Jim awoke and instantly noticed that he was tied down.
He was used to that by now, except that the wide circles keeping his wrists and ankles carefully in place were of a much softer material than usual. They felt sturdy and tight on his skin, but nothing like the shackles the Romulans had used so far.
His heart jumped in his chest as memories assaulted him: his own hoarse screams ringing in his ears, his body convulsing with pain, cruel grins on sharp faces.
Trembling, Jim forced himself to stay calm and assess his environment instead of letting himself panic. For once, he wasn’t in any serious pain. He wasn’t being strangled, cut, beaten or otherwise tortured.
Clearly, something had changed. Jim could not let that opportunity pass.
There was grit in his eyes, blurring his vision. Jim squeezed his eyelids closed and opened them again until the worst had passed and he could look around without it stinging too badly.
It was clear he had been moved. There were no black cables and tubes above him, no musky blue lights, no sounds of machinery, no warp drive humming. Instead, the room was engulfed in a pleasantly orange hue. All was quiet. Jim couldn't hear anything besides his own muted breathing and the rush of blood in his ears.
Or ear, he realized. Only the right one was picking up on sounds. His left ear did not seem to function properly. He felt the sudden urge to jam a finger into it to get rid of the numbness, but his wrists were caught in his restraints.
Right. Tied down. He was still a prisoner.
Another burst of panic threatened to constrict his throat, to break the control on his breathing and make him thrash, but he didn't let it. There was nobody here ready to torture him right now. He was not in any pain, unless he counted a slight headache and the odd feeling in his left ear.
He hadn’t been this lucid in, what, weeks? Months? He had to stay calm, make the best of it.
Once he made sure nobody was concealing themselves in the room, he might be able to risk moving his head to get a better view of his new surroundings. Might even find a means to escape. For that plan to succeed though, he would need to stay still a little longer and simply wait; assess.
He counted to a hundred in his head, then back to zero.
Still, there was no noise, no sign of an imminent attack, no threat of strong hands grabbing him. Finally bracing himself, Jim very carefully curled his neck, lifted his head off its bedding and turned it to his right.
This was definitely not Nero's ship. Instead, there were dark brown walls and an egg-shaped window that allowed warm sunlight to filter into the room. Jim made out what looked like the back of a monitor to his right. The cot he was lying on, he realized, had to be some sort of biobed.
Now that he thought about it, it was a lot more comfortable than the hard, unyielding rack Nero's men had strapped him to.
Failing to suppress a full-body shudder, Jim was startled by a short but clear beeping noise echoing through the room. Flinching, Jim let his head fall back onto the cot immediately, ceasing all movement.
Not a second later, Jim could hear rapid footfalls.
Closing his eyes and schooling his features into what he hoped was a natural looking representation of unconsciousness, Jim forced himself to relax on the bed. Whoever was approaching unerringly made their way towards him until Jim seemed to sense their warm presence on his skin.
"You are awake, oveh."
Jim did not move, though his thoughts were racing. Whoever it was that had approached spoke only slightly accented Standard. If he knew for sure it was a Humanoid speaking, he'd say it was a female.
There had been no females on Nero's ship as far as he had known. Still, this might very well be a trap. He was tied down in an unfamiliar location with no memory of how he had got here. Anything might have happened to him.
"You are afraid. Dakh'uh pthak. No harm will come to you here."
A spark of knowledge lit up Jim's mind. Pthak? Dimly remembering his Golic lessons from his second year at the Academy, he was almost completely sure it was a Vulcan word, meaning fear.
His captors were … Vulcan? From the clipped but calm tone of the voice, it seemed possible. Yet it made no sense at all. Why would Vulcans tie him down like a prisoner? It was more likely the Romulan language shared some features with Vulcan, given their common ancestry. Just because Jim had been too out of it to pick up on it before didn’t have to mean it wasn’t true.
"I see you are not assured of my good intentions, oveh," the voice continued, betraying no emotion. "I shall return with somebody in which you might have more faith."
As the sounds of footsteps faded away again, Jim risked a glance. He was too late though, only catching a glimpse of Human-like limbs, a blue robe and a head of dark hair before they were gone. Not much to go on. Might as well be any Humanoid species in the galaxy. Might very well be a Romulan.
Might also be a Vulcan. Maybe they had finally come and--
No. It was stupid to get his hopes up. The first thing he had told himself after waking up on Nero's ship was that he could not hope, that he was for all intents and purposes already dead. He had effectively committed suicide. He could not show weakness by expecting Starfleet to rescue him, could not give Nero something to exploit.
He'd bet good credits that that was what the Romulans were hoping for: make him feel safe, only to go for another round of mindless torture. In the end there, he hadn't really been aware of anything but pain anymore. Perhaps they wanted him lucid before they continued to make him scream.
Jim's hands involuntarily curled into tight fists as phantom pain seemed to seep through every part of his body, shaking him.
Maybe Nero had brought him to this universe's Romulus to nurse him back to health. To be able to break him again, torture him anew. An endless cycle. It would explain the sickbay-like surroundings, the different light, the lack of pain.
A cold shiver ran through Jim's frame and his breath hitched.
