Author's Note: I appreciate the speculation going. I can't give away anything except that one result of Chapter 9's last scene comes into play here, and I think (hope?) you'll like it.
Thanks again for following along!
Jim's heart took a beating when Bria'lel left for the hotel. If he hadn't been so apprehensive of running into his crew, he would have accompanied her. Without thinking, Jim slipped in line to buy her a balloon as Bria'lel said her goodbyes to his family. Like an idiot, he stammered a thank you while thrusting the balloon towards her.
Bria'lel accepted it with her delicate manner. The way she twisted the balloon string around her fingers fascinated Jim. Her hair brushed her face when she bent down to give Lucy another smile...and then she left.
Jim felt strangely lost walking out of the fair.
Sam and his sons joked with him as they neared their hovercraft. Jim had no clue what was said. Instead, Jim calculated the time until he saw Bria'lel again. Three and a half hours. Too long, that's what it was. He put Lucy in her car seat and sat beside her. This time, Jim would leave the driving to Sam. His brother, now quiet, looked at him quizzically. Jim drove them all to the fair. He always drove.
Jim shrugged at Sam's suspicion.
"What's wrong with you?" Sam turned around in the driver's seat.
He shrugged again and pointedly looked out the window.
He had absolutely no idea what was wrong with him.
At the farmhouse, Lucy did not behave as sweetly as she had been. She flailed, knocking her father in his mouth with her limbs when he took her out of her carseat. Urgent sounds came from her throat. She refused to look at her father once he set her on her feet.
She plopped herself on the dirt, acting much the same. Jim wanted to join her, wallowing in his loneliness.
Then, Jim knew what was wrong with them both.
"Luce, we're screwed," he whispered at her smudged face. He scooped her up, frustrated wriggle and all. He'd play for her on the porch swing, her favorite place.
"Jim," called Sam from the porch. "Want me to get your guitar? And a new sweater?"
So he'd noticed his missing sweater. It was worth it though. Poor woman.
"Yup," Jim sighed. He didn't feel like playing but Lucy needed the music to settle down. She knocked him again in the mouth. "Ow, Luce!"
His sharp retort caused a single tear to trickle down her cheek.
Lucy never cried.
"Luce?" Jim placed her on the swing. She bounced on its cushion like she always did, that tear slowly streaking down her face. Jim wiped it away as gently as he could, even though he knew she'd flinch from that touch.
Lucy would let Jim hold her, but touching her face was off limits. Bathtime was rough.
"She'll be back, Luce." As long as Jim hadn't scared her away with his idiotic behavior.
"Jimmy, was that a tear?" Sam came outside. He handed Jim the guitar and sweater. "She misses Bria'lel, doesn't she?"
Jim took his spot beside Lucy. He strummed a few chords, hardly getting his fingers to play anything right. "Yup."
"Jim, you're attracted to her, aren't you."
Leave it to Sam.
"That's crazy." Lucy's favorite lullaby came to mind. Her rough movements lessened as he strummed the chord progression.
"Wouldn't be the first time love bit you from behind."
"I miss her, Sam." He meant Carol. Sam understood.
"I know, Jimmy. But, look how much fun Lucy had today."
"The woman won't be sticking around here, Sam. You know that. I shouldn't let Luce get attached." Jim's anger at himself came out in a wrong chord. Lucy flailed.
"Don't think like that, Jim. It was good for you both. And you have tonight."
"Don't get any crazy ideas, Sam. Bria'lel belongs on the Enterprise."
Sam chuckled on his way back through the front door. "Jimmy, and you don't? I'm going to help Aurelan. Stay out here, relax, and take care of my niece."
Jim shook his head at his meddling brother.
"You like her."
Jim's aim was a bit off. The pillow missed his brother's face and instead crashed into a closed door.
