(It begins - naturally enough - with a woman.)
You're twelve (still) when you disembark, all arms and legs and bitter defiance, still smarting from Frank's smug satisfaction when your mother tiredly agreed to send you away - for stealing and wrecking a car that wasn't even his! (In hindsight, telling Frank he'd stolen it first probably hadn't been your smartest move.)
So here you are, exiled because you'd finally gone too far for even your mother to ignore.
Aunt Mari is waiting for you, tall and spare, with hard angles that are weatherworn and rounded, but not softened (you've always been stronger than me Mari you're the one who should have joined Starfleet). She's dressed in the woman's uniform of the colony: long dress, hair braided and wound around her head, and if you took her picture now you wouldn't be able to tell five hundred years have passed since the last time women dressed like that (it's not my dream Winona it's Sinclair's I don't like it but he's my husband and besides he's already spent everything we have on this goddamn land claim).
She welcomes you with a stern expression and a piercing stare. Her hands are calloused, and her fingers rasp against your skin as she lifts your chin so she can take a better look at you. She frowns critically, and your anger rises - you've only just got here and she's judging you already -
You look just like him. No wonder Frank's such an asshole.
Your jaw drops with her hand.
I don't see much of your mother in you - that may be a good thing. Do you have everything?
You nod and she nods. Good. Let's go.
She strides away and you have to run to keep up. Her legs are long and devour the ground like no other woman's you've ever seen and she's talking rapidly over her shoulder.
You're also too pale and skinny. We'll change that fast enough. Oh, and get used to walking everywhere. We're not rich enough to have any horses.
Walking? you blurt and it's the first thing you've managed to say since you got off the ship.
She shrugs. We're living in the 1880s. Most of the time. She slows her steps so you can walk beside her and she gives you a smile, fleeting but sincere, and it transforms her stern face into something approaching beauty.
Welcome to Tarsus IV, she says. Welcome to your new home.
Aunt Mari has pulled ahead again and you're half-running in order to catch up when you stagger back under the sudden impact of someone barrelling out of (what ends up being) the general store and straight into you. You get quick impressions of carroty hair, a face that's one big freckle, and startled violet eyes, and then she's gone, her braid whipping behind her as the storekeeper lumbers out, bellowing Clem! Clem! Get your ass back here!
The storekeeper glances at you, and his scowl deepens.
Your nephew? he snaps at your aunt. The troublemaker?
Aunt Mari glances quickly at you, then pulls herself up to her full height and says my nephew, yes.
Well, keep him away from that one, the storekeeper growls, or he'll never learn how to behave.
The storekeeper rakes you with a contemptuous look, and sneers.
Too bad we can't make Clem someone else's problem like your mother did.
Aunt Mari's face hardens and she puts a firm hand on your shoulder. This is James Tiberius Kirk. He is my sister's son, and the son of a Starfleet hero. He is not a problem! Good day, Barnabas.
She urges you away from Barnabas and you don't look back even when you hear the man hawk and spit behind you.
It's all right, Jim, Aunt Mari says firmly, we don't shop there anyway.
Who's the girl? you ask.
Clem? The village's wild child. She's a good kid, but she doesn't fit in here - on Tarsus IV, I mean. Aunt Mari slides an amused glance towards you. I think you're going to like her.
You can't hide your surprise. You'll let me meet her?
I don't have much choice. She's our closest neighbour - and she also helps me with the baby.
Aunt Mari nods, and her face softens. I had a boy two months ago.
You blink, unsure how to react, although you finally manage, congratulations.
She smiles another fleeting smile. I'm afraid you'll have to help me with him as well. Even though Clem and Wally - her father - practically live with us, they still have to work their own claim. And when Wally isn't on my homestead, she has to look after him as well.
Why? Is he sick?
Aunt Mari laughs, and it's a lovely, husky, cascading sound. Only with gold fever. He's a miner.
You frown. And his daughter is named Clem? As in...Clementine? Really?
Aunt Mari nods. Yes, just like in the song.
You stare incredulously at her, then shake your head in disbelief. You almost feel sorry for the girl - that unfortunate red hair, those freckles, a gold miner for a father, and named Clementine too? And you thought your life was rough!
Aunt Mari and your new cousin Jed live in a small house, hand-built and sturdy like the woman who lives there - and it's filled with the largest man you've ever seen. He turns out to be Clem's father, Wally, and his huge size is in sharp contrast to the tiny, fragile baby he's holding in the crook of his arm. You find yourself staring warily at the shaggy man, his face almost obscured by his rich, full beard. He's a poster-boy for the stereotype of a 19th-century gold miner, and you wonder if he carefully plans his appearance, or if it's really just how he looks. You're fascinated in spite of yourself.
You look around as Aunt Mari makes supper, and ask where's Uncle Sinclair?
She freezes for a moment, then says, he left two years ago. It turned out living in the 19th century wasn't quite as much fun as he thought. Her voice is as dry as the dust outside.
You blink, then look at Jed. You look at Wally, who shrugs sheepishly, and you blush and shift uncomfortably. Frank was bad enough, you think, and now there's Wally, and you just can't deal with another guy who's going to hate you because the woman in his life loves you...not that you're sure Aunt Mari will ever actually love you but still. Wally smiles at you, and his eyes are soft when he looks at Aunt Mari but you're not fooled. It's only a matter of time, you think cynically.
Aunt Mari gives you a hard stare. Shit happens, Jim. You make choices and live with the consequences. And how you choose to deal with the choices you don't get to make is all a part of that. You find you can't look away from her eyes. That's something you need to learn.
You flush, resentment rising.
I think I'm living with the consequences right now, you mutter.
I'm here, aren't I?
She shrugs. Whether this place is a punishment or a blessing is entirely up to you.
