mijan: (Kirk/McCoy: I've got you)
[personal profile] mijan
Title: “No Man’s Land
Authors: [profile] gone_ashore and [personal profile] mijan
Rating: R
Pairing: Kirk/McCoy
Word Count: 8,423 for part 6; 61,000 words total.
Warnings: Triggery. References to alien experimentation, graphic descriptions, mpreg.
Summary: A mission gone wrong puts Jim at the wrong end of alien observation, captive to a species that uses him as a lab rat. Helpless and defenseless for nearly a week, the Antosians break him down physically and mentally. After his rescue, he slowly starts to recover, until one unrealized part of the Antosians' handiwork turns his life upside down and threatens to destroy him.

Notes: This might surprise you, but neither of the authors particularly like most mpreg. So, why are we writing it? Because we wanted to turn the trope on its head. This is a subtle, complex look at the physical and psychological ramifications of forced pregnancy on a male through biomedical experimentation. The characters are not throwing a baby shower.

This is cross-posted between my journal and [profile] gone_ashore’s journal. Feel free to read either here, or on [profile] gone_ashore’s journal, here.

To Part 1
To Part 2
To Part 3
To Part 4A
To Part 4B
To Part 5


Part 6

Day 47

Telos III is a shining orb filling the bottom half of the viewscreen, casting the bridge in a blue-green tint.  Jim leans forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees as he takes in the sight of a new planet. He'll never get tired of this.

"Standard orbit has been achieved, Captain," comes Sulu's even baritone.

Jim smiles. "Thank you, Mr. Sulu. Chekov, preliminary scans of the proposed landing site, if you will."

"Aye, Keptin." The whiz kid's fingers fly over his control console as a stream of data rattles back at them. "Current conditions at the survey site are within acceptable meteorological standards for a landing party. Partial cloud cover, no precipitation, temperature 28 degrees Celsius, sir. All within expected parameters based on initial surveys."

"Sounds good," Jim says with a nod as he reaches to the comm panel on his chair. "Kirk to Scott."

"Scott here, sir."

"Are transporters ready for the beam down?"

"Aye, sir. Coordinates locked in. We're ready to send the first landing party on your order. Teams One and Two are standing by."

Jim opens his mouth to give the order, then hesitates. "Don't begin transport yet, Scotty. I'd like to see them off. I'll be down to Transporter Room One in a couple of minutes."

Scotty's "Aye, sir," sounds a bit confused, but Jim’s never stayed behind on a planetary survey before, so the chief engineer should expect a few changes in the protocol.

"Kirk out." He pulls himself out of the chair, trying to ignore how tired his legs feel. He can't remember the last time he felt really rested. "Uhura, you have the bridge."

He barely hears Uhura's acknowledgement, and then he's in the turbolift on the way down to the transporter room.

The corridors are busy with the usual foot traffic of the Enterprise. It seems hard to accept that everything's so damned normal while his life has been turned upside down. No one seems to notice his turmoil, which isn't surprising, because he's always been good at hiding what's going on inside. Still, it makes him wonder for the first time what other dramas might be taking place under his nose that he's not aware of. He may be captain, but he's not privy to confidential information. Dehner, or even Bones, might know more about the private worlds of the crew. Maybe there are others -- maybe even some of the calm and competent-looking men and women he passes -- who are going through some private hell that he doesn't know anything about.

The transporter room door hisses open in front of him, and he's greeted by a perplexed-looking Vulcan.

"Captain, I was unaware that you had intended to... see us off."

Jim flashes him a casual smile. "Can't I stop by to look the landing party teams over before we send them down?"

"Of course, Captain." Spock's nod is calm, tolerant, and... yes, it's obvious that he knows Jim would give just about anything to trade places with a member of the landing party. "As I am leading Landing Party One, I can assure you that they have been thoroughly briefed on the conditions and mission objectives. Equipment has been checked and emergency protocols have been reviewed. We are ready for departure."

Jim feels his smile falter, but forces it back into place. Of course Spock would have taken care of everything. He feels so redundant right now, but he can't let that show. This is what a first officer is for, dammit. "As usual, Spock, your efficiency is stellar. I won't hold you up." He takes a step back and watches as Spock's team climbs onto the transporter platform. M'Benga is going with them, testing for toxins and pathogens on the surface. Bones insisted on staying aboard, giving the sideways excuse that M'Benga doesn't go on enough landing parties.

It seems so strange to stay behind to watch a landing party go down without him. Even though Jim knows all of his crew members need the experience, it just doesn't seem right that he and Bones aren't there. And still, at the same time, buried deeper than that... there's a small voice in the back of his mind, reminding him of what happened the last time he beamed down with a landing party.

Maybe staying behind today isn't the worst thing in the world. Just this once.

Spock takes his position at the front spot of the transporter pad, and gives a nod. He's looking at Jim, not Scotty, as he says, "Energize." There's a surprising empathy in his gaze. Not sympathy or pity, but understanding and even a certain calm approval.

Jim almost feels a sense of captainly pride as he watches them disappear. Almost, but not quite, because the pride is all mixed up with envy and anxiety and frustration.

Jim nods to Sulu, who's ready with the second team. "They're all yours, Lieutenant," he says with a forced grin.

