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In search of experience

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In search of experience

Jim Pike né Kirk barely dodged the fist that would have shattered his nose, bending back as far as he could manage as encumbered by the harness. The momentum sent him to the floor, which, while painful, turned out to be a good thing, as the cops swept in seconds later and dragged the perpetrators out. Jim decided that staying where he was sounded like a intelligent plan, until one of the human cops walked up to him. Wincing against the twinges in his upper wings, Jim grabbed the edge of the table he was under and hauled himself to his feet, expecting to be dragged out with the idiots who had started this. Instead, the bartender intercepted the police officer and informed him that the kid had been a bystander only, and hadn't even thrown a punch before he had been knocked down. Not that he hadn't been thinking about it. The cop left, and Jim let himself slump into a chair. The remaining patrons had already done the same, and the rumble of voices returned to a more normal level as he grabbed a tortilla chip from the half-empty bowl sitting on the table and popped it into his mouth, chewing slowly. The bartender cycled back around to him a few minutes later, setting down a glass filled with what looked suspiciously like Dr Pepper. Damn Texans and their Dr Pepper.

"I must confess, I didn't expect you to be so flexible, kid. On the house." The bartender chuckled as he used his fingertips to slide the drink over Jim, who made a face. "Considering you were involved, at least indirectly, I think it would be best if you were sober at the end of the evening. The police will probably be keeping an eye on the place." Jim grunted, taking hold of the cold glass.

"Thanks." The bartender gave him a friendly smile and raised his arm, and Jim watched with tired amusement as the man took a second glance at his back and gave him a pat on the arm instead.

"Sorry about the trouble," the bartender said, and Jim shook his head in dismissal as the man walked away. He had gone much longer without trouble than he thought he would; he had gone all the way from home through Mexico, and even Peru without a single issue. Figures that it would happen closer to his home soil. Downing the fizzy drink in one shot, he got to his feet and nodded to the bartender in thanks as he made his way from the bar. Last thing he needed was a criminal record. Dad would kill him. Jim stood by his bike for a few minutes, breathing in the cool night air and keeping an eye out for cops before heading back to the motel to crash. The next morning, Jim munched on a bagel from the deli outside the motel, ignoring the cream cheese he was getting on his upper lip, and wondered where he should go next. Like Chris had said, Teotihuacan was fascinating, Machu Picchu had been awe inspiring; but now he wanted to travel around the good ol' US of A. He popped the rest of his bagel into his mouth and chewed as he casually looked out onto the street, his eyes focusing on a middle-aged woman with blond hair walking on the opposite side of the street.

"That's something I haven't done in awhile," Jim muttered, wiping off his mouth with a napkin and rising to his feet. Mom. He hadn't talked to his mother since before he left on his road trip, dedicating any comm time to calling his dad. The motel room had a console for occupant use, and he sat himself in the uncomfortable seat in front of it, inputting the code for Commander Winona Kirk's personal comm address. Jim tilted the chair onto its back legs as he waited for it to connect. After thirty seconds or so, a familiar voice came through from the other end, sounding a bit out of breath.

"Commander Kirk speaking. Hello?" Jim gave a slight smile and leaned forward, causing his chair to return to resting with all four legs with a thud.

"Hi, Mom." Jim heard a sudden intake of breath from the other end, and suppressed a snort.

"Jim? Is that you? I haven't heard from you in awhile! How have you been?" Winona's tone sounded genuinely happy, and Jim relaxed a bit in his chair.

"Who else would call you Mom? Unless you were expecting a call from Sam or something." Jim paused. "Mind if I turn on the video feed?" Winona hummed a negative, and Jim hit the appropriate button. His mother's head and shoulders filled the screen, and he found himself looking her over. Her honey-blonde hair was partially white at the temples, her face was the same as always, with a few fine lines at the corners, and she was dressed in...overalls? Jim looked behind her head and got his answer immediately. That was no starship. "Mom, are you back in Iowa?" Winona brought up a hand and plucked at the left strap of the overalls, a smirk on her face.

"No no, Starfleet decided that these were the chic new style of our uniforms." Jim raised his eyebrows with an amused skeptical look, and Winona snorted. "Yes Jim, I was working outside when you called. Her eyes narrowed as she scanned her son. "Speaking of where the hell are you, where are you? That's not the Mojave house." Jim shook his head.

"I'm on a road trip. I needed a break from college. So what you see behind me is the fine upscale decor of a Texas motel," Jim said with a smile, and Winona's own eyebrows headed north.

"A road trip, huh? I'm surprised Chris let you go." Jim gave her a confused look. and Winona shrugged. "He is rather overprotective of you, Jim," she said blithely, and Jim frowned, propping his elbows on the table in front of him and resting his face in his hands.

"He just likes making sure I'm doing alright, Mom. He had no problem with me going, hell, he even suggested a place to go." Winona raised her hands palms out in an apologetic sort of gesture, and Jim restrained an eyeroll. "When did you get back dirtside?" Winona glanced away for a moment, then returned her eyes towards the screen.

"About two weeks ago. I've just been doing work around the house since I got here, a lot of things needed some maintenance." Jim nodded, and Winona continued. "Where have you gone on this big trip of yours?" Jim grinned, and sat back up in the chair.

"I just got back from doing a circuit of Mexico, with a detour to Machu Picchu. Dad suggested Teotihuacan, which was fantastic. Have you gone?" Winona shook her head, and gave Jim a quick once-over.

"No, never had time. I'm off-planet too much," she said, and smiled. "That explains the tan. Caught some rays down on the beach down there?" Jim gave her a dry look.

"I can't go sunbathing, Mom, you know that." The smile slipped off his mother's face, and Jim sighed silently. That had lasted longer than he thought it would. Time to change the subject. "How long until you go up again?" Winona looked relieved at the redirection, and she straightened in her seat, her expression recovering itself into a soft smile.

"I'll head out in a month." Winona ran a hand through her hair, the strands separating into loose bunches from dirt and oil. "So right around the time I get the house all fixed up again, basically." Winona gave a resigned smirk, and Jim looked at the wall behind her head.

"I'm surprised you haven't sold the place, now that no one is living there," Jim mused, and Winona gave him a strange look. "What?"

"No one ever asked Chris why he hadn't sold his Mojave house while you two were up on the Yorktown, did they?" Winona said her words slowly, an expectant look on her face; Jim blinked at her for a few moments. Winona chuckled, and leaned back in her chair. "You can be a bit dense sometimes, Jim." Jim's eyes widened, and he smacked his palm against his forehead.

"Right, stupid question. Moving on," Jim muttered, and his mom barked out a laugh. "Any other big plans before you go back up?" Winona shook her head.

"Nothing in particular. How about you? Decided where you are going next?" Jim tilted his head in thought, and Winona waited quietly.

"No, not yet, probably head towards New Orleans or something." Winona nodded, and gave a little smile.

"Now I have been there. Mardi Gras, about twenty-five years ago. That was one hell of a party, let me tell you." Jim watched his mom's face flicker in an obviously happy memory, before she blinked and her face dulled. Jim could do the math. "Not the time of year for that, I think; I may be wrong though, it has been a long time." Jim nodded.

"So I've heard. Wine, women, and song, yeah? Sounds like a great party." Jim stretched his arms over his head and smiled naughtily. Winona rolled her eyes as he glanced at the time. "Well, Mom, I probably should let you get back to whatever I took you from. I've got one more call to make before I head out today." Winona nodded, and rose to her feet, but remained bent so her face was still in view.

"Say hi to Chris for me, and take care of yourself, Jim." She smiled, and Jim gave a short wave as the connection was cut. That had gone better than usual. Awkward conversation had been mostly kept at bay, and they had managed to keep it positive. Jim yawned and stretched, wincing when his wing bones strained against the harness. He needed to find a place to go for a flight in peace; probably on the way to New Orleans. Texas had a lot of open spaces, Jim mused as he dialed up the familiar code to Chris's personal comm. As the tanned, friendly face of his dad filled the screen, his laugh lines strong as he gave Jim a brilliant smile, Jim had a sudden stray thought. What if he had been arrested last night?

A hour later found Jim packing the saddlebags of his bike, and thinking about a question Chris had asked. He had conveniently ignored it during their conversation, but now it was all he could think about. Did he really want to visit his mother? The two of them had a relationship that usually suited Jim just fine. They spoke every few months, she usually sent a little something for Christmas (but never his birthday,) and that...was that. He hadn't seen her in the flesh since Chris had taken him from Iowa, and the frightened, disturbed look as she scuttled back into the shadows to get away from him that he last remembered seeing on her face still occasionally flashed through in his dreams. Jim closed up the saddlebags and straddled his bike. It had been almost ten years. A chance like this probably wouldn't come around again for a long time, and he knew it. Sighing, Jim started the bike and hit the kickstand. New Orleans first. He'd think about his mother later.

New Orleans was awesome. Fucking awesome. Jim couldn't get enough of it. He had missed Mardi Gras, but there was still so much to do; he felt his resolve over his...privacy waver a tiny bit as person after person sashayed, teased, and flirted around him, but that didn't stop him from other activities. He rather liked those activities, even if he had to keep his pants on; but two weeks after he got to the famous city, he was actually tiring of partying. Waking up every day with what tasted like death in his mouth and the acidic tang of alcohol in his nose was getting rather old, and he had been sleeping in his harness for the last week, which would be a problem once he took it off. He could already feel the itching spreading, and the usual dull ache of the muscles he wasn't using was slowly transforming into stabbing pain. It was time to go. There was nowhere in the packed city where he could go for a flight undetected, and Jim knew that it could actually be dangerous for him to go much longer without a decent stretch out. Jim rolled out of bed, and staggered into the bathroom to grab a quick shower. As he stood under the spray, harness still in place, he pondered his options. He could continue east and travel through the South- or he could head to Iowa. Where his mother was. Jim leaned forward until his forehead was pressed against the shower wall, the grooves of the tiles uncomfortable, but not enough to distract him from the path his thoughts were taking him. It had been ten years. In that time, Chris had become the father that many kids dreamed of, supporting and caring in all the best ways, stern when he needed to be; without resorting to the screaming and physical threats that had been his life with Frank before. His mother had become an idea more than a reality during that time, an obligation instead of a joy, and that was almost entirely on her shoulders. Did he want to face her alone? Jim sighed, and finished up his shower. No, but he needed to. He wasn't a child anymore, and Chris had far more important things he could be doing than walking him through a visit with his own mother.

Jim took his time heading to Iowa. He could have made Riverside in a day, if he had wanted to, but there was no reason to rush. As he entered the Iowa state limits three days later, however, Jim found himself wishing that he had forced himself to travel overnight, if only to keep moving so he wouldn't flake out. He stopped for the night in the southern portion of Sioux City, and spent the night in a fitful sleep. If he wanted self-discovery out of this adventure, he had a feeling that he was going to get it in spades very soon. The next morning, he choked down a greasy breakfast at a local cafe, and tried to convince himself that this was a good idea as he mounted up and headed into Riverside. His route took him by the shipyards, the metal framework tantalizing out of the corner of his eye as he sped past. He did not slow down. The fields were freshly planted and as boring as they ever were. Jim would take the mottled redgreybrown of the desert any time over this place, with its never ending sameness that made him want to turn right around and flee to the first place that knew what a cactus was. Jim slowed down as the silver siding of the house he had spent most of his first eleven years of life came into view, the building tall and ugly against the surrounding landscape. He was starting to think that maybe he had been adopted, and Chris was the family that had been desperately trying to find him. It was the only way to explain why everyone else in his family seemed fine with the sterile landscape of Riverside. He killed the engine and coasted to a halt in front of the house, staring at the front porch. The smell of the soil, damp from a recent shower, was almost soothing, dredging up long forgotten memories from the time when he got to be a normal child; before she had gotten remarried. It still felt strange, however, considering his affinity to the desert. Jim focused on it as he hit the kickstand and dismounted, trying to allow the scent to distract him from the sudden urge to turn right around and leave. He took a deep breath and walked up to the porch, raising a foot and wincing as the wood creaked under his weight. What the hell was he going to say to her?

"I had a feeling I'd be seeing you." Jim's head shot up at the dry tone, his eyes falling on the figure of his mother, half-obscured in shadow; he tried to get his mouth to move, but he was unable to get anything intelligent to come out.

