To say that Kirk didn’t feel good would be an understatement.
He felt like his whole body was throbbing, aching, and stabbing all at once. It hurt to move and it hurt not to.
The longer he stayed stationary, the more difficult it was to ignore the incessant howling of pain billowing from every cut, bruise, fractured or broken bone. He could focus on the screen before him or the PADD in his hand, but eventually the pain would work past his defenses and demand his attention. He'd read a paragraph regarding the status of the ship’s hull damage over and over again, but would be unable to process a single word beyond the throbbing in his whole body. It hurt to stay still.
But every time he shifted, he could feel the sharp ache of his back and hips, and he could feel the ribs in his chest grate against each other, or maybe what he was feeling was his ribs scraping against an organ. The pain of disturbing his rib cage blurred his vision and he would have to stop breathing, lest he release a groan or a yelp. He couldn’t allow himself to emit either while he was still on the bridge.
He glanced up from his lap and eyed the crew around him. Everybody was intact, but he could see that they were all exhausted, if not also injured. The bruise on Sulu’s cheek was growing more prominent by the hour and it would probably stay for a few days longer. Chekhov’s eyes seemed a little less alert, the demand of the day having had a definite effect on the seventeen year old kid. Same was true for Uhura.
His performance was still at its peak. He never faltered in what he was doing. He remained attentive and there was hardly any sign that he had gone through a trying day at all, aside from the slope in his shoulders Kirk knew hadn’t been there only hours before.
Kirk tried to swallow, and his eyes watered when the muscles in his throat refused to cooperate. It burned. He tried again, making note of the sensation of his throat squeezing and aching. He grazed the skin across his adam's apple with light fingers, and tentatively applied pressure. His neck felt hot and the ache blossomed exceptionally when he pressed against it as gently as he could. A small cough tried to force its way out but he bit it back before it passed his lips.
He swallowed again, involuntarily, and glanced around the bridge once more. Everybody was still hard at work. The clock on his PADD told him that they had all been working non stop for almost twenty two hours, counting the moment they boarded the ship.
He released a shallow sigh and rubbed at his pulsing temple. It was time for them to get some rest. Starfleet had already made contact and it was confirmed that the U.S.S Enterprise wouldn’t arrive at Earth for two more weeks, at the earliest. They had debriefed Jim and he told them what they needed to know. And aside from Starfleet, Scotty had already told him that their ship was out of the worst of it.
So, there was no reason for the crew to remain on hand. They needed to rest.
He straightened up in the captain’s chair and cleared his throat. They all turned to him, ready for any command he was about to give. Kirk could feel his chest swell with pride at how reactive they were, how quick they were to give him their unyielding attention.
“Crew,” he started, and paused to lick his dry lips. He was relieved that the tightness of his throat hadn’t yet altered his voice. “It’s time you all got some rest. Let beta shift take over.”
Almost immediately, a small chorus of refusals and excuses to stay started up. But he could see how tired they all were, regardless of how they denied it.
He held a hand up to silence them. “No arguing, that’s an order. You’ve all done enough for today, let someone else take the reigns now.”
Hesitantly, they all conceded and began to make their way to their respective quarters.
Except for Spock. Instead of approaching the lift, he stood beside the captain’s chair. “Captain, you should also rest.”
Kirk blinked up at the science officer and waved his good hand dismissively. “Yeah, Spock. I will.” He gestured at the PADD in his lap. “I’m just going to finish up this report and then I’ll head out.”
Spock paused and Kirk could feel the Vulcan’s eyes analyzing him, before said Vulcan continued. “When you are finished, I advise you report to sickbay before returning to your own quarters.”
Kirk wanted to laugh. He didn’t have any quarters, being a stowaway. He didn’t even feel like heading to sickbay yet, either. Pike had been in really bad condition when they got him, and he was sure that it was more than likely that Bones was still in surgery with him. And if Bones wasn’t available, Kirk didn’t want to go to sickbay at all. The only medical professional he trusted to take care of him was Bones. But he held his tongue and only nodded at Spock. “Right.”