One by one, Jim watches the five survey teams disappear from the transporter room. He makes eye contact with each time member and smiles encouragingly. He can see the excitement on the junior team members' faces -- young science officers, crewmen, techs -- who don't often get noticed personally by the Captain. He did the right thing coming down to see them off. That's got to be enough, for now.

He's still staring glumly at the empty transporter pad when Scotty steps up beside him.

"It's like throwin' young birds out of the nest, Captain."

Jim blinks and looks sideways at his Chief Engineer. "What?"

Scotty nods towards the transporter pad. "The young kids going on the survey mission, of course. Take Lieutenant Rodriguez. It's his first time leadin' a mission, right? Aye, he’s got the makings of a fine leader. And it's a good thing, letting 'em stretch their legs on a landing party without yeh."  He winks. "Mark of a fine leader yourself, Captain -- showing your crew that yeh trust them to be able to act on their own."

Jim can't keep the smile from tugging at his mouth. Trust Scotty to be able to turn the source of his frustration into something he could be proud of. Sure, Scotty hasn't got a clue why he's staying aboard the ship, but he doesn't need to know. And really, this almost makes Jim feel better about it. He nods and claps Scotty on the shoulder. "It’s part of my job, letting the junior crew get some leadership experience. But thanks."

"Yeh do a great job, Captain." He gives him a broad grin. "Sure you're not gonna take a jaunt down planetside this time 'round?"

Jim shakes his head, keeping his smile fixed in place. "Not this time. I told Spock that I'd run logistics and data collection from Ops. I haven't done enough landing party oversight from onboard anyway. Good deal all 'round, right?"

"Sounds like fun, sir."

With a wave, and one last look back at the transporter pad, Jim heads back towards the bridge.

He's done a good job of keeping his shit together since Bones let him back on duty. Playing it calm. If anyone asks why he's been off-duty, the explanation of a "stomach bug" has satisfied curious parties. Everyone on the Enterprise knows he went through hell on Antos, so it's easy to explain things away. Nobody pries. And Jim behaves himself.

Scotty's right -- the members of the landing party will be fine on their own. It's good to change the routine and let his people get some new experiences.

But God knows, it should be his choice.


The microcellular scalpel is steady in Leonard's hands, and through the scope, he can see the odd connective tissue and proteins slowly separating from the natural structures of the major artery. Vascular stabilizers are holding. Blood flow is good. The abdominal aorta is stable.

Fiber by fiber, the artificial blood vessels release their hold. Microfissures are quickly fused, and only the tiniest droplets of blood manage to ooze out from the holes in the aorta before he can seal them. And they stay sealed. Good God, they're all sealing perfectly.

Leonard holds his breath as he fuses each minuscule incision, wondering when a tiny missed piece of artificial tissue will lead to a catastrophic rupture, but it never comes. Piece by piece, the tight web of protein and almost-human cells relinquishes its hold on the healthy, natural blood vessel. Finally, the last capillary is removed, the last fissure in the aorta is sealed, and the uterine sac is fully separated from the surrounding organs and blood vessels. He pulls the sac out through the incision, and closes.

It's textbook perfect. It's a clean surgery. It's the fourth time in a row that the entire procedure has gone without even a hint of a glitch.

Leonard releases the simulator controls and leans back. He's got to run a few more of these sims with added variables -- changes in blood pressure, unexpected clotting, reactions to the anesthetic -- but it looks good. Really good. And Jim can’t wait much longer.

He glances over at the chronometer on the wall of the lab. Alpha shift is over, but Jim’s probably still on the bridge. If he remembers the details of the briefing, the last of landing parties will be on the surface for about another hour, until the planet's rotation brings that survey site into nightfall. The first two teams, including Spock's, should already be back. Therefore, Spock can take the bridge, and the captain can get his ass to sickbay for a quick check.

Leonard taps the comm. "McCoy to Kirk."

There's a moment before the comm channel opens on the other end. "Kirk here. What can I do for you, Bones?" As if he doesn't know.

"Would you come down to sickbay when you get a chance?" His way of telling Jim that it's not an emergency, but he'd better not avoid his appointment. The med pump he's on will be close to empty by now. Sure, he could go for a while without it if he runs out, but... Leonard just doesn't want to take any chances. It's risky enough that he'll have to remove it hours ahead of the surgery.

"How urgent is it? Two of the teams are still on the surface. I was going to stay up here in contact until the end of the mission." Translation: Please let me play a little bit longer.

Leonard rolls his eyes. "You have a communications officer, you know, and she's damned good at her job."

He can hear the sigh over the comm. "I'll be down in ten minutes. Kirk out."

Leonard spends the next twelve minutes compiling data from the previous surgical simulations and setting the parameters for the next run. He's studying graphs of cellular cohesion when Jim finally strolls in, standing at the door of the lab. He puts the PADD down and turns his chair towards the door, giving Jim a visual once-over. "How're you feeling?"

"Great," Jim says with practised ease. "The mission is going smoothly, the results from the surveys are looking good --"


Jim sighs and leans against the door frame, arms folded over his chest. "Not bad, Bones. Really. I'm a little tired, and my stomach hasn't felt right in weeks, but seriously, nothing has happened today. I mean, doesn't your little tracking collar tell you everything?" He indicates the sensor on his wrist with a tilt of his head.

