I am so sorry for the late update. I honestly couldn't really think of how to write this and I'm still really worried about it. I took so many liberties and whatnot, so please let me know if I made any mistakes.

Yes, this story is about Tarsus. And about any possible childhood abuse Jim may have had when he was young. I really just wanted to emotionally bash the poor man, and who am I to deny all those requests for this kind of story. I hope it makes sense. Again, really, really nervous about this chapter. It's also much longer than my previous ones. Um...not sure if I showed Jim's genius this time around. Really hard to do with a Tarsus story, but I tried.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. Please review and let me know how I did!

Disclaimer: I do not own any Star Trek franchise.


Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

Jim's luck sucked, but you couldn't really blame him. The universe just liked to slap him and then kick him while he was down. In other words, Jim was the worst sort of trouble magnet in the entire universe, and that was saying something. Quite frankly, when Jim thought back to it all, he still wasn't quite sure how all this started. Their mission wasn't difficult and it didn't even require beaming off the ship. All they had to do was pick up a decorated Betazoid Ambassador from his home planet and bring him back to Starfleet for a universal world-peace summit. Simple, right? But in hindsight, the crew of Enterprise should've known that nothing was ever as easy as it seemed with James T. Kirk as their Captain. And this time, it was Jim that needed saving.

Jim had personally invited the Betazoid onto his ship and delegated a couple of Redshirts to show the Ambassador to his quarters. Soon after, Jim had returned to his seat on the Bridge with a frown on his face. He couldn't shake the dark, ominous feelings he had and he wasn't one to ignore his instincts. Something was off, but he couldn't seem to place it.

The Command crew had noticed their Captain's unusual silence, but couldn't pinpoint the cause.

"Captain," said Spock from where he sat at his console, "Is there something that is troubling you?"

"Hmm? Oh, nothing much, Spock. Just..." Kirk paused, pondering. "Did the Ambassador seem weird to you guys at all?"

"Seeing how you and I were the only ones to greet him, that question is not applicable to the rest of the Command crew."

Jim rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean, Spock. He didn't give me a good feeling."

"You were in his presence for 2.4 minutes. By what criteria are you using to determine what gives you a 'good feeling'?"

"Don't give me that, Spock. You felt it too! And don't tell me that I'm being illogical! Every fiber of my being is telling me that that guy is trouble."

Uhura swung around in her chair to face Jim. "Or you're just upset that he isn't a she," she teased.

"Quite contrary to beliefs, I can keep it in my pants, you know!" spluttered Jim.

"Not according to half the female population back at Starfleet Academy," Sulu joined in with a smile.

"You know that ninety percent of those are exaggerated rumors! Look, I'm serious! That guy is bad news."

Chekov gave him a smirk, "Are you sure that it isn't because you hate diplomatic exchanges, Keptin?"

Kirk threw his hands in the air. "It's mutiny, I tell you, mutiny!"

The crew (minus Spock) snickered, but they knew to trust their Captain's insight. It had saved them countless of times before. Even as they laughed, they felt the seed of doubt growing in their hearts. Spock thought back to his brief encounter with the Ambassador. The Betazoid held himself regally and behaved as he should. Yet, Spock remembered feeling slightly unsettled when he realized that the Ambassador's pitch black eyes never left him for a second. Not to mention that Spock felt as though there was a void surrounding the alien - as if there was a certain dark cloud encompassing him.

"It does not hurt to be sure of the Ambassador's status," Spock surrendered, "Lieutenant Uhura, please send all files concerning the Ambassador to me."

Uhura nodded, letting her slender fingers sweep across her console.

"Sulu, locate where the Ambassador is right now," Kirk commanded, "I want to know where he is at all times."

"Yes, Captain."

Jim turned to his First Officer. "Spock, the Ambassador psychically inclined, right?"

"All Betazoids are naturally born telepaths, Captain," Spock responded in a tone that almost seemed like he was lecturing a child.

Jim resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "I know that. I may just be a farm boy, but that much I know. I just want to know if the Ambassador is capable of psychic attacks."

At this, Spock tilted his head thoughtfully. "Unless the Ambassador is one of the few Betazoids who are born with their telepathic abilities active, I highly doubt that he will be able to cause any severe damage to psi-null humans such as yourself."

"And there is no indication that he is that powerful of a telepath, correct? He can't hurt crew members who aren't trained against such attacks?"

"Unless the Ambassador is not who he says he is, no."

Kirk gritted his teeth. "Chekov, hack into the Starfleet database and get a current picture of the Ambassador. I have a feeling he isn't who he says he is."

"Vhy do you say that, Keptin?" asked Chekov as he obeyed Jim's command.

"I didn't like the way he kept staring at Spock."

Silence fell and all eyes turned to look at him.

Jim actually had the decency to blush. "Not in that way, guys. Heads out of the gutter. It's just he looked far too happy to see Spock. I mean, seriously. It's just weird."

"Well, Spock is a pretty good looking Vulcan," grinned Uhura. "Jealous of a little competition, Kirk?"

Jim groaned in frustration. "It's literally impossible to get my crew to obey me, isn't it?"

"Oh, we obey," grinned Sulu, "Doesn't mean we can't make it difficult for you."

"Where's Scotty when I need him? He usually stands with me."

The cheery atmosphere was shattered when Chekov swallowed hard at the data in front of him.

"Uh oh..."

Jim instantly snapped to attention at Chekov's worried tone; his entire playful manner was replaced with confidence and strictness. "Elaborate, Lieutenant Chekov."

"I hawe found a picture of the Betazoid Ambassador, but he does not look like the man who came on our ship."

Chekov flicked his finger and let the picture of a large, rotund man with long dark curls come onto the screen. He was a far cry from the lanky, tall man with short, white hair that had come on board.

"Shit! Spock, red alert!"

"Too late," came a cold, drawl.

Jim heard the turbolift close before screams and yells erupted all around him. A sharp, probing pain burst within his head and he grimaced, unconsciously reaching to grasp his temples. Instinctively, he began to throw up more walls within his mind, protecting it from any further damage. Even with the stabbing pain, Jim instantly connected the dots to a psychic attack. Of course...it was just his luck. He really shouldn't have expected anything else.

He tilted forward, almost falling out his chair as he looked around him. Chekov had fallen to the ground, already unconscious. Sulu was lying not too far from the Navigator, his eyes slipping shut. Uhura had curled into herself with her back to Jim, but even without seeing whether or not her eyes were closed, Jim knew that she was in the same state as his crew.

Another thought passed through his mind. Alarmed, Jim sought out Spock, knowing full well that the Vulcan was also a telepath. His shields must have protected him or the attack could have done irreparable damage to the Vulcan. Jim sincerely hoped that it was the former.

Spock was still seated in his chair, just as Jim was, but his emotionless mask had been broken. The Vulcan had an intense look of concentration on his face and kept his right index and middle fingers pressed against his temple. It was obvious that the majority of the Betazoid's attack was focused on him, but he was still resisting and functional - that much Jim could tell. The unfortunate part was that it seemed that Spock was just as capable of moving as he was, which was pretty much limited to blinking and breathing.

Jim felt as if he was using all of his strength to turn around slowly, his entire body feeling numb and useless as his mind rallied against the intrusions. He glared at the Betazoid who stood a few feet in front of the closed turbolift. "So, who the fuck are you?" he snarled once he found the words, lashing out like a whip.

Surprise glittered in the Betazoid's dark irises. "I am astounded that you are still conscious, let alone coherent, Captain Kirk."

Jim couldn't help and smirk; it paid to keep his skill sets hidden from the rest of the world. "They don't call me the best fucking Captain in Starfleet for nothing. What the hell did you do to my crew?!"

"I merely arranged it so that they will not interrupt me as I speak to your Commander."

Spock gave the Betazoid a puzzled look. "I was not aware that we were acquainted."

"Forgive me, we aren't. I am called Z, Commander Spock. I have heard all about you and I could not resist meeting you in person."

