The doors to the bridge slid open and Leonard McCoy stood looking around before his eyes met Jim’s.
“Permission to come aboard.”
“Bo-…,” Jim’s eyes twitched around the bridge before returning, “Dr. McCoy. Granted.”
Bones came and stood in front of the Captain’s chair, handing him a PADD.
“What is this?” Jim looked down at the PADD then back at Bones. He looked uncomfortable.
“My TAD orders.”
“TAD?” Jim tried to wrap his head around this unexpected news. “You haven’t officially reported to Enterprise yet.”
“That’s what this is.” He snapped a sharp salute, “Lieutenant Commander McCoy reporting for duty, Captain,” dropped it and stood at attention.
Jim looked momentarily taken aback, but recovered quickly glancing around at the occupied bridge.
Bones moved to parade rest, but Jim was still uncomfortable with the formality of his stance.
He turned his attention to the PADD and quickly scrolled through the official documents. “It says here you’re ordered to report immediately to space dock.” His voice seemed calm and steady, but Len could hear the accusation faintly edging his tone, “You won’t be serving aboard for the shakedown cruise.”
“I’m here early to make sure Medbay is squared away before I leave. All repairs have been completed and we’re in the process of restocking and inventorying supplies and medications. It should only take a couple of more hours. Before I leave, I’ll sign off on any personnel reassignments.” He looked away from the hurt look in Jim’s eyes choosing to focus instead on Uhura’s ponytail whose slight tilt and attentive posture indicated that she was following the conversation. “M’Benga is very capable, you’ll be in good hands.”
Bones had hand-picked the medical personnel and Jim had approved all of his choices, but he hadn’t thought Bones wouldn’t be there as well.
Jim was too quiet. Len looked back to see Jim, eyes unfocused, processing the implications.
“It’s TAD. It’s temporary, Jim,” Len said quietly so his voice wouldn’t carry, the acoustics on the bridge were exceptional. Jim focused on him again his vivid blue eyes searching his. “It’s what the ‘T’ stands for, Temporary Additional Duty. I’ll meet up with you.”
“When?” Was Len imagining the breathlessness? He tried to assess the Captain’s respirations but he cleared his throat and looked back down at the PADD, probably searching for the end date.
He wouldn’t find one.
Len sighed, “Probably a couple of months at most.”
Jim looked at him silently and Len shifted from one foot to the other, his hands sweating behind his back. “It’s a shakedown cruise. How much trouble could you get into?” He knew better than to ask questions like that, but he was hoping that for once Jim would act reasonably and just perform the mundane survey project Star Fleet had assigned the Enterprise. Hopefully, he would return before the ship received new orders.
They were startled from the conversation that had moved to a more personal nature. Jim’s body language, which had unconsciously loosened, shifted seamlessly back to ‘Captain’ as he accepted a PADD from the yeoman, scanned it hastily and signed it, before handing it back.
Jim was suddenly very aware of his uniform. The gold tunic hadn’t felt this heavy when he’d put it on this morning. It was uncomfortable, restrictive. He was sure it was psychological, but it felt like the damn thing was trying to strangle him. He pulled absently at the collar of his duty undershirt, trying to ignore the sweat starting to gather along his hairline.
Len saw Jim’s discomfort. He knew it was underhanded of him to force Jim to deal with this publicly, but he also knew Jim would try to break his resolve and he was determined to do this. By keeping it on a professional level he was sparing them the inevitable argument. Or at least postponing it until later.
Later was the precisely 1 hour and 27 minutes it took Jim to track him down and corner him in one of the Jeffries tube access corridors on deck 6. He had just finished his inventory and was heading back to his room to pack, his transport would be leaving in little over an hour. Len had hoped that Jim would be too busy on the bridge to confront him today. He really should have known better. Jim could be like a dog worrying a bone until he got what he wanted and right now he seemed to want answers.
“I agreed to go TAD, if I got the Enterprise assignment. The situation on Vestri is dire. I’m needed there, Jim.”
“You’re needed here, Bones.”
“You’ll be fine. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Jim was having a hard time hiding the hurt. “Why wasn’t I consulted? I’m your Captain.”
Len paused at that. He was now, he really was. He sighed, “But you weren’t, not yet. Pike was.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you would have fought it.”
“Damn right I would have!”
“You weren’t in any position to fight it. Starfleet is watching your every move, their just waiting for some reason to prove you aren’t ready for command.” There were plenty of people who were just waiting for the kid to screw up. “I didn’t want that reason to be me.”
It’s TAD. It’s temporary, Jim. It’s what the ‘T’ stands for.
“Terrible. Terrible starts with T,” he said aloud to his empty quarters.
“Tiberius starts with a T.” Jim slumped in his desk chair.
“Traitor starts with a T,” he mumbled as he dug around in the drawers of his desk until he found what he was looking for, a small pile of real honest to god paper.
He smoothed the paper out on his desk running the sheets through his fingers and savoring the texture. Texture. He picked up a pen and wrote five words on the top page, down the left hand margin: Temporary, terrible, Tiberius, traitor, texture. The penmanship was precise and heavy.
He carefully folded the top sheet in half and placed it on top of his PADD, tucked his pen in his pocket and headed to the bridge. It was gamma shift and the ship was mapping the gas and dust structures within a planetary nebula. It was long, precise, tedious work as Sulu piloted them among the debris and Chekov plotted their telemetry. Jim found himself with little to do but think, as Spock adjusted the ship’s telescopic display and analyzed the wavelengths of light transmissions. Jim added some words to his list: telemetry, telescope, transmission. As the shift wore on he added tunic and tedious.
He saw Uhura out of the corner of his eye watching as he penned the last word, so he decided that was enough for tonight and tucked the page away.
“Tasteless,” he mumbled as he stabbed his salad with his fork.
