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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Star Trek (reboot) fic: Taking Responsibility 2/3

November 4th, 2016 (02:38 pm)
dorky

feeling: dorky

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



“So,” he said, trying to sound like another one of his plans hadn’t fallen spectacularly apart. He was having quite the run. If his ego hadn’t been so large to begin with, it might have been a problem right about now. “Anyone want to tell me what happened?”


They looked at each other, each a bit more sheepish than the last. Spock was the one who finally cleared his throat to break the silence.


“It appears we overloaded one of the circuits,” Spock said, looking thankfully no worse for wear save for black smudges on his arm and singed fabric on his sleeve.


Chekov reached out, taking it from Scotty. “We did take a risk using one of the small circuits,” he said. “It might not have been enough to support the electrical flow.”


Scotty shook his head, tenderly guarding his upper chest as he reached for the device again. “We had a hard enough time finding these intact,” he said, taking it and turning it over. “Not that there aren’t plenty of workable parts left in there, but to find something big enough, we have to start looking in other access conduits.”


“And what’s wrong with that?” Sulu asked.


“They’re down a deck or two,” Scotty said, shaking his head.


That sounded easy enough.


“The lower decks are markedly less stable,” Spock said.


And that sounded decidedly less easy.


All he wanted was one damn break this mission.


Just one.


“And your chances of getting out of there quickly make it risky,” McCoy added. He gave Jim a look. “It’s not worth it.”


“But it’s a simple extraction,” Chekov insisted. “If we look at the secondary environmental systems--”


Scotty was nodding along. “All we have to do is remove on panel.”


“With enough power, we may be able to establish two-way communication within minutes,” Uhura said. “We could effectively guide the rescue from here.”


They wanted to do it, that much was clear. What was less clear, however, was why. It was in their nature, probably. Not just that they were eager to please, but that they were problem solvers. They were proactive; they were thinkers.


There was a reason they were the best.


Still.


They had what they needed to survive; they were safe, secure and stable. Just because action was an option didn’t mean it was the best option. Sometimes the toughest orders were the ones that told a crew trained to move to stand down.


He was so used to picking the lesser of two evils; he was pretty adept at working between a rock and a hard place. This whole pair of mediocre choices with mediocre outcomes was a bit daunting in its lack of peril. At least with peril, the right decision seemed clear. Even the dangerous decisions seemed suddenly in focus because you knew what was at stake


This, though. This required actual thought. This required foresight. This required a nuanced decision making process.


Damn it.


Jim shook his head, hoping that common sense would offer an easy out. “Rescue is less than a day out.”


What he said was calm, rational and made a hell of a lot of sense.


It was also exactly what no one wanted to hear.


How well had he trained this crew that common sense made absolutely no difference to them whatsoever?


“That means another night, though,” Sulu groaned.


“And really,” Uhura said. “What else are we going to do? Most of us don’t even know what to do with shore leave.”


Jim looked them over, and wasn’t surprised at what he saw. His crew, ready and willing. He wasn’t sure why he’d expected anything less from them. He always worried that he was asking too much of them sometimes, but it would be foolish to assume that it wasn’t their choice. It was tempting, if egotistical, to think that he brought out the reckless streak in everyone. It was just as likely, he was beginning to realize, that like minds simply congregated together. The reason they worked was because they all shared the same penchant for the ridiculously impossible.


Even Bones in his grousing.


Hell, even Spock in his damn logic.


Because here they were, on a mission of absolutely no consequences, and they all wanted to go above and beyond. Why? Because they could. Because sitting idle seemed lie a hell of a thing to do.


Uhura, she was downright eager, and Sulu actually looked desperate. Chekov, with a youthful exuberance unfettered by their situation, appeared excited, and Spock’s expression betrayed nothing but total control. This was a clear giveaway that he wanted to take action as well; he would have used annoying logic to tell them otherwise.


It was McCoy who hesitated, but it wasn’t for his own benefit. Instead, the doctor nodded just slightly toward Scotty, who was paler than he was yesterday. While nothing in McCoy’s demeanor suggested that the situation was dire, it clearly wasn’t getting better. Keeping him still was important, clearly, but so was getting him off this rock.


That, right there, was the balance, the tightrope he had to walk as the captain. It wasn’t just about results; it was about the right results. It wasn’t just about action; it was about keeping everyone safe. No matter what mission Starfleet gave him, Jim was starting to discover what the true mission was, and it had very little to do with new worlds and new civilizations.


He’d thought the first mission was hard.


This one?


Harder still.


This job was about taking risks, and if he’d lost his ability to do that, then he wouldn’t be any good in the captain’s chair. He had to remember who he was.


Who they were.


They wanted to take the chance.


And Jim wanted to let them.


He worked his jaw, finally drawing a decisive breath. He looked at Chekov. “You can do it quickly?”


Chekov nodded readily. “Five minutes, in and out.”


“And give me another ten to get this thing up and running,” Uhura said, starting to sound excited again.


“All that, and we’ll be out of here by supper,” Sulu said, his face starting to beam.


“Okay,” Jim said, with as much confidence as one could muster while stranded on a moon with a smoking hulk of a crashed ship behind him. He could only hope he wouldn’t regret this. “Then let’s make this happen.”


-o-


It had been tricky, of course, to keep Scotty behind.


As the chief engineer, he’d felt more than somewhat compelled, but watching him try to get laboriously to his feet made Jim almost call the whole thing off. After all, more than half of his rationale in attempting a second transceiver was to get medical help faster, and Scotty was in the worst shape of them all. It would do no good to get Scotty hurt worse in his quest to get him help faster. Not even Jim Kirk was the type to cut off his nose just to spite his face.


In the end, he convinced his engineer to stay and help Uhura with the wiring, a ruse that Uhura apparently seemed to understand. Sitting Scotty next to a pile of parts and the approximation of a plan was about the only distraction apt enough to keep him out of a ship.


Of course, that meant Jim was putting the bulk of the responsibility on Chekov, and although the others had volunteered to come, Jim saw no need to put any more people at unnecessary risk.


No, if there was a risk, it was his to take. Just because the crew was willing to die for him didn’t mean he intended on letting them.


Besides, he reminded himself as he trudged back toward the wreck with Chekov, there was no reason to think that everyone wouldn’t go fine.


-o-


It had seemed like the right choice back at camp.