"Oh, and why is that? You could've just sent a love letter, you know. It's much simpler. What did you do with the actual Ambassador?" growled Jim.

"Let us just say that the Ambassador had aged and was unable to resist my mind."

"You broke him, didn't you? To what end? Why Enterprise?"

"I have no interest in your petty little ship, Captain."

"Right then. I think I'm offended," Jim grouched. "What the hell did you come here then?"

Z took a step forward towards Spock. "I would like to get to know Commander Spock and his crew a little better."

The Betazoid paused, closing his eyes as he took in a deep breath. "Mmm...the hatred, the anger, and the sorrow that all your friends hold within their minds...it is simply delicious."

Jim's head snapped up, "You're feeding off their emotions?!" He paused, finally piecing everything together. "That's why you targeted Spock! After what happened to Vulcan, he's probably jackpot for you, isn't he?" More lines connected and he grinned ruefully. "But you can't access those memories, can you? Because you've never done any of your tricks on someone as trained and young as Spock. You can't penetrate his barriers."

The Betazoid's calm demeanor changed in a snap. Z's face twisted into a snarl as Jim's words struck the truth. "You will let me in, Commander Spock, or I will kill the rest of your friends with my telepathy," Z hissed. "And I can assure you that that it is within my capabilities."

Jim could see Spock contemplating his options, but he wasn't going to make Spock relive his worst memories again. It was too soon and too raw - he wasn't sure that Spock could regain his control over his emotions so easily again. Even as much as he hated and feared this, Jim knew the sacrifice he had to make. He could win over Z's hold on his friends and come out the other end mostly intact. He had done it before and despite losing all forms of innocence and naivety, Jim had emerged stronger and hardened. Spock, on the other hand, was still recovering from the loss of his mother and Vulcan while Jim's emotions were firmly locked behind double-bolted steel doors.

Honestly, he fervently wished that there was another option. The familiar icy feel of fear was already licking at him. He had spent years running from his past and now, he had to hand it all up in a silver platter. It was either that or be selfish and be left with an emotionally crippled First Officer. That ended so well the last time…

As much as Jim loathed to bring up the nightmares that haunted him - the carnage and misery that followed him everywhere he went - he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he willingly let Spock suffer. No matter how Jim looked at it, he had no other choice. He had to give himself up to protect his crew. Internally, he shakily steadied himself and began his onslaught.

"You're a dumbass, you know that?" Jim taunted. "Did you even stop to wonder why you can't read my mind either? And I'm human! I'm supposed to be psi-null, and yet, you can't access my memories. I've got to be hiding so much, don't you think?"

Spock's eyes flickered towards Jim, confusion written all over his "expressionless" face.

Jim ignored him. "Don't you want to see what I have stored up in here? I'm a Starfleet Captain! There's bound to be cesspools of anguish and anger. Probably more than everyone here combined. Why don't you give me a shot? Let the rest of them go and I'll give you my mind for free. I'll drop my barriers, no questions asked."

"Captain, what are you doing?" hissed Spock, alarm now coursing through him.

Jim ignored him. "I'll give you everything. From the very beginning," said Jim, determination making his blue eyes impossibly brighter.

"Interesting. I have heard of you, Captain James T. Kirk; I had not expected such stupidity from you. Nonetheless, I am intrigued. Very well. I shall release your friends if your memories satisfy me."

Jim gritted his teeth and rolled his shoulders back once, preparing himself for the hell that was soon to come. "Fuck...here goes nothing..."

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and exhaled, letting down all the walls, shields, and locks that guarded his mind and nightmares. Instantly, he could feel Z probing and shifting through recent years - the overwhelming guilt of not acting fast enough to save Vulcan, the heavy burdens of sending his men to their deaths, the lives that he had taken and ruined from the very moment he sat on his chair...

There was a vague sense of satisfaction bleeding from Z and in that moment, Jim grabbed onto him with his mind.

Surprise, shock, and anger that did not belong to Jim tingled his nerves.

'You son of a bitch. You want anguish? I'll give you so much that you can't fucking take it,' Jim snarled, drawing Z deeper and deeper in the dark, chaotic abysses of his memories.

As promised, Jim started from the beginning - his birth seconds before the Kelvin was destroyed and fast forwarding to Winona's inability to look at him or even acknowledge his existence. He shoved all the pain he held of never knowing his father and never being able to escape his shadow; the agony of being unloved from the moment he was born and the emptiness that neglect and hatred had brought. Then, Frank came into the picture, bringing physical pain to the game. He could still remember all the pain of the years and years of broken limbs, cigarette burns, stitches, and bruises. He could still remember living each day, cowering in fear, too afraid to even breathe without permission. He pushed every tear he shed, every single scratch he endured onto Z, overwhelming the alien with his extremely vivid recollection until they both almost couldn't take it anymore.

Only then did Jim delve into the memories that began as a result of him driving the Corvette off the cliff once Sam left. Because that was when it became a whole new level of suffering...

Z started pulling, struggling to escape, but Jim merely growled and held on tighter.

'I'm far from done, you bastard...' And Jim plunged into his worst nightmares, dragging Z down with him.

Unable to handle his 'rebelliousness' anymore, Winona had shipped Jim off to her sister's off-planet - on Tarsus IV. At first it was amazing. Jim finally knew what it felt like to be loved, to be cared for, and to have friends – to live. For the first time in his life, he knew what it meant to exist, to be happy. Perhaps that was why it was that much worse when it was taken from him. It was as if someone how taken away all of the light in his dark, dark world.

Once the famine began and Kodos made his decree, his perfect world shattered and he lived like a dog to survive. His aunt and uncle died within the first few days, his cousins the first week. Whatever he had learned of love and family died with them. All that was left was anger, hatred, and guilt for not dying with them. Revenge overcame his mind; he couldn't let Kodos win. He wandered in the dark like a shadow, gathering supplies and food for the children that had been on the "kill-list", killing when needed and sometimes when it wasn't. J.T. kept his kids alive at any cost. And he meant anything. He was pretty and his blue eyes enthralled people - he knew this and would use it to his advantage. Sometimes, things got a bit rough and he bled and suffered, but he survived and he kept his kids safe. Didn't mean that he wasn't quickly being filled with such self-disgust and loathing of himself that there was nothing left by the time Starfleet came. Tarsus murdered every last piece of innocence that he had.

He was only thirteen years old when he emerged, emancipated and barely alive, from Tarsus.

He was only thirteen years old when he lost his will to live, becoming nothing more than a rabid dog whose only instinct was to survive to protect.

There was a shattering that echoed in Jim's mind and he knew that he had won against Z. Jim hadn't realized how easy it was to overcome the fake Betazoid Ambassador, or perhaps his memories were far more debilitating than he had ever realized. Either or, he was thankful that he hadn't needed to go into the years that followed - Winona not caring whether he lived or died, his children taken away from him, and his wandering alone around the world without a home or someone who cared about him. The years of bar brawls and mindless, meaningless sex to actually feel something and see if he was still alive or just a shadow...

He shook his head, pulling himself out of his reverie and let his memories taper off. He could feel the pieces of Z's broken mind scattered within his brain and he angrily threw each one out, not caring if he broke them further. Only then did he open his eyes to find himself on the floor next to his chair.

Z was lying close by, his eyes staring dully and almost lifelessly up at the ceiling. His chest lifted up and down as he breathed, but he didn't even twitch.

Around him, the Command crew had began to stir, clutching their heads and groaning. Jim knew that he should feel some sort of relief at the sight, but his emotions were still too raw, running rampant within his broken soul.

"Captain?" came Spock's soft voice to his left.

When had the Vulcan gotten so close to him? He flinched away, knowing full well that Spock was a touch telepath. It was enough that he had to relive his memories - he didn't need anyone else knowing what they were. He couldn't stand the pity or people looking at him differently. Yes, he had suffered. Yes, he was so fucking messed up, but he got through it. He didn't dwell on the past and he didn't want others to.

