mijan: (To Boldly Go...)
[personal profile] mijan
Title: “No Man’s Land
Authors: Gone_ashore and Mijan
Rating: R
Pairing: Kirk/McCoy
Word Count: 11,926 for part 4.
Warnings: Triggery. References to alien experimentation, graphic descriptions, mpreg.
Summary: Because even in the 23rd century, men don’t have babies. Gender lines have been blurred in so many ways, but not in this.

Notes: This is cross-posted between my journal and Gone_Ashore’s journal. Feel free to read either here, or on Gone_Ashore’s journal, here.

To Part 1
To Part 2
To Part 3


*********


Part Four

Day Forty-Three



“Although we've finished the general mapping of the pulsar cluster," Lieutenant Commander Cheng says as she closes her presentation, "Astrophysics has gathered enough data in the past week to keep us busy for the next two months."  She looks around at the assembled senior staff in the observation lounge.  "When we prepare our final report, Stellar Cartography will request permission to integrate our findings into the current Federation star charts."

"Thank you, Commander," Jim says with a grin.  "Your team's work on this mission has been exemplary."

Spock leans forward ever so slightly. "Commander, do you plan to submit the complete records of raw data for analysis by the Vulcan Science Academy?"

"Of course. As soon as we can, we'll provide Starfleet and all Federation allies with both the raw data and our calculations. We'll be sending brief clips of the emissions with our initial submission of the report, but..." Her smile turns mischievous and just a bit apologetic. "With the amount of information we collected, transmitting the entire collection of raw data via subspace would require the full capacity of the Enterprise's communications array for a month." 

Jim tilts his head thoughtfully.  "Commander Cheng, we'll be at Space Station 67 for resupply in a couple of weeks.  They're one of the sector's subspace relay hubs.  Your team should be able to transmit from there."

"Their comms officer might want to strangle me, but yes, we can do that, Captain."

"Sounds good," Jim says happily.  "And by the way, I heard the audio recordings playing in the Officer's Lounge a few days ago. Someone on your team's got some musical talent."

She smiles. "That's Ensign Ortiz. He's the only one in the lab with enough sense of rhythm to turn the cluster emissions into a track that people might actually want to listen to."

"Then pass along the positive feedback. Thank you for your report, Commander. You're dismissed." 

"Yes, sir."

The door slides shut behind Commander Cheng, leaving the senior officers to the rest of their meeting. Jim lets himself sigh contentedly as he shifts in his chair.  Aside from one very small problem -- it weighs less than a fucking peanut, Kirk, he keeps telling himself -- which Bones has sworn will be solved soon, everything seems to be going wonderfully onboard the ship. The pulsar cluster survey yielded better results than they could have imagined, and Jim is going to promote Ensign Ortiz as soon as he can submit the forms. Quarterly crew evaluations are nearly complete, nothing has exploded in Engineering in weeks, and now, with the pulsar cluster behind them, they're already en route to the Telosian system to do a planetary survey of Telos III, an uninhabited Class M planet. 

Jim leans comfortably on his elbows and folds his arms -- a habit he's picked up over the past week to hide the damned medical sensor that Bones has refused to remove -- and looks over his senior staff. "Now that we've had our debriefing from the pulsar cluster survey, let's get on with the meeting. We'll be arriving at Telos III in about 42 hours. Starfleet has requested a standard planetary survey, with an eye towards the establishment of a base within the next ten years, possibly a colony within the next thirty. Mr. Spock, the specs on the planet, if you would?"

Spock raises an eyebrow and taps a few buttons on the display screen controls. An image of Telos III fills the screen, and a list of basic planetary information scrolls down the side.  "Telos III is a temperate class M planet, 1.187 times the mass of Earth. Two-thirds of the surface is covered with water.  Four major continents, moderate tectonic activity, varied climate depending on the region, rich vegetation in most areas, and the largest land animals observed in the preliminary survey are reportedly no larger than a meter in length."

Jim nods. "Sounds like a nice place for a future Starfleet base, or possibly some current shore leave." He nods to the table. "We'll send down five away teams to locations that will be finalized by a sensor sweep once we're in orbit. Mr. Spock, you'll lead one team. I'd like Sulu, Decker, and Kauser to take the others. If any of the sites look promising, I'll authorize shore leave for the crew, taken in six hour shifts. It's been months since our people have had the chance to stretch their legs and breath some fresh air. Everyone, speak to your section leaders and tell them to set up a skeleton crew schedule in anticipation of shore leave."

"And the fifth team?" 

Jim looks down the table to Bones, who's been quiet for most of the meeting. The doctor is looking at him evenly, and Jim suddenly knows, with infuriating certainty, what Bones is driving at. That warm sense of satisfaction he's felt since the start of the meeting is about to vanish like smoke. "Beg your pardon, Bones?"

"You said you've got five survey teams heading down to the surface," Bones says in a measured tone. "You named four team leaders. Who's taking the fifth team, Jim?"

"I am," he says, with the understood, of course

Bones continues, putting a peculiar weight on his words that settles heavily on Jim's shoulders. "What are the physical requirements of this particular mission? From the report, the planet also has nineteen percent atmospheric oxygen... which is less than most class-M planets. Almost twenty percent higher gravity." 

There's an awkward pause. The other officers look confused, but Jim knows exactly what Bones is implying. While those conditions are more stressful on a human body than standard Earth conditions, any Starfleet-trained human should be able to handle the conditions on Telos III easily. However, in his current condition, the physical strain of planetary conditions might be risky for him. No strenuous physical activity, Bones ordered. But after all, this isn't a marathon, it's just a routine landing party. Jim lowers his voice and says, in the most casual tone he can muster despite the anger that's beginning to simmer, "Your concern is noted, doctor. But it's a simple planetary survey, and the demands of the mission are well within acceptable limits for Starfleet personnel." 

Jim doesn't usually lose his temper so quickly with someone he cares about, but fuck it all, his friends don't usually stab him in the back, either. He shoots a look back at Bones that says quite clearly, If you try to push this in front of my senior staff, this will get very ugly, very fast.

Bones evidently gets the message, because his eyebrows contort in a way that replies, You haven't had the last word.

With the relaxed sense of confidence from a minute ago gone, Jim squares his shoulders and ignores the frigid vibe that has settled over the table. He plows through the rest of the meeting.  He grins at Scotty, Sulu, and Uhura as they walk out of the room, but Spock hesitates as he's leaving. He glances from where Bones is still sitting at the conference table, making no motion to get up, to Jim, who is standing by the door.  The three of them are alone, and Spock steps back into the room, allowing the door to slide shut.

"Captain, it would be illogical to speak indirectly, so I must ask... is there a reason why Doctor McCoy does not want you to lead a team on the next landing party?" 

Jim knew this was coming, but hearing the question makes his gut freeze.  Now, he has to explain, come clean, or think fast.  He folds his arms across his chest with a sigh. "No need for alarm, Spock. The doctor is just being overprotective." He glances sideways at him. So help me God, Bones, if you blow it now... 

Spock raises an eyebrow. "I am aware that you have been exhibiting signs of fatigue and reduced physical efficiency for the last twenty days, Captain."

"Just a stomach bug." He knows he answered that too quickly.

Jim swears Spock just frowned.  "Doctor, has the captain not fully recovered from this... stomach bug?"

