The sight of the car makes Jim nearly choke. On his periphery, he sees Leonard McCoy begin to break into one of his rare full smiles, eyes crinkling as he beams, chest ever so slightly puffing out with pride and excitement, but he can’t enjoy it. A chasm has opened inside his ribcage - cold, dark, and deep, all too familiar - because of the black 1965 Chevrolet Corvette. The car that’s almost causing Bones to preen like a farmyard rooster. He swallows, willing back the pit’s threat to drag him down like a rip current.
“Take it back.” he croaks. Confusion sucker punches Bones, brows knitting in a combination of confusion and disbelief as he rounds on Jim.
“What?” Bones spits the word out like it tastes of cheap tequila.
“There’s gotta be something else they can lend us.” Jim says, still hoarse. “Any other car. It looks…” His voice dies.
“It looks WHAT?! What the ever-living FUCK, Jim.” Bones crescendos. The doctor looks at him pointedly. Jim knows this silence that follows Bones’s outburst is Bones giving him one last opportunity to explain himself, but the void has fully worked its way into his throat now, silencing him from anything beyond the strangled sounds escaping his lips. Bones’s shoulders square, his jaw tightens, and now Jim has missed his window, is now powerless against the storm he’s unleashed.
“You…you goddamn childish, selfish prick!” Bones shouts. “D’you know the trouble I went to to rent this ancient monstrosity for you? Or d’you just not give a fuck? You put me in charge of finding a vehicle safe enough to take us on this fool frolic and a detour road trip that I didn’t wanna go on anyway, that’s costing me a week’s worth of credits from the moonlighting I’m gonna miss, I go outta my way to find some non-death trap that you’ll like- which I didn’t have to do- and come as close as I can get to your old man’s Chevy in every-fucking-thing but color, and you want me to take it BACK? Over a paint job? Fuck you, Jim! Fuck you - I was trying to do something nice for you but it’s never enough, is it?”
Sweat begins to trickle down McCoy’s temple, made more prominent by the tensing jaw muscle and pulsing vein that signal a full-blown Bones tirade. Jim remains in the grasp of the gravity well-like emptiness that is engulfing him from the inside out. He can’t fight, can’t snark, can’t joke, can’t even put forth something to pacify his best friend (or, at the very least, bring him to the metaphorical negotiating table). All he can do to break the void’s grip is what he’s fallen back on his whole life- he runs.
Choking out some noise resembling “sorry,” Jim turns away from the convertible and takes off in the opposite direction. Bones sputters in rage.
“Where in blue hell do you think you’re going?”
Jim only shrugs.
“DON’T shrug at me, Jim, you know I hate that.”
I hate it too, Jim agrees silently as his feet continue to carry him away from the car and his best friend.
He ends up at the cadet gym, letting his body run on autopilot as he changes out of his reds and into his PT uniform in the deserted locker room. He really wants to be drunk or fighting or have his face shoved in someone’s genitals - the standard regimen for when his past creeps in and wreaks emotional havoc- but those all require him to stop moving at some point in the process and Jim knows that if he stops, he’s risking utter collapse. His best option is The Box. It’ll be empty - it’s intersession right before spring quarter break. No cadet in their right mind would voluntarily subject themselves to the infamous obstacle course-sparring exercise-endurance training hybrid monstrosity that’s guaranteed to steamroll even the security and tactical ops fourth years.
He give a small, self-deprecating snort as he jabs at the controls, pushing the settings as high as the console will let him for his species and sets the timer to run infinitely. He’s certainly not in his right mind; lo and behold, here he is, stepping inside as soon as the module’s door hisses open.
Ten minutes into the assault of targets and dummies, Jim is drenched in sweat but knows this won’t be enough. Even as his feet fly over the tilting and shifting race tables, he can’t outrun the barrage of memories flickering across his mind.
Frank, yet again shouting at Jim to stop crying, grabbing the top of Jim’s head and shoving it. The back of Jim’s head hitting the kitchen cabinet with a crack. Sam hitting Frank, finally protecting his baby brother. The rawness of Jim’s throat as he screams for them to stop. Streaks of blue and red light licking across the walls, the backdrop to Frank explaining that, no, officers, everything’s under control - you know how it is trying to raise two such broken, violent young men. He’s just doing the best he can, but maybe they can help him out by showing the eldest what’ll happen if he continues on this path with a night in holding? Jim’s voice suddenly gone when one of the cops asks him if there’s anything else going on, any reason why Sam’s behavior might be justified. He says nothing.
