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Beside Manners

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A crowd of medical personnel gathered around the bed, their eyes on one person.

Leonard McCoy held a hypo in his hands with what could (please, please, please, please) undo death.  Despite the panic in his guts screaming at him to hurry, he’d taken his time on it, worked to make it as safe as possible, determined it would save Jim without transforming him too.

Strangely, it had been Spock who had cut through Leonard’s blind panic with cool logic.  After receiving treatment for the wounds caused in his fight with Khan, which, to Leonard’s astonishment included tiny skull fractures, Spock had pointed out the most obvious fact. “Jim is in stasis.  His body cannot decompose.  You have all the time you could possibly need.”

Even now, Spock’s words cooled the burn in Leonard’s guts.  His hand tightened around the hypo.  He’d run every possible test, over and over again until he was certain.  The serum would work.

He glanced at his team.  “Are we ready?”

Everyone nodded. 

He looked at one person in particular.  “Open the tube.”

Carol Marcus nodded silently, fingers lightly tapping the controls.  Once the pod defrosted, the glass slid away.  Leonard didn’t give himself time to think and reflect.  He jabbed the hypo against Jim’s neck and dumped its contents into his friend.

If this didn’t work…

The team quickly lifted Jim out of the pod and placed him onto a bed.  The sensors read negative: no pulse, no breathing, no brain activity.  The moments after Leonard administered the serum were the longest of his life.  The tribble had taken a few hours, but he’d tweaked the serum’s chemical makeup to have a faster reaction.  He didn’t blink, didn’t breathe, didn’t speak as he waited for the result he was sure, so sure, they would get.

“Come on, come on…”

And then, there it was.

A single beep.  And then another.  And another, and another, and another, until the beeps became a steady, if sluggish, heartbeat.

Life.

And then, after spending five days in death, James Tiberius Kirk drew in a deep, shuddering breath.

Leonard remembered to breathe again too.

Except Jim didn’t carry on.

Cursing, Leonard and his team activated various life support systems.  The serum had worked one miracle, but apparently even it couldn’t fully overcome the effects of severe radiation poisoning, at least not without some modern medical help.  And then, of course, there were the injuries from the beating he’d taken at Khan’s hands.  They needed treatment too.  There hadn’t been time until now…

Glancing at readouts, Leonard watched as the serum slowly worked to rebuild Jim’s badly damaged cells.  The pace was glacial, and the biobed’s readout indicated Jim was in a deep state of coma, so deep he couldn’t feel the agony surely tearing through him as his body rebuilt itself cell by cell.

It was better that way, right? Jim was blank, empty…

…But…

…but he was alive.

Leonard’s knees went weak.  He braced himself on Jim’s bed as his vision fractured.  The tears came unbidden and uncontrollably.  Someone placed a hand on his shoulder and he turned to see one of the nurses.  She smiled and carefully pulled him away.

“No, no, I can’t leave...”

“Doctor McCoy, you need to step back.”

He looked up and saw Doctor Boyce at the door.  The older man wore a strangely gentle expression that didn’t quite fit his sterner tone. 

“Sir?” Leonard asked tiredly.

“You need a break,” Boyce responded, not unkindly.  “You’ve worked longer hours than anyone to bring Kirk back but you won’t do yourself any favours if you work yourself into the ground.”

“I can’t leave him now, not when –”

“Not when he’s in Starfleet Medical, generally considered to be one of the most advanced facilities in the Federation, under the care of staff equally highly respected?”

“…When you put it like that…”

“Take some time.  Clean up, sleep, eat and come back when you’re not ready to fall down.”

Leonard looked down at Jim.  He was utterly senseless and currently reliant on technology to keep him breathing.  He wouldn’t be waking up any time soon.  But to leave him now, leave Jim when Leonard thought he’d lost him forever.  No…

“His immune system will need support, and he’s got broken ribs and possible other internal injuries.  And, ah…” What else? His brain skidded to a halt. 

“Leonard, I’ll call you if anything happens.  Don’t make yourself sick.”

The use of his first name shocked Leonard into action.  “He can have visitors, right?”

“As soon as we’ve set him up in a private room, certainly.”

Leonard nodded.  “Great.”

“Ah, but only if I don’t see you sneaking around here for twelve hours.” 

“What? No, I –”

“Can barely stand, have been through hell and need some time to get yourself together before you worry more about Kirk.  Don’t make me sedate you and sign you off on medical leave, because I will.”

“But Jim’s…”

Boyce held up his hand.  “Get away, get some fresh air and for the love of God, don’t come back until you’ve had a shower.”

Flushing slightly, Leonard nodded and set about making sure Jim wouldn’t be alone.  Only when he was sure did he agree to Boyce’s terms and leave Starfleet Medical.

But not before he oversaw Jim’s transfer into a private room and gave himself five minutes of just standing at Jim’s bedside, his warm hands clasping Jim’s still cold ones, willing the serum to work, dammit, faster, bring him back.

He leaned down, pressed his forehead against Jim’s.  No change.  Not even a twitch.

“I gotta go for a bit.  I don’t want to, dammit, but I also don’t want my boss to jam a hypo against my neck.  Yeah, laugh it up, I do it all the time.  I’ll be back, okay? I swear I will. I just gotta sleep, Jim. Don’t go anywhere.”

Leaving Jim in capable hands, Leonard followed Boyce’s advice.  He went home for the first time since the whole mess had begun, found something to eat, showered and collapsed face first into bed.

He was asleep within seconds.

He wouldn’t remember to think about where Carol had disappeared to until he awoke.

***

Spock and Nyota arrived once they could be spared from the relief efforts currently underway in the city.  And, in Spock’s case, as soon as he could get out of yet another round of meetings with various admirals demanding to know what had happened.  Their inability to refrain from asking the same question multiple times was… tiresome.  The admirals wanted their answers, and Spock delivered them, over and over for days, until Admiral Komack recognised they were talking in circles and called an end to the discussion, promising they would pick it up again once Starfleet Headquarters and, just as importantly, San Francisco wasn’t falling down around them all.  Everyone who could be spared aided the recovery effort.

