This is something I did because, well, I can only go so long during a three hour summer lecture before my mind wanders elsewhere. It's just a little bit of musing, because I haven't written some angst in a long time. The title is from the chemical element of the same name, and yes, I do have my reasons. I own nothing except for the character Adam Engle.
"I'm gonna die, aren't I, sir?" Ensign Adam Engle's eyes are wide with the dulled instincts of the wounded. When he speaks again, his voice trembles, and is thick with tones of anger and regret. "Nineteen years old, and I'm dying."
"Keep a hold of yourself, ensign," Kirk calls in his direction, but it is a line spoken out of necessity. He needs to remind himself as much as his companion.
A part of him knows, with a sinking feeling in his breast, the validity of the younger man's statement, because the ensign has a barbed projectile the width of three fingers jutting out of his abdomen amid a circle of blood and tattered flesh.
The away team had beamed down to the planet on a diplomatic mission, but the important detail that the local populace was less than tolerant of foreign races somehow escaped notice. The moment the world solidified around them, a barrage of projectiles sliced between them and scattered the entire landing party.
Kirk and Engle had been forced to one side by the ambush. In the chaos one of their adversaries hurled a lethal projectile at the captain's back, and the ensign pushed him to the side and took the attack in his stead. Kirk will never forget that sickening sound, like the squelching a person makes when stepping in deep mud. The impact threw the ensign sideways in an arc of brilliant red, and not all of it was from the color of his uniform.
Aside from a surprised 'oh,' he did not make a sound.
Kirk had been able to disable their attacker with one shot of his phaser and dragged the ensign into the shelter of a natural rock formation. Engle's blood left a trail that any idiot would be able to follow, but somehow Jim Kirk did not care.
Now he is sitting with his legs crossed, his back to the rock, with the ensign supported in his lap. He can not ignore the fact that the young man's face has blanched to a pallor he never thought possible. Engle's hand is lingering in the vicinity of his wound, but he has not the strength or the will to touch it. The quantity of blood is astounding, and growing steadily. Kirk has attempted to staunch the bleeding with a torn section of his uniform, but already the gold has been stained a bright and angry red.
Engle makes a noise that resembles a hiccough, and his face contorts into a mask of agony. He steadies himself with several ragged, wet breaths, and his eyes roll upwards toward his captain.
"'Least . . . I'm not gonna die alone."
Kirk swallows with difficulty. "No, ensign."
He has his communicator open in an instant, and is speaking to McCoy. The doctor informs him that their attackers have been dealt with, but Kirk barely acknowledges this information. He remains intentionally vague with the doctor as to the status of the ensign, but demands the the landing party converge on his location without hesitation.
Kirk closes the communicator and glances down at the ensign.
"I've got family back on earth. My mom and my brother." His breath catches in his throat in a mixture of pain and grief. "You'll tell them for me, won't you?"
The words hit Kirk like a mortal blow. "You're not going—"
His thought is arrested as a violent cough erupts from the young man pressed against him. His entire body shakes as if he were expelling his soul with one violent outburst.
"Sorry, sir," Engle manages breathlessly. There is bloody spittle down his chin. "And you don't need to lie to me, sir."
"Stop thinking about it. Stop talking about it. That's an order."
"Aye, sir," Engle replies, his voice hollow.
An uncomfortable silence that weighs heavily over them, a living and breathing entity. Just when it gets to the point where Jim Kirk cannot stand it any more, he feels movement against his legs.
"I think we should find something else to talk about, sir."
Kirk is staring at the communicator, as if begging it for an answer. "The rest of the away team will be here soon, ensign."
Engle fights through a shiver, nods his head slightly. "You know, just something to pass the time."
No amount of training can prepare a man for this, because death transcends all things. It is the one problem that can never be solved, mysterious and frightening and omnipotent.
Speech normally comes easily to Jim Kirk, as natural to him as breathing.
What do you say to a dying man? No . . . to a kid.
