evening_bat: Bat in flight, silhouetted against the moon. (Default)
[personal profile] evening_bat
Title: Pretty As A
Author: [personal profile] evening_bat
Pairing: Kirk/McCoy
Word Count: ~ 4000
Warnings: Some medical unpleasantness. Character death of a sort, though offscreen. (Just remember that I like happy endings.)
Summary: Something was Not Right with Jim.
Notes: Written for this picture on [livejournal.com profile] jim_and_bones. (Comm is f-locked. You'll need to join to see the pics.) I used the first picture as, um, a liberal inspiration.


Pretty As A


A week after Althesia, McCoy couldn’t keep his concerns to himself anymore. He waited until Spock was off-shift and cornered him in the mess. Spock glanced up from his meal as McCoy halted beside his table, shifting restlessly from foot to foot.

“Spock, could I have a word?” He struggled to keep his tone even, or at least polite.

One eyebrow quirked slightly in mild curiosity and McCoy stifled the urge to swear at him. Spock was too sharp-eyed to miss the signs of emotion but this wasn’t the time the time or place to give into his provocation. McCoy’s control was fragile at the best of times and he couldn’t afford to lose it now. This was far from the best of times.

“Doctor, I don’t-”

“It’s important,” he interrupted.

The other eyebrow went up and this time McCoy did mutter a curse under his breath, knowing he’d let far too much intensity slip into his words. He took a deep breath and tried to marshal his thoughts into something closer to order. A light touch on his sleeve startled him and he looked down into impassive dark eyes.

“In that case, Doctor, I am, as you might say, all ears,” Spock said calmly.

In that instant, McCoy could have hugged the pointy-eared bastard.

“Thanks,” he managed as Spock smoothly rose to his feet.

“Shall we use my quarters?” he offered and McCoy just nodded in silent gratitude.

No more passed between them as they made their way through the ship’s corridors. Spock was never one for idle chatter and McCoy didn’t dare say anything yet. Only when the door to Spock’s quarters had hissed shut behind them did McCoy sigh heavily and rub one hand over his mouth.

“I - Christ - I don’t even know where to start.”

“Might I suggest the beginning?”

McCoy scowly sharply at Spock’s bland comment but he just lifted that damn eyebrow again.

“Doctor, you indicated a need to discuss a matter of some importance. I inferred the topic was a sensitive one and ensured we would have adequate privacy to conduct the conversation. Now it merely remains for you to speak,” Spock pointed out.

“Yeah, you’re right,” McCoy admitted. “And I owe you one. I just - this is going to sound crazy.”

“Delaying the conversation will not make it any less difficult.”

McCoy snorted at the slight edge that had crept into Spock’s reply, impatience or concern, he couldn’t quite tell.

“You make a good point, Spock, so I’m going to just spit it out: does the captain seem okay to you? ‘Cause ever since we left that planet, I’ve got to tell you, something is just not right with Jim.”

* * *

Althesia was a peaceful planet, rich in resources and culture. The native species had developed and traded technology sufficient to permit them interstellar exploration but seemed to prefer to welcome travellers rather than venture out to meet them.

“Easier when the galaxy comes to you,” Bones remarked in an aside to Jim as they strolled through the capital.

Jim laughed. “But you have to admit, it’s working for them!”

It was. The capital was a beautiful city, boasting well-stocked marketplaces and collected works of art from multiple species. So far, the Althesians had been lucky with their network of treaties and alliances and no one like the Klingons had shown up to spoil the party.

“Can’t say as I think much of their taste for sculpture, though,” Jim commented, tipping his head to the side as he considered the metal shape in the centre of the square. It didn’t make any more sense from that angle.

“To each their own, I guess,” came Bones’s reply but his eyes weren’t on the statue.

Jim grinned and preened shamelessly under the attention. “Well, not everyone’s as lucky as you, to have their own work of art to appreciate.”

Oh for - yeah, well, most people probably don’t have to put up with your unbelievable ego, either!” Bones shot back but Jim had no problem spotting the affection under the grumbling, despite the epic scowl Bones pasted on to hide it.

