A few warnings: This story covers some adult stuff folks. Prepare yourself for graphic language, hints at child abuse, character death, mention of genocide and slash. If any of this makes you squirm, read no further. You've been warned.
He doesn't know what he's doing here. Jim shifts in further against the creaking sofa and stares at his past surrounding him on all sides. He'd been in Iowa two weeks now and still couldn't keep his skin from crawling every time he walked into the farmhouse. It was Sam's now, and he'd made it a home with his wife, Aurelan's help. But their salaries were nominal and despite the subtle cosmetic changes, Jim could still see the faded battle scares that remained etched along the banister, gouged into the kitchen floor and scratched along the walls inside closets where none would see unless they knew to look.
The house was filled with remnants from his youth. Ghosts that beckoned him to recall memories he'd buried years before. The sofa he sat on, for instance, was the very same that he'd lost his virginity on when he was fifteen. The same sofa he lay on for three weeks straight after returning from Tarsus IV. The sofa, that as a child, he'd curl up on, next to his mother as she read him stories about pirates, orphan boys and space.
The sofa that he now sat on squeezed uncomfortably between his Uncle Marcus and Bones. Bones looked distressed, shoved as he was against a sharp arm that no longer contained the soft cushioning that had once covered the wooden frame. However, he wasn't nearly as bad off as Jim. Uncle Marcus had a good four hundred pounds on him and much of that was pressing hot and damp against Jim's left side. He repressed a shudder and wondered, not for the first time, when the man would finally make his exit. Everyone else had cleared out nearly an hour ago, but Marcus seemed content to nurse his beer and stare blankly at the wall.
The soft patter of sock clad feet drew Jim's attention, and he looked up to see his nephew stopping in front of him. At four years old, Peter looked the spitting image of his mother. Peter, was dressed in his pajamas and looked officially exhausted. He'd spent the better part of the day crying over the palpable tension filling the house that he couldn't understand. It was no wonder he was heading to bed before the summer sun even thought of setting.
"Hey kiddo." At Jim's words, little arms reached up and Jim couldn't refuse that offer. Maneuvering his arm from behind his Uncle, Jim leaned forward to pull the boy onto his lap. Peter clung affectionately to Jim and murmured something intelligible into his neck. "What was that buddy?"
"Read me a story?"
The soft words somehow startled Marcus into the present, because the man jerked and began extracting himself from the sunken cushions. The sofa groaning in protest to the rocking body shifting it's fragile frame. Once standing, the man looked around in apparent bafflement before setting his empty bottle on the coffee table.
"I should be off. I didn't realize it was so late." With a absent pat to Peter's hair, Marcus strode to the foyer, acknowledging Sam with a nod before leaving without another word.
"Finally!" Sam exclaimed from the entryway. I didn't think he'd ever leave." Sam strode across the room to scoop his son into his arms only to earn a loud protest from the boy.
"Uncle Jim's gonna read me a story!" Peter threw himself backwards in an attempt to gain his freedom but his attempt was futile.
"Not tonight babe. Uncle Jim can read to you another night. Mom's looking forward to reading the next chapter to you. You don't want to hurt her feelings now, do you?"
Peter looked undecided for a moment, biting his lip in thought. He looked to Jim who smiled encouragingly at him before Peter shook his head and lay against his father's chest in defeat.
"Tell Uncle Jim and Leonard goodnight."
"Sweet dreams buddy." Jim stood to kiss Peter's neck, earning him a giggle before Sam left to see to his fatherly duties.
With the sudden extra room, Jim threw himself onto the couch and swung his feet across his friend's lap. The glare aimed at him only caused him to grin unrepentantly. Closing his eyes, Jim allowed himself to bask in the silence. It was the first he'd had since arriving. Only, it wasn't silent. Not really. Jim's mind whirled with activity and noise. Thoughts he couldn't block now that it was just him and Bones alone with reality.
Why the hell was he even here? What made him think he could do this? That he should do this? It had been many years since he had felt indebted to the family he'd left behind. The family who'd left him behind first. It wasn't guilt. That he knew for certain. When he'd gotten the comm from Pike, he'd just made the arrangements and necessary roster changes before kidnapping Bones and heading to Iowa.
He hadn't even talked to Spock about the situation. Only offering the briefest of explanations before he was on the first transport to Earth. He knew he'd hurt Spock with his silence and his choice to bring Bones instead of him. But Jim couldn't explain to Spock, didn't take the time to explain, that he couldn't survive this without knowing that his crew and ship were safe. And for Jim, safety meant Spock.
