Today of all days was the day that Bones had offered to take an overnight shift at the student clinic.
Jim really couldn't hold it against him. They had both been off the past few days, a little tenser than normal, a little quieter. So if Bones needed some time apart in his own safe haven of medicine, Jim would respect that. Encourage it even.
He just wished he could find a safe haven of his own.
He managed to get through his assignments for the evening and had even managed to set an alarm, and follow through with getting dinner. It was seeming like it wouldn't be such a bad night after all.
Until the crickets started chirping.
Jim folded his pillow over his head and tried to blot out the noise, annoyed more than anything.
It was such a silly thing to be upset over. And it wasn't like it was all the time that he even noticed the noise, muchless was bothered by it. But tonight was one of those bizarre nights where the sight or sound of any insect sent him spiraling.
He squeezed his eyes shut and all he could see were piles of dead things.
Piles of dead lotus in a field of dead wheat.
Taunt and hungry faces with boney hands harvesting from the piles of dead insects they hoped wouldn't make them sick rather than the rotting wheat that they knew would kill them.
The same faces were later found dead as well.
He tried keeping his eyes open instead. Thinking that maybe if he could focus on a dark spot of the room his eyes would grow weary and he would be able to drift off.
This proved almost worse.
His mind began playing those cruel tricks on him where shadows morphed and moved.
Insects and mice began crawling over his walls and someone passed by his window, casting a disfigured silhouette over his bed.
Jim curled in tighter on himself and prayed that Bones would have forgotten something. That he would have to return to the dorm and would find him and keep him safe.
He was so tired.
So tired of being the one to keep people safe.
To take care of them.
He wanted to be held rather than having to hold and comfort another.
The datapad at his bedside pinged loudly in the dark and Jim all but jumped out of his skin.
The message was signed by Pike.
Jim slumped forward, wanting to cry, wishing it was already morning so he didn’t have to be alone anymore. Wishing he knew what was wrong with him and how to pull himself together.
His head snapped up at the voice. He stared down at Pike. A strange sense of surrealness twisting at his gut. He couldn’t seem to find his voice as he stared at Pike’s face. It seemed somehow too real and too fake to be real all at the same time.
"What's wrong, son?"
Somewhere in thw back of his head, it clicked that he must have accidentally hit the call button and a small sense of rightness settled back in his chest. Jim looked around his room, familiar shapes appeared again. He could see the dresser and desk and Bones's empty bed.
His head snapped back to the screen and Pike watched him with open concern.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” he managed.
"I'm on my way, son. You're in your dorm, right?"
Jim nodded and tried to catch his breath. "I need help," he replied weakly.
"I know, it's ok, Jim. I'm coming, just sit tight for me, ok?"
Chris was at Jim's side as soon as the door swished open. If he wasn't concerned before, he was when Jim tearfully reached out to him. He was struck by just how young Jim really was as he drew the cadet into his arms and held him in a protective embrace.
"Tell me what happened," Chris spoke softly, but kept his arms around Jim.
"Was a bad day," Jim croaked. "Been a bad couple of days. I thought I was fine. I was doing ok, and then the stupid bugs, and I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. It hasn’t been like this in a long time. I don’t know what happened.”
“Easy, Jim. It’s ok, son. Where’s Leonard?”
“He picked up a night shift.”
“During finals?” Pike questioned.
Jim nodded into his shoulder. “He’s been bad too. I don’t know what to do.”
“I know you wanna help, Jim, but you’ve gotta take care of yourself. Right now you know he’s safe. If he needs help, there are people there for him. So let’s get you taken care of, alright? I’ve got some reports to wrap up, but I want you to come with me. I don’t want you by yourself like this.”
Chris put a hand on Jim’s back to steady him as the men walked down the campus sidewalk. Jim watched the grass and light, glancing between them warily. He had seen Jim through some tough times, but he had never seen the kid so...jumpy.
"What's been going on the past few days?" He asked, hoping he didn't sound like an interrogator.
Jim shrugged. "It's been ten years today. Bones and I figured it out last year. It's when I left Earth."
Pike nodded, only half understanding. "What's been up with Len?"
Jim shrugged again. "Was a bad day for him a few years ago too."
"Let's get you inside." Pike scanned his security badge and ushered Jim in first. He made a mental note to track Leonard down later.
"Take a seat wherever you like," Pike offered and tossed his coat over the back of a chair.
