?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Star Trek (reboot) fic: Taking Responsibility 3/3

November 4th, 2016 (02:41 pm)
listless

feeling: listless

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



In space, it was hard to keep track of time. That had been one of the biggest adjustments for him, because morning never felt like morning without the sun shining through the east windows in his mother’s house. He’d learned to rely heavily on computer generated alarms and reminders, using those for the natural cues to eat, sleep and conduct a shift change.


The fresh air, the sunlight -- it was actually sort of nice, in a way.


But in most other ways, all it meant was that he was more keenly aware of how the seconds were passing while he was unable to come up with any solution to save his crew any faster.


In this, the day lingered. The seconds trudged by slowly. Hours were eternities, and despite his deadlines and bravado, he had no means to back up anything he said. At all.


The only reason no one would call him on it was because it wouldn’t do any good.


None of it would do a damn bit of good.


So Uhura worked; Spock obeyed. Scotty slept, and Sulu watched on. Chekov laid still and placid while McCoy fussed.


And all Jim could do was watch.


It was nearly midday when Jim approached McCoy again, watching absently for a moment while Sulu started to gather rations for lunch. McCoy was checking Chekov’s vitals again, though it was impossible to see if he was pleased by the outcome or not. His face, since crashing, was set in an even more obtrusive scowl than normal.


“Is no news good news?” Jim asked. He didn’t dare be hopeful, but McCoy’s dour disposition was impossible not to offset.


“His breathing is getting worse,” he said, sounding cross. He picked up Chekov’s hand, feeling for the pulse at his wrist. “But I think he should be waking up soon.”


That was news. Jim came closer, sitting down across from McCoy with interest. “Really?”


Bones rested the ensign’s arm down again. “He’s showing more signs of consciousness at any rate,” he said, pausing to fuss with the bandages over Chekov’s chest. They’d tried to treat the burns from the wires, but the singed skin was still visible. “That should mean that he hasn’t suffered catastrophic damage.”


“So that is good news,” Jim said, allowing himself to brighten.

McCoy gave him a scathingly cautious look. “Don’t start counting your blessing just yet,” he warned. “Like I said, his breathing is getting worse. Not to mention the fact that I think your chief engineer is starting to get septic, and your head injury looks worse than Sulu’s.”


“I know, I know,” Jim said, letting his eyes rest on Chekov’s still features. He already knew that Scotty needed a stronger course of antibiotics within 12 hours. He already knew that his own aching head was probably worse than he was willing to admit to. He already knew. “But at this point, I’ll take any good news I can get.”


For a moment, McCoy was silent, studying his hands. “You make it sound so simple.”


Jim forced a smile. “Only because you make it so hard.”


McCoy drew his mouth closed and looked up again. “I’m just trying to make sure you understand the risks,” he said. “Every time I turn around, you want to go gallivanting off into unknown danger--”


“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jim said. “Since when do I gallivant?”


“Since I first smuggled you onto the Enterprise in the first place!” McCoy said. He lowered his voice, leaning closer with a more secretive air. “I think it’s my fault sometimes, that you think you’re invincible.”


Jim scoffed. “Me? Invincible?”


“You got another reason that you keep willingly risking your life so easily?” McCoy asked.


“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Jim said. “Besides, you’ve been by my side every time. And don’t act like you haven’t had a choice in the matter, because you do.”


McCoy drew back, duly chagrined. “Well, someone has to be there to help you pick up the pieces.”


“You love it, and you know it,” Jim said, reiterating the familiar line between the two of them. This was what they did, McCoy and Jim. This was who they had been when all this started. A lot had changed, but not that. Swallowing hard against the memories, his levity faltered. “And you know I appreciate it.”


“Do you?” McCoy snapped back, almost predictably annoyed.


“Bones--”


McCoy sighed. “I’m just trying to make sure you know the risks--”


“I’ve always known the risks--”


McCoy didn’t let him finish. “--of going off on this job with a crew that will follow you into danger, no matter what.”


It was Jim’s turn to be chagrined.


McCoy blew out another long breath. “The risk is never just yours anymore,” he said. “It’s all of ours.”


“I never--”


“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty,” McCoy interrupted. “If anything, it’s the opposite. I want you to know, we all made this choice. All of us.” He looked away, cheeks flushing. “Even me.”


It was the loyalty that got him. Loyalty he wasn’t sure he’d ever really earned. Loyalty he didn’t think he truly deserved.


Loyalty he couldn’t live without.


“Bones--”


The doctor made a gruff sound in the back of his throat, quickly busying himself with his scant supplies. “Anyway--”


They lapsed into silence, a little uncomfortable. Jim wasn’t sure what would come next, but then he didn’t have to.


Between them, Chekov shifted. He lifted a hand, letting it fall back down, before turning his head. He groaned as his eyes fluttered opened.


Dumbfounded as he was, McCoy beat him to it, already on his knees, closer to Chekov as he rapidly checked for signs of awareness.


Chekov blinked hazily under the barrage, and only when his eyes landed on Jim’s did the captain feel something deeply held unclench in his chest.


“Captain,” Chekov said, strained and scratchy, accented into oblivion and still clear as day.


Jim’s smile split his face. “Ensign.”


Chekov rallied for another second, while Jim looked up, beaming at McCoy.


“See?” he said, triumphantly despite the fact that this wasn’t a victory he could claim any responsibility for. He’d take it, though. Without any second thoughts. “Good news.”


Bones shook his head. “Whatever you say,” he muttered, picking up his gear to examine Chekov more thoroughly. “You still crashed the ship.”


“Oh, come on, Bones,” Jim said with a smirk. “That is so yesterday’s news.”


-o-


Jim waited long enough for McCoy to do his examine.


Barely.


He was almost chomping at the bit, hovering over the scene just waiting for his chance to reassure his youngest senior staff member


Or to be reassured by him.


Either way.


“Hey, you gave us quite a scare there,” Jim said, hoping he sounded effortlessly carefree. He’d settle for not stressed out and panicked.


