Warnings: Slash, major h/c (mostly off-screen, but there are serious injuries as the result of ongoing torture, and the beginning stages of starvation), angst and drama. Death of a minor OC)
Notes: This is my Help_Pakistan story. The story is linear, but told in two different lines. There's the imprisonment, and the recovery, and I hope it's easy enough to follow where and when we are at any given scene.
Poydi tuda, ne znayu kuda, prinesi to, ne znayu chto.
Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What
The door that leads into their still, silent tomb has rusted hinges that give a deep metal complaining noise every time the door opens.
Len hates that noise. Hates everything about it: the tone and pitch of the grinding metal, the creak of the door, the influx of warm air from the hallway that only makes him feel the cold in this room that much deeper.
Mostly, of course, he hates that noise because of what follows it.
There's something so ridiculously insidious about pain. Len would have thought that he'd develop some immunity towards it eventually, out of sheer will or the survival instinct that's so strong in humans. He used to think that once a body was broken it stays broken, and threatening to break it further would hardly rate a reaction.
The truth seems to be directly opposite of that. There isn't a part of him that hasn't been broken or cracked, torn, crushed, flayed. And the more he hurts, the more he wants to beg them not to hurt him again.
Even as the door opens, groaning on its rusting hinges, Len wants to sob. He wants to move away, to beg them to leave him alone. To pray to some moldy old diety he never much believed in, to offer his soul, his future, his every last breath, if He will just make this stop happening.
He wants to die.
He's ready for it, tired of living on the edge of it. But he doesn't have the strength anymore to act out and make them kill him.
Hell, he doesn't ever have the strength to sob, or to move away. He sure as hell doesn't have the strength to pray, though that sort of strength isn't physical.
He can hardly lift his head off the cold stone. He can hardly brace himself to watch the confrontation that's coming.
But he does.
He can tell Pavel is reaching his own tattered limits, because the door is entirely open and footsteps echo over the stone before the kid stirs. He's usually quicker than this, usually on his feet while the hinges are still groaning.
He watches Pavel rise, late and unsteady but rising all the same. Len allows his eyes to close, forcing himself to listen to the fight that's coming.
What he hears makes no sense.
The voice is strange. Tense, high with alarm, not the hoarse staccato of the aliens' ratty Standard. And none of these bastards ever bothered to learn the kid's name.
Len smirks to himself, prone against the cold stone. It makes his shattered cheekbone throb, but it's worth it. Since he's lost his damned mind he may as well face madness with a grin, right?
"Prekratite uje, ostavte ego v pokoe!" The kid stopped speaking English a few days ago, and he comes out with a shaking line of Russian, all guttural and sliding together as if he's speaking one long word. Whatever Russian's supposed to sound like normally, Len's pretty sure this ain't it.
Len's smirk fades. He hates this part.
"Chekov, it's...Jesus, somebody find Sulu. Or Spock. Somebody get..." That familiar voice pitched thin with tension suddenly cuts off with a choking sound. "Oh, Christ. Oh, Jesus. Bones?"
Len doesn't manage to stir, doesn't force his eyes open, but he does make a real attempt to focus. Only one person in the universe calls him Bones, and that one person sure as hell doesn't belong in this room. That person existed a lifetime ago. Not now, not here.
But then, this isn't the first time Len's heard Jim Kirk's voice. Not even the first time it's sounded real to him.
"Bones? God, are you-"
"Nyet!" Pavel, right on cue, his shadow falling over Len as he stands between him and the intruders.
Len squeezes his eyes more tightly closed, grasping onto that frail voice, hearing Pavel's breath rattling and the drag of his feet as he staggers to stay upright.
"Chekov. Pavel. Fuck, kid, stand down, let me check on-"
"Nyet! Ne trogaite ego! Prekratite!"
Len doesn't speak Russian - nyet is the only thing the kid's said in the last few days that he recognizes at all. But the words Pavel says are words he says over and over again, and Len knows the sound of them. He could write them down, some bastardized phonetic version of them.
Sometimes he thinks he might get them tattooed on his skin when he gets out of here. Mostly he realizes that's ridiculous: he's never getting out of here.
