Jim soared on a wave of elation and joy, just as the Enterprise soared on a wave of pure energy, blasting her out of danger, and back toward home. Alive! They were alive, despite the horrific odds against them. Ha!! Fuck you, Kobayashi Maru!
He couldn't help but glance at Spock. The Vulcan gave him a nod that held a myriad of meanings - "good job, you might have been right about the no-win thing, thanks for helping save my life and for not sucking". He was pretty sure the messages probably would have come out in much more elegant language if Spock had said them aloud, but it was all the same. Sulu looked back at him, too, a look of amazement and awe in his eyes. In fact, the entire bridge crew was stealing glances at him, and they all had the same, dazed, astonishingly happy expressions that said - I almost died today, but I didn't, and you might have had something to do with that!
He rode the wave for a few more moments, before the pressing concerns of actually getting home tugged at his sleeve. They were on impulse power only, and even at top impulse, it would take days to get home without help. Uhura began giving him damage and casualty reports that were sobering to say the least. Starfleet would probably string him up by his toes for bringing the flagship back in this condition.
Careful with the ship, Spock. She's brand new.
Jim clutched the edge of the communicatons console, suddenly overwhelmed with nausea. Chris. Jesus, he hadn't thought about Chris since he'd gotten back to the bridge and re-entered crisis mode. What kind of-
"Kirk!" Uhura's sharp cry snapped him back to attention. She was staring at him with obvious concern. "Are you all right, sir?"
He nodded, despite the fact that he felt worse than he had when Bones had given him his fucking death concoction. "Contact Starfleet Command," he said, his voice sounding hoarse to his own ears. "Tell them our situation, re… request assistance."
She nodded. "Aye, sir. You're sure-"
"Fine," he said. "I'm fine, thank you Lieutenant." He forced himself to stand and turned toward Spock. He was already on his feet, giving Jim his best approximation of a frown. "Spock, I… I need to-"
"Understood, Captain. I am capable of handling our return to Earth, if-"
"You have the conn." It was through sheer force of will that he managed to step into the turbolift without stumbling. "Deck six."
He leaned against the wall, fists clenched, trying to clamp down on the sudden surge of emotions threatening to overtake him. He managed to shove back the guilt by the time the turbolift doors opened. He was captain. The survival of the crew, and the safety of the ship had been foremost on his mind, and there was no shame to be found in subliminating anything that could distract him from that goal. Chris would have said so himself. Guilt was replaced by fear - gut wrenching terror that when he got to Medical bay, Bones would come to him with that "I'm so sorry" look on his face that doctors got when they had to give bad news.
He walked at first, nodding to the crewmembers he passed, smiling as best he could. But the ship was just fucking huge, and he finally broke into a run. A nurse he didn't recognize greeted him immediately, looking him over quickly from head to toe. "Are you injured, crewman?"
He frowned slightly, then remembered that he wasn't wearing a regular uniform. "No, no, I'm not injured. I'm Jim Kirk, is Dr. McCoy still in surgery?"
"Oh! I'm sorry, sir, I-"
"It's all right, Nurse. Is Captain Pike-"
"We aren't sure, Captain. Doctor McCoy is still in surgery." He gritted his teeth, and the nurse gave him a sympathetic look. "I can let the doctor know to contact you when he's finished?"
"I'd rather wait here, if that's all right."
"Of course, sir. Follow me." She led him to Dr. Pruri… no, to Bones' office. Damn. "I'll let Doctor McCoy know you're here."
"Thank you." She left, and Jim sat down in the "guest's" chair. He drummed his fingers on the desk for a few minutes, staring at nothing, remembering his shattering relief at finding Christopher alive aboard the Narada. Even then, with the haze of joy and relief nearly blinding him, he'd been worried. Chris had looked bad. Tired. Sick. Hurt. He hadn't been breathing properly. He'd barely been able to stand, leaning heavily against Jim - clinging to him almost desperately until Bones arrived, and even then, it had taken Bones and another man to support him. These, and a thousand other tiny details came back to him now, pricking at his confidence, chipping away at his certainty that everything would turn out all right.