But right now their captain needed them.  And Spock welcomed the rush of peace that soothed his frayed nerves upon entering the room and seeing Jim alive.

Doctor Boyce looked up at them.  “Hope you’re both feeling patient.  He’s got some rough times ahead.”

Spock spoke quietly with Doctor Boyce while Nyota sat at Kirk’s bedside, holding his hand and speaking quietly.

“Hey, Captain,” she said, keeping her voice light even though her eyes filled with tears she didn’t expect.  This time, though, they were tears of relief… even if a coma wasn’t exactly the kind of alive she wanted to see.  “Doctor McCoy asked us to keep you company for a while.  Not sure what he thinks you’ll try and do.  Maybe he thinks I’ll have to call him and say you tried to escape via the laundry chute.”

The steady beeps of the machines were the only response she received.  And right now, that was enough.  It had to be, didn’t it?

“Spock’s here too.  I didn’t have to do much to convince him to come.  He said ‘Nyota, although it is a frivolous use of time to check on the status of a patient whose doctors have assured us is showing signs of recovery, especially when we are needed elsewhere to aid the relief effort, I believe confirming the reports for ourselves would, in this case, be beneficial to our own peace of mind’.”

Nyota was rather proud of her Spock impression.  Unfortunately, it didn’t bring about a sudden awakening.

“I hope he finds a way to tell you how relieved he is,” she continued.  “Because he is.  And I am too.”

She reached out, her hand brushing through Kirk’s hair.  Maybe she did it to comfort herself, that this was all real and not some unkind dream, but she sincerely hoped Kirk – Jim – would somehow know he wasn’t alone.

“I brought a book.  It’s a classic work of Tellarite literature so it’ll take us a while to get through.  How is your Tellarite, anyway? If you’re rusty, this will help.”

But before she could begin, Spock stepped up to the bed.  Nyota watched as he initiated a mind meld.  It was, to her dismay and Spock’s visible concern, unsuccessful.

“Spock?”

“I thought perhaps Doctor Boyce was mistaken in his assessment that Jim is in a deep coma and that perhaps I would be able to reach him and assure him he is safe.  I was unsuccessful.” He met Nyota’s concerned gaze.  “It was a disconcerting feeling.”

Nyota held out her hand.  Spock took it.  “He’s in there somewhere.  Maybe he’s out of reach right now, but he’ll come back to us.” She looked deep into his eyes.  “He’ll come back for his family.”

“I believe you are right.”

She smiled, took back her hand, and picked up her PADD. “All right,” she said, addressing both Spock and Kirk.  “I hope you’re ready for your impromptu Tellarite Lit class.”

Two hours later, Scotty came by, and Keenser too.  Nyota paused mid-sentence, grateful for the break because Tellarite literature was every bit as argumentative as the species itself and there were only so many arguments and counterarguments she could follow in the course of a plot.

Scotty seized one of Kirk’s hands and shook with silent sobs.  Keenser silently patted him on the thigh.  Spock kept his distance, but Nyota pulled Scotty into an embrace as soon as he allowed it.  She absorbed his tears and gave him all the strength she could, uttering every soothing word she could think of.  She wouldn’t allow anyone else she cared about to break.

“I just… I cannae… He died… I could’ve stopped him… but… but then what would’ve happened? Ah, it’s all messed up in my head!”

“Don’t you dare blame yourself,” Nyota said.  “And don’t underestimate what you did to save us.  We would’ve died in space if you hadn’t been on the Vengeance.”

“Aye, I know, but –”

“Jim’s alive,” Nyota said. 

Scotty took in the medical readouts with a sceptical eye.  “He isn’t even breathing on his own.”

“He will,” Nyota repeated.  “We won’t have it any other way.  You think he’ll give up on us now after everything he’s already done? After everything we did to bring him back?”

“No,” Scotty relented.  “No, I suppose not.”

“We did not battle Khan only for the Captain to die,” Spock added. 

Nyota met his gaze.  Maybe Scotty didn’t hear the passion in Spock’s voice, but she did. 

“You’re right.” Scotty took a seat, sniffed noisily and pulled himself together.  He patted Keenser’s shoulder and took a deep breath.  “Well, Jim, the Enterprise might be a wreck and some might be calling for her to be scrapped, but I promise you, by the time we’re through with her, she’ll be better than new.  You just leave her to me. They’ll want to rechristen her the USS Montgomery as thanks for my services to Starfleet, but I’ll insist they keep the name Enterprise because I’m a generous soul.”

“Perhaps you should request the admiralty name the Academy’s engineering hall after you.”

Scotty, Nyota and Keenser stared at Spock.

He appeared aloof.  “It is a logical request.”

Scotty recovered first.  “Aye, maybe I will.”

As if that was enough to make up his mind, Scotty slapped his knees, pushed himself to his feet and practically charged to the door.

…Stopping only to ensure Keenser followed him out.

…Which Keenser did, but only after he glanced at Spock, nodded, and received a nod in response.

Smiling, Nyota picked up her PADD and resumed reading.

Chekov was the next in.  He wore a look of nervousness, like he feared he wouldn’t be allowed to enter.

“Ensign Chekov, I assure you your presence is welcome,” Spock said.

He nodded and slipped in, wide eyes locked onto the captain’s inert form.  “He is alive?”

“Yes,” Nyota said.  She placed her PADD on the bed, next to Jim’s hand.  “I’m sure he’d be happy to know you came by.”

Chekov edged forward. 

“There is no need to be anxious, Ensign,” Spock said. 

Chekov startled, then apologised, nerves making his accent thicker.  “It’s just… I have never seen… he is very sick.”

Sometimes they all forgot how young Pavel Chekov really was.  Nyota shot Spock a look, one he quickly understood.  A slight nod of the head signified his passing over the conversation to her.

“It’s strange to see him like this, isn’t it?” she said.  “Especially with all these strange machines between him and us.”

