Spock is the first to know – Gayatri, he knows, will follow within moments, her Brenari blood forcing her mind wide open as it has through the two long months of creeping pain that led to this point – but Spock knows now as he knew those many years ago when T'Pring's mind had winked out with so many others in the destruction of Vulcan. Within this room, Spock is alone with the bed and the shell on the bed that once held the invincible spirit of James T. Kirk. Outside the room is the rest of the world – his children, his family, his friends, his colleagues, and the hundreds of people who will grieve a man they met perhaps only once – but for this moment, in this place, Spock is alone, truly alone, for the first time in 23 years.
Logically, the next course of action would be to open the door and see what comfort his presence can offer to those gathered outside. There is nothing to be gained from continuing to sit alone with an empty body in a non-descript room, a room with nothing to recommend it except the colorless walls, the slight smell of antiseptic, and the hard-backed chair by the bed that has been Spock's constant companion for weeks.
Jim had refused to allow Storek or Gayatri to haunt his bedside, but although he might have liked to give Spock similar instructions, he knew better than to try. For that reason, Spock had become very well acquainted with the tall chair by Jim's bedside. When he required sleep, he would carefully arrange himself around Jim's shivering form and Jim's ever-multiplying array of tubes and wires and sensors, but sleep did not come often, and so Spock remained in the chair, or standing, although Jim complained that he disliked it when Spock "loomed," as he termed it.
Spock, however, had made his life's work out of ignoring his captain's more spurious objections, and saw no reason to abandon the project now.
There is a light touch in his mind – tentative, not probing – and for a moment, Spock's chest is tight with impossible hope. But he recognizes his mistake almost immediately.
I am coming, Spock tells Gayatri, closing his eyes, and he feels her wordless brush of relief and sorrow.
Spock stands, and crosses to the door, which slides open before him. Nyota is there, and Mr. Scott, and Captain Chekov – Admiral Sulu could not be spared from the Klingon front, but Admiral Vro had sent word that she would return from the Orion colony with all speed. These familiar faces are turned toward him expectantly – they must suspect the meaning of his sudden appearance, but they have seen Jim Kirk cheat his own predicted death so many times that even in this last extremity, they are unwilling to count him out without confirmation.
There are faces missing, as well, Spock cannot help but notice, with a pang of a different, familiar grief, softened by the distance of time. Joanna is there, though, and for a moment, Spock is struck, unusually so, by her resemblance to her late father – the same stubborn chin, the same dark brows.
It is Joanna that he addresses – Gayatri, of course, already knows.
"He is gone," Spock says simply.
Mr. Scott mutters something undecipherable under his breath. Chekhov bows his head; Nyota merely nods slowly, her deep eyes collecting tears. Her son Les takes her hand and wraps an arm around her shoulder, his own gaze solemn on Spock's face.
"Can we—can we see him?" Joanna's voice is uncertain, thin.
It strikes Spock, at first, as an odd request. What is there to see, now? What of the true Jim Kirk is left in that room? And yet, as Spock considers the matter further, it seems strangely, perfectly appropriate. It cannot be denied that, in a very real way, Jim was the most bodied person Spock has ever known.
Even when his body betrayed him, as it sometimes did – even in this last, long, unforgivable betrayal – Jim had inhabited his body, and its pains and pleasures, more fully than anyone Spock had ever seen. Jim did not neglect the pleasures of the mind – he was still regularly trouncing Spock at chess from his hospital bed, gleefully scrawling "Checkmate" across his notepad once his voice was stopped up by the tube in his throat – but he gave himself up to sex, to fighting, to drinking and dancing, without reservation or restraint. It had been one of the many long, dogged projects of his life to teach Spock to do the same.
And so, illogical as it seemed at first, Spock perceives the rightness of it when he tells Joanna, "Yes. Yes, you may see him," and he follows her back into the small, dim room.
"Oh," Joanna says softly, and again, "Oh." She stares sadly at Jim's discarded form, full of the stillness that marks death as an end beyond sleep. "He's really gone," she whispers, and starts to cry.
The others have followed them in, and formed a loose semicircle around the bed. Nyota, too, begins to cry – the tears run down her face silently, and she bears them with her usual unshakable dignity.
Gayatri looks torn – her natural impulse, as a Human and a person of great empathy, is to comfort her friend and her godmother in their grief, but Spock can tell that her own control is hanging by the most tenuous of threads, and should her shields break under the flood, the results could be catastrophic.
Spock reaches out to her, catches her hand in his own and lets her borrow some of his own Vulcan steadiness, but he was never the best at this, never the one who could wrap the strongest walls around his daughter's precarious mind. Whether because of his own Human blood, or something less definable and precise, Spock had done what he could for Gayatri, as he does now, but he can feel in her mind the apologetic tug that brushes the plaintive half-formed Storekwhereneedwhereshouldbehere.
He has seen the looks from the others, the looks that ask the same question, with the same sorrow and confusion.
It was Jim who had sent Storek away – Storek, who already knew keenly the loss of a parent and who had grown increasingly dogged in his search for a cure, any cure, and then, when it became clear that there was no curing the disease that was killing Jim, a treatment, any treatment – anything that would buy Jim a week, a day, an hour.
Jim did not object, of course, to that part of it – James T. Kirk was a man not constitutionally capable of choosing rest over battle, or of ceding the field when there was still some small victory to be won. Until the end, through pain that Spock would have spared him, had the choice been his, Jim had fought tooth and nail for every hour of consciousness that he and his doctors could wrestle from the jaws of death. It was simply his nature.
So, too, was it his nature to despise lying idle, like a tool going to rust.
