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Where men can't walk

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Where men can't walk

Jim looked up from the PADD he was reading to check the oven timer, his long hair falling into his eyes. He needed a haircut. He set his reading down and rose to his feet to see if his dinner was done. If anyone had told him that he would be relaxing in a house in the middle of the fucking desert baking casseroles even a year ago, he would have laughed in their face.

It wasn't lame to have discovered that casseroles reheated well and could be stretched over several days. It was efficient. Cleared up time for other things. Never mind he was ahead on all of his class work and the house was in good order. Jim still didn't know how his Dad knew about these things. He leaves the kitchen messy for a few days, and suddenly during their bi-weekly talk he gets told to clean the kitchen. John told him that it was parental instinct, knowing when the kids weren't doing what they were supposed to. John had laughed at the end of that talk and had told him about a few similar events from his childhood. Jim had thought he was mental. Mom had been gone so often, she never knew what was going on; Frank couldn't have cared less, he would have happily left Jim on Tarsus if it wouldn't have gotten him kicked out of his mother's house. Only since Chris had taken him in did he feel like he had a parent who really cared.

It was all ancient history now, thanks to Chris. Jim eased the casserole out of the oven and set it on the counter, closing the oven door with his hip. He had class tomorrow, even if it was done as a vid conference, and he needed to make sure he was prepared. Jim had long gotten used to the odd invention that he and Dad had put together to keep his wings as flat as possible while hiding them, but he didn't want to be rushing to get into it right before the class was scheduled to begin. He had considered going to school in Mojave, but he thought it would be too risky. Dad had left it up to him, but Jim could tell that he had been concerned as well. The Yorktown was scheduled to go on a three year mission in four months, he would socialize then. Cutting a piece from the casserole, he balanced the loaded plate on one hand as he picked his PADD back up and sashayed through the kitchen door, falling into the first chair he came across. Just as he was taking his first bite of cheese and pasta, the computer console dinged, signaling an incoming call. Jim didn't move, and stuffed another forkful of tuna casserole into his mouth. After several more dings, the console alerted that the call was connected, and Jim grinned.

"Couldn't get up and answer the thing before it auto-answered, could you?" Chris's voice came through, and Jim chuckled.

"Of course not, you wouldn't know what to do if I actually put in the effort," Jim said, the sound garbled through a bite of dinner, and a groan came from the console.

"I was about to ask you to activate the video feed, but I could do without watching a teenager shovel food into his mouth." Jim could tell by his tone that Chris's eyebrows were crawling up his forehead, and he leaned over and hit the button to turn on the video. Jim was right. "Thank you. I think. Jim, that's disgusting. Close your mouth while you chew."

Jim left his mouth open for a moment, earning an extended look from Chris, before shutting it and swallowing. "Hi Dad! How was your day? We talked yesterday, yeah? I wasn't expecting you to call again this soon." Jim's voice was pure sunshine, and Chris sighed, leaning back in his chair. Jim noted the sigh, the grin falling off his face. "What's going on?"

Chris gave Jim a half-smile. "Starfleet has issued extra orders, Jim. I won't be back for another month. I have to go to Andoria for a few weeks after the current mission is wrapped up." Chris looked apologetic, and Jim bit back a snarky retort. He wasn't a kid anymore, he could deal with it. His opinion on the matter must have shown on his face, though, because Chris's expression turned into concern. "Jim, I know. I didn't want to be gone any longer either. Are you having any problems? I can authorize more credits for you if you need them."

Jim shook his head. "No, I've got plenty to pay for food and stuff. I guess I just miss having you around, old man." Jim smirked at Chris, who rolled his eyes.

"Why don't you go into town more, Jim? It'll get you out of the house, and maybe you can meet some people. It'll be good for you." Jim's expression soured as Chris spoke, and he took another bite of his dinner. Jim was chewing angrily when Chris started again. "It's not healthy to isolate yourself so much, Jim."

"We'll be back on the Yorktown in a few months, and I talk to you and John a lot. I have classes too; it's not just me in those. I'm fine, Dad." Jim continued eating, and for a long moment there was silence from the other end of the line.

"Have you been talking to your mother?" Chris's head was cocked slightly to the side when Jim looked up, and Jim gave a short nod.

"Yeah, usual schedule. Same old shit, nothing new." At Chris's sharp look, Jim's voice dropped to a mumble. "Sorry. She's goin' back up soon, on the...Wellington, I think. She'll be gone for two years."

Chris nodded. "I spent six months on the Wellington when I was finishing command training. It's a good ship."

"Yeah, I'm sure. At least we'll have something to talk about," Jim muttered, as he pushed the last few bites of the casserole around his plate.

"Jim." Jim continued staring at his plate. "Jim, look at me."

Jim's head remained down. "What?" His response was flat, and he heard Chris sigh.

"Jim, I know it isn't always easy to talk to her. But I wouldn't push it if I didn't think it was important." Jim looked up at that, his eyes meeting Chris's over the vid screen. When his dad gave him a sad smile, Jim relaxed his expression. "I don't doubt that she loves you, Jim; I just think she doesn't know how to connect with you."

Jim returned Chris's sad look, shaking his head. "She never has." Jim's eyes focused on the gray appearing at Chris's temples. It hadn't been there two years ago, and he had once thought in a moment of guilt after a pointless argument that every one of those light hairs was his fault.

"Jimmy, stop staring at my hair. I feel like I'm going to wake up completely gray when you do that." Chris ran a hand through his hair, the barely contained curls fluffing a bit as he did so. Jim pouted, an over the top pursing of the lips that made Chris bite back a laugh. "What in the world is that for?"

"Nuthin'." Jim held the pout for a moment longer, until his mouth felt like it was going to cramp from the pose; Chris was smiling serenely on the screen, and Jim let his mouth relax with a snort.

"The men of my family gray early along the temples, Jim; I've told you this before." Chris paused, and rolled his eyes. "That was a very skilled reroute of the conversation, by the way." Chris steepled his hands, the long fingers elegant as he rested his chin against his index fingers. "Do you have any plans besides class tomorrow?"

Jim stabbed the last few noodles off his plate and stuffed them into his mouth, letting himself think for a moment. "Nothing special. Maybe practice some music, go flying for a bit...I don't know. I'll figure it out after school is over," Jim said through his chewing, earning one final look of disgust from his father.

Chris angled his head. "Sounds good. Make sure you have the proximity alarm alerter with you if you go out." It was the same warning as always. Jim nodded.

"Yes sir."

Chris lightly smacked his palms on the table where his console sat, and gave Jim a smile. "Alright Jim, I've got to go do 'captainy things' now, as you like to put it. I'll call you at the usual time. Call me or John if you have any problems, don't blow up the kitchen again-"

"It was only the one time!" Jim whined.