The navigator managed a smile, though it was clear that he was in pain as he took lilting gasps. “Captain.”


“If you were mad that I crashed the ship, there were better ways to express it,” Jim said. “You didn’t have to destroy what was left of that thing.”


“Ah,” Chekov said, eyes twinkling a little. “Why should you have all the fun?”


Jim chuckled, nodding his head. “There’s enough ship for everyone to crash,” he agreed. “But maybe next time we try somewhere a little less remote. For a navigator, you certainly didn’t plan this one out.”


Chekov chuffed, chest rising and falling with stunted movements. “Just -- following orders.”


“Point taken,” Jim said. He hesitated, trying not to let his facades fall. “We did, you know.”


“Crashed the ship?” Chekov asked, brow furrowed in confusion.


“No, we got the part,” he said. “Uhura and Spock almost have the transceiver up and running.”


It wasn’t so much a lie as it was a hopeful exaggeration. They were close, although the relative nature of such a distinction could have been entirely irrelevant. There was no need to say that, though. There was no need to paint his crew’s sacrifice as superfluous.


“We’ll be out of here in no time,” he continued with resounding enthusiasm. “Get you to a real hospital with some real pain meds. How’s that sound?”


Chekov shifted slightly, giving a profound grimace. He blinked a few times, as if to stave off the wetness building there and swallowed with difficulty. “They’ll give us another ship?”


“What?” Jim asked.


Chekov blinked again, more earnest than before. Although he was awake, his pallor was steadily worsening with gray undertones in his lips and cheeks. “We’ll get another ship soon? This -- this wasn’t our last -- chance?”


The innocence of it was one thing. The passion in it was another. They all loved what they did, every last one of them, even Bones. There was a reason they’d all agreed readily to this test flight. But to see an officer who was so badly hurt still fixated on the possibility of traveling among the stars -- it was almost too much.


Because what would this passion cost them?


And how could Jim live with himself when they all went in with no regrets?


Would he be the only one left standing?


Would he be the one to carry the regrets when all else was lost?


There were so many questions, but still, only one answer to give.


“Of course,” Jim said, giving an almost indignant scoff of confidence. “Best crew in Starfleet? What do you think they’re going to do?”


Injured and weak as he was, Chekov smiled. “Very good, sir.”


The ensign was growing tired again, and Jim held his gaze for another second before drawing back slightly. He wanted to stay close, in case Chekov needed the contact, but he also wanted to give the younger man ample opportunity to rest.


Then, from across the camp, he heard a cheer. Startled, he looked up, fearing the worse out of reflex.


But, even from across the way, Uhura was smiling, waving her splinted wrist toward her captain.


“We got it!” she declared. “We got a signal!”


The news was almost too good to believe. He reached down, patting Chekov gently on the shoulder. “See?” he said as the ensign’s wide eyes followed him. “Our luck is starting to turn already.”


-o-


He was next to Uhura in less than five seconds.


It took him another three to remember that he was the captain here, and he had a responsibility to carry himself professional.


But what the hell.


“So?” he asked, eyebrows up as he rocked anxiously up on his heels. “So?”


“So,” Uhura said, almost beaming now. “Spock’s talked to the USS Kennedy right now.”


“The Kennedy?” Jim asked, and this time he let himself get his hopes up. “Right now?”


“They’ve been in the sector since our signal went down yesterday,” she said. “But with reduced scanning capabilities in this area, they’ve had to do intensive grid searches, which is why it’s taken them so long.”


Jim nodded along, somewhat enthusiastically. “But we can give them coordinates, right?”


Uhura’s smile widened. “But we gave them coordinates,” she confirmed. “They should be here within a few hours.”


“One,” Spock called down. “They now have a lock on our position, and they estimate that they should be able to plot a course and navigate through the atmosphere for a rescue within one hour.”


Spock was a Vulcan, but even he sounded pretty damn chipper.


Jim rubbed his hands together, looking from Uhura to the others. Sulu had been tasked to watch Scotty, checking his breathing and his temperature. McCoy was unmoving in his position next to Chekov. One hour.


“Okay, let’s get things packed up and ready to,” he said. “When our rescue arrives, I intend to be ready.”


-o-


Honestly, there wasn’t a lot to get together.


At least, nothing that Jim remotely cared about. The salvage had been mostly survival rations, which was already neatly organized and easy to transport. They’d managed to save some other equipment, though most of it seemed pointless to Jim now. He didn’t doubt that Starfleet would send a team back later to scavenge what remained of the ship. They’d want to verify what happened and determine exactly how the ship went down.


As a point of intellectual curiosity, it had some merit. Jim understood the need.

He just didn’t care.


The ship had gone down; all Jim wanted was to take his crew back up.


Sometimes success in the mission was all about defining the goalposts, and Jim Kirk was unabashedly okay with determining that to his own personal satisfaction, Starfleet be damned.


He made sure Sulu was still alert, and he told Uhura to spot Spock as he maintained his position in the tree to keep an open line of communication. He roused Scotty enough to make sure his engineer was still cognizant before checking in with McCoy and Chekov.


Truth be told, Jim was expecting more good news.


McCoy’s face told another story. Rigid and lined with worry, the doctor was bent over the ensign with attentive concern.


Chekov’s face told an even more worrying one. On the ground, the navigator was ashen, mouth open as he gasped for air that he never seemed able to appreciate. He gaped, a little like a fish out of water, and Jim realized that his good luck streak had been more than a little short lived.


Face pinched, McCoy looked up at him. “How long did you say we had to wait?”


“An hour,” Jim said. “Less now.”


McCoy exhaled heavily while Chekov labored for air. He shook his head, even grimmer than before. “An hour’s too long.”


You won some.


You lost more.


-o-


As a captain, you had to be a bit of a jack of all trades. While his engineering knowledge still left something to be desired, it was his medical know-how that was really subpar. This was not entirely his fault, either. McCoy, for all that he was an excellent doctor, wasn’t big on teaching, and honestly, when someone got hurt, the details just made him queasy.


