Jim hears Bones’ whoop of victory as he tumbles onto the floor of the alien ship. The door seals shut above them, and he can’t quite believe he’s alive and safe… that Spock managed to pull him into the ship at the last second before he was sucked out into space. His own screams are still ringing in his ears.
“What would I do without you... Spock,” he manages to grit out, trying to catch his breath.
“What am I, the flight attendant?” comes Bones’ mock-outraged voice from above. “Who d’ya think maneuvered us right underneath you? I think I deserve a little credit!”
Jim smiles, but it quickly turns into a grimace. His body is beginning to wake up to the fact that he’s beat all to hell, and there’s a hot, piercing pain in his lower back. He shifts a little, trying to relieve the burn, but the blazing pain that shoots up from his left shoulder makes him cry out.
“Jim! What’s wrong? Talk to me.”
He’d like to, but the throbbing in his shoulder refuses to die down--Spock’s desperate yank on his arm as he pulled him into the ship must have popped the bone right out of the socket--and he’s beginning to realize that he hurts just about everywhere . He tries to take a deep, calming breath, but that’s a mistake, because the inhale results in such an acute pain on his left side that he can’t stifle the groan. He tries to curl onto his side, to find a more comfortable position, but the hot agony in his back just gets worse.
Bones is suddenly kneeling beside him. “I’ve got you. Lie back, try to relax. Tell me what hurts.”
“Back,” he grunts. “Shoulder.” Bones bumps him a little as he tries to squeeze in closer, sending a jolt of flame through him and making him cry out.
“Sorry, sorry, I won’t do that again,” Bones mutters, sounding truly apologetic. “Damn cramped alien ship. All right, let me see.”
Bones moves to take his arm, but Jim instinctively cringes away. “Wait… gimme a minute…” The pain in his ribs, shoulder and back has all fused together, and he can’t stand the thought of the doctor touching him just yet. The adrenaline surge that’s been keeping him on his feet and fighting for the last few hours seems to have drained out of him all at once, leaving him shaky and defenseless.
Bones sighs, but picks up the arm anyway, ignoring Jim’s protest. “C’mon, kid, I have to examine you. I’ll be careful, I promise.” He keeps his movements slow and gentle, and Jim tries to get his breathing under control.
Keep it together, he scolds himself. He can hear Spock on the comm with Scotty, but he has no doubt that his first officer is also listening closely to everything he’s saying.
“Knew you’d be... a badass pilot,” he tells Bones, thankful that he’s able to keep his voice more-or-less steady. Bones’ eye-roll is no surprise. Jim’s insisted that all crewmembers learn another starship specialization, because replacements aren’t always available when you’re deep in the black. So after two years of training with Sulu, his CMO can now pilot and (hopefully) land the Galileo, the Enterprise shuttlecraft.
“Ironically, you were right.” Bones is holding up a medscanner and frowning. “Jesus, Jim. You’ve got a couple of cracked ribs… dislocated left shoulder… and second degree burns on your back, where’d you get ‘em? And--”
It’s hard for Jim to focus on the barrage of words because Bones’ hands are probing along his torso, causing all sorts of pains to blaze to life. “Why’s it-- Ahh!-- ironic?”
“It’s ironic because you need a doctor here, not a backup pilot, you idiot!”
“Bones, stop that, don’t--”
Bones is pushing him onto his right side, making his ribs scream in protest. “What the hell is this? Spock, get down here, I need you!”
“Doctor, I am currently fully occupied in piloting the ship. There is a great deal of wreckage from the swarm.” As if to make his point, the ship suddenly swerves and takes a steep dive. Bones lurches backward and without the doctor’s hands to prop him on his side, Jim rolls onto his back. The white-hot pain that accompanies the move jolts a startled cry from him.
“Spock, we’re not belted in down here, take it easy!” Jim can’t pay attention to Spock’s reply because Bones is propping him up again, this time practically kneeling on top of him, wedging his legs against Jim’s body to keep him steady.
“Damn it, Jim, there’s a shard of glass bigger than my hand sticking out of your back. Why didn’t you tell me you were stabbed?”
Oh. Right. Jim vaguely remembers something in the blur of those last seconds fighting Krall. He’d been so focused on kicking him away and trying to open that last hatch that he hadn’t felt any pain.
“Not glass, doctor. The Yorktown’s dome is made of a compressed alloy of crystalline palladium.”
“I think you’re missing the point, Spock! He’s been stabbed.”
Now that his attention is focused on it, the deep wound burns like fire, and all Jim can think is getitoutgetitout. “Take it out, please! It hurts… shit…”
“Sorry, but the shard stays where it is for now. You’re not bleeding too badly, but its position is probably holding some cut vessels closed. I won’t remove it until I can do a full bioscan and see exactly what’s been damaged.” The doctor’s authoritative tone is oddly comforting, even when he’s telling Jim the opposite of what he wants to hear. He knows arguing will be no use, anyway, so he resigns himself to accepting the inevitable. “That’s better. Relax. Now get down here, Spock, I have to stabilize this and I don’t want to move Jim around too much.”