"-and try not to break anything with your wings. I've already had to pack up most of my fragile belongings," Chris said, his smile turning into a wry smirk that Jim bristled at.

"It was only...a few times! Yeesh. And you tell me this every time, Dad." Jim said, scratching at his ear.

"I think John referred to it as 'fatherly duties' yes? I'd prefer not to get a communication from the Mojave police informing me that you've managed to recreate the aftermath of the Eugenics Wars at my yourself." Chris said, his smirk deepening further.

"That would take more effort then I'd ever be willing to expend, Dad. You know this." Jim made a tut-tut sound, and shook his head. Chris snorted.

"Alright, you reprobate, I really need to go. Talk to you later, kiddo." Chris rose to his feet and stepped away from the console, and Jim waved.

"Bye Dad; don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Jim grinned; Chris rolled his eyes.

"I don't think I'll have a problem with that." Chris gave a short wave, and then the line disconnected.

Jim sat back in his chair for a moment, his eyes closed. "Well, shit." He mumbled, exhaling through loose lips. He shook his head, causing the blond strands to flutter around and tickle his cheeks. He really needed a haircut. Rising to his feet, he picked up his dishes and headed back into the kitchen; he quickly piled all the dirty dishes in the sink, filled the pot with water, and left. He would wash them later.

Jim headed to the front door, grabbing a small handset on the way. He scanned the handset and a small screen recessed into the wall next to the door. No alerts from the proximity sensors, and nothing on the exterior cameras. Stuffing the alerter in his pocket, Jim threw open the door and stepped out; the rapidly cooling early evening air bit into his skin, and he curled his wings around his front like an feathered cloak. Hitting the lock on the door, he walked away from the house, the sand and loose gravel crunching under his feet as he turned towards the deeper recesses of the canyon. The Bristol Mountains were one of the most isolated places in California, Chris had told him, and Jim agreed. The house had been custom-built, hidden in a canyon; the area was so remote that water had to be sent in by delivery due to the complete lack of groundwater and springs. The land had been in the Pike family for centuries, used only for camping trips until Chris decided to do something with it. Chris thought that the Mojave was the most amazing place in the world; that had been clear to Jim from that very first trip only a few months after he moved in. It was equally clear that the jury was still out for John, however, who had grumbled about the crazy temperature fluctuations and the endless sand and dirt, but even he couldn't deny one very important thing about the place.

Jim unfurled his wings from his shoulders, executing a slow flap that caused the dust to stir around his feet, but did not move him in the slightest. The winds were good, as they usually were; the Santa Anas and the trade winds had kept the wind farms in business here in the desert for hundreds of years, that same power made his job easier. Jim flapped his wings again, more forcefully this time; he continued flapping them as he took off at a run, the red-gray dirt trailing behind in his wake. He had discovered very quickly that the hardest part was taking off, and he had broken several bones in the past to prove it.

The air rushed past his face, and Jim stretched his wings out to their fullest extent, the white-gold feathers catching the light from above in a display that would have been blinding had there been anything observing him; with a great sweep of his wings he leapt into the air, the large feathers catching the wind. He was aloft immediately, and Jim soared to the upper heights of the mountain within minutes, watching other birds move out of his way as he climbed in altitude. The Bristol range was actually rather short, less than fifteen-hundred meters at its zenith, and as he crested the peaks, the sky exploded into existence; the upper-level winds beating at his control as he searched for a stable air current. Jim glided around, allowing the wind to move him. He would never get enough of this, this feeling of complete weightlessness as he circled the moonscape of his little portion of the Mojave. Feeling the air calm somewhat, he maneuvered his body into a near standing position and faced the west.

There was a line from an old song that had always came to Jim's mind here, "Looks like a painting, that blue skyline," and as Jim stared at the magnificent show that was a Mojave sunset, streaks of brilliant orange and yellow arcing in a massive zigzag pattern that looked as if a painter had composed it with violent strokes across the darkening sky, better than anything he had ever seen in Iowa, Jim agreed with every statement his dad had ever said about the desert. He could stay up here forever, gliding on the currents and watching the fire-lit sky dissolve into night. Even John had admitted that it was spectacular, and he and Chris had gotten their crowning view from a shuttle, not free-floating. Jim's face suddenly lit up in a brilliant smile. He wanted to take Chris up here, to show him his beloved view the way he saw it. It was impossible right now, for all of his bodily adaptations to allow for sustained flight, none of them allowed for a teen-aged boy to pick up and ascend with a grown man who had ten centimeters and twenty kilos on him. He could glide gently down with Chris, if it ever was needed, but no flying him straight up yet. Jim ran a hand through his hair, a feeble attempt to control it failing miserably in the face of the winds that surrounded him. Someday.

Jim was so focused on the sky, now faded to dark blues and purples that obscured the view of the land below that he did not hear the buzzing coming from his pocket at first; nothing would break the spell for him. But the noise was persistent, and Jim dropped fifty meters in his distraction before he wrestled it out of his pants. The furthest sensor had been triggered, the one at the turnoff to the only road to the house; Jim pitched his back backwards at an angle that would look painful to most people and took towards the canyon with frightening speed. Jim made an irritated noise at the back of his throat, the sound lost to the rushing wind as he plummeted towards the ground. He had forgotten all about the water delivery; he needed to get back to the house and get his public outfit on before they got there.

The sides of the mountain flew past, and about a hundred meters before the canyon floor he pulled up; slowing his descent as he allowed himself to side-slip back and forth, before angling into a wide spiral. Landing with a pained grunt, he ran down to the house and rushed in, running to his room and forcing his wings into the apparatus that flattened them out as much as possible. Wincing as he tightened the straps, he put on the first regular shirt he found, and made sure the ends of his wings were tucked into his jeans. Jim really hoped it was the two men today. When the two women came, they treated him nicely enough to his face, but when they thought he couldn't hear, one of them would mutter how it was such a shame that such a pretty face was being wasted on that 'misshapen' body. The first time he had heard that, albeit in a much more vulgar form, years ago from a craggy-faced Lieutenant on the Yorktown, he had almost ripped off his disguise in anger, and he didn't want to think about the evening after. Luckily, Number One had also overheard the remark, and the tongue lashing the officer received was so severe that he had requested a transfer within a month. Amazing what a month of Gamma shift will do to a man, Jim remembered hearing Number One say to Chris. Jim learned to never mess with the lady that day, but he hadn't considered doing so anyway; she was too cool for that. It had taken him awhile to realize that the entire ship had gotten the hint at the same time; he never heard a remark of that severity ever again on board his dad's ship. His control had gotten better since then; it had to, or the shit would have hit the fan years ago, but it still hurt.

