The fifth Chapter and weirdly enough, it ends in the fifth hour of the story. Yes, I wrote up a timeline for this story just to keep everything straight. If anyone's interested I'll be happy to put it up or send it. Why yes, I am a geek... did my fandom not give that away? :D
Again and forever, thank you Spockaholic, my beta.
On the flagship Enterprise, sickbay was rushed.
Every on and off-duty member of the science and medical sections, and a good portion of the engineering staff, had been pulled into the current project, and the links between the Enterprise computers and the portable ones down on Saresh IV were humming. In true Enterprise fashion, it was now a race against time, and both Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy were demanding every scrap of attention from the crew.
The two cadet versions of Sims and Garrard had not taken the news of more tests well and had been sedated by the increasingly harried med-staff. Looking at the startlingly young appearances of his two lieutenants, Jim couldn't help but wonder if they would ever wake up again. He knew Spock and Bones would do their best, but there was barely any time. It'd taken him two hours down there just to break down the firewalls, and the plans he'd seen for the copy machine were completely beyond him.
The five year old Pasha, who'd easily accepted their explanation that he was JT's older cousin called Jim, was already on painkillers. He'd started complaining of a stomach ache ten minutes ago, but until they knew something more about how the machine worked, there was nothing even the Enterprise's med-staff could do.
"Hey, no fair!" cried his teenage self, abruptly bringing him back to the present and Jim grinned. Apparently Chekov had always been a math whiz. JT had given him one of his programming guides before he'd left, and now the five year old seemed to think that hacking was a perfectly respectable strategy whenever the library's multi-player math game got too boring. Seeing as that was the sort of thing he had done in school when he was not much older, both Kirks were very amused.
"You snooze, you loose, brat," crowed Jim as he submitted his completed formula seconds before JT.
Jim immediately looked up and gestured a hesitant looking Sulu over to the bio-bed they were perched on.
"Hey Sulu. Guys, this is Hikaru Sulu. He's our Chief Helmsman."
The young Pasha smiled politely at the newcomer, but JT was staring straight at his older self. Judging from the brat's smirk, his immediate reaction to his rank had been noted for further mocking potential. He'd always known that teenage-him had some serious issues but he'd never realized how smug he was back then.
"Is it alright? The Commander said there was no danger, so Alpha swapped out and I thought-"
The two Kirks shared a look. It wasn't an easy look. It was filled with hard choices and the necessity of not leaving anyone behind or alone. It was knowing their own limitations and deciding how much others could be trusted, but eventually, JT nodded and the Captain led Sulu to one side.
JT found himself almost thankful for the attempt at privacy. Not that sickbay was large enough to give him much of that.
The young Russian barely looked up, intently setting up his PADD for the next level of the game. For a moment, JT just stared at him, burning this moment into his mind. Nothing ever lasted but he'd remember this, he'd remember how happy Pasha looked right now. It was all he could promise.
"I want you to play with Hikaru for a bit, ok?" He finally said. Pasha stopped typing and just stared down at his PADD.
"Are you going away again?" he whispered.
JT sighed, pulling Pasha into a rough hug.
"Yeah but I won't be far this time. I'm just… I'm going to go lie down."
Pasha's thin frame relaxed at the explanation, obviously reassured that JT was not abandoning him and he curled closer into his warm embrace.
"You are tired too?"
"Yeah," he choked out, thankful that the kid didn't know him better. Pasha had only been awake a few hours, it was just the drug-induced lethargy making him assume it was late enough to sleep. "I'm tired too."
"And when you wake up, we can play?" Pasha checked, already happily certain of the answer. JT tightened the hug, forcing his voice back to a calm normality.
"Sure. When we wake up… but until you fall asleep you can play with Hikaru, right?"
"Da, I will play with Hikaru," agreed Pasha, carefully pronouncing the unfamiliar name. "I will teach him game."
"You're a good kid, Pasha."
"I am not goat," he frowned, pulling away slightly so he could stare up at JT in concern. "I am Russian."
JT smiled and pulled away completely, leaving the disgruntled Pasha alone in the middle of the bio-bed.
"Sorry. That was a silly thing to say," he admitted, gathering up the thin sickbay blankets from under the bio-bed where they'd been kicked earlier.
