Chapter 1: Prologue
War is Mankind's greatest accomplishment. The epithet of the World shall read: Remember me not as charity and brotherhood; I am a maker of war, eternally bedded upon the ash and bone of my enemy. Thus when Man moves beyond the World, to boldly go where no Man has gone before, let War go with him, the constant and only companion.
A tall man, broad-shouldered and strong voiced, speaks to his disciples of their future: "Take to your chambers and be at peace, for we shall sleep like children through the night. When we next awaken, morning will be upon us—the morning of our new glory! Rest, children, and join me in waiting for tomorrow."
They are obedient, each patiently standing in line for his or her turn to lie inside a niche in a cold metal wall; the individual chambers are little larger than caskets, resting places for a body frozen in time by the latest cryogenic technology. So long as the vessel, this starship named the SS Botany Bay, is fueled with power, their bodies, minds, and spirits will remain preserved until the Awakening. Then they shall rise again, beside their leader, and conquer as they were born to.
Khan Noonien Singh is the last man to succumb to cryogenic sleep. He spends his final moments of awareness in solitude, unflinching eyes skimming the ranks of slumbering soldiers. Khan does not see the present; he sees only what is to come—and the power which he must regain. For what is a ruler without subjects? Earth yielded a quarter of its bounty to him; country after country, he brought under his power, as Alexander the Great had once done, as so many powerful men had once done. Then he was rebuked, in the prime of his reign, and forced to take refuge in space.
Khan is not a senseless man. There are possibilities in space that were not for the taking on his homeworld. He dreams of a new life with an entire world which calls him their Khan, theirs and none other. So shall it be, Khan knows.
Only then does he brush his fingertips one last time over the consoles and computers, sets the timer of the SS Botany Bay and lowers himself into the glowing cold cell.
The heart rate slows into intermittent but solid beats; legs become numb, the leaden sensation spreading across the torso like a lover's embrace; the mind begins to drift on gentle waves until it fades into nothingness.
So it is that Khan sleeps, too, like a beast in hibernation until winter passes into a fruitful spring.
"How is our progress?" A man steps into the boardroom of the United Aerospace Corporation headquarters on Earth, closing the door behind him. He wears an expensive suit with a tie and recently polished shoes. His eyes are dark and heavy-lidded.
The other occupant of the room is a lean, gray-haired man with deep lines in his face and a name tag that reads Dr. Carmack. "We found another femur," the doctor begins but swallows his report when the newcomer says nothing and lights a cigarette. "There's, ah, no smoking in the building, Sir."
"Mm," responds the other man carelessly as ash from the end of his cigarette drifts to the carpet. "Exceptions to the rules, Doctor Carmack. Now tell me, is it true?"
The smile Carmack is given chills him. "About the 24th chromosome, the... super-human nature of these Martians."
"It is too early to draw conclusions. We are working diligently—" He is ignored for the most part, merely a pawn in a large-scale operation.
"Once your lab has determined how to alter human DNA to accommodate another chromosome, you will be sent test subjects. Volunteers, of course. The supporters of UAC are very anxious, you understand, for results."
Carmack speaks quickly, knowing that he must say what has been needling at him since the initial report on the 24th chromosome and its potential was transmitted to Headquarters. "This is a delicate discovery; we do not know how the chromosome would alter the molecular structure of our DNA, let alone if it is even possible... And if it could be done, in the wrong hands... Can you imagine—"
"The UAC only wishes to better mankind," he is told gently, if a bit coldly.
He lowers his voice, as if the words themselves are cursed. "Haven't we been down this road before, Sir? They say that during the Eugenics War..."
The other man plucks the cigarette from his mouth to laugh. "Ah yes, the infamous Eugenics War. We are human, Doctor, always striving to enhance ourselves. We may have come close to creating a faster, smarter man but in the end the genetics failed us. Do you know why?"
Because too much power creates tyrants, he doesn't say, and Earth was lucky to survive them. Instead Carmack shakes his head dutifully.
"The men we engineered were not a product of nature. The Martians, if you will, are part of the very fabric of the universe. We are those people, Doctor, as they might have once been before evolution carried them to the next level of existence. Where we failed before we will succeed now because it is our destiny to walk that path."
Carmack cannot argue because he is in no position to do so. There is no arguing with such a strong conviction.
"I need time," he says.
The man smiles sardonically. "Isn't that all we have?"
"And I need help."
"Your lab is fully staffed, Doctor." The man is watching him, perhaps already knows what Carmack wants.
"There is a woman..."
The man lowers his brows. "Hm, I recall the name. Married couple, weren't they? Brilliant scientists. Deceased, unfortunately."
"The daughter is interested in UAC. I was a... friend of her parents. I was here when she and her brother were children and the accident—" He shuts up quickly, afraid he is revealing too much of the past. "Her name is Samantha Grimm. Her schooling credentials are excellent but she is new to the field."
Nodding, the man grinds his cigarette into a decorative bowl. "I understand, Doctor Carmack. She may intern under you and then, if she shows promise, you will introduce her to the real purpose of Olduvai, subject to the Board's approval."
"Thank you, Sir." Dr. Carmack watches the other man tug at long coat sleeves and accepts his dismissal with relief.
Today, at least, he has won a small victory. Soon the young Samantha Grimm will return to Olduvai, and the debt Carmack owes to her mother and father will be paid in full. If he is lucky, she will prove useful in the advancement of the project, too.
"John? John, is that you?"
Samantha Grimm pauses with a glass in one hand and a soapy rag in the other. An old family clock ticks steadily in a hallway beyond the softly lit kitchen; other than that, the house is silent. She sighs and returns to the chore, idly remembering a time when her mother would hum as she washed, handing a young Sammy dishes to dry with a towel. Her small hands would hold the ceramic plate in a tight grip and the girl would chant in her head, don't drop it, don't drop it...
Her mother and father are gone, have been for years. She and her brother John are the only family left for each other, and now John might as well be gone too.
It has been three years since the Olduvai facility was destroyed. Samantha has only seen John a handful of times since then.
She had woken up in the hospital in the aftermath of a very real nightmare and men in black suits had said, "You are the only survivor, Ms. Grimm. You have our condolences." She laid there in a daze, eyes closed and dreamed again and again of injecting her brother with the C-24 serum. On the night before her release, she had that same dream, hand pressed to her brother's barely moving chest, praying don't die, John when administering the shot. But this time the dream didn't end there because he opened his eyes, pupils blown wide, and said her name.
She woke up to the feel of someone pressing her back into the bed.
"Sam, it's alright. It's just me."
Her voice sounded far away. "John?"
"Yeah. I'm here, Sammy."
"Oh, John. I knew it, I knew you—" She was crying and a hand brushed back her hair. Her brother's voice was in her ear, his cheek against hers. She couldn't see his face.
"Sam, listen to me. I can't stay. They say I'm dead, so I'm dead, okay?"
She whispered, "I don't understand," and clung to the reality of his body against hers.
"I'm not who I was," John said. She thought he might be crying, too, into her hair.
"Please don't go."
"I'll visit," he promised. "Now close your eyes, Sammy. Can you count, like we used to?"
She closed her eyes, saying, "When we'd hide in the ruins... hide-and-seek."
"That's right. Now count."
She nodded and began. Fifty...forty-nine...forty-eight...forty-seven...
When she reached the count of twenty, Samantha opened her eyes just like always. It was ridiculous, but she wanted to say here I come! Instead, Sam sat up and looked around. Her hospital room was empty, no sign that John had been little more than a ghost of her memory except the dampness of her hair.
She finishes in the kitchen and stretches out on a couch, a small laptop balanced on her stomach. Most of the research from the Olduvai project had been appropriated by UAC; Sam still has copies of her notes, but she cannot bring herself to look at them without thinking of what she had done to her brother.
Samantha falls asleep around midnight, a cup of cold tea on a coffee-table and a handmade afghan over her legs. She wakes up in her bed later and shades her eyes against the glare of a digital clock. It reads 4:32.
Beyond the clock, in the darkest part of the room, is a presence.
She doesn't bother to sit up, merely relaxes back into her pillows. "I knew you were coming here."
The young woman nods even though he won't be able to see her do so. Then she thinks, with a start, that perhaps he might, courtesy of his 24th chromosome. That pulls Sam back from the edge of sleep like a shock of cold water.
She swallows, looking at the ceiling, and asks, "How are you?"
"It's been five months, John. You—" She bites her lip. You haven't visited me in over five months.
"I know," he says. "They're still watching you."
Her hand curls into the bed sheet. "I won't talk about... that place. They know I won't."
"Olduvai," the name sounds flat coming from him and she flinches in response, "won't exist in another year."
Except for those of us who remember it, she thinks. And when we are gone…
But John won't. There will always be John, to remember.
Her throat aches like she has been sobbing. She wants to apologize but John will leave if she does.
"This house doesn't change, does it?"
Samantha is grateful for the change of subject. "No, I guess not."
The house is not that large, but it has belonged to the Grimm family for generations. Mostly, it stood empty while her parents took their children on the Mars excavation; then, after the accident, John and Samantha came back to Earth to live here with an unmarried aunt. The house, by rights, passed down to John when he reached adulthood but he said he had no use for it and had put it into a trust to pass to Samantha. She hadn't wanted it back then, either, too busy dreaming of returning to Mars and picking up where her mother and father left off.
Now the Grimm estate is all she has left.
John is saying, "You can't hide here forever, Sammy."
You're one to talk about hiding. That would be cruel, so she doesn't say it. "I'm happy." Sam doesn't believe her own lie. Her twin is silent for so long that she wonders if he snuck out into the night already. "John?"
A sigh. "Please, Samantha, won't you try?"
"I—" Her throat is still tight but she pushes past it and words come rushing out. "Oh damn you, John, what's left? It's just me—it was you and me but now it's only me." And she's so stupid because tears are pricking at her eyes and she remembers how awkward John always feels when his sister cries.
The bed sinks down and she gives a little gasp. Sam turns her head, seeing the outline of her brother, his dark eyes and the sad lines at the corners of his mouth. The hand he uses to brush away her tears has lost its hesitancy and he's right, he isn't the same anymore.
"I love you, Sam," he tells her. "You aren't alone. For each breath you take, until the day you die, I will take one, too. But I can't—" that strong voice falters only once, "—stay with you. So I want you to promise me that you will forgive yourself and move on."
"You don't forgive me," she says brokenly.
John's eyes are bright. "I do, Sammy. You saved me in the only way that you could; and more than that, you gave me the chance to save you." He says, an echo of their father's teasing voice, "Where would the world be without Samantha Grimm?"
She completes the tradition, "And where would the world be without her sidekick, little Johnny?"
His laugh is not as loud as it used to be but it is genuine. "I will never understand why you had to pick on me."
"You're my younger brother," she says lightly, tears finally abating.
"Two minutes, Sam—two minutes doesn't make you the hero."
No, she thinks, it doesn't. You're the hero, John.
Perhaps he sees that in her eyes. His hand has withdrawn from her face and she recognizes the shift of his body. "You have to go?" Somehow knowing that hurts less than it used to.
"Yes," he answers simply.
"Then goodbye, John."
When he rises, she has a moment of panic. "You'll come back?"
He pauses in the doorway, just a dark blur of shadows. "Yes, Sam. If you keep your promise."
"I promise," Samantha Grimm says.
She does, though at first it is hard to find much pleasure in returning to the world again. But one day, as she shops for her groceries, Samantha will pick up an orange juice carton and suddenly realize that the painful knot in her chest isn't there anymore. That is the day, too, that her newfound joy is so distracting, she accidentally runs into a man equally lost in contemplation on the dairy aisle. He is a little older than herself, slightly nondescript in looks but smiles at her in a soft way that prompts her to smile back. Sam apologizes for her carelessness, he waves it off and they exchange a brief but enjoyable chat. By the time the pair reaches the check-out line, he asks her out for coffee and she accepts. Two years later they are married, living in the Grimm house and expecting their first baby.
Sam keeps her promise, and her brother John keeps his. She feels him there for her, sometimes, despite that he lingers only in the periphery of her vision or in the back of the crowd at her grandson's graduation. When she is ready to pass on from the world, Samantha dreams that she sees John standing over her grave. He kneels on dirt softened by rain, and his hand, exactly as she remembers, touches her headstone. She catches the whisper of "Love you, Sammy" before the wind can snatch the words away, and Sam feels at peace.
Leonard Horatio McCoy is reputed to be afraid of flying. John, of course, used to be afraid of flying when he was a child—or so he thought, until he took his first flight and found it titillating as only a child can. Now he fears too little in general because of what he has become. Yet John is oddly pleased to add that small detail to Leonard's persona.
Doctor McCoy, newly divorced (which is actually true, much to John's chagrin, because he was lonely and Jocelyn was like water for a dying man) and practically penniless, ends up recruited by Starfleet mere hours before the shuttle is ready to depart. He holes up in the bathroom, surprised to find that he still has the capacity to be nervous, until an aggravated woman in uniform forces him out. The wonderful thing about Leonard McCoy is that the man comes from Georgia and has the Southern temper to match his origins. It's almost cathartic that he bitches like he can, because there is this part of John that stores everything up, sometimes full to bursting, and McCoy's proclivity to rants seems to release that pressure.
Perhaps John's subconscious is still working diligently to keep him sane. After all, John Grimm becomes Leonard McCoy as an almost desperate last resort, when he had finished his latest career as a faceless mercenary and realized he simply could not take up another dark life or that darkness would drown him completely.
Now John is Leonard, who wants nothing more than to practice medicine and save lives. His medical skills from last century were re-honed in a medical school of this century, leaving too many people in awe of how this small town Southern boy knows so much when he has only been in the medical field for less than a decade. Everyone assumes he is brilliant but John credits his 24th chromosome. While it does not enhance his intelligence, it does safeguard his brain from the effects of aging—and that includes memory loss. John remembers everything he is taught with crystal-clear clarity, and because he is a smart man (would have been a scientist once upon a time) he is good, sometimes innovative, at using the knowledge he has.
"Sit down or else I'll make you sit down," the woman tells McCoy. He has met women like her before and has no doubt she will try to slam him face first onto the floor of the shuttle.
He complains loudly, slurring a bit since he smells like a drunk already, and straps himself in the only available seat on the shuttlecraft. The man on his right has a face that has seen too many fists recently, perhaps a broken beer bottle too, but fixes bright blue eyes on Leonard that show whatever happened to the kid hasn't phased him one bit.
Great. More of the young and exuberant, thinking they have so much life ahead of them.
On this path, he predicts, only a third of them will be lucky enough to survive past the age of twenty-five.
So Leonard says "I may throw up on you" and John expects that he is doing a wonderful job of alienating himself.
The kid is nice enough, but Leonard hates flying and John laments the fact that he has to start over, even if he isn't completely starting over (but damn Joce and her "this isn't working, Leonard, it was fun but now… now I want more and, oh Len, I don't think you can love anyone..."). He is thinking of all the wrong things when the swollen-faced idiot claims shuttles are safe, and McCoy takes over easily, says, "Don't pander to me, kid..." warning him and anyone who might be listening in a subtle way that where they are headed is likely to be as fun as drinking acid.
He talks because Leonard is nervous but he also talks because someone is actually listening for a change. McCoy mentions his divorce but John admits a truth when he says bitterly that he has nothing left but his bones.
Uncapping a flask, the man takes a long swallow and misses the ability to get stinking drunk. The nice burn of the alcohol makes him feel nostalgic these days so John carries the flask like a memento in his pocket.
Some cadets look at him with pity; some are amused, others probably betting with their companions that Leonard McCoy will fold and quit Starfleet before a week is up. But the fool beside him has none of those things on his face, only a return look of yeah, life sucks. Doctor Leonard McCoy offers his flask and officially meets Jim Kirk.
Halfway through the ride, he remembers why the name Kirk sounds familiar but Jim says nothing about it and John, at least, is not a hypocrite. Everybody has a part of themselves that they want to keep hidden. Jim isn't the survivor of a historical disaster and the son of a heroic father he never knew. And Leonard... well, Leonard McCoy isn't many things; and John isn't that much more.
Chapter 2: Chapter One
To say Leonard McCoy and Jim Kirk become instant friends would be an outright lie. Truth be told, John doesn't see the Kirk kid again for six months. Jim is very much like John in one respect: they are both loners, and only by the sheerest of coincidences does the most irascible doctor-cadet in Starfleet catch Kirk trying to pilfer medical supplies during a graveyard shift at the on-site campus hospital.
It is nearing three o'clock in the morning. Most of the cadets who spent their after-school hours partying are either passed out God-knows-where or are safely tucked into a biobed in Starfleet Medical after having their stomachs pumped, fingers reattached, or whatever medical crisis usually arises from stupidity. The doctor isn't enjoying the quiet lull in the Emergency Room; he is visibly bored, and it is John who wonders if he isn't getting shafted, because what eternal life is meant to be so damn dull?
He does not bother to pretend to study like the other interns working his shift. For one, he is not an intern but the presiding medical authority on call and, more importantly, because the majority of his course material is decidedly not new. The doctor skims another patient chart before tossing it back onto a tray and pacing the width of a corridor. A nurse smiles as she purposefully brushes past him, a blatant invitation in the swivel of her hips.
Normally John would be interested but Leonard is a gentleman and turning out to be a blue-balled one at that. He remembers too clearly the pity in his ex-wife's eyes, and these women here—at the Academy—see Leonard like Joce did, as a man who needs a companion. It's a bone in his throat every time he thinks about a hurried fuck in a janitor's closet or screwing some stranger in a back alley. The young woman is quick to realize that Doctor McCoy won't be accepting her offer and she rolls her eyes as if to say your loss.
He turns away with a grimace and renewed urge to find someone to yell at. That is how McCoy—namely John—is walking by a locked medical supply room, hears the clink of glass then a muted curse. Of course, were he a normal man he might have missed the sounds altogether. But John is not normal (nor has been for roughly two hundred years) and pauses to listen.
Senses sharpen. His ears pick out a brush of cloth, the light scrape of a shoe. The real clincher is the smell of blood—fresh, like from an open wound. Granted, this is a hospital and beneath the open scent of antiseptic is the ever-present hint of blood, human sweat, and something nearly indefinable that John labels as death. Perhaps these scents are not recognizable on an overt level but John can pick them out like jewels in the air. In general, he associates this particular blend of smells with the sick, injured, and dying.
John swipes his card through the security lock by the door, steps inside a room the size of a small armory. The Closet (nicknamed by some of the staff, though it is entirely too large to be less than a storage room) is split evenly by ten rows of shelving units, not dissimilar to the layout of old Earth libraries before information was digitized. The back wall glows faintly in the dark from built-in coolers which store perishable supplies.
John knows instantly that he is not alone. He relaxes his upper body and folds his arms, leaning against the door like the room isn't dark and full of potential weapons.
"This is the only exit," he says casually, if a bit gruffly, "unless you plan to take up permanent residence."
No one answers but someone is there, on his right. John hears the man breathing.
He drawls, Southern accent prevalent, "I figure if you're in here when there's a full staff on hand to treat whatever injury you have that either you're a fool, a thief, or both." John waits a beat. "I don't really care which it is, but I will give you a choice. Either let me look you over, or I call security and everybody can watch while I patch you up. Second choice ends with a bonus trip to jail."
There is a ragged male laugh and a mutter of "You've got to be kidding me."
He commands the lights on. "Trust me, I am not the joking type."
The man who moves into view looks familiar and within a span of several seconds John places his face. Kid from the shuttle.
"Jim Kirk," he says without inflection.
The young man hesitates at the sound of his name and squints at John. It's probably hard for Jim to see the details, like McCoy's face, because one of his eyes is swollen shut and the other probably has blood in it. He seems to give up, shrugs and cracks a grin. "Had a, uh, run-in with a door," he jokes at the doctor.
"Yeah. A door with fists." John holds out his hand. "Hand it over."
The kid doesn't play dumb. He fumbles in his jacket pocket with a sigh and pulls out two small glass bottles, then a roll of gauze. McCoy notes the medication before setting the supplies on the nearest shelf.
"Well, you may not be a complete idiot but that doesn't make you any less of a fool. C'mon, I'll take you to an exam room."
"No, man, that's..."
He snaps, "Exam room or jail."
The kid is clearly grinding his teeth as he follows the doctor from the supply room. Leonard McCoy instructs Kirk to sit his ass down on the table once they are away from the curious looks of any nurses on duty. In the brightly lit, sterile room the damage is easy to see on Kirk's face—and it's superficial.
"Upper or lower torso?"
"Just m'ribs" is the reply.
John is as efficient as a doctor as he is as a soldier. In record time, he resets three of Jim's ribs, only pausing beforehand to ask if the man wants any pain medication.
Jim grunts "Allergies" and the doctor accepts the implied choice at face-value. Kirk passes out halfway through the procedure. It is always easier to work with an unconscious patient, so by the time the cadet is coherent again, John has regenerated the breaks as best he can and wrapped Jim's ribs for good measure.
He is sterilizing the cuts on Jim's face when the man lolls his head from the side, peeks open those blue eyes and mumbles, "I know you. Guy with nothing but his bones."
"You may remember me," the doctor says flatly, "but you don't know me, cadet."
Whether Jim's groan is confirmation or denial, John has little clue and less inclination to care. He gives the young man a minute to re-orient himself and strides over to the small sink to scrub his hands. When John turns around, Jim is sitting up, pale but alert. He stares at Kirk for a long minute. "Whoever you pissed off, kid, is someone you ought to avoid in the future."
"Tell me about it." Kirk slides off the table, already adjusting his torn shirt over his bandages. The young man runs a quick hand through his hair and licks his lips in a gesture of uncertainty. "So, ah, what do I—"
John keeps his eyes locked on Jim's as he approaches. Then he opens a fist and sets down a bottle of pills, an oral variety of one of the glass bottles the cadet attempted to steal, next to Jim's hand. "Nothing," John tells him. "Next time follow procedure."
Jim slips the medication into his pocket without looking at it. "Okay."
He won't lose sleep over whether or not Jim Kirk keeps his promise.
It does intrigue him, however, when Jim pauses by the door to say "Thanks." The kid smiles lopsidedly, wincing as the motion shifts bruised muscles. "See you, Bones." Then Kirk is gone.
John snorts and decides that if the kid shows up again, the visit is likely to be anything but boring.
San Francisco is a hive of activity, particularly during the Christmas holiday.
John shortens his stride, listening to the sound of running footsteps. The person so anxious to catch up to him is the kid. Somehow he is less surprised than he should be.
"Jim," insists the young man as he matches the doctor's pace. They are nearing the invisible border between campus and city. "I hear you're on break."
"Mm. Stalking me again?" he asks, cutting his eyes at the other person.
Jim looks straight ahead but his mouth is curved in a smile. "More like preventing you from earning the title of the Academy's Most Reclusive."
"Are you inviting yourself along, then?"
Jim stops walking. He asks, openly curious, "Would you invite me?"
"Then, yeah, I guess I'm inviting myself," replies Kirk. "Any place in particular you want to eat?"