Jim was distracted from his thoughts by the doorbell, and with a final glance and twirl in the mirror, he headed down to answer it. It was the two men today. Jim smiled, answered their polite inquiries about Chris (Jim had figured out early that having been the youngest ever Captain in Starfleet, even if he wasn't the youngest anymore, carried a decent amount of notoriety) and watched them as they filled the water tank. His wings ached under his clothes, they always did if he had to bind them so swiftly after a flight; Jim struggled to keep a pleasant look on his face while the men worked.

After the deliverymen left, he headed back inside and went to his bedroom, flinging off his shirt and fighting out of the harness as he fell onto his bed. His wings freed, Jim kicked off his shoes and pants and closed his eyes, sighing in relief as the pain waned.

"I gotta do the dishes." Jim mumbled into his pillow, but the siren song of sleep was too hard to resist, and he was asleep within minutes.

Jim found that it was a good thing that he was in distance schooling. At most traditional schools, he would have been expected to have the same or a similar curriculum to everyone else, which would have bored him to death. Through this distance program, however, he had been allowed to test into university-level courses early, and he had excelled at them, much to Chris's delight. Jim smiled as he remembered when the placement results had come back. Chris had ruffled his hair and given him a thoughtful look; when Jim had asked him what the look was for; Chris had answered with "You make it hard for me to call you a bird-brain, Jimmy. How am I supposed to find another completely clichéd thing to call you?"

Not that it ever stopped him.

The professor was lecturing about something called Clovis points, and Jim was wondering why he would ever need to know this stuff when the professor called out, jarring him from his musing.

"Mr. Pike, can you inform the class where the first examples of the Clovis point form were discovered?" The professor said, managing to give Jim a sharp look even over a group vid conference.

Busted. Jim blinked, staring into a spot above the monitor for a moment. He had just read this, what was it again-

"Mr. Pike?"

Clovis. Clovis was the name of some Merovingian Kings. Wait, that was Clo-vee, not Clo-vis. Clovis, Clovis- wait. "New Mexico, sir." The professor arched an eyebrow, but nodded.

"That's correct, Mr. Pike. Now, it was quickly uncovered that the range of the discoveries reached far beyond New Mexico-" The professor said, immediately launching into the next part of the lecture. Jim shifted in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position. This was going to be a long day.

Hours later, he bid farewell to his Physics instructor and ended the transmission, bringing his arms over his head and stretched, his spine making popping noises as he did so. Time to go free-range. Jim rose to his feet, and had gotten his shirt almost over his head when he heard the distinctive ding of an incoming call. Jim quickly reversed his motions and yanked the shirt back down, and stared at the incoming ID. After another pull on the bottom hem of his shirt, and a collar check along the back of his neck, Jim hit the answer button.

"Took you long enough, Jim."

Jim snorted. "You know, John, Dad said almost the same exact thing yesterday. Are you sure you two aren't married yet?" Jim said, giving the older man a smirk.

"No, that just means that you take too long to pick up the call, you lazy brat." John chuckled. "How are you doing, Jimmy? Kitchen still intact?"

Jim growled at the screen, causing John to laugh. "That was one time! Shit, you guys are never gonna let me forget that, are you?"

John pursed his lips, the furrows on the sides of his mouth deepening as he tipped his head minutely from side to side. "Hmmmmmm- no. Definitely not." John tapped his index finger against his lips. "I'll be sure to bring it up at the best of times, maybe at your wedding or at some other socially significant event."

"Has anyone ever told you that you can be a real jackass, John?" Jim said, his face set into a pout.

John grinned, the light wrinkles around his eyes crinkling. "Oh, frequently. I'm pretty sure that even T'Pol called me that once, although I've never mastered Vulcan swearing."

Jim's eyebrows went up. "Really?"

John hummed, and shook his head. "Who knows. I'm pretty sure that Vulcans have four-hundred different words for 'illogical,' though. It was probably one of those." John leaned over out of view, and Jim chuckled as a snuffling dog was brought up into view.

"Hi Porthos," Jim said, laughing as the beagle wiggled out of John's arms and licked the monitor. John immediately pulled the dog back with a grimace, and Porthos disappeared out of view.

"That's disgusting, Porthos. I'm sure Jim wanted to see your drool, you crazy dog." John grabbed a tissue and wiped at the screen. Jim used his distraction to scratch under the back of his shirt, his fingers digging into the thin flesh underneath his feathers. He really wanted to take the harness off, but John couldn't know. Chris had never set boundaries over it, but they had managed to make it over five years with no one else finding out, so Jim was determined to keep it that way. Chris pretended it wouldn't be an issue, but Jim was worried for his position. Chris had given up what seemed like everything for him, and Jim was sure that Starfleet wouldn't take one of their most illustrious captains hiding what they were pretty sure was the only Homo Sapiens Superior in existence lightly, and John would be obligated to report it if he found out. Jim was certain of it. Talk about a misleading label. He didn't think he was any better than anyone else. He had been forced to learn how to sew because of it!

"How lame is that?" Jim mumbled under his breath, and John made a confused sound.

"Say again?" John said, body leaning at an odd angle. Jim jumped in his seat, yanking his scratching hand back into his lap.

Jim shook his head. "Sorry, just zoned out." Jim's left index finger felt weird, and he looked down to see a gold barb from one of his feathers caught under the fingernail; with a quick pinch, he had extricated it and flicked it to the floor.

"Hey, Jimmy, you all right? You seem distracted," John said, his smile changing to a look of concern. Jim cursed mentally, and waved his right hand loosely.

"I'm fine, John. Just tired. You called right after school had finished." Jim gave John a tired smile, and John nodded.

"Sorry about that, kiddo, I forgot all about that." A voice came through from what sounded like far away; John held up a finger, and leaned out of frame. Jim heard him call to Ms. Nakashima, his secretary, in response. Jim checked his hands for barbs during the pause. That had been sloppy. John reappeared, scratching at his forehead. "Sorry again, Jimmy. Say, have you talked with that dad of yours in the last few days?"

Jim made a short humming noise, and gave a quick nod. "Yeah, I talked to him yesterday. I suppose that's the reason for the sudden call?" Jim said, letting his lip curl slightly.

John chuckled, then huffed. "Not the only reason, but it was definitely a major reason. Everything going okay out there in Death Valley? I still think Chris is crazy building a house in the middle of nowhere out there, but well, no accounting for taste." John said, as he took a sip out of a coffee cup.