"Uh?" Winona gave a soft sigh and opened the front door, stepping inside and holding it open behind her.

"Come on in, then. No reason to be standing around outside." Jim climbed the steps and paused at the threshold. Winona's eyes softened, but she said nothing as Jim stared at the door frame like it would tell him the secrets of the universe. Taking another deep breath, he looked at his mother and entered the house. "You planning on staying?" Jim gazed at the stairs, before listing his head to the side in thought.

"I honestly hadn't thought about it. I can get a motel in town, don't worry about it." She was so much smaller than him, Jim realized when she had to look up to speak to him; the last time he had seen her in person, he had only reached her chest. He stood a head taller than her now. Amazing what ten years does to a kid. Winona shook her head and gave a soft snort.

"Nonsense, Jim, you can stay here. If you don't want your old room, you can stay in-" Jim cut her off with a sharp look.

"My old room is fine. Thanks, Mom." Mother and son locked gazes for a moment, before she huffed and gave Jim a slight smile, lines that she didn't have ten years ago crinkling at the edges of her eyes with the effort. They were nothing like the smile lines on his dad's face, the lines that seemed to appear when Jim needed them most. There was no trepidation behind Chris's smiles.

"Well then, why don't you put your bag up there? I assume it's with your bike?" Her tone was light and questioning, and Jim nodded automatically.

"Yeah." Winona waved a hand, and Jim found himself back out by his bike, pulling his duffel out of the left saddlebag. The chill swirling in his stomach had not calmed, and he again fought down the urge to just leave. Snapping the saddlebag closed, Jim gave himself a little shake and walked back into the house. His mom was nowhere to be seen, so he climbed the stairs and opened the door to his old bedroom. It was basically as he left it, from what he could remember. A few ancient PADDs were still sitting on the bookshelf, and he could see his old baseball uniform folded and sitting on another, the leather of the glove dull with dust. A model of a NX-class starship, a broken model of a Daedalus-class ship, the left warp nacelle cracked; he could also see his copy of The Secret Garden, the only actual paper book he had owned up to that point, its cover worn and brittle with age. He had forgotten it in the rush to leave that day. Leaving footprints in the dust on the floor, Jim plucked the book from its spot and thumbed through it absently, before turning around and setting it on the bed. He shrugged his bag off of his shoulder, dropped it next to the book and left the room.

"Have you eaten, Jim?" Her voice trailed up the stairs, and Jim didn't answer as he entered the kitchen, cutting through the dining room and bypassing the front room. He didn't want to think of blood on the walls and his own mother flinching away from him right now, not when he had just arrived.

"I had breakfast in Sioux City." Winona looked up from the refrigerator, pulling out what appeared to be sandwich supplies. She shot the food a meaningful glance before meeting her son's eyes again, and Jim shrugged. "Sure. I think I'm hungry enough for lunch."

"Anything you can't eat?" Jim bit down the urge to say that she should know these things, but she wouldn't. She was barely there even when he was still living at the house, never mind the last ten years.

"What you have out looks great." Jim walked back to the dining room and fell into a chair, wondering if they were going to talk like this the entire time he was there. As lunch stretched into an awkward affair, with short stilted comments the only interaction between mother and son, Jim came to the conclusion that his musing was probably going to be accurate.

Amazing how two people can stay in the same house and eat all their meals together without really saying anything. One day turned into two turned into four; Jim helped out around the house, doing repairs and painting some of the third story rooms that were used primarily for storage. Jim kept his harness on, and Winona didn't bring up his wings. If his mother had noticed that he avoided the front room on the first floor, she hadn't said anything. Of course she wouldn't, Jim thought as he slapped paint on the walls of the storeroom. Why would she admit to something that would just make them both uncomfortable? The boxes that had been crowding the sides had been moved to the center to allow for him to paint, and when he stepped back to survey his work, his foot connected with one of them, spilling the contents on the hardwood floor. An ancient PADD bumped into the side of his foot, and he automatically bent down to pick it up. There was a name scratched loosely into the back of its casing, and Jim traced the letters with his fingers. If his stuff was still in his room, why was Sam's stuff boxed up and in the attic? He didn't think much about his brother anymore, not after years and years of getting no responses to his messages. Sam would be twenty-five soon, if he remembered his birthday correctly. Over ten years had passed he last saw him in the flesh, or even saw his face; after the whole debacle that ended up with him staying with Chris, he had sent a series of text only messages scattered with a few audio ones, receiving replies only for the first eight months or so, and had not received one since. His mother had been dismissive of the topic, Jim now realized as he thought back on the times he's brought him up in conversation; any mention of Sam led to her quickly changing the subject. Jim touched the etched letters of his brother's name one last time before leaning over and righting the box, placing the PADD back inside. Something to talk to his mother about later. Seeing a spot he missed, Jim picked the paintbrush back up and set back to work.

A few hours later, at dinner, Jim remembered to bring Sam up. "Why is Sam's stuff up in the attic?" As soon as he spoke, Winona tensed up almost imperceptibly before returning to her meal. Jim raised an eyebrow, but chose to take another bite of his dinner rather than say anything. Silence fell between them, broken only by the sounds of their silverware clicking against their plates, and Jim felt a thread of suspicion creeping into his mind as his mother continued to avoid looking at him. "When was the last time you spoke with him?" The older woman's hand tightened around her fork, and questions about the situation took shape in his head. "Why aren't you saying anything, mom?" Jim watched his mother take a deep breath, before finally raising her head and meeting his gaze.

"He hasn't been around for a while, and I decided to use his old bedroom as a guest room." Her tone was flat, and Jim smelled the lie a mile away.

"Why didn't you use my room instead? I was the one with the attached bathroom, not Sam. It would've made more sense." His mother's lips thinned as he spoke, and Jim stopped talking to let her speak.

"I didn't use your room because there was a greater chance of you stopping by." Jim leaned back in his chair, thinking about how to respond. Where the hell was Sam, anyway? Considering he hadn't been home in around ten years, Jim knew something was up. After gulping down most of his juice, Jim sent the glass down and angled his body in his chair, facing his mother directly.

"I don't suppose you have an explanation as to why he hasn't answered a single message that I've sent since soon after I left." A statement, not a question, and Jim knew he was pressuring her to respond. The two stared each other down for what felt like an eternity before Winona dropped her silverware to her plate and pushed herself away from the table. Jim didn't move as she got to her feet, but he never broke eye contact with her until her face scrunched and she looked away.

"I didn't want to lose you too," she said, and Jim didn't know what to say as he watched tears gather in her eyes. "At least I can still talk with you, even if I've lost you to Chris now." Jim was struck dumb with both confusion and anger, and he surged to his feet and slammed his hands on the table as he tried to formulate a response, his brain barely registering the sudden flash of fear in the older woman's eyes.

"You didn't lose me to Chris, you left me with him. Or have you conveniently forgotten that part of the story?" He could feel his wings straining against the synthetic skin of his harness, wanting to show his displeasure. It was clear that his mother saw something in his eyes that she didn't like, and Jim could not suppress the snort as she took a few steps away from him. "You still can barely stand to be in the presence of your freak son, I mean, look at you! I get a little irritated and you look like you want to find your phaser." He straightened his back and took a deep breath, but stayed in his position. "Where the hell is Sam?" His voice was like the Santa Ana winds, powerful and dry; Winona froze in place, before choking back a sob that made Jim's skin grow cold.

"I don't know, Jimmy. I haven't heard from him in years. He left home about a year after you did, and I've only received one message since." She clenched her fists, as if she was trying to control the tears that were now making her way down her face. Jim's jaw dropped.

"What the- are you saying he's dead?" He may not have spared much time to think about Sam over the last decade, but he was still his goddamned brother, and if he's been dead all this time and she kept it from him-

"No- no, I'm saying I have no clue where the hell he is. I've done some inquiries, had some people keep an eye out for me, but nothing has turned up." She spoke quickly, clearly trying to get the words out before she thought he would explode. She had a point. Jim forced himself to close his eyes and jaw, taking a series of deep breaths while refraining from saying something he would probably regret. Why hadn't she said anything? Jim opened his eyes slowly, fixing on his mother's pale face.

"Are you saying that he's been missing for almost ten years, and you didn't have the guts to tell me? What the fuck is this? I could have done something!" Jim hissed out the words as the older woman ran a shaking hand through her hair as she tried to collect herself. Jim felt his patience decaying as the moment stretched on.

"What could you have done? You were only twelve when he ran off, Jim! There isn't anything-" Winona was pacing as she spoke, looking not at Jim but at the walls around her; Jim slammed a hand down on the table, causing her to snap her head back in his direction.

"I could have asked Chris for help! Or even John! You know they have contacts and access to resources that you don't-" Jim said, his voice rising in volume as he spoke. He didn't expect Winona to grab a glass off the table and throw it at the wall behind him, her face contorted into an ugly expression he did not recognize.

"I refuse to ask Christopher Pike for anymore goddamned help!" Cold understanding flooded Jim as the older woman screamed, and he took a step back and allowed himself to lean against the table. Looking at her again, he realized that he knew exactly what expression was in her eyes. That was guilt mixed with an inexplicable shot of...jealousy. The guilt was easy to understand, even before everything happened, she had been off planet more than on; he would have described her as a distant parent by the time he was in second grade. But jealousy...what the hell was she jealous about? Jim let his lip curl as the answer came to him, and he ignored the angry gasping breaths of his mother as he mused it over. She couldn't stand the fact that Chris had succeeded where she had failed, not once, but twice over. Jim bit back a snort and met his mother's eyes, letting her know exactly what he thought of her statement as he opened his mouth.

"Is that what this is about? Is that what this is about? If it wasn't for him, I'd probably be dead and you know it. Or are you conveniently forgetting the fact that you were rambling for hours to him about- what was it? Oh yeah, me belonging with the angels. Isn't that right?" He was on a roll now, and although she immediately began shaking her head in denial, he could see the wind go out of her sails as she slumped into a chair. The room fell silent except for the sound of breathing, and Jim couldn't think of anything else to say. When Winona raised her head, the look in her eyes made him want to turn around and walk out the door.

"Jim, that's not what I meant; I was just scared, I didn't know what was happening to you. I panicked and called Chris, but I never expected him to actually take you-" They were done. She was only making excuses now, and Jim cut her off with a roll of his eyes.

"Bullshit. You couldn't even look at me when he brought me back down after helping me clean up. You stayed in the shadows and wouldn't talk to me. Or am I completely imagining this, too?" Jim crossed his arms and looked down at the blond woman, the lines around her eyes stark in the poor artificial lighting, making her look far older than her years.

"Jim, I know I screwed up. But I didn't think I would be able to take you back, not with the darling of Starfleet acting as your father-" She wasn't even listening to her own words anymore. Jim moved away from the table and walked a few steps towards the exit, before turning around and shaking his head.

"Well, at least he tried, unlike certain other people I know who won't even tell their own son that 'oh, by the way, your brother is missing; but I'm not going to tell you for some ten years because I know that you'll ask Chris for help, and we can't have that because I'm a guilt-ridden bitch who refuses to take responsibility for her own mistakes-'" Jim drawled, and watched dispassionately as she leapt from her chair in anger.

"You are out of line, Jim-" Winona said, her words coming out in a strangled tone. Jim rolled his eyes again and passed through the door before replying.

"Am I?" He spoke without turning around, closing his eyes against the choked noises he could hear behind him. He had to leave. This farce had gone on too long. Jim walked up the stairs to his old bedroom, and quickly stuffed the small amount of clothing he owned back into his duffel, following suit with his toiletries, then giving the entire area a swift look over. The Secret Garden sat on the nightstand next to the bed, and Jim took it and carefully placed it in with his clothes before striding from the room, closing the door behind him. His mother was at the base of the stairs, looking up at him with a lost expression that he felt nothing but pity for. He said nothing as he descended the stairs, but stopped once he had walked a few steps beyond her. "I give up. I'll get out of your hair now, so you can go back to your own life without me fucking it up. Do me a favor, send me a note if you ever manage to find Sam. Or drop me a line if you find his corpse. One or the other." Jim didn't wait for a reply. Opening the front door, he stepped out onto the porch, the night sky overcast and cool as he shrugged on his jacket. A thin-fingered hand clasped his shoulder as soon as his jacket was on, and he heaved a deep sigh before turning around and facing his mother. Jim could see the moisture building back up in her eyes, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

"Jim, stop, please; I'm sorry I insulted Chris, I know you're rather defensive about him, and I'm just frustrated with the situation-" It was times like this that Jim wondered how she ever rose to her rank in Starfleet; a person who could not account for their own failures without blaming others was of no use in any serious organization. He didn't have the energy to argue anymore, raising an eyebrow as he stepped away from her reaching hand and walked down the stairs of the porch towards his bike. He could hear her moving behind him, but did not acknowledge her until he was seated on his motorcycle.