“Did you say something, Captain?” the Ensign beside him asked.
“Sorry, no. Just thinking out loud.”
Bones might not be on board, but he had managed to find little ways to make his presence known, or rather his absence more keenly felt. When he had finally visited the mess for a meal, Jim had found his menu card unexpectedly restricted. He sighed, it figures Bones had taken the time to program his dietary choices before he left. He knew Jim would never have willingly chosen anything green on his own.
He could easily hack the CMO’s authorization and modify his menu plan, but it was kind of nice knowing that Bones had cared enough to restrict it in the first place. He was inclined to just go along with it.
He pulled out his paper and added tasteless.
It wasn’t just random words. There were rules. Jim had decided that he wouldn’t look words up just to fill the pages, they had to be words that came to him in the course of his day. And they couldn’t be just any words that started with T, they needed to have some kind of context or meaning to him.
Somewhere along the line he started loosely categorizing the words and instead of just writing them in order, he added more pages to group them together. There were work words, words that reminded him of specific people, mission words, food words, medical words and Jim words. Depending on his mood he might work in a specific category or add words randomly. It wasn’t surprising that the longest category was the one that contained words that reminded him of Bones.
He was missing McCoy. Bones would probably say he was crazy, but Jim could distinctly feel his absence, as if there were something missing from his ship. There was a void. A Bones shaped void. Only one person had left the ship, but now it felt hollow and empty. How could one person fill up so much space, even when he was in a different part of the ship most of the time? Yeah, Bones’d definitely call him an idiot if he could hear his thoughts.
Time to man the fuck up, Captain, and get on with your duties. Jim had said it to himself, but, huh, the words came out kinda twangy. He added thoughts and twangy to his list.
Bones used to come the bridge on a regular basis. Doctor Geoffrey M'Benga never came to the bridge, but he did attend the weekly briefings as the head of the medical department. The first meeting threw Jim completely off. Spock was droning on about some minutiae regarding science protocols. Jim couldn’t smother the small smile and, out of habit, glanced over to Bones for commiseration and was slapped back to the reality that Bones was gone.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like Geoff, he liked him fine. Under normal circumstances he enjoyed his company. His laid back attitude tended to counteract Bones’ grumpiness, and Jim could readily admit that Geoff was a good doctor because Bones wouldn’t accept anything less than the best in his department. But since Bones had left, Jim was avoiding medical and M’Benga and he refused to refer to him as Chief Medical Officer without adding the ‘Acting’ first.
He didn’t want anyone to forget this situation was Temporary, with a capital T.
Jim sat down at his desk and scanned the daily comms waiting to be viewed. A short one near the bottom of the list rated a higher priority than Admiral Pike’s weekly mission briefing. He should have felt guilty about that, but he didn’t. On his command the computer quickly queued up the message from Bones and, for some silly reason, Jim held his breath.
Communications with Bones were erratic at best. There was a limited amount of data space available on a starship for personal communications, which forced their comms to be short and infrequent. And as far out in space as the Enterprise was currently stationed, there was no way to have a live conversation, so they had to settle for recorded comms which were ultimately unsatisfying. Having to wait for days for replies to questions, it seemed archaic in this technologically advanced age.
By necessity, transmissions from Vestri had to be relayed through a space station or piggybacked on another ship’s subspace communications. It was like a relay race, or that ancient children’s game of telephone, where something got lost or muddled each time the data was copied and retransmitted.
“Hey, Jim. Hope this finds you well.”
Jim greedily took in every detail of Bones and his surroundings. He had received several messages Bones had recorded in his office at the hospital, this was the first one from what appeared to be his quarters. The first one where Bones was out of uniform and wearing the familiar Ole Miss sweatpants he preferred when he was off duty.
“Haven’t heard from you since my last comm, but I guess you’re probably busy captaining and all.”
That was odd, he had answered him immediately.
Jim looked closely at Bones as he chatted for a few minutes about his work and the progress that was being made, slower than any of them had anticipated. He looked good, damn good, and Jim’s mood soured at that observation as Bones moved on to the local gossip.
He couldn’t help noting how many times someone named Jake came up. Bones probably didn’t realize he was doing it. Either this Jake had become so entrenched in Bones’ days that he just wasn’t aware of how often he brought him up, or he did it because Jake was always on his mind. Either way, Bones should have known that Jim wouldn’t particularly want to hear about being replaced by his new friend.
Jim was distracted from that dark thought when Bones paused.
“Jim there’s someth…,” the picture stuttered, the time stamp skipping forward erratically, “… been meanin’…,” another few seconds lost. Bones’s image jumped suddenly from where he had been sitting, to leaning over the terminal, his face serious and close to the screen. Almost a whole minute was missing and Jim’s stomach was tight. “—mmy, don’t think I don’t…,” another glitch stealing away the rest of his words. Bones stood up, gave a frown and a quick nod. “Just wanted you to know.” And with that Bones reached over and pressed the button that ended the transmission.
Jim sat very still, his face hot and his hands shaking. What? What had Bones wanted him to know?
He slammed his fist on the terminal in frustration before punching the intercom button. “Uhura!” he snapped.
“Yes, Captain?” came her polite response.
She probably knew what he was calling about as soon as she saw the incoming hail from his quarters but she waited respectfully for him to ask his question before answering. He took a calming breath and tried to remind himself that it wasn’t her fault that communications were in such disarray. It was the magnetic properties of the nebula they were mapping along with the distance the messages were travelling.
“Lieutenant, I’m having trouble…”
Trouble… trouble… where the hell were his papers?
Uhura listened while the Captain’s voice became more distant as he stepped away from his desk, the sound of PADDs and other articles being shifted before she heard the familiar rustle of paper and the scratching of his pen as he continued absently, “I’m having trouble viewing Dr. McCoy’s latest update. Can you see if you can do something?”
