No Man's Land

Written jointly by shoreleave and mijan.

A/N: Don't let the subject matter fool you. This is an mpreg, but it is NOT crack. If anything, it's a whump, with a good dose of angst and h/c. Specifically, it's a serious attempt to deal with the issues that would come up should a man find himself pregnant as a result of a non-con situation.

Even though the mpreg trope is usually treated as a sort of initially embarrassing, but ultimately awesome surprise that only adds to a relationship, our take on it is you'll see.

Day Two

Jim's pretty sure that if he makes it out of this mess, Spock's never going to let him join another landing party. Ever. And Bones won't let him out of his sight for a week.

If he makes it back. Because at this point, if Jim's being honest with himself, he really doesn't think that's likely. He's hanging on, but he's weak and hurting. He can hold out a while longer, if his captors let him, but if Spock doesn't hurry, there's not going to be much of anything left to rescue.

Opening his eyes, he finds that his vision is still horribly blurred. His eyes immediately begin tearing so badly that he can't make out anything clear, but it's enough to see the large brightly-colored shapes that seem to be hurrying toward him. That galvanizes him into action, or at least, as much action as he's capable of performing. He can't walk away or even crawl, not with his knee as useless as it is. But he tries to pull back from them, protecting himself instinctively even though he knows it's futile.

Their hands are on him again, and oh God, he can't take much more of this.

He can't make any sense of the noises around him. His hearing is muffled and distorted, as if he's underwater. When he was first captured, he'd been dragged into some sort of turbolift that moved so fast it felt like freefall. There had been a rapid, intense buildup of pressure behind his eardrums as they'd descended until something had popped like a knife through his head. When the lift had finally stopped, he was cringing on the floor from the searing earache, and blood was trickling from his ears. Now all he can hear is incessant ringing and vague, meaningless sounds.

He still holds a burning hope that his crew will rescue him. Hope is a crazy thing like that. It almost hurts more than the rational - logical - knowledge that he's running out of time, and his chances are slim. He knows that he's deep underground, probably out of sensor reach. He's been here for days now, maybe a week. It's hard to tell. He hasn't had any food in all that time, although they've left water for him every day.

He's sure that Spock will do everything he can to find him and bring him back, and when he's tried every logical possibility, he'll explore all the options that are only minutely probable. He fantasizes about how Spock will explain to Admiral Komack, in his maddeningly calm tone, that there is a 5.25 percent probability that Captain Kirk is being held in an underground structure on Antos II , and that "the fact that the Captain's biosigns do not register on the sensors does not mean, logically, that he is no longer alive." He imagines Scotty recalibrating the sensors, time and time again, inventing new algorithms for the long-range scanners and urging on his "lads and lassies" to heroic achievements.

It helps the time pass, between sessions. It keeps his mind occupied.

But when his thoughts stray to Bones and what he must be doing, all he can envision is the doctor sitting alone in his office in the dim light, an untouched finger of bourbon in the glass in front of him, his head in his hands. It's such a painful image that he can hardly bear to think about it. Bones must be out of his mind with worry. He frets about worst-case scenarios even in the most innocuous situations, so this must be living hell.

He's brought back to his own personal hell as one of his captors puts pressure against his injured shoulder. The hands are roving over his limbs, poking at his skin just enough to make the cuts sear and burn, pressing against his neck. He feels the bile rise in his throat at the alien contact, as they probe and manipulate him like an object. "Take your fucking hands off me, don't touch me!" he tells them hoarsely, his voice gravelly and rough from dehydration.

He's pretty sure they can't understand him. He doesn't think they can talk, either, although it's hard to tell with his ears ringing so loudly. From what he could see before his vision was damaged, they don't even have mouths. Big heads and large shiny eyes, nasal slits but no mouth. They just stare at him impassively, no matter what he says, no matter how he explains or pleads or curses.

He tried so hard to communicate at first, by word and pantomime. He used every language he could think of, but he never had any indication that they were paying attention to what came out of his mouth. If they're communicating telepathically, they're not getting through to him. He's always performed dismally on psi assessments, never had an inkling of premonition or clairvoyance. Even so, he made an effort, at the beginning, to concentrate on images of Starfleet, the Federation, and peaceful goodwill. It never seemed to make any impression.

After a time he gave up on the idea of getting a complex message across, falling back on the words and primitive gestures he'd learned when he was younger. Stop, for God's sake, you fucking cowards! Get your filthy hands off me, just fuck off and crawl back into whatever disgusting shithole on this backwater planet you came from, don't touch me don't touch me don't touch-

The last few times they've come for him, he rallies himself from his semi-stupor and focuses his thoughts. On the off chance that they're able to read his mind, he projects violent images of torpedoing their villages and smashing their heads with a baseball bat. That never seems to move them, either, but at least it gives him a momentary sense of satisfaction.

He blinks and squints into his murky surroundings, trying desperately to see how many of them there are this time and what equipment they've brought with them. He squirms away from the fingers that are inspecting his ears and probing his aching shoulder. It's a lost battle. They'll do want they want with him, but dammit, he's not just going to lie there without making even a token show of resistance.

It's so fucking ironic. He's a product of Starfleet's advanced training in diplomacy; he knows about conflict management and negotiation. He's trained in First Contact protocols and he's taken the command seminar in interspecies tolerance and cultural sensitivity. Alien species have rights, and he respects them. But these aliens apparently missed the seminar, because all they've been interested in, from the moment they abducted him, was studying him like a specimen in a lab. Experimenting with him. They don't seem to give a shit that Jim objects to being their lab rat.

One of them is prodding his sore stomach, making him groan at the sharp, throbbing pain. It hurts, and worse, it's humiliating and degrading. There isn't a place left on his body that hasn't been touched, not an orifice that hasn't been investigated. He shudders involuntarily, feeling a visceral disgust and loathing for the alien fingers, cool and slim, that have invaded his personal space so relentlessly.

It feels like rape, like a violation of the worst kind, impersonal and intimate and silent.

And the gods who've hated Jim since he was born must be laughing, because every time they touch him, he can't help but be reminded of Bones.

