Title: Touching the Impossible
Characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, various

Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for all AOS movies and various TOS episodes, footnoted where necessary. No knowledge of TOS necessary to understand chapters, though kudos to you if you catch the references tossed in here and there. Specific footnotes where needed at ends of chapters.

Summary: Five times Jim touched something he shouldn't have, and one time he literally couldn't touch anything at all

A/N: And hereby ends this little tale. It took far too long to get this one out, mainly because I scrapped several pages of it and wrangled it quite a bit before getting it to come out the way I wanted. I do have material on the cutting room floor from some of these chapters I might end up posting as an extra at some point just for the heck of it, but for now here's the finis.

Thank you very much to all you lovely people who take and have taken the time to comment; it really makes my day. Much love to you all.


I.

Bones takes one look at his face and knows it's not good news.

"You look like your world's about to end, Jim. How bad can it really be?"

He can't even look up right now, because he's never yet cried like a child in front of his senior staff and he has no intention of starting now. Even if technically, according to this, they aren't his senior staff anymore, and even if, according to this, his world might as well end.

A hand gently pulls the padd from his lap and turns it around, scanning the document left open on the screen. He hears a sharp intake of breath, and then dead silence, broken only by the harsh beeping of the machine that is still keeping his left lung inflated and monitoring the rest of his medical stats.

"Look, Jim…"

"Just don't."

"They can't just do this, you know the crew will have a fit. Spock will have a fit. There's no way they'll actually go through with it."

Funny. At least Jim can tell the words are genuine. His CMO has been so busy here at Medical HQ he's probably backlogged in all areas of correspondence. He wasn't just hiding this, he really had no idea.

"That memo's a week old, Bones. It's already been done."

The Powers That Be had sent that while he was still only a half-step above comatose, last week. She'll already be in orbital dry-dock now, the crew scattered across the planet and half the galaxy on leave during the refit, and he never even got to say goodbye.

Bones stays silent, because after all this time he knows when and when not to use those empty words of clinical comfort, and finally gets up to fuss with something on the instrument panel overhead. Jim closes his eyes. "I guess it just never occurred to me they'd think this was enough to call it, Bones," he says quietly. "I know they've benched captains after missions like that last one, but I thought…I thought this was different, I thought I was different. I'm an idiot."

"You're not, Jim. Is it going to take you a while to recover, yeah. But six months, max, is what I said, before you should be completely done with physical therapy, and unless something drastically goes wrong there's no reason you shouldn't regain at least 85% mobility, which meets the standard for a command officer having an accommodation for partial disability."

He nods toward the shapeless masses encased in protective stasis fields which are Jim's hands for a minute, and kindly ignores his reaction to the d word. Bones has been the voice of calm ever since Jim woke up three days ago, and it's been appreciated, but he's so tired already of being treated like he's made of handblown glass.

Broken glass.

"And that's worst case scenario, not best case or the most likely case. Your psych scores are higher than anyone else's in the 'Fleet for a reason; they could send you back out once you're recovered and I'd have no problems certifying you fit to do the job. And believe me, I wouldn't be saying that if I didn't believe it. If you were gonna break you'd have done it by now. This, is overreaction, and we both know promoting you isn't anything but them covering their asses for almost getting you killed on that last mission."

He shivers, despite the fact that the room is plenty warm, and a twinge rolls like fire through his hands and arms. "I guess they think an Admiral doesn't need his hands as much as a captain in the long run," he says bitterly. "They'll probably give me an aide to dictate to, and if I'm lucky maybe they'll let me teach a few classes instead of sitting behind my desk all day, every day."

The two words after his posting heading in the memo are a death sentence to a command career, and his personal worst nightmare. Grounded, indefinitely. He might as well have been court martialed. It's a lurking, roiling pit of nausea in his stomach right now, as he refuses to think about the absolute hell of sheer, unending hopelessness that will be his life from now on. Refuses to think about it, because if he tries to comprehend the magnitude of its scope he is legit going to lose it right here, right now, and he can't afford to lose what shreds of dignity he may have left.

Gods, he's not even thirty-five years old yet.

Bones's eyes are just too sad, too knowing, and he can't stand them any more.

"Can you give me something so I can actually sleep in here for once?" he asks abruptly.

A sigh. "Most of what we'd recommend in a case like yours reacts badly with the regeneration drugs you're on, Jim. Neural regen can't be rushed, and it's a tricky mix combining the regen drugs with the bone marrow reproduction enhancer without adding something else onto that. I can give you something light, but it's only going to keep you out for a couple of hours and it's habit forming. This is the last time I can give it to you."

"I just want to sleep for a little while." Forever, actually, but he'll take what he can get right now and deal with the world later, whenever he wakes up.

At the moment, he really couldn't care less if he even does.


When he'd briefed everyone and told them this was to be their last mission of the five-year deep space assignment, he hadn't really meant that literally. As in last mission, ever.

Unfortunately, in true form to his peculiar monopoly on some unwritten bylaw under Murphy's Law, it's looking like it very well could and probably will be that, at least for him. By now the Enterprise will have been in contact with Starfleet Command bearing news of what's happened and asking for emergency instructions, and surely the brass will get their heads in the game knowing what's at stake and send out a rescue op before their so-charming hosts start on Spock and Uhura.

That's the main (read: only) reason he's hanging on right now; soon as he's dead, they'll move the interrogation on to Spock as his second in command, and his and Nyota's marriage was televidded across the galaxy as a publicity favor to the 'Fleet and interspecial ambassadorial relations just a few months ago. He's not about to put them in a position of having to choose between betraying Starfleet or saving each other. That thought is enough to give him one last thread of determination to stay alive when it would be a lot easier to just…stop.