“You know you love me,” Jim replied sunnily, hooking his arm around Bones’s shoulders and steering them back to the Senate building.

Bones’s arm sliding around his waist said yeah, I do clearer than any impassioned declaration.

* * *

McCoy could tell he’d surprised Spock with that one.

“You think that the captain was compromised on Althesia?” he asked.

McCoy shook his head, more in frustration than negation. “No, I’m not saying that. I’m asking because - see, this is the crazy part - he looks okay, acts okay, he even scans okay and I’ve run every test I can think of an excuse for but there’s something wrong with him.”

Spock regarded him coolly. “You feel that there is something ‘not right’ with the captain? Despite all evidence to the contrary?”

McCoy held his breath for a moment before releasing it in a wobbly sigh. “Yeah, I do,” he finally said. “I’ve been telling myself for days that it’s all in my head but I can’t shake it. So go ahead. Tell me I’m being irrational, illogical, whatever.”

“Are you soliciting my opinion or my disagreement, Doctor?” Spock asked dryly.

“Dammit, Spock!” McCoy shouted, hands clenched into fists. “I don’t even know what I want to hear anymore! On the one hand, something’s wrong with Jim that no test can identify - on the other hand, I’m going crazy! My options aren’t great, here!”

The only sound between them was McCoy’s shaky breathing.

“I...apologize,” Spock eventually said, voice stiff. “That was - unkind of me. You are evidently distressed.”

“You bet your ass, I’m distressed,” McCoy shot back, anger and anxiety roiling in his stomach. “And if I want someone to argue with, I’ll go find a mirror. Been having it out with myself all week. I don’t need any more aggravation, you cold-blooded son of a bitch, I need that logic of yours. Because right now, I’m not sure if I should keep looking into the problem with Jim or take myself off duty because that problem doesn’t exist outside my head.”

Spock dipped his chin in acknowledgment. “You are understandably emotionally compromised,” he agreed. “But in this case, I do not believe that you should remove yourself from duty.”

McCoy gaped at him. “What?”

“I have noticed some irregularities during my interactions with the captain this week,” Spock explained calmly. “Therefore, I am inclined to agree with your assessment.”

McCoy stared at him incredulously before breaking into weak laughter. “Oh God. That was pretty near the last thing I expected you to say. Jesus, I can’t decide if I’m relieved or if this makes it worse.”

Spock just waited for him to get a hold of himself, though McCoy thought there might actually be some sympathy in those dark eyes.

“All right, all right,” he finally sighed. “So where do we go from here?”

“I see no evidence that the captain is not fit to remain in command,” Spock said. “I shall observe him closely to permit action should that condition change. In the meantime, continue your investigations and keep me informed of your progress. If you require assistance, you need only ask.”

McCoy actually cracked a smile at that. “Okay, Spock. And thanks. If anyone can figure out the mystery of James T. Kirk, it’s us.”

* * *

The talks with the Althesian government were going fairly well and Jim had been starting to relax. They hadn’t agreed to outright membership in the Federation but an alliance seemed fairly certain. All that being said, it still made him very very nervous when the head of state turned her formidable attention on him and sweetly asked for a favour.

“I can’t make any promises, Your Excellency,” he replied apologetically. “I’m only authorized to make certain concessions...”

“Oh no, Captain!” she said hastily. “You misunderstand. We would ask a favour of you.”

“Then I guess my answer depends on the favour,” he answered gamely, knowing without looking that his team was readying themselves for trouble.

"We would ask that you sit for Elynn," she explained, waving someone forward, a tall, dreamy-eyed woman. "She is one of our most gifted artists. Your face and form are most pleasing to her and we would be honoured if you would permit us to commemorate this meeting between our people with one of her works."

Jim had to work to keep his smirk under control. Bones's reaction to this request was going to be priceless.

"It would be my honour to do so," he told her earnestly.

He managed to sneak a look at Bones as he was led from the Meeting Hall. The expression on Bones's face when Jim winked at him was everything he'd hoped for.

* * *

Two weeks after Althesia and McCoy was still looking for evidence to back up his visceral certainty that something wasn’t right with Jim. About the only bright side to the mess was that now he had ample opportunity to test anything he liked because Jim was now a resident of Sickbay. And McCoy was pretty sure he was dying.

