A/N: I know, I know, this is pure, self-indulgent angst. I have no excuse. Read at your own risk.
Jim's so tired. It's been going on for so long, seven days already, and there's no end in sight.
He sits hunched over in the corner of his cell, knees bent, leaning against the wall and shivering. He's naked, and the packed clay floor is grimy, cold, and wet. It's hosed down once a day, and that dirty water is his only source of sustenance. He's been given no food, which seems to indicate that his captors are not interested in keeping him alive for very long.
Their eyes don't seem to be very expressive; they observe him continually with a wide, fixed stare which makes him shudder. They must find him as alien as he sees them. If they've been trying to communicate with him, with their breathy, birdlike twitters and squawks, he hasn't been able to understand a word of it. They certainly seem to be talking up a storm among themselves, though; he hears constant streams of whistles and trills, punctuated by odd twists and curls of their head crests.
But in response to his whispered utterances, cries, and groans, they go silent. Only their feathered crests twitch and bend.
By the second day, he understands that they seek no information from him; they're keeping him out of scientific curiosity. He has a theory, which gives him a small sense of comfort. He thinks that maybe this is their way of trying to protect their species, so they want to find out what weaknesses the human body has in a sort of twisted form of self-defense. Maybe, he thinks, they're the local version of scientists, and this is a laboratory or zoo.
Or maybe they're just sadists. That's his alternate theory, but he doesn't like to think about that much.
Specifically, they seem to be fascinated with the limits of his physical endurance. They've examined how far his joints can stretch without dislocating (it's trial and error, so they went a little far the first few times), how different limbs react to pressure (it took a lot more force to break a thigh bone than a finger, but they figured it out eventually by themselves), and how his skin reacts to concentrated heat (they'd been fascinated by the deep red color of the burns, and the liquid-filled blisters). They've even discovered an auditory frequency that makes his ears bleed and renders him temporarily unconscious. It's possible that the lack of food is just another area of research: they're interested in learning about the effects of starvation on the human body. (Of course, he could have told them all about that, but they haven't asked him.)
Fortunately, some of the experiments have been unsuccessful. He gets a bit of a respite when they investigate how he responds to varying intensities of light and darkness. He imagines them shaking their heads, recording failure after failure when they click the lights on and off. They try restraining his limbs, hoping to produce a panicked frenzy, he supposes. He doesn't oblige them, although the straps are more than a little uncomfortable, pulling on his dislocated shoulder and broken leg. He laughs at them for their troubles, which provokes such an agitated squawking that he laughs even harder.
"I know you haven't run out of ideas yet," he tells them confidentially, "but you could try tickling me. Just for scientific purposes, of course."
They just stare back at him, unblinking. Assholes.
He read once that an adult male can survive for over a month on water alone. Certain factors, such as his overall good state of health and muscle mass (at the beginning of his captivity, at least), could grant him a survival advantage, and there's no shortage of water: he can have as much as he's inclined to lick from the floor. In between sessions, they generously allow him to rest and conserve his energy. On the other hand, he was on the thin side when it all started, and an extra kilo or two could have come in handy.
He knows from experience not to fantasize too much about food. Instead, he dreams of his beautiful ship. He walks every pristine corridor, visits with Bones in the Medbay, shares a drink with Scotty in the Officer's Lounge. He plays virtual chess with a virtual Spock, and tries not to lose too quickly. But Spock always creams him eventually. He can't seem to concentrate, can't plan more than one or two moves ahead.
He's becoming demoralized, losing hope. He can't think. He's in constant pain now from the broken bones, burns, and dislocated joints. It's hard to find a comfortable position. His ears feel as if someone has stuck a knife through them that twists whenever he swallows. His head pounds incessantly.
Surely he would have been rescued by now, if Spock could have located his biosignals from the Enterprise. Maybe they've taken him somewhere that blocks the ship's sensors.
He won't give up, because he is who he is. But they need to come soon, because he can't hold on for much longer.
When his captors show up the next day, he tries to resist, but it's getting so hard. They don't touch him this time, but within a few minutes he becomes uncomfortably aware that the temperature in his cell is significantly lower. His teeth start chattering, and he hunches his elbows close to his body.
They're obviously exploring the effects of cold on the human body; a good choice, he wants to tell them. He's an Iowa farmboy and no stranger to the cold. On the other hand, his resistance is low already, and a good dose of hypothermia will probably be enough to finish him off. He's too exhausted to be sorry, and there's nothing he can do to stop it, anyway.
It won't be too painful; he'll just drift off to sleep.
He starts talking to keep himself aware and alert, but it's hard to get the words out. "Look, guys, I know how this is going to end," he grunts out. "Hypothermia. Had it when I was a kid." He's breathing faster, and shivering. The cold yellow eyes of his observers stare at him expressionlessly, but their head crests are active, trembling and twisting. He thinks this is a sign of excitement. They've discovered some new weakness in the human body; their twittering and whistling increases.
"Iowa winters," he says. "Can't beat 'em for cold."
He was eight, maybe nine, knee-deep in fresh snow. He'd been having a snow fight with Sam and some of the older boys. Sam usually didn't include him in his activities with his friends, so he played with complete dedication, determined to prove himself a worthy teammate. He even agreed to let himself serve as a distraction while Sam and his buddies circled around in an ambush of the other team. Joe Canner stuffed snow down his back, which had made him shriek with the sudden discomfort and the shock of the cold, but then Sam and his friend Dave had come racing in, pelting the others with a barrage of snowballs that sent them running.
