So here's the Spock and Kirk survival story I promised you all. I gotta say, I really struggled with this story. I've never experienced any sort of survival training before. I've never even been camping before! I couldn't really begin to understand all the Boyscout things I've read to write this chapter, so I made due. I tried to work in a different angle and added elements in from something else I'm working on (please read the end-note about a multi-chapter story I'm in the midst of writing). It's still a survival fic, but I think I confused myself halfway through and now I'm far more apprehensive about this chapter than any of the other ones I have written thus far. Seriously. This chapter has been written for a week now and I still hesitate to post this up because I keep re-reading and editing this as much as I can. The words actually started blurring with how many times I've read this.

Uh, so please don't hate me if you don't like this chapter. I'm so scared of letting you guys down. I don't deal with disappointment very well, especially from such a supportive and awesome audience like you guys. BUT, if you guys do hate it, please let me know what I can do to fix this. I'm all for anything that can help improve my writings.

Anyway, I do hope you like this chapter, and please review! As always, thanks for all your support and kind words! Thanks to all who favorite, follow, and/or review! I really appreciate everything!


Disclaimer: I do not own any Star Trek franchise.


XI

The Simplest Explanation is Usually the Truth

Jim was starting to get really irritated at Bones and the rest of his crew. He had come to terms that his crew was always going to be overprotective of him, but when he couldn't get a single moment alone, he had to draw the line there. Everywhere he went or did, there was always someone looking over his shoulder. It made him antsy and quite frankly, a little insulted. He was sure that he could get through a single day without getting a fucking paper-cut, not that their behavior indicated it.

While Jim could understand where his friends were coming from (he did almost die at the hands of some fucking terrorist and then proceeded to get drugged up to his eyeballs by his abusive ex-stepfather), there were times that he just needed some time to himself. He wasn't delicate, damn it, and he was going to prove it, so when the next mission came broadcasting through, Jim signed on for it without a second thought.

As expected, the entire crew of Enterprise was immediately in an uproar, citing regulations and safety measures. Jim couldn't blame them: he was supposed to beam down alone and explore a planet that was once part of the Federation, but, like Tarsus IV, had been abandoned. The reasons for such an action were unclear –numerous rumors bandied about. Some spoke of a disease that spread amongst the people while others talked about a serial killer that had quickly wiped the population out.

Either or, Starfleet wanted Jim to personally check it out and report back to them, stating that he had "experience" in such delicate matters and would probably be best fit to handle this entire situation. Pike had said that discretion was of the utmost importance, especially after what happened to Tarsus IV, and had instructed him to go quietly. He didn't specifically say that Jim had to be alone, but "quiet" in Jim's mind was pretty much tantamount to him going down by himself. If he had to deal with someone treating him like a piece of broken glass just one more time, he swore he was going to scream.

Minutes after the transmission from Pike, Jim was in his quarters shoving the necessary items he needed into his backpack as he mentally checked off his list and listened with one ear to Bones, Uhura, and Spock nagging at him at the side.

"Jim, what the hell were you thinking?!" snapped Bones. Jim vaguely noted the vein on Bones' forehead that was threatening to pop. "You still not completely healed!"

By that, Bones meant that Jim was easily winded nowadays – tasks that he used to be able to do with such ease were now slightly more difficult. After being so sick from the events in Germany and then encountering Frank while he was still healing, Jim was struggling to regain his full strength. But Jim wasn't exactly normal. Sure, he couldn't flip around like a Chinese acrobat before hacking up a lung, but he could still do everything else pretty easily. In other words, he was currently just an average human being. (Maybe slightly above average, if Jim wanted to be cocky.)

"I'm cleared for duty," Jim reminded, neatly packing ropes into his bag. "That kind of includes missions, Bones."

"You do not even know if the planet itself is safe, Jim," Spock added.

"Well, I guess I'll find out."

"I can override you as CMO," threatened Bones.

Jim smiled at him as he shouldered his bag. He faced all of them, putting his hands in his jean pockets. The light khaki jacket hung on his toned frame, almost covering all of the white t-shirt that Jim had on. "You know you can't, Bones. This came direct from the Admirals."

Uhura crossed her arms. "I thought we were over this, Kirk. Once you got out from under Komack, you wouldn't be taking these suicidal missions anymore."

"It's not suicidal, Uhura. It's not even supposed to be dangerous; otherwise, Pike wouldn't send me on it."

"The goddamn planet was abandoned for a reason, Jim!"

"Yeah, and I'm supposed to figure out why, Bones."

"Why are you even going alone, Kirk? I can't believe that Pike would send you down without any backup," protested Uhura.

Jim shrugged, walking past them, knowing full well that they were going to follow him all the way to the transporter. "Admirals want discretion and I've got the skill set."

"You're not fucking invincible, Jim! You're far too confident in your abilities! What are you going to do when you're pushed into a corner?!"

"Relax, Bones. If it's dangerous, I'll beam right back up," sighed Jim as he entered the transporter room. He could feel his patience running out.

"I somehow doubt that very much," said Spock.

"I agree with the hobgoblin. You have the self-preservation instincts of an ant, Jim."

Suddenly fed up, like a string snapping from tension, Jim swung around, almost snarling at them. "Look, you guys need to fucking back off. Despite what you all think, I'm not exactly suicidal. I know my limits and I'm not stupid, so back the fuck off," he growled. He straightened – a picture of a headstrong Captain. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a job to do."

Bones wasn't intimidated and stepped into Jim's space, inches away from his face. "You don't get it, do you, Jim?" he said softly, but strongly. "Just two months ago, you were dying. We watched you waste away before our eyes."

"I'm alive, aren't I?" Jim retorted, lifting his chin in defiance.

"I'm going to punch you, you fucking bastard," growled Bones.

Jim just smirked. "I'd like to see you try. Maybe that's the proof that you need to know that I'm fine!"

Hurt flashed across Bones face and Jim's arrogance fell, followed by a twisted, pleading sort of expression. "Bones, I get where you're coming from. I do." But then anger laced his words again as he tried to get his own point across. "And I've let you all coddle me like a fucking child for two months. Enough is enough. Stop freaking out. I'll check in every other hour. Jesus," Jim said with a tone of finality that bore no room for argument. He stepped onto the transporter pad and glanced at Scotty, who was sitting at the console. "Energize."

Scotty hesitated, nervously looking over at Spock and Bones, who had matching livid expressions.

"I said, energize, Scotty," Jim hissed.

"Yes, sir."

Jim's blue eyes then rested on his friends. "The rest of you, go back to your stations. Don't worry. I'll be fine. It's just for a few hours."

And then he was gone.

McCoy crossed his arms, huffing angrily. "You're not about to let him go alone, are you, Spock?"

Spock had already swung his backpack that Uhura handed him over his shoulder (McCoy was still confused on where she had pulled it out from) and stepped onto the space where Jim was seconds ago. "Of course not. Mister Scott, please beam me down to the exact coordinates as our Captain."

