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Gift-wrapped for the public with a pretty satin bow

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The problem technically started a week before it really started, not that Jim had understood that at the time or for a while afterwards. It was the first crack from the weight of a pressure that Jim hadn’t even realized had been building up in the first place.


Jim was feeling a bit bruised as after leaving Neural, having left with not only no resolution for the tensions between the Hill people and the Villagers, but rather an increase in those tensions and the spread of weapons that he feared would irreversibly demolish the peace that the planet had once known.


Defeat resting heavy on his conscience, he retired earlier than usual, excusing himself from Sulu’s invitation to the rec room on the basis of paperwork. Bones asked to join him, needing to fill out his own report on the events, and Jim smiled at him, tiredly, accepting the offered company.


They retired to Jim’s room, Bones slipping away momentarily to grab a bottle of bourbon from his own room, and settled across from each other at Jim’s desk, the bottle between them and each with a filled glass.


As they worked, there was a long period of comfortable silence, save McCoy’s soft muttering. Jim found himself easily slipping into work-mode, despite the strain of the evening, his explanations and defense of his actions taking on a sense of academic detachment, enough that he could write about it without getting too weighed down by a sense of self-blame.


He took a sip of his bourbon, finishing off the last of it, and, peering at the glass, figured that was probably helping too.


It was as he was reaching for the bottle to pour himself another glass that McCoy asked, “So. How’re you holding up?”


Jim hummed, unscrewing the bottle’s top and filling his glass as he considered Bones’s question.


How was he holding up.


He’d gotten Spock shot, nevermind that he’d made a full recovery, and been put into a position where he’d felt he had no choice but to supply a previously non-violent group of people with guns so they could fight with and kill another previously non-violent group of people who’d been corrupted by Klingon malevolence.


How was he holding up…


He screwed the top back on the bourbon and pushed the bottle back between them, taking another, long sip.


“Jim…” Bones’s rough voice was gentle. His pad was set aside, his own much simpler report likely already finished. His glass was still half full, the light hitting it causing a honey yellow shine. His hands were resting on the desk, palms down, fingers of one hand curled slightly,


Jim pulled his mouth into a smile, setting his glass down with a dull clink. “Oh, I’m fine Bones. Just more of the same.” He traced his finger along the rim of the cup, nodding slowly. “More of the same.”


“The same isn’t always a good thing. S’why we have shore leave. Have to break up the routine madness somehow.”


Jim chuckled softly and raised his glass. “To breaking up the routine madness.”


Bones’s blue eyes were watching him intently as he clinked their glasses together, refraining from taking a drink, though Jim did. “If that’s the energy we’re celebrating, how’s about turning in for the night, Jim.”


Jim shook his head as he swallowed. “Can’t,” he said gesturing towards the pad sitting in front of him. “I’m almost finished.”


Bones’s grabbed the pad, pulling it towards himself. “It’s late. If you’re almost finished, it’s something you should be able to finish in the morning.”


“Nonsense, I can finish it now.” Jim held out his hand for the pad. His second glass of bourbon was already halfway empty.


It was the glass Bones was staring at when he stood, taking Jim’s pad and walking over to set it on his dresser, near the door.


“Bones, really, you’re being ridiculous.”


“Maybe so, Jim, but I think this might be better for you to handle in the morning. After you’ve had some time to… process.” He walked back to Jim’s side, placing a hand on his shoulder.


Jim stared up at him, more gauging his seriousness than challenging him. Bones stared right back, his eyes holding all of his fondness and worry and his hand a steady weight, Jim feeling every twitch of his fingers.


Finally, Jim relented with a nod and an, “Alright, alright. If it’ll put you at ease, I’ll finish up the rest tomorrow.”


“Good.” Bones gave him a small smile and a friendly jostle. “There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself before your work sometimes.”


“I take it that that’s your professional opinion?”


Bones’s hand left Jim’s shoulder and he scratched the back of his neck. “Professional opinion, friendly advice… Whichever you need it to be right now, Jim. Either way, I’m not wrong.”