Leonard stands, quickly straightening his sim tools as he speaks. "It's not a tracking collar, Jim, and no, it doesn't tell me everything. It just gives me the basics -- heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure. Just the most essential stats that would let me know if something is going seriously wrong. It doesn't tell me how you're feeling." He picks up his PADD again and walks to the door, giving Jim a pointed look. "That's why I asked."

"Oh." Jim looks just mildly chastised.

"Come on, kid. This will only take a minute." He leads Jim to the biobed and pulls the curtain, observing Jim as he pulls himself up onto the bed. He looks tired, but his motions are normal, with no evidence of hidden pain or discomfort. Leonard checks the readout. Everything looks pretty good, even though he can tell that Jim ought to be eating just a bit more. Nodding with satisfaction, Leonard grabs a blood collection unit. "Shirt off."

"Strip show? No problem." Jim offers a lopsided grin, but doesn't hesitate to tug his shirt over his head.

Flirting again. Trying to get back to normal, then. "Ridiculous," Leonard grumbles as he pulls Jim's arm towards himself, then positions the collection unit at the inside of Jim's elbow. "Just need a quick sample. Hold still."

"You and your sharp, pointy -- ow." Jim hisses in irritation until Leonard withdraws the unit. It's a handy device that sterilizes the skin, collects the blood, and seals the puncture in one step. Gives the patient less time to whine about it. "You don't give a guy much warning."

"It's just a blood draw, Jim," he says as he pulls the vial out of the device and snaps it into the analyzer unit. He quickly calls up the parameters for clotting factors, then frowns at the results. Obviously, the markers for clots are still positive, as those would be floating around in Jim's blood for a few days following a clot, but the ratios of the proteins in the clotting cascade are slightly off, and the platelet count is lower than he'd thought it would be by now. Still, it's within the acceptable range, and there's no particular red flag that any more clots are forming. Jim's body might just be a bit sluggish from the stress of supporting the embryo.

"If you keep scowling at it, you might hurt its feelings."

"Huh?" Leonard looks up to see Jim’s teasing grin, which doesn’t quite hide the worry in his eyes. "Sorry, I'm just trying to make sense of this."

"That sure sounds encouraging," Jim says flatly.

"Clotting factors are a complex science, Jim," Leonard explains as he goes over to the cabinet. "Things don't go right back to normal after a clot, especially a massive one like you had. Even if you feel fine, your body is still recovering." He grabs another vial of the anticoagulant and returns to the biobed. "Your clotting proteins are still a bit unbalanced, and that's risky."

"Risky. What a surprise." Jim doesn't bother to hide his annoyance as Leonard reaches for the anticoagulant pump. "So we're switching me off of this thing now?"

"Sorry, kid, but no." He hits a button on the pump, which ejects the nearly empty vial, and neatly snaps in the new vial. "This drug is the best option we've got for anticoagulation, and I'm not taking chances."


Leonard ducks his head down, putting his face directly in Jim's line of sight. "I'm not taking chances, Jim, when we're so damned close to fixing this."

"Oh?" His expression turns hopeful again.

Leonard nods, holding back the swell of emotions that Jim's animated expression can pull from him. "I've been testing the microsurgical technique. It's looking good." He gives an encouraging smile. "Really good."

"That's... that's great, Bones." He smiles, but something looks off. "How much longer?"

"Not long. I want to run a few more simulations over some different variables, but... I think we've got it." He grabs Jim's shirt and drops it on his lap. "Put your shirt back on. That's all we needed to do here."

"Right," Jim says, suddenly sounding tired again. He pulls his shirt back on, but to Leonard's surprise, he doesn't immediately jump off the biobed and bolt for the door. "How did M'Benga respond to you sending him down on the landing party instead?"

Surprised by the sudden change of conversation, Leonard shrugs. "He's not as interested in field experience as some folks, but he was happy to go. He likes research and clinical practice more than exploration."

"You do, too," Jim says with a hint of a smile.

"I like making sure you stay out of trouble and in one piece," he grumbles. Then sighs. "But I've gotta admit, I've acquired an appreciation for some aspects of space exploration." He gives Jim a searching look. "So... speaking of space exploration, how was your day today?"

Jim frowns slightly in confusion. "I already told you, I'm fine."

"I mean, how did you do up there, on the bridge instead of going down planetside?" Leonard watches as Jim's shoulders slump a bit, and he sighs. "I might have stuck you with a duty restriction, but I don't want you to be miserable, Jim."

"I know," Jim says quietly. "I'm not. Miserable, that is. Just... you know." Then he looks up with a surprisingly shy smile. "I could tell you over dinner. Alpha shift is over, and you can't tell me that you've stopped to eat yet."

Leonard can't stop himself from smiling in return. "We could do that. But I'm actually not quite done here." He glances up at the chrono. "How about this: you go back to the bridge. I know you want to see the last landing parties return to the ship so you can debrief everyone."

Jim's smile broadens. "Really, Bones? You're encouraging me to take a longer duty day?"

"Only if you're not overtired. And not overtaxing yourself." He reaches out and squeezes Jim's knee with his hand. "I want you to be okay. And if that means giving you enough freedom to be the captain in whatever capacity you can handle safely, then that's what I want too."

