Like what seemed to be the general (and admittedly eager) crew consensus, McCoy had thought that a teenaged Jim Kirk would be a hormone-ridden, rebellious dynamo of pure energy unleashed on an unsuspecting ship.
None were more shocked than he to find that this was not the case.
Jim was, certainly, energetic, though less than typically due simply to the effects of the rapid aging on his body, as well as the mental and physical scars from his unspoken-of time on Tarsus IV. Still, in that way he was almost annoying in his exuberance, never tiring of following his tolerant crew about the ship and asking incessant questions about its workings and policies.
Montgomery Scott fairly fell in love with the fifteen-year-old version of his captain (McCoy had no idea how he'd aged another year in a few days, but it could be anything at this point), and spent countless hours with the young man, teaching him how to repair circuitry and improvise tech to perform above its projected specs. It got to the point where no one looked up anymore when minor explosions rocked the Engineering Deck at all hours of ship's day or night, and McCoy would swear his hair was greying more by the hour, knowing that a genius-level teenager was tinkering around with their my-silver-lady-runs-because-o'-my-not-entirely-legal-magic Chief Engineer. They had to trust that of course Scott would die before actually endangering the ship or its CO, but it didn't mean he had to like it.
Jim would show up for his periodic check-ins, covered in grease and usually needing replacement tunics, but beaming happily and chattering anyone's ear off who remained within hearing distance about what he'd learned that day. This in itself was not surprising, as McCoy was aware that the kid had minored in Engineering in Starfleet Academy, and as an adult starship captain was quite competent at finding his way about an Engineering section.
What was surprising, to him and to many of his crew, was that Jim was like that with everyone.
Nurse Chapel had been understandably wary of working in close quarters with a teenaged young man who had already proven before hitting puberty he was capable of charming what he wanted out of their less stern nursing staff - but to her surprise, the boy followed her around her duties with not so much as an inappropriate look or innuendo, asking pertinent questions and requesting to be taught whatever medical duty she was performing at the time.
She was so unnerved after two days of this, that she sent the boy to Library and Research, ostensibly to fetch a few reference disks, and went to see McCoy in his office.
"Never thought that this would be the complaints I'd be gettin'," he observed with a weary grunt, kneading his forehead with one hand as he slumped back in his chair.
"Not to say that the professionalism is unwelcome, Doctor, or that I expected him to be inappropriate with his future crew, because I didn't - but the entire absence of interest across the board is, you must admit, not typical for a teenaged boy, any teenaged boy," she said, worried. "Is there some trauma we don't know about, that could have happened in his mid-teen years, that would put him off from more...promiscuous behavior? He had more personality at ten, and that drastic of a change doesn't seem to be normal."
The CMO frowned. "No trauma that I've ever heard him speak of, and not that's in his medical records," he answered. "Granted, I think his personality probably changed a lot after...the Tarsus incident," and they both knew to what he was referring, "and I'm by no means a child psychologist, this isn't my area of focus. Maybe he just grew up too fast?"
Chapel shook her head. "No, Doctor. He is a completely balanced young man - just not the young man I would expect out of James Kirk, if that makes sense."
McCoy sighed, and pointed to a data-padd on his desk. "You're the third person to tell me that in the last week, Nurse," he said, knowing her confidentiality would prevent that knowledge from spreading. "I need you to keep your ears open for any less official concerns among the crew, that they think he's acting a little...off. For him. In the meantime, all I can do is keep studying, unless he starts showing signs of PTSD or something. It's good to raise the concerns, but they may just not be founded in anything we can pinpoint. This is uncharted territory."
She nodded in agreement.
McCoy groaned into his hands as the door slid shut behind her. "Never thought I'd be worried that the brat wasn't trying to hit on his own crew," he mumbled, reaching for the comm-switch to call his unofficial co-parent (and wasn't that a bucket of laughs, that the title no longer even sounded unnatural).
Spock appeared unruffled by McCoy's description of Jim Kirk's behavior (though to be fair, if he were 'ruffled' no one would ever be able to tell).
"I know it's a little hard for you to get this through that smug skull of yours, Spock, but humans, especially young ones, are driven by what you just called 'animalistic impulses'. This is not normal behavior for a human male of that age!"
"Doctor, am I to understand from your tone and vocalizations that you are unhappy that the captain is behaving with remarkable maturity at fourteen?"
"Indeed?" An eyebrow slanted upward. "That itself should dispel your concerns, Doctor; he is obviously still aging as he should be."
"I don't care how he's aging, Spock - I just want to know why he's acting so all-fired weird!"
The Vulcan's eyes drifted ceiling-ward in that familiar expression McCoy had come to really, really hate. Finally Spock looked back at him. "Doctor, you are assigning your own projection of what would constitute normal behavior for James Kirk onto this younger version of him; who are any of us to determine what would be 'normal' behavior for one who has undergone what he has, and with the knowledge he possesses?"