“Thank you.” Jim reached out, hooking a finger in one of Bones’s belt loops, tugging him just the slightest bit closer. “I appreciate the concern.”


When Bones spoke, his voice was quiet. “Of course.”


Bones left not long after that, Jim seeing him to the door.


Left to his own devices, Jim considered finishing up his report, anyway, but Bones had been right when he’d said it was getting late and, without the distraction of another person’s presence, Jim was more aware of how tired he was now than he’d been before.


Deciding to be a good patient for once, Jim grabbed a pair of pajamas and headed for his bathroom.


He pulled his shirt off and pressed on a compartment in the wall, the compartment opening outwards to reveal the basket that was hidden there. As he dropped his shirt into the basket, he paused, his gaze catching on a faint cut on his arm.


He touched it, pressing at the faint, pink skin, slightly sore to the touch, but nothing serious.


In an instant, as he dragged his fingers across the cut, it was not his own touch, but Nona’s, pressing, rubbing – a prelude to the dizzy haze that had taken over him afterwards.


A shudder wracked Jim’s body and his hand flew to his mouth, covering it against a near gag. His other hand gripped the door to the dirty clothes compartment tightly, the edges of it digging into the flesh of his palm.


He recalled hands and lips and his own desperation. The whole event was fuzzy and distorted, the only clear sensation being the memory of Nona’s lips pressed to his own, her mouth wet and hot and-


Jim shuddered again, violently, his body pitching forward, curling up. He let himself drop into a squatting position, pressed his forehead up against the compartment door, kept his hand pressed firmly over his mouth and squeezed his eyes tightly shut.


He breathed slowly and deeply, forcing his mind to go blank, and stayed there, still as a statue until long after he’d calmed and his knees had begun to ache.


When he finally rose, it was with glacial movements, as if he was afraid that moving too fast would set the episode back into motion.


He stood, staring vacantly into the basket he’d dropped his clothes into, wondering why on Earth he’d just had such a reaction. No answers immediately presented themselves, and he cautiously took a step away from the compartment, continuing his nighttime routine with a strained deliberation.


He brushed his teeth three times over before he was satisfied that night.


The following week consisted of the usual utter chaos and Jim essentially forgot about the episode, his attentions ever focused on the present and future. With it placed firmly out of his mind, it never even occurred to him that the episode could be at all related to the dreams once they started.


Not even the first dream, though, in retrospect, it happened so soon after evening of his episode he was foolish to have forgotten, to have not considered or wondered or begun to piece the puzzle together.


But things did have a tendency to seem obvious long after the situation had passed – when you’d have distance and space and the moment of revelation on your side.


~ ~ ~


When Jim woke, with a startled gasp, his eyes were wet. He lay for a few moments, the dark of his room leaving him blind, feeling baffled as the pounding of his heart slowed and he disentangled himself from his dream. When he felt a bit more present, he groaned softly, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes, unshed tears wetting his palms, then let out a burst of air in what may or may not have constituted a sigh.


His first tangible, drowsy thought was that he hadn’t woken up crying in years.


Whatever dream had set him off had slipped away fast, the only part of it sticking with him through waking up being his dream-self’s breakdown of desperate, violent sobbing. It was entirely unlike him, but, despite that, the memory of it still left him with a pit in his stomach and vague sense of feeling off.


Dragging his hands down his face, he muttered, “Lights, 20%,” and, after his room was awash in a green glow, he pushed himself upright.


The clock to his right indicated that it was before 5:00a.m. Earth Standard Time, but his eyes felt heavy and his head ached, so instead of laying back down, he got up and shuffled towards the bathroom, grunting when, in his tired haze, his hip slammed into the divider between his bedroom and office. He cursed, rubbing at the area, and muttered about stupid counter edges and even stupider wide hips the rest of his short walk to his bathroom.