She puts the food on the table. Dig in; there's plenty more where that came from. Trust me - you'll need it.
Everyone looks over as the door opens and the girl - Clem - bursts into the house with a loud clatter.
You stare at her.
Her hair really is an unfortunate shade of carroty red, caught in a braid that's fraying at the edges. Like you thought, her face is one giant freckle. She's taller than you, her figure just as boyish, and she looks like she's your age or possibly a year or so older.
She stares at you.
Her expression is thoughtfully assessing and she stands in the kitchen like she owns it (maybe she does) and you think her eyes are too old for someone so young. But her eyes are really violet and truly beautiful and you both look wordlessly at each other and there's something - something familiar about her (I don't know Wally it's either love at first sight or they recognize a partner in crime when they see one).
So, Clem finally says, drawls, deliberately snide, you're the hero's kid.
You nod, eyes wide. Jim, you finally manage to say. You're acutely aware of Aunt Mari and Wally behind you.
Well, Jimmy-boy, Clem drawls, I'm not impressed. Couldn't your dad - I don't know – have put a brick against the gas pedal or something?
You gape and stammer and finally manage to stutter I don't think starships work like that.
Aunt Mari snorts inelegantly, and says play nice and come eat.
Clem gives you a cheeky, challenging grin and you finally know why there's that sense of familiarity: you've seen that expression, that attitude, often enough on your own face. She's a kindred spirit, you realize, and you see equal recognition reflected in her eyes.
She saunters to the table. Let's eat, Jimmy-boy, then I'll show you around the homestead.
You and Clem are instant friends. You wash up and she shows you around the homestead and then she and Wally go home (I think Jim needs you to himself for awhile). The next day, Clem arrives and helps you with the chores, then looks expectantly at Aunt Mari, who sighs in resignation, looks you straight in the eye and says, very seriously, we live on a knife's edge here, Jim, and Governor Kodos rules the colony with an iron hand. Most of us - Barnabas notwithstanding - are good people, just trying to get by and be good neighbors. So. Don't harm the crops, the food stores, or the animals. And don't take anything you can't replace or return. Penalties here are...draconian, to say the least, and even being a hero's son may not be enough to save you.
She stops and you wait.
Finally you frown.
She smiles her fleeting smile. Try not to get caught, she says and shoos you away.
You walk beside Clem in puzzled silence, thinking of Aunt Mari's words, then you blurt, what did you take yesterday?
She shrugs. Nothing. Sometimes I just like messing with him.
The summer passes in a gentle stream of slow, endless days. You miss Iowa, but not Frank, and you seldom saw your mother, so there's nothing to miss there, and you refuse to think of Sam at all - not that you know where he is anyway.
Aunt Mari is true to her word and you work hard beside her in the fields, and you build muscles and a tan and your hair bleaches blonder in the sun. But Aunt Mari also believes in play, and the days pass in a haze of heat and dust and bare feet toughening against the ground; there are escapades that mildly terrorize the neighbors and the village, and you learn how to ride on 'borrowed' horses that are never taken when there's work to be done and are always returned, rubbed down, fed and watered, before you and Clem fade away. When you're not avoiding capture, you're wandering with Clem through the gently rolling hills, the vast flat lands, and sometimes - when Wally's been gone too long - you and Clem go camping in the mountains that loom on the horizon and search for him, just to make sure he's still okay. In between adventures, there's hard work, both on Aunt Mari's homestead and sometimes with Wally, searching for gold. While you never quite trust Wally, you learn to tolerate him and he seems to be gruffly fond of you although probably more for Aunt Mari's and Clem's sakes than your own. But at least he doesn't seem to actively dislike you, and that's a win in your book.
Evenings are spent in lamplight, playing games, or singing songs in Aunt Mari's sitting room, everyone gathered around the ancient piano. It sounds tinny and smells funny, but Wally energetically pounds out songs that range from the era they (pretend to) live in to the most modern songs they know even though it's been several standard years since the songs were even remotely popular.
That's when you discover that Clem hates the song she's named for; she doesn't like the original Clementine's fate and so Wally changes the words, and sings of a Clementine who leaves Tarsus IV (like her brother, Valentine)(do you really have a brother named Valentine?)(Micah, actually, but Dad couldn't get it to rhyme) and lives a long, successful, happy life with the singer of the song.
It doesn't really help much, but Clem always ends up reluctantly smiling at her dad when he sings it (not when you do though; she usually chases you until she catches you and then makes you sorry you dared sing it to her at all - which, of course, only means you sing it to her as often as you can).
Mostly, though, there are long days of wandering exploration, adventure and trouble, and during your travels, you and Clem talk.
She tells you about Tarsus, about Governor Kodos, and you see him or his honor guard occasionally, usually when they come to collect the taxes (tribute Wally - you know that's what it really is) or take the food quota (we're each supposed to be self-sufficient - I don't see those parasites in the capital growing their own food!)(Now, Mari...).
Clem also tells you about Sinclair, about him leaving, and about how her dad and your aunt - well, the less said about that the better and you both grimace and shudder and try to rid your minds of those thoughts. The two of you decide to tease Barnabas after that conversation, just so you can clear your minds.
Summer fades, the harvest comes and the honor guard takes half of it, and you tell Clem about Frank and the car, about Sam leaving you behind, about your (only) friend Johnny and how he writes to you regularly (or as regularly as he can given the amount of contact Tarsus has with the rest of the Federation) but Johnny's moving to Bersallis III and there's even less Starfleet presence there, so who knows if you'll ever meet again?