John says it doesn't matter. They end up at a local mom-and-pop diner with a burger, fries, and a beer each. John suspects Jim is a binge-eater the way the kid shovels the food into his mouth. He remarks after a quick swallow of beer, "Didn't your mama ever tell you that eating too fast causes indigestion?"
Kirk shrugs. He says, "I eat when I remember to," like remembering to eat is not something Jim does often. John hears a story there but he doesn't pursue it.
"What about you?" the man opposite of John wants to know.
He lifts an eyebrow. "I'm not a mind-reader, Jim. What about me?" Not that there is much truth John can share.
Jim thankfully chews his mouthful of fries before speaking again. "You don't talk much."
"And you," the man makes a point to say, "talk about everything except Jim Kirk. I don't know what you're expectin' but I don't trade sob stories. This is my goddamn lunch hour, not therapy."
"Whoa, okay." Jim presents his hands, palms out, in surrender. "I can go, man. No big deal." The kid pushes his plate away and half-rises before John stops him.
"You owe me another beer," he says as he places his empty bottle on the corner of the table for the waitress to pick up.
Jim re-seats himself, looking suddenly much older than a twenty-three year old should. John thinks shit, what's the matter with me? and wonders when he became enough of a bastard to tear into a person for trying to be nice. His mother would have given him her patented I'm disappointed in you look. Curling his hand into a fist in his lap, John realizes he hasn't thought of his mother in decades.
That ridiculous name. At first when Kirk began to call him Bones, John would hold his breath for a moment, hearing Sarge's voice snap another nickname entirely. The skin on his upper arm would tingle where a tattoo used to be, once a proud declaration of who Grimm was and where he belonged. But despite that the identifying mark is gone from John's body, Reaper can never truly be erased.
"What?" The short response comes out more rough than he intended. "Sorry, my mind was... elsewhere."
Jim nods like he hears what John doesn't want to say beneath the words. "I won't ask," offers the kid and switches the subject with ease. "Gaila and a few of us are heading out to Shorty's tonight. Come with us."
He has heard of this nightclub in downtown San Francisco. It is a regular hang-out for Academy cadets looking to get trashed, laid, or both. "Depends," answers McCoy since that is who Jim is really asking. "How many times have you left there of your own volition and not courtesy of some overgrown thug?"
Jim grins. "I don't look for trouble, Bones, it finds me."
"Of course," mutters McCoy.
Jim is most likely going to get his face punched in by midnight and McCoy... McCoy will be there to shape it back into some semblance of order. It might be John, though, who surreptitiously snaps a few wrists to keep Kirk's cloud of chaos firmly on the side of stupid and out of deadly.
Jim, at Shorty's not long before he hits on the only female keeping company with a seven-foot neanderthal boyfriend, leans into John at the bar, throws an arm around his shoulders and slurs drunkenly, "I like you, Bones."
"And why is that?" asks John, downing a shot of whiskey and signaling the bartender for another shot.
"Cuz, uh..." Jim scrunches up his face in thought; McCoy has delivered newborns with prettier expressions. "'Cuz you 'n me, we're, like, the sssame. You're exactly who you are 'n you don't, don't give a flyin' fuck what they think." Jim gestures at the crowd when he says they. John dumps Kirk onto the stool beside him before Jim face-plants on the dirty floor. Jim tips his head back and swallows at the ceiling before going on to say, "I don't care either. I don't."
John holds up his new shot of whiskey and watches the club's flashing neon lights reflect off the amber liquid. You have no idea, no fucking idea, who I am, he thinks but says instead, "I'm a doctor and an asshole. That's all I need to be today."
Jim makes a noise that might be agreement or a precursor to vomiting. "Today," parrots Kirk mindlessly. "God, Bones, don't drinkthebluespecial," Jim warns him in a nearly incoherent jumble of words, "—shit, s'nasty stuff... ugh, my stomach—"
Jim pukes on the bar counter, creating a wide berth between the pair and the rest of the customers waiting on drinks. John came prepared because he had a feeling Jim would drink himself into a stupor (the kid is young and his track record shows a lack of good judgment; John checked out of habit), so the doctor stabs the man in the neck with a cocktail that will sober him up in three minutes flat, then shoves a bar towel into Jim's face to muffle any protest of pain.
A quarter of an hour and one bathroom trip later, Jim is clear-eyed and smelling only faintly of bile and sweat. John settles himself at a table, ignoring Gaila who thinks that a man admiring her chest is a man to be pursued, and watches with eyes slit against the smoky room as Kirk tries to charm a perky brunette. He sees the outcome of this little adventure long before Jim does.
The real mystery, John decides, is why he finds himself involved. Then the boyfriend makes an appearance and Jim is flattened into an awkward sprawl across a table. People begin to yell (and cheer) and John has no more time for contemplating said-involvement as he wades into the fray to catch a badly aimed fist and act the part of one mightily pissed off friend called Leonard McCoy, aka Bones.
John has spent two years in a stew of hormonal cadets and uptight instructors without going crazy.
“Christ, kid, why do you keep botherin’ me?” drawls John, an arm flung over his eyes. Three bottles of hard liquor later and he still isn’t drunk. But it is easy to pretend he isn’t sober.
“How’d you know it was me, Bones?” blurts out the hither-to quiet Jim.
“'Cause you stomp like a miniature elephant,” he gripes, not bothering to uncover his eyes.
There is a beat of silence then an incredulous “Did you just call me fat?”
“I’m saying everything sounds loud to me. But yeah, you could do without your morning donuts, Jim.”
Jim ignores John’s last comment. “Shit sounds loud because you’re drunk again.”
“Am not,” he slurs.
John tenses when the couch dips slightly but it’s just Jim bracing himself to pull a uniform jacket from under John’s legs.
“Normally, I would wonder why you don’t follow your own sage advice, Bones.”
Magpie, thinks John, chatters as well as collects bright objects. He chuckles.
“What’s your usual bullshit? ‘Quit drinkin' yourself to death, Jim, there ain’t no technology that’ll regrow a liver at that pace.’ Fucking bullshit, man.” Then Jim laughs. “Your hair—God, hold on and let me find my—“
“Hell no,” says John, sitting up to glare at Kirk. “I swear, I will twist your skeleton sideways if you take a picture of me.”
Jim stops rummaging through his backpack to frown at John. “Sometimes you say the weirdest shit, Bones.”
John sighs and scrubs at a hand over his face and then his hair, trying to flatten it. New downside, he notes wryly. Super powers don’t account for personal hygiene.
“Why are you here?” he calls to the crazy fool who has disappeared into John's tiny kitchenette, no doubt about to set something on fire.
Jim drags his head from the refrigerator to answer. “Where else would I be?”
John rolls his eyes. “Picking up a cadet with a venereal disease? Trying to patch a hole in your head?” He narrows his eyes. “You didn’t get into another fight, did you?” He curses as he leverages himself off the couch and kicks aside a pile of laundry, wondering where his medikit is. “Fuck.”
Jim hands him a glass of water. “If I was bleeding, I’d say something.”
“No, you wouldn’t.” But I’d smell the blood. John drains the glass and drops back to a sitting position.
Jim smirks and shrugs, settling on the couch. They sit together, saying nothing. John thinks he ought to rewire the security lock on his door, if Jim is able to hack it so easily. He is not certain when he stopped minding that Jim lets himself in.
“You want to talk about it?” Jim asks.
John frowns. “What?”
Jim looks away. “Whatever it is you’re trying to drown in bourbon.”
John lifts an eyebrow.
“Fine," Jim responds to his silence.
John scratches behind his ear, sighing. “Had a sister once. You’re more annoying than she ever was.”
Jim turns back to stare at him with interest. John wonders when the last time he spoke of anything personal to someone was. By Jim’s expression, never.
“You have a sister, Bones?”
“Did,” he replies flatly.
“Oh.” Jim’s gaze drops to the floor. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago.” He remarks lightly afterward, to ease the harshness, “Everybody loses someone, someday.”
Jim’s voice is almost as bitter as John’s. “I know.”
“I’d toast to that, except I’m out of booze.”
Jim seems to think this is a cue. He stands up, hands in his jacket pockets. “Then we’ll find some.”
He opens his mouth, ready to make an excuse, but John finds himself agreeing. “Okay.”
Jim waits patiently while John wipes his face and determines if he needs to change clothes for decency’s sake. At the door, Kirk stops him with “Wait” and offers John a comb. John’s fingers close around it, and he thinks of his sister, not for the first time today.
What better way to celebrate the anniversary of her death, he decides as he tackles his hair and follows Jim to the stairwell, than to go out and live.
"Starfleet Academy is still reeling from the loss of almost two-thirds of its student population in the aftermath of what people are now calling the Narada Incident..."
Two hundred years of evolution and the press are little better than the bastards John remembers from his early youth. None of these people have a fucking clue that the word "incident" cannot begin to cover the trauma they have lived through, or the profound grief the Vulcans, what little of them are left, are processing. It could have been Earth so easily, would have been, and yet people are going back to their lives.
Leonard spends the next several days diligently wading through patient cases of surviving ensigns from the damaged lower decks of the Enterprise. He keeps tabs on Captain Pike's recovery, prescribes sedatives by the dozen for those cadets who can barely cope, and fits as best he can into the tiny wrecked world of Starfleet Academy. When he isn't at the hospital, Starfleet Command is breathing down his neck, making him wait hours for an interview in which he is bombarded with a thousand questions at the same time—why did you do this?—when did Cadet Kirk do that?—how?—who?—where?, some things he cannot possibly answer. Then they send him on his way, back to the hospital, only to call him in for another round. This is the cycle he endures; all the while John is wondering when Leonard McCoy is going to crack, honest-to-God crack into pieces.
People say "Get some rest, Doctor" or "Leonard, you look like shit. Go home and go to bed." But sleep isn't the problem, not for John; it is his mind that he fights hour after hour. Sometimes he wonders if he is suffering PTSD like everybody else—except on a catastrophic scale. He doesn't know though, has no case study for comparison because John is the only human alive who has lived through more horrors than a man should.
John carefully positions a skin graft on a burn victim's arm and—Jesus—he's no longer in the operating room but kneeling in dirt, and the air smells like cooked flesh, reeks of horror—
"Careful, now," Doctor McCoy tells his patient as he gingerly wraps a bandage around the new tissue.
—he drops the arm of a dead woman; bodies disintegrate at the lightest touch—somebody is crying, maybe an aide worker, repeating Oh God, Oh God because the missile hit the city, obliterating it, before anyone realized it was coming—
Time to check on his next patient—victim—a man whose leg was crushed under a bulwark. He reaches for a medical chart—
—and John wakes up every morning, the sky always gray with ash, to continue the search for survivors but finding mostly dead—there aren't enough bodies to account for the 6 million missing because ground zero is nothing but miles of emptiness and bare traces of rubble—
"Doctor. Doctor McCoy!"
—the nuclear blast wiped out centuries of civilization in less than three seconds—
He draws in a deep breath, turning. "What?"
A nurse, a woman he met on the Enterprise named Christine Chapel, with a weary smile removes the chart from his grip. "Someone's asking for you up front."
John stares at her, numbers still pounding in his head. While he had volunteered for the relief effort in that one city, the bombs had kept dropping and by the time the warring factions stopped the killing over 37 million people were dead. It was the worst war on Earth, World War III. Now billions are no more than space dust and there isn't even a planet to salvage.
He manages, "Okay, I'll be there in a second" before finding the nearest bathroom, feeling thoroughly sick but unable to be sick. John composes himself, steps into the present again, and looks for the person seeking him.
It is Jim, leaning against a wall out of the way of hustling doctors and nurses. His head is down but John thinks the kid looks like he might sink to the floor in next moment. "Jim."
Kirk lifts his head, smiles briefly. "Hey, Bones. I hope I'm not..." The young man flinches and shifts uneasily. "Do you have a minute?"
"Sure, kid," he tries to soothe. "Let's step outside. I could use the fresh air."
Jim follows him through a staff-only rest area and onto a private balcony. Another person, a med-student by the look of him, is curled up in a lounge chair, asleep. John heads for the opposite end of the balcony.
They stand there, staring at the street below.
"I can't believe we made it," Jim says too quietly.
Leonard tells his friend, "Thanks to you, it wasn't as bad as it could have been."
Jim slumps against the railing like he can no longer bear the weight on his shoulders. "We should be thanking you, Bones," he says and that startles John. "If I hadn't been on the Enterprise..."
"We'd all be dead. But I doubt Command sees it quite like you and I do." His words are all sarcasm but no regret.
"I don't care!" Jim's hands twist on the metal rail, and John thinks that whoever Jim is picturing would be smart to steer clear of Jim Kirk. "I don't—fuck, Bones, I can't tell if I'm going to be out on my ass or wearing Command stripes. They won't leave me alone, and they won't tell me anything."
"Does it matter?" he asks carelessly, and Jim turns those vivid blue eyes on him.
"Yeah," Kirk tells him, "it does."
"I want a ship. I want a ship so I can fucking phaser-blast every asshole crusader out of this galaxy. Nero killed nine billion Vulcans," and there it is, the anger that is burning Jim from the inside out.
John takes Jim by the shoulders. "Do you know who you sound like, Jim? You sound like Nero."
He lets Jim's fist connect with his jaw because the kid needs to hurt someone and John can take it. He stumbles back against the railing but does not cry out. The pain of the blow is gone in an instant, like it never existed.
"Bones," Jim is saying, a hitch in his voice, "Bones."
He raises a hand to stall an apology. "Listen to me, Jim. Nero wanted someone to blame and he wanted someone to hurt, so he ended up hurting everybody. I don't want you to become that person. You can't change what he did; but what you can do—and already have done, in a way—is protect us from further harm without causing Nero's kind of damage. We need that, Jim—we need you to be that person."
The kid is on his knees but listening. John sinks down beside him and tilts Jim's face up to his, ignoring the tears catching on his thumb or the trembling muscles under his fingers.
"I don't think I can do it," Jim confesses. "Bones, I can't—every time I remember and all I feel is hate—"
Jim needs a promise, and John can give it to him. "Then I will stop you," he says softly, "before you cross that line."
The young man sags against him. "Thank you."
John drops his cheek onto the crown of Jim's head and closes his eyes. They sit like that, huddled together, until John catches the sound of someone calling "Doctor McCoy?" in the lounge area. Then he eases away from Kirk, saying nothing, and they part ways.
In a grand assembly, Jim is awarded the captaincy of Starfleet's flagship, USS Enterprise. When Jim approaches Leonard about the position of Chief Medical Officer, they both know his answer—and whether or not Jim believes in Leonard McCoy, John Grimm is fully capable of keeping that promise.
They leave Earth behind for the vastness of space, and John is almost relieved. He feels change ahead, craves it, because behind him is only the pain of his memories. If John doesn't find peace soon, he thinks it may be Jim who has to kill him.
Living on the Enterprise is better and worse than John anticipated. In the first month, Jim is the only person John encounters off-duty who doesn't make an excuse to run from CMO Leonard McCoy immediately. Kirk assures the doctor, "Bones, you scare the shit out of people. Once they get to know you like I do—" Jim's eyes are twinkling with amusement but John doesn't see what's so funny. "—the crew will stop expecting to be hypo-ed on sight and dragged to the med bay for tests."
"People carry disease, Jim," McCoy replies indignantly. "It's my job to give this crew a clean bill of health before we dock at the next starbase." Then, when Jim shrugs and turns his back, the Senior Medical Officer pulls a hypospray from his pocket and pumps Jim full of vitamin supplements before the Captain knows what's happening.
"Hey!" complains Kirk loudly enough to stop nearby ensigns in their tracks.
John pockets the empty hypospray again. He brushes past the scowling man, quirking his mouth and saying dryly, "The crew should be afraid of me." He turns to Kirk and adds, "But for the sake of building passable work relationships with these people, I'll get one of my nurses to spread the rumor that I only hypo the Captain on sight."
"Fuck, Bones, you're cruel."
He tilts his head in an imitation of the First Officer. "You just figured that out? You need to pay better attention, Captain."
Jim's response is an obscene hand gesture as he stalks away. John figures they both need to learn how to behave like decorous Starfleet officers.
Which brings him to the worse part of living in space on a tin can. (Leonard nicknames the starship as a "tin can" because irascibility—if played right—gives McCoy characterization people can accept and a way to keep people distant, if he chooses to do so. John is proud of McCoy's quirks.)
Spock. The First Officer's priority list seems to rank Discussing proper behavior with uncouth officers I plan to irritate in the top ten. When Doctor McCoy joked as much (in a snide way, which John admits might not have been the best idea), the Vulcan took the doctor's words as personal evidence of Leonard McCoy's imperative cry for help. Spock suggested a step-program for officers in need of "behavioral rehabilitation"—like McCoy had come straight from a penal colony or somewhere equally unsavory.
John ultimately kicked the First Officer out of his office, telling Spock to come back when he had removed that "monumental stick outta his green-blooded ass!" They haven't been on good terms since.
It occurs to John much later that his strongly worded missive to Starfleet Command and Medical—Jim called it a "McCoy-right fucking now-demand"—for a doctor on staff who knows how to piece a Vulcan back together might be a sign of remorse; but he never says a word otherwise to Spock about Dr. Geoff M'Benga's arrival. The Vulcan keeps his silence, too, and they are reduced to wordlessly greeting each other with too-sharp nods in passing.
Jim is under the impression that his two senior officers will eventually resolve their issues. McCoy's response to this pronouncement is "Hope on, Captain, but don't hold your breath."
Kirk merely grins like he knows something no one else does, and John is smart enough not to take the bait.
In spite of his doubts, John settles into the role of Leonard McCoy, Chief Surgeon and Medical Officer with ease—and, as Jim predicts, most crewmen warm to him. Except Spock, but John thinks he is doing quite all right without the hobgoblin.
"Ah Hell, have you seen that extra set of scalpels?" Leonard McCoy opens three drawers, brows drawn, before one of the medical personnel spies the doctor rummaging through a supply cabinet. He frowns at a petite woman as she pulls him gently but firmly to the side.
"Doctor McCoy, I believe that the Captain was looking for you." Her meaning is quite clear: quit making a mess.
"This is my Sickbay," he argues.
"Of course it is," the nurse says agreeably. "You can comm Captain Kirk from your office. I'll make sure that no one disturbs you."
There isn't much else to say to that, and John finds himself wondering when he went from CMO of the USS Enterprise to whipped-surgeon in his own medical bay. He suspects, as he closes the door to his office, that his head nurse is at fault. Because Christine Chapel isn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with Doctor McCoy in a yelling match (and boy can she shout, he remembers, smirking), the rest of the staff don't find him as scary as they should. John is forced to get his kicks by threatening oblivious ensigns outside of Medical and watching them run.
Days like this, he feels his age.
"Sickbay to Bridge. Uhura, put Jim on, will you?"
"Yes, Doctor McCoy." He listens to Uhura's "Captain" and, damn, but no one can put as much attitude and I still think you're a farm boy into that one word like Nyota can. Their leader needs the reminder that while he may be the highest authority aboard he is still Jim Kirk, friend and resident idiot.
"Bones!" a cheerful familiar voice pipes over the comm unit.
He sighs as loudly as possible. "What do you need, kid?"
Oh yeah, Jim definitely could use a few knocks to his expanding ego. Six months into the Enterprise's five-year mission and Kirk is already complacent about his captaincy.
"Jim, I don't have time to chat." Which is a lie but he's not allowed to rifle through his own sickbay to pass the time. "Either spit it out, or I can arrange a medical visit for you. We have the new inoculation shots for the Argosian pox," he adds menacingly.
"Okay, okay. Sorry." Jim's voice lowers to a hushed quality but that does nothing to lessen the sound of his excitement. "1900, Rec Room 3, Deck 5. Spock and I'll be dueling it out over a chess board."
John straightens from his slouch. "How did you get him to agree?"
Jim has been trying to socialize with the Vulcan for the better part of three months, but Spock has evaded each attempt thus far. The doctor was beginning to suspect that Spock was enjoying the idea of making Jim sweat over their non-existent friendship. Jim obviously hates having a First Officer who doesn't like him.
He grumps before Jim can reply, "The hobgoblin probably just wants another opportunity to kick your ass—without winding up under court marital."
"He's already kicked my ass," says the Captain good-naturedly.
Isn't that the truth?
Jim may have purposefully provoked Spock into a violent display of "emotional compromise" but it could have easily gotten the kid killed. John remembers too poignantly standing there, feeling the shock and hesitancy of the people around him; he felt hesitancy, too, because he could pull Spock off of Kirk but in doing so would reveal his un-humanlike strength to a dozen or more witnesses. Such a quick and easy way to end Leonard McCoy's budding career.
"Congratulations then, Captain. Avoid taunting Mr. Spock this time. I still haven't figured out the extent of damage a Vulcan nerve-pinch can cause to a human."
"Spock says it's a temporary and painless solution to an immediate problem."
"Yeah and God forbid if our resident Vulcan might be wrong. I'm the doctor, Jim, so my know-how counts more than his. McCoy out."
John doesn't stop by the rec room that night because he tells himself that solitude is the healthier choice. Truth be told, he is rather proud of Jim for making a dent in the Vulcan's shell of isolation. If the Captain and First Officer learn to respect one another on a personal level, the crew of the Enterprise will be strengthened because of it. Yet John also admits to jealousy over Kirk and Spock's potential friendship, which will be built from genuine acceptance on both sides. Leonard McCoy/John Grimm/whatever-he-has-become-now simply cannot afford the luxury of a true friendship; it requires honesty and trust, and while John can accept both, he cannot return them in equal measure.
John lies in his single-sized bed, arms crossed behind his head, and ponders exactly when Leonard McCoy began to supersede John Grimm. He is disturbed to realize that he wants McCoy to be more than a reflection of a medical blue uniformed man, with a sour smile and a talent for medicine, in the eyes of his colleagues. He wants to look in the mirror and see Leonard, too.
During its eighth month since launching from Earth, the Enterprise passes through a sect of the Alpha quadrant that normally sees little trafficking activity.
John is not busy in a medical capacity but half-hidden by a massive tower of PADDs in his office when the red alert is engaged. He goes perfectly still for a moment, listening, but there is no sense of panic in the air. Forcing down the ingrained need to find a weapon, he waits, distracted by the sound of the klaxons, until Christine gives his open doorway a token tap.
"Doctor," she says, her hands already reaching to sort through the precarious stack of reports on the corner of his desk. "Mr. Spock called. The ship's sensors picked up a signal from a vessel about an hour ago and we are within visual range now."
"What does he want me to do? Interpret smoke signals?" John asks in irritation, tossing a report he is certain he will snap in two in another minute into a drawer.
Chapel rolls her eyes at him. "Leonard, there are signs of life onboard."
"No! A space ship manned by living creatures?" he drawls. "You must be pulling my leg, Chris."
She looks at him with no small amount of exasperation. "Pull your leg? Are you certain you were born in this century?"
He says, "Oh, I definitely wasn't, trust me on that," as he rises. "What is it that caught your attention, Chapel?"
They walk side by side to another section of the medical bay and though his stride is not hurried, John can't shake his tension.
"The bioscanners show several heart rates, with a mean of roughly ten beats per minutes."