“I assure you that I am needed right where I am. We are not”--the ships dips and tilts, but Bones is ready this time, grabbing onto a handhold on the hull and keeping Jim braced firmly between his knees--”out of the danger zone yet. Moreover, the Yorktown has initiated an emergency lockdown, which means that we cannot enter the dock.” Jim can’t see Spock, but he can hear the tension in his voice… and something that sounds like regret.
“Shut up,” Bones growls. “Don’t talk.”
Despite his situation, Jim huffs out a laugh. “Southern charm.”
“And don’t you forget it.” Jim can hear Bones rummaging around behind him. “Damn it. I thought I’d be treating Spock, if it came to that. There’s nothing in the medkit that I can give you.”
The next few minutes are an unpleasant ordeal as Bones applies the silicone dressing and secures it tightly. Every time he presses down anywhere near the wound or even jostles Jim a bit, the pain seems to radiate across his back and ribs and up through his shoulder. By the time he’s finished, Jim’s shaking and sweating, his eyes screwed shut and leaking moisture, and his breath is coming in hitching, painful gasps.
Through it all, the doctor keeps up a calm monologue, telling Jim what he’s doing, warning him when it’s about to get worse, and encouraging him. “Almost done, Jim, you’re doing fine.” (It’s a blatant lie, because Jim definitely isn’t doing fine, and as it turns out, almost done is doctor-code for another ten minutes of agony.)
But, he has to admit, Bones does have a bedside manner. He just doesn’t take it off the shelf very often. The last time Bones took care of him when he was this damaged--aside from what happened to him in the warp core three years ago, which doesn’t really count because Jim was unconscious and, well, dead--was right after the Narada incident.
He tries to make a list for comparison, to try to take his mind off the way Bones is tugging at the dressing and probing along his ribs. Back then, Jim got beat to shit by a bunch of enraged aliens (check), slammed onto the transporter platform after a terrifying freefall (check), banged up and clawed by an alien creature (no, but he lists scorched in an explosion as more or less equivalent in damage), choked (stabbed), cracked ribs (check), hand stamped on and broken (dislocated shoulder)... All in all, he figures he’s in about the same shape as he was then. He certainly feels about as bad as he ever has.
There are a few key differences, of course. Then, he’d been an interloper who’d bullied his way into command, boosted by the overconfidence of youth and inexperience (was it really only four years ago?). He’d been so desperate to prove himself, both resentful and envious of his father’s heroic legacy. Even after it all ended successfully, he’d spent most of the journey back to Earth afraid that he’d be booted out of Starfleet.
Now, he’s three years into his five-year mission, respected and experienced (well, also more jaded, unmotivated, and having an occupational crisis). But still. He’s captain of a starship.
(No, he’s not.)
His stomach plummets suddenly, in a way that has nothing to do with the rocking of the ship.
The Enterprise is gone. Hundreds of his crew, dead.
He’s been pushing those thoughts out of his mind since he climbed out of his escape pod on the planet. Even when he was climbing around the wrecked saucer with Chekov, he was so focused on the task at hand that he never stopped to consider what that meant.
A wave of grief and panic washes over him. All those people, his friends and colleagues. His home. It all happened so fast, he can hardly grasp it. Now the ship’s lying smashed and unrecognizable on Altamid. Everything about who he is, who he’s become, was destroyed with it.
His lungs are suddenly constricted, or maybe it’s his throat that’s swollen, but he doesn’t seem to be able to draw in enough air. He suddenly, desperately, needs to see Bones (and Spock, too, but mostly Bones) to reassure himself that he isn’t alone, that he hasn’t lost the most salient parts of himself.
He tries to roll backward, but Bones puts a restraining hand on his waist. “Keep still, just relax, kid.”
“No… wanna turn over…”
“You can’t,” Bones tells him emphatically. “There’s a big hunk of glass stuck in your back, remember?”
“Compressed crystalline palladium,” Spock corrects.
“Whatever. The point is, you have to stay on your side. Is your shoulder hurting much?”
Jim huffs and shakes his head. His shoulder’s throbbing dully, and there’s a miserable, hot pain in his back but that doesn’t matter. He hates the helplessness of his position, propped on his side, facing the hull. Bones is a reassuring presence sitting just behind him, but that’s not enough.
“Bones,” he tries again. The fingers on his left hand twitch uselessly. He can’t even lift his arm to make a quick “come here” gesture... But something in his pleading tone must get the message across, because the doctor repositions himself, squeezing between Jim and the hull so they’re face to face.
Jim doesn’t need to say anything. Bones has always been able to read him like no one else can.
“I know, kid,” he says softly, reaching out a gentle hand to push Jim’s sweaty bangs out of his eyes. “It’s starting to hit me, too.”
“The ship,” he whispers, knowing that Bones will understand that he doesn’t mean just the vessel. He means the crew, the mission, the unbearable loss.
Bones looks about as devastated as Jim feels. “I know.”
“Captain,” Spock says quietly, “the loss of the Enterprise could not have been prevented, given the information we had at the time.”