This is the fourth day, and it's probably going to be his last. If he's lucky, Starfleet will intervene in the same way they negotiate with all terrorist cells: which is, not at all. He just has to get his people out before that starts.

At this point, the only negotiation this particular cell will understand is the business end of a photon torpedo, because they so far have only communicated in torture techniques that he thought went out of style a century ago; waterboarding, standard beating, even a diverting hour of shock tactics, fantastically unimaginative and all things they condition you for on the command track in hopes you never have to draw on that training to survive.

All, except the very creative session today, of strapping him to a table by his wrists and breaking every bone in his hands one by one, starting with fingers and working their way up.

He's probably never going to be able to look at a hammer again without wanting to throw up or pass out on the spot, but that's not likely to happen anyway since he's probably not going to get out of here, so. Silver linings.

When that hadn't gotten them the codes they need to override the Enterprise's transporter lockdown and then access everything in the 'Fleet database under his Priority One clearance -including the undeveloped plans for a Federation cloaking device and an experimental Type Seven phaser bank capable of wiping out half a planet in one full spread - they'd stopped being creative and just went back to traditional interrogation for the last hour. He has the boot prints on his ribcage as reassuring proof that they failed to extract any information from him, so there's that at least.

They apparently lost patience with him completely for the day at that point. Six hours has to be a new record. He tends to have that effect on people.

He must have really pissed one of them off, because they've wrenched his arms behind his back with his broken hands in stasis cuffs to prevent any escape attempt, and hello, overkill much. They also fire a couple of warning shots into the floor of the cell as it's being unlocked now to make sure neither Spock nor Uhura try anything, so something on one of their faces obviously scared somebody.

The plasma flash is blinding, and it startles him enough that he loses his balance, stumbling against the guard unlocking the door. He receives a hard elbow to the face for his pains and lands on his broken knee before he can shift his balance. Darkness immediately bursts in his vision, slowing into a murky, pain-hazed tunnel. He's vaguely aware of being hauled upright and then shoved a few feet forward into the hell-hole he'd been dragged out of just that morning, whereupon he decides he's had enough of standing on his remaining good limb and yeah, ground looks good.

The door slams shut then somewhere overhead, leaving only four-inch iron bars and hopelessness between them and escape. Over the ringing in his ears he hears Uhura yelling something after his new friends in a language he literally can't understand a word of, and he kind of wishes he could because it sounds really filthy and he'd like to remember it for his session tomorrow.

That crack he heard during the last hour's interrogation was almost definitely another rib breaking, which explains why it's so hard to breathe, and drawing his good knee up on his side trying to curl into a ball doesn't really help the pain; it's still sparking white-hot behind his eyes and radiating outward from his hands and wrists, which are both partly numb and feeling like there's a thousand knives slicing deep into the bone at the same time. His pulse is pounding so loud in his ears he can barely hear over the sound of his own stuttering breaths, but patches of sound filter through to tell him he's still alive at least. Good to know.

"My God, Spock, look at his hands. This is…inhuman."

"I believe they lack all empathic characteristics which characterize the species as a whole."

"Careful, careful! I don't think he's really with it yet."

Something cold on his forehead jolts him back to harsh reality, and he rears back in confusion at first, then breaks out in a clammy sweat as his stomach turns. His arms are still half-trapped underneath him and it's a claustrophobic, helpless feeling that makes him want to panic just a little.

"Easy, Captain." Uhura's voice is calm, matter-of-fact, as she sits back on her heels in front of him.

His eyes flicker around the cell briefly, a quick but thorough reconnaissance. He's lying mostly on his back with his bad leg carefully straightened in front of him and what looks like Spock's blue tunic in two pieces wrapped tightly around it for a decent support, and his hands aren't getting totally crushed for the moment underneath him because his head's resting on something several inches off the floor.

He shifts slightly to see, then can't entirely mask the pain that erupts deep inside; some of those kicks had hit in really unfortunate places, he's been in enough fights to know. A horrible barking cough suddenly pinches his midsection like a vise, and he curls up and proceeds to hack out a lung, tries not to die right there because, awkward.

And yeah, coughing blood is not a good sign. Neither is the fact that he's really not getting any oxygen here, despite someone holding his head still and saying something probably along the lines of breathing is good, we like breathing above the rapid pounding that's escalating in his head.

And there was something he needed to tell Spock, too, like ASAP, and he isn't going to get to do that if he can't. freaking. breathe...


Snatches of conversation come in like sparkly, hazy patches of comms transmissions, filtering in and out of foggy dreamland.

"-told you not to let him see his messages, Doctor! That was why!"

"You try entertainin' him when he can't so much as scratch his own nose, Lieutenant!"

Because they're warm and familiar and safe his brain seems to know he doesn't need to bother waking up fully, and just lingers somewhere in that happily drugged state between dozing and sleeping.

"—d'you mean you weren't able to talk to them? That's your job, Spock, you're First Officer for a reason! He was tortured for their goddamn security codes and they can't even be bothered to take his ship from him in person? Do you understand if we'd been twelve hours later they'd be awardin' that rank posthumously?"

Something screeches with a hideous sound that would have woken the dead, and Jim's not anywhere near that, thank you, and so he jolts awake with a startled noise that causes the pulse indicator over his head to shriek its displeasure to the entire room.