The weather begins to turn once the harvest is finished, and with it comes shoes and school and a brief visit from your mother, who brings news of Sam (he's fine, Jim, living in California). She doesn't mention Frank and you don't ask. You don't ask to go home and she doesn't offer, and you both barely hide your relief as you say good-bye. But immediately after she leaves you find Clem and you build forts and recruit 'soldiers' and you wage war on a small scale until your mother's visit is a dim memory.
Winter settles in, and in spite of your (well-earned) reputation and Clem's, the neighbors no longer cringe when they see you because you'd willingly pitched in with the harvest, helped raise barns and houses, looked after children when needed, and they know you well enough now to know that while you and Clem will always cause a certain level of mischief and chaos, and lead their children far astray, neither of you will ever deliberately cause permanent harm, you'll never take anything you can't replace or return - and you'll never, ever get caught.
This change of heart is a godsend when Wally goes missing in the mountains in mid-winter and the neighbors band together to search for him. Aunt Mari is grey-faced but stoic when she tells you and Clem they found him; Clem sways but doesn't break, and she and Aunt Mari through some hidden feminine way you don't understand hold on to each other without ever actually touching or saying a word. You never sing that song at Clem again although on occasion she sits at the piano in stillness and silence before slowly picking out, one by one, the familiar notes.
The winter lasts forever.
When it finally softens into spring, the hard brittle grief eases slightly and Aunt Mari and Clem begin to look around again and actually see what's happening. I miss him, Aunt Mari says, and her voice wobbles slightly, but life continues, and it's almost time to plant crops again. With the beginning of new life in the fields, new life seems to also spring up in Aunt Mari and Clem.
You turn thirteen that spring, and you spend the day in the field, and Aunt Mari and Clem bake you a cake and give you simple gifts (a polished rock from Clem; a hand-made shirt from Aunt Mari).
You're thirteen, and you're still all arms and legs (three inches Winona you won't recognize him when you see him) but the defiance isn't quite so bitter and strong. Clem, too, seems softer, some of her hard edges smoothed by grief and loss and healing, and you try not to think about the fact that her body is becoming softer, too. She's your pal, not a girl, and you don't want your pal to become just another Tarsus IV colonial woman, battered by the weather and hard labour and the life, all humour and mischief, vitality and spontaneity seemingly leeched somehow into the very soil she works. She's Clem and she should always, always be like this: adventurous, impetuous, reckless, and she's yours in a way no one else has ever been, not even Sam. She's yours, and you're going to hold on to her with all your might.
You turn thirteen, and in spite of the Wally-shaped hole in your lives, it's the happiest birthday you can remember, because Aunt Mari gives you a hug and says she's proud of you and she sends you off with Clem with a smile and a be careful.
She trusts you, you realize as you start to wander off with Clem, bickering companionably about where to go and what to do. More than that: she loves you, and accepts you, just as you are.
You look back, and Aunt Mari is framed in the doorway, Jed on her hip, standing straight and tall, all sharp angles and strong lines and pride and stoic endurance. You pause, struck by the picture she makes, by the beauty you see, and even I recognize the crystal clarity of the moment. She's beautiful, and strong, and my heart clenches almost painfully with love for the woman in the doorway, the boy on her hip and the girl beside me. Then Clem calls my name and I turn to follow her into another adventure. I don't say anything to her because I don't want her to laugh - and I don't have the words anyway.
There's an almost unbearably sweet innocence that permeates the spring days as they lengthen into summer and the crops grow in the fields, and fall is upon us before we know it, and Clem and I are camping out (not in the mountains - we haven't been to the mountains since the men came back with Wally; Clem says there's nothing there for her anymore). It's our last chance before the harvest begins and then school. We've bickered over the latest novel we'd read and it morphs into arguing about Governor Kodos' policies, local politics, harvesting techniques, and whether we've been too easy on Barnabas this summer; he almost smiles when he sees us coming now.
We finally lapse into companionable silence. We're poking aimlessly at the fire and I'm starting to think it may be time to go to sleep when Clem suddenly asks are you sorry? About the car, I mean.
I jerk back slightly; she's never asked me questions about the car or Frank and there's a serious tone to her voice that's never been there before. She's watching me, an unreadable expression in those violet eyes, her face half-hidden in the light and shadows cast by the fire.
I scowl and shrug and poke at the ground in front of me with the burnt stick, and hope she'll get the message and change the subject.
Jimmy-boy? she coaxes and Clem never coaxes - she forces and bludgeons and gnaws until you finally tell her anything she wants to know just to get her to quit it already. But she doesn't coax.
Jim? she says softly, and that makes me stare at her in surprise. What were you thinking? she asks, and I see she's truly curious. Not angry, not disappointed, not judging or tired or just finished with me and wanting me to be someone else's problem.
It wasn't his car, I say, still defiant, still angry, and it doesn't really answer her question, but she only nods.
What did you plan to do after you stole it?
I shrug again. Go away. Sam did - why shouldn't I?
She nods again, as if the idea of being twelve and taking an antique car and running forever was a perfectly normal idea, perfectly acceptable, perfectly logical.
Have you ever felt like that? I blurt out. Like you just wanted to run until you couldn't run anymore?
All the time, she says, and looks sad, and I can again see her, older, living like all the other women here on Tarsus IV, something gone, something vital missing from her.
Come with me, I urge. When I go home - come with me.
Clem laughs, but it's sad and old. I can't, she says. Dad hadn't worked off his debt to Governor Kodos yet, and with my brother living off-planet, I'm the one who owes it now. She blinks rapidly. My children will owe it, too. She gives me a twisted smile. It's why Mari can't leave, either.
Rage rises inside me.
I don't care. When it's time for me to go home, I'm taking all of you with me. You. Aunt Mari. Jed. There has to be a way!
