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Dilithium and Dreams

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He wasn't tired until he tried to stand up.  Which was illogical; he had necessarily been tired all along and only realized it upon attempting to stand.  Being unaware of his physical state was a failing he preferred not to tolerate, thus the initial impulse to deny it.

Spock often thought that being human must be exhausting.  They had so many conflicting reactions to basic information.  Attempting to reconcile or even prioritize those reactions would require a large part of the brain's processing potential.

He was willing to admit, if only to himself, that his opinion was partially a result of personal experience.

The occupant of the bed mumbled again.  Spock stepped closer in an effort to distinguish the words, still slurred by sleep or something else.  Jim's eyes were open, if unfocused, and he would assume the sounds represented an attempt to converse until proven otherwise.

Jim's mouth moved, and Spock could read his own name on those lips.  The words that followed were both audible and comprehensible: "We have to do better."

McCoy had recently upgraded Jim's prognosis from, in his own words, "probably not gonna die again, the stubborn bastard," to "might walk out of here under his own power if someone doesn't keep an eye on him."  Jim's lucidity was increasingly reliable, yet Spock still found himself unable to make sense of more than sixty-two percent of his remarks.

It was closer to the eighty-three percent he had formerly achieved than it had been since Jim died, but the gap remained vast, frustrating, and unnavigable.  For the fifth time in the last twenty-four hours, Spock resisted the temptation to bridge that chasm with a touch.  Jim had once granted blanket permission for telepathic intrusion in the event of an emergency, but this situation was unlikely to qualify.

So Spock was forced to make a verbal request for clarification.  "Better at what, Captain?"

Something that might have been a smile preceded the reply.  "Everything."

The echo of their exchange with Khan was troubling, though he could not justify the reaction with fact.  McCoy's complaints aside, there was no medical basis for personality transfer via blood transfusion.  If anything, Jim indicated he believed a certain amount of overlap had existed prior to his treatment.

"I am uncertain of your meaning," Spock told him.  "There are a number of activities you already perform with superiority."

"Compliments, Spock?"  Jim's voice was stronger now, smoother, and the expression on his face was unmistakably amused.  "This means you missed me, right?  I died and you totally missed me.  Bones owes me a drink."

Spock considered this.  To miss someone: to desire their presence when that presence was unlikely or impossible.  It seemed an inadequate phrase to describe the tearing psychic pain that had accompanied the loss of Jim's consciousness - forever, he had thought at the time - and neither did it seem relevant to the discussion.

"I do not understand," he said at last.  The confession seemed straightforward enough, and he was not functioning at optimum efficiency.  He would need to preserve his concentration for more important matters than outlining the shape of his confusion.

Jim didn't sigh, but he made a face that often accompanied that reaction.  "Of course you don't.  So tell me, how'd you draw the short straw?"

He was familiar with the expression, but he had no more idea how it related to "doing better" than references to acumen or being missed.  Impatient with a conversation he had waited seven point two hours to continue and still could not grasp, he said, "There are no straws here, Captain, but I could obtain one if you are in need of a drink."

"Babysitting, Spock."  Jim's more focused gaze traveled around the room before returning to him, though Spock noted the absence of the hand gesture that would typically accompany it.  "The short straw.  How'd you get stuck sitting by my bedside?"

"I am not stuck here."  Sitting was the preferable position, however.  If Jim had no immediate need of assistance, there was no reason not to return to his chair.  "I choose to work from the hospital."

"Can't blame you for that," Jim said, staring up at the ceiling while Spock edged his improvised workstation closer.  "Sucks to visit a patient who keeps falling asleep on you.  Bones bribe you to keep me from sneaking out while he's gone?"

"I have received no compensation from Dr. McCoy."  He hesitated before sitting once more.  Jim had called for McCoy or a nurse three of the last five times he woke.  "I will get you some water.  Is there anything else you require?"

This time Jim did sigh.  "Yeah," he said.  "Trip to the head.  Call a nurse if I don't make it, okay?"

Eight hours ago, Jim had been capable of sitting without assistance.  It seemed unlikely that he had improved so greatly since then that he could stand and walk on his own.  McCoy believed he would try, though, and Spock had seen Jim achieve many implausible physical feats against medical advice in the past.

"I will assist you," Spock told him.  "I am capable of carrying you, should you require it."

Not a sigh, this time, but Jim made a huffing sound that wasn't entirely a product of exertion as he forced his body into a sitting position.  "No offense, Spock, but I really hope I don't."

Spock stayed where he was.  Previous experience indicated that efforts to render physical aid before it was blatantly necessary would be scorned, even to the point of impeding progress rather than abetting it.  He watched Jim struggle with the sheet, with the bed, with his own body, and he did nothing.

When Jim's feet hit the floor, though, he put out a hand and Spock stepped into it without another thought.  Fingers curled briefly on his arm before clenching hard when Jim stumbled, off balance and too disoriented for the activity he was attempting.  Spock pulled him in, held him up, and waited for Jim to slide a foot forward before matching his step.