For a fraction of a second, Leonard swears he sees something flicker in Jim's eye, then Jim blinks and reaches down to squeeze Leonard's hand. "Thanks for that, Bones. And... I may not say it very often, but it's good to know you're looking out for me."

"I don't mind doing it, either, when you're not acting like a reckless fool."

Jim laughs, and in a smooth motion, slides down from the biobed. "I'll head back up to the bridge. When all the landing parties are back aboard and debriefed, I'll comm you. Dinner?"

"Dinner," Leonard says with a nod.

"Sounds good," Jim says. He gathers himself up, and in a clipped motion, he strides out of sickbay.

Leonard stares at the doors long after they've slid shut behind him. Jim is... a powerful man. Still young, and still learning, but charismatic and forceful in a way that most people can't even aspire to. It's not an act, just a vital part of who he is. Leonard recognizes and appreciates that part of him... but he's also seen Jim vulnerable. Fragile. Broken. And this situation is the most delicate, precarious spot Jim has ever been in. The kid is coping well, all things considered. But that doesn't mean he's okay.

He's grateful that Jim is finally reaching out for him again, as a friend and as a trusted partner. Maybe eventually as a lover again, but sex seems far less important right now than simply having Jim back.

Jim had asked him about Joanna when they'd had dinner the previous night. One thing that keeps coming to mind is that even though Joanna is his baby girl, Jim is his family now, and has been since the day they met on that damned shuttlecraft, even though neither of them knew it at the time. He'd hinted at it, but it feels as though there's no possible way for him to express just how deeply he means it. They've been through some damned tight scrapes, but they've come through them all together. Always together. The thing he can't quite bring himself to say, but he suspects that Jim knows anyway, is that without Jim, Leonard would truly have nothing left.

He can't imagine life out here without Jim. During those horrible days when Jim was captive, when there was no sign of life from him, Leonard had been just barely functional, lost in a sort of twilight haze of desperation and grief. After they'd gotten him back, he'd realized that he couldn't deny what he felt anymore. And he's willing to be patient, now, while Jim finds his way back to himself, because as far as he's concerned, there's no other alternative.

But this whole mess seems to have Jim stuck on the question of them as a family -- as if there's any question about that anyway. As far as Leonard’s concerned, they're enough of a family, the two of them. Obviously, this embryo isn't meant to be a baby, and that's all there is to that, but suddenly he's picturing Jim as a father, and it's not so hard to imagine.

He can see it in his mind's eye. It's a typically sunny summer's day in Georgia. Thickly humid, with the teasing threat of a mid-afternoon thunder shower. Grassy lawn, wooden fence. Jim is running around like an idiot, tumbling on the grass as Joanna tackles him. Or they're playing catch, because Jim would be the one to teach Joanna to play baseball, while Leonard would insist on making them both wear helmets with face guards. Or they're goofing off in the swimming pool, all three of them, escaping the afternoon heat, and it's a fantasy that's so unreal yet so tangible that Leonard doesn't even know how to react to it.

But then it's not Joanna. It's a kid -- boy or girl, doesn't matter -- who looks a bit like Jim and a bit like Leonard. Dark brown hair and incredible blue eyes. And it's impossible and wrong and biologically unfathomable, but dammit, the image is burned onto his thoughts now and he can't unsee it.

Sure, the idea has crossed his mind. How could it not? He’s spent the past month being reminded, over and over again, that his best friend and partner is essentially carrying their baby. Yeah, he's a father, but it's been too long since he'd been able to be a Dad. And Jim...  he'd make a great father if he ever let himself, career be damned. No man who cares that much and feels that passionately could be anything less than an incredible dad.

But the simple truth is that Jim's life is in danger and nothing else matters.

With a heavy sigh, Leonard goes back to his office to analyze his latest data and design the parameters for tomorrow's simulations. It won't take long. He's got to be ready for their dinner date.


Day 49

When Jim arrives in Bones' office just after his shift, the doctor is all smiles for once. "Got some good news, kid." He points to Jim's upper arm, where the pump is hidden under the sleeve of Jim's shirt. "Time to take this out."

Jim wastes no time in pulling his uniform top off and holding out his arm. The pump may be small and discreet, but it's irritating. Every time he moves his arm, he can feel that it's there, weighing on him, a constant reminder that he's dependent on medication. "So, now we go to pills?" he asks, as Bones efficiently removes the device. He hates taking pills, but at least that would be better than hyposprays three times a day.

"No, Jim, now we operate." Bones looks pleased with himself, although there's an undercurrent of tension in his tone. "I'm taking you off the anticoagulants now, and we'll do the surgery tomorrow morning first thing."

"Tomorrow?" After weeks of waiting in anxious expectation, the idea that Bones is actually going to cut into him in just a few hours comes as a shock. The room suddenly feels too warm. "So soon? Uh, are you sure?"

Bones raises an eyebrow. "I wouldn't say that I was ready to operate if I still had doubts, Jim. I've done over a dozen sims using the new cellular level technique, and the results are good." Whatever he says next -- technical-sounding explanations about protein structure and integrity of native tissue -- doesn't really register. Jim's sure that what Bones is saying is important. He seems calm and confident as he explains the technical details, but Jim's feels like he's a few steps behind.