Especially if it tended to be him.


It was unsettling enough in the sterile, controlled environment of sickbay.

Here?


On a remote moon with no medical equipment and an ensign that was turning blue?


It was a lot worse.


“What is it?” Jim asked, not sure whether he wanted to make it an order or a request. “What’s wrong with him?”


McCoy had hastily cut away the bandages around Chekov’s chest, lowering his head to listen closely. When he sat up, he palpated Chekov’s chest with a tight shake of his head. “The fluid in his lungs,” he said, reaching over to sift through his scant medical supplies. “He’s drowning in it.”


Jim swallowed -- hard. Sulu was coming closer; Uhura, too. Spock was watching on with concern, and only Scotty was too unconscious to notice the unfolding drama.


Which was less than ideal. The last thing Jim needed was for this to be a spectacle.


But Chekov was almost gurgling now, the color of his lips almost purple as the veins started to pop out on his neck in desperation.


“So what do we need to do?” Jim asked, poising himself to be ready. Because he was the captain. This was his job.


“You can hold him down,” McCoy said, picking up a knife. The blade glinted in the sunlight as McCoy brought it to bear. He looked at Jim briefly, certainly. “While I put in a chest tube.”


“A what?” Jim asked.


McCoy nodded down. “Hold him, both shoulders,” he said. “I need him absolutely steady.”


Jim obeyed, trying not to notice the fine tremors in Chekov’s body as he pushed the slight-frame shoulders to the dirt. “What exactly are you going to--”


“Harder, Jim,” McCoy coached with a glare. “You can’t let him move at all.”


Complying, Jim pressed harder, bracing himself as he got into a more comfortable position above Chekov’s panicked eyes. “Okay, but what--”


There was no time to ask the question.

Hell, Jim couldn’t even remember the question.


Because McCoy lowered the blade, swiftly plunging it into Chekov’s ribcage with a surety that belied the utter grotesqueness of the intrusion. Blood swell through the opening, bubbling up bright red as McCoy pulled the knife out and positioned a tube into place, slipping it between the sliced flesh.


Beneath his touch, Chekov bucked, his body almost convulsing from the pain. A cry was cut off in his throat, strangled and only half-human as tears ran from his eyes. It was all Jim could do to hold on, watching while McCoy wiped the blood clear, staining his fingers crimson as he lowered his head again for a better look.


“What the hell was that?” Jim demanded.

McCoy sat up, undaunted. “Chest tube,” he said. “Only way to drain the fluid.”


Once the pain had taken hold, Chekov took another breath, but it was deeper this time. The ensign almost shook with the effort.


“You cut a hole in his chest!” Jim protested.


McCoy did not back down. “Hopefully to save his life,” he barked back. “Would you rather me let him drown in his own blood?”


“I’d rather none of this happened at all,” Jim said, temper rising emphatically. “I mean, come on--”


But McCoy was frowning now.


As if this situation wasn’t bad enough.


“It’s not working,” the doctor said, leaning down again. He reached down, taking into account the pulse point on Chekov’s wrist. Intent, he ran his hands up and down Chekov’s chest, looking, listening. “Damn it.”


“Damn it?” Jim asked, finding his protests swallowed back by his renewed sense of fear.


McCoy visibly swallowed. “It’s not working.”


“Wait,” Jim said, looking down while Chekov started to shake more noticeably. The color, which had momentarily improved in his cheeks, had taken a dramatic turn for the worse again. The ensign’s eyes, which had been wide and terrified, were starting to roll back altogether. “You cut a hole in his chest and it’s not working?”


McCoy was moving at almost a frenetic pace now. “It was more than the lungs,” he muttered, almost to himself. “It was more than the damn lungs.”


“But how did you miss that?” Jim asked, almost without thinking.


“Because I don’t have a medical tricorder,” McCoy snapped. “It was a best guess.”


Jim gaped, trying not to notice as Chekov’s breathing tapered off, reduced to a high pitch squeak. “You can’t cut into someone based on a best guess!”


McCoy hastily tore at his supplies. “Then you might not want to watch this.”


Jim shook his head, confused. “Watch what?”


Producing what looked like a turkey baster, McCoy was sober and unyielding. “Because I’m about to do it again.”


-o-


Surely, Jim thought as he stared on numbly, Bones was exaggerating. The doctor had a tendency for that. He was hyperbolic; it was part of his charm.


There was no exaggeration here, though.


Not when McCoy took the needle, gauged the position on Chekov’s chest and plunged it in deep.


“What the hell--” Jim said, only vaguely aware of how unprofessional he sounded. He could only wonder what the others were doing, if they were aware of the barbaric monstrosities currently occurring with their navigator. “Bones--”


Bones grunted, pulling reddish fluid out through the needle with the utmost concentration. “It’s a cardiac tamponade.”


“A what?” Jim asked, still gaping. Beneath him, Chekov had gone terrifyingly still.


McCoy sighed, as though exasperated as he continued the delicate work on Chekov’s bruised chest. “The sack by his heart,” he clarified with a vague nod toward his patient. “It must have ruptured, and it’s been leaking blood around his heart.”


This sounded both ridiculous and totally plausible, because Jim was a captain, not a medical officer. “But,” he said, feeling himself at a loss. “I thought you couldn’t be sure?”


“I can’t, especially since the fluid in his lungs masked a lot of the symptoms, but now that we’ve ruled out a tension pneumothorax, it’s easier to diagnose” McCoy snapped, started to move the needle again. “He’s got the hallmark symptoms -- Beck’s triad.”


“What?” he asked, because that couldn’t be a real thing. It couldn’t.


“Low blood pressure -- he’s almost got no pulse at his wrist, and his pulse is incredibly weak because the heart is leaking more blood than it’s pumping,” McCoy explained with almost clinical certainty. “And you’ll see the neck veins are extended because they’re having trouble moving the blood back to the heart.”


Jim had noticed that earlier, but he’d assumed it was exertion; the desperation to breath.


Chekov’s eyes were closed now, his body limp.