"I do point out that this is a situation that you largely created ten years ago, mom." Winona closed her eyes, and Jim leaned over and fired up the bike. "I'll be seeing you around." Giving her a quick nod, he hit the kickstand and angled his bike towards the front of the property. Jim did a quick glance into his side mirror as he exited the gates. His mother was still standing there, staring blankly in his direction. The night was perfect for a quick flight, and Jim drove straight to the familiar and unnatural canyon that had almost been the location of his first actual flight. He gave little more than a cursory look at the area before ripping off his shirt and harness and leaping headfirst into the quarry. He didn't come down until the sky grew light and his skin was chapped from the cold.

Jim had gone out of his way to try and forget the entire encounter. Several days of aimless riding had landed him in New York, tense and distracted; he had been there once before, on a rare trip with his mother over fifteen years prior, but it wasn't like he remembered anything. He traveled to the city and played tourist for a while; the Statue of Liberty had been restored after the wars, and as he stood on the observation deck in the statue's crown, he mused about how great a launching site it would be. Several days later, Jim was repeating the experience, instead this time on the top floor of the Galactic trade center, which was celebrating its hundredth anniversary by giving free tours of the historic building. He went through the motions, mechanically following the tour guide, a good-looking young man who was probably a few years older than him, as he explained the history and the schematics of the structure. The tour was interrupted by an old woman questioning him on a fact, and Jim was forced back to awareness when the young man gave a smile clearly meant to appease the elderly woman. The faint dimples that appeared looked just like Sam's, and Jim found himself losing all interest in what was going on around him. Slipping away from the tour group, he crossed over to the other side of the floor and looked out the clear aluminum windows. The building was one of the tallest in the world, but he had no problem making out the distinct shapes of the people below. It was no different from tracking animals in the desert. Almost ten years. Sam had been missing that whole time and his own mother couldn't get herself together enough to tell him, too jealous of Chris and too frightened of him to rock the boat. Jim found himself laughing, a quiet humorless act that sounded more like he was crying; he didn't even realize that his face was wet until the voice of the tour guide sounded from behind him.

"Sir?" Jim wiped at his face quickly as he turned around, the polite expression on the man's face giving way to slight concern. "Sir, are you all right?" Moving his hand away from his face, Jim shook his head and sighed.

"I'm fine, just thinking about things." The tour guide raised his eyebrows, but Jim could see that he knew better than to ask. The man raised an arm, and gestured towards the rest of the tour group.

"I'm afraid it's required that all visitors remain with their group, sir, unless you would prefer to leave?" His tone was faintly apologetic, and Jim suddenly felt a little embarrassed about the whole affair. "No, I'll finish the tour." He followed the guide back to the group, barely processing the information as the tour began again, but instead found himself wondering if John had done the same tours when he was a kid.

Jim traveled upstate before he remembered that John had told him that although he had been born in New York, he had spent much of his youth in San Francisco. He took the opportunity to enjoy the scenery, and even risked a short flight in the Adirondack Mountains, noting the differences from his familiar mountains in the Mojave before nearly sideswiping a small cabin near one of the summits. It took hours for him to calm his heart down to a normal rhythm. The incident spooked him, and he cleared out the same day, driving until he ended up in a mediocre motel in Buffalo. His funds were running low, but after some poking around, he found an aftermarket hovercar modifier willing to let him work for a few weeks on a fleet of cars he needed programming work done on, and he got down to business. Days were spent coding, and nights were spent either in his room or at various bars, mingling with the locals. He gave a quick call to Chris, but he couldn't really think of what to say.

When the odd jittery feeling started around the time he wrapped up on the vehicles, Jim disregarded it in his search for another short-term job. After another few weeks fixing bikes at a garage, Jim was finding it hard to concentrate, and when the owner told him to leave and not return until he got off whatever drugs he was on, he knew he had a problem. He insisted that he wasn't on anything to the weathered, craggy visage that was scowling down at him, and the man had just sighed and told him to figure it out. As Jim walked back to his room, he could only think of one thing.

He couldn't recall how long it had been since he had done that aborted flight in the Adirondack Mountains.

Jim didn't even remember how the damn mess started. But as he ducked a fist and sent one of his own into the gut of one of his assailants, he came to the conclusion that he really didn't care. His mind was racing as he staggered back from a foot that clipped his shoulder, his skin tingling with a sensation he knew all too well. As another bastard clipped the side of his mouth with a broken beer bottle, the surge of adrenaline was almost too much for him. His face was burning from the fresh gash, his ears ringing from a blow that had landed earlier, but the feeling rushing through his body was one that he could never get enough of; that same buzz he got when he was in the dry desert air, gliding on the currents. Jim never thought that he would get that rush from a damn bar brawl. The grin was plastered on his face before he even realized it, earning Jim angry shouts from the other participants as they ganged up on him.

"What the fuck is so funny?" The guy looked like a bad cross between an ugly Klingon and a donkey, exceptionally unfortunate considering Jim was pretty sure he was human. He also had a glass jaw, as Jim found out in a jarring moment that almost kicked him out of his adrenaline high; the sickening crack as his fist broke the asshole's jaw was one he hadn't heard since he had crashed into that jutting rock near the house at fifteen when Chris was on leave. It seemed to signal the end of the fight, as the injured man fell back against the bar with a strangled moan, and Jim was knocked to the floor by the cops he hadn't even noticed show up, a knee pressed into the base of his spine hard enough that he could feel it through the harness and his wings. He wasn't the only one; Jim watched from his rather low vantage point as the others were hauled out of the disaster that they had wrought on the place and dragged outside. When all the other brawlers were taken out, the attention shifted to him. The knee withdrew as hands wrapped around his biceps and pulled him to his feet, the support keeping him from swaying in place. The rush was gone, all that was left was the throbbing of his body and the taste of blood in his mouth. He had always hated to come down.

"What were you trying to prove, kid?" The officer standing in front of him just looked tired, and Jim blinked owlishly at the man. He wasn't trying to prove anything, he just wanted to- fuck, he didn't know. Officer...McLean sighed and shook his head. "I know that bunch of idiots are no angels, but you broke his jaw, kid. I can't just wave you off with a warning." Jim's mind was trying to fight through the haze of liquor and pain to parse the wavy-haired man's words, and it wasn't until a scanner of some sort was produced that it clicked. He was under arrest.

"Oh fuck." Jim's mouth slurred the words around the blood coating his tongue, and the officer gave him a wry look.

"Took you long enough. Got your head knocked around a bit, from the looks of it." The man pointed the device at Jim's feet, and the anxiety that had been coming into existence filled his veins with ice.

"Whass' that?" The mumbled question seemed to surprise the officer, who paused in his actions and looked up at Jim.

"First time getting up this close and personal to a police scanner? Newest model on the market, you should feel honored. Try not to make this a hobby, and we'll get along great, kid." McLean wiggled the device in the air. "I'm just checking to make sure you don't have any weapons on you. Anything else I find will be returned when you are released. Safer than a patdown, not with all these telepathic species and what not." The scanner reached his waist, and Jim tried not to squirm as the officer reached into his pants and removed his bike key and wallet, slipping them into a bag he pulled from somewhere. When he reached mid-torso, McLean gave his scanner an odd look. "Care to explain why I'm picking up large quantities of bio-plast, kid?" Jim's jaw tensed, but the man didn't reach for him, and a glance at his side revealed a way of explaining. Gesturing with his chin, he indicated the cut in his shirt.

"Birth defect...the bio-plast is used as extra protection to keep the mangled mess of my back together." It was one of the long-held cover stories, and it was only the second time it had ever been used. He was pretty sure he had gotten lucky over the years. The explanation worked; all three officers gave varying expressions of pity, and after McLean poked at his side through the rip, he finished up the scan and stepped back.

"Sounds like the last thing you needed to be doing is to get into a fight with the locals. I can't keep calling you kid, you got a name?" Jim almost said the usual answer, his mouth opening to utter James Pike like every other time he had been asked that in the last ten years; he practically bit his tongue to shut himself up. They'd have Chris on the comm in minutes, and this was not the way he wanted to see him again. There was only one solution. The name was almost alien to him now, like a possession loaned and forgotten about for years before being returned, and he took a deep breath before opening his mouth.

"James Kirk." He didn't know what he expected from that revelation, but the calm entering of the information into a PADD by the officer was all he could hope for at this point. After a minute, the officer looked up.

"Looks like it really is your first encounter with us, Mr. Kirk. I'm going to cuff you in front instead of behind your back, but one sign of trouble and I'll have you stunned, got me?" Jim nodded mechanically, and the officers holding his arms pulled them to hang in front of his crotch, tightening a strap around his wrists. "Time to go tour the local precinct, Mr. Kirk. Behave, and you'll be done with us in less than twenty-four hours."

It ended up being around thirty-six, but the judge was in the hospital. Officer McLean handed back his belongings personally, and gave Jim a short farewell speech that summed up to the phrase "Keep your nose clean, and I won't have to see you walk out of here again." Misdemeanor assault charges, but since it was his first offense, they let him off with a fine. He had enough credits to pay his motel bill and clear out of Buffalo. He had no intention on sticking around, it would only invite trouble.

In retrospect, he should have listened to the officer's advice. And the advice of every other officer and bartender who looked at him with exasperated pity as he picked himself (or was picked up) off yet another bar or club floor, nursing new bruises and feeling that elusive rush fading. Having a pretty face (and a fucked up looking back, but Jim preferred to assume the former) helped him get out of a lot of shit, but as Jim glared at the cop taking his booking photo in whereverthefuck Indiana, he wasn't sure if he was angrier at the police or at himself. The holding cell they threw him into was a first, last time he had been just handed a warning and told to not come back. Well, there was more places he could go to. Not in Indiana, though. Nothing to do but to drink.

After managing a night without getting in too much trouble, Jim decided that he wanted to talk with his mom again. He didn't know why he was willing to give her another chance, but it sounded like a good idea at the time. That tequila concoction he had tried that night probably had something to do with that. A short comm call later led to a pre-programmed message from her console, stating that she was offplanet and would be so for eight months. Fucking figured. He left a message and decided to look for a job in town the next day. He was tired of picking insects from his bedding before going to sleep every night.

Jim was in the process of picking himself off the floor of the oldest bar he'd ever been in when the song came on over the vintage sound system, and he managed to stagger away from the ongoing scuffle to listen to it. He had heard it before, years ago when he would poke through his dad's music collection; but it floored him now as he let the words drift through his alcohol-fogged brain, and he noticed the bartender giving him a strange look as he sagged against the mahogany counter-top.

"...little boy blue and the man in the moon..." Jim mouthed the words along with the ancient recording, and as his lips formed "-when you coming home, son? I don't know when..." he felt a horrible sense of guilt overwhelm him. God, what the hell was he doing? He never felt like doing this back in the desert, where he would just go for a flight if he felt angry. None of this...fighting shit. All it was bringing him was a police record and scars. Jim sighed. He hadn't done more than stretch out his wings in almost two months. His brain was wired for flight, he knew this; why he was ignoring his natural urges was beyond him, all it was succeeding in doing was to make him irritable and confrontational. There were places he could sneak off to, but he hadn't bothered. Jim choked on his own spit when the song came to an end. He hadn't spoken to Chris in over two months. He hadn't gone that long without speaking to him since he had moved in with him. The realization wasn't a pleasant one, and Jim didn't even realize that he was starting to tear up until the bartender handed him a napkin and an ultimatum.

"Get out of here, kid. You have more sense than this. I'm tired of seeing you introduce your face to the local rabble's fists." Jim took the napkin from the middle-aged woman, crushing it in his fist before quickly wiping his eyes.