“What the hell good am I, Spock?” he demanded harshly, voice restrained only by the fact that they were in his office and he desperately didn’t want the words to carry. “First I couldn’t figure out what the hell they did with him, now I can’t find a way to save his life!”

“So he is dying,” Spock said, his tone less even than usual.

McCoy dropped into his chair and rubbed both hands over his face. “He’s coming apart,” he explained flatly. “Practically unravelling at the cellular level. He’s bleeding out and his body can’t hold anything we try to replace it with.”

Spock said nothing but closed his eyes briefly. “Might this be related to the issue you and I remarked on after our visit to Althesia?”

“I can’t think of anything else it could be related to,” McCoy answered. “But I’ve got to tell you, Spock. I’ve got no idea what’s causing this. And I don’t think I can figure it out fast enough to save him.” The admission hurt.

Spock leaned over the desk and gripped his shoulder tightly. “I will redirect the Enterprise to Althesia. At maximum warp we will be there within three days. I trust that you will do everything you can for him in the meantime.”

McCoy nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and then Spock was gone.

As much as McCoy wanted to hide in his office and shake for a couple of hours, he was needed out in Sickbay. He took a deep breath, clamped down on the rising tide of misery that kept threatening to overwhelm him and ordered himself to get on with it. The CMO of the Enterprise couldn’t afford the luxury of a bout of hysterics and Jim Kirk’s best friend/boyfriend/whatever the hell they were sure as hell couldn’t. Not if he wanted to save the bastard.

“Come on, Jim,” he said under his breath as he scooped up his PADD and headed out into the nearly empty Sickbay. “Don’t let your insane good luck fail you now.”

Renewed determination or not, it didn’t make it any easier to walk up to the biobed holding that familiar body, nearly unrecognizable with illness. Jim was pale, flesh bloated with the fluid leaking from his failing tissues and so uncharacteristically still. His raspy breaths were the only sign he still lived, a reassuring counterpoint to the quiet beeping of the biobed. McCoy was startled to see his eyes crack open at his approach, slivers of blue that crinkled into a faint smile. His hand twitched at his side, fingers opening weakly and McCoy hastily moved forward to take his hand.

“Hey,” he whispered against Jim’s knuckles. “Should I ask how you’re feeling?”

“You - should know,” Jim replied breathily. “Better’n me.”

“Okay, so I’ll take “not good” as a given,” McCoy said thickly. “But don’t worry, we’re working on fixing you up.”

It was probably a mercy for them both that Jim lapsed back into unconsciousness before he could answer. McCoy had never been able to lie to Jim worth a damn, anyway.

Blinking furiously, McCoy laid Jim’s hand back on the biobed as he sat on the neighbouring chair. He’d loaded all the information they had onto his PADD and he flicked through it again, hoping that this time, something would jump out at him. He’d been over all of the data more times than he could remember, fruitlessly searching for any way to treat the illness that had stricken Jim. At this point, he’d settle for even a hint as to the cause of it.

“A starting point would be nice,” he muttered as he scrolled through the screens. “Any starting point.”

It wasn’t until he found himself looking at a familiar cluster of genetic information for the third time since he'd sat down that he refocused his attention. If he couldn’t even tell which pages he’d already looked at during this study session, it was long past time for him to go in search for another dose of stimulants. He absently brought up the next screen, wondering how many times he’d reread the data there and nearly dropped the PADD.

He tightened his grip, hands shaking with a sudden flood of adrenaline. He hadn’t been looking at the same pages. The genetic information was repeating itself.

Which meant that the Jim Kirk who’d beamed back from Althesia was not the same Jim Kirk that had beamed down with him.

* * *

Jim didn’t think anything of it when Elynn held him back as the away team prepared to leave Althesia. She’d been openly disappointed when he’d left her studio two days ago and he’d been wondering if she’d come looking for him before he left. The attention was flattering (and it really had driven Bones half-crazy) so he let her draw him aside, into a corridor branching off of the main hall. He was nodding absently along with what Elynn said and didn’t really register the common sight of the handful of heavily muscled guards marching down the hallway until they had him surrounded. By the time he realized he should be fighting back, they had him immobilized and gagged.