Climbing back inside the ship, however, gave him reason to doubt.


The ship had never felt quite like home -- the short test flight had hardly given them the chance -- and the crash had done nothing to make it feel inviting. Although he’d spent the better part of the day in there yesterday, the atmosphere today was even more daunting.


The emergency lights were mostly out, save for a few flickering areas. The dust had settled, and with sunlight streaming in through the rips and holes in the exterior, the slow movement of air was nothing short of eerie. The half light gave enough illumination to get around, enough illumination to make Jim think this might be a very, very bad idea.


This ship hadn’t even worked well in space.


And he was expecting it to save them now?


He couldn’t help but think that this was a risk -- and it was a risk he didn’t have to take.


“She never had a chance,” Chekov said, breaking the silence as they clamored onto stable ground inside the bridge.


“The ship?” Jim asked, taking a second to get his bearings again.


Chekov nodded, looking about himself wistfully. “It’s a pity, is all,” he lamented with a long sigh. “A piece of technology with so much promise, crashed on her first voyage.”


Jim nodded, mustering some sympathy. “She was impressive on paper,” he said. “When they pitched her to me, I was excited.”


Mostly he’d been excited about getting out of space dock.


That was neither here nor there.


Beggars couldn’t be choosers, but he wasn’t a beggar.


He was a damn Starfleet captain.


And he deserved better than a wrecked ship on a nowhere moon.


Chekov gave him a conspiratorial look. “I heard the main engineer was Russian,” he said. “Naturally, if they’d stuck to the original specifications.”


At that, Jim did his best not to chuckle. All the universality of Starfleet, and his navigator was still proudly Russian. “I’ll make sure to point that out in my report,” he said.


Chekov beamed at him gratefully.


“I have to admit, though,” Jim continued as they stepped gingerly through the wreckage toward the Jeffries tubes. The turbodeck had been rendered non operational in the crash, and Scotty had recommended against even trying them for fear of what might happen to the overall structural integrity of the debris. He had taken that advice readily. In application, he wondered if he should have considered it so cavalierly. “I never did feel too attached to her.”


“We never even had a chance,” Chekov said, reaching the panel first. It was still ajar from yesterday, and he scooted more space free. He moved it, mindful of the wreckage and his own battered chest. “Who is to say what we might have thought, given the proper chance?”


“Maybe,” Jim said, using the flashlight he brought to check down the shaft. Clear though it was, he wasn’t really looking forward to another walk down. Jeffries tubes were designed for emergency access, and they’d come in handy more times than once. But anyone who thought he liked shimmying through tight spaces would be wrong. “Though I’m starting to think it’s not so much about the ship.”


Chekov looked at him. “Sir?”


Jim flashed his own grin. “It’s the crew that keeps surprising me,” he said before putting the light between his teeth and climbing in. It took him a moment to get situated, and he made it a few rungs down before Chekov climbed carefully in over his head as he descended.


Going down was a tight fit, and while the ship was still mostly upright in this section, the distinct tilt made it feel all the more precarious. He was relieved to hit the next deck, and he used his light to shine up at Chekov as the young ensign made his way the rest of the ladder down.


On the ground, Chekov was clearly winded, but he still smiled broadly.


Jim turned the light toward the open access panel and stepped his way through. “I’m a little surprised, actually,” he said, getting his footing on the other side. He waited while Chekov climbed out after him with a small wince.


“In what way, sir?” Chekov asked.


“Why you stayed this long,” Jim said.


“Well, the Enterprise--”


“Is gone,” Jim reminded him. “I know all of you have had other offers while we’ve been grounded. I’m sure if you played your cards right, you could even get a promotion out of the deal.”


At this, Chekov appeared surprised. “Do you want me to leave?”


“No, no,” Jim said quickly. “I just... I know you have opportunities.”


“But this is the opportunity I want,” he said, as earnest as ever. He shook his head. “There is no place else I want to be.”


“Do I need to point out that we’re on an abandoned moon in a crashed ship?” Jim asked. He danced the beam of the flashlight on the abandoned interior of the ship. “Because, honestly, I’m not seeing the appeal.”


Chekov allowed himself a laugh. “I don’t know,” he said. “The present situation, it is not so bad.”


“Optimism,” Jim said with a resounding nod. He directed his flashlight forward again. The corridor was less cluttered than the bridge, probably because it had never been fully stocked to begin with. The ship was still in a development phase; not all of the decks had been fully operational or sufficiently equipped. This had probably worked in their favor as soon as the ship went down, but it was damn creepy. “I never thought optimism was a distinctively Russian trait.”


He started off, Chekov right behind him. “Actually, that is a common misconception,” he said, voice starting to get animated. “Given their tumultuous history, the Russian people are not only resilient and strong, but they have a good sense of better days.”


Thinking about it, Jim shrugged. The design-less interfaces were glaringly blank, and the rooms didn’t have any doors. Their footsteps echoed hollowly in the emptiness. “Sometimes I guess it pays to think it can’t get any worse.”


“Exactly!” Chekov said. “It seems like an apt fit for this crew.”


Jim stopped, turning the flashlight into Chekov’s face. “Are you mocking my captaining skills?”


Chekov’s eyes went wide with horror. “No, sir! I would never--”


Jim smirked, turning back around. “Relax, Chekov. I’d be disappointed in you if you didn’t,” he said, letting his flashlight flit around. “Now, do you know where we can find this wiring?”


“Yes, yes, of course,” Chekov said, scurrying ahead. He stopped at one of the panels, pulling out a tool to give himself access. “Should be right in here.”


Jim came closer, directing the light as needed. Distantly, something shimmied and the ground seemed to shift imperceptibly beneath them. It took most of his self control not to look down. Or up. Or anywhere to try to figure out where the noises were coming from. “Five minutes, right?”


Chekov was already prying at the circuits, maneuvering them free. If the situation was unsettling to him, he sure wasn’t showing it. “Less,” he said, flashing a bright grin back at Jim.


Jim forced himself to smile back, trying not to hear the groaning of the metal around them again. Above head, the lights continued to go on and off in random intervals. Power was failing inconsistently, and there was no way to know what conduits had been fried by the overload and which ones were impeded by the structural damage to the hull.


It was a miracle this thing was still in one piece.


And it sure as hell felt like tempting fate to come back, even for five measly minutes.