Their relationship was still in it's infancy stage but Jim had come to trust Spock more than anyone in the three years they'd served together. He knew, when he returned to the ship Spock would be there for him, would offer whatever Jim needed from him. At this moment though, in this place, what he needed was Bones.
"Some shore leave, huh?"
The quiet words surprised a snort from Jim. He cracked his eyes to see Bones watching him with those warm blue eyes that saw too much. Jim had the sudden thought that maybe Bones knew exactly why Jim had come here and feared what reason that might be. He didn't ask.
"Don't worry Bones. This won't count against you as official leave. I'll make sure you have plenty of 'special lady time' next time we get leave."
Jim huffed as a pillow impacted hard with his face and laughed when Bones shoved his feet off his lap onto the floor.
"Smartass. You know what I mean."
"Yeah. I know Bones." And Jim knew that his thank you was heard and accepted when Bones swung his legs up behind Jim on the sofa to burrow his feet under Jim's torso. Sock covered toes dug into sensitive ribs causing Jim to rear up and try to stifle the unmanly giggle they had rendered.
Sam returned to the living room then, smiling at the two of them before handing them fresh beers and sitting across from them in what had been Frank's chair. Jim took a healthy swig to shake off the memories before settling into silence once more.
It wasn't comfortable by any means. Too many years of distance and resentment kept comfort at bay. Without Peter or Aurelan present to buffer their interactions, Jim and Sam couldn't converse in a civil manner. Too much wreckage lay between them. A veritable chasm that lay littered with broken promises and years of separation.
It was a relief when Aurelan returned to the room to sit on the floor, resting her back against Sam's legs.
"You have a fan, Jim. I don't think Peter was as happy with my telling of Peter Pan as he would have been with one of your space adventures." She smiled warmly at Jim, with affection. Anyone looking at them would find it hard to believe that they met for the first time twelve days ago.
"Well, I'm new. The novelty hasn't worn off yet." Jim tipped back his beer again and resisted squirming under her gaze. They weren't family, not really. Their connection was bridged through Sam and that meant they weren't connected at all.
"Whatever you say. All I know is last week Peter wanted to be a dog trainer and now he informs me that when he grows up he's gonna explore space with his Uncle Jim."
"A dog trainer?" Jim asked, completely ignoring the rest of her comment. Who fantasizes about dog training in their youth?"
The sudden laugh from Sam caught his attention and he was surprised to find Sam smiling at him with real amusement and something else he couldn't identify.
"Well I know someone that wanted to be a fish when he got older, so dog trainer doesn't seem that odd to me."
"What? No. I did not!" Jim sat up with indignation that Sam would even believe that himself, let alone announce something so absurd aloud.
"The hell you didn't! You were two I think, and mom took us swimming for the first time. You loved it. Wanted to swim all day and threw a hell of a tantrum when we had to leave. Mom said something like you'd turn into a fish if you stayed in the water any longer. Well, that was it. For the next year all you talked about was when you got older you'd be a fish then you'd swim all day, everyday and no one could make you do any different. You were quite fierce in your conviction. In fact, you once snuck out of bed in the middle of the night, filled the tub and lay in there for hours hoping you'd turn into a fish by morning."
Bones, at this point, was on his side, face pressed into the cushions to muffle his wheezing laughter. This was totally unacceptable and would have to stop. Immediately.
"You-" Jim pointed at his brother with an accusatory finger. "Are a bullshitter. And you-" Jim turned his finger on his red faced friend. "Are laying on the sofa I've defiled with my sexiness too many times to count."
With a shout, Bones leaped to the floor and glared at Jim while wiping at his face as if being attacked by invisible cooties.
This reaction brought forth a loud, indelicate braying from the woman on the floor who was clutching her sides, trying to breath. Jim looked from Sam to Aurelan then back to Sam. His brother just shrugged and picked up his beer. "What can I say? She suckered me in with amazing sex and I was married before I knew she brayed like a donkey."
"I was being tactful, sugar."
"No. You are a jackass, jackass." Aurelan grabbed the beer from Sam's hand and levered herself off the floor to flop down opposite Jim on the couch. The smile gracing her features told Jim that this was a standing joke between them and he felt oddly out of place to be let in on it.
"Oh my God! I need a shower." Bones shuddered, but sunk to the floor by the coffee table, drinking heavily from his bottle. "I'm gonna need something stronger then beer. What have you got?"
"How's whiskey sound?" Sam levered himself out of the chair and walked to a cabinet in the far corner. The creak of the door startled Jim enough that his bottle slipped from his hand to thud sharply against the wood floor. "Jim?"
