A/N: Ever since I first read a fic dealing with Tarsus IV I've had all kinds of plot bunnies dealing with it running around in my head. Below is the finished result of one such bunny. While writing it I meant for it to be a Bones/Jim friendship piece, but if you really want to you can certainly see it as slash. Or it can be friendship, whichever you prefer. All errors are completely my own. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: It's never mine, unfortunately.
Dust In My Eyes
When Leonard McCoy plops down into that seat next to the blonde kid—who looks far too young, just like the rest of the kids around him—he has no idea that he's changing his life forever. He just knows that his stomach is churning and that the kid probably deserves a little warning before he gets puked on.
But the world has a different plan for him. The moment he says those six fateful words—"I might throw up on you"—he signs himself up for a lifetime of following James Tiberius Kirk around, trying to keep the kid from killing himself. It's the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if by beautiful you mean often involving blood and stitches, an on occasion slime that he doesn't even want to think about—but it's a beginning all the same. He's stuck with Jim Kirk, whether he likes it or not.
He fully expects them to part ways once they reach the Academy. But they don't. They're in different classes, sure, but Jim has a way of turning up unexpectedly. Like by knocking on his door at two o'clock in the morning holding a bottle of bourbon in one hand and two shot glasses in another. And with puppy dog eyes, that brush all of his reservations—"How did you get my room number?" "I know people"—aside.
It's not too long before he begins to get a good grip on who exactly Jim Kirk is. You can't spend so much time with a single person without gaining insight on their personality and information on their background. He learns all the little details. Like the fact that Jim's favorite drink is Bud Light Classic. That he is in fact Jim Kirk, yes, that Kirk, the son of hero George Kirk. He learns that his friend's birthday isn't a celebration; it's mourning complete with serious amounts of alcohol. He knows that Jim's eyes are blue and his hair is dark blonde and his blood type is AB positive. He knows that Jim will sleep with just about everything that walks, but even mention a relationship and he goes running the other direction. His favorite color is green and his least favorite color is yellow, and he's allergic to just about every medication possible, including ones that should be possible.
And as he's learning all of this he begins to realize that there are bigger things that Jim doesn't mention. He picks up on the shadowy little tidbits that hint at a past that isn't as happy or as normal as Jim would like everyone to believe.
For instance: there are far too many scars on Jim Kirk's body. He accepts the fact that the boy is a walking trouble magnet. He knows that from the hours spent patching the man up after bar fights. And he's just plain clumsy sometimes. (On one memorable occasion he managed to trip over a traffic cone, fall head first into oncoming traffic, and get hit by a car. Results: a concussion, sprained wrist, and two broken ribs.) But still, his body is a patchwork of scars. Some are pearly white and barely visible, others are faintly red; some are just chunks missing from his skin, smooth indents where flesh should be, while others are raised ridges, like a mountain chain of old wounds. There's no way in hell that all of them are from accidents or fights. No way.
Not when he's pretty sure that some of them are old burns. Not when he's positive that some of them are knife wounds. Not when the patterns read out torture.
He keeps his mouth shut about it, never asking, but he knows they're there. He has that endless pattern of injuries memorized a mental map of James Kirk written out in blood.
There are other clues. Nothing as physical as the scars, but little habits. Patterns of speech. Stubborn resistance to talk about certain events, times, places. The quiet, shadowed look in blue eyes on certain days, at certain times. The screams at night that they never (never) talk about, the ones that leave Jim's voice harsh and raspy in the morning.
There's a certain day every year that Jim just disappears completely. One year he tries to follow, and finds that his friend slips through the crowds like shadow burned away by the bright sun. A tangle of streets and turns and buildings, a maze of people, and he finds himself alone in the middle of San Francisco, no clue to where he is or how to get back and completely devoid of Jim Kirk. When his friend finally returns in the evenings he is absolutely silent, a shell of himself and no amount of conversation will get him to open up. Not until midnight comes around and Jim stands, resolute look in his eye, claps him on the shoulder, and says in a voice that isn't his own "Let's go get drunk".
He doesn't push that subject either. He doesn't ask questions, just goes along with it. But he knows there's something bad lurking, something that Jim doesn't even want to think about.
Something that won't let him go.
Finals week adds another piece to the puzzle. Jim attacks his studies with a single-minded ferocity and intensity that makes him stand back and take a breath. Normally the man is cavalier about school work, more interested in drinking and seducing and letting academics take a backseat. Not that he ever has trouble. He's frustrating that way. He can drink half a bottle of bourbon straight and the next day ace a physics midterm without breaking a sweat. That genius thing, ya know. But finals week at Starfleet Academy is known as The Breaker for a reason. It makes grown men cry, sends dozens of cadets to the hospital every year—the most common ailments being attempted suicides and stimulant overdoses, as well as sleep-deprivation, dehydration, and stress-induced psychosis—and can make or break your career.