"Jim," Spock tried again when Jim didn't respond and wrapped his arms around himself tightly, making his entire body become smaller. "Jim, please speak to me..." Spock pleaded.

At that, Jim reacted and just shook his head. "Give me a minute. Just need some time..." Jim rasped out, fighting the unwanted tears.

He closed his eyes again and worked so meticulously to gather the raw memories and shove them behind doors, locking those within boxes and trapping them in labyrinths and mazes of walls that he erected. He didn't know how long it took for him to rebuild all the mental shields he had and he reinforced them even more harshly this time around, but he knew that they were only temporary. Even now, as he hastily constructed his walls, he could feel the cracks forming under the weight of his memories. He was standing on thin ice; his entire body tittering on the edge of a cliff.

When he opened his eyes again, he was lying on his back on the Bridge, his head pillowed in Uhura's lap. Low murmurs surrounded him and he glanced around to see Bones hovering over him. Somebody must have sent for him and Jim felt a surge of relief rush through him. Here was one person Jim knew wouldn't treat him any differently.

He blinked blearily a couple of times as a sharp lance of pain shot through his head. His heart ached as he fought to shove down his rising emotions. Shit…he wasn't wasted enough to deal with all of this.

There was a tiny sound from the corner, distracting Jim for a second. He turned his head slightly and saw Z tied up against Spock's chair. The Betazoid was drooling and limp; his eyes stared at nothing. Jim swallowed hard and had to look away. If his memories were enough to do that to a Betazoid, then what did that mean for him?

Another crack to his shields, and Jim knew the answer.

He was no different than Z.

He was broken too.

"I think the Keptin is awake," said Chekov quietly.

Immediately, Jim felt Bones' hand touch his cheek and Uhura's fingers carding through his short hair.

"Jim?" Bones called out cautiously.

Jim reached out and grasped Bones' other hand, squeezing it once. He could see Bones relax slightly at Jim's small reassurance. Using the doctor, Jim pulled himself into a seated position. He was fully aware of all the hands that reached out to help him and he waved them all away.

"I'm fine, guys," he sighed, trying to will the throbbing in his head to go away, "Just a little headache. Everyone alright?"

"Yeah," Sulu responded. "What the hell was all that? The last thing I remember was that guy strolling in and massive pain, and that was it."

"We have all suffered from a telepathic attack," Spock answered, his voice tight, strained, and distant.

Confused, Jim glanced around to realize that Spock was standing at a distance from them.

"Due to the barriers that the Captain and I had in place, we remained conscious long enough to identify what it is that Z sought. It seems that he fed off negative emotions and wanted more, but he could not penetrate our memories. Z threatened to kill all those present on the Bridge, so the Captain offered his mind in exchange for our lives."

Jim chuckled mirthlessly, "Damn bastard bit off more than he could chew, didn't he?"

Spock stiffened immeasurably, but enough for Jim to notice.

Dread filled Jim and he gaped at his first officer. "Spock, please tell me you didn't see anything..." he breathed.

Spock hesitated and that was enough of an answer for Jim.

Jim sprang to his feet and backed away from Spock like a cornered animal. Even with Bones, Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura around, Jim managed to skirt away from the Vulcan who had tried to reach out for him.

"Jim, I assure you that I did not see much. Only parts where your emotions reached a peak, making you broadcast your thoughts," Spock said quickly.

"Shit! As if that fucking makes me feel better!" snapped Jim.

"Jim, I cannot say that I understand what you are going through or what you went through. My understanding of human emotion does not delve deep enough to even begin to comprehend how you overcame your painful experiences, but I do know enough to thank you."

That stopped Jim in his tracks. "What?"

"At first, I could not conceive the notion that you, a supposed psi-null human, could create mental shields that are comparable to even mine. However, after these events, I can understand why and how it is you learned these skills."

"What's your point, Spock?" snarled Jim.

"Thank you for protecting me, Jim. I am...grateful."

Jim snorted at Spock's careful choice of words. "Before you get any wrong ideas, I didn't do it just because of you, so don't feel guilty. And don't give me crap about how you're a Vulcan and guilt is an illogical emotion. That's bullshit and you know it. That bastard said that he fed on emotions, right? I figured that if I let him in my head, I could break him and end all of this faster with no injuries."

"How could you have been so sure that your memories were enough to overcome him?"

Jim just smiled, his mask not quite hiding the depth of his pain as more cracks became pronounced in his mind, sending sparks of agony through his head. "Based on what little you saw, do you really need an answer to that question?"

When Spock fell silent, Jim clapped his hands with a large, obviously fake smile plastered on his face. "Well then, Sulu and Spock, take care of our guest. Chekov, you have the conn. And Uhura, let Starfleet know what happened. Apparently, Z killed or did something to the actual Ambassador. Bones, make sure no one has any aftereffects from the psychic attack. If anyone needs me..." He took a deep breath and his smile faltered a bit. "Well, try not to need me."

McCoy stepped forward, his hand reaching out for his friend, but Jim just shook him off.

"Not now, Bones..." Jim murmured.

When his blue eyes connected with Bones' hazel ones, Bones felt a coldness spread within him. In all the years Bones had known Jim, he had never seen the younger man so disquieted, so cornered. There was only one thing that could have sent Jim spiraling down this dark, self-depreciating road, and Bones knew better than to push. Because Jim was fragile when it came to his memories and he was too precious to Bones to risk shattering the thin walls that Jim had. At least for now. Sooner or later, someone was going to have to pull Jim out of the hole he was digging for himself.

With confusion and concern, the Command crew watched their Captain leave through the turbolift, his posture looking as if it was heavy with thousands of impossible burdens. Yet, none had the words to comfort their friend and brother - not even Leonard. For now, all McCoy could do was hope that this time, Jim hadn't buried himself too far to the point where even he could not reach him...

Jim staggered into his room, immediately stripping off his gold uniform and tossing it to the floor. He barely even spared it a glance before he stepped over it to rush to the bathroom.

He heaved the contents of his last meal into the toilet until there was nothing left but bile burning his throat. Tears sprang to his eyes as he shakily pushed himself away and leaned against the wall. His breaths came out harshly, as if he had run a marathon.

Goddamn it all...it had been years since Jim thought about all the shit that went down in his past. Sure, he had nightmares, but he never had to relive it memory by memory consecutively and so vividly. He didn't regret what he did to protect Spock and the rest of the crew. Better to have been him than them. He had had a feeling that Spock's memories wouldn't have been enough for Z and he would've had to step in anyway. At least this way, Spock was spared...Jim was used to this suffering - he had come to terms with everything over and over again. He wasn't sure Spock, the supposedly emotionless Vulcan, could piece himself back as quickly as Jim. Jim had had practice, after all, but it still didn't mean it was easy, especially with Jim's genius brain. Sometimes, it sucked being able to remember almost every single detail with just one look.

His mental shields were in place, but it wasn't enough to stop his memories from attacking him again. Through each break, Jim could see the lifeless eyes of his aunt and uncle and the lust within Frank's eyes. He could feel the hot breath of Kodos and his men on his neck and the sweat and grime on his body as he scavenged the dead for anything that could save his children. All the things he did, all the things he was forced to do, just made him feel so damn dirty, as if nothing could ever clean the blood and dirt off his hands - just as nothing could make his scars disappear.

Unable to stand it any longer, Jim shoved himself to his feet and stumbled into his shower, turning on the water until it was scalding hot. He didn't even bother to shed his black undershirt, pants, or boots. He just let the water cascade over him as he leaned against the wall and slid to the floor where he curled up into a ball.

With one final crack to the flimsy walls that he had made, the dam broke. He closed his eyes and let the darkness succumb him.