She laughs again, but this time it's her normal laugh, and for a moment she's herself again, fourteen and young and my pal, my partner-in-crime, mine. She grins at me, something soft in her face, in her eyes, and like with Aunt Mari, there's a moment of sudden crystal clarity.
And I'm in love.
When the fungus infects the crops, it spreads too quickly for anyone to do anything. It feels like the crops are ruined in hours, although it's actually several days. It doesn't really matter though; the results are the same. The crops are gone.
All of them.
Governor Kodos himself addresses the village in the town square.
I've called for help, but no one has responded. We don't know when or if Starfleet is going to arrive. In the meantime, we're collecting all the food stores and implementing a strict rationing system.
We stretch our rations as much as possible, and Clem and I scavenge whatever we can from the plains and the hills. I even go to the mountains to search for something, anything, we can eat. But Tarsus IV is a mostly barren planet, and there are no native animals, or at least none large enough to feed more than eight thousand people for an indefinite period of time.
We find a few things, but never enough.
The winter is hard, and I learn the true meaning of hunger. I become used to its constant presence, the worry about the next meal never far from my mind. Clem and I notice Aunt Mari's portions becoming progressively smaller, and we begin to do the same, doing whatever we can to stretch what little we have.
I find myself scouring the sky, pretending I'll be able to see it when (my mother) the starship arrives to save us.
But the starship doesn't arrive, no matter how much I hope or how intently I watch, and we all grow thin, and the baby dies in the night, silent and small, as we sit vigil and Aunt Mari's tears are just as silent as she washes and dresses him and sends me to town to get the doctor and the undertaker. They're sad-eyed and solemn and tell Aunt Mari in low tones that there were four other deaths in the night, and if she wants to bury the baby on the farm, they'll sign off on it.
I build the coffin myself and I tuck the doll I'd made him for his birthday into his arms so he won't be lonely, and tears keep blurring my vision as Clem and I dig the grave beside Wally's. Aunt Mari sits silent and unnaturally still beside the crib, staring at nothing, but she stands grim and proud and unwavering at the grave site, and I send her and Clem away before I cover the coffin with dirt.
Aunt Mari mourns, the colony starves, and the death toll continues to rise.
Clem and I walk into the neighbouring village, having searched the territory in between once more for something - anything - we could use as food. We're tired and thirsty, looking for the water pump in the town square before we begin the trek back to our own village. Clem notices the honor guard before I do, and she pulls me to a stop behind one of the stores that border the square before anyone notices we're there.
It looks like the entire village is gathered there. Everyone has wasted away to skin and bone, and they look tired, huddled together in groups in the cold air (although the snow has melted - finally) and unnaturally quiet. The Governor, too, looks hungry, but the honor guard are in crisp, bright uniforms and look suspiciously well-fed and my eyes narrow as I look them over.
We're too far away to hear the proclamation that's being read, but I can feel my heart start to pound, fear coiling in my stomach, as the crowd gasps and begins to loudly protest, and the guards begin to drag some of the people away, who scream and struggle and reach out to those left behind.
Oh my God, Clem mutters beside me, and then repeats it over and over like it's truly a prayer and then the guards start firing - and Clem's hand is tight over my mouth, stifling my cries of shock and dismay and she holds me back when I try to rush towards the guards to stop them from firing and firing and firing and firing and the people fall and keep falling and I can't make myself wake up, to make this stop -
We have to get back, she hisses, and the terror in her voice breaks through my panicked haze. We're next.
It takes long, endless moments for her words to sink in and then I nod and we run -
And all the while my mind is racing, trying to make sense of what I've seen, trying to think of what I can do to stop it happening again - there has to be something - something - something -
Our feet pound a rhythm, our breaths rasp, too loud in my ears, and each pounding footstep echoes - too late, too late, too late -
We skid to a halt on our homestead, and we are too late - Aunt Mari is already gone, the door on the house hanging drunkenly from its hinges where it's been kicked in - I double over, desperately gasping for air, retching, legs shaking, Clem beside me.
Come on, she gasps.
Where? I demand, my voice harsh, and there are tears in my eyes.
We can hide in the mountains. We can find something to eat - Dad spent weeks there! I'm sure - there's - there's - there's insects! There have to be insect nests all over the mountains! We can survive off those and wait for Starfleet!
And leave the others to die?
What else can we do?
Convince them to stop – to wait a little longer -
This isn't something that can be stopped with fast talking, Jim!
She stares at me.
I stare back.
She drops her gaze and swallows hard.
Okay, she says, and she sounds like she's about to cry - but that's ridiculous, she's Clem, and Clem never cries. Not when we buried her father. Not when we buried her brother. Not even when we watched our neighbours in the next village shot down.
We head to our village, jogging now, but still moving fast, and my mind is racing. There has to be a way to convince them to wait - we have a whole fucking planet to search for food! There has to be something we can eat! Are there no fish in the oceans? Algae, even? Something? And if Clem thought we could survive in the mountains living on insects until help came - and that wasn't a bad idea at all - then there was food, we just had to look harder for it, that's all -
But everyone's already gathered in the town square, and Kodos is eyeing the crowd like he's searching for someone or something in particular.
We run into the square, and I shout wait! There has to be another way!
Kodos turns and stares, pinning me with his sharp, penetrating eyes.
What's this? You dare to speak?
There has to be food on this planet! There may be large nests of insects in the mountains; we can use those – right, Clem?
But Clem is already in the grip of the guards, and she struggles desperately as they push her unceremoniously into the square with the rest of the villagers. She runs to Aunt Mari, who puts an arm around her, and glares defiantly at Kodos and the closest guard. I'm so distracted I'm startled when my own arms are grabbed, and I begin to struggle, getting a few good kicks in, but everything I try is useless against their iron grips.
Bring him here, Kodos demands. He coldly surveys me. I know who are, he says slowly. The hero's son.