More footfalls, and he hurriedly forced himself to relax again, slackening his face as far as possible. His heart was still racing, though. If this was indeed a biobed, the readings had to be off the chart. Nobody would believe he was still out of it. It was ridiculous. He wouldn't be able to keep up the charade, but being tied down and completely disoriented, he didn't have a much better plan at hand.
Again, somebody was standing next to his bed.
"There is no reason to fear, Mr. Kirk."
Jim's eyes flew open instantly.
"Spock?" he croaked.
His voice sounded like somebody had stepped on broken glass. Jim coughed, feeling like something had caught in his throat, choking him. Unable to hold up a hand as he was tied down, he helplessly convulsed on the cot as one cough turned into a small fit.
Steady hands pressed instantly against his chest, gently but firmly keeping him down until the worst had passed. Though they did nothing but hold him in place, the hands felt soothing. Pleasant cool bled through whatever it was he was currently wearing, seemingly easing the pain inside.
Very slowly, Jim relaxed against the cot.
"Spock," he repeated wheezily, eyes teary.
"Yes, Mr. Kirk," Spock said. "It is very satisfactory to see you awake and lucid."
Jim could do nothing but stare at the Vulcan. He looked almost exactly like Jim remembered him from the hearing and the Enterprise: slanted brows, straight bangs, severe expression, except that his Starfleet uniform was missing. Instead, he was wearing what seemed to be simple gray robes.
"I'm on Vulcan?" Jim managed through his aching throat.
"Affirmative, Mr. Kirk. You have been recuperating in Shi'Khar Hospital for the past two weeks."
"Hospital?" Feeling slightly light-headed, Jim tugged at his wrists. "Why did they tie me down then?"
"I am afraid you have been rather violent towards the staff so far. We assume you mistook the healers for Romulans, given our shared physiological traits. Now that you are clearly lucid, I will of course advise Healer T'Lkai to free you from your bonds at once."
Before Jim could reply, Spock had stepped away and called out in Vulcan. Moments later, a slender figure appeared in Jim's line of sight.
Another Vulcan, black hair placed high on her head in an immaculate bun, looked down at him, face utterly neutral. Her skin was darker than Spock’s, more like milky coffee, and she was wearing blue robes along with white gloves. Jim assumed that she had to be the one who had fetched Spock after he had not responded to her.
"I shall free you from your restraints, oveh," she stated after offering the ta’al in greeting, proving Jim correct when he recognized her voice. She spoke a brief Vulcan command towards something above Jim's head. With a beep and a loud click, Jim was suddenly released from his ties.
Shakily, he tried to sit up, but his muscles and joints protested as he moved. All he managed was to edge upwards a bit, somewhat relieving the awkward angle of his neck.
"Let me assist you."
Before he could brace himself, T'Lkai had placed her gloved hands under his armpits and effortlessly lifted him up until he rested comfortably against the head of the biobed. Jim blinked. For a moment, he had forgotten not to underestimate a Vulcan's strength. No matter how slender their build, they would still be much stronger than even the best-trained human.
Swallowing roughly, Jim summoned what little Vulcan he remembered right now and said: "Cha't t'naat."
T'Lkai looked at him for a long moment, then nodded once.
"One does not thank logic, oveh," she said neutrally and, oddly enough, bowed briefly at him. She then nodded at Spock and left without another word.
"I think I offended her," Jim said quietly, once the healer had left the room.
"On the contrary," Spock replied calmly. "I assume she was merely surprised you made the effort to speak Vulcan and used the formal, honorific form to express your gratitude."
"Shouldn't I have? From what I gather, she's my doctor, right?"
"Among thirteen other healers, yes. Do not concern yourself, Mr. Kirk. You caused no offense to her."
"She called me … what, oveh? I don't think I remember that word from Golic lessons. What does it mean?"
Spock's eyebrows twitched very slightly. "It means honored one. A title meant to show great respect for the person addressed."
"Huh," Jim said, perplexed.
"As I said, do not concern yourself. Surely, you must have more pressing questions at this moment."
"Yes. How am I here? I mean, how did I … damn, what's wrong with my ear?" Aware again of the numbness, Jim reached up to prod his left ear. Except there was nothing to touch. With a sinking feeling, Jim ran his fingers over the place where his ear shell should be. Instead of flexible cartilage, all he encountered was raised, hard skin, coarse hair and what had to be gauze dressing. Jim could not suppress a slight shriek. "What happened?"
"You do not remember?" Spock asked, stepping up to the bed and abandoning his stiff posture as he bowed closer in inquiry.
"I …" Jim started, then stopped. His headache flared up with a vengeance. Suddenly, he felt sick. Very sick. "I think … I think I'm going to throw up …"
Spock moved incredibly quickly. When Jim turned to the side and over the bed, a metal bowl was already waiting for him. He retched for several minutes. He spit nothing but bitter bile.
"Sorry," he croaked miserably when the worst had passed, blinking down into the gross pan until Spock removed it from his sight. He was offered a small, grey washcloth instead. Jim shakily took it and ran it over his sticky mouth.
"No offense where none is taken," Spock replied neutrally and removed the towel from Jim's hands once he was done. "You are still ill, Mr. Kirk. It is only to be expected after what you have lived through."