Lucy fell asleep within ten minutes of Jim's playing. Laying his guitar aside, he placed her small body on his chest while he stretched out fully on the swing. He loved the moments they had like this. Since fall was merely beginning, the weather was still perfect for lingering on the porch. This was their thing to do each day, although today's nap time had been pushed back a few hours.
With good reason.
Soon, Lucy's steady breathing lulled her father to sleep. Sometime later but earlier than expected, Jim awoke to the sound of a hovercar stopping. Eyes still closed and half-asleep, Jim heard Uhura's whisper.
"Aww, that's so sweet. I have to take a picture to hang in mess."
What was it with women when they saw a child sleeping on a man's chest?
He cocked one eye open.
They were early. They were standing above him. They were Spock, Uhura, Bones, and Bria'lel.
Jim noticed Bria'lel's tentativeness immediately and her puffy eyes. As if she wanted to hide, she stood behind her three companions. This wasn't the Bria'lel who was with them at the fair. Something had happened. Jim watched her as he shifted on the swing. Carefully, Jim settled the still-sleeping Lucy into his arms comfortably so he could sit up.
"She's beautiful, Jim," said Uhura. "She looks just like Carol."
Jim vowed to never let her go because Lucy resembled her mother so strongly.
"Spock, I suppose Sam had a hand in this, you coming early." Jim was going to punch his brother's lights out for catching Jim off guard. He shouldn't though. He needed to be civil. Lucy was too sensitive to his emotions. "Bones, give me a minute."
Bones hadn't heard him. Lucy had taken the doctor by storm. Spock, too. Jim grinned. "You two should look at your faces. Let me get Luce up to bed to finish her nap first."
The dismay on Uhura's face was comical. Bria'lel's disappointment was too much for Jim.
"Uhura, would you like to help me? Bria'lel?"
Uhura lit up. "We'd love to."
Bria'lel didn't smile but her expression seemed happier. It pleased him so much that he could help her. Jim forgot what he was going to do.
Bri'lel was beautiful, even when she had puffy eyes. Carol would like Bria'lel because Bria'lel liked their daughter. That would be important to Carol.
"Huh?" Jim still couldn't figure out what he was supposed to do.
The Kelvin salt-shaker mobile Jim created for Lucy when they first arrived at the farmhouse still hung from a corner in Lucy's room. Its dilapidated nature did not deter Lucy's fond interest. Uhura smirked when Jim pointed it out to her. Bria'lel rolled her eyes. Their reaction, especially Bria'lel's, made him laugh.
"Jim, you're going to wake her up!"
He handed her to Bria'lel as he laughed harder. It was freeing. He hadn't laughed like this in a long time. The funny thing was, he was laughing at Bria'lel because she rolled her eyes at him about the ridiculous looking mobile he had made. "Here, take her."
Bria'lel muttered her frustration in Ikaaran but tenderly took the child in her arms. Lucy fit there perfectly. Longing replaced Jim's laughter. Then, wheezing.
"Jim!" Bria'lel laid Lucy in her bed.
Jim's arm strained against the wall as he tried to find a breath. In his struggle, he found himself slipping to the floor in his daughter's room. Angered with his current lot in life, he glared at Bria'lel as she whipped out an inhaler and placed it in his mouth. It wasn't her fault and here she was yet again, rescuing him.
"Uhura, get Dr. McCoy!" Bria'lel said, ignoring his glare. She murmured the instructions he'd forgotten. How could he forget what to do? "Jim, remain calm."
Jim couldn't be calm when he was infuriated this happened a second time in the same day. He stopped listening to Bria'lel as he searched the room for Lucy.
"Jim, you must listen to me. Focus on my face. Breathe. Lucy's still asleep." Her words reminded him and pulled him back from his distractions.
Jim decided he could watch this beautiful woman. Her facial features were exquisite, including the Ikaaran lines. Nothing to dislike. His eyes drifted down to her hand so near his face. He saw a bruise along her wrist.
It wasn't there earlier.