She bit her lip to keep from expressing her sympathy and gave him the same empty promise she gave him every time a corrupted file was received from Vestri, “Yes, sir. I’ll run a diagnostic and see if any more data can be recovered.”
Jim waited impatiently for Uhura’s inevitable response.
“I’m sorry Captain. This is as clear as I can get it.”
“Thank you for trying, Lieutenant.”
Jim sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He scribbled technology underneath trouble because transmission was already on the list. Having a word helped. It calmed him.
He always felt a small note of triumph when he could add a new one to the list. Triumph. He wrote it down. It was becoming addictive.
Jim was becoming more and more fixated on the papers he carried with him everywhere. It had started out as only a sheet or two, but there had to be at least a dozen pages now, each covered in columns of words.
He kept his papers with him at all times because he’d started to feel that something bad would happen if he didn’t. He tucked the papers down between his thigh and the arm of the Captain’s chair. He folded them and tucked them in his boot. When he prepared for an away mission he tucked them into his survival jacket.
He also had to stick to the rules or something bad would happen. What he didn’t know. It was a very vague, non-specific kind of unease which really only went away briefly each time he added a word before the need to find another one drove him on.
He even found himself thinking, Bones will come back if I finish this page. When that one was filled, he’d say it again, he’ll come back if I finish this page. Each filled page spurring him to focus more and more on a shrinking vocabulary.
He got so desperate for words that he started turning to other languages to fill his pages. He now had Klingon words he got from Uhura, Russian words from Chekov, Vulcan words from Spock, and even a few colorful entries in Gaelic from Scotty.
His papers had become a common sight as Jim moved about the ship. The crew had looked at them curiously at first but no longer gave them much notice. All except for Spock. It seemed as others lost interest Spock began keeping a closer eye on him.
Jim didn’t hide the fact that he was keeping a list, but he did downplay its importance. Until the day when his yeoman decided to straighten his desk and the papers went missing. Jim knew he was overreacting, but he couldn’t help his highly emotional response and he didn’t relax until they were found.
Coincidentally, that was about the same time that he received a summons from Acting Chief Medical Officer M’Benga for a routine physical. His physical wasn’t due for another two weeks, thank you very much, and there was no damn way he was letting M’Benga do it. That was another one of those things that Bones should have known better about.
About two months into their current mission Jim woke dreading the day ahead. Remembrance Day.
His words today had a theme: tragedy, trauma, trigger.
Jim sat stiffly in his chair on the bridge during the ship wide announcement and moment of silence for those lost on the Kelvin. He had agreed to allow Spock to conduct a short multicultural memorial ceremony which he attended, but didn’t participate in. By unspoken agreement, no mention was made of his birthday. He got curious looks from some of the crew, but anyone who had known him for any length of time or was tuned in to the ship’s grapevine would know that it was an unwelcome subject. The only person who ever assumed permission to broach that subject was gone.
Bones’ absence was a sharp edge that seemed to cut even deeper today.
He hadn’t had a drink since this mission had begun, but tonight required something more. He gathered two glasses and the bourbon he had hoped to share with Bones.
He poured a single finger of the smoky liquid into one of the glasses. “A toast.” Toast. He took a minute to write that one down before he tapped his glass to the empty one. “To you Bones, you better get back here soon, asshole.” Jim raised the glass, sadly tipped it in a silent salute and drained it in one long swallow.
Later he lay in bed thinking about his time at the Academy. How every Friday night Bones didn’t have a clinic shift, they would watch bad old holos together and drink and talk. Those nights were some of Jim’s best memories. He had hoped they could continue the tradition. He grabbed his pen, which was always close at hand and scribbled that down, happy to find a new word. His Bones list was pretty extensive and it was getting harder and harder to think of them.
Bones had a whole page of his own which was divided into several categories. There were personal traits like: talented, thorough, tireless, thoughtful, temper, tirade and tantrum; and medical words like: trachea, theophylline, toxicology, and tracheostomy; and words that described how Jim felt about him like: tangled, tantalizing, thankful and trusted.
And then there were the sex words.
Words that Jim had come up with one night when he was letting his imagination run wild, each word ratcheting up his frustration, and arousal – thigh, testicles, tongue, temptation, touch, taste, tease, tingle, twitch, thicken, thrill, tight, thrust, throb. He’d never realized that there were so many enticing words that started with T. And every damn one was bringing up pictures in his mind and thoughts he shouldn’t be having about his best friend.
Jim pressed a hand to his growing erection and willed his thoughts back to the problem at hand; Bones’ last comm. What had he wanted him to know and who was Jake? His mind supplied one more unwelcome word for Bones’ list: tryst. He dutifully recorded it, even though finding that word didn’t make him happy.
Kirk might have been avoiding medical, but M’Benga was not unaware of the list.
He knew the Captain had a history of generalized anxiety disorder and that he was clearly dealing with an anxiety induced form of OCD, but it hadn’t affected his work performance. If the ritual eased his anxiety then he’d allow it as long as it didn’t interfere with his ability to command.
McCoy had left him in charge of the Captain’s care and M’Benga knew that the CMO was aware of Kirk’s past struggles with anxiety. However, something had recently triggered a completely different manifestation of the disorder. What, he wasn’t sure, but he was keeping an eye on the Captain.
If communications with Bones were difficult due to the technological challenges, Pike’s communications were difficult for other reasons. Admiral Pike was becoming increasingly invasive in his questioning regarding Jim’s daily command duties and Jim was beginning to suspect that someone on his crew was reporting back to his superior. He added treachery and transgression to his list.
During their scheduled weekly vidcomm, Jim decided to broach the subject of Bones’ return, which was long overdue. His orders had purposely been left open ended and all of the delays and excuses had Jim suspecting that maybe Pike didn’t want Bones back on Enterprise.