All words, all speech, suddenly fail him. He remains frozen, staring at the ensign and yet through him at the same time, as his thoughts run in a hundred different directions.
". . . Tell me about your family, ensign."
It sounds so awkward and so contrived that Kirk has to fight the urge to slap himself. The ensign, however, seems to brighten with the question.
"I was born in Kansas, sir." His face twists as a spasm of phantom pain rockets through his body. "It's really flat. Boring."
"I know," Kirk forces himself to smile. "I'm from Iowa."
There is a thready laugh from the form leaning against him. "You lived on a farm too, sir?"
"You can stop calling me sir," he admonishes. "And no, I didn't."
Engle tries to make a response, but it spirals to a bestial groan of pain.
"Are you getting cold too, captain?"
A knot of something hard settles in Kirk's chest. He is so hot that the sweat is clinging to his skin. "Yes, Engle. Yes, I am."
He sighs, deep and heartbreaking, because it is the only thing he can do.
"Do you have any brothers, captain?" Engle's words are becoming thin and pale, like his expression, and there are large gaps of silence between them.
Kirk hesitates before his responds. "Yeah. Older."
"Oh. My little brother, he should be joining Starfleet. . . soon." He manages a stiff movement of his lips that resembles a smile. "I'm the oldest boy in my family. I'm used to . . . doing things first."
There is a hidden resonance in that statement, a hanging tone of words unsaid.
"I haven't seen my brother in years," Kirk remarks dryly. So many emotions are at war in his head, and he feels overwhelmed, suffocated. "We had a . . . falling out."
"That's too bad." Engle draws a breath that is so thin and ragged that Kirk is afraid that the young man will not be successful on his second attempt. "I sent messages home all the time. My ma, she worried about me. She came to see me before I left to shuttle to the Enterprise, and that was nice."
A shiver runs the length of Kirk's body, for he realizes that the young ensign is speaking in the past tense. It may be one of the most terrifying things he has ever heard. The sharp endings of the verbs rattle around in his head and pound against his ears and stab against his brain.
"You'll say nice . . . things about me . . . when you tell her," it takes him several breaths to drag out this sentence, and even more to recover from it. "Won't you?"
His eyes roll back in his head, and his jaw slackens at a disturbing angle. The lump in Kirk's throat has cut off his ability to speak. He can think of nothing else to do save to reach out and grip the ensign's shoulder. His palms are sweaty, and Engle is unnaturally cold even through his uniform.
The sensation of human contact seems to placate the ensign in ways that words never could.
He knows that he is not alone.
" . . . 's?"
"Your mother will be proud."
The corners of the young man's lips manage to turn up in a serene smile, and he closes his eyes. He breathes out, and all motion ceases. The muscles in his face slacken and the color drains. It is so quick and so gentle that it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins, but when the beat of the heart stops, and the rise and fall of the chest stills, it leaves behind a boundless void, with nothing to rush in and fill it but immutable grief.
Kirk stares. The hard and cold feeling in his chest explodes outward, and suddenly he feels nothing at all. Time becomes elastic, his vision fractures and blurs, and he traverses the edge of rational thought as reality crashes down around him.
He eases Engle's body gently to the floor, alarmed at how heavy the younger man has suddenly become. Kirk gets to his feet, and his legs scream in protest. He is about to open the communicator again when the remainder of the landing party appears, among them Doctor McCoy.
The doctor takes one look at the still form at the captain's feet, and, for once, he does not say a word. He merely stands at Kirk's side, a hand on the younger man's shoulder, and listens as the captain recites the unfortunate events in a cool and level voice.
As he is explaining, Kirk catches himself saying something that, until that moment, did not register in his mind. He stumbles over his words as his brain jerks the thought back to the forefront of his memory, and he goes entirely still.
Kirk shakes his head, but the thought will not dislodge itself. He knows that it will always remain there somewhere, forever, burned painfully into his memory, to reappear whenever he closes his eyes. The words leave a bitter taste in his mouth, the flavor of regret and of shame.
"He did it to protect me, Bones."