"What the fuck is it to you?" Jim growled, knowing his cheeks were reddening from embarassment. The woman barked out a laugh before leaning over the counter and whispering in his ear.

"I watched you talk down our local self-proclaimed physics genius in less than ten minutes last night, kid, and although the bastard is completely full of hot air, he's damn smart. I thought he was going to deck you as you walked away, he was so pissed." She chuckled. "You don't belong here. Go home, talk to your pa." Jim jerked away from her, suddenly furious, and the woman shook her head. "Kid, you pulled yourself outta the fight to listen to that song; you have daddy issues." Jim rolled his eyes. Who the hell did this woman think she was? He shook his head and slapped his credit chip down on the counter.

"Whadda I owe you?"

Jim left the bar and walked down the street towards his home for the night, an old motel that was probably constructed before the first warp-powered flight. Entering the room, Jim pulled off his jacket and threw it on the bed, the ugly spoiled cream comforter clashing horribly with the leather. Fuck, he was tired of this shit. He couldn't even go into a bar and enjoy a drink anymore without having someone getting up in his business. Yeah, he knew the fights were idiotic, but it was the only way to relieve that damn tension that kept building up in the back of his mind. Just because he stopped to listen to a song doesn't mean he wanted an analysis on his mental state. Jim sighed and allowed himself to fall onto the squeaky mattress. He really needed to call his dad. Jim looked at the ceiling, which was a strange texture that reminded him of popcorn, and focused on a stain that reminded him of Amboy Crater. After two months, would Chris even be willing to speak with him? Chris, who had always been so diligent about keeping in contact, even when he was off planet, and look how he repaid him; racking up a criminal record and acting like a selfish ass. Jim pulled himself off the bed, and staggered into the bathroom to clean up. He was too sore to deal with this shit, he would think about it tomorrow. After digging up his worn toothbrush and scrubbing his teeth, he kicked off his boots before falling face first onto the bed, not bothering to remove his belt or to cover himself with the sheets before he fell into a fitful sleep.

The next morning found him halfway on the floor, his ass in the air and his belt buckle digging painfully into his gut as he clawed at the blankets to get his legs back on the bed. He hated sleeping in the harness, hated how it made his wings ache and his skin sensitive, but he had no choice. Not in a place like this, where it wasn't unlikely for rooms to be broken into without warning, regardless of occupants. Jim would stay at a nicer place, but the small amount of credits you need doing odd jobs as he traveled didn't account for it, and he wasn't about to ask Chris for help, not after blowing him off so long. He had no doubt that Chris would send him any funds he needed, but- he didn't deserve it. Laying on his stomach in bed, Jim looked over at the console sitting on the weathered desk near the bed. Like everything else in the motel, the console was one of the oldest models he had ever seen, but it should work just fine for what he needed it to do. Groaning as he rolled out of bed, he picked up his leather jacket, which had fallen to the ground after he went to sleep, and slung it over the back of the chair by the desk as he headed back into the bathroom. After relieving himself and poking at the previous night's bruises and scratches while looking in the mirror, Jim walked back out into the bedroom and sat down in front of the console. The clock on the wall read oh-nine hundred, which was around the time Chris usually settled in to start on his morning routine of drinking liters of asskickingly powerful coffee while reviewing his schedule for today. Jim clicked his tougue against the roof of his mouth as he powered on the ancient console. At least that has been his routine as of two months ago; it would be his own damn fault if his routine had changed, because it wasn't like he was talking to the man to know any better. He entered the number to connect him straight to Chris's office, and paused right before he initiated the call, taking a deep breath. He could do this. When Chris's face appeared on screen, the older man setting down his coffee as his eyes widened in surprise, Jim felt tension he didn't even know he had uncurl at the base of his spine.

"Hi, Dad." Chris's blue eyes narrowed slightly, and Jim could feel guilt replacing that tension as he opened his mouth.

"Long time no talk, son," Chris said, and Jim could hear the worry in his dad's tone as he struggled to figure out something to say.

"I know it's been awhile, and I'm sorry; things just got busy and I lost track of time." Jim pouted slightly when Chris raised an eyebrow. "What?" Chris shifted in his seat, his eyes never leaving Jim's face.

"Too busy to speak with your old man, Jim? Forty-six and I've already been put out to pasture." Chris gave a theatrical sigh, his whole body sagging with the act, and Jim snorted in response.

"Dad, you'll be over a hundred and still kicking ass, don't even start that old man crap." Jim smirked, but watched as Chris got a focused look on his face.

"Where did you get the scar, Jim?" Jim watched Chris's hand rise and tap at a spot near his mouth. Oh. Jim managed to wave a hand to dismiss his concern.

"I don't remember, maybe in Mexico? Doesn't matter," he drawled out, and he watched Chris fighting back something from his expression, his eyes closing slowly. The moment stretched thin, and neither side spoke for a long while. Chris broke the silence first.

"I have a question for you, Jim." Jim tensed, but tried not to show it as his dad straightened in his seat and fixed those eyes on him. "When you were younger, I put an flag on your original profile to make sure no one else was using your identity." Jim almost laughed. Chris was good at obfuscating in his professional life, but he was a shit liar otherwise. He knew that Jim kept an eye on things, and he would have noticed years ago if he had done what he had just claimed. Jim's expression soured, and he shot the older man a dubious look; watching as his dad flushed slightly before starting again. "Alright, no, I didn't. I did however check from time to time. After not hearing a word or getting even a basic text message from you for months, it- came to mind again." Jim had known this day would come. Chris wasn't a goddamned starship captain for shits and giggles; he knew how to utilize his sources. Jim wasn't an idiot, he would bet money that John had thought of checking the Kirk record; Dad tended to get emotionally involved when it came to him, and had more than once missed really obvious things. But when Jim looked at Chris, his normally expressive face drawn and hurt, he couldn't fight back the guilt that surged to a boil in his chest. "It's entirely your right, son, I have no right to insist differently, but-"

"Dad." Jim cut him off, and watched Chris's mouth close. Jim let his head fall into his hands, and he ran his fingers through his hair, letting his nails scrape his scalp as he tried to figure out how to talk to Chris, to tell him that it wasn't because of him, it was because of the circumstances. Jim let his hands fall back to the table as he raised his head, and he could see his dad suck in a breath. He could do this. "It's not like that. I decided after nearly getting caught up in someone else's dumb fight in Texas that I didn't want you to get connected to any stupid shit that might happen to me. I didn't want anything to cast a bad light on you, especially while you are waiting on your ship." He could feel his eyes gathering moisture, and he hoped that willpower alone would keep him from crying. It was obvious that Chris saw something there, and he was forced to look away as the older man let his head fall into his own hands. He had fucked up. Not like this was a new phenomenon, but seeing Chris's distress right in front of him brought the matter firmly home. Chris had probably been enjoying his day, hell, enjoying his life until he had called. Jim was so busy feeling guilty that he didn't even notice Chris lift his head back up and look at him again.

"Jim, I'm a grown man. You don't need to be protecting me all the time; my career is perfectly safe, and I- Jim, what am I supposed to do if you need my help and you aren't in any shape to contact me yourself?" Chris was unhappy with him, Jim could hear it in his voice, and he spat out a response without stopping to think.

"I'll be fine, you've spent enough time worrying about me these past ten years; you deserve some peace and without me messing up your life any longer." Jim snapped his jaw shut. Where the hell had that come from? The look that was suddenly on Chris's face was one he had never seen directed at him before, and he repressed a shudder.

"Is that what you think, Jim, that I considered you nothing but a burden? I thought we knew each other better than that. Or was I wrong?" Chris's jaw was clenched tightly shut, his words coming out in furious hisses that scared the shit out of Jim. This was not, not going well. He shook his head rapidly, feeling like a child denying that his hand had been in the cookie jar. He had to say something, anything-

"Fuck, no- but why? You could have easily just left me there, but you took me in and sacrificed everything for me! You could be married now, or shacked up with John permanently-" Jim was falling apart. He never made John comments in serious conversation, but here he was being an idiot- "You could have been passed over for the Enterprise because of me-"

"James." That brought Jim to a complete halt, his mouth hanging open. Chris hadn't called him by his full name in years. "I could have been passed over for a laundry list of reasons, Jim, you don't even rate in the top ten." The older man was lying, he knew that, but even after giving him so much shit to deal with it, Chris was still trying to make him feel better. What had he done to deserve this? "Why are you suddenly going on about this now? I thought we had talked about this years ago." Jim had no answer. He was afraid of saying something else that he would regret, so he decided not to say anything at all. It was clearly not what Chris wanted, however, and his dad shot him a sad look. He didn't have the guts to look at his dad's eyes anymore. "Jim, please."

"I've gotta go, I've got to be at work in fifteen minutes." It was only half a lie, the garage he was helping at paid him daily based on the work he completed, if he chose to show up. If he was going to go, he would need to be there soon. He watched Chris grind his teeth together for a moment before opening his mouth to speak.

"Just- just be careful, son," the older man murmured, and Jim forced himself to meet his dad's eyes as he said goodbye and severed the connection. Jim sat silently in the uncomfortable chair, staring at the menu screen on the console. He wasn't quite sure how he thought that conversation would go, but the reality was both better and worse than he had imagined. Chris knew about his arrests, about the dumb shit he had been pulling, but hadn't issued any ultimatums. Jim took a deep breath as he slid the chair back and got to his feet. He was running low on funds, so he might as well go in and do some work. It would give him time to process.

He just wanted a drink. Jim wasn't in the mood for fighting, wasn't really in the mood for conversation; but he replied politely to those who spoke to him and let his body language and lack of engagement alert them that he wasn't interested. This was the first time he had been to this bar, so he ignored the curious looks and double-takes that people gave him as he downed his fifth shot of the night, staring at the wall behind the counter unseeing. He really shouldn't be getting drunk, it just caused him to do stupid shit that landed him in fights, leading to him thinking about Chris's worried face; and Jim hated that he was the one doing that to the man who had done more for him than he could ever repay. Jim looked up with a grimace as the bartender set down number six in front of him, and he shook his head and got to his feet. After settling his tab, he walked out the front door, taking in the cool night air. He really shouldn't be driving, but the cheap motel he was staying at was only a few kilometers away, and he didn't want to leave his bike. Jim walked down the small alley to the side of the bar, stopping with a curse when he stubbed his toe. The light behind the bar was out. Fucking irritating, but he had good night vision. Jim stood still and gave his eyes a moment to adjust.

"Oh, is this your bike, pretty boy?" The voice was rough and unfamiliar, and Jim bit back a groan.

Fuck."It might be. What's it to you?" Jim could see the entire...pack now; large, dirty looking fellows that were probably the local layabouts and career petty criminals. He never took his eyes off of any of them as he approached his bike. "It's getting kinda late, guys, so let me wish you a good night-"

"Not so fast, cocksucker." Jim whirled around as he felt the heat at his back, but it was too late. Before he could get an arm up to swing, two of the men surged forward, grabbing his arms as the man he hadn't noticed wrapped a hand around his throat and slammed him against the wall of the bar. "You looked so lonely in the bar, sweetcheeks, but you acted like a rude bitch and shut my friend down." Jim struggled against the hands holding him, futilely trying to escape the speaking man's horrible breath. "Pretty thing like you shouldn't go home before having some fun, hmm?" The man kept his grip around Jim's throat, but moved his body away to address the others. "What do you think, boys? Should we help the cute little freak out?" It was the distraction Jim needed. Bringing his legs up, he kicked the two men holding his arms, immediately using his freed limbs to shove at the man who had him in a choke hold. Surprise was in his favor, and the man staggered back; Jim shoved past the three men and started to run towards the alley leading to the main street. He didn't get far. The breath was knocked out of his lungs as he was slammed into from behind, knocking him to the gravel and making his wings scream with pain.

"You are going to pay for that, you fucking whore!" It was more than three of them now, as Jim was dragged back into the dark. His arms and legs were all being held prisoner, and a queasy feeling was spreading in his gut as he thrashed against his captors.

"What the fuck do you want, assholes? I wasn't bothering you!" The man who had been choking him before reappeared, but instead of grabbing his neck again, he ran his meaty hand down Jim's chest, and Jim realized with a surge of nausea that this wasn't a normal fight. "The fuck- stop touching me-" He shouted the last words as the man slapped his hand over Jim's mouth.