When he refused to accept the older man’s hollow reassurances that McCoy would be restored to the ship at the end of his mission, Pike finally took a long look at the Captain.
“What the hell is going on with you, Jim? You’re twisting my words.”
Jim schooled his expression, twisting, and tried to remain still under the Admiral’s scrutiny. He knew he looked like hell. He hadn’t been sleeping well and meals in the mess had become too much of a reminder of what was missing. His empty fingers flexed and he told himself that as soon as the comm was disconnected he would write it down.
Talking with Pike reminded Jim that he may be in command, but he was never really in control. He was always subject to someone else’s orders, constrained by regulation and protocol. He couldn’t stop recording his T-words, he couldn’t will his anxiety away and he sure as hell couldn’t bring Bones back to his ship.
As the weeks continued to pass, words quit being rewards and became punishments.
Jim’s words for himself were overwhelmingly negative. He knew Bones would have something to say about that, but he couldn’t help the way he felt. The fact that he might be depressed might explain tired, tense, turmoil, tears and transient, but it was one specific word that would have Bones prescribing therapy. Therapy he wrote that down, too, because the word that Jim had taken to heart was throwaway. If he could have written disposable or worthless, he would have written those, but there were rules after all.
Bones should be proud of him for finding a T-word that perfectly epitomized his feelings, but he was pretty sure that if Bones did return, he would take one look at him and have him committed for psychological evaluation.
Pike was seriously considering recommending the same for Lieutenant Commander McCoy.
On Vestri, Len’s naturally cynical outlook on life had been exacerbated by the screwing SF had given him with this assignment. He probably should have anticipated it, but the extreme need of the planet’s population had resigned him to stay no matter how much he wanted to get back to Enterprise.
He knew Pike had been manipulating him, but the work was important. He would deal with Pike later. After all, Pike wasn’t just another Admiral, he was someone important to Jim, so this was probably personal. For whatever reason Pike had wanted him off that ship and safely tucked away in some dusty corner of the galaxy. Why he didn’t know, but this pandemic had worked neatly into his plans and allowed him to kill two birds with one stone.
When the infection rates had stabilized, Len had submitted his transfer request to his commanding officer. He had outlined the progress they’d made and the encouraging results that had been achieved. He made the argument that his presence was no longer necessary and that he was needed at his primary duty station. The Enterprise would be receiving orders soon and the Chief Medical Officer was required on board and his long absence could affect the starship’s mission readiness.
Everyone knew when his request was denied. The nurses hovered in the hallway as Dr. McCoy’s deep voice could be heard throughout the ward, his angry accent rendering his speech almost unintelligible through the door. There was a loud crash and the door shook with the impact of a data PADD smashing against its surface. The nurses scattered when the pneumatics started to hiss, none of them wanting to be caught eavesdropping, afraid of incurring the temperamental doctor’s wrath.
Pike was now getting notifications from both Enterprise and Vestri regarding his officers’ behavior and attitudes. If Jim was faltering, McCoy was imploding. His caustic bitchy attitude was alienating his superiors and he had reduced more than one nurse to tears. He may terrify the staff, but his patients adored him and the planet elders revered him. The fact that his skills were desperately needed to find a cure for the plague on Vestri was the only reason he hadn’t found himself brought up for Captain’s Mast and been disciplined according to the commander on the ground.
Pike had approved Starfleet Medical’s TAD request because he’d wanted to see how Jim would do without McCoy. That had turned out to be a tactical mistake. Kirk and McCoy had a complicated co-dependent relationship, but they worked best as a team not individually.
Luckily for Jim’s sanity, Starfleet recalled the Enterprise from her mapping mission and ordered them to make a diplomatic call on a planet in a neighboring solar system. The Federation had gotten word that relations among the planet’s ruling factions were tense and that unless a compromise could be brokered, the Federation could stand to lose its mineral trading rights.
Ramura was a class K planet whose populations lived under a series of large pressurized domes. Much of the planet’s resources were subterranean and mining was the chief vocation.
Extensive terraforming had transformed a portion of the planet into a habitable class M atmosphere, at least within the domes. That was the source of the conflict. Similar to skirmishes in the old west, the miners and the farmers were clashing. Toxic mining byproducts threatened to destroy their crops and the farmers were not friendly towards the Federation, seeing them as only interested in the planets minable resources. It would be a coup to take a hostage as recognizable and valuable as Captain James T. Kirk.
The landing party was ambushed as soon as they beamed down to the surface. Kirk was separated from the rest of the away team and once they had him, they didn’t waste any time making their position and their displeasure known.
Jim was thrown to the stone floor of a small windowless cell.
He looked up through swollen eyelids as a large Ramuran unfolded his packet of papers. “What is this, hu-man?” His speech was clipped and clicky, his pincers struggled around the Standard vowel sounds as he scanned through Jim’s list.
“I like words that start with T.”
He looked Jim over before picking up the pen from the ground. He struggled to hold it in his long, many segmented fingers and slowly wrote something at the bottom of his list.
Jim coughed wetly.
The alien tossed the papers down in front of him.
He read the carefully block printed word – TORTURE.
Jim spit the blood from his mouth so he could speak.
“Good word,” he rasped.
When he was left alone, Jim picked up the pages and ran his finger over the large block printing. Torture. Not that he hadn’t thought of the word before. Torture started with a T, so did Tarsus, but he wouldn’t put either of those words on his list.
He tore the piece off the bottom of the page that contained the new word, folded it into a small square and tucked it carefully into his sock. He turned to a new page and wrote instead: threaten, trapped, torment, travesty, and finally, tomb.
After several days of isolation broken only by interrogations which resulted in beatings (Frank always told him he had a big mouth that would get him into trouble someday) he was thrown back into his empty cell.
They had taken his pen and papers away, but that wouldn’t stop him. If this was going to be his tomb, there was one more word he needed to record.