Jim glanced around for a moment before sliding down a wall where he could easily watch the door and windows at the same time. "Do you wanna borrow a PADD or anything while you wait? This shouldn't take too long, but-"
Jim shook his head. In the bright light of the office, Chris could see the dark circles forming under Jim's eyes, he seemed a little paler than normal too not that he thought about it. Had he not known better he might have thought Jim was simply coming down with a cold.
But Pike did know better.
So he dimmed the lights just a little. Enough they wouldn't seem so harsh on Jim's haggard face, but still bright enough he could see the door and keep his silent watch. Then Pike settled on the floor next to him, PADD in hand, so their shoulders only just touched. Just enough to be a source of grounding.
It took next to no time at all before Jim was starting to drift off that way. Chris chuckled a little at the kid's head bobbing up and down, like a toddler coming off a sugar high. He snatched his coat from the chair and gently pushed Jim's head down.
"Lie down, son. I'll keep an eye out for ya."
Jim did as he was told, pillowing his head on Pike's leg and tugging just a little on the coat draped over him.
"I'll keep you safe," Chris promised and brushed back Jim's hair.
Dread was the only word Spock could think of to describe the feeling swirling in his chest. He glanced himself over in the mirror, tugging on his uniform shirt to smooth it out.
"I need you to come to my office as soon as you can." The message from his new Captain seemed burned into his brain, repeating itself over and over again as he prepared himself for the meeting.
There was no logical reason for it, but the thought persisted that Pike was going to reassign him. He felt a twinge of annoyance. He could remember his father telling him that logic could be respite to the strong emotions of his Vulcan nature, but the persistent nature of human emotions seemed to be winning out.
There seemed nothing to be done for it. In any case, speculation was useless and it was best to simply speak to the Captain himself. As he walked to the meeting, Spock examined each of the tumultuous emotions as they came.
The thought that Pike would reassign him, while it had no base in logic, seemed rooted in the fact that Spock was looking forward to working so closely with Captain Pike. There were few humans with whom Spock felt genuinely comforted with, despite his years on earth, and Pike was one of those people.
Having identified the reason for the dread, Spock was able to banish some of the annoyance he felt from being anxious as he was. It was not without reason entirely, and even if he had no reassurance on the matter, it helped to know that there was some variety of reason for it.
A small sense of calm came back to his mind as he entered the tall building. Whatever would be, would be. Worry, and berating himself for the worry would not change anything that was about to happen. It was best to simply take a breath abs accept his fate.
Spock paused in the doorway when he noted a cadet strewn across the floor against the opposing wall. He was half curled up on his stomach, head pillowed on his arms, and face buried in what Spocked believed to be Pike's personal jacket.
"Don't mind him, Spock. He's out cold." Pike gestured to a chair across the desk. "Take a seat Commander."
Spock turned to face the Captain, and frowned. There were clear signs of exhaustion, and if he had to, Spock would have guessed that Pike had spent the night in his office. "Captain, are you well?"
Pike chuckled. "A little worse for wear, but nothing a little shore leave won't fix. Which is part of what I wanted to speak to you about. I know we're set to leave earth at the end of the week, but I'm going to have to push that back a little while. Probably another week or so. There are...some personal matters which have recently come to light that I need to take care of here. I wanted to let you know because I know you do some lecturing at the Academy. I wanted to give you ample time to readjust your schedule as needed."
Spock nodded. "I appreciate you alerting me to these changes." He hesitated briefly before adding. "Captain, if there is any way I can be of assistance-"
Pike smiled sadly. "Not this time, Spock. But don't worry, there'll be plenty of time for that later. I'll pin down exactly when we'll be leaving and send you the information later today."
"Oh and Spock, one more thing," Pike called as the Commander stood to leave.
"Relax. I don't plan on letting you go anywhere any time soon. You're a good man, Spock, I'm lucky to have you on my team."
Pike raised his hand. "I remember what it's like to be newly assigned a ship. I remember how nerve wracking meetings, especially last minute ones were then. And I'll let you in on a secret. It doesn't ever go away entirely. You get used to it, but it's still always there a little bit. And it's not necessarily a bad thing, it just comes with the territory."
Spock nodded thoughtfully. "Thank you for this insight, Captain."
"You're welcome, Commander."
Jim stirred when the door clicked shut again, and Pike was at his side in a heartbeat, with a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Easy, Jim. How ya feeling?" He asked when Jim glanced up at him.
Jim closed his eyes again, burying his face deeper into the jacket. "Thanks," he mumbled.
Chris chuckled and ruffled Jim's hair. "Go bad to sleep Jim. It's still early yet."
"Should go find Bones."
" I'll take care of him. You get some rest."
"Mhm." And just like that Jim drifted off again.