Frozen, three pairs of eyes turn his direction, and then Spock delicately puts a chair back in an upright position.

Bones snorts, but it looks like he's trying not to laugh instead of being irritated as he comes over to shut off the medical alarm. "Sorry, Jim. But you were about to wake up anyway, I have to decompressurize those fields and look at your hands."

"Goody," he rasps, wishing he could rub his eyes. It's the little things he misses the most, right now. He conjures up a smile for Uhura, who waves at him and then pops out into the hall for a second. Spock just gives him a tolerant half-shrug, as if to say don't ask me, I just work with you nutjobs.

He's glad for the distraction, though, as Bones lowers his hands from their stasis fields at his sides and begins the arduous task of removing the soft casts to inspect the surgical incisions and making sure the pins are still in place, checking the neural regeneration progress, etc. He doesn't even want to know everything they did, because the fact that they spent ten hours in operating on just his hands scares him and the fact that even in this advanced medical age it's going to take that long to repair the damage really freaking scares him.

Nyota comes back into the room, and he stares at her in horrified awe as she dumps what has to be the largest plush unicorn he's ever seen on the foot of his bed. It's at least three feet in length and a terrifying shade of electric blue, with a sparkly rainbow horn adding another foot onto its height. Its hot pink mane is already shedding fuzz everywhere.

"Dear God."

"Get that thing off of him while I've got a sterile field on."

"C'mon, Leonard, where's your sense of magic."

"Oh. My. God."

"I said get it off, it's distorting my scans. Not to mention blinding me, good Lord."

"Okay, okay. Here, Spock, hold him."

"I will not."

His comms chief – not his anymore, but he can pretend for a while, can't he? – rolls her eyes and dumps the monstrosity in an empty chair which she then wheels over right beside his head. He stares in fascination at the oversized plasticene eyes that look unblinkingly into his soul.

"I saw it in the Medical gift shop on our way up here, and thought it could keep you company," she says, patting the creature's pink mane. A small pouf of magenta fuzz flies up and sticks to her leather jacket, and he can't help but laugh.

To think there had ever been a time when this woman wanted to kick his ass for his inappropriateness, and when he deserved everything he got from her…that seems like a lifetime ago. They've all grown up so much in the last almost-decade, and he would be completely lost without them.

Will be lost without them.

Even if sometimes they're super annoying.

"Uh…thanks?"

She smiles, and he isn't sure whether to keep laughing or start crying a little when she pats his head briefly instead of the stupid unicorn. But overall it's done the trick; his hands are back in their casings and stasis fields and he didn't really even notice the examination.

"All done, Jim." A hand briefly clasps his ankle in encouragement. "You let me know when you need something though, okay? Not gonna be movin' those on their own for a while yet so you get the royal princess treatment."

"Nyota, flip Bones off for me, will you?"

She snorts, but obligingly does (with both hands, bless her), earning them both an eyeroll before his self-appointed physician moves across the room to talk to Spock out of their hearing.

"Seriously, though." She perches on the edge of the bed, and looks at him pointedly. "How are you really doing?"

He grins, shrugging as much as his stationary arms will let him. "I'm good."

"All these years, and you still think you can pull that with me? One of the languages I read is body language, you moron. Try again."

Glancing over at the two figures on the opposite side of the room, who are still conversing intently, he sighs, and finally looks back up at her. "Fine. Sometimes I think I just exchanged one kind of torture for another. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

Her hand tightens briefly on his shoulder, the only part of his arm that isn't encased in a stasis field close by his side, and she shakes her head, lips tight. "No, of course not," she says softly. "But just remember, we'd rather hear that, than not hear you at all."

He swallows hard, hearing what she isn't saying. "Understood."

"Spock has a meeting with the Admiralty this afternoon so we have to get going, but we'll be back, I promise. Talk to your therapy animal. Hug it out. Well, as best you can." She moves backward across the room, waving at him with both hands and smirking.

"I don't want your weird therapy unicorn!"

"Too bad," she calls over one shoulder, sing-song, as she tugs Spock toward the door.

He glares at the cheerful smile and dewy eyes of the plush monstrosity as the two of them leave, and ignores Bones's snort of laughter from across the room.

"Die in a fire," he tells the unicorn, and weirdly enough it actually makes him feel a little better.


He's starting to float into that slightly woozy land of Not Enough Oxygen when his chest loosens just a fraction, enough that he manages one hoarse, whistling breath, then another, but by then he's too out of it to do much more than let his eyes close and his head fall forward.

"That's a big negative. You just scared us half to death, you stay awake." Only Uhura would be so bitchy, and shake him when he's hurting. He is so not promoting her to Lieutenant-Commander if by some miracle he survives this. "Mm-hm, you can put me on report when we get back if you want. Come on, Jim. Quit mumbling, open your eyes."

His eyelids flutter unsteadily for a second before slitting open, and it's a little surprising to find that he's sitting up now, propped half against the wall and half against his First Officer, who is at least three shades paler than normal. And that's obviously saying a lot.

"There we go." Nyota's smile doesn't reach her eyes, but it's reassuring just the same, and given he probably won't see it again after today, he'll take it. And it's great that she's starting to take more of an active command role on missions; she's been working on her command training and it shows. "Look, we need a rundown of what we're looking at with you, Captain."

"'S not important," he says, and though his speech is slower than normal (hooray for head injuries) he's thinking clearer now that he actually has air. Funny how that helps.

"Uh, yeah, it is."