"Now now, you wouldn't want anyone disturbing us, would you?" The man's free hand continued its path down, grabbing Jim's crotch painfully tight; Jim yelled into the hand muffling him and blinked at the tears of pain that had appeared at the corners of his eyes. "Like that, do you? Little slut. You'll just take it wherever you can, won't you?" The bastard started fumbling at his belt, and an entirely different fear swept over Jim. Not like this. Jim hadn't been hiding his wings for over ten years to have the shit hit the fan courtesy of a group of rapists outside a bar. No fucking way. He felt his belt pop open, and the fucker's hands returned to the front of his pants, popping the button and pulling down the zipper. He had no more time. Jim opened his mouth as wide as he could and bit down on the hand covering it. Blood flooded his mouth, and the man shrieked with pain and recoiled. "Screw fucking you, I'll going to kill you!" Jim realized that that might have been a bad idea, as the man's uninjured hand was suddenly around his throat, and squeezing with a purpose. Jim coughed and twitched as dark spots began to fill his vision, and fuck, he was going to die in the most pathetic way possible-

"Everyone freeze!" The area was suddenly enveloped with light, and the main bastard's buddies scrambled to their feet and tried to escape, but were thwarted by the police that swarmed into the area. The sick fuck's hand was still around his throat, but shock had loosened his grip enough for Jim to take in shaking breaths. Before he gathered enough energy to try and dislodge himself, his attacker was being pulled off of him. "We need an ambulance!" Fear and relief were dueling in his gut, but the fear spiked at that statement. Pulling himself to a sitting position, Jim shook his head as he spit out the bastard's blood.

"No ambulance! I'm fine." Jim sat coughing into a sleeve, and the cop who had shouted for help knelt to his level.

"Kid, you aren't fine. Just a short trip, yeah? Get those cuts and your throat looked at." Jim could hear the genuine concern in the police officer's voice, but there was only one answer to this.

"No...ambulance. Please." He could feel his body want to shake, but he focused everything he had on keeping himself still. The police officer gave him a long hard look before sighing and rising to his feet, extending an arm to Jim.

"If you insist. Why don't you go in with Mr. Kantner and get yourself cleaned up; we'll talk to you after we finish with these guys." Jim allowed himself to be helped to his feet, and a hand on his shoulder alerted him to the bartender, who looked like a worried grandfather as he was led back into the now-empty bar through the back doors.

"You alright, son?" Jim couldn't keep the words that boiled out of his roiling gut down, and they shocked him with their venom.

" not...your son," Jim snarled, his throat twinging in protest. Kantner's eyes widened momentarily, but he seemed to see something in Jim's face that Jim himself didn't know, and Jim watched the man's eyes close for a moment before reopening. The older man gave him a sad smile that didn't reach his eyes, and led him to a table.

"Rest here, I'll be right back." As soon as the man walked away, Jim gave a full-body shudder and let his head drop to the table. Too close. His stomach wouldn't stop with the nausea, and he didn't even register the wastebin being shoved under his chin until he was reduced to dry heaves, the warm hand of the bartender resting on the back of his skull. "You should have let them take you to the hospital." Jim slumped back in the chair, and the man went away with the fouled trash can and came back with a glass of water. "Anyone I can call for you?" For a moment, a long moment that made Jim feel eleven again, with tears pricking the corners of his eyes and an unvoiced sob crawling into his throat, he wanted to tell the old man to call his dad, that he just wanted to go home. Chris would do it, too; he would drop everything and swipe the first available shuttle to come get him, and he didn't deserve that. Not after ignoring him for months and making the man worry. He needed to deal on his own. Jim ran his hands over his face.

"Don't worry about it."

His mother was only supposed to be gone for two more months, from the information he had gleaned from the computer he hacked into at her house. But two months had turned into almost four, and Jim was tired of waiting. He had gone for months without getting in trouble, excepting the incident that had ended with his saddlebags wrecked and a sealed mention under his record. There had been a few scuffles at the Shipyard Bar, but Nelson was understanding, and he made sure he wasn't the one starting anything. He had been able to sneak in some late-night flights over at the old quarry, where the rusting hulk of the car was still resting; that had gone a long way in keeping him calm. The recruiting officer from the shipyard talked to him on occasion, which Jim didn't mind (she was a real fox,) and was irrationally happy that she didn't try to push the fleet on him. Jim was running out of ideas, and was still jumpier than he would ever admit to. If he tensed a bit when a large, rough-looking fellow got a little too close while he relaxed at the counter, Nelson never said anything and Jim pretended it never happened.

When the red-clad cadets appeared at the bar in addition to the usual Starfleet personnel from the shipyard, Jim began to consider clearing out of town. He didn't want the reminders of his dad and everything around while he tried to figure out what to do with his life. He flirted with a few of them, got the usual collection of double-takes and odd looks, and tried to ignore the rest. When a lovely woman came up to the bar and ordered enough drinks to single-handedly start a party, he had to strike up a conversation, despite already being completely buzzed; she appeared honestly impressed that he knew what xenolinguistics was. Did he really look that dumb? When a bald cadet took one look at the two of them and decided that the freak "townie" didn't have the right to talk with Cadet Uhura, it went downhill quickly, partially thanks to a cocky alcohol-fueled statement from him, but entirely thanks to a bunch of stuck-up assholes.

"Knock it off, you guys!" Uhura was screaming at them to stop, but it was too late now. As he was thrown over the table on his back, his wings let him know their protest with sharp blasts of pain that were almost as bad as the fist smashing into his face, and he couldn't even get his mind together enough to try and get away from them. When the sound of a whistle blasted through the bar, the beating stopped, and he gasped as he was dropped to the table, his head lolling off the side.

"Outside, all of you." Jim blinked wearily at the oddly familiar voice, but his head hurt too damn much to process it. "Now."

"Yes, sir!" Jim laid on the table as the bar emptied around him, just trying to will his head to stop spinning. After a few seconds, he tilted his head back to try and view his rescuer, and said the first dumb thing that came to mind, something about whistling. He could barely make the man out, it was too dark and his head hurt too much, but he could see the man's head tilt after he spoke.

"Jim?" Jim's eyes widened, and he rolled himself onto his front, his heart lodged in his throat.


The next twenty minutes passed in a flash. Chris helped him to his feet, and hustled him off to the bathroom while he approached Nelson; Jim stood in the bathroom staring at the mirror for what seemed like a lifetime. He was really here. It had been over a year and a half since he had seen Chris in person, and he...never thought their reunion would be like this. Jim ached all over, and a small part of him wondered if he could sneak out without his dad noticing. Jim snorted and shook his head. No, he had already fucked things up enough, and he- he wanted to talk to his dad. It's not like he had any other plans. Splashing some water on his face and belatedly realizing that he should plug his bloody nose, he staggered back out to hear Nelson saying the words "Papa Bear" to Chris, and felt a smile inch onto his battered face. After falling into the first chair he reached, Chris followed into the seat across from him, and Jim tried to ignore the obvious concern etching itself into his dad's features. Nelson gave him his vodka, and he kicked back half it in one go as the older man began to speak. As the man who had raised him spoke, Jim inwardly winced as he responded to everything with monosyllabic answers and attitude. Chris didn't deserve this, he wasn't angry at the man, but he couldn't make his mouth form the words he really wanted to say; that he was sorry, that he missed him, that he wanted to come home- The words "...better with your life?" came out of the man's mouth, and Jim felt like a hovercar had smashed into him. Chris had never sat down and talked to him like this before regarding his future, generally trusting him to figure it out himself. Things seemed to be working so well, after all; why would Dad be saying anything? Jim snorted inwardly, and barely restrained himself from shaking his head. When Starfleet was mentioned shortly thereafter, the remains of his verbal filters fell apart, and he barked out a harsh laugh before delivering a snarling reply that made his dad's face battle for control. Hell, Chris had almost admonished him for his cursing, and Jim disregarded the odd feeling in his gut that wished he had.

"...You could really do something special in Starfleet, if you wanted to." Jim bit back a reply he knew he would regret, and let his face go blank.

"We done?" Jim watched as Chris rose to his feet, an odd smile on his face that made his own gut clench with guilt.

"I'm done," Chris said softly, and Jim was no longer able to keep the emotion off his face, a burst of something that made him want to break down on the spot; Jim swallowed heavily and tried not to think. The older man's hand fell on his shoulder, and Jim turned his head to look at it. "The shuttle for San Francisco leaves tomorrow at eight-hundred, I'll be on it." Chris paused for a moment, and Jim forced himself to not look up. "Please don't disappear for so long again, Jim. You really are going to make my hair go grey if you keep this up." Jim closed his eyes as Chris squeezed his shoulder, and walked away. When the sound of his steps ceased, Jim raised his head and looked towards the door, meeting his dad's eyes. "I know you can do better, son." Jim didn't trust himself to speak, and Chris turned and left the bar.

Jim didn't know how long he sat there staring at the door, his hands clenched around the second glass of vodka so tightly that his knuckles ached; only when Nelson came over and patted the table in front of him did he snap out of it. Jim turned his head and looked at the long-haired man, his red braids falling to the sides of his neck as he sat down in the seat his dad had recently vacated. Jim took a sip out of his glass, but he found that he didn't feel like drinking anymore.

"You have yourself one hell of a father, Jim-boy." Nelson's voice was gravellier than usual, and Jim opened his mouth, but Nelson did a sideways chopping motion with his hand and shook his head. "I've seen people come in and out of here for decades, and it's the rare person that can walk away when all they want to do is drag you with them." Jim blinked, and the old man sighed. "All the Captain wanted to do at his heart was to take you back home, Jim. I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice; but he did something that took a lot of strength instead." Jim squinted at the man, his head clouded with equal parts alcohol and emotion.

"What are you going on about?" Nelson grinned and adjusted his bandanna as he got to his feet.

"It's a hard thing, being a parent; instead of trying to protect you from yourself, which is the easy path to choose, he's letting you decide." Jim felt his eyes widen, and Nelson gave him a wry smile as he took the half-empty tumbler of vodka away from Jim's loose fingers. "Don't waste this chance, kid. Whatever he told you, think about it. Chances are he's right."

Jim ended up outside the bar, leaning against his bike and staring down the road; the half-ripened fields surrounding the bar had never seemed so forbidding to him before as they stretched into the horizon. Nelson was a nosy son of a bitch. Jim took mental stock of his level of sobriety and decided to walk a bit; he kicked up the stand on the bike and set off down the road towards his mom's house, ignoring the throbbing that was setting in all over his body. The air was cool against his face as he walked, the bike heavy in his hands; after about ten minutes of walking, he mounted the bike and sped towards the farmhouse. As the building came into view, Jim found himself wondering where Chris was staying. He assumed that there was housing near the shipyards, but he had never cared enough to pay attention. The tall silver building was as ugly and uninviting as ever, and Jim dismounted gracelessly and stumbled into the house, flipping on the old light switches and avoiding the family room as he headed upstairs to grab a shower. His old room was a necropolis to a life that felt alien to him now, with dust covered walls and floors, the worn sheets on his old bed and a path from the bed to the door to the bathroom the only disturbance to the dead scene. Shucking his shirt, he eased himself out of the harness, hissing as his compressed wings were exposed to the air, causing the bruises he couldn't see, but were most definitely there to throb. The warm water helped, but his tiny shower couldn't quite accommodate his body and his wings together, so he decided to let the water run over his wings instead, leaving his pants and shoes on. He could clean himself up later. Shaking his wings as much as he could in the small area, Jim grabbed a towel and dried what he could reach, before dripping back into the bedroom and throwing the towel behind him as he settled onto the corner of the bed, allowing his body to sag. Starfleet. Dad had brought it up offhandedly years ago when he was deciding what to do when they left the Yorktown, but had never pressed the point. Maybe things would have turned out better if he had. Jim gave a dry chuckle and flopped on his stomach, moving his wings languidly. As a Kirk, everyone assumed when he was a little kid that he would follow in his parent's footsteps, leading to most of the presents from anyone who bothered, excepting his mother, being toy starships, posters, and the like. The posters had been ignored, and the toy ships dissected and forgotten. He had had no use for toys when he was young; not when he had been doing chores for Frank most of the day. Jim looked around the dusty room blankly, before slapping his palms on his thighs and rising to his feet. He needed to think, and he sure as hell wasn't going to do it here. Jim found himself thankful for the tall narrow shape the farmhouse had as he scaled several more flights of stairs before easing himself through the roof access hatch; it was perfect for take-offs. The night sky was overcast, the stars only visible at random intervals as the clouds passed overhead, and Jim allowed his wings to fully unfurl as he rose to his feet and balanced himself on the slanted roof. It was risky to go for a flight like this, the farm was kilometers away from the old quarry, and a vehicle could pass by and see him at any time. Jim couldn't bring himself to care. Flapping his wings to shake the last bit of water off, he broke into a run, leaping off the roof and falling for a moment before catching the wind, soaring up into the cool night air. A few minutes flying east had him over the old quarry, and with a sharp banking turn, he dove into the stratified artificial canyon, scanning the area to make sure there were no kids around. The rusting hulk of that car still lay at the bottom, although it was missing a few pieces. It had become a test for bored stupid kids to dare each other with, the type of dare that usually included the word 'chicken' somewhere in the discussion; Jim thought that his act of rebellion leading to more (if calmer) acts from the younger generation was possibly the funniest thing ever. Chris probably wouldn't think so, at least not verbally. John would call the lot of them idiots, and he would be right.