McCoy paced nervously in front of Jim's door. It had been a couple of hours since the whole event on the Bridge and Jim had yet to be seen or heard from. After Jim had left, Spock had refused to say anything further about what he had saw or experienced, but the horror was raw on the Vulcan's face and McCoy just knew that Jim had forced all his memories of his childhood and Tarsus onto Z.

Leonard was one of the few people in this universe that knew about Jim's past - the whole book. A couple of Starfleet's highest ranks knew of Jim's involvement on Tarsus IV: Jim was one of the Tarsus Nine who had seen Kodos' face. What they didn't know was the details of how Jim was captured in a last attempt to save his kids and tortured for days on end by Kodos himself before Starfleet finally arrived to save him. By the time Jim had recovered, his kids were gone - scattered throughout the universe and hidden from him for "their own safety". What bullshit. But even with Jim's hacking skills, he couldn't bring himself to find them. At the young age of thirteen, he had learned the harsh ways of the world. He knew what it meant to sacrifice, what it meant to suffer. And if he fulfilled his desires to see his kids again, he would be putting them in danger, because no matter how good he was at hacking and covering his tracks, he wasn't a hundred percent sure that his attempts would lead other people straight to the ones he had sworn to protect. So Jim had had to let them go, even if it killed part of whatever was left of his broken soul.

When Leonard had met Jim, they were instantly drawn to one another. As people who were innately familiar with loss, sacrifice, and hardships, it made sense. McCoy had seen and accepted Jim, despite not knowing the details of his turbulent past. He had gone out of his way to mend some of the broken pieces and keep the poor kid alive, and he did it without asking questions. No pity was ever involved. He just did it because well, Jim accepted him and all the shit that followed him first. Jim wasn't one to judge because of things that happened in the past. He lived in the present and he pulled McCoy along for the ride. Despite all their differences and difficulties of trusting others and letting people in, they worked, and for them, that was all that mattered.

Now, McCoy found himself hesitant to barge into his best friend's room like he normally did. He had dealt with Jim's nightmares in the past while they were roommates - he had even dealt with Jim's break down when he heard from Pike that one of his kids had committed suicide. (That was actually when McCoy learned the entire story from Jim). But this...this was something entirely new that McCoy wasn't sure how to handle. How do you comfort someone who had been emotionally and physically abused as a child and then thrown into a world where dog eats dog, only to be abandoned again? How do you even remotely begin to relate to that? It wasn't possible. Only Jim could be strong enough to live through all that and still come out the other end victorious.

Jim didn't believe in no-win scenarios. Perhaps that was what got him through it all. And this time would be no different. Leonard knew that. He really did. But he didn't know if Jim would need him or if he would rather go through all of this alone like he used to.

McCoy let out a frustrated groan. Damn Jim and his masochism. No matter what Jim wanted, he didn't get the option of being alone. He may have been used to it because he never had anyone in the past, but now he had Leonard, Spock, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, Uhura, and the rest of the Enterprise. They were a family, and damn it all to hell if McCoy was going to let Jim deal with this on his own.

He inputted his CMO override code and the door opened to reveal Jim's dark quarters. He glanced inside and didn't see Jim on his bed or anywhere else in his room. For a moment, he had thought that Jim had wandered off somewhere quiet, like in the Jefferies tubes or in one of the less used observation decks, but the sound of water running caught his attention.

"Jim?" he called, stepping in.

There was no answer.

Bones peered into the bathroom and saw a huddled figure in the corner of the shower. He rushed forward with his heart in his throat and turned off the water. From the humidity of the air and how cold the water was now, Bones could tell that shower had been on for a long while now. He laid his hands on Jim's shoulders, shaking him slightly to get his friend's attention.

"Jim? Jim, wake up, damn it!"

Jim's head lolled towards McCoy and the doctor instantly took in his pale pallor and the shallow breathing. There was a slight flush to his cheeks. Leonard moved his hands up to hold Jim face, feeling how warm and wet his friend was. A fever was quickly making its way through Jim's system.

"Jim, please, answer me," McCoy pleaded, patting his best friend's cheeks lightly. "Jim!"

Blue eyes flickered open. It took a moment too long for recognition to register. "'lo Bones…" Jim murmured.

Bones almost laughed with relief. "Hey, you with me? How long have you been in this shower?"

"Don't know."

"Come on, let's get you dry and in bed."

Bones started to pull Jim to his feet, but Jim resisted. His bleary blue eyes looked up at Bones. "Why are you helping me, Bones?"

"You and your idiotic sense of worthlessness…" muttered McCoy, "We went over this last time, Jim. It's because you matter to me, moron. That'll never change. Now come on, you're not exactly at lightweight. Don't make me call Spock."

At that, Jim completely froze and McCoy knew that he said the wrong thing. Sighing, he crouched down beside his friend, ignoring the fact that his clothes were getting wet. "I know I usually don't get along with the pointy-eared bastard, but he is sincerely worried about you. Not that he would ever say it. But he's been pretty absentminded, even for a Vulcan."

Jim leaned into Bones, savoring the warmth of his friend. "He knows, Bones. He knows."

"He doesn't know much, from what I'm getting from him," Bones responded, wrapping his arm around Jim's trembling form.

"He tell you?"



"He didn't tell me, Jim, even when I pulled him aside and asked. He said that he only saw flashes, but not enough to gather a whole picture." Bones paused. "He's confused and worried about you. We all are. How much did Z get?"

There was a moment of silence and then a quiet murmur, "All of it."

"All of it? As in from Frank to now?"

A nod.

"Why the hell did you open that can of worms?" Bones scolded, his tone sad and rough. "Do you want to talk about it?"

But Bones knew the answer even before Jim responded.

Jim just pressed his face against Bones' shoulder and shook his head.

Bones sighed. "Alright then. Let's get you out of this shower and into bed. That sound good?"

The blonde didn't give a reply, but there was no fight left in him. Jim let Bones pull him up and help him out of the shower. He was set on the toilet while Bones grabbed a towel and gently tousled Jim's hair to get it dry. Getting Jim out of his wet clothes was a little bit more difficult, but somehow, McCoy managed to get Jim into a clean shirt, boxers, and pants before maneuvering him onto his bed. Tenderly, Bones pulled the covers over Jim and ran his fingers through Jim's short hair.

Jim made a murmuring noise – nothing discernible, but Bones knew what he said all the same.

Bones gave him a sad smile and patted Jim's shoulder reassuringly. "Yeah, kid. I'll stay."

And then the doctor settled down on the bed next to Jim, readying himself for a long, long night.

When Jim started to whimper in his sleep and shift uncomfortably, Bones snapped awake immediately. Turning around slightly, Bones laid his hand on Jim's shoulder and frowned in concern when he felt the heat of a fever through the shirt.

"Shit…" swore McCoy as he looked around the room for a hypospray, remembering at the last second that he hadn't brought any of his medical supplies with him. At least he had his comm on him and he was seconds from calling Nurse Chapel to bring what he needed to him, but Jim let out another moan, distracting him.

Bones gently started shaking his friend, trying to wake up Jim from the nightmares that he couldn't escape on his own. But he had forgotten that Jim didn't react well when he was feverish. The moment Jim was awake, his entire body jolted in alarm. With the fever fogging his mind, Jim acted purely on instinct.

Before Bones was even aware of what was going on, Jim had flung and slammed him to the floor. In seconds, Bones was lying on his back, winded, with Jim's knee sitting painfully on his sternum and a strong hand wrapped around his neck.

Once McCoy caught his breath again and the pain receded a little, he really took in how Jim looked. Jim was breathing heavily, sweat covering his body. His face was flushed and he was shaking, but what really disturbed Bones was how painfully cold Jim's eyes were. Jim didn't know who McCoy was, and that put Bones in a very dangerous situation.

"Make a move, and I will kill you," Jim snarled quietly, venom lacing every word.

"Jim…Jimmy, it's me, Bones," McCoy coughed out.

"I don't give a flying fuck who you are. Where are my kids?"

