A/N: This will probably be angsty and contain lots of h/c... Be forewarned. Reviews welcomed.
Beta'd by Saharra Shadow.
Jim lies on the ground, so quiet and still, in the hot afternoon sun, only partially hidden by the long grass. There's no reason to hide anymore. He knows it's over.
From his perch on the hillside, he sees the shuttles arrive, hears the phaser shots, the grenades and the shouting. He watches it all, and when it's quiet again, he just stretches out on the ground and sleeps for hours.
When he wakes, he doesn't try to contact the Starfleet personnel. He doesn't draw any attention to himself. Instead, he watches indifferently. It all seems remote and unrelated to him. The officers move around energetically, gesturing toward the buildings and organizing equipment. Some are shouting and directing the others as they carry stretchers, search the buildings, and herd the survivors into shuttles.
He feels numb. All of the others have been taken, and he knows he'll never see them again. Even the kids, his best friend Tom and little Kevin, are gone now. He saw Tom get caught in the blast, his face horribly burned. He's dead too. And poor Kevin hasn't been seen for days. He doesn't want to think about what could have happened to him. Caring takes too much energy at this point. He's tired, so very tired.
So he just lies there quietly and lets his mind drift. Moving is painful; he's too weak to go very far anyway. His skin is pale and his lips chapped from dehydration. He hasn't had anything to eat in two days, but he's not really hungry anymore. His mouth is full of sores, and every time he swallows, he feels like there are shards of glass in his throat.
For once in his life, he's decided that he won't interfere with fate. Whatever happens, happens. He won't resist and he won't fight. He'll just let it come. Death can't be so bad, certainly not as painful as these last few weeks have been.
He stares up at the sky. The clouds are really striking, he thinks, fluffy and soft and enormous. Both of Tarsus' moons are visible. He hasn't actually looked at the sky for so long, not since he finally gave up scanning the night sky for signs of rescue. But now, with absolutely nothing left for him to do, he can lie back and appreciate the exotic, alien landscape. He relaxes and tries to savor the image. There's a light breeze making the leaves wave gently overhead. It's almost unbearably beautiful.
He's glad that these will be his last thoughts. He closes his eyes and lets himself drift away.
"There's a kid here, Chris."
"Yeah, I see him."
"God. Another dead one. I can't stand this…"
The voices barely penetrate his hazy consciousness.
Suddenly there are rough hands feeling his forehead and pressing at his neck, and he's being shaken gently. "He's not dead. But he's not far from it," one of the voices says.
Despite the intrusive touch, Jim feels a sense of relief. Not long to wait, then.
"Kid? You hear me?" a voice whispers at his ear. "It's okay. We're Starfleet."
How could that make it okay? he thinks in disgust, roused despite himself. You're way too late. Stupid fools!
"Look at his face, Chris, how sunken his eyes are. He's dehydrated," the other one says.
Jim hears the slosh of a water bottle, and suddenly his lips are being wet with a finger. He licks instinctively, and the finger is replaced by the palm of someone's hand, wet and salty and pressed at his mouth. Jim tongues the hand, reaching for the soothing drops of water. They feel good on his parched throat, and he swallows despite the pain.
"Good, that's right. Slowly, kid, slowly."
Jim opens his eyes. A lean, dark-haired man is leaning over him, his blue eyes concerned and intent. He splashes more water on his palm and places it against Jim's mouth. Jim feels a little like an animal, stretching out his tongue and licking.
An animal. That's what I've become.
Abruptly, he closes his mouth and turns his head to the side. He doesn't want to recover, and he doesn't want to face these two good-hearted innocents from the 'Fleet. He wants to be left here to die.
Naturally, they don't leave him be. They speak soothing words and ask him questions, but he doesn't have the energy or inclination to respond. One of them picks him up gently and carries him, despite his feeble protestations, back to their shuttle.
"Tell me your name, kid."
Jim shrugs and looks away. "Just Jim." He's in the sickbay of the Hercules, an IV unit hooked up to his arm and a biomonitor on his ankle.
"Look, I've told you who I am. Lieutenant Christopher Pike. I'm the helmsman." Pike cocks his head to the side, looking at him intently.