"That's what he did. He dared me," Jim mumbled as he coasted lazily in wide ovals halfway down the quarry sides, occasionally flying straight into the wall and using his legs to kick off and reverse in the other direction. Of all the things to say after going almost two years without speaking face to face, Chris had told him he could do better. Jim snorted and arced into a corkscrew, spiralling down towards the quarry floor, grumbling to himself.

"What the hell does he know? He hasn't been around, he doesn't know what I've been through-" Jim's eyes widened reflexively, and his griping stuttered to a halt as he landed near the car wreckage, slipping to the ground, pulling his knees to his chest and his wings around him like a cocoon. Of course he didn't know. How could he blame his dad when it was his own damn fault that their relationship had crumbled so quickly? He wouldn't go home, he wouldn't tell the man anything even when he asked; and now he tries to blame his woes on Chris? Jim bit back a choking laugh that a sob to his ears, and let his head fall into his folded arms. He was so fucking pathetic. He had become that guy, the kind that he had always known would never get anywhere in life, who would drink too much and get into trouble; Chris had sacrificed everything for him, John too had also done more than he could ever hope to compensate for, and he had repaid them by giving them both the metaphorical finger and meticulously setting about wasting the chances he had been given through their hard work. Nelson had said that Chris had wanted to just drag him out of there, but instead had given him a choice. Jim took a deep breath and cracked his wings open so he could look at the sky. Chris had always let him choose, had always had faith in his intelligence, even after the clusterfuck the last year or so had become. Jim recalled the look on his dad's face from an hour ago, the restrained curls greyer than ever, those lapis blue eyes framed by those amazing laugh lines that were not laughing at all as they looked upon the lost mess of his son. Chris didn't tell him to do better, he knew Jim could do better. He looked up at the sky just in time to see the moon appear from behind the clouds, he watched it for what felt like an eternity as he let his dad's words bounce around his brain. As the cloud cover obscured his view, Jim rose to his feet, brushing off his rear and legs. He was tired of being that guy; and although he didn't have the faintest idea why Chris still had any faith in him, the realization that he wanted to earn the right to that faith came swiftly and without remorse. There was nothing for him here. His mother had let him down, had lied to him over and over again, and was probably doing everything she could to stay in space so she didn't have to face him. Jim loved his mother, but he didn't think he would ever trust her again. Chris had done none of these things, had maintained his faith in his wayward son regardless of the dumb shit he pulled, and yet Jim had ignored him in favor of watching the tattered remains of his relationship with his mother steadily unravel. His priorities were seriously skewed.

"I'll do it." Starfleet had turned out people like his dad, John, and his father, which easily overshadowed the fact that it had also turned out his mother, for better or worse, and idiots like that Stipe. All three men had commanded starships, and had done a fine job at it. Jim turned and looked at the car, his father's car, twisted into a nearly unrecognizable mass of twisted metal. His father didn't believe in the no-win scenario, if his dad's account was to be trusted. That was a foregone conclusion, and it sounded like a damn good policy for the future. Jim broke into a run, flaring his wings and feeling for the currents; he was aloft in seconds, and he shot out of the quarry like a cannonball. He would earn the right to claim his dad's belief in him.

Jim stopped by the farmhouse just long enough to close the roof hatch and dress back into his harness and filthy shirt. Putting on his jacket, he exited the house without looking back, mounting his motorcycle and setting off towards the shipyard. There was a small hill that provided a decent view of the entire facility, and he brought his bike to a stop at the top of it, hitting the kickstand and dismounting. The construction lights surrounding the ship pulsed with a golden light, and for the first time since he came here after the fight with his mother, Jim allowed himself to examine the ship, his dad's ship. Three more years. That's how long Chris would wait for his new command. Jim would be twenty-five when the Enterprise was done. If he wanted to be graduated before her maiden voyage, he would have to pull out all the stops and not screw around. Jim allowed his bruised face to fall into a light smirk. He could do this. He would do this. Jim sat on the hillside as the night sky lightened with the oncoming dawn, allowing himself to doze as the growing heat in the air brought warmth to his cheeks. Getting to his feet, he glanced at the time on the bike's clock. It was seven fifty-five. Chris had said oh-eight-hundred. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he started the bike and sped towards the shipyard gates, slowing down as he entered the massive facility and weaved through the crowds of crew and machines towards the shuttlepads. Jim could see Chris in the distance, appearing to be bidding farewell to that commander who he had sometimes chatted up at the bar and turning towards the shuttle doors. As he approached, the older man turned around and watched him as he brought his bike to a halt. When a passing enlisted man complimented it, he didn't skip a beat as he threw the keys to the flabbergasted man and walked up to his dad on the boarding ramp, stopping a step beyond him before pivoting on his heel. He met his dad's eyes in silence, before tilting his head up to look at the Enterprise.

"She's beautiful." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Chris mirroring his gaze.

"That she is." The older man's voice was soft with something that he might call love, and Jim couldn't help the jaw-cracking smile that split his face.

"Y'know, I might want to see the inside of her some time; get a proper tour from its Captain." Chris met his eyes, his throat swallowing reflexively; the emotion that Jim could see in his eyes was even more amazing than the look he had gifted to the Enterprise, and Jim thought his head would break in half if he smiled any wider. He tilted his head to the side and opened his mouth.

"The command track is usually four years, right?" Chris blinked and nodded instantly, and he let his smile twist into a cocky smirk. "I'll do it in three." Before his dad could say anything, Jim turned back around and entered the waiting shuttle, the smirk softening into a sweeter smile that probably didn't fit the battered state of his face, but he couldn't bring himself to care. After that cocky speech to Chris, the first thing Jim was not expecting to do was bash his head into a support beam as he entered the shuttle, the action chasing the boyish grin off his face. Blinking back the throbbing pain that sat up and said hello, he saluted to the assholes who had inadvertently got him on this shuttle before falling into the first empty seat he found. Cadet Uhura was sitting a few seats away, and he couldn't resist commenting.

"Never did get that first name." The lovely woman gave a bemused smile without looking at him, and Jim chuckled inwardly as he tried to get comfortable. The seats had a tiny bit of leeway for unusually shaped humanoids, but it wasn't quite enough; he played with the straps and shifted in his seat as a sudden clamor made him look up to see a scruffy guy being hustled out of the bathroom by a harried-looking Ensign. After a short exchange between the two that just made Jim feel like he needed a drink, the man fell into the only other empty seat, which just happened to be next to him.

"I may throw up on you." Jim had heard worse introductions. As he and Leonard talked (talk about an old-fashioned name, he was going to have to do something about that) while Chris steered the shuttle back to San Francisco, he decided that Starfleet just might work out if there were other interesting people like the good Doctor. Especially if they carried flasks with them.

"State your name, species, place of birth, and citizenship for the record." The man behind the desk in the processing building looked bored, but his hands were perched on his console ready to input the data he had asked for. Jim opened his mouth and shut it. Name. There was lies of omission, and lies to local police forces, but Starfleet was a whole different animal. His dad had just hauled him out of almost two years of nothing but travel and misdemeanors by simply getting him to admit the truth, as much as he had wanted to ignore it; all that crap was on his record as a Kirk, but it was only a matter of time before his two profiles were completely linked in the system. Important things such as his aptitude test scores and allergies had been maintained under both names, but Jim knew they did a basic DNA scan as part of the entrance procedures to verify that you were who you said you were, and that would immediately bring up the Kirk name from his original scans as a child. If he piped up with the Pike name, the whole damn school would look at Chris as the loser who couldn't control his son, and if he couldn't control his son, how in the hell can he captain the flagship? No way in hell was Jim going to allow that to happen. The Admiralty would know either way, of course, but they would have no reason to publicly announce it. The choice was clear.

"James Tiberius Kirk, Human, USS Kelvin, Medical Shuttle 37. Citizen of the United States, Earth." The Lieutenant's head shot up, and conversation stuttered to a halt around him. When no one spoke and everyone continued to simply stare at him, Jim forced back his irritation and spoke again. "Is there a problem, sir?" The officer blinked before awareness dawned, and Jim watched in bemusement as an embarrassed flush appeared on the man's cheeks.

"No, no problem. I need your thumbprint for verification, Mr. Kirk." Jim nodded and pressed his thumb to the PADD; he could see his file pop up on the man's screen and confirm his statement. "You were recruited by Captain Pike, correct?"

"Yes, sir." The lieutenant nodded absently as he examined the information, and Jim knew when he read his aptitude test results, as the man's eyes widened almost comically before he regained his composure.

"It appears that everything is in order, Mr. Kirk." The lieutenant rose to his feet, and Jim followed suit. "Let me be the first to welcome you to Starfleet." Jim clasped the man's extended hand and gave it a firm squeeze before releasing it, letting his arm fall back to his side. "Proceed to the quartermaster to continue your entrance processing." Jim squared his shoulders, but did not salute.

"Thank you, sir." Jim could feel many of the surrounding staff's eyes on him, but it was nothing he hadn't experienced before. He headed towards the indicated location, and was only stopped once by a large boisterous looking woman with Commodore's stripes who tried to drum what his focus of study was going to be while at the academy out of him. He told her that he was planning on the command track, leading to a slap on the back (no moment of hesitation, and Jim knew his wings were going to hate him for weeks after all this abuse) and a "of course you are!" out of the woman before he was hustled into the quartermaster's area, who administered the basic DNA test for proof of identity (which did not reveal the x-gene; as it was considered a lost cause, scanning for it was a waste of time,) and then promptly told him he was getting a roommate. Oh hell no. "I have somewhere to stay off campus, sir." The chief petty officer frowned.

"Regulations stipulate for all first year cadets to remain in on-campus housing, Cadet." Jim knew there was exceptions to the rule, he just had to think of one-

"Hey there, big man, haven't seen you in awhile." Jim's head swiveled around at the voice, a voice he knew all too well. John gave him a smile, but Jim almost cringed when it was immediately followed up with a look that promised that they would have words later. The man processing him was already on his feet saluting.

"Admiral." John nodded at the man's salute and looked down at Jim again, a considering look on his face. Jim moved his hand subtly to block his mouth from the quartermaster and mouthed 'Kirk' at the older man, who blinked in understanding.

"Is there any problems processing Cadet Kirk, Chief Petty Officer?" John met the man's eyes, and Jim watched him glance down at his console again.

"I was attempting to assign him quarters, sir, as per standard guidelines, but he has indicated his desire to live off-campus." The man looked a bit irritated, but Jim knew that John understood his reasoning.

"That is a regulation with many exceptions, Chief Petty Officer, I do not see any reason why you couldn't comply with his request." Jim bit back a smile when the quartermaster's shock at an admiral stepping up for a new recruit was plain, before his shock transformed into an expression Jim did not recognize. The man poked at his console for a minute before looking up at the two of them.