"No no no, listen. Spock." His First has that pinched look around the eyes that says he's freaking out like woah on the inside, but as always is the consummate Vulcan Starfleet officer and just nods for him to continue. "Six-one-four," he stops to breathe, and hopefully not start coughing again, "six-seven-one-four-six-two-four."

Spock blinks at him, mystified.

He nudges the guy lightly with a shoulder since he can't move his elbows. "That's the code for the door. Think you can-" he stops to take a breath, sways a little as the room wavers around him like a bad hologram, "-input it from this side, without seeing the keypad?"

Nyota stares at him with the best WTF expression he's seen since his toast to them on their wedding night three months ago.

"I didn't have the last four numbers, 'til today," he murmurs, leaning back against the wall. "Finally got our nasty friend t'knock me down, while he was inputting them."

Spock's arm slowly slides out from behind his back, and his XO looks as if he's staring at some weird new experiment that may or may not be a creepy new life-form ready to destroy the galaxy.

"'S a Delta Four security system, those were discarded two years back by the 'Fleet 'cause they're notoriously easy to hack. And they have stupid easy bypasses. Hit 9-9-9, then hold down the 1 for ten seconds. That'll let you bypass the retinal scan, after the unlocking sequence." He clenches his eyes shut for a minute, as his hands scream in pain when he moves. "They…the interrogation squad, usually take a couple hours, to clean up after a session…with me. So you two should be able to get down there, take them out before they know what hits them. Get some weapons at least." He re-opens his eyes and tries to smile. "I did my part, you got to come up with the rest. Sorry."

Nyota stares at him, and shakes her head. "You're insane. Sir."

"Been called worse. By you, actually, heh. But…look, Spock." He half-turns toward his First, then aborts that move as fire lances through his arms, slicing right up his spine into his skull. Stars spark in his vision, and he can almost feel his eyes starting to roll back in his head. He can't really tell at this point which of the two of them is holding him upright. "When you…get back to Enterprise. There's a safe, in my cabin. With a data-disk in it."

The hands on his shoulder and neck tighten suddenly to the point of being painful, so that explains which of them is keeping his head upright.

"It has –"

"I am aware of what it contains, Captain."

"I need you…t'make sure you listen to it."

"That will not be necessary."

"It is necessary. You two, and Bones, listen to it. Then destroy my security codes and clearance, wipe everything. I dunno if I've given them any information…but if they start with whatever this 'neural neutralizer' is they say they have, no amount of 'Fleet conditioning's going to stop me from spilling everything I know. And –"

"Captain, just shut up already. Spock, get the damn door open so we can burn this place to the ground. Yes, I've got him, now go."

He can't tell if he's lost time due to unconsciousness, or if his vision is just clearing from the pain wave. Something shifts underneath him, careful not to jostle his abused hands as he half-leans back against the wall. "Wait…why're you still here?" he asks, frowning. That wasn't enough time to get down the hall and back. Or did they not leave yet?

"Moron." She says fondly, rubbing his shoulder with a gentleness she rarely shows, and will probably totally deny if anyone calls her on it. "I do need you front and center a little more than you are, though." He blinks for a second, and then the words register; they're a stark reminder of just how very far he's fallen; and even worse, how much he really doesn't care at the moment that he's not interested in taking charge of this failed mission or really in even coming back from it.

"Nyota. I have a shattered kneecap and at least two broken ribs, you have nothing to get these stasis cuffs off with. And even if you could, I wouldn't be able to hold a phaser or anything else; I might not be able to ever again, for that matter. I certainly can't walk, and while you are by far the most kickass woman I've ever met you can't carry me. I need Spock to get the hell out of here and signal the Enterprise, not be dragging dead weight." He closes his eyes again. "Don't make me have to order you to do the sensible thing, Lieutenant."

"You are relieved pending medical examination, sir, so at the moment I outrank you. Feel free to order me to do whatever you like if it makes you feel any better." Her eyes flash dark fire at him in the half-darkness. "But in five minutes you're going to suck it up and leave here with the rest of us, because you are so not going to stick Spock with this terrorist mess on our last mission two weeks out from Earth. Don't be a tool, Jim."

He blinks at her for a minute in silence, and then laughs. It comes out more as a drunken snort-cough, but it wakes him up enough to realize he doesn't want to abandon ship just yet. He loves this crew too much for that.

Unfortunately, his body may have other plans in the long run. His hands are almost completely numb now from the wrist down, and he knows enough about medicine to know that means serious damage.

"So think those happy thoughts, okay? While we…uh." She breaks off abruptly, and Jim looks up to see the reason for her silence.

The door's wide open and Spock's gone.

Ooookay…

Thirty seconds later, from down the corridor there's a sudden blinding flash and a sonic boom that shakes the entire foundation of the cell, sending a trickle of dust down the corners of the room.

"Jesus, what the –"

"I'm guessing he just overloaded one of their plasma rifles. Improvised grenade. That's what I would've done."

"Niiiiice. Little overkill, but nice."

"He's very thorough."

He smirks. "Is he now."

"I will hit you, so help me, I don't care if you're handcuffed."

He doesn't even have time to laugh because ten seconds later, Spock reappears in the doorway, hair just barely askew, and aims a sonic deconstructor at the stasis cuffs. The fact that Jim can't feel them fall off is not a good sign, and judging from the look exchanged between his two XOs, they know that as well as he does.

Spock then tosses one of two remaining weapons to Uhura, who catches it midair. "I require you to clear a path out of this establishment," he says shortly.