Bones twists his lips, and for a second, Jim is sure he's about to blow his cover. Then something in the aggressive tilt of Bones' shoulders changes. "Yeah, seems to be taking longer than usual to clear this one. But what else can we expect from a man with an immune system like a damned Rube Goldberg machine?"

"Hey!" Jim blurts defensively. This earns him an eyebrow from Bones this time, one which states bluntly, I could have just spilled the beans, so shut up.

Spock tilts his head slightly, in the way he often does when he's pretending to be working on a conclusion he's already drawn. "That would be the reason you have been wearing a medical sensor, Captain?"

Jim gives a chagrined nod. So Spock noticed the damned thing anyway. But this is a convenient explanation, so he might as well go with it. "Saves me from running down to Sickbay twice a day for tests. Not that I need them, because I'm fine." He shoots a meaningful glare at Bones.

"Might I inquire if this ailment was contracted during your captivity on Antos?"

Jim opens his mouth to protest instinctively, but Bones beats him to it. "We think so. Those bastards were none too gentle, but Jim's on the mend. And maybe he's right - I'm overprotective, but dammit, that's my job. I just think it would be better for him to sit out this one mission."

Jim feels his surge of resentment fizzle into a sputtering ember as he realizes that Spock seems to accept the explanation... and that Bones really hasn't given anything away. Still, he doesn't want any more restrictions. It makes him feel like a caged animal, an all-too-familiar sensation. "If I'm on the mend, Bones, why is this mission so worrisome? It's just an uninhabited planet. Simple survey mission. It would be the perfect way for me to get back into the field. And you know what they say about getting back on the horse, right?"

Spock looks from Jim to Bones and back to Jim. "I believe that colloquial advice is meant to apply to a horseman who has not been injured. If the rider has broken his leg falling off the horse, the he would likely benefit from having his leg healed before attempting to mount again. If you haven't fully recovered, then perhaps you would be best served by following Doctor McCoy's instructions. I would trust that his advice is not given lightly."

"Spock and I are in agreement? Well, shut my mouth and paint me red."

"A most peculiar request, Doctor."

"Well, then shut your mouth and paint ya green, Spock."

Jim isn't sure if he should laugh or groan. "Listen, gentlemen, as much as I love the banter as you pick through my medical eligibility for a landing party, can we settle this?"

"Sure, Jim." Bones stands and folds his arms lightly across his chest. "Call it a precaution and protest all you want, but I'm putting you on limited physical duty and restricting you from this mission."

It's all Jim can do to keep his jaw from dropping. "Bones, that's not settling anything! We're still discussing this."

"There seems to be little to discuss, Captain," Spock says calmly. "The Chief Medical Officer has restricted your duties based on medical eligibility. I believe this is one case in which neither of us has the authority to overrule him."

"You're not helping, Spock," Jim grumbles. 

"Jim, listen... just give it another week." Bones gives him a meaningful look. "You know, to let the bug work its way out of your system."

Jim knows he's trying to say that he's close to a solution, and that there will be a safe way to operate soon. Once that's done, he'll be able to go back to normal. Everything will be the same as it was. Bones will remove the problem and Jim will get on with living, because the way he's existing right now sure as hell isn't living. "Fine," he says with a sigh. "Lieutenant Rodriguez can lead the fifth team. He's ready for that. I'll run ops from the ship."

Spock nods. "A wise decision, Captain."

"You'll be back leading landing parties soon enough, Jim. Just forgive an old country doctor for worrying a bit too much." Bones' jaw is set firmly, but his eyes are pleading, just a bit.

Jim forces a wan smile, but resentment is bubbling hot and thick, just below the surface. He hasn't been on a mission since Antos, and he needs to do something to feel like a proper Starfleet captain again. Fuck, he hasn't done anything more strenuous than walking around the saucer section's perimeter corridor in over a week. He considered using the holo-treadmills for walking, but he couldn't bring himself to try it. He's always led by example -- training, long shifts, extra effort, and fitness. He couldn't stand the thought that his crew would see him walk for his workouts.  So instead, he's been taking walks around the saucer section, far from curious eyes, and done stretching in his quarters. 

And now, he's being caged aboard his own starship while there's a new planet waiting to be explored. Still, instead of bursting out with all the things he wants to say, he just nods. "I understand why you worry, Bones. You're just doing your job." 

Bones gives him a bleak look, but Spock interrupts before Bones can say anything. "If you will excuse me, Captain, Doctor, I must return to my station."

Jim responds with a tilt of his head. "Dismissed, Mr. Spock."

As soon as Spock is through the door, Jim moves to follow, but Bones catches his arm.  "Jim... I'm sorry."

Jim shrugs uncomfortably. "You didn't tell him, and I guess that's the best I can ask for right now."

"You should be able to ask for a clean bill of health, Jim, and don't think I've forgotten that." Bones' expression is so pained that Jim can't help but feel a bit guilty.

"I know you're working on it." Rationally, he's sure that Bones has put every spare waking moment into researching this problem, but Jim isn't feeling particularly rational.

Bones nods. "I am. I requested an information packet from Starfleet Medical. They've been doing some incredible work lately with a new cellular-level surgical technique. It might be the safest way to separate the artificial blood vessel cells from your own cells without damaging the native tissue.  The data should arrive in the next transmission packet we receive, and I'll be able to start applying those techniques to surgical models soon." He squeezes Jim's arm. "I swear, Jim, I'm gonna take care of you."

Jim swallows tightly. "I know you are, Bones." He reaches up and pats Bones' hand awkwardly. The thing is, he doesn't really want to be taken care of. He just wants this fucking nightmare to end -- the confusion, the medical restrictions, the horrific memories, the increasingly creepy thought that there's a baby in there.  Not a baby... an embryo. Not even really a fetus yet. But still. He doesn't want to be taken care of right now. He just wants it to go away. He wants his independence back. Hell, he just wants his life back.

Bones withdraws his hand, and suddenly looks less apologetic and more like his CMO. "In the meantime, Jim... while we're still en route to Telos III, I want you to meet with Doctor Dehner again. I know you've rescheduled that appointment with her three times now."

"I'll see her when I have time, Bones. I've been busy with the pulsar cluster project." That sounds like a pretty poor excuse, even to his own ears.

"Well, that project is over, and you have time now. So I scheduled your appointment for this afternoon."

"What?" Jim doesn't even bother trying to hide the dismay in his voice. "Come on, Bones. Isn't it enough that I can't go running, can't go down to the planet, and have to wear this stupid dog collar everywhere?" He holds up his wrist, brandishing the med sensor bracelet.

Bones flinches slightly, but doesn't back down. "That's why you need to go see her. I'm doing what I can to keep your body stable and safe, but this is taking a toll on you... and don't give me that look. You can try to pretend it's not impacting you psychologically, but you're not stupid and neither am I." He presses his lips together and gives Jim a long, worried look. "You're one of the strongest people I've ever met, kid. Most people would have buckled long ago under the shit that you've gone through. But Jim... you're not immortal. If you want to keep yourself together, and remain capable of command, you're going to need to accept support, including psychological. That doesn't make you weak."

"Feels like it does," Jim grumbles under his breath.

Bones just shakes his head sadly. "I know you're the captain, but you don't run this ship on your own, do you?"

Jim shakes his head, unsure what Bones means.