Jim said nothing, just retrieved his bottle, swiping his socked foot over the floor to absorb the spillage.
"Jim?" Sam persisted.
"I'm fine." Jim gritted the words out but met his brother's eyes across the room and saw comprehension dawn.
"Fucking Goddammit!" The cupboard door slapped roughly against it's frame, bouncing back open against Sam's legs. "I thought...Jesus Christ."
The tension ricocheted through the room. The room was evenly split between those who understood what was just revealed and those that were ignorant of the significance of what just happened.
"Before or after?" The quiet question slipped past Sam's lips as he held himself rigid as if preparing for a blow. Jim thought about lying, of dismissing the question altogether. He found the truth slipping from his mouth before he could stop himself.
The sudden sound of an unopened bottle of Jim Beam shattering against the wall filled the room like a gunshot. A startled cry emitted from the second floor and Aurelan rose to see to her frightened child. She gave Sam a questioning look as she passed him but he didn't seem to notice.
"Shit. Shit!" Sam scrubbed at his face, collapsing against the cupboard for support. Collapsing into himself as his eyes sought his brother's once again. "Did she know?"
Well, that was the million credit question, Jim thought. Did she know? Did she know that her brother liked to get drunk and beat his nephews until they couldn't move? Did she know that while Jim was still recovering his strength after surviving a genocide that Frank had dragged him off this very sofa to kick him repeatedly for throwing up pizza forced on him the night before? He didn't think she did. He hoped that she hadn't known. He certainly hadn't asked and it was impossible to do so now.
And really, if she had, what did it matter now? It was in the past. There was nothing that could be done. No absolution to be sought. No forgiveness to be begged for. It was irrevocably out of reach. So, Jim answered the only way he could.
"Jesus Christ! What do you want from me, Sam?" Jim exploded up off of the couch as his anger, that had simmered for the last two weeks, finally boiled over. "I don't know the answer to that. Did she fucking know? How the fuck should I know? I never said. She never said. It's over, it's done and there's nothing that can change it."
"I wish I'd-"
"What? What do you wish, Sam? You wish you'd never left? That mom never left? That dad never died? It's all so fucking pointless. Wishing never got anyone anywhere. Just fucking let it go."
With that, Jim stormed out of the room, out of the house and stood amid the dying day and swallowed down the scream choking him. He shouldn't have come. He didn't owe them anything. Didn't owe her anything. And this house. This fucking house was an emotional pitfall. Everywhere he turned he fell further into the abyss where his memories lay. The damn sofa, the scratches against the closet wall, and a God damned creaky cupboard, all enough to send him spiraling, momentarily at least, into a PTSD induced nightmare. Hell, the entire state of Iowa was one giant trigger for him.
He should not be here. He should not be here. He should not be here.
"Jim, I'm sorry."
His mantra broke, his breath stilled and Jim felt his anger flash once again.
"Go back inside Sam."
"No. We need to talk. It's long overdue." Shuffling steps, a creak of warped wood and Jim knew Sam had perched himself on the porch steps. They hadn't sat together like that since Jim was eleven. It spoke of camaraderie, kinship, a willingness to share secrets and dreams. Or, Jim thought bitterly, emotional childhood scars that were better forgotten. He would be damned if he was going to sit there like Sam hadn't abandoned him in order to save his own skin. If Sam wanted to talk, he'd do it from a distance, just like he did everything else.
"You wanna talk? Talk." Jim didn't even deign to turn around. Refused to look his brother in the face. He wouldn't make this easy.
"God, you always were a stubborn S.O.B.."
"Don't do that. Don't talk like you know me. Like we're family. We're not. You're just some guy I used to know."
"You have to know, I wouldn't have left if I believed he'd turn on you. He never laid a hand on you before." Sam spoke the words quietly, as though it was a confession. "You were always so good. So respectful. Not like me. I couldn't keep my mouth shut, my head down. I always egged him on. I just didn't think. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Jim."
"It doesn't matter now, Sam."
"Of course it matters! You're my brother. I was supposed to protect you. It was my job. My only job and I failed. If I'd stayed you never would have been touched. You never would have been sent-" Sam broke off with a quiet sob and Jim was finally forced to look at his brother.
"Stop it! What are you even doing? Crying over that! It's not your tragedy. Not your story. You don't get to cry over it. If I didn't cry, you don't get to. You hear me?" Jim clenched his hands into fists at his sides and took a step toward his openly sobbing brother. The screech of the screen door snapping his attention to Bones, who was taking in the scene with those damn knowing eyes of his.
