It shocks most of the crew, when the children board the ship, that the worst case of them all is their CMO's own daughter. It shocks the even more that this is the CMO's daughter. They've all seen pictures of Joanna McCoy. She has long, luscious brown hair and sparkling brown eyes with a smile that eats her entire plump face. She was a little on the heavier side, but very athletic apparently because in most of the pictures Doctor McCoy has of his little girl, she's racing, or riding horses. There's even a picture of her playing football with the neighborhood boys.
That's not who they meet though.
They meet a skeleton with scraggly hair and hard earth for eyes, who is irritable at best, and completely apathetic at worst. They meet a ghost of a girl who's more interested in finding out how the other kids are doing, wheezing a little as her weak legs try to carry her to one of her friends. They meet leather-wrapped bones and gaunt frowns.
They meet the face of starvation.
Kirk meets the face of his past.
Carter Winston spends much of his time with Joanna. The old man clucks at her as she rests on the biobed, trying to entice her with food. Leonard sits in his office and mutters grievously about atrophy, failing organs and dehydration. When Winston gets nowhere with her, he tries for a little soothing, speaking of replicators and plenty of food.
Kirk listens to it while rubbing at his eyes, waiting for the outburst, for the yell of anger and her sudden but instantly regretted burst of energy as she smacks the tray of soup across the room.
Leonard is out of his chair and trying to sooth Joanna before anyone can even blink. He asks Winston to come back a little later after she's calmed. He puts her under with a hypospray and starts an IV drip, pushing in vitamins in an effort to heal her failing body. He strokes her lackluster hair and kisses the thin crack skin of her forehead.
He asks for Nurse Chapel to apply a little bit of Vaseline to the dryer parts of her skin, hoping that it might ease some discomfort.
In his office, he hurls a few useless awards across the room in a fit of anger and grief.
Kirk just watches him and picks up after him when he's finally exhausted himself.
"Did you know?" Leonard asks a few hours later.
Kirk shrugs a little. "Headquarters mentioned crop failures," he says, though he had briefed everyone when he received the new orders, he knows they didn't expect this to be the extent of it. "I prepared for it to be this bad, but I didn't know."
"Couldn't clue the rest of us in?"
"I didn't want to worry you for no reason."
"Well, it turned out to be a big fucking reason." A scowl pulls his sorrow-stricken features. "My poor, little girl…"
Kirk leaves him in his office. He needs a few hours to himself.
This is almost too much to handle on Starfleet's end of this equation.
He got used to being on Joanna's end.
He blinks back the pinpricks in his eyes and goes to find one of his spare padds…and perhaps talk with Kevin about helping the psychologists with the survivors.
Joanna has to stay in medbay for three weeks at minimum. They keep her sedated most of the time so that the IV can force nutrients back into her emaciated body. The few times she is awake, she struggles with the medical restraints or the medical crew. She's vicious and hateful and she glares at them all with cold eyes that freeze the hearts of all those around her.
Kirk stands in the shadows, watching the feral beast he knows so well spit and strike at its captors.
At the end of week two, she's looking a little better, but no one can convince her to eat a damn thing. Her soups go cold or are passed to the hands of one of her healthier looking friends who thank her and drink it down too quickly before throwing it up into a bedpan. If she's in one of her worse moods, the soup will end up across the wall or on someone's uniform, once even her father's.
Kirk wonders how long his maintenance staff will put up with soup stained clothing or chicken-crusted walls.
Kirk can hear many of the arguments Leonard has with his ex-wife. He hears the name-calling and the barb-casting. He hears the threats on both ends.
He hears the guilt in both of their voices as Jocelyn screams, "This is your fault, Leonard."
And Leonard yells back. "I'm not the one who sent her there!"
The line goes dead each time after that and Leonard returns to his daughter's side, holding her thin, boney hands in his own larger ones, petting the protruding bones and kissing the healing skin.
Most of the students of Cerberus are released at week three, and they get their own Starfleet members to bunk with, which most think is pretty cool.
Joanna is still confined to her biobed, still refusing food even though her stomach must be sending signals that yes, it is hungry and food would be well appreciated now. She continues to growl and swipe at anyone who gets close to her.
Leonard is at wits end. His psychology training is nothing in the face of his baby girl's anger. He's useless to her.