Confusion filled Bones. "Kids? What kids?"

Wrong thing to say…McCoy felt the pressure around his neck tighten, but the sudden lack of oxygen didn't mean that he couldn't make the connection between the 'kids' that Jim spoke of and Tarsus. For the first time in his life, Bones felt thankful that Jim had forcefully taught him some self-defense moves. In a flash, he broke Jim's grasp on him and raised his knee, using his larger body to flip Jim over onto his back. The moment Jim was down, McCoy jumped back, fumbling with his comm.

"Uhura! Come in, Uhura!" he spoke urgently in comm as he kept some distance between him and Jim who had gotten to his feet.

"McCoy? What's going on?" Uhura responded immediately.

"Get me Ensign Kevin Riley, now!" Bones said just as he noticed Jim grabbing something off the shelf. "SHIT!" he shouted and ducked.

McCoy's loud swear and the sounds of glass shattering came through on the comm and alarm rapidly filled Uhura and the rest of the Command crew. Alpha shift was just ending and Uhura had answered McCoy's call at her console. She hadn't really thought about it, but she had automatically patched McCoy through on the speaker and now, sounds of a violent scuffle could be heard on the Bridge.

"McCoy?! Are you alright?!" she exclaimed.

There was a grunt from McCoy. "Calm down, Jim!"

They all froze. Jim was attacking his best friend?

Another crash and then a thud.

Everyone held their breath.

Then, "Uhura, you still there?" panted Leonard. It seemed that the doctor was able to subdue Jim, at least long enough to contact the Bridge.

"Yes! What's going on, Leonard? Are you alright?"

"Nothing. Just send Ensign Kevin Riley to Jim's room."

"Leonard…" Uhura started.

"No time, Uhura. He's getting up again. Get me Kevin Riley, now!"

And then the message ended.

Uhura tried to call back, but before she could do it, Spock's fingers pressed down on her comm. "I understand your concern, Nyota, but I believe it would be best if we do as Doctor McCoy asked and find Ensign Kevin Riley."

She nodded and quickly called Ensign Riley.

"Ensign Riley," answered Kevin, his voice muffled with tiredness.

"Ensign Riley, this is Lieutenant Uhura. Doctor McCoy has requested your presence at Captain Kirk's quarters," she said swiftly.

There was a pause and then sounds of clothes rustling. "Understood. I'll be there in five."

Silence filled the bridge.

Sulu turned to Uhura. "Anyone know who Riley is?"

"He works in Engineering," said Spock, already passing off his position to the Beta shift.

"Vhat does he hawe to do with the Keptin?" frowned Chekov, also following Spock's example.

"I do not know, but I intend to find out."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Uhura asked, standing. "You saw Kirk earlier. What makes you think that he'd want us to know whatever it is he's hiding?"

"I do not wish to pry into what Jim does not want us to know."

"Then why are you so intent on all this? Is it because of what you saw?"

Spock finally paused at the turbolift, his back to the Command crew. Slowly, he turned back around to stare coldly at Uhura. "Do not misunderstand me, Lieutenant Uhura. While I am curious, I will not betray Jim's trust by forcing his secrets out into the open."

Uhura stood her ground. "I'm just trying to protect him, Spock. You saw him when he left the Bridge. He can't take any more, Spock! You have to give him time to get himself back together!"

Spock inclined his head slightly. "I merely wish to remind Jim that he need not go through this on his own. He is no longer alone."

There was a pause and suddenly, Chekov was already in the turbolift, tapping his foot impatiently. Sulu, Uhura, and Spock all looked at him with confusion.

"Vhat are you all standing there for? Come on. Let's not keep the Keptin vaiting."

Sulu broke into a grin. "That's right. Kirk's family and family take care of each other." And he joined Spock and Chekov.

"Well, the least we can do is make sure that he didn't kill McCoy," Uhura said, walking in as well and pressing the button to Deck 5. "The good doctor has some outstanding bets to pay."

"McCoy owes you?" gaped Sulu. "How did you manage that?"

Uhura just smiled as the turbolift doors closed, but that quickly faded as they made their way down to Jim's floor.

Silence had filled the turbolift as each and every one of them thought about Jim and how well they truly knew their Captain. For all that he was and all that he had shared, Jim was a complete and utter mystery. None of them knew anything beyond his years at Starfleet. They didn't even know if Jim had siblings or not, and yet, Jim had taken the time to get to know them. Jim would occasionally ask Uhura how her grandmother was; he would give Sulu some ethnic treats to send to his parents and talk Chekov through his homesickness. He had drawn a wonderful picture of Spock's mother for him and would keep up with all the developments of New Vulcan.

For all intents and purposes, Jim was their brother – someone that they could always count and rely on, someone who was always there for them. And until now, they hadn't realized that it was so one-sided. They didn't know anything about Jim. Even if he hadn't outright shared his past, they had never thought to ask.

As the turbolift opened once again, they found themselves wondering whether or not they had the right to even call themselves Jim's friends.

Bones stepped back, hanging up on Uhura as he watched his best friend stagger to his feet. Jim's eyes were dull and unfocused, but unlike seconds before, there was no sign of anger or cold detachment. Instead, confusion and anguish filled those baby blues.

"Jim?" Bones tried, taking a tentative step.

Jim's looked at Bones' voice and frowned. "Bones? Wha…what's going on?"

"Doesn't matter. You back with me now?"

Jim shook his head, raising his hand to clutch at his head. He stumbled backwards, his back leaning against the wall for support. Instantly, Bones was by his side, helping him slide down to the ground. Leonard then joined Jim on the floor, their shoulders touching.

"S-shit…my head hurts like fuck…" Jim hissed.

"You got a fever, Jim. A really high one. Do you know where you are?"

It took a moment. "The Enterprise…right?"

There was hesitation and doubt in his voice. And then his head snapped up and looked wildly around the dark room.

"Wait…where're my kids, Bones? Did they fucking take my kids?" gasped Jim, grabbing Bones' sleeve tightly in fear.

If it was anyone else, he or she would have worried at how incoherent Jim was, but Bones knew the drill like the back of his hand. It wasn't the first time that Jim was confused about his timeline.

He shushed Jim quietly. "No, they didn't. Your kids are safe."

"Where are they?"

"They're resting, but Kevin said that he's stopping by soon."

"Kev? Kev is here?"

Bones smiled, hiding his worries away. "Yeah, he followed you to this damn ship."

A pause. "Like you did…"

Bones nodded. "Can't leave you alone, can I?"

Jim frowned, remembering. "You threw up on me."

McCoy sighed. "You'll never let that go, will you?"

There was a slight change in Jim's posture as let his head fall against Bones' shoulder. "Fuck…"

"You with me now, Jim?"

"My head keeps fucking with me," Jim answered truthfully, his voice weak.

"Can you use those techniques that those Betazoids showed you to build up more shields?"

Jim wordlessly shook his head.

"You can't differentiate the past and the present with that fever, can you?" Bones inferred. Jim couldn't replace his shields properly without being able to know what were memories and what wasn't. There was no way to know what was meant to be locked away until his chaotic mind settled down.

Bones reached around Jim's shaking shoulders and pulled him closer. He raised his hand to touch Jim's forehead, feeling the intense heat radiating off his friend. "We have to get this fever down, Jimmy, before we can do anything to get your head all sorted out."

Jim's grip grew tighter on Bones' shirt. "Don't go…"

"I'm won't. I promise."

There was a moment of silence and then Jim's breathing hitched.

"Where're my kids? Did they fucking take my kids?" Jim mumbled again.

Bones just shushed Jim, holding his friend tighter. "No, they didn't. Your kids are safe, Jim."

"Kodos isn't dead. He isn't dead. I have to warn them."

"Kevin will be here soon. You can tell him."

McCoy had to thank the stars that Riley had the best timing ever. The doors to Jim's room opened and Kevin stepped in. The young man only had to take one look at Jim's huddled form next to McCoy to realize what Jim needed exactly.