Two days later rescue finally came.
M’Benga picked up the papers the alien had dropped when Spock’s phaser blast had hit him squarely between the eyes. He took a step further into the cell, his stomach rising up and bile threatening to choke him as he took in the broken form of his commanding officer lying on a thin pallet. The smell of iron was strong in the small cell and M’Benga was afraid for a moment that Kirk was dead, but there was no blood near the body. Then he took a slow turn, taking in all four walls of the cell which were covered in writing. There was no question what the medium was. The Captain’s arms were covered in shallow cuts, a sharp rock lying close to his extended hand, his fingers and the rock stained the same brown as the single word repeated across all four walls. Thine.
M’Benga carefully folded the papers and tucked them into the tattered remnants of Kirk’s uniform shirt before loading him on the stretcher. He took one last look around the cell as they dematerialized in the transporter beam. McCoy was going to fucking kill him.
Jim fought his way to consciousness, his vision was blurred by the bright lights of medbay which left him disoriented. “Bones?”
The doctor’s touch was efficient and professional, but completely impersonal. There was no reassuring squeeze, no grumpy muttering, and Jim remembered that Bones was gone. He struggled against the hands holding him on the biobed and his heart rate soared.
“Ventricular tachycardia, we need to get his heart rate down before he goes into cardiac arrest.”
“Captain, you’re going to be fine.”
Captain not Jim.
There was no warm proprietary touch of strong hands or mumbled explanations of what Bones was doing to put him at ease. Each touch was unexpected and it had him cringing away and fighting back until he felt the familiar sting of a hypo at his neck.
“Captain, you need to relax. I’ve given you something to help you sleep.”
Jim fought against the tranquilizers as his pounding heart quickly forced them through his blood stream. Bones would have told him first, respected the fact that he didn’t like the feeling of not being in control. Jim would rather deal with the pain than be sedated. Bones would have known that.
He could control the pain.
Pain was an old friend.
When Jim woke again he was alone. Another reminder that Bones wasn’t there.
He looked around his bed for the sheaf of papers that was always close at hand, but couldn’t find them. The heart monitor was signaling his anxiousness and he had to take a deep breath and will himself to relax.
This was the second time he couldn’t find his papers. The first time his yeoman had gotten a dressing down for moving his things when she straightened his office.
He couldn’t very well ask M’Benga where his papers were without arousing his suspicions any more than they already had been, so he was forced to wait on edge until his belongings were returned. If the doctor was anything like Bones he would jump on any “outward manifestation of internal conflict.” Quote, end quote.
God, when had Bones taken up residence in his head? It was bad enough that Bones was in his dreams and, if he were willing to admit it, his fantasies, but to hear his own thoughts uttered in that deep southern drawl just made his absence all that more unbearable. What he wouldn’t give right now to hear that voice, even if he had to suffer through one of his lectures. It would be worth it.
Jim was so lost in thought that he hadn’t noticed Spock’s approach and was startled when he realized that he was being observed.
His First Officer was standing silently beside his biobed, his hands behind his back.
“Captain, I am glad to see that you are awake. How are you feeling?”
Jim lied through his teeth, “I’m fine. M’Benga said I could get of here this morning.”
Spock raised one eyebrow at that, his eyes scanning the readings above the bed and Jim tried hard to stay relaxed and breathe evenly. He’s not sure what Spock saw in the numbers, but he seemed satisfied when he looked back at the Captain.
“I thought you might wish to have these back.”
He brought one hand forward, which held Jim’s folded stack of papers.
Jim fought hard to control the momentary uptick of his heart rate, sure that the Vulcan’s sensitive hearing couldn’t have missed it. He slowly extended one hand and took the papers and casually laid them aside without another glance.
“Thank you, Spock.”
Spock raised one eyebrow but didn’t comment.
Jim sat quietly and listened to the Acting Captain’s briefing on the ship’s status refusing to look at, or think about, the pages on his bedside table, choosing instead to focus on the PADD Spock had brought and the mission report. Once Spock left, Jim’s momentary relief was replaced by the sudden realization that the Vulcan may have read his words. All of his words. He snatched them off of the table and tucked them safely out of sight beneath his blankets.
He couldn’t resist asking a passing nurse for a pen. It took her several minutes to track one down. It must have been one from Bones’ office because it had Dr. Leonard H. McCoy engraved on the gold barrel, probably a gift from some medical conference. Yeah, new favorite best pen ever. He would be keeping this one, at least until Bones came and demanded it back.
He pulled out his papers and added treatment, tranquilizer, and tachycardia.
Geoffrey M’Benga watched from the two-way glass in his office, McCoy’s office, as the Captain scratched away.
Jim had been required to undergo an examination and accept treatment for the visible injuries he’d sustained on Ramura, but he didn’t feel the need to cooperate any further than that. He kept his own counsel and what M’Benga didn’t notice? Well, that was on him. He was definitely no McCoy. Jim would never have gotten Bones to release him early from medbay, Geoff was a little too trusting for his own good. Jim felt a little guilty about deceiving him, but not enough to go back.
So, only one day after being rescued, Jim walked slowly and stiffly around the corridor that circled the saucer section of Enterprise with his head held high.
What was the scuttlebutt? Scuttlebutt around the ship was that the Captain was slowly losing it. PTSD – T for traumatic. And he couldn’t very well deny it.
When he got to his quarters he settled himself carefully on the edge of his bed and wrote a very short message to Bones. If he got wind of his essentially refusing treatment he would be pissed. Well, fuck him. If he didn’t like it he could just come back and make him.
Jim’s finger hovered over the send button as he suddenly realized that he’d had the power all along to get Bones to come back. He just didn’t want it to be on those terms. So he sent the message, then he crawled into his bed fully clothed and fell asleep.