“What if I touch something accidentally? It might…”

“It’s all right, Pavel.  Nothing will happen.” She held out her hand.  “It’s fine.  Don’t worry.”

Stepping carefully up to the bed, like he had to pick his way through a minefield, Chekov took her hand.  She placed it atop Kirk’s, making sure Chekov’s fingers rested against the steady, if slow, pulse.  A stream of relieved Russian washed out of Chekov, and instantly the young man became more animated, chatting rapidly, telling Kirk everything he could about anything he could think of.

Which was a lot.  Mostly about Russia and how amazing the country was and how, when the Keptin was ready, Chekov would happily take him there and introduce him to his mother’s cooking and proper vodka.

Nyota stepped back while Chekov chattered away, standing by Spock, their hands just barely touching.  They needed no words to share each other’s strength.  From this position though, she could understand Pavel’s nerves.  Kirk did seem lost behind a shield of medical equipment, numerous IVs feeding a range of drugs into him, a respirator supporting his breathing until he could manage on his own.  She turned her eyes to the monitor, reassuring herself he was alive, he hadn’t been forever lost.  All they had to do now was make sure he knew he wasn’t alone.

The sun began its descent as Chekov continued.  He was halfway through explaining how Russians invented hover technology when his communicator chimed and upon answering it, a young woman’s voice asked where he was and did he know he was late? Chekov leapt to his feet with an exclamation of surprise and a hurried apology.  He said his farewells and dashed out of the room, promising to return as soon as he could.  Nyota laughed.  Somehow, she didn’t think Kirk would be too upset to know Chekov had ditched him for a date.

Light faded from the sky outside.  Nyota’s stomach gave a gentle rumble, a quiet reminder she had needs of her own to attend to. 

“We are late for our customary evening meal,” Spock said.

“You don’t want to leave him,” she said.

“I believe Doctor McCoy would be uncomfortable to know I agree with his desire to ensure Jim is not alone during this time.”

Nyota nodded.  “All right then, we’ll take turns.” She gave him a firm look.  “Don’t think for a moment you can try any ‘Vulcans require less nutrition and rest than humans’ nonsense on me.”

Indeed, Spock knew better.  Denying his own basic biological needs would be illogical, regardless of his concern for his friend.  “Your wisdom is undeniable, Nyota.”

She smiled.  “I’ll be back soon.”

When she left, Spock stepped up to the bed once again.  A nurse entered briefly, running various checks and straightening blankets that, to Spock’s eye, needed no such thing, before disappearing as quietly as he had appeared.  As Spock gazed at his friend, at the man whose death had undone him in a way he had not felt since the loss of Vulcan, a sudden rush of emotion overcame him (I’m talking to the half human part of you) and he placed a hand atop Jim’s.  It was, of course, cold by Vulcan standards but, he knew, too warm for a human.  As calm as Jim appeared on the outside beneath the medical equipment, a fierce battle waged inside his body, one Spock felt certain Jim would overcome in time. 

“You are not alone, Jim,” Spock said.  “We will not leave you.”

There came a gentle knock at the door.  Pulling his hand away, Spock looked up, expecting Nyota but seeing Sulu instead. 

“Commander,” Sulu greeted as he entered the room.

“Lieutenant.” Spock noted the small object Sulu held in his hands.  “A gift?”

Sulu nodded.  “Music.  I know they’re still not sure about coma patients hearing things, but I know if it was me, I’d want some background noise, something other than beeping.” He placed the small device on the stand beside the bed.  “I made a few playlists for you, Captain,” Sulu said as he tapped on the screen.  “Should keep you entertained while you’re stuck here.” Classical music played out. Spock recognised Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  “I got every song recorded by The Beastie Boys too, but I’m not sure Commander Spock’s ready for Twentieth Century hip hop.  Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Doctor McCoy knows it’s on here.”

Spock cocked an eyebrow at Sulu’s grin.

“Oh, and there are a few audio books too.  Fiction, poetry, some history textbooks you were talking about a couple of week back.  I think you’ll like the one about Japanese mythology.” Sulu patted Kirk’s shoulder.  “Consider it my way of saying thank you.  I’m still alive because of what you did.” Sulu took a moment.  “As soon as you’re better, we’ll have that rematch.  One of these days you might actually beat me.  You just need to work on your defensive parries.  Not that I’ll go easy on you just because of this.  You’d probably assign some awful duty to me if I did.  Anyway, sorry this has to be a short visit but I’m helping out in one of the shelters tonight.  Rest up, Captain.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Sulu left.  Spock noted the new confidence in the helmsman’s stride.  Not that Sulu had ever been particularly shy, withdrawn or unwilling to stand his ground, but taking command had suited him.  Spock considered the likelihood of Sulu taking command opportunities elsewhere within Starfleet.  Perhaps, with the Enterprise likely to undergo a prolonged refit, Sulu would transfer elsewhere.

And yet such speculation was illogical, because Spock did not know Sulu’s personal thoughts, nor would it matter to the successful running of the Enterprise should Sulu decide to pursue other assignments.  Spock acknowledged his concern for Jim had taken its toll on his emotional control. Thankfully, Nyota returned, her timely arrival allowing him to ignore his idle and useless thinking.  It was most unbecoming of a Vulcan.  He was clearly in need of rest and meditation.

He took a mental step back from his emotions, embraced logic and held on tight.

“Beethoven,” Nyota commented softly, listening to the music.  The piece had changed to one Spock could not immediately identify.  “Isn’t this from the Enterprise Quartet performance last month?” She closed her eyes.  “Yes, absolutely.  I’d recognise Ensign Darwin’s viola anywhere.”

Nyota’s talents never failed to impress him.

She opened her eyes again and gave him a firm look.  “Go.  I’ve got him.  Besides, Doctor McCoy will be back soon.  And Doctor Marcus called while I was away, asking to visit.”

Spock nodded. “And I should contact New Vulcan.  I do not know if he has been informed of the day’s developments.”