Now that is unusual. "Humanoid?" he muses, looking at the data spikes on the monitor. "But no respiration." John taps a finger against his mouth in thought. Then he reaches over to the side and pushes a button. "McCoy to Captain Kirk."
"Kirk here. Is the vessel occupied?"
"Decidedly so, Jim, but the information we are gettin' indicates they may be in some sort of distress or... stasis. Readings are faint yet our equipment is functional. Scotty inspected and approved it just last week."
"It's an old model ship, Bones. Spock thinks it dates before the turn of the 21st century. Looks like DY-500 to me."
McCoy hears Spock's unmistakable intonation in the background: "Much older. The DY-100 class to be exact."
"I want to take a look at it, Jim."
"Sure, Bones. Kirk out."
He arrives on the Bridge in time to hear Spock declare that the name of the DY-100 vessel is the SS Botany Bay. John sucks in a sharp breath.
Jim looks at him. "Bones? Does that name mean something to you?"
"Not in a personal way, Captain," he answers flatly. "It's just... a name from history—" Glancing at Spock, he clarifies, "—Earth history during the 18th century. Botany Bay was a British penal colony on the coast of Australia. Of course the name stuck even after the colony was discontinued." He is certain of his facts because he lived in Sydney once, working as an extra hand on various fishing boats that skimmed through the Botany Bay. That was a quiet time in his life, when he desperately needed peace, right after his sister had died.
Even in space, John thinks, he cannot escape reminders of his past.
Captain Kirk drums his fingers on the captain's chair, staring at the SS Botany Bay on the Bridge screen.
"Well, Jim?" the CMO prompts. "Are we going over there?"
Jim turns very blue eyes on him, amused. "Are you volunteering, Bones?"
"I didn't expect I would have a choice."
Kirk laughs. "Right. Mr. Spock, you have the conn," remarks the Captain as he steps down from his seat with obvious exuberance. "Tell Scotty to meet us at the transporter." McCoy and Kirk are the door of the turbolift when Jim tosses out, "And find somebody who knows about the 20th century!"
If at all possible, Scotty is more bouncy than Kirk. The Scotsman is already in the Transporter Room, and John suspects the engineer may have been camped there, ready to insinuate himself into the beaming party if necessary. "A real piece of work I bet she is!" crows the Chief Engineer. "Ye cannae imagine, Capt'n, what a discovery this is! Pre-warp engineerin', when our ancestors first took to the stars..."
John opens his mouth but Jim cuts in, "Let him be, Bones."
"Fine," grunts McCoy, "but if he gives himself a brain aneurysm from pure joy, you're writin' the report about it."
They have just stepped onto the platform when a woman with dark hair and large eyes rushes in, crying, "Wait!" She looks breathless and excited as she takes her place next to McCoy. Then the woman leans toward him to whisper "Isn't this wonderful?"
Spock's revenge for remaining on the ship, of course, would be to send the next best replacement to annoy Leonard McCoy: another enthusiast. As if there aren't enough already.
She blushes when Kirk grins at her, asking, "Welcome to the party...?"
"Mira Romaine, Sir. I, uh, I'm not a historian but Mr. Spock attended my classification exhibit on Earth ships, back at the Academy. He said it was fascinating." She shuts up suddenly like she has said more than she intended to.
"A lass after me own heart," grins Mr. Scott.
"You'll do," the Captain tells her with a twinkle in his eyes. Kirk nods to the techs behind the transporter with "Beam us to the ship, gentlemen." Scotty makes a noise of sheer delight, and Lt. Romaine shivers, actually shivers in blatant anticipation.
John's mutter is full of Leonard's sarcasm. "Great. Just great." Then his molecules are dispersed.
"Wow," Mira remarks, eyes wide.
Engineer Scott, currently prying off a panel inside the SS Botany Bay with apparent glee, agrees. "Aye, lass. This'll be a day ye never forget!"
She passes by John in a sort of daze, talking. "My roommate Marla would have loved this. She was the historian, 20th century, practically in love with Earth's old emperors and despots, like Caesar and Peter the Great. S-she was so smart, if a little obsessed—" The woman falters, tugging at her bottom lip. "Never mind. Okay! Where to begin?" Whatever pep talk the lieutenant gives herself seems to work.
Scotty's advice is muffled by wires and metal as he is shoulders-deep in circuitry. Jim, however, calls them further into the ship with "Here!"
Scotty stays behind but McCoy and Romaine seek out Jim. In an adjacent area, like a long hallway, they encounter stacked rows of horizontal cells, windows clouded by age. John kneels on the floor and touches the glass, which is cold and not glass at all but thick plastic. He can make out the distinct shape of a body inside the cell. "Jim, I think we found the crew." His medical tricorder confirms his statement.
Jim frowns as he surveys the area. Lieutenant Romaine turns to them from further down the aisle, hands skimming over the walls. "It's a sleeper ship, Captain," she says. "Before Zefram Cochrane invented the warp drive, Earth's ships could only achieve interplanetary travel—and even then, the journey was lengthy for a human so the passengers were cryogenically frozen."
The doctor lifts an eyebrow. "Sleeper ships were never that popular. Cryogenic freezing is a lot like death, and most people weren't willing to take the chance of never waking up." Besides, Earth was more focused on the planets in their own solar system into the mid 21st century—and as with Mars and its Ark, had other, if secret, means of transportation.
The woman blinks at him. "You know something about ships then, Doctor McCoy?"
He shrugs, cursing silently. "Read about 'em in school, is all. The medical use of cryogenics was worth studying."
Jim interrupts. "I want to know if these people are still alive. According to you, Bones, they are."
"A heart still beatin' doesn't necessarily mean the other organs can function like they should. Jim, a human in fit condition can only be kept in stasis for so long. If this ship is from the 1990s like Spock thinks, I... don't know. Two and a half centuries—that's far beyond the timeframe of any study conducted on the subject."
"So waking them might be possible; worst case none of them survive." Jim shakes his head, says seriously, "If's and maybe's don't matter at this point. It's not our decision to make. We're locked onto the SS Botany Bay by tractor beam. The Enterprise will escort it to Starbase 12."
John couldn't agree more. "Jim, we should—"
The ship groans without warning and overhead air ducts hiss in a spray of steam. John almost drops his tricorder, thinking he needs his gun and he needs it now, but he catches himself and lets his muscles twitch without acting on his impulses.
Scotty's voice echoes, slightly panicked, "Och, it wasn't me, Capt'n! The ship, she's following her protocol!"
"Sir!" calls Lt. Romaine, "This one is lighting up!"
Jim and McCoy both join her, watching as the window of a cell clears enough to reveal a clothed male figure. The doctor adjusts his tricorder, reading out, "Heart rate increasing steadily, Jim. Whatever the ship is doing, it has triggered the chamber to reverse stasis. Respiration rising to 21%, heart rate now 29 beats per minute."
"This is not the best scenario," Jim mutters to no one in particular.
"He must be the leader or the captain," says Mira. "He would be the last to sleep, the first to rise."
Scotty squeezes himself between Jim and Leonard. "I've always enjoyed a mite of poetry," he beams at the lieutenant. She blushes in response.
John remarks dryly, "I hate to break up this courting session, but if this man is going to remain alive, we have to get him out of there soon. His vitals are dipping again."
"The machinery's too old," inputs Mr. Scott. "I noticed some of the other cells are dead a'ready. Let me see what I can do..." He pulls out a tool from his belt and mumbles lowly as he works.
"Heart rate slowing back to 18 beats per minute. Jim, we're gonna lose him!"
"Scotty!" the Captain snaps.
"Capt'n, it's sealed tight. If we had some leverage…"
John frowns at his tricorder. The man's heart rate is holding at 14 beats per minute, strangely enough, like he is fighting to survive.
Jim tries to break through the window, but John pulls him back from a second futile attempt. "It's thick polythane; you'd need heat to melt it."
Kirk's "Shit!" is heartfelt; John sympathizes.
"Scotty," the doctor barks, "I think I saw a piece of metal bar lying back at the front. It could be useful in budging this. Jim, you aren't doing any good here. Go help him look."
For once, the kid doesn't argue or wonder why Leonard McCoy is issuing orders. John looks at Mira, who is staring into the cell. Neither of them can see the man's features well but his hair is dark. "Lieutenant, I need a favor."
Romaine instantly straightens. "Of course, Doctor McCoy."
He hands her the tricorder. "You know the basics of this device?"
She nods. "Yes, Sir."
"Scan other cold cells for activity, starting at the end down there. Tell me how many aren't showing vitals."
Mira hesitates, glancing at the dimly lit chamber.
"Don't think about him," John says softly. "We can't do anything to help him right now."
The officer hurries away.
"Goddamn it!" John breathes and then draws back a fist and slams it into the side of the casing. The metal yields enough that he can dig his fingers under the outer rim of the window. The plastic and metal crumple under his strength until he can feel the latching mechanism on the inside. A quick twist, and it snaps. The pane falls open just as Jim and Scotty round the corner, empty-handed. Lucky for John, the long metal slab that the body rests on slides out, covering the damaged end of the window.
John stares down at the face of the man, sees the sharp-angled cheekbones and Roman nose, and recognizes him immediately. How could he not, after thoroughly researching the only examples of super-humans in history, similar to him but disappointingly not, to learn that they are long dead.
Except... they aren't dead, and that's worse than he imagined.
He doesn't bother calling for Mira.
Jim leans over McCoy's shoulder as the doctor presses his fingers into the cold skin of the man's neck, counting heartbeats.
Captain Kirk is demanding, "Bones, how did you—"
"Jim," he hisses, "I need to get this man to Sickbay. Now."
I need to toss him out an airlock before he wakes up.
Fuck, he can't because Jim is there, and Leonard is a doctor not a murderer.
Kirk's sharp eyes linger on him for a second before Jim pulls out his comm unit and requests immediate transportation for Doctor McCoy and his patient.
John will decide later how he is going to explain their little miracle. When he forms on the transporter pad, his patient prone beside him, the techs hovering nearby inform him, "A medical team is on the way, Doctor McCoy."
He nods, past the point of paying attention to anything other than the man under his hand, who coughs. Eyelids lift, revealing dark, dark eyes. The man blinks once, seems to sense McCoy's presence and that dark gaze wavers, seeking him.
John leans in and says, "Don't move."
The man's mouth works, almost soundless, but John hears the forced words: "How long?"
He answers grimly, "Not long enough, Khan."
But Khan Noonien Singh's eyes close again, and John doesn't know if the man heard him. When McCoy's team arrives, he stands aside while they hustle Khan away, already certain that he has made a terrible mistake.
Chapter 3: Chapter Two
Jim paces the Bridge.
Scotty and Lt. Romaine are overseeing a small ragtag team of scientists and engineers on the SS Botany Bay. While they unravel the mysteries of the sleeper ship, Kirk compiles a list of questions that he wants answered. Currently, his best possible source for answers is the man under McCoy's care in Sickbay. The man's condition is tenuous, though Bones says that his recuperative powers are on par with Spock's. Unusual for a human, Jim thinks, and that leads him to yet another question.
He has lived on instinct for years, honed that instinct as a youth on the Tarsus IV colony under traumatic conditions. He knows that his past makes him vulnerable in ways that he can't help—physically because his body will never be as strong as it might have been before starvation; mentally, since no one comes back from hell with a healthy mind. But his fortitude and his iron will are unbroken. They made him an acceptable candidate for service in Starfleet, his intelligence created a smooth path through the Academy, and his skill under pressure proved to the Command Board he could function well enough as a captain. Beyond that, Kirk is under no illusions. With his surname and the title of "Savior of Earth" the Enterprise is no less than what the people of the Federation would expect for his first command vessel. Good publicity and decimation of the officer pool count for everything, and in the scheme of things, once Jim has served in spotlight for this five-year mission they will find a way to be rid of him. Let James T. Kirk run his course, the Admirals agree—it will be a short one.
But that is Jim's paranoia talking, as it is wont to do.
An outwardly paranoid Captain is a liability; so Jim suffers his paranoia in silence, for the sake of his ship and his command.
It is the formidable combination of his paranoia and his instinct which raises the hairs on the back of his neck. There is no reason to suspect danger yet, not with a ship of sleeping passengers. He was excited earlier, seeing a chance to make a historical contribution and leave a legacy of his service that had meaning, but that excitement dissipated in the wake of reality. Now he thinks of the practicalities: explaining circumstances to a two hundred year-old Earth man; determining the mission of an ancient vessel carrying 80 cryogenically frozen humans; evaluating the potential threat to his crew.
Every child learns basic history of the late 20th century: natural disasters, man-made disasters, war and intermittent peace. Less is known about the 1990s than any other decade because Earth was broken into multiple war-driven empires, the unfortunate product of a group of genetically enhanced humans who sought to rule the world but fought one another fiercely for that rule in petty wars, crushing the lives of ordinary people like trash to be tossed away, until there was revolution and too much bloodshed. Perhaps the vessel contains people who sought escape from a war-torn world. Today there are colonies dedicated to the sanctuary of refugees; but during those budding years of Earth's space travel, sanctuary in space was impractical, nearly impossible. Jim considers the possibility that the SS Botany Bay's cargo of humans is not people fleeing but people forced to flee. And that ratchets his paranoia up another notch.
He ignores Spock's inquisitive "Captain?" and settles into his command chair, chin in hand, determined not to think of his questions until he is assured of answers.
Forcing his mind elsewhere has the effect of bringing up the other half of his troubles: Bones.
Sometimes Jim is certain he knows everything there is to know about Leonard McCoy. Bones is caustic, dry-witted, prickly, and sharp; he also works with gentle hands, speaks with a frankness that most people can't, and lives by a personal code of honor that Jim envies.
Then something changes, like a light being turned out, and Bones is just different. It never lasts, those moments, but Jim will see McCoy and wonder if he isn't looking into the eyes of a stranger. Those are times when Bones seems to remind himself of something, like a penance he has to serve or a goal he might have forgotten; then the man Jim feels a kinship with withdraws and becomes this person with hard lines about his mouth and a quality to his behavior that eludes Jim but haunts him nevertheless. There is a piece to the puzzle of Leonard McCoy that Jim is missing. Until Bones willingly offers it to him, Jim will never know what causes such changes in his friend; until that time, he must live with the knowledge that Bones does not trust him completely.
But then again, who is Kirk to judge? Jim has his secrets, too.
He can never speak of Tarsus IV, not simply by order of his superiors but because the words are hiding inside him, afraid of being found, like he used to be when he hid from Kodos's men, huddled with a hand over his mouth. There is pain in the revelation, a pain he has lived through before: when he promised his friends, children smaller than himself, that he would keep them alive but couldn't in the end; after his rescue, when his mother sat by his hospital bed, running a hand over the pale flesh of his back, over too-prominent ribs and the knobs of his spine; during therapy, when he had to say he was okay and yes, I'm lucky; sure, I'm happy; bad things happen to good people.
But he didn't know any of that, if he was okay or lucky or destined to be the kid that survives horrific disasters. The one thing he believed, still believes today, as a result of his experience is: bad things don't happen; bad people happen.
And Jim has been thrown in the path of too many bad people, too often, like a human sacrifice.
Well, no more, he thinks. I am in control of my own destiny.
The voice in his ear is Spock's. Jim comes back to himself, realizing he is clutching the arms of his chair. He drops his hands onto his knees, pressing bruises into them instead. "Yes, Mr. Spock?"
"Doctor McCoy has requested my presence in Sickbay."
Spock doesn't say "our presence" and the Vulcan wouldn't lie. Kirk sighs. The man must not be awake yet.
"That's fine, Mr. Spock."
The Vulcan accepts Jim's tacit permission and exits the Bridge.
Jim wants to put his head into his hands but he is on duty so he remains perfectly still, perfectly in control, waiting for the next disaster to try to turn him inside out.
Khan stabilizes without much help from McCoy or his medical instruments. The process is almost fascinating to watch, as the body of the super-human quickly soaks up nutrients and stimulants. Doctor McCoy directs his staff to focus on collecting data while Khan is still unconscious and un-protesting.
The CMO slips a sedative into Khan's I.V. when he is alone with the patient, doubling the amount he would for a regular human. If Khan is like John, the sedative won't be effective for long—but it might buy the precious time John needs to determine the kind of monster this crew will face once Khan Noonien Singh is awake and in full form. No one questions McCoy's order to have Khan comfortably situated in the isolation unit closest to the CMO's office. When Khan awakens, he will hear it.
John muses over stats and figures, grim but impressed. Khan's body is engineered to be highly efficient—enhanced lung capacity, almost double the average heart rate for a human, naturally strong muscles—things that would create a quicker, more able-bodied and resilient man. It is little wonder that Khan ruled a quarter of the Earth's population; he would be treacherously difficult to defeat in a physical fight alone. John can only conclude, since Khan Noonien Singh was the most tyrannical of the super-humans during the 1990s, that Khan's physical capacity is merely one side of the coin. The other side would be mental aptitude, something that geneticists would strive to improve as well.
Khan is dangerous in every sense of the word.
And John is responsible for Khan's recovery, at least partly. He may not be able to rectify his grievous error at this moment—himself—but there are precautions he can take and allies he can enlist, if unknowingly. After a short inner battle, John comms the Bridge and asks the First Officer to join him in Sickbay. Spock is quick to reply with "On my way, Doctor. Spock out."
Spock arrives without delay and stands in front of the CMO's desk with hands clasped behind his back and dark eyes fixed on McCoy.
John slides a medical report across the desk to the Vulcan. "Look it over and tell me what you think."
Spock complies, lifting an eyebrow as he reads. "Fascinating," summarizes the Vulcan.
"From a scientific perspective, yes it is, Mr. Spock. But I didn't ask you here to discuss theory."
"A conclusion must be drawn from facts, Doctor."
John nods. "Then how's this for a fact: the Earth's Eugenics War resulted in the death of several million people."
"A violent time in your planet's history," agrees Spock.
"One such time," he adds without inflection, "but certainly not the worst."
Spock says nothing, simply waits for the doctor to continue—which John appreciates, even if he would never say so.
"Our mystery man is genetically human, Spock, but considering what I have discovered about his body functions, he's what I'd call super-human."
"You propose that he is the result of selective breeding."
John nods. "I'm certain of it. Until he wakes, we won't know without proof. Even then, if this man is what we think he is, he would have every inclination to keep his silence."
Spock stares at him for a long moment. "Since its discovery, I have attempted to locate the records of the SS Botany Bay."
"And there's nothing?"
"Which goes to show that we ought to be suspicious." John stands and walks over to Spock, then past him to face the open doorway. He listens but hears only the sound of the monitor above Khan's biobed. "Spock," he says, turning, "there are chronicles of a man named Dr. Exeter who worked on the genome project that led to the Eugenics War. It's obscure, published post-humously, and not something a person would necessarily notice unless he was looking for it."
"The chronicles' relevance, Doctor?" Spock asks him softly.
"If we are lucky, identification." He meets Spock's eyes. "This is important, Spock. I'm just a doctor. You need to take this to the Captain."
Spock's eyebrows can frown after all. "You are this ship's senior medical officer. Your position affords you the Captain's confidence; it also requires that you bring attention to any potential harm to this vessel and crew. I fail to understand your evasive actions, Doctor."
"I have my reasons, which do not—I assure you—affect my ability to serve as CMO. 'Sides, you are First Officer and technically I just entrusted you with my confidence. All I'm asking from you, Spock, is to keep my name out of the credits."
Vulcans are nosy. John raises a hand then drops it in a helpless gesture. "I told you. I'm the doctor—my first priority will always be my patient, no matter who that patient is. I'd wait until he is no longer under my care but by then it may be too late."
The First Officer inclines his head, accepting a truth which isn't an answer. "As you wish then, Doctor McCoy. I must return to the Bridge."
"Thank you, Spock."
John steps aside to let the Vulcan pass, and as he does so, Spock pauses to say, "I did not realize your interests lay in history as well as medicine. Perhaps, in the future, you would find a discussion of the subject agreeable?"
John sighs. "Perhaps, Spock."
He lingers in his office only a minute after Spock is gone. Then the doctor goes to Khan's room to await a confrontation he cannot avoid.
Khan wakes up without a sound; his eyes simply open and he sits up like he has been switched on. Only then does the man breathe deeply once, twice and take in his surroundings. He stretches his arms, pleased at the proper, energetic response of his muscles and stands, certain that his body will obey him.
There is a man across the room, watching him. He feels no fear or worry, only the calm after a long meditation.
Beginning on his left, he slowly turns about the room, cataloguing what he recognizes, scrutinizing what he does not. His eyes skip over the silent companion, saving the most intriguing object for last. As he does his visual sweep, he also skims through his last memories: careful preparations for a new, better ambition; inspecting the Botany Bay which would carry him and those loyal to his command; and his final conscious moment from the past, sharp in his mind, before he succumbed to the coldness of his chamber.
But there is an oddity he cannot place—Khan, someone calling his name in a language he understands. The voice which identified him, though—that voice would make a man wary.
Having concluded what he can, Khan decides it is appropriate that his first steps into a future he dreamed of take him to the frontline of battle. When he is within an arm's reach of the other man, he says without preamble, "You know me."
Excellent. Khan respects a straight-forward enemy.
"Since you know my name, and I do not know yours, you have me at a disadvantage. Please, introduce yourself."
"I'm your doctor. Have a seat."
His mouth stretches with amusement. "But I have been prone for much too long, doctor. It pleases me to stand. Tell me, what is this place?"
The man moves, then, toward the bed from which Khan had risen. He has the grace of a man of power but only in his movements.
"You are on the United Star Ship Enterprise."
"I have been informed that 7 of your cryo-chambers are not functional. The rest remain in stasis."
Overall, an insignificant number of casualties. Khan inclines his head in acceptance. "The year?"
He cannot help a soft gasp of "So long?" Then Khan is under control again.
His doctor seems unsympathetic. "Your ship survived two centuries on nuclear power, this far into space—even our best engineer is astounded."
Khan circles opposite of the doctor. They watch each other, the bed between them. Khan doubts it would hinder either of them in an attack.
"I do not find it mysterious; it is destiny," he says while studying the twitching muscle in the doctor's jaw, "that my mission should succeed." He lets his gaze flicker to the medical instruments on his right. He talks as he assesses, finding no adequate weapons. The next move must change then. "You say this is a starship. I see that great technological advances have been made in space travel. I wish to study this. I have an interest in engineering."
The doctor ignores his request. "Your mission—what would that be?"
"You are important on this Enterprise, yes, but not the leader, I suspect." Khan adds graciously, "You must correct me if I am wrong, doctor."
Khan casually lowers his body into a sitting position on the bed. "I will speak to your captain now." When the man turns, he prompts, "Your name. We are officially acquainted, are we not? Tell me your name."
Khan tests it. "McCoy. Doctor McCoy. Well met."
McCoy leaves without replying but Khan hears his voice outside the room a moment later. "Sickbay to Bridge. Captain, you're needed here. He's awake."
A male voice replies, "On my way. Kirk out."
Khan settles against his pillows, closing his eyes but still aware, and says nothing as McCoy returns to the room to watch him again like a prison guard.