As he splashed his face with cold water, massaging his eyes, then popped a few pain pills, he decided to chalk his odd dream and the bout of sleep-crying up to a one-time abnormality, nothing more than an overdue release of stress and definitely not worth bringing up to any of the medical or mental health professionals onboard, the rather aggressive lecture Bones had given him about taking his physical and psychological well-being seriously be damned.


If it got worse, he’d deal with it, but until then it just didn’t seem worth making a fuss about.


He closed the cap on the pill bottle, putting it back in the medicine cabinet, and left the bathroom feeling wide awake and much more grounded, the remnants of his dream having loosened their hold on him.


Pausing in his office, he eyed what was visible of his bed past the divider, then approached slowly to lean on the counter. He considered attempting to go to bed, but…


He tilted his head.


His bed loomed at him, stiff and empty and, frankly, unwelcoming in the dull green light, heavy with shadows. It unsettled him, sparked an echo of that off feeling, like a warning that if he were to return to sleep only nightmares would await him.


He pressed his lips together for a moment, then pushed off of the counter, commanding the lights to turn up a bit more, the green shifting to a cheery pink, and walked over to his small selection of books, grabbing one and settling down on his desk chair.


As he leaned back, getting as comfortable as he could, and flipped through the book, looking for the page he’d left off on, he told himself that he wouldn’t have been able to fall asleep now anyway, awake as he was, even if he’d tried.


Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite true. Jim must have dozed off at some point because he was jolted from a light, restless sleep by his alarm. His book had fallen to the floor, he had a kink in his neck that he could already tell was going to drive him crazy all morning, and he felt distinctly less rested than he had earlier.


The only bright side was that he hadn’t had any more dreams.


He got up, commanding the alarm to turn off, and bent to grab his book, inhaling sharply when his back cracked as he straightened. He squeezed his eyes shut, pressing a hand to his lower back, and took a few stiff steps towards his selection of books, dropping off the one he was holding and just standing there for a minute or so, wondering if this morning should be taken as an indication of how the rest of his day would be going.


“Okay, Jim,” he muttered to himself, taking a deep breath and forcing his sore, tired eyes open. “You can deal with a little exhaustion and discomfort. It’ll be fine.” He nodded once to himself and gingerly turned around, hand still pressed to the small of his back, to go take a nice, hot shower and hopefully relax his stiff muscles.


One shower and a debate with himself over whether he should take more medicine or heed the label’s warning about waiting six hours later, Jim was dressed and waiting for his new set of pills to kick in and relieve him of his aches. He’d gotten a quick breakfast from the dining hall and, as he’d left, two cups of coffee, an attempt at keeping himself from dozing on his feet.


He was making his way down the hallway to the bridge, one cup in each hand, when Uhura fell into step beside him.


“Tired this morning, Capitan?” she asked, looking at the cups he was holding curiously. The scent of strong coffee pervaded the air between them. “Or,” she continued, a teasing lilt to the word and a sly look in her eyes as she slid them up to meet his, “have you upset Mr. Spock, by chance, and this is your way of trying to get back into his good graces? Because, if that’s the case, I have to say, I don’t think synthesized coffee is going to do it.”


Jim laughed shortly, shaking his head. “Oh, trust me, I’m aware,” he replied, a wide grin on his face. “No, no, this isn’t a sad attempt to appease Mr. Spock; you were right the first time Lieutenant. These are both for me.” He blew on one of the cups and took a small sip, wincing as the coffee, still much too hot, burned his tongue, then continued, nonchalant, if a bit disgruntled as he lowered the cup, “Didn’t sleep well last night is all.”


“Ah,” Uhura nodded, understanding seeming to come over her at that, “well, that’s certainly expected after yesterday. It must have been odd giving up your body to Sargon. I’m sure I would have had trouble re-adjusting afterwards myself. Not so sure about Mr. Spock, but Dr. Mulhall’s likely feeling the same.” Uhura smiled, kindly, at Jim, placing a reassuring hand on his arm, the light brush of her fingers almost lost to the fabric of his shirt.