It wasn't until the office door hissed open that Jim realized there was an odd taste in his mouth. He looked up to see Bones staring at him wide-eyed, as if he'd grown an extra arm or two. He realized then, that he'd been chewing on his own fingernails, and he'd apparently drawn blood. He stared at his left hand blankly for a moment before shaking his head in disgust. He stood up and made himself ask the question, even though he was dreading the answer. "How is he, Bones?"
McCoy's shoulders dropped, and he lowered his eyes. Jim felt his stomach churn. Bad news. "He's... not good, Jim," he said softly. His voice was tired. Deflated. "Why don't you sit down?"
"Bones, don't do that to me," he pleaded. "Just tell me, is he going to be okay?"
Bones looked up, and his eyes had a hollow quality that sent a chill through him. Oh, God. Jim sank slowly back into the seat, feeling his hands tremble as they gripped the arms of the chair. "He'll live, Jim," Bones said, walking around the desk and dropping heavily into his own seat. "It's… it's just not good. That… creature-"
Bones cringed. "That's right, you don't know." He wiped at the sheen of sweat on his brow and yanked open one of the compartments in the desk. "Oh, thank God," he muttered. He brought out a bottle of Saurian brandy and two shot glasses. He poured, hand remarkably steady - much steadier than Jim felt. He was aching to know more, but he forced himself to wait. Bones was as raw and battle-weary as any of them, and he'd just been through god only knew what in that operating room. He was captain now. He could be patient for the sake of his crewman, and friend.
Bones pushed a glass to him, downed his own in one swing, and poured himself another. "It was a… a parasite," he said. "Something I've never seen before, and there was nothing in the computer logs about it either. Some god damned futuristic fucking-" He clenched his fists, then downed the second shot of brandy. "It had latched to his spinal cord, and was secreting some kind of chemical. We have the lab working on it, but I'm pretty sure it was a type of hormone mimicker that either reduced inhibitions or promoted obedience in the victim."
Jim nodded. "That would explain how they got past our defenses. Captain Pike would never yield to torture."
McCoy shook his head grimly. "No, he wouldn't. He… he was a strong man."
Jim snapped his head up sharply, nearly knocking over his untouched drink in his agitation. "Why did you say that?" he asked sharply. "Why did you say was?"
Bones' eyes were sad, and he sighed heavily again. "Jim, whatever that thing was, it… it was designed to kill. We went in to remove it, and found that it had grown tendrils into several different areas of the nervous system. We located all the feelers, and started cutting them out one section at a time. But when we finally killed the damn thing, it shot a corrosive agent into the captain just as we pulled it out. I had to scramble to neutralize it before it destroyed his entire nervous system, but…" He looked at Jim, and the young man saw tears glistening in his friend's eyes. "That last toxin did a lot of damage, Jim," he said softly. "I've got him hooked to several internal tissue regenerators, but in the mean time..."
"What is it, Bones," Jim asked, when the doctor hesitated. "Please."
"He's been completely paralyzed, Jim."
"WHAT? WHAT?" Jim gaped at him in utter disbelief. "How… it… that can't be, Bones! He was fine!" he shouted, even though he'd just gone through the many ways Chris had not been fine over and over again for an unknown amount of time. "He was moving, and-"
"I know, Jim," Bones said. "I know. But the toxin erroded-"
"God DAMN it!" He slammed his fist against the desk so hard the side of his palm went numb. His chest heaved, and he fought furiously against the urge to scream, or burst into tears, or both.
After a moment, there was a firm hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and saw the guilt in his friend's reddened eyes. "I'm sorry, Jim. I keep thinking, if… if I'd waited-"
"No," he said, clasping Bones' hand. "No. This isn't your fault, Bones. And you said it was spreading - what if you'd waited and it had taken over his entire body?" The doctor closed his eyes and sighed again, nodding once. Clearly, he'd gone through this in his own mind countless times before. "It was Nero," Jim said. "And Nero's dead."