“All right.” She leaned in, placing a light kiss upon his lips.  A rush of love, hers for him and his for her, washed over his dispassionate logic.  She stepped back.  “Get some rest as well.  You’re exhausted, Spock.”

“When Doctor Marcus arrives, perhaps we could rest together.”

Nyota’s smile said it all.  She returned to her seat, paused the music in-between performances and resumed reading.  Forcing himself to not give into emotion, not to linger any longer, Spock left.  On the way to the hospital’s canteen, he passed Carol Marcus.  Dressed sombrely, her face pale and drawn, she nevertheless greeted him kindly.

And the furry thing in her arms trilled softly.

“A tribble,” Spock observed.  “The tribble?”

“Yes.  I thought it might help.”

“Does Doctor McCoy know it has been removed from the Enterprise?”

“Yes.  Section Thirty-One, however, do not know it is in my care.”

Spock chose not to comment on that.  “Ensure it is not fed.”

“Oh, I know,” she said quietly, one finger idly stroking the creature’s thick fur.  “I was completing a research program at the Academy during the recent infestation.”

They went their separate ways.  Carol entered the room.  Nyota paused reading, but Carol indicated for her to continue.  Languages might not be her speciality, but Carol appreciated mastery when she was in its presence, and if there was one thing she knew about Nyota Uhura, it was her unparalleled talent for languages.  It was the one thing everyone knew about her.  Her reputation preceded her and, as Carol could now hear, for a bloody good reason too.

Carefully placing the tribble under Jim’s hand, she listened as its trills stepped up a notch.  The sound unwound some of the tension wrapped around her, the headache she’d had since the Vengeance (Dad, why did you have to start this? Why were you so angry? Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I stop you/save you?)backing off ever so slightly.  She glanced over her shoulder at the readout, hoping to see some kind of change, as if the tribble’s purring might somehow reach Jim.

But it didn’t.  Of course it didn’t.  Maybe she was lost right now, confused and hurting, but she was still a scientist and she knew enough of real life to know a tribble didn’t bring someone out of a coma.

“…Doctor Marcus?”

She startled, realising Uhura must’ve been calling her name for a while.  “Yes?”

“Are you all right?”

A tremulous sigh escaped her.  “No.” But she wrenched all the pain in, all the confusion and the anguish and refused to let it out in front of this woman she barely knew.

“Doctor…”

“Carol, please.”

“Carol, if you need anything, call.  Don’t go through it alone.”

There was so much warmth in Uhura’s voice, so much compassion, so real and so heartfelt, Carol’s tears sprung anew.  “Thank you.”

The tribble sighed cheerfully in the silence between them.  A bubble of laughter burst out of Carol, short-lived but a laugh nonetheless.

Uhura stood, indicating to Carol she should take the chair.  “You look exhausted.”

She was.  When had she last slept and not seen… not had to rewatch… listen to the cracking…? A shudder worked through her.  Uhura was at her side in an instant, guiding her to the chair. Those hands, delicate and warm, rubbed Carol’s back as spasms rocked her.

“Are you going to be sick?”

Carol shook her head.  How could she be sick when she’d barely eaten in days?

Dad.

She dry heaved.  Uhura knelt down in front of her, not speaking until Carol met her eyes.  “You need to talk to someone,” she said firmly. 

“They’ve assigned me grief counselling.”

“Have you been?”

“No. How can I?”

“Because you’re not what your father did and you deserve to mourn him.”

And just like that, Uhura cut through days of denial.  Carol bent double, sobs shaking her.  “Khan crushed his skull.  Every time I close my eyes…” Her hands shook, her body convulsing with horror, just as it had in the immediate aftermath, and then, beamed into the cell, the nightmare crawling over her like a host of ants she couldn’t shake off… couldn’t break away… The memory of her father’s death bled over her.

Arms wrapped around her.  “Don’t.  Don’t think about that.  Think about the man you loved.  Remember the man who raised you, the man who was proud of his daughter.”

Unable to speak, Carol nodded.

“And go to your grief counsellor.”

Carol pulled away, a trembling hand brushing away the tears.  She spared a glance at Jim then, remembering how he’d tried to comfort her in the brig, even when the ship quaked around them. 

Maybe it was time to steady herself.  She pulled in a deep, calming breath and stood.

“Thank you, Uhura.”

“Nyota.”

“Nyota.” Carol managed a brief approximation of a smile.  “Thank you.”

“Come back whenever you want,” Nyota added.  “You’re welcome here.”

Carol nodded. She reached for the tribble, squeezed Jim’s hand and bid him good night.  She left quietly, leaving Nyota alone again.  She returned to her seat, feeling her own exhaustion creeping up on her.  It overtook her in stages.  She tried to read some more, but the Tellarite language got the better of her.  Placing the PADD on the bed was a mistake, because her head swiftly followed.  And as the room’s lights dimmed in accordance with Starfleet Medical’s regulations regarding patient lightning during the night, her eyes slid shut.

That was how Leonard, fully refreshed from sleeping through the majority of his temporary exile, found her an hour later.  He fetched a light blanket, placed it over her and moved to the other side of the bed.  He glanced at the readouts, none of them exactly offering positive news.  Grabbing a tricorder, his heart sank further as he read the results.  Yes, Jim’s cells were rebuilding, but it was setting off a dangerous chain of reactions.  A fever held steady at a dangerously high level and even deep in a coma, Jim’s body registered pain. 

“Hold on, Jim.  We’ll make you comfortable.”

Tapping the call button to summon assistance, Leonard then stepped back to Nyota’s side.  A light touch shocked her awake.

“I’m sorry,” she said, blinking hard to bring herself fully awake.  “I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t worry about it.  But we’re gonna need a moment.”

“Is something wrong?”

“We need to bring his fever down and find a better way of managing his pain.”

“He’s in pain?”

“Yeah.” Leonard wasn’t normally one to hold back harsh truths, but he knew exhaustion when he saw it, and Nyota didn’t need the full reality of the situation right now.  “Don’t worry, we can help him.”