Pasha nodded, still concerned but accepting as he let JT fluff up the pillows behind him and tuck the blankets around his legs. He waited until JT was finished before silently demanding one last hug.
"When I grow up," he whispered as he pulled JT close. "I am being Starfleet Officer, like Jim."
"I'll make you a deal then," JT murmured back. "When you're in Starfleet, I'll be there too."
The small child allowed him to break the hug, glee lighting up Pasha's face.
JT nodded, his smile small but warm and he gave thanks once more that Pasha didn't know him very well.
"I promise," he reaffirmed. "Goodnight Pasha."
"Goodnight JT," he chirped, happily going back to his PADD and already planning how to introduce Hikaru into the game.
Ten feet away, Jim and Sulu watched the pair out of the corner of their eyes.
"Is he really…?"
Jim nodded, not looking at his helmsman.
"They're working on it but there's not much time left," he murmured.
They stood peacefully together for a few moments, both lost in their own thoughts as they waited for the two on the bio-bed to say their goodbyes. Finally Sulu broke the silence, his eyes flicking across to where JT was tucking in the much younger version of their navigator.
"What do I say?"
"Just talk to him," reassured Jim. "They'll be increasing his pain-meds soon, but if he's in any pain, just call them over. You'll do fine."
"Thank you, Captain."
Sulu took a deep breath, his back straightening as he put on a smile and went straight to the chair by the bio-bed. Watching him as he swiftly won the kid over and integrated himself into a new game, Jim was reminded how amazing his crew was. It was disturbing enough watching a younger version of one of your friends suffer, but Sulu didn't let on any of it. He looked for all the world like he'd rather be nowhere else and Pasha just responded to that.
He carefully restrained his urge to clap a sympathetic arm around JT's shoulders as he slouched over to him, knowing that JT wouldn't welcome an uninvited touch from an adult male. Instead Jim scanned the room for the Head Nurse. It only took a second to spot her and Jim couldn't help his smile as he saw who Christine was talking with.
Almost as if he'd sensed his Captain's gaze, which wasn't entirely impossible, Spock finished his conversation and walked away from the nurse. A few paces away from him, and before Jim could say anything, Spock fell into parade rest, his hands neatly tucking behind his back.
"Captain, Room 3 has been prepared for your convenience."
"Spock…" sighed the bemused Jim. "Shouldn't you be down on the planet?"
"Mr. Scott, Lt. Flanders and Ensign Chekov are heading the teams examining the actual machine, Captain," he answered, quick to assure his Captain that he was not neglecting his duties. "I am of more use examining the data with the help of the ship's computer."
JT shot his counterpart a knowing smirk but said nothing as Jim led them to the private sick-room. Spock immediately stationed himself to one side of the bio-bed, carefully watching JT climb onto it as the Captain investigated the room.
The fact that JT allowed Jim to look around and headed straight for the bed instead of inspecting the room himself was telling. He'd been adamantly refusing all pain killers for the past half hour, but both Kirks knew that wasn't going to last.
"Ok, so we've got plenty of efrugrenol, krulltyline…" listed Jim before pausing at the last hypospray on the table. "And we've also got about twenty cc's of bri-talimide."
Spock immediately raised an eyebrow.
"I understood that you are allergic to bri-talimide, Captain," he commented, scarcely believing that the usually efficient Nurse Chapel would make such a basic mistake. His Captain merely smiled, apparently unconcerned.
"Christine probably just grabbed the closest pain-killers to hand, Spock," Jim dismissed. "Besides, we've got plenty of stuff I'm not allergic to."
JT seemed similarly at ease with the potentially fatal error and Spock reluctantly dropped the matter, silently deciding to mention the matter to Doctor McCoy at a later date. His Captain may see such a mistake as harmless, but he was certain that the good doctor would take the proper actions to ensure such a thing did not happen again.
As if he knew what his First Officer was thinking, Jim walked over to him and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Spock, I've got this," he assured and Spock's eyes widened almost imperceptibly in alarm. "Why don't you go back to the data?"
"Spock," interrupted Jim and Spock stilled.