Despite his wheezing, he touched her wrist and lifted his eyes in question.
"It was nothing, James," Bria'lel whispered. He tapped her wrist. Bria'lel was not telling him the truth. "James, let it be. Please."
Jim tried harder to stabilize his breathing, but then Lucy awoke and saw her father with scared eyes. His daughter moved in her wild way. She should not see him like this again. Jim pushed at Bria'lel, trying to get her to go to Lucy instead.
"Jim, I know you're worried about Lucy. Let me help you so you can help her. There are others who can help her now."
He shook his head vehemently and pushed at her again.
Bones and Spock rushed in. Uhura went to Lucy, talking softly to her.
"Jim, focus!" Bria'lel said sharply. "Stop pushing me away. Uhura will take care of Lucy. Breathe, Jim."
She worked well with Jim, reminding him what to do, and he finally did it. "You're doing better."
"What happened?" Bones' instruments already beeped. "Jim. We have to talk. Now."
Uhura sat close with Lucy, in the rocking chair and sending worried looks at Jim.
"It was not as severe as the first attack, Dr. McCoy." Bria'lel said.
"I laughed," Jim stated.
"Then you wheezed." Bria'lel said firmly.
"I'm fine now."
"You always say that, James. Always." Bria'lel's Ikaaran was melodic as she said his name.
Jim understood every word she said. He'd learned Ikaaran with a vengeance weeks after Carol's death.
She called him James.
"Listen, I am fine now." With some effort, Jim got to his feet and crossed his arms at his CMO and first officer. If they only knew... "I need to settle Lucy back for the rest of her nap. Spock, I'm fine. Bones, I'll be down soon.
"You better be." Bones did not move. Neither did Spock.
They were a formidable force as they stood there, willing Jim to care for himself. He loved these two men, dare he say it, more than he loved his brother. He knew what they wanted from him. Jim also recognized they'd been hurt deeply by his disappearance. In his effort to care for Lucy and her grandmother he had neglected his other family. His time spent in Riverside was part of his plan to propel his return to the Enterprise. He wanted to show them all that, but it was not the time. Not yet. Jim weighted responsibilities piled upon his shoulders without mercy as Lucy fussed even more.
"Uhura, will you keep rocking her?"
Jim's duty was first to his daughter now. Lucy's eyes did not leave Jim's own. She drank in the sight of her father, tall and strong in her little mind.
"Luce, it's okay." Jim smiled at her gently.
Forgetting his audience, Jim lifted his extra guitar off the wall and sat down on Lucy's bed. He strummed a bit and thought of what would calm her best. Picking Lucy's favorite song, Jim cleared his throat but could not manage singing a single line of the music. His fingers stopped moving when his voice stopped and his coughing began. Jim's body shook with the intensity of his coughing.
All Luce needed was a damn song and he couldn't even do that for her.
"Not again," Bones muttered. "Buddy, I'm sorry."
The guitar escaped his grasp. It was Spock.
"I'm so...sorry...Luce," Jim gasped through his coughing.
He and his daughter certainly were a pair. Uhura took charge, humming to Lucy as she had before on the Enterprise.
"Jim, take a slow deep breath. It's not an attack. Slowly, Jim," Bones demanded.
Jim kept his eyes on Spock, taking in the resoluteness of his first officer. It was as before. It had been too long. He needed his crew. Jim did not know how to return to them.
He kept trying and failing.
"Jim, I wouldn't try that again." Bones ordered. "This is nothing to mess with. I need to examine you before-"
"Jim, you cannot breathe properly," said Bones honestly. "If you can't sing a tune, you can't go up the stairs, you can't-"
"Climb a cliff," Spock stared hard at Jim.
"Traitors," Jim muttered, looking darkly at Spock. "You and Sam."
"Is that what you two did last night? Jim, it must have caused a flare up. No wonder this tricorder is telling me-"
"Please, Bones. Later." Jim motioned to Lucy, who was almost asleep due to Uhura's diligence.