Kevin rushed over and kneeled in front of Jim, grasping Jim's trembling wrist. "Hey, J.T.," he said softly. "It's me, Kev."

Jim turned his bleary eyes to look at Kevin. "Kev…you made it…"

"Yeah, we all did, thanks to you, J.T."

"Kodos…Kodos isn't dead."

"I know. I already told the others. We'll get him, I promise. Now, go to sleep. It's time for you to rest and let us take care of you, okay, J.T.?"

"You'll still be here?"

"Promise. Me and good ol' Bones here will be right here."


Bones nudged Jim's shoulder. "Right here, Jimmy."

Jim let out a sigh and leaned his head against Bones' shoulder. "Good." And his eyes closed.

McCoy and Kevin both waited until Jim's breathing had evened out before they even dared to speak.

"What brought this on?" asked Kevin quietly. "I haven't seen him this bad since he learned that Kodos was still alive."

"Some fucking Betazoid snuck on board. Jim here figured out that the bastard leeched off negative memories and emotions, so he, being the self-sacrificing moron he is, gave up everything he had." Despite how angry his words were, Bones' tone was soft and worried. "I think the fever is a residual effect from the psychic attack and it's making him confused."

"What can I do?"

"We need to get the fever down, but I don't know how the medications will react after all this. Let's get him to bed first."

Kevin nodded and helped maneuver Jim so that Bones could carry his friend to the bed. Silently, he tucked Jim in while Kevin brought back a cold, wet rag to place on Jim's forehead.

A knock on the door distracted the two and McCoy went to answer it.

When he opened the door, he saw Spock, Nyota, Chekov, and Sulu standing before him, their eyes questioning.

Tiredly, McCoy ran his fingers through his hair as he sighed. "Look, guys, I know you want an explanation, but now is not a good time."

"We merely wish to inquire on Jim's health," Spock said.

"Physically, he's fine."

"And mentally?"

"There's room for improvement," came the curt response.

"Can you just tell us if he'll be okay?" asked Uhura. "We're worried about him."

"Aren't we all?" muttered McCoy. "I don't know. I honestly don't. That moron hasn't always had the easiest life and he just had to relive it all, piece by piece. And because our idiot is a genius with a near eidetic memory, let's just say that the details can be quite damaging."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Sulu questioned.

McCoy paused. "You aren't here to find out what it was exactly that broke that Betazoid bastard, are you?" There was a slight tone of disbelief in his words, telling them that he slightly was surprised that they did not come to satisfy their burning curiosity.

"It is not our place to pry," replied Chekov, "The Keptin is my good friend and I care about him. If he does not vant to share his past, then ve vill not ask."

"Doctor McCoy!" came Kevin's shout from within the room.

Immediately, Leonard swung around to see Jim thrashing in his bed and Kevin hovering worriedly over him, knowing full well that he couldn't touch his friend. The anguished expression on Jim's face broke Bones' heart.

"Damn it, Jim!" McCoy hissed, his mind rapidly turning to figure out what he could do to save Jim. He turned back to Spock. "Jim's going to hate me for asking you to do this, Spock, but you need to do that voodoo mind-melding shit with him. At this rate, his memories are going to tear him apart before he even gets the chance to recover."

Spock hesitated. "Doctor McCoy, you do realize what you are asking, from the both of us?"

McCoy closed his eyes for a brief moment. "I know." But he moved aside to let Spock enter the room. "But even if he never forgives me, I can't let him suffer like this. I just can't."

"Very well. But do not forget that this is Jim we are considering, Doctor McCoy. There is no one else that can replace you in his life, just as there is no one to replace him in your life. He will understand. However, in the unlikely chance that he does not forgive you as you say, you and I can enjoy isolation together."

McCoy let out a small, mirthless chuckle. "If he throws me under the bus, you'll be right there with me, huh? Sarcasm does not become you, Spock."

"So I have heard."

"Just…help him, please?"

"I will." He started to walk in, but not before whispering to McCoy, "He is irreplaceable to me as well."

Spock nodded at Kevin who made room for Spock to stand by Jim's side. Spock closed his eyes as he reached forward towards Jim's face. With a brief second of hesitation, Spock pressed on Jim's psi-points.

The last coherent thought he had as himself before he was sucked into the dark abyss that was Jim's mind was, "Please do not despise me for this, my friend"

When Spock opened his eyes, he was no longer in Jim's quarters. Instead, he found himself all alone in vast field of rolling tall grass. Bewildered, Spock surveyed his surroundings and spotted a large tree in the center of everything. High above in the branches, lying so ever casually, was Jim.

Quietly, Spock made his way to Jim and stood below the tree as he asked, "Permission to come up, Jim?"

Jim had his eyes closed as he laid on his back, resting his head on his arms. He sighed at the sound of Spock's voice. "You aren't supposed to be here, Spock."

"While that is true, that does not mean that I should not be here."

Jim sat up, his body language angry now. "I can't believe Bones let you do this."

"Do not blame Doctor McCoy. The fault is mine. I had every ability to refuse his request, but we are both worried about you. You were far too incoherent to recover on your own terms."

"I figured as much. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here."

"You are aware?"

"Of course I'm aware of my own chaotic mind, Spock. I'm a genius, remember?"

"Then how is it that this place is so peaceful?"

"You like it? It reminds me of the time I was in Italy. It was the first place I went to after I came back to this planet and left Iowa. I didn't have anywhere to go, anyone to care about me, but I found peace there. Even now, whenever I find myself wavering, I like to come here." He closed his eyes. "But I can tell that beyond here, everything is all jumbled up and my memories are clashing. Why is it that I can't make heads and tails of it all?"

"It seems that you have a high fever."

"Ah, no wonder."

As silence fell, Spock turned to see the meadow around them shrink, covered by a dark cloud. "Jim…"

"I know. I'm aware. We don't have long."


"Spock, are you prepared?"

"What do you mean?"

Jim looked down at him, his sad, blue eyes drowning Spock. "You saw parts of my memories. You should know that there aren't many pleasant things that lurk there. I've lived through hell, Spock, but I have already seen it all. You, on the other hand, don't really know what to expect. So I ask again, are you prepared?"

Spock squared his shoulders. "Regardless of whether or not I am prepared, I am here to ensure that you will not go through this alone, Jim."

"You may come to regret that statement, Spock."

"I have and never will regret anything that concerns our friendship, Jim."

Jim just smiled at him sadly. "If you can say that after what you see, then maybe I'll believe you."

The black clouds were touching the edges of the tree roots now and were slowly creeping up on Spock and Jim. Just as the blackness took over them, Spock heard one last remark from Jim.

"Please don't hate me for this, Spock…"

How peculiar that their last thoughts were almost exactly the same.

McCoy paced nervously at the foot of Jim's bed. Every so often, he would glance at Jim's prone body with Spock standing like a statue beside him. Neither of them made any movements.

"Doctor McCoy, could you please sit down?" asked Kevin, who was sitting down on the floor on the other side of Jim's bed.

"Yes, please sit down," sighed Sulu who also was sitting on the ground, but against the wall facing Jim and Spock. Beside him sat Chekov and Uhura.

"I'll do whatever I damn well please."

"We're all worried, Leonard, but you're driving us crazy," said Uhura.

McCoy paused, facing away from all of them. His shoulders fell, as if he had surrendered. "Maybe I shouldn't even be here…"

"What are you talking about?"

"I willingly let Spock know Jim's secrets – the secrets that he guards with his life. He's never going to forgive me for it."

"He'll understand, Leonard. You said it yourself, if it wasn't for the fever or the psychic attack, he could have handled it. Spock had to step in."

McCoy let out a shaky exhale. "Let's just hope Jim thinks the same way..."

Spock blinked, momentarily puzzled at the sudden change in scenery. He was standing within a small Terran living room. There was a couch with an older man sitting upon it. He was middle-aged and scruffy. He wore a dirty white wife-beater and was drunkenly yelling at the television screen.