Jim gritted his teeth, and purposefully did not curse.


Optimism was a trait for the reckless. It didn’t suit captains with the responsibility of a crew on their backs. Maybe that was his biggest mistake, starting all the way back at the Academy with the Kobiyashi Maru. Not that he believed he could manipulate the system, but that he thought it would make a difference in the end.


Officers still fell; ships still crashed.


Missions failed.


You could do the right thing or the wrong thing, it didn’t make much difference.


Maybe that was the scariest part of having his own commission. Accepting his own impotence in the face of danger. Because he could be smart, brave, good and right, and sometimes it didn’t make one hell of a difference.


“There!” Chekov announced, turning around again. This time, a long wire was in his hand while he smiled, as proud as ever. “All good to go.”


“Good,” Jim said, taking the wire and pocketing it with all due haste. He suppressed the urge to shudder as he made an about face to start back down the corridor. “Now let’s get the hell out of here and back to the rest of the crew.”


-o-


On the way up, he let Chekov go first while keeping just a step behind to keep the pace as fast as was safe. The kid was slower than Jim might have expected, and he reminded himself that Chekov probably had multiple broken ribs to contend with.


Still, that just made Jim’s desire to get out of there more pressing than ever. This had been a mistake; this whole damn ship had been a mistake. He’d been so eager to get out, to get his crew out, that he’d made a willful choice for all the wrong reasons. This wasn’t his fault, as far as such things could technically be decided, but it was still his choice.


He’d just been so sure that getting back in space had been the right solution.


He’d just been so sure that action was better than twiddling his thumbs.


Jim was always so sure.


That should have been his first clue.


Chekov made his way haltingly out of the tube, and Jim was already out on the bridge next to him while he bracingly got himself upright.


“Everything okay?” Jim asked.


“Just sore,” Chekov said. “Pulled them wrong.”


“We’ll have the doctor give them a look when we get out of here,” he said, nudging his ensign toward the exit.


Chekov, bright as he was, didn’t need to be told twice.


In his haste, Jim rounded, coming around the far way to pass Chekov. His goal was to get out of there faster.


A good goal, really.


Not well thought out, though.


He hadn’t considered the balance of the ship, or the position of its landing on the hillside. It was easy to forget that luck had broken just enough in their favor to keep the ship from plunging even deeper into the crevasse and imploding in on itself.


Luck was a matter of perspective at the best of times.


No matter what perspective you took, it wasn’t in his favor now.


As he came around the far end of the science station, circling back toward Chekov’s slower progress, his foot hit a piece of debris and something shifted.


Jim didn’t just lose his footing; he lost the whole damn thing.


The careful balance of his whole commission tilted to one side, and Jim could see just how precarious it had been this whole time. And he hadn’t even looked before taking that last step.


Grunting, he flung himself forward, scrabbling to firmer ground as the whole bridge shook. Chekov cried out, falling to his knees, and Jim was already up on his feet, dragging the ensign up with him.


They were close now, mere feet from the exit. This was how Jim usually operated, pulling things out by the very skin of his teeth. He’d always managed it before.


But damn, this was too close.


There was a crack, and sunlight blinded him from a fresh opening on the ceiling. Half of the bridge started to fall away, and Jim realized a second too late that he wasn’t on the right half of the ship after all.


He jumped, shoving Chekov in front of him. They hit the ground, the area where they’d just been standing falling away behind them. Chekov’s face was pale, but Jim didn’t stop to think about that. All he could think about was getting out; getting Chekov out.


That was what mattered, after all.


You could replace a ship.


People, though.


The movement rocked the rest of the bridge, which started pitching in the opposite direction. There wasn’t as much room to fall this way, but the broken metal twisted in on itself, and Jim knew that being crushed wasn’t much better than falling.


The opening was still there, though.


He just had to get them a little farther.


Frantic, he dragged Chekov up, pushing him ahead haphazardly. The ensign stumbled forward with a gasp, bracing himself against one of the open consoles that he and Scotty had scavenged yesterday.


Sparks flew; the emergency lighting flared. Jim had a split second to wonder what the hell had happened before Chekov yelled and fell away. Jim reached for him, but there was no way to catch him as the ship rumbled and the wreckage shifted.


The electricity sparked out.


And Jim was grasping at air, falling as the ground gave way beneath him.


Just like that, Chekov was gone, the ship was gone, the rest of the crew was gone.


The plan was gone, all of Jim’s hope for his next commission were gone.


Optimism, responsibility, fault, blame, hope.


All of it was gone.


And when Jim finally hit something hard, he was gone, too.


-o-


Jim never knew his father. The stories his mother had told him had always seemed so grandiose, and honestly, being told his father was a hero just made it harder to take. Of all the people George Kirk saved, sometimes Jim wished that the person he’d saved would have been himself.


That wasn’t how it worked, though. Not when you sat in a captain’s chair and understood the weight of that responsibility. It was a hell of a thing, being reminded how many lives you could save in 12 minutes.


It didn’t hold a candle to three damn years.


It didn’t tell you, either, about the lives you lost. It didn’t tell you about the compromises you made. Sometimes, if Jim was honest, he thought his father had the easy way out on that one. 12 minutes to make you.


Before three years broke you.


But the thing was, it didn’t matter about the strips on your collar. It didn’t matter if anyone called you sir. It didn’t matter if you had a crew of five or five hundred. And it sure as hell didn’t matter what ship you were on.


Because as captain, things might not be your fault, but they were always your responsibility.


In truth, Jim probably knew his father a lot better than he let on.


Sometimes, better than he even wanted to.


-o-


He came to with a gasp.


It rushed back to him, like the air in his lungs. The wreck, the wire, Chekov.


Spock.


He frowned, trying to make sense of a multitude of sensation, the most pressing of which were the pounding of his head and the fuzzy face of a Vulcan situated right in front of his face.


“Captain,” Spock was saying, the barest hint of urgency belying everything the Vulcan claimed to stand for. “Can you hear me?”


It took some effort to swallow, and nodding was an absolute disaster. Jim had always had a penchant for the impossible, however. “Yeah,” he croaked, trying to prop himself up. “I think so.”


He lacked confidence in the sentiment, and the pain that ripped through him, threatening to darken his vision, hardly did anything to bolster it. Spock grimaced and helped him up, providing a supporting hand while Jim sought his equilibrium in a seated position.