“And there are muffled heart sounds because the fluid is literally drowning it out,” McCoy said, as he pulled the needle out with a decided exhale. He swallowed, pushing his hair back with suddenly shaky fingers. “That’s why you have to get rid of the fluid.” He looked bleakly at the bloody needle. “Quickly.”


For all the confidence he’d exuded just moments ago, the doctor seemed to deflate now. As if the crisis had taken the energy out of him, leaving him a mere human just like the rest of them. It was easy to forget that McCoy had diagnosed and treated a severe internal injury with no medical scanner, no confirmed diagnosis and absolutely no backup. If it had gone wrong, there would have been no way to fix it.


Worse, McCoy was exhausted and he had a head wound of his own.


All the same, he hadn’t hesitated.


They all had to face the horrible truth that McCoy had either just saved Chekov’s life.


Or ended it.


“Come on,” McCoy cajoled, biting his lip as he stared at Chekov. “Breathe.”


Jim looked at his ensign, who looked more dead than alive by this point. Then, he looked back at McCoy. “So?”


“So,” McCoy said through gritted teeth. “Once we relieve the pressure, his heart should be able to pump blood again. His blood pressure should rise, and he should wake up.”


Should was the operative word in that sentence.


Not that either of them were about to admit it.


They’d come a long way, his crew. They’d done a lot of amazing, important, great things. They were the best of the best, and they had everything left to live for. It all hinged, though, on the next ship, the next mission. The next disaster, the next catastrophy.


It all hinged on the next breath.


“Come on,” McCoy said, sounding a little desperate now. “Come on, come on, come on.”


He was begging now, an emotion Jim couldn’t even find the words to try. He was stuck there, waiting, a plethora of dumb excuse and easy denials lodged in his throat.


It’s not my fault.


He didn’t crash the ship.


He didn’t make it tip.


He didn’t stick a needle into Chekov’s chest.


It wasn’t his fault.


What did that matter, though?


This crew, this family, it wasn’t about blame. It wasn’t even responsibility in the simplest sense. Instead, it was a mutuality none of them could explain.


None of them had to.


So when Chekov finally inhale, deep, rattling and triumphant, they all breathed. Jim was there, patting their youngest on the shoulders while McCoy let out a half sob before grinning in relief.


“There you go,” Jim said, watching with almost tremulous joy as Chekov’s next breath came even easier. He looked up, meeting McCoy’s eyes. “There you go.”


-o-


Chekov was breathing easier.


That made one of them.


Bones looked shaken and exhausted, and as he settled down next to Chekov, his mood was dire. “He still needs to get out of here,” he said. “This...it’s only a temporary fix.”


“Well, it’s way less than an hour now,” Jim said. “You bought him the time he needs.”


He wanted to believe that, for his sake as much as Chekov’s and McCoy’s, but Bones wasn’t one to be placated with false hope.


At least, not when he knew better.


“Just make sure they get here,” McCoy said. “Fast.”


With a rallying sense of courage, Jim forced himself to smile. “Already on it.”


-o-


Chekov was breathing easier.


That made exactly one of them.


McCoy was entirely on edge, and the constant medical fussing made Jim not only anxious but superfluous as well. He had to remember, after all, that his so-called skills as captain were also served elsewhere.


He gave Sulu something to drink, which was probably unnecessary since the lieutenant was sitting next to their water stash. Still, Sulu seemed grateful for the effort, and Jim felt good about the token of comfort he was able to offer. Since Spock was still up in a tree, he did a little wave. If Spock were human, he would have given a thumbs up. As it was, the half salute in reply was good enough for both of them.


Uhura was taking it all stoically, manning her makeshift station as though her life depending on it. The fact that Chekov’s life may have depended on it did not escape any of their notices.


Tiredly, he settled himself next to Scotty, contenting himself in checking his engineer’s vitals. Granted, he didn’t know how to do anything more than feel for a pulse, and given the burns on Scotty’s neck and shoulder, he didn’t dare touch the exposed skin.


Still, he could watch him breathe.


That was something.


That was….


Jim swore, surprised to see Scotty awake.


Naturally, Scotty took the outburst personally. He startled, trying to come to some kind of attention. The movement instantly caused pain, and Scotty hissed, pulling in on himself while Jim cursed again.


“Just -- easy,” he said.


“But you’re -- making that -- face,” Scotty said, squeezing the words out through uneven pants.


“What face?” Jim asked, trying to contain his frayed nerves.


That face,” Scotty said without clarifying anything. He drew a tenuous breath and looked up with lines of pain set deep in his forehead. “The one you make -- when everything’s gone wrong.”


This was not something he could deny, but it also wasn’t something he saw any value in validating. He set his expression sternly, looking hard down his nose at his chief engineer. “We did crash land on a moon.”


“But it -- wasn’t your fault,” Scotty said, swallowing with a wince. He seemed to settle himself back again, a little more collected. “It’s -- something else.”


A creative diversion could easily be justified in this situation. Not because Jim had anything to hide, but because he didn’t need Scotty to worry needlessly.


Looking down at him, though, Jim decided it wasn’t needless. If he valued his senior staff as a family, he had to treat them like that. Scotty didn’t just deserve to know; he had to know. He was going to figure it out anyway.


“Chekov,” Jim said, gathering a breath. He shrugged. “He’s had a few complications.”


Scotty’s eyes went wide, and he tried to push himself up. “Is he -- is he okay?”


Jim pushed him back down, gently. “McCoy’s with him,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can do.”


Scotty didn’t looked convinced, still trying to get a better look at the scene across the way.


“Besides,” Jim said, trying to put an upbeat spin on things. “Your communication device worked. Uhura and Spock have it up and running. Rescue’s coming. Any minute now.”


That was the right distraction. It was not to say that Scotty didn’t care about people. He did, and quite passionately, too. But Montgomery Scott was, first and foremost, an engineer. It was his strength, and it would always be his weakness.


Craning his neck in the other direction, he looked toward Uhura and Spock. Tired and confused as he was, he seemed to take some pleasure in seeing it work.