Unbidden, Jim froze, then, her assumption pulling him up short. He honestly hadn’t spared the previous day’s events much thought after everything had been wrapped up and his report had been made. He certainly hadn’t thought that it had caused him any excessive amounts of distress, at least none beyond what was typical, none that might disrupt his sleep.


Yet, for some reason, Uhura’s mention of it had brought back flashes of the tail end of it, when he and Sargon had been sharing his body, Jim nothing more than a passenger, really – no control and the feeling of lips pressed against his own, fingers against his skin, in his hair.


Jim could feel himself sweating as he blinked, giving a startled shake of his head, trying to pull himself out of the moment.


It hadn’t bothered him when it’d happened, he remined himself. He’d allowed it, practically… practically asked for it, even, when he’d asked Sargon if there was anything he and his crew could do to help him.


He’d found that final moment between Sargon and his wife just as sweet as the rest of his crew on the bridge.


He had – he knew he had – and yet…


And yet, there was not denying that the memory of it made him feel like ice had been dropped into his stomach.


He wanted to rub at his mouth.


When Jim had stopped moving, Uhura had stopped with him and the longer he stood there, the more her concern seemed to deepen, her eyebrows furrowing and her hand on his arm giving a comforting squeeze.


It was that touch that managed to pull Jim from his reverie, practically making him jump with how much it surprised him. In that instant, he wanted nothing more than to pull away, to establish a good bubble of space between himself and Uhura, to alleviate himself of the drawn, antsy feeling that had crawled under his skin, whispering frantically that he was being constrained, that he needed to run.


Despite the strength of his reaction, Jim didn’t act on it. Instead, he forced himself to relax, to untense, to let it go and let it happen.


He didn’t want Uhura to figure out just how unsettled he’d become.


As it was, Uhura was still watching him like he’d turned into a small, frightened animal. Her voice gentle and a bit tentative, she said, “Hopefully whatever strangeness that situation left you with passes quickly.”


In the face of her worry, Jim pasted an easy smile onto his lips. “Yes,” he said, aiming for cheerful, “thank you, Lieutenant Uhura. I appreciate it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what had been keeping me up last night, but you’re probably right and I’m just a bit out of sorts after yesterday’s chaos. I should be fine, though, just need to get this coffee in me and I’ll be good as new.” He pointedly took another sip from one of his dangerously hot cups, getting burned again, but wincing more openly this time, playing it up just enough to make Uhura laugh.


Her hand slipped from his arm.


He couldn’t help but note that he still felt… unwell.


“Be careful,” Uhura said. “I don’t think either of us wants to have to sic Dr. McCoy on you because you couldn’t wait an few extra minutes to get caffeinated.”


“Can’t say it’d be the first time,” Jim replied, keeping his tone light, then, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “though I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse, actually.”


Uhura laughed, again, and he smiled at her fondly, glad, despite his weird mood, to see her concern replaced by that usual sparkle in her eyes.


Put at ease, she didn’t seem to notice when his smile slipped as they continued on their way to the bridge.


Jim’s skin was tingling where Uhura had been holding him and the only thing stopping him from scratching at it was the fact that his hands were currently occupied.


He took another sip of his coffee, a larger one, just for something to do. It burned his tongue, again, and the roof of his mouth, slightly stinging his throat on its way down. And, for some reason, that actually did manage to calm the anxious feeling that had crawled beneath his skin, just the slightest bit.


Hesitantly – with the strangest, childlike sensation that he was doing something he shouldn’t be doing – Jim took another drink and this time, as his nerves were soothed, he savored the burn.


The rest of the morning passed by relatively uneventfully, save the caffeine high that Jim had willingly subjected himself to. There were no distress signals, no incoming transmissions, and no assignments to read up on since the Enterprise was currently enroute to a Starfleet base for some routine maintenance. With their plotted course, they’d be arriving at the nearest base by the next afternoon.