"You realize that Jim's going to be pissed at us for doing this? He's going to say that we've been smothering him too much," McCoy commented off-handedly.

"May that as it be, Jim should not be down there alone."

"I'm not disagreeing. I'm just saying, you're going to bear the full brunt of Jim's anger. You should be prepared for the whiplash."

"As should you, Doctor. Energize."

In hindsight, Spock really should have had Scotty scan the ground before he beamed down.

Because for once, when shit hit the fan, it wasn't Jim's fault.

It was his.


The first thing Jim saw when he landed was that he was standing on top of a chateau. The view was gorgeous. It was almost like the Grand Canyons in ancient Arizona. For as far as the eye could see, he could see red, yellow, white striped rock monuments - tall and shaped by the thousands of millions of years. Chasms lay before him, centuries of history drawn into the land. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Here, for the first time in a while, Jim felt his head clear with the clean air. He could feel all the tension bleed away. Without his friends bearing down on him, Jim could finally think things through. There were so much that Jim had filed away because he simply didn't have the luxury of sifting through it until now. He closed his eyes, remembering Frank's words and piecing together what little information he had. Jim knew that he was getting buried; so far, only his ankles were covered, but Jim was sure that sooner or later, he wasn't going to be able to breathe anymore. He knew what was going on and he was scared that his friends were going to be dragged in. There was no escaping what was coming for Jim, but his family? They could still be protected. Jim just had to push them away from himself – the imminent epicenter of a shit storm.

It was going to be the hardest thing Jim had ever done. He just had to fake it as much as he could and focus on the task at hand. He turned slightly, looking to his right. A vast forest expanded a few acres, growing out from between the formations. Beyond that, he could see the ruins of a village with homes made of wood. A few roofs had collapsed in, some corners missing. If Jim had to guess, he would say that a fire had probably run its course at one point in time. It seemed that a man-made disaster was more likely than a rampant fungus disease or virus at this time, but Jim couldn't be sure.

Frowning, Jim stepped closer to the edge and heard an alarming, crunching noise below his feet. Freezing, he looked down. The rock was shiny and almost brownish-copper in color; the pattern was like sleets compiled on top of each other. His heart sank once he realized exactly what he was standing on: thin sheets of mica that were threatening to break at the slightest change in pressure. His mind turned rapidly as he tried to figure a way out. Shifting carefully, he spread his weight out more evenly as he glanced at his surroundings. He couldn't just jump down the chateau. The distance was far too high than what his currently weakened body could take, but he wasn't too far from solid ground. It was just a few meters to his left. He could probably roll on over and easily make it before he fell through the thin silicate sheets.

Gritting his teeth, Jim gently eased his backpack more securely onto both shoulders. He was seconds from making that jump to safety when he heard a familiar whirling sound. Jerking, his eyes widened when he saw the light lights start to form a certain pointy-eared figure beside him.

Oh shit.

Jim knew he had seconds before his window of opportunity to get to safety was gone, but even if he saved himself, the sudden change in weight would still cause Spock to fall through the thin mica. He was sure the Vulcan probably could survive it, Jim wasn't risking it.

He groaned. Goddamn his crew's overprotectiveness. If they hadn't sent Spock to be his fucking guard dog, the two of them wouldn't be in this precarious situation.

As Spock materialized, Jim steadied himself, knowing full well what was going to happen. The cracking sounds became more and more pronounced as Spock's weight settled onto the thin surface.

Spock's eyes were already looking for Jim when he appeared.

"You fucking bastards..." was the only thing Jim said to him.

"Jim," he had started, but he was interrupted with an ear-splitting crashing noise and then suddenly, Jim was hurdling into him, throwing them both off balance.

But there was no ground below them to stop their fall.

They were spinning wildly in the air, plummeting to the ground. Subconsciously, Spock made the connection that Jim had run into him in an attempt to push them both towards safer grounds, but there was nowhere to go once the ground broke beneath their weight.

Spock could feel Jim's strong grip around his back, but it wasn't quite as strong as what it could be. Jim truly wasn't completely well yet and Spock was 76.3% sure that he wouldn't survive if Spock didn't take drastic measures. Calculating his own chances of survival in his head, Spock predicted that it was about 87.1%, but the damage would be quite...unpleasant.

Jim started to shift in his arms and Spock realized that Jim was trying to position himself so that Spock landed on him. And instantly, Spock's grip around Jim's thin body tightened and used his strength to restrain Jim's fighting arms before flipping the two of them around.

That was the last thing he was knew when the hard ground came slamming up to greet them.


"What the hell do you mean you lost their signal?!" snarled McCoy, almost slamming his face into Scotty's. "How the hell does that happen?!"

"Leonard! That's not going to help this situation!" shouted Uhura, trying to get in-between them. "It wasn't Scotty's fault! We didn't know what they were standing on! And don't you think that Spock would've done anything he could to protect Kirk?"

"Calm down, McCoy, we'll send down search parties for them as soon as we've organized them," Sulu added. "You can go with, if you want. Bring your medkit if you're so worried about Kirk."

"Vhy are you so vorried about the Keptin, Doctor?" frowned Chekov. "He is vith Commander Spock. If anyone, ze Commander vill ensure his safety. And zeir signals probably disappeared because zey are being shielded by ze environment."

"Argh! His lungs are compromised!" McCoy almost yelled, and then almost immediately, he deflated. He took a couple steps back, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Goddamn it…" he swore quietly. The rest immediately knew that he had just accidentally let something slip.

"What do you mean his lungs are compromised?" demanded Uhura. "Why haven't we heard about this before?"

"Jim doesn't know it either. After that bout with pneumonia and that shit fest with Frank, Jim's lungs really took a beating. It's probably at sixty percent capacity right now."

"Why haven't you told him?" gasped Uhura.

"He's already feeling incompetent because he's not as strong as he used be, even though he could still easily overpower me if he wanted to. If I go and tell him he's got more limitations, what do you think he's gonna do? He's gonna try and prove me wrong. And I'll have to patch him up all over again."

"Isn't that what he just did anyway?"

Uhura slapped Sulu on the back of his head. "Shut up. That's not helping."

"Look, I'll keep an eye out for them, but there ain't anything we can do until they appear," said Scotty. "An' Jim's a survivor, remember? He'll be fine. Spock too."

McCoy frowned. "Since when were we a 'glass-half-full' type of people?"

Sulu shrugged. "We kind of have to be, don't we? With Kirk's luck, things tend to hit the fan, but we've always made it back. He taught us that there's no such thing as no-win scenarios. That sort of thing tends to give you hope."

McCoy sighed. "We're all just a bunch of fools, just like him, aren't we?"

Chekov grinned. "Vould you vant it any other vay?"

McCoy shook his head. He couldn't imagine life without Jim, not in the slightest.

Suddenly, McCoy's communicator rang and he turned away to answer it. "McCoy here."

"McCoy, it's Pike. I've got something to tell you. It's about Jim."

Instantly, Leonard was on edge. "What's going on?"

"It's not much, but I think he's in danger."