When some of the tension in the room has settled, Khan speaks without opening his eyes. "You have an accent. I did not notice this until the moment you asked for your captain. Most interesting, McCoy. You are a man of many mysteries."
"I am Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise. The rest is irrelevant."
Khan murmurs "Excellent," opening his eyes to see McCoy cross-armed, face unreadable.
How little human nature has changed in two centuries, he decides. If Man is unchanged, so is War. That, more than anything, tells Khan he shall do well in the 23rd century.
Khan is the sleeping tiger. Once Khan is awake, John recognizes him on a gut level, senses Khan's power. The man has an almost hypnotic magnetism, the kind that a predator uses to distract its prey before making the kill.
John reverts back to Sarge's strict rules: don't give yourself away, keep the target in sight, and bluff like a dead man.
He fails in at least one aspect of this, because Khan already sees him in layers, the doctor McCoy and the man beneath who sounds nothing like McCoy. John hardens his resolve to remove Khan from the Enterprise as quickly as possible.
Jim arrives and McCoy is back, explaining to the Captain that their patient is in perfect health. Khan, however, cuts into Doctor McCoy's report with "You are Captain?" said in such a way that Kirk instantly stiffens, despite the mildness of his expression.
"I am," Jim replies. "James Kirk, commanding the starship Enterprise."
"You are young," Khan remarks.
John says pointedly, "He is capable."
"Forgive me, Captain Kirk," Khan backtracks with ease, ignoring McCoy. "I was merely surprised. Do not take offense. The Emperor Alexander went to war at the age of sixteen; by twenty he held a seat of power. The greatest of men begin as ambitious youths."
John says, somewhat grimly, "I told you, Jim. He's perfectly lucid."
"You are fortunate," Kirk tells Khan. "Doctor McCoy saved your life. Your cell malfunctioned and he found a way to open it."
"Did he?" asks Khan, heavy-lidded eyes fixed on the doctor. "Then, McCoy, perhaps some day I will repay the debt in kind," he says genially, and an unpleasant feeling crawls along John's spine.
Jim shifts on his feet, drawing Khan's attention again. "I know that you have questions, but for the safety of my ship and crew, you must answer my questions first." Kirk makes an obvious effort to lighten his tone. "For now, I have only two."
"You may ask," allows Khan.
"What is the purpose of your starflight?"
"Do you know of the world I left behind, Captain?"
"I believe I do. Your vessel is of the DY-100 class, the best of its kind during the 1990s."
"Yes," replies Khan. He looks so relaxed, propped by pillows. John wonders why his own heart rate is rising.
Khan waves his hand like a man speaking of triviality. "Earth was not as welcoming as it had once been, Captain. I and those who felt as I did left the world behind, in search of our Eden. Can you fault us for our dreams?"
Kirk doesn't take the bait. He asks instead, "Who are you?"
Khan's posture visibly changes, not tensing but coiling back, as if in surprise. John remains motionless, eyes meeting Khan's, when he looks sharply at. The man is silent for a moment before he turns back to Kirk.
"Khan," he says. "I am Khan."
"Welcome to the 23rd century, Khan," Jim replies courteously. "Once Doctor McCoy releases you from Sickbay, guest's quarter will be available for your comfort during our journey."
Khan sits up. "Time must not be wasted. My crew—you will revive them."
Jim is equally implacable. "No. The Enterprise is headed for our command base in this sect. My decision stands in the best interest of all parties, Khan. I hope you understand that."
John shifts so that he can easily block an attack on the captain.
Khan states flatly, "I see." He lies back, languid again, and declares, "I must rest. I grow fatigued."
Kirk nods. "Very well. Bones, with me."
John follows Jim from the room. When Kirk stops along the hall, clearly wanting to talk, John shakes his head and leads Jim far out of Khan's hearing range. They step into a private examination room.
Jim looks bemused. "Is this really necessary, Bones?"
"Yes," he says but explains no further. "Do you recognize his name, Khan?" he asks before Jim can say anything.
The kid frowns. "No."
John rubs his knuckles against his mouth then drops his hand back to his side. "Look, we need to figure out who he is and what he wants."
"I agree with you, Bones. Spock will find something useful."
Yeah, he'd better, John wants to snap. "If anybody on this ship can dig up Khan's records, it'll be the hobgoblin," the doctor says sourly.
"Bones, what's the matter with you?"
John pulls his shoulder out from under Jim's hand. "Nothing except that we can't let Khan blindly wander the ship. He's strong, Jim. I estimate he can lift us both with one arm, and his vitals are more efficient than I've ever seen in a human." His voice softens. "Do you understand what I'm tellin' you?"
Jim's jaw flexes, a sign that Kirk is grinding his teeth. "Khan is dangerous."
John snorts. "That's part of it, kid."
Jim turns away, but there isn't much room to move, let alone pace, where they currently are. "Okay, Bones. I do know what you are driving at. Contrary to belief, I didn't sleep through my history courses." He is facing John again, without warning, breaching the personal space between them. "I don't cry foul until I am certain of my accusations. We'll monitor his activity for now."
"And if he proves to be a threat?"
Kirk does not answer; he doesn't need to.
“Do you not sleep, doctor?” Khan asks when McCoy checks on his patient for the third time in a couple of hours. Gamma shift is in full swing, and the ship’s subtle hum of power is more noticeable to John now than during any other shift, when the hustle and bustle of the Enterprise is at half its usual intensity.
John doesn’t answer that, though they are both aware of why he refuses to retire from the medical bay. Khan treats his doctor like an amusing entertainment, but beneath his smooth talk Khan is prodding at Leonard McCoy for weakness.
Khan is cross-legged on his bed, a small reading tablet in his lap. The scene is not uncommon for bored patients. Still, John has to resist the urge to snatch the PADD from Khan. Perhaps the man observes a hint of that sentiment in John’s tightly pressed mouth. He explains, “A nurse brought me reading material to pass the long hours.”
And what the hell have you been studying so intently, Khan? He'll hack into the system later and track Khan's activity.
Khan continues, “This device proves helpful. I am learning much of this century.”
Better for John to rip his own band-aid off quickly. “I’ll sign your release papers in the morning.”
“Excellent, excellent. I desire to see more of your ship. Perhaps Captain Kirk might be prevailed upon to assign me a guide.” Khan’s dark eyes are watching John closely. “Would he grant me this courtesy, Doctor McCoy?”
Oh, how John hates word games. Khan already knows that John does not like him. Undoubtedly he also suspects John hasn’t shared his opinion—or information about Khan—with anyone. Of course Khan is right, but John will be damned if he confirms it.
“I can’t speak for my captain.” Then an idea comes to mind, one which could potentially be helpful in exposing Khan. “However, I do know the perfect person to give you a tour of the Enterprise. I’ll see if he’s available—and if Kirk approves.”
Khan frowns in response to John’s unexpected good humor.
“You might find him... different,” John remarks pleasantly as he fiddles with his tricorder and pretends to scan Khan’s arm.
“Explain,” Khan fairly orders.
Doctor McCoy raises his eyebrows and rocks back on his heels. “He’s not human. Vulcan, actually. The first sentient alien race to contact Earth. I think you’ll find the mindset of a Vulcan very educational.” He adds more quietly, expression bland, “It’s one thing to know there is other life in the universe—it’s quite another to meet them.”
“Yes,” Khan says slowly, “you have a valid point. Arrange a meeting with this Vulcan.”
“Mr. Spock,” John corrects. “He is also Kirk’s second-in-command.”
Khan’s sharp mind misses nothing. “Very good. You continue to exceed my expectations, doctor. Now, if you please, I would prefer to be alone. Attend your other patients.”
Khan is used to giving orders and John is trained to accept orders from men who expect unquestionable obedience. When he finds himself in the hallway of an unconscious volition, the realization is bitter. Khan has some measure of advantage, from his natural arrogance and automatic assumption of superiority. John hates with every fiber of his being that he reinforces it simply because he cannot do otherwise.
Scrubbing a hand over his face, Doctor McCoy stops one of the techs on duty in the hallway. "Make sure our special patient stays in his room tonight. I'll be back in a while."
"Yes, Doctor," the young man replies.
John is about to step away when the tech opens his mouth, only to close it hastily again. John works hard not to frown—it doesn't pay to intimidate someone he needs in his corner. "Go on, Lieutenant. Something on your mind?"
"Sir," says the fellow, face flushing under the doctor's full attention, "is Khan, I mean, the patient—is he really from the past?"
"Did he tell you his name?" John asks too softly.
The man nods. "He likes to talk t-to us, sometimes, and I try to be friendly, you know. He's alone."
John crosses his arms, pretending to be annoyed while actually feeling slightly afraid. He prompts, "About what?"
"What does he talk about, Lieutenant!" Shit, don't snap, John. "Sorry. I didn't mean to yell."
"It's okay. You're tired. You aren't supposed to work three shifts in a row, Doctor McCoy," replies the tech with a sharp look.
John snorts. "Don't tell Christine. My reason is a good one this time but she won't care and I don't have the patience for an argument right now."
The tech lets out a short laugh but sobers, his face growing thoughtful. "Mostly Khan describes 'Paradise'—that's the word he uses. A world of unity and peace, without war. A leader who cares for all people." The young man shrugs, juggling his clipboard and tricorder. "Sounds like everybody's version of paradise to me. Unless you're Mr. Spock or the Captain. I think they'd prefer space to Paradise any day."
"I doubt you're wrong there, son," John mutters. "Let me know if Khan's chats turn into recruitment sessions, a'right? That's the last thing we need on this ship."
John receives a hearty salute, at which he rolls his eyes and tells the young man to quit dallying and earn his pay. Most of the medical staff know Doctor McCoy hates public displays of deference. John had rounded up the nurses, doctors, and techs during the Enterprise's first week in space after he had hit his tolerance for ceremony, and told them directly: "We're all equal in this med bay, saving lives and caring for the sick and injured. When a CMO is needed, I'll be one, but spare me the ass-kissing... and for God's sake, don't bow at me. Politeness is fine, respect is better. Poetry gets you janitorial detail for a week."
John exits Sickbay thinking of how well Leonard McCoy is liked by his staff ("A lot, you grumpy old bear," Christine had informed him when he asked one day) and doesn't know if he should be grateful or wary. Then he dismisses his concern altogether and goes in search of a Vulcan.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" demands McCoy when Spock invites the man into his personal quarters.
The quirk of Spock's eyebrow could easily mean Why aren't you? "I am perusing Dr. Exeter's chronicles, per your insistence, Doctor." Spock leads McCoy over to his computer desk, which is brightly lit in the otherwise dim room. "I find his exposition fascinating. He calls the rise of genetic engineering 'Man's eternal quest for God-dom'..."
John quotes, "'Should Man achieve his Godliness on Earth, he will have no need of Heaven.' Exeter was a religious old bastard. A hypocrite, too, considering he was the lead geneticist of the project."
"Humans are inclined to equate absolute power with absolute wisdom. Idealistic but also illogical."
"I'm not here to philosophize with you, Spock. Did you find anything useful?"
"I regret that I have not. The experimentation with human genetics spans several decades, most of which Dr. Exeter directed. His project did not reach its culmination until the early 1990s, when the subjects of the experiment matured into pique physical form."
"How far along are you?"
"Exeter's notes are sparse in the '80s." John leans against Spock's desk, recalling his own research. "They had not perfected a way to change the DNA of an adult yet, so they had what... twenty children, tops? A small control group. If I am not mistaken, only a handful of those children lived to adulthood."
Khan Noonien Singh was one of them, John had once theorized, and that is why Khan rose to be a King among kings.
Spock settles behind his desk, John on the other side. "Then only a percentage of the super-humans at war had time to acclimate to their abilities. Fascinating."
"Right," agrees McCoy. "In 1991, Exeter had a breakthrough, so they began putting adult males through what they called 'The Transformation.' It is an excruciating process—here, skip to the next set, page 4. See? Exeter writes: '051 described the sensation as fire in his veins. My colleagues and I agree that we must keep the men separated, lest their strength of character becomes weakened by gossip...' Including the surviving children, they successfully created over two hundred enhanced humans."
"73 of which you suspect escaped prosecution and currently reside on the SS Botany Bay," concludes Spock, turning to look at John. "The Captain has informed me that he names himself Khan." The Vulcan doesn't need to specify who "he" is.
John nods. "So which one of Exeter's successes is Khan?"
"Not if, Doctor?"
"We're past that point, Spock."
"Yes," agrees the First Officer. Then, almost casually for a Vulcan, "I have concluded that your extensive knowledge of the Eugenics War is rooted in personal significance, Doctor McCoy. Given the nature of that time period, I must ask: what intrigues you?"
You think too much, Spock. "There's no shame in curiosity. You of all people should know that."
"I do not judge your curiosity. I wish to understand it."
John folds his arms. "It's the act of playing God. I don't think we have the right to alter a man's life."
"By your argument, one could contest that doctors do not have the right to intervene when a man is dying."
"That's different! We give our patients the choice of treatment. Most people choose to live."
"Would not most humans choose to physically improve themselves?"
"I don't know about other people," he answers honestly, "but I would want to stay normal."
Spock blinks. "Normal is the perception of an individual."
"Yeah, well, my perception of normal is human, Spock—not super-human." He slumps in his chair.
Spock says, in that inflection-less tone of his, "Your definition may change."
John's gaze is steady on his. "Not today, though."
Spock faces his computer again, a clear end to the conversation. John is relieved, swallows down a bitter taste in his mouth.
The Vulcan asks, "Have you a specific suggestion that I might pursue in Exeter's works, Doctor McCoy?"
John reaches across the desk and keys in a few commands. "Have fun with that," he drawls and stands up. Then he grimaces, knowing he has to say something while he is here. "Khan wants a guide tomorrow. I recommended you."
Spock raises both of his eyebrows. "I shall endeavor to do your recommendation justice."
"Just don't be too informative, Spock. Khan has already learned more about the Enterprise than is comforting."
John wishes him happy hunting, Spock states that he finds the sentiment to be illogical, and they go back to more familiar level of interaction; in their hearts, however, they accept that, to protect the ship and its crew, they must remain on pleasant terms. This is, perhaps, the first time Spock and McCoy have striven to do so without orders from their Captain. John wonders if the mutual decision will change anything between them.
The night after meeting Khan, Jim dreams of Kodos, the governor of the Tarsus IV colony—Kodos the Executioner.
The Enterprise was quiet, the Bridge screen showing only empty space and promising stars far, far away. Jim lounged in the Captain's chair, an apple in his hand. He admired its shiny red skin before taking a large bite. As he chewed, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the silence and the taste of apple.
Silence was a rare commodity, unless he purposefully engaged sound dampeners in his quarters. Not that he blamed anyone. Poor Scotty would scuttle around the ship at all hours, blissfully tinkering until the Enterprise purred. Jim asked the man once if he slept and the Scotsman had replied he'd slept enough on Delta Vega to last a lifetime.
Jim sat up, then, realizing the silence wasn't rare, it was wrong.
Jim turned, craning around to look at the empty stations behind him. "Uhura?"
Spock had excellent hearing. Jim stood up, calling "Spock!"
Frowning, he commanded, "Computer, locate Doctor McCoy."
Location unknown. The computer sounded strange, staticky and male.
Would Bones abandon him?
"Locate Mr. Spock."
He demanded, "Then find someone!"
James Kirk, Captain, Bridge.
Jim circled the Bridge, uncertain. Would his crew leave?
James Kirk, Captain, Bridge, the computer repeated, clearer than before.
And shit, he knew that voice, has heard it more than once. Jim could almost...
To survive, we must sacrifice.
He stumbled back into his chair like he was under attack, unaware he had dropped his apple. It rolled away, a flash of red against the cool white of the deck.
A pale Jim Kirk cried, sick with denial, "Not on my ship!"
Kodos said from everywhere: To survive, we must sacrifice. Today, I make a difficult choice for all the people of the Enterprise...
He wakes up sweating, panicked, and thinks repeatedly Kodos is on my ship! Get Kodos off my ship! As Jim lies in bed, tense and a hand pressed against his mouth, he shivers. It takes a long time before he calms down and can remind himself that Kodos is gone, nothing more than a nightmare from his past.
His chances of sleep for the night are ruined, so Jim showers and dresses. He leaves his quarters, finds himself first at Bones' room but doesn't have the heart to knock. Jim keeps going until he reaches the Observation Deck, locks both entrances, and lies on the cold floor under the pane of stars.
He hasn't dreamt of Kodos since Nero. That had been a violent dream, where he had killed Kodos with his bare hands, strangling the life from him with the strength of an enraged Vulcan, only to realize that it was Nero who was dead beneath him, not Kodos. Kodos had tricked him—escaped again.
He sought out Bones the following day, unable to speak of the dream but fairly desperate for comfort. Bones had withstood Jim's anger and pain like a man used to broken people; Bones had made Jim a promise, sworn to keep Kirk from becoming a monster, and Jim never thought of Kodos again.
Until now, that is.
He lies on the floor, thinking Why now? until the answer is apparent. Jim's instinct recognizes Khan as another Kodos.
Kirk swallows, throat dry, and climbs to his feet. The stars tell him nothing, unchanged while Jim's world shrinks to a single realization: If he has sufficient evidence against Khan, Khan won't make it to Starbase 12 alive.
Jim is going to kill him.
Spock answers each and every one of Khan's questions with care and consideration for who Khan is. When Khan makes an appreciative noise over the warp drive, Spock informs him that the engineering dedicated to the maintenance of the Enterprise's core systems is a fine art and takes years of skill and experience aboard a constitution-class starship.
Khan replies, "When a man is smart enough, Mr. Spock, he will master any art in a fraction of the time a person of average intelligence would require. Imagine a crew of such people—it would revolutionize the efficiency of your ship."
"The Enterprise maintains high records of efficiency," Spock feels inclined to say.
"Of course, of course," soothes the man as they walk slowly about the Engineering decks. "Your men perform their jobs admirably. You oversee all departments as Kirk's second-in-command, Mr. Spock?" It is a polite question.
"Then I must commend you. Now, tell me more of your culture."
Spock shares only the most common of knowledge about Vulcans that any man in the Federation might garner. He says nothing of the endangerment of his species, or of their early ancestry before the teachings of Surak.
Khan nods occasionally, hands behind his back, matching the Vulcan's stride. Then he stops without warning and turns to Spock. "In comparison to your peaceful race, you must consider us humans to be barbaric."
He lifts an eyebrow. "Were humans solely capable of barbarism, Sir, they would not be numbered among the founding forefathers of the United Federation of Planets."
"And this... Federation is built upon the principle of peace."
"Peace, Mr. Spock, is only attainable when a man has no enemies. Does your Federation have enemies?"
"No ideal is without its antithesis."
Khan chuckles. "Very good." Then he pivots away and asks to see the beauty of space. As they approach the Observation Deck, Khan says, "Governments crumble under diversity. The time will come when your government longs for unification."
Spock blinks. "Unification, Sir? The universe is naturally and infinitely diverse. Our goal is to preserve and protect individualism under common laws. Should we desire to conquer above all else, we would be named an Empire and not a Federation."
"The history of men is born of empires," Khan speaks like he is gently reminding the Vulcan of a fact.
Mr. Spock stands aside, allowing the guest to precede him onto the Observation Deck. Spock says nothing of Khan's last remark, though he wonders how the human cannot comprehend that a race born of empires is destined to outgrow them someday.
"'And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by'," murmurs Khan, facing the stars. Spock has heard the quote before, said once in a strangely serious tone by his captain.
Khan wants to know, "Is it true, what I read of Vulcan strength?"
"A Vulcan has three times the strength of a human."
Khan's voice lowers but Spock has no trouble making out his words. "Do you know what I am, Mr. Spock?"
"Khan Noonien Singh. A ruler of more than a quarter of Earth, and a ruthless dictator, Sir," he responds. He had sent a full report to the Captain only two hours ago, fully expecting that Kirk would issue a security detail on Khan before the tour reached completion. Spock is disturbed that he has had no communication to this effect as of yet.
Khan turns slowly, a backdrop of starlight outlining his profile. "I know who I am, Mr. Spock. I have always known this. But you must concern yourself first with what I am."
Spock has a good sense of danger, having honed it significantly since the Enterprise began to undertake missions under Kirk's captaincy. It is because of this sense that he lets his hands drop to his sides and calculates the time it will take for him to reach the emergency notification system situated approximately one meter from the deck's entrance.
Khan is facing Spock fully now. "I have not been able to test my reflexes," he says, "since awakening upon your ship. I would like to do so now. Of all the creatures onboard the Enterprise, you shall prove the most challenging. Let us spar."
"I do not engage in recreational activities while on duty," the Vulcan answers flatly.
Khan closes the distance between them until they are an arm's reach apart. Spock estimates, by the shift of Khan's weight, that he will attempt to strike from the left.
Khan is saying, "Then you may consider this a fight between enemies."
Despite Spock's readiness and expectations, Khan's first blow is unprecedented in its speed and power. The Vulcan rocks back, off-balance, and Khan hits Spock again, a quick upper-cut, before he can block it. Then the human withdraws suddenly, laughing, and allows Spock time to recover. Spock doesn't think about his actions, simply spins and runs headlong for the alarm. It costs him, in the end, to activate it. When the ship's klaxons begin to blare, Khan drops all pretense of fairness and Spock finds himself fighting for his life.
Knowing that Spock is with Khan—guard duty poorly disguised as playing tour guide—John finally relaxes enough to rest. He has been asleep for just shy of two hours when the red alert goes off. Without hesitation, John slips from his bed, dresses quickly as he commands the ship's computer to locate Mr. Spock. He charges out of his quarters, not bothering to slow his speed to a normal run in the presence of crewmen heading to battle stations, and flies toward the Observation Deck. John catches a glimpse of Jim's startled face as he barrels down a corridor, and ignores the call of "Bones? Bones!"
Fuck it all, he curses in his head; then aloud next to two gaping ensigns in the turbolift, "Fuck you, Khan. Fuck you."
John rounds the corner of the corridor on the Observation Deck to find Khan stealing a communicator off a limp Spock. Khan turns, hearing him, and he smirks at John. "Hello, doctor. Forgive me if I don't linger to chat." Then Khan takes off in the opposite direction. John breathes deeply, catching his scent, and pauses to call into a wall intercom for Sickbay. "First Officer down," he barks and also, "Tell the Captain to engage the intruder alert."
Then the Reaper begins his pursuit of Khan.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three
Having experienced a call to battle stations more than once since the Enterprise left its orbit of Earth, the on-duty staff of Sickbay responds to the red alert swiftly and neatly. Christine Chapel locks a standard issue belt about her waist, clips on a small medikit to the belt, and slips out of the line of other nurses and techs who are following the same procedure. She beckons a young man named Traye and together they begin to set out extra medical equipment so it will be near-to-hand, essentially prepping the main area of the bay as a trauma unit. When a petite brunette reports that all in-patients are accounted for and stable, Christine asks her to help Traye finish with the supplies. The Head Nurse steps away from them, close to a wall, and surveys the area, seeking one person in particular.
She ought to have heard a familiar drawl of orders by now. Frowning, Christine walks through the medical bay until she runs into Geoff M'Benga. The doctor looks grave. She sucks in a sharp breath then quickly tells herself to calm down and not jump to conclusions.
