Souvenirs of a Madman

I don’t know where this came from, exactly, as I swore off writing Star Trek reboot slash long, long ago. Damn it. This is hurt/comfort pre-slash, though, so I haven’t broken my vow. Honest.

There are certain advantages to being dead.

One is, you don’t have to deal with tribunals. Hard to interrogate a corpse. As far as you know, anyway; there’s probably some weird Vulcan shit that could yank stuff out of a dead guy, and hell, you wonder if you’d even remember if anybody’d tried it, if Spock had, while you were, um, temporarily deceased.

Huh. Or if you’d want to.

What being dead also gets you is plausible deniability: you can pretend that gods, you doesn’t remember a damn thing that happened, what with the radiation torching your brain. There were no tears, no last-minute attempts at admission, no moment when you thought anything other than friend.

Nope. Radiation brain, you tell yourself. That’s why it all looked green there, at the end.

Best of all, being dead makes it impossible for anyone to ask, to pepper you with questions about your dying breath or what it felt like to stare your own fucking mortality in the face.

Because that would just be rude.

“You do realize a zombie tribble saved your life,” McCoy wheezes, pushing back from the console. “I mean, if you wanna get technical about it.”

Of course, not everyone defines rude quite the same.

“Can we not do this now?” you groan. “Please? I’m still high as a freaking kite here.”

The shuttle catches a turn, arcs into the Continental Stream–right? it must be–based on the way the sun cuts right through the durasteel, gives Bones a halo you’re sure he thinks he’s earned.

He hits his belt and twists all the way around, takes in your medchair and gives you a gleeful smile.

“Best time for it!” he trills. “Come on. It’ll be good for you, to talk. A little emotional honesty.”

“What? What the hell does a tribble have to do with my emotional whatever? Your interest in which is completely creepy, by the way,” you bluster, aiming for pissed but you’re so trussed up in the goddamn ‘chair, all of it beeping and readouts and shit, that all you can do is frown. Really loudly.

He smirks slow and lazy, in that way that tells you, oh, he’s just getting started. “As your family physician, son, it’s my responsibility, no, my duty to—”

“And don’t start with that son crap either,” you snap. “You’re only seven years older than me, damn it, and unless you’ve got some kinda super sperm, then you—”

“Huh,” he drawls, thoughtful. “Now that’s something I didn’t even think to test Khan for.”

You jolt so hard the ‘chair gets a little pissy. “Oh, jesus christ, Bones!!”

“What? It’s a legitimate question. Damn. I don’t know why I didn’t—but thank god I didn’t test it on the tribble. I mean, they reproduce at will already, so Hermes only knows what woulda happened if—”

“Gah!” you shout. “Can we please not discuss the sex lives of tribbles! Period. Let’s make that a rule.”

His eyes lock on you like he’s just remembered you’re there, like he’s just heard the angry noises that your damn ‘chair is making, and he blinks. Gives you a honey-covered grin.

“Oh. Well sure, sir. I know how sensitive you are about such things. Such delicate flowers they grow out there in Iowa, right?”

“So help me,” you grit, “as soon as I’m fucking ambulatory, I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“Uh huh,” he snorts. “Ok. Whatever you say.”

He flips a hand out and puts an end to the ‘chair’s shrieking, which is both welcome and a pain because now there’s just silence. The thrum of the engine doesn’t hide a goddamn thing, and now you’re just staring at the back of his head again, at the little sliver of sky you can see through the front screen, and it’s gonna be a long fucking trip, isn’t it?

A long fucking week, or however long Bones is plotting to keep you away. Away from HQ, away from the bee storm of reporters, away from—

Everyone else in creation, it seems like.

Though surely it’s really just one.

**

There are some disadvantages to being dead, too.

Like not having a say in your own life. What’s left of it, anyway.

Like leaving your best interests open to interpretation. Open to the interventions of a well-meaning but frequently insensitive wasp of a doctor, a friend who you’d die for on a good day, but right now you just wanna kill.

“I’m not a fucking invalid!” you huff as he manhandles you into the bed, this awful gleaming nest whose pillows can’t hide its true nature. It came straight from some stupid medbay, you’re sure, and it just underscores your helplessness. Even it is really fluffy.

“Look. You can be a baby about this as much as you want, Jim,” McCoy growls, shoving you squash under the covers. “I don’t give a fuck what you say, frankly. But you’re gonna get well whether you like it or not.”