They're going to get impatient any minute now and force the kid out of their way. They're gonna come for Len. They always fucking come for Len, and he can't move himself away anymore. Can't argue, can't even lift his damned head and face them as they come.
"Captain, there's no...oh my God."
Shit. Double the pleasure. It's another familiar voice, another dusty sound rising from his rusted memory. And Jesus, Len almost wishes he had some strength back. He'd turn his head and lift his eyes and see if his brain loves him enough to give him visual hallucinations to go with the auditory ones.
This second voice is loud, too sudden, and there are quick footsteps against the rock floor. Len can feel the brush of them echo where his ear is pressed to the ground.
He opens his eyes the smallest crack and watches Pavel's pale, dirty feet recoiling backwards a single step before surging forward again.
"Nyet!" Pavel is shrill now. "Ostavte ego v pokoe, merzavci!"
Len's eyes shut again.
"Jesus. Pavel...Pasha! Pasha, it's me!"
"Back up, Sulu!"
"But he...Pasha, its-"
"Lieutenant! That's an order! Jesus, the kid's about to have a fucking heart attack, back away."
Fuck if this isn't convincing. When he hears Jim in his head he likes to hear Jim happy, not hoarse and strained like this.
He doesn't hear Sulu often, but he bets Pavel does.
If there was a sound left in his throat, Len would've chuckled. Son of a bitch, his mind's fucked up today.
"Spock." The Kirk-hallucination sounds relieved. "Bones. He's...I can't even tell if he's a...alive." Jim Kirk never stutters. Hallucination's less convincing now. "We've got to get to him."
"Have you not-"
There's a quiet footstep, and Pavel gives a sudden, feral little growl. He's tiring, he's running out of words, that's what the growl means.
"Ah." Spock-hallucination sounds distantly surprised, and there's the rasp against stone of footsteps backing away. "Perhaps..."
"If I...if I stun him, can you catch him before he falls?"
"Jim, don't you fucking dare!" Sulu-hallucination, obviously feeling ballsy.
Len's eyes crack open, staring out at the blurred world.
Something isn't right here. Something isn't dream or reality.
His dreams would never talk about stunning Pavel, and in reality the aliens should be pounding into the kid by now.
With a painful but bracing breath, Len tilts his face from the cool stone underneath him and blinks out and up, past the stained pale blur that he knows is Pavel.
He can't see much. Colors. Command gold, science blue. Tan skin and pale. Gold hair and dark. Three distant shapes.
"Bones!" He hears Jim's voice, a cracked gasp of relief, as if the Jim-blur is actually real and has seen Len looking towards him.
Len's throat works, but he hasn't been able to swallow in days. He looks out at those blurs, and he understands.
There's no hallucination here.
It's time to go.
The blurs are real, but distant. Removed. Faceless, though they have identities now, and they are people he knows. They're still half-dream. The only thing that's not distant is the only thing he's had to hold on to for days. Weeks. However fucking long it's taken them to rot to this stage of rigor.
"Pavel." Len's voice is a joke, a dry rasp like the crinkle of thin paper on a med cot under the weight of a new patient. But he manages the sound.
Pavel turns instantly, his dirty feet moving in close until the pale bone of his knees block the blurs from Len's eyes.
Len looks up at him. He speaks carefully. "Gotta get up, kid."
Pavel's eyes are endless and still so fucking bright green, always the same shade of green even now that Len needs to see them to remember what green actually look like. He blinks those giant eyes at Len, but Len knows he hears him. He even understands, probably. The kid's a genius, after all, and his brain's too big to be atrophied beyond all reason.
He seems to get it, anyway, meeting Len's unsteady gaze with a growing fear in his eyes.
Len understands that fear. Leaving seems fucking terrifying.
"Pasha." Len's so hoarse that the words don't sound like much more than wheezing breaths. But Pavel will understand him. "Help me."
Len has to get up, and Pavel has to help. Len can't do it, not physically, not without Pavel. Pavel won't get it through his brain, won't understand all this, without Len's help.