Kirk sends up another psychologist to speak with her, knowing that it will be just as useless.
Joanna isn't a victim. She's a product.
Starvation's way of smugly taunting Nature by yelling, 'Look what I can make.'
By the fourth week, Kirk picks up the padd he had prepared what feels like a millennia ago and takes it down to medbay.
He sets it gently on her knees and says, "It'll pass some of the time. I wouldn't let your father see it though." He forces on a smirk and winks at her. "It's not exactly G-rated."
She looks at him like he's completely fucking stupid, her dead brown eyes hardening even further and her lips thinning even further than they had already become, as if she wants to bare her teeth to him in warning.
Kirk doesn't let it bother him. He remembers the hatred well.
The next day he's on his way to see Leonard, and he sees out of the corner of his eye as Joanna takes the glass of water with a cruel frown marring her face and takes the briefest of sips.
He pretends like he doesn't notice, but he almost wants to smile the way he did when Kevin finally took a bite of something that wasn't a nutrition bar.
Leonard finally releases her from medbay but she doesn't get on with much of anybody. She's angry and she's hurting, and no one can handle her.
Leonard tries to move her into his quarters but she refuses.
He's distraught and there's nothing he can do to keep her near him. She often hides. Jim has his guesses as to where she's hiding, but at the moment he'll keep her hiding places with him.
In the mean time, he calls a very, very undeserved favor from Gaila. He would ask Kevin, but the lieutenant told him haltingly that the kid he was bunking with was hurting him already. If he got little McCoy, he would be pushed over the ledge he should have been pushed over fifteen years ago.
Gaila would be better suited for this anyway. Gaila doesn't shirk away from her tragedies. She accepts them and she turns them for good.
He hopes that she may be able to shed her light on Joanna.
She isn't able to.
Gaila tells him while they walk down to the science department that Joanna has accepted what has happened to her, and there is light exuding from every pour of her soul. The problem is that she has accepted the guilt as well.
"I can't help with that, Jim. I come from a strange world. Guilt is something I am not prone to."
That leaves him with no option. It has come down to what he knew and feared it would.
He approaches Uhura about moving her and Spock into her quarters for the remaining time that the Cerberus survivors are on the ship. She gives him a considering look, but in the end she says yes.
Joanna doesn't stay in Spock's quarters. She sleeps there, somewhat fitfully, but usually she can't be found there.
By the end of week six, Kirk feels that this should be met head-on.
He wanders down to the bowels of the ship with a sleeve of crackers, a block of cheese, and a canister of ginger soda, and into the cargo bay where so many crates create a maze. He just keeps walking until he hears something. The slight shuffling of rearranging and a grunt of discomfort.
Kirk rounds the corner, and there Joanna sits, folded limbs, boney and sharp, making her look like a pile of so many logs.
She looks up at him with wild, cold eyes and her thin, skeletal hands tighten around something. Kirk gives it a quick survey and discovers it to be a stuffed toy…of a three headed dog.
He meets her cold brown eyes, wonders when they'll soften again and show the sweet chocolate that used to swirl in her eyes, instead of the cold, dead earth she just escaped from. She looks like a caged beast as he sits down on the floor in front of her and she looks like she wants to bare her teeth at him again. She doesn't though, and he sets the sleeve of crackers and plate of cheese on the ground between them. He pulls out a knife from his boot and sets it neatly by the cheese. The ginger soda he sets by his leg.
"You want some?" he says, gesturing towards the cheese and crackers. He knows she won't accept, but it's the principle of the matter, a left over habit from his own time on a sick planet.
"No. I'm fine." She stares at the stuffed animal in her hands.
Kirk knows she isn't fine, but he lets her have her silence and staring. He cuts off a piece of cheese and pops it and a cracker into his mouth. He doesn't stare at her, pretends to focus on his snack. He knows what it's like not to be hungry even when he should be.
After so long, she says, "I found it in one of my bags. I bought it at a store on Cerberus…I thought it was cute at the time." She pauses, regarding the toy with a haggard frown. "It's not. It's hideous."
He looks at the toy critically, while pushing another cracker-cheese combo into his mouth. Around his food, he asks, "You know the story of that hideous dog?"