Chapel asks bluntly, "Where's Doctor McCoy?"
"He has not reported in."
"During a red alert? That's strange, Doctor."
M'Benga considers her for a moment then motions for her to follow him. Christine hesitates before she obeys. She doesn't know the solemn man very well yet but he is the secondary medical authority to Doctor McCoy and, in their current circumstances, rank matters. The pair finds a private corner to talk.
Christine jumps straight in, voice lowered. "If McCoy were injured, we would know already."
"I agree. I commed his quarters but received no answer."
Leonard should be in Sickbay now, she knows, but he isn't and he hasn't let them know where he is.
"I have not informed the Captain of McCoy's status yet," M'Benga admits quietly.
M'Benga will have to soon. They both know that. Chapel hopes her boss has a damn good reason for his absence. She cannot imagine that he wouldn't.
The woman squares her shoulders and says, "You're in charge, then, Doctor."
"Please, Nurse Chapel, call me Geoff."
"If you call me Christine," she responds automatically.
He nods, his small smile softening the gravity of his countenance. "I must confirm that the OR is prepped. Please excuse me, Christine."
They step out of the corner and into a well-ordered med bay waiting on stand-by. Christine feels proud of her team and expresses it freely as she makes her rounds. Beneath her calm and pleasant face, her worry grows.
Leonard, Chapel sends out in a silent prayer, I hope you aren't in trouble.
The Captain who enters the Bridge is not a happy man. His First Officer is en route to Sickbay, his Senior Medical Officer is not in Sickbay and has disappeared, seemingly determined to be elsewhere. Worse yet, Khan is Khan Noonien Singh, the most tyrannical of the rulers during the Eugenics War; and Khan knows that Kirk, obligated by duty as much as personal belief, will apprehend him and hold him responsible for his war crimes, even two centuries after the fact.
How did things go so awry?
In the privacy of his Ready Room, Jim only had to read halfway through Spock's report before he knew he needed to take prompt action. He had handed the conn to Sulu, since Spock was not on the Bridge, and headed for Security. The Chief of Security took one look at the Captain's expression and immediately began assembling a team of his best men. They worked well together, Kirk and Giotto, against all odds and a rocky history.
At Starfleet Academy, cadet James Kirk was willfully disobedient, late for the classes he deemed worthy of attendance, and a natural genius; Samuel Giotto was punctual, no-nonsense, ate and slept by a schedule, and only engaged in ridiculous behavior (like laughing) if protocol demanded it of him. Kirk irritated the hell out of Giotto on principle. The sentiment was obvious in the few tactics and defense courses they shared.
On the first occasion they were sparring partners, Jim had joked, "What crawled up your ass and died, Sammy?" Giotto blocked one of Jim's wild kicks with precision and silence, and Kirk ended up face-down on the mat. Samuel advised him afterward, "Talk less when fighting. You expend energy you can't afford to lose." Thereafter Jim teased less, fought harder, and developed an unexpected respect for Samuel Giotto. They did not socialize on a friendly level but they weren't rivals either; simply two men who recognized their differences along with their common goals.
Following the Narada Incident, expediency made harsh demands of the cadets. Nearly half of the Academy graduated that summer, a majority of whom were surviving third- and fourth-year cadets who had sufficient education to undertake on-ship assignments. Samuel Giotto graduated the top of his class in combat strategy as a Lieutenant-Commander; Jim Kirk graduated with stellar recommendations and a captaincy. When it became apparent Kirk would command the Enterprise, Giotto was one of hundreds of applicants vying for a position on Jim's ship, with the sole difference that his application read: "I have no great love for James Kirk but he has honor and potential, and a need for a loyal, trustworthy man to guard his back. I can be both." The kind of man Kirk knew Samuel to be meant that Giotto's words were not a promise or sycophancy but a statement of what could be, should Jim prove to be the captain Giotto saw in him. Kirk accepted Giotto as his Chief of Security, and Samuel Giotto is one of the few officers on the Enteprise holding Jim to a rigid set of standards that Kirk feels he must not disappoint.
In Chief of Security's office, Samuel and Jim were deep in discussion over Khan's history and abilites and the necessary preparation to keep Khan under strict lockdown when the klaxons sounded. Sulu answered Kirk's call to the Bridge, saying that Spock's personal code was used to engage the alert. Giotto stated flatly from behind Jim, "Then we have trouble onboard. Captain, Lieutenant Garris will escort you to the Bridge. We'll begin patrol." Jim acknowledged the man's words with a brief nod and dashed for the nearest lift with a security officer close on his heels, knowing in his heart that nothing would prevent a fight for the Enterprise now.
In a corridor, Jim had almost collided with McCoy, who barely slowed as he came around a corner. That collision should have happened, except Bones dodged to the side at the last second with an unnatural ease, like Jim was little more than a prop on a training ground. Next to him, Garris's reaction was a heartfelt "Holy shit. Sir."
Jim couldn't have expressed the encounter better himself.
He is on the Bridge now and his thoughts are screwed every which way, churning with impossibilities, fear, and urgency. Resolved, the Captain tucks aside all irrelevant facts and events to focus on securing his ship from the enemy. He has neither Spock nor McCoy to support his tactical decisions, and though Jim knows he should rely on no one but himself, he cannot help feeling slightly unbalanced. But there is no time for reluctance or hesitation, so he bypasses his command chair completely and steps up to the officer manning the security-relay system.
"I want every deck sealed. Shut down all lifts except ours. Seal off the Transporter Room and shuttle bays. Sulu," he snaps to his right, barely waiting for Sulu's response, "do we have any men working on the SS Botany Bay?"
"None, Sir. The last team returned to the ship at 2330 hours."
"Then disengage the tractor beam. Do it now. I don't want that ship within Khan's reach.
Sulu replies, after working for a moment, "The SS Botany Bay has been released, Captain."
Jim strides past Uhura's post, listening to her relays of communications. She says between switching lines, "Sir, we have reports of the intruder on Deck 11."
Too close to Engineering. "Patch through to Mr. Scott, Code Alert 4-A." Which Scotty will know requires him to lock his department and set guards around the Life Support Room. Once the protocol is enacted, only the Captain has the authority to tell the Chief Engineer when to stand down. Anyone who begs entrance is treated as hostile.
If necessary, Kirk will flood the ship with nerve gas and pick through the bodies to find Khan. Given McCoy's report on the man's physical fortitude, the gas may possibly disable the crew without completely stopping Khan and that would make the ship more vulnerable than it already is. Kirk doesn't want to have to play that card yet, but he doesn't want to lose officers on a gamble either.
What he needs is to corner Khan somewhere and overpower him. His mind works furiously for a solution but finds none.
Then Uhura grabs his attention with a low but fierce "Captain!" Assessing her expression, Jim leans toward her to keep their conversation quiet.
"What is it, Uhura?"
"It's McCoy, Jim," she says slowly. "I am receiving similar reports. He's in pursuit of Khan." Her voice is shaded with disbelief and has Leonard lost his mind?
Jim should be surprised but he isn't. "Bones we can track. Chekov!"
Chekov's head swivels in their direction, eyes wide. "Yes, Keptin?"
Jim details exactly what he wants the officer to do. Pavel, wise despite his young age, performs the task with accuracy and a keen understanding. Within minutes, Chekov is saying, "Keptin, the holomap is ready. I will download it to a device—if you have a device, Sir?" asks the navigation officer, turning to Kirk.
Sulu offers his watch. "Here, use this. You might be able to alter the display."
"Yes!" Pavel takes it with enthusiasm, and for a moment Jim watches Chekov extract a chip from the back of the watch. Then Kirk leans over his chair and activates the comm unit on its arm. "Captain to Sickbay. How is Mr. Spock?"
He recognizes M'Benga's distinct accent. "He's stabilized, Captain. Minor lacerations and some bruising. We have repaired them already. I expect him to regain consciousness shortly." There is a pause before the doctor continues, "He'll want to head straight for the Bridge, Sir."
Jim answers the unspoken question. "That won't be possible. Tell Spock that he stays in the medical bay until further notice." Jim adds more quietly, "I'll need his help soon enough."
"Yes, Captain. M'Benga out."
Jim finally settles in his Captain's chair. He asks grimly, “Is Khan still sighted on Deck 11?”
“Yes, Captain,” answers Uhura.
Unless Khan breaks into the access shaft, they have him locked on that deck. Deck 11, however, has Engineering’s circuitry bay and the phaser banks control room. Were Khan to find his way inside either, he could do a lot of damage. Jim calls into the chair arm's speaker, “Bridge to Security. Giotto.”
“Khan is on Deck 11. Send in three teams but no more. Phasers set to heavy stun.”
“Yes, Sir. Giotto out.”
“Uhura, patch me through to that deck.”
“Ready when you are, Captain.”
Jim says, “This is Captain Kirk. To all personnel of Deck 11, you have an intruder. He is dangerous, possibly armed. Sweep your area and commence with lock-down.” After a pause, he says, “Khan, you will not be harmed if you surrender. Let's do this the easy way.” Jim closes his eyes, finishing with “Kirk out” and signaling Uhura to cut the communication.
Khan isn’t going to surrender, Jim knows. He turns to Chekov, asking the officer, “Is it ready?”
Jim accepts the watch and straps it to his wrist. Pavel shows him how to activate the holo-map which the watch projects as a rotating holograph of the ship. Then Pavel presses a button on the side. “I have already input the Doctor’s bio-signal—see? This shows where he is.”
Jim stares at the red dot moving through the holo-map. He adjusts the display to the layout of Deck 11. Bones is at the turbolift but not in it. Jim thanks Pavel and stands up. “Sulu, you have the conn. Do not give up the Bridge to Khan under any circumstances.”
Sulu returns Jim’s solemn look. “I won’t, Captain. None of us will.”
He nods and walks into the Bridge’s lift. His plan for now is to stop at Sickbay on Deck 7, then proceed down to Deck 11 with backup.
He must reach the Botany Bay. He must reach his people. Khan is strong on his own, undoubtedly so, but he needs loyal men to bring this ship under order.
And what a glorious ship it is!
The Enterprise is more than Khan imagined possible, and he has yet to experience all of its capabilities. The tech manuals alone were titillating. Superior weapons, sustainability, speed—these things would not only help attain what he wants but make it seem like child's play.
Khan anticipates a vast potential for dreaming when the Enterprise becomes his. The thought of Paradise—of bringing an entire world under one rule, his rule—may be the beginning of something grander. Khan will be the man who roams Heaven and Earth, with the power of both at his disposal. To some, that will make him a god.
But a starship is useless without a crew, so Khan will obtain a crew first.
His hard eyes glitter as he recalls the promise he made over two centuries ago. The morning of our new glory, Khan repeats silently.
It has come.
Khan is fast but not as fast as John. However Khan is unimpeded in his run, knocking aside people who have the misfortune of blocking his path like a charging bull while John feels an obligation to move around them or, such as now, stop altogether because someone is bleeding from being unexpectedly tossed against a corner of something sharp, and a nearby ensign calls frantically, "Doctor! Doctor!"
Shit. Of all the times he could ignore what he has become to these people, he is drawn by their distress and open trust in Leonard McCoy. It's almost as if something inside John compels him to stop. He drops to his knees next to the injured man and tells the woman propping up the officer, "Apply pressure here and lift his arm like this—yes, good. Don't move him until the bleeding slows down, then go to Sickbay quickly."
"The lifts aren't working, Sir," she tells him.
John grimaces, at the same time thanking Jim for being a smart man. "Then bandage his arm tightly and find somewhere safe to hide. Do you understand, Lieutenant? Stay out of sight."
She nods vigorously. "No fatalities, no hostages."
Exactly, John agrees. They both pause to listen to the Captain speak over the deck's intercom system. John simply shakes his head, certain that Khan loathes the word surrender.
He stands up and moves into an adjacent corridor, remembering Khan had turned this way. John stills, chin slightly lifted, like an animal catching a scent.
Sounds of commotion; a hint of chaos. Khan. Left.
He catches up to Khan three corridors away, pulling on a wall panel next to an inoperative turbolift. Khan's head swings up when John says, "You don't have time for that."
He seems surprised to see Doctor McCoy but masks the surprise quickly. "Doctor, I must say that you are a rare treat." Khan slowly straightens, then rips off a long, narrow strip of the paneling with ease, and narrows his eyes at John. "You are also foolish."
"You have nowhere to go, Khan. No way off this ship and no one to help you."
Khan laughs. "What makes you think I need help?" He steps forward, saying, "I am stronger, McCoy, in every way. You have seen the results of your tests; this I know. The question remains: will you join me, or must I kill you? I could use a man of your knowledge and skill."
The man takes measure of John's silence.
"So be it," Khan declares and launches at John, using the piece of paneling like a sword, swinging it in a broad arc. John twists to the side but the end of it catches his side, ripping shirt and skin alike. He ignores the sudden, sharp pain to grab for Khan's weapon.
Khan lets him have it, pivoting sideways between one second and the next to slam his shoulder into John's unprotected chest. Their momentum drives them backwards into the wall, John crying out—more in frustration than fright. The ship's metal groans under the impact (later an ensign will see the dent and wonder of its origins), and John uses Khan's moment of unbalance to grab the man's arms with bruising hands and hold the man still while he drives a knee into Khan's solar plexus. In retaliation, the top of Khan's head cracks John under the chin, snapping his teeth together. They wrench apart. John spits blood out of his mouth, and Khan, slightly bent at the waist, inhales sharply before snapping upright.
John taunts, “You want to fight, Khan? Then let’s fight.”
Khan tilts his head for a split second, as if McCoy is a strange sight, and starts forward but feigns left and dives to the side to grab the abandoned paneling. John had anticipated this move because a man like Khan pictures himself as a warrior of old Earth and skillfully arms himself out of vanity rather than common sense; John’s weapon is his body, impervious to harm, and he uses it first.
Khan’s hand latches onto an end of the strip of metal at the same time John kicks it with enough force to make Khan lose his grip. Then John jumps in close to Khan, using his elbow to hit the man in his collarbone. Khan stumbles back, snarling, and John shifts his body enough to block another attempt for the paneling, which has skittered into a corner behind him.
His opponent isn’t laughing anymore. “Afraid yet, Khan?” the Reaper sneers.
Khan replies, “Fear is for the weak,” and barrels into John, sending them to the floor. One of Khan’s hands is on his throat, the other digging into his scalp. John works an arm between their bodies, flattens his hand against Khan’s chest and pushes. Khan hisses, using his full weight against John’s strength but John is strong, much stronger than Khan could have anticipated. The man lets go of John’s hair to join his hands together in crushing the doctor’s throat. John's eyes water as his lungs burn from too little air but he knows he can last much longer than a normal man before he suffocates completely. After a choked attempt to breathe, he cries out in renewed anger, bucks, and drives his free fist into Khan’s exposed side twice in rapid succession. The grip on his throat loosens in surprise and pain, and John grabs Khan’s wrist, grinding the bones together to force Khan's hands to open further. Then he gives a mighty push, though his body feels heavy from the lack of oxygen, and forces Khan off him.
Khan rolls away as John turns on his side to lever himself upright. When John is on his feet again, Khan rises from a crouch in the corner, the paneling in his hand.
Just fucking great, he thinks, watching Khan’s body coil in preparation to attack and deciding he’s had enough of this and end it now, John, just smash his head into the wall when the worst possible thing happens.
“Doctor McCoy! Doctor, get down!”
John makes the mistake of letting his attention waver, glancing at the two security officers pelting down the corridor, and he pays for it dearly.
A heartbeat later and John experiences searing pain as Khan spears his stomach with the makeshift weapon. John’s knees buckle on instinct, and his vision momentarily greys but his ears still pick up sound: someone screaming “Doctor!” and “Shit, shit, shit!” Then there are more shouts, none of them Khan’s, and the whine of phasers. John gasps "fuck" as his brain fires off pain signals because the wound tries to close around the object but can’t. He groans, then curses as he twists the piece of metal to widen the hole in his body and slide it out (Khan had driven it all the way through; John feels the back of his shirt pull as he moves it), tearing more organs and flesh.
When John is free of it, he staggers to his feet, hands and clothes slick with blood. Khan is gone and the two security officers are sprawled on the floor, dead. John searches them first, finding no phasers, and swallows hard. Then he uses one of the communicators to alert other officers in the area, voice thick with accent and regret, “Two men down, Deck 11. Also wounded in Sector B13.
A voice responds, “Report name and rank, over.” Then after a second of silence, incredulously, “Doctor McCoy?”
John drops the communicator and walks away.
When Jim walks into Sickbay, he finds Spock arguing with Doctor M'Benga and Nurse Chapel. The Vulcan is insisting, "I must return to the Bridge."
"The Captain ordered—" M'Benga begins in a weary voice that indicates he has explained Jim's orders more than once already.
"I am First Officer," Spock retorts, like that clarifies everything. "Please stand aside, Doctor, Nurse."
Christine turns partially, spies Jim, and tosses up her hands in a McCoy-gesture of exasperation. "Of all the— Captain, either you take him with you or I want explicit permission to use the body restraints."
Jim looks over Spock, noting the bruising along his jaw. He asks, "Do you need to remain in Sickbay, Mr. Spock?"
The Vulcan is quick to answer, "Negative."
At any other time, he would ask for Bones' opinion. Today that is neither possible nor an option he would consider. "Follow me," Jim says as he pivots and exits Sickbay.
"Captain," Spock starts but says nothing more.
Jim understands all too well that Spock wants to reprimand him for not staying on the Bridge but the Vulcan is pleased to be out of the medical bay; silence, of course, would be the logical course of action on the subject.
"Khan is on Deck 11," he informs his First Officer. He pulls a second phaser out of his belt and hands it to Spock. "McCoy, too."
They wind their way through the ship to the only operative lift.
Spock wants to know, "Is the doctor a hostage?"
Jim chooses his words with care. "Before today, I would have thought it a possibility, Spock." He steps into the turbolift after keying his access code. Jim looks at the Vulcan and shakes his head. "I am not certain but I think he is after Khan, not the other way around."
Spock's silence is brief. "I have noted unusual patterns of behavior concerning Doctor McCoy in the past." The confession is flat, almost reluctant, like Spock did not intend to reveal this conclusion so soon.
Kirk stares straight ahead. "We'll deal with Bones later."
Spock is never afraid to ask the hard questions. "If the doctor interferes with Khan's capture?"
"We'll deal with that, too."
The turbolift doors open on Deck 11, and the Captain shows the First Officer the holo-map display. "That's McCoy," he says, indicating the red dot currently moving along the other side of the deck.
Spock nods once. Then they begin their cautious search, phasers at the ready.
Engineer Scott would not initially strike a person as someone capable of giving orders and expecting them to be unerringly followed. He is easy-going and friendly, hardly imposing; the kind of man who finds a niche in the world and is satisfied to spend the rest of his days there, puttering away.
Perhaps, Lieutenant Romaine muses, the engineer has found his niche in the depths of the Enterprise and that is why Mr. Scott is extra protective of his domain. He is mostly certain at home here. He looks happy—or did before the chaos began.
Another engineering ensign scampers past Mira, chased by loud, profane Scottish and "How many times do I have tell ye NOT to tinker with t'controls! Help ma boab—!"
She laughs into her hand, needing the relief from the high tension of Engineering's lock-down. She had accepted Mr. Scott's offer of a peek inside "the fair Lady Enterprise" after days of companionable discussion over their favorite starship models. It was her misfortune to be off-duty and enjoying a debate between Scotty and another engineer tech over material for capacitors when the red alert sounded. Engineering is by no means a small department and when she was finally in an area close to a turbolift, the lifts stopped working. Mr. Scott had dragged her back to his office, saying she'd be safer there. She didn't argue the point, especially after he sealed all the entrances and exits by order of Captain Kirk.
The Chief Engineer appears on her left, looking harassed and slightly worn. Mira touches his shoulder in concern. "Are you all right, Mr. Scott?"
"Fine, lass. I just—I have this feelin' we're in for a bit o' a rough ride."
She nods. "Yes. What can I do to help?"
The man glances around. "What's your expertise?"
"Specialist, Sir, in the sciences division. We're somewhat short-staffed in the Science department since, well..." Mira bites her bottom lip, thinking of long memorial services for those lost to Nero's rage.
There is understanding in Mr. Scott's face. "We're all doing the best we can, lass," he says gently, "with what we have." He points to a control board some feet away. "I'll be thankful if ye could keep an eye on those monitors." A sudden twinkle appears in his eyes. "That is, if ye can stand havin' a bunch of me lads making eyes at ye. It's not often we get a pretty face doun here."
He leaves her standing at the control board, blushing, saying he has to check in with his men guarding the Life Support Room. Mira sighs, eyes the array of buttons and screens. A nervous young man named Greg offers her a chair. "We don't have many of them around here but I took this one from Riley. He won't mind." Looking over her shoulder, Lt. Romaine sees a broadly grinning, sandy-haired man wink at her. Mira accepts the chair with a polite thank you, not surprised in the least when Greg mysteriously finds another chair and joins her.
These men are sweet, she decides, if slightly silly. It is truly a shame it took a crisis for her to meet them. When this ordeal is over, she will come back for a visit. After a pause, Mira admits to herself that there is one man in particular she will return to see—even if he is hustling his crew this way and that with barely a thought for her.
Some minutes later, Riley has wandered over to tell Mira that he is part of the ship's choir and would she like to listen to him sing some time? As if on cue, the control board acts strangely, all the buttons flashing simultaneously before dying out completely.
Greg says, next to her, "Oh, that's not good."
Then someone calls from across the room, "Mr. Scott, we can't access the system!" Mira's heart leaps into her throat and she is absolutely certain not good is a grave understatement.
John has already evaded two teams of Security searching for Khan, and he doesn't doubt that there are more on the deck. But where has Khan gone?
Khan had undoubtedly been working his way down to the Transporter Room on Deck 14 or farther below to the shuttles before they were both subsequently isolated on Deck 11. John knows where the manual access shaft is, on the opposite side of the deck, and it wouldn't take more than Khan forcing the door open to start his descent to the other decks. Only the Bridge is not accessible that way—a small favor, John decides, from architects and designers determined to fortify the command center of the ship.
Unfortunately they can play this roundabout chase for hours. This deck has neither crew quarters nor departments. It serves mainly as a maintenance deck, frequented by engineering techs. In the ship's schematics, Deck 11 is a midway point between the power relays from top of the ship to the bottom. If Khan retains the details of the Enterprise's tech manuals, he can create glitches in several computer systems: short-circuit the atmospheric controls, fry the intercoms ship-wide. Any number of things that, while individually are low risk, could culminate in breaches of ship integrity.
John is stealthily making his way through the deck, investigating all the sectioned bays of circuitry. He remembers his textbook studies of engineering from the early 22nd century but that education did not include training on a starship. Once John had confirmed that his assignment would be on the Enterprise, he familiarized himself with the basics of a constituion-class ship in case he needed to escape. Khan, no doubt, has a similar plan. Except Khan is unlikely to slip away in quiet secrecy like John would.