"I do love it when you talk dirty, ashal-veh," she replies, grinning, and cocks the rifle. "Now pick up his royal highness and let's make this place a crater."

"I may throw up on you," he warns as his numb arm is pulled around his First's neck and the floor turns upside down. Probably neither of those a good thing.

"I would prefer you did not."

"Picky, picky," he mutters, clenching his teeth on a scream as his shattered kneecap protests quite vehemently against gravity taking effectagain.

He doesn't remember a whole lot after that, and from what Bones says about what the rescue party found when they landed barely in time…it's probably better that way.

Better for him, anyway. Not better for the compound his scarily competent XOs apparently wiped off the map before Starfleet arrived.


He'd spent an hour amusing himself telling the stupid unicorn about why he's sick of sleeping in Medical because he never has slept well on his back and the nightmares have just been insane, like come on, he should be over this by now, and then ended up taking an impromptu nap that was, for the first time in over a week, free of any vision more terrifying than Bones accidentally waking him up during a vitals check. He'd promptly tried to roll over and go back to sleep, swore at the unicorn in Klingon (it didn't mind) upon remembering the hard way that he's sleeping on his back for the foreseeable future, and dropped back off without further incident.

Go figure.

Now, several hours later, he's situated fairly comfortably upright in the bed, listening to a book being read from his padd and wishing it was someone a little more interesting than le idiot stupide. But this is just easier than verbally telling the padd to turn the page every time, so Most-Boring-Voice-on-the-Planet it is.

He's debating trying to comm one of the crew and see if he can wheedle ship's news out of them despite their orders to keep him in the dark, when an incoming transmission from Starfleet Headquarters pops up on the padd. Startled, he takes a minute to squirrel into a position with his legs drawn up so that he can rest the instrument against them, and clears his throat, hoping he doesn't look as rough as he feels.

"Accept transmission, voice recognition Kirk, James T., currently on medical leave."

The screen fritzes for a second and then fades into the weathered features of Admiral Decker, one of the youngest on the Board (meaning late middle-aged instead of in his seventies and half-deaf) and one that Jim actually hasn't (to his knowledge) personally pissed off over the last few years.

"Admiral, to what do I owe the pleasure?" he asks politely.

Decker squints at him. "Kirk, you look like hell."

He snorts. "Sir, you'll pardon my frankness but I've been through it. That's old news and I doubt the reason for your call."

The man raises an eyebrow. "Well, I see where your crew gets the attitude from. Do you have any idea the chaos you've caused in Command Central the last eight hours, Captain?"

The heck is he talking about. "Uh…you're going to have to give me more than that, Admiral."

"Don't play dumb with me, Kirk."

"I'm not playing, sir. I've been asleep most of the last six hours, as Doctor McCoy can attest, and here in bed reading the other two. Not like I can do much else," he adds dryly, swinging one of his useless hands into view of the screen. "What, exactly, have I done now?"

Decker's eyes narrow, as if trying to ascertain the truth of his words. "You seriously have no idea?"

"Do I have to take a truth test or what?" He is beyond caring about his tone now. "I have absolutely no clue what you're talking about, Admiral. Beyond the single memo I saw in my inbox this morning, dated a week ago and telling me I was losing my ship and being 'promoted' to a ground posting for the foreseeable future, I've heard absolutely nothing from Command after being emergency-shuttled back to Terra after the last mission went straight to hell because we were given bad information in our mission briefing. Sir."

Decker leans back in his chair, fingers tapping on the desk. Oddly enough, he seems to look amused rather than irritated. "Your attitude could use some work, Captain."

"So I've been told." He exhales slowly, closes his eyes for a moment to pull himself back together. He is still a Starfleet officer, even if he wishes he were not right now, and he will behave like one and not like a spoiled child. Finally he opens them again, and continues calmly. "What is it that I've supposedly done now, sir."

"Well, apparently you legitimately had no idea, which was the purpose of my call, finding out if you knew anything about it or put them up to it." Decker laughs, shaking his head. "I should have known."

He is not on enough drugs to deal with this.

"Should have known about what, Admiral?"

"More about that in a minute, Kirk. First order of business first: stop feeling sorry for yourself, because your promotion's been rescinded, effective upon your reinstatement from medical leave of absence."

The heart monitor over his head stutters alarmingly as he stares at the screen, brain refusing to process that for a second.

Decker smiles. "We made a very hasty decision, Kirk, based upon what we thought would be best for the 'Fleet as a whole and the fact that this is not the first time you've been personally targeted for classified information by terrorist groups or other enemies of the Federation. But since then, other…factors, have come to light which have changed our minds on the matter."

The hell they have. "Sir, I find that hard to believe," he says, still not quite believing his ears. He doesn't have this kind of luck; he has exactly the opposite. "What factors, exactly, if I may ask?"

Decker folds his arms and leans back in his chair. "Your entire command staff walked into Starfleet Headquarters and resigned their commissions this afternoon, Kirk," he says dryly. "For the first time in seventy-five years, a mass exodus of over forty senior officers from a ship that size, especially the Federation's flagship, is enough to make even that bunch of self-important bureaucrats sit up and take notice."

What.

"What," he says feebly.

"And let's see, how did that First Officer of yours put it…" Decker clicks through a couple pages on his padd. "Ah. When told by the Board if he reconsidered, and was able to convince the senior staff at least to do the same, that he would be given captaincy of the Enterprise with no questions asked, said, and I quote: 'were I human, Admirals, I believe my response would be, Go to Hell. If I were human.'"