Bones opened his eyes, and smiled for the first time since… Jim couldn't remember. "Good."
He squeezed his friend's hand before letting him go and standing up. "I want to see him."
"Don't even try it, Bones," he said.
McCoy sighed and shook his head. "No point telling you no," he muttered. "But I need to warn you, it's… it's a grim sight. He can't move anything at all but his eyes." Jim nodded, swallowing past the growing lump in his throat. "I've attached a neural sensor, but it's very basic - it can pick up affirmative and negative responses, and translate them into a flash on a control board - one flash for yes, and two for no. But that's it. He won't be able to communicate any other way."
Jim felt his hands clenching again. "All right," he said. "And, he… he's aware of what happened?"
"Yes, he woke up shortly after all the regenerators were hooked up. I explained everything to him, and he told me he understood. He's lucid, Jim - his cognitive functions weren't affected. But he's tired, and he… he isn't taking it well, which is to be expected. He didn't want any visitors."
"Did you tell him I was here?"
He shook his head. "Nurse Kiel only approached me after I'd left the operating room."
Jim nodded. "I'm going to see him."
Bones smiled. "I know you are. Go on, Jim."
"Bones?" He looked at Jim questioningly. "Thank you."
"Now get some rest," he said with a smile. "That's an order."
Bones snorted. "I'll sleep when you do. Now get out of here. Room twelve."
Jim left, and made his way to Christopher's room. He paused outside the door, trying to steel himself for the scene Bones had described, and knowing that no amount of pep-talking could really prepare him. Finally, he entered the room.
He managed to keep from bursting into tears, and he didn't even gasp or make any other outward sign. He considered that to be his greatest accomplishment of the day - yes, even accounting for saving the entire United Federation of Planets. Chris looked horrible. He was in a semi-upright position, hooked up to more machines than seemed possible. His entire torso was encased in a stabilizer cast. His arms were also in casts, with his hands lying limp and pale on the biobed. Jim could see a respirator in operation, which must have been connected directly to his chest, since his face was clear of tubes. His face was pale and gaunt, and the neural sensor - a thick coal-gray collar with a single yellow light in the center - stood out stark against his pale skin.
Jim took another moment to try to get his emotions under control. Before he was quite ready, Chris opened his eyes. Jim tried to smile, but the half-hearted expression died before it was fully formed. The yellow light flashed twice - two flashes for "no" - and Chris' eyes began to shine. "I know," he said. "Bones told me you didn't want any visitors, but... I had to see you. I couldn't..." He stopped, feeling his voice crack. He lost the battle against tears, feeling the hot trail slide down his face against his will. He approached the bed, and the collar around Chris' neck flashed twice. "You... is it that you don't want me to see you like this?"
The light flashed once, and the tears that had been glistening in Chris' eyes began to flow.
"I'm sorry, Chris," Jim said. "I had to see you. I..." He stopped speaking again. There weren't any words for what he needed to say. He grabbed a chair and dragged it to the side of Chris' bed that wasn't cluttered with tubing and wires. He laid a shaking hand on Chris' pale hand and looked at him. His eyes had followed Jim, and now watched him with an even stronger intensity than usual. "Can you feel that?" he asked softly.
Jim smiled, though his tears flowed faster. "That's something," he said. He reached up, and ran his fingers slowly, gently through Chris' hair. Chris closed his eyes, tears streaming down his cheeks, though his body remained completely still. "I'm sorry," he whispered, kissing Chris' face lightly. Chris' light blinked "No" again. "I know, babe. It wasn't my fault. It wasn't our fault." He kissed him again, and positioned himself so that he could look Chris directly in the eye. "We got him," he said. "We disabled the ship, and they refused aid, and he's dead, the motherfucker. The black hole device is gone now, too. Can't be used again." The light blinked once. "Thank you, Chris," he said, knowing Chris meant so much more than 'yes' just then. "But I couldn't have done any of it without you." Twice. "Yes! And you can't deny it."