...and if Len sees these familiar blurs and their hallucination-voices stunning Pavel with their fucking phasers until he falls limp and silent on the ground, he's pretty sure he won't ever fucking recover from that.
God knows how he's got the strength left, but the kid reaches out and takes Len's arm, careful not to touch anywhere near his wrist, or the hand Len can't look at. When Pavel tugs, Len lifts. But it's not enough – Pavel's strength is all adrenaline and psycho-soma, and Len's willpower isn't anything like enough to make his broken body move.
Pavel stops tugging, sinking onto his knees to the ground, staring at Len with the same fear in his eyes. He doesn't speak – Len's pretty sure he's completely forgotten Standard anyway – and he doesn't do more than flinch when careful, slow footsteps start in on them from the doorway.
He keeps his eyes on Pavel's. Whatever this is, he tries to say through his eyes, whatever it is it's something different. Different has to be good.
Whatever it is, they'll handle it together.
Pavel swallows, and whatever he manages to read on Len's face seems to get through to him. He nods, so small Len might be imagining it.
The footsteps approach.
In the end Pavel's fear snaps and he fights, surging off his knees and throwing himself backwards at the shadows that fall over them both. It's the Spock-blur who stops him, fingers on the kid's neck, lowering him as gently as Len would've put Joanna to bed years ago.
Len doesn't know much more than that, because the one blur that's all golden and bright and looming in over him reaches for his arm, and touches his fingers.
Len catches a pair of wide blue eyes jerking down to look at the misshapen lump of his hand, and sees that bright, golden face utterly crumpling in horror. Then the movement of his hand, the clench of Jim's shocked fingers, drives him up and away, blows him out of that room and somewhere up into the inky black high overhead.
It's a strange world, clean and bright and utterly alien, that surrounds Len when he opens his eyes.
Familiar, sure, but in some distant way. Familiar like Georgia is familiar. Like being happily married. It's a sepia-toned familiarity, old and yellowed and archaic. As if years have passed since he was last in these rooms.
Not just weeks.
Too bright, for one. The lights are dim, but the white walls and clean metal surfaces make everything gleam and reflect and shimmer, and it makes his eyes hurt.
Too new, too smooth and spotless. It seems false.
No footsteps, no distant thuds or shouts, no strangely-pronounced alien Standard. Too alone, without the smell and sound and warmth of Pavel. Without the strangled breathing as constant white-noise in his ears, or the hushed whisper or urgent murmur, the soft voice of Pavel in the beginning, or the broken Russian chokes of words at the end.
He's only been aware of his surroundings for a few moments, but he understands what's happening. He is where he told them he would end up. He's back on the ship. Back with his crew, his captain, his sickbay.
He always knew he would get back here. He never lost faith in Jim.
So why does it feel so false?
Jim is here. Sleeping, tucked in a chair so haphazardly that some old, rusty doctor in Len's brain can practically diagnose the strains and aches he'll suffer when he wakes up.
So fucking alien. Despite the fact that everything about him, the uniform, the tousled golden hair, the half-smirk on his exhausted face as he sleeps, is all exactly the way Len imagined it so often in the last few weeks.
Jim is just too smooth, too clean. Too polished and new, like some actor portraying A Person. And the room around them looked like stage scenery.
Len wants to be happy to be home. He wants to call out until Jim wakes up. He wants to see his best friend grinning in relief and making some joke about how bad Len looks. He wants to know it's over.
His throat works and his mouth stays shut.
He looks from Jim to the diagnosis panels over his head with bland disinterest. He knows what's wrong with him. They aren't subtle injuries. He's known all along, he just couldn't do anything about it.
Len doesn't lift his arms. He doesn't look at his hands. Not yet. He doesn't want to know.
He has never been a cloudy-headed idealist. He really hasn't. He's always known that life sucks and people can be bastards. He's always known that innocent people get hurt, and the good die young, and all that kind of realist bullshit.
But for all he's a cynical grouch on his best days, Len has always expected the best out of people. It's what made his arguments with Spock and Kirk so heated. It's what made him so vital to their friendship, and to the command of the ship.
He always hoped. Some-fucking-how, he always managed to hope.
Does the universe feel different just because that's gone?