Running a trembling hand over his face, Jim shook his throbbing head. When he dropped his hand in his lap, he realized there was a small infusion device taped down on its back with no capsule attached. He didn't try to touch his deaf ear again.
"So … somebody saved me?" he finally ventured a guess when both the headache and his upset stomach seemed manageable again. "From the Narada?"
"Affirmative. However, this is not a conversation to have quickly or lightly. If you are agreeable, I will call for the available healers. They will make sure you are fit for longer conversation and inform you of your current physical condition. If they find you to be strong enough, I shall explain to you everything that has transpired to the best of my knowledge."
"But … hell, is everybody okay? Bones -- I mean, Dr. McCoy? Sulu? Uhura? What about the Enterprise?"
Spock held up a hand.
"All will be explained in due time," he said. "Please be patient and let the healers assess your health first."
"Can you at least tell me if everyone’s alive? What about Pike?"
"All will be explained," Spock repeated and turned to leave, taking the soiled bowl and towel with him.
Frustrated and confused, Jim sank back against the head of the cot, feeling weak and awkward and horrible. His stomach still felt queasy. Hopefully, he wouldn't end up vomiting all over the Vulcan healers.
As it turned out, Spock had not been inaccurate when he had called Healer T'Lkai one of many assigned to him. Shortly after Spock left, a group of no less than eight Vulcans of various ages entered, filling the room almost to full capacity. All of them were wearing light blue or green robes along with white gloves. They did not look like regular medical gloves.
Touch telepathy, Jim remembered as he watched them form the ta'al with their hands. He quickly fumbled to return it, not sure if it ended up passable. His fingers felt a bit odd.
T'Lkai took her place on his right, next to the monitor.
"We will aspire to speak Standard for your sake, oveh," she informed him briefly, before turning to the other Vulcans. "Mr. Kirk woke approximately eighteen minutes ago. While he did not reply to my initial queries, he responded clearly and in a lucid fashion to the voice of S'chn T'gai Spock with whom he is more familiar. No violent outburst occurred. Mr. Kirk has since been freed from his ties and appears far less agitated than on previous occasions. Though his emotional control is still lacking, rational conversation is possible."
Jim eyed the other healers, trying to gauge their reaction to T'Lkai's short speech. True to their Vulcan heritage, none of them showed so much as a frown.
"Your vital signs have much improved. Are you feeling any pain, oveh?" an elderly healer asked from his left. Jim awkwardly turned his head to catch it, given the lack of input from his left ear.
"Bit of a headache," Jim informed him, voice still rough. "Also, I just threw up. Um, sorry about that. And my left ear? I can't hear anything, and … well …" He gestured weakly at the side of his head.
"Your left ear has suffered considerable damage. Your tympanic membrane has been forcefully pierced and the outer shell cut off completely. We have as of yet made little attempt to heal it, only prevented infection and additional damage. Restorative measures require the patient to be at least somewhat lucid."
"But you can fix it, Healer … um …?" Jim trailed off awkwardly, realizing he did not know the elderly Vulcan's name.
"You may call me Healer Serran, oveh," the Vulcan replied. Faintly, Jim remembered something about unpronounceable Vulcan names and Standard approximations. "As for your query, the answer is yes. We can heal it, at least to some extent."
"To some extent? What does that mean?"
Serran’s expression didn’t change as he explained: "Restoring the shell will be little work. We will extract a small amount of elastic cartilage from your body, then grow and form a new shell, which we will attach to your head after removing the scar tissue. However, the likelihood of restoring full hearing capacity is less than 1.8 percent. You arrived too late for us to properly mend the delicate membrane. Therefore, we will have to rely on a less effective technological aid."
Swallowing, Jim nodded. "Okay. Anything else I should know about?"
"Nerve damage," another healer spoke up. With her straight hair chopped off sharply by her chin, she looked even more severe than most Vulcans Jim had seen in his life. "We assume they are the results of torture through electrical charges. You may expect some level of loss in your fine motor skills. Both hands are affected. Though the exact ratio can not be determined yet, I estimate a decrease of sensation in your fingers by as much as 38.3 percent."
And on and on they went. Two right toes seemed to be missing, though the gray-haired healer at the foot of the bed seemed confident that they, too, could be regrown from other tissue and reattached. Thirty-two complex bone fractures, all mended. Malnutrition and insufficient weight, though also easily improved by proper nourishment and further infusions. Battered immune system, something to work on gradually. Damage to the heart and kidneys, already healing, but possibly requiring several weeks of supervision and medical assistance.
And of course, psychological repercussions: partial amnesia, heavy trauma, shock. Jim was told in very sober terms that he had in turn attacked his healers and pissed himself out of fright for the past fortnight. He knew his cheeks were burning by the end of the sober report.
When the healers had no more explanations or questions to offer, T'Lkai ran several tests with a scanner attached to the bed, checking the slim monitor by its side for results. Unlike the biobeds on the Enterprise and in the Academy sick bay, the Vulcan kind didn't make much noise. Jim couldn't even hear his own heartbeat echoed back at him.
T'Lkai's face, of course, gave nothing away as she studied the screen, tilting it so some of her colleagues could also have a look.
When the healers finally left him with a new infusion capsule attached to his hand, all of them bowed slightly or offered another ta’al before they turned away from Jim's bed. Distracted, Jim managed another thank you in what was possibly very ill-pronounced Vulcan.