“I’m fine!” you protest, resolute by way of reedy. Damn it.

He doesn’t bother to respond. Just mumbles something caustic and stabs the readouts over your head. They bend to his fury or skill, kick over into a rhythm he likes, you guess, because he stomps out of sight, still cursing your firstborn, no doubt.

He hits something on the way out, and at first you think he’s just pissed, but then the wall in front of you shimmers in waves and oh, oh hell. There’s the ocean.

You could smell the salt when you landed, when Bones dragged your ass and the ‘chair out of the shuttle and into an old aircar, but your brain must be more addled than you thought because it didn’t ring beach until now.

Where the hell are you, exactly?

“It’s a cottage,” McCoy’d said in the car. “Belongs to a friend of mine. You’ll probably hate it, but it’s the furthest I could get you away from all that”–he hovers over something he’s not sure he should say, it sounds like–“madness without dropping your ass in the North Atlantic. And as appealing an idea as that is at the moment, we’re going to the Gullahs instead.”

Why couldn’t the man just have said beach? We’re going to the beach. Jesus.

For all that, you have to admit: it’s beautiful. The wall must be just transparent, not open, because the sea grass is shifting and the sand shuffling around but you can’t feel the breeze or smell the air but, ah. Ok. It’s nice.

There are worse places to be trapped. To be alone with Bones and his one-man emotional army. He’s gonna bug you about shit, you know it, try to get you to talk about your feelings or whatever, your death; and honestly, you’d rather stab yourself in the fucking eye than go through that routine but you’re the one only recently undead, thanks in no small part to him, so you’d better find a way to deal or defer or deny, at least until you can crawl out of bed on your own.

The last time you tried that, in the hospital, you set off four alarms and broke a couple of ribs. McCoy threatened to strap you to the fucking wall if you didn’t stop acting like an ass and you wonder if that’s what convinced him to spirit you away out here. To give you a chance to get better alone, to make a fool of yourself in private as your body remembered how to live again.

Maybe that’s what it was.

Time is a little–disjointed, at the moment, so your brain’s not sure if that was yesterday or last month or if it was all a waking dream.

Doesn’t matter. You’re here. Bones is.

And Spock? He’s not.

You close your eyes, or they close for you, and you sleep on the sound of the waves.

**

When the hearings start, Bones won’t let you watch them.

“What the fuck does it matter?” he shouts, the third time that you ask. “You were there, you idiot. You know what happened. You don’t need to relieve it.”

“No, I’m not—” you try, but it’s no good talking to him while he’s like this. Full head of steam and eight kinds of Georgia fury. He’s being totally unreasonable, as always, because you’re fine, you were there, for crying out loud, so what does it matter if you listen to people talk about shit that you already know?

“How come they didn’t call me?” you ask him that night over cards. “I mean, if anybody’s ass should be hauled up for public inspection, it’s mine.”

He huffs and reshuffles his hand and, you note, doesn’t try to meet you eye. “Not necessary,” he says. “Got other people to speak to it. And ship’s records and such. ‘Sides, you get a pass, Jim. Being killed in the line of duty and all.”

He plays it like it’s a joke but you’re not buying.

“Other people?” you push, dumping your jack for a queen. “Really. Like who?”

He snags the jack and fans his cards out in a flush. “Other people who managed to not get themselves dead, alright? Shut about it. Let’s see your hand.”

Spock, you think later. Obviously. Your bridge crew. Your officers.

I should be there, you whisper to yourself in your sleep. Me. I should.

“Are you hiding me?” you ask over breakfast. “Is that it? Am I a fugitive from justice or some shit?”

He snorts coffee up his nose, which is almost worth it. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he manages. “Nobody’s out hunting for your ass. You’re out here nice and legal.”

You poke at your eggs for awhile, not talking. “And when did I agree to this, huh? Being dumped out in the middle of nowhere with you.”

He laughs. “Oh, Jim boy,” he says. “You didn’t.” He leans over and taps your plate. “Doctor’s orders, don’t you know. Rest and recovery from persistent, trauma-induced coma in the wake of accidental mostly death.” He sketches the words out in the sky, his hands waving over the table, the sand, your medchair–your goddamn blasted ‘chair.

“This is kidnapping!” you bitch, and for a second, stabbing his hand with your fork seems like a fantastic idea.

He grins at you, squinting in the sun. “You’re free to go at anytime, smartass. Go ahead. I dare you. Try and get away.”