Bones ignores Jim's grumbled protests of Gimme five more minutes, don' have to be up so early, lemme sleep a little more. He plants a line of kisses along Jim's spine, running his hands up his sides and down his legs, touching him everywhere in a gentle massage until his skin is tingling and he's fully awake. And hard.

"Fuck you. I was asleep."

"Don't be such a lazy ass," Bones drawls, pulling Jim up onto his knees, slicking him up, and pushing into him until Jim is grunting and gasping, coming all over Bones' hand and the sheets. Bones lets out a soft cry and collapses over him.

"Oof. Lemme breathe a little."

Bones rolls obligingly onto his side, keeping one arm tucked around Jim's chest, letting out a sigh of sated pleasure. His lips touch the nape of Jim's neck gently. Face hidden in the shadows, Jim allows himself a smile of contentment. He's still a little shy of revealing just how happy he is that Bones wants to sleep by his side at night and is too impatient to wait for him to wake up in the morning.

The fact is, he's never had that kind of relationship before, never shared his bed like this. He has firm rules about such things. Never stay the night. Break it off before it's time to commit. Avoid dramatic declarations of love and keep things light.

With Bones, he's had to edit the rulebook a bit. It's unsettling.

"Fuck, Bones. I only got four hours of sleep and I'm going down to Antos this morning…"

"Darlin', for a guy who keeps sayin' no, you sure were enthusiastic. 'Sides, it gets the endorphins going. Great way to start the day."

God, that drawl. It's always strongest in the morning, as if Bones has been dreaming all night of his boyhood home and the accent lingers for a few, delicious moments.

"You're on beta. You can go back to sleep," Jim points out, hauling himself out of bed reluctantly. He always knows his CMO's work schedule, keeping track of his hours just as assiduously as Bones monitors what he eats and how much he sleeps. "I can't. So at least don't bug me about my coffee intake when you're contributing to the problem."

"Don't use me as your excuse for your own bad choices, kid."

He dresses quickly, and by the time he's ready to head out, Bones is fast asleep again. Jim watches him for a minute, debating whether to wake him up before he goes down with the landing party.

Then he shakes his head at his own folly. If he needs a goodbye kiss… obviously, he's turning into a sentimental idiot.

If Jim regrets anything, now that he's probably about to die, it's that he left so much unsaid between them.

He tries to curl onto his side, but his right shoulder and knee release a hot flash of agony. They're dislocated, a product of one of the earlier sessions in which his limbs were twisted and extended to their limits and beyond. The Antosian scientists, if that's what they are, ignored his protests and his groans of pain, apparently intent on making a systematic study of his muscles and joints. He keeps in shape and he's flexible, but holy God, not if his shoulder is twisted and shoved in that direction. Which he told them in no uncertain terms. But they clearly preferred to conduct their own empirical research rather than just taking his word for it.

The dislocations had stumped them. At least they'd left him alone for a while after that, probably to record their observations and think of new vicious experiments.

Hands are placed on his forehead and the back of his neck, cool and soothing. The hands are gentle, and he doesn't want to take any comfort from these alien bastards, but God help him, it feels good and he needs comfort so badly. He leans into the touch with a sigh, closing his eyes. He'll just rest like this for a moment. That's not a real sign of weakness, he decides. Just a brief respite so he can regroup.

He's jerked rudely back into focus as his eyelids are peeled open, first one eye and then another, and a focused beam of light is shone into them, making him wince. Great, as if the blurred vision and tears weren't enough, now he's got flashing lights piercing through the bleary fog. He tries again to turn away, but hands are on him, pinning him in place, sliding under his shoulders and back, grasping his head and legs and feet.

All at once, he's being moved, lifted up and then set down again onto a smooth, flat surface, quickly and efficiently. The movement jars him, and fuck, the dull aches in his shoulder, knee, and abdomen flare into hot pain that makes him cry out. No more. His body can't take any more. One more session will kill him. He's sure of it. In futile desperation, he kicks out with his good leg and connects with something, but his leg is quickly caught and pushed back down, and his flailing left arm is held in place by strong hands. As if to punish him, one of them presses down on his left thigh, right where they cut him, making him bite his lip to hold in the agony.

His ears are ringing so loudly, the vertigo is back, he can't see what's happening to him, and he's on the verge of panicking. "Don't take me away, don't move me, just leave me alone…" he says, a mixture of defiance and defeat. If he's moved, it's over. No, it's over anyway. It's too late. There will be no rescue. All he wants is to be left alone, to be allowed to die with dignity, instead of succumbing directly under their hands, suffering through any more torment. He just can't handle being in their alien clutches anymore, he doesn't want to be examined or experimented on-

Suddenly his hand is grabbed. And squeezed. And then tugged upward, despite his weak efforts to resist, until it's resting on… a cheek, warm and stubbly and rough.

Jim freezes, blinking furiously, wishing he could just see who it is, but he knows it's not the Antosians because their skin is scaly and cold. Reaching higher, he finds a smooth, rounded ear and soft hair, hair that's too long because Bones really needs a haircut and Jim likes to tease him about how he looks so dorky with his old-fashioned part on the side.

"Bones?" The face nods against his hand. He can hardly believe it, but the hand squeezing his good shoulder is strong and reassuring, and Bones is here.

The relief is so overwhelming that that he shuts his eyes, letting out a shaky breath. He's not going to die today. Such a simple thought, and it's almost too much. A tear leaks out of his tightly closed eyelids. Bones wipes it away with a gentle finger, and it's that simple gesture that convinces him that yes, finally, he's going home.

Day Three

The first thing he realizes, as he struggles back to consciousness, is that he can hear. Everything is still a little muted, but he can distinguish individual sounds: a machine emitting regular, soft bleeps, the whirr of a ventilation unit, the sound of his own breathing.

He tries to open his eyes, but something's pressing down on his eyelids. Reaching up with his left hand, he can feel some sort of adhesive bandage. His heart starts racing a little faster at the frightening realization that now he's completely blind.

His left arm feels heavy and slightly encumbered, and there's a niggling ache at the crook of his elbow. An IV unit…. maybe. He tries to reach over with his right arm to feel it, but his arm won't move. It's restrained tightly against his side, and when he pulls it up hard, it triggers a bone-deep ache in his shoulder that makes him hiss in pain. His right leg, also immobile, is strapped to the surface he's lying on.