"I remember. I'm not stupid."
Pike ignores his surly response. "It's important that we know who you are so we can contact your relatives."
"Well, I'm not telling, Lieutenant Pike," he says, looking up at him defiantly. "Just bring me back to Earth, and I'll make my own way, okay? All my relatives died on Tarsus."
Pike looks skeptical, but doesn't push it. "How old are you, Jim?"
"I'm thirteen. Uh, no…fourteen. I had a birthday."
"And are you feeling any better?"
"I'm all right," he says, although he's still so weak he has to be helped to the bathroom, and he vomited up the first solid meal he tried to eat last night.
"Well, if you say so, then I guess you are," the lieutenant says.
Jim bristles at his sarcastic tone. "I don't like staying in the sickbay. I want to move around."
"You can leave whenever you want," Pike says, and Jim looks up, surprised. "After Dr. Chang tells me that you've started eating regularly."
Jim leans back and stares at the ceiling. He's not playing this game.
Pike leaves without looking back.
Jim is the only unaccompanied child on board; Kodos liked to keep family groups together, for obvious reasons. Most children were already weak and frightened by the time the selections began. They preferred to stay with their families, even as they were being herded off to slaughter. Jim doesn't explain what happened to him or how he ended up alone, and he avoids the other refugees. It means he spends most of his time by himself, except for his brief interactions with the medical staff. That's fine by him, since he has nothing to say to anybody.
Lieutenant Pike comes around once a day, after he's finished his shift. Jim watches as he stops at each bed, talking quietly with the other refugees. Pike doesn't say much to Jim either, just "Eating yet?" or "Remembered your last name, kid?" Jim scowls at him and rolls his eyes.
This becomes pretty predictable after a week, and Jim's getting impatient. Eating isn't going very well yet. His stomach doesn't seem to want to tolerate anything, and while the IV drip keeps him hydrated and provides some nourishment, he's not gaining much weight. He's still weak and tired a lot. He refuses all of the medical staff's efforts to engage him in games and discussions.
He sits for a full hour, stony-faced and silent, with the ship's counselor. The counselor, a kindly-looking middle-aged officer, tells him that it's perfectly normal to feel angry and depressed. "You'll feel better if you share your experiences," he tells Jim. "You survived a terrible ordeal, and that shows tremendous strength." He's accepting, gentle, and supportive. Jim wants no part of it.
"I don't need your sympathy," he tells the man. "I'm not ashamed of anything I did."
The counselor leans forward. "What did you do, Jim?"
He doesn't answer.
Pike greets him cheerfully that evening. "Hey there. Remembered any relatives yet?"
"Shut up. They all died. I told you that," he says sullenly.
"Oh, right. Thing is, kid, I don't believe you."
"Well, fuck you, then. I don't give a shit what you believe."
Pike nods at him calmly, as if they're just exchanging pleasantries. "I'll make a deal with you, Jim. I'll show you the survivor list. I know you've been asking around about it."
"I want to see it now."
"On one condition."
Jim looks at him suspiciously. "What condition?" he asks, knowing the answer.
"You'll talk to the counselor again. Really talk." Jim glares and shakes his head. "Fine, kid. I'm a patient guy. It's a long trip back to Earth, and the offer stands."
Jim caves in after a week. He can't stand not knowing who else is alive. He needs to know who else made it, aside from the small number of colonists travelling back on the Hercules. He tells the nurse that he wants to talk, and the counselor comes by that afternoon.
He's a nice man, and Jim knows that he means well. "I won't talk about Kodos," Jim stipulates at the outset. "I won't talk about what happened after," he says, and the man nods understandingly. He doesn't say after the selections or after the massacre. "I don't want to tell you about my family, either," he continues.
"What do you want to talk about, then, Jim?"
"I'll tell you about what it was like before."
He describes planting the family garden, designing the watering system, and discovering which plants survived best. He talks about their neighbors, the Satos, where he and his friend Tom went for language lessons in the afternoons. He explains about cooperative farming and the way the equipment was shared, and launches into a detailed description of the colonial governing board. Nothing too personal, but the counselor is satisfied.