Some pleasure, of course, was an understatement.


He looked like a proud father, watching his kid take a step for the first time.


“It works?” Scotty asked, sounding genuinely surprised.


“Of course it works,” Jim said. “You designed it.”


“I know,” Scotty said. “But there were some inherent deficiencies in the design. We had to -- compromise a few circuits.”


“Well, you couldn’t tell by how it functions,” Jim said. He gave Scotty a stolid nod. “You have a way with machines.”


Scotty shook his head, still looking fondly toward the device. “The machines -- do the hard work,” he murmured. “I just -- help it along.”


Jim allowed himself a chuckle. “You do love your machines, don’t you?”


At this, Scotty looked up at him. “They’re easier, machines,” he said. “A little -- wiring. A strong power source. That’s all you need.” He paused to swallow, eyes flitting toward Chekov. “The rest, though. Life. That’s not so simple.”


Gently, he nudged Scotty. “It’s not as hard as we make it out to be,” he said. He tilted his head with a one-shouldered shrug. “Family.”


Scotty sighed. “Three years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.”


“And now?” Jim prodded.


“Sort of hard not to,” Scotty admitted, a bit sheepish. “I mean, look at me. An engineer -- without a ship. And no place else I’d rather be.”


Jim took a sober breath. “We’re going to get you out of here,” he said. “Chekov, too. That’s a promise.”


Scotty scoffed with a small doff of his hand. “I’m not worried -- about that.”


“Then why such a long face?” Jim asked.


“Well, I’m worried now that you won’t get another ship!” Scotty said, looking up with wide eyes again. “I mean, the crew is family, I know that -- but…”


This time, Jim had to laugh. “You don’t have to worry about that either,” he said. “We’ll get you another ship.”


He looked up, surveying the others. McCoy, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura and Spock.


He nodded again. “We’ll all get another ship to call home.”


When he looked back down again, Scotty was smiling. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “That’s all I needed to know.”


-o-


When Spock came down the tree, Jim honestly feared the worst. He wasn’t a fatalist by nature, but the last few months had been hard on him.


“What’s wrong?” he asked, crossing over from his position with Scotty to the base of the tree.


Spock meticulously took a leaf out of his hair. “I assume you mean besides the obvious.”


Jim was too tired to roll his eyes. “The transceiver.”


“Ah,” Spock said, looking up. “I managed to use my harness to secure it to the upper branch. Granted, we will have to climb again to remodulate any of the dials, but given the short amount of time left on this moon, I thought my help might be required elsewhere.”


For a moment, Jim stared, moderately dumbfounded. “Well, as you can see, there’s not much left to do.”


Spock looked around. Uhura was still on the communication end of the device, talking quietly to someone on the other end. Sulu was sitting next to Scotty, making polite small talk. McCoy was vigorously tending to Chekov, which was to say he was hovering and generally doing nothing.


“Everyone is pretty well occupied,” Jim continued with a nod.


Spock was looking right at him. The smug bastard even cocked his eyebrow.


Jim was off his game more than he thought, because he had no idea why.


“Almost everyone,” Spock finally clarified for him.


He was still looking at Jim, though.


“Oh,” Jim said. “I’m fine.”


He was trying to be dismissive, but he didn’t quite have the energy to pull it off.


Spock would have been able to tell even if he had. “Captain, you have also been through an ordeal,” he said. “While your attention to your crew is admirable, it is my duty as first officer to ensure that you are also well taken care of.”


“Bones says my injuries are mostly superficial--” Jim started.


“Your physical well being is only part of my concern,” Spock said.


Jim sighed, too weary to keep up his act much longer. He looked around, lowering his voice. “It’s a hell of a mess this time,” he said. “And to think, I keep thinking it can’t possibly get any worse. It’s amazing they ever gave me a ship in the first place.”


He was joking -- really.


Mostly.


“Captain,” Spock said, ever resolute. “I feel compelled to remind you that this situation is not your fault.”


It was so unexpected that Jim found himself smiling before he could stop it. “Well, damn.”


The reply appeared to startle Spock -- as much as a Vulcan could start. “Sir?” he asked, vexed.


“I never thought I’d hear you willingly say that,” Jim said.


“It was not an official determination,” Spock explained. “It was intended as a comfort.”


“Ah,” Jim said. “And here I thought you were being nice to me.”


“Vulcans, contrary to your limited assumptions, are capable of empathy and sympathy,” Spock said. “No matter what role your actions may or may not have played in our current situation, your decisions were decidedly reasonable based on your knowledge of the situation at any given moment.”


To this, Jim grunted. “Man, now I know it’s bad.”


Spock’s vexation deepened. “I am being serious.”


“I am, too,” Jim replied, just as emphatic. “I know a lot of people don’t think I take this job seriously enough, but I do. I really do.”


Spock inclined his head. “I, for one, have never questioned that fact.”


“Oh, come on,” Jim said. “Are you forgetting our conversation earlier? Sometimes the best course of action is inaction?”


“It was merely an observation to give you the full scope of the situation,” Spock said.


Jim was shaking his head. “No way,” he said. “You called me reckless, in those words. That was blame.”


“You are willfully misinterpreting--”


“Then what was it, Spock?” Jim asked, the question cutting between them and echoing in the quietude across the camp. He lowered his voice again, inching closer to Spock. “Then what was it?”


Spock almost appeared rattled. But then, this was Spock. “I did indeed call you reckless, and necessarily so. It is my job on first officer to make sure you consider all the possibilities,” he said. “But I also told you that I respected your authority, which is something I can say with confidence is true for the entire crew. The only person here questioning your decisions is you.”


“But it’s my decisions, mine,” Jim said, half hissing now. “I went back on that ship, and look what happened. I made the call on the test drive, and look what happened.”


“As I explained earlier, you made the best decisions you could in any given moment--”


Jim sighed in exasperation. “And they were wrong,” he said. “I mean, what am I going to do if Chekov doesn’t make it off this rock? I’ve lost people before, more than I’d like to remember, but I can’t lose one of you, not like this.”