He's in Sickbay, if his last memories can be relied upon. But he's teased by a gnawing fear that maybe, horribly, he hasn't been rescued at all. Maybe he hallucinated everything and he's still being held captive in some alien medical facility on Antos II.

He tries to hold himself as still as possible, not wanting to draw attention to himself until he knows more. Maybe he's safe... but maybe he's still trapped. Blind and injured, helpless and -

"Jim!" Bones' voice, never more welcome, breaks through his panic. Jim can hear the heavy tread of his boots on the slick floor, hurrying toward him. A hand, large and warm, wraps itself around Jim's bicep like an anchor. "Settle down, I'm right here. Relax, you're okay."

Bones. Jim's lips form the word, but no sound comes out. He clears his parched throat and swallows, trying to bring his mouth into working order so that he can speak audibly.

"Here, drink this," Bones tells him, and Jim sucks greedily at the straw that's placed in his mouth. The water is cool and has a slight metallic taste—reclaimed Enterprise water, familiar and safe. The Antosians gave him water, too, but it was slightly salty and warm.

Calm down, Jim tells himself, willing his racing heart to slow. You're home. Bones' hand hasn't moved from his upper arm, and Jim's grateful for the steady touch.

"Christ, Jim. I'm sorry. I didn't think the anesthesia would wear off so soon. I wanted to be here when you woke up."

"'S okay," he says, taking a deep breath, letting the sharp, antiseptic smell of Sickbay fill his nostrils. For once, it doesn't make him nauseous, just relieved. "How long was I away?"

"They had you for six days, Jim. Six days… God…" Bones sounds so pained that Jim's glad he can't see his expression. Hearing his voice catch is bad enough.

I'm fine, Jim almost says, but that's such a blatant lie that even he, master of denial, can't make the words pass his lips. "I'll be all right," he says instead.

The hand pats his shoulder. "Course you will, kid. I'll make sure of it."

"How'd you find me? I was out of sensor range…"

"Yeah, it was obvious from the get-go that you were being held deep underground. Spock must've ordered a hundred sensor sweeps, and still…nothing. But he's learned a trick or two from you. Managed to hack into their computer system somehow. Uhura and the comms staff worked round the clock, finally deciphered something about a holding facility. We weren't too sure what we were beaming into when we went down, or whether we'd be able to get back out safely…"

"Bet you loved that part," he says, even as part of him is appalled that his crew would risk their lives like that, for him.

Bones' chuckle is a little shaky. "I'll admit, by that point I wasn't really thinking about my atoms or Scotty's crazy beaming equations. I was half out of my mind, Jim. I still can't believe we got you back."

"Just in time, too. I was getting pretty hungry," he tries to joke. Keep it light. But Bones doesn't laugh in response, and Jim doesn't need to see his face to know that he's frowning.

Bones' hand leaves his arm, and Jim can hear the familiar whirr of the medical tricorder. "How's your hearing?"

"Better. But everything still sounds kind of far away."

"Not surprising. Your eardrums were ruptured and I had to remove the fluid that had built up in the inner ear. You were being held over 800 meters underground, so I'm guessing that the changes in barometric pressure caused the problem. That planet has damned crazy air pressure just on the surface, never mind below ground. Your hearing should come back completely within the next two days."

"What's the matter with my eyes? Why can't I see?"

Jim can feel Bones' fingers checking the seam of the bandage. "It's just a precaution. Your eyes are still very photosensitive and they need to rest. I treated the eye damage, though Lord knows I can't imagine how you got corneal flash burns so far underground."

"Maybe they were trying to see what happens if they flash a bright light at the goddamn lab rat," he says bitterly. "Surprise! He turns blind and starts to cry."

"And why the hell would they do that?"

"They didn't exactly share their reasoning with me."

Bones grunts. "I guess not. Well, we'll check your vision in a few hours, give the medication a chance to work."

It angers him that Bones seems to think that a few additional hours of being blind won't make much of a difference. "If it's just a precaution, take the fucking bandage off. I need to see."

"By precaution, I mean that your eyes are gonna heal up just fine if you let them rest, Jim. Do you want to take a chance on them healing wrong?"

Frustrated, he tries to change position, at least. Lying flat on his back like this makes him feel way too vulnerable, but his immobilized limbs don't allow him much range of movement.

Tied down and sightless. It's taking so much mental effort to stay calm. It's all he can do to push the images of the last few days out of his mind and continue a civil conversation.

"Hang on a minute, Jim." He can hear Bones fiddling with the equipment, and there's a click of something snapping into place.

Something tugs at the IV line connected to his arm, and he tenses. "Hey, what're you doing?"

"Your blood pressure's a little high, Jim, and your heart's racing."

"That's 'cause I'm in Sickbay. And I can't move. And I'm blind and I can't see what the hell's going on!"

"Relax. I'm just going to give you something to stabilize your sympathetic reactions."

Jim hears the soft hiss-click of a hyposyringe releasing its contents, and his teeth clench in a surge of resentment. "I don't need to be stabilized, dammit!"

"It's my call, kid. And yes, you do." Bones doesn't sound the least bit apologetic.

He feels a wash of dizziness, and all at once his limbs feel heavier, as if the gravity level has suddenly increased. His anxiety is detaching from the rest of him, encased behind a barrier that keeps him numb. Despite his irritation, he can feel himself calming down... physically, at least. He sinks back against the sheets, not sure whether he feels grateful, angry, or perversely betrayed. Right now, he's too exhausted to figure it out, and he just gives in.

"That's better. Jim, do you want to hear the rest of it? We can do this later."

He shakes his head. The medication is helping him feel more in control, and as much as he wants to argue, he needs to know what the damage is. "Keep going. What else did you find?"

"You're really not in such bad shape, physically. You're moderately dehydrated and malnourished, and you've got a bacterial infection. I'm keeping you on IV therapy for the next twenty-four hours, and don't argue with me."

Jim scowls, but he'd expected as much. "Go on."

"Your shoulder and knee were dislocated. Easy enough to reduce, but some of the ligaments were torn. I repaired them in surgery, but you'll need several sessions of ligostim therapy over the next two or three days. That's why the joints are immobilized now."