Nyota turned back to Jim.  She placed a careful kiss on his forehead.  “Don’t you give up,” she told him firmly.

As she stepped back, Doctor Boyce entered, expression grimly set.  Nyota gave Leonard a quick hug and disappeared from the room.

“I’m worried about the fever,” Leonard said.  “It could be an infection rather than a reaction to the pain.” Because if there was one thing radiation did, other than kill you, it annihilated the immune system.  “The immune boosters might not be enough.”

Boyce called in a support team.  “Let’s do a full workup and see what we need to fix first.”

Leonard rolled up his sleeves.  “Let’s get to work.”

Chapter Text

It took three days to bring the fever down to a less worrying level.  Leonard’s fears of an infection proved right.  It was finally under control thanks to a combination of drugs and keeping the room completely sterile, which unfortunately meant no visitors.  Sulu’s gift saw a lot of use in that time.  Not that the crew had much of a chance to stop by, although they did their damnedest to visit daily.  Beyond the tiny room currently occupied by one very sick Jim Kirk, San Francisco was a city in chaos and Starfleet was attempting to pick itself up after the second battering in just over a year.  First Nero, and now destruction from within.  It would take Starfleet decades to recover.

When he wasn’t treating the survivors of the city’s destruction, Leonard rarely left Jim’s side, hypos at the ready for any eventuality.  But days of spending barely any time with non-medical or uninjured personnel had taken their toll.  In a fit of technology-induced frustration (because why the hell couldn’t that damn brainwave monitor tell him if his best friend was still in there somewhere? What would be the point of any of this if the body mended but the mind, the person, the everything that made Jim the man he was, didn’t come back too?), Leonard snuck Spock in on the coma’s fourth day.

“How can I be of assistance?” Spock asked.

“Look, I’m not a fan of mind melds, okay?”

Spock noted to never mention the careful meld he had already performed.

“They’re invasive, messy and a whole bunch of other things I don’t much care to get into right now.  But I need to know if he’s in there somewhere.” Leonard’s hand rested on Jim’s warm forehead.  “Because, so help me, Jim, if you think you can come this far and still disappear on me, I will climb up in that head of yours myself and drag you back out.”

“Allow me, Doctor.”

Leonard stepped back, giving Spock the space he needed.  Spock carefully removed the glove covering his hand, narrow fingers gently touching Jim’s head.  Leonard couldn’t keep himself from hovering, ready to step in the second anything bad happened.

When Spock met his (only slightly frantic) gaze, Leonard felt something akin to peace settle over him.  “He’s here.  I cannot reach him on a verbal level, he is too far away, but…” Spock raised his other hand.  “Perhaps it would be best if you experienced it for yourself.”

For Jim, Leonard was very willing to ignore his discomfort.  He stepped forward.  Spock’s fingers made contact.

“Are you ready?”

“No.”

Spock didn’t wait for Leonard to gather himself.  Reality disappeared, plunging him into darkness.

And yet, there in the distance, a single light, a solo star in the infinite black of space. And he knew, Leonard knew without a doubt, that was Jim.  Spock
returned him and Leonard slumped over the bed, shaking with tears.

“Dammit, Jim,” he muttered, lacking any real heat.  He wiped his eyes, refusing to break down in front of Spock of all people, especially when the Vulcan wore a look that could be considered sympathetic.  “We’re all out here, waiting for you, okay? Don’t you dare get lost on your way back.”

“We will not allow it,” Spock added.

Leonard stared.  “You don’t consider it illogical to speak to a comatose patient?”

“Indeed, but knowing that Jim is, as you describe it, ‘in there’, I feel the words are not wasted.”

“Y’hear that, Jim? Spock’s about ready to dive into your head and pull you out too.”

“I did not say that, Doctor.  If Jim were to regain consciousness at this moment, not only would he suffer significant pain but the trauma of – ”

“Spock, that’s not –”

And then Boyce came in and berated them both for risking Jim’s health, any contact with any germ could compromise his already beleaguered immune system and Leonard heard himself agreeing and apologising in a manner most unlike himself but his thoughts were completely taken up with thoughts of knowing Jim would soon (please soon) wake up as himself.

“C’mon, Boyce, he’s getting there.  The infection’s under control and you think I’d bring Spock in here without taking all the necessary precautions?” Leonard said.

“We undertook rigorous decontamination protocols,” Spock assured Boyce.

“We can’t leave him alone any longer,” Leonard said.  “You know as well as I do that patients benefit from contact with family.”

Yeah, family.  Leonard silently dared Boyce to challenge him.  Spock straightened in a way only Vulcans could manage, effectively turning himself into an immoveable object.

Boyce relented.  “Fine, Commander Spock can stay, but no one else.”

Day five rolled around and by the end of it, Jim was finally, and reliably, breathing for himself. Other crew members gathered in the hall outside, waiting for further news, but Boyce was firm and wouldn’t allow anyone other than medical staff and Spock in.

Leonard was grateful for the chance to finally catch up with, and thank, Carol for her help.  “Sorry for not finding you sooner,” he said.

“I’ve made myself somewhat hard to find of late, Doctor McCoy,” she replied.

“Oh, yeah, well, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“I’m glad I could help.” Weariness clung to her, but her eyes burned with a cold fire.  “You’ll let me know if there’s anything else I can do?”

He leaned close.  “Keep that damn tribble safe.”

She nodded.  “They’ll never find it.”

Day six came and brought Winona Kirk.  Still clad in her flightsuit, dirty red shirt visible at the shoulders, she hid worry behind a firm gaze.  Leonard could see her son in her, in the way she held herself.

“Leonard,” she said, for this wasn’t the first time they had met and right now she was a mother first and a Starfleet officer second.  “Tell me.”

“He’s fighting,” Leonard replied.  “And we’re helping him every step of the way.”

He accompanied her to the decon area.  “When they told me… when I heard what he did, I…” She broke off, choked by tears.  But she forced them away, crushed them with the severity of a certain Vulcan who would remain nameless, and met Leonard’s gaze with clear eyes.  “You’ve brought my son back to me.”