“Are you sure you would not like to reconsider?” Spock asked.


Jim laughed -- and groaned. Lifting a hand tentatively to his head, he felt blood. It was thick and sticky in his hair, and that was really enough for him. He pulled his hand away, making a face. “Well, this ship hasn’t killed me yet,” he quipped with a half hearted smile. “Not for a lack of trying, though.”


“Maybe we should leave quickly, then,” Spock suggested. He cocked his head. “Before it decides to try again.”


With a bark of pained laughter, Jim tried to get to his feet. It was a slow process, and he accepted help from Spock with every stunted movement. “Spock, your humor is really improving.”


“I have had ample experiences to hone it,” Spock said. “Your leadership style does lend itself to a certain humor.”


He wavered, blinking hard against the encroaching darkness as he got to his feet. Spock’s fingers were like a vice around his bicep, and he took several deep breaths before squinting at his first officer. “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult,” he admitted. “Knowing you, it’s probably both.”


“Indeed,” Spock said, loosening his grip just a little as Jim found his footing in the wreckage. “And knowing you, I suppose this wasn’t your fault.”


Jim scoffed, as though the answer should have been entirely evident. Yet, here he was again, standing among the debris. It was even more of a mess than before, and it was clear that the wreckage has shifted badly, splitting the bridge in half and sending each side tumbling to the side. The fact that he was still in the bridge meant that it obviously hadn’t fallen too far -- just far enough to bash him around.


Around him, the ship creaked and a few pieces of debris shifted further away from him.


It hadn’t fallen too far yet.


It was a sobering indication. He looked at Spock, who had clearly ignored all safety precautions to come down here after him. They were lucky they hadn’t died together, crashed at the bottom of the canyon.


Scratch that, Jim was lucky.


He managed another smile, holding up the piece of wire still clutched in his hand. “Well, I do still have this,” he said.


“Are you implying that such a discovery makes your near death worthwhile?” Spock asked, one eyebrow arched.


Jim patted Spock on the arm. “Whatever works, Spock,” he said. “Now, what do you say? Should we get out of here?”


Spock glanced back up the inclined toward the new split in the bridge. “I would prefer to vacate this area before you crash the ship,” he said with a pointed look. “Again.”


Snorting, Jim took a step forward, still braced by Spock. The metal groaned but didn’t move. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” he said with another forward step. He winked as Spock followed him. “You’ll see.”


-o-


Spock did see.


Step after step, inch by inch, the damn Vulcan would see it as clear as Jim could make it. It wasn’t easy -- when was it ever easy -- but when they finally arrived at the breach, Jim’s head was clearing and his confidence was building. He had the wire; he had the exit. It was all going to be fine.


It took some more work to navigate the tear in the ship, and Jim allowed Spock to climb over first and hoist him up. The movement jarred his head bad enough that he saw stars, and he could feel blood starting to trickle down the back of his neck. He’d have to have Bones look at that, sooner rather than later.


Discreetly, too.


There was no need to worry the entire crew. He wanted to frame this as positively as he could. A successful step in what would be, ultimately, a successfully salvaged mission. All he needed was the wire and Chekov.


Jim stopped short on the other side, struggling to catch his breath. His eyes focused, though, and his lungs seemed to stop working altogether.


It was Jim’s turn to see, plain and harsh and simple.


He’d have to wait for McCoy, just a little longer.


Because the doctor was hunched over, red in the face, giving face and rapid CPR to Chekov.


-o-


Just like that, it was all crashing down again.


Faster, harder, completely.


His own plight forgotten, Jim stumbled forward, tripping his way next to McCoy. Spock easily navigated the wreckage, coming up alongside the other side of Chekov, who was splayed flat on his back, face smeared with soot.


“What the hell happened?” Jim asked, all his bravado slipping.


McCoy grunted, barely sparing him a look as he bent down, pinching Pavel’s nose and breathing in two, sharp breaths. When he straightened, his face was flushed red and his face was set with absolute concentration. “Found him like this,” he panted, keeping up a frenetic pace of compressions. “No pulse; no breath sounds. Can’t say how long he’s been down.”


Jim’s stomach twisted. “How long have we been here?” he asked, trying to make sense of the lapse of time.


“Not as long as you might think,” Spock said. “Dr. McCoy and I were concerned about your decision to return to the wreck. We concluded that it may be best to wait closer to this location in case something should happen.”


Jim gave him an incredulous look. “You could have risked your lives.”


“And, quite possibly, saved yours,” Spock reminded him.


With a grunt, McCoy bent over to breath again. Sweat was starting to run down his face, soaking his hair. “I found him fast; maybe five minutes,” he panted. “Had epinephrine in the hypospray, but I need a cardiac stimulator.”


“Doctor, if I may,” Spock said, with a nod down to Chekov.


“You’re not a doctor,” he snapped, still pressing vigorously as Chekov laid unmoving beneath him.


“Basic first aid is a standard course at the academy,” Spock reminded him. “Besides, we need your talents to come with up another solution to help Mr. Chekov.”


Bones studied him, not relenting. He breathed for Chekov again, falling back. As he collapsed in exhaustion, Spock slide into place on the opposite side, starting up the compressions with a fair approximation of McCoy’s style and vigor.


“You have to do it hard and fast,” McCoy ordered, still breathing heavily. “You have to pump the blood.”


Spock responded by picking up the pace, and Jim found himself half propping his doctor up off the ground.


“So, what do we do?” Jim asked.


For a second, McCoy looked at him like he was crazy. “Ideally, we’d get him to a facility with real medical supplies,” he said, shaking. “CPR, it’s a stopgap.”


“A stopgap for what,” Jim pressed, far too aware of Chekov’s graying complexion beneath him.


“I told you, a cardiac stimulator,” McCoy said, sounding frustrated and exasperated. He flung his hand in the air. “This is like the damn stone age with physical manipulation. All we need is an electrical charge to make it complete.”


Jim cocked his head confused.


McCoy stopped, his eyes widening. “An electrical charge,” he repeated.


Jim turned, scanning the wreckage. The emergency lights were mostly dead by now, but a few panels were still sparking from where the wires were frayed. Power was fading -- fast -- but it wasn’t gone yet.


And neither was hope.