Then he thinks about Khan remaining on the ship, commanding it, and John feels a measure of fright. Khan would reduce the crew immediately, beginning with the command officers on the principle of old loyalties. Then Khan would discover that the crew's loyalty to Kirk is almost unbreakable, and the result would be a massacre. Should the crew consent to serve under new leadership, John knows Khan is not a wasteful man. Those crewmen who were not eliminated would live enslaved, performing the odd task when Khan's people had need of them. A future under the heel of Khan—it would be no future worth living.
John is forced to keep moving, seeking Khan on a nearly invisible trail. His hunt could be the mission at Olduvai all over again. The air may be cleaner here, the halls brightly lit, but that does little to suppress the memories. John recalls the water in his boots as he waded through wet tunnels, floating bits of people catching against his pants. The sightless eyes of a beheaded scientist are the eyes of a young starship lieutenant, neck broken. If he breathes in just right, he recognizes the scent of carrion. Someone, security probably, barks out an order two corridors over, and the echo sounds like Sarge, commanding the Kid to shoot first, ask later.
Khan is the monster in the dark, waiting. Given the chance, he will spread his disease like the mutants of Olduvai: turning those who are useful, killing those who are not. John won't allow that to happen, not to a ship full of innocents, not in Leonard's lifetime. Doctor McCoy has a home on the Enterprise, something John Grimm has wanted since he returned from Mars as someone who no longer existed. Leonard is loved as John wasn't. In destroying the Enterprise, Khan destroys Leonard, too.
John finds he isn't ready to let McCoy go just yet.
Spock watches the Captain kneel beside the two dead officers, not touching them but with his hands hovering like he wants to do something despite that nothing can be done. When Kirk stands again, his usually expressive face is shuttered. This disturbs the First Officer deeply.
"Captain, we must proceed."
Jim reactivates the holo-map and stares at McCoy's movement through the deck. "Red turns to blue if Bones is dead. I hold my breath every time I look at it."
"Captain," Spock reminds his commander in a gentle voice.
Kirk nods, saying somewhat hollowly, "Let's hope we have seen the worst of Khan's actions today, Mr. Spock."
Spock would wish that also but he is certain to do so would deny the inevitable. Instead the Vulcan concerns himself with forming a strategy on how to disable Khan without endangering the life of the Captain of the Enterprise. If Spock spares a thought for Doctor McCoy's safety as well, it is coupled with the explanation that the doctor's demise would prove equally detrimental to Jim's well-being.
Spock wonders, not for the first time, if he has underestimated the significance of Leonard McCoy to the Enterprise crew. He finds the doctor unnecessarily antagonistic, excessive in every way Spock prefers brevity—from speech to opinions to physical contact. The Vulcan simply does not understand half of McCoy's actions and often does not approve of what he does comprehend. The human displays genuine concern for others, yet he spurns tentative appeals for interaction beyond the boundaries of professionalism, save for Jim Kirk; the doctor never speaks of a personal past, even wistfully, as humans are wont to do; and when McCoy pursues a cause for the crew, he usually indicates in a subtle manner that he considers himself and the crew as mutually exclusive, despite retaining the position as CMO.
The disparities of Leonard McCoy are numerous; Spock has yet to determine the common factor between them.
Nevertheless McCoy is an asset to the ship, an asset whose value Spock has been assured he will discover in time. In reality, however, what Spock's older self has experienced may not be truth in all universes. Is the Leonard McCoy of the present the Leonard McCoy of an alternate past? Or did the other Spock journey into a universe too different from his own?
The brash, charismatic James Kirk has become worthy of Spock’s trust, against all logic. Spock would find it doubly shocking if Leonard McCoy proved to be the same. He thinks, in all likelihood, Leonard McCoy will remain a mysterious human being, even to those who profess to know him.
Spock realizes belatedly and with dismay that his thoughts have wandered into irrelevant territory. He consciously turns his attention to the task of tracking the errant doctor. Jim has already proceeded on, as suggested, and it is the Vulcan who has to catch up.
He is a trained killer and a man of mercy. How is it then that John is no longer certain which he needs to be? Khan will surely kill to survive, that much the man has proved. John kills for peace, not because his survival is at stake (he can survive almost anything) but because survival is pointless without peace. Leonard McCoy is no killer and is bound by an oath to prevent harm and promote life. He is wearing McCoy’s clothes, tattered as they are, and living McCoy’s life.
Who is John willing to betray?
John thinks for a terrible moment that this is why he cannot find Khan: he doesn’t want to. If he doesn’t find Khan, he doesn’t have a choice to make. Even before, when they fought, he hadn’t been ready to make that choice, had been distracted by McCoy’s instinct rather than following the Reaper’s training. It is so easy to start a hunt, so much harder to finish it. John earned the name Reaper because he always eliminates his target. Now he wonders what happened to that man from so long ago. Is Leonard's conscience a manifestation of what his own would have been, had he chosen a different path? There are times when he thinks so, thinks that he chose to be Leonard McCoy not just out of a need for light in his dark life but as an homage to a John that never was.
All these thoughts fly through his head in seconds, a sign of his uncertainty, while his body automatically carries him on his mission. Search and destroy—it's an ingrained part of Reaper, the code that drives the soldier. He needs nothing but the weight of a gun in his hand. John has been that man through several lives, carrying weapons and destroying life; it is a profession that never dies. Less often, he has been better men—but never as good as he is now as Leonard McCoy.
John is sidetracked from the mixture of memories and contemplation when he hears Jim's voice in the distance. His first thought is You idiot, it's too dangerous for you to be here! Then he remembers that Jim wouldn't be anywhere else; Kirk is always at the forefront of the danger zone, and never simply because Kirk happens to be the Captain. Jim has a crazy notion that he is expendable, which makes Leonard's job a lot harder than it might normally be. Even Spock's job is, causing the Vulcan to work diligently to preserve his Captain. Yet Spock does not indicate that Kirk's habits bother him, as though the Vulcan had never once doubted Kirk's ability to lead. (John wonders about that change of heart, he really does; some day he may actually ask the First Officer about it.)
His second thought is I can't let him see me like this, in a torn, bloody uniform with smooth, clear skin underneath. John slips around a corner, presses against the wall and listens. He hears quiet footsteps within minutes, picking out two distinct sets.
Closing his eyes, John quietly thumps the back of his head against the wall. Of course Jim isn't alone. The Captain is at least intelligent enough to have a security officer with him.
"Fifteen meters ahead, Captain," intones a familiar voice and oh shit, that's Spock. John has the unexplainable insane urge to jump into the corridor and yell at the Vulcan for leaving Sickbay. He realizes with a start that Leonard McCoy would do exactly that, in a blistering Southern fit of temper. But John isn't Leonard; if anything, Leonard is John in disguise. The puppet shouldn't control the puppet master.
"Captain," Spock says so quietly that if John didn't have enhanced hearing he would have missed the word altogether. "The doctor is stationary. Perhaps he knows we are here."
Jim says nothing for several seconds. When Kirk does speak, his voice is much too close to John. "Bones?" is said softly. Kirk makes John sound like an animal to be coaxed out of hiding.
John's fingers twitch by his side, and he thinks fiercely, Say nothing, say nothing. Just because Jim is Leonard's friend, someone Leonard can trust, doesn't mean that John is included in that trust.
John is the unknown, the aberration, the liar.
"Bones?" There is an edge to Jim's voice now, as though he suspects McCoy might not be alone or conscious.
John's decision is stalled by a communicator beep. He can hear someone flip it open and say, "Spock here."
Scotty. The engineer's tone has that stomach-flipping hint of You aren't gonna like my news.
"Is the Captain there?"
"Affirmative." Then Jim must have taken the communicator because Captain Kirk replies, "What is it, Scotty?"
"Someone has blocked Engineering's controls, Capt'n."
Jim's voice is sharp. "Can't you override it?"
"Override is disabled. Capt'n, the intruder has to playing with our circuits in Section A3. Ye got to stop him before he makes a mess. We can survive without our engines but nae the life support!"
"We're on it, Mr. Scott. Spock, what's the quickest route to A3?"
"This way, Captain."
John remains motionless as the running footsteps of Jim and Spock fade. After a quick and nasty battle with himself, he does not follow them. The stakes are too high.
Leonard would say, Damn the stakes to yourself, John, this is about them! They’ll die without you.
Jim and Spock are going to die in spite of or because of him, some day.
You're a bastard if you don't fight for them. Then more viciously, What would Sam think of your cowardice?
Sammy. His sister only barely forgave herself; what she did for him wasn't a gift, it was a curse made in desperation. She knew that.
She had been filled with such enthusiasm as a young woman, saying the sciences could revive the world, make it better. She had been horrified to discover what her research could lead to. Sam depended on John to stop that horror.
She would see Khan as a horror, too.
If you don't save them, you lose the part that Sam believed in.
He has already lost so much of himself.
Decision made, John strides over to the nearest wall intercom and flicks it to the proper setting. He calls, “Doctor McCoy to Bridge.”
“Sulu here.” Sulu sounds grim.
“I expect you know where I am. Khan’s still rampant, and I need you to gas the entire deck.”
“Sir,” begins the pilot politely, “I would love to do that but unless the Captain—"
“Damn you, your captain is going to die if you don’t!”
Sulu’s voice is strained. “I can’t.”
“You can. I’m a senior officer, Sulu, and I’m givin’ you a direct order.” He adds more softly, “I’m sorry, Hikaru. I’ll take the heat for this, you have my word.”
There is a moment of silence. “You have three minutes before the nerve gas valves open, Doctor.”
John has never run so fast in his life.
Chapter 5: Chapter Four
Khan studies the nest of wires then carefully selects two of them, re-routing their power supply. In another minute, the security locks on the Life Support Room will release. The men guarding the room will undoubtedly double before he manages to get there but with these two weapons (phasers they are called, in the weaponry inventory) Khan is certain he can eliminate a majority of the guards and slip inside. He must force Kirk's hand and take command; then Khan can revive a loyal crew of his own and enjoy the freedom and bounty of the 23rd century.
Khan's plan evolves as new obstacles present themselves. The Vulcan turned out to be less of a fool then he anticipated; Mr. Spock placed the ship's safety before his own and warned his Captain before Khan could neutralize him. Kirk's response was quick—that much respect Khan will grant the man. Thus slipping unnoticed to the deck with the transporter had proved unwise, boarding his ship and reviving his crew impossible. For the first time in ages, Khan realizes he needs stealth as opposed to confrontation, which is not his favorite style of conquering an enemy.
Then the doctor pursued him with a tenacity bordering on suicidal.
It occurred to Khan that he might use the doctor as a hostage. Lure his prey into a corner and take him down, then negotiate his way into a position of power—or onto the Bridge. Doctor McCoy is not simply a colleague of Kirk's, he is a friend. Such is a weakness of James Kirk, to nurture emotional attachments to his subordinates.
That particular course proved futile, too.
McCoy is not human.
Khan had recognized something odd about the doctor, something strong. He had originally assumed it was animosity. Men have hated Khan because they feared what he was. Why should McCoy be any different?
Except the doctor showed no fear, not in his decision to pursue Khan, not when he engaged in battle with Khan.
The surprise was momentarily refreshing. Then Khan's pleasure quickly evolved into a deep disturbance.
Khan has fought ordinary humans. They pose little challenge. McCoy was more than simply a challenge; he seemed sure that he could defeat Khan.
And he might have.
Once Khan disposed of McCoy, he had had time to think.
How does the Captain fit into this revelation: were the unnatural abilities of his senior officer common knowledge? Khan can think of only two possibilites: Kirk knew and used McCoy as a weapon, deployed McCoy against Khan; or Kirk did not know and McCoy was in hiding.
(Why would a powerful man want to hide? Some men are fools, and Khan pities them.)
Neither of those possibilities matter now. Khan won and Doctor McCoy is dead. The Enterprise has one less threat to overcome, though Khan wonders how many more surprises he may encounter.
Khan shifts his weight and moves to another panel, comparing the markings to his memories of the manual. He sees the switch he is looking for and flips it off. They will figure out soon enough where he is, and Khan feels ready for another fight, despite the dull ache of his ribs from McCoy's fist. He masters the pain as he masters his mind, knowing he has the power to win.
The room is soundproof so he has set the computer alarm to identify when heat sources approach within a five-meter range of the doors. The security feed gives him a visual of the outside. When the computer beeps, Khan watches two officers come into view and thinks, How tragically foolish of you, Kirk. Within a minute, four red-shirted officers form a semi-circle behind the pair.
The Captain leads. The rest follow. Khan has little doubt Kirk will be an easy target. The group of men prepares to enter the circuitry bay, and Khan prepares to meet them, powering both phasers to kill.
What is Bones doing? What is Bones thinking? Jim has asked himself this more times than he can count since arriving with Mr. Spock on Deck 11.
Jim has been able to overlook Leonard McCoy's oddities in the past, but this he cannot ignore. If they survive—no, when they survive—Captain Kirk needs to make a careful review of his CMO. And Jim needs to evaluate what he thought he knew about his friend Bones. He is a captain and is responsible for too many lives to continue turning a blind eye.
That realization hurts him, more than he thought possible. Jim assumed he could trust McCoy as he had during the Academy, when it was a surface trust and neither man expected much from the other. Now he needs implicit trust, needs to know it is real and binding between them because he simply cannot have McCoy behaving erratically, especially in circumstances like today,and not know why or if he should expect it.
Jim acknowledges that he has behaved as foolishly as McCoy but he'll fix it. He will.
He is distracted from calling out to Bones by Scotty's urgent communication. Kirk is partly relieved that he has yet to stand face-to-face with Bones; he is not sure what he will say when he does. Khan is the root of their mission, so Jim finds it easy enough to slide into his role as captain, abandoning the momentary lapse of concern for friend, and turns his mind to Khan.
Spock alerts the remaining security officers on the deck of Khan's whereabouts as they proceed to Section A3. Kirk feels like a live wire, crackling with the need to fight, to take out the enemy on his ship. Only Spock's presence keeps him grounded enough to think like a leader and not someone who expects to see the face of a monster from his past. He has to remain cool-headed, and he has to win while doing it.
Once upon a time, many people who knew him would have thought that impossible. He was James Kirk, the boy who leapt before he looked, punched before he thought twice, and never gave a damn of what it might cost him. He was "wild" and "careless" and "not worth wasting time on." Now he is Captain Kirk and he is, simply put, everyone's everything.
Jim still believes his life is one big cosmic joke, less a part of a grand design and more somebody's evening entertainment. Khan is the crappy plot device, and if Jim doesn't play his part well, Jim gets his whole crew killed and sets another tyrant loose in the galaxy.
The idea of being nothing more than a pawn makes him angry, which is not a new emotion and more like a constant pressure in his gut. There are times, like now, when that core of anger in Jim feels molten. He used to think the anger would burn itself out. After Nero and the dream of Kodos, after finding comfort with Bones, Jim realized that he was the one keeping it alive. Someday, he promised himself, I'll let it go. He keeps making that promise.
Jim motions for Spock to stay behind him and they creep up to the doors of the circuitry bay. He decides that he isn't allowed to die in the next few minutes, mostly because Bones—AWOL or not—would resurrect his ghost just to bitch (McCoy has an issue about people dying; Jim hasn't figured out if McCoy has had too many or too few people die in his life) and also because Khan isn't likely to die with him. If Jim dies before he stops Khan, his efforts will be wasted—he will have wasted himself.
When the four security officers arrive, Jim moves to the front of the crowd and nods to Spock. The Vulcan inputs the override code, the doors slide open, and they rush in.
There is no time to think, only act on instinct, because they might have dived into the middle of battle. At some point in the blur of phaser fire, Spock barrels into Jim, knocking him out of range from a deadly accurate blast. Jim loses his phaser from the unexpected impact (and shit, Khan has two phasers and double-shoots like a maniac). The First Officer drags Kirk behind the nearest console with nary a "Captain." They crouch there, and Spock returns fire until his phaser is drained of power.
Deadly silence falls like a shroud. Kirk's other four men are gone, vaporized like they never existed. Khan destroys the silence at last with a bark of laughter and "Captain, do you surrender?"
Jim is all but prepared to jump over the console and brain Khan with their single useless phaser. The Vulcan holds him back and replies flatly to Khan, "We surrender. We are unarmed."
Jim wonders if those words burn Spock's gut as much as they burn his.
"Stand up," orders Khan. "Do not try anything heroic, Captain, Mr. Spock. I will kill you."
Jim rises, hands up, with Spock at his side. Khan studies the Captain's face for a long moment.
"This turn of events ill-pleases you, Kirk," observes Khan. "Even so, I am a generous man. If you willingly give me command of your ship, I will spare the lives of your crew. Not yourself, you understand, but your men and women."
Jim swallows down the bile in his throat. "No."
"I respect your choice," Khan answers, voice easy and arrogant, "as a man who understands your position of power."
"My decision has nothing to do with pride, Khan. I despise everything you stand for. I won't give you the Enterprise. No one will."
"Then I shall take it."
Jim looks at the phaser steady in Khan's hand and is surprised to discover that he feels no fear.
Then Khan says, "Mr. Spock, I grant you a choice as well: will you join me?"
"I will not," replies the Vulcan, measured and calm.
Khan nods as though he expected Spock's answer. "Let us hope that the remaining crew of the Enterprise is wise enough to accept my offer."
Jim drops his hands and walks around the console standing between them. Khan watches his determined approach, only the narrowing of Khan's eyes giving away his unease at Jim's boldness.
"You think you've won, Khan, but you are wrong. You are not on a planet anymore—and that makes you more insignificant than you realize. I have met enemies with nothing but bloodlust, who breathe cruelty like air. They would sooner obliterate this entire galaxy than see it prosper. People won't bow to you, Khan, because you aren't the worst that could happen to them."
Khan warns Jim to stand still by raising his phaser. "I never said I want to rule the galaxy."
"You think you don't now, but I know men like you, Khan. One world won't be enough, once you've tasted the power of holding it in the palm of your hand. You'll attempt to expand—and you'll die." Kirk says, "For all that you can do, you are a human. Humans can't afford to fight each other. Not once we outgrow Earth."
"None of what you say changes my mind, Captain Kirk." Khan's voice is deceptively mild. "None of what has transpired on this ship can turn me from my destiny."
Jim shakes his head. "Then you're crazy and I pity you."
"I am the victor," Khan proclaims, as if that negates Jim's meaning. "I defeated your men, your doctor—" he emphasizes, "—and you, Kirk."
"What?" Jim asks sharply. "What do you mean? What did you do to McCoy?"
Khan is clearly satisfied that he has shaken Jim. "I killed him." Khan waves the phaser at Spock. "He was more of a challenge than you, Vulcan, which only tells me that humans are a superior race." Khan misunderstands Jim's silence. He lifts his chin in arrogance and asks Jim, "Did you think he would win against me?"
Jim pictures the red dot (not blue he tells himself fiercely, not blue) and cannot figure out why Khan is lying. "I didn't realize he would fight you," Jim answers truthfully then crosses his arms and smirks in a manner that always agitates bullies. "It looks like Bones got in a few good blows of his own. I guess even 'selectively bred' humans can get the shit kicked out of them."
Khan almost takes a step forward but catches himself. "Good, good. You wish to distract me. I assume you expect your second-in-command to use the opportunity to overpower me. I tell you now, he has no advantage."
Jim shrugs and tosses over his shoulder at his First Officer, "Hear that, Spock? We're done for."
"Indeed," remarks the Vulcan, who locks his hands behind his back and casually strolls along a wall.
Khan snaps, "Do not move! I said do not move!"
Jim rocks back on his heels and stares at the tips of his boots like they hold the secrets of the universe. Nonchalance is like an itch—and it will drive Khan crazy until he reacts. Jim hopes his barely hatched plan works and that Khan doesn't simply shoot him into oblivion. Kirk is not disappointed.
Khan moves quickly, perhaps to grab Jim or hit him but Spock's sharp cry of "The vents, Captain!" proves to be a perfectly timed distraction.
Jim doesn't think when Khan half-turns to look. He flies into Khan like a bullet using his hands to force Khan's phaser arm back and cracks it against a console. Khan drops the phaser with a grunt of pain and Kirk kicks it across the room. Then Spock is there, hauling Jim out of Khan's reach with both arms—which is a good thing because Jim is suddenly light-headed. Spock wobbles.
That is when Kirk realizes Spock wasn't simply distracting Khan. Little puffs of gas are drifting out of the vents and into the room. Jim thinks muzzily that whoever issued the order for nerve gas gets ten commendations, no questions asked. He covers his nose, coughs, and looks at Khan. The man is frozen in place, a hand clamped over his nose and mouth; then Khan comes alive again and slides around the console, looking for something.
Spock's legs buckle in that moment, taking Jim to the floor with him. He wonders if the nerve gas just saved their lives or if it has given Khan a fatal advantage.
Jim is about to follow Spock into unconsciousness when he catches sight of a figure which looks like McCoy. He calls "Bones?" with part-disbelief and part-I never thought I'd find you and has a last moment to think that the mystery of Bones is more like an eighth world wonder before he passes out.
The nerve gas is odorless but recognizable as white plumes filtering out of the vents. John ducks his head and covers his nose and mouth with a piece of uniform he had torn off his shirt. It smells of blood and sweat but the scents are better than finding himself twitching on the floor, helpless. He drops his shoulder as he nears the double doors to the correct circuitry bay and slams into them at a dead run, denting one inward enough to create a gap in the seam. He then drops the cloth to dig both sets of fingers into the gap and pulls the doors apart, hoping he isn't too late.
He is super-human but he can only hold his breath for so long. The sight which greets him—Jim, on his knees, and Spock already prone (don't be dead, he thinks out of nowhere)—has John sucking in a breath that makes his eyes water.
On the left side of the small room, leaning on a wiring console, is Khan. Khan also makes the mistake of breathing as he gasps, "McCoy! Impossible!"
If only you knew, you sorry bastard. John is too tired to gloat.
Jim falls forward onto his hands, calling weakly "Bones?" like a sob, and goes limp. Khan coughs, seems to realize he has forgotten about the nerve gas filling the room, and launches himself toward the now-open doors for escape. Except Khan's launch quickly turns into more of a rasp and a stagger, one John is barely able to block. They fall against each other like drunkards, both fighting off unconsciousness rather than one another. John gropes for the door and sinks to his knees. Khan fairs better, managing to make it past John and into the hallway before he collapses completely.
John blanks out. When he comes to, his head feels like it has been stuffed with wool and his mouth is dry. He blinks against an array of shapeless colors and sits up, remembering where he is—who he is with—and what he needs to do. Jim and Spock have not recovered; John estimates that it won't be much longer before they do.
Then the fuzziness fades, his blurry vision clears, and his presence of mind is back, honed like a blade. John levers himself from the floor, only stumbling once in the hallway beyond the circuitry bay. He sees the flash of Khan's gold shirt weaving down the corridor. Khan is obviously recovered, too, but with a head-start and able-minded enough to know his destination. John drags in a lung full of air, hoping the gas has dispersed into the fresh air now pumping through the deck's vents. He thinks briefly of Jim and Spock and decides that he can do nothing for them without losing sight of his mission.
