From the eager looks on the faces of the officers around him, McCoy knew he'd have a captive audience. The walking enigma that was their Captain always inspired their curiosity and only their respect for Jim kept them from actively probing into his past.
Thanks largely McCoy suspected to Uhura, there had been a silent agreement among them all that they would ask no questions and expect no answers, which was funny in a way because Jim never had any problems talking about himself so long as he was the one who picked the topic.
Jim had been drunk when he'd told McCoy about his last Christmas with his family, but it had been a mellow, happy kind of drunk that usually followed some success or other, and not like the terrifying time he'd given himself alcohol poisoning in the space of two hours. McCoy still didn't like to think about that, even now, knowing why.
Telling Jim's crew this little slice of his childhood would do no harm. It was actually oddly adorable, in a strange, screwed up Kirk kind of way, and it was one of the few times McCoy could say that he got why Jim still idolized his family.
"Well?" Uhura probed.
"Hold your horses damnit." McCoy said gruffly, trying to remember exactly where the story had begun.
He remembered that Jim had been travelling with his brother and mother on the USS Winchester to an outposting on the edge of the Beta Quadrant…
Jim Kirk was ten years old, and not likely going to see eleven. If the head injury he'd managed to acquire didn't kill him, then his mom certainly would. If there was anything left once she was done with him – and he doubted it, Winona Kirk was a terrifyingly thorough woman – then no doubt Sam would be happy to finish the job.
Whimpering, he raised his hand to feel his head. His fingers came back sticky and he stared at them in bemusement. It didn't hurt at all, but the blood was his and from the dent he'd left in the side of the control panel, he could only imagine what damage he'd done to his skull.
He was smart enough to know that it should hurt – it should hurt a lot. The fact that it didn't should alarm him. He should be worried. He wasn't, not about that, and only about the aforementioned confrontation with his mother.
He had already been late for dinner when the alarm had sounded and the small storage space off Engineering Bay D had gone into lockdown. She'd probably already be looking for him because as well as being thorough, she was also what Captain Barnett called a 'crazy, paranoid bitch', although he had to pretend he'd never heard the Captain say so.
He could smell something burning nearby and tried to turn his head. Instantly pain shot down his spine and across his back. It was agonizing and tears started to roll involuntarily down his cheeks. It was several long minutes before the pain subsided and longer still before he could work up the strength not to cry.
When he was finally able to breath steadily again, he tried again to move, this time more slowly. It was an effort, but eventually he twisted his body up against the corner of the main computer terminal for the room. The burning he'd smelt was the replicator, which must have blown. The electrical fire had sparked, spreading across the room, fueled by all of Jim's painstaking work.
Christmas was a special time in the Kirk household. It was a time when his mom lost the lines of stress around her eyes, and his brother laughed until he cried and Jim knew for certain that for one day at least, the three of them would never be separated. Usually they spent the week leading up to it in a slowly building bubble of excitement. They'd decorate whatever space they were living in and stay up late into the night, not talking about lessons or people or the ship they were on, but stories that were wild and exciting, ancient and impossible, but every bit the foundation of Jim's dreams.
This year though, there had been no stories, no excitement and no dreams. Jim wasn't even sure what was different, only that his mother spent even less time with them than usual, and Sam barely spoke to anyone, let alone his annoying little brother.
Jim didn't mean to be annoying, but apparently he couldn't help it. If he knew what it was that he did that made Sam so mad, he'd stop, but his brother hadn't said two words to him in the last week and The Winchester provided more than enough space for him to avoid Jim's company.
So Jim had taken it on himself. His mom was busy and always stressed and tired, and Sam was a teenager and teenagers got weird sometimes, even Jim knew that. So he'd man up and arrange things himself.
He'd wanted to decorate their rooms, but then that would have killed the surprise. So instead he'd asked Captain Barnett if he could decorate one of the unused storage rooms. He knew it was unused because they had just dropped supplies off on Ira Delta, and they weren't due to pick up more until the docked at Space Station K11 in the new year. The Chief Engineer and CMO had commandeered one already, though Jim wasn't sure what they did in there, but there were several more empty spaces and he only needed to one for a week or so. He'd said as much to the Captain, who had twitched a smile Jim didn't even know he was capable of making and given him permission.
"Ach, who thought it'd be a good idea to let a wee Kirk wander around Engineering unsupervised?" Scotty exclaimed, interrupting McCoy's retelling with a dramatic shudder.
McCoy shrugged his shoulders. There was a lot about the way Jim was raised that went against every instinct he had as a parent. Some things made sense. Others though…
"Apparently that was his first concussion." The slightly nostalgic look on Jim's face at the recollection had been as amusing as it was alarming.
"Jesus." Sulu shook his head. "Start as you mean to continue, I guess."
"I knew he must have been dropped on his head as a child." Uhura muttered darkly.
"You plan on letting me finish?" McCoy glared them all into silence.
After dinner every night for the following week, Jim had snuck down to decorate the space. It took some time – he wasn't the tallest of kids for his age, and the decorations he programmed the replicator to make were fiddly and cumbersome, but they looked pretty and included all of mom and Sam's favorite things.