"Right you are, sir. Taking into consideration that he is older than the average cadet, I believe it would be permissible to do so in this case." The officer met Jim's eyes. "You are aware that this means that you are forfeiting some standard supports given to on-campus residents, including the free meals at the mess." Jim nodded, and the man took out a basic model PADD and inputted some data into it before passing it to him. "Your PADD contains the information for everything you need to finish before you are allowed to register for classes. As your aptitude scores are still valid, you are exempt from from the primary entrance examinations. You will be required to complete the specialty placement tests should you choose to register for certain courses. You will also need to schedule and complete a full physical examination at Starfleet Medical within the next week-" Jim suddenly felt like bashing his head into the table in front of him. Of course they would require a goddamned physical. Any military or spacefaring organization would require it, and he knew he was an idiot for completely forgetting about it. A quick glance behind him showed John had not forgotten; the older man's lips were pressed together and his expression was neutral but thoughtful. He had decisions to make.

Jim's interview with the Chief Petty Officer came to a close, and he was directed to head to a corridor with small rooms to be sized and kitted out with his uniform. John followed him to the door of the designated room, and the two looked at each other silently for a long moment.

"You want to continue keeping certain things under wraps, correct?" John's face was serious, and Jim gave a deep sigh before responding.

"I would prefer it, sir." John's somber expression twisted after the word 'sir' came out of Jim's mouth, and the Admiral's eyes softened.

"I'm going to have to get used to that in public, won't I?" John patted Jim on the shoulder and motioned to the door with a bob of his head. "I'm going to think about the physical situation, but for now, just finish with the things you need to complete today, and we will talk later. I'm not supposed to be here anyhow, I'm running rather late for a meeting." John smirked and stepped back. "I better clear out before your old man gets here, I don't want to steal his thunder." Jim chuckled.

"Thunder?" Jim muttered, and John turned his head back towards Jim as he proceeded back to the exit, a amused little smile in place.

"You have no idea." Jim blinked as John disappeared from view, and he turned and entered the room, sitting down on a bench against the wall. A old enlisted man came in a few minutes later, got Jim to his feet and immediately set about measuring and fussing about. After a minute, he told Jim to wait as he left and came back, thrusting a package with several pairs of red pants into his hands.

"We need to fabricate the rest of your uniform, so come back tomorrow for your shirts and uniform jackets." Jim squeezed the package of pants and nodded absently.

"Yes, sir." He could see the man head out the door, but he didn't feel like moving. He still ached from yesterday's fight, he may be giving up his privacy in a matter of days, and he was back in school. Well, the school part wasn't so bad, but Starfleet? Jim heard the door slide closed, and he looked up to see Chris walking in. "Hi, Dad." As he let his head fall to his dad's shoulder as they talked, he fought back tears at the sheer relief he felt at being able to just relax with another person again like this. Never again; two years of travelling and meeting people had made him feel more isolated than ever, and the guilt Jim felt bubbling in the back of his gut soothed itself as the older man's calm voice reverberated through him. Chris's hand was warm enough that he could feel it on his wings even through the harness; his shoulder comfortable enough that he felt his mind drifting. Jim didn't even stir when Chris flicked him in the cheek and called him a freeloader after asking if he could stay with him.

Bones. Jim didn't want to keep calling the man McCoy, and Leonard was too much of a mouthful. Jim knew about the old term for doctors, but he was thinking more on the lines of the man's sense of humor. Jim was relieved that the Southern doctor seemed to care less about Jim's appearance, and hadn't asked any invasive questions...and he cleaned up nice. Jim barely recognized him when they met after Jim had returned and picked up the rest of his uniform. As they walked around campus, he got good-naturedly griped at about everything the man could think of, from Starfleet to what he had to eat that morning. At least Jim thought it was mostly good-natured. He could be completely misreading the older man's body language, but there was a slight softness in his eyes despite whatever he was bitching about that put Jim at ease. However, it was clear almost everyone else was quickly forming the opinion that the man was an irredeemable grouch, if the reaction of the nurse who came to greet him at Starfleet Medical was anything to go by. That took talent for only being here for less than twenty-four hours. Jim grudgingly split off from Bones shortly before sixteen hundred and headed to Chris's office. They had many things to discuss, but the issue of the required physical was front and center. Everything else could wait. Jim entered the office and greeted Yeoman Colt, who he remembered had chosen to leave the Yorktown with his dad to attend Academy classes so she could become an officer. She worked part-time as Chris's secretary, and could be trusted to keep her silence when needed.

"Your father is waiting for you, Cadet." Colt gave him a friendly smile, and Jim returned it.

"Thank you, Ma'am." Jim entered the inner office and saluted, and met both Chris and John's eyes one after the other. John's eyebrows lifted.

"Look at you, Jimmy. You cut quite the dashing figure in the reds." John smirked, and Chris waved to the chair in front of his desk.

"Go ahead and sit down, Jim, we have things to discuss." Jim sat down, and both of the older men followed suit. "You have to do your entrance physical within the week. As you have made it clear you want to continue on as you have been for now, we need to figure out how to get you past the physical without it being mentioned." Chris loosely folded his arms and leaned forward on his desk. "Otherwise, you give up the game now. Before, it wasn't a big deal; as you were a citizen and a dependant, Phillip never questioned me clearing you back on the Yorktown, as long as you were up to date on vaccinations and whatnot. He assumed it was because you were sensitive about medical examinations." He sighed, and Jim straightened in his seat. "I don't think I can do that anymore, Jim. It's one thing when you are a citizen, but it's another thing-"

"When I'm actually in Starfleet. No, I know that won't work, and I know you were risking censure by subverting the system before. It would be a lot more than that if you did it now." Jim met his dad's eyes; the older man gave a slight nod. "I honestly don't know, Dad. I mean, I know I'm allowed to have the physical completely privately if I request it, unlike the assembly line they usually do for new cadets. Bones got his done earlier along with a handful of other new cadets, the doctor asked me if I wanted mine done then, but I bowed out with some bullshit excuse." Chris gave Jim a strange look.

"Bones?" Jim froze, then rolled his eyes at himself.

"Sorry, Doctor McCoy. Met him on the shuttle yesterday. He's an interesting guy once you get past the never-ending snark." Jim chuckled, and Chris nodded with a small smile. Jim looked to John, who had been uncharacteristically silent throughout their exchange. The Admiral was clearly in thought, and Chris also turned to look at the older man.

"You look like you might have something up your sleeve, John." John did a slow blink before his eyes focused, and settled back in his seat, giving a slight tilt of the head to his friend.

"I do have an idea. It's also the only way I see this working, if he is willing to do it." John looked at Jim, his expression serious. "If he isn't, you are going to have give it up." Jim felt a spike of cold through his chest, but managed to keep his voice calm.

"He?" Chris said nothing, but it was clear in his expression that his question was the same. John looked between the two before opening his mouth.

"You remember my old CMO, Doctor Phlox?" Jim nodded slowly.

"Denobulan, with a very cool voice and a generally bubbly personality. Real friendly guy." Jim wasn't sure where this was going, but it was clear Chris did, as he watched his dad's eyes widen as he let himself fall back away from his desk.

"If I am thinking along the same lines as you, it's the perfect plan; but, will he do it? Phlox loves nothing more than to study everything he gets his hands on, but alteration or omission on formal records...well, you know him better than I do." Chris was looking at John, who hummed. Jim looked between the two men, the coldness in his chest twisting ominously.

"I'm not following," Jim said, and John turned back to him.

"He's not a member of Starfleet, Jimmy; he's part of the Interspecies Medical Exchange. However, he's also served on a Federation starship, which gives him some privileges that others in his place would not have, but without a lot of the political bullshit. One of those is doing official medical screenings, hell, he's done mine for years. Some cadets who are uncomfortable with humans or some other species go to him as well; due to the cultural sensitivity regs, it's perfectly admissible as long as the staff is available." John reached out and clasped Jim's shoulder, and Jim realized with a start that he was shaking. "I know it isn't ideal, Jimmy, but I think this is your only shot." Chris gave Jim a reassuring smile, which Jim tried to return with less than desired success. They would have to tell another person. True, the Denobulan wouldn't be looking at him from the same perspective and biases as a human doctor would, but still-

"Jim, I know you don't like this. We are going to have to tell him and hope he goes along with it after the fact." Chris looked at him and paused, getting to his feet and walking around the table. Jim jumped when the older man patted his cheek. "Jim, calm down. You're hyperventilating." John squeezed his shoulder again, and Jim's eyes fell shut as he forced himself to take slow, deep breaths. He could do this, there was no reason for him to be panicking- "It's your call, Jim." Jim reopened his eyes and looked at both his dad and John, doing his best to will his heart to stop pounding. There were no other options.

"Yeah, let's do it."

"May we come in, Doctor?" John was all smiles as the three of them entered the Denobulan's office in Starfleet Medical, the door shutting behind them. Doctor Phlox got to his feet and greeted them all with a smile (small, by Denobulan standards.)

"Most certainly, Admiral; what can I do for you?" Phlox looked at Chris and nodded in greeting, before moving his gaze to Jim. "Well well, the talk of much of the campus. Good to see you again, Mr. Pike-" The Denobulan's smile grew, and Jim could no longer resist a smile of his own. "-or is it Mr. Kirk? I find myself typically good at remembering such things, but perhaps I am mistaken?" Chris and John laughed simultaneously, and Jim rolled his eyes at their antics.

"Mr. Kirk is correct, sir." The doctor had a honest-to-God twinkle in his eyes that made Jim feel much calmer than he had only minutes earlier, and he felt the muscles in his shoulders loosen a bit. Phlox motioned to the two chairs in his office, and Jim found himself pushed into one by Chris. John leaned on the doctor's desk, next to where its owner had also perched himself.

"We need a favor, Doctor. A big favor." Phlox locked gazes with his former commanding officer.

"Oh? Might I make a guess that it involves the new cadet Captain Pike just manhandled into a seat?" Jim resisted the urge to squirm in his seat like a kid as Phlox focused on him, and John snorted.

"That would be the favor. He needs his entrance physical." Phlox gave John a quizzical look.

"I would be happy to administer it, Admiral; but I sense your favor isn't exactly that," Phlox said, his voice lilting pleasantly as he spoke. Chris shook his head.

"It isn't." Phlox nodded absently, and turned to John.

"Say it plainly, Admiral."

"We would like you to leave something off his medical report." Phlox looked at John without speaking, before motioning to the door behind his desk.

"Come to my exam room, we can discuss it further in there." Jim got to his feet, and they entered the small exam room. Phlox glanced at Jim, who was looking around at the equipment. "Before you ask, Cadet Kirk, these private rooms are typically used for research projects, but I am permitted to use them at my leisure for other purposes. Admiral Archer usually recieves his physicals in here, for example. Allows for more conversation without disturbing other patients." The Denobulan approached Jim and smiled. "Well, I suppose you better tell me while it's off the record what I'm not supposed to say, hm?" Jim almost choked on his own saliva as the cold fear roared back into existence. He needed to sit down. Phlox's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Your reaction suggests that you are not comfortable in explaining, but I will need to know in order to proceed." Jim clenched his fists and nodded.

"Sorry, it isn't something that I announce. There are only three other people who know about this." His voice was shaking as he stepped away from the doctor and unzipped his jacket, throwing it onto the bed. Phlox gave him an interested look.

"I surmise by the presence of both the Admiral and the Captain that they are two of the aforementioned three, who is the other?" Jim grasped the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head.

"My mother," Jim mumbled though the fabric.

"I see." Phlox was looking at his torso, and Jim threw the shirt on the bed before he lost his nerve. "You appear to be wearing a garment constructed out of high-quality bio-plast. Interesting." Jim looked at his Dad, who gave him a soft smile.

"Go ahead, Jim." Jim ran his finger under the joining seam that kept the harness together, and flexed his wings a tiny bit to force the bond to separate. The harness fell away from his upper back, and he pulled the lower end out of his pants and tossed the harness to join the rest of his clothing. His wings were tucked into his pants, the ends running down the legs; he forced his wings to open, freeing the ends and unfurling them in front of the smiling doctor. Phlox approached, and circled around to view them from behind.

"How utterly fascinating! There are several humanoid species with vestigial wings, but none known with a completely formed set. May I?" Jim twisted to look at the Denobulan, who was holding a hand near his left wing.

"Sure." Jim was unable to restrain a shudder as the doctor ran his fingers through the feathers, lifting them slightly to inspect underneath them. When the doctor started running his fingers down the seams where his wings joined his back, Jim was forced to bite his lower lip to distract him from the sensation, and knew his face was turning red. Chris poorly suppressed a chuckle before coming to his aid.