"You can't do everything by yourself. You've got a crew that's more than competent, the best in their fields. Even if you're the leader, you still need to rely on them. And they rely on you to function at your best. That means accepting counseling when it's needed." Leonard scowls when Jim rolls his eyes. "Your appointment with Liz is for the end of your shift. She'll be expecting you at 1730 hours."

"Bones," he says with a long groan, but he knows that protesting is useless at this point.

"I'm going to keep working on my part of this problem, so I need you to do your part. Take care of yourself, Jim. Physically and mentally." His eyes flick towards the door, then back to Jim's face. "I'm worried about you because I care about you."

Jim swallows against a dry throat. "I know." And damn, he needs to know that someone cares, needs the support, at the same time as he perversely wants to run in the other direction. It's been weeks since he's really spent time with Bones, touched him, shared meals with him. They certainly haven't slept together, for sex or sleeping, since Antos. Jim needs Bones like he needs oxygen, but he feels like he can't even allow himself to draw breath. 

Maybe I do need to see Dehner.

Thinking that makes him feel worse. "Okay, Bones," he sighs. "I'll be there."

Bones gives him a relieved smile. "Good. It's won't be so bad, Jim. Just talk to her. And... do you want to meet for dinner after your appointment?"

Jim opens his mouth to agree, almost automatically, but then hesitates. He has the unpleasant feeling that after talking to the counselor, he might not want company. So he shrugs. "Maybe. I'll let you know. I need to review the preliminary survey records for Telos III a bit more. I'll probably grab a bite for myself later."

Bones' shoulders droop, just a bit. "Okay. I just miss ya, kid."

"I know. I miss you, too." He looks at the door, suddenly needing to escape. "I've got to get back to the Bridge."

Bones nods. "I've got work to do in sickbay." He reaches out and gives Jim's shoulder a squeeze. "Comm me after your appointment."

"Okay." 

Jim watches numbly as Bones walks out of the observation lounge, then turns to look out the viewport. The stars are streaking by as the ship cruises through space at warp three. Normally, the view enthralls him. Now, he simply feels like he's lost in the depths of space, alone and confused. His best friend, lover, partner -- Bones -- just walked out the door, and he's scared to follow. That alone is something foreign and horrifying. Scared of Bones. Scared of the Antosians. Scared of his own nightmares. Scared of a bundle of cells that never should have existed.

Finally, the confusing thoughts are too much, and he turns away from the viewport and strides out of the observation lounge, back to the Bridge. At least when he's in the Captain's chair, he knows who he is and what he has to do. 


*********



The lights in Liz Dehner's office are a bit too dim, and her smile is just a little too... knowing. Now that he's here, Jim really wishes he could have come up with some decent excuse to skip this appointment.

"How are you feeling, Captain?" 
 
He has to think about how he wants to answer, because it's a trick question. During their last session, over two weeks ago, he'd responded with a nonchalant I'm fine, which led to an uncomfortable silence and then a pointed comment about how he doesn't like to admit to weakness. Which is true, of course.
 
So he settles for a partial truth, knowing that she'll see right through an outright lie. Reviewing his current checklist of why he feels like shit, he picks the most generic symptom. "A little tired. Still not sleeping right, I guess."
 
"Trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep?"
 
"Falling asleep. Got a lot on my mind, you know... hard to shut it off sometimes." He smiles as if in embarrassment, giving her his best beleaguered-captain look. 
 
"Well, I'm sure you're constantly on the run during the day." She nods sympathetically, then leans forward in her chair. "Night time is also when you probably feel most vulnerable. There are fewer distractions. Things you can push aside when you're busy may occupy your mind at night. It's the time of day when we feel most out of control."
 
He might have known she'd try to lead the conversation in this direction. "Maybe it's simpler than that, Doctor. I've got a lot of reports to review before our next mission. Sometimes the only time I get some peace and quiet is late at night."
 
"You've got an extremely demanding job."
 
"I can handle it," he says, too quickly.
 
She raises an eyebrow at that. "I wasn't implying anything about your competence, Captain. I just meant that you don't get very much time to let your guard down."
 
"A captain is never off duty." He's too defensive, too irritable, and he knows it. The conversation with Bones after the briefing has put him on edge, and she's bound to pick up on that. And something about her, about this whole situation, rubs him the wrong way. "I knew that when I took the job. I wanted it. And maybe I like challenges." 
 
That's true enough, but this particular challenge is not one of his favorites. This is why he's put off the counseling appointment repeatedly, cancelling the sessions with flimsy excuses. Liz Dehner may think that she's looking at him with professional detachment, but to him, it feels like prying. 
 
He's never opened up easily. He's not quick to trust, no matter how well-meaning and caring the other person may seem. And even though he understands the reasoning behind it, he resents being forced into therapy. No smiling counselor, no matter how accepting or empathetic, can give him what he really needs when he's hurting -- time alone, and a safe place to lick his wounds. 
 
He's got nothing against therapy. He's sure there are plenty of people who would take comfort in offloading their woes on a safe, supportive audience. There must be folks who actually feel better after spilling their secrets and fears like yesterday’s gossip to a person who is obligated to listen sympathetically. But not him. From an early age, he's had to rely mostly on himself, and for the most part, he's done fine. Well, fine according to his definition, which means, he always gets up after he's been kicked and comes up swinging harder.
 
After what he's been through on Antos, he's not looking for insight or sympathy. It happened and it sucked, end of story, and Dr. Dehner can't help him with her knowing comments and her meaningful silences.
 
"I know you don't put much stock in our sessions," she says.
 
"Reading my mind now, Dr. Dehner?" Dammit, he's got to stop being so transparent.
 
She looks amused. "You know that my psi score is nowhere near a telepath's range, Captain, but the fact that you rescheduled this meeting three times was a pretty big clue."
 
 He laughs. "All right, doctor, you caught me. Don't take it personally. I admit it, I'm the worst patient on the ship. Just ask Dr. McCoy."
 
"You spend a surprising amount of time in Sickbay, then, for someone who's trying to avoid medical care." 
 
"Maybe I'm accident prone." He gives her an innocent look, but she doesn't smile. "That was a joke, Doctor."
 
"We often use humor to cover up painful truths. In this case, maybe you've chosen a job that puts you in danger on a regular basis."
 
"You know perfectly well that that's not the reason I chose it. I'm looking for the challenge and the adventure. Anything rewarding has its risks. Shit happens. I accept that. It's part of exploring the unknown."
 
"And the species we encounter aren't always peaceful or gentle. Sometimes they don't share any of our values or even care if they hurt us."
 
His throat tightens, and suddenly it's harder to breathe.


"James T. Kirk," Jim says for the third time, slowly and clearly. "Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise. I represent the United Federation of Planets. We come here in friendship and peace." He musters as much sincerity into his tone as he can, even though it's hard since his left wrist and ankle are chained to the wall. But he knows very little about the culture of the Antosians, and he can imagine that they felt threatened--frightened--at the sudden appearance of aliens in their midst. He's got to convince them that he and the others mean no harm. "Friendship," he repeats, using his free hand to make the signs for friendship and cooperation in Federation Sign Language.