Jim rolled his eyes, but smiled and kissed Chris again on the cheek. He couldn't bring himself to kiss his lips yet. Not when Chris couldn't respond. "Argumentative bastard."
Jim laughed, but grew serious again almost immediately. "You'll get through this. You will get better."
Chris closed his eyes. No.
No. His eyes remained closed.
Jim wanted to shake Chris - force him to be the strong, fearless man he was before. But there was a world of time, pain, trauma, death and heartbreak between that man and the one laying immobile on the biobed. "I know," he said softly. "I know it feels like that now. But-"
Jim tangled his fingers in Chris' hair again, pulling the chair as close as possible. With his other hand, he gently cradled Chris' face. "It feels like the end. It feels like nothing will ever be right again, doesn't it?" His eyes opened, but he didn't turn them on Jim, and he didn't answer. He stared at the ceiling, still weeping silently. "We've got a lot in common, Christopher," he said. "We both love lasagna." The eyes turned to him, and Jim wished with all his heart that he could see the sardonic curve of the lip that he knew Chris would be giving him right now. "We're both somewhat blonde. We both love Starfleet and the Federation. And we both idolize the same man." Chris' eyes turned back to the ceiling, but Jim edged forward so that Chris couldn't escape him. "George Kirk did not believe in no-win scenarios, and neither do I. You walked into that ship to save us all, and you did. And when I found you alive in that place, that's when I knew there was no way to lose. There is nothing you can't do."
"Okay, you're right. You can't speak. But you can communicate, and I understand you. When we get home, we'll have the facilities to put a voice activator in there, and you can cuss me out like I know you want to."
Jim smiled. "That's better." His hand tightened slightly on Chris' hair - reflexively. "I need you, Chris. Do you understand?" He closed his eyes and didn't answer. "I need you. I will be with you through whatever it takes to get you back to me. But you can't give up, Chris, you hear me? The only way we can fail is if you give up. I need you to believe that. Please. Don't give up hope. Okay? Please."
Chris opened his eyes again, and Jim didn't need for him to have muscle control to see the love radiating from them. They stared at each other for a few moments, before Chris' indicator light lit up.
It flashed once.
When the Yanada came to their rescue (his mother's ship of all things), and Chris was already regaining motor control in his hands and feet, Jim couldn't resist sneaking in a quick, "I told you so".
By the time they reached spacedock, and Chris was transferred to the Academy hospital, he was able to speak, and had control of both arms, though he still needed oxygen assistance. Bones was practically doing cartwheels over Chris' astounding progress. He told Jim that Chris had been itching to give Jim a promised "cussing out", but when Jim saw him for the first time after he regained control of his vocal chords, he only seemed able to say three words over and over again: "I love you."
Three days after their arrival on Earth, still bruised and battered from the battle, the cadets were officially graduated from Starfleet Academy. Jim was almost giddy with pure joy when he stepped across the floor to relieve Admiral Christopher Pike, sitting upright of his own accord, the backup respirator barely visible behind his titanium-alloy wheelchair. The hand that shook his was warm, and firm and backed by the strength that had been building faster than any of his doctors had expected. Any of them except Bones, of course, who now seemed to think that no only could he personally cure the common cold, but that a pep talk from Jim Kirk could make a mountain range get up and take flight.
Chris smiled up at him, love and pride radiating from him in almost-tangible waves. "Congratulations, Captain," he said, squeezing his hand tightly. "Your father would be proud."
Jim resisted the strong urge to fling his arms around Chris and devour his face with a kiss. Instead, smiled and turned to face the crowd. He looked at all of them, so many familiar faces from his ship - his ship - who'd struggled their way through something too horrible to imagine, and now stood triumphant with him. Far in the back of the room, he could see another figure - a man who'd literally been through hell and back, and lived, and now brought hope for the future of his people. And of course, the very presence of Chris behind him, supporting him and loving him, and talking and smiling and moving, served to push him higher - lifting him on a rising wave of all that was beautiful and glorious in the whole amazing, lovely, shiny world.
That's right, Kobayashi Maru. Fuck you.