He's known for weeks, of course, that this was coming. He can even remember, back at the beginning, yelling at Bones that he had to cut the embryo out now, right away, precautions be damned. But that was almost a month ago, back when he thought of it as an alien monster. Since then, the hell of it is, he's almost gotten used to the idea that he's carrying a human embryo.

Sure, the idea still freaks him out. The medical treatments -- the med sensor, the anticoagulants, the hormones -- are making him feel not himself all day long. And as much as he tries to avoid thinking about it, he knows that this embryo is the product of the horrors of Antos. But still, for all of Bones' insistence that it isn't really viable, some part of Jim's psyche has latched on to the idea of this as a real baby. It's not a tumor or a faulty appendix that needs to come out, it's a unique life form. It's a potential child, his child.

To say nothing of the fact that Bones has been delaying the operation for weeks because it's so fucking dangerous. He could bleed out. Be paralyzed. Lose part of his bowel or his pancreas. This is serious.

Jim can feel himself starting to sweat. He has to make an effort to focus on Bones' words.

"... to make arrangements with Spock. We'll be leaving the Telos system tomorrow, and we'll be in transit for the next five days, so you won't be missing too much anyway."

"Yeah, that's fine. I'll do that," Jim says, his voice sounding odd to his own ears.

"Good. And I'm sorry about this part, Jim, but you'll need to stop eating for the night. You can have beverages -- not alcohol -- until 2200 hours, but after that, nothing else until after surgery."

"Okay. Anything else I need to do?"

Bones shakes his head. "Then you just sit back and I'll take care of the rest."

That phrase sends an uncomfortable shiver down Jim's spine, but Bones doesn't seem to notice.

"If all goes well, recovery should be fairly rapid," Bones is saying. "You'll have to stay overnight because it's major abdominal surgery, but depending on how well the incisions heal, and taking into account your pain levels and general vital signs, I should be able to release you to quarters within twenty-four to forty-eight hours."

"And then what?"

Bones looks puzzled at the question. "And then you get your life back, Jim. We operate tomorrow, and then things go back to normal."

What Bones doesn't say, but Jim can hear anyway, is and I hope to God I'm right.

It doesn't exactly instill him with confidence.


He bumps into Liz Dehner as he's walking out of Bones' office. "Captain," she says politely. "It's good to see you."

Shit. She's the last person he wants to see right now. He hasn't been back to see her since their last session, which threw him into the tailspin that ended in the treadmill disaster. All he wants right now is to find a place where he can be alone for a minute, get his breathing back under control, wipe the sweat off his forehead, and get his mind back in gear. And Dehner has her uncanny way of reading him. It's too much, right now.

"Doctor," he acknowledges, trying to move past her without appearing rude.

But Dehner doesn't seem to take the hint, or maybe she's decided that Jim needs a more assertive approach. "I've been hoping to run into you, Captain. I'd like to set up another appointment."

"I'm in a hurry, actually."

"It will only take a moment." She gives him one of her earnest, probing looks. "You seem a little unsettled."

Jim sighs. They're in the main sickbay, which is no place for a confidential conversation. True, the bay is deserted except for Chapel, who's seated at the main desk, too far away to really hear them. And as much as he'd like to avoid another gut-wrenching counseling session, the fact is that he does need someone to talk to. Bones is so caught up in the details of the surgery, and so relieved at having found a way to operate, that he barely noticed Jim's reaction. But Jim's feeling light-headed and shaky, and just a little distant from everything.

Unsettled is a good word. It sounds a lot better than terrified and rushed and torn.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Of course." She leans back against one of the biobeds and looks up at him, waiting.

"I'm having a... surgical procedure done tomorrow."

"Something minor, Captain?"

"Not really." He takes a deep breath. "Pretty major, actually. And I think I told you, I'm a terrible patient. Especially since coming back from... after what happened on Antos."

She nods. "I imagine you're having some concerns about the surgery. That's quite normal considering what you've been through. Surgery means relinquishing control for a period of time, and that can be... difficult."

He gives her a shaky smile. Difficult. That was putting it mildly. "Actually, I was hoping you'd have some advice for me. How to... you know, prepare. Mentally."

For a long moment she seems to study him. "There are certain behavioral and meditative techniques that I could teach you, Captain, even on short notice. But you're actually not a very good candidate for them and I doubt they'd be effective." At his questioning glance, she explains, "We'd need more time, and you'd have to be willing to really deal with some of these fears. You're too skeptical and your usual coping strategies are pretty solidly entrenched. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either, because you've shown that you can handle quite a lot of stress."

He's not sure whether to be insulted or flattered. He settles for disgruntled. "That's not very helpful, Doctor."

She gives him a wry smile. "Maybe not, but I'm a scientist. It's a realistic assessment based on the variables at hand. But I'm not saying that there's nothing you can do. In fact, in this case, I think you probably know exactly what to do."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Surgery's a leap into the unknown. I'm sure you're familiar with that feeling."

He stares at her, wondering if she knows -- if she can possibly have guessed -- what that phrase means to him.

he tosses himself out of the car, feeling the wind whip around his ears, scrambling wildly for a handhold in the dirt

"You're no stranger to overcoming fear," she says gently. "Use that. Trust your instincts a little, Captain."

He wants to reply, but he’s got nothing to actually say, so he nods in dismissal before walking slowly out of sickbay.