Jim is non-stop studying—although privately he's sure that the kid has nothing to worry about. Still, the intense focus, the sharp biting tone at anyone who dares disturb his studies…it's a side of Jim that he's never seen before. An though the man has a bottle of water beside him at all times, in the entire four days he has himself closeted away Bones never once sees him lift a bite of food to his lips. He's there, a nagging voice saying "Jim, you need to eat", the only person unafraid of being burned by the man's ire at being interrupted from his sudden academic fervor.
But the kid just—maddeningly—waves his hand and says "I'm fine, Bones."
And when pressed—"Jim, you can't not eat and then expect to be just fine!"—he gets a tight-lipped smile and an "I've gone longer, it's fine."
What the hell is that supposed to mean? He never gets a straight answer, because Jim disappears—he later says that he was at the library, and Bones is half surprised the building didn't collapse the moment Jim stepped foot into it—and at the end of finals week he re-emerges, paler, thinner, dark circles under his eyes, but triumphant. And he then eats half his body weight as Bones sits back and watches, lip curling in disgust that hides is unease.
"I've gone longer, its fine."
What does that mean? It drives him crazy, needling him. But he doesn't pry. At least, not openly. He does, however, try to get a peek at his best friend's medical records. Is it ethical? Not entirely, no, but dammit! He's doing what he has to do. And he is a medical professional, with a perfectly legitimate medical reason for looking at the records. Almost.
Of course, when he tries to he gets only the rudimentary details. Height, weight, blood type, allergies—and damn if that list isn't nearly a book!—a medical record dating from his beginnings at the Academy…but when he tries to go back farther he finds himself bogged down, caught in red-tape and security clearances that he does not have. He sits back and stares at his computer screen, because now he knows there's something bad in his friend's past. Something so bad that the details are for the eyes of the high-ups only.
Now he resorts to trying to pry details out of his friend, skillfully, subtly. He has some measure of success. Jim, with a bleak look on his face, opens up a little. It's a testament to the strength of their friendship that he says anything at all. But he does talk. And he learns some of the filling details of Jim Kirk's childhood. He grew up in Riverside, Iowa, a pit of nothing in the middle of a bigger state of nothing. He has an older brother named Sam who ran away, and he hasn't seen or spoken to him since. His mother was always off-planet, and when she was home it was clear she was a million miles away. People looked at him and saw George Kirk, and he's been trying to live up to the ghost of his father since he was old enough to walk. He has a step-father named Frank, who was, in Jim's own words: "a right old bastard." Frank liked to drink, and he liked to drink a lot. But Jim assures him that the man never did more than slap him around a few times.
It kills him that Jim doesn't seem to find the fact that his step-father hit him at all a big deal.
He gets these details, builds an image of Jim's childhood. He's horrified—perhaps terrified is the better word—by the recounting of Jim's near dive over a cliff in an antique car. But it comes to a point where he has a timeline in his head.
And there's a huge chunk of time missing.
Jim is twelve, maybe thirteen when he drives the car over the cliff. He's sixteen the first time he gets arrested, and there are a slew of arrests and drunken nights and women after that. He's twenty-two when Pike finds him in a bar; he's just celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday now. What happened to those three or four years in the middle?
Jim's eyes go dark when he so much as hints at those years, and he just can't bring himself to push it.
Things happen in a whirl. The Kobyashi Maru, and the hearing, and Jim standing like a lost puppy as everyone streams around him. He can't bring himself to leave the kid there, not after what they've been through, not after all the effort he's put into making sure the kid eats and doesn't crack his head open and does his homework. He gets his friend aboard the Enterprise—knowing that he'll earn himself a court-martial real quick that way and not caring—and things happen even faster. A lightning storm in space and the Narada and the attack; he finds himself as acting CMO and he's too busy to even stop and think about his sudden promotion. Vulcan is destroyed in the blink of an eye and Jim's getting himself marooned on some godforsaken ice planet—and make no buts about it, if the kid gets hurt down there Bones is going to make sure that pointy-eared green-blooded hobgoblin gets infected with a nasty virus of some kind. And somehow—in true Jim Kirk fashion—the kid gets back aboard, and in one move gets himself almost strangled and makes himself acting Captain at the same time. And then he's going off on a freakin' suicide mission and Bones is left to pace the corridors like an angry bear, awaiting their return.
And when it's all over he finds his position of CMO solidified under the captaincy of James Tiberius Kirk.
It's at a moment where he's simply going through paperwork and perusing the medical files of the crew he is now responsible for that he finally stumbles upon the answer to the questions that have been plaguing him for years. When he accesses Jim's files this time he finds some of the roadblocks lifted. Not all of them, naturally, but enough to give the clues he needs. Apparently being chief medical officer he needs to have a full medical history of his captain.
He almost wishes that he didn't have it, because he feels the wave of nausea at what he reads, printed in stark, cold black and white.
Psychological state previously unstable.
"Computer," he says, in a voice that shakes slightly, "search for events beginning or ending March 26th, Earth calendar."
"List compiled," the voice says back. "128 events found."
"Show events dealing with war or famine."
"One event found."
He leans forward to read. Then he pushes back his chair, shaking so much he feels as though he's going to fall apart. He's not taking no for an answer this time.