They just stare at him. It's eerie and silent, and as much as he tries to fight the feeling, it's scary as hell. They don't have mouths, or even eyebrows or hair, for that matter. He's never realized before just how expressive eyebrows can be, how necessary they are to conveying emotions. He can't read these beings at all. He has no idea what they're thinking as they watch him. They don't seem to be trying to communicate with him, and it's beyond unnerving, it's becoming downright spooky. 

The whole situation is... well, it's bad. He's far underground, alone in some kind of cell. His movements are restricted. He can't communicate with his captors. They're just observing him, like an animal in a zoo, or a fish in an aquarium.

Or a subject in an experiment. The thought takes hold of him, reverberates through him. Maybe these are scientists, and they're studying him. Researchers don't try to communicate with their lab rats, do they? They just put them in mazes or--his heart sinks--implant electrodes in their brains or inject them with noxious substances.

Maybe he's nothing more to them than a frog to be dissected.

Don't. Panic. He can't afford to lose control. There's got to be a way out of this. From the observations of the survey teams, the Antosians are intelligent and organized, and have sophisticated technology. There must be something he can say or do, some way he can connect with them. Some language that they understand.

"Captain James T. Kirk," he says again. The words echo strangely in his head, since he can't actually hear himself speak. "From the United Federation of Planets. We come in friendship." He tries Vulcan, Orion, Klingon, and even Spanish, just for the hell of it. Because no matter what language he tries, they don't react. They just look at him, blinking occasionally. 

Then, as if on some prearranged signal, they turn around and leave. He's left alone again in the cell, naked, hunched in the corner.   

And that's when the terror really begins to build. Because he knows that whatever they have planned for him, it isn't good. And if they're done observing him, the next stage, whenever it comes, will be worse.

 
He can feel the memories pressing in, but he pushes them away. He can't think about that now, and Dehner is looking at him expectantly. But... he seems to have lost the train of the conversation. "Excuse me, what were you saying?"

"That the aliens we encounter may not hold our values. They may try to hurt us."

"That's not something we can control," he says, dragging himself back to the here and now.
 
"That's very true. We can't control how other species will react. Sometimes we can't even control how we react ourselves. We lose our bearings when we're in unfamiliar surroundings. Especially when we feel threatened or unsafe. The normal rules don't apply."
 
It's a perfect opening for him to give her a classic Jim Kirk line, like Rules are just guidelines. But he can't quite get the words out. The silence draws out between them, oppressive and uncomfortable.
 
"I don't need you to tell me exactly what happened, Captain, if you don't want to," she says finally. "But I know that you were held captive for six days and violently assaulted during that time." Her voice is quiet, her tone gentle, but the words feel like a scalpel, sharp and precise, cutting him to the core and laying him open and exposed. "In a situation like that, it's normal to feel helpless, or frightened. Out of control."
 
He wonders whether they teach all counselors to use that pseudo-supportive voice while they rip your guts out. "Whatever happened back on the planet," he manages, "it's over. It happened, and it was bad, but I'm putting it behind me."
 
She looks at him contemplatively, then shakes her head. "You'd like to move past it, and in some ways you have, but I get the feeling... it's as if something's keeping the experience active in your consciousness. As much as you want to move forward, in a way you're still trapped there."
 
For a minute, he sits stunned, wondering if she knows more than she's letting on. Fuck, did Bones tell her? Or Chapel? Or maybe he's just not as good at hiding things as he thought he was. "It could be that it’s still affecting me," he says carefully. "It's not something that's easy to forget."
 
She nods, but still looked unconvinced. "You need to give yourself more time. It's natural to have trouble sleeping or to be reminded of the experience during the day. Recovery can't be rushed."
 
"I'll keep that in mind."
 
For a moment, he thinks she’s ready to drop it. But then she frowns and gives him another of her piercing looks. "Is something worrying you, Captain?" she asks. "Is there something you'd like to tell me?"
 
"You already know everything I've got to say," he says, dredging up a smile from somewhere. "Besides, it's my job to worry. That's why they gave me an extra rank stripe. Comes with the territory."

"Extra stripes on your sleeves don't make you superhuman."

Jim opens his mouth to throw out a sarcastic quip, but it freezes on his tongue. Feeling a heavy weight of responsibility settling over him, he sighs. "No, but it means I've got to be good at pretending I am."


*********



By the time he finally makes it back to his quarters at the end of the day, he's exhausted. His shoulders are aching with tension and he has the beginning of a headache. He’s had heartburn since dinner, even though he stuck to the blandest choices on the menu, soup and bread. He tosses off his shirts, leaving them on the floor in a tangled bundle beside his desk. Kicking off his boots and socks, he lets them fall wherever their trajectory takes them, and collapses onto the bed with a groan.
 
Bones would be rolling his eyes at this point, if not making some scathing comment about Jim's upbringing or hygienic habits. For some reason, he thinks gathering up one's dirty laundry is a sign of good character, which Jim obviously lacks. "Who's supposed to pick up your clothes? Your yeoman?" he asked Jim, not long after he first spent the night in Jim's bed. “Not me, I hope, because there's no way in hell that I'm touching your sweaty uniform." 
 
"I'll pick everything up in the morning. Probably." He has an arrangement with Rand that if he's left his clothes lying on the floor, she doesn't touch them.
 
"I don't get it, Jim. You keep this place obsessively neat. A particle of dust would get lonely here, just looking for some company. There's practically nothing in here to show that a real person lives here, let alone the captain of the ship!"
 
"There's power in empty space.”
 
“Maybe that’s what it means to you. To me, this room has no character. It could belong to anyone.”
 
“This is my character," he says, somewhat insulted. "I like to keep things simple and clean!"
 
"Then why the hell do you leave your clothes all over the floor?"
 
Bones seems to think that it's some kind of misplaced teenage rebellion, but he's got it all wrong. Jim's as deliberate about the mess as he is about keeping the rest of the room tidy. From the time he moved out of his mother's house, he's kept his personal space orderly. He had no trouble adjusting to the Academy's rigid standards about keeping his living quarters neat and organized at all times. He understood the reasoning behind it and fully accepted it. 
 
It was different when he was a kid. Jim's side of the room was cluttered, his closet overflowing with discarded sports equipment, and his toys and collections piled haphazardly on the shelves. Sam, on the other hand, was compulsively neat, and it used to drive him crazy that Jim would refuse to make his bed for weeks on end. It was one of the few areas in which Sam and Frank saw eye to eye. Frank was disgusted by the mess, calling it a sign of disrespect--Jim had to agree with him on that point--and weakness of character. "You're living in my house, buddy," he used to say. "You'll follow my rules." 

Frank missed no opportunity to point out that he owned the farmhouse. Jim parents hadn't had the chance or inclination to buy a permanent residence before George was killed, and afterward, his mother never had the energy. It was easier just to move in with her brother Frank, who had two extra bedrooms in his broken-down old farmhouse.
 
When he left home, he'd had almost nothing at first, just the most basic clothes, his PADD, and a few credits. He spent most of his first year scrambling around for money, doing odd jobs and earning just enough to pay his rent and food. It was the first time in his life that he hadn't had enough of something--except, maybe, attention, encouragement, and affection, which had been lacking for the better part of his childhood--and after the first shock, he came to like it. He was pared down to the barest essentials. He traveled light, and that gave him freedom. He made his own choices, for better or worse, and if he decided to drink away his wages instead of saving them, well, that was up to him. 