Who the hell knows? Maybe he's just recovering. Hell, he hasn't even started recovering yet.
The voice is soft enough that Len doesn't register it for a moment. He blinks dry, scratched-feeling eyes and looks back at the chair beside the bed.
Jim smiles, bright and glowing and without the mix of cockiness and cynicism he can so often have. His eyes – blue, so fucking bright blue, and Len almost forgot what blue looked like – are glowing, but the skin under them is smudged dark as bruises. His exhaustion shows at the tight edges of his smile, and his worry comes through in his voice.
"Jesus Christ, this is even less fun than it is when our places are reversed."
Len smiles, a vague and automatic reaction, but he isn't sure if he wants to agree or argue so he doesn't say anything.
Jim leans in, those startling blue eyes scanning up and down all over Len's face, as if looking for something very specific and very minute. It's a strangely intense look for Jim.
Len wants to ask him about his hands, about how long it's been, how long they were missing, what happened to the bastards who had them. But when he opens his mouth only one word can possibly come out.
Jim glances over his shoulder, nodding his chin back in that direction as if there isn't a curtain there blocking everything from Len's view.
Or blocking Len from everyone's eyes.
"He's woken up a couple of times – M'Benga's been pretty sedation-happy with you two, for different reasons. Hikaru's camped out at his bedside, though, so he won't wake up alone."
Jim gives a faint little laugh at that, a little roll of the eyes, as if Sulu's presence is just too sentimental to forgive.
Len is pretty damned sure that Jim's been camped at his bedside since they got to the ship.
"Bones..." Jim's little smirk fades and he abruptly looks like a man who's never smiled in his life. "Jesus."
Len is aware of his pulse moving through his hands, a sickening throb that makes him think he's pretty tightly bandaged. But he can't lift his arms yet, can't bring himself to look. He doesn't want to know what he's already sure of, but he braces himself to form the words, ask the question. Find out if his life really is over.
"Is he okay?" he asks instead, and the question doesn't surprise him.
"Chekov?" Jim shrugs, trying to grin again and failing. He finally slumps back in his chair and lets his exhaustion conquer his expression. "He will be, but it was dicey for a while. Same as you," he adds, shooting Len a look like he doesn't understand why Len isn't asking about himself.
Len just waits, expectant, wanting more.
Jim frowns. "M'Benga and Chapel spent hours on the two of you. Surprised the hell out of me when they said Chekov was in more danger, since he was the one up and moving and trying to fight us off back in that cell, and you were the one just...just laying there."
Len has a vague memory of it, of Pavel's voice and the blurred sight of command gold.
"Turns out Chekov was in more immediate danger, but you're in danger in more ways. In a hundred years or so when I can bring myself to go through them again, I'll let you read through the reports."
Len frowns, trying to focus his mind, to recall spotty memories beyond pain and fear and the stink of the cell. "What was...?"
"You want the short version? Another 12 hours and Chekov's body would've suffered damage we can't repair. Another 24 and he'd've been dead."
Len flinches weakly, but his eyes stay on Jim, needing to know. "How?"
"He was starving to death."
Len's throat works – it's not the answer he was expecting. It wasn't even on his top-five list. There was food. Nothing else to say about the place they were held or the bastards who held them, but there was always food in the cell.
Jim studies him as he talks. "Shocked us too. There was...in that cell, this pile of food. Rotting, mostly, and I don't know what the hell it even was, but it was edible. And you..." He smirks, and it's hollow. "Everything in the fucking world is wrong with you except for that. You've been fed."
Len can remember. When he was in with those bastards in their interrogation rooms long enough they'd bring him food – some fucked-up version of kindness – and when he got back to the cell Pavel always had leftovers to feed him.
He always curled up near Len, right up against him if Len wasn't hurting too bad, and fed him tiny bites pinched in his fingers, and spoke a lot of white noise that Len couldn't focus on but needed to hear.
Len's eyes shut and he can hear him, those increasingly uneven words, the hoarse, low voice, as if everything Pavel said was a secret he couldn't let their captors hear. Everything is private, meant for Len alone, and it's such a bizarre thing to take comfort in but Len grasps at these secret words he alone will ever hear.