He can hear that tone in Bones' voice... the one that means he's trying to figure out how to say something, and it won't be good. "All right. What else?"

There's a metallic scrape of a chair being dragged next to the bed, and he feels a whoosh of air as Bones flops into it with a sigh. "Look, Jim… what do you remember from your time on the planet?"

scaly fingers probing, cold metal pressing into his skin

Jim keeps his face carefully expressionless. "I remember most of it."

"Most of what? What did they do to you?"

Jim has no intention of playing this game. He just got back, and all he wants to do at the moment is create as much mental distance as possible. "Not now, Bones."

"Jim..." His voice is just a bit too tight. "I need to know."

"You're the doctor. I'm sure you can figure it out just fine without my help."

"I know what my eyes and my instruments tell me, Jim. That doesn't explain how it happened. Talk to me, kid."

Jim wishes his eyes were open just so he could squeeze them shut. "How about you give me your best guess."

Bones lets out a soft breath, and Jim can imagine the look on his face. "I found small, partially regenerated incisions on your chest, abdomen, arms and thighs. Deep cuts, some of them down to the bone."

searing sharp agony and he can't move, can't get away

He shudders.

"And there are odd bruises all over your body, Jim."

relentless jabs, piercing skin and muscle and bone

"What's odd about them?"

"The edges of the bruises are regular, straight in some places and circular in others. If they'd just beaten you, the marks wouldn't look like that. They're almost precise and... surgical in their placement. If I had to guess, I'd say they're a remnant of some kind of alien medical equipment."

Bones pauses, but Jim doesn't say anything. "Is that what happened, Jim?" he asks. "Were they examining you? Running tests?"

"Something like that." Jim says, neither agreeing or disagreeing. His voice sounds flat to his own ears, like it doesn't belong to him.

He can practically hear Bones nod. "I'd guess they examined you from top to bottom. Your senses and responses to stimuli. Your organs. Your muscular and skeletal systems. Probably analyzed your biochemical makeup and cellular structure, too. Anything a scientist without a shred of research ethics would want to know about a completely new life form, inside and out." There's an expectant pause, waiting for Jim to confirm the guess that was much more than just a guess.

"Yeah. Everything."

Bones waits again, but Jim's not going to give him anything more. "All right, Jim," he says finally. "It's clear that your body's been manipulated in ways that it wasn't meant to be, and not gently, either. But there's no evidence of any internal injuries, at least. No permanent damage."

Jim's glad he can't see the look of pity that's sure to be plastered all over the doctor's face. He knows that Bones must have examined every inch of his skin while he was unconscious, and he can put two and two together. He knows Jim's body intimately, and he can imagine, better than anyone else, what must have happened during those six days of captivity.

"I just want to sleep," Jim tells him, when the silence becomes stifling. "Please, Bones, let me rest in my quarters. I want to sleep in my own bed."

"I'm sure you do, but you'll stay here." Bones' voice trembles slightly. "I told you - you're still undergoing treatment and I want you under observation—and on a biobed—for at least the next 24 hours. I want you nearby, Jim."

"You worry too much."

"Physical injuries are only one aspect of what you went through."

Jim turns his head away. "Bones, I'm tired."

"I know you are. You can rest in a minute. Listen to me, kid. You can't just brush this off. You were assaulted. You were held in what amounts to partial sensory deprivation. Come on, Jim - I know you got top marks in the combat psych course you took, so you know full well what that means. You couldn't hear and you could barely see anything. You were isolated and starved."

Put that way, it does sound bad. Bones has never been one to mince words, a quality that Jim appreciates as a commander, but right now he wishes that he'd just back off. "Do we have to do this now? I know what I went through."

Bones places a comforting hand on his shoulder, and it's all Jim can do not to flinch away. He doesn't want to be touched right now, not even by Bones. "Sensory deprivation's no joke. You were alone and confused, and you've been through a lot of trauma. It's going to take a while to recover."

"I know that."

Bones lets out a soft sigh, thick with resignation. "Get some sleep. I'm going to set up a time for you to talk with the ship's counselor tomorrow."

If the bandages were off, he'd be rolling his eyes. "Oh, come on, Bones! I'll feel better after I get some sleep and a decent meal."

"I don't doubt that, but you're not getting out of this one, Jim. Doctor's orders. It's standard procedure following an assault of this nature."

Jim laughs, a rough snort that rips out of his throat and nasal passages. "Really? There's a Starfleet protocol for this?" His voice turns sarcastic. "Abductions by aliens for the purposes of medical experimentation should be treated with mandatory counseling. That's fucking impressive."

"You know what I mean."

"Talking about it isn't going to- You honestly think some therapeutic joining and emotional reflections with a shrink will make me forget?"

"The point isn't to forget what happened, genius. It's to integrate and move on." Bones' voice takes on a harsher tone. "And I won't clear you for duty unless I know that you're talking this out with a professional. Dr. Dehner is a highly valued member of my staff—and yours, Captain. And you will treat her with appropriate respect and consideration."

"I'll talk to you, okay? I will. Just not right now."

"Jim, I'm not giving you a choice about this."

"No. You're my CMO. And my-" He hesitates. He's not sure how to put into words just what Bones is to him. His closest friend? The man who shares his bed? The one person he lets inside his defenses?

He tries another angle. "I need you, Bones. I don't need anybody else."

"I can't be your counselor for this. I'm…" Jim waits, but Bones seems to have reached the same impasse Jim did, and his words hang in the air awkwardly. "I'm here for you, kid," he finishes, sounding more than a little uncomfortable. "But this isn't up for discussion. You'll start seeing the counselor and you'll go back on full duty after she gives her okay."

Day Twenty-Three

Three weeks later, he wakes up with a bad case of the runs that sends him flying out of bed to the toilet.

He has to rush to the head again after he's dressed. By this time, he's mostly emptied out, although he spends a good ten minutes doubled over with cramps. He sits there for another few minutes for good measure, until the attack seems to have passed.

Dammit, this is not what he needs. There's a bathroom adjacent to the Bridge, off the ready room, but he's a little worried about having to make an undignified dash in the middle of his shift.