His mind was whirling. Missing toes. A cut-off ear. Organ damage. Trauma. What a fucking nightmare. By the end of his medical lecture, Jim's headache had worsened considerably, though he had been too overwhelmed to ask for medication or even a glass of water for his sore throat.
Luckily, Spock returned almost as soon as the doctors had gone on their way. "The healers inform me you are fit for further conversation," he said, face as expressionless as before.
"Yeah, let's talk," Jim said. "But can I have some water first, please?"
The slightest of frowns appeared on Spock's forehead, though it smoothed out again almost instantly. "They did not offer any to you?"
Mutely, Jim shook his head. Spock stepped out again briefly, returning with a rectangular glass of clear water. Jim took it gratefully, forcing himself not to gulp it all down at once. He didn’t want to throw up in front of Spock again. Instead, he savored the cool drink, letting the water run slowly over his tongue. It had an odd but not unpleasant earthy taste to it.
"You must not think ill of our healers, Mr. Kirk," Spock said as he watched Jim drink with scrutinizing eyes. The attention was almost disconcerting. "A highly superficial but effective mind meld is usually initiated between patient and healer upon hospitalization. Vulcan doctors also remove their gloves and consciously touch their patients during rounds to receive more information. It is considered less trying for the injured and an infinitely more accurate way to communicate about one's ailments. However, as you are human and cannot shield your mind from further intrusion, they neither melded with nor touched you and are therefore not completely informed of your needs. I will remind the staff of your special circumstances and recommend a more direct and vocal approach."
Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Couldn’t they just have done it anyway? If it’s just a brief touch, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed."
"Such violation of privacy would go against every Vulcan ethical code on telepathy we hold."
Though the tone of Spock’s voice had hardly changed, Jim could not help but feel as if he had just been chided sharply.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly, hands curling around the glass. His fingertips felt even more numb than usual. "I didn't mean to imply anything."
Spock seemed to stand up straighter, although how that was supposed to be possible given his already perfect posture, Jim did not know.
"Do not apologize," Spock said. "Oveh."
"You as well now? The healers kept calling me that, too," Jim pointed out with a tired smile. "Honored one, right? Do you talk to all of your patients this way?"
"No," Spock said evenly. "Only the ones who have made the choice to sacrifice their own life to rescue our planet and entire people."
Jim's eyes moved down to the glass clutched in his hands. "Oh," he said.
"It is but a small way to convey our infinite gratitude. The Vulcan people are deeply in your debt, James Tiberius Kirk."
Jim squirmed on the bed, watching the small pearls of liquid run through the thin tube of the infusion device. He suddenly felt incredibly uncomfortable.
"It was my job as a member of Starfleet," he reminded Spock.
"It was your duty to try and disengage the drilling platform to the best of your abilities. It was not your duty to go after the device containing the red matter. Neither was it your duty to ask to be beamed into open space without sufficient safety gear. Neither did you--"
"Please stop," Jim said, squeezing his eyes shut. He didn't want to hear it. Couldn't hear it. Not now.
Spock immediately fell silent. After a minute or so had passed, he continued with a much softer voice: "I have upset you, oveh. I apologize."
"It's fine," Jim managed. God, his head was killing him. "Hey, you think you can get me something for my headache, too? It really hurts …"
"Of course. As I said, I shall speak to the healers to ascertain a more direct approach to your needs in the future."
Again, Spock left, only to return several minutes later with a carafe of water and a small pill.
"We have been informed of your aversion to hyposprays," Spock told him as he gracefully filled up Jim's glass. "This should for now be sufficient to your pain."
"Bones told you that?" Jim asked, accepting the medicine as it was dropped on his open palm. "I mean, Dr. McCoy. Did he tell you about my allergies as well?"
"It was indeed Dr. Leonard McCoy who provided us with all relevant medical information," Spock said. "He is well, too, to answer your earlier question. As are Lieutenant Uhura and Lieutenant Sulu."
Swallowing the pill, Jim grimaced as it seemed to rub against his sore throat.
"Pike?" he asked weakly, though he felt he already knew the answer.
"I am sorry to inform you that Nero killed Captain Christopher Pike almost as soon as he captured you."
Jim bit his lip. Harshly.
"Shit," he finally said, his vision blurring. "Shit shit shit. Fucking bastard." He swallowed. "How many … how many altogether?"
"The battle resulted in the loss of 1.864 lives, including 45.3% of the senior cadet class."
Jim had a hard time breathing just then. Nearly 2000 people dead. He’d have to go through the lists, see whose funerals he had missed.
"It might be of interest to you that Nero himself is also dead," Spock added when Jim said nothing further.
Jim barked out a dry laugh. "Of interest, yes," he spat. "Fuck yes. Dead, really? Was it painful at least? Serves him fucking right if it was."
"His death was clean and swift."
Jim blinked against the moisture stinging in his eyes. "Yeah?" he asked roughly. "How d'you know that?"
"It was I who ended his life," Spock replied evenly, looking straight at him.
Baffled, Jim stared at him, hoping for elaboration. None was forthcoming though, and Spock's expression gave nothing away. Jim could detect no remorse, no sign of Spock regretting his actions. Neither, however, did he seem satisfied about it.