Spock seemed unsatisfied, but to Kirk’s surprise didn’t press further and instead retreated to the turbolift.
Kirk swallowed again on reflex and he winced. Rubbing a tentative hand against his neck, he returned his gaze to his PADD.
The reports never seemed to end. He felt like every time he got close to finishing reading through one or signing off another, his PADD would notify him of two more.
And almost all of them were casualty reports.
The number of missing was fluctuating constantly. So many had been sucked out into space, it wasn’t yet entirely clear who was lost or how. And every now and then, the body of one believed to have been lost to the stars would be found crushed or impaled or in the embers of an extinguished fire. So many were dead.
And not just on the Enterprise. Kirk tried not to grip the PADD too hard, but he was struggling to keep the images of Vulcan being destroyed out of his mind. To have seen it from the ship, and from older Spock’s eyes, and to have felt it.
He should have realized sooner what older Spock was doing when he outstretched his hand. Kirk had read all about mind melds and the emotional transference, and he should have expected Spock’s emotions to be extreme after witnessing the death of his planet. He should have seen it coming, should have put up his defenses against it. But he had been wide open and left himself susceptible to the deaths of everyone.
He had felt it. He had felt them all die. He felt his own body warping and contorting and crushing along with all of theirs, just as Spock had.
And he couldn’t stop feeling it.
Kirk’s hands shook the further down the report he scrolled. It was describing, in detail, what happened to those that caught the worst of the attack on Deck 6. Inner mechanisms had exploded and had sent shrapnel and fire propelling through every nearby crew member. Deck wide casualties.
Jim signed his acknowledgment of the report and continued to the next one. And the next one. Every report had to do with death and destruction and injury. His hands shook harder and he squeezed them into fists to stop them. Pain flared through his broken left hand.
He couldn’t breathe.
His lungs felt tight, like the weight of the past day was trying to suffocate him under its wake. He tried to take a steadying breath, but both his lungs and throat fought him and instead erupted with pain.
Instead of releasing the groan that he felt in his chest, Kirk forced a shaky exhale through his nostrils.
He could feel himself slipping with anxiety.
Realizing the need to focus on grounding himself, Kirk turned his PADD off and slowly forced air down and through his lungs. His skin was buzzing and itching with fear and guilt and horrified sorrow. He had to stop himself from thinking. He needed a distraction.
He decided to catalog his own damage.
His hand was for sure broken. As if being crushed beneath a Romulan boot wasn’t bad enough, his constant use of his left hand surely didn’t help its condition.
And his ribs, there was definitely something wrong there. Kirk took an experimental breath, trying to decide whether or not they were just bruised, fractured, or broken. Overall, it felt like they were fractured, but the pain on his right side was especially acute. Maybe a few broken ribs on the right.
His back and shoulders hurt, too. It hurt a little more than the pain of knotted and over-exerted muscles. The pain was shriller than the dull ache that came with overuse, though that was there too. Especially on his right shoulder, where Spock had pinched him. And, for some reason, his back felt a little sticky.
Then there was his throat. Kirk coughed the second he thought about it. It had become tighter and hotter with each report he read through, and Kirk realized that it had become increasingly harder to breathe. Getting strangled by three people in one day was a new record for him. Not a good one, for sure.
He could feel himself getting lightheaded in addition to the pounding of his temples. Which was to be expected, after getting punched a few times. More than a few times. It felt like his left eye socket might have been fractured. He wasn’t sure what it was about the left side of his face that Spock and Nero, even the drill guards, each felt like they had to punch.
He was so tired.
Kirk couldn’t remember pushing his physical and mental limits so hard before. Exhaustion pressed hard on his shoulders and he lifted his trembling good hand to support his head.