You spend all morning on the beach, trying to convince your ‘chair that it really doesn’t hate the sand and all afternoon in bed, exhausted, as Bones tries to clean the damn thing and curses at you through your pain med haze.

Hey, he’s the one that suggested it. Not your fault he underestimated your desire to escape.

So you turn your attention back to the hearings–seems safer than making another break.

You wait until he’s in the kitchen fighting with the replicator to filch the access key from his nightstand, until he’s out charging the air car to dial up on the house port and tune in.

It’s day three of the proceedings, maybe four, and you’re honestly afraid that you’ve missed the good stuff, that you’ve tuned in to the bureaucratic backend of “How could this happen?” and then the first thing you see is Nogura. For a heartbeat, you’re terrified that he’s the bastard running this thing, because if that’s the case, you’re screwed. He’s never forgiven you for the Kobayashi thing, you’re sure of it, because Pike told you that he–

Then the angle turns and you can see that Nogura’s on the lower dais, beneath the hearing’s chair, and your breath comes out in a punch.

Flynn. Flynn’s running the show, full Admiral stars on her shoulder, and you say thank you to whatever gods might be listening because Flynn is alright. A hard ass, to be sure, somebody that’s never taken any of your shit, but fair and smart as hell. If there’s anybody at HQ you might be willing to trust after all of this madness, ok, it’s her.

She’s giving the steel eye to somebody, some poor bastard she’s no doubt caught in a cower, and you really hope Nogura’s had to be that guy, at some point. More than once.

“The record,” Flynn says to whoever’s before her, “is rather—unclear on this point. Perhaps by design. I don’t know. But this committee would very much appreciate, Commander, hearing your description of the events that transpired immediately after the Enterprise was intercepted by the USS Vengeance.” Her lips twitch like she’s trying not to smile and oh, you remember that look. Got it every time you sidled by her office hours, tried to sell her on that week’s excuse, even though you knew she weren’t buying. “I understand a garbage shoot was involved. Care to explain?”

And it’s the drugs, it has to be, whatever McCoy’s shoved in your veins, because your brain doesn’t comprehend the question, exactly, doesn’t put two and four together until the image shifts smoothly and oh. Oh hey. There’s Spock.

He looks–fine.

Looks the same, actually, utterly even in the sea of vid cams, in the buzz of the gallery, under the Admiral’s eagle eye.

He starts talking, calm as fuck, like he’s discussing the weather on Rigel, and you don’t hear what he’s saying, exactly, just the hum of his voice, and the ease that you feel, just then, surprises you. You might even start grinning–you’re not totally sure–because McCoy blows in just then, a whirlwind, sunburned and sandy and shouting.

He yells at the port until it goes black, drags your chair back to your room, and shotputs you into the bed.

“God-fucking-damn it!” he bellows. “What did I tell you? I told you not to mess with that shit! You’re off the hook, okay? There’s no need for you to worry about this crap, man!” Then he stops, stares full on at your face, and–

“Jim,” he whispers. “Damn it. It’s ok. Jesus. It’s fine.”

“What?” you try to say, because the sudden shift’s a little jarring, but your words are tied up in tears, in the water that’s running down your cheeks without your goddamn fucking permission but you can’t be angry, then, even at yourself, because hey.

Spock’s there. He’s got it. Everything’s under control.

Everything’s gonna be fine.

**

It takes two weeks, but you finally get sprung from the ‘chair.

Your legs are pretty dubious at first, not totally clear on their function, but they get the hang of it under your profanity and McCoy’s far too gentle commands.

He’s really nice to you after the whole hearings debacle. Still won’t let you watch them, but you don’t really want to, anymore. He keeps shooting you these looks when he thinks you’re sleeping or distracted or drunk, these looks that radiate concern and uncertainty, looks that make you feel fucking uneasy, thank you, so you pretend that you don’t see.

Much better.

You may be up and at ’em but you’re not winning any sprints this week, or next, and you end up in a hunched-out shuffle, one that reminds you of your grandpa in the last year before he died. The way he crept around your mom’s house, refusing to use a ‘chair, a cane, even your arm.

“If I’m going anywhere, kid,” he’d said to you more than once. “I’m gettin’ there under my own power or I’m not going at all.”

