‘the public has long since cast off its cares
the people who once bestowed
commands, consulships, legions
and all else,
now meddles no more
and longs eagerly for just two things----
Bread and Circuses.’
Jim fights as they drag him out of his cell, but he doesn’t have a fucking chance in hell. He knows it. His guards know it, and worst of all... the crowd knows it. He twists his exhausted body as he attempts to break free. Against the five guards and their gear though, Jim knows it’s a stupid attempt. He kicks and bites, reduced to desperation. His nails gouge blood-filled divots in their skin until he’s backhanded across the face, absently as though he was nothing but an annoying insect.
He loses consciousness. It hardly matters.
He’s dead anyway.
A shock of ice cold water.
Jim jerks, gasping. His vision is blurry when he opens his eyes. For a second he thinks that he’s still drugged. He wishes he was still drugged. It would be so much easier to just check out; to ignore his fear and rage. He’s ashamed at how little fight he has left in him.
Slowly, he blinks away the red tinge in his eye. Merikus had hit him so hard that he had broken Jim’s cheekbone, and he knew that there was damage there. Drusilla had cried when she saw the damage, but Jim had been too hurt to react to the slave’s tears or her feeble attempts to clean him up. The other eye is swollen shut, the eyelid puffy and hot to the touch.
Even without being able to see clearly, Jim knows that he’s being watched. It’s endless. Invasive. Terrifying. He can hear the dull roar of the crowd, hear their feet stomping in unison, waiting for the show that they were promised. The coliseum is incomprehensibly more vast than he had thought. He is the mouse looking up at the hawk swooping down to eat him. The stone looks to be centuries old, levels rising up and up and up into the bright blue sky. From Jim’s vantage point it looks endless, filled with indistinct shapes screaming for his death. At his dazed blink, all he can see is a whirl of pale faces, all screaming and jeering.
Slowly a word becomes more distinct to his concussed brain. The furious crowd is chanting: Iugula! Iugula! Iugula! over and over, dragging out each syllable in unison. For a dead word it sounds powerful and strong with the power of hundreds of thousands of voices behind it. They are calling for Jim’s death.
Jim’s used to being the center of attention. That stirs something inside of him, some speck of Captain Kirk, and he straightens, ignoring the pain in his back and hips as he straightens his shoulders, jerking his head up. He’s naked, brutalized, bleeding from cuts and abrasions all over his skin. His ribs sing to him a melody of agony, causing his breath to shorten and stutter.
The tone of the crowd takes on a jeering quality. Jim sees two of his captors slowly walk up on either side of where he stood. One was the ham-handed guard that swatted him from before. The other Jim doesn’t know. They both walk perfectly in step as they approach the dais from either side of the tunnel, slamming their spears into the ground and saluting Merikus and Proconsul Marcus by striking their own chests. At the salute, the crowd is silenced as one. It’s eerie as much as anything. Jim could have heard a pin drop. Jim can hear himself panting, struggling to breathe with broken ribs. It seems too loud in the sudden quiet.
Jim allows himself to meet Merikus’ steely gaze. It’s utterly bizarre for him to even acknowledge that he knows this guy, back when he was just Merik. Dimly, Jim can see that the two men are situated across the floor of the coliseum. Their dias is much higher, signifying their higher status. Jim is at the other end of the arena. He can see the slaves crowded miserably together on the second level, the thick chains wrapped around their hands. He knows that it will be their job to raise the crucifix once Jim is properly impaled on it. He’s a lesson to them; a living tableau against the idea of opposing the status quo.
Jim blinks, unable to keep from jutting his chin out. He’s aware of the cameras, broadcasting this to the millions of citizens who couldn’t see the live show and knows that they can see the brief spark of hopefulness extinguished at the pronounced thumbs up Merikus gives Jim’s captors. The crowd goes insane with approval; the immense wave of noise as painful as anything else that had happened to him before.
Jim feels his lips tremble. He knows that there is no chance. There will be no reprieve. He did what he did to save Bones and Spock, and he will not apologize for that. Still, for a brief second Jim wishes that he wasn’t going to die alone.
He won’t cower in front of them. He will not.
He does anyway.
They make him bend down, forcing him into the indignity of laying down onto the long part of the cross, knowing that it is going to be what kills him. Jim doesn’t struggle as they fasten the collar around his neck. It wasn’t the first collar that they made him wear, and he didn’t bow to that one, either. He’s sickened to realize that it’s caked with the detritus of some other person’s death: blood, vomit and sweat. Other people, probably. Jim is hardly the first person to die this way.
Neither guard is gentle as they stretch his arms up and out, ensuring that his wrists and hands are in the exact center of the cross beam. Jim can’t help the groan and the skinnier guard presses almost lovingly on JIm’s broken ribs, causing him to spasm against the thick collar that kept his neck in place.
The crowd loves it.