He jolted in surprise and screeching pain shot through his chest with the sudden movement. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment in an attempt to combat the pain, and bit the inside of his cheek so no sound could escape.
Kirk blinked his eyes open as the pain began to ebb away.
Spock was standing by his chair, hands clasped behind his back and an unreadable expression on his face. “Captain,” he said again. “Based on your current state, I have surmised that you did not heed my advice and instead returned to your quarters without visiting sickbay.”
With another painful swallow, Kirk met Spock’s eyes through his haze. What was the Vulcan doing back so soon? He couldn’t have rested long enough. He just left the bridge a little while ago. Right?
That was when Kirk realized the entire alpha shift had already returned, or were just returning. How much time had passed? How long had he been sitting in the captain’s chair? A peek at the clock told him seven hours had already passed since he dismissed the crew for rest.
He’d been awake for thirty six hours straight.
His eyes fluttered shut in distress. Despite how tired he was, the thought of sleep seemed distant and unattainable. He could feel the anxiety that was still washing through his lungs. Even if he tried to lay down, he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He knew it. He’d felt this before.
After... Tarsus... he was unable to sleep for weeks unless he was sedated. Even years later, if he had had a bad day and couldn’t qualm the stress, he’d be unable to rest. McCoy always stayed close to him on those days, always gave him something to knock him out.
“You never returned to your quarters.”
Kirk refrained from jumping at the breaking of silence this time. He instead noted how Spock wasn’t asking a question. Kirk could hear it in the accusatory tone just beneath the statement.
When Kirk turned back to Spock, he noticed that the Vulcan’s mouth was parted in what seemed to be disbelief. Instead of replying and risking his throat closing entirely, Kirk shrugged.
“Captain, I must insist that you leave your post and visit medical.” Spock’s hands were no longer behind his back and were instead at his sides. Kirk eyed them dubiously, afraid that Spock was preparing to physically remove him from the seat.
“Don’t worry about it, Spock.” He was surprised by the sound of his own voice. It was hoarse and weak, and sounded like a rusty air vent filled with gravel. He coughed in an attempt to clear it, but as soon as he forced air up through his throat the coughing didn’t stop.
He hunched over, despite how badly it hurt his chest to move, and willed himself to stop choking around his own esophagus. His hand found its way around his neck and he tried to massage as gently as he could. When he opened his eyes, the PADD in his lap was blurred by a wall of unshed tears. “I’m fine,” he wheezed, and even he could hear how untrue it was.
But he couldn’t leave his post yet. There was still so much to do. He had let so many people die, it was his responsibility to address the reports concerning the death and destruction. It was his duty. He owed it to all of them.
His hands were shaking again. He stared at them as Spock spoke. “You are not ‘fine’. I believe it imperative that you visit sickbay immediately.”
Kirk sat back up and became very aware that everyone on the bridge was looking at him. The anxiety bubbling beneath his skin turned into clawing. He waved a hand at the science officer beside his chair and shook his head. “No, Spock. I can’t leave yet.”
“Your health is at serious risk if you continue to stay here.”
Kirk clenched his trembling hands around the arms of the chair in an attempt to get them to stop. “Thank you for your input, Mr. Spock, but I still have some work to do.”
“Captain, we have two weeks before we return to Earth. It is unlikely the state of the ship or her crew will change in your absence. If you do not go to medical on your own then I will call a stretcher.”
“Whoah, what?” Seriously? Why did this Vulcan have to make everything so difficult? He tried to gawk at Spock incredulously, to convey what his destroyed voice couldn’t. “Isn’t that a little extreme?”
“Your refusal to visit sickbay is, in its own way, ‘a little extreme’.” Spock’s eyebrow rose, and Kirk couldn’t keep from glaring at it.
“Spock, I told you,” Kirk gasped beyond his inflamed throat, “I’m fine.”