“Not just me, ma’am.”

“No, but you’re the one standing in front of me, Commander Spock told me you’re the doctor who created the serum, you’re Jim’s friend and you better drop that ma’am nonsense.  And so help me, Leonard, if you call me Mrs Kirk I will ensure every coffee machine in a five kilometre radius is destroyed and you’ll be stuck drinking dispenser sludge for the next week.”

Like mother, like son.  “Sorry, Winona.  And you’re welcome.  I couldn’t... He’s not leaving us that easily.”

“You’re damn right he’s not.”

She followed him into Jim’s room.  A nurse was already there, refreshing IVs, checking readings, updating charts.  To Leonard’s dismay, Jim’s fever had climbed up a notch again.  Damn.  He asked the nurse to return with fresh cooling pads.

Winona took the seat at her son’s bedside.  “Can I touch him?”

“Of course you can,” Leonard replied.  “Talk to him too.  He’s in there.”

“Jim, it’s me, it’s Mom.  It’s been a while, I know.  I’m sorry.  I’ve never been much good at sending messages, have I? Captain Decker found me with my head in a power conduit when the call came in.  Commander Spock told me… Jim, what did you do to make a Vulcan emotional? He told me you’d… he told me what happened.  I got back here as fast as I could.  It wasn’t easy.  Earth’s locked down.  San Francisco’s…” She broke off.  “But you’re here.  And while I’m around, maybe I’ll have a chat with your Mr Scott and see if I can help out with the Enterprise. I know, I know, it’ll be embarrassing for the captain’s mother to help out, but I’m an engineer, and fixing ships is what I do.”

Leonard couldn’t help but laugh.  “If you really wanna embarrass him, you better break out the baby pictures.”

“Good idea,” she said.  “The ones from his space pirate phase, maybe.”

“Space pirate?”

“It’s a long story.”

The nurse returned with the cooling pads, one of which Leonard placed atop Jim’s head.  “We’ve got plenty of time.”

But it seemed Winona’s thoughts had already drifted elsewhere.  The fingers of her right hand played with Jim’s hair, a frown marring her face as she felt the unnatural heat in his body.  Several times she started to speak, only for tears to well in her eyes and her mouth to clamp shut.  Leonard wanted to help, but Jim’s readings weren’t improving and, super life-restoring serum or not, the younger man was a long way from healthy.  He quietly tapped away on his PADD, putting in a silent request for a few other immune-boosting drugs.

“Leonard?”

He startled, so concerned with the readouts he’d zoned out.

Winona gave him a stern look.  “You better be taking care of yourself.”

“I am.”

She looked at her son.  “Jim, I think Leonard’s lying to me.  He’s got a nervous schoolboy look about him.”

And now he had a wide-eyed what did she just say? Is she reading my damn mind? I really could use some sleep and I’m no fool but… dammit Jim, just wake up and be well already look about him.

Winona offered a faded smile.  “Jim’s lucky to have such a good friend.”

“He sure is.” Leonard leaned against the bed.  “You can wake up and tell me how awesome I am any time you like, Jim.”

But, of course, Jim slept on, oblivious to the world around him.

A nurse delivered the medicine.  Winona squeezed Jim’s hand as Leonard delivered the various hypos.  “You should’ve seen him the day I took him for his preschool boosters.  You wouldn’t think a child could outrun a grown man, but Jim sure did.”

Jim’s readings picked up slightly with the hypos, but the coma endured as his body continued its painful healing process.  Leonard gave Winona the room, showing her where to find the call button.

“You’re going to get some rest, right?” she asked.

“Definitely.” But only because he was slightly worried she’d carry out that coffee threat.

“See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.  G’night Winona.  Jim, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

With the room to herself, Winona finally found the words she wanted to say.  “I know we haven’t spoken in a while.  We always seem to be on opposite sides of the galaxy.  I need you to know how proud I am of you.  You scared the life out of me, and I’d be lying if I said I’m okay with everything, but I understand, Jim, I do.  When we can, we’ll talk about everything, I promise.  I’m sticking around in San Francisco until the city’s back on its feet.  They’ll find a use for me, I’m sure.  But you don’t need to worry about that.  You just need to rest and heal and come back to us.” Her hand stroked his cheek.  “Just hold on.”

She spent the night at her son’s side.  She talked, imagined what his responses might be, drifting into silence only to then remember all the things she wanted to ask him about engineering aboard the Enterprise and was he ever going to finish his undergrad thesis on starship design because he needed to.  He was right too – captains did need a solid understanding of how their ship worked just as much as they needed to know about their crew.  In fact, she became so passionate about it she hardly noticed the dawning of a new day.  “Honestly, Jim, I’ve worked under captains who needed to use a PADD to get around their own damn ship.  Some of them seem to forget the ship contains areas other than the bridge and their quarters.”

It took the beeping of her communicator to force her off the subject.  Flipping it open, she read the message.  “That’s my orders received.  Sorry, Jim.  They need help stabilising a section of the city’s power grid.” She stood, wincing at the pops and cracks in her joints.  “You better wake up soon.  I’m too old to sit around in chairs all night.” Pressing a kiss to her son’s forehead, she said goodbye.  “I’ll be back soon.”

Day seven and eight passed in continuing silence.  Jim didn’t so much as take a breath out of synch.  In the early hours of the eighth day, the fever settled as the infections finally released their hold.  Jim’s his immune system finally rallied thanks to the boosters, but he showed no sign of coming out of the coma.  His brain activity remained minimal; background noise compared to the steady beat of his heart.

Boyce grew increasingly apprehensive, trying several times to bring up a conversation Winona refused to have with him.  “Don’t talk to me about pulling plugs or letting him fade away,” she snapped.  “He just needs time.” She looked at Leonard.  “Right?”

“Exactly.  I think we can lift the visitor restrictions too.”

“Doctor McCoy…”

“Sometimes, Doctor Boyce, what a patient needs more than anything is his friends and family at his bedside.”

