An Apple a Day
Chapter 2 – Shadows Cast
Bones had finished his surgery and was in his office adding a few more notes to his patient's chart before heading back up to his room for the night. He stopped typing as an icon on his screen started blinking, a reminder on his calendar. He clicked it and scanned the message, it was a reminder to get any medical supplies he needed onto the manifest that the team would take with them when they docked at the space station tomorrow to trade. That was something he definitely needed to do, he was dangerously low on a few of his supplies. He also needed to order a few new boosters for Jim. The man was allergic to most mainstream medications and treating him was like walking on a tight rope, a careful balance between maintaining the captain's health and making sure to not give him anything he was allergic to.
He opened the list and began entering the items he would like obtained if they were in stock. He froze for a moment as he scanned the list; Jim's name was there, which was odd, he almost never requested anything to be brought back from trading missions. He was all about living frugally. Bones clicked on the name, curious to see what his partner had requested. There was only one item and it made his face darken into a scowl. Apples. What was with the sudden obsession? This had gone far enough. He closed his log entry and roughly pushed his chair back, standing up and stalking off toward his room to finish the conversation they had started earlier. If he had to drag it out of Jim, force him to share what was bothering him, he would, damn it! He understood that Jim liked his privacy, and on most occasions he would give it to him. But not when it was affecting him in such a pronounced manner, not when, whatever that secret was, it was chipping away at the man he loved.
Kirk was currently heaving the contents of his breakfast, his lunch, and probably a good portion of his dinner into the toilet. His body contorted as the muscles in his stomach contracted and more bile came up. When he finished this round, the latest in a slew, he released his shaky grasp on the edge of the toilet, the only thing that had kept him upright, and weakly slumped back down to the ground where he curled up in a ball and moaned weakly, hands gripped tightly around his midsection in an effort to still the pain.
But he knew it was right, to be here like this on this particular night. It was necessesary; it was his penance for everything that had happened on that planet. His own way of remembering what happened , to relive the memories he had associated with it. For the rest of the year he kept them buried in the furthest recesses of his mind. The only time they slipped through the cracks was when something triggered a flashback. Starving refugees rescued from a planet, the infirmary, and sometimes the most random triggers of all that he never could anticipate. But he had also practiced not getting caught up in them even when they did occur. He might have a blank expression on his face for a few moments as he waited for the living skeletons, bony hands and feet, to stop flickering in and out, but he didn't flinch like he used to, he didn't start hyperventilating. No, he was a captain now and there wasn't room to be weak. The crew needed a leader and he was it.
Tarsus IV. The longest shadow ever cast. He'd been halfway across the galaxy and still it trailed in his wake, the skeletons marched along through all of the millions of miles he'd travelled since. Flesh pasted to bone with no muscle in between. He sighed but didn't banish the memories as he usually did. There was one day a year he uncapped the lid on that box and let them swirl like a tempest through his brain, to remember the horrors, the mistakes, the people lost.
He let out an involuntary wince as his stomach warned him that it wasn't done protesting as he quickly rose back up to his adopted position over the toilet. No, he had left Tarsus IV physically long ago, but that didn't mean all of him had left it. Weight hadn't been the only thing he'd lost on Tarsus IV.
McCoy keyed the door open and entered quietly. He didn't raise the lights; if Jim was asleep he supposed they could talk first thing in the morning. The physician part of him recalled that the man had looked terrible and some more sleep could probably do him good. He silently crossed the room and went to lie down on the bed, but even in the dark he could see that it was still made, causing his expression to darken further. Where had Jim gotten off to now?
He was about to hail him on the radio before he heard a sound coming from the bathroom, which struck him as a bit odd considering the door was open. Before he even realized it he was past the bed and to the bathroom, flipping on the light and his eyes widening as he saw Jim on the ground.
He was crouching down in an instant and trying to roll his partner over and assess the man's status. He shouldn't have left Jim alone, he knew there had been something wrong, he should've given the debriding to someone else and followed Jim back.
McCoy put his hand against his partner's face, noting that it was pasty and sweaty as he directed Jim's gaze up to meet his own, "Jim, what's wrong?"
The only response he got was a groan, "Damn it Jim! Stay there, I'll be back," he said even as he was on his feet and going out into the bedroom, quickly snatching his spare med case from the closet before returning to the bathroom. He pulled out his tricorder and began evaluating his patient's condition.
His frown deepened, while there was indication of elevated heart rate and endorphins signaling a stress response, he wasn't drunk, he didn't have a fever. So what was wrong?