Jim laughed, and jumped to Chris's aid. "Well, I think Dad referred to you as the coddled New York boy; there isn't even any deserts up in the Northeast, is there? You just don't know how to appreciate the wide-open expanses of the Mojave." Jim nodded slowly, a serious look on his face. John barked out a laugh, and took another drink out of his mug.

"It's too late for you, I see. That creature you call your dad with sand in his brain is a horrible influence, and I should have rescued you before he had a chance to lure you out there," John said, and tilted his head back to down the rest of his drink.

"I don't think water polo is my thing, John," Jim countered. John snorted in response.

"You definitely aren't a fan of water. I've never been able to get you into a pool, even when you guys were up here in San Francisco. You can leave your shirt on, Jimmy. No one will care; you'll be too busy amazing them with clever repartee."

"Are we talking about the same person?" Jim looked amused, and John sighed.

"Don't you start getting all damned insecure on me, Jimmy. I don't think my old heart can take it." John paused. "Practiced any new songs lately?"

Jim thought for a moment, and John got up and walked out of view with his coffee cup. When he sat back down, Jim spoke. "Just messing around, mostly. I've even tried some of the stuff by that guy you keep mentioning, even if I don't think I sound like him." Jim waved a hand, and John chuckled.

"You sound uncannily like him when you sing, at least right now. Your voice may roughen up a bit when you get a bit older, but for now, don't bother denying it. All you are missing is the quirky accent he seemed to sometimes have." John smiled at Jim, and Jim returned a pout.

"But most of his stuff is so lame! If he didn't have a thing for singing about being high a lot, I think he would be the most boring singer ever," Jim said, picking at a piece of lint on his shirt.

John shook his head, and gave a soft smile. "Your opinion will change when you get older. I guarantee it." Jim shot him a sceptical look, and John met his eyes. "I really think so. I wasn't a fan of that kind of music when I was young, but I have a soft spot for it now. There is something special about a smooth voice singing about simple things, Jimmy." John saluted Jim with his mug, as Jim sat back in his chair.

"Yeah, I guess," Jim mumbled, and John laughed.

"That's teenager for "you're full of shit, old man." Don't think I don't know it." John grinned over his mug. "I was a teenager once upon a time myself, you know."

"What, a century ago?" Jim said, his lips forming into a little smile.

"That's more like it, you tow-headed brat. You seem subdued today; I was beginning to wonder if I needed to alert the bomb squad to protect the poor defenseless mountain you happen to live on." John finished his new cup of coffee in an extended swallow, and Jim grimaced.

"How much of that have you had? It's already past sixteen-hundred."

"Trying to regulate my caffeine intake? Don't bother, Jimmy; even Tory can't stop me, though she's tried more than once." John looked into his cup, and Jim laughed.

"Admiral Archer, the caffeine addict! Don't let him out of Starfleet Command without a bag of coffee beans-" Jim sing-songed and John pretended to throw the cup at the screen. "Careful, you might need that."

John set the coffee cup down and looked at the screen, his expression soft. "Jimmy, I need to get going in a minute, but I want you to promise me something, alright? If you need any help or anything, let me know. You can even come up and stay with me if you want; you spending months all by yourself isn't probably the best thing in the world."

This again. Jim's expression flattened a bit, but he forced himself to keep his voice light. "I'm fine, John, as I told Dad yesterday. I'm not a little kid anymore." Jim watched John's eyes narrow slightly, and Jim sighed. "Really, John. Yeah, it can get a little boring sometimes, but I don't feel like dealing with people that much. I like exploring around here, anyway; always lots of things to do." Jim paused, and smiled, but John's expression was still worried. "Did I tell you I went over to the Amboy Crater? It's really cool, even though it's mostly black because of the lava, there are these big white sections on the crater floor. It's a long walk to get down there, though. I was there for hours," Jim rambled, making motions with his hands. "Not a lot of tourists around here anymore, though. I guess space is more interesting."

John gave a slight smile, and nodded. "You'll have to tell me more about it next time we talk, Jimmy. Sounds interesting." Jim nodded, and John continued. "Have the Mojave authorities had any luck catching those poachers you told me about last time?"

Jim shook his head. "No, it's still in the news. The guys are real idiots, though. What did Dad say-" Jim paused, scratching at his neck. "Oh yeah! We were talking about how they've been shooting San Berdoo Kangaroo Rats for some odd reason along with other animals, but because these assholes are using old-school laser rifles and guns, all they've been doing is blowing the poor things up. What are they using them for, target practice?" Jim said, and John gave a dry laugh.

"Probably. Sounds like just some locals out for some kicks, though. The serious poacher has proper black-market modern phasers, not relics from the Eugenics Wars. Laser weapons burn holes instead of stun, and that brings the value of the animal down. I hope they get caught, but I'm glad that your area really doesn't have any animals that are appealing to the career poacher. Those bastards are far more dangerous," John said, his expression serious, and Jim nodded.

"Yeah, I'll bet. Well, the news loves talking more about dumb shit like what local celebrity is screwing who than worrying about some desert animals; at this rate they'll never get caught," Jim said, his mouth twisted in disgust. John laughed.

"Human nature, Jimmy. Watch old news vids from the last few hundred years, and you'll see that it was the same exact thing," John said, just as Ms. Nakashima's voice announced that his seventeen-hundred was here. John groaned. "Back to work. Well, Jimmy, just remember what I said. Call me if you need anything, okay?"

"Yessir." Jim nodded at John, and he watched the older man's eyes light up with a smile. "Have fun admiralling!" Jim raised a hand in farewell, which was responded in kind from John as the connection was closed. Jim sagged in his seat. Both Chris and John were worrywarts. He was doing just fine; he liked the quiet. Getting to his feet, he tripped over a PADD that had slipped to the floor, and kicked it out of the way with a snarl. He didn't feel like music right now.

As he took to the dry evening sky, the sunset was as beautiful as ever; but if Jim was more interested in trying to tire himself out, he would never admit to it. And if he stayed out far too late, it certainly wasn't because Chris wasn't there to tell him to come back down.

The next week passed quickly for Jim. He spoke with Chris twice more, and John again near the end of the week. He even spoke with his mother once, but it was as awkward a talk as it ever was; Jim had gone out for another long flight after that. Classes went just fine, even if Jim still didn't know what he would ever need half of this stuff for.

The food supply at the house finally reached critical levels about two and a half weeks before Chris was scheduled to be back, and Jim reluctantly got ready for a field trip to Mojave. Tightening his wing harness as far as it would go and ignoring the straining ache of his wing bones, Jim put on a pair of scuffed jeans and an oversized leather jacket, then headed out to the side of the house. He pulled the tarp off a large lump, revealing a slightly dusty motorcycle that looked almost as old as the car he had crashed years ago. Chris had informed him the first time he had been allowed to ride it that if he tried to reenact that stunt, he would be locked in a room and forced to watch old episodes of an old child's vid series called Barney and Friends until he went insane.

