, but he had made the choice anticipating a return to the Captain, to spend his last night engaging in an intellectually stimulating game of chess. Perhaps, he thinks now, he should have factored in Jim Kirk's unpredictability and known that it would not have gone according to plan. He is still unable to grasp the reason behind Jim's anger. It is inconsequential when one is informed of an event, given that it does not concern them and that the events cannot be changed. Yet. Jim Kirk is enraged and Spock feels an inexplicable amount of frustration at the situation, which, he finds himself inclined to take out on Nyota. (Petty, Mr Spock. says the Captain in his head.)

"I was under the impression that this engagement was so that you could talk , Nyota", he replies finally.

Her eyes harden in return but Spock feels too restless to pay heed to it.

"Yes of course, Commander. Except I was under the impression that you understood that talking implied a discussion regarding the future of our relationship. I see now that perhaps I have mistaken your intentions. If you want, I would be amenable to terminate this meeting and our relationship immediately."

Spock is not surprised at her proclamation. As a Vulcan, he has been trained since childhood to compute the possible outcomes of any given situation, be it personal or professional. And despite Nyota's intelligence and language skills, she is predictable in her thought patterns. Most humans are, with that one infuriating exception that is. Spock has known that there was a 56.35% chance of Nyota wanting to end their entanglement, 76.21% if her supposed vexation about his preoccupation with the Captain's health, is factored in (the Botanists have the propensity to forget about his enhanced auditory capabilities). Yet somehow, there is still a sense of incredulity. . .no, bewilderment, rising in him, at her words.

"You wish to. . .end our courtship?", he finally asks.

She pauses for a moment, her spine straightening and her chin lifting, reminding Spock of the Vulcan shavokh primed to take a plunge into the air currents.

"Yes."

There is a pressure in Spock's chest for a moment, as an inevitable sense of loss surrounds him. This relationship had been his refuge at a time when he had lost everything, had been a part of the future that he had been anticipating. It has, if nothing else, provided him with a notion of uniformity and banality in a life where everything has been unpredictable and uncertain for the past 2 years, a source of comfort, an anchor if you will. He wonders what Nyota, or even his mother, would say on hearing him describe their relationship in such terms. Nothing good, he knows.

"And the reason?"

"You know the reason."

"Do I, Nyota? I was under the impression we had come to an understanding regarding my stand on . . . emotions.", Spock is not sure why he prolongs the inevitable, but he does. Perhaps because it enables him to deny the necessity of recasting his thoughts and beliefs in a completely new mould.

Nyota smiles a little at that, a small upturning at the corner of her mouth, though her eyes remain unfathomable.

"A lot has happened between then and now, hasn't it?"

"Yes."

He stops as the waiter comes with their food, a salad for Spock and a soup like concoction for Nyota that Spock does not recognise. They stare silently at each other, while the waiter, a boy really, places the food, adjusts their utensils and refills their glasses. He is flustered, Spock notices, and refuses to look up at them. Perhaps he recognises them, not that it would be hard. Jim Kirk grinning at the camera with Spock, Uhura and Bones beside him, leaves quite a lasting impression.

As soon as he leaves though, Uhura leans forward. She takes a sip out of her soup, hums in approval and then looks up at him.

"I had made peace with it, you know. With you choosing not to feel. The romantic in me was even. . charmed by the notion. But then, then I realised, that's not how it's supposed to be, is it? What I wanted with you, it shouldn't have been possible to turn it off so easily. Love, even in Vulcans, shouldn't be so easy to ignore. And for a time, I thought I'd bid my time, that we were relatively new in this relationship, that with enough time, you'd come to your own realisation and acceptance. It's only now that I realise, that won't ever happen."

"Nyota-"

"And avoiding this will just make us miserable, Spock. Because at the end of the day, the problem is not that you are not capable of emotions. You are, I've seen it. It's just that it's not me, you can feel it for. And as much as I might wish, I'll never be enough for you."

She resumes her meal after that, her downturned face keeping him from meeting her eyes. Spock just sits there, unmoving. The already unattractive meal seems inedible to Spock now. He wants to leave but the business seems unfinished somehow. He wants to explain, to console, but his culture has not prepared him for it.

"I did not want it to end this way.", the spoon stops with a clink. "When I entered into this . . association, I had done so with the full intention of it being permanent. It seemed to me logical, that I would be content and happy with one I respected and was as fond of, as you."

Uhura looks up then, her eyes glistening in the restaurant lighting but otherwise dry.

"You cannot predict life, Spock, not even with your superior Vulcan logic.", she smirks a bit, "Especially not when that life more or less centers around Jim Kirk."

Spock's mind, quite confoundingly, stops working for a moment.

"The Captain does not ha-"

"Spock.", Nyota fixes him with an admonishing stare. "Stop fooling yourself. You are deceiving no one and quite frankly, you couldn't be more blatant even if you were human."

She sits back for a moment, staring at her lap, then takes his hand in between hers on the table. Once Spock would have removed the hand, perhaps even admonished her for partaking in what is a brazen display of affection in Vulcan terms. Now though, he recognises it for what it is, a goodbye.

"You go to Vulcan, get some distance and think things through. Things have been too hard for you in the past few weeks. And I'll take the same time to be angry at you, at fate and at blond haired prats who are too charming for their own good. And when you return, maybe we can try our hands at being friends."

She stands up with a sigh and slings her bag across her right shoulder.

"Goodbye, Commander Spock."

Spock too, stands up and raises his hand in Ta'al.

"Live long and prosper, Lieutenant."

His hand is still raised when she walks out the door.

**********************************************

That night, 2 hours and 23 minutes after his meeting with Nyota, Spock returns to the hospital. The unused office adjacent to the Captain's cabin, that Doctor McCoy has appropriated for his own use, is empty for the moment. He is, peculiarly enough, thankful for this small coincidence. Spock finds himself reluctant to answer the questions he knows the doctor would ask him. Moving past the office, he comes to stand in front of the Captain's room. The glass panels on the door does not offer a direct view of the bed, so that he can only see a part of Jim's face, turned towards the window and illuminated by the street lights. There is no other movement save the repetitive rise and fall of his chest. Spock stands there for a while, 18 minutes in his estimate, though he cannot be quite certain. He wants to go in, wake Jim up and explain, make him understand something Spock's not sure he understands himself. His rational side admonishes him. The Captain needs his rest, he's weak and his immune system is not yet strong enough, and he has had nightmares almost consistently this entire week. But after what happened, parting ways with him like this, Spock finds the situation both incredibly frustrating and somewhere deep within himself, terrifying. He lifts his hand to open the door but retracts it, with a sigh. He is being stupendously irrational. With another glance at the unstirring figure, he turns around and starts walking away. Maybe distance will help. It certainly would not be the first time that Nyota was right. Turning around, he leaves the hospital without looking back. Inside the room, Jim Kirk wakes up abruptly, his mind filled with a desperate yearning for survival, be it in a destroyed colony where nothing will ever thrive again or in the sparking core of Starfleet's finest ship.