He totally blames the drugs for giggling like an idiot, unable to even hide it since he can't really move his hands.

"Command has been scrambling to do damage control all afternoon and finally decided to get their heads out of their asses and do the right thing," Decker continues, with what looks like a genuine smile. "Get your people under control, Kirk, do you understand?"

"Aye, sir."

"The refit of the Enterprise-A will take approximately five months, and at that time you will be medically evaluated for captaincy."

"That's fair enough, Admiral."

"Good. Now for pity's sake, track down your people and get them to re-sign so we don't have to deal with that, will you?"

"I think I can handle that. Or delegate it to Commander Spock."

Decker rolls his eyes. "You do that. We will be in touch, Kirk. Decker out."

The transmission window closes, and his eyes drift aimlessly from the blank screen as his brain slowly gets up to speed with what just happened.

Barely has he time to realize how much his life has changed in just the space of a few hours when suddenly the door of his room slides open and an almost frightening horde of people swarm in from the hallway with a barrage of noisy chatter. He smells food too, real food, not those nasty hospital ration cubes. Bones was able to take him off all the machines earlier this afternoon and clear him to eat solids so he's starving. They know him too well.

"Hey, Captain!" Sulu gives him a friendly tug on the ankle before plopping down into one of the chairs by the foot of the bed and putting his own feet up on the edge. "We brought dinner."

"If you weren't a married man, Mr. Sulu…"

"You'd be at the top of the list, sir."

"I'm flattered." He grins as Chekov bounces up to the head of the bed and waves at him like a particularly enthusiastic puppy having learned a new trick. "Did you bring something good to drink too, Mr. Chekov?"

"Not for you, Princess," Bones smacks his leg as he walks by, taking off his lab coat and tossing it in the sanitizing chute. "Not if you want drugs later."

"Keptin, what is this?"

"Therapy unicorn," he replies solemnly. "You can hug him if you want, Pavel, I share."

Uhura snorts, hip-checking their young navigator out of the way to push a bedside tray up to the bed. "Scoot, Chekov. Take the unicorn with you so Spock has somewhere to sit."

"Aye, sir. Ma'am. I mean…da, I go." Jim laughs as the animal disappears somewhere on the floor at the foot of the bed.

"So, figured the milkshake wouldn't be an issue," she says matter-of-factly, and produces a crazy bendy straw that looks like three feet long from somewhere. He laughs, because she's awesome, and there is no way he's letting anyone feed him, thank you.

"But we thought y'might be a bit too stubborn for someone to jus' feed ye a sandwich or two, sir," Scott drawls from the foot of the bed, where he's already gnawing on a submarine of his own.

"Yeah, I'm not real big on the whole airplane noises thing."

"So, McCoy's grabbing one of the robotic arms from the surgical practice labs, they basically aren't good for anything but just sitting there holding spare surgical instruments."

He cocks his head, puzzled.

"Chicken kebabs," Uhura says succinctly, shaking the thin container. "Had to make a special stop just for you, your majesty."

"Or you could just catch," Sulu calls, and tosses a moderately-sized French fry up in a high arc at his head. "I said we should just get something small like 'tater tots and feed you like a dolphin, but the Commander had to be a party pooper and veto that."

Snorting a laugh, he catches the fry flawlessly in his mouth just as Bones returns to the room.

"What are you, a bunch of twelve-year-olds?! You know how easy it is to choke on something, playin' games like that?"

"Not if you do it right," he mumbles, between bites. He winks at Sulu, and as soon as Bones turns around to pick up the robotic arm another one flies through the air. This one unfortunately hits him in the eye, and he has to just blink through salt-hazed tears as Bones glares at him amid a chorus of muffled laughter.

"So, I got a really interesting call a few minutes ago from Starfleet Command," he mentions casually, as the robotic arm is set up in front of his face.

"Hmmm?" Bones's tone is carefully neutral as he adjusts the angle, and Uhura is very busy selecting the right size of kebab for the first experiment.

"Yeah, something about you telling a Board of Admirals what they can do with themselves, Spock?"

Chekov chokes on a French fry with a high-pitched wheeze.

Spock's doing like a full-body blush, it's hilarious. "That is not what was said," he replies primly.

"Please, do clarify for me."

Uhura clamps the robotic clip around the wooden skewer and shoves it vaguely in the direction of his mouth. "Leave him alone and eat your food."

"Here now, lassie, I'd like ta hear this too. We got a verra watered-down version from your husband, it seems."

"Seriously, though, did you all actually resign your commissions? Like, the whole command chain, even your people?" he asks, as he cautiously attempts the improvised food system like an awkward, oversized bird. But the chicken slides right off the skewer, and it's at least not someone helping him. Ten points to Communications and Robotics.

"It was a calculated bluff, Captain." Uhura sits down beside Spock in the last chair, munching on a French fry. "There hasn't been a strike like that in decades, and they were bound to take notice if the entire upper command chain of a starship all went at once. And we never mandated it with our departments; they were more than willing to take the risk once we explained what had happened. Your people love you, for some weird reason. Don't ask me why."

"What would you have done if they hadn't caved and let you back, though!"

"Oh, they are letting us back, then?"

"Time and place, Scotty." Uhura eye-rolls and hands him another sandwich.

Spock offers him an eyebrow-shrug. "The New Vulcan Science Academy has an ongoing need for personnel aboard its exploratory vessels, as most Vulcans still wish to remain planetside for the continued rebuilding of the colony. I have no doubt we would have found stations there if desiring to serve in that capacity."