Khan is far ahead but John hunts him intently, mainly tracking a guess of the man's movements. With security down, now is the perfect time to vacate Deck 11 and there is only one way to do it. John reaches the section with the access shaft in time to hear the groan of metal yielding to superior strength. He feels better, sharper now, and less like his muscles are working against him. When John spies Khan at the end of the long corridor, framed in the light of the tunnel beyond, he breaks into a run. Khan glances up, sees him coming, and quickly disappears inside.
John hardly hesitates when he hits the opening. Khan is on the ladder, some feet below and climbing down steadily. For a moment, John has a flash of Jim foolishly jumping off of a cliff and then leaps, aiming for Khan. His hand catches on Khan's long tunic as he falls past the man, making a deadly attempt a near miss. John's body swings smartly into the side of the ladder and his boots automatically lock themselves under a rung. He loses his leverage for a moment when Khan slams his fist on top of John's and it spasms open. He drops three rungs down before he breaks his fall, panting once, and resolutely climbs back up until he can grab at Khan's foot. Khan uses the heel of his boot to break John's nose but John doesn't let go of the ladder despite of his disadvantageous position. John stabilizes his legs then uses both hands to latch onto the back of Khan's shirt.
The bar in Khan's hands bends as John pulls on him. Having no success in dislodging the man, John throws all his weight into leaning backwards until, with a cry, Khan's grip breaks. John hastily twists and grabs for the ladder and Khan grabs him instead of falling. They struggle, using elbows, fists, and cheap, dirty moves but it is hard to fight at such close proximity and neither man is willing to give up his tenuous hold. Then John has the upper hand, literally, and hits Khan with a blow that sends Khan's head cracking against the metal wall of the shaft. For a brief second he hopes Khan is going to fall but Khan doesn't. Instead, Khan retaliates by kicking viciously at John's kneecap, breaking it, and in the next instant drops below John on the ladder to pull him off in a moment of weakness. John can't stop a scream of agony but he manages to grab the rung in front of his face. Khan puts his full weight into wrenching at John's injured leg.
John pants into his arm, thinks climb! climb! and forces himself to climb, one hand over the other, dragging himself out of Khan's reach one rung at a time. Khan follows doggedly until John feels Khan get his hand around John's right ankle. John stops moving, holding on to the rung, almost level with the opening to Deck 11 again, but his grip starts to slip. He kicks at Khan’s arm, hoping to break the stronghold but Khan is like a burr. John thinks in that split second that he ought to let go and take them both down. He’ll survive—he has survived falls before.
He isn’t expecting for a long arm to snake out from the deck opening above and fingers to wrap around his wrist. That arm is attached to one fiercely concentrating Vulcan, who is half-bent and hanging over the ledge next to the ladder, securing McCoy from falling—securing Khan, too.
“Spock!” John gasps, “you can’t—“
“Do not struggle,” says the First Officer, calmly overriding McCoy’s shout. “I will assist you.”
John almost laughs and retorts See the crazy-ass tyrant attached to my leg? He makes a quick assessment of the situation, alarms in his head rattling that Spock is ill-balanced and in danger himself from the effort to reach McCoy.
Khan has found steady purchase on the ladder again but he doesn’t do the smart thing and release McCoy during the distraction. Instead, Khan seems to put all his strength into prying John off the ladder.
John grits his teeth and looks straight at Spock. “Damn it, Spock! Let go before you go with us!”
Spock ignores him, bracing his legs against God-knows-what and attempts to haul Leonard upward. Determinedly, John tries fighting against Spock and against Khan at the same time, feeling like a rag doll in tug-of-war between them.
“Let me go!” he yells. Then, more frantically, “Spock, it’s okay. It’s gonna be okay if you just let me go!”
Vulcans are stubborn, this half-Vulcan in particular. If anything, Spock’s grip tightens on McCoy’s wrist, hard enough to fracture delicate wrist bones. Khan drags at John, bruising arms wrapped around John’s legs, intent on if I die, everybody dies.
John’s shoulder pops loudly out of its socket, and he bites off a cry at the pain and the feel of muscles tearing apart under a strain they can't handle. If I could rip off my arm—why won’t you listen to me, Spock?—God damn it, don't fucking save me or Khan wins, he wins! John must have said the last part out loud because he hears, of all things, Jim’s furious “Bones! Bones, take my hand!”
And there is Jim, next to the Vulcan with one hand pressed flat on Spock's shoulder like he is pinning Spock while reaching for John. Sweat drips off the tip of the man's nose, flowing in rivulets down his face, and John sees the fear burning in Jim's eyes, too.
“Jim,” John tries to explain but Jim refuses to listen. Kirk’s hand is held out imperatively, both an order and a plea.
Shit. John releases the rung with his other hand, crying out in frustration and damn you, kid! and strains for Jim’s fingers. When their hands connect, he feels momentarily dizzy. Then both Spock and Jim are pulling John up and away from the ladder and Khan is the one who lets go, giving up McCoy.
When the three officers are safely situated inside the opening, breathing hard, John peels off Kirk's arm anchoring his chest and leans out of the opening to track Khan’s progress below. He ignores Jim’s sharp intake of breath and says, “You damn idiots, he’s getting away!” but John's anger is without heat.
“No,” replies Kirk, “he isn’t.”
Jim scoots to the edge alongside him and takes out a phaser. Despite that it is set to stun, paralyzation during descent is tantamount to instant death. John lowers Kirk's weapon with one hand, saying, “Let me do it, kid.”
Jim is looking down at Khan, seemingly uncaring, but John sees the young man’s throat work with emotion. “It’s all right, Bones,” Jim tries to say at last but John insists otherwise.
“I won’t let you. I promised, Jim, remember?”
The kid is shaking like he is under great strain but John knows he has won when Jim offers McCoy the phaser with wordless acceptance.
Except John can’t even get a good grip on the phaser before Spock plucks it away, takes precise aim, and stuns Khan without a second’s hesitation.
They watch, silent, as Khan’s body stiffens, almost frozen for a second in time, before his body drops backwards from the ladder and down through the open shaft. John says nothing when it is over and they all hear the dull thud of a body connecting with the bottom deck of the ship.
John falls back against the inner wall, his rush of adrenaline inexplicably depleted. Behind closed eyelids, he recalls that Khan had been looking at them as he fell. Khan's body had been stunned but the man had been very much aware of what was happening; it was the terror in Khan’s eyes that John recognizes. He thinks, Khan had a measure of humanity after all.
John is certain he won’t forget that any time soon.
He opens his eyes to find Jim looking at Spock. He looks at Spock, too.
Spock returns their regard for a long moment before saying, “Khan would have breached Deck 12 in another twenty-six point two seconds. It was the only logical course of action.” And that, it seems, is all the reason a Vulcan requires to kill.
John’s respect for Spock grows tenfold; his gratitude, immeasurably.
"Are you hurt, Bones?" Jim quietly asks the man beside him.
McCoy stares at his right leg for a moment before replying, "No. I'm good."
Neither Jim nor Spock say anything of the doctor's appearance. Jim leads the way to the nearest intercom. Sulu answers the call to the Bridge, sounding relieved to hear his voice.
"Captain, the nerve gas—" begins the pilot.
"The intruder is down, Mr. Sulu. Call to the bottom deck and send two armed officers to confirm Khan's status. Access Shaft Two. They are to report in and wait for further instruction."
"Thank you, Mr. Sulu. Kirk out."
Jim's finger slides off the button and he makes a fist against the wall, leans his weight on it. Once he feels fortified again, Kirk straightens and steps back, turns on McCoy. Bones doesn't flinch under his stare.
"Mr. Spock, escort Doctor McCoy to Sickbay."
"I haven't the time to discuss your actions, Doctor—yet—but we will discuss them. Right now, you can agree to go with Spock and let Dr. M'Benga assure me of your good health. The rest will follow."
McCoy says, "Yes, Captain."
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy walk to the active Bridge lift. Jim steps into it alone and without hesitation, knowing that Spock will execute the orders concerning McCoy. His final look at the two officers, before the turbolift door closes and he ascends to the Bridge, confirms that Spock is unchanged and Leonard McCoy is, once again, a man Jim does not know.
Chapter 6: Chapter Five
John submits to the usual battery of tests and doesn't bother to wait for the results. M'Benga will have nothing to report but perfectly healthy readings for an adult human male. In fact he may even proclaim McCoy's excellent health as "flawless" but, really, John's heard such descriptions before and he makes a habit of shrugging at the news and acting like it's a fluke. Geoff, being a man with an inquisitive mind, might try to probe deeper but John's old health records are altered and there won't be much medical evidence to support a theory that Leonard McCoy is anything other than typical.
He has taken many steps for countless years to keep himself safe, particularly during the times when he worked for one institution or another. Always blend in; always stay off the radar.
John admits that his decision to chase after Khan was not the best method for maintaining a cover of normalcy. He knew it had to be done because chances were no one but the Reaper could survive one-on-one with a genetically enhanced human like Khan Noonien Singh. Even now, when his secret life is close to being exposed, he doesn't regret his choice.
John repeats to himself, "It had to be done."
"Might I come in, Doctor?"
John looks up from behind his desk (maybe not his desk much longer, he grimaces) and motions for the Vulcan to take a seat. "Door's open, Spock. You don't need permission when it's open."
"I would understand if you do not wish company at this time." Spock says this as he sits across from the doctor.
John looks away. "This might be the last time we talk, Spock, so why not?" How ironic, since they rarely talk without arguing.
Spock wants to know, "Why do you assume your career is in jeopardy, Doctor McCoy?"
He bites back the urge to tell Spock to call him Leonard. In that moment, John realizes he does believe his life as Leonard McCoy is over—and that bothers him. It wouldn't be the first time he has been forced to change his identity by unforeseen circumstances.
"I don't know," he answers tiredly. "Some things just... don't work out, no matter how much we wish they would."
Spock's silence indicates that he is considering McCoy's words.
John opens a desk drawer and pulls out a bottle. "I'd offer you a refreshment, Mr. Spock, but I'm afraid I don't have anything you would care to drink."
Spock tilts his head. "Why do you keep an alcoholic beverage in your office?"
"It's part of my practice," he explains. "As a doctor I have to know when to comfort as well as treat a patient. This—" John holds up the small bottle of whiskey. "—is as medicinal for bad news as a shoulder to cry on."
"Fascinating," murmurs the Vulcan. "Do you anticipate bad news, then?"
Spock is trying extra hard to get the doctor to talk. Though why Spock wants to concern himself with John's problems is beyond the man. He changes the subject instead of answering. "If I ask for M'Benga's report on your injuries, will I be disappointed in the lack of care my staff has provided you?"
"The Medical department was efficient and most gracious," Spock says in a grave tone, like he thinks John is seriously questioning his staff's proficiency. "However, I declined further treatment once I was sufficently recovered."
"Mmhm. Then am I to believe that my definition of 'sufficient' coincides with yours?"
"It may not," concedes Mr. Spock.
He places the whiskey unopened back into a drawer. "Since neither of us is overly occupied until the Captain calls, why don't I look you over?" John pauses then adds more convincingly, "It will ease some of Jim's worries."
Spock, bless his heart, agrees. They stand up and leave the CMO's office together, seeking a vacant examination room.
John is pathetically grateful for the distraction. If he doesn't keep busy, he suspects a chat with Jim will never happen. The Enterprise will end up with one less shuttlecraft, and John will be flying to the backwoods of the galaxy, having shed Leonard McCoy like an old skin.
It's better this way, John thinks as he sidelong glances at the Vulcan accompanying him through the medical bay. It's better if I face this demon. I owe it to Jim.
John informs Captain Kirk of Mr. Spock’s condition, mainly outlining that the First Officer has no lasting damage from Khan’s attack and is fit for duty. (Spock hinted that if McCoy pushed for a short medical leave, the Vulcan would be compelled to disobey.) He almost hopes to remind Jim that he is pretty much hanging in the balance until Kirk decides to address the issues between them. Jim, however, gives no indication that he cares about McCoy’s concern, only remarks idly at the end of John’s brief report, “Thank you, Doctor McCoy. Kirk out.”
It’s not like I’m trying to pressure him, John thinks as he turns about his quarters for the third time, seeking a distraction. The wait is becoming unbearable. He may just have to do something foolish, like storming the Bridge or lying in wait in the Captain’s quarters.
But that would only add to the mess of trouble John is in. With an ache bordering on despair, he grabs the closest thing to hand—a personal PADD he rarely uses—and chucks it at the wall. The resulting noise and scattering of broken bits of plastic are a relief, so much so that John drops into a chair and begins to laugh until he is close to crying.
His face is hidden in his hands when Jim finally shows up. Swallowing down embarrassment and a touch of shame at his loss of control, John quickly schools his face to blankness and lets Kirk into his quarters with a calm that belies his miniature breakdown.
Kirk stops just inside the doorway while John walks around picking up the remnants of a PADD. “Khan?” asks John roughly.
“Dead. Scotty has offered to repair the damage to Khan’s cold chamber and we will return his body to the SS Botany Bay, then take the ship to Starbase 12 as planned.”
John can’t imagine that the decision to leave the other super-humans alive is easy for Jim; but Jim is strong enough to make and uphold the hard choice.
“What happened to that?” Jim asks him, nodding at the scraps in John’s hand.
“Accident. Broke it,” he replies and dumps the PADD into the trash bin.
Then they are back to square-one, neither one saying much but with too much that needs to be said. John pulls out an extra chair for Jim but the man shakes his head.
John thinks it best if he doesn’t stand for this sure-to-be-painful conversation. He leans forward once he is seated, clasping his hands between his knees. Thinking it would be easier to just dive straight in, he begins, “How long do I have?”
Jim remains still. “That depends. Can I trust you on my ship?”
“You did before.”
“I thought I knew who you were before, Bones.”
John’s eyes sting at the sound of his nickname. So Jim doesn’t hate him that bad. Thank God.
“I haven’t changed,” he says quietly, “from the first day I set foot on the Enterprise.”
Jim steps forward, then, to stare at him. “I’ve always had questions about you but I thought you would tell me what I needed to know if it was important. I think—I think I made an error in judgment. I should have asked those questions, because I see now some of those answers affect more than just us.” Jim is close to him now, so close that John can see the earnestness in Jim’s eyes—and the resignation in them, too. “If it were just us, Bones, I would keep waiting. But it’s not.”
“I know.” John looks away. “And I’m sorry, Jim, God knows I am. I can’t tell you anything.” I'm not ready. He grinds the back of his teeth, almost despising himself. Two hundred years of never breathing a word of his condition to anyone and killing those who attempted to learn it are difficult habits to change.
“Then you can’t expect me to trust you.”
“And I can’t expect you to keep a man you don’t trust on your ship. I understand. You can,” he says, muscles tight to prevent a shudder, “transfer me, if you want. Or...” He glances up at Jim to search his expression. “I can disappear. Be a fatality, so no one thinks to look for me. Whatever you want me to do, kid.”
“How?” asks the Captain, face giving nothing away.
John smiles, feeling sick. “It wouldn’t be hard. I have contingency plans; always have, wherever I’ve been.”
“Can you tell me why, Bones?”
John feels the words clog in his throat but he tries to force them out. “I can never stay in one place too long,” he admits, choked.
Something passes across Jim’s face. “Are you wanted?” John is questioned in a carefully bland voice.
“Yes.” At Jim’s arrested look, John tries to tell the kid the truth without saying more than he has to. “But not for a crime, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s more... more like I’m an endangered species,” he says dryly. “People would want me and not as a kindness to anyone, especially me.”
Jim opens and closes his hands for a moment, then walks to the empty chair next to John. He sits down gingerly and doesn’t look John in the face. “I don’t understand, Bones.”
“I know you don’t. Believe me, if I thought I could say more without jeopardizing you—" John drags in a breath and finishes, “—I would." He grabs his head with both hands, shocked. "Fuck.”
Jim sounds anxious. “What?”
John simply shakes his head. “Just... never mind.” But it isn’t nothing because he had just said that he might tell Jim his secret one day—and though the thought seems impossible, he had meant it. Not even with Jocelyn, the woman he married, had John considered the possibility.
“Bones,” asks his friend, “how do I know I can trust you?”
John turns his head to Kirk. “You can’t, Jim. Even if you let me stay on as CMO, you would never know what I really am. You would never know because I won’t tell you, and if I stayed, it wouldn’t be for more than a handful for years. Ten, tops—and that would be pushing the limit.”
Jim doesn’t ask why again. He startles John with “How can you live like that and be happy?”
“It’s damned hard,” John answers honestly. “It’s... lonely and, shit, it isn’t living at all.” He stares at his hands, thinking of how many scars he ought to have but doesn’t. “Everything has a price, Jim. I’ll be paying mine until I die.”
And knowing that he might never die is enough to make him want to cry. Except the last time he cried was over Samantha’s grave and then for weeks afterward, feeling like an orphan. He doesn’t have tears left for an old wound.
Jim doesn’t say how sorry he is, despite the misery in John’s voice, and John is glad for it. Kirk keeps him company for a few minutes in silence, and that is all John really needs to patch himself back together.
“What’s next?” John needs to know.
“Tell me about Khan.” Jim leans back in his chair, hands on the armrests like he is on the Bridge.
“Didn’t Spock tell you about him?”
“He did,” replies Kirk. “I meant, tell me why you went after him, Bones.”
John frowns. “To stop him. Why else?”
“Could you have?”
“Yeah... without distractions,” he says after thinking on it. “I’d have survived, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“And you weren’t worried about your cover?”
He snorts. “Contingency plan, remember?” Then more softly, he adds, “Would have been worth it. Khan was a monster.” John pictures the mutants of Olduvai.
Jim is nodding. “I know what you mean.” John suspects Jim has his own brand of monster. Then Jim sighs and speaks like they are discussing the weather over tea. “I talked to Spock before I came here. Do you know what he suggested?”
John grimaces. “A new CMO with a better attitude? I bet he’s got a list of prospective replacements already.”
Jim shoots him a strange look. “You really are an idiot. Spock respects you.”
His surprised “No!” isn’t faked. “Since when is harassing me a form of Vulcan respect?”
“He doesn’t understand how he intimidates the crew.” Jim shrugs. “Since you aren’t intimidated, he says it makes you ‘less illogical’ than a majority of the confused humans aboard this ship. Congratulations,” Jim remarks dryly.
“Only that green-blooded bastard can deliver such a backhanded compliment.” John feels a pang somewhere in his gut, like an anxiety, but he doesn’t understand why he feels it at the mention of Spock.
Jim shifts in his seat. “Spock suggested I keep you under discreet observation. You haven’t become a threat to the Enterprise yet; to act otherwise would be premature and potentially unwarranted. Not my words.”
John is inexplicably glad that he didn’t ignore the Vulcan earlier that day. “I didn’t think Spock would be a man for second chances.”
“He’s not unfeeling, Bones. People have preconceptions of Vulcans and that’s how they see him, despite that Spock, as an individual, is nothing like you or I would expect.” Jim’s narrow-eyed look is trying to convey a message to John. “He leaves the task of discovering who he is to the other person. You are like that, Bones. The two of you have more in common than you realize.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I don’t want to lose you, but I can't offer you a second chance until I have a few promises from you.”
Jim trusts John not to make a promise he can’t keep, at least. John says, “Tell me.”
“I need to know in advance if you can help in a situation in a way that no one else can. Before you go AWOL, not after.” Jim’s mouth quirks. “I might even agree to deflect Command’s inquiries on your behalf in the aftermath.”
“If someone finds out, Jim, it could cost you your career.”
“My career is less important than protecting this crew, the Federation, and those who need our help. You’re a great doctor, Bones. If you can do more, then I’d be a fool not to use you—but only if you consent to help and, more importantly, if you ask.”
“Fine. But you can’t ask for explanations every God-damned minute.”
John rubs his palms on his pants. “What else?”
“Are you Leonard McCoy?”
John’s heart pounds for a moment. “Jim...”
Jim won’t be budged. “Yes or no.”
“Yes, I’m Leonard McCoy and, yes, I made him up. No, it’s not my real name.”
“I’m less concerned about your identity in some commander’s system,” Jim explains quietly. “You’re Bones to me. Can you promise to still be Bones?” Jim’s eyes search John’s face for the truth.
“I don’t know what you are asking for, kid.”
Jim sighs again. “What can I ask for? I don’t want to look at you and see a stranger. We—we never talked much about where we came from or who we are, but I thought I had a good idea of the basics. You like your coffee black. You don’t sleep more than three or four hours a night.” Jim swallows as he looks at John. “Even when I annoy the hell out of you, you never turn me away.”
John tells him, unhesitant, “All those things won’t change.”
“Then promise me, whatever it is you’ve been doing as... as Bones won’t change someday. I need that. It wasn’t all lies; it couldn’t have been.”
Jim sounds raw and it’s painful to hear.
“Damn it, Jim, I don’t want to hurt you!” John says, almost raising his voice as he rises to pace. “I don’t fucking know who I am half the time. I am—“ He breathes deeply and runs a hand through his hair. “—what gets me by. If you want me to play a role, I can try. Hell, I’ve been trying to be the good doctor. It’s not entirely me, but it’s not entirely unlike me, either. If I had gone into the medical field long ago...” He stares at Jim and says with bitterness, “What-if’s and maybe’s. I screwed up. Do you want to be friends with a man like me?”
“Do you want to be friends with a man like me, Bones?” Jim asks in return. “For what, ten years?”
“Hell.” John closes his eyes. “We’re both crazy. If you give me a head-start, I can be off-ship in an hour.”
Jim’s instant fury surprises John into opening his eyes. “No. You don’t run! If I can’t run—" Jim begins but breaks off. He visibly calms himself. “We’ll work through this. We’ll do it because no one would expect us to.”
John steps aside, uncertain, when Jim stalks past him to the door. He almost calls to Kirk but holds back. This is a no-win scenario, kid but John does not have the heart to say that.
Jim stops at the door, turning to John. “The last promise,” he says evenly, “is for Spock. You have to learn to trust Spock like I do, or we have no hope of accomplishing much at all.”
Kirk doesn’t wait for John to answer. Alone, John realizes he just survived the scariest confrontation of his life. While he and Jim may be at an impasse (until they are ready again to discuss such an emotionally charged topic), John comforts himself with the knowledge that there is something he can do for Jim, for everyone. During gamma shift, John leaves his room, quietly slips up behind the transporter tech on duty and renders the young man unconscious. Within a minute he is aboard the SS Botany Bay, working under a time constraint until he is pulled back to the Enterprise.
John reforms on the transporter platform to find Spock waiting for him. He steps down, asking, "The lieutenant?"
"Comfortably retired to his quarters. I took the liberty of explaining that he was involved in an impromptu security training session and alerting the Captain of any... unauthorized activity would be unnecessary."
"How did you know I was here?"
Spock doesn't bat an eye. "My computer monitors your quarters."
Jeez, Spock, that doesn't help my paranoia. John sighs instead.
Mr. Spock talks as he works behind the transporter console. "Was your mission successful, Doctor?"
"We'll know in a minute."
The ship's computer announces Records cleared.
