Eight years old was an improvement, Nurse Chapel thought in some relief, for while Jim had been an adorable little boy the toddler version had been a hyperactive handful and they were all nearly constantly exhausted from looking after him. He’d apparently grown another four inches during the night, thank goodness, and she marveled again at the Insonti safety technology that allowed clothing to enlarge with the size of the child if he were unconscious of the transformation at the time. She made a notation in Jim's file to have the quartermaster update his wardrobe and sleepwear to something more age-appropriate, as he was now out of those formative first few years and with all luck, would start aging faster now.
Then the youngster glanced up, saw her, and slowly flashed a megawatt smile which said all too clearly he knew exactly what he was doing. “Well, hel-lo, Christine.”
“I think you’re old enough now to pronounce ‘Nurse Chapel’ properly, young man,” she retorted, “and eyes on my face if you please!”
Jim looked highly affronted. “Wasn’t doing anything,” he replied piously. “But I’d hafta be blind to –“
“Enough, Jim.” While amusing, this promised to be a very long day. “Doctor McCoy,” she continued loudly, shaking the snoring man.
The physician came instantly awake in a flail of arms and legs which deposited him neatly on the floor at his Head Nurse’s feet. “Whargh,” was the intelligent response which greeted her.
“Doctor, you know sleeping in a chair is the worst possible thing you can do to your spinal alignment!”
He groaned, rubbing a banged elbow. “Not now, Nurse.” Slitted eyes finally opened into full, bleary blue glory. Then they widened. “Well, someone had a growth spurt in the last six hours!”
“Yup,” Jim beamed, clicking another page in whatever manual he had pulled up about the Enterprise’s schematics.
“What’re you doing?”
“Lookin’ up information about me when I get bigger,” was the absent response, as the child’s eyes flitted rapidly over the pages.
”Hold it, you can’t do that!” McCoy scrambled to his feet, reaching for the power switch to the monitor. “Some of that’s classified and your retinal scan will bypass the voice authorization!” The screen blanked out as his thumb came down on the Escape key, earning him a scowl from the child prodigy sitting before the monitor. “Don’t give me that look, it didn’t work when you were two and it’s not gonna make a difference now.”
Jim shrugged easily. “Just trying to kill time ‘til you and Spock woke up,” he said diffidently. Then the child’s look changed to one of concern. “How is he?”
Chapel was already scanning the Vulcan’s life-signs. “The sleep’s done him good; and if he hasn’t woken up yet by the two of you making such noise I’d let him stay that way as long as he can.”
Oddly enough, Spock was still breathing evenly, features relaxed in a rare deep sleep; most of the time meditation sufficed for his needs, and so rarely did he sleep deeply enough to not be awoken on the instant, that this was unusual indeed.
Jim and McCoy had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. “Right,” the physician sighed. “Out, kiddo. Time for your own checkup.”
Mumbling a protest under his breath, the child scooted over to ascertain Spock’s status for himself, peering over the edge of the bio-bed. Apparently assured of his friend’s health, he then zipped around the doctor and out into the recovery ward.
The two medicos exchanged a look. “Your problem,” Chapel said pointedly, indicating the empty space where their young captain had stood. “He’s only three years away from probable puberty, and that’s quite close enough, thank you.”
McCoy’s ears burned and he hastily went after the child. A moment later he located Jim, sitting on an examination table in the middle of the ward, a gaggle of cooing nurses surrounding him and exclaiming over how much he’d grown.
The little brat was basking in the attention.
"Back to work, all of you,” he barked, producing the necessary threatening gestures to accompany the order.
“Later,” Jim said to with a generalized wink, hopping off the table.
“Uh-uh. Not done with you, kid.” McCoy located a medical scanner and datapad while sending a stern look at the child.
“Whatcha looking for?” The child was hovering around him, obviously enjoying being tall enough to reach items which had been out of his grasp before. “You going to scan my head? What’s this thing do? How tall am I now? I’m hungry, can I have strawberry waffles for breakfast? You think Scotty can show me how to program chocolate waffles?”
All this before he’d had even a cup of coffee; McCoy restrained the urge to whimper as it was highly unprofessional.
“Ease up on the questions until after I’ve made sure you’re okay, Jim, will you?”
The boy shrugged, bouncing around the ward and peeking into anything which was not locked. “Sure, Bones. Ooooh, what’s this?” A whirring noise sounded, and he hastily turned around to see the child examining the laser-cutter he used to remove casts from healed broken bones.
“Turn that off unless you want me to use it on you!”
Jim dropped the object with a clang, eyeing both it and his physician warily. Three skips across the ward and he was on tiptoe, peering into the emergency surgery unit (which was thankfully empty and had been since Spock’s accident) and bouncing energetically from one foot to the next before zooming over to inspect the holographic charts of a human brain which were on the other side of the room. Sighing, McCoy hauled out the proper instruments for use on a child-sized humanoid life-form (rarely used on the Enterprise) and walked back toward the examination table.
He dropped the whole kit with a clatter on the durasteel floor, just in time to make a dive for the child as Jim suddenly turned white as a sheet and collapsed toward the floor with a small whimper.
”CHRISTINE! Emergency, I need you!”
On his knees he caught the small body before the child’s skull impacted the floor, thank heaven, and carefully cradled Jim’s head in one large hand while checking his heart rate; racing far too quickly for his liking. He cradled the thin frame in his arms just as his head nurse barreled around the edge of Spock’s cubicle, followed shortly by a half-awake, half-drugged Vulcan.
“Get me a vitamin/stimulant booster safe for that age and a thermal blanket,” he ordered through clenched teeth, starting to heft the boy’s weight in his arms; though Jim was pretty thin, he was no longer the small child he had been and lifting him all the way from the floor without throwing out a disc in his back was not going to be easy.