"Personally, I was just planning on you going rogue and us signing on as pirates, Captain."

"Da, Hikaru is correct, my money was on that. I am just a leetle disappointed, myself."

"Y'all are headcases, is my opinion, but that's never mattered before. James Tiberius, you chew your food or so help me God I will put you back on a feeding tube!"

"Geez, Doc, have you slept at all, in the last couple days?" Sulu eyes their CMO warily over top of his sandwich.

"You want to get banned from this room, Lieutenant?"

"Guys," he interjects, frowning. "Chill. He's right, Bones. Every time I've woken up at night – which is a lot, not gonna lie – you've been here, awake, with me. That's not okay."

"I'm not havin' this argument with you, you're on medical leave and I outrank you right now, captain or not." Bones smirks, and waves a hypospray at him threateningly before returning to his own sandwich.

He rolls his eyes and turns his head. "Take him home with you, yeah?"

Spock lifts a long-suffering eyebrow. "If we must. Sir."

Uhura snorts, covering the sound and a grin with her hand.

"Be careful, though, he's kind of like one of those molds that just won't go away once it's inside. Do not hit me with that, I don't need it right now!" He moves as far away from the threatening hypo as he can.

Nyota smiles. "You'd be more than welcome, Leonard. We haven't been sleeping that much ourselves," she says quietly.

Though he's well aware they are likely having the same nightmares he is, he grins evilly from around a piece of chicken. "Ooh, c'mon, I want details. I never did see honeymoon pictures because of that stupid peace conference on Organia."

"Leonard. Give me that hypo."

"I was joking!"

"With pleasure, Lieutenant. Get him right in the jugular, he can't stop you without hands."

"Spock, help me out here, buddy."

"If you think I am going to give you said 'details,' Captain, you are sadly mistaken."

"I meant with the drugs, not your kinky Vulcan it-is-a-matter-of-biology, even I'm not that – ow!"

"Is he always this whiny, Leonard?"

"Every. Damn. Time."

"You guys suck," he mutters, vaguely aware of Chekov and Sulu helping Scotty pick up the remains of the meal and scurrying away with promises to return tomorrow for a status update about the ship. He is way more excited about that than he's able to show, thanks to the drugs, but they don't seem to mind.

"You good, Jim?" Somewhere in this hazy last few minutes, Bones has removed everything from around his bed and reset the monitors so they won't wake him up tonight.

"Gimme my unicorn," he mumbles.

He hears Uhura's laugh somewhere near the door.

"Ugh. What in the name of all that's sensible are you gonna do with this thing all night?" A whumph, and it lands in the chair next to the bed, where it stares at him mournfully.

"Don't judge me."

A soft laugh over his head, and the lights dim. "Look, I got my comm on me, so if anything happens I can be back here in ten minutes, Jim. Okay?"

"Go, Bones. Get some sleep." He makes a sad little shoo motion with one foot toward the door. Bones frowns, and fusses with the blanket. Finally nods, pats his ankle once and then moves away to sign out of his computer terminals.

Jim blinks in the dim light, and yeah, that is Spock lurking in the shadows like a weirdo. He turns his head on the pillow.

"Hey. You okay?" he asks quietly.

"That is the inquiry we should be making of you, Captain."

"And that's not an answer to my question. I'm drugged, not stupid, Spock. You want to sit down?"

Across the room, he sees Nyota propel Bones out into the hall with a firm push and then disappear behind him.

"I do not believe that would be wise. You are in need of rest and so are Nyota and Doctor McCoy."

"Fair enough, but I'm worried about you too, y'know. And your wife just bailed on you, so I'm pretty sure she wants you to deal with your issues. Boot the unicorn and have a seat, Commander."

Spock eyes the animal with an almost hilarious disdain, before removing it to the floor and gingerly taking its chair.

"Great. Now, much as it totally made my day, actually it made my year, to hear that story, it's not like you to lose it in front of a bunch of humans. Even asshole humans."

"Circumstances were…extenuating." He tries not to smile, because that sounded almost…pouty, is the only word he can think of to describe it.

"I'm not debating that. I just…we never did talk about what happened, and you haven't really stuck around much while I've been here in Medical..."

Spock's voice is almost inaudible, and he isn't meeting Jim's eyes anymore. "My apologies."

"Dude, I wasn't saying that to make you feel bad, I'm not a child who needs a babysitter. Shut up, I am not. Anyway, that last mission got really, really ugly, and then I got evac-ed right off the planet and we never debriefed afterwards since I never went back to the Enterprise. And the last thing we need, as a team, is to not be on the same page. That's all I'm saying."

"I have nothing to discuss regarding the mission."

Ughhhhh, it's like trying to get a pearl out of an Aldebaran shellmouth. "All right then. But…look, if you need something you have to tell me, I'm not in a position right now to read you very well. Okay?"

He really, really wishes he had his hands right now, because Spock just looks sort of like a miserable wet cat all huddled up under a bush hiding because it doesn't understand why it's pouring rain, and it's not a good look on him. If Jim knows him very well, and he does, he's been the firm and strong commander he needed to be the last two weeks while the crisis was unfolding aboard ship and ashore, and that was all after Jim had nearly died right in front of both him and Nyota before they finally made it off that cursed planet.

Now that the last part of the drama is over, he's probably coming down hard from that adrenaline, and Jim knows what that feels like, the burden of command crashing down and burying you under the rubble. And that's without the additional nightmare of seeing someone you care about being repeatedly tortured for days before Starfleet manages to get themselves in gear and put out a rescue op.