"Very well," he finally agreed. "I shall inform you as soon as I have any progress to report."
"Thanks," smiled Jim and with a final nod at both his Captain and JT, Spock walked away.
They watched him go with mixed feelings but neither Kirk attempted to call him back as Spock locked the door behind him. At the quiet chime of a privacy lock, both Jim and JT felt like the room had dropped a degree or two but both shrugged it off and JT looked back up at his older-self.
"You don't have to keep watch either, you know," he murmured.
"My ship, my watch," Jim teased as he picked up one of the hyposprays.
JT allowed him to apply a shot of the efrugrenol without protest and Jim nodded to himself. He knew where that pain tolerance had come from, but there was no need for it here. The kid wasn't going to suffer if he could help it. For a moment he wondered if this was how Bones felt every time he shrugged off something he shouldn't, before dismissing the thought. He couldn't afford to start letting Bones baby him every time he got injured on an away-mission.
For a couple of seconds there was silence as JT made himself comfortable, feeling the worst of his tension ebbing away as the pain-killer kicked in. He frowned up at the ceiling as he wondered what to ask Jim first. It was just so strange that this was him, this was someone he could actually turn into. It was completely disorientating to see someone that looked so much like the old holos of his Dad and know just where that quirk came from or what that expression meant… or why Jim wasn't going to talk first.
Finally, he decided on a question that had been bothering for over an hour now.
"So who's the old man?"
Jim shook his head.
"You looked through my personal logs didn't you?"
"Of course," he shrugged. "Not like I even had to hack anything, the voice rec. accepted me."
"Huh…" frowned Jim. "I'll have to fix that."
"So? The old man is…?"
"Spock. He got trapped here from over a century in the future and decided to stick around."
"So, that's why they just assumed time travel."
"Yep. That sort of thing happens to us all the time."
The silence returned, each wanting to ask the other so many questions and neither knowing quite how to start. Jim wanted to know what his younger self had thought, how he'd felt when he looked about the Enterprise, what his first impression of Bones and Spock had been.
JT just wanted to know how he'd actually made friends.
Eventually it was Jim that asked the next question, but not with anything he really wanted to know. He figured that stuff could wait a little while, the first step was to get JT talking.
"So, what are you studying?"
JT answered with a subtle repositioning of his back and a tilt of his head at a precise angle. Jim immediately resettled his elbows and tapped once on his right thigh. The conversation continued like that for a few seconds, full of subtle movements that very few outside of Orion society would ever even recognize as a language before JT faltered and impatiently shook his head.
"That meant price scare, right?"
"Oh, come on!" laughed Jim. "You know what she'd say about that."
"If you can't ask your question in the language you're speaking, then you don't deserve to be answered," dutifully recited JT with possibly the most honest smile he'd allowed himself yet. It felt almost good to be able to refer to his old linguistics tutor with someone who actually knew her. "Yeah, I know. Do you remember how amazed we were when other linguists didn't just throw you into a language head first and expect you to pick it up?"
"Yeah, I remember."
The pair shared an almost identical rueful grin.
"She would've loved you serving on the Enterprise," JT admitted.
"Yeah. Although Chris was just as proud. You'll never guess how I found out I was being promoted to Captain."
After that one question, the conversation just flowed without pause. Jim would retell some event from his Academy days, reveling in the way JT would pick out all the important details, like how Bones had switched from knowing where his med-kit was, to carrying around at least one allergy medication to somehow hiding a dozen medications in his pockets. Afterwards, JT would make an observation, or remark on something he'd noticed on his quick foray in the Enterprise computer and Jim would eagerly pick up another tale.
Both of them stayed away from more serious subjects- Jim because he already knew all the shadows in his younger self's mind. He knew all the weak points to stay away from, the words not to use and saw no reason not to avoid them for once, just for a bit. He just wanted to pretend that the teenager in front of him wasn't as damaged as he knew he was, and JT wanted to believe for just a little while longer that life could be kind. He didn't want to know the price Jim had paid for this life of his, he just wanted to hear the good parts for once.
He was dying. He wanted to be selfish and Jim seemed to have no problem with that. It was strange, he'd always thought he'd die alone. Sometimes he'd even looked forward to that idea, it meant that no one would risk dying with him, but this company was nice. It felt almost safe in a way he couldn't really remember feeling before.