Spock is being very calm and helpful. John says, "You didn't have to do that."
"While I infer that you know how to erase your activity, I would be obligated to mention our encounter unless I had sufficient cause not to."
Like being a co-conspirator? Jim was right. John has clearly missed some notable personality quirks of Spock's.
Spock walks around the console to join the doctor. "Perhaps you should consider widening your circle of confidence before you engage in your next excursion."
John realizes that Spock is saying You can trust me. His hand twitches at his side as he thinks about reaching out to touch Spock, just to make sure he isn't dreaming. "Thank you," John replies, meaning it.
The Vulcan inclines his head. They exit the Transporter Room, walking side by side through the corridors of Deck 14. Spock breaks the companionable silence. "Have you and the Captain come to an agreement?"
John hesitates then halts. Spock stops and turns to look at him.
"The best I can guess is Jim doesn't hate me, and he doesn't want to turn me over to Command for reprimand and review. Beyond that..." He shrugs. "I don't know."
Spock says, voice oddly gentle, "You underestimate the Captain's capacity for compassion. Had you recklessly endangered another person, Jim would not be willing to understand your behavior; but you acted on the contrary, with the intention of sparing all but yourself from harm." The First Officer's dark eyes bore into him. Spock goes on to say, "I admit that you puzzle me, Doctor McCoy. Yet I do not believe, as you might say, this is 'a bad thing.'"
John clears his throat, caught under that gaze. "Well puzzle to your heart's content, Mr. Spock, but don't expect to solve the mystery any time soon."
"Indeed," replies the Vulcan. "Were the mystery simple, it would prove disappointing."
John resumes walking. A message over the intercom system interrupts their second companionable silence. "Bridge to Mr. Spock."
John lifts an eyebrow, saying in McCoy's drawl, "Why are you on duty two shifts in a row, Mr. Spock?"
The Vulcan's eyebrows rise in response. "I am not on duty, Doctor, but the Bridge has explicit instructions to notify me before the Captain of alerts warranting attention unless the ship is in immediate danger. Captain Kirk requires more rest than I."
And I require less than you, John thinks amusedly. Boy, Jim would be thrilled to know where he ranks.
Spock strides to an intercom, John in close attendance.
"Spock to Bridge."
"Mr. Spock, we're picking up unusual radiation spikes from the SS Botany Bay."
The Vulcan sounds unnaturally calm. "On my way. Spock out." Spock merely looks at John after ending the call.
John obliges him. "You have another fifteen minutes before the nuclear engine blows. Never can trust those old ship models, you know?"
"Warp factor three should suffice to carry us a suitable distance from the explosion."
John locks his hands behind his back and jerks his head in the direction of the turbolift. "See you on duty then, Mr. Spock."
Spock pivots without another word, destined for the Bridge, and John decides he might need his three hours of sleep tonight after all.
John has often wondered if the vacuum of space would kill him, but the thought of it failing to do so is more frightening than the thought of death. To imagine his oxygen-starved body clinging to life, trying to recover from the crushing damage of vacuum...
John shudders, thankful that Jim hasn't opted to pitch Leonard McCoy out of an airlock and be done with him altogether.
"Are you all right?"
John turns to find Christine Chapel, armed with PADDs, watching him.
He smiles, if a bit weakly. "Fine."
Christine's look is measuring and he meets her frank assessment with a careful, empty expression of his own.
His staff is noticeably different in how they interact with him. John wonders if he has done irreparable harm to his image, considering their covert stares through lowered lashes or intense regard of his every word or action, like they can't see him the same way as before if they tried.
Will it pass? Will he have to endure their maddening suspicion each time he is "odd" or acts like someone other than the man known as Doctor McCoy?
John realizes belatedly that Christine's hand is on his arm. She squeezes his bicep to regain his attention.
"Where did you go?" asks the nurse, a clear and curious look in her eyes.
He manages to keep his voice even. "Just wondering when things will return to normal."
"Oh, they will soon enough, Leonard," she tells him with an unexpected understanding. "Right now, you are a fresh case study in how people can be surprising. That's a good thing. We shouldn't take each other for granted."
Her acceptance eases his mind somewhat. John's smile grows. "Did you earn a psychology degree while I was gone, Chapel?"
"I took my share of psych courses and then some, Doctor McCoy" he is informed with indignation. "Treating the mind can be a crucial component in the treatment of the body. I do what little I can until the patient requires an expert. I've seen you do the same. Don't deny it!"
He wisely does not. Instead John wants to know, "So what's your advice for a man who won't trust others?"
Christine frowns, asking sharply, "Why would you say that?"
"Hypothetically," he hedges, "suppose I were someone completely different than the person you think I am. What would you tell me to do?"
"I would tell you to soak your head in a bucket of water until your ego reduces to its normal size. Honestly," Christine explains, ignoring his attempt to interrupt her, "consider the way you're talking to me. You don't tell me everything, you lie when you think you ought to, and yet if you expect me to believe you haven't spoken or made a single gesture in honesty in the last ten minutes, you are only fooling yourself. You can never completely hide who you are, and therefore you can never truly be someone you aren't."
"You believe that," John says slowly.
"Yes, I do. A person presents himself and allows his audience to develop an impression of him. The more often two people meet, the more layered the impression. People want to build their impressions on truth, and if they think you are worth knowing, they trust their instincts to tell them what's true. It's my hope, Leonard, that who I believe you to be is built on the small pieces of the real you I see shining through all the—" She waves her hand at him. "—the muck!"
"Muck?" he repeats dryly.
Christine's narrowed eyes warn him not to laugh. "You know what I mean, Doctor."
John nods, shoulders slumping as he feels more like McCoy than he has in several days. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," she responds, slightly bemused. Then the woman shifts her weight and her bundle of PADDs, a slow smile lighting on her face. "Are you going to let your staff continue to tip-toe around you, or are you going to remind them why you're Dr. Leonard McCoy, Chief Surgeon and Medical Officer?"
"You think they want remindin'?" he asks, curious.
Christine leans in and whispers conspiratorially, "It wouldn't hurt." Then her eyes gleam in an almost wicked way. "You do realize that Medical is now the recipient of envy, don't you? Everybody wants to work with The Great McCoy."
John stares. "Excuse me?"
"That's your new nickname, right after Grumpy Dr. M. and, my favorite, Hotpants. Nyota and I keep your reputation, hmm shall we say, endearing?"
He hopes to God that she is kidding. The curve of her lips says otherwise. John begins to think that floating in the vacuum of space might not be the worst fate in the universe.
She resumes her professional demeanor. "I have patients waiting. Why don't I summarize this talk? The crew doesn't know why you went after Khan, Leonard, or even if you were in your right mind but we are comforted to know that you did. You are a doctor and a hero."
"I'm not heroic," he argues, finally distracted from the name Hotpants.
Chapel brushes past him, apparently finished with their conversation, and calls over her shoulder, "Then we'll just brand you a kook!"
"I'm not crazy, either!"
Christine's laughter drifts back to John long after she disappears from sight.
For the first time, Jim feels stifled aboard the Enterprise. Everywhere he walks is not far enough. He can't sit without wanting to pace, and he can't pace without wanting to run.
The crisis is over but Jim feels like it left behind a chasm that threatens to swallow whole everything he has come to cherish, to believe in. Kirk doesn't know how to put his world back into order; he wonders if order is even possible.
Damn you, Bones.
He tries to find a measure of comfort in the stars. They are too calm, pinpoints which are millions of light-years away.
He prowls the recreational rooms but finds that crowds make him antsy even though he returns every greeting and "Captain" called his way.
Jim is at an utter loss of what to do.
"Damn you, Bones!" He punches the inside wall of a turbolift, instantly grateful no one witnesses his outburst.
Jim sags on his feet, thinking that this anger at Bones is useless and maybe he was right, Kirk, he needs to go. With sick resignation, Jim makes up his mind to look into a transfer for McCoy—and fuck McCoy, who is McCoy, really?—when the ship shudders.
Everything falls away, then, leaving behind only a flash of inexplicable terror. No, it can't be, Khan is dead.
Jim runs, despite that he was present when Khan's body was placed on the SS Botany Bay, despite the implausibility of a dead man rising to take away everything Jim loves.
Spock seems to expect his Captain to burst onto the Bridge but obviously Spock does not expect the pallor of Jim's face or the suppressed fear in his eyes. The First Officer reaches out to steady Jim like he might be swaying (maybe he is) and says quickly, "The SS Botany Bay malfunctioned and detonated."
Jim stares at Spock, uncomprehending.
"Jim," repeats the Vulcan in a lowered tone. "Do not be alarmed. All is well."
"Is it?" he asks thickly.
Spock releases him. "Yes." When the Vulcan moves back, Jim realizes Spock was shielding him from the view of the other officers on the Bridge.
Kirk lifts his chin and takes measured steps to his command chair, legs feeling like lead. He sits, telling the people around him, "At ease. Spock, show me."
Spock obliges, not needing clarification. Jim fixes his eyes on the screen, drinking in the sight of the wreckage of a long nightmare finally at an end. Relief fills him, easing one layer of tension. Sadly, it does nothing to help Jim with Bones.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
Spock notes little progress between Kirk and McCoy. He may need to intervene soon, as a concerned First Officer.
The Captain is naturally protective of his privacy, not unlike Doctor McCoy. In the past, the Vulcan has observed that McCoy cornered Jim if the man grew despondent over the death of a fellow officer or that the doctor encouraged the Captain to maintain personal connections with his crew—small observations, really, of behavior that directly benefited Jim's mental health. It was after careful study of McCoy's interaction with Kirk, and Spock's conclusions, he decided to accept the invitation of a chess game with the Captain. The end-result proved satisfactory, not only by increasing the human's delight but also for Spock. Kirk is, as it turns out, a worthy, if somewhat overly cheerful opponent at chess.
Spock comprehends that he is not apt at interpreting human social needs, much less nurturing them; yet since that first successful attempt, he tries to follow Leonard McCoy's example by offering a solid presence when Jim Kirk might have need of companionship. Of course any other similar benevolent or well-intentioned acts on Spock's behalf are part of a First Officer's responsibilities. Should the day come when Spock is inclined to help his Captain without a thought for duty, well, he admits that it would not be entirely unprecedented.
The thought that two friends, as Spock had assumed accurately defined McCoy and Kirk's relationship, could turn so easily from one another is baffling. He believes that Leonard McCoy would not harm Jim needlessly; thus it is only logical that the trouble between the two humans, sparked by Khan's arrival, must be born of a grave need of McCoy's. Whether or not Jim can accept this need remains in question.
Spock is not necessarily an impatient person—in particular, his patience has proven ample in the past—but a rift among the senior officers aboard this vessel cannot continue. (How this applies to Spock and McCoy, he may contemplate on later.) Kirk's command of the Enterprise does not show the effects of his personal turmoil but Spock suspects if Doctor McCoy is relieved of his position, not even the stalwart efforts of a Vulcan will negate the repercussions.
Spock's personal computer beeps softly, drawing his attention. Doctor McCoy has left his quarters and is prowling the ship. Rather than continuing to track the man's activity, Spock shuts down the security feed. He will allow the two humans more time to resolve what has driven them apart, for they must have the capacity to see reason, even if that capacity is limited.
In the First Officer's quarters, Spock prepares to rest then lies down on his bed. Instead of meditating, however, the Vulcan finds himself outlining a plan of how two stubborn persons might be reunited should circumstances remain unchanged by the next beta shift.
John half-expects Captain Kirk to have him arrested for the sabotage of the SS Botany Bay. That no one mentions the event disturbs him more than imagining a ship-wide denouncement of John’s final act of betrayal. Yet Jim does not seek John out, not after the ship rocks with an aftershock of the blast from the sleeper ship and the entire crew stirs like a hornet’s nest, envisioning imminent doom. Jim never calls down to Sickbay where Doctor McCoy is calming his startled doctors and nurses to ask “What the fuck did you do, Bones?” Jim says nothing of it at all.
And John feels bad that he might have gotten away with it. After all, Jim wanted a promise that he would ask first, act later—but John saw an opportunity to eliminate the rest of their troubles and he took it, knowing he might destroy the remaining trust Jim had in his Bones as completely as John destroyed the remnants of the Eugenics War.
I'm a fool twice over, John decides as he swallows a shot of Saurian brandy, having cracked open a fresh bottle to celebrate his last night as CMO of the Enterprise.
But Security never comes and the hour grows late.
John tucks away his glass and the nearly full bottle of liquor, and unsuccessfully tries to smooth out the wrinkles in his blue uniform. Then he goes in search of the Captain.
Jim would be hard to find if John didn’t have a 24th chromosome. Kirk is in a quiet, nearly secluded area of the gymnasium, resolutely boxing with the Chief of Security, Samuel Giotto. Giotto ignores John’s careful, noisy approach but when Jim glances up between punches to look, Giotto lands a blow hard enough to send Kirk stumbling back across the mat.
Giotto straightens, strips off his gloves and advises as he helps the Captain to his feet, “If you worry about the man who hasn’t reached you, the one you’re fighting will kill you first.”
John sees too much of himself in Giotto and he can’t help but approve that Jim trains with the man. Hand-to-hand combat is as necessary a skill for an officer in space as for an officer on the ground.
Breathing hard, Jim grunts his thanks to Giotto and stalks toward a punching bag across the room, obviously intent on continuing to damage his knuckles until they bleed inside his gloves.
John feels certain that he is the reason Jim wants to beat the shit out of something.
He tenses, eyes still trained on Kirk, when Giotto walks up to him. Samuel is a man of little words. He tells John, “Take these. You’ll need them” and shoves a pair of boxing gloves into the doctor’s chest before heading in the direction of the men’s locker room.
Leonard McCoy is reputed to be a healer, not a fighter but that doesn’t mean McCoy can’t fight when he has to. Giotto might have record of such a fact but undoubtedly cares less one way or the other. McCoy is the root of a problem with Kirk and apparently Giotto expects McCoy to fix it.
John strips off his shirt and puts on the gloves.
Jim says nothing when John stills the swaying punching bag and moves between it and Kirk. John waits a few seconds longer then tells the young man eyeing him, “Hittin’ never solves what’s in here.” He taps his chest with a glove. “But it sure as hell works for everything else.”
In a lightning-fast move, he punctuates his statement by slamming a fist into Jim’s exposed side, knocking the man backwards several feet. Jim catches himself from falling and gapes at John, stunned.
He circles Jim. “C’mon, Jim. I know you want to hit back. So do it.”
Jim closes his mouth, expression tightening, and takes a defensive stance. “Don’t tempt me.”
John laughs. “Fuck but you’re dumb, kid.” And that pushes the right button.
Kirk comes at him, furious, and John’s so damned relieved that he only dodges the first wild swing of a fist but lets the second swing connect with his jaw. He shakes it off, cracks his jaw, and dives into the fight again.
Jim is rage personified; he attacks at random angles and John parries all the blows, letting the kid sweat out his pent-up emotion.
Eventually Jim has to pull back and he bends at the waist, gloves braced on his legs, panting. “Shit—why can’t—I hit you?”
John rolls his shoulders. “You have. You are.”
Jim’s head comes up. He glares at John. “You’re playing with me!”
“No,” he responds evenly, “I’m givin’ you a chance.” John motions for Kirk to stand up. “Again. Let’s go.”
Kirk is never one to back down from a challenge. This time John shifts out of the way of two kicks, enough to infuriate his opponent. Then he stops protecting himself. Jim’s well-aimed blows land on his face, his ribs, anywhere they can. A kidney shot whitens John’s vision for about two seconds before he recovers.
At some point, Jim delivers a roundhouse kick that sprawls John on his back. John does not get back on his feet; he simply lies there and stares at the high ceiling, knowing that he will let Jim hurt him even when he’s down like this. Except John can hear Jim several feet away, feels the man’s eyes on him.
The air smells strongly of sweat and a hint of blood. John’s lip had split open earlier from a left hook but it has healed already, leaving only the taste of copper in his mouth.
He asks, “Can you finish it?”
Jim drags in a breath. “Will you get up?”
John turns his head in Kirk’s direction, eyes fixed overhead. “I will if that’s what you want. Do you want me to, Jim?”
Jim stays silent for a minute then answers, voice tired, “No.”
And just like that, John knows, they are on even ground again. He sits up and takes off his gloves. Jim drops down beside John, resting his elbows on his knees and folds his arms, hands still gloved.
Jim is the one with all the decisions, who tells John to stay or go. John waits on Jim to lay out his future.
“Ship’s gone,” says Kirk, staring at the punching bag in the corner. “Khan. Khan’s followers. Just like that, Bones.”
“I reckon so” is his soft reply.
Jim looks at him then, eyes vividly blue. “Is there anything I need to know?”
“No,” John says, “nothing you need to know, Jim, except what’s in Spock’s report. He’ll be thorough.”
“Command might have something to say. They always do,” Jim remarks, his last words bitter.
John shrugs. “So they lost something they didn’t know they had. It’ll pass.”
He can hear Jim swallow, as close as they are to each other.
“I’m glad they didn’t know, Bones. I couldn’t make the call—"
Jim pauses and John interrupts pointedly, "You made the decision you had to, Captain."
Kirk finishes, admitting, “—but I wanted to burn them all.”
John stands up. “This galaxy doesn't need a legacy like Khan’s.” Then he adds, “Sometimes these things work themselves out.”
When John offers a hand, Jim accepts and allows John to pull him to his feet. John stares at Jim for a long moment before he sighs. “I’m sorry for everything, Jim—and for the way things are between us.”
Admitting the truth has a strange impact on John. Something uncoils inside him, like a chain loosening, and he isn’t certain if he has felt the sensation before now. The sudden freedom gives him the strength to rest his hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“You deserve a friend who trusts you,” John tells him earnestly.
Jim frees one of his hands from his gloves and pulls John’s hand off his shoulder but squeezes it as he does so. He sounds apologetic as he says, “Shoulder hurts.”
John realizes what an idiot he is and snaps to attention, narrowing his eyes. “You did land on it. Sit down,” he orders, steering Kirk toward the chairs lining the back wall.
Jim digs in his heels. “I’m fine.”
“I’m the doctor. You’re fine when I say you’re fine.”
“Bones, you can’t apologize, say heartfelt shit, and then pull rank!”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing. Now sit—" John shoves Kirk into a chair, then points a finger at him. “—and stay. Where’s the emergency medikit?” he asks, frowning as he looks around for it.
He pulls it off the wall in time to turn around and find Jim standing behind him with a defiant look.
John holds up the medikit. “Listen to me for once, Jim.”
“I am, Bones,” replies the man seriously. “I am listening, and I hear you. You’re being my friend.”
“Some friend,” he growls. “The fight was a stupid idea. I should have known better.”
Why is Jim grinning? “It was great, Bones. Though I would have liked it better if you hadn’t let me beat you up.”
John lifts his eyebrow. “Do I look beat up to you?”
Jim crosses his arms, wincing at the motion, but still pouting nonetheless. At John’s expression, Kirk sighs and walks back to the chair to sit down. He says nothing while the kneeling doctor scans him for injuries and tests the movement of Kirk’s injured shoulder.
But Jim is never one for keeping silent too long, John knows.
“You said I need a friend who trusts me. I think you do trust me.”
“Why is that, Jim?” he asks evenly, turning Jim’s face gently to scan the man’s bruised jaw.
Jim waits until they make eye contact. “I think you could have hurt me if you wanted to.” Flexing a hand, Jim rephrases, “Never mind. I know you could have. So if you don’t trust me, Bones, why are you holding back?” Kirk looks at him intently, asking, “Why are you still here, taking this risk, when you don’t have to?”
John answers without thinking, “I want to be wrong.”
Jim seems to understand John’s words better than John himself. He nods, says, “Then we’ll prove you wrong.”
John sits back on his heels. “We?”
Jim’s smirk is familiar and discomforts John as much as it eases his tension. “Package deal,” Jim tells him. “Me, the Enterprise.” After a beat, with a hint of glee, “Mr. Spock.”
John can’t help but grin a little. “Now you’re pushing it, Jim.”
“I know my crew, Bones, and I know what my officers are capable of.”
“Homicide? Death by Vulcan glare?”
“Shut up.” Jim is smiling but that smile fades with their laughter. “Can you try?”
John looks away but nods. “Yeah. I'll try.”
“Then we will be okay,” Jim says fiercely, meaning it.
John finds himself, in that moment, believing Jim’s prediction, too.
Four months later...
The planet is non-descript, this part of it in particular, if one discounts the angry natives trying to shoot, spear, or flatten the "devils from the sky" with large chunks of rock. The rock thrower is a giant of a man with ludicrously bulging muscles and a roar like a bear.
A loud boom, similar to the explosion of a small bomb, punctuates the frantic activity as a rock crashes perliously close the section of the stone wall behind which Jim's small entourage is hiding. John jerks his head up, distracted momentarily from splinting Geologist Fisher's arm. All four officers of the landing party are mostly unscathed (though John can't physically see two of them at the moment) and waiting desperately for Mr. Scott to fix the ship's transporter. (John is of the opinion that the transporter is possessed. There is no other explanation for such state-of-the-art technology to "have a bit o' a bug"—as Scotty might say—when it is needed most.)
He listens to the shrill war cries and grimaces. Apparently fair-haired men like Jim are not only rare among this race but are considered demons.
Jim's the devil all right, John grouses to himself.
John is still muttering to his unconscious companion about "gentle tribal peoples, my ass" when the First Officer jumps over the wall and drops down beside John and Fisher, followed closely by Kirk. The Captain is dirty, shirt torn at the shoulder, and panting. Spock, on the other hand, is fairly immaculate for someone who just sprinted through a volley of arrows and rocks.
"Bones!" Jim shouts over the screeching of the natives. Then he leans across Spock to repeat "Bones!" like John is ignoring him.
"What?" he snaps, twisting around, yet careful not to dislodge Fisher's arm.
"Bones, can you...?" Jim's eyes widen and he indicates the big man on the other side of the wall.
John narrows his eyes. "Jim, I'm a doctor not a—"
Spock, the green-blooded bastard, doesn't let John finish. "It would not be unreasonable for you to aid us, Doctor McCoy."
BOOM! The wall shudders, sending down a spray of small chipped stones and dust. John scoots away from his patient and cautiously peers over the top. The bear-man is grappling with another big rock. Behind the man, half-naked people are preparing a bonfire. An enormous, can-cook-several-people-at-once bonfire.
"Shit," John mutters as he crouches down again.
Jim says impatiently, "See? A little help!"
John shows Spock how to keep Fisher comfortable. Fisher's head lolls onto Spock's shoulder, still oblivious to their danger, and the Vulcan looks perturbed. John bites his lower lip, trying to salvage his serious expression.
Then he sobers and looks at Jim. "Okay," John agrees, "but if I end up tied like a pig on a spit, I'm going to kick your ass."
Spock's sharply angled eyebrows indicate that he is having difficulty picturing how John could accomplish an ass-kicking while tied up.
Jim merely grins. "Go get 'em, Bones."
He grunts, thinking my life could be worse, but feels inexplicably pleased. Then John leaps over the wall and sets about being, as Nurse Chapel once said, "a doctor and a hero."