They all laughed hysterically, and then Sam had left to go to Dave's house, yelling over his shoulder, "Go home, Jim, it's getting dark."
"Sure," he'd agreed, but instead of heading back to the farm house, he'd walked off in the other direction, toward the river.
The puddles of water on the cell floor have crusted over with thin ice. He huddles into himself, trying to conserve warmth, though he's not sure why. It doesn't matter.
"Didn' wanna go home," he says, knowing that they can't understand. He feels like it's important to explain what happened. "Jus' kept walking along the riverbank. Wasn' allowed to go there alone. Knew I'd get in trouble, but… It was so quiet there, on the bank…"
He wasn't supposed to go near the river by himself, but he felt drawn to it. It was partly frozen now, and beautiful: the snow-covered banks, the barren trees hanging with icicles, the rush of the dark water in the dusky light. It was completely quiet. He sat down, curling his legs under him and leaning back against a tree.
Jim didn't mind being alone, and this kind of natural quiet didn't bother him. It was a different kind of quiet that he was avoiding: the ominous, artificial silence of his house. Jim always tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, not wanting to draw attention to himself beyond what was absolutely necessary. Sam, if he was around at all, spent most of his time in his room with the door locked. Dinners at their house contained long stretches of awkward silence, broken only by the clink of utensils and Frank's low, rumbling voice with his occasional question about their behavior at school or their homework.
Tonight wouldn't be quiet, though, he knew. His clothes were soaked through and muddy. Frank would be furious. He'd left his chores undone, too excited by the heavy snowfall to complete them that afternoon. He'd told himself that he'd come home early and do them before Frank got back from work, but then he'd been so involved in the snowfight, so thrilled that Sam had included him, that he'd stayed out much later than he'd intended.
Now he didn't want to go home, because he knew what was coming. Staying out late, in the dark, near the river—that was just making things worse, but he couldn't tear himself away from the hypnotic rush of the river. The gurgling of the water was soothing. He was getting sleepy.
He shivers violently. He stares at his hands: the fingertips are bluish, and he can't move his broken fingers much. But they don't hurt like they did before, and that's a good thing.
It's over, he knows, and that's all right. He's held out for long enough; his crew will find him eventually, and know that he fought and didn't give in. He feels a sharp pang of horror at the thought of Bones discovering his wasted, broken body, but he can't concentrate on that image for long. He can feel himself drifting, until the pain is far away.
He can't remember where he is, but it doesn't matter. He isn't worried anymore. He can rest.
His vision is blurring. He can still see the gleaming golden irises of those alien eyes, but their claw-like hands seem to shimmer. His vision is tunneling; he can no longer discern the walls of the cell. It makes him nauseous, and he closes his eyes. He's so tired.
He decides not to tell them the rest of the story. They're not listening, and it had a bad ending, anyway.
"What's the matter with you, you stupid kid!" He felt himself being shaken, his cheeks slapped. Frank was yelling in his ear, shining a sharp light in his face. "Never seen a more irresponsible boy! Get up!"
"I'm sorry," he mumbled automatically, trying unsuccessfully to move his sluggish limbs. His lower body felt numb, and he was disoriented by Frank's sudden appearance. It wasn't yet completely dark; he couldn't have been sleeping for more than ten minutes. "How did you—"
"Got home early and saw the mess you'd left. Called Sam and he told me where you'd been playing. I followed your tracks in the snow out here. Don't you have any common sense? What the hell were you thinking?"
"I was going to—"
"Don't give me any of your smartass excuses. How many times have I told you to stay away from the river?" Frank's face was contorted with anger and, Jim admitted, worry. "This time I'm gonna teach you a lesson that you won't forget."
"I just lost track of time," he said miserably.
"Shut up. I'll deal with you at home. It's too fucking cold out here." Frank yanked him unsympathetically onto his feet and pushed him in the direction of his hopper, headlights visible just over the bank. Jim climbed clumsily into the front seat. He was shaking with cold, teeth chattering uncontrollably.
Frank shoved a towel at him. "Sit on that," he said. "Don't get the seat all muddy."
His limbs are frozen and numb, but he can vaguely feel that someone is touching him, gently moving his arms and legs. It doesn't really hurt, but it draws him back from his dream, disrupts the pleasant, floaty sensation that has enveloped him.
"Careful with his arm. His shoulder's dislocated. And don't touch his right leg."
"Leave me 'lone," he mumbles.
"Jim, can you hear me?"
"I'm sorry," he says.
"What? Jim!" someone calls out harshly. "Wake up, kid. We're going to get you out of here, just hold on. I'm going to give you a stimulant."
He feels a sharp pressure at the junction of his neck and shoulder, and hisses at the sensation. His sleeping nerves begin calling for attention and the pain reawakens. He moans softly.
"Come on, Jim, it's me. Open your eyes." He does. Bones is there, crouching over him, looking concerned and frantic. "Good boy. We're getting you out of here."
"Not supposed to be here…"
McCoy looks at him strangely, then places a hand on his forehead. "Don't worry about that, okay? You're safe now, that's what's important."
His thoughts are sluggish, cloudy. "Don' wanna go home," he murmurs. "Where's Frank?"
"Frank? Who's Frank? Was there someone here with you, Jim?"
"No!" Jim blinks in confusion. "Bones," he breathes. "Finally."