Jim had been finishing the last few touches and planning on how to lure them down when everything had suddenly lurched. He'd fallen from the edge of the table and gone down hard.
Seeing his precious work destroyed hurt more than anything else and the tears came fresh.
"Ji- mmy? Jimmy? C-can you – you, hear, me?" The static buzz Jim had noticed before suddenly cleared and Sam's voice was suddenly bellowing brokenly in Jim's ear. He jumped in fright and his vision blacked over.
When he came to again, Sam was still talking and someone was banging on the buckled doorframe behind him. The smoke was much thicker now and the fire didn't seem to be showing any signs of stopping. The sprinkler system should have come on already, showering the room with dry powder. It didn't. A computer glitch, Jim guessed.
"-and then mom pushed him off the wall and into the river? You remember that? Man, that was the best Christmas ever." Sam said over the comm.
Jim tried to remember and suddenly grinned. It made his face hurt, but he recalled the time, a year ago, when they were on shore for Christmas and Winona had taken her boys to an old fashioned market. Jim had been so distracted by the lights and sounds he'd wandered off. To be fair, the man who had taken his arm and pulled him to the edge of the market had probably been only trying to help him, but Winona had knocked out two of his teeth anyway before shoving him none to gently into the freezing cold river running alongside the town.
She'd been furious with Jim, but he and Sam had privately found the whole thing terribly funny. They'd both enjoyed her undivided attention that year and it had lasted even longer than usual.
"Sam?" Jim would have given anything for his brother to be there right then. Sam was fun and loud and boisterous and exciting and always knew how to cheer Jim up. When Jim grew up, he was going to be just like Sam.
"Jimmy? Oh my god, are you ok? Why didn't you talk to me? Jimmy?"
Jim meant to tell his brother he was alright, he really did. He opened his mouth though, and the only word that came out was "Mom?"
"Jim? Son, it's Captain Barnett." Oh crap. Jim was in so much trouble. "Are you hurt?"
"Head hurts." Jim said. It did now, and he wondered why he'd been worried when it hadn't. He'd take no pain any day of the week. Beyond the door, the banging continued.
"Can you get to the console?"
"It's broken," Jim looked up at the sparking mess of wires.
"Ok, listen closely Jim. We're trying to get the door open, but the frame has buckled and the computer malfunction has locked us out manually. Now your mom and Doctor Puri are trying to get to you from the vents. One way or another we will get you out."
"Ok." Jim said, believing him without question. His mom very rarely had nice things to say about anyone, but she said less nasty things about Barnett than most, which meant she respected him. Jim trusted that.
"Jimmy? Can you hear me?" Sam was back. Jim smiled tiredly.
"What were you doing down here? You were supposed to be home with us?"
"I was decorating." Jim said as if that was a perfectly good excuse. It was the best he had.
"It's Christmas." Jim sniffled.
"God, wee bastard was breaking hearts even at ten." Scotty shook his head sadly.
McCoy took the chance to freshen his coffee. It was no secret between him and Jim that McCoy thought all kinds of bad things about Sam Kirk, but Jim wouldn't hear a single bad thing about either his brother or his mother. It was stories like this one that reminded McCoy that Jim wasn't the only character in the Kirk family tragedy; that Sam lost his parents as well and acted in a way any grieving child could be forgiven for.
Chekov began to mutter to himself and poked the PADD in his hands viciously.
"Pavel, what are you-" Sulu started to ask.
Chekov batted him away with his hand. "Keep talking, Doctor." He implored. "I vant to hear happy end, ya?"
"Assuming it has one." Uhura said softly.
"Oh it does." McCoy promised. "I know everyone talks about what a great man George Kirk was, but I don't think anyone thinks about what kind of woman that man would marry. I swear, if there was one person I could go back in time and meet, it would be Winona Kirk." For several reasons.
"I think it would take something special to raise Jim." Uhura couldn't help but smile. "She was a good mom?"
"She dragged her children across the galaxy on a revenge quest that got her killed." McCoy said flatly. "She was a lousy mom. But she loved her boys, and she was fierce…"
Sam continued to talk to Jim long after Jim lost the energy to respond. His head was hurting so badly and he just wanted to sleep. He wanted to wake up on Christmas morning to his mom's smile and burnt pancakes cooked the proper way. He wanted to stay in his pajamas all day and listen to stories and tell jokes.
But when had he ever gotten what he wanted?
His eyes were drooping when the ceiling fell down inches from him with a loud clatter. He blinked and looked closer. It wasn't the whole ceiling, just one panel, and a moment later, a woman dropped down into the room.
She looked like an angel. Her blonde hair had pulled free from its customary braid and shone like a halo around her head, and her hand was cool as it settled against his cheek.
"Fucking hell, Jimmy." She muttered. Jim frowned. He didn't imagine angels would swear. "What have you done to yourself?" She didn't sound angry, though. She sounded scared and that made Jim's head hurt more than the blood did. His mom wasn't afraid of anything.