McCoy turned to look at Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty, his eyes wide and alarmed. "Tell me everything…"


The first thing Jim became aware of was a deep and intense throbbing in his head. It was like Klingons had gotten a hold of Scotty's ale and started a fucking bongo party in his head. He must've hit it pretty damn hard and may be mildly concussed, but he couldn't be too sure.

He was lying on his stomach, still quite unwilling to open his eyes before he categorized all his internal and external injuries. He hurt. All. Over. It was like his entire body was an overly ripe apple that had been thrown against a wall repeatedly, but he definitely got off easy for free falling from a height of over seven stories.

Oddly enough, the surface beneath him was soft, sturdy, and warm. Not something he would expect from the hard, stone ground. It was even moving up and down, albeit slowly and steadily.

And then Jim panicked when his slow mind figured out exactly what it was that he was lying on. The damn pointy-eared bastard had used himself as a fucking landing pad for Jim. Jim would have scolded him if not for the fact that it would make him a complete and utter hypocrite (he did remember trying to do the same exact thing earlier).

He pushed himself to all fours, groaning as all his muscles protested against the movement, but he ignored it to frantically press his fingers against Spock's neck. A steady pulse beat on, and Jim let out a sigh in relief before glancing down the rest of the Vulcan.

Spock was unconscious, lying supine with a trickle of green blood dripping down the side of his face. His right arm, the one that Jim had mostly landed on, was twisted in a nauseating manner, as was his left leg. There were various scratches on his face, arms, and body, and there was bound to be bruises all over him too.

With shaking fingers, Jim lifted Spock's shirt, hoping that there were no signs of internal bleeding. There were bruises scattered all over Spock's torso, but that was all that they were. He sighed in relief and sank back again his heels, biting back a whimper as his worry for Spock gave way to his own body's pain.

He couldn't figure out what hurt the most. Everything throbbed and ached, like pins and needles were stabbing through him. There was a burning sensation against his side and he lifted his shirt to note a long, jagged laceration from just below his ribs towards his lower back. It was bleeding slowly – it wasn't too deep and the only danger it posed was if it got infected, but it still needed to get a few stitches. At least he had to backpack with him. Survival in the woods was something that he was very good at, though it wasn't something he liked to do.

He coughed, wincing, when he felt tight pressure against his chest - probably courtesy of that bitch, pneumonia. Whatever, he would deal with it all later. Right now, he and Spock were both vulnerable and out in the open. Jim didn't know what was out there and he couldn't prepare for it if he was busy keeping a 360 view of his surroundings.

Mentally scolding himself for not checking for the communicators earlier, Jim scrambled with numb fingers to get them. Both his and Spock's were missing – it had probably fallen out at some point, but Jim had a general idea where they could be.

Still, he wasn't going to leave Spock alone to search for the communicators. Leaning forward, Jim lightly tapped Spock's cheek. "Spock, come on, buddy. You need to wake up."

There was no response.

"Spock, wake up!"

When Spock remained unconscious, Jim sat back, groaning again. Well, Jim was anything but adaptable. He glanced around his surroundings, noting that they had fallen somewhere between the edges of the rocky terrain and forest land. With more luck than he had ever hoped for, Jim spotted a cave in the distance. It was about twenty feet away, give or take a few feet.

Slowly getting to his feet, Jim gingerly shifted Spock so that he could grasp him properly. Jim hooked his arms under Spock's armpits and lifted the Vulcan a few inches off the ground, dragging the heavy weight as he slowly made his way to shelter.

By the time he made it, he was already exhausted and wheezing. He set Spock down by the edge, grabbing some shrubbery to cover him up while he checked out the cave to make sure it was empty and safe. It wasn't very deep, but it had more than enough space for the two of them.

Jim almost sank to the ground in relief. He was so sure that he would have to fight a bear or some sort of ridiculous animal. His luck usually ran that way, but for once, fate was giving him a break, thankfully.

He grabbed a few more giant leaves before laying them down on the stone ground, forming a sort of bed for Spock before maneuvering the unconscious Vulcan onto it. Spock's arm and leg was still bent at an odd angle, and Jim knew that he had to do something about it.

Venturing out again, Jim wandered towards the forest, pulling out his boot knife as he searched the trees and ground for pieces of wood that could be used as a temporary splint. He was forced to cut into a few branches before he got the perfect size and he had to pause several times to get his breath back, but within ten minutes, Jim had exactly what he wanted and he quickly made his way back to Spock.

The Vulcan was still unconscious, no doubt in a healing trance to fix whatever burdens his body had undergone. Jim reached into his backpack and pulled out two rolls of bandages and plopped down next to Spock. He gently probed Spock's leg, feeling for the break in the tibia. He grasped Spock's leg on either side of the fracture and held his breath as he reset the bone in a flash. Warily, he glanced at Spock's face to see if the pain woke him up, but he was too deep in his trance. Now, Jim was slightly worried, because that could mean that Spock was more injured than he had expected, but he kept on working, tying the pieces of wood on the lateral and medial side of Spock's leg with the bandages.

He did the same thing for Spock's arm before sitting back on his heels, biting back a muffled groan as the movement made his muscles cry out in protest. Sharp, hot pain shot through his side and pulled his shirt up to prod at the cut again. It was now bleeding profusely, dripping down to stain the top edges of his khakis. He must've aggravated it further with Spock's treatment.

Sighing, he reached for his backpack again and rummaged through it, pulling out a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, a spool of thread, and a needle. He was about to suck in his breath to prepare himself for the stinging sensation disinfecting his injury was going to bring about when an odd sound distracted him. Instantly, Jim was on guard, his body shifting to block Spock from view of the mouth the cave. Subconsciously, he reached for his boot knife and crouched, ready for anything. The noise repeated and his eyes widened when he realized that its origin was from behind him. Turning, he saw Spock shifting and shivering. Whatever strength the Vulcan had was being pulled to help aid his injuries, meaning that his body heat was plummeting because his system could no longer support his temperature if it wanted to repair his limbs.

Jim didn't even think about it and shrugged off his jacket, laying it across Spock's chest. It wasn't going to be enough, and Jim knew it. Glancing outwards again, Jim noted that dusk was falling. Soon, night was going to be upon them and the weather was already cold. It was just going to get worse as time went on. He really needed to get his own injuries under control, but unsurprisingly, there was something more important than his health at the moment.

He spent a good half an hour searching for dry and slightly rotted pine or cedar to start a fire and some solid, dry oak to keep it going through the night. By then, the cold had chilled his bones and he ached, but he ignored it all as he made his way back to the cave, quietly setting down the firewood a few feet away from Spock. After organizing the wood a sort of teepee, he searched through his pack again, pulling out matches.

Jim watched the flames slowly grow larger and larger and he couldn't help but think back to his time on Tarsus. Back then, he had nothing except for the rags on his back. There was nothing to keep him warm, nothing to use to bandage his injuries with. His kids had starved and wasted away before his eyes as the elements took their toll on their young, malnourished bodies. Broken bones meant inability to run and certain death; a simple cold was equivalent to a death sentence. It was almost kinder to end their lives before soldiers or the starvation settled in.