Not here, not now. Not when it didn’t mean anything. Not when the sacrifice was meaningless.


“Jim,” Spock said. “With respect, you would never find any situation acceptable.”


Jim puffed out his chest. “It’s not.”


“You assume that the situation determines the worth of the sacrifices,” Spock said. “I believe that it is the person who determines the worth. All deaths are ultimately in vain, but that does not make them all pointless.”


Jim worked his jaw, barely keeping his roiling emotions in check. It wasn’t that Spock was right; but it wasn’t that he was wrong, either.


“Failure, even more than inaction, is also inevitable,” Spock said, somewhat softer now.


Jim shook his head. “I’m the captain,” he said. “I have to have control.”


Spock was not deterred. “No one believes that, here of all places, except you.”


Jim felt his shoulders falling. “But that’s what makes it all the more important.”


“Perhaps,” Spock assented. “But it’s also what makes them follow you, no matter what.”


“But you just said failure was inevitable,” Jim said. “So I’m just supposed to be okay that I’m going to inevitably let them all down?”


“Everyone prefers to believe that no-win situations do not exist,” Spock said. “Despite the irrationality of this belief, it is also what makes us all capable of achieving more than is ever expected of us.”


Jim thought about that, turning the idea over in his head. “That’s not very logical.”


“No,” Spock said with a simple straightening of his chin. “It’s absolutely not.”


Regarding that carefully, Jim narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you have a transceiver to monitor?”


Spock bobbed his head. “As it appears that my duties here have been fulfilled, I believe so,” he said, turning back toward the tree.


“And Spock,” Jim called after him.


Spock turned, expectant.


Jim nodded. “Thank you.”


“Your thanks is unnecessary,” Spock said. “But it is appreciated.”


If he didn’t know better, he would have thought the Vulcan smiled before he started up the tree again.


Scratch that, he did know better.


And that sure as hell was a smile.


-o-


Waiting wasn’t the hardest part -- not on a mission that had gone as badly as this one -- but it certainly wasn’t the easiest part. There was a reason, after all, that Jim had circumvented nearly every rule and got himself to the front of the line in everything where Starfleet was concerned. He’d skipped standard recruiting and had a bar fight instead. He’d foregone a typical graduation and reprogrammed the final test to make sure he passed.


He had even smuggled himself on board the Enterprise, despite the fact that he’d been told to stay back. If he hadn’t become the youngest captain in Starfleet’s history, he probably wouldn’t have become one at all.


But the last three years had taught him patience. They’d taught him how to be steady. He’d learned to play the long game.


In perspective, waiting another thirty minutes probably wasn’t so bad.


It was still hard, though. Harder than Jim thought it was supposed to be.


He’d insisted, by virtue of being the captain, the McCoy spend some time getting his gear ready for transport. He’d made his point, however, by relying on McCoy’s friendship.


“I’ve got this,” he said with a smile. He settled himself down next to Chekov. “Even I can’t screw this up.”


McCoy managed a snort, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t put it past you,” he muttered, but he got up. “If he starts to have trouble breathing--”


“Oh, trust me,” Jim said. “You’d be the first person I’d tell.”


Mollified, McCoy turned and started to work.


Jim watched him for a moment before looking back at Chekov.


He was surprised to find the kid watching him in return. Weak as he was, he lifted his eyebrows with a hint of a smile.


“Well, looks like someone’s feeling better,” Jim quipped.


“I don’t think I could feel worse,” Chekov said, the words soft and airy. Although his complexion had improved some, his coloring was still bed and his chest was still a mess. McCoy had barely covered him, probably because he’d spent every other minute rechecking the kid’s vitals. It was disconcerting to see the bruising, tubes and punctures, but he didn’t dare disturb the scene. This was only partly for Chekov’s sake. He was also a little scared what McCoy would do to him if he messed something up.


“You did give us a scare,” Jim said.


“Everything we’ve been through,” Chekov murmured, letting his eyes drift up to the sky. “This seems so small.”


Small wasn’t the word Jim would have used. Insignificant, maybe. “I think we should have learned by now not to underestimate a mission,” Jim said, as diplomatically as possible.


Chekov looked at him, and damn it if he didn’t look like he was 12 again. Pale, weak and full of wide-eyed wonder. Chekov had never doubted, never regretted, not even now. His crew, they’d always followed his orders; they’d always believed in this mission, even when Jim wasn’t sure they should. But not like Chekov did.


Chekov’s belief had stood the test of time. It had held up under scrutiny. Injury, peril, even death -- Chekov was undaunted.


They had all been Chekov once. Hell, Jim could still remember that feeling of excitement when sitting in the captain’s chair for the first time.


A lot had changed since then.


They could only hope to be like Chekov when it was at the end, too.


Jim took a resolved breath, and pressed himself to smile.


The end wasn’t here, though.


It wasn’t now.


“Small, big,” Jim said, shrugging. “As long as we do it together.”


This was a good answer; this was the right answer.


Chekov looked back toward the sky, waiting in expectant hope. “Yes, Captain,” he murmured, his voice distant.


Jim watched Chekov before looking at McCoy. He looked at Sulu and Scotty, Uhura and Spock.


Jim was the captain, maybe, but they were his crew. He had always operated under the belief that they needed him, that this was his responsibility.


And it was.


But the thing was, and this was a lesson learned the hard way, that he needed them, too. They needed each other equally if this thing was going to work.


Jim smiled, following Chekov’s gaze up.


And it was going to work.


-o-


It wasn’t all that dramatic when it ended, a quiet rescue with no further complications. The USS Kennedy was right on schedule, and maintained communication with Uhura until a shuttlepod descended through the atmosphere and landed on a nearby open plain.


All the same, the crew cheered, not because they’d been rescued, but because they’d survived it together.


Big missions, little missions. Galactic turmoil or a little Starfleet prototype testing. The only thing that really matter was that they all came back.