Of course, Jim knew about the Vulcans' distaste for violence and their utter condemnation of murder. He had in fact never heard of a Vulcan killing anybody in cold blood.
"Sorry you had to do that," Jim heard himself say before he could think better of it.
"I am not."
Jim blinked. For a Vulcan, that had to be a deeply private admission. He suddenly realized how intimate their conversation had been so far, especially given their rather short but colorful history. Taking another sip of water, Jim looked away again, grasping for a better topic.
"Where are they now? Bones and the others, I mean."
"They returned to Earth 6.8 Standard days ago. Starfleet requested their presence at the Academy. They had already stayed far longer on Vulcan than strictly necessary, but seemed rather anxious to see you in good health before returning home."
"They helped rescue me?"
"Affirmative. It was a small but determined party, among them Lieutenants Uhura and Sulu as well as your friend Dr. McCoy."
"Should call them then, probably. Thank them, tell them I'm still in one piece." Jim nearly laughed at himself. "Well, mostly."
"That can be arranged. Now, however, I advise you to try and sleep. Your hands are trembling and you seem very fatigued."
Jim stared at his hands still curled around the glass. They were indeed shaking. "Yeah, okay. Should probably rest."
He let Spock take the glass, careful not to touch his skin. Awkwardly, he shifted on the bed until he was lying on his back again, adjusting the thin sheet serving as his cover.
"I shall return when you are better rested, oveh," Spock said quietly.
Don’t call me that, Jim wanted to say, but felt too exhausted.
__ __ __
He looked horrible, Jim concluded when he stared into the bathroom mirror.
Three days of strict bed rest, and the Vulcan healers had finally allowed him to get up and walk as far as the adjacent facilities and the window in his room. They had, however, asked him not to go for any extended walks. Seeing his own reflection, Jim could not entirely disagree with their order.
He was thin, although not scarily underweight. His skin was very pale, which only emphasized the dark circles under his eyes. The patch on the left side of his head hid the scar where the ear was supposed to be. His feet looked weird, too, given the still missing toes.
All in all, he appeared rather weak and brittle. He didn't feel much better, either. At least, he was assured that both his ear and toes were growing in some laboratory at this very moment and would be ready for reattachment by the end of the week.
Sighing, Jim stepped into the sonic shower to finally clean himself without the help of the staff.
He had soon realized that the Vulcans had gone out of their way to make him comfortable and assure his well-being. His room was a private medical suite, reserved for high-ranking Vulcans and honored guests. They had adjusted its room temperature to suit his Human needs, which undoubtedly meant they themselves were at least uncomfortable whenever they checked up on him. Which was very often.
Jim was sure it had something to do with Spock, who had apparently been announced his official caretaker and showed no scruples about telling the Vulcan medical staff just how to properly accommodate a Human patient. At least, that was what Jim gathered from his constant presence and continued hovering.
He was glad for the company, though. Kobayashi Maru debacle or no, Spock was the only person Jim kind of knew on this planet. Jim felt far more at ease with him than with the other Vulcans. Their continuous bowing and respectful nods made him feel very, very uncomfortable. At least with Spock, it was mostly Mr. Kirk and the occasional inclination of his head, though he would have preferred the Vulcan to call him Jim. Such an offer had been gently but firmly refused.
Feeling his knees go wobbly, Jim quickly finished up and left the shower. He felt unsatisfied. While sonic showers were highly efficient, they never gave Jim that feeling of having been cleaned properly. Water showers, however, were not available on a dry planet like Vulcan.
Slowly, Jim dressed in fresh clothes, one of the thin, knee-length tunics patients wore in Shi’Khar hospital, and made his way back to his bed. As always, Spock was waiting for him. He was sitting on a chair he had procured the previous day, a PADD in his hands.
"All is well?" he asked, looking up briefly from the device as Jim sank back onto the bed.
"I'm not a child, you know. I can go to the bathroom on my own, just like a proper grown-up," Jim told him a bit more grumpily than the question merited. Spock was merely taking his duties very seriously, as any Vulcan would. He probably didn't even know he was mothering Jim.
"I did not mean to imply you had yet to reach age of maturity, Mr. Kirk," Spock said, as calm as ever.
"Forget it," Jim sighed and rested his head on the pillow. "It's just … I can't believe I'm still feeling this bad when I've been here already for over two weeks before I even woke up."
"Your condition was severely life-threatening when you were retrieved from the Narada. It is only logical the recuperation phase would take much longer than you are accustomed to."
Jim closed his eyes, silently cursing Vulcan logic.
"Healer T'Lkai informed me that you are experiencing difficulties acquiring sufficient amounts of sleep," Spock added.
"Did she now." Jim kept his eyes closed.
"You are experiencing nightmares?"
"Yeah," he admitted quietly. "It's all kind of blurry, though. Nothing specific. Just, you know, nightmare stuff."
"I do not know, no. Vulcans do not dream and therefore do not experience nightmares."
Surprised, Jim turned onto his side to look at Spock. "Really?" he asked. "No dreaming at all?"