The weather then wasn't that much different either. Neither was the environment. J.T. had hid in many caves on Tarsus, if he was lucky enough to find one for him and his kids. Even then, J.T. could never risk a fire lest soldiers discovered their location. On occasion, when J.T. was absolutely sure that they were completely isolated, he would do exactly what he was doing now and warm up his kids by the fire as he used all his medical knowledge to treat them as best as he could. Even then, it wasn't always enough.

It had been over ten years since Tarsus. Jim's medical knowledge wasn't on par to Bones', but it was enough for him to become certified for emergency triage treatment. He had promised himself that he would never let anyone down because of his lack of ability. Since Tarsus, he had crammed his head with anything and everything. He wasn't sure how important each little fact was, but it was better to be prepared than not. If anything, all Jim really knew was how to survive under any circumstance. That was the one thing he always had faith in himself for.

Jim turned to look at Spock. The Vulcan was still unconscious and hadn't moved since Jim had gone out. The color of his pallor was slightly better, though it was still pale. Now that the fire was roaring, he wasn't shaking anymore either. The situation could have been worse. Much worse, and at least Jim was more than prepared this time around.

So why did he still feel so uneasy?

He rubbed his face tiredly. Just when he thought he had laid rest to the skeletons in his closet.

Goddamn.


Within the blackness, Spock could feel flashes of red emitting from his right arm and left leg. He wasn't quite sure what was happening – only that he was in a healing-trance for some reason. His entire body was paralyzed and his mind was sluggish, but his other senses were working, though not as sharply as they should be. There was a crackling noise and the smell of something burning. There was another sound bordering on hissing, like someone muffling a groan.

It was familiar and it made his heart race with unfounded alarm and concern. He couldn't understand why that made him so afraid, but not for himself. There was someone that he had to watch over, to protect and shield. He couldn't fail. Not again.

He heard the noise again and almost like someone slapping him, he suddenly remembered hurtling down a cliff with Jim. He remembered Jim's arms trying hard to turn around and protect him. And then blackness. He didn't know if Jim made it alive. He didn't know if Jim was safe and uninjured, and he had to know. Forcibly, he started to fight towards full consciousness. For Jim.

Struggling, he willed his stubborn eyes open. His vision was blurry for a few seconds; he could barely make out the sight of a small fire and a figure past that. When things cleared up, he realized that Jim was on his knees, his back taut and straight. His friend was turned away from him, slightly bent over. The muffled hissing sounds were coming from him. Jim had the hem of his shirt in his mouth, the fabric pulled up to reveal bruised and scratched skin. There were cuts marring his cheek and right about his left eyebrow and lines of pain were creasing his usually handsome face.

"Jim?" Spock questioned, trying to shift to see what Jim was up to. Instantly, he regretted it and fell back down with a groan.

"Hey, stay still. Your body took a huge beating," Jim called out, dropping his shirt in surprise. His blue eyes flashed in concern, but he didn't move from where he was positioned.

Spock almost frowned. "Are you alright?"

Jim snorted. "You're asking me that? You broke your tibia and your radial bone, dumbass."

There was an angry tint to Jim's words and Spock thought he understood the reason behind it.

"I apologize, Jim, for disobeying your orders and following you on-planet."

"There's no need to apologize for that, Spock. I figured you guys were going to do something stupid like that."

"And yet, you are angry."

It was a statement, but Jim could hear the question in his words. He shrugged, glancing back at the laceration that he was currently stitching up. He still had a few more to go, but his hands were trembling from the pain now, making it difficult. Luckily for him, Spock couldn't move and Jim knew that Spock couldn't see what he was doing. The Vulcan, as ridiculous as it was (and yes, Jim knew he was going to be a hypocrite), was going to blame himself for not protecting Jim well enough. Spock didn't need that while he was this injured.

"I'm not angry," Jim sighed, gritting his teeth and diving back into his task. He hid the wince as the needle dug into his tender skin and as it pulled a thread with it.

"I somehow do not believe that."

Jim tied off the last of the stitches and jerked his shirt down, subtly dropping his needle and thread into his open backpack. "What do you want me to say, Spock? That you guys are ridiculously overbearing? That you guys don't know the meaning of personal space?" Jim got to his feet and stepped around to check on Spock's injuries. He was gentle, but Spock could see how hard Jim's teeth were gritted.

"Jim…" Spock started.

"Shut up, Spock. I don't want to talk," Jim snapped, before taking a deep breath. His next words were calmer. "You're going to be fine. I've set your arm and leg and you don't have any internal injuries. We don't have any means of contacting the Enterprise, but I'm sure they have a search party out. I did promise to check-in every other hour, so I'm probably at least six hours or more overdue. Now, here's the plan: seeing how you can't really move at the moment, we'll rest here for the night and head out in the morning to meet them. Or find some way to contact them and beam you up for treatment."

"You mean, beam 'us' up, right?"

"I still have a mission to accomplish, Spock. You weren't supposed to be down here in the first place."

Jim sat back on his heels, once again masking a grimace that Spock caught. Spock opened his mouth, but Jim cut him off.

"How are you feeling, Spock? Do you feel unusual pressure anywhere?"

Spock mentally categorized his injuries. Besides the obvious fractures in his right arm and left leg, he didn't seem to have any other major wounds and he said so.

Jim just nodded and turned back to coax the fire quietly.

If Spock was fully human, he would have squirmed uncomfortably with the awkward silence and he couldn't help but break it. "Jim, I am sorry," he started again.

"Stop saying that!" Jim hissed, swinging around. His eyes flashed coldly and angrily. There was something deeper to his rampaging emotions than what Spock could understand, but he knew that he had to figure it out before it festered.

"What are you truly angry about, Jim? I do not understand why you are angry at the crew for caring for your wellbeing."

"I told you, I'm not interested in talking."

"We seem to have more time than we had expected…"

"And whose fault is that?" murmured Jim, but Spock kept going as if he didn't hear.

"You might as well explain to me why you have become increasingly short of as of late with the crew. You do not lose your temper so easily, let alone against the people whom you constantly sacrifice your life for."

Jim ran his fingers through his hair and exhaled. It was now or never. If he made the hard sell to Spock, his plan could quite possibly work. He let a broken expression creep onto his face. "Look, I know I'm a screw-up. I keep going over the entire scenario in my head, thinking of ways to avoid getting Chekov shot, to avoid getting caught, and I know that there had to be something that I could have done. But every time I think back to it, I wake up with the feeling of blood on my hands."

Just like that, Spock could see a little bit of Jim's chaotic mind. "Have you been having nightmares?" he asked, his words slightly breathless from horror.

"What do you think? I spent two weeks in captivity getting tortured while spending every second of that trying not to flashback to my past. And then my stepfather makes an appearance." He looked at Spock with such pain and sorrow in his eyes. "I'm only human, Spock. Did you really expect anything less?"

