The moment their shift was over, the Bridge crew was racing through the hallways (or speed walking, in Spock's case) towards the Medbay to see the Captain. Two days ago, they had been attacked on an away mission, and the Captain had gotten pretty badly injured. He'd been unconscious since they'd gotten back, and was refused visitors until his condition had improved. Just half an hour ago, the Bridge had gotten an alert that after their shift (and only after, the note had mentioned) they could go and see Kirk.
When they reached Medbay, they could hear Doctor McCoy ranting at someone. Spock was about to enter the room, but Sulu put his arm out to block him. The half-Vulcan raised an eyebrow, but at their pleading looks, nodded and remained silent. The group quietly move to the door by an unspoken agreement, and remained quiet to listen.
" - three times! Don't you get it Jim? You could have died this time! You have got to be more careful on your away trips, or one of these days I might not be able to save you. You might die on my operating table, and where do you think that will leave me?" There was a short pause. "I swear, it's like you have no fear about your own mortality."
"I don't." The response was barely audible, and the voice rough from disuse. It was the Captain. Unconsciously, each of the hovering group leaned in a bit to hear him better. "I'm not afraid of death. Never have been, even when I was a child. I fear it even less now." There was the sound of machines whirring and metal clinking in the following silence.
"So, what? You're just going to throw yourself headfirst into danger just because you aren't afraid? Just because you can?" Doctor McCoy's voice was sharp, but held traces of hurt and concern for his friend.
"No. That's not fair to you, for one. I'm also not looking to get myself killed anytime soon. I've had enough of dying for the rest of my lifetime." A collective sharp breath was drawn. The subject of the Captain's death was 'off-limits' unless he brought it up himself, which he rarely did. Discussing it was like rubbing salt in an open wound. It had been a while since his incident, but the memory still hurt. "You can ask me, you know. About dying. I don't mind, and it's obvious everyone's more than a little curious. Ever since it happened, all of you have been walking on eggshells around the topic."
"Can you blame us? We had just lost you, and despite what you think, you are the glue that holds this crew together. It was a hard loss." There was a momentary pause. ". . . What was it like? What did you see? Or maybe feel, I guess. Whatever." There was a thoughtful silence as the Captain considered his words.
"It was painful." He admitted, and the crew felt a brief spike of pain in there chests at the statement. "Although that was probably more due to the way I died than the actual death itself. I was being cooked alive from the inside due to the radiation. My body hurt, and it felt like I was coming apart at the seams. As I got closer, though, it began to hurt less. I was afraid then, I won't deny that, but I wasn't afraid of death. I was afraid of leaving all of you, of Khan hurting you, of never seeing all of you again . . ." His voice trailed off, and it was several minutes before he continued.
"I began to feel like I was shutting down. Like I was passing out, or going to sleep. Seconds before my body died, though, it felt like I was waking up. Suddenly, I realized that I didn't need my body anymore. It felt too small and tight, like a sweater that shrunk five sizes in the wash. So, I let it go." Kirk laughed incredulously at the memory.
"Bones, you can't believe how much there is in this universe alone, much less the others. After I left my body, I . . . expanded, for lack of a better word. I was everywhere, in everything. There is so much that we don't know and haven't seen. So much that we'll never understand or find. But for a moment, I felt it all. I don't remember all of it, but I remember enough to know that it was beautiful. Bones, I was part of the stars."
His last words were said with such a reverent longing that the crew almost felt cruel for having fought so hard to take him away from them. His description of death was beautiful, even as it was terrifying. Being that big, and a part of so many things . . . The idea was daunting. There was a silence in the room that told them that McCoy felt the same way.
"What happened next?" He asked quietly, solemn in a way they rarely saw. Kirk was quiet for a moment, trying to figure out what to say, and to not get overwhelmed by his memories. The crew was riveted, and had been ignoring the strange looks they were getting from others as they hovered outside of Medbay.
"You know how it looks when a vacuum sucks up a piece of fabric? How the fabric is tugged at in one spot and folds in on itself before it's sucked up? That's the closest I can come to describing what it felt like to wake up again. My body was the vacuum, and I was the one getting sucked up. In my expanded state, things seemed rather timeless. However, it felt like only a couple of heartbeats went by before I was sucked back. In the following weeks, I had to readjust to the feeling of my own body. It was strange, and even now I occasionally feel a little constricted, but the sensation is less severe and less frequent these days, and it definitely is going away."
"Well, you certainly can give a guy a lot to think about." McCoy said lightly, after he absorbed the information. A quiet laugh from the Captain followed. After a moment of hesitation, the doctor spoke again. "So, after that description, you expect me to believe you really aren't trying to get back to your 'expanded state' again?"
"Yes. Like I said, it isn't fair to you guys if I tried – especially with all of the hard work you went to so you could get me back. Besides, I have a lot of living left to do. The expanded state will always be there, but all of this? Life? It won't be. I have to live it while I can, and it wouldn't be worth it if I constantly wanted to be somewhere else. So no, I don't want to go back there just yet. I'll save that for the prize at the end of the race that I hope ends many years in the future."
There was the sound of rustling, and a sound that announced the doctor had just clapped his friend on the shoulder, no doubt being mindful of his friend's injuries. The listening crew felt something deep inside. It felt like peace and longing, mixed up with a little bit of joy.
"That's good to hear, kid. Despite being a pain in the ass, you're also my best friend, I don't want all of my hard work to go to waste so soon. And if anyone deserves a prize like that at the end of their life, you do."
Deciding that now would be a good time to announce their presence, Uhura stepped through the door, causing the others to hurriedly follow. They tried to seem like they had been walking for a while, not scrambling after eavesdropping for a while. Their entrance drew the attention of both the doctor and the Captain. The latter's face lit up and a beam formed on his face.
"Hey guys! Been taking care of my ship for me while I was out?" The Captain's voice was as bright as his smile, and many of the Bridge crew felt their own smiles forming at the sight of his enthusiasm. They glanced among themselves with fondness, before Spock stepped forward to respond to the man who lived for the stars.