He briefly considers swinging by Sickbay on his way to the Bridge, but… No. Bones only just cleared him for full duty a week ago, following two days of mandatory bed rest and another ten on limited duty. Master diagnostician that he is, Bones will automatically assume that his little bout of diarrhea is some sort of post-traumatic stress, rather than a simple upset stomach. He'll give Jim a knowing, compassionate look, and he'll start pressuring him until Jim admits that he's not fine.

No, Sickbay is out of the question.

Skipping breakfast is another easy decision. He's had heartburn for the past few days, which was probably an early stage of whatever's gripping his bowels right now. And food just doesn't taste right lately. He's got an odd metallic taste in his mouth all the time, as if he's been sucking on an antique metal coin. This is yet another good reason to avoid Sickbay, because chances are, if Bones finds out—which he inevitably will, since Jim has never been able to lie to him effectively—he'll send him back to that damned counselor for more sessions.

Jim really has no desire for more talks with Dr. Dehner. She's too young and eager to help-she tells him blithely that her dissertation concerned crew reactions to traumatic stress, so she has "an intellectual interest" in the field-and he shuts right down in her presence. He doesn't tell her anything about what happened on Antos II that isn't covered in his official report to HQ, and doesn't breathe a word about his relationship with Bones. But she has an uncanny way of reading him, of seeing right through his surface charm and denial. She tells him that his personal boundaries have been shattered, and that's why he doesn't want to be touched. She also encourages him to control the pace of his recovery, to choose the times and places he's willing to accept skin-on-skin contact.

Much as he resists the idea of counseling—one, because he's never been comfortable talking about his feelings, and two, because he's had his share of useless mandatory counseling, courtesy of the Iowa Department of Corrections—he finds some of her insights and suggestions useful. He resumes his sparring sessions with Sulu, which restore a sense of normalcy and competence to his routine. He plays in the shipwide basketball tournament, and even though Command loses to Botany, 64-52, he feels comfortable enough with the sweaty handclasps and backslaps that are an integral part of any team sport. He allows himself to deliver an occasional pat on the back to Chekov when he performs complicated navigational maneuvers.

But he still flinches away when Bones touches him. Jim needs space, and the doctor needs to hover and push, so by unspoken agreement, Bones stays out of his bed.

Fortunately, his stomach settles—except for sporadic, threatening gurgles—enough to let him make it through the morning without any embarrassing sprints to the head.

The shift is uneventful. They're mapping an unexplored sector of Beta Quadrant, and Jim really doesn't have much to do other than make sure the ship's pointed in the right direction. He consults occasionally with Spock about the progress of the mapping project, and chisels away at the mountain of backlogged paperwork that never seems to get any smaller.

Bones shows up about halfway through alpha, as he does habitually, barring any medical emergency. He's always claimed that he likes to make his medical report in person. Jim's pretty sure there's more to it than that. The doctor likes to chat with Uhura and needle Spock about this or that human eccentricity, while he keeps a watchful eye on senior staff interactions and morale. If there's a more personal reason for him to visit—like the opportunity to exchange a few quiet words with his captain—Jim's never objected. He's always looked forward to Bones' daily visit on the Bridge.

But today, his presence just grates on Jim's nerves. It means that Jim has to make an effort to be chipper and relaxed so that he doesn't make Bones suspicious. That's hard to do when he's dragging from the bout with diarrhea. He buries himself in a PADD with some overdue forms, hoping to project an I'm-busy-with-captainly-things air of harried impatience.

Bones exchanges a smile with Uhura and crosses the few steps to the captain's chair. "Medical report, Captain."

Jim doesn't look up. "Make it quick, Doctor. I haven't got a lot of time."

"Oh, I'll be quick. Wouldn't want to distract you from"—Bones glances over his shoulder at the screen on his PADD—"the semi-annual inventory of storage area 3C."

Jim refuses to rise to the bait. "Don't read over my shoulder, it's rude. And for your information, storage area 3C happens to be where we keep the raw materials for the food replicators. If I don't get these supply forms to Starbase Sigma on time, you're going to be eating tofu in soy sauce for the next two months."

"Well, I won't keep you long. You might be happy to know that we're finally over the hump with the Circassian flu. No new cases for the last two days, and I've been able to discharge Ensign Ho and Yeoman Rand to quarters."

Jim glances at him briefly and nods. "Anything else?"

"The latest batch of regen solution failed. We've identified a microbe in the air vent in one of the labs." That catches Jim's attention, and he looks up to find Bones giving him one of his clinical looks. Shit.

"You're sure there's no contamination anywhere else?"

"We scanned the entire system throughout the ship, but the problem seems to be localized. I've ordered the entire ventilation system in the labs decontaminated, so the Auxiliary Sickbay will be out of commission until beta shift tomorrow."

Jim turns back to his PADD, frowning at the supply form as if he's cramming for a test in warp physics. He slants it slightly at an angle so that Bones can't read it so readily. The form has already been completed by the quartermaster and reviewed by Spock; all Jim needs to do is sign it. But Bones doesn't have to know that.

"All right, Doctor. If that's all…"

"Almost all," Bones says calmly. "One more item. But it's confidential. Can I speak to you in your ready room, Captain?"

Jim sighs. Bones wouldn't know subtle if it hypoed him in the neck. "Right away. Let me just finish this report." He lets Bones stew for a few more minutes while he pretends to edit the form, all the while watching him out of the corner of his eye. Bones edges over to Spock and conducts a serious, low-voiced conversation with him, glancing back at Jim occasionally. Great, they're talking about him.

Stalling seems to be backfiring, so Jim sends off the report and stands up. His stomach feels bloated, so maybe it's a good thing he's going to be closer to the head. He tries to project an air of energy and enthusiasm that he doesn't feel. "Let's go, then. Spock, you have the con."

He strides into the ready room. He feels a little shaky, so instead of standing, he perches himself casually on the edge of the table. The doctor trails in after him. "What's on your mind, Bones?"


"Me? I'm fine."

Goddamn it, there's that look of compassion and concern he's been dreading. "You look like hell, Jim. You're pale and sweating. Spock says you've been working on that damn report for half an hour when all you had to do was add your signature."

"Not that I have to explain my command style to either of you, but periodically I like to actually read the reports I sign."