My chin goes up, defensive and arrogantly proud. I am James Tiberius Kirk, and this is murder!
This is what needs to be done to save the majority of the colony. He smiles grimly. I have no need to justify myself to you, boy.
Put him with the others? a guard asks, indicating the crowd in the village square with a jerk of his head.
No. No. He is the hero's son. We may need that bloodline.
Bloodline? I ask, confused. What?
But Kodos ignores me, and I see Aunt Mari and Clem, standing firm and proud and Aunt Mari stares contemptuously at the Governor and says coldly, you're a fool, Kodos. You've always been a fool. Starfleet won't let you get away with this.
Kodos sneers. Do you see Starfleet anywhere?
Aunt Mari looks at me and smiles - not her fleeting smile, but a slow, sweet smile that lights up her face. Not yet. But soon.
And there's a horrible beauty about her, and it blinds me, and I look at Clem, and she's smiling too, her violet eyes wide and wet as she meets mine, and she'd known, back on the homestead, known her fate - my fate - how had she known? But they smile, and their love is too much too much too much to see to bear to hold to deserve and I'm screaming as the guards walk towards them towards everyone and the guards lift their hands and the phasers flash and flash and flash and -
(McCoy realizes emotions are amplifying - resonating - Kirk's pain mixing with Spock's from the destruction of Vulcan and the sight of his mother dropping out of reach of rescue.
Spock! We have to break the mind-meld!
He knows Spock can hear him - feel him - but he's caught - they're all caught - in the wild oscillations of emotions and memories and McCoy suddenly remembers ancient footage of a bridge rocking and twisting until it finally shattered, and they're caught like that, the three of them, and they're all going to break if something isn't done and McCoy stops thinking at all and pushes -)
Wordless screams echoed in Kirk's ears; his throat felt raw as he blinked and stared frantically around the unfamiliar room. He gasped for air, his lungs aching, his body shaking, like he'd been desperately running, trying to get back to the village in the here and now rather than only in his memories.
He doubled over, gasping, retching, the pain searing as the memories continued to assault him -
- straining struggling fighting against the guards' hands - Aunt Mari falling - Clem - falling - how do you murder so many people all at once? - screaming now just screaming as Clem falls - Aunt Mari falls - they fall and fall and fall and fall - family, neighbours, friends but not him no not him not the hero's son -
McCoy swayed slightly as he set aside the hypo. His hands shook as he used the tricorder to check Kirk's vital signs. The abrupt, unintentional end to the three-way mind-meld (the horror still lingered; the love and grief and pain still echoed) had left McCoy feeling nauseous, his head pounding, and feeling somehow alien in his own skin.
His shoulders slumped and he wiped sweat from his forehead. He glanced at Spock and his eyes widened as he took in the Vulcan's clammy skin, the bewildered, pained expression in the wide, dark eyes. McCoy hurried to help Spock stand then manoeuvred him to the only other bed in their makeshift prison cell and pushed him on to it.
McCoy picked up the tricorder again, and was relieved to discover Spock's vital signs were stable although he was obviously exhausted, in mild shock and probably emotionally shattered. McCoy cringed away from his own reactions; he didn't have time. He was a doctor first, and he had patients who needed him.
Which explained why he wasn't particularly pleased when the door slid open and Chapel was ushered into the room, a member of the honor guard behind her.
The guard said, "The Governor wants answers. Now."
The 'or else' wasn't spoken, but McCoy knew a threat when he (didn't) hear one.
McCoy turned blazing eyes on the unlucky young man and snarled, "I'll go with you once I've taken care of my patients, and not one moment before. If the Governor doesn't like it, he can kiss. My. Ass. Got it?"
The guard's eyes widened as he gulped and nodded. Chapel slid an exasperated albeit reluctantly proud glance McCoy's way.
Spock struggled to sit up. "I am fine, Doctor. I am ready to go with you," he said, or rather tried to say. His words were so slurred with exhaustion and reaction, he could have been offering to dance a jig for all anyone could make out.
McCoy snorted. "Whatever you say," he agreed, and hit him with a sedative that had Spock sleeping peacefully in less than ten seconds.
McCoy trembled with exhaustion as he explained to the Governor what they'd discovered, and presented the proof Chapel had quickly found to back-up the story. These were records of Kirk's journey to Tarsus IV, and more importantly the ship's logs from the starship that returned him to Earth. Those described an extremely traumatized young boy who suffered from screaming nightmares and violent grief, uncontrollable emotional outbursts, and an unrelenting anger, no, rage - no, virulent hatred – towards those responsible for the massacre. Even learning Kodos had been killed while resisting arrest when Starfleet arrived didn't soothe him and he returned to Earth a very different child than when he'd left.
"Once back on Earth, his memories were carefully hidden," McCoy explained, his shoulders drooping with exhaustion.
The Governor frowned. "A Vulcan?"
"Unlikely. A Vulcan would have removed the memories entirely, not simply hidden them through an intricate web of misdirection – if one could have been convinced to do anything at all."
"Hypnosis then," the Governor muttered.
McCoy nodded tiredly. "The memories were hidden extremely well. It's unlikely they would have ever resurfaced if it weren't for a string of random coincidences that built upon each other until Kirk's memories finally broke through." He blinked as the Governor's face wavered in and out of focus then plowed on. "When Captain Kirk shot the guard, Governor, he thought he was shooting someone who was about to murder his aunt and his best friend. Thank God he didn't take the time to set his phaser on kill."
The Governor stared expressionlessly at McCoy, then snorted cynically. "I know the Captain's reputation - everyone knows the Captain's reputation! I find it hard to believe that seeing my guard - unarmed! - walking towards a family unit could trigger anything like that! Doctor McCoy, I want you to -"
"Governor, with all due respect."