"I'm glad you've started opening up, Jim. That's the first step on the road to recovery."
Jim smiles and nods.
"Show me the fucking list, lieutenant," he says that evening when Pike comes around. "I talked to that counselor."
"I know you did. He spoke to me earlier. Said you're very intelligent and careful. And that you're very guarded. You didn't tell him what happened to you or your family."
"Well, that wasn't part of the deal."
"No, it wasn't," Pike agrees. He keys in the file on a PADD and hands it to him. Holding his breath, Jim taps his finger on the screen.
There are two lists; survivors and deceased. Jim thinks carefully of everyone he knows, one by one, and checks both lists. After a while, he opens a separate file, and scribbles on the PADD with the stylus.
"What are you doing? Is something wrong?"
Jim shakes his head. "Your list is incomplete," he says without looking up. "I watched these people die."
The lieutenant says nothing, and Jim appreciates that. Pike doesn't flinch away and doesn't ask if Jim is sure. He just nods and waits.
There are no surprises, but it's hard to see so many personal tragedies reduced to names on a list. Thousands of people, dead within a few short weeks. Each name that he recognizes brings back memories, and Jim starts to sweat. He has to fight the urge to fling the PADD at the wall and bury his head under the blanket.
"What's the matter, son?" Pike asks, looking concerned. "Did you find your relatives?"
"Deceased!" he snaps. "I told you."
"I'm sorry," Pike tells him quietly, and he looks genuinely sympathetic.
Steeling himself, Jim checks for Tom Leighton, his closest friend. Last time he saw him, Tom was badly injured. He doesn't think he could have survived, but he isn't on the deceased list.
His heart nearly stops when he sees that Tom is listed on the Orion: alive and in serious condition, but not dead. He breathes faster. When he finds Kevin Riley on the same ship, his composure starts to crack. He puts the PADD down because his hands are shaking. He doesn't cry, but he's blinking hard and almost hyperventilating. Pike is watching him quietly.
"My friends…" he blurts out. "They're still alive. They're on the Orion."
"That's good, Jim. We can contact them if you want."
After a while, Jim takes a shuddering, deep breath and picks up the PADD again. He goes over the list of survivors, one by one, making sure that he hasn't missed anyone he knows. Some of the names are Kodos' guards. Others he recognizes as members of the colony council that supported the decision to make the selection. He continues reading slowly, his breathing gradually returning to normal. The survivors are listed by the name of the rescue ship: the Orion, the Adventure, the Libra, the Elijah Jones, and finally, the Hercules.
As he skims the last list, he is stunned to see own name. Kirk, James T. Age: 14. Transport: Hercules. Status: malnutrition.
He looks at Pike accusingly. "You listed me as a passenger. You've known my name all along."
Pike is unapologetic. "You told me your age, back at the beginning. There were three boys named James on Tarsus, according to colony records. Only one was fourteen. I was able to access your family's application, and there was a picture of you."
"You had no right to do that!"
"Of course I had the right, son. You were claiming orphan status, and that would make Starfleet responsible for you until arrangements could be made for your care. I was just making sure that you were really alone."
"You manipulated me!" he hisses, unsure why he is so angry.
"Maybe I did," Pike says levelly. "You were lying."
Jim looks at the floor. He wasn't really lying; his relatives are dead and his mother hasn't been around for years. And his stepfather…There is no way he'll live with him again. Better to be on his own.
"You need to contact your mother, Jim," Pike tells him.
"No. It's better this way."
"It's all right to admit that you need a family. You're not alone."
"I might as well be." His voice cracks slightly and he swallows hard.
"Look, Jim, I've spoken with her. She knows you're safe and heading back to Earth, but…you should talk to her."
"Why? She doesn't want me!" he says bitterly. "I was always too much trouble for her."
"She's your mother."
Jim shrugs. "She's a scientist. She'd rather be out in the black."
"So many children lost their mothers on Tarsus, Jim." Pike's voice is gentle. "You've still got one."
"She sent me away," he whispers. He doesn't cry but his throat is so tight he can hardly breathe.
Pike squeezes his thin shoulder. "She told me," he says. "But she's waiting for you now."