"Very commendable, Captain." Jim watches glumly as Bones produces a hand-held med scanner and peers at the tiny readout. "And you're borderline hypoglycemic. Why haven't you been eating?"

"I wasn't hungry. Stomach troubles. Nothing out of the ordinary."

"Any pain? Cramps? Nausea?"

Jim shakes his head. "It was probably something I ate, that's all. Or maybe your microbe from the labs attacked my gut. But it's over now."

"You need to drink. And have a light meal, no complex proteins. You hear me, Jim?" His stomach chooses that as the most opportune moment to let out a loud rumble, and Bones laughs. "I'll take that as a yes."

"I'll have a meal sent up. It's nothing, Bones." He feels his bowels tightening reflexively, but keeps his expression carefully neutral.

"If it keeps up for more than 24 hours, you'll need to let me check you over."

"I'm fine. But I'll come see you if it doesn't go away."

There's an implied dismissal in his tone, but Bones refuses to take the hint. Stepping closer, Bones says softly, "You been sleeping okay, kid?"

Truth be known, he's been sleeping more than usual. He's been inexplicably tired lately, falling into bed early and sleeping through the night. If he has nightmares, they haven't woken him. "Yeah, no problems there."

"I miss you, you know. Maybe you and I could shoot some pool tonight."

Jim's mouth quirks up. Bones comes from a family that has a long, Southern tradition of lazy afternoon billiards games accompanied by mint juleps and meandering conversation. His grandfather taught him to play before he was five. And Jim spent way too many hours shooting pool with the other adolescent fuckups in Riverside. They're almost evenly matched, and their games tend to attract a crowd. "I wouldn't say no. Drinks on you, since you're gonna lose anyway."

Bones smirks. "You're the eternal optimist. And I admire the way you don't mind being publicly humiliated in front of your crew. Warms my heart to see it, every time."

"Naw, you just like watching me bend over the table to take a shot."

It's their usual banter, even if both of them know that it's not going to lead to the same sort of late-night activities it used to. But it's a start. He can handle a pool game: good company, a little competition, no pressure. And he wouldn't mind ogling Bones' ass when he leans over, for that matter.

Bones turns to leave. "Eat something, Jim, and take it easy for the rest of your shift. See you tonight."

Jim waits until the turbolift doors slide closed after him. Then his stomach gives another unpleasant lurch, and he makes a hasty retreat to the bathroom.

Day Thirty

A week later, and Jim's still dragging. Yesterday he skipped his usual evening run around the perimeter of the saucer, thinking he should take it easy. Even so, it was hard to force himself out of bed in the morning. The diarrhea has continued off and on, but for the last few days it's been accompanied by a vague nausea that starts mid-alpha and stays with him halfway into beta. Eating has lost its appeal.

He finally accepts the fact that he needs some kind of medical intervention. He feels like shit and he can't function like this. "I think I have the Circassian flu," he announces to Chapel when he makes it down to Sickbay that evening. She gestures to an empty bed, and he plunks himself down on it gracelessly, leaning back to let her conduct a basic scan.

He gives her a quick rundown of his symptoms. Glancing up at the readings, she gives him a sympathetic look. "Well, you don't have a fever, Captain, so I doubt it's the flu. But your biostats are borderline low, and you do look sick. I'll call the doctor."

Bones is off duty, so he assumes she means M'Benga. In fact, that was the whole point of choosing this particular hour to visit Sickbay. Bones will be furious when he finds out, if not particularly surprised. Mature behavior has never been Jim's trademark in a medical setting.

To his dismay, Chapel comes back with a frowning Dr. McCoy in tow. "Bones!" Jim says, smiling weakly to cover his consternation. "Uh, glad you're still around…"

"Nice try, Jim. I was on alpha today, which you obviously knew when you decided to come down here at this hour." He fixes Jim with a cold glare. "Luckily, I was still here, working in the lab. And for your information, it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because my staff has standing orders to call me whenever you creep in here hoping for a quick fix."

"Why? You've got a more than competent staff—"

"And you wanted to be captain, so you get a personal physician. One of the perks of the job. Besides, I'm used to your bullshit so it saves time in the long run. Lie back."

Bones grabs Jim's wrist, feeling for a pulse while he watches the cardio stats on the monitor above his head. Bones believes being a doctor means laying his hands on the patient, even when there are more accurate ways of diagnosing. It's an anachronistic quirk that usually draws a sarcastic comment from Jim, but this time, he doesn't find it funny, he finds it intrusive. He wonders how Bones would react if he asked him to warn him before he touches him. Maybe Jim could ask him, just this once, not to use his old-fashioned hands-on approach. The idea of a physical exam is already making him sweat.

Jim tells himself that it's a medical touch, cool and professional, but in a way, that just makes it worse.

"Your blood glucose is pretty low. Chris, get me a hypo with 5 cc's of polystatin. That should relieve some of your symptoms, Jim, the nausea and the shakes…" Bones is frowning, looking at the screen about Jim's head. "But I need to do a full workup. You shouldn't be having these symptoms at all."

Jim makes a half-hearted attempt to avoid the inevitable. "Look, if it's not the flu, let's do the exam another time. The Astro lab's reclibrating the telescope array and I want to be there. I just need to eat a decent meal, I think. I can't if I'm about to puke every time I get near the mess."

Bones is unimpressed. "You think, huh. Thanks for the consult. Get undressed." He slams the hypo home, ignoring Jim's yelp of protest.

Bones' idea of a full workup means that Jim has to sit on the biobed, clad only in his briefs, while Bones fires a long series of embarrassing questions at him, mostly about his digestive system and all related aspects. He sends Jim off to piss into a specimen cup. Then he makes him lie on his back while he ignores the perfectly good electronic readouts in order to poke, press, and palpate his abdomen, all the while watching Jim's face for a telltale wince or frown.

"That hurt?"

"Uh…not really."

"Don't try to downplay symptoms. Do you want my help, or don't you?"

"Why don't you just scan me? It would be a lot quicker!" Jim complains. Fuck, this is a lot more touching than he bargained for. It's all he can do not to slap Bones' hands away and scramble off the table.

Bones seems to sense his nervousness. He stops, right hand resting lightly on Jim's lower belly. "You okay there, Jim?"

