Dedicated to TWBI reviewer #550: Crysania Fay who requested a KS Tarsus IV story.
Warning: Binge eating
The communication came in four days ago: Check on the status of a colony that has not communicated with the Federation in six months and aid in any way possible. It was probably just a broken communication array. Usually Jim would mind doing such a simple task, but they were the only ship in the area and he'd become more sensitive to the plight of colonies since Spock's whole race and family was now on a colony. So he couldn't complain about helping a colony fix their communications and maybe giving them some medical supplies.
What they found there was more than a broken communication array.
It took a few days to find any survivors that knew what happened, what caused the charred ground, the blackened plants and acidic sky. An attack, but they did not know by whom. Quick and merciless from the space, no ground troops. Just energy weapons that scarred the land and bombs that poisoned the atmosphere.
Jim managed to trail away from the rest to find a moment to compose himself. He certainly wouldn't be the first as most of his crew had to walk away at one point or another in attempts to rationalize what had been done here. And when that doesn't happen, they can at least vomit the rest of their lunch to try to quell the queasiness they feel.
Jim hadn't thought about Tarsus IV for years. The only way he could keep his sanity was to keep it away. But now, he was forced to face all the things he decided to forget.
The smell of the smoke, the burnt flesh and the rotting meat brings flashing images of when he was younger, of when he was so hungry he couldn't stand, but so scared he couldn't bring himself to stop running. He remembered hiding, searching the dead land for anything to eat. He remembered his heart beating fast at the smallest sounds, and being scared he would be found and killed.
Worst of all, Jim remembered the hunger. Jim could feel it twisting his stomach as if he hadn't just eaten in weeks.
The sound of his communicator startled Jim out of his thoughts, and he realized he was crouched down, his head on his knees, his arms covering his head as if in attempts to defend from attack.
He looked down to see wet marks on the trousers on his knees. He hastily wiped his eyes before grabbing his communicator. He took a shaky breath to try and calm himself.
"Kirk here," he said. His voice was still hoarse but no one here was unaffected. Not even the voice that answered him.
"Spock here, Captain," came the reply, tight and even more emotionless than usual, which usually meant he needed to suppress more.
Jim couldn't help the small smile that crept onto his face at the sound of Spock's voice. It was a comfort, and it grounded him. It reminded him this wasn't 2246, he wasn't 13 years old and he wasn't alone. It was 2261, and he was 28 year old Captain James T. Kirk. And he had a Vulcan who loved him, even though he'd never really admit it.
"Captain?" Spock prompted.
Jim shook his head. "Yeah, I'm here. Sorry. What did you say?"
"You have been on the planet for 6 hours past your designated shift on-planet. Jim, I suggest you come back up to the ship to rest."
Had he really been that long? "Is that you're personal or professional opinion?" Jim asked, but he was already standing to walk back to the beam-up area.
"Both," Spock said quietly. "I would appreciate your presence."
Jim's smile became large despite himself. "Be right up. Meet you in your room." Thank god no one else was around, or they'd think he'd gone insane.
Neither Jim nor Spock had been in any kind of mood to do anything besides just lie in bed in each other's company for a few hours. Jim felt pretty calm until they parted ways. Spock headed down to the science lab to analyze the deposits that had been collected to determine who had attacked the colony.
As soon as Spock was out of sight and Jim suddenly felt tense and hungry again. He wandered down to the officer's mess, happy to find it empty.
He got a large plate of food and sat down. He started eating quickly, barely tasting the food. It was only a matter of minutes until his plate was empty and Jim's stomach still lurched with hunger. He got up and ordered another plate.
Jim didn't even notice Bones until he suddenly sat down across from him.
"I'm glad to see you're eating," Bones said gruffly. "Replicator use has been down by 75%."
"What, no decimals?" Jim asked with a small smile.
Bones rolled his eyes. "You've been spending too much time with Spock."
Jim sighed. "You say too much, but I say too little." He frowned and stuffed a large spoonful of stew into his mouth.
Bones looked at him curiously, an eyebrow raised. "You seem to be eating a lot. Even more than usual."
Jim stilled, spoon half way to his mouth. "I-" he started before looking down, only then realizing all the food he had gotten. He must have gone back for more than seconds since he had three empty plates and was half way through his forth.