God, he hasn't thought about that day in a long time. He was eleven, Sam was leaving, and Jim took the Corvette for a spin. And he made a decision that changed the course of his life.

A leap into the unknown.


He wanders the ship, lost in thought. His feet seem to be moving on their own accord. It's not unusual for the crew to see him making the rounds, and from their cheery smiles and salutes, he must be putting up a pretty convincing front of business-as-usual. It's almost a surprise when he finds himself on the bridge, looking at Spock calming sitting in the captain's chair.

"Captain on the bridge," says Perez from Communications. No one looks startled -- this is the beta crew, a seasoned and professional group of officers, and it's by no means unheard of for the captain to show up unexpectedly during their shift -- but the normal shift chatter is fading into quiet murmurs, and Jim can see postures straightening all over the bridge. It's a mark of respect that never fails to gratify him.

"At ease," he says smoothly.

Spines and shoulders relax only marginally. Spock, of course, looks neither surprised nor displeased, and since he was sitting straight in the chair in the first place, his posture doesn't change perceptively. Unlike Jim, Spock is capable of sitting still for hours at a time. "Mr. Spock, a moment of your time, please."

“Of course, Captain. Lieutenant Pierce, you have the con.”

Jim leads the way to the ready room, taking a seat at his desk and gesturing for Spock to sit as well. "I take it the atmospheric scans from Telos are almost complete."

"Indeed, Captain. We will maintain orbit for another twenty-six hours while we finish the geological and tectonic scans of the planet."

"Sounds good," Jim says with a casual nod. "How's the data from the landing party surveys looking?"

"Quite satisfactory, Captain. Rich plant life, excellent soil quality, low natural radiation levels, and abundant water. There are no significant pathogenic organisms, and only biologically insignificant levels of organic toxins. The planet, despite the relatively low atmospheric oxygen for a Class-M environment, has ideal conditions for settlement by most species within the Federation." He tilts his head, and it's just a bit too knowing. "As you were no doubt aware when you left the bridge at the end of alpha shift."

Jim sighs. Spock doesn't seem to have much conception of innocuous small talk as a prelude to awkward conversations. "Uh, right. Yes, I know that." He shifts uncomfortably in the chair. "That's actually not what I came to talk to you about."

Spock lifts a questioning eyebrow. It's infinitely patient and exasperatingly demanding at once.

Jim stifles the urge to roll his eyes, although he knows that Spock is only trying, in his own way, to help him. He takes a deep breath. "McCoy says he's ready to operate. He's going to remove the embryo tomorrow morning."

Spock nods calmly, although his eyes seem to bore into Jim's. "I will make the necessary arrangements to cover your shifts."

"I'll be off duty for a day or two," he says, deliberately shortening the recuperation time that Bones gave him.

"I would expect, from the information that Dr. McCoy has shared with me about the procedure, that your recovery will not be quite as swift as that."

Jim gives him a lopsided grin. "Well, you know our chief medical officer. He tends to exaggerate. And I'm not as fragile as he seems to think I am."

"I am sure that you will do your best to convince him of that, Jim. Although from what I have observed, on matters of the crew's health, especially yours, Doctor McCoy tends to ignore anyone else's opinion but his own."

"Yeah," Jim agrees glumly. "He won't listen to me at all."

"That must be quite an unusual experience for you," Spock replies, deadpan. "And yet, perhaps an admirable quality in the ship's CMO, who has to regularly contend with non-compliant patients."

Jim scowls. "I'm not non-compliant. I'd be a lot more cooperative if he let me rest in my quarters. I just can't stand hospitals. Or doctors."

"May I ask why?"

Because I hate being weak, he almost says. Because I hate being out of control.

The truth is more complicated than that. He's always hated pity and all the attention that comes with it. As a kid, he had enough unpleasant interactions with doctors to know that to most of them, he wasn't Jim Kirk. He was nothing more than his symptoms -- anaphylactic shock, a broken wrist, or whatever. Even as an adult, it’s always been the same. Doctors don't talk to him; they talk about him. As long as he's ill or injured, he's defined by the injury, as if the simple act of becoming a patient turns him into something else, something weaker. He doesn't have enough information or knowledge to make the choices for himself, and he can't control what happens. It's why he learned to hide injuries and illness.

He's blindsided, suddenly, by a vision of himself as Bones and the paramedics must have seen him on Antos, confused and bleeding and scared. Pleading with them desperately to leave him alone. God, they must have thought he was so pitiful. And then waking up, eyes bandaged, his leg and arm strapped down, connected to tubes running unknown medications into his bloodstream. Helpless and unguarded, exposed in a way that he can't stand. Bones thought he was just being unreasonable, asking to take off the eye bandages and leave. But it was more than that.

It was bad enough not being able to see, but eye contact is a basic part of human communication. Without it, he couldn't be sure he was really being understood, and he was cut off from a hundred cues that he's learned how to read in Bones' body language. Bones could scrutinize him as closely as he wanted -- every twitch and frown, every anxious tick -- and if that wasn't enough, he could always look up at the monitor for a biophysical indicator of Jim's stress and pain levels. It was unequal... and unsettling.