“Doctor,” Spock’s voice, now fully awake, sounded in his ear, and he was more than willing to relinquish the child to a stronger back and arms.
“Put him there, Spock, and watch your feet,” he called, dashing back toward the examination table and picking up scattered instruments on the way. “And don’t think you’re gettin’ out of that bed so easily, either! You’ve not been dismissed from Sickbay and you’re not gonna be until I say so!”
“You have more important things to concern your attention at the moment, Doctor,” was the icy reply, though the Vulcan’s hands were gentle as he laid the unconscious child down on the table. “Do you have any idea of the reason for his collapse?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s just his body catching up with the rapid aging,” McCoy murmured, already scanning the child’s head and slowly moving down the still form. “Three years in three days, and two of those in one night – the change basically cannibalized his body’s resources, looks like. All his readings are so low it’s a wonder he had the energy to be runnin’ around here for as long as he did. That was probably mostly adrenaline.”
Under his hand, Jim shifted uneasily, small forehead furrowing. “See, he’s already waking up, Spock. Nurse, where is that hypospray!”
“Here, Doctor,” Chapel appeared at his side with a tray of shots. “Also his six-year-old immunization booster, nutritional supplements, and I’ve taken the liberty of ordering him the waffles he asked for from the galley.”
”Thank you, Nurse. At this point the kid can eat anything he wants as long as it has sugar in it, I just want his glucose levels to not be crashing,” the physician murmured, placing a hand on the pale cheek and then patting it gently. “Jim, can you hear me? Wake up, kiddo.”
Hazel eyes fluttered unsteadily before squinting open, unfocused.
“That’s it. Now I have to give you a shot, okay kid? Won’t hurt but just for a second.”
Spock knew from experience that this was a colossal untruth, but wisely said nothing, only placed one hand on the child’s head in an effort to ground him while the physician administered the nutrient and stimulant booster. It was an unfortunately large injection, due to the amount required in a short time period.
“OW!” the boy hollered suddenly, coming wide awake on the instant. “Not cool, Bones!”
McCoy chuckled indulgently, replacing the empty spray cartridge in the tray to be sterilized. “Shush, you. And the next time you start feelin’ woozy you tell me, all right? Don’t try to ignore it like you were just now.”
“Thought I was just hungry,” Jim sighed, blinking hazily up at them. His eyes lit on Spock’s silent features, and sandy brows drew together. “Should you be up, Spock? You still look like a zombie.”
Spock blinked, slightly affronted, and from across the ward they could all hear Chapel’s giggle as she brought in a tray of food.
“Shut your mouth and have a piece of bacon while I finish,” McCoy said with a smirk, plucking the food off the tray and placing it in an eagerly-waving hand.
“Oooh, waffles! You are gorgeous, Nurse.”
“Yes, well,” the blonde replied indulgently, ruffling the child’s wild hair. “You have to eat the omelet and drink the juice without complaining; balanced meal and all that.”
McCoy ran the scanner down the child’s torso, and paused when it beeped, frowning at the display. Slowly he lifted the gold shirt enough to reveal a livid purple bruise that ran along the entire length of the child’s ribcage on the left side.
Spock saw the mark at the same instant, and lifted a dark gaze to meet the CMO’s.
“Jim,” the doctor said quietly. “What happened here? This is too old to have happened when you fell just now; did you do something to yourself in the last three days?”
Mouth full of bacon, the child glanced down, puzzled. “Huh?”
“The bruise on your left ribs, Jim. Perhaps you injured yourself while playing in Engineering this week?” Spock inquired.
“Oh, that. No, I fell out a tree in the backyard,” Jim remarked, snagging another piece of bacon. “Shoulda heard Sam scream, he sounded like a girl. Sorry, that's rude, he sounded like a baby. Ma wasn’t very happy, though,” he added thoughtfully, smirking at the memory.
“A tree in the backyard?” Spock asked blankly. “When would that have been, Jim? You have been aboard the Enterprise for the last four weeks.”
“Oh…it was like two, maybe three…” The child’s eyes suddenly flickered with something unidentifiable, almost glazed. “I…I can’t remember, Spock. Isn’t that weird?”
McCoy motioned the Vulcan to silence. “Don’t worry about it now, Jimmy. And you be more careful, kid. We don’t want to aggravate this. No climbin’ stuff in Engineering without a safety line, you hear me?”
Jim nodded impatiently, his eyes glued to the heaping strawberry waffles waiting on his breakfast tray. “Can I eat now?”
“Sure. You behave for Nurse Chapel, and I'll take care of this when you're done.” McCoy tapped a stern finger against the child’s nose.
Jim flipped him a sloppy salute with two fingers before tackling the tray of goodies with a noise of appreciation. Spock followed the physician around the corner, his eyes darkened with silent worry.
“I know,” McCoy replied, rubbing at his left temple to ward off the headache forming. “We didn’t think about the fact that jumping him in age not just brings along whatever memory he has for that age, but it also drops him into that physical state, with any physical injury he accumulated by that point in time. He fell out of a tree at eight years old, and the age jump dropped him in the middle of that so he shows the bruises from it.”
“I suppose we should be grateful that he had no broken bones; an unset compound fracture, for example, would have been extremely painful to be ‘dropped in the middle of,’” Spock observed.
The doctor nodded. “That’s something I’m going to look up right now; I should have complete enough medical records based on his ‘Fleet records and what I can dig up from Riverside to at least let us know what the critical ages will be for illness or injury. But…I really don’t like the idea that it drops him straight into whatever physical and mental condition the kid was in at that particular age.”
“Why is that, Doctor?”
McCoy’s blue eyes darkened into a stormy gray. “What condition do you think he’s going to be in, when he transforms into thirteen years old, Spock?”