Len opened the comm from Jim. It was extremely short and that didn’t bode well. In his experience with Jim, the shorter the message, the worse the consequences.
You’re probably going to hear about the away mission and I don’t want you to worry. I’m fine.
The fact that it was a written message raised every flag McCoy had. The fact that he hadn’t heard anything about an away mission only increased his suspicions.
“What the hell you gone and done now Jimmy?” He breathed.
If it was bad, Pike would have called him right? He would have been notified as Jim’s medical proxy, right? Except that he knew that starship crewmembers waived their rights. Medical power of attorney was a luxury that didn’t exist in the black. Every injury was an emergency and the Chief Medical Officer had full authorization to treat members of Starfleet with or without their permission. And here he had given up his authority over Jim as his medical proxy and his personal physician by taking this ‘temporary assignment’.
“Temporary my ass.” He’d realized as soon had he’d stepped off that shuttle and onto the wind swept tundra of the planet that he’d signed up for a long haul.
When Len wasn’t able to make contact with the Enterprise his temper flared. But that was nothing compared to Pike’s temper when he contacted the Admiral only to find out he had never received Pike’s message. Any of them.
The conversation with Pike had gone something like this:
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me Jim had been injured?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about McCoy, I notified you six days ago when Jim was taken prisoner. You didn’t get it?”
“I sure as hell did not. Prisoner? What the hell happened!?” So much time wasted he thought bitterly.
“Settle down Doctor, Jim is fine now.”
Like hell he was.
“He was taken prisoner and interrogated, he was recovered yesterday. He’s already been treated and released from medbay.”
“How long was he held? Treated for what exactly?”
Pike sent him the mission report and it was a near thing that he didn’t throw that PADD at his office door as well.
Pike was furious that his communiqués to McCoy had been intercepted. Starfleet Medical had requested McCoy’s temporary reassignment, now it looked like they were trying to keep him there against his will. He was going to kick some asses or leave wheel marks on some admirals, if only it hadn’t been a hover chair. But he had his pride, he wouldn’t go into that meeting in a fucking chair.
“Help me out here Phil.”
“This is against doctor’s orders,” Boyce dutifully reminded him.
“You’re not my doctor.”
“Yeah, well, McCoy is going to kick my ass. He’s one scary son-of-a-bitch.”
“Somehow, I think he’d be fine with this.”
Pike stood ramrod straight, refusing to allow any of those bastards to see the muscle tremors in his legs, and stared them down with a hard determined look, “I want McCoy back on Enterprise and I want him there now. No more extensions. I want him on the next transport or I will personally take my own damn shuttle and retrieve him myself.”
With that he turned and walked stiffly from the room.
They knew it wasn’t an idle threat.
McCoy was on the next available ship.
Scotty stared in surprise as McCoy stalked off the transporter platform and reached over the Chief Engineer and slapped the comm panel. “Computer,” he growled, “locate Captain Kirk.”
Scotty took in the angry look on the doctor’s face and wisely held his tongue.
Captain Kirk is on the Bridge located on Deck One.
“‘Course he is. Where the hell else would he be?”
Scotty stood aside as the doctor strode from the room.
“Good to ‘ave you back, Doc,” he shouted after McCoy then shook his head sadly as the doors slid shut. “Och, poor bastard’s got no idea what’s headed his way.”
Len entered the bridge from the rear corridor and ignored the curious looks of the crew. It was beta shift and Enterprise was currently docked, so the only people present were Jim’s senior command crew and a small skeleton staff.
He stood for a moment in the back of the room, out of Spock’s line of sight, and watched Jim interact with Chekov and Sulu. Pike had forwarded Spock’s report of the incident on Ramura to Len’s personal PADD, so he was aware of the injuries Jim had received. Len took one look at the dark circles under his eyes, the tightness in his back and shoulders and the slightly unnatural hang of one arm and knew Jim was still in pain and doing his best to hide it. He sure as hell wasn’t fine. Jim should have known better than to lie to him.
Uhura threw Len a knowing look as he approached the Command center of the bridge and placed himself squarely in front of the Captain’s chair. Jim stood, surprised at his appearance.
“Bones! What are you doing here?”
“Don’t ‘Bones’ me, it’s Doctor McCoy.”
Jim just blinked. The only words coming to mind were T-words. Terrifying. His hand reflexively moved to his chest. Troubling. Technically different than trouble. Technically. Jim’s mind spun in ridiculous directions as his eyes traveled across his chair searching for his pen.
Spock watched with concern as the Captain seemed unable to meet the doctor’s eyes.
“Ok, Princess, time to get your ass back to medbay. I got better things to do than be your babysitter, Jim. You’ve been giving my staff a hard time and I had to come back here to sort you out. Now, either you get your ass to medbay, Captain, or I’ll sedate you and carry you there myself.”
The fact that Bones was here, chewing him out, threatening to carry him to medbay, all of that was turning Jim into a confused mess. He was angry that the doctor was addressing him disrespectfully in front of his bridge crew. He was happy Bones was back. He was relieved that someone would take care of him. And he was a little turned on at the threat of being manhandled to medbay. What the fuck?
Spock stepped forward to address him, dragging him from his thoughts.
“I do not understand Captain. You said you were well.”
“And you,” Len turned his ire on the Vulcan. “I thought you were supposed to be some kind of genius. I trusted you to make sure this idiot,” he flapped his hand in Jim’s general direction, “followed the rules.”
“I was led to believe he had been cleared for duty.”
“Lemme guess. The Captain told you that and you believed him.”
Spock shifted guiltily, “It will not happen again, Doctor.”
“You bet your green-blooded ass it won’t because I’m back to make sure of that.”
Jim couldn’t help the sudden thrill he felt at those words.
When Len finally got Jim on a biobed in medbay he was surprised to find papers tucked in his clothing against his skin.
“What is this?”