McCoy loaded Chekov first, practically ripping the medical tricorder from the medical officer’s hands. Scotty was not far behind, supported on one side by Sulu. With the end in sight, Uhura allowed herself to seek comfort from Spock. Spock, for his part, allowed himself to give it.


The landing team from the Kennedy facilitated the movement of his people, leaving a small contingent behind to manage the resources on the ground. Jim thanked them all, nodding his gratitude as he gave the camp one last sweep.


Debris and supplies littered the ground, and he watched for a minute while the Kennedy’s landing party tried to salvage what they could. They were already scouting out the wreck, as if there was still something there they needed to go after.


As far as Jim was concerned, they could have it.


He smiled as he boarded the shuttlepod after his crew.


He had everything he needed.


-o-


As was probably expected, the end wasn’t really the end. The Kennedy had to stay in orbit for a while to facilitate the preliminary preservation of the site. Since the Kennedy had fully advanced medical facilities, Jim didn’t see any reason to fight this. In fact, since McCoy plunged the entire crew into aggressive and immediate treatment, it was honestly for the best.


Jim submitted to this treatment with more ease than usual. He didn’t like being cooped up in a sickbay, but for once, he wasn’t about to give McCoy a hard time about it. Sure, it was no fun being monitored for every single fluctuation in his vitals, but he didn’t mind seeing that each and every one of his crew was showing signs of improvement.


Sulu’s concussion was showing signs of improvement, and he was released with minimal treatment. Uhura’s wrist was mended and splinted, whereupon she was given strict orders to take it easy until the bone had sufficiently fused. Spock was cleared medically before all the rest, but no one seemed to object when he hung around anyway.


Jim’s own condition was more serious than he probably expected, but the litany of diagnoses hardly phased him. He was more concerned about the ongoing progress for Scotty and Chekov.


Scotty’s condition wasn’t particularly critical, and McCoy seemed confident that they’d gotten antibiotics in time to prevent an infection. Healing the burns would take a little bit longer, but once Scotty was sedated, it was really only a matter of time before he was well.


Chekov, naturally, was more complicated. McCoy had his diagnosis confirmed, and the chief medical officer of the Kennedy seemed duly impressed that McCoy had managed to successfully perform a chest tube and a pericardiocentesis without any advanced instruments.


Jim was impressed, but he wasn’t surprised.


The universe could still surprise him, maybe.


His crew, though.


He knew them well enough not to take them for granted again.


-o-


Jim slept with confidence that night.


They would be okay, his crew. The mission couldn’t be salvaged, not exactly, but by Jim’s standards, it would be okay. In short, there was no reason to stay awake. His crew was safe; his job was done. He could sleep with no reservations.


He also slept with a heavy dose of sedatives, which he had explicitly ordered McCoy against but they had still ended up in his hypospray.


All the same, he woke to discord.


“That’s impossible, though,” Uhura was saying, quite emphatically, too. “There is no way to plan for every contingency, no matter how good you are.”


“But that’s the whole point of a sound engineering system,” Scotty said. He sounded weak still, but decidedly animated. He was talking about engines, so this was not a surprised. “Failsafes have to be built in, especially with a starships. The risks are too great otherwise.”


“But isn’t that the whole purpose of a test flight?” Sulu said. “To help create the failsafes?”


“Indeed, part of our assigned mission was to look for any problems in the system,” Spock agreed.


“Well, I think we found a few,” McCoy added, terse and under his breath.


“And that’s why it’s okay,” Chekov said. “Our flight, good or bad, it made a difference.”


At this, Jim sat up. Straight up. Looking across the row of biobeds to where Chekov was propped up on the end. He was still pale and clearly immobilized, but he was okay.


Scratch that, they were all okay.


“I do have a long list of recommendations,” Scotty said with a sage nod. From this vantage point, it was easy to see that the burns were healing, leaving smooth, restored skin in its wakes.


“And I’ve got a list of recommendations about travel in obstructed regions of space,” Uhura said. Her wrist was still bandaged, but she was moving it freely. “There’s no reason an advanced starship should get lost. Anywhere.”


“The entire Starfleet design of compartmentalized controls could use some work,” Sulu said. There was nothing but a small bandage, taped to his forehead now. He shook his head. “Proprietary control is useful, but not at the expense of information. If we had had all the data at our fingertips when this started--”


“I concur,” Spock said. He slanted an eyebrow, just slightly, casting a look back toward Jim. “It is clear that the multitude of factors working against us in this case were not, as you might suggest, our fault.”


“You all act like Starfleet’s going to want to listen to us,” McCoy said with a grunt. His own head was more heavily bandaged, but his cantankerous manner was hardly a worrying sign. To the contrary, it was making Jim feel even better. “We did just crash their best prototype.”


“But we can help them make a better one,” Chekov said, eyes twinkling with excitement. “I mean, without a ship of our own right now, we certainly have time to sit down with the design team, get in the flight simulator.” He looked at the captain, earnest and eager. “That was our mission, right?”


The question, directed at him, brought all their attention toward Jim. It wasn’t that he was uncomfortable with the attention, because please, Jim Kirk was never uncomfortable with attention. But it was a reminder of what he had, and what he’d almost lost. It was easy to tell himself that the risk hadn’t been worth it, but looking at them, hearing them talk -- it reminded him why it was.


Still, for as much as it was about a ship, Jim knew it wasn’t about that at all. The fact that his crew could do the mission, no matter what, reminded Jim of a greater, more important truth.


He sat up, feeling the sore muscles knitted together as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. “Not exactly,” he said with a coy smile and a half wink as he looked at his crew in turn again. “But I think we can still make it work.”


-o-


Starfleet waited until they were safely back to space dock to hold a formal debriefing. This was not to say that they hadn’t been in daily contact with Jim, requiring multiple documents and various logs while he was still watching his people heal.


Jim cooperated as much as he could, and despite the fact that he knew he’d done nothing wrong, he still felt a twinge of trepidation when he was called before a formal committee. He was used to this, after all. He’d grown up a trouble-maker, and Starfleet did not always appreciate his unorthodox approach to, well, everything.