With little to do, Jim periodically rose from his chair to pace the bridge, pausing at his crewmates’ workstations to peer at what they were doing and strike up conversation. By his fifth circuit, everyone was looking rather amused. His crash came around lunchtime and by the time evening rolled around all he wanted was to lay face-down on his bed.


He managed to force himself into some after-hours socialization in the rec room, sharing a drink with Scotty and Bones, the latter of whom was watching him more closely than Jim was comfortable with. When Jim pushed away from the table and said he’d be turning in early, Bones narrowed his eyes with downright aggressive suspicion.


“You feeling alright, Jim?” Bones asked, looking more than ready to jump on any reason to drag him down to the med bay. Jim figured it had a lot to do with the Sargon incident and especially the whole ‘Jim’s body dying for a little bit there’ part of it.


Jim smiled at Bones, deciding a hasty retreat would be best. “Oh, yes, just little tired out, that’s all,” He said, folding his hands behind his back and beginning to inch away.


“Fatigued, would you say?”


“Well, now, fatigued is kind of a strong word, isn’t it, Bones? I don’t think we need to go around applying words like fatigued to how I’m feeling. Afterall, there’s nothing wrong with a man deciding he wants to go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Right, Scotty?” Jim asked, turning rather abruptly to the man in question.


Scotty, clearly having not expected to be dragged into the discussion, slowly lowered his drink, glancing between Bones’s glare and Jim’s sanguine smile. “Ah,” he started, then cleared his throat. “No, no I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that, Captain.” He very pointedly did not look in Bones’s direction.


At that, Jim clapped his hands together with a, “Fantastic! Thank you, Scotty. Now, Bones, if you would excuse me, I believe I have a date with my bed.”


Bones, surprisingly, did not end up chasing him down in the hallway, but Jim didn’t fully relax until he’d gotten to the safety of his room.


He threw himself down onto his bed, telling himself, one second, that he’d rest for just a moment and then get up to properly get ready for bed.


It was the last thought he had before he was gasping awake, just like the night before, with tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.


He immediately pushed himself up to sit, rubbing at his eyes and squinting against the lights of his room, having never bothered to turn them down or off before passing out.


A glance at his clock showed that it was later in the morning than the last time, definitely too late to bother with trying to sleep, but still earlier than he would have liked.


The dream, on the other hand, was exactly the same as before, though this time around Jim mostly just felt confused and frustrated in its aftermath. He couldn’t keep waking up from… from nightmares.


Did a dream of crying even really count as a nightmare?


Jim shook his head, putting that train of thought aside as unimportant. No, what really mattered was the fact that if this continued it would start to be a problem, at the very least because he was losing sleep. At some point that would start to have an effect on his functionality.


He rose from his bed, turning off his alarm for the morning and heading for his bathroom, debating the hazards of asking Bones for sleeping pills if the problem persisted.


By the time he was pulling on one of his green v-necks, Jim had settled on a compromise, deciding that if these bouts of sleep-crying continued he’d make sure to go to Bones for a professional opinion before the lack of sleep began hindering his ability to think clearly. If the problem petered out on its own, on the other hand, he’d simply count his blessings and take that as a sign that everything was alright.


The decision was partially self-serving avoidance, with Jim fervently hoping the matter would resolve itself and no one would ever have to know about it but him, and partially Jim not wanting to risk causing any kind of disruption while they were at a Starfleet base for business, however informal that business was.


Scotty had already been in a bit of a tizzy about strangers being allowed to fiddle around in his engineering room, stressing to Jim that he wasn’t sure how he’d manage to keep his eyes on everything, but he’d damn well try. The last thing Jim wanted was his CMO to be up in arms too.


Besides, a couple days with a few hours of lost sleep wasn’t exactly a code red emergency.


Satisfied, Jim nodded to himself, flattening his hands over his shirt to make sure it was laying right and, with a last glance in his mirror to ensure that he looked presentable, he left his room, heading for the dining area.