The doctor blew out a slow, frustrated breath. "I understand your point, Commander," he finally agreed, "and maybe you're right; maybe I'm expecting the typical out of somebody who's anything but typical. I'm just worried, is all. We get one shot at this, you know."
Spock nodded. "I would not concern yourself overmuch about Jim's behavior, not at this juncture, Doctor," he said. "For one thing, the captain is aware that he is indeed just that - the captain of this vessel, however incapacitated he might be at the moment. That most certainly is enough to curtail any actions he might otherwise contemplate, is it not? And I do recall Gary Mitchell saying that when the Captain was a young man at Starfleet Academy, he was - if I recall the exact phrasing correctly - a 'pile of books with legs,' to which the captain added that he was 'positively grim'. To the point of being bullied for his studious behavior, if I remember accurately."
McCoy cocked his head, understanding sparking in his eyes. "I do believe you're right, Mr. Spock, much as I hate to say it. He was the antithesis of the usual 'Fleet frat boy until his third year at least, when he got mixed up with that Marcus woman...and I remember his medical records show he was barely seventeen when he entered the Academy."
"Then even your limited capacity for logic, Doctor, should be capable of extrapolating that perhaps, just as when he is an adult, Jim persists in what I believe you humans call breaking the mold," Spock answered, a hint of humor well-hidden in his eyes as he turned to leave.
Without looking up from his reports, McCoy half-heartedly threw an empty hypospray cartridge at the back of the Vulcan's head.
Spock ignored the cartridge, though a yeoman passing in the corridor was duly horrified.
While he was suitably wary of Jim's unusual response to the changes happening within his body during these years he was given to understand were so formative in Terran physiology, Spock was more relieved than anything else that he was not going to be forced to give 'the talk' to his teenaged captain, as said captain had been forced to do to the entity they had taken as passenger and called 'Charlie,' before the young man had gone out of control early in their five-year mission.
That did not, however, mean that the next few weeks were devoid of either entertainment or embarrassment (embarrassment for Jim, not because of him, as embarrassment was an emotion and therefore Spock was not subject to it).
The foremost of these happenings occurred, unfortunately, whilst Spock was in the middle of a live communiqué with the Starfleet Admiralty, to discuss the unfortunate juvenile in question. Jim had buzzed out of his quarters that morning with an indication that he was heading to the gymnasium with Lieutenant Sulu for fencing lessons (meditating, Spock had winced as the yell reverberated in the corridor outside his cabin), and he was grateful for the reprieve as he settled into his desk chair to conduct the communiqué.
"You believe the transformation is drawing to a close, then," Cartwright stated, scribbling a notation on his padd.
"I do. Based upon what the Insonti people have been able to tell us regarding the purpose of the ritual, the amount of time between each time-leap increases as the child ages; reverting, as the process's purpose indicates, in longer leaps due to the fact that the youngest years of a child are the most formative. I foresee a fortnight at most, before the captain will at least return to an age suitable for starship command; less than a month, certainly, before he will return to his true age."
"I don't care if he did beat the Kobayashi Maru at twenty, I'd still feel safer with the Enterprise in the hands of a Vulcan acting captain than a cadet version of Captain Kirk," Komack interjected, mildly enough despite his previous antagonism toward Kirk's captaincy in general. "You can't just hand it over to him when he comes of age."
"Indeed," Spock agreed without hesitation. "However, the matter may very well be a moot point. Dr. McCoy and I, after perusing the research into the Regenratron's purpose, believe that the captain may possibly simply skip from his cadet years into his true age."
"The Insonti people have informed us that the purposes of the device and its ritual are beneficial in nature; one, giving the subject the opportunity to cleanse its mind and spirit from the depression which follows a loss of purpose, or two, giving the subject the opportunity to deal with unresolved or childhood trauma." Spock paused to collect his thoughts regarding what he knew of Jim's unresolved past trauma, mental or physical, and then continued, "Forcing Captain Kirk to relive poor command decisions whose consequences he can no longer alter would by definition contradict that purpose. At the very least, I believe the latest age the device will put him at could possibly be his first deep-space mission, nothing later than that; that first assignment is, to most cadets, when they finally regard themselves as Starfleet officers and not initiates."
"That makes sense, Mr. Spock," Cartwright replied thoughtfully. "And for your sakes, I hope it doesn't take much longer. There is only so long we can postpone continuing your mission for the sake of an adolescent boy, James Kirk or no James Kirk."
Spock's head inclined. "Understood. I have instructed our department heads to begin conclusion of our star-charting directives, so that we are able to proceed immediately upon demand when asked to do so after the captain's retransformation."
There was a general murmur of approval among the row of Admirals.
"Is there anything else, gentlemen?" Spock asked.
"A few points of clarification regarding the situation on Cyrus III before we have you leave the system, Mr. Spock," Komack began, looking down at a data-padd. "We received your report regarding the arrival of the medical team to the infected Cyran continent; what updates has your Medical division for us?"