No memory of Sam returning from the Riverside jail. Sam’s just gone - a cloud of dust kicked up by their father’s PX70 disappearing into the horizon the only sign that he was ever here at all. Frank boasting loudly to one of his poker buddies about the profit he was going to turn by selling “his” car. The small holo of George and Winona, sitting in the Corvette, top down, as the San Francisco Bay stretched out behind them, left atop Sam’s otherwise barren desk. The car flying out over the quarry while Jim lands in the dirt. And then the offer of an alternative school over juvie, somewhere off world, a planet called Tarsus IV…
Jim redoubles his efforts, dodging and striding, taking blow after blow instead of countering them.
Mom on his eighteenth birthday, half empty bottle of Rigelian wine slopping slightly onto the floor with each sob. The admission of the hard truth ringing in his ears - his birth had cost her everything: her husband, her career, her eldest, her sanity. His existence had effectively trapped her dirtside. Jim, silent, his synthoil covered fingers trembling. The screen door slamming behind him his only declaration before he opens the driver’s side door of the reason why he’d even approached Winona today. He guns the engine he’s spent weeks meticulously rebuilding, the black Corvette speeding away from the Kirk Farm, away from its intended owner, toward a destination he has no intention of reaching.
He lets The Box’s programming hit him with everything it’s got - literally- for what seems like an eternity until he catches something moving in the observation window out of the corner of his eye. Instantly distracted, Jim no sooner turns his head toward the motion that he’s flat on his back, a waist - high hurdle catching him straight in the gut. The belt on the race table below him stops cold. Jim’s vision darkens and swims from pain. After what’s either a second or an eternity, he feels a warm, steady hand on the back of his neck, then arms around his back. Before he registers that someone’s holding him, he’s over a set of broad shoulders in a fireman’s carry. The counterpoint of the steady rocking gait below him to his overwhelming physical and emotional sensations
His awareness comes back to him as his shirt’s being pulled up and something’s being stuck directly over his solar plexus.
“If you wanted to get me out of my clothes, you just had to ask,” Jim cracks, earning an exasperated eye-roll.
“Jesus, help me. You would go there to deflect so we don’t talk about the little stunt sequence you just pulled.”
“Fuck, Bones, you know I fucking hate it when you analyze me.”
“Motherfucker, the only reason I’m not so pissed at you that I can’t speak to you is because I analyzed your ass. You’re self destructive and can be self-centered, but you’re not actually a selfish prick. So, you gonna tell me what the rest of your deal is with the car?”
Jim looks away.
“Or, y’know, I can just send a request to Pike that as your medical provider, I need to know whatever traumatic shit you’ve conveniently made disappear from your chart is now rearing its ugly head, making me steal ultrasound patches out of Medical so your soft tissue damage’ll be healed by the time term starts.”
Jim opens his mouth to argue, but Bones beats him to the punch.
“And don’t start with that “I can work through it” shit- you got yourself good enough that despite always bein’ stubborn as a mule fightin’ over a turnip, PT will lay you out like a mudroom rug in April. Then Pike’ll have to hear about this.”
“I plead the fifth on the grounds of your gross misuse of similes.”
“I’m a doctor, not a court of law, dammit, so start talking or I’ll start putting in that comm to Pike.”
Jim sighs. None of his options are good and he certainly doesn’t want his instructors or the brass involved. But Bones is his first real friend in over a decade. How fast is he going to run when Jim reveals the depths of just how profoundly broken he is?
Best to get it over with now, Jim thinks, before he wastes any more time on me. But, always shrewd, ever strategic, he decides to tell the portion of the story that doesn’t require Federation security clearance.
He extends his right arm, curling his hand into a fist and flexing his forearm. The iridescent pink line from wrist to elbow on the inside of his arm now appears prominently.
“Age eighteen. Shattered radius. I didn’t erase it from my file because it never made it in. I didn’t have any ID on me and the Des Moines hospital where they took me could only look me up if I was a minor or dead or dying. Gave them a fake name.” Jim chuckles. McCoy’s eyebrows knit together but his jaw unclenches.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I’m getting there, gimme a sec. I, um, rebuilt a Corvette to replace the one I wrecked. For my mom. Black instead of red since that's what I could get my hands on in terms of parts, though in retrospect, inadvertently but disgustingly symbolic. Was gonna give it to her on my birthday, because, y’know.” Bones nods in understanding but it doesn’t ease the look of consternation off his face.