"Jim, did you take anything?" He wanted to make sure Jim hadn't taken anything, something that might not have registered on the tricorder readout, before conducting a further examination.
"No…I'm ok Bones," Kirk said weakly, shaking his head, "Just leave me alone, go to bed."
Bones released a sound that was best described as a growl as he prepared a hypo and administered it to Jim's jugular vein without asking.
Jim muttered a curse under his breath. He hated hypos. They always bruised and the staff always assumed the battle wounds from a scuffle with Bones in the infirmary were hickeys from his widely exaggerated sexual exploits.
When Jim didn't respond Bones jumped back in, "Last time I checked the inability to stand of your own volition is not ok. In fact, it's several miles off base from that. When you're ok I don't usually have to administer anti-nausea medication to you either."
"Would 'a had me fooled Bones…the way you like to chase me around with those things," Jim muttered weakly.
McCoy helped pull Jim up into a sitting position, leaning him against the side of the tub before he himself sank down into a sitting position, legs crossed.
"Bones, really, go to bed. This bathroom isn't really big enough for a two person party tonight."
McCoy raised his eyebrow at this, "Really? Because you certainly are singing a different tune when you spontaneously assault me in the shower on the mornings when the recreation from the previous night wasn't enough for your sexual appetite."
Jim managed to prevent himself from keeling back over sideways, steadying himself with one hand on the tub wall as a small smile flitted across his face before disappearing beneath a more somber expression.
"Bones, what do you want? Don't I look like I'm in enough misery without going a round of twenty questions?"
"I want to know what's bothering you and why you're acting so strangely. The sudden obsession with apples to start maybe? I saw that you put them on the manifest for the supply team to bring back from the space station if they're available to trade. What'd you do, finish up whatever supply the cooks had in the kitchen?"
Jim gave a weak shrug but maintained his silence on the issue.
McCoy busied himself for a moment by packing up his med kit again before his hand brushed against something sitting next to his med kit. He picked it up and flicked an angry expression between the empty bowl and Jim.
"God Jim, how many of these did you eat? There were almost ten apples in here!"
Another passive shrug from Jim, like a reaction a guilty child would give when caught in the act of something they really shouldn't be doing, like dismissing it would make the problem go away.
"Jim, I'm serious here. All of them? Too much of anything can be really bad for you. If you've eaten all of these you've earned yourself a night in the infirmary."
"No," he said as he produced a few from the other side of the toilet, rolling two of them over to Bones on the ground. Their oblong shape made them roll at a skewed angle as they rolled against Bones' leg.
"That still leaves most of them unaccounted for. What is this about Jim? What's with the apples?"
He finally looked at Bones, "You know what they say, Bones. 'An apple a day…'"
"'Keeps the doctor away…' It's an old saying from Earth," McCoy finished, getting a bit worked up now, "Is this about keeping me away in some sick way? Did I do something to get you angry at me?"
Jim sat up a bit straighter and he focused his gaze completely on the man in front of him. And then it clicked. Bones' profession…he could see how the man could've misinterpreted it. And crap, that wasn't what he had intended at all. This wasn't about his partner at all and in getting so wrapped up in his own woes he'd completely disregarded what this was doing to McCoy, "Bones…of course not! What could you have possibly done wrong here?"
"I don't know Jim! I have no idea what's going on. Feel free to clue me in any time now, I'd love to be enlightened as to what exactly 'this' is."
Jim looked down at the final apple that he held in his hand. He held it up and took a bite out of it, the flavor turning his stomach, begging to be spit out. He clamped his jaw and swallowed, involuntarily shuddering a bit.
"Damn it Jim! Stop that!" McCoy rose into a crouch and moved over to take the apple away from him. This had gone on too long already.
But Jim simply held it back over the tub, not willing to surrender it. With the other hand he pushed Bones back and shook his head.
McCoy pinned him with a steely expression, a mixture of anger for Jim purposefully abusing himself like this and confusion and frustration at being blocked out like this boiling inside him. He wanted nothing more than to confiscate that apple, but assaulting Jim probably was going to get him more worked up, more combative, and much less likely to open up about whatever was bothering him. Against his every instinct, McCoy settled back down into a sitting position as he sat there, silent, waiting for Jim to say something.
Jim brought the fruit back into his lap, spinning it around but not eating anymore, just looking at it, rolling it in his hand, "I hate apples, Bones. The taste makes me sick."
Bones waited for a further explanation, but when none came he was reduced to trying to prompt Jim, "Then why eat them?"
"It's penance, Bones."
"What possible crime could you be paying for by eating your own weight in fruit?"