"You did not seem to show any signs of distress," frowned Spock. How had he missed this?

"I didn't have the luxury! You guys were already tiptoeing around me like I was going to fucking break at any second. I was trying to move on, and you guys were making it damn hard." He shifted uncomfortably, not quite completely hiding his wince. "Look, I understand where you guys are coming from. I get it, I really do. I've been in your position before. I've lost more than I've gained, but I am not weak. I do not need to be reminded every second of my life about my own shortcomings."

"Jim, that was not our intention."

"And I get that. I know you're all just looking after me and I'm really trying to let you guys, but smothering me and depriving me of my freedom isn't helping me move on. But I know that that's just how you guys are, and that makes it my problem, not yours. So I'll deal with it on my own. Why else did you think I wanted to come down here alone? I needed space and I still need space. You guys need to respect that." Jim looked away again, knowing his point had been made. Then, he changed his tone to something more aloof. "You should've scanned the ground before you beamed down, Spock. You're losing your touch."

"My apologies."

"Stop apologizing, Spock," Jim groaned. "You literally just let me land on you like a fucking cushion. I think that puts me in your debt, so let's just say we call it even?"

"That is amenable."

Jim couldn't help himself and chuckled. "You can't just say 'agreed' like a normal person?"

"Then, as you would say, you would be bored."

"Oh look, the Vulcan has a sense of humor!" mocked Jim playfully.

Spock found himself once again amazed at how easily Jim could manipulate the conversation. One second, the atmosphere was tense and heavy, but now, there was a lighthearted tone to it and Spock was drawn into it before he even realized it. He shifted and bit back a hiss as his injuries reared its ugly head. He had to withdraw from the conversation in order to detach himself from the pain.

There was a rustle from across the cave and Spock glanced over to see Jim rummaging through his back again.

"Jim?"

"I can't believe I didn't manage to lift a hypospray from Bones. Sorry, Spock. Can you go back into your healing trance or something? I've got nothing to relieve the pain for you."

Spock hesitated.

Jim rolled his eyes, understanding. "No, you're not leaving me behind, Spock. I need you at full capacity for tomorrow. Well, as much as you can manage. Just go into your trance, Spock. I got your back."

Clearly, Spock was apprehensive, worried of Jim and his lack of self-preservation instincts. "Are you sure that you are alright?"

"Yes. Get some rest, Spock."

Spock reluctantly acquiesced and closed his eyes. He could hear the crackle of fire as he started to drift deeper and deeper into a healing trance. The last thing he heard was a muffled coughing, but it was so quiet that Spock thought it was his imagination and disregarded it.

And then he knew nothing.


Jim sighed when he saw Spock sink into his trance. His chest tightened for a brief, painful second, and Jim hastily tried to muffle all sounds of his coughing. He glanced over at Spock, making sure that he was still out for the count. Thankfully, he was.

He scooted a little bit closer to the fire as a shiver racked his body. It was cold, but it wasn't something Jim couldn't handle. So why was he feeling it? He coughed quietly again and then realization hit him like a bomb.

Oh, Bones was never going to let him out of his sight again. Goddamn it. His lungs were probably still too compromised from pneumonia and the weather was only making it worse. All of a sudden, he remembered Zeke – a young boy of seven. He had fallen into a river in the midst of a cold winter when Kodos had his reign. J.T. had dived in to save him and hugged him until they both warmed up, but Zeke had inhaled some water. Days later, Zeke developed pneumonia. They had no medication, nothing to save him. Out of some miracle, Zeke recovered and whilst he was regaining his strength, Kodos' men found them. J.T. was forced to move them all, running for miles and miles under the cover of night. It was so cold that they could all see their breaths like a continuous fog before them as they panted and ran. Zeke fell sick a day later and he was gone the next. J.T. didn't even have time to bury the poor boy before being forced to flee with the rest of his kids again.

Jim shook his head, shaking away the memories. Now wasn't the time to reminisce. He had other things to worry about. Spock was going to be in a world of hurt when he woke up again. No matter how much of a healing trance he was in, Spock's bones were still going to be broken. In order to even get beamed out of here or have a chance of meeting his crew who was more than likely looking for them, they would have to climb upwards and out of the canyon.

Suppressing another groan, Jim leaned over to take out a flashlight and a black, long-sleeved shirt. Lucky for him, he was more prepared than usual, which was quite funny considering that he had overpacked because Bones would not stop nagging at him. He pulled on his shirt with a wince, covering the bloodstains, and got to his feet with a little difficulty.

He leaned against the wall of the cave, catching his breath for a second, before heading out. The night was chilly and he hunched his shoulders to preserve heat. He wandered into the forest, switching on the light. Keeping his eyes peeled to the ground, he rummaged through the undergrove. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, so he glanced at every single plant, every single weed.

It took an hour so before his toe nudged a plant. Bending down, he examined it more. It was a hardy perennial flowering plant, but it was what he wanted. He wasn't interested in the plant itself. He pulled out his boot knife and started to dig carefully around it. As soon as the entirety of the plant was in his hands, Jim headed back.

To find the valerian root, Jim had wandered out pretty far and he was worried that he had left Spock out in the open – susceptible to any animal or outside attack – but he hadn't seen any living thing since he had been on planet. He had been so caught up with helping Spock that he hadn't even paused to think of the abnormalities of this world.

Now that he was calmer, he realized that he hadn't heard any insect noises, no bird sounds. Why was that? Where had they all gone?

Obviously, the foliage was thriving, so whatever it was, it didn't affect plants. He ran through his mental database on what could possibly affect every single living thing and leave flora untouched. Disease? Virus? But there wasn't any that he knew of that could infect all sorts of species. Human interaction? There would be signs of damage and havoc. All he could remember seeing was the burned remains of a village, but that wasn't enough to go on.

He was still thinking when he returned to the cave. He cast a glance over at Spock; the Vulcan was still in his trance, but the fire had gone down some. Even with Jim's jacket, he was starting to shiver again.

Jim went around the fire to pick up his backpack, threw a couple of pieces of wood into the fading embers, and plopped down right beside Spock, resting his uninjured side against the Vulcan's. Making sure that he kept contact, Jim started stripping down the valerian plant to its roots and proceeded to hold it over the fire, but not close enough that it got roasted. Just enough for it to dry and shrivel. Once it was ready, Jim gently stored it into the outermost pocket of his backpack.

As he watched the fire dance before him, Jim found himself mesmerized and all of a sudden, the day's events started to weigh down on Jim. All his injuries, all his aches became ever so pronounced. His chest was too tight, too strained. He could feel blind panic for a brief second, scared that he was getting sick again. If that happened, what would happen to Spock? The Vulcan couldn't drag both their asses out of here, even if he had inhuman strength.

He shook his head, calming himself. He was being ridiculous. There was no doubt in Jim's mind that his crew was out there looking for them and they would find them by morning. All Jim had to do was stick it out for a few more hours, figure out what the hell happened to this planet, and he was back to being coddled by his crew.