It was just after Jim had just finished a story about one of Sulu's plants taking over the canteen when another of the increasingly noticeable swells of pain over took him and choked off his laughter.
Jim waited patiently until he had stopped regulating his breathing. There was no point commenting on how these pauses were increasing. They both knew that. In the past hour they'd used up all of the efrugrenol and over a third of the krulltyline but he'd left it at JT's discretion. As a teenager, he'd always been furious about how little control he had over his own life. It cost him nothing to let JT have that control now, without making him fight for it.
"I think I'll have that bri-talimide now."
The Captain nodded. He'd been expecting that the past couple of times.
"Yeah. I am," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
They shared an understanding look as Jim pressed the last hypospray against his skin. The last time they'd been given this drug, it'd almost killed them, one of the many complications his annoying body chemistry had with modern medicine. It was meant to be just a heavy-duty painkiller, more powerful than any opiate but not dangerous. With him, after about four minutes he'd slip into a coma and as soon as the hypospray hissed, they started their mental countdown.
"These past few years have been… difficult," admitted JT.
"I know. I've never really talked about it but if you want… I think it might help."
"You've never told anyone?"
"Just the shrinks, and they're only ever interested in the big stuff. They hear genocide and assume-"
"-that that's the worst of it but it's not. The flashbacks and the PTSD… I'm dealing with all of that."
"Yeah, we make it through that."
"It's the day to day stuff."
"Just getting up everyday."
"Just staying alive," JT corrected. "There's just so much…"
"It's surviving but… I don't want to just survive. I've done too much to be happy with that. Can't live because monsters don't deserve to and I can't die because then who'll look after the kids if they need help? Except that's not true anymore because you're here. You'll look after them, keep them safe."
"It's not the only reason not to die."
JT chuckled. "When did you decide you wanted to live?"
"I was twenty-three, at the Academy," Jim answered without hesitation. "Bones and I had been sharing a room for almost a year. He'd just finished a nine hour shift and had classes in four hours. He should've stayed at the hospital and gotten some sleep there, but instead, he came all the way back to the dorm and when he saw me still there, something just relaxed in him. He started bitching about interns who didn't know one end of a osteo-regen from the other, kicked off his shoes, fell into bed, and was asleep in a couple of seconds."
"It wasn't that," he dismissed. "It's just… he didn't need me. I didn't make his day better, I didn't help him, he wasn't even awake long enough to complain properly. He was just… he was happy to see me. Didn't make a difference either way, but he was. That's when I knew just not dying wasn't enough anymore."
"You still need-"
"To be needed? Yeah, I still self-destruct when I'm not. I'm kinda dreading the refit. A year grounded with no one to look after? If I'm lucky, reading too much Nietzsche will be the worst of my problems."
JT smiled slightly.
"You really trust them, don't you?"
"Yeah," said Jim. "They don't know the right questions and it's… difficult sometimes, but yeah, I trust them. More than I ever thought I could."
"They'll leave, you know."
"How do you get used to that?"
"I don't know. I think you're just meant to endure it. Besides, pain-"
"-let's you know you're still alive," finished JT. "I know, but I'm just so tired of everything hurting all the time. I'm just so tired…"
"I know. Don't worry, I'll keep watch."
"You'll keep them safe?"
"Even when it hurts?"
"I promise. Go to sleep, JT. I've got this."
"Tell me a story?"
"Once upon a time there was a small boy and he loved nothing more than to stare up at the stars…"
Half an hour later, Doctor Leonard McCoy used his medical override on Private Ward 3 and bit back a curse. Lying on the bed was JT, already showing signs of unnatural decomposition. Jim was just sitting there, staring down at the corpse. He was barely breathing himself and didn't bother acknowledging the door.
Bones had nightmares a lot like this.
"I'm sorry, Jim."
"Don't be," Jim said, his voice gentle but still not looking up.
"The technology's centuries beyond us, it'd take years to try and understand it…" McCoy sighed. "I should've been here."
"It's ok, Bones. He wouldn't have wanted anyone to see him like that."