The room was small.  A private recovery at Starfleet Medical meant space for a bed and not much else.  It still took effort and concentration to maneuver Jim from one side to the other.  The strength necessary to support him was insignificant, but he wore less and looser clothing than usual and his still-healing skin was fragile.

"Thanks," Jim grunted when he braced himself against the door to the attached bath.  It was equally cramped, and Spock deemed it safe for him to attempt the necessary functions alone.  "For not carrying me."

Spock watched carefully as he navigated the door and the sink directly adjacent to it.  "Your thanks are premature.  You have not made it back to the bed yet."

Jim closed the door in his face.

Spock used the time to procure a glass of water and order a light meal.  Jim had been increasingly active since the removal of secondary life support, and his caloric intake had not risen accordingly.  Spock discarded the idea of requesting something for himself as well, reasoning that he would eat when McCoy returned in the morning.

Jim was leaning against the wall beside the bath when Spock returned.  "Just catching my breath," he said, in a tone that added not waiting for you and gave the lie to it all at once.

Spock told himself that he understood the meaning because he was familiar with that tone, not because prolonged skin contact made him telepathically vulnerable.

Either he was wrong or Jim was more observant than his physical state made him appear.  They made it back to the bed, Jim awkward and embarrassed by his weakness and trying not to show it when he asked, "Spock, how long have you been here?"

"Since you were moved to this room from Intensive Care."  Spock was preoccupied by his hands and his shields.  Specifically, the attempt to remove the former and maintain the latter.

"You mean that literally," Jim was saying.  "You've actually been in this room… what, the entire time I've been here?"

"In the ward."  He was no longer touching Jim, but the damage had been done.  His concentration, his studied indifference, his ability to walk away had suffered a terminal blow.  "My absence from the room itself was requested on six occasions."

Instead of protesting or expressing disbelief, all Jim said was, "No wonder you feel like hell.  How do you look so good when you're dead on your feet?"

Spock had no answer for that.  His shields were weaker than they needed to be, and distance would restore them most efficiently.  Distance was the one thing he would not accept.

"Sit down," Jim told him.  "You're making me tired just looking at you."

That seemed unlikely, given Jim's exhaustion as a result of crossing the room.  Nonetheless, it was tacit permission to stay close and Spock took it.  "You said we must do better," he reminded Jim.  "I will require clarification."

"Us," Jim said.  He ignored the sheet on his bed, stretching his legs out over top of it and sinking back against the pillows.  "The ship; everyone on it.  We gotta get better at our jobs."

Jim had never expressed doubt in their abilities before.  "I have not found anyone among the crew to be lacking in competence," Spock said.  "Is there some manner in which you feel we've failed?"

"It's not their fault," Jim muttered.  His eyes were closed now.  "We're fresh out of the academy, all of us.  No one to show us the ropes."

"Jim," Spock said.  "In what way have we failed?"

"Brace for impact," Jim said.  "I heard you give the order.  We didn't do it.  Abandon ship, you said.  We didn't do it.  We suck at following orders, you know that?"

Spock raised an eyebrow.  "It's my understanding that the crew obeys your own example in that regard."

"So maybe we're giving them the wrong orders."  Jim's eyes were moving behind closed lids.  Spock wondered if he wasn't falling back to sleep at all, but rather reliving recent experience.  "If we give them orders they can follow, maybe they won't question us so much."

Jim seemed to be missing a fundamental part of the equation.  "Captain," Spock said, and the address was deliberate.  "The crew follows your orders without question."

Blue eyes opened, studying him.  Waiting.  "You don't."

"It is my function as First Officer to ensure that you have considered all aspects of the situation," he said.  It sounded stiffer than he had intended, and he knew Jim would not approve.  But it was true and it was logical, and Jim's opinion could not be put before those two principles.  "I do not question your authority."

"Just what I do with it," Jim said.

That wasn't entirely inaccurate.  "If necessary," he agreed.

There was more to it than that, and Jim was still waiting.

"As you allow it," Spock said at last.  "You encourage the crew to think for themselves.  You have expressed impatience with our opinions in the past, but you have never required military obedience of anyone."

"It's not a military ship, Spock."  Jim wasn't looking at him any longer.  "And you didn't see me shout Scotty down over those torpedoes."

"They argue with you because they know you will listen," Spock said.

"Abandon ship," Jim said.  "That's not an order you argue with."

Spock watched him stare at something he couldn't see.  "You didn't follow it."

Jim scoffed, the pensive look gone and derision hard on its heels.  "I'm not ditching our ship, Spock.  Why would I even do that?"

If any emotional reaction were appropriate, certainly affection wasn't it.  Yet Jim's refusal to see the irony of his own argument was, at the very least, less aggravating than usual.  "Of course," Spock said.  "How short-sighted of me to assume that you would hold yourself to the same standards as others."

"I have standards," Jim grumbled.  "High standards.  Higher than yours."

"That is unlikely," Spock told him.  "You do not expect us to follow orders; therefore this is not a failure.  Where else do you wish to see improvement?"

Jim stared at him for a long moment.