Without really wanting to, but knowing that it was necessary, Jim laid down next to Spock, curling up so that when he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw would be the mouth of cave.

He was asleep before he even realized it.


Sounds of screaming broke through the peaceful darkness, rousing Spock from his trance. He floundered sluggishly, trying to figure out who was crying out. There was a cadence of young children yelling and whimpering out of fear and pain. What the hell was going on?

Spock forced his eyes open and found himself on a very familiar, bloody field. He had been there before, but it wasn't from his own memories. Three tiny children of all ages were huddled on the ground, hiding behind a young J.T. who was determinedly defending against a group of soldiers. He was snarling at them, like a feral dog, with a knife in his hand.

Spock blinked once and all of a sudden, all three kids were on the ground, lifeless eyes staring up at the grey sky. J.T. was drenched in blood and fell to his knees, his hands shaking as he reached out towards his children. Tears dripped slowly down his cheeks and a piercing scream tore through the air.

Suddenly, Spock was jerked into consciousness, breathing heavily and feeling the remnants of J.T.'s agony and sorrow run through its course. Beside him, he could hear Jim breathing heavily, his panting bordering on coughs.

"Jim…" Spock started, turning slightly to look at his friend, noting that the fire had completely died down. The movement itself caused his injuries to flare painfully, but not as harshly as the night before.

Jim was sitting up, his head tucked between his legs as he tried to get his breathing back under control. H

"Jim, are you alright?"

It took a moment for Jim to respond. "Yeah…yeah, I'm fine." He still didn't move even when he spoke. Clearly, he was still trying to get a hold of himself.

"That dream…"

"Shit, you saw that? Sorry. Didn't realize I was broadcasting."

"Do you have these nightmares often?" Spock asked gently.

"Occasionally. Usually when something reminds me of Tarsus or Frank."

"What...?"

Jim didn't give Spock a chance to finish his sentence, knowing full well what Spock was about to ask. He answered anyway, trying to buy himself more time. "Spending the night in a cave. Used to hide in them when we could." There was more to what had set off his nightmare, but he didn't feel like going into it at the moment. He hadn't expected the nightmare and despite him hatinghow weak it made him feel, it would help him get more space from his overbearing friends.

He took a deep breath, composed himself, and raised his head, straightening his legs and stretching. His expressions had been wiped clean and he was actually smiling at Spock. "So, how's the leg and arm feeling this fine morning?"

Spock was so thrown off that it actually took him a moment to consider what Jim had said. Since when did Jim start to hide things from him again? More importantly, since when did Jim feel the need to have to hide?

Perhaps Spock and the rest of them truly were pushing Jim too much. Clearly, Jim just needed some space, so Spock swallowed all of his questions and answered Jim's. "Slight pain, but it is nothing I cannot handle."

Jim handed him a dried up root. "Here, chew on this. I didn't have the means to make it into a tea, sorry."

"What is it?"

"Valerian root. Supposed to relieve pain."

Spock dutifully obeyed. The taste was bitter and earthy, but as he chewed, he could feel a certain numbness touch his senses. "It also seems to be a bit of a sedative, no?"

"Ah, yeah," came Jim's distracted response. He was already packing up his backpack and pulling it onto his back. "Sorry, it was the best I could find out in the woods."

"How do you know what herbs to use?"

"I was bored one summer and studied herbalism. Come on, we got to get to high ground or Enterprise can't lock onto our signals. Take it easy, okay?" Jim extended a hand to help Spock up. He wrapped Spock's left arm around his shoulder and eased the Vulcan to his one working leg.

Spock's vision wavered as the pain skyrocketed, but it tapered off as he got a hold of himself. He didn't even notice Jim's wince as the extra pressure pulled on his recent stitches. Jim felt a couple snap, but he ignored it and took a tentative step forward. Spock followed and step by step, the two of them quietly made their way to the woods where they slowly climbed upwards.

Both kept their ears peeled for the search parties. Neither spoke, too focused on controlling the pain. Until Spock broke the silence.

"Jim, did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" panted Jim.

"It sounds like children giggling."

"This planet should be uninhabited. Why would there be children here?"

Suddenly, out of nowhere, twenty or more red wispy balls floated down around them, giggling and bouncing happily. They looked like spheres of fire that were about the size of a basketball.

"What the hell are those?" asked Jim, blinking in surprise.

Spock was equally baffled. "I have no idea. These beings were not on any reports and did not appear on our scans."

"You think they had anything to do with the planet getting abandoned?"

"Perhaps. They do not seem harmless."

"Play, play!" cried the wisps, bouncing up and down in excitement. Their voices were in unison, making them seem more ethereal.

"Huh?" Jim said ever so smartly.

He gasped as the wisp swooped in, touching him lightly on the chest. In that instant, it burned, leaving behind an angry, scorched mark on Jim's skin – right under his left clavicle. Jim barely managed to stop the hiss of pain from escaping him.

The wisp giggled and bubbled back, glowing brighter with each chuckle.

"Oni! You are oni now!"

"Oni? What do you mean by that?" demanded Spock, even as he struggled to stand up straighter. He glanced over at Jim who had repositioned to place himself between Spock and the army of wisps.

Jim touched the welt absentmindedly as his mind turned. "Oni…oni…where have I heard that from?" he murmured. And then a lightbulb flashed above his head. "Tag! They're talking about a game of tag!"

Spock looked at him, confused. "What do you mean?"

Jim ignored him, a strategy already forming, and addressed the wisps. "You want to play a game? Yeah?!" There was false excitement in his words, riling up the wisps more.

"Game! Game!" the wisps cheered in a childish chorus.

"I've got a great game for you! It's called hide-and-seek! Have you heard of it?" Jim's voice was so cheery that it made his own head hurt.

The wisps wilted slightly. "No…"

"It's fun! I used to play it all the time when I was a kid. I'm going to count to one hundred and you all find somewhere to hide. After I get to one hundred, I'll go find you. Whoever is the last to be found, wins!" Jim shifted to clap his hands jovially while still balancing Spock. "Let's play!"

"Let's! Let's!" cried the wisps, swirling around excitedly.

"Ready. Get set. Go!" Jim exclaimed.

All the wisps shot off in all different directions and Jim didn't even hesitate as he started to drag both him and Spock upwards, hopefully away from those wisps.

"Jim, what did they mean by 'oni'?"

"In Japan, the person who's 'it' in tag is known as 'oni', or demon. They were trying to play a game with us, so I sent them off with another one."

"Have you seen those creatures before?"

"I have no idea what those things are, but they're dangerous. I assume that anything it touches burns and they have the minds of a fucking two-year-old. Shit. We have to get back to Enterprise before the search crew encounters them."

Jim's words sank in and Spock remembered the slight flinch from Jim when the wisp touched his upper torso. "Jim! Did you get burned?"

"Just a little, but you better not freak out about it. We don't have the time."