You didn’t understand that, then. Thought he was just being stubborn and actively trying to make your life more difficult, be even more of a pain in your ass, but now you kind of get it, his orneriness. His determination to be his own person even as his body broke down piece by fucking piece.

Ostensibly, you’re getting better. That’s what Bones says, with that mix of fury and affection that he seems to save up just for you. He even ruffles your hair once, which is disturbing.

And then he goes back on the attack, picks up the emotional bullshit and tries to get you to, ugh. Talk.

He waits until you’re drunk, the bastard, laid out with good bourbon and acres of southern-fried steak.

“Sooo,” he slurs. “Jim. You gonna tell me what it was like?”

You let your head loll until you can see him, silhouetted by the bonfire. “Huh?”

He sighs, overextravagant. “Dying, you dumbass. Being dead. What was that like?” He laughs. “You see angels or some shit like that? Hear an Hallelujah chorus, maybe?”

“Um,” you say, squinting. Trying to remember. “No. No angels. Just Spock.”

His voice shuts off mid-howl and things get really fucking quiet. “Oh,” he says.

“What’s he told you about that?” you ask, bourbon getting the best of your tongue. “I mean, wasn’t the only one there, was I? Had a witness and ever-y-thing.” You sing the last word, hear the sounds crook out over the waves.

“Yeah, ok,” McCoy mutters. “I know.”

He sounds uneasy, which means the shoe is on the other foot now, huh? Means you’re doing something right. “So?” you chirp. “What’d he say?”

Bones shuffles his feet in the sand and reaches for the bottle. “Not a hell of a lot. You were there. So was he. You died. All she wrote.”

“Hmmm,” you say. “So he didn’t tell you that he cried?”

He drops his glass, thud. “What?”

You smile, way stupid. “He cried, huh, when I died. Was all weepy there at the end, Bones. You should have seen it.”

He’s gawking at you like crazy. Fuck if you care.

“Bastard. Stupid Vulcan bastard. Waits until I die to say that shit. Tell me I’m his friend or whatever, but”–you’re on a roll now, no use taking a breath, even as you reel around the fire, stumble towards the flames–“what’s funny, huh? Is that I did, too. Never would have said that stuff if I didn’t think I wouldn’t be here, right, to face the consequences or some shit. To have to face him, after, when it’d have been too easy to say what I meant, you know? I mean, I love you? To a Vulcan? Get real, huh? Came too close as it is, doc, I was right there, right the fuck there and then I–”

Your breath runs out or your words or both and you stop.

For a second, you’re suffocating again, dying, feeling life dance away from you on irradiated strings and watching Spock reach for you, finally, knowing that you’re never going to touch.

“Oh my gods,” McCoy whispers, yanking you back to life. “Is that why–? I thought you were upset about the hearings, about not being there, that day. I didn’t realize that it was—”

You stare at him, grim wet eyes and sad and he doesn’t mock you, bless him. Doesn’t preach. Doesn’t do anything but drag you up the dunes and into the house and leave you to get your shit together in peace.

**

In another week–after the hearings have closed, of course–Bones declares you fit for duty, surprise, and you spend your last night in the Gullahs in the ocean, in the waves, swimming parallel to the shore and watching the wind turbines spin far, far out in the sea.

You climb in the aircar on your own this time. Snipe at McCoy about his shitty driving and generally act like yourself again. Even if you don’t really feel it.

You bully Bones into letting you fly the shuttle and damn, does it feel good to be off the ground for awhile. You take the long way back to San Francisco, up the Eastern Way to the north and west over the Hudson Flow to Chicago and beyond. Bones dozes off right away and you can’t help but do some loops when you get close to the Bay, just to hear him bellow as the Golden Gate sweeps into view.

But he’s more shocked when you reach over once you land, hug him tight in the shuttle bay and say: “Thanks.”

He hugs you back hard, the grizzly. “Don’t die on me again, you asshole,” he grumbles. “This was a one time deal. Only so many zombie tribbles in the world, you know.”

You take the sidewalks to your apartment, try not to stare at the craters Khan left in the skyline, souvenirs of a madman. Or two.

You clean up halfhearted, one hand wrapped around a brandy, until the itch under your skin gets too great and you find yourself in front of the comm.

This is a terrible idea, you think. But you’re smiling just at the thought of seeing his face and you think, what the hell, and say his name.

The best thing about being dead is that it makes life, afterwards, very fucking clear.

There’s living. And there’s dying. And now you’re smart enough to distinguish in between.

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