When Jim finally slides open his door—after several minutes of furious pounding—he blinks owlishly, his hair in every direction. He doesn't have a shirt on, and Bones sees every inch of that tapestry of scars. Following his gaze Jim folds his arms over his chest—not that it hides anything—and leans against the door frame, yawning. "Whadda ya want, Bones?"
He pushes past, into the room without saying a word. The door slides closed behind him and Jim walks to his bed. The man—kid, always to him—is fully awake now, or at the very least he's awake enough to realize just how tense Bones is and to realize something's up. Bones clenches his jaw tight and jerks his head at the bed. Jim sits on the end and looks up at him, expectant, his lips turned downward. He stares for a moment, just examining his best friend. Then he drops the two words that are like a bomb into the air between them.
Jim flinches. That shadow comes into his eyes; his muscles tighten and his Adam's apple bobs with a hard swallow. His hands curl, an automatic move to fists that doesn't get all the way. He doesn't speak for a long moment. Then, finally, his lips curl to a grimacing smile that doesn't reach his eyes.
"Finally got a good look at my medical records?" He asks. The question is—mostly—rhetorical, and he doesn't bother to respond to it, still staring the man down. Jim shrugs, his broad shoulders lifting up and down, and he can see the ripple of a ropy scar that runs from his collar bone down to midway on his back. He sighs heavily. "Tarsus IV, Bones" he says quietly. It's a confession and he knows it.
He's shaking so much, and he doesn't know if it's from fear or from anger or from—god knows what, just that it's an earthquake inside of his body, trying to split him open.
"You were there."
"I was there." Jim's eyes don't meet his gaze. They're locked on the floor, so deep in shadow that they aren't vibrant blue but a nearly colorless gray.
"I—dammit Jim!" He shouts, because he doesn't know what to say. Silence folds between them, a curtain concealing everything. His friend doesn't offer anything; his lips are stubbornly shut. That's Jim Kirk for you, stubborn to the last moment, stubborn and unyielding to the very last breath, even when the game is already lost. His mind is a whirl of questions, but none of them emerge. None of them are right. None of them say what he needs to say after all these years. He lets out a breath in an explosive rush. "How?"
Jim licks his lips. "After—," he says, and his voice is slightly harsh, slightly raspy, just like the mornings after the screaming nightmares, and now Bones knows what those dreams were about. "After the car and after Sam left, my mother sent me off-planet. She didn't want me getting into more trouble. My aunt and my uncle and my cousins lived on Tarsus IV."
"And you were there…."
"I was there for the famine." He says. His voice is bitter, dark, tinged with things that Bones doesn't even want to comprehend. "I was there for the massacre," his voice barely a whisper. He closes his eyes and his figure rocks slightly back and forth. ""The revolution... is successful. But survival depends upon drastic measures. Your continued existence is a threat to the order we have restored; your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony. I, therefore, have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is so ordered, signed Kodos, governor of Tarsus IV. That's what he said. That's what I'll never forget."
The words chill him and he wants to puke. Honestly he does. He stares at his friend. His hand twitches at his side—he wants to reach out—but he stills the motion. Jim isn't done talking yet. There's more to tell.
"There were eight thousand members of the colony. Four thousand survived." He gives a low, guttural moan. "I watched my aunt and uncle die. I watched my cousins die. I watched so many people die…and the village burned. The bodies burned. There was ash everywhere, like dust. You choked on it. You couldn't see through it and you didn't want to. I survived, barely. But for the survivors there was only guilt. Guilt and blood. Kodos wanted me, you know. He wanted me to work for him, to do his little deeds." His hand runs over his bare chest, fingering the network of scars. "I refused." He lifts his head for the first time, and Bones is caught by his gaze, ensnared. There's so much shadow there, so much darkness. The physical scars aren't the only visible ones, not anymore. Jim swallows. "Nine people saw his face and lived to tell the tale." He laughs, bitter, sharp. "Guess who one of them is?"
And then he sags, bending in half. His body is still. Not shaking, not trembling, just the steady but faint rise and fall of his chest, the shifting movement of muscles below skin. Bones crosses the space and sits on the bed beside him, and touches his back gently. He touches the ropy scar, running a finger over the raised skin. Jim shivers, and then breaks.
He holds his best friend, smoothing back blonde hair and rubbing his back with all the gentleness that he hides. He holds him and then tucks him in when his eyes can't stay open anymore. He stays until the steady breathing turns deeper. He stays even after that, laying on the other side of the bed, fully clothed on top of the covers, staring up at the ceiling blindly. He stays so that when Jim bolts upright, screaming, screaming, he can calm the storm and coax the man back into the bed, back to sleep. He stays, because Jim needs someone there, and because he is never going to abandon him.
They don't talk about it after that. They don't speak a word of it, but the knowledge lies under his skin. He never asks again, never pries. He knows now. And he's there. When they find Kodos hiding under an assumed name on Planet Q, when the story comes out and the crew knows and they stare and Jim starts to crack—he's there.
He's there, and that's enough.
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