Jim nearly started hauling Spock upwards, completely ignoring all of his body's protests. His mind was stuck on one track, and that was to get Spock out of potential danger as quickly as possible. He had no doubt in his mind that these wisps – whatever they were – had caused the human population here to flee. These wisps probably killed off all the living things on this planet, hoping to play some sort of game. The foliage was left alone – things that couldn't talk couldn't play with them. With no animals and nothing truly to live off of, the people had to leave, especially if the wisps came looking for them.

What he didn't understand was why none of the escaping people had informed Starfleet of the reason. Was it that they didn't think anyone would believe that wisps, of all things, had drove them from their home?

Jim thought about how this would sound to the Admiralty in his report and realized how ludicrous he would sound. They were already on the ropes with him, often questioning all his actions and decisions. If he told them that wisps – unregistered lifeforms, according to Spock, so their existence couldn't truly be proven – had burned down the villages in an attempt to play? Yeah, he was so going to get written up for insubordination for pulling shit out of his ass.

No wonder the people never spoke of what happened, leaving speculation and rumors to take care of a legitimate reason. It was so simple! And here he was, trying to make things so much more complicated than they actually were. The simplest explanation was usually the truth – it was Occam's razor.

He wanted to laugh hysterically. Seriously? All this trouble for beings that had the intelligence of a two-year-old? And he was going to get so much shit from his crew after all this too. He could feel his nerves grate at the thought of it.

But perhaps that was all Jim's fault. Ever since he was young – for as long as he could remember – if he was suffering, if he was having hard time, he learned to keep it to himself; to solve it himself. His allowance of his friends to hover over him was his sad attempt at letting others care for him, but he wasn't used it. His way of dealing involved shoving everything down, squashing it, and moving on. It wasn't exactly the healthiest of methods, but it worked for him. He could deal with things in pieces; he couldn't if he was drowning , struggling to keep his head above the waters.

He knew that his friends meant well. He really did, but every second of every day, they kept reminding him of everything he didn't want to remember. And yet, he didn't speak up. He didn't tell them what the problem was and it only worsened, for all of them.

Occam's razor. All he had to do was say one word. It wasn't as complicated as Jim had made it out to be in his head. It was easier than what he was trying to accomplish anyway. One word and he could have all the space that he needed to do what he needed.

He got pulled out of his rampaging thoughts when he heard Spock's grunt. He froze, realizing that he was pushing the two of them too harshly.

"You okay, Spock?" panted Jim.

They had almost reached the top of the canyon where they had beamed down. There was still no sign of the search parties, but they could've easily been hidden behind the trees that were slowly tapering off as rocks and sandstone took their place.

"I'm alright, Jim," breathed Spock. There was sweat dripping down his pale face and there was a green flush to his cheeks. Lines of pain were drawn all over his expressions, but there was still determination in his eyes.

Jim took that as a good sign and pressed on.

"I have a question, Jim."

"Fire away," Jim grunted. All they had to do was go a few more meters and they would be on the canyon. From there, Jim wasn't too sure where to go. Jump up and down until the Enterprise got the idea and beamed them up? It might work, if they were constantly scanning for their signals. And knowing them, they probably were.

"What are we going to tell the Admiralty?"

"What do you mean?"

"They will think that we have, as you would say, 'gone off the deep end'."

Jim snorted. "I think you should file the report. Sounds more plausible coming from a Vulcan."

"I refuse."

"What? Why?"

"I have a reputation to maintain."

Jim burst into chortles, the sudden laughter reeling them off balance. Jim barely managed to catch Spock before more damage was dealt to the Vulcan, but Spock's weight pulled on his stitches and he felt all them tear.

"Goddamn it!" he swore loudly, hissing at the pain.

"Jim?!"gasped Spock, both in his own agony and concern for his friend.

Jim didn't get a chance to respond before swirling white lights started to surround them. Oh good. For once, he was glad for his crew's paranoia.

He blinked and suddenly, both he and Spock were back on the Enterprise. People swarmed around them and Jim felt Spock being pulled away from him.

"Careful with him," Jim called out, "He's got a broken radial bone and tibia!"

Scotty was still at the console, grinning and giving Jim a thumbs-up. Obviously, he was proud of being able to beam Jim and Spock up without any eyes on the ground, so to speak. It was quite impressive and Jim just gave him a curt nod. Uhura was helping Chekov and M'Benga with Spock; Sulu was nowhere to be seen, unlike Bones who had just shoved himself into Jim's personal space.

"And what about you, Jim?" demanded McCoy. "You okay?"

"Yeah, thanks to that dumbass over there." Jim thought about it and decided that it might be better if he came clean before McCoy pulled out his tricorder. "I might need some more stitches though. Nothing too serious."

He stiffly moved his way to the edge of the transporter pad and sat down, sighing in relief. "Where's Sulu? Is he part of the search party? Call them back. Now." The urgency in his voice sent Scotty scrambling over his console. "Recall all personnel. No one goes back down. Mission over, got it? Oh, and get us out of this quadrant please, Scotty."

"What's going on, Jim?" asked Bones.

Jim glanced over at Spock, making eye contact, and he grinned. "Why don't you get Spock to tell you?"

Spock paled further, if it was even possible, and Jim started laughing outright, just as Sulu and a few others transported back. It certainly was a sight to see: Jim, who was bruised, scratched, and quite frankly, looking like he had gone through the wringer, was bent over with laughter while Spock, who looked twice as worse as Jim, was arguing with Jim like his life depended on it.

Sulu nudged McCoy, "So uh…what happened down there?"

"I have no freaking idea."

"Do we want to know?" Sulu asked, raising an eyebrow as Jim fell onto his side, clutching his stomach in laughter.

"Honestly? I don't think so." McCoy stepped forward and slammed a hypospray against Jim's exposed neck. Instantly, he was unconscious, tilting backwards into Bones' waiting arms.

"M'Benga, you got the hobgoblin?" called McCoy, shifting his grip on Jim's limp body.

The other doctor nodded and started to lead Spock back towards the Sickbay.

"Well then, let's get this idiot treated so he can explain what the hell went down." McCoy started to drag Jim off the pad.

Sulu followed, his expressions incredulous. "Wait, are you just going to drag him all the way to the Sickbay?"

McCoy just flashed him a smirk.

Sulu actually felt bad for Jim.


Hours later, Jim was sitting in the Sickbay at the edge of Spock's bed. He had been treated by McCoy (rather roughly, if Jim wanted to be honest), and his laceration and burn healed, muscles relaxed. His bruises and scratches had mostly been cleared and his lungs, after a few hyposprays, felt much better. Spock, on the other hand, was still under the bone regenerator, but he had mostly been healed as well.

McCoy stood in front of Jim with his arms crossed while Sulu sat across from his two commanders on another bed.

"So, where are Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty?" Jim asked. "I assume we're having another 'ask Jim all the questions' sessions. They usually don't miss this."

"Uhura is trying to field off the Admirals for your testimony; Scotty and Chekov are on shift," McCoy responded. "What the hell happened?"