Even years later, he never cared much for possessions. A room was just a room, and it was people who mattered. The few things he did bring on board with him -- some real paper books, his trophy for the Rigel Cup that he won with his flight squad, and a small jar of sand from the beach near the Academy -- he kept on a shelf, out of the way. Bones was probably right, he kept his room a little too neat. But it gave him a sense of safety, of being in control. 

And the dirty clothes? His way of laughing at himself, of making sure he didn't make a scene about life's little messes. Every morning when he saw the crumpled clothes and the boots scattered all over the floor, he could remember that a little disorder was good for the soul... especially if he was the one doing the disordering.

He can hear Dehner's voice echoing in his mind. We can't control how other species will react. Sometimes we can't even control how we react ourselves. 

Damn it.

He pushes himself up from the bed, shedding the rest of his clothes on the way to the head. Maybe a shower, even a sonic one, will get him out of the maudlin mood he's been stuck in. Pausing at the doorway, he catches sight of himself in the mirror.

He looks terrible. He's pale, his eyes are red-rimmed, and he's slouching. Straightening his shoulders, he gives himself a critical once-over. He's lost weight, and now he's bordering on thin. It makes him look younger and more vulnerable, and he doesn't like it. He must have been kidding himself to think that Spock wouldn't notice. His muscles seem less defined, and his abs... they look a little paunchy.

He turns sideways, frowning at his reflection. There's a definite softness in that area that wasn't there before. He's been feeling nauseous and weak for weeks now, and hasn't worked out enough, so maybe this is the result. 

Rationally, he knows that he doesn't look pregnant. The embryo weighs only two grams, and the uterine sac only a bit more. It's his imagination, or maybe--

Oh, no. It's the hormones. It must be. Bones said that he wouldn't feel the side effects, but he's wrong. How could he think that progesterone and... whatever the other thing Bones gave him is called... wouldn't affect him? It's obvious: they're making him bloated. 

He feels ugly, out of shape, and weak. It's just as well he's kept Bones at an arm's length since Antos. He wouldn't want him to see how he's lost muscle tone, how skinny and unappealing he's become. He'd be embarrassed to be seen like this.

He scowls down at the strip of plastic and sensors around his wrist, the one piece of clothing that he can't take off. Damned med sensor. It's a constant reminder of Bones' worry. It never lets him forget that there's something so wrong with him that he needs to be monitored all the fucking time.

Making a sudden decision, he whirls around, stepping out of the bathroom and back into his bedroom. What he needs is to take action, not moan and groan and feel sorry for himself. He hunts up his favorite Academy t-shirt and an old pair of shorts from his closet. It's later than he usually works out, but so much the better. Maybe the gym will be empty. He smiles grimly to himself. God knows he doesn't want his crew to watch him take another walk.

Glancing down again at the med sensor, it occurs to him that there may be a way around the problem. He can't take it off, and even if he did, Bones would be notified immediately. And if he does anything more taxing than a brisk walk, the sensor will trigger the alarm, and Bones will undoubtedly rush in and put a stop to it.

Unless he can't.

Feeling slightly more empowered, he heads out.


*********


 
The door to Fitness Studio Two slides open, and Jim feels his irritation and frustration give way to a kind of satisfaction. It feels like playing hooky or stealing a piece of candy before dinner. He knows he shouldn't be here, but he really doesn't give a shit anymore.

It won't hurt him. It's just a regular workout. He's always been in excellent physical condition. But if he doesn't get some real exercise, his cardiovascular fitness level is going to slip and he'll start losing muscle strength. He can't let that happen.  It's his body, and he's going to control it. Not Bones. Not the Antosians. Not some little sac of cells that's just a fucking embryo.

He looks around the gym and quickly realizes he's not alone. Of course, he should have expected that. Sure, it's gamma shift, and most crew members are either asleep or on duty, but there's always someone who wants to get in a late workout.

Jim follows the sound of rapid footsteps and heavy breathing to the cardio area to find Lieutenant Junior Grade Raji sweating it out on one of the holo-treadmills. While Jim has no idea what view the man has programmed for his workout, he seems to be enjoying it thoroughly, lost in the sights, sounds, and even smells of the programming. It's not real, but it's so close to running free -- free -- that Jim feels like he's about to burst if he doesn't break loose. Right now.

"Captain!" Raji's voice breaks through Jim's thoughts. His eyes are focused past the projected images. "Never seen you down here at this hour, sir."  

Jim smiles casually. "Well, sometimes going for a good run at night works for me when I can't sleep. It's better than asking Doctor McCoy for something. His hypospray technique's pretty heavy handed."

Raji laughs breathlessly. "No argument there, sir."

Jim makes a movement towards one of the nearby platforms, then hesitates. Even as Captain, it's inappropriate for him to abuse his authority to monopolize ship resources that are meant for everyone. Still, he just desperately wants to be alone right now. "How much more have you got to go, Raji?" 

He nods. "Computer, routine display."  Raji's eyes re-focus on a point directly in front of him where the stats of his routine are projected: distance, calories burned, time, elevation change. "I was planning about twenty more minutes, Captain," he huffs, "but... I don't mind cutting it a little short."

Immediately, Jim tries to wave him off, even though that's exactly what he wants. "No, finish your workout. I shouldn't have asked."

"It's all right. I've been dragging my heels today, and I should probably go get some sleep." He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "Computer, end workout."

Jim feels only slightly guilty as the platform slows to a halt and the holo-emitters power down. "You didn't have to do that, but I appreciate it."

Raji nods as he grabs his towel from a nearby rack. "I understand, sir. It's hard to find privacy on this ship, and sometimes, you need to be alone to think. That's why I come down here to exercise at this hour." He flips the towel over his shoulder. "Enjoy your workout, Captain."

"Thanks."

Raji walks out the door of the gym, leaving the room blissfully quiet and empty. In the silence, the giddy, immature feeling of breaking the rules returns, and Jim grins to himself.

Then he sobers. The privacy is delicious, but if he wants to keep it, he's going to have to do something that really is an inappropriate use of his authority. If Spock finds out, he'll probably do a lot more than just raise an eyebrow. In fact, chances are good that Jim would get into serious trouble with HQ if they found out. But he needs this, and the last thing he wants is to see Bones charging through the door like a personal nanny, ready to stop the program and chew him out.

Walking determinedly across the room to the door's control panel, Jim calls up the lockout screen."Computer, activate security lockout level one for Fitness Studio Two, authorization Kirk alpha theta one two six delta."  

"Authorization accepted. Captain's security lockout activated."

He nods in satisfaction before turning and jogging lightly back to the holo-treadmill. His heart is already pumping in anticipation. Stepping up onto the platform, he says, "Routine -- Yellowstone Park Three." He thinks for a moment. "One hour duration. Difficulty level four."

The air around him seems to vibrate for a split second, and then he's surrounded by images of rocks and hills. A stream twists along in the distance. Beneath his feet, the platform takes on the appearance of a dirt path. "Program ready. Begin running."

With adrenaline already giving him a heady buzz, Jim lets his feet pound over the platform as the surface tilts and shifts to simulate the changing incline of the trail. The path he's running on twists up a hill, into the woods, and he balls his hands into fists and powers himself up the slope. Trees rush by on either side, and sunlight streams through the forest canopy.