Jim had laughed until he had looked up what the show was. Then he realized how sadistic his Dad could be. When he asked him why he had picked that show, Chris's ears and nape had gone a rather amusing shade of burgundy, and he muttered something about a bet with George and Robert going horribly wrong before making a swift exit from the room. Jim never got anything else out of him about it, although he was positive that 'George' was his father. He liked thinking of his father as a prankster; it kept the omnipresent looming shadow of his father the Famous Dead Hero at bay.

Straddling the bike, Jim gave it a few jumps on the starter before the thing came to life, immediately surrounding him with a cloud of fine dust. He took off down the mountain, eyeing the locations of the concealed proximity sensors as he went past. Chris had set them up far beyond the range of his actual property for Jim's sake, even if it wasn't exactly legal, and it was always good to make sure they were operating normally. He reached the turn onto the main road, which had been paved so long ago that the desert winds had turned most of the asphalt to broken gravel. In an outdoorsy mood one day, he had taken some PADDs of study material and flown up to a nice shady niche he had found previously in the mountain that faced the road. Only three vehicles had passed by for the almost ten hours he was up there. Definitely not a high-traffic area, which is why it was ideal for your average bird-boy to hide away from the world. Jim smiled as he looked back up the dirt path to the house, then made sure his appearance was in order before taking off down towards Mojave.

Thirty minutes later found him cruising down the main drag of the strange town. The modern town of Mojave had been created as an early test of terraforming out of an area with a name that sounds as alien now as it did then, leaving the area resembling the farmlands of the Central Valley. It was a jarring transition, and Jim never got used to it. One minute he was speeding along brush-lined roads, the next he was surrounded by green grass and ranch land, making him look like a slob with the desert clinging to him. Chris had told him that the only thing he really missed from Mojave was the ability to keep horses, but his mother still maintained the ranch on the outskirts of the oasis town. Mrs. Pike-Thornton knew Jim was at Chris's house, but Jim had no intention of visiting. The woman was polite enough, but she had taken their cover story and drawn the entirely wrong conclusions. She had taken one look at him and had declared that he looked nothing like Chris, which was completely true; but after hearing their cover story of his mother dropping him off and vanishing, she had argued with Chris about how the woman was taking advantage of him, dumping a crippled child she had with another man on his doorstep and claiming it was his. Which Jim clearly wasn't, and are you trying to ruin your career, Christopher?

Jim wasn't supposed to have heard that discussion. They had visited right before they had left to return to San Francisco back before he had gone on the Yorktown for the first time, and there was a reason they had only stopped by once since. Chris had argued right back, and had taken great exception in her calling Jim 'crippled', much to Jim's relief. It had really driven home his worry over Chris's position, however, and he had sworn to himself that day that he would not get Chris in trouble by being an idiot. He had managed to keep that promise. Mostly.

There were two major grocery stores in town, and Jim chose the one the furthest away from the Pike homestead. Saved on awkward meetings in the middle of the bread aisle. Pulling into the parking lot, he brought the bike to a halt, hit the kickstand, and dismounted. A small girl about three parking spots down was staring at him, but her mother quickly pulled her into their car. Jim closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath, then walked into the store, ignoring everyone else around him. Grabbing a shopping cart, he pushed the hovering contraption over to the produce department and got to work.

After thirty minutes of receiving the usual combination of polite greetings, stares, and even a hostile glare or two as he shopped, he was approached by a teen-aged boy with dark slicked back hair and a nasty sneer on his face. Jim threw several boxes of pasta into the cart just as the boy pushed it to the side. Jim sighed. "What do you want, Falco?" He said, as Falco stopped well into his personal space, sneer twisting into a look of disgust as he gave Jim a once-over.

"Thought I told you that you weren't welcome here, Pike," Falco said, stabbing a finger into Jim's clavicle. Jim gave him a flat look, and held his ground.

"I think I told you last time that your orders mean nothing to me, Falco. You really need new material, man. The whole "you aren't welcome" bit was old in the twentieth century," Jim said, as he reached over the boy's head and grabbed some pasta sauce, putting it into his cart. Falco's face contorted into an ugly expression, and he moved to block Jim from moving further; now so close that their chests were touching. Jim snorted. "You aren't my type, Falco."

"Who the hell would ever want to fuck you, you freak!" Falco gave Jim a hard shove, knocking him into the dry pasta display and sending a collection of packages to the ground. Jim kept his footing, but stayed back.

"What the fuck is your problem! I wasn't bothering you!" Jim growled through clenched teeth, ignoring the protests that had arisen from his back and wings. The taller boy lunged forward and shoved him again, causing the entire shelving unit to wobble ominously. Jim heard a shout from the next aisle over, and closed his eyes in frustration. Ten more minutes and he would have been out of here, but this moron had to cause trouble again.

"What the world is going on here?" A gravel-voiced store clerk Jim didn't recognize appeared at the end of the aisle, and after a quick glance at the mess and the two of them, turned her glare on him. Figures. Falco smirked and stepped away from him as the middle-aged woman walked up to his abandoned cart, looking between him and the overflowing container. "What do you think you are doing, young man? Going to fill this up and ditch it? Think it's funny to make us work, don't you? Well, I'm having none of that! I'm calling the police and having you taken in for causing a public disturbance." The woman spoke at a million kilometers an hour; Jim realized belatedly that he probably looked like an idiot with his mouth hanging open. Falco was trying not to laugh, and Jim shot him a dirty look before turning his attention to the clerk.

"Ma'am, I'm shopping, I only come into town every other month for groceries, that's why the cart is so full-" Jim started, but the woman cut him off.

"Where do you live that you only 'come into town' occasionally? You are only what, seventeen? Don't give me that. I'm not an idiot; I'll not have you speaking to me like one." The clerk's hand was actually hovering near the side of his head, and Jim realized with a bemused horror that she appeared to be thinking of grabbing his ear. The hand moved in; Jim closed his eyes involuntarily. But after a moment of no contact, Jim let them open again, to see a hand wrapped around the woman's wrist.

"You know, Bonnie, if you had actually let Mr. Pike speak, and had noticed that Falco was clearly up to his old tricks again, you wouldn't be sounding like...something right now." Jim looked up to see the face of Mr. Isley, the store owner, and felt the tension that had sprung to life in his shoulders seep away. He glanced over at Falco, who muttered a denial before making himself scarce, and looked back at Bonnie the clerk, whose face had gone a peculiar shade of purple.