He expects it, but it’s still a shock as each guard, still moving in perfect unison (and ohgod ohgod it hurts to think of how many times they’ve done this; how many other people have died like him nonono he can’t think about this, has to stop shove it back shove it out of his brain or he won’t stop screaming and fuck them if they’re getting any more of a show out of him) move away from the cross to something that Jim can’t see. The collar keeps him from turning his head to look, but Jim is pretty sure that he doesn’t want to see what they’re holding anyway.
He’s right. The crowd is on their feet again, stomping and screaming. Jim can only see out of what’s left of his peripheral vision, but the muscles in broad back of the guard shifts and ripples as he raises something up, showing them off.
Jim closes his eyes.
If Jim had a bird’s eye view- he would see that the steel nails are thick, easily an inch thick. They end in a serrated edge so that they will cut through flesh and muscle and tendon with ease. Both guards do his wrists first, placing the nails in the very center of his wrists. Another two nails go at his elbows, and another two in the thick, ropey biceps of his arms.
But, Jim’s doesn’t have a bird’s eye view. He’s here; center stage.
His body is prone to pain. He’s hurt himself and been hurt by others in a thousands of different ways. And truth be told, it’s not the bright flare of pain that makes him forget that he wasn’t going to scream. There’s a sound when each one embeds itself into the wood of the cross beam, crisp and meaty like the sound of a snapped chicken bone as the guards carefully avoid any major arteries and organs. As he draws in breath to scream, Jim thinks crazily that if he had to hear that sound again, it wouldn't matter what they do to him. He’d be too insane to notice.
The crowd’s chant changes again. They know that they’re controlling this show, and revel in the power that it gives them. Jim can’t hate them for it.
He doesn’t think that they know any better.
“Libero! Libero! Libero!” Their demand that he be raised gets louder and louder until Jim can feel it in the back of his teeth. The links of the chains drag against each other as the slaves begin to pull, causing the heavy wood to slowly rise up from it’s position on the dias. The other four guards from earlier quickly snap it into place. The crash of the thick chains being released onto the stone is loud in Jim’s ears over the roaring of the crowd.
His body sags against the collar and nails as gravity pulls him down. It is fucking agonizing. Jim thought that he’d be able to ignore it, to lock himself in his mind until the end.
Jim is an idiot.
After a while, Jim can’t keep his body still. He’s completely lost track of time. The damaged nerves in his body don’t seem to know that they’re completely fucked, and every once in awhile, Jim will writhe in place, half strangling himself as he spasms in place. They’d started this little party at sunup, but since Jim couldn’t turn his head he couldn’t look at where the sun was to gauge the time. Hours. It had to be.
Yesterday, while still in the slave pens, Jim hadn’t understood the pitying glances the other slaves had given him when the guards had ordered that he drink. The water had been tepid and tasted faintly of iron, but Jim had gorged himself. Jim hadn’t had the heart to take food away from the other slaves, so had eaten on a few bites of bread in the days that he’d been locked up. The water was a comforting weight in his belly, and he had surprised himself by sleeping, comforted by the relative rareness of being full.
Now though? Now it made sense.
The screams of the crowd when he first began to piss himself were humiliating, which was rather the point. His urine burned when it touched the cuts on his legs, and that was just something else Jim had to endure. He couldn’t keep the flies away from him. Given everything else that had happened, Jim never thought that the incessant drone and biting sting of insects would be a big deal. Some long-grained instinct had him tensing in reaction when they bit his flesh, which caused him to feel the rip of flesh around the nails that held him to the cross beam.
Jim lost track of time. He didn’t know if it was actually dark, or if he had dreamed it. He was lost in his head, meeting ghosts of his past and fanciful spectres of a future he’d never see. Sometimes he talked. He pleaded and begged with them. He was scared. He was sorry. He was ashamed. Please don’t leave him alone like this. Not like this.
When they crushed his legs, all Jim could do was scream.
The cameras recorded it in loving detail.
Spock wouldn’t look at him. He stood with his arms held behind his back, staring out at the streaks of stars and planets through the observation deck’s windows. Jim was so tired. He just wanted to sag into Spock’s strength, just for a second. But Spock wouldn’t look at him.
“I’m not gonna apologize.”
Jim’s voice sounded weird. It hurt to talk. For some reason he was dreadfully, painfully thirsty. His voice almost didn’t sound like his own.
“Come on, Spock. You telling me you wouldn’t have done the same thing? ‘Cuz that’s bullshit. You’re the one that told me that the needs of the many outweigh... blah blah blah.”
Jim wanted to reach out to him, but couldn’t. He tried again, but it was like his arms wouldn’t work. He was just so fucking tired. Maybe he could just rest for a minute. Just a second or two. Just to shake off the edge of this strange lethargy. Then he could finish their conversation.
Jim shut his eyes.
Just for a minute.
TBC! (you might want to subscribe for updates!)