"I know some of the basic stuff," Joanna answers lifelessly, but her hands squeeze the toy angrily, her knuckles whitening and her long cracked nails digging into the furry flesh of the toy. "He guarded Hades, made sure no living mortal could enter the Underworld."
"That's part of it. You ever heard the story of Hercules?"
She looks up at him briefly, and he's pleased to see curiosity swimming in her eyes. He smiles a bit and picks up another cracker. "Hercules was a troubled man. He was born a half god from Zues and some mortal woman, I forgot her name. Zues, though, was married to Hera…and she was a jealous bitch."
Joanna cracks the barest hint of a smile and so Kirk continues. He tells her the story of Hercules, about how he married Megara and shared two children with her, but in a fit of ongoing hatred Hera made him lose his mind and kill them, thus pushing Apollo to offer his redemption of serving some king of a monarchy long since gone. He told her of the twelve tasks that Hercules had to undergo, the final one being Cerberus.
Joanna listened to the Greek Mythology retelling her hands tightening on her three headed dog almost to the point it looked like she would squeeze all three heads off.
"Cerberus wasn't as bad as Tarsus," she says after he's done with his mythology spiel.
Kirk frowns. "It's not a competition."
She sighs. "I know, but I feel…horrible." She looks up at him with glistening eyes. "You watched four-thousand people die…I watched three…just three people."
"Jo…" he says, and suddenly the cheese and crackers are too much. "Watching one person die is one too many. One or one thousand…it kills almost everything."
Her eyes become glassy as she looks at him, and her haggard features finally break down. "How did you do it?" she gasps, throwing her hand over her mouth. "How did you survive that? Five thousand sixty two people out of roughly seven thousand made it off of Cerberus. Only a thousand made it off Tarsus…a community made of six thousand. How did you make it?"
Kirk snorts. "I'm…really not sure that's the right thing to tell you."
Joanna gasps through her glassy eyes. "I wanna know!" she gasps, holding the stuffed toy to her chest. "What did you do?"
Kirk takes a deep breath and holds a cracker out to her. "If you eat this…I'll tell you."
She shoves the cracker in her mouth, chewing frantically. Jim stops her, holding his hand up in the air. "Chew slowly, Joanna. You don't want to spit it back up." She glares at him, but does as he says, chewing slowly and swallowing small bites. He hands her the little flagon of ginger soda, saying softly, "There ya go."
Joanna glowers at him. "How did you do it?" she demands, her lips snarled.
Kirk blinks. "I lost myself." At her critical look, he sighs. "I looked after five children when I was fourteen years old. I killed animals to feed them, and tested random flora to see if it might be safe. I killed men I didn't know, men who were coming to take my kids away from me." He pauses as he closes his eyes. Suddenly he doesn't feel so hungry either. "After that…there wasn't much to do. I threw myself into alcohol, fights…" he sighed. "Sex."
The stuffed toys head was still clenched violently in her claw-like clutches. "Will I be like that?"
Kirk swallowed harshly. "No. You're too good for that." He looks at the doll in her hand. "You're too much of a hero to be like me."
She scoffs. "Says the man who saved Earth."
Kirk sighs. "Lots of fuck-ups have saved Earth." He looks at her, looking at her doll. "You're not a fuck-up though. You're much better."
She frowns, and it's the most severe frown he's seen on her face. "Bullshit. You're like…you're like fucking superman."
He shrugs. "Okay. I'll be your superman. Can you be my Hercules?"
She looks at him with melting brown eyes. "I think so."
"No, Joanna. You can't win with statements like that. You have to walk into Hades, tired and beleaguered as you may be, but knowing without a doubt that you're going to take down that damn three-headed dog. He's gonna bite at you, and his tail will come out of nowhere and whip you, but you have to know, right down to your soul, that you are going to conquer Cerberus." He grabs at her hand, holds it tight between his own and feels the shaking that courses through her body. He ignores it though. It's not a symptom, it's a product. She's realizing she doesn't belong to Starvation, and though she doesn't belong to nature, she belongs to something more important. Herself. She takes a deep breath, and as Jim holds her hand tight, he asks again. "Can you be Hercules?"
Kirk can feel her pulse fluttering a mile a minute, but she nods, no tears, no fear. "I can be Hercules."
"Damn right, you can." He nods to her, giving her hand a squeeze.
He picks up another cracker and he's pleased when she cautiously reaches out for one herself.