“And risk another infection?”

All they had to do was manage symptoms, and give Jim every possible chance of survival.  Besides, Jim never gave up without a fight.

“And if you think you can start now, you’ve got another thing coming,” Leonard muttered as Jim slept on.

“I know it’s not a nice subject, but –”

“Doctor Boyce, I’d really like you to step out of the room now,” Winona said.

Something in her tone made him beat a hasty retreat.

Before Leonard could pass comment, his communicator beeped, the message onscreen the one he’d been dreading since the moment this mad idea occurred to him.

The time for his debriefing with the admiralty had arrived.  Swallowing hard, Leonard bid Winona farewell and went to find Boyce.

“Good luck,” was all the older doctor had to say.

Winona worked on a PADD, monitoring repairs and sending orders when needed.  She also told Jim’s friends to stop by if they could now that Boyce had (reluctantly) brought the strict quarantine period to an end.  She’d met most of the senior staff now, each one somewhat dishevelled by whatever work they were doing.  Every time she’d marvelled at their youth and intelligence.  Had she ever been that young?

Early in the evening, Nyota and Spock returned and Winona slipped out to grab a coffee.  Nyota continued to read her Tellarite book.  Spock related the state of the Enterprise (poor) and the state of the city (also poor, but the spirit of the people remained unbroken) before his communicator summoned him away yet again for whatever tasks the admirals set for him.

“The admirals need to back off,” Nyota told Jim.  “There’s more important things to do right now than work out who they can blame for what.  My debriefing is tomorrow, but I’d rather be helping to restore the deep space communication systems we lost when the Vengeance hit.  And it’s not like Starfleet’s the only thing in trouble right now.  There’s a whole city out there in need.  You’re supposed to wake up now, Captain, and tell the admirals to stow their crap, get off their asses and help like the rest of us.” She caught herself.  “Sorry.  Sorry.  I’m just a little frustrated.”

“Aren’t we all.” Leonard walked into the room, a spectacularly grim expression on his face.

She glanced at him.  “How did your debriefing go?”

“You would think those damn fools would recognise a stupid idea after one fell on their damn heads, but no. They wanna know more about my serum which, by the way, is never ever going to happen because like hell I’m gonna let a bunch of idiots who go around calling themselves Section Thirty-One create another bunch of Khans.”

Leonard spent a good hour ranting about his debriefing, because goddammit he was frustrated and he missed Jim’s usual brand of responses, even when they strayed into “Bones, calm down before you burst something” territory.  Nyota did her best, bless her, but it wasn’t the same, and when she was called away and he was left alone, he sank into the chair and tried to gather himself together.

Chekov came by not too long after Nyota left, happily informing Jim the ship was safely installed in the Riverside shipyards and undergoing a complete survey.

“It is strange to see the ship on the ground,” Chekov said.  “Mr Scott is looking forward to discussing ideas with you, Keptin.  You will have to wake up soon to help, yes?”

Sulu dropped by too, sipping coffee and talking about how he’d agreed to start teaching botany classes at the Academy while the Enterprise underwent repairs.  An hour later, Scotty returned with Winona, the two of them chatting enthusiastically about engines (not warp cores though, never warp cores). With the four of them keeping Jim company, Leonard slid out to check on other patients and, to settle his own worries, checked again to ensure his work on the serum was hidden in the best way possible – foregoing technology, written by hand and hidden throughout his Dad’s old journals.

Carol returned on day nine.  It felt a little strange to have the room to herself, like maybe she shouldn’t be there, but when she started talking, her unease ebbed.   “I’ve got to make up for what my father did and make sure the right people are uncovering his secrets before we dig ourselves in any deeper.”  She found it hard to look at Jim’s face, so she focused on his hands instead, holding one in both of hers.  “I’m going to help us rebuild,” she said.  “Somehow, I’m going to make this better.”

And then, on day ten, something changed.  Something changed for the better.

A blip on the brainwave scanner.

A twitch of Jim’s hand.

A tiny stutter in his breathing, like maybe he was sighing in his sleep.

That was it, but it was something.

(And if Leonard cried a little, Nyota said nothing because she was hugging him too hard and staining his crisp white uniform with her own tears.  Spock had no comment on the matter.  Winona took the news with a happy cry.)

Day eleven and Spock confirmed that Jim “appears to be dreaming, although I cannot say what the dreams concern.”

Leonard ran a hand up Jim’s arm.  “Let’s hope they’re good dreams.”

“Indeed.”

“How is it out there?” Leonard asked, nodding to the city outside.

“The situation is grim and numerous anti-Starfleet organisations are using the tragedy for their own ends,” Spock replied.  “And yet despite the anger and confusion, people are unified in their determination to restore the city.”

“That’s something I suppose,” Leonard said.

Day twelve and the fog rolled in.  Day twelve and alarms set half of the medical staff running into the room because all of a sudden Jim’s awareness level stepped up and, while he was still unconscious, he was feeling a lot of pain.  A nurse held Winona back as Jim writhed on the bed, limbs in spasm.  Bodies weren’t easy to rebuild from a cellular level after irradiation.  In all honesty, Leonard thought as he tweaked the mixture of painkillers then pressed the hypo to Jim’s neck, bodies couldn’t survive that kind of radiation poisoning.  They were in uncharted territory here, and it was murky and every action was fuelled by a lot of desperation.

And yet maybe, just maybe, Jim was coming back. As he settled under the tide of painkillers, Leonard noted the improvements in Jim’s readings.  Despite the drugs, his brain activity had picked up and the occasional twitches had become more frequent.  Life slowly returned.

Winona retook her chair, holding Jim’s hand tightly.  “Will he remember any of this? Will he remember how much it hurt?”

“No,” Leonard said.  “He won’t remember anything.”

Unfortunately, the admirals suddenly seemed to remember they had a captain they hadn’t spoken to yet.  “Inform us as soon as we can speak with him,” Admiral Komack told Leonard over the vidscreen in Boyce’s office.  “We’ll need a full debriefing when–”

“When I tell you it’s time and not a damn moment before,” Leonard shot back, not giving the slightest damn who he was talking to.