"What?" Jim snapped.
Bones met his gaze and held it for a seemingly interminable moment before releasing a heavy sigh and responding.
"You have a comm. You can take it in the den." With that, Bones stepped back into the house, closing the screen gently behind him.
Jim took several deep breaths to calm himself before stomping past his brother and entering the house. Only, Jim took satisfaction in allowing the screen door to slap violently closed behind him. He went straight to the den and closed the door behind him for privacy. With a snap of his wrist, he activated the comm link and the visage that filled the screen momentarily took his breath away.
"Spock." The name left his lips on a breathy exhale. Jim found himself taking in that severe face, the sharp brows and hard mouth and felt his anger instantly drain from him.
"Captain, I am calling as per your request to relay current ship status as normal. We are currently finishing our charting of sector four and will be officially beginning our next assignment per Starfleet orders. I believe you are aware of the course change necessary that will temporarily take us out of range of communications for the approximate duration of 2.233 days."
Jim floundered. This was not what he had been expecting. This overly formal, regulation perfect Spock hadn't been present in private moments for months. Years, if Jim wanted to be completely honest. And it was private. He could see the Vulcan artifacts on the wall over Spock's shoulder to know that Spock was calling from his personal quarters.
Had he hurt Spock more than he thought with the manner in which he had left? Had he destroyed their fledgling relationship with his inability to share stories of his dysfunctional family with Spock. Spock, who had never had to question his mother's love. Who, despite a few rough years, knew his father's as well. How could he explain to Spock what he was dealing with? How could Spock ever understand? He couldn't.
That was why Bones was here instead. Bones, who had his own dysfunctional family to contend with and understood the drama he was witnessing here in Iowa. Understood how to deal with Jim. Knew when to be there and when to make himself scarce. And Bones, seeing exactly how fucked up Jim was, wasn't going to run for the hills and terminate their friendship, because he understood that nobody could choose where they came from. You couldn't choose your family. All you could do was survive them.
Jim focused on Spock's composed face and noticed a flicker of concern. Jim cleared his throat and tried to pull off his command persona.
"Of course, Mr. Spock. I'm confident you've followed protocol and will gather the required readings from within the nebula."
"Indeed, Captain. I...I find it illogically disagreeable that our temporary Science Officer continues to refer to this particular nebula as The Little Ghost. She refuses to call it anything but."
Jim felt a grin overtake his face. Our. That one tiny word included with an unnecessary admission were Spock speak for segueing the conversation from professional to personal. Jim felt immensely relieved.
"Well, Spock, you can't really blame Lieutenant Pietrowiak for using the name Terran's gave it nearly six hundred years ago. Even if it is no longer the Federation's accepted name."
"Indeed." Spock looked away for a moment. A simple shift of his eyes but Jim could read nervousness in the move. Also, the slight hint of green spreading across Spock's cheeks gave Jim the impression of embarrassment. "It has been mentioned, by several crew members, that your absence is undesired. I feel it my duty to inform you of their request for your expeditious return."
"Just the crew then?" Jim smirked into the view screen trying to remember how to breathe.
"I would not disagree with their sentiments, no."
Jim couldn't keep the grin from splitting his face at that admission. They were going to be okay.
"I miss you too."
Spock looked away again and then looked at his lap. And continued looking at it. If Jim didn't know better, he'd say Spock was fidgeting with his fingers. But Spock didn't fidget. Ever. Silence dragged on and Jim began to worry that something had happened. That Spock wasn't telling him something.
"Is everything alright?" That brought Spock's head up with an incredulous look on his face before he schooled it to Vulcan calm.
"Jim, I believe it is my task to ask that of you."
"I'm fine, Spock." And he was. At this moment. Jim did not feel guilty for not taking that opening to tell Spock how horrendous the whole trip had been. Not one bit guilty. Nope.
Jim didn't know why, but Spock looked distinctly displeased with Jim's response.
"Then I must return to the Bridge to oversee the commencement of our next assignment. Good day, Captain."
Jim was staring at a black screen before he could even respond. What the hell had just happened? It wasn't until he was lying in bed with Bones' snores filling the room that it occurred to him that Spock had really only called to check up on him. To see how he was and to let Jim know he'd be unable to communicate for the next two and a half days. To be there for Jim if needed. And Jim had tossed it away with a lame ass 'I'm fine'. He was a sucky boyfriend and he would have to make it up when he returned to the ship. He fell asleep thinking of things to do for Spock, completely missing the bigger picture.