"Well, Spock beamed down on top of a sheet of mica. We fell through, he broke his bones, and we spent the night in a cave."

"You actually did a pretty good job setting the Vulcan's bones. And the stitches were done well, surprisingly," said McCoy, his tone dry and purposefully patronizing.

"Hey! I'm actually certified in emergency field triage!" protested Jim. "There's no need to sound so surprised."

"Since when were you certified?"

"Second year at the Academy?" shrugged Jim. "I got bored one summer."

"Isn't that program a year long?" asked Sulu.

"Genius, remember?"

"So the genius want to explain why you ordered us to leave the planet?" grouched McCoy.

"Uh. I think Spock can handle that."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Captain, I do not want to take away from your glory. The story is yours to tell."

"You're a bastard, you know that? Bones is gonna lock me up and throw away the key."

"It is you who discovered what happened to the village. I did nothing but slow you down."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine. For the record, Bones, I am not crazy."

"That's a good start," groaned McCoy. "Makes me feel very reassured."

"Uh. So there wasn't a virus or a serial killer as the rumors say. There are these wisps that are made of fire, I think, and they burn everything they touch. They like to play games, like tag, and they drove the humans out of their village because, well, they wanted to play and no one could touch them."

"Wisps?" Sulu questioned, his eyebrow rising.

"Yeah, but they don't appear on our scanners as lifeforms. Don't know why though."

"So there's no actual proof that these things exist?"

"I got burned by it! I'm not exactly stupid enough to accidentally burn myself on my chest."

"And you ran from these so-called wisps?" McCoy clearly was hiding mirth in his tone.

Jim sighed, knowing full well how he sounded. "Look, I didn't know what these things were and I didn't want to stick around to find out. They had minds of a two-year-old; there was no reasoning with them. And they have the ability to burn whatever they touched. That's why there weren't any living things on the planet."

"Uh huh."

"Spock, back me up here!"

"What he says is true," Spock affirmed with a nod.

Sulu and McCoy stood there in incredulous silence.

"You're shitting me, right?" gaped McCoy.

"Nope. Told you'll think I'm crazy." Jim leaned back a little and patted Spock's left leg – the uninjured one, "I told them. You get to file the report."

"I do not believe we have made such a deal, Jim," sniffed Spock.

"You know I can't do it! They'll officially diagnose me with insanity!"

"I am a Vulcan. If I do it, I will be brought to New Vulcan to see if I have fallen terminally ill."

"So what are we going to do about it?"

"You are, as you often like to remind us, a genius. You figure it out."

"Bones calls me an idiot all the time! I'm an ingenious idiot! Clearly not qualified to make such decisions."

Spock laid back and closed his eyes, pretending to fall back asleep.

Jim childishly grabbed a pillow and threw it at Spock's face. "Damn bastard! You're not sleeping or in a goddamn trance! Stop pretending!"

But Spock didn't move, though there was a slight smile on his face.

Bones and Sulu literally had to pull Jim away from Spock before he dislodged the machines.

"No, Bones, you don't understand! This is about my reputation!" protested Jim, though he did allow himself to be moved away.

"Yeah, well, people think you're crazy anyway. Might as well solidify it," said Bones.

"I can't! Someone's out to destroy my reputation! They're out to destroy me!"

"And that's the paranoia speaking, which means it's time for you to go to sleep. Night night."

Bones didn't even hesitate to press a hypospray against Jim's neck. For the second time that day alone, Jim was out for the count. McCoy was gentle in maneuvering Jim onto a biobed though.

"I'm assuming you're not telling Kirk about what Pike said?" Sulu asked McCoy quietly, knowing full well that Spock could hear them.

"What did Pike say?" questioned Spock, sitting up with a slight wince.

McCoy got closer to Spock and lowered his voice. "The rest of us know, but you can't tell Jim. Pike and I both think that if Jim learns about this, he'll try to strike first and that won't end well."

Spock frowned. "Explain."

"You remember the whole thing with Frank?"

"It is hard to forget," Spock almost growled.

"Frank was hired by someone, right? He said someone from Starfleet. Pike said that in his interrogation, Frank mentioned something about there being a bigger plot behind it all. Something about taking Jim down, but none of us can figure out how. The point is: someone's after Jim and we have to keep a closer eye out on him."

"That may be difficult. Jim has mentioned that he is having difficulties dealing with the events that have occurred in recent missions, particularly with his captivity in Germany as well as Frank's reemergence. He claims that our constant presence merely reminds him of his shortcomings and he cannot move on."

"He wants space, doesn't he?" sighed McCoy. "He always does this – pushing people away."

"We have to respect his wishes, Doctor. Jim has his own way of dealing with his past."

"It's not healthy."

"But we are not helping either," Spock said softly. "Let us give him the space he needs, if only for a short while. He can push us away, Doctor, but we cannot push him away."

McCoy knew Spock was right. He didn't like it, but he knew that they had to do this, or Jim was going to run as far as he could. His shoulders sagged and he nodded, giving in.

"Fine, but nothing about Pike's conversation reaches his ears, alright?"

"Understood," Spock replied.

Little did they know that Jim didn't need to know what Pike had said. He already knew, and even let slip a hint, though they had disregarded it as a part of Jim's childish banter with Spock. It was the reason why he was meticulously pushing his crew away.

Jim was already readying himself for the battle of his lifetime.

And his crew knew nothing of it.

(The responsibility of writing the report of the wisps ended up falling to Scotty, who was crazy and probably drunk enough to agree. Later on, the crew of the Enterprise learned that Scotty's report, which was verbatim to what Jim and Spock had told him, was tossed out before anyone even read it. Apparently, the Admiral to whom the report went to was Archer, and the moment he saw Montgomery Scott's name at the top, he scornfully threw it away, preferring to not deal with whatever story Scott wrote. He did file the mission as a success and moved on.

And thus, the crew of the Enterprise managed to maintain their reputation, much to Spock and Jim's glee. Turns out, they were all ingenious idiots, and they loved how they could get away with everything. Well, almost everything.)


Okay, people. This chapter may not make that much sense. Sorry. It's kind of a filler chapter, something I wrote to buy me time to figure out my multi-chapter story that I'm writing. The multi-chapter is kinda, sorta related to these one-shots. I'm trying to make some sort of connection because it is inspired by all the reviews and ideas that you lovely people have given me. I did drop a few hints here. Just a few, and maybe you'll find them and figure something out. For now, all I can tell you is that Tarsus will be a major theme throughout it and you'll finally find out what Frank was talking about.

I will be posting up the first chapter of the other story soon. I have it all planned out – just have to write the rest of it. Hopefully, you will all support that story just as much as this one.

And speaking of this one, I actually have COMPLETELY no idea of what to write next. Literally. So any ideas? List them all out and I will try my best.

Anyway, thanks for reading this! I really hope you liked it. This chapter was really hard for me to write and it took forever. So please, if you like it, please review. It will reaffirm that I'm actually an okay writer and not some crazy person who just writes odd and weird things.

Thanks and please review!

~ Kanae Yuna