Jim makes an effort to relax. The sooner he lets Bones continue, the sooner it'll be over. "Just do it."

"Then stop squirming. We'll get to the scans in a minute. And imaging is no substitute for the physical exam."

The percussing and probing seem to continue interminably. Bones glances occasionally at the monitors, but mostly he seems to be concentrating on whatever his fingers are telling him.

Finally he steps back. "All right, you can sit up. Your lower abdomen is tender, but I can't detect any masses or fluid accumulation." Jim raises himself up gingerly, feeling his abs tighten protectively over his sensitive innards. At least that part's over. His relief is short-lived, though, when he sees Bones reach under the bed to key the privacy screens. "Climb down and bend over the table."

Jim doesn't move.

Bones looks at him in concern, brows furrowed. "C'mon, Jim. You've been through this before." Jim stares down at his hands, breathing slowly. He knows full well what's coming. That's just the problem.

"I'll be quick," Bones soothes. "I know it's not pleasant, but it's the last part of the exam and I need to do it."

"Could you just slow down a little! Just give me a minute."

Bones is silent for a moment, looking at him speculatively. Jim wishes he could just cooperate, because making a big deal of a simple rectal exam is only drawing attention to the fact that he's more traumatized than he's been letting on. Laugh it off, he tells himself. Tell him you're out of practice. Say you're waiting for a better offer, flowers and dinner at least. But Bones can surely see his heart racing on the monitor, so it's no use bluffing.

"I know how hard this must be for you," Bones says softly. "Those monsters examined you—"

"Everywhere. I told you. They had instruments…"

a cold metal probe and a burning pain

"Hell, Jim. I'm sorry to put you in this position so soon."

no don't touch me there, take it out take it out

"Take your time." Bones seems honestly sorry, but he doesn't offer to skip the exam. He just waits, standing at the foot of the bed expectantly.

Jim knows that delaying won't make it easier. "Just get it over with," he says in a tight voice, and steps down from the bed.

Bones allows Jim to put his clothes back on before he scans him, which at least spares him the indignity of traipsing through Sickbay dressed only in his underwear.

"I thought you scanned me already," Jim complains. They're in Isolation Room Two, which is generally unoccupied. Jim's never actually been in here. The high-resolution screen on the monitor over the bed is huge, at least three times bigger than the ones attached to the regular biobeds.

"It's a cellular imaging scanner. A lot more powerful than the basic units the other beds have," Bones explains, somewhat proudly. "We don't actually use it too often, mostly as a pre-surgery diagnostic. Or in a case like yours, where there's a symptom without a clear cause. Hop on."

Lying back, Jim is unsurprised to discover that the screen is blocked from his view. It's one of the reasons he hates hospitals; he's out of the loop, dependent on what the doctor chooses to tell him. Sighing, he settles into the mattress.

Bones is quiet for a few minutes, occasionally adjusting the device, staring up at the screen. Then he gives a sharp grunt.

"What? You found something already?"

"Maybe... There's a clump of cells in your lower abdomen which seems to be developing abnormally. I need to take a closer look."

"A tumor?" Jim yelps. "I have a tumor?"

"Now, I'm not sure yet, Jim," Bones says calmly. "It might just be a cyst, or scar tissue, or a normal process that's replicating a little too fast. I need to do some higher-level imaging…"

"Where is it? Show me." Bones looks at the screen again, purses his lips, then points to an area on Jim's midriff, above his navel. The skin there looks pink and new, recently regenerated. Right where the aliens sliced him open a month ago.

Fuck. He might have known it was a souvenir from the mouthless monsters. "Figure it out, Bones. I want to know what's going on." His voice sounds a lot steadier than he feels.

"Christine," the doctor calls out, and she pokes her head around the door. "Get M'Benga."

It's bad, Jim thinks.

When M'Benga comes in, Bones briefs him in a few short sentences. Both of them stand by his bed, looking not at him but at the monitor. Jim watches the doctors' faces, scrutinizing them for any hint of what's wrong. Bones looks mostly worried, while M'Benga seems curious and sympathetic.

"Scanner. Increase magnification by a factor of fifty," Bones says.

M'Benga draws in a sharp breath, while Bones' eyes widen and his mouth drops. Then their expressions take on identical masks of professional neutrality, revealing nothing, and Jim knows he's fucked.

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"Hang on, Jim. Another few minutes and we'll let you know. Lie still." Bones doesn't even look at him, never moving his eyes from the screen. Jim sets his jaw and tries not to think about anything, but he's helpless to stop his thoughts from racing back to Antos. The third session... they made that cut in the third session. One deep incision, and he was panicking, desperate to escape the pain, praying for release until he finally, mercifully, blacked out.

The scanning continues. By mutual agreement, it seems, the doctors don't say anything to each other beyond a murmured "Magnify that, here," or "Get a cross-section of this."

Every time he tries to interject "Magnify what?" or "Tell me what you see," he's told to lie there quietly, or "Just be patient for a few more minutes." Jim wonders if either of the doctors is monitoring his cardio stats, because he's so freaked out by their behavior that he's probably heading straight for a heart attack.

When the scanning is finally over, Bones flicks off the screen before he can see anything. The doctors retreat to a corner of the room for a whispered conversation. Jim eases down from the biobed, but since Bones and M'Benga seem to be deep in conference, he can't do much but wait. He leans awkwardly against the bed, his eyes on the floor and his arms crossed over his chest.

Geoff M'Benga has a slow, deep voice, and his clipped consonants are easier for Jim to distinguish. Jim can hear occasional words and bits of sentences: "…latched onto the SMA… pancreatic involvement… developmental age…" None of it makes sense to him.

He feels so out of control. Nothing's gone the way he planned, from the minute he stepped into Sickbay. He was hoping to be in and out in ten minutes. A quick antiviral hypo would be a small price to pay, he thought, in exchange for settling his stomach once and for all. Bones wasn't supposed to be here at all, he wasn't supposed to be examine Jim, and nobody was supposed to find a tumor. Or worse.