A worn out looking woman with blond hair wandered in. She was wearing the blue Starfleet uniform of a Science officer and tugging along a suitcase. Spock recognized her as Winona Kirk.

She fussed with her clothes for a second before talking to the man on the couch. "Frank, I'm going to be leaving soon. Take care of Sam for me?"

"Yeah, yeah."

Sam? Not James? Spock was confused.

"Sam is my older brother," came Jim's voice from beside him.

It took almost all of Spock's control to not flinch. He turned to glance at the Jim he knew, standing beside him. When had that happened?

Jim almost laughed at the startled expression on Spock's face. "I've been here the entire time, Spock. And no, I can't read your mind. You're a lot more expressive than you think."

"Sam, I'm leaving now!" shouted Winona.

Two teenagers came running down the stairs. One was clearly older by a couple of years and had similar features as Jim, but had brown eyes instead of the haunting, dreamy blue irises that his younger brother had.

"Mom, do you have to go?" whined Sam.

"You know I do. Be good for Frank, will you?" Winona reached out a caressed Sam's cheek while smiling softly. She never once glanced at James who cowered behind his older brother. James neither spoke nor made any movement towards his mother; Winona in return, seemed to completely disregard James' existence.

"Frank was my step-father," Jim explained. "I reminded Winona too much of my father and she could never bear to look at me. Until I was thirteen, I did not exist."

Winona walked out the door without a backwards glance.

Sam immediately disappeared back up the stairs, but not before he shot Frank a dirty look.

James just stood there, looking so small, so sad until Sam came down with a duffle bag.

"Sam, where are you going?" asked James, sounded so scared.

"I'm leaving, James. I can't stick around with him here, but I can't take you with me. I'm sorry, James. I really am."

"Please don't leave me, Sam. Please!"

"I'm sorry, James. Goodbye."

And Sam walked out of Jim's life as well.

The sound of the door shutting roused Frank and he glanced up to see James standing there.

"What the fuck are you still doing there, you fucking brat?" Frank yelled. The man threw his now empty bottle at James' head. James ducked at the last second and the glass shattered around him.

"How dare you dodge? What have I said about that, you damn brat?!" Frank roared and stood.

In an angry, drunken stupor, Frank raised his fists above James and hit him over and over again, until even Spock lost count. Blood splattered from broken skin; cracks could be heard as bones snapped. But through it all, James never made a sound.

Spock could feel Jim flinching with each hit, but he too, made no sound as he felt the pain of his past self all over again.

One sharply placed fist to Frank's throat, and suddenly, the older man keeled over, unconscious.

James pushed Frank aside, and shakily got to his feet.

Spock reached forward, meaning to help the younger James, but Jim stopped him.

"This is just a memory, Spock. You can't do anything," Jim said quietly. "But I appreciate the thought."

"Jim, this is…"

"Yeah, this was my childhood. Frank was a bastard that liked to beat children and Winona did nothing to stop it, even though she knew about it. I was about twelve when this happened. Immediately, I drove my father's Corvette off a cliff. Child's Protective Services got wind of my 'rebelliousness' and sent me to live with Winona's sister off-planet."

Jim clapped his hands and the scene before them became a wisp of smoke. "Spock, will you do me the honors?"

"For what, may I ask?"

An iron wooden box suddenly appeared before Spock and he instantly understood. Without hesitation, he opened it and watched as Jim guided the wisp of smoke into it.

He slammed the lid shut, and Jim quickly shoved a lock into place, keeping that memory locked away.

Jim smiled at Spock. "That's one down."

Spock almost frowned at how easy it all was.

"Don't be fooled, Spock. It may have seemed easy, but that's because this memory is the easiest for me to deal with. I'm almost twenty-six; I've had many years to come to terms with my childhood." Jim looked at the box, "And it was a lot easier to handle with you around."

"I do not understand. In Vulcan, children are considered precious treasures. I do not understand how Frank could raise a hand against someone as innocent as…"

Jim raised a hand to stop Spock. "I haven't been innocent in a very long time, Spock. But on Earth and among humans, there just are some people who have black hearts. Sometimes, there just aren't any explanations to how we act. We humans are, as you say, illogical."

Jim watched Spock try to process the information. A heartbeat later, he spoke again. "Can we move on? I don't know about you, but I'd like to get this over with as soon as possible. And I'm pretty sure Bones is going to throw a conniption if we don't handle this soon."

"What's next?"

"You're not going to like it."

"As you have said before."

Jim sighed and looked upwards. "You know how I said that I was sent off-planet?"


"The planet I was sent to was Tarsus IV."

Spock let out a gasp as the black scenery around them wavered, like a mirage in the dessert.

And before he had any chance to gather himself, Spock found himself spinning farther and farther into the black abyss.

Spock opened his eyes once again to see a barren wasteland before him. It seemed that at one point, the land in front of him was once a fertile farmland, but now it had become barren, covered with blood.

The Vulcan took a step back as piles of bodies started to appear before him, but he bumped into a hard frozen body.

He turned to see Jim standing behind him. His Captain was trembling, his arms wrapped around his chest, hugging himself. Cold sweat appeared on his brow.

"Jim?" asked Spock.

"Spock…I-I don't think I can do this…" whispered Jim.

The bodies around them increased in number; their terrified expressions frozen in death. It almost surprised Spock at how detailed their faces were or how twisted their limbs were, but this was Jim he was talking about, and Spock shuddered at the thought of how every detail was probably etched from Jim's photographic memory. There was no exaggeration nor lie in each of these bodies.

"Jim, do not fear. This is merely a memory."

"Merely a memory…you're fucking with me. Do you not see the carnage around you? Courtesy of one fucking Kodos the Executioner."

"But you did not cause their deaths. You are not at fault for this, Jim."

Jim shook his head. "No, but I am no better."

The bodies faded away, disintegrating into the ground, replace by much smaller ones.

Sixteen emaciated children laid around them; their tear streak stains distinct on their pale, yet dirty faces. Sorrow, terror, and hunger filled their expressions; their dull eyes staring blankly into the cloudy sky.

"Jim, who are they?" Spock asked gently.

Jim curled into himself, if it was even possible. He sank to the ground, trying to avoid looking at the children around him. "They are my kids…the ones that I failed."

As loathe as Spock was to question Jim, he knew he had to. Otherwise, Jim would be forever stuck here. "What do you mean by failed?"

"I…I was supposed to protect them. I did as much as could. I stole…"

A thin thirteen-year-old J.T. scampered in the shadows, sneaking into homes and emerging with small bags of food. He didn't care who he was stealing from, even if the people within those homes needed to food and water that he gathered.

"I killed…"

J.T. and a young Kevin Riley had been corned by Kodos' soldiers. J.T. snarled at them and pulled out a small dagger as he stepped in front of Kevin. There was no hesitation in J.T.'s lithe and lethal movements. He sprang forward, leaping as his dagger slit the closest soldier's throat. Blood splattered all over J.T.'s young body, but he paid it no attention. The moment he landed, he swung around, stabbing another soldier in the stomach. The last of them had tried to attack Kevin, who huddled by the wall of a house. In that instant, J.T. rushed towards them, taking a sharp blow to his upper arm that was meant for Kevin, and exchanged it with a flick of his wrist. His dagger flew through the air and pierced through the last soldier's forehead.

J.T.'s cold, detached expression never changed during the entire encounter. Even when J.T. jerked out the knife from the soldier's head and wiped off the blood on his torn clothing, he barely spared the soldier a glance. It was a far cry than what Spock had seen in his Jim.

"I had to make hard choices…"

There was a young couple, crying to J.T. to spare them some food, some water. Anything. J.T. could easily see that without his help, the two would die within a couple of days, if not sooner. But he turned his back on them and didn't back even look over his shoulder. He had his kids he had to worry about.