Usually, when he's running, he thinks. But his mind was racing when he came in, and all he wants now is for the chaotic swirl of thoughts to disappear. He wants to get lost in the fake images, the imaginary forest. Pretend that he's free, not trapped on his own starship. Imagine that he's unhindered by problems that should never have happened. Couldn't have happened. He just needs to escape.

He's had a recurring dream since childhood, a scene that plays out in his mind over and over again. It always starts in Frank's old farmhouse, the house he grew up in, back in Riverside. Someone's coming after him and he has to escape. Sometimes he wiggles out through one of the upper-story windows and has to jump to the ground from the roof. Or he has to hide out in the storm cellar until he can slip away, unseen. It always starts differently, but in all of the dreams, he finds himself being chased. He's got to get away, and he moves as swiftly as he can through residential yards and fields, terrified that he'll be caught. He tries to run, but his knees turn to jelly and his feet skid on the mud. He's running from some unnamed threat, and they're almost upon him.

Then it happens. In the dream, his legs find their stride, and his steps become smoother, stronger, almost effortless. The tenor of the dream changes and he forgets that he's being chased. He's outrun them anyway, and the only thing he can focus on is that thrilling sensation of being able to run as fast and as far as he wants.

He's never had a flying dream, or at least not one he can recall. But in his dreams, he runs, and the sense of freedom is the same. He's never stopped to analyze just what he's running from, or who's chasing him, or why escape is such a charged concept for him. All he knows is that when he manages to do it in the dream, he wakes with a sense of having accomplished something important.

With a surge of determination, he kicks up his speed on the treadmill. He has the feeling that if he's fast enough, he'll outrun his own problems. He'll leave everything behind. At the very least, he'll prove to Bones that he doesn't need to  restrict his workouts. And he'll prove to himself that he's still in control of his life.

The flicker of light through the trees is mesmerizing, and his feet fly over the trail. There's wind in his hair, and as he inhales, the smell of cedar fills his nostrils. His heart is pounding, his chest is heaving, and his mind is blank, and it's sheer bliss

The trail twists through the forest, deeper and darker, around boulders and enormous trees and up another slope. Then he bursts out of the woods into bright sunlight as the trail takes him through an open field. Tall grass whips alongside him as he runs, waving in the breeze.

A sudden pain in his right thigh instantly shakes him from his reverie, and he almost stumbles. Deep and sharp -- cramp, he realizes. He hasn't run in weeks. Shit, he should have stretched first, but he was too eager. He's out of shape, and it's his own fault for letting himself get soft. But it's just a cramp -- it hurts like a motherfucker, though -- and he's run through cramps before.

Breathing less easily now, trying to work through the pain, he slows down a little bit. Longer, slower strides. Stretch it out. Yeah, he definitely should have warmed up better beforehand. It's a good thing Bones isn't here, because he can just imagine the lecture he'd give him for not stretching... 

Actually, if he's being honest, Bones would probably just skip that part and give him hell for even being in the gym. 

A surge of resentment wells up in his chest. He's sick and tired of being held back. His anger spurs him on, and he leans into his stride, trying to run faster again. 

He makes it four more steps before the cramp turns into an excruciating stab, deep through his thigh. His leg won't hold him, and he stumbles, holding his arms out instinctively for balance. But there's nothing to grab, and his momentum takes him over the edge of the platform in a headlong tumble. Vaguely, he hears the computer announce, "Program interrupted. Please resume running."

He lands in a heap on the far side of the treadmill, and immediately reaches for his leg. He's out of breath and a little disoriented from the fall, and the pain in his leg is agonizing now. He hisses out loud, trying to massage the pain away, but it's too deep, too sharp, and it doesn't feel like any cramp he's ever had. The pain is making him nauseous. Light headed. 

Something is definitely very wrong, and Bones is going to kill him.

Breathing in great gulps of air, he tries to roll onto his knees. He's got to get up. But when he rolls, the pain redoubles, and he collapses back to the floor, clutching at his thigh. This isn't normal, and it's becoming clear that he's not going to get up without help.  

"Computer," he gasps. "Need location of... Doctor McCoy."

"Doctor McCoy is in the deck eight corridor, outside Fitness Studio Two."

He's right outside the door. The door that I locked. It's then that Jim notices the faint sound of pounding on the door, even through the blood rushing in his ears. "Computer... cancel lockout... on Fitness Studio Two... authorization --" The pain in his thigh surges even stronger, and he can feel his foot starting to prickle like pins and needles. 

"Awaiting authorization code."

Jim clenches his jaw, trying to breathe through the pain. "Authorization... Kirk... alpha theta... one two six... delta."

"Authorization accepted."

The door hisses open, and to his great relief, Bones bursts through the doors. 


*********



Leonard sits back in his armchair with a heavy flop, crooks up a leg, and props his PADD against his knee. It's been a long day, and he should be asleep, but the data packet on the latest microsurgical techniques just arrived from Starfleet Medical. He might not be able to process all of the information tonight, but he needs to make some headway if he wants to get any real rest. He hasn't slept right in weeks... not since Jim was rescued from Antos. It's bad enough that he's barely spent a moment with Jim that didn't involve medical tests, scans, and lectures about eating enough. 

They certainly haven't shared a bed, and Leonard never realized how cold his bed is without Jim. His sleep is haunted by images of Jim as they found him on the planet -- bruised, blind, starved, and almost ready to give up. The nightmares had barely started to ease up when the aftermath of the Antosians' handiwork had struck, bringing a whole new set of nightmares. His only hope is that he can find a way to fix it.

He wants to comfort Jim, but there's nothing he can offer at this point, other than to solve this ridiculous medical mystery and free Jim from the growing problem before it kills him. It's already taken so much from him, and it's painful to watch. He hates telling Jim no... for anything. Jim might believe otherwise, but he'd give the kid the world if he could. And now, it feels like everything he's doing to protect Jim just rips something else away from him. 

Jim loves his long runs. Loves leading landing party missions. Loves his freedom and physical independence. Leonard has restricted his workouts, banned him from the landing party, stuck a med sensor on him, and put him on hormones that a male body should never experience... and he still doesn't have a way to remove the root cause of the problem safely. The guilt makes him feel sick.

It's bad enough that he still hasn't told Jim that Spock, as first officer, will have to be informed of the captain's condition before the surgery. Sure, as long as Jim is stable, he can keep it a secret. Well, strike that - he shouldn't be keeping it a secret. This is the captain of a Starfleet vessel. His health status affects the whole crew and the mission, and Leonard McCoy has a duty to the ship as CMO. But this is also Jim, and Bones has a duty to Jim as... something. He hasn't figured it out yet. Either way, the inevitable betrayal of informing Spock won't go over well. Nor will the fact that Spock will be obligated to inform Starfleet.

He should have told Starfleet. The fact that he hasn't... well, the fallout could be ugly. But it's Jim, and the poor kid has been through enough hell without his unique medical problem being made public. Leonard's medical reports about the captain have been deliberately vague since they found the embryo. As far as Starfleet knows, Captain Kirk has a stomach bug that he picked up from his ordeal on Antos, and it's just taking some time to settle his system. Leonard isn't exactly lying through his nose to Starfleet Medical, but he's withholding some vital information, and if anything goes wrong, he can kiss his career goodbye. He knows the risk, but dammit, he'd risk anything to make this easier on Jim.