“Nothing.” Jim grabbed them back from his hand before he could unfold them.
Len had only gotten a glimpse of what, on the surface, seemed to be a list of random words all beginning with the letter T.
While Jim had his vitals taken, Len went to his office and read through M’Benga’s notes on Jim’s rescue and treatment, then he reread Spock’s official report. The two reports differed significantly. Whatever happened on that away mission, it wasn’t all being reported to Starfleet. Jim’s crew were covering for him.
M’Benga’s medical report was slightly more detailed, but everyone was conscious of the legalities involved in the official record. Sometimes things were handled quietly and medical notes were left vague. Being the CMO meant that Len was constantly being made privy to situations that could affect someone’s career, happiness, or livelihood, and he took that responsibility very seriously. He gave everyone the benefit of the doubt as long as lives weren’t placed in danger.
When they’d spoken, Len had made sure that M’Benga knew he wasn’t criticizing his diagnosis or treatment choices. He knew how difficult Jim could be as a patient and Geoff had done the best he could with what he’d been given. Jim just didn’t trust anyone but Len. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Lucky me,” he muttered, as he went over what Geoff had told him off the record.
He had scheduled Jim for further testing to rule out any lasting injuries as a result of the beatings he had suffered. Other than the expected soft tissue injuries that were difficult to diagnose visually, the tests came back negative. He headed back to medbay to discuss the results with Jim.
Len had left his comm on Jim’s bedside table when he had gone to his office and he must have gotten a message, because when he returned Jim picked up the comm and shook it at him accusatorily, “Jake? Who the fuck is Jake?” He looked upset.
Len took the comm and calmly pocketed it. “Jake is just a friend.”
Jake. Just. Jim. Jocelyn. Joanna. Jealousy. Jim couldn’t write those down, not with Bones watching, but it triggered his mind to jump (good word, he wrote that down) from J word to J word. It was freeing to have so many choices again. Journal, justification, judgement, juvenile, jittery, jealous (he snuck that one in in the middle because he had to have it on his list), jeopardize, jugular, January, justice.
Len was taken aback by the furious scribbling. He sat on the edge of the bed and watched Jim until he finally lost his patience and wrenched the papers out of Jim’s hand and read over the current list of words.
“What is with you and the J-words now? Do I need to check you for brain damage again?”
It had been meant as a joke, but Len’s mind quickly spun through possible diagnoses based on Jim’s current manifestation of symptoms. Obsession with words, grammar, letters. Autism? Could it be some form of undiagnosed brain damage? He frowned and tossed the papers back on the table in front of Jim.
“Yeah, well I got a J-word for you, Jackass.”
His gruff attitude hiding his worry, he turned away, but didn’t miss Jim’s furtive movements as he pulled his pages to him and added that word to his list.
When Jim finally fell asleep, Len took the papers to Spock.
“Have you seen this?”
“The Captain’s papers,” he stated matter-of-factly. He looked at them without touching.
“So, you’ve seen these.”
“I dare say everyone who has had contact with the Captain in the last several months has seen them.”
“And this didn’t raise any red flags for you?”
“Red flag. A means of alert to potential danger or possible peril, a warning of trouble ahead.”
“Yeah, trouble.” Len shook his head in disbelief, “Didn’t you see this coming?” Spock’s blank look had not altered. “Do you know what’s in them?”
“The Captain has been most secretive as to their contents, but I do believe that he is recording words that have meaning to him.” Spock had chosen not to read the list when M’Benga had offered it to him, choosing instead to respect his Captain and friend’s right to privacy. “I was under the impression that it is considered a healthy form of coping with stress to write in a journal.”
“There ain’t anything healthy about that.” Len waived a disgusted hand at the papers on Spock’s desk before focusing on what the Vulcan had divulged. “Stress? What stress? Do you know what caused Jim to start this list?”
“I would have thought that was evident. Your departure was the impetus behind the Captain’s journaling.”
“My dep-, you mean he’s been doing this since I left?”
Len took a deep breath and ran a frustrated hand through his hair.
“Does that change your diagnosis, Doctor?”
“No. Just confirms it.”
He gathered up Jim’s papers and walked away.
He had some studying to do.
Hyperlexia III, similar to Arithmomania, was an outward manifestation of an anxiety disorder like OCD characterized by chronic compulsions which could cause more anxiety if they were disrupted. That accounted for the overreaction Spock had witnessed and under extreme duress, could explain the cutting.
Len looked through Jim’s list again. He flipped back through the pages to the oldest entries. The first word was clearly printed – Temporary. Ah, hell.
He flipped to the last page. But why J’s now? Len was no stranger to the alliteration in his life – Jocelyn, Joanna, Jim – Jake.
Now that he knew what to look for he could see Jim’s mania.
The only handwriting on the pages was Jim’s. The deterioration in the penmanship was dramatic, especially during his captivity. During that time certain words were repeated numerous times. That was probably the most disturbing manifestation to Len. It showed a slip in Jim’s ability to control his anxiety.
He noticed that one page was torn at the bottom and that there was a strip missing. He didn’t think anything else about it until the small wadded up bit of paper fell out of one of Jim’s socks he’d picked up from the floor, planning on tossing it into the refresher. He unfolded the small bit of paper and flattened it out. There was really only one place it could have come from, they just didn’t use paper on starships anymore. He took the strip back to his office and matched the ragged edge to the torn page and confirmed that he’d found the missing piece. One word was printed on the crumpled strip of paper in large block letters, not Jim’s writing. It looked more like a child had written it, slow and shaky. The word was Torture.
“Oh, Jim. What the hell happened on that planet?”
What McCoy didn’t understand was if this had been a reaction to his leaving, then why was Jim continuing to make his lists now that he was back? What was spurring his anxiety now? His fear that Len might leave again?