"Jim, I think we're on two different wavelengths here. I need more than four words to let me see this from whatever angle you are, to see what's bothering you so much."
"Ever heard of Tarsus IV?"
McCoy nodded, "Who hasn't? Everyone reads about that horror show at some point in a history textbook. I've learned a bit more than I would probably have liked, it's used as a model in medical school for what happens after exposure to prolonged starvation. That's not even taking into account the other atrocities that went on…" his voice trailed off as a shudder went through his body this time, there were some things that he just didn't want to dwell on, genocide among them.
Jim bit his lip, "Yeah, we all know it in one form or another I suppose. Different forms for different people…"
"Why'd you bring it up Jim?"
"Survival, Bones. That's what it was about down there. Half of the population down there, they didn't even have a chance at that. Kodos made a speech and wiped out all those people without a second thought. And the rest of the population, they fought over everything. Scraps of food, hell, domesticated animals got eaten. You might turn your dog out one night in the yard and you'd hear an aggressive bark, the kind they gave off when there was a stranger. Then maybe a gunshot followed by silence. And you didn't have to looking for the bloodstain. You knew. Come morning Rover or Spot would be sitting on a plate in chunks instead of sitting by your side."
"God, Jim. Is this what you've been thinking about these past few days? Grim stuff like this, why are you torturing yourself with stuff like this? Tarsus happened, Jim. We all cringe when we hear about it for the first time…but to dwell on it, that's a good way to really mess yourself up."
"We don't all have a choice…Sometimes thing just stay with you when you survive. The ghosts cling to you. In a strange way, carrying them about with me, thinking about them – it's like a piece of them lives on in me, maybe the life they were robbed of."
"And why is this your burden to carry, huh?"
Jim cocked his head, as if the answer was the most natural thing in the world, "Because I survived it Bones."
Jim didn't respond, but he nodded.
"You were there?"
McCoy's shoulders sagged as Jim nodded again. No wonder the kid was messed up...who wouldn't be? But why now all of a sudden? Jim had cast his gaze downward again and Bones decided to give him a few moments to gather his thoughts after a revelation this large. Jim didn't share information about his past often, and on the rare glimpses McCoy did get, he more often than not didn't like what he saw. Evidence of child abuse came to mind, but he never prodded Jim about the skeletons in his closet, figuring he'd open up in his own time as their relationship grew.
He realized he was sitting on something, real paper, hell that had to be old. He lifted his weight off of the crumpled object and held it up for inspection. It was a calendar; a single day was circled in red. He flipped to the front to see the year 2246. That date was from somewhere…Tarsus IV. Jim was leading him in circles and it seemed that every loop led back to the events on that planet. He flipped back to the month it had been open to when he'd picked it up. It was today's date…
"It's the anniversary of the genocide on Tarsus IV, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Four thousand people died."
Bones nodded solemnly, perhaps beginning to understand the issue at hand, "And you survived…"
"Something like that."
"And the apples?"
"That came afterwards. I was skin and bones when I came off that planet, we all were. I was in the hospital for awhile. It was…a bad experience. 'Feeding tube shoved up my nose and down my throat' bad."
McCoy winced involuntarily. He knew the procedure, and it wasn't pleasant for the patient or the physician if the patient didn't want it. He could hardly imagine that a child with an independent streak would sit quietly for something like that. He was also starting to get a picture of why Jim wasn't fond of the infirmary or staying there unless Bones threatened sedation in response to escape attempts. "I'm sorry, Jim. If you were rough-handled they did it wrong. They should've knocked you out for something that invasive, especially as a child."
Jim shrugged and looked away, "There were thousands of people just like me Bones, all of us needed help and I can look back and understand them not having the time to comfort a startled child. There was an urgency to process everyone. I was just another person who escaped the body count, another person to ensure the survival of before they moved onto the next one in a seemingly endless line."
"You are not just a person that defied a body count. Look at what you've done in your time in Starfleet!" McCoy was perfectly willing to listen to Jim talk; it was cathartic for both of them, but he would not put up with the self-flagellation that Jim was so fond of. "And those medical personnel, they should have made the time," he added, finishing much softer, "I would've if I'd been there. You were a child."
Jim nodded again, still spinning the apple in his hand.
"And the apples come in where?"
"It's stupid, I know it is. But I was a kid and that was something my mom always used to tell me when she was around. And I guess I thought it would really work. They eventually took the feeding tube out and I started eating them all the time. I guess in my mind I connected the two events, eating apples with getting the doctors off my back. It was nice not to have the the threat of that feeding tube being put back in hovering over my head."