"None," Spock confirmed, lowering the PADD after switching it off. "We require little sleep and never enter into REM cycles like Humans do. Most of our energy is restored through meditation which often lasts less than three Standard hours."
Jim nodded thoughtfully.
"Wouldn't mind that myself," he said quietly. "Getting rest without having to worry about dreaming."
"You wish to learn the Vulcan way of meditation?" Spock asked, lifting his eyebrows in a way that Jim had quickly figured out to mean surprise.
"Well, not precisely. Can I, though?" Jim replied, honestly curious.
"It is not a state of mind unique to Vulcan physique, or at least not the shallow states of meditation. I doubt a deeper state like a healing trance would be accessible to you, but calming your mind and purging the most volatile of emotions should not be impossible. My mother, at least, has mastered it."
"Wait," Jim asked. "Your mother? She's Human?"
"Affirmative," Spock said. Was Jim imagining it, or was he moving a bit on his chair? "My mother is indeed Terran."
"Which makes you half-Human, right?" Jim said, smiling. He propped himself up on his right arm, now free of any infusions, trying for a more comfortable position as they talked. "No wonder they've made you my babysitter. They must think you the most fitting choice, given your mixed heritage."
Spock nodded stiffly. His eyes wandered, focusing on something behind Jim.
"I believe that was part of their reasoning. Our previous acquaintance as well my staying on Earth and working amongst Humans must also have contributed to their logical conclusion."
"Thanks, by the way," Jim said. "I know you don't like me very much and staying with me all day must be boring, but I really do appreciate the company."
Spock's head snapped towards him at once. "You have come to an erroneous conclusion," he said sharply.
Jim almost flinched at the intensity of his voice. "Um. Oh. I was just thinking … well, with the Kobayashi Maru and everything that happened on the Enterprise--"
"I have misjudged your character severely in the past, oveh," Spock told him, putting special emphasis on the honorific. Jim swallowed. "You are selfless and brave and very well understand the concept of making a difficult choice. You went after the red matter and asked to be beamed into space, thinking you would die. You had no logical reason to assume death would not be the outcome of your action. Yet, you decided to sacrifice yourself for the sake of many. You were willing to give your life for a planet to which you have no immediate connection. I, as do my people, recognize your extraordinary service to us. If I have given you the impression I find your company disagreeable, I sincerely apologize and shall endeavor to rectify my behavior in the future."
That was quite a speech. Jim's cheeks felt very warm. Slowly, he turned back onto his back, staring at the ceiling.
"You make me sound like some sort of hero," he said. "I'm not, though. I was scared shitless when I jumped off the drill, I was scared shitless when I told you to beam me into space, I cried like a baby when Nero ..."
He trailed off, feeling his chest constrict. Talking about what happened on the Narada made him feel sick, and he didn't even remember all of it that well.
"As you might remember, the point of the Kobayashi Maru scenario was to experience fear in the certain face of death.” Spock’s voice sounded even more severe than before. “It is not a weakness to feel fear. It is a weakness to succumb to that fear, to let it guide your actions. You did not let your fear overwhelm you as you made your choice. Feeling fear does not make your sacrifice any less honorable. It only makes you Human."
To his own horror, Jim suddenly felt like crying.
"I wished I hadn't done it, you know?" he confessed, feeling raw. "When they were torturing me, at some point I kept thinking Why did you do it? How stupid! You wouldn't be here if you hadn't! I regretted it, do you understand? I wished I had never saved your damn planet! I wished your people would be dead so I could be alive and well. Do you understand me, Spock? I wanted Vulcan to be gone! Destroyed, all of it!"
Shaking, Jim turned his back to Spock, curling in on himself on the bed.
For a few minutes, nobody moved or talked. Then, fingers curled lightly around Jim’s thinly-clad shoulder. Spock still said nothing, but his hand felt soothing. They didn't talk until it was time for Jim's mid-day meal.
__ __ __
Jim had never seen Bones cry in all the time he had known him.
He knew, of course, that Bones was incredibly compassionate and emotional below the tough exterior, but seeing his friends' lips tremble as he stared at Jim from the screen with shiny eyes gave Jim the chills. A teary-eyed Leonard McCoy was definitely not something Jim wanted to encounter very often in his life.
"Hey, I'm okay," Jim hurried to say as soon as the connection was stable enough for audio, trying to sound soothing and managing to have his voice go wonky halfway through.
"Okay? Okay? Your damn left ear is gone! You're thin as a leaf, not a bit of color in your face! How does that remotely qualify as okay, huh?" Bones barked, voice even rougher than usual.
"Sorry," Jim said miserably at the screen.
"You better be! You know how scared I was? We knew nothing, Jim, you understand? We didn't know where they'd beamed you, or if you were injured or even dead." The way Bones' voice broke right there made Jim want to crawl into a very dark hole and never return.
The doctor took a minute to collect himself, then continued in a quieter voice: "Never do that again, you hear me? Never. This was your share of saving the world! One more stunt like this and I'll make you regret it. Got that, kid?"
Swallowing heavily, Jim nodded at the screen. Somewhere near the door, Jim heard Spock shift and leave the room, probably disconcerted enough by so much emotional display to neglect his duties of keeping an eye on Jim at any given moment.