The argument was loud, both physically and psychically. Under Jim's repeated insistence that Storek return to the front lines of the Orion rebellion was his humiliation at and frustration with his own helplessness – under Storek's persistent claims that no other doctor was qualified to undertake Jim's care, Spock could easily feel the trembling of Storek's bone-deep fear, his shame at his own failure to make Jim well again, or even to make his life bearable.
In the end, Jim got his way, in this as in so much else. Storek is back on Chesqa with his wife Zaide, healing the refugees of the Orion wars – soon, Spock will have to leave this place, find a terminal, and then somehow find the words to tell his son that his father is dead – that he had died while Storek was light-years away.
Spock blames neither of them. It was Jim's nature to be proud, and to put the needs of others above his own – so, too, was it Storek's nature to allow his mother's stubbornness to rule him past the point of logic. Were either of them to be otherwise, they would not be the men that he loves.
Still, it hurts. Although it is not logical, Spock cannot help but feel the same sense of wrongness – of something missing – that is mirrored in the eyes of the others in the room.
Nyota comes up to him and lays a gentle hand on his shoulder. "He would be here if he could," she says simply. She is Spock's oldest friend, and her ability to read past the Vulcan blankness of his face no longer surprises him. He closes his eyes, and allows the calm, liquid depths of her compassion to surround him as the assembled friends and family step up to the bed, one by one, to pay their respects.
"Oh, Jim," says a new voice, surprised and sad. "Sisters take you into their arms, and kiss you a thousand times."
Spock opens his eyes to see Gaila stopped in the doorway, her Admiral's insignia gleaming on her shoulder, her hand hovering over her mouth.
Nyota rushes over to embrace her, murmuring, "You made it."
"Of course I made it," Gaila declares, smiling even as a handful of tears spill down her cheeks. "And you'll never guess who stowed away on my nice, new ship."
Gayatri gasps, which should warn him, but Spock still can barely maintain his composure when he sees his son appear in the doorway, over Gaila's shoulder.
"Jim ordered you to remain on the Orion colony," Spock says before he is aware of deciding to speak.
The hint of a smile touches the corners of Storek's eyes when he replies, "As it was from Captain Kirk that I first learned the virtues and necessities of disobeying orders, I could imagine no more fitting tribute to my father than to follow in his footsteps."
"No more fitting tribute indeed," Spock agrees, distracted somewhat by the unusual and inexplicable contraction of his throat in reaction to Storek's words. "I am—" pleased that you are here, Spock had intended to say, but that is not precisely accurate. Instead, Spock says, "It is right that you are here." And it is.
"Gayatri," Storek murmurs, holding out a hand, and she reaches out for it gratefully, sighing in relief when Storek's iron will settles the walls of his Vulcan control around her volatile Human and Brenari mind.
For a moment, they are one – Spock's large hand still curled around Gayatri's smaller one, Gayatri's other hand clasped tightly to Storek's, their three minds sinking softly into each other like stars pulled, spiraling, into the center of a galaxy. Storek's mind builds a fortress around Gayatri's grief, protecting the other mourners in the small hospital room; Gayatri, in turn, wraps the generous gentleness of her young mind around the aching, raw, empty place in Spock's mind where the spark-like brightness of Jim's mind has been so recently torn out by the roots.
Their love is a very great comfort to Spock – he can conceive of no greater—
Until, suddenly, there is greater, more—the rich cinnamon taste of Nyota's mind, and the glancing crystalline flashes of Chekov's; the fierce fiery burn of Gaila's resolve, and the chaotic but somehow rational labyrinth of Mr. Scott's; Les, offering a more restless shade of his mother's steady warmth, and Joanna, still ragged at the edges with her own, older grief—
They are all remembering – with their grief so fresh, they cannot help but remember – and each of them in their own time, offers up their particular memory to the others: each different and yet, each perfectly familiar.
The Jim that Gaila remembers is a survivor like her, strong at the broken places where he had put himself back together; the Jim that Joanna remembers is a patient teacher, with quick hands that sketched the inner workings of the Enterprise's warp core on napkins and the margins of his PADD; Chekov and Mr. Scott and Nyota remember a brother, and a captain; Storek and Gayatri, a father. Nyota remembers a boy in a bar in Iowa, stupid and brilliant, with too much to prove; Storek remembers waking suddenly from a nightmare, and being illogically reassured by the captain's silent presence.
Some of the things that Spock remembers, he is unwilling to share – the silk of Jim's bare skin against his hands, the weight of Jim's sleeping body against his side, the tremors that wracked Jim's wasted frame in these last weeks when he would hide his face in Spock's shoulder in order that they both might more easily pretend that the pain and the weakness and the futility and the exhaustion had not brought Jim to tears. But others—Jim the father, Jim the captain, Jim the soldier, Jim the genius—he offers, open-handed, to these people who have been his comrades in the great and impossible task of loving James T. Kirk as well as he deserved.
In a moment, Spock will let go of Gayatri's hand, and they will all be alone with their separate griefs once more. There will be a room, and a body—eventually, a wake, and a funeral, and then the long stretch of life after, life without, life missing. But this will always be there – Jim will always be there. Without Gayatri's telepathy, it will be harder to find him – Spock will have to ask, will have to speak, will have to step into the arena of Human interaction, a field where he still feels painfully out of his depth. He will likely have to somehow find the words to share out loud his own memories of Jim, and in doing so, expose his own grief, his own weakness and fear and anger.
That prospect gives Spock no pause – he has done more and harder things than that for James T. Kirk. It has been his life's vocation, and he permits himself to feel some small satisfaction in the knowledge that even death cannot put a stop to it. Spock reaches out once more, touching each of the bright, vibrant minds gathered around him in turn, then withdraws finally to the dark emptiness where his bond with Jim used to sing. In the new and painful silence of his own mind, Spock whispers, t'hy'la, lets go of his daughter's hand, and opens his eyes.