Komack wisely ended the call.

Day thirteen.  Heavy rain hampered the relief efforts in the city.  Winona had been called away for emergency repairs.  Overnight, Jim had begun talking in his sleep.  Nothing made sense, but Leonard saw it as a very, very good sign.  During the day, Jim’s vague mutterings interrupted Nyota’s reading.  His hands kept stretching out like he wanted to grab something.  Nyota put the PADD aside.  She took his hand and squeezed it.  “We’re here, Jim,” she said.  “Everyone’s waiting for you.”

Occasionally his mumbles turned into something louder, something strained, and she did what she could to chase the nightmares away.  Leonard made his way back late in the evening, having overseen the removal of medical supplies from the Enterprise for distribution in San Francisco.

“I think he’s having nightmares,” Nyota said as Leonard pulled off his jacket.

Leonard sat on the edge of the bed.  “Come on, Jim.  All you gotta do is wake up and see.  It’s all over now.”

For a moment it seemed as though Jim would wake up.  His eyebrows pulled down, eyelids twitching… But nothing.  Even Jim seemed to sigh in frustration.

“It’s okay,” Leonard said, resting his damp hand on Jim’s arm.  “Don’t worry.  I’m just getting impatient.  Take your time, Jim.  We’ll still be here."

Nyota leaned over and grabbed the MP3 player.  She scrolled through it until she found something unexpected.  Poetry.  She tapped the playlist and Sulu’s calm voice filled the room.

She recognised the words, and so did Leonard.

… Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.


Ulysses, by Tennyson.  His words echoed across the centuries.

…Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are---
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


The words calmed the room.  Nyota and Leonard watched as Jim settled.

“Remind me to ask Sulu to record a few bedtime stories for me,” Leonard murmured.

“He is full of surprises,” Nyota agreed.

Sulu stopped by that evening.  “Mr. Sulu, you are a man of many talents,” Leonard declared.

He blushed slightly.  “You found the poetry.”

“It’s a wonderful talent, Hikaru,” Nyota said.  “Anyone can read a poem, but to give it meaning the way you do? It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

“Would you be willing to put on a live performance?” Nyota asked, holding out her PADD.

“Sure.” He took it, eyes scanning the screen.  “Does the captain speak Japanese?”

“No, but sometimes you don’t need to understand the words to appreciate the sound of their beauty,” Nyota replied.

Nodding, Sulu read aloud.  To Leonard’s amusement, Nyota practically melted into the chair.  Hearing the door open, he noticed Spock entering.

Did Vulcans do jealousy?

Day fourteen dawned brightly, the previous day’s storm chased away overnight.  Spock had just left an early meeting concerning the disposal of the wreckage of the Vengeance when his communicator beeped.

Get over here,” Leonard said.  “I think he’s coming to.

Spock ran, but it was Jim who gasped awake like he’d run a marathon to get there.

He’d managed a brief conversation, thanked Spock, accepted thanks in return, and passed out again, halfway through a question about the crew.

“He’s gonna do that a lot,” Leonard replied.  “People don’t tend to wake up from comas and get out of bed the same day.  Plus he’s on enough drugs to take out a herd of elephants.”

The news spread rapidly among the crew, reaching as far as Riverside.  Scotty cried and swore to transport back as soon as he could, Nyota smiled, Chekov said something in Russian that only Nyota understood, Sulu prepared a flower basket and Carol released a breath she’d held since the moment she’d seen Jim in the body bag.

The man himself didn’t wake up again until the afternoon, blinking heavily.

“Bones?”

Leonard turned to his weary friend.  “Jim.”

“I’m not… I’m not really gonna turn into him, am I?”

Leonard frowned.  “Who?”

“Khan.  You said… um… despotic…”

It seemed Jim didn’t realise the first half of that conversation happened six hours ago. “I worked hard to make sure the only Jim Kirk coming back to us was the real one, not a superhuman, superevil version of him.”

“Okay that’s great.  Thanks, Bones.  Thanks.  I owe you.” Jim eased back into sleep.

“I think we can call it even.”

“No… no… I…” But whatever he had to say would have to wait.

Winona had the honour of spending the first night with her son.  He had been in and out all day, and still more out than in, Leonard told her, but he was definitely out of the coma.

Tired eyes opened as she stepped into the room.  “Mom?”

She took her familiar seat.  “Hey.”

“Hey.” He took a deep breath.

She waited.  She could practically hear him thinking.

“I’m sorry, Mom.  I’m so sorry, but I had to, I couldn’t –”

“Jim, shhh.  I know.  Just sleep.  This conversation can wait. I’ll be here in the morning.”

His eyes slid shut.  “Really?”

“Really.” She swallowed hard, pretending his disbelief didn’t hurt a little.  “Now, sleep, or I’ll sing a nursery rhyme like when you were a baby.”

A grin tugged at his pale lips.  “Twinkle twinkle little star?”

She obliged.

Leonard watched from outside, Spock at his side.  “A happy ending,” Spock observed.

The bizarre urge to grab something and hold himself upright seized Leonard.  “What did you just say?”

“Is that not the appropriate term, Doctor? When, after a period of uncertainty and illness, the desired outcome is achieved, would humans not call this a happy ending?”

Leonard couldn’t help but laugh.  “Never mind how much physical therapy he’ll have to go through or how shot his immune system is right now, not to mention the pain he isn’t feeling right now because he is essentially high on drugs, plus a whole range of complications I haven’t had the time to consider yet but we’ll probably encounter, we can definitely call this a happy ending.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“No.”

Spock’s eyebrow twitched.  “Are you certain?”

Leonard rolled his eyes.  “Spock, look at him.  He’s alive.  We brought him back.” Emotion thickened his voice.  “We didn’t lose him.”

“A happy ending,” Spock repeated.

“Yeah.  Yeah, Spock.  A happy ending.”