"Mr. Isley! This boy is clearly pulling pranks and causing problems! Look at the mess, and his cart! There's no way that is his real shopping!" The woman babbled, and Jim watched Mr. Isley roll his eyes.

"Bonnie, Mr. Pike comes in about every other month to purchase groceries. I charge the bill to his father's account, and I deliver the order. It has been like that for almost eight months now. And almost every time, Falco or one of his cronies tries to start trouble with him, and I have to kick them out of the store. Have you not been here for any of these occasions?" Mr. Isley looked at his employee, who had stopped talking and was so red that Jim was a tiny bit afraid that she was going to stroke on the spot. When the older man winked at him over the clerk's head, he barely held back a smile.

"Pike? As in Captain Pike? That fellow the local news always talks about?" Bonnie was looking at Jim now as if she could drill into him to find out what she wanted, and being incredibly unsubtle about gawking at his 'hump'. Her total obviousness was almost refreshing. Almost. Jim leaned over and began picking up the fallen pasta packages, putting them back on their shelves; Mr. Isley started doing the same.

"How is your father doing, Jim? The blurbs on the local news vids are usually pretty vague, so we don't hear much. Last I heard he was finishing up a diplomatic mission on the Tellerite home world?" Mr. Isley said, and Jim noted with amusement that Bonnie the clerk had stayed to listen to them talk.

Jim nodded. "That's actually all done. He's doing a short trip to Andoria for a bit, then he'll be back. He was delayed longer than he thought he would be." Putting the last bag of pasta back on the shelf, Jim straightened and adjusted his clothes.

"How goes the desert? I still think the Captain was crazy to build a house in the middle of nowhere in the Bristols, but hey, whatever works for him, right?" Mr. Isley said. Jim laughed in response.

"It's good, like always."

Mr. Isley nodded, motioning to Jim's shopping cart. "Good to hear, Jim. Let's get you finished up before anyone else tries to interrupt you." With the owner by his side, Jim finished up his shopping quickly, and picked out the items he wanted to carry back with him from the rest. Mr. Isley took the rest, and promised him it would be at his door by tomorrow afternoon. As they were walking out of the store, Mr. Isley gave Jim a quick clap on the shoulder. "Sorry about Bonnie, Jim. She's only lived in town for about a year now, and she's not exactly the shiniest hull plating on the shuttle, if you get my drift. I'm not fond of her habit of jumping to badly thought-out conclusions, but she does her job. You won't have to deal with her again like that, though; the woman never forgets a face. If you bring the Captain with you next time, you'll probably be helping him peel her off his leg," Mr Isley said quietly, chuckling at the end.

Jim grimaced at the mental image. "That's gross, Mr. Isley. I didn't need that in my head." They reached Jim's motorcycle in the parking lot, only to notice that Falco was resting against a car across from the bike, and Mr. Isley frowned.

"Falco, get out of here before I have you taken in for loitering, and leave Mr. Pike alone. He's never done anything to you," Mr. Isley said, and Falco spit on the ground in reply.

"You just coddle him because of who his Dad is, Isley. You think he's a freak like the rest of us, you just won't admit it." Falco spat one more time in Jim's direction before swaggering off. Mr. Isley shook his head and looked at Jim, a sigh escaping his lips.

"Unless a miracle happens, the only place Falco is ever going to go is the inside of a prison cell. I hope you don't listen to him, Jim. I respect your father very much, but you have shown yourself to be a fine young man. The Captain would have never let you stay there in that house alone if he didn't think so," Mr. Isley said, and Jim gave the man a thin smile. "Well now, have a good trip home, Mr. Pike. Be sure to bring the Captain with you next time!" Jim gave the man a half-wave as he settled on his bike, and with a final nod, set off.

Luckily, Falco appeared to have given up for now, and Jim left town without any more issues. Mr. Isley was nice enough, if a little clingy. According to Chris, he had been a few years behind him in high school, had had a serious hero crush on him after he got accepted into Starfleet Academy, and it had only gone downhill ever since he became Captain of a starship. If it helped him get his shopping done without getting framed for public disturbances, though, Jim didn't care. Parking the bike in its normal spot, Jim went inside, put away the groceries he had brought back with him, and shucked the harness. He had a small bruise at the top of his left wing from earlier.

Stupid people. Jim went up to his bedroom and turned on some music; blasting it so loud that he couldn't hear himself think. He would only be able to do this for another two weeks or so, might as well enjoy it.

A week and a half before Chris's return, Jim was increasingly unable to keep still. He still managed to complete his class work without issue, and kept the house in reasonably clean condition, but if he wasn't doing chores or talking with Chris or John, he was out flying with the raptors. Chris had signed off with him the day before; he wouldn't be able to call again until a few days before he returned, so Jim had a lot of time to kill. The signal on the proximity sensors only reached about thirty-five hundred meters, which had been discovered through careful testing, or, in other words, Chris setting them off trying to get Jim's attention, so he usually topped out with the vultures at around three-thousand meters to play it safe.

The world was a very different place from so high up, Jim had realized the first time he had managed to get himself to get himself over two-thousand meters. The air was thinner and there was less company, as many birds rarely go that high. But most importantly, it was so quiet. Jim closed his eyes and let his body drift on the currents, listening to the distant growls of the vultures and the shrieks of the eagles as his breath evened out.

A freezing gust of wind smashed into Jim, causing him to fall out of the current he was riding and plummet for several heart-stopping seconds until he recovered enough to stabilize himself. He hung in the air gasping, scrubbing at his eyes with both palms. He had fallen asleep. He'd never done that before. Looking blearily at the sky around him, he realized that he had slept the afternoon away; the warmth of the sun was fading fast, and Jim felt the rapidly cooling air biting at his skin. He couldn't stay up here any longer, he wasn't dressed for it. Twisting his body sharply, he flew towards the surface, his eyes scanning the desert floor. It was only when he was about to descend into the mountains below when Jim realized that these weren't his mountains.

"Oh, shit." Flapping his wings furiously, Jim got himself back above the peaks, his head spinning around as he tried to figure out his location. Where the hell was he? There were almost no lights on the ground, so he hadn't drifted over to Barstow and the Ords, these weren't the Cadys, and there was no way he had flown all the way up to Death Valley. He had drifted east, then. The Providence Mountains were a bit higher than the Bristols, and were a much longer range; if he went the wrong way, he could be lost for hours. Jim examined the emerging stars until he oriented himself, then headed west at a fast clip. The remaining sunlight was almost gone, which means it must be at least eighteen-hundred hours-

"Mom. Mom's supposed to call around nineteen-hundred hours. Shit shit shit!" Jim yelled into the wind as he sped up as fast as he could handle, the only thing to his advantage is that the wind direction had shifted, easing his flight. He was high enough to see the lights of Mojave to the north as he flew past, the sight calming him down immensely. Chris would kill him if he ever found out about this. Which is why Jim had no intention of telling him. Turning south, the sight of his mountains made him smile. As soon as he cleared the outer perimeter, he began to descend, the mountain walls rushing by. He slowed himself down enough to keep his ankles from shattering on impact, but he felt his landing in two very sharp spikes of pain that caused him to stumble and crash face-first into the dirt.