He scrambled to his feet, ripping the first live panel he could find aside. The material cut into his fingers, but he ignored the sensation, clawing a hole that was big enough to see the wiring underneath. He reached in, unflinchingly, feeling the warmth of a live current as he wrenched it free. It took some maneuvering to extricate a long enough strand, and he produced it to McCoy.


“Will this do?” he asked.


McCoy licked his lips. “One way to find out.”


With that, the doctor took the cables, turning back toward Spock and Chekov.


“Everyone stay clear,” McCoy said.


Obediently, Spock pulled back, and for one, horrible moment, Chekov was well and truly dead.


Then McCoy lowered the cables, holding them to Chekov’s chest. He winced before gritting his teeth and pressing it down.


On the ground, Chekov’s body lurched.


As his back arched, his mouth opened and he took a desperate, railing breath before flopping back hard to the ground.


Just like that, Jim had another chance to make this right.


And he sure as hell wasn’t going to waste it.


-o-


McCoy grumbled and complained, but he was damn good under stress. When the situation called for a cool head and a steady hand, the doctor was the best there was.


Before Jim could even make his next decision, McCoy was by Chekov’s side, feeling for a pulse and using a hand on his chest to check for vitals. “Breath sounds are surprisingly good,” he said. He frowned as he felt up and down Chekov’s ribcage. “But we didn’t do those broken ribs any favors.”


“So he’s okay?” Jim asked.


McCoy grunted, lifting up Chekov’s eyelids and flashing a small light in them. “I couldn’t tell you for sure,” he said. “Without a medical tricorder--”


Jim nodded impatiently. “I know, I know, we’re in the stone ages,” he said. “But come on. Is he okay?”


“I’m getting reaction out of his pupils, which is a good thing,” the doctor said with a sigh. “It’s going to be hard to say much more until he wakes up.”


“Okay,” Jim said, looking at Chekov again. His navigator was pinking up a little, color starting to effuse into his cheeks as his breathing grew deeper. “And that will be…?”


McCoy gestured in futility. “Five minutes, five hours -- five years,” he said. “I told you, if I can’t run a brain scan, I’m working with nothing but the Glasgow Coma Scale. That has been used as a useful measurement since the late 21st century.”


“In any case,” Spock interjected. “I recommend we vacate this wreckage immediately.”


“His condition is fragile,” McCoy snapped.


Almost on cue, the ship around them shimmied, a long groan sounding.


Jim swallowed, sober. “So is this ship.”


“If we move him, we could do more damage,” McCoy argued. “With his ribs in that state, we could puncture a lung -- or worse.”


The ship stuttered again, something sparking in a corner.


“And if we stay here, we could all be killed with the next shift,” Spock advised.


Jim gritted his teeth. Logic and emotion; and Jim had to be the decision maker. All the control.


All the responsibility.


He looked at Chekov.


He looked at Spock and McCoy.


He looked at the wire, still in his hand.


The rest of the crew, they were waiting for him, and Jim Kirk had never accepted a no-win situation.


Ever.


Getting to his feet, Jim pushed through the wreckage.


“Jim, what the--”


“Captain, I strongly recommend against--”


Jim ignored them both until he found a piece of the wreckage long enough. He hoisted it, mindful of the shifting debris, and gauging its weight. One of the perks of the new design was the lightweight materials it was made from. Everyone had touted the maneuverability of the material.


For the moment, Jim was more interested in its load bearing capacity.


“Here,” he said, turning back to his most trusted friends.


McCoy was staring at him, incredulous.


Spock tilted his head, curious.


“It’s a stretcher!” Jim said. “Put him on it, strap him down, and we get the hell out of here with as little additional damage as possible.”


“Where are we going to find the straps?” McCoy asked.


“And the journey out could be quite difficult to navigate,” Spock said.


There was a fresh spark, followed by the smell of gathering smoke.


Because things weren’t already bad enough.


They needed a fire, too.


“Either that, or we all burn to death,” Jim said. “Normally, I’d make it an order, but this time, I’ll leave it up to you.”


McCoy drew a somber breath. “We can make strips of our shirts,” he said.


“And I believe that, between the three of us, we can navigate the course with some ease,” Spock said.


Jim dragged the piece of hull closer, putting it down next to his downed officer. “That’s what I thought.”


-o-


It wasn’t easy work, made harder by McCoy’s insistence that they do it careful and slow. The give and take between them was strained but wordless, but Jim was adept at negotiating tricky situation.


Still, working their way out of the wreckage was more than tedious; it was exhausting. As they navigated Chekov’s stretcher out of the open rift in the hull, Jim was reminded that he had endured new injuries himself in the fall. He hadn’t deemed them serious, but they were catching up with him now. When he ended up on the receiving end of the stretcher, with nothing but him between Chekov and the ground, he took a split second to consider that maybe he’d overestimated his own abilities by just a bit.


But just as his arms threaten to give way, a fresh pair came up alongside. And as his legs started to fold, someone caught him.


He watched as Uhura helped guide the stretcher down in his place, and he leaned heavily into Sulu’s arms. Part of him wanted to protest, but there was no point to it. Really, this was what it was about, anyway. A crew, coming together.


They were better together, and Jim was no exception.


He let Sulu prop him up, reminding Uhura to balance the board properly while McCoy and Spock climbed out after. They limped away from the wreckage, Jim pushing them onward to a safe distance away at the top of the hill where Scotty was waiting for them, bowed over but expectant.


Breathing heavily, he looked back in time to watch the wreckage shift again before the rift tore wider and collapsed to the sides. Half crumbled down to the valley while the other turned up, making the entrance inaccessible.


“Well,” Jim said with a heavy, tired sigh as he looked back at his crew. “That could have gone worse.”


-o-


Of course, it also could have gone better.


It wasn’t that his crew was too respectful to say such a thing to him.


It was that they were too busy.


They made a slow trek back to camp, encumbered by injury. It was just as well, as far as Jim was concerned. He wasn’t sure he would know exactly what to do when they got back.


Fortunately, no one needed a command to get back to work. Sulu helped settle Chekov down, taking orders from McCoy with far less animosity this time around. On the opposite side of camp, Uhura and Spock started doing the enhancements to the antenna under Scotty’s watchful if exhausted eye.


Jim was not a communications expert. He was also not a mechanical genius. And he sure as hell wasn’t a medic. Which made him, the captain of this venture, almost an irrelevant player.