At least he's not lying when he tells Jim he's getting closer. It's just that it's not close enough. He's tried every technique available to him on surgical simulations, and has even re-tried some of the earlier models. His success rate is over 60% now, and the rate of catastrophic failure is less than 5%, but that still leaves him with a 35% chance of causing some nasty damage to Jim's circulatory system. That's just not good enough. 

He'll figure it out soon, though. If Jim can just hang in there, and not do anything stupid, maybe they can keep his condition stable until Leonard has the success rate up to 85%, with negligible chance of catastrophic failure. That's his threshold, and he won't operate until his chances are at least that good. Not as long as Jim is otherwise stable. Not when it's Jim's life and career on the line.

He taps the screen of his PADD and pulls up the first research article. Microcellular surgery might be the key. He needs to remove every trace of the implanted tissue, or it won't work.

The problem is the structure of the bioengineered tissue. The collagen-like protein isn't right. The Antosians tried to make collagen, but the protein structure is unstable, and it's tightly fused into Jim's blood vessels. Many of his attempts to remove the artificial blood vessels in simulations have left tissue remnants behind. Each time he tries to fuse the regular aorta back together, the artificial tissue ruptures. Alternately, whenever he manages to get all of the artificial cells out, he runs the risk of removing too much of the healthy artery and restricting blood flow. He's tried simply removing the embryo and the sac, with the intent of clamping off the artificial blood vessels without removing them, but that technique led to an aneurysm in almost every trial. The artificial tissues just seem to impede the process, no matter what he tries.

He tabs to the next page of the document, then reaches over to his table for his glass of bourbon -- because, Lord knows, he needs a drink on days like this -- when a beeping sound startles him hard enough that he almost sends the liquor flying. 

He twists around in his seat to see a small red light on his comm blinking. Jim's med sensor is registering activity outside the pre-set parameters. 

It's gone off a few times since Jim started wearing it. The first time was because Jim was using the access ladders to climb between decks. "Take the damned turbolift," was all Leonard had said. The second time, Leonard was giving him a hypospray of anti-nausea meds. "Guess you really do hate these things," he'd said, looking at the readings showing Jim's galloping heart rate and soaring blood pressure. "Next time we'll try a pill." 

The third time, the alarm went off when Jim was on the Bridge. "What's going on up there, Captain?" he'd barked over the intercom, mentally readying himself for one of the many catastrophic scenarios he's had going through his head since this nightmare began.

"There's nothing unusual happening here, Dr. McCoy," Jim's voice came back, maddeningly calm. "We're still en route to Telos. Traffic's light."

He didn't believe him -- the med sensor was an ad hoc lie detector, so he knew that something had stressed Jim's system -- but when he arrived on the Bridge a few minutes later to see for himself, Jim was sitting in his chair, PADD on his lap. His expression was bored, but his cheeks were suspiciously red. In response to Leonard's pointed look, Jim finally scribbled something on his PADD about Uhura dropping her earpiece and bending over to pick it up. Come on, Bones! I'm a red-blooded male with a pulse. What did you expect? If you don't want to know every time I pop a boner, recalibrate the damned alarm. 


That was five days ago. Leonard took Jim's advice and adjusted the alarm to a slightly higher threshold, and since then, it's been quiet. But right now, it's gamma shift. Jim isn't on duty. He shouldn't be doing anything at this hour except sleeping. 

Scowling, Leonard taps a command into the screen on his lap, accessing the sensor readout through his PADD.

This isn't some brief bit of exertion or a flare of sexual arousal. Jim's heart rate is racing along at 168 beats per minute, and it's not slowing down. The reckless sonofabitch has got to be--

“Computer! Location of Captain Kirk.”

Captain Kirk is in Fitness Studio Two.”

“Shit,” he hisses as he lurches out of his chair, barely catching his PADD before it falls. Jim has to be running, probably on one of those ridiculous contraptions, the crazy bastard. Leonard grabs his comm and flips it open. “McCoy to Kirk.” He waits a heartbeat, then yells into the comm again. “McCoy to Kirk! Dammit, Jim, answer your comm!”

No response, and Leonard is going to strangle Jim as soon as he gets down there. In a practiced motion, he stuffs his comm unit back onto his belt, grabs his emergency med kit from its spot by the door, and takes off down the hall. Waiting for the turbolift, he makes another attempt to raise Jim on the comm, with no luck. Then he's on deck eight, racing towards the gym.

And colliding with the door.

He shakes his head, startled that the door didn't automatically open at his approach.  He backs up a couple of steps, and tries to move towards it again.  Still, the door doesn't budge. “What the devil... Computer! Open the door to Fitness Studio Two.”

Unable to comply. Fitness Studio Two has been secured.”

“Secured? Override it! Emergency medical override, authorization McCoy gamma two seven omega!”

Override denied.”

“I'm the Chief Medical Officer! Don't give me this horse shit. Override the lockout.”

Unable to comply.

“Of all the..." He stops, frustrated. Ranting at the computer isn't going to help. "Why are you unable to comply, then?” He gives the door a good kick. He's under no illusions that it will open in response, but maybe Jim will hear it.

Lockout has been placed under the captain's authorization, security level one.”

What?!” That's the maximum level of security lockout. Typically, it's only used in the worst possible tactical situations, when the Captain and First Officer need to lock out any possible intruders. It's a last-resort safety measure for use in a crisis... and it's the only level that won't accept Leonard's medical override. Jim's using it so he can have his damned workout without being interrupted.

“McCoy to Spock!”

A few interminable seconds later, there's a reply. “Spock here.”

“Spock, we've got a situation. The captain has placed a level one security lockout on the door to Fitness Studio Two. I need you to get down here to override it.”

Spock sounds perplexed. “Why would the captain place a level one security lockout on a fitness facility?”

“Because the man is a reckless idiot, that's why! I restricted him from his normal workout routines, and he obviously doesn't want to listen."

"If you have instructed him not to exercise, it would be illogical for him to countermand those orders, particularly if he wishes to recover enough to regain medical clearance for landing parties."


"For God's sake, Spock, don't debate it! Jim isn't responding to my comm. This could be a medical emergency, and I need you to get your green backside down here now!”

I am on my way. Spock out.

He flips his comm shut and stuffs it back into its holder before turning back to the door. “Jim!” Leonard slams his hand against the door, which only succeeds in hurting his hand. “Come on, Jim! Open up!” He bangs on the door again, not caring that his hand is aching. “Jim!”

He swears to himself, if Jim is simply in there ignoring him while he goes for a pleasant run, the kid will never hear the end of it. He'll have the foolhardy idiot tied down in sickbay under constant guard until the embryo is gone and Jim is back to his old self. And if Jim is incapable of responding...  

In a surge of desperation he pounds on the door again. "Jim! Can you hear me? Jim, please, open the door now!"

Just then the door hisses open, as if in response to his words. 

Leonard races into the fitness studio, yelling, "For the love of God, Jim I thought I told you to stay away from those treadmills!" But there's no answer, and at first glance, the gym seems deserted. Then...

"Bones...

Something in the thick, desperate sound of Jim's voice causes Leonard's heart to catch in his throat. He follows the sound towards the cardio area and finally sees the kid on the ground, clutching his right thigh, in obvious pain. Leonard almost stumbles at the sight, and sprinting to his side, he kneels on the floor next to Jim, tricorder in hand. "What the hell were you thinking, Jim? What happened?"