Bones is the first doctor he's ever known who never stops seeing his patients as people. You can't always tell from his words -- scolding and berating patients for being irresponsible, clumsy, or downright stupid seems to be his bedside manner of choice -- but he takes the time to explain what he's doing, and his touch is gentle even when his words aren't. But even though he trusts Bones as much as he can trust any doctor, it's not enough. He still avoids sickbay and downplays his symptoms, because being a patient means giving up his autonomy.

On the Enterprise, he's the captain. In sickbay, he's a patient. There's a fundamental difference that seems to happen when a person walks through the door of a clinic. It's an instant transition. Whether he's paralyzed by malicious alien scientists and treated like a damned lab rat, or he's sedated on Bones' operating table, one core element remains the same: he's a mere object with no free will.

He looks away, pushing the memories back down into the depths of his psyche.

"I don't like feeling so vulnerable, I guess," he says finally. "When I was a kid, I avoided letting anybody know when there was something wrong. My stupid way of protecting myself. And I've never liked letting other people make decisions about what I need. Then after Antos..." He sighs, and meets Spock's gaze. "It just got worse."

"Doctor McCoy is extremely competent--"

"I know that, Spock. It's not logical. I know Bones is a great doctor. I trust him. But I have to tell you that the thought of him cutting into me..." He shudders.

there's a horrible, searing burn and he can't even scream

"Well, I'd rather be anywhere than on that table tomorrow." He gives a self-deprecating laugh. "So says the intrepid Captain Kirk. Pathetic, huh."

"Jim, facing one's fears, especially when they are a product of such traumatic experiences, is hardly pathetic. I would say that quite the opposite is true. I have nothing but admiration for your strength of character."

Jim feels his face redden with the unexpected praise, but shakes his head. "It doesn't feel like strength of character, frankly. I feel like a coward. I know it's what I've been asking for all these weeks, but now that it's time to actually go through with it, all I can think is that maybe we can just put it off a little bit more."

"But you will do it," Spock says. "That is the definition of courage, Jim. It's not a lack of fear, but facing your fears and overcoming them."

“Tell me about it,” Jim says dryly. Then he sighs. “I’ll let you get back to your station. Let me know if anything interesting happens.”

“The chance of abnormal interruptions of our mission in our current position is less than 1.74...” His voice trails off as he considered the exasperated expression Jim gives him. “I shall inform you promptly if our situation changes.”

“Thank you, Spock. Dismissed.”

Spock offers a polite nod, and a moment later, Jim is alone in his ready room, staring out the viewport and feeling numb.


Leonard taps the comm panel outside Jim's door. For a moment, there's no answer, and Leonard feels a brief surge of worry that Jim isn't there. Sure, it's not like they specifically planned anything this evening, but they've had dinner together for the past two nights. With the surgery tomorrow morning, Jim's got to be stewing in his own juices by now, and the last thing he needs is too much time alone. Frowning, Leonard reaches for the panel again, but the door suddenly slides open.

"Bones!" Jim actually looks surprised. "I didn't realize... " He flashes a sheepish grin. "I should have expected you."

"Well, we didn't actually make plans. I just thought you could use some company."

Jim nods, and it's a shaky, jerking motion. "Yeah," he says roughly. "I could."

Leonard follows him into his quarters, watching as Jim fusses to straighten the pile of books on his coffee table. "What have you been doing?" Leonard asks.

Jim shrugs, then flops heavily on the couch, waving his hand to invite Leonard to join him. "Reading." He sounds distracted. "I sent my mother a comm. Didn't tell her what was going on -- just can’t tell her something like that -- but I told her about the missions we've been on lately. Not Antos. Just the good stuff. Said I hoped she was doing well."

Leonard nods, taking in Jim's nervous posture, pale complexion, and the circles under his eyes. "It’s good that you’re writing her. I think you could tell her some of the unpleasant stuff, too, Jim. She’s been out here. She knows the kind of things that happen in deep space.”

"Don't want to worry her."

"I know there’s no point arguing with you about that, but I still think you should tell her. Have you had anything to drink tonight?"

Jim gives him a pointed look. "You said no booze."

"I didn't mean booze. I want you to keep drinking fluids until 2200. Here," he says, standing again and crossing the room. "Let me get us some tea."

"Tea, Bones?" Jim's voice is amused, and Leonard glances back over his shoulder to see a mild grin on Jim's face. "Next time you tell me you're not a mother hen, I'll remind you of this."

Leonard raises an eyebrow. "Doctor's prerogative. When ya can't have good liquor, tea is the next best thing to soothe the jitters." He turns back to the drink slot and calls up two cups of hot tea, and carries them back over to where Jim is sitting on the couch, staring at him with mock-incredulity. "Sometimes the old-fashioned remedies are the best."

Jim holds his hand out and accepts the cup. "Thanks," he says dryly, before taking a small sip, then wrapping his hands around the mug.

"So, what's on your mind, kid?" Leonard asks as he settles himself on the other end of the sofa.

Jim doesn't look up at him. "What do you think?"

Leonard takes a sip of tea and sighs. "It'll work out just fine, Jim. After tomorrow, you put this all behind you and go back to normal."

Jim chokes a short laugh. "What's normal anymore, Bones? Not that I've ever done normal, but after this? Antos happened. I've lived as a pregnant man for two months. I'm starting to think that my life is never going to be normal." He shakes his head, staring at his cup in his hands. He’s practically twitching. "And I know you're confident that it'll go well tomorrow, but I don’t like the thought of... surgery."