“Your statement is unreliable given that you have not yet been seen to by a medical professional.” Spock’s hands were behind his back again. He was trying to look intimidating and non-negotiable, Kirk guessed. He sure as hell looked stubborn.
“Spock, look. Just let me finish these last few reports, alright?”
Spock tilted his head to the side ever so slightly. “That is what you said seven point four hours ago, Captain.”
“Yeah, well,” Kirk’s blood pounded against his ears and he tried to refrain from swallowing again. Fire was licking at the insides of his chest and throat. “The reports kept coming in,” he finished quietly.
Spock stared down at him a moment longer, before the science officer pulled out his communicator. “Bridge to medical.”
“Hey, Spock! Wait! I don’t need a damn—!” Kirk had shot to his feet to take the comm out of the Vulcan’s hand, but his vision faded out as soon as he straightened up. Pure, agonizing pain surged through his body like lightning, and this time he couldn’t keep the pained cry inside. The air around him shifted and he felt like he was spinning and falling and slipping and still burning—
A strong arm caught him around his chest and another cry fell past his lips as his ribs shifted inside of him. His fingers clung to the sleeve against his front, and he could feel himself trembling.
He was gasping. He could hear it, he could feel it, but he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe. He was curled up on the floor and no longer in the captain’s chair. Someone was holding him, and being that Spock was the closest person when he fell, Kirk guessed that that was who was beside him.
“Captain!” Beyond the pounding of blood and his own gasping, Kirk identified the voice as Uhura. “Spock, his back!”
His back? What about his back?
“I am aware, Lieutenant. Call for medical.”
Medical. Bones. It had to be Bones. It had to be Bones that would come for him. He couldn't let any other doctor touch him. He couldn’t do it.
Kirk gripped Spock’s arm harder as more pain ricocheted through his muscles. “Bones,” he gasped. He hoped Spock heard it. He only trusted Leonard.
“Yes, Captain, they are sending a doctor.” Spock placed his hand over Kirk’s upper arm in what must have been meant as a comforting gesture. Jim could see it out of the corner of his eye.
It reminded him of older Spock’s hand.
The room suddenly felt so much tighter and colder and hotter and inescapable. Vulcan. Vulcan. It was gone, Vulcan was gone, he lost it, he lost it, it was gone forever and it was his fault for not acting soon enough, for not doing more, he should have done more, he could have done more. He tried to push himself away from Spock, the Vulcan serving as an uncomfortable reminder of how much Jim had failed. But it hurt too much, and the science officer’s hold was too sturdy.
His whole body was shivering and he could hear his own frantic wheezes, and he realized belatedly that he was panicking. Hyperventilating. Hurting.
Kirk heard the swishing of doors opening and listened as crisp shoes approached where he was curled against Spock.
“Alright, Captain, don’t you worry. We’ll get you patched up.” That... was an unfamiliar voice.
It wasn’t Bones.
Kirk jolted against Spock and sat up as much as his ribs would allow. “No—No—!” His throat and his lungs wouldn’t let him talk. But he couldn’t let the doctor touch him, he had to make them understand. “No, I need—! I need—!”
A cough tore its way through his throat when his breaths got tangled together in his attempt to speak.
The nurse crouched in front of him, he could see their knees. “Easy, Captain.”
No! He needed Bones! Bones knew what he was allergic to, Bones knew how to help him. He was the only one.
“Bones!” Kirk wheezed. “I need—I need Bones!”
“Jim, it’s okay.” Sulu’s voice. “This is a nurse, they can help you. We know Bones is your friend, but let them help you.”
They weren’t going to help. They weren’t. The hiss of a hypo being prepared reached Kirk’s clogged, heated ears.
Fear exploded past his anxiety and hit him square in the gut, and without even processing the pain, Kirk sat up so he could look Spock in the face. “I'm allergic—!”
It was all he managed out before a hypo was stabbing into his neck and his throat was closing completely. He registered the widening of Spock’s eyes before his own rolled back.