And then there was the time where he had been separated from two of his kids, Anna and Jacob. He wasn't sure what happened, but soldiers discovered them and they had to make a quick getaway, but Anna and Jacob were too young – barely four-years-old – and could not keep up. J.T. had to close his eyes and bite his lower lip as he ushered the rest of his kids away, leaving behind the two when they fell and could not get back up. He had no choice. He had no choice…but it didn't hurt any less.

"And in the end, I still failed them."

"But some survived, did they not? Because of you, Kevin Riley was able to become an Ensign on board of Starfleet's flagship."

"Eight, besides me. Eight out of my original twenty-four. Sixteen of my kids died, Spock. Sixteen…all because I wasn't good enough."

"Jim, you did what you had to do to survive. For your kids to survive. Even if some perished, it was not because you did not do what you could; it was because Kodos forced you into that life-or-death situations. You are not to blame."

Jim looked up at Spock, tears falling down his cheeks. "You've seen all that I've done, Spock. Even you cannot possibly condone what I have done. And yet, after everything, sixteen of my kids still died and even more died by my own hands."

Spock knelt down in front of Jim, purposely hiding Jim's view of the bodies around them. "Jim, you are not James, that terrified child, anymore. You are no longer J.T., the teenager that was forced to live like a dog under Kodos' terrifying reign. You are Captain James T. Kirk, the one who saved worlds and is a universal hero. You are Jim, the one who lived through everything and survived to become who you are today. You are Jim – the extraordinary man who is the strongest being I have ever met. Please, do not forget that, Jim."

Spock lightly reached out, grasping Jim's wet cheeks. "Please, Jim. Do not forget yourself. Do not forget your Bones, Lieutenant Sulu, Lieutenant Chekov, and Nyota. Do not forget the Enterprise or her crew. We all care for you, Jim. If you are not there with us, who else is there to keep us safe? Who else is there to give meaning to our lives? Jim, we need you. Please. Do not let Kodos win."

Under Spock's hands, Jim shook, trying desperately to block out the screams of the thousands of people around him, trying to forget the faces of the people he killed and the kids that he failed, but he couldn't.

"No, Jim. You are not to forget. You are to move on. Only then, can you truly be free."

"Spock…help me. Please…I can't…"

Spock conjured a steel treasure box with his mind and set it beside Jim. "I can only do this much for you, Jim. The rest is up to you, but I will be here for you, every step of the way."


"Jim, you are strong – far stronger than you give yourself credit for."

"No, I'm not. I can't. I don't deserve to move on…"

"Don't think of it like that. Do it for the people who care for you. Think of 'Bones', Ensign Kevin Riley, Lieutenant Chekov and Sulu, and Nyota."

The images of the mentioned people appeared around them, creating a shield between them and the horror that was Tarsus.

Jim sucked in a deep breath and Spock could sense his resolve returning.

"Do it now, Jim," urged Spock.

Jim nodded and shook his head briefly. The scene around them went up into smoke, churned above their heads. Gritting his teeth, Jim forced the memory into the chest and Spock firmly forced it closed.

"The lock, Jim. The lock!"

Wordlessly, Jim forced the lock onto the chest. With one second of hesitation, Jim clamped the lock shut.

The scene swirled wildly and Jim let out a sigh of relief. His bright blue eyes landed on Spock and a small smile ghosted his face.

"Are you alright, Jim?"

Jim just shook his head at Spock's question.

Understanding, Spock amended his words. "Will you be alright, Jim?"

"Perhaps not today, but perhaps tomorrow. Someday, I will be able to do this alone once again."

Spock reached out as he felt himself being pushed out of Jim's recovering consciousness, his long fingers encircling Jim's wrist. "No, Jim. You will never be alone again. Not while I am alive and by your side."

Jim cracked a genuine smile. "See you on the other side, Spock."

And then Spock was gone.

Spock snapped back with a small gasp, his head throbbing. Instantly, he was surrounded by Nyota, Chekov, and Sulu. Questions barraged him. Was Jim alright? Was he alright? What had happened? What was going to happen? Spock, despite his intelligence, could barely make any sense of what they were saying.

"Everyone, give the hobgoblin some room!" barked McCoy.

His shout was effective and everyone took a couple of steps back, ducking their heads like scolded children.

McCoy turned to Spock who was still steadying himself. "You alright?"

Spock nodded.



But it wasn't Spock who answered. It was Jim himself, who was pushing himself up into a seated position, wincing at the sharp pain in his head.

Again, everyone tried to push forward, but Jim raised a hand and stopped them.

"Before you say anything, yes, I'm aware of what happened. Yes, I'm fine and yes, my shields are in place. Sorry for worrying you."

Silence fell and they all gave McCoy a side glance. McCoy was fidgeting by the door, trying not to look at Jim. Jim followed their gazes and sighed.

"Come here, you big lug. I know you want to check me over, you damn overprotective hen."

McCoy looked hesitant.

Jim rolled his eyes, "Come on, Bones. Don't make me get up and go over there."

At the sound of his nickname, Bones' posture instantly relaxed in relief and stepped forward, muttering under his breath. Jim quirked a smile at Bones returning to his usual state and even moved into position to make it easier for Bones to take his vitals, but Bones didn't bother. Instead, Bones just wrapped Jim into a tight hug.

"I'm just glad you're alright, Jim."

Jim smiled warmly. "Thanks, Bones. Sorry for scaring you."

Once they broke apart, Jim grinned at the rest of his Command crew. "Alright, I'm sure you have questions for me. Ask away."

"Are you sure that's wise, Jim?" asked Bones.

Jim nodded. "Thanks to Spock."

"Are you really alright, Keptin?" Chekov questioned first.

"I'm as good as anyone can be. Tomorrow will be better and the day after will be even better. For now, I'm fine."

Sulu was next. "Aren't you supposed to be psi-null? How did you manage to fight off Z?"

"I'm a genius, remember? I once visited a Betazoid colony and learned a few tricks. Even though I'm psi-null, I was able to figure out how to create mental shields and block of mental attacks. I had to train for it though."

Uhura crossed her arms. "You're still an idiot, Kirk. What did you think you would accomplish by running off like that? I've never seen McCoy so worried, and that's even with you getting blown up and poisoned."

Jim shrugged. "It was my problem. I thought I could deal with it on my own."

"You always take things upon yourself like you're alone. That needs to stop. Don't bite off more than you can chew, Kirk. We're here to help. We're family, aren't we?"

Jim smiled, "Yeah, we are." Then he frowned. "How come none of you are asking about my past? Aren't you curious?"

"We're very curious," said Sulu. "But everyone has the right to their own secrets. If you don't want to share, we won't ask."

"Thanks…that means a lot to me." He let out an exhale. "One day, I'll tell you about it all. Just…not today…."

"Of course. As long as we're all good," Sulu replied.

Jim just nodded. "Yep, we're all good."

McCoy rolled his eyes at everyone grinning at each other.

"Yeah, we're all good, you ingenious idiot."

"Love you too, Bones."

So, how was it? I know that Jim's reaction coming out of his memories may seem a little bit...mild. But Jim would be the kind of person that hid how broken he was, especially from the people he cared about. And, I really didn't want to go into a whole recovery thing with Jim, because in my eyes, I don't really think that Jim could recover in a single chapter. So just assume that he's still not completely okay (or do if that makes you enjoy the chapter more), and that everyone helps him out after the chapter ends.

Anyway, I hope I did this whole Tarsus thing justice. I tried to do research and read other people's works to get a better picture, but without watching the original series, I may have gotten a more biased feeling that only I could understand. Sorry if I falsified things or took too many liberties with it. Let me know and I'll fix it.

For the next chapter, I haven't quite decided yet. Due to popular requests, I will include an almost drowning with either Bones or Spock resuscitating Jim. Whoever does it is up to you guys. As well as anything else. :)

As usual, please review! Always makes my day!

~ Kanae Yuna