And he was still hungry.
"Jim," Bones said forcefully. He must have said his name more than once.
Jim looked up to Bones' worried face before slowly putting his spoon down.
"How are you holding up?" Bones asked, his doctor tone bleeding through, but Jim knew it was asked by his friend, not his CMO.
"I'm hungry," Jim said, simply. He didn't bother expanding. He has no idea exactly when Bones found out about Tarsus IV, but it was during a drunken night, and Jim was just happy Bones knew and he didn't have to remember the conversation. "I would have thought I wouldn't be able to even look at food, but now I can't seem to fill my stomach."
Bones gave a small nod. "People respond to stress in different ways. You remember when you were..." Bones stopped, thankfully not wanted to expand on it. "Just make sure to take breaks, alright? I know you always feel like you gotta work harder and longer than everyone else because you're the Captain, but you're only human."
Jim shook his head. "I have to be down there Bones. I have to help them."
"Look, Jim," he said quietly, even though they were completely alone in the officer's mess. "I know you're strong enough to get through this, but if you don't slow down, I'll have to interfere. And I will, Jim," he said warningly. "The last thing I want to do is deem you emotionally compromised."
Anger flared in Jim's chest, but he stamped it down. Bones was right. And if he was honest with himself, he didn't want to go back down there at all, but he didn't want to look weak, especially in front of his crew. "All right. I'll keep my hours down," he finally conceded.
Bones studied Jim a moment before he nodded.
After he finished eating (although he had to force himself to stop even if he was still hungry), Jim headed back down to the planet. He managed to help with the colony and smell burning flesh for three hours before all the images from Tarsus were getting too much and he had to wonder off alone again.
That's where Spock found him.
"Hey," Jim said, a small smile forced on his lips. "What are you doing down here?"
Spock walked over and sat down calmly beside him. "You had not been seen for 2.4 hours. The crew was beginning to worry."
Jim nodded. "The smell was getting too much for me," he admitted, hesitant to admit it.
"They say that smell is the sense with the strongest recall," Spock said quietly.
Jim stiffened and looked over at Spock out of the corner of his eye. "You know? That I was..."
"It was in your file," Spock explained. "As your First Officer, I was given unrestricted access to your records." He brushed his fingertips down Jim's spine.
"This whole time?" Jim asked incredulously, leaning away. "You knew about it, and you didn't say anything?"
Spock tilted his head to the side. "I did not feel it was my place to broach the subject. I knew you would tell me when you were ready."
Jim still couldn't get over it. "You knew about it, and you still..."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "You are the person you are because of your experiences. I would do much if I could ensure you had not been on that colony, but it has made you a stronger person."
Jim snorted. "A stronger person who can't handle a tough mission."
"Incorrect," Spock said. "You have kept calm in many dangerous situations and saved your crew more than once." He gently grabbed Jim's hand and brought it up to examine his fingers. "No one here is unaffected by this mission. I even find myself drained. Is everyone, including me, weak?"
"No, of course not," Jim denied, snatching his hand away, but Spock quickly took it back.
"Then do not deprecate yourself," Spock scolded not unkindly. "You have not withdrawn into yourself, and you have done everything you can to aid the people here."
Jim just hung his head. He suddenly felt conflicted. The smell of the planet brought nothing but hunger and depression, but the presence of Spock brought calm and happy memories. He felt so weak, but Spock was here to keep him strong.
Spock suddenly stood and offered his hand. "Come. We shall return to the ship. Aiding in organization will help the colonists more than resting in the woods," he said.
Jim stared at the given hand for a moment. Spock was right, but his pride... He took the hand and allowed himself to be pulled up.
The feel of Spock's hand as Spock led him towards the beam up point was real. It was warm and dry, and it blocked out all of the imaginary images and feelings of a place that has long been gone.
Jim just gripped Spock's hand tighter, and Tarsus faded into the background.
Author's note: I'm not dead? Wow! Hello again, everyone. I'm sorry I've been gone so long, but I had some major writer's block that I only just managed to break recently. I had started this for Crysania Fay back in October (holy crap) and I only just managed to finish it. It's a little shorter than I'd like, but I do like it. I hope you like it too, my first fic after my writing funk.