"Jim, when you can or Spock will be carrying you down the stairs. Bria'lel, make sure he doesn't exert himself coming down for his examination," Bones scowled at him and left with Spock.
"He is concerned for you, Jim. Please cooperate when he examines you," Bria'lel said.
Jim stroked Lucy's back once once Uhura placed her on the bed. Lucy slept but Jim was careful not to aggravate her with his touch.
"I'll try." His own health did worry him, although he tried not to show it.
"Jim, you have to do more than try." Uhura took Lucy's framed baby picture from a stand and gave it to him.
Jim froze. Aurelan put it there and each time Jim went into Lucy's room, he avoided the photograph that reminded him too much of losing Carol. His eyes welled up. He sniffed and wiped them with his sweater sleeve.
"Captain," the term slipped sadly from Uhura's lips. For now, Jim didn't mind.
"Don't tell the guys downstairs, alright?" He tried to smile. It was impossible. Bria'lel looked broken. Uhura showed him pity. His hands shook. He stood up and placed the photograph back on the stand. "Hey, Nyota, could you put the blanket on Lucy. It's cold in here."
It wasn't but he had to think of something to say.
"I need a kid." Uhura sighed and tucked the blanket around Lucy.
"Nyota, if you want, feel free to hang up here for awhile." The next hour or so would be unpleasant for Jim. He purposely and selfishly left Bria'lel out of the invitation. He wanted her with him when he talked with Spock and Bones.
Before she answered Jim, Uhura plucked the stuffed animal sitting off the rocking chair and sat down. "Really?"
"Sure. I have her monitored so I'll know when she'll wake up. She responds the same to strangers as she does my family. Don't expect her to make eye contact and she will flail her arms and legs around. She doesn't like to be touched unless it's to be held. She won't say a single word, or try. And, she doesn't show any signs of expression."
Saying all that left Jim hollow. No child should struggle so much. He had to do more. It was time to do more. Jim pressed a kiss to his daughter's forehead.
"Jim, I'm sorry."
"I know, Nyota." He blinked as he thought of how different things would be if Carol were alive. He had to stop failing his daughter. "Bria'lel, would you walk downstairs with me?"
Bria'lel tensed. She knew what he was about- information.
"I need a friend when I talk to Bones."
She tugged on her shirtsleeves nervously.
"You know I need one. He can be relentless." Jim pleaded.
To his relief, Bria'lel agreed. He escorted her out of Lucy's room. One-third down the long staircase Jim put his hand out to stop Bria'lel.
"May I see your wrist?"
He held out his hand. Her eyes glittered with tears but she did what he asked.
"How did this happen?" A rage surfaced in Jim on behalf of this woman he hardly knew. The bruises were a glaring result of some assault. He placed his other hand over her wrist. A hunger to protect her surged in Jim.
"At the hotel, a man mistook me for someone else."
"So he assaults you?" Jim could not keep his voice down.
"His missing sister," she whispered back. "He thought I was his missing sister and was upset. He wasn't trying to hurt me. He honestly thought I was his sister."
"Was anyone with you?"
"Spock intervened and security summoned. Jim, I'm alright now."
"No, you're not, but at least you're safe." Jim let go of her hand reluctantly. She'd been traumatized. It made him sick. "I'm sorry that happened."
"I feel sorry for him."
She was too compassionate. First, towards Jim, who deserved more judgement than she'd given him. Now, her compassion extended towards this other man.
Bria'lel's tears trailed down her cheeks. Jim couldn't take it anymore. He smelled strawberries and this woman called him James in Ikaaran. The only other woman to call him "James" had been Carol. He wiped one of her tears away, then another. Soon, he found himself putting his hands on the sides her face. Bria'lel stood two steps above him, aligning them face to face. It was easy to lean forward. It was even easier to close his lips on hers.