And it wasn’t a reprimand he was afraid of. It wasn’t even his commission, at least not in the strictest sense. He could live without being a captain; he could probably even live without a ship, when it came right down to things.


But his crew.


He couldn’t live without them.


His palms were sweating when he was seated, and he found the smile of the spokeswoman to be more than a little alarming. He was fully prepared for the worst.


What he got instead was a steadfast apology.


“We’ve already identified the systemic oversights that led to this disaster, and we are grateful for your continued willingness to serve Starfleet however and whenever we need you,” she said with a taut smile pulling at her lips. “We know that you value having your own ship, and we want you to know that we are doing everything we can to make sure you have the best in the fleet available to you.”


Unabashed praise was usually his sort of thing. He liked to be the star of the show.


At least, he used to.


He wasn’t sure why it was so easy to forget that, in everything, he’d changed. He wasn’t the same kid who Pike recruited over a bar fight. He wasn’t the brash cadet who’d reprogrammed his final exam just because he couldn’t bear the thought of losing. Pike would be proud of that much, that his death wasn’t entirely in vain.


And while it’d been clear that he was Starfleet’s poster boy, he’d never quite grasped the fact that, even with all his mistakes, he was doing his job well.


He suspected, however, that had less to do with him, and a lot less to do with his ship.


He offered a self deprecating smile. “Well, with respect--”


She held up her hand, holding him off. “This isn’t lip service,” she said. “We’re willing to offer you the USS Victoria.”


Jim blinked in surprise. “The Victoria? Isn’t that Diana Golding’s ship?”


“Captain Golding has recently taken a promotion and will be manning our newest deep space outpost,” she explained. “We had a few other candidates in line for the commission, but in light of current events we feel like it’s a better fit for you. She’s faster, stronger and better than anything you’ve worked with before. Obviously, she’s not as advanced as the prototype, but she’d be a step up from the Enterprise in a lot of ways.”


They were pandering, almost, and if Jim had had trouble being the poster boy for Starfleet, he had even more difficulty being its golden son.


“The development will take quite some time, and we’d want you intimately involved,” she continued.


“That’s...flattering,” Jim said. “Really--”


“It’s the least we can do,” she said, and the rest of the committed nodded roundly. “You have been on the frontlines of our worst disasters, some of which are more homemade than we like to publicly acknowledge. This mission, though disastrous, was plainly not your fault.”


Absolution, pure and simple.


Now that he had it, he realized he didn’t need it.


He cleared his throat, posturing. “But my crew--”


“We’d obviously give them the best pick of assignments, and it is possible we’d get a few of them on board the Victoria,” she said. “Although we can’t justify transferring all of the Victoria’s crew, and I can assure you, they are all thoroughly equipped for duty.”


The flash of brilliance died away, and suddenly Jim understood with a clarity he hadn’t quite grasped before.


He had, maybe, but not like this.


Not in so simple terms.


He was being offered everything he ever wanted, and he didn’t want any of it, at all.


“And if I wait,” Jim hedged. “Wait for the next one down the line. What about my crew?”


She considered this. “As long as they are agreeable, we can probably give them temporary assignments until another ship comes out of production,” she said. “But I have to warn you, it could be a wait. We have captains lined up for the next three to five ships, easy.”


Jim found himself smiling. “That’s okay,” he said. “I think I know what things are worth waiting for.”


-o-


They were waiting, each of them, just outside. Uhura’s wrist was still wrapped, but healing. The scar on Sulu’s forehead was already faded. McCoy was as cantankerous as ever, and Scotty’s burns were pale pink as they peeked out from the bandage on his neck and shoulder. Chekov was still a little hunched over, and he looked even slighter than normal, but surrounded by the others, it was clear that he was going to be fine.


Spock, unequivocal as ever, raised his eyebrow. “I intended to come alone,” he said, stately as he could. He faltered, though, glancing sideways at the others. “That intention, however, proved fruitless.”


“I wasn’t about to let him come alone,” Uhura said, holding her head up proudly.


“This does sort of affect all of us,” Sulu said.


“And they need to know,” Scotty added emphatically. “The full circumstances of the crash.”


“We weren’t going to let you go alone,” Chekov said. “This mission belonged to all of us.”


McCoy drew an exasperated breath, and he shook his head. “And since half of them are still technically under my medical care, I couldn’t exactly stay behind.”


Spock cleared his throat, and the ensemble looked sheepish. “As I said,” Spock continued. “Fruitless.”


Jim chuckled. “But appreciated,” he said. “Even if you should all be resting.”


“But the ship!” Scotty protested.


“Starfleet has to accept responsibility,” Uhura said.


“And this shouldn’t affect our chances of another ship,” Sulu said.


“They do make it mighty easy to give orders without considering the consequences,” McCoy said adroitly.


“And we’re a crew,” Chekov said, as if that was the only fact that mattered.


Funny, it was the only fact that mattered.


“Did they assign blame in this case?” Spock asked, trying not to sound anxious. Vulcans couldn’t be anxious, of course. Not even half-human ones.


“Not exactly,” Jim said. “But we are grounded for a bit longer, I’m afraid.”


There was a chorus of groans, and a preamble of complaints.


Jim held up his hand to quiet them. “It’s not a punishment, though,” he said. “Really. We’ll just have to wait a bit for the right ship to come along.”


Spock hedged again, inclining his head. “If Starfleet assigned no blame, then why--”


“It was my call,” Jim said, resolute and sure. “It was the best choice for all of us, and I will make no apologies for that.”


Despite his efforts, Spock actually looked incredulous. “Are you actively taking responsibility for your actions without deflecting blame or crafting a spurious case for self defense?”


“This time,” Jim said, and he looked at Spock. He looked at all of them. “I think I’m more than happy to accept the responsibility.”


Uhura started to smile, and Sulu nodded his head. McCoy all but rolled his eyes in a huff while Scotty beamed. Chekov bobbed his head like an overgrown puppy, ready to play.


Spock, for his part, cocked his head. “Indeed.”