Spock retrieved the appropriate padd from the increasing stack on his desk (he would be much pleased to have Jim back doing his own paperwork, he would freely admit) and brought up McCoy's latest statistics on the situation below. "In the past eight days, the situation has passed from a Class Three planetary emergency down to a Class Four, based upon the competent efforts of the civilian medical team. Dr. McCoy reports that -"
He was interrupted by the swish of the adjoining bathroom door sliding open behind him.
"Spock? Yo Spock! Can I use your shampoo? I sort of…knocked mine down the recycling chute!" Jim Kirk's fifteen-year-old voice bellowed with all the subtlety and tact of a Type Two phaser array.
Admiral Archer snorted into his coffee cup, while the rest of them suddenly found their data-padds to be extremely interesting reading material.
Spock mentally counted to five, each number ticking off another good reason it would behoove him to not forcibly incarcerate his teenaged captain for both their sanities' sakes.
"Affirmative," he finally called back, with a small sigh but considerably more decorum, though not with enough of the latter to entirely salvage his dignity. He turned back to the screen before him.
Cartwright was unashamedly grinning at him. Insufferable human.
"As I was saying, gentlemen," he began, to all appearances unperturbed, "Dr. McCoy's reports indicate a decrease of 34.6% in the fatality of the disease, by all accounts a truly miraculous number. The infection and spread rates have dropped significantly as well due to the invention of a vaccine for its prevention, and as of 2300 hours yesterday there had been no new outbreaks of the disease. The medical team below has recommended a -"
An unearthly shriek sliced through the air, jolting all of them with its sudden intensity.
Even Spock started, feeling a rush as adrenaline surged through his veins. A thousand scenarios flashed in and out of his mind, each more horrifying than the last, and each ending with the untimely demise of his captain without ever regaining his proper age; such images were a staple by now of his dreams, the unpleasant effect of being forced into responsibility for a precocious child-captain.
And then said precocious child-captain, clad only in a standard-issue towel and screeching loud enough to wake the entirety of C-Deck, skittered madly into the room, bare feet squeaking on polished flooring.
"I swear to God I am going to kill the crewman who brought a Borasian jumping tarantula on board my ship, Spock! I don't care if they're considered 'small support animals!'"
Of all the terrible images his mind could conjure as hypothetical situations calling for such a horrific scream, he would be the first to admit he had not projected this particular one. Ever.
Someone on his viewscreen was making unpleasant noises as they tried not to laugh. He reluctantly turned his attention to Jim, who was now dripping on his floor, breathing heavily.
"Well, get me a phaser!" his captain demanded, one arm gesticulating wildly toward the sliding door of their shared bathroom. Spock raised a reluctant eyebrow, and Jim's wild eyes grew even wider. "I'm serious, Spock! Why is our ventilation shaft even large enough for it to get through!"
"Jim," he began calmly, trying to ignore the entirety of the Starfleet Admiralty grinning behind him, "I highly doubt that -"
"It fell off the ceiling onto my head, Spock. It. Is. Going. To DIE!"
"If you believe I shall permit you to destroy our communal shower cubicle in an attempt to exterminate Lieutenant Xanthra's errant arachnoid, however large, you are sadly mistaken, Jim," he replied with admirable composure, given that Archer was hooting like a demented owl on the viewscreen before him and even Komack was struggling to keep a straight face.
"It violated my hair, Spock!" Jim wailed (there was no other word to describe the sound, Spock opined), clutching the damp locks protectively with the hand not occupied in holding his towel closed.
Spock would have liked nothing better than to take the phaser blast himself at this point, but he refrained from any show of the increasing desire to perform the all-too-human action of slamming his head into the desk. Repeatedly.
"Jim," he said with admirable control. "I am currently in the midst of a live video conference with Starfleet Command."
"I don't c- you're what?" the young man shrieked. A look of horror on his face, he clutched his towel and scooted backward out of visual range of the desk, muttering about monster spiders and creeper Admirals and unsympathetic Vulcans.
On-screen, the entire board of 'creeper admirals' had by this point apparently, as Spock believed the Terran expression went, lost it. Cartwright made a sort of floppy, waving gesture that apparently meant you-are-excused-to-care-for-the-dire-emergency-Commander before the admiral reached for the disconnection button - but not before his cackling rang through the cabin.
"I am not stepping foot in there until that thing is gone!" Jim then declared in a particularly petulant tone while tapping one damp foot impatiently, a small slapping sound in the sudden silence of the room.
The impenetrable, shining desk top was looking more and more pleasing. Also, he had at least five hours' worth of paperwork to do and only three hours in which to do it before Beta shift.
And so, for the first time, he employed his prerogative as acting captain - to delegate tasks to his underlings without apology or explanation.
Jim's disgruntled scowl at McCoy's howl of laughter and good-natured "This is Sickbay, not animal control!" assured him it was the wisest course of action he could have taken.