Everyone turned with surprise to Chapel.
The Governor frowned. "And you are...?"
"Nurse Christine Chapel, and currently the commanding officer of our landing party, as well as our Chief Medical Officer since you've detained Dr. McCoy. This man is exhausted."
"And my man is in sick bay! Recovering from an unprovoked attack from your Captain!"
"I know, sir. I was there."
McCoy blinked owlishly at Chapel's dry, firm tones.
She said, "Your guard is resting comfortably, and he'll have a headache for the next few days but fortunately, he'll fully recover with no ill effects. Doctor McCoy, Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk have just finished a three-way mind-meld into memories that were deliberately hidden from the Captain himself. If you think that was a simple task, I suggest you try it yourself someday. Speaking as the Chief Medical Officer, all three of these men need rest before they'll be in any shape to answer any more questions."
The Governor leaned away from Chapel's clipped, cold tones then caught himself, but his eyes slid away from her glare.
"Yes, all right," he said, then cleared his throat. "All right," he said again, more firmly. He nodded at his Captain of the Guard. "Show Dr. McCoy to - to -" he hesitated, and McCoy carefully controlled his amusement. They weren't used to having to detain criminals, he thought fuzzily. "Find someplace for him to spend the night," the Governor sighed, then his expression hardened. "I want all three men here, in front of me, at 08 -" he hesitated and McCoy half-expected to see light shining from the other side of the Governor's skull from the force of Chapel's glare, "10:00 hours?"
Chapel nodded. "Thank you, sir." She turned to McCoy. "Doctor? After you."
"You want to know the worst part?" McCoy grumbled to Kirk and Spock the next morning. "I was asleep before she'd even finished thanking the Captain of the Guard for escorting us to my so-called prison cell. I woke up this morning without my shoes or my pants!"
That, he was relieved to see, got a ghost of a smile from his still too-quiet captain. McCoy finished scanning Kirk's vital signs and read the results with a satisfied grunt.
"Everything's normal," he said. "How're you feeling, Jim?"
Kirk shrugged, his eyes on his hands. "Like I've just watched people I love shot dead in front of me." His voice was hoarse and he winced as he swallowed with some effort. He clenched his fists and blinked rapidly. "How long am I going to feel this way?" he demanded softly.
McCoy shrugged. "As long as it takes for you to work through the grieving process. You actually did see people you love shot dead in front of you. You've simply never had the opportunity to work through it."
"How can I command my ship if I can't even control my own actions? That guard -"
"He's all right, Jim. He's in better shape than you are."
"That's not the point! What if I - what if it happens again?"
"You have the memories now," Spock said, and his voice was remarkably gentle. "You reacted to the guard's actions because the memories had been seeping back for months only you did not understand what was happening, or why. For those few moments, you were back on Tarsus IV, and you were trying to protect your family and friends, doing what you could not do when you were thirteen."
Kirk slowly raised his eyes and stared impassively at Spock. "Not sure that makes me feel any more confident," he said drily.
"It'll take time, Jim," McCoy said, "but you'll eventually assimilate the memories, deal with the emotions, come to terms with what happened. And you know there's plenty of support available to help you do that."
Kirk nodded, but there was exhausted defeat in the slump of his shoulders.
The meeting with the Governor was tense, but ultimately successful. Spock confirmed McCoy's story from the night before, and Kirk's somber and haunted expression as he apologized certainly helped the Governor to believe their story. Kirk somehow suspected, though, that the hard glare Chapel kept focused on the Governor was what truly persuaded him to release them from custody with only a reprimand and a minor complaint to Starfleet. (Rand later assured Kirk it had simply been added to all the others and no one from Starfleet Command even blinked an eye. He wasn't sure if he was appalled or amused.)
Before he beamed back to the Enterprise with Spock, Kirk met privately with the guard he'd shot, who turned out to be just a boy, not much older than Kirk had been during that wonderful and terrible time on Tarsus IV. Kirk spent several hours with him, and while he wasn't quite his usual charming, charismatic Captain Kirk, the guard was still smiling and star-struck by the time Kirk took his leave.
McCoy and Chapel returned to the ship several local days later, a few minutes before the Enterprise left orbit. McCoy reluctantly left Joanna behind, partly because a starship was no place for children, especially not one whose mission was to explore uncharted space, but mainly because his ex-wife would have hunted him down and, as he told Chapel with a rueful grimace, worn his guts for garters. Instead, he gave Joanna a fierce hug and promised to be back when he took his leave. If his eyes were a little damp when he materialized in the transporter room, no one mentioned it.
Kirk brooded. He read everything he could find about Tarsus IV, and was shocked and amazed when he looked again at the many searches he'd run about Clem.
Everything was there, mocking him from the screen, and he hadn't seen it.
He hadn't seen it.
He brooded, and he remembered, and he mourned, and as much as he detested it, he worked with the shipboard therapist and tried not to think about how this experience may have changed him, or how he felt about the fact that the memories had been hidden from him for so many years (or the fact that he'd had his two closest friends inside his mind). As he told the therapist with a ghost of his familiar arrogant smirk, in this case at least, one crisis at a time was more than enough for him.
It was several missions and several standard weeks later that he finally invited Spock and McCoy to his quarters, pulled out a bottle of Earth's finest whiskey, and said, "I never thanked you."
Spock and McCoy each raised an eyebrow and Kirk shook his head, amused in spite of himself. "Seriously, Spock - do you give a course on that - that eyebrow thing?"