"Ow. Fuck, that hurt." Jim moaned as he got to his feet gingerly, brushing the dirt off his front and ignoring the blood that was seeping into his mouth from his nose. He limped the hundred meters or so back to the house, remembering the proximity alarm as he climbed the front steps. With a panicked scramble, he pulled out the alert device and checked the last six hours. When the response was negative, Jim gave a strained chuckle, brushed at his clothing, and entered the house.

After several minutes of washing his face in the bathroom, Jim realized that the noise in the distance wasn't his head throbbing, and he staggered away from the sink and into the family room, where the console was alerting him to an incoming call from a Commander Winona Kirk. He hit the audio-receive button as he used his shirt to dry his face.

"Jimmy? Jimmy, are you there?"

Jim nodded automatically, then smacked his forehead. "Uh, yeah. Hi Mom!" Jim said, pulling tissue out of his nose to see if it had stopped bleeding.

"Where in the world have you been? I tried calling about twenty minutes ago, and got no answer." Winona's voice was more curious than worried, and Jim flopped into the chair by the console.

"Sorry. I was outside, and I lost track of time," Jim said, putting the dirty tissue on the table by the console.

Winona made a 'hmm' noise. "Turn on the vid screen, Jimmy. Let me see you." Jim hesitated, then hit the button. He tried to ignore her immediate gasp. "Good grief! What happened to you, Jimmy? You didn't just lose track of time, did you?" Her eyes scanned his torso, and Jim flinched.

"I got a little lost, that's all," Jim said, scratching at a scratch on his cheek.

Winona pursed her lips and stared for a moment, obviously examining the rest of him. "Just how lost did you get? Las Vegas lost?"

Jim snorted, and waved a hand in denial. "About seventy kilometers. I was able to find my bearings, though. Obviously."

"Jim, they still sometimes do military testing down at Twenty-nine Palms. You can't just be fluttering around without knowing where you are!" Winona exclaimed, her face torn between concern and anger. Jim scowled, poking his finger through a new hole in his pants. "Jimmy, listen to me!"

Jim glared at the screen, trying to keep his voice even. "Is that concern because I might get hurt, or are you afraid I'll get seen?" Winona flinched, but kept her eyes on Jim.

"Jim...Jim. I admit that it's a bit the second one, but it's for your own concern, not mine. I thought you were worried about Chris, yes? I don't know if they are doing ballistics testing anymore in California, but I don't want to hear about you getting shot out of the sky because you weren't paying attention." Winona's eyes softened, and Jim felt the stirrings of anger in his gut calm.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Jim said, and Winona gave a slight smile.

"Oh yes, Jimmy? Being lost does not usually mean that you look like you've been through a bar brawl. Explain," Winona said, and Jim slumped in his seat with a groan.

"I may have landed a little hard," Jim muttered, wincing as he rubbed at a sore spot on his chest.

Winona sighed, putting a hand over her eyes. "I think you try to do too much with those things, Jimmy. People weren't meant to fly under their own power. What if you get really lost? Or if a shuttle hits you? You could fly too high and get altitude sickness, Jim. How high were you flying today?" Jim looked away, and Winona spoke again. "How high were you flying, Jim?"

"Does it really matter? I know how high I can go without problems. My lungs and blood vessels are much bigger than normal, so I have more range than an average person," Jim said, looking back at his mother. Winona's eyes drifted from his, and Jim suddenly felt incredibly tired. "I've been wanting to ask you for awhile, Mom; could I...come and visit sometime? I-I haven't seen you this side of a vid screen since everything happened."

Winona tensed, a muscle in her cheek twitching, but did not look Jim in the eye when she replied. "Jimmy, I...don't think that would be the best idea. There's nothing out here for you. You wouldn't be able to fly, or really do anything."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "I understand the flying, but why wouldn't I be able to do anything?"

"Jimmy, everyone thinks you've been in a boarding school off-planet this whole time. They know nothing about your physical...differences." Winona paused, her expression impossible for Jim to read. "Chris is more than well-known enough around here for someone to make the connection if they see you here, and if a news vid mentions his son Jim Pike. The whole story would collapse within days." Winona met Jim's eyes, but the look on her face made something inside Jim tear a bit, and he dropped his head to his chest, his eyes clenched tightly closed.

Without looking up, Jim opened his mouth and spoke, "If that won't work, could we maybe meet somewhere? I mean, you could even come here for a bit." Jim looked up, his eyes red with unshed tears; guilt flashed across Winona's face, and she looked down at her hands. Jim blinked rapidly and bit his lip, trying to keep from crying. "But that's just it, isn't it? You won't come here. I'm less of a reality if we talk over a comm link like this, right? Seeing me in person would bring it all back into focus for you," Jim finished, and looked defiantly at Winona, who met his gaze after what seemed like a lifetime to him.

"What do you want me to say, Jim? That I still don't know what to think of this whole wing business?" Winona waved her right hand in the air as she spoke, and Jim watched it without meaning to. "That I don't know how Chris can handle all of this so calmly? Jimmy- Jimmy, I love you; but I don't understand what you've become. I don't know if I ever will." Winona's eyes, sad and loving and frightened all at the same time looked into Jim's. Jim took a shaking breath and clenched his fists under the table, his fingernails digging into his palms; silence stretched between them for minutes, but neither of them cried. Jim was unwillingly reminded of their last encounter.

Jim unclenched his fingers, and looked up at his mother. "Thank you for being honest, Mom. I won't ask again." Jim's voice wasn't shaking, but he felt like his stomach was being carved out with a spoon. He swallowed the nauseous feeling that was crawling up his spine as Winona shook her head.

"I don't mean- I'm not saying forever, Jimmy. Just let me have some more time to think about things. Maybe after this mission, all right? That's all I can give you right now, sweetie. I'm sorry."

Jim barely remembered ending the call a minute or so later. He sat in the chair by the console for what felt like forever, torn between throwing up, kicking the shit out of something, and crying like a baby. He chose none of those. He got to his feet and walked out the door of the house, ignoring the twinges in his legs from earlier. The wind had increased ten-fold in intensity, and Jim was aloft as soon as he unfurled his wings. The only light was from the house below, the stars above, and the beautiful full moon, and Jim was grateful for it. The cold air reminded him that he hadn't put on a jacket, but that just made him fly faster. His muscles screamed as he climbed and dove in graceful patterns, the white and gold tones of his wings glowing in the brilliant moonlight. The hiss of a vulture near his head made him jump, and he growled at the bird as he continued his aerobatics. Vultures were everywhere, growling and diving. He didn't hear the voices from below until it was far too late.