Seeing Jim this worked up hurts, but Leonard is hesitant to physically reach out quite yet. "I know, but after tomorrow the embryo’s going to be gone. Antos is over. It won’t define your reality from here on out."

"What's my reality, Bones?" He finally looks up, and the wide-eyed expression reminds Bones a bit of a caged animal. "I'm trying to pin it down, but everything just keeps getting uprooted on me again. I used to be able to handle my own shit, and do it on my own two feet. I feel like a fucking turtle, flipped on its back."

Leonard's breath catches for a moment, because he's not sure what to say. How the hell is he supposed to respond to that? Shifting slightly in his seat, he faces Jim more directly. "Do you really feel that helpless?"

"You tell me. I'm gonna be flat on my back tomorrow."

"Jim," Leonard says as firmly as possible, "you're the youngest captain in Starfleet, in command of the flagship, on a grand adventure to take on the galaxy and see what you might find along the way. You've been through things that would make most people crumble into a pathetic little ball, and you always come out kicking. I've never met anyone as resilient as you are. Flat on your back or not, you’re never helpless. You've always been one of the strongest people I know." He feels his expression soften. "It's why I love ya, kid."

Jim's pallor gives way to a warm flush of his cheeks, and he hides behind another sip of tea. "I suppose," he mumbles, then sets his tea aside. "I just want to take control of my own decisions again." He holds up a hand before Leonard can protest. "I know you said it’s my choice, but really, nothing has really been up to me since I got back from Antos. Even if I had the right to refuse certain things... you knew I couldn't. Not really."

A gruesome image flashes through Leonard's imagination: Jim dying... either bleeding out or suffering through some sort of catastrophic physiological collapse, and absolutely refusing any treatment, even as he's dying in Leonard's arms. Leonard shudders deeply and pushes the horrific thought aside.

"I know that the hell you went through on Antos siderailed you into things that you'd wished hadn't happened, but... I told you, Jim, you can refuse anything and everything up to the point where it's an immediate matter of life or death. You have that right. I'm the CMO, and your best friend, and... maybe more than that.” His throat tightens slightly. “But I don't have the right to force anything on you. And I won't." He swallows back a surge of fear. "If you choose not to walk into sickbay tomorrow morning, I’ll probably yell at you and try to talk you into being reasonable, but I can't make you do it. I'd be obligated to tell Starfleet everything, but... I won't violate your body without express permission unless you're dying."

Jim hesitates for a second, then wordlessly slides across the couch. Automatically, Leonard raises his arm and lets Jim lean sideways into him, resting against his chest as Leonard squeezes Jim's shoulders.

"I'm sorry, Bones."

"Me too, Jim. Me too."

They sit quietly for a moment, and while Leonard's mind feels oddly blank, sated by the reassuring weight of Jim against his chest, he can practically hear the gears turning in Jim's brain. Finally, Jim speaks in a low whisper.

"Bones... tell me about Joanna."

Feeling awkward and wishing Jim had asked about anything else, Leonard lets himself drift through stories of Joanna as a baby, the early tribulations of fatherhood, and the things he wishes he'd done differently. He manages to shift topics, getting Jim to ramble about upcoming missions and long-term career plans.

The more Jim talks about the future -- considering what he's planning five, ten, and even twenty years ahead -- the more he seems to relax. His body is warm and comforting against Leonard's side, and he can almost forget that in nine hours’ time, Jim’s going to be lying on his operating table with his life on the line. For now, it's just them. Jim is whole and vibrant, alive and alert. The couch is comfortable and the room is safe and familiar.

Finally, Leonard looks over at Jim's old-fashioned clock on the desk. "Jim... it's 2330. I think you ought to get some sleep."

Instantly, Jim's body tenses against his own. "I... sure. Okay." He leans away from Leonard and stands, leaving spot where he was sitting feeling too empty. "You're right."

"Do you want me to stay?"

Jim looks down at him, and for the first time since Antos, there's no hesitation. "Yeah. I was going to ask you if you would. If you don’t mind."

Leonard smiles. "Only if you promise not to hog the blankets like usual."

Jim wanders off to the bathroom to get ready, and Leonard digs into the dresser drawer where he keeps some spare clothes. He stares at his t-shirts lying next to Jim's, feeling a bit wistful at the fact that he hasn't used the clothes he keeps in Jim's room since before Antos. Jim has a similar small stockpile of clothes in his room, too. He strips off his uniform and pulls on a clean t-shirt and a pair of fresh boxer shorts.

By the time he's ready, Jim is already sitting on the side of the bed, leaning back on his elbows. The kid looks like he's a million light years away. "You okay, Jim?"

Jim glances sideways at him with an unreadable expression. "Course I am." He tilts his head towards the vacant side of his bed. "Coming to bed?"

Leonard offers a warm smile and a nod before climbing into bed. "Come on, kid. Lie down and try to get some sleep."

"Okay. Lights."

The room flicks into darkness, and Leonard feels Jim shifting and shuffling next to him under the blankets before he finally feels the warm, reassuring pressure of Jim's shoulder and thigh pressed up alongside him. It might not be perfect, and tomorrow is going to be hell, but for now... it's good enough.


(To be continued…)


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