“Well, she had been drinking again and…it’s stupid, really. I already knew everything she told me, but actually hearing it, it just hit me that being around was always going to remind her of everything I took from her.”
“Took from her how? By being born? She SAID that?” Jim shrugs, trying to look nonchalant, and presses his lips into a line.
“Pretty much. So I just took the car, drove it away from anything close to Riverside, to fix things.”
“Fix things how?”
“By getting rid of the last reminders of what she lost.” The doctor’s eyes go wide.
“Get rid of…Jim, you saying you tried to kill yourself?” Jim tries to wave off McCoy, now blanching as he makes the connection.
“Well, the car too. And, I mean, car accidents happen. Response time when you’re on Iowa’s back roads isn’t great- even these days. Wouldn’t have looked like anything other than what everyone had been telling me - my risk taking finally caught up with me. So when I was the only car on the road, I took a curve too fast. Totaled the car, flipped it a few times, and all I got was a punctured lung and a broken arm. Figures - I forgot to undo my seatbelt. Like a dumbass.” Jim gives a broken laugh, then two large hands grip his face. Bones, looking furious, pulls him so they’re practically nose to nose.
“Jim. You fuckin listen to me right now. Your mother’s problems were. not. your. fault. If she didn’t handle shit life threw at her like an adult, that’s on her. Hey - DON’T you roll your eyes at me, kid. I’m not havin’ this argument. I know I’m right and so do you.“
“You always say that,” Jim mumbles to one side. Bones jerks his chin back to the midline.
“I know I’m right about you, Jim. You barely have enough self-worth to fill a shot glass. You know I don’t bullshit you- I ain’t gonna tell ya you’re hot shit when you’re not. But this? I can tell you with certainty that by blaming you, your mama missed out on loving someone great. I know you. Trust me.”
Jim’s face heats at those words. His eyes begin to burn, so he buries his face in the crook of Bones’s neck.
A kiss, followed by the murmur of “I got you, kid,” is pressed into Jim’s hair as his tears dampen Bones’s collar. When Jim picks his head up to face his best friend, Bones chuckles.
“Leave it to you to still look disgustingly good even when you’re cryin’.” Jim almost snorts snot out his nose at that. With a little levity injected between them, Bones resumes his entreaty.
“Hey, you’re not completely off the hook, Jim. I swear if you ever try somethin' like that again, I’ll bring you back just so I can kill you myself and bring you back again so I can make sure you never hear the end of me bein’ mad at you for tryin’ to take away my best friend.”
“I’m serious as cancer, Jim.” Bones’s expression softens and his eyes mist over. “You do more for me by just bein’ here than you know. You come find me if y’ever feel like that again, y’hear?” He swallows and continues.
“That said, I don’t want you constantly runnin from your past. That’s no way to live. And if you’re gonna be captain of some god-forsaken ship, you’re not gonna have a choice to run if somethin calls up old ghosts of yours. You’re gonna have a crew that needs you, Jim.” Kirk nods, following the idea to its logical solution.
“So we go on the trip. In the car. Overwrite the old memories with new ones, right?”
“Atta boy. You let me know if it gets to be too much and we can do somethin’. We can talk or pull over or whatever, have you yammer my ear off or wander around like you’re bound to do anyway. We got a whole week to go nowhere in particular and come back.” Tension bleeds from Jim’s shoulders as he cracks a small smile.
“Okay, on two conditions: one, you drive first. It’s firmly on the ground, so you don’t have an excuse not to. It’ll let me get settled. Y’know, so I don’t have the urge to crash the car.” Bones snorts.
“Fair. And the second?”
“I call dibs on snack and music selection! And you can’t say shit about it!” Jim cackles. Leonard rolls his eyes.
“Fine. Lord help me.”
“C’mon, Bones! It’s spring break, let’s have some fun!”
Leonard mutters gruffly about needing finish Jim’s regen treatment and pack and clean out the fridge, but his eyes crinkle, betraying the small smile he’s trying to suppress. If the universe owes Jim Kirk anything, lord knows it’s a chance to close a couple chapters of his past. Bones is just happy to help him turn the page.
"Fuck you if you love a car for its paint job
Love you if you love a car for the road trips
Show me the miles and your arms and the pink scar
Where the doctor had to pull out all the bone chips
'Cause you were pressing on the gas just a bit hard
Right in the moment where the road curved a bit sharp
And when you woke up, somebody was unclipping your seat belt
And pulling you from the open window of your flipped car" - George Watsky, Sloppy Seconds