"...what are we doing here, Derko? It's fucking freezing out here!"

"Thought you might want to try the game we've got going right now, nephew. Here."

"Holy fuck, Derko! Where did you get this?"

"I have my sources, kid. Let's see what we can do. Nighttime makes it harder, ya see? None of this pansy shooting in the daytime."

"This is a fucking laser rifle! What the hell are we gonna- it's you guys! You and Misar! Yer the ones shooting the animals!"

"Gotta live sometime, kid. Are you gonna man up and try it?"

"Yeah- yeah, sounds fun. But what are we gonna find out here in the Bristols? Wouldn't the Providence Mountains have been better?"

"The vultures like it here, and I haven't bagged one of them yet."

"Vultures? Holy shit, I see what you mean! Wait-"

"What, kid?"

"That's a big fucking vulture. And it's white, too. Maybe it's an al-beeno?"

"You mean albino, you dumb shit. What the hell are you looking at?"

"It's right there, see?"

"Holy- Holy shit is a fucking understatement, kid. That beast is mine!"

Jim stopped circling as he realized what he was hearing, the blood rushing from his face. "Oh fuck."

The vultures suddenly scattered as a bright red light shot into the sky, barely missing Jim's left side; he immediately turned and dove for the cliffs.

"Let me try, Derko!"

"I told you it's mine, you dipshit!"

Jim scanned the cliff sides in a panic, looking for a place to hide. The niches were all on the other side of the mountain, Jim realized in dawning horror. Another shot flew over his right wing, and he backpedaled. The house was just over the ridge; if he could get there, he could hide in the storage tanks until the poachers left. Flapping his wings violently, Jim fled towards the ridge, his heart straining against his chest. He reached the edge of the ridge and looked down, the house was right below him-

The pain shot through Jim's right shoulder and wing like nothing he had ever felt before, and he was halfway to the ground before he managed to open his eyes. The nausea from earlier returned to the surface with a bang, he spat involuntarily. The pain was too much, and tears were gathering in his eyes. He had to slow down. Forcing his injured wing to move, he managed to slow himself enough to aim for a landing spot, and he crashed into the creosote bushes by the side of the house. Moaning in pain, only adrenaline got Jim to his feet and into the house, where he activated the security system and collapsed in the bathroom to hide. The forgotten proximity alerter sat flashing on the counter. The voices from outside were faint through the walls, but Jim could still make them out.

"Where the hell is it? Falco, you fuckhead, I told you not to shoot!"

"It's not my fault, Derko! Yer the one who hit it anyway!"

"There's a house here. Why is there a house here in the middle of fucking nowhere? Shit! Kid, do you see it?"

"There's nothin'."

"Shit! Then we need to go, last thing I need is to be caught carrying; I've already got weapons convictions on my sheet."

"Derk, I think I know whose house this is!"

"I don't give a shit whose house this is, you fucking idiot! We need to leave!"

Jim heard a cry of pain from Falco, followed by the sounds of running; he didn't breathe until he could no longer hear them. Jim lifted his left arm onto the counter, grabbed the edge of the sink, and tried to pull himself up. When his head and shoulders cleared the counter top, he froze. He could see through the wound in his wing, and his shoulder was starting to swell; but strangely, they didn't really hurt. The smell of burning flesh finally registered in Jim's mind, and it was all suddenly too much. His grip on the sink failed, and he sagged to the floor unconscious.

Jim awoke about six hours later, his entire body feeling like he had fallen into a lit fireplace. It took him almost fifteen minutes to get himself into the living room, where the medical kit was stored; he could walk, but any movement of his upper-right side caused the nausea to come back full force. He was going to have a hell of a mess to clean up once he got himself fixed up. Pulling out the kit with his left arm, he opened it and grabbed the first pain-relieving hypospray he got to, stabbing it into his neck, followed by a general antibiotic. As the medicine ran through his system, Jim stared at his options. The kit had a dermal regenerator and dermaline gel. He would have to make it work. Opening the dermaline gel jar with his teeth, he used his left hand to work it into the outside radius of his shoulder burn, sobbing with pain as the gel tried to work. Jim used the dermal regenerator on the more serious parts of the wound, but it was obvious it wasn't going to be enough. It had to be enough, as going to the hospital was out of the question. Jim worked on and off on his injuries, stopping only when the pain threatened to make him pass out. After hours of gel and the regenerator, his wing was no longer see-through, and his shoulder looked somewhat better. He would just have to keep working on it.

The next few days passed quickly, if only because Jim was asleep or unconscious for much of it. He had managed to keep down a little bit of food at the beginning, but by the morning of the fourth day after the attack, he could no longer get anything but water to stay put. He had camped out on the family room floor on the second day, as he was no longer able to get himself up the stairs; he was in the same pants he had been in on the night of the attack. He had been unable to completely close the wound on his shoulder; it had turned into a disgusting mass of blackened dead flesh, which smelled horrible and would not stop weeping. The wound on his wing was in better shape, but it was excruciatingly painful to move, and also appeared to be infected. To make matters worse, the infections had triggered a nasty fever, which made him shake uncontrollably. His sides were beginning to ache ominously, and a short inquiry on the computer had told him that he was in danger of renal failure. He couldn't go on anymore without help.

Jim shivered under a thin blanket and weighed his options. Chris was only a week away, but he would probably be dead before he returned at this rate. John was about an hour away by shuttle. Or he could just call the hospital and deal with the fallout. There was no choice there. John was the easily the better of the two remaining options. Jim just hoped that John could wait until Chris got back before he reported the mess to Starfleet.

Biting back a moan as he pushed himself into a sitting position, Jim sat on the floor gasping in pain for several minutes until he gathered the will to haul himself into the chair by the console. Falling as gently as he could into the seat, he fidgeted until he got himself into a stable position. His body felt like a wet noodle, his legs shaking with the effort of keeping him from falling out of the chair. After taking one last hypospray for the pain, Jim raised a shaking hand to the console, making sure the video was off before placing the call. He tried to get his body to stop shuddering, but the fever was making it harder and harder to achieve.

"Admiral Archer's office. May I help you?"

Taking a deep breath and blinking back tears as it pulled at his shoulder wound, Jim opened his mouth. "Hi, Ms. Nakashima. I-it's Jim Pike. Is-is the Admiral available?"