Six, Spock thought.  What consequence it held he didn't know, but this was the sixth time today he had wished to understand Jim's motivation with more clarity than the spoken word allowed.  He tested the boundaries of his shields and found them sufficient.

"Safety protocols," Jim said at last.  "Where were the radiation suits when I was climbing into the warp core?"

It was no doubt the prolonged exposure to Dr. McCoy that made his first impulse sound very much like the doctor: where was your ability to reason when you were climbing into the warp core?

His second thought was more relevant.  "In the storage unit marked 'protective gear,'" Spock said.  "Directly to the left of the door you died behind."

"Really?"  Jim frowned in a way that made Spock doubt he had even looked for it.  "Huh.  Learn something new every day."

"Weapons training," Spock said, in lieu of something that would have sounded too much like anger.  "Your form with a phaser is unacceptable."

"My form is awesome," Jim retorted.  "You and that rifle, now, that's something else."

His training with a rifle was limited, so he let the judgment pass unchallenged.  "What else?"

"What, are you making a list?"  Jim squinted at him before seeming to conclude that yes, he was making a list.  "Okay."  The frown was gone but his gaze was no less intent.  "Okay, off-label tech use.  Scotty's modifications.  Your ice cube.  We gotta find a way to test that stuff before it's someone's life on the line."

Before losing a shuttle engine to an ash cloud meant snapping someone's tether and dropping them into an erupting volcano.  Time permitting, a preliminary flyover could have provided valuable data for a shuttle stress test.  It was unlikely that they would be able to perform a similar trial of the fusion bomb, making it more unfortunate that the most proximate sensor records had been lost.

"Mr. Scott receives his authorization for such tests directly from you," Spock said.  "Does he not?"

"Right, yeah," Jim said, as though he had voiced the entirety of his concern rather than just the first example.  "We'll need some kind of procedure in place for approvals.  You think the department heads would do it?"

Spock nodded once.  "They are the logical choice, having as they do the background to understand new proposals and the field experience necessary to judge their likelihood of success."

"Field experience," Jim repeated.  "That's where we're at a disadvantage."

Spock raised an eyebrow.  "You and many of your crew received field promotions upon which your current rank is based.  Please explain how this is a disadvantage."

"It's a disadvantage because we don't know what the hell we're doing.  We were promoted because there wasn't anyone else.  We got lucky, Spock."

The door chimed, and Spock briefly considered the benefits of getting up versus simply raising his voice.  But meeting a visitor at the door was the more secure response, and Jim had a surprising number of enemies.  Spock stood up.

Nurse Michi had brought the tray he'd ordered, along with an extra that was presumably for him.  He raised an eyebrow and she mirrored his expression.  "Good morning," she said.  "May I set up your trays for you?"

"I requested one," Spock told her.

"I brought one," she said.  "I also brought another."

"Hi," Jim called.  "Ignore him; he's being logical.  Did you bring me food?"

Spock didn't move from the doorway, and the nurse seemed to realize an explanation was required.  "Since you usually visit the commissary yourself," she said, "I assume the meal you requested is for Captain Kirk.  Given the lack of visitors after Dr. McCoy's departure, I further assume you haven't eaten since yesterday morning."

"A situation which is neither unhealthy nor unusual," Spock said.  "Why would you take it upon yourself to address this?"

"Because she's a nice person," Jim called from his bed.  "Let her in, Spock."

He stepped aside.  It was of little consequence, after all.  One wasted meal of the thousands served here each day was statistically insignificant.

While Jim's bed was being adjusted and his food set up, Spock wondered about his sudden humility.  It didn't keep him from engaging in constant flirtation with Michi, so it clearly wasn't pervasive.  But the uncharacteristic admission that he didn't know what he was doing had come twice in as many weeks - and Jim had been comatose for most of that time.

"Just put it next to the chair," Jim was telling Michi.  "If he doesn't eat it, I will."

Jim didn't get the chance to substantiate his claim.  He gulped down half a bowl of soup, saying little while he did it, and then dozed off between one breath and the next.  Or so it seemed: Spock didn't realize he'd lost time until he got up to remove Jim's tray and readjust his bed.

There was a marker next to Jim's plate and a note scrawled on his napkin.  About time you got some sleep, it said.  See other side for notes on our master plan.

The other side consisted of a numbered list:

1 - give better orders
2 - safety review
3 - weapons refresher
4 - enhanced tech trials
5 - airlock overview
6 - what the hell happened to auxiliary power?
7 - memorize ship layout
8 - run faster

Spock glanced at the nearest chronometer.  Almost an hour had passed, and he recognized it as soon as he knew it was gone.  Not before.  His performance was failing, hampered by too many sleepless nights and - loath as he was to admit it - improper nutrition.

He should eat.  He should sleep, but that was impractical, and eating was the higher priority.  Spock untangled the sheet on Jim's bed, moved the half-empty glass of water within reach, and covered the windows where the sun would come in.  Then he sat down and pulled the unsolicited tray across the chair in front of him.

He made certain to fold the napkin away where it would not be mistaken for trash.