Kirk sputtered a laugh, and kept laughing, loud and boisterous and joyful. Spock and McCoy exchanged glances and their shoulders relaxed. They both knew and silently acknowledged that Kirk had a long road of healing ahead of him, but for the first time since their harrowing mind-meld on Cerberus, McCoy believed the Kirk they'd once known would - could - return. Changed, yes, but healthy and whole and as wildly impetuous and unpredictable as always.
(It ends - naturally enough - with a woman.)
Kirk's palms were sweating as he waited for his mother's face to appear onscreen. He hoped his nervousness didn't show as he greeted her and spent several minutes in stilted, innocuous small talk.
Finally, his mother smiled tiredly and said cynically, "Why'd you call, Jim? It's not just to find out what I've been doing lately."
For a moment, the familiar anger and hurt ghosted across his senses, and his hackles rose. Then he remembered Aunt Mari and thought, they'd been sisters; he could be kind to his mother for his aunt's sake.
The expression on his mother's face told him everything he'd suspected.
"How...?" she whispered.
Kirk forced himself to shrug carelessly. "A series of coincidences," he said more calmly than he felt. "The post-hypnotic programming...broke."
His mother sat back, the breath whooshing out of her and they sat in silence.
Finally, Winona sighed and said, "What do you want to know?"
Kirk hesitated, his thoughts racing. There were so many things he wanted to know: what had happened to Aunt Mari - to Clem - after they were shot down in that village square? Had Kodos' guards been taking more than their share of the rations? Mostly, though, he wanted to know why - why hadn't Starfleet come to their aid earlier? Why had Kodos thought his actions justified - or sane? Why did so many die? Why did he live? Why had his memories been locked away? Why?
His mother watched him, her eyes pleading and he suddenly realized he'd been speaking at least some of his thoughts aloud.
"I sent you to Tarsus because I thought it would be good for you," she said softly, her eyes shifting to stare past him. Kirk realized she was speaking to her memories rather than to him. "Sam was gone, and Frank - well, Frank had had enough, and I was afraid that if you did one more thing he'd either throw you out or murder you, or do something to finally break you. And then I thought of Mari, and I thought living with her, forced to work for your keep, forced to work with your hands, would teach you the discipline you lacked. And if you were gone, Frank would be happy, life would be peaceful, and you might come back changed for the better, but not - not broken."
She paused for so long, Kirk wondered if she'd forgotten he was there.
"You came back broken anyway," she whispered, her voice thick with tears. "The famine - the massacre -" her breath caught in a sob. "My baby, my boy - so unlike your usual self. So angry. So hurt. So damaged. When the doctors said they could lock the memories away, I jumped at the chance. You weren't supposed to ever remember!"
Kirk stared at her, his eyes wide.
"What was the harm?" she begged him. "There was no reason for you to keep those memories - and every reason to take them away from you. They served no purpose!"
"Mom," Kirk whispered sadly.
She sobbed again, once, then took a deep shuddering breath.
"I was trying to protect you," she said, and sniffed, wiping her nose.
Kirk stared silently at her. He saw faint echoes of her sister in her face, in her voice (you look just like him no wonder Frank's such an asshole), and he shook with grief - and love - for the woman he'd only really known for a year and half. He shook with regret for the woman in front of him, whom he'd never really known at all.
He said, gently, "I know."
McCoy and Spock sat in thoughtful silence after Kirk finished speaking.
McCoy said, speaking slowly, carefully, "I can understand your mother's thinking; her reasons for the choice she made. In her place - if it was my daughter..." he trailed off and shrugged uncomfortably.
Kirk nodded with a twisted smile. His fingers tightened around his glass, the knuckles whitening.
"Who would I have been," he murmured, "if I'd been allowed to come to terms with what I had witnessed? If I'd been allowed to grieve properly? Would I have wasted all those years of my life, or would I have joined Starfleet earlier, or would I have become even more self-destructive? Would I have made peace with Frank and Sam and my mother - who had to mourn the loss of her sister and nephew in private? Is that why we've never closed the distance between us? Because I survived? Because I was spared due to being George Kirk's son but not because I was her son, too?"
"Captain," Spock said, "there is no way to know for certain what might have happened if your mother had made a different choice. Perhaps, in another timeline, you recovered and continued on to still become the famous Captain of the Starship Enterprise. Perhaps you never joined Starfleet. Perhaps you died. Speculation is, ultimately, counter-productive because you will simply never be able to know."
They sat in somber silence for a long moment, then Spock said, "There is, however, a solution to your current situation."
Both McCoy and Kirk glanced sharply at the tone of his voice.
"As you know, Vulcans can permanently remove memories. If you wish, I can - under Dr. McCoy's supervision – perform that action. Alternatively, I can dull the associated emotions. I do not make this offer lightly and without caution, but it can be done."
Kirk considered him thoughtfully.
"I can't imagine that would be something the Vulcan High Council would approve," he murmured finally.
"No," Spock acknowledged, "but they are not here."
"This option doesn't seem...logical," McCoy said, delicately for him.
"It is eminently logical to eliminate an impediment to the optimal performance of official duties, Doctor," Spock responded, "and I offer a solution to the Captain's emotional distress, a solution that is within our collective power to achieve. However, 'logic' is not the reason I have made the offer."
"No?" McCoy asked, a thread of amusement in his voice. "Then what is the reason?"
Spock turned his calm, dark gaze on Kirk. "You are in pain. You are my Captain. And you are...my friend. If this is all I can offer to ease your pain, Jim, then offer it I shall."
Kirk blinked at Spock, then whispered, his voice hoarse, "Thank you. Thank you. But...no."
Kirk stood and slowly paced his quarters, touching the few knick-knacks that adorned the spartan room. He paused in front of the frame that displayed, in rotation, pictures of his parents and brother and, more recently, his friends on the Enterprise.