"You know I'm only still here because of you and Nyota, right?" he says quietly.

"That is highly debatable."

"Well, I'm not here to debate it, but is that what's bothering you? Or is it the violence you had to do – or I guess didn't have to do, chose to do – in order to get me out? Or are you just freaking out because, gods forbid, you actually might have let your human side show a little in front of the crew and Starfleet these last couple of weeks?"

"I…" Dark eyes look up at him, pained and uncertain. "I do not know."

That's probably a circle letter D for all of the above.

"Well." He squirms into a slightly more comfortable position, wincing as the stasis fields prevent his arms from moving. Spock stops him with a gentle gesture, and reaches for the bed controls, elevating his head a fraction. "Thanks. I was just going to say, if you want you can spend the night here. If you think it'll help."

"Why would it 'help', when I do not know in what I require assistance."

"It'd help me," he admits, without a trace of shame. After all this time, there's no reason for it. "You're not the only one waking up at night seeing that cell, you know."

"I…you may have a point."

"I usually do."

"But Nyota –"

"Has probably already gone home. Didn't you see my padd light up a minute ago? Check it for me, yeah?"

Spock takes the instrument from the bedside table and glances at it, raises an eyebrow and then turns it for him to read.

Leonard and I are going to break out a bottle of wine and braid my hair or something, IDK. Make him talk to you, please? N.

"We all have such a weird relationship, you know that?"

"Indeed." Spock shakes his head, lips twitching suspiciously. "As it would appear I am now without transportation, I will accept your offer."

He smiles, but he's actually exhausted and a yawn soon chases the amusement away. "There's a fold-out bed in Bones's office if you're tired, Spock, I'm not trying to force you to do anything."

"I am not in need of sleep at the moment. But you are, Jim."

"Yeah, honestly, I am. I'll be glad when this regen is done and I can get off those drugs, they're killer." He blinks sleepily up at the ceiling. "You can use that to get some work done if you want, just log me out of the database so Bones doesn't think I'm on there and have a fit in the morning."

Spock raises an eyebrow, fingers flying over the screen. "You have been working while on leave."

"Not really, it's not like I can do much other than have the stupid thing read my messages to me and take down my responses." He yawns again, eyes slipping closed. "And just FYI, all the audio books in the Medical resident library? Super boring dude reading them. It should be a crime, what he's done to their classical poetry."

"That is unfortunate."

"Yeah." He closes his eyes and shifts uncomfortably back to a resting position. He will be so glad when he can move his arms again; he's never liked sleeping on his back or feeling helpless.

A soft sound a few moments later rouses him from a drugged half-doze, and he mumbles what he hopes resembles a noise of what combined with this better be good.

"My apologies. I was merely inquiring after the content of your literary selection."

"Mmmyeah. Used to read those when I was a kid. I was a weird kid, Spock."

"That, I do not doubt. However, I suspect it had little to do with your literary proclivities."

"Screw you." He smiles without opening his eyes. "Well, go ahead and pick something, read to me."

Awkward shifting. "I am not –"

"Doing anything of paramount importance right now, no. C'mon, Spock. It'll put me to sleep and then I'll be out of your hair; and it might help you chill out a little bit."

"Vulcanian poetry is nothing like Terran poetry; the constructs are usually without precise structure, the content completely illogical, and the –"

"Oh my God, shut up. It's poetry, it's not supposed to be logical. It's supposed to make you feel something. Supposed to speak to you. Find something that could speak to both of us and look at it as a…xenosociological experiment or something. Whatever."

He hears a tolerant sigh, and he's well aware that if he were not less than a week out from death's door he would never be able to get away with this. But after a moment of clicking through the selections, Spock settles back in the chair and begins to read, and he finds himself drifting off almost immediately, a smile on his face.

The future's full of possibilities, and despite everything that's happened recently…his life couldn't be much closer to perfect.

-0-

The Light of Stars, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The night is come, but not too soon;
And sinking silently,
All silently, the little moon
Drops down behind the sky.

There is no light in earth or heaven
But the cold light of stars;
And the first watch of night is given
To the red planet Mars.

Is it the tender star of love?
The star of love and dreams?
O no! from that blue tent above,
A hero's armor gleams.

And earnest thoughts within me rise,
When I behold afar,
Suspended in the evening skies,
The shield of that red star.

O star of strength! I see thee stand
And smile upon my pain;
Thou beckonest with thy mailed hand,
And I am strong again.

Within my breast there is no light
But the cold light of stars;
I give the first watch of the night
To the red planet Mars.

The star of the unconquered will,
He rises in my breast,
Serene, and resolute, and still,
And calm, and self-possessed.

And thou, too, whosoe'er thou art,
That readest this brief psalm,
As one by one thy hopes depart,
Be resolute and calm.

O fear not in a world like this,
And thou shalt know erelong,
Know how sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong.


Spock's statement to the Admiralty is actually his advice to Captain Kirk at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when they're told to return to Earth for the Enterprise's final decommission, and therefore is the last on-screen moment they share together in the TOS timeline.

The adjectival form of Vulcan, Vulcanian, is used occasionally in TOS but has since been rejected as an obsolete term; I use it occasionally just for variety.

Kudos and my hat off to you if you spot the half-dozen other TOS/occasional TAS references. Like most Trekkies, I regard TAS as not true TOS canon, but pull from it occasionally when it suits the story.