All the same, Jim was going to try.


He settled down opposite of Sulu, watching as McCoy sifted through their supplies and started to give Chekov another, more thorough examination. He helped cut Chekov’s shirt away, trying not to wince as he saw the bruises in full blossom. It would be tempting to attribute that to the aggressive CPR, but the deepened blues and purples had to be from the initial crash.


He’d known Chekov had been hurt, but he’d had no idea. If he had, he would never have let the kid come along.


His stomach twisted with guilt as McCoy fiddled with one of the science tricorders with a scowl on his face.


“So?” Jim prompted. He’d been working on the art of patience, but he didn’t have the energy or emotional capacity for it right about now.


McCoy never had the patience, at least. The doctor sighed gruffly. “This thing only provides a rudimentary picture of his anatomical functions,” he said with pursed lips. “But it’s clear enough to show that his life signs are strained. Breathing, respiration -- it’s depressed.”


Thoughtfully, McCoy put the tricorder down, leaning close to Chekov. He pressed his hand along Chekov’s ribcage again, listening intently.


“So--” Jim started.


McCoy cut him off with a harsh shush, holding up his other hand.


Obediently, Jim closed his mouth, trying not to look as nervous as he felt -- not with Sulu watching him, anxious.


McCoy sat back on his heels, shaking his head. “I can hear it in his lungs, the congestion,” he said.


“Maybe some kind of cold?” Sulu suggested.


McCoy ticked his head to the side. “It’s too pronounced for that,” he said. “And the onset is too rapid.”


“Cut the medical jargon, Bones,” Jim demanded. He gave an emphatic look at Chekov. “What’s wrong with him?”


“If I had to guess, I’d say one of those ribs punctured something, probably a lung,” he said. “He’s probably got blood filling his lungs as we speak.”


Jim did his best not to blanche.


Sulu was not so lucky.


“So, what do we do about it?” Jim pressed. The problem was one thing; the solution was another. That was how he’d beat the Kobiyashi Maru. Because he’d focused his attention on the real problem, not the one Starfleet wanted or expected him to tackle.


But McCoy’s shrug was hardly encouraging. “All I have to work with are a few hyposprays,” he said. “I accumulated everything else I thought I could adapt in case of an emergency yesterday, but knives, tubes and disinfectant leave a lot to be desired.”


“But it’s something,” Jim continued, pressing for any amount of good news. “Right?”


McCoy sighed, the undertones of resignation too pronounced on his expression to ignore. “It’s primitive and far less exact,” he explained. “These kinds of treatments, the incur a great deal of secondary damage to the body, which is why we did away with them for less invasive techniques. And even if I can pull off some kind of field procedure, I’m essentially working blind here. I don’t want to start poking things into this kid’s chest until I know for sure what’s wrong.”


“When will you know?” Sulu asked, quieter than Jim. He nodded to Chekov. The two most junior members of his senior staff were experienced beyond their years; trained beyond their age. They spent so much time at the con together that Jim knew their bond was real. This wasn’t just a member of the crew to Sulu. It was his friend.


McCoy looked at him, somber. “There are indications for most complications,” he said. “But it’s a game of wait and see. I can’t take proactive measures; I can only respond to symptoms as they develop. And maybe we get lucky, maybe he doesn’t develop any complications. But, if it does...”


Jim nodded bleakly. “Then we’re working in the stone age,” he said. He didn’t look at Chekov this time; he didn’t want to think about the life expectancy of someone in the stone age. He didn’t want to think about the mortality rates of 21st century medicine.


He forced himself to swallow, to keep his head high.


“But you can keep him alive,” he continued, with a sudden, renewed vigor.


McCoy met his gaze, straightening almost by the necessity of Jim’s look alone. “I can sure as hell try.”


Jim nodded, resolute. “You do that,” he said, getting to his feet. “And I’m going to figure a way to get us off this rock.”


-o-


Where McCoy didn’t have enough to work with, it seemed like Uhura and Spock had too much.


“You got to -- you got to just take the thing off,” Scotty was saying between labored breaths. “We’re not winning any awards for design here.”


“But the booster provides better communication clarity,” Uhura said, not quite arguing. Stressed out as they all were, Uhura was aware that their chief engineer had seen better days.


The fact that he was barely conscious was probably a not-so-helpful reminder.


Scotty swatted at the air. “And it also draws energy from the exported signal,” he said, holding an arm protectively across his chest, mindful of the padded burns along his shoulder and neck.


“We could set up the circuit to split the energy flow,” Spock said.


“And we could build an entire spaceship out here, given enough time,” Scotty said. “I think our priority needs to be that lad over there.”


His voice trailed off as he made a vague gesture toward Chekov on the other side of the camp.


Jim cleared his throat, stepping in closer. “Mr. Scott is right,” he said, as authoritatively as he could manage. “This isn’t the time for finesse.”


“But we want it to work,” Uhura said. “We can’t have gone through all this just to have our message out garbled. If that’s the case, then all of this is for nothing.”


“They can clear it up on the other end,” Scotty said, blinking heavily. “Normally I don’t like to compromise quality for -- anything, really, but I think -- I think this time -- we have to make an exception.”


Even if Uhura wanted to agree -- and even if Spock wanted to try a logical intervention -- there was no way to do it. Not with Scotty fading before their very eyes, and not with Chekov still unconscious.


All the same, Jim wouldn’t make them take the responsibility of choice -- any of them. That was his.


“Do the shortcut,” he ordered with a nod down to the equipment. “I want a signal transmitting in thirty minutes and not a second longer.”


Uhura looked at him. Then she looked at Scotty and then across toward Chekov. Without a word, she ducked her head back down, hastily getting back to work. It was Spock who stood, taking Jim by the arm and turning him away from the others.


“There is a distinct possibility that this will not work,” he said, quietly but unflinchingly.


“I’m well aware of that fact,” Jim said, doing his best to keep himself composed.


“I am not certain that this is the most appropriate time to be reckless,” Spock advised.


Across the camp, Chekov was still, the bruises visible as his chest staggered up and down. Sulu looked stricken, and McCoy looked worse, vigilant and downright exhausted. Uhura was working doggedly, and Scotty was fading faster with each passing second.


Jim had set out on a five year mission and it was all falling apart in a day.