"My mother thought she was doing the right thing," he said softly, lightly touching the frame, "but our memories make us who we are - the good and the bad. The events in our lives, how we respond to them - they define us. We are stronger - and weaker - than we can ever begin to imagine. There are people who have suffered unspeakable horrors, and who have gone on to make the universe a better place. They make a choice; they choose to be worthy of surviving when others did not; they choose to honor the memory of those who could not be saved or cured or protected. The human spirit can be evil and selfish and destructive - and it can also be unbearably, blindingly...beautiful.
"My mother did what she thought was right. But in taking away the bad memories, she also took away the good: a strong woman who accepted me as I was and loved me for it. A childhood friend, a beautiful girl, a...soul mate, if you will. Both were people I loved. Very much. And I was never allowed to mourn them, or treasure them or honor them the way I should have honored them."
Kirk paused, frowning. The others simply watched and waited.
"Our memories make us who we are," Kirk repeated softly then bowed his head and closed his eyes. "I know you didn't make your offer easily, Spock. Nor lightly. I can't tell you how much it means to me."
He opened his eyes, lifted his head and smiled at his First Officer. "Thank you." He held out his hand, and Spock slowly reached out and shook it.
"And Bones," Kirk said, forcing lightness into his voice, "don't think I've forgotten that you were rummaging around in my head, too."
"I was doing my duty as your doctor," McCoy muttered, shifting uncomfortably.
"I'm pretty sure riding along on a Vulcan mind-meld isn't part of a doctor's normal duties," Kirk said drily.
"No," McCoy agreed, "but definitely one for the medical journals. Or my memoirs."
Kirk smiled, and it was his old, familiar, devil-may-care smile as he clapped a hand to McCoy's shoulder. "I'm sure we can fill up your memoirs with more excitement than that, Bones."
McCoy snorted and rolled his eyes, but there was affection in his voice as he said, "I have no doubt we can, Jim. I have no doubt we can."
(It ends - or perhaps it begins - with a woman.)
The man who answered the door to the tidy little house on Wrigley's Pleasure Planet frowned warily at Kirk, a frown that only deepened as Kirk simply stood on his doorstep and stared.
"Yeah?" the man finally barked.
Kirk shook himself. "I'm sorry." He smiled tentatively. "I think I knew your sister. On Tarsus IV?"
The man's frown dissolved into surprise and his violet eyes widened. "You knew Clem?"
Kirk nodded. "I was there when she," he swallowed, "died. And it was my fault."
The frown returned, but the man stepped aside to let Kirk into the house. "I think you better tell me about it."
Micah leaned back and shook his head.
"That's quite the story," he murmured, his eyes distant. "I always wondered what exactly happened. When I got the news about the massacre, it was months later, and Kodos was already dead, otherwise I would have gladly killed him myself." He focused on Kirk. "Thank you. For telling me. For being her friend."
Kirk shook his head. "I should have been a better friend," he muttered. "I should have listened to her when she wanted to hide in the mountains."
Micah shrugged and sighed. "It was a long time ago," he murmured. A soft smile tugged at his lips. "She was quite the girl."
"Yes. She was."
The door slid open and the girl clattered into the house. She stopped short at the sight of Kirk.
"Adelaide," Micah said, "come in." He nodded at Kirk. "This gentleman knew your aunt. He has some stories he'd like to share with you."
Kirk's blue eyes met Adelaide's violet ones, and his heart clenched with love and loss and regret.
Then he smiled.
"I think you'll like her," he said.
This fic would never have been written without help from an awful lot of sources:
1. caitriona_3 of course, for offering up the prompt. It was the only one I read and thought, "I can do something with that. Maybe. I think." I hope you liked the result.
2. Memory Alpha, which is a geek-tastic (nerd-gasmic?) (both?) compilation of the larger Star Trek canon (all the TV shows, including The Animated Series and all the movies, books, and comics, including information from commentaries, and probably a few things I don't remember). As I was grazing through the site, trying to confirm details (the name of Kirk's brother; was his mother remarried; who was that kid boy!Kirk waved to while driving the corvette), I discovered (among many, many other things) the following facts:
(a) Vulcans can remove memories (and Spock did so to Kirk in Requiem for Methuselah).
(b) Vulcans can mind meld with more than one person, something called a "bridging of minds" (as seen in Unimatrix Zero, a Star Trek: Voyager episode).
(c) McCoy's daughter was on Cerberus in approximately 2260 and survived a famine.
Names of planets and alien races (such as the Andorians and J'naii) were also taken from this site, as well as some of their general characteristics (e.g., Andorians have four sexes; J'naii are androgynous). How they're referenced and used in this story are inventions to fit the needs of the story.
3. Sarah McLachlan's song, I Will Remember You. The entire song spoke to me, but the following lyrics are what really helped to anchor the story in my own mind:
I'm so tired but I can't sleep
Standing on the edge of something much too deep
It's funny how we feel so much but cannot say a word
Though we are screaming inside oh we can't be heard.
4. This quote from Star Trek Reboot, which inspired me to figure out "what it was" that was holding Kirk back.
...'cause I looked up your file while you were drooling on the floor. Your aptitude tests are off the charts. So what is it? You like being the only genius-level repeat-offender in the midwest? - Pike - Star Trek (2009)
5. I stumbled upon (again on Memory Alpha) this simple quote from Kirk ("I need my pain!"). For this A/N, I searched for the full quote and found this long-forgotten scene from a (for me) long-forgotten movie:
Damn it, Bones, you're a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain! - Captain Kirk - Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
I had completely forgotten about that scene...except perhaps it lingered in my subconscious. The similar scene in this fic was written in homage to all survivors of crime, violence and illness who have used their personal tragedies to make the world a better place. Their strength of spirit is awe-inspiring and incredibly humbling.