"Like what? In pain? Damnit Jim, you don't think…? Jim. I'll always be there for you, you know that right?"
He finally looked up and Bones was stunned to see no trace of tears. His friend could have just finished an exhausting pile of paperwork for all the emotion he was showing, but something in those blue eyes forced a cold shiver down his spine. Before he could even try and figure it out, the whatever-it-was was gone and it was just Jim looking back, looking exhausted and torn, but still just Jim.
Bones shook himself. Of course Jim was tired. Anyone would be, after all of this.
"Come on, Bones. I'm overdue my post-away team check-up and I don't want you and Spock double-teaming me again. I've got a lot of work to do."
"No," McCoy said. He wrapped a hand around Jim's arm and gently pulled him the rest of the way out of the seat. Jim stiffened for a second before allowing it and Bones ignored his reluctance. He couldn't read people and know what they wanted like Jim did and he didn't know how to make their Captain laugh like Spock could, but he was still a doctor. He could make sure that Jim was looked after medically, if nothing else.
Unknown to either of the two humans, Spock had been sitting just inside the CMO's office for the last hour and thirty-five minutes. Despite his Captain's dismissal, he had been determined to be close at hand should he be needed, and the advanced medical computers in McCoy's office allowed him to continue his work on the alien database.
He watched silently as the doctor pulled Jim into the main sickbay by his upper arm and if Spock's expression was not one the Vulcan elders would have approved of, no one saw.
McCoy hauled his friend to the nearest bio-bed, his grip gentle but insistent.
"You're going to get checked out and then you're going to sleep," groused Bones. "Doctor's orders."
"You're so not the boss of me," Jim childishly announced even as he sat down.
"In this, I am."
Before he could even pick up his medical tricorder, Bones thought of the body in the other room and called his Head Nurse over. He trusted Christine to look after Jim for a bit, but he'd let no one else handle his final duty to JT. Even if the defensive teenager had only been a copy, it was still Jim. He'd take care of him.
Neither of them said a word as the doctor abruptly gave the nurse orders and strode back towards Room 3, both falling into the well-known Starfleet routine. She easily ran through the health checks, her manner just as professionally compassionate as ever. When they were finally done, she smiled at her Captain and handed him the gold command shirt.
"Forgive me for asking-"
"Hey, when have I ever condemned curiosity on this ship?" he grinned at her, and despite herself, Christine felt her own professional expression widen into a true smile.
"The younger-you said you'd been to Belarus? I was wondering why?"
"Ah. Seventeen was my backpacking-slash-avoiding all authority figures year. I took full advantage of not needing a passport to skip country and just went. I think I hit just about everywhere except Russia."
"Why not Russia?"
"I'd have loved to, but winter was closing in and I had a sleeping bag. It'd take a lot tougher person than me to brave Russia in winter so I headed south and just never seemed to make it back."
With most of the medical staff now down on the planet, sickbay was almost empty and his words were easily heard over the soft chimes of the technology surrounding them. From their respective positions just inside Room 3 and in McCoy's office, Bones and Spock froze.
As they listened to the gentle flirting between Jim and Chapel, both of them shared the same sensation of unease and wondered how many times they had fallen for a story just like that from Jim.
It was time to start asking questions.
A/N: As some of you already know (yes Mrs Tibbles, I mean you :D), this story was originally posted on lj (under the same name) and was written for the StarTrek BigBang. The BB was pretty amazing this year, I still haven't read everything posted that I want to, so everyone should check it out.
My artist was davincisgirl who did some brilliant pieces of work which you should definitely see, comment and drool over at: davincis-girl (dot) livejournal (dot) com / 185093
And my Fan Mixer was amechiro who did an amazing soft-rock mix, I must have listened to it a good fifty times in a month. The link is: oishimomo (dot) livejournal (dot) com / 6673
My posting date was the eleventh of November, and I was kinda nervous about posting on Rememberance Day, so I'm going to to say thank you to everyone reading this, both then and now. I hope I touched a few of you and that you enjoyed yourself. This fic has really reminded me how much I love writing, which I forgot for a year or two and I owe a lot to everyone that's reviewed.
'On the eleventh day, of the eleventh month' - Lest we forget.