“Now’s exactly the time to be reckless,” Jim said, voice low and serious as he looked at his first officer. “While we still have everything to lose.”


“I’m not sure your logic is valid in this situation,” Spock said.


“You sure about that?” Jim asked, nodding back toward the crew. “We’re all still alive, but if we don’t take action, we might not stay that way.”


“But reckless action puts more people at risk,” Spock said.


“It’s a few damn circuits, Spock,” Jim said, a little more curt than he intended. “It’s not my fault we’re in this mess, but I’ll be damned if it’s my fault that we don’t get out of it.”


“Your emotions sometimes drive you to make irrational decisions,” Spock reminded him coolly.


Jim turned, squaring his chest to Spock. Not quite defiant, but certain and unrelenting. “And what would you have me do?” he asked. He nodded toward the others. “McCoy is watching to see if Chekov dies. Scotty’s nearly unconscious. If we sit here and let that happen, then what does that say about us?”


“Sometimes inaction is the most effective means forward,” Spock said. “Humans have an irrational desire to circumvent the nature flow of things by taking unnecessary steps.”


“Unnecessary?” Jim hissed, drawing Spock away. “What part of saving Chekov and Scotty is unnecessary?”


“Going back in the ship was probably unnecessary, and yet it led to Mr. Chekov’s serious injuries,” Spock said. “This entire test flight was likely unnecessary because other ships would have been available in due course, which is what caused this incident in the first place. You like to defer blame, but I do believe you need to face the harsher reality behind your actions and accept that sometimes inaction is the preferred choice.”


Spock wasn’t trying to be mean, not in the traditional sense. Spock didn’t want to insult him; Spock didn’t want to prove him wrong or hurt his feelings. That wasn’t Spock, that wasn’t Vulcan, and that wasn’t a friend. Spock wanted to make sure he understood the consequences of his actions; he wanted to make sure that Jim knew that someday he’d lose more than he won.


Someday.


That was the point, though.


It was going to happen someday, but that didn’t make it today. That didn’t mean that he gave up the fight now just to accept defeat later.


“That’s what progress is, though,” he said. “Two steps forward, one step back. And maybe that’s why humans do it so slowly compared to Vulcans, maybe that’s why you find us so damn frustrating, but that’s where my responsibility lies. In making the choices, in taking action, in moving forward. Because I can forgive myself if something bad happens along the way, but I sure as hell would never forgive myself if something happened while I sat here and did nothing.”


Spock held his gaze for a long, quiet moment, before nodding his head. “I suppose that is why I continue to follow you,” he said. “Because you do make the journey incomparably worth joining.”


Jim smiled, just a little.


Enough for the both of them.


“Thirty minutes,” he ordered. “I want a signal in thirty minutes.”


Spock nodded his head in deference. “Yes, sir.”


-o-


He talked big; he always had. Jim had never shied away from fights he couldn’t win, and he’d even been pretty good at winning fights he should have lost. Sometimes, though, the bravado felt hollow.


Sometimes it felt like a damn vacuum.


Back on the other side of camp, he lowered himself gingerly to the ground, mindful of the new injuries he had incurred in the shifting debris. Everything felt sore now, and he was fairly certain that he probably had a concussion by this point. The fact that McCoy hadn’t forced him to the ground to study every bruise and bump in great detail was a testament to just how busy the good doctor was with other, more pressing concerns.


Sighing, he dropped his head and rubbed at his forehead. It had only been yesterday that he’d been back at spacedock. Yesterday.


Bleakly, he opened his eyes.


He’d been so optimistic.


At least when Jim was wrong, he was wrong in the most spectacular fashion.


His gaze passed over Chekov, being tended to by McCoy. It was marginally reassuring to watch him breathe, but each strained breath was a reminder that time was no longer on their side.


As hard as this was for him, he couldn’t forget that it was hard for everyone. Sulu had retreated to a nearby location, clearly ordered by the doctor to get some rest -- and leave him alone. If Bones needed help, he’d ask for it. Until then, he wanted space.


That was best for Chekov, which was why Jim would respect it.


It wasn’t necessarily best for anyone else, though.


He cleared his throat, trying to sound casual. “They’re close over there,” he said, jerking his head back over his shoulder to where Uhura and Spock were working. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve got a signal up and running any minute here.”


It was an overly optimistic prediction, but the fact that it wasn’t for his own sake made it forgivable.


Sulu smiled weakly.


He’d been hoping for conversation, but of course it couldn’t be easy. Not that he would blame Sulu for that -- he understood, he did -- but just because Jim was willing to do things the hard way didn’t mean he always liked it. “And Chekov, well, he’s a kid who will surprise you,” he said. He shook his head with a fond grin. “I still remember when I first met him. I thought there was no way they’d gotten the assignment right. He was a kid. He is a kid. But he’s damn good.”


“The best,” Sulu said. “I’ve worked with a lot of navigators in my time at Starfleet, but none of them have been like him.”


Jim considered him thoughtfully. “You two are good together,” he observed. “I was glad when you both signed on to stay, even if we didn’t have a ship.”


“He loves Enterprise,” Sulu said, looking at Chekov wistfully. He pressed his lips together, thin. “At least, he did.”


Before they’d crashed it, destroyed it and left it for scrap.


Details.


“We’ll get another ship, a better ship,” Jim said. He gestured to the wreck. “Nothing like this.”


The promise was one he couldn’t keep. How could he? Who could possibly guarantee anything like that in this line of work? The spatial anomalies. The engineering malfunctions. The unexpected interactions with alien races. If he wasn’t being attacked, he was hiding the ship under the water or chasing phantom wars across the galaxy.


This whole thing was a crap shoot, only this time he could write a program to fix it in his favor.


This time, he just had to live it.


His stomach flipped hard.


He just had to survive it.


Sulu made a face. “It’s weird, though. Seeing him like this,” he said, the words clipped and stunted. “He’s always got this, I don’t know, nervous energy. Just always going, always thinking, always moving. He’s never...still.”


Sulu was right about that. It was hard to see, and it drove the point home of just how serious this situation had become. The thing was, Jim couldn’t help that any more than he already had.


What he could do, however, was help Sulu.


“He looks up to you, you know,” he said.


Sulu furrowed his brows together. “What?”