"I'm with you so far, but why the apple binge now?"
"You eat enough of them, and you're sick of them. After I was out of the hospital, I didn't eat an apple for a year. And then Tarsus IV came around again on the calendar and it just…happened. I guess I do it to make myself remember it. So that it stays real. People died there, friends even, Bones. I can't forget them just because I survived. Someone has to remember them."
McCoy had scooted over next to Jim now, settling an arm around his shoulders, using the physical contact to ground Jim, to let him know that he didn't have to be alone in this. Bones was glad Jim didn't shrink away. "Eating them until you're sick, that's not honoring their memory. That's a guilt impulse, Jim. And it's not something that you should be feeling. Or if it is, we need to talk about it because you shouldn't. By some miracle you made it off that rock in one piece and you're here today because of it. That's something to celebrate…not something to beat yourself up about by making yourself relive one of the most traumatic events of your life every year." He finished by plucking the final apple from Jim's hand and throwing it out into the hallway. Good riddance. He saw that Jim's eyes were following the arc of the fruit, but he was satisfied and relieved to see that his partner made no effort to retrieve it.
"So what now?" Jim asked quietly, "I'm not going to just forget them Bones…Every year, it's important to remember everyone who wasn't lucky enough to make it off that rock, the ones who died by Kodos' decree or by starvation."
"If it's important to you, then we'll honor them in a way that's healthy. But no more apples. God, I'm not going to let them bring any of those onto the ship for awhile. And before you protest, that is not up for debate. That's my decision as your physician. Having them onboard is not going to help you get over this."
"What does that leave? No one thinks about them anymore. The survivors, we're scattered all over the place and most of the ones I've met don't want to talk about it at all."
"That's common for survivors of an incident like this, bringing it back up is traumatic…"
"I'm not burying the memories if that's what you're suggesting. It might be easier, but it's not right. Those people…I knew them, and even the ones I didn't know personally, I know what their final hours were like and that's enough of a connection."
McCoy rubbed Jim's shoulder and squeezed gently. The motion seemed to calm Jim, a little of the tension draining out of his posture as he tilted his head over to rest on McCoy's shoulder. Bones reciprocated, leaning his head against Jim's, taking in the smell of his hair. "Do they have a memorial on Tarsus IV to commemorate the incident and honor the people who died?"
He felt Jim give a slight shrug, "I've never been back. I don't know."
"Well, then we'll put in for shore leave this time next year. Maybe a week or so off? We'll both have accrued enough vacation time by then and Spock would like nothing more than to get the command all to himself."
Jim thought about it for a moment, "Maybe…you think other survivors go back there?"
"I don't know, but this time next year, there'll be at least one there to remember it: you. And I'll be right there next to you."
Jim spoke for the final time that evening, in a quiet, humbled tone. One that bled awe for the dedication of his partner, "…Thanks, Bones."
There was no verbal response after that, just silence softly broken by the sound of their breathing in sync as they sat there side by side past the waning of the anniversary of Tarsus IV and into the next morning.
Jim slowly stretched his muscles and gave a yawn that popped both of his ears. He looked next to him, expecting Bones to be there, only to frown at the absence that once again greeted him. There was a pillow beneath his head and he was leaning up against the wall. As he pushed himself to a fully sitting position and his arms got caught in a blanket he realized someone had put that on him too. Bones, vigilant as always, he smiled. The man was downright cute sometimes, if not a bit clichéd.
He curled his toes in an effort to regain circulation; his leg had apparently fallen asleep if the pins and needles sensation was anything to go by. In the meantime he surveyed the bathroom. The calendar and bowl were gone, as were the remnant fruit from the previous night.
He eventually worked up the energy to roll over and climb to his feet, steadying himself against the wall and heading out into the bedroom. His eyes caught the glint of the light playing off a reflective surface, drawing his attention to the desk. There was a fruit basket covered with almost blindingly fluorescent decorative plastic wrap. Curious, he went over and looked at the card sitting in front of it.
I already called Spock and told him that you'd be in after lunch, so don't worry about me turning your alarm off. I knew you'd find it in your heart to forgive me for such a grave transgression. But the CMO in me thought you could use the sleep. Take a few hours to relax, you've earned it.
P.S. – An apple a day will not keep the doctor away. I'm not that easy to get rid of, kid. Meet me here for dinner tonight, right when you get off (i.e. don't be late!). I'm planning a little something ;)
Jim gently refolded the letter and set it down as he unwrapped the basket. There were a variety of fruits in it, and he couldn't help but let a grin creep across his face as he noticed the conspicuous absence of apples.