He didn’t understand what they thought they were doing - the rest of the away team was right there, he’d be missed any second now - until Elynn slipped away from his side with the equipment she’d removed from him. The guards pulled him deeper into the hallway, out of sight of the familiar figure who’d stopped at its entrance.

“Captain!” Elynn called brightly. “You must have misplaced these,” she said, holding out his communicator and other items.

Jim watched himself shake his head in confusion. “Thanks, Elynn,” he told her with a quick smile.

She sent him on his way with a last, regretful farewell and then returned to Jim, now struggling in panicked earnest in his captors’ heavy-handed grips. He was too far away to hear but he knew “he” would be reuniting with the away team and in moments, they’d leave Althesia. Without him. He couldn’t let that happen.

“Be careful not to injure him,” Elynn instructed them fitfully.

Ignoring the furious glare Jim was aiming at her, she patted him lightly on the cheek.

“I’m sorry for the rough treatment,” she apologized, oddly sincere for a lunatic kidnapper. “But you can’t be allowed to leave. You’re the inspiration I’ve been searching for my whole life. Only the luckiest of artists finds her true source and now I’ve found you.”

Jim’s stomach turned at the way her eyes shone when she looked at him.

“Together, you and I will make masterpieces,” she promised.

* * *

“He’s a copy!” McCoy declared, practically throwing himself at Spock the moment he entered Sickbay in response to McCoy’s frantic call earlier.

“I beg your pardon?” Spock asked.

“This Jim! It’s not really Jim, he’s a copy!” McCoy said, shoving his PADD into Spock’s hands. “Humans, we’re messy. And so’s our DNA. You don’t see sequences of repeating code, we don’t work that way. But look what I found while trying to pick apart what was happening to him!”

Spock scrolled through the information, eyebrows slowly raising as he digested what he was reading. “Well spotted, Doctor,” was all he said. “And his illness?”

“At a guess? Some result of the cloning process. Or however it was they made him. He’s not meant to last long. Just long enough for us to fly away and leave Jim behind without realizing we’d done it.”

“Then it is good that we are already en route to Althesia,” Spock replied, handing back McCoy’s PADD. “Can this other Jim be saved?”

The practical question clenched a fist around McCoy’s heart and he shook his head slowly. “Like I said, he’s not meant to last long. If I knew more about how they did it, maybe. But he doesn’t have long left and I don’t know how to fix him.”

Spock looked across the length of the Sickbay, considering the quiet form on the occupied biobed. “It is a waste,” he offered quietly.

“Yeah, it is,” McCoy agreed huskily. He cleared his throat. “Go on,” he instructed Spock. “You get back to the bridge, get us back to where Jim is. I’ll stay here with him.”

“Doctor,” Spock began but McCoy cut him off.

“He may not be the ‘real’ Jim but he’s a Jim. And he doesn’t deserve to be alone.”

Spock hesitated but eventually nodded in acknowledgment.

McCoy waited until Spock had departed, staring blindly at the closed doors of his Sickbay. He wasn't sure if he had it in him to sit another deathbed watch but he'd be damned if he abandoned this one.

Somehow, he wasn't surprised to find Jim's eyes cracked open again when he finally worked up the nerve to return to his side.

"You hear any of that?" he asked softly, already knowing the answer from the wet trails on Jim's face.

"M'just a copy," he rasped. "S'why I'm sick."

"That's about the size of it," McCoy confirmed, guiltily relieved that the news had been broken for him.

"M'dying?"

"Yes," he said simply. "I'm sorry, I am. But there's nothing I can do."

Jim closed his eyes, chest hitching unevenly. "Not your fault," he finally whispered.

"Yeah, well. Doesn't make it any easier," McCoy told him, feeling the shock that went through him as he picked up Jim's hand.

His eyes opened again, glaring bleary accusation. "What're you doing?"

"What's it look like?" McCoy asked, some of his usual asperity in the question.

"But - not your Jim," Jim protested.