“Chekov,” Jim clarified. “He looks up to you. On another ship, with a different helmsman, he might not have fit in as well as he has. But you know how to make sense of his enthusiasm; you know how to use it.”


Sulu’s breathing seemed to catch.


Jim nodded, as though coming to the most obvious conclusion in the world. “You two, you’re good together. The perfect pair.”


Sulu’s face was stark, the color drained out of his cheeks.


“Chekov’s too smart to mess that up with something as silly as a shipwreck,” Jim said with his most avuncular tone.


For a moment, his trained, capable helmsman looked younger than Chekov. “And what if he doesn’t have a choice?”


Jim smiled, hard enough that it hurt. “We always have a choice,” he said. “The options aren’t always what we want, but we always have a choice. And we’re together, you know? That matters, that we’re together.”


Sulu nodded slowly, looking back at his friend again. “He’d appreciate that, I think,” he said. “He’d appreciate that a lot.”


Jim nodded. “We all do,” he said with as much confidence as he could project. “I think we all do.”


-o-


Jim tried to let the silence between him and Sulu be amiable, but it was silence. Amiable or not, it was awkward as hell, and Jim had become captain far too quickly to be fond of sitting still.


About halfway through his half hour timeline, he decided to see how progress was going.


He arrived just in the knick of time, too. Because Uhura looked like she was about to kill Spock.


Granted, given their relationship within the close quarters of his ship over the last few years, this was not altogether unusual.


That didn’t make it any less impressive.


“No, you strip the wire,” Uhura insisted, eyes burning bright with emotion. She jabbed her good hand at Spock. “Since you’re the one who decided to waste the good part of the fuse with some idiotic test--”


“It was a precautionary tactic to make sure you did not get electrocuted--” Spock tried to explain.


“That wasted a good half inch of wire,” she seethed. She pointed at the end. “Do you think we have a half inch to spare? Do you want to send anyone else back inside that wreck? Because it went so well last time?”


Spock took a measured breath, as if weighing his options. Technically, he outranked her. He also probably had logic on his side. Scotty was mercifully sleeping by this point, giving them no means of a viable, reliable tiebreaker.


Not that it would have mattered.


She forcibly put the wire in his hand. “Go,” she said. “Strip it down carefully. We’re going to need every inch, and if you waste any more, you can explain to Scotty why you’ve screwed up his plan and then explain to Chekov why he’s stuck here a little longer than necessary.”


Spock weighed his options.


And consented. “Very well,” he said with a perfunctory bow. As he turned back to the stockpile Scotty had sorted earlier, he gave Jim a quizzical look. If Jim didn’t know the Vulcan better, he might have thought it a warning.


Uhura turned her glare on him. “No,” she said. “It’s not ready.”


“Hey, I didn’t say anything,” Jim deflected.


Uhura went back to the transceiver with a muffled grunt. Although she was limited to one hand, she worked surprisingly efficiently. “You didn’t have to,” she muttered.


It was a fight Jim wouldn’t pick under other circumstances. Although he wanted to keep the tension from building to any kind of breaking point, he couldn’t pretend like this was a social hour. “How far have you gotten?”


She shot him a conspicuous glare, but she pursed her lips and drew a breath. “I got a signal, but it was weak, mostly static,” she said, fiddling with the exposed circuitry again. “We need a better position, and I think we may be in luck. But with Spock’s needless safety concerns, we may not have those inches.”


“I’m sure you two will come up with something,” he said, trying to be upbeat. He looked at Scotty, feeling a little guilty. “How long has he been out?”


She was trying to stay focused, but it was clear that it was a struggle. “Almost since you left us,” she said. She dropped her voice, giving Jim a surreptitious look. “He’s in a lot of pain.”


“Well, I can get Bones--”


Uhura was already shaking her head, eyes on her work again as she tried repositioning a wire with one hand and bracing the unit with her knees. “That’s the last thing he’d want,” she said with a sigh. “All of you, every last one, are stubborn.”


“And you think you’re somehow not included in that statement?”


She almost smiled. The hint of it graced the corners of her lips. “I guess stubborn is the wrong word,” she said, lifting her gaze to look at him fully. She cocked her head, defiant. “Idiotic, maybe?”


“Ah,” Jim said. “Seeing as I just crashed the ship -- twice -- I probably don’t have any room to argue.”


“No,” she agreed, somewhat smug. “You probably don’t.”


“But you know, it could be worse,” he ventured.


She arched her brows. “Oh? Worse than being stranded on a planet with no communication lines and injured idiots everywhere I look?”


He found his biggest shit-eating grin. “You could be stranded on a planet with no communication lines and injured idiots while being pregnant with Spock Junior.”


The effect was exactly what he’d planned.


She laughed. “That is entirely inappropriate for you to talk about, you know.”


“Normally, I’d agree,” Jim said. “But I mean, it’s not like you and Spock exactly try to keep things secret.”


“Like we could,” she said with a grunt. “Besides, he’s the one who goes around telling things he has no business telling.”


“Oh, I don’t know,” Jim said. “He cares about you, is all.”


She stopped her fiddling, chewing on the inside of her bottom lip. “I know,” she admitted. Then she lifted her head. “And for the record, it’s not that I’m opposed to having a baby or his baby specifically. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it. Haven’t you? Thought about it?”


Jim gave her a befuddled expression. “About you and Spock having a baby?”


Her exasperation was palpable. “About having your own baby.”


At that thought, Jim’s face contorted. “I would be a terrible parent,” he said. “Besides, this kind of life, doesn’t seem fair. I know some people who can do both, but I’d have to pick between the kid and my starship, and I’m a little afraid of who would win.”


“Exactly,” she said. “We’d have to make a choice. Ship or family, and what’s weirder is that they’ve always been the same for me.” She shook her head. “I’m just not sure I’m ready to separate them yet. Maybe ever.”


“Hey, no arguments from me,” Jim said. “Whatever you and Spock decide is for you two to decide. Either way -- any way -- you have a place on my ship.”


She gave a short, callous snort. “What ship?”


He winced, but mostly for effect. She had a point. “Well,” he said, drawing as much aw-shucks nuance as he could from his Iowa upbringing. “We’re working on it.”


Clearly, she was unconvinced. “Uh huh.”


“Don’t you have a deadline?” he asked to change the topic.


She rolled her eyes, even if she was technically still smiling. “Yes, sir.”