Jim cried out when she touched the back of his head and tried to gently help him sit up. Instantly she stilled and her hand was back on his cheek. "Shush, it's alright sweetheart. I'm here. Tell me where it hurts, Jim? Is it your head?"
"Mom?" Sam's voice sounded hopeful.
"I got him, Sam." Winona didn't take her eyes from Jim. She cupped his face carefully in her hands. "Come on sweetheart, talk to me."
But Jim couldn't. He could barely even keep his eyes open.
When he opened them again, he'd been moved. He lay in his mom's lap, her fingers stroking his hair. A young man with watery blue, serious eyes and facial tattoos hovered over them both with a tricorder.
When she saw Jim was awake again she smiled and it felt like Jim was looking up into the sun. "Did you do all this, Jim?" She asked, nodding to the ruined decorations. Jim sniffed and started to cry again. "Shush, it's going to be okay." She soothed before turning on the doctor and growling. "Can't you give him anything, damnit?"
"I need to get him into an OR room." The young doctor said without emotion. "You've scrambled that head of yours up pretty good, kid."
"No." Jim moaned.
"Either give him something for the pain, doc, or I'll go over your head to the CMO."
"Doctor Danziger isn't attending your son, Commander. I am." Puri frowned at her. "Stop your overly emotional wailing and let me do my job."
"My son has a hole in the back of his skull." She snapped.
"Well he shouldn't have been wandering around dangerous parts of the ship unsupervised." Puri scowled right back. Jim sniffled and tried to press himself closer to his mom. She tightened her arms around him.
"Please god, tell me she punched that clown?" Sulu shook his head in disgust. "I know we shouldn't speak ill of the dead…"
"I'm just impressed there was a doctor out there who makes you look cute and fuzzy, Doctor McCoy." Riley grinned.
McCoy ignored him. Puri had been a good doctor. McCoy had respected him, even if he hadn't liked him. "Well she didn't punch him but I think its safe to say she did something. After he finished his tour on The Winchester he didn't serve on another starship until The Enterprise."
"Don't fuck with the Kirks, huh?" Sulu whistled.
"They are a vindictive bunch." McCoy nodded. "They know how to hold grudges."
"This coming from a McCoy?" The Captain's voice took them all by surprise. They jumped, equal parts guilty and chagrinned.
"You wanna finish the story, Jim?" McCoy said, refusing to feel either. He could read Jim like a book, and as expected, he wasn't in the least upset. Still, McCoy shoved a steaming mug of cocoa over towards him and tried not to smile when Jim snatched it up gleefully.
"What's to finish?" Jim shrugged between mouthfuls of sweet hot chocolate. "Last Christmas we spent with our mom, and I had a fractured skull and slept through most of it."
"Doctor McCoy said it had a happy ending." Chekov looked positively woebegone. McCoy kicked Jim under the table.
"Oh it does." Jim said, rolling his eyes at his CMO. "Just not in the sparkly fairy tale Bones way of thinking."
"It's adorable." McCoy assured Chekov.
"I wouldn't go that far." Jim snorted. "My mom scared the shit out of the CMO, who had just enough professional integrity not to check me out after surgery just so I could do the whole Christmas thing, but not enough to say no when she and Sam turned sickbay into the North Pole." A grin sneaked across his face. "Man, it was perfect. They went completely nuts. Totally overcompensating but I couldn't care less. We had a tree and eggnog and sang carols. It was awesome. The best Christmas ever."
A silence fell on the assembled group as they took in the warm, soft smile on their Captain's face. It lasted only a moment before he shook it off. "Anyway, I actually had a reason to be here that wasn't to fuel your sordid gossip mongering." He turned to McCoy. "Bones! I need you to come down with us when we reach our destination."
McCoy's expression instantly curdled. "Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor not an explorer. I have no desire to be dragged along on another of your crazy escapades."
"It's a trade negotiation Bones. No crazy escapades, I promise."
"You promised that the last time. I nearly got eaten by cannibals." McCoy grumped.
"That was unfortunate…"
"It was a bit more than damn unfortunate!" McCoy could feel his blood pleasure spike just thinking about it.
"That's a yes then!" Jim beamed. "Awesome. As you all were." And with that he bounded off back to his daily routine with his usual hyper energy. They all knew that Jim could and would have ordered McCoy to go. Just as they knew he wouldn't have to.
Once he was gone, Sulu stood decisively. "Okay, we need a plan."
McCoy frowned. He'd missed something, clearly. "A plan?"
"Our Captain's best Christmas memory is of a time he nearly died. I'm not in the least bit okay with that." Sulu growled.
"I'll brief Spock." Uhura also stood.
Chekov pointed down at his PADD.
"I might have an idea or two brewing, aye." Scotty admitted as he stroked his chin. Riley was already hunched over with Chekov, leaving McCoy sitting there, feeling like an idiot.
"And what am I supposed to do?" He asked.
"Distract him!" Sulu suggested.
"Oh right…give me the easy job." McCoy grumbled. "Just peachy."