It seemed that all of his abandonment issues had been pulled to the surface. It broke Len’s heart that this vibrant, larger than life man could be so totally derailed by unwarranted feelings of inadequacy and ingrained childhood insecurities. If he ever had occasion to share the same space in time with Winona Kirk, she was going to get an earful.
Len had had Jim moved to a private room. Jim, for his part, was trying very hard not to feel like he had been committed. When Bones had left him alone, Jim had tried his Captain’s override code on the door and was relieved to find that it still responded. He hadn’t been locked down.
Len sat down at the table where Jim was sitting, his empty lunch tray at his elbow, his papers spread out in front of him. He was staring out of the viewport. Len sat with his back to the unsettling view of open space, reminded that he had plenty of his own phobias.
“Look, kid, we need to talk.”
Jim continued to stare out at space.
Len leaned close and tapped the papers on the table. “Do these words have some meaning to you, Jim?” The words seemed to fall into loose categories, like Jim started thinking around a topic. There were some obvious groupings – medical, slang, words with a sexual connotation, etc. But some seemed random. Was that a sign of Jim’s disjointed thoughts or were they things he stumbled upon throughout the day?
Jim’s eyes shifted to Len.
“Why did you choose these words?” So many more obvious ones were missing. What tied them all together in Jim’s fractured mind?
Jim fidgeted under Len’s steady gaze. “They all mean something to me.”
“What about this group of words?” Len chose one of the pages with the most entries.
Jim’s face pinked. “Those remind me of you.”
Len looked the page over again and noticed that the grouping of sexual words was on ‘his’ page. He chose a safe word from the list, “Tenderness?”
In response Jim chose another word, “Trusted.”
Many of the words had multiple layers of meaning and Len revised his opinion, they were definitely not random. He decided to come at the problem from a different angle.
“How about, thine?”
Jim looked up startled, “That … that’s not on the list.” He was starting to tremble.
“Should it be?”
“What do you think?” Jim was becoming obstinate. He obviously didn’t want to explain the meaning of the word he had written on the walls of his cell in his own blood.
Len wondered what would happen if...
He surreptitiously palmed Jim’s pen. His pen. What the hell? That was the pen his mother had given him when he had graduated from med school. Damn kid better not be a kleptomaniac, too. He would deal with that later.
“Jim, you’re trembling,” he purposely enunciated the T-word, “are you ok?”
The look in Jim’s eyes as he frantically searched the tabletop for his missing pen told him more than Jim could put into words. Len made a show of finding the pen and handing it to Jim and watched as he added trembling to his list. His list of Bones words. Then he paused with his pen still poised over the page, his internal struggle evident.
“Why don’t you write it down?” Len knew that Jim wanted to add thine to the list.
Jim threw the pen down, “Some words can’t go on the list,” and got up to pace around the room like a caged animal.
Len was pushing his buttons on purpose, trying to force Jim to confront whatever the underlying issue was. “Why’s that?”
“You know why!” he yelled, grabbing at his hair and pulling it into messy spikes in frustration. Bones had seen his list, read his words, how could it be any clearer?
Len remained calm. A calm he really didn’t feel right now. “Why do you assume I should just know everything?”
“Because you’re the one with the Psych degree.” He turned his back on Len and looked out the viewport. “And I’m the crazy one,” he whispered.
“A degree doesn’t make me an expert and you’re not crazy.” Len said as matter of factly as he could.
He might not be an expert in psychology, but by now, he really should be an expert in all things Jim. He knew the kid better than any other living person, probably even better than Pike. Jim counted on him to know what he needed without being told, because Jim never asked for anything. And he had made it his business to know what his friend needed. Jim wasn’t just any patient, theirs was a much more intimate relationship.
“This isn’t an official psych eval, Jim. We’re just friends having a conversation.”
“Just,” Jim sighed.
Len looked down at the pages on the table and flipped to the last one. The J-words. Just wasn’t on the list and Jim wasn’t scrambling to write it down. Just and thine couldn’t go on the list.
Len’s sudden flash of insight hit him like a physical impact.
Was that the problem? Was that what had caused all of this mess?
“Jim. Jim look at me.” He waited for Jim to turn and face him before he got up and walked over to his best friend. “You know you’re more than just a friend to me, don’t you?” He looked at the uncertain look in those beautiful blue eyes. “You got my comm, right?”
Jim looked like he might crumple under the onslaught of the emotions that were assaulting him.
“I thought I made it clear. I wanted you to know, that’s why I sent you that comm.”
Jim shook his head, the movement threatening to dislodge the unshed tears welling in his eyes. “The data file was corrupted,” he rasped and cleared his throat before he could continue. “All I heard was a lot of local gossip and stuff about Jake," he said bitterly.
Jealous had been on the J-list.
“Damnit Jim. Why didn’t you just ask me? I thought you knew, and when you didn’t mention any of it, I just figured maybe you weren’t interested, that you didn’t feel the same way. And that’s ok. I just wanted you to know how I felt.”
“How do you feel?” Jim asked in a small voice.
“First, I want to know why you could write thine on the walls of your cell, but not on your list.”
Jim just stared at him, willing Bones to understand so that he wouldn’t have to put it into words.
Len pursed his lips and studied Jim. He finally sighed, “Because you didn’t think you were going to make it back.”
Jim’s eyes shuttered.
“None of this makes you crazy, Jim.” He looked up at Bones, eyes full of doubt. “Just makes us dysfunctional.”
Len sat down at the table and pulled out a clean sheet of paper. He picked up the pen his mother had given him and wrote one word at the top of the page. Love.
Love. Now there was a loaded word with layers of meaning.
Jim had resumed his seat, so Len turned the paper around and pushed it towards him.
His startled, wide eyed, hopeful stare made Len’s heart swell.
Jim reached for the pen in his hand, their fingers touching for slightly longer than necessary before he took the paper and added one word beneath Len’s.