He can feel the food pressed against his mouth by Pavel's shivering fingers, can taste the strange flavors, the copper of blood dripping into his mouth, the grit of the unavoidable dirt between his teeth as he chews.
"Bones..." Jim's voice is distant again, like a hallucination. Like it was before. "Don't you want to know about yourself? I can tell you..."
Len doesn't answer – he never answers back when Pavel talks, when he curls in and feeds him so carefully and talks endlessly to take Len's mind away from the other voices; the alien words and sharp tones and the echoes of his own screams.
His throat is burning, but he doesn't ask Pasha for water. He'll get it soon enough, Pavel seems to read him so well these days.
"Bones?" Distant voice, but there's movement nearby, the groan of a chair. And a touch, heavy and too-firm, lands on Len's arm.
Pavel doesn't touch him on his arms. Not now, not after they destroyed his hands. The only ones who do are them, the aliens. The bastards looking for another way to hurt him.
Len doesn't open his eyes, doesn't even want to see what they're about to do to him. Why they're gripping his arm, holding him tight, making distant human-shaped sounds too near to him.
He whimpers, hearing and hating the tight weak sound of it. He has sobbed for them, screamed, begged. He has forgotten pride and strength with these bastards. He has lost everything he had left, and he can't bring himself to care anymore.
"Please," he says, groans, without pride but without self-consciousness enough to care. "Please. No."
The too-close voice says something, and repeats it louder, more alarmed. Closer.
Len flinches away, feeling the bastard's grip around his arm and knowing they're going after his hands again. "No!" he gets out, strangled but louder, as if that ever helps. "Jesus, no, stop it!"
The grip leaves his arm, but he knows better than to think it's over. He keeps his eyes tightly shut, braced for the blows, the burns, the cracking or squeezing or twisting that is going to come, God, it always comes.
This voice isn't distant. This is the only voice that makes sense to him anymore.
"Get away from him!"
Pavel. Pavel will fight them off, at least for a little while. Pavel will watch over him, will keep him off the ground, will feed him and talk to fill the silence that chokes Len's mind, and tear his own uniform to strips to help bandage Len's body as best he can.
Len turns his head towards the voice and forces his reluctant eyes to open, and there's Pavel. Cleaner than Len remembers, but gaunt and pale and huge-eyed, tense and ready to fight, standing between Len and the intruders who have come for him.
"Don't touch him," Pavel hisses, and when did he start speaking Standard again? "Get back!"
Pavel ignores the distant voice and turns to Len. The desperation in his eyes tells Len he feels too weak to do any good.
Len doesn't mind.
Sometimes he does, sometimes he's furious to see weakness in Pavel. Sometimes he wants to scream his rage that Pavel has been left alone for so long but still can't fight. But there's a calm in him, in his subconscious mind, that lets him meet the kid's eyes and nod acceptance.
Pavel comes to his side (to his bedside, but there isn't a bed in their cell, what the hell-) and meets his eyes for a painful moment before turning his back to stay between Len and any threat.
When Len looks past him he recognizes the sickbay beyond. He recognizes Jim Kirk's horrified face, and Hikaru Sulu beside him. He remembers rescue, remembers talking to Jim, but it's all so fucking distant that he can't focus on it. He can't grab it and hold it.
Pavel, his pale back bared in the sickbay gown he's wearing, his hands clenched into fists, that is all Len can grasp. Even when he sees the round knobs of bones down that thin back, and sees the bones of the kid's wrists as he clenches his hands, he remembers words about starving and danger and death but he can't seem to connect to them.
"What do we...shit, call Chapel. We might need..."
Anything Len's mind remembers as spoken in Jim's voice seems like long-ago fantasy. Even when he hears, right at this moment, Jim's pinched voice:
"Christ. How the fuck did this happen?"
Even then it seems like a memory his mind is looping for him, like he's telling Pavel the old story about how Jim once said those words long ago. And like other memories of Jim that he's told Pavel about to fill the long hours, this one echoes through his mind and makes him think, remember.
Makes him wonder: how the fuck did this ever happen?