"I think it's a cramp," Jim gasps, still holding his thigh, "but... it's... it's not... going away." His face is covered in a sheen of sweat, but not the healthy sweat of a good workout. His skin has a gray tinge, and as sure as Leonard is a doctor, that's not a cramp.

"Move your hands away, Jim. I need to scan this." Leonard runs the tricorder probe along Jim's thigh. The readings paint a picture that makes his gut freeze. "This is serious, Jim. You've got an embolus -- a clot -- in your femoral artery."

"A what?"  

He doesn't have time to explain, but Jim's a smart man, and Leonard is pretty sure he knows what a clot is. Trying to quell the anger-horror-fear fighting for dominance, Leonard whips out his communicator. "McCoy to sickbay! I need a stretcher in Fitness Studio Two immediately!"

"Yes, Doctor." He recognizes the clipped tones of Celia Zhang, one of the gamma shift nurses. "Dispatching a team of medics now."

"Good. And prep a surgical suite for emergency intra-arterial surgery."

"Yes, sir."

"What do you mean, surgery?" Jim grits out. "I don't need--"

"Shut up!" Grabbing his his emergency med kit, he snaps a vial of hydroparinux into the hypospray -- emergency anticoagulant treatment. It won't fix the clot, but it will hopefully keep it from getting worse. 

He reaches up to press the device against Jim's neck, but stops at the look of stark terror mixed with pain splashed across his face. He reminds himself that his anger is the last thing Jim needs right now, and deliberately lowers his voice. "I'm giving you an anticoagulant to start treating the clot, and to prevent you from getting another one. And a painkiller." He injects the drug as gently as possible, then quickly grabs and administers a analgesic before he puts the hypospray aside. Leonard doesn't have the heart to tell Jim that analgesics will barely put a dent in the pain of an arterial embolus. The kid already looks scared enough. He's not even protesting about the hypospray... just follows Leonard's movements with wide, haunted eyes. 

He'll get a better scan as soon as he gets Jim to sickbay, but he'll never trust instruments as much as he trusts his own senses. Jim is wearing shorts, which makes it easy to examine his leg. The skin is gray, cool to the touch, and clammy. He presses his fingers sharply into Jim's thigh, lower leg, and then ankle, moving his fingers around slightly, feeling for the pulse. 

Jim flinches at the pain, but that's not what's got Leonard worried. "You've got no pulse in your lower leg, Jim. Your artery is completely blocked."

"Is that... that's really bad... isn't it?"

"Yeah, kid. It's bad."

Jim makes a pained noise, then moves to rub his leg, but Leonard grabs his hand. "Don't touch it, Jim! You'll only make it worse."

Jim nods, then bites his lip. He's looking even more pale, and his breathing is ragged and labored. "Why... what caused... the clot?"

Leonard squeezes his hand, feeling completely helpless. He doesn't know exactly what caused the clot, but he's got a few good guesses. He'll have more answers once he scans Jim more thoroughly, but now, he's got to keep Jim distracted. The pain from an arterial embolus is excruciating. "Screwed up blood flow in your abdominal aorta, maybe. Hormones can cause clots, too." 

"Fuck." Jim makes a low sound in his throat, like a choked off groan, and squeezes his eyes shut for a second. "It really hurts..."

"I know, Jim. I've got a stretcher on the way. The clot... it could have been building up for a little while now, since the last scan I did, and the increased blood flow from exercising dislodged it. Or the exercise might have caused it to form. Maybe a combination of factors. There's no way for me to know. But right now... I've gotta get you into surgery."

There's the hiss of a door sliding open, and Leonard is expecting to see the medics with the stretcher, but Spock runs in, looking marginally more agitated than seems normal on a Vulcan. "Doctor McCoy, I see you were able to get into the room."

Before Leonard can reply, Jim gasps out a frantic, "What did you call him for?"

Leonard stares down at him in disbelief. "Are you kidding me? Jim, you locked the door using the highest security setting. The only person who could override it is Spock, and what if you'd been unconscious?"

Jim groans, then presses his fist against his mouth as if to silence himself. Closing his eyes again, he turns his head to the side, away from them both. 

"Captain, why would you place a security lockout on the door of a fitness studio?"

"I wanted some privacy for once," Jim grinds out between clenched teeth, eyes still shut. He's looking even more pale. Leonard reaches out to touch his leg. It feels colder and more clammy than before.

"A normal lockout would have been sufficient..." Spock raises an eyebrow. "Unless you were specifically trying to prevent Doctor McCoy from entering."

Jim's eyes pop open. "Spock, that's not --"

Leonard silences him with a firm hand on the shoulder, but he's looking at Spock. "Not now, you bipedal computer! Can't you see he's --" He's cut off as the door opens again, this time admitting two medics and the stretcher. "Well, it's about time, dammit! Get him on the stretcher, and go easy on the right leg. Out of the way, Spock."

Spock silently steps aside, and Leonard turns all of his attention back to Jim, who has gone from just gray to slightly green. He cringes away from the medic who is reaching for his shoulders to lift him onto the stretcher, and Leonard steps in. "I've got his head." The medic looks confused, but steps aside to let Leonard reach beneath Jim's shoulders to hoist him onto the stretcher. 

Jim pants in shallow breaths as they raise the stretcher and secure him for transport. Beyond the obvious signs of pain and pallor, he looks like he's mentally not all there. Eyes are unfocused and distant. He's too outwardly cooperative. If Leonard's guess is right, Jim's terrified. But it's nothing he can fix right now, so he nods to the medics. "Let's go."

The trip to sickbay is short, but still seems to be too long as far as Jim's concerned. His fingers are wrapped tight around the edges of the stretcher, and he makes small, involuntary noises of discomfort every time he's jostled. By the time they push through the sickbay doors, his pallor has reached his lips, and he looks ready to pass out, despite the painkiller. 

Feeling sympathetic, Leonard calls out for a hypospray of sedative. They can move Jim to the biobed and start the IV with the continuous anesthetics after he's unconscious. It will be more comfortable for him, and he's been through enough. 

He explains what he's doing to Jim, but as he reaches over with the hypospray, Jim's hand snakes up and grabs his wrist.

Leonard is so startled that he almost drops the hypospray. "Jim?" 

Jim peers up at him anxiously, but it's the look of remorse breaking through the pain that packs the punch. "I'm sorry, Bones."

Leonard feels his throat tighten. "I know you are, kid. And we'll talk about this later. But first, we've got to take care of you." He holds up the hypospray. "Sedative. Ready?" 

"Do I have a choice?" Jim says sullenly, face still screwed up in pain.

"Not this time, Jim."

Jim takes another uneasy breath, then nods.

The hypospray hisses against Jim's jugular vein, and seconds later, his eyelids flutter closed and his body goes limp. The image wrenches something in Leonard's chest, but he quickly shakes it off as he helps transfer Jim onto the biobed. Nurse Zhang is setting up the sterile field, Reynolds is starting the IV for the anesthesia, and Leonard is picking up the vascular stabilizer and laser scalpel. 

But Bones is staring at his best friend, lying on the biobed still as death, and desperately wondering where he went wrong.


(To be continued...)

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