Blinking didn’t help this time and McCoy scrubbed a tear off his cheek. “Thought you said you heard us,” he said gently. “You’re still Jim and I’m not leaving you.”

Jim’s breath hitched again. “Love you, Bones,” he said helplessly.

“Love you too, darlin’,” McCoy answered without hesitation.

* * *

Jim woke up in an unfamiliar apartment, already seething with rage. He immediately set to exploring his new lodgings but quickly found them to be disappointingly secure. Not what he’d hoped for but he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. A society that had the means to make copies of pretty visitors - he swore to himself when he remembered the detailed pictures he’d provided them with the day he’d visited Elynn’s studio - had probably worked out how to keep its kidnapped victims caged. He spent the first day and a half of his captivity prowling around the apartment, trying to determine the routine by which he was fed, watered and provided with clean clothing.

At least they were taking good care of him, he thought, grimly amused. Then again, he supposed muses needed to be presentable.

Elynn’s visits began on the third day. She was never anything less than delighted to see him and never unaccompanied by less than two burly security guards. They were armed, careful and totally willing to drag him out for artistic inspection if he decided to be uncooperative.

“What the fuck do you all think you’re doing?” he demanded after one such round of treatment, staying in the chair into which he’d been deposited only because of the weapon levelled at his head. “How can your government condone kidnapping? When my crew figures out what happened, you can bet there’s going to be hell to pay for this.”

Elynn waved his objections away. “I am the most prized of Her Excellency’s artists. The works I will create with you are worth any price.”

Clearly, the dreamy-eyed expression Jim had noticed on the day they’d met should have tipped him off that she was batshit insane. Hell, the whole damn planet was bugnuts. He should have taken his cues from the dirty looks he and Bones had garnered as they went on a mocking tour of one of the local galleries.

God, Bones...

Elynn must have caught something of the shifting look on his face because she smiled sadly at him.

“Your crew will not miss you,” she reminded him. “They have their captain and they have long since left.”

Jim swallowed hard and told himself that the catch in his throat was nothing less than fury. “You think they’ll be fooled by some copy-and-paste version of me?”

“Everyone else has been,” she replied simply.

Jim clenched his jaw shut and ignored her for the rest of the day.

Late that night, curled up alone in an empty bed, he decided that if he couldn’t count on his crew to rescue him, he’d have to do it himself. The Althesians were hobbled by the need to keep him whole and healthy. He’d play along, pretend that he’d given up fighting and eventually someone would slip up. Once he got out into the city from...wherever he was, he’d be fine. Althesia was an interplanetary stopover. He’d be able to beg, bargain or steal himself a place on some departing ship. All he had to do was wait for his chance. Then he’d go home.

He ignored the tiny part of him that wondered where home was these days.

So Jim schooled himself to patience. He flirted with Elynn and went along with her requests. He buddied up to the guards. He made nice with the few people who entered his sphere of influence. He memorized routines and tried to gain as much information about his current circumstances. Within a couple of weeks, he started to consider making a break for it.

His crew beat him to it.

Jim was ready to swear that phaser fire was the sweetest sound he’d ever heard - until he heard Bones shouting his name.

“In here!” he yelled, pounding uselessly on the door.

“Jim! HERE! Over here! Damn it, someone get this door open now!

Jim stayed pressed to the door as they worked with the result that when it opened, he and Bones practically fell into each other. Jim could not have cared less, appearances could go fuck themselves. He wrapped his arms around Bones as tightly as he could and clung for dear life.

“You came back,” was all he could find the breath to say.

Bones was clutching Jim every bit as tightly, whispering fervently in his ear. “Of course we did, you stupid bastard. Never letting you out of my sight again, you have no goddamn idea...”

Spock appeared out of the chaos long enough to pat Jim lightly on the shoulder and murmur, “It is good to see you again, Jim,” before leaving them to it. Jim could hear him ordering the rescue team around and spared a brief moment to be grateful for kickass first officers. Spock would take care of things and Jim was happy to let him. He wasn’t moving until they beamed him home.

Fin


Written in a mad fit of inspiration and posted on the fly (before I lost my nerve) after writing for about four hours straight.

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