"It wasn't just me, y'know?" Bones continued. "Everyone was worried, and they all worked their asses off to get you back. It's a damn miracle we weren't all court martialed to hell for the stunt we pulled."
"I've heard," Jim said. "Sorry."
"Damn it, Jim, you were soaked in blood when we got to you. I didn't even know where to start fixing you up! For a minute, it looked like you'd die in my arms, after all we'd gone through!"
"Sorry," Jim repeated. Not sniffed. Not at all. "And thanks. Really, thank you. To everyone."
"Yeah, well," Bones replied, quickly wiping a hand over his eyes. "Glad you’re not. Dead, I mean. Just so you know."
They stared at each other through the screen, clearly lost for words now that Jim had been suitably chastened.
"Bones," Jim finally said helplessly.
"Just … take care as long as I'm gone, yeah?"
"Always do, Jim. You, too. And I want a weekly update, you got that? Write to me, get your medical files from the Vulcans, too. Damn well need to know if they pull any of that Voodoo healing magic on you!"
"I'll ask Spock about it."
"He treating you right?" Bones asked, mouth twitching. "No hard feelings over the Maru?"
"Nah, he's being really nice. Everyone is really nice. They take excellent care of me, really."
"You did save their planet," Bones pointed out with a raised brow.
"Yeah, well," Jim replied uneasily. He didn’t want to get into that discussion again.
Bones' eyes looked very knowing. "Right. I'll have to leave now, kid, but you rest, you hear me? And if you don't write to me, I’ll come to Vulcan myself to spank your sorry little ass!"
"Kinky," Jim joked weakly and laughed as Bones scowled and disconnected the call.
Spock stepped into the room almost as soon as the screen went blank. Apparently, he hadn't really walked off after all.
"I see you are finished. I shall return you to your room at once."
With a sigh, Jim carefully got up from the chair in front of the hospital communication panel and walked over to where Spock was waiting with a wheelchair of Vulcan design, all metal and acrylic glass. If Jim hadn't been trying to tone down on his emotional displays while staying on Vulcan, he would have grimaced at it in distaste.
"You make a great nurse," he nonetheless quipped with a dose of sarcasm as he sat down in the chair and it bleeped, moving forward as Jim lay his finger over the appropriate sensor.
Spock didn't dignify that with a response, only guided Jim back to his room. Jim nodded at the Vulcans who inclined their heads at him as they passed. He caught murmurs of oveh with his good ear. It was still weird to be treated like some sort of national hero, but Jim was slowly getting used to the curious glances and respectful bows.
"I have observed that you did not call your family, Mr. Kirk," Spock eventually spoke up, a careful sort of curiosity in his voice as he pushed Jim through a less busy hallway.
Jim stiffened in his chair. "Yeah I did."
Spock did not ask any more questions.
__ __ __
"Who took the red matter?" Jim asked, surprising himself as the thought suddenly popped up out of the blue.
Spock looked up from the Tri-D Chess set placed on a small table hovering between the biobed and Spock's chair, tilting his head in inquiry.
"After Nero beamed me aboard, he told his henchmen to get another capsule ready," Jim explained. "But the ship carrying the matter was no longer there."
"You know of that ship?" Spock asked, eyebrows twitching.
Jim grimaced. "Nero did a lot of talking between the … well …"
"I see," Spock replied slowly. "Mr. Kirk, I fear there is something I have neglected to tell you."
"Oh? Well, what is it?"
"It is not easily explained. Nor easily comprehended, I assume."
Spock paused, averting his gaze. "I would prefer for you to wait for an explanation for a while longer. At least until your toes and ear have been restored and you are allowed to leave the hospital."
"You make it sound like a really big deal," Jim commented, wondering what could possibly be the reason for so much secrecy.
"It is, I believe, what you would call a 'very big deal'. I would not wish to reset your recuperation due to further stress."
"Well, now I'm just going to worry about it until they've fixed me up!" Jim snorted.
"I apologize," Spock said, and nothing more.
Jim stared at him for a few moments, then let out a dry laugh. "Fine, leave me hanging," he said, moving his knight in a bold move for Spock's queen, gratified that he was no longer dropping the pieces all over the place. He was slowly getting used to the decrease of sensation in his fingers.
Spock considered the chessboard silently with what Jim hoped was a look of irritation.
__ __ __
I'm a wimp, Jim realized as he watched T'Lkai place two hyposprays on the little table next to his bed. One big fucking wimp.
"You are distressed, oveh. You must calm down for my preparations to be fully effective."
Damn, and now he was projecting again.
Spock had informed him that most Vulcans could pick up on especially fierce emotions in their immediate surroundings, even when there wasn't a bond in place. It sounded much handier than it really was, given that Jim was prone to panic attacks whenever he saw pointed ears lurking in the shadow of a hallway and his brain started screaming Romulan, not Vulcan.
By now, Jim was sure most of his healers had lost any awe they might have possessed for their precious oveh. T'Lkai alone had seen him burst into frightened tears no less than four times since he woke up lucid.
"I'm sorry, hassu T'Lkai," Jim sighed, eyeing the hyposprays with dismay.
He had started to implement more Vulcan in his speech. It seemed only polite to make an effort, and reminding himself of the respective titles and modes of address seemed a good place to start. Not that it counted for much when he still ended up angsting all over their telepathic minds.