Jim nods. He knows that. But it doesn’t help. God, he was so stupid, trusting that bitch Kalara. “Should’ve known…”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Feels like it,” he says tightly.
“I have locked the ship into a stable holding pattern. The Yorktown will undoubtedly release us shortly and allow us to dock, once they have completed securing the station.”
“Good.” Let them take their time. The sooner he gets to the space station, the sooner he’ll have to go through the endless debriefings, then start messaging the families and dealing with his surviving crew’s grief.
“Jim.” That shakes him out of his morose reverie; Spock doesn’t use his first name very often. “You told Krall that it was better to die saving lives than to live by taking them.”
“And that is what you were born to do.”
Jim cringes inwardly. “Forget I said that…”
“There are hundreds of thousands of beings on the Yorktown. Hundreds more on the Enterprise who now live because of your daring rescue plan. All of them owe their lives to you.”
“Not just me.” He doesn’t want to be thanked, not when the cost is so high. He shifts restlessly, unsure what Spock is trying to tell him. His back is throbbing unmercifully, his shoulder and ribs are sore, and his muscles are beginning to cramp from lying on his side for so long.
Spock gets up from his console, and moves so that he’s crouching beside the doctor. It’s cramped and awkward, but the Vulcan stares down at him with utter seriousness. Jim can’t look away.
“My counterpart, Ambassador Spock, once told me that he believed that commanding a ship is your first, best destiny.”
Jim’s taken aback. Old Spock was fond of him, he knew, but... “My destiny? I think he meant… other me.”
“No. He was quite clear. He followed your mission with great interest, Jim. And he did not say it lightly.”
What a fucking twist of fate. A few weeks ago, all he could think was that he was stuck in a rut, that he’d lost that rush of excitement he used to have. That maybe he was out here for the wrong reasons… and maybe he was never meant to be out in the black at all.
And--although he’s never admitted this to Bones, not even when they shared that drink the other day--he’s so goddamn tired of being alone. All around him, crewmembers have been coming together, sharing their lives, building new relationships… even Spock and Uhura, although lately they’d seemed a lot more distant. Seeing Sulu with his husband and daughter, arm in arm and happy, at the reception hall on the Yorktown only underscored everything that was wrong with his life. And in his mind, all that seemed to add up to giving up command of the Enterprise.
There’s no relative direction in the vastness of space, Commodore Paris told him, not without sympathy. There’s only yourself, your ship, your crew. It’s easier than you think to get lost.
Maybe that’s what happened to him. He just lost his way, a little. Too much self-doubt, too much loneliness.
He looks at Bones, considering. Maybe he doesn’t have to be quite so lonely.
Well. Nothing like losing nearly everything to help you get your priorities straight.
Still, he has to ask. “You believe what he said?”
“I do not believe in fate or destiny.”
“Oh. Of course.” Jim nods philosophically, feeling irrationally let down. Shouldn’t have asked the question in the first place.
“However,” Spock says pointedly. “in this case… I am inclined to agree.”
“You are?” he blurts out. It’s surprisingly heart-warming. His first officer never exaggerates or delivers empty compliments. If Spock says he agrees, that’s what he thinks. “Uh, that means a lot. Thank you.”
Spock nods in acknowledgement and returns to his console.
Bones raises an eyebrow, tilts his head in Spock’s direction, and leans in toward Jim “I’ll be damned,” he whispers conspiratorially. “Can’t get a vote of confidence bigger than that.”
Spock interrupts before Jim can respond. “You must be aware, doctor, that my hearing is acute enough to hear every word you say.”
“Of course I’m aware! Don’t you know what a private conversation is? Or tact?”
“The concepts are familiar to me,” Spock says in what Jim has come to identify as his teasing-Vulcan voice, sounding half-appalled and half-disinterested. “In fact, I believe I exercised significant discretion when you were treating the captain, by not discussing the primitive field surgery methods you were quite willing to use on me.”
“What?” Jim’s not following. “Field surgery? What methods?”
“The doctor treated me by shoving a hot instrument into my wound and burning it shut.”
Bones shrugs, looking affronted. “It’s called cauterization, you were bleeding out and we needed to get moving, damn it! And it worked.”
“So you are most fortunate, Jim, that the doctor has merely stabilized your injuries until you can receive proper treatment--”
“You ungrateful Vulcan, you’re just lucky I was there to treat you in the first place! You’re alive, aren’t you?”
“That is beside the point.”
“No, that’s exactly the point!”
Jim lets his eyes close as they bicker. Bones’ hand is still resting on his thigh, patting him occasionally. It feels good.
Some time later, he realizes that Spock is talking to him. “... out of holding pattern, captain. Yorktown is allowing us to approach. I have informed them that we will require emergency medical assistance.”
“I’ve got you,” Bones tells him. “I’ll stay right with you the whole time.”
“Good,” he sighs. He hates medical treatment of any kind, but he doesn’t really mind if it’s Bones.
“And don’t worry,” the doctor leans into his ear, “no cauterizing, promise. Anyway, wouldn’t want you screaming your head off like Spock did.”
“I heard that, doctor.”
“That was the point, you pointy-eared eavesdropper.”