He wonders, for the first time, what this will mean for his command. Cancerous growths are usually nothing to be worried about, easily treated, but this is clearly of alien origin. Whatever it is, it's got Bones upset and worried. Maybe it's an alien parasite that's taking over Jim's body. Or a slow-acting Antosian poison that's spreading insidiously, killing his tissues. Or an untreatable alien fungus that entered through his navel and—

"Jim." Startled, he looks up to see M'Benga walking out and Bones coming toward him. "I want you to take a look at what we found." He gestures toward the screen over the biobed. They stand side by side in front of it. Jim keeps his arms crossed, hoping Bones doesn't notice the way his hands are clenched into fists.

Bones pauses. "This is going to come as something of a shock, I know."

"I can handle it." I hope.

"Keep in mind that this is highly magnified. It's really not much more than five millimeters long. Just… take a look, and I'll explain everything."

"Stop stalling! Show me already."

"Screen on," Bones says.

It takes him a few seconds to recognize what he's seeing. The image is slightly blurry because of the intense magnification. At first, all he can make out is a curved line of whitish material covered by a translucent sac, like a jellyfish. As he stares in horrified fascination, he realizes that there's a head at one end, large and bulbous with two dark eye spots. The other side seems to be a tail. And in the middle, there's an unmistakably beating heart.

It's alive.

Jim throws up all over Bones' boots.

Bones has obviously decided that Jim needs to be sitting down for the rest of this talk, so they've moved to his office. Jim has an untouched cup of water in front of him. The screen on the CMO's desk holds the same ghastly image that was on the scanner.

"Turn that goddamn screen off."

"Calm down, Jim. We need to look at it because I want you to understand what it is—"

"I understand what it is. I want you to get it out! Right now. This evening."

"—and then we're going to talk about some more tests that I need to run before we can make any decisions."

"Decisions?" Jim can't believe what he's hearing. "There's nothing to decide! This isn't some kind of disease, it's something those aliens implanted in me, a parasite or something, and I'm the fucking carrier! I don't care what it takes, I want it gone, and I want done it tonight!"

"I said to calm down, and I mean it!" Bones' voice is sharp enough to cut through his hysteria, and he pushes the water toward Jim. "Drink that. Now."

Jim desperately wishes he could calm down, and that this nightmare would somehow disappear. God Almighty, there's a living creature inside him, attached to his organs and growing. He gulps the water down and wipes his mouth with a shaky hand.

"Now listen to me," Bones says, looking at him intently. "You're not having surgery tonight. We need to have a talk, a calm discussion. And then you're going to sleep and then I'm going to run some more tests in the morning. And we're not doing anything until I have a better idea of what's going on. Clear?" Jim nods, although he doubts that he's going to be able to sleep at all tonight.

"Good." Bones gestures at the screen, but Jim can't bear to look at it. "Now, do you really understand what you're seeing?"

"What's to understand? It's a baby alien from Antos II, a fucking monster growing inside me!"

"What?" Bones blinks. "No, Jim. You're wrong. What you're seeing isn't alien—"

"The hell it's not! Look at it! Big-headed, curled around like a seahorse. Big eyes and no mouth, just like the Antosians. It's one of them, and I want it out of my body!" Bones' lips twitch into something almost resembling a smile, and it infuriates him. "I don't see what's so damn funny."

"Hang on, Jim. I'm sorry. But from what we can tell, that is a human embryo, about four and a half weeks post conception. I admit it looks a little weird right now, but it's developing normally."

"It has a tail," Jim says, feeling a little less sure of himself.

"That's the beginning of the spinal column, kid. And the mouth will show up more clearly in another week or so."

"There's not going to be another week or so!" He shakes his head. "This is insane. I can't be…" The word dies in his throat.

"…pregnant," Bones finishes for him. "I'm afraid that's exactly what you are, Jim."

The words hang in the air between them, horrifying and blunt.

"Magnification forty-five," Bones says, and the image seems to move back. The embryo is still easily identifiable, but now Jim can see a reddish blob looming next to it. "Primitive placenta," Bones says, as if he's lecturing to a room full of med students. The feeling of being a lab exhibit on display hits him again, and he struggles to remind himself that he's safe on his ship. Bones will take care of this.

Bones taps the screen. Another image, less magnified but still incomprehensible to Jim, fills the screen: his organs, if that's what they are, look like large pink blobs, with dark red and blue tubes running among them. Bones points to a smallish, circular blob. "This is some kind of uterine sac," he says. "About the size of a chickpea. The embryo is inside. I didn't detect anything unusual when you came back a month ago, so I'm guessing it was extremely small, just a cluster of cells at the time. We were scanning for injuries. This wouldn't have shown up."

Jim just nods, not trusting his voice. Get a grip, he tells himself firmly. Stop freaking out and act like a captain.

"See this dark red line? This is the new artery that's supplying the embryo with a blood supply. It's branched off the superior mesenteric artery. The SMA's a major abdominal artery that supplies blood to parts of the intestine, the colon, and the pancreas. I need to do some more tests, but I'm guessing that's the reason you've been having blood sugar fluctuations and abdominal upset."

"Right," Jim says, in an almost normal voice. "Makes sense." There, that's better.

"None of this makes sense, Jim. It shouldn't be possible. But I'm trying to understand the physiology of it."

"So—what, this is a clone? Of me?" He laughs, and it sounds a little bit hysterical, even to his own ears. "Awesome. I was a cute kid."

"I need to do some blood tests, analyze the DNA of the embryonic cells before I can tell you if it's a clone or something else. But it's definitely human, Jim, at least structurally and developmentally."

"Well, I'm a man, last I looked. And I don't know how long it's been since you took those anatomy classes, but pregnancy wasn't supposed to be on my developmental path."

"Jim…" Bones sighs, running a hand through his hair. Then he swivels around to the cabinet behind him, thumbs the lock, and comes back with a bottle and a glass.

Jim takes the glass. "Pour yourself one too, Bones. Don't be shy, you're off duty."

"It's not for you," Bones says, plucking the glass out of his hand. "You just puked your guts out, remember? I'll get you some more water if you want."

"Always the doctor, won't offer liquor to a pregnant guy." Bones just grunts. "Come on, that was a joke."

Jim watches him sip the oily, golden liquid. His fingers are long and graceful—surgeon's hands. Bones is a brilliant doctor, he reminds himself. He'll take care of this.