"Is there anything I can do to relieve you of your current emotional state?"
Jim was pretty sure T'Lkai had started to regard him like she would a Vulcan toddler, not yet able to fully control his emotions. It would even be kind of funny if there wasn't an operation looming over him. Meaning he had to be knocked out by several hypos, fall unconscious for at least two hours straight as he was stretched out on a table being cut and prodded at.
The prospect of once more lying somewhere, unconscious and completely defenseless, was absolutely horrifying to him, if of course illogical. The Vulcans wouldn't harm him. On the contrary, T'Lkai and the others had gone out of their way to grow his new parts from tiny DNA samples in record time, quickly familiarizing themselves with the specifics of Human physiology in the process.
"I don't think so," Jim said to the healer. "I'll attempt to control it. I'm sorry it's affecting you."
"I understand it is a natural state in Humans, oveh, succumbing to one's emotions and displaying them so openly."
"It is. Still, I can understand it can't be very comfortable for you. Spock said you can pick up on it if it gets too bad. I wouldn't want to … um … upset your mental state."
"My mental control is more than adequate protection, oveh." Now, she almost sounded insulted. Well, crap.
"Yes. Of course, hassu. I didn’t mean to imply the opposite."
He should probably just shut up now. Shut up and take deep breaths, because his current heart rate was not healthy, let alone relaxed. The palms of his hands were clammy and moist and he could feel his legs tremble under the thin bed sheet.
Maybe, T'Lkai should just use one of those Vulcan nerve pinches. That way, she could at least do her job in peace and prepare him for surgery without Jim doing the mental equivalent of screaming his fear at her like a lunatic.
As so often these days, it was Spock's arrival that eased Jim's volatile fright to a more manageable level. He did not quite understand why Spock was any different, but whenever Jim woke up from a nap convinced that Nero had once more gotten his hands on him, he was the one to get him out of it. Somehow, his messed-up mind had accepted that he was not a threat. A safe haven, even.
"Do not feel guilt over your fear," Spock said as soon as he entered the room, greeting the busy T'Lkai with a swift ta'al before stepping up to the bed. "Instead, try to calm your mind. Adhere to logic. Nobody here means you any harm. To feel scared is irrational."
It was a strong sign that Jim had already spent too much time around Vulcans that he almost felt comforted instead of insulted by the way Spock dismissed his panic as an illogical anomaly.
"I'm trying, Spock," he sighed. "I really am."
"Let me assist you by guiding you through the logical steps."
Jim only nodded, listening to Spock list the many reasons why the impending surgery was no reason to run screaming, citing Surak’s teachings as he deemed fit. It was indeed making him feel calmer. Maybe, he should take Spock up on that offer on instructing him in the Vulcan ways of meditation and pursuits of logic.
"Something could still go wrong," he argued nonetheless when Spock finished his little speech. “Especially when they’re trying to attach the nerve endings.”
"A surgery always comes with risks. However, in your case the benefits outweigh the risks by precisely 97%. Enduring the procedure and accepting that risk therefore is the only logical course of action."
"Makes sense," Jim said. He still wasn't looking forward to surgery, but his heart had stopped trying to jump out through his throat and T'Lkai was already nodding at them in approval.
"I commend you," she said. "Mr. Kirk has now sufficiently calmed for me to administer the hyposprays."
Before Jim could do anything about it, T'Lkai had placed the first at his neck and injected it. Jim winced, but otherwise stayed calm.
"You will watch, right?" he asked Spock, feeling kind of woozy as the pre-surgery mix of chemicals settled in his systems.
"Although it is usually reserved for healers in training, I have received permission to watch the proceedings from the observation room," Spock said, inclining his head.
Jim did not know why it made him feel better, but it did.
Soon, T’Lkai was finished preparing him and he was moved to the surgery. Three more healers were waiting for him, already clad in what Jim assumed were surgical robes.
"Do you wish to see your new parts before we administer the anesthetic?" Healer Serran asked neutrally, face covered by a see-through surgical mask.
"Sure, yes," Jim replied, though his eyes were on the windows up and across him, seeking out Spock’s familiar form in the dimly lit observation room.
"Growing them has proven no difficulty, just as we thought," the Vulcan told him, presenting him with a small transparent box.
Jim turned his head and blinked at its contents, momentarily distracted from his anxiety as he looked at it. A small gasp of surprise escaped him.
"It’s... it’s pointed," he said dumbly, staring at the ear.
Healer Serran nodded. His face stayed impassive, but spending so much time with Spock had given Jim a bit of a feeling for when Vulcans were not as relaxed as they wanted to appear. Clearly, the healer was not sure how this news would be received.
"Indeed," he stated. “Do you not think it appropriate, oveh?”
"No," Jim said, feeling slightly overwhelmed. Touched, almost. "No, it’s ... quite appropriate."
He only threw a cursory glance at the toes in the other box, then rested his head on the surgery table. T’Lkai approached with the last hypo and an oxygen mask. Jim sought out Spock again where he was sitting up straight on his bench in the observation room. More Vulcans were entering it now, undoubtedly curious to see something as rare as a surgery on a Human.
Jim’s eyes stayed with Spock until he blacked out.