"Err...Doctor, Jim's back is rather sensitive; might I suggest less physical examination methods instead?" Jim let out a small sigh of relief as Phlox shrugged and walked back around to face him.

"Very well then, although there are times where there is nothing better than tactile inspection. However, I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable." Phlox had clearly noted his reaction, and Jim fought to quell the blush that he could still feel warm on his cheeks. Phlox shooed him to the biobed, and he sat down as the Denobulan ran his tricorder over him, looking between the biobed's information screen and the small device. "Your body is well adapted for flight, Mr. Kirk. Such over-sweeping modifications on the human body point to only two conclusions I can make from the facts as presented. You are either heavily genetically modified, or that your- x-gene, I believe it is called, is active." Phlox met his eyes, and Jim nodded.

"The latter." As soon as the words left his mouth, the doctor's face split into a wide grin, and he immediately set about scanning Jim again, his excitement plain.

"First in several hundred years, if my research into the gene is accurate. Do you have a theory as to why yours is active versus any of the other six billion of so that carry the inactive form of the gene?" Phlox was still looking at Jim, but it was Chris who responded.

"We believe it has to do with the circumstances surrounding his birth." Both Jim and John nodded in agreement, and the doctor pursed his lips and tilted his head absently from side to side.

"That is definitely an idea with considerable merit, Captain. I reviewed some of the surviving scans from the Kelvin's sensors, and there were completely unknown types of radiation and other forces at work that day. But that investigation is for a later time." Lowering his tricorder, he stepped away from Jim and centered his gaze on all three humans in the room. "You are in excellent health, Cadet. I assume the point you would like me to leave off the report is his wings?" John gave a sharp nod, and Phlox faced Jim again. "I agree, under one condition." Jim opened his mouth first.

"Name it." The doctor lifted a PADD from a dock next to the biobed.

"I will leave the rest of your differences unchanged in the report. I will just...omit the mention of the wings." Phlox began entering data into the device, and Jim furrowed his brow.

"The other things will definitely stand out, though." The Denobulan nodded without looking up, and Jim glanced over at Chris and John.

"Don't worry, Cadet; I will list myself as your primary physician. As long as you don't end up here when I'm not around, no one will have reason to access your medical records." Phlox looked up from his PADD. "I must confess to being curious as to why you conceal them in the first place, Mr. Kirk. You are an aesthetically pleasing individual in excellent health, your wings are of good conformity and display a striking color scheme, and I am aware that many humans attribute positive emotions towards winged humanoids in various cultures throughout this planet." Jim could do little more than boggle at the sing-songing Denobulan, luckily, his dad came to the rescue.

"I wanted him to have as normal of a childhood as we could manage. Being in the public eye as the only one with an active x-gene would have precluded that entirely." Chris spoke with a firmness that brooked no argument, and Phlox's face crinkled up in thought before he nodded.

"Being different from one's peers is always difficult; it is a trait I have seen exhibited in every culture I have come across. You will have to face this someday, Cadet Kirk, and it will probably not be too far from now. Maintaining your privacy as a cadet is a relatively simple matter, provided you don't get entangled in any major catastrophes. Keeping your secret onboard a starship is an entirely different ideal, one I believe you will find quickly unfeasible." Phlox placed his PADD back on its dock and looked directly at Jim, the honesty in his face making Jim's stomach roll. He knew that, but he didn't want to think about it yet. Maybe in a few years; if he could get on a starship and away from Earth before he had to give it up, Starfleet wouldn't bother making a fuss about it? Yeah, in a dream world. He got to his feet with a snort, prompting John to look askance at him. Jim shook his head.

"Nothing, just thinking." John nodded before gesturing to the doctor.

"He has a point, Jimmy. Just keep that in mind." Chris's eyes showed his agreement, and Jim looked between the two before nodding.

"I'm sorry for asking this of you guys, I mean, after what I pulled, I don't think I even have the right-" Jim trailed off as his dad set a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. Phlox was quietly observing the exchange with a smile, before he strode to the door back to his office and motioned for them to follow. Chris helped his son back into the harness, and after making sure everything was in place, the three men followed the Denobulan out of the room. Jim watched as the doctor sat on the edge of his desk, looking at them with a serious expression that made him worry. John and Chris exchanged a look just as Phlox opened his mouth.

"What do you three think about having Chinese for lunch?"

The required introductory classes were mostly review for Jim, between his experiences from living on the Yorktown and college; it was nearing the end of the summer term before he even noticed, and he had settled in better than he thought he would. He wasn't quite sure what he had expected at first, but now that he had settled in, he knew he could make this work. He and Chris were talking like they had always used to, with fond affection with just a smidgen of abrasion that made things interesting; Jim hadn't told him everything from his travels, but he had clarified a few of the fights on his record. When Chris had asked why he had started in the first place, however, he had found himself changing the subject. He was doing just fine keeping busy.

Busy bothering Bones, that is. Jim wandered into the mess, scanning the room for the cleanly-parted head of the older man as he smiled and greeted everyone he recognized as he zeroed in on his prey, swooping down and throwing himself into the chair opposite.

"So, I was talking with Professor Chapin, and he said that avoiding socialization by being brusque and foul mannered is a defense mechanism!" Jim leaned forward and propped his chin on his hands, staring at the man glaring at his lunch. "What do you think about that, Bones? I mean, I don't know anyone like that, but you never know-" Bones gave a disgruntled sigh and slammed his fork onto the mostly empty plate.



"Someday, you are going to come in here like a sane person, and I'm going to have a goddamned heart attack. And considering how rare that is these days, that would be one for the books." Bones was glaring at him now, and Jim broke into a brilliant grin as he leaned over a bit further and pinched a noodle off of the now abandoned plate, leading Bones to try and smack his hand in retribution. "Did you eat this morning?" Jim nodded solemnly, and the other man grabbed his fork and quickly finished the last few bites of his meal. "If you lived on campus like every other new cadet, you'd be able to eat here for free, you know." Jim shrugged, and Bones rolled his eyes as he pushed back from the table. "Let's get out of here." Following Bones out the door, Jim winked at Uhura as she entered, earning him a huff and an eyeroll as she strode by. He cackled and poked his friend in the shoulder.

"You know, between you and Uhura, I think your eyes are going to just roll out of your heads someday." Bones peeked over his shoulder at Jim, rolling his eyes again, and Jim just raised an eyebrow.

"You make it too easy, Jim." The summer sun was muted by the same marine layer obscuring the bay, but it was still too warm for Jim's taste. He could handle the heat, but the humidity- Jim felt the damp feathers clinging to his back, and he pursed his lips involuntarily at a rush of relief that his feathers didn't have any special smell to them. Sweaty Jim was the same as any other sweaty guy, thank god. The bio-plast breathed, but it was still restricting airflow; there was nothing that could be done about it.

"Jim? You alright?" Jim jumped at Bones' voice, and looked up to see that the man had stopped walking and had turned to face him. Jim shook his head.

"I'm fine. Just not used to the humidity." A hand was pressed to his forehead before he could blink, and Jim stumbled back in shock. "What was that for?" Bones snorted and started walking again, leaving him to catch up. "Well?"

"You need to remember to drink plenty of fluids and stay indoors, if you can manage it. You're already too warm, and we've only been out a few minutes." The dormitories for the medical students were coming into view, and Bones tilted his head in their direction. "Let's get you inside for a bit." Jim blinked at the older man as he swiped his ID to open the front door to the building, following him inside before the door closed. He was still trying to figure out if he had gained a friend or a nursemaid with Bones, with all the haranguing the man seemed to do in regards to his health. Jim watched as he repeated the same motion with the ID at his dorm room door, and Jim realized with a tired smile that he didn't care.

Jim woke to the feeling of something tapping his forehead, and he pried open his eyes to see Bones leaning over him, the man's finger prodding at his forehead. He must have dozed off on his sofa. "Whaazzgoin on?" The hand withdrew, and Jim wrestled his body into a sitting position, not quite managing to hide the twinges of pain from falling asleep in a uncomfortable position. Bones sat down on the sofa next to him, close enough to feel his body heat, but not touching.

"I'm assuming here, but I have a suspicion that you require a pillow that is especially supportive of your head and neck when you sleep; you looked like an old man there." It was true, if he was sleeping on his back in his harness, and Jim grumbled an affirmative. "In that case, I don't think my rinky-dink sofa's cushions count, kid." Bones gave him a tiny smirk as he got to his feet and walked to the drink dispenser. "You want something?"

"Water is fine, thanks." Jim got to his feet, stretching and rolling his back and neck as far as he could manage; after his neck made a rather spectacular cracking noise, the ache subsided. "Sorry 'bout falling asleep on you." Bones handed over the glass of water and shrugged.

"One of the quietest visits I've had from you," Bones said, and Jim shot him a pout. "Don't even start." Finishing his water with a slight exhale, Jim put the glass by the dispenser and looked back at the older man.

"What time is it?"

"Time for you to get a watch." Jim snorted out a laugh, and Bones held up a PADD with the time.

"How fucking old is that line, Bones? I think that went out of style before the Eugenics Wars." He moved closer to the PADD, and his eyes widened. "I slept for four hours? Why didn't you wake me up?"

"Figured you needed it. I was making all sorts of noise around the room, and you didn't even twitch." The door opened, and both Jim and Bones exited his room, heading back outside. The marine layer had largely dissipated since they had gone indoors, and that combined with the drop in temperature made Jim a much happier guy. "You have a class tonight, correct?" Bones kept walking as he spoke; Jim nodded anyway, despite the fact the man couldn't see him.

"Yeah, Introduction to Command Principles and the Prime Directive. Or, Introduction to let's see how long it takes for cadet brains to dribble out their ears in sheer boredom. Most tedious thing I've ever sat through." Jim muttered, and Bones scoffed.

"You want to switch out with Basic Cultural Competence in Healthcare? I don't know how I could possibly pass up on the chance to miss out on how Bolians need their own bathrooms, Andorians are very possessive of their antennae, and so on. It's thrilling stuff." Jim laughed at the dry tone in Bones' voice, and the older man smirked. As the two of them wandered through the courtyard by Starfleet Medical, Jim was waved over by a classmate standing on the outskirts of a gaggle of cadets. Shrugging apologetically to Bones, he headed towards the assembled group, the doctor trailing behind him.

"Kirk! We were just talking about you!" Cadet Aki was nice enough, if a bit ditzy, so Jim put on a charming smile and gave a tiny bow.

"Nothing too heinous, I hope." The cadet tittered (he could feel Bones roll his eyes behind him,) and Jim took the opportunity to nod in acknowledgement to the rest of the cadets. Aki lifted an arm and pointed towards the rear of the group.

"We were just telling our friend about you, you know, being the talk of the Academy and all." Jim couldn't suppress a disbelieving chuckle, and Bones muttered something that sounded a lot like Oh good, just feed his ego behind him. Aki dragged out a thin man from the back, and Jim's jaw dropped. "Kirk, meet Mikel Stipe. He just finished up his first year here at the Academy, science track." Stipe's face was just as confused, and Jim recovered enough to sling an arm over the younger man's shoulders.

"Mikel! Man, it's been a long time, how've you been?" Stipe opened his mouth, and Jim grinned. "Mind if I talk to you for a minute?" Before anyone could respond, Jim dragged Stipe out of earshot of the others, ducking behind a collection of trees. Stipe jerked away the instant they were obscured.

"Kirk? What the hell is this, Pike? Your daddy not want you anymore?" The remark stung, but Jim managed to keep a smile on his face.

"Just decided to go back to my birth name, Stipe. No big deal." Stipe boggled at him, and he bit back a sigh.

"You're adopted? Wait- James...Kirk. James Kir- Oh hell no." Stipe had obviously gotten better at fitting the pieces together in the last three years. "You mean you're that James Kirk?" Jim shrugged noncommittally, but Stipe had already figured it out. "Easier to be the son of a dead hero in Starfleet than of one of its living golden boys, Pi-Kirk?"

"You could say that." Jim refused to go into detail to Stipe; the younger man looked at him for a moment before barking out a laugh.

"Well, Kirk, I still don't like you, but I came here to actually do something with my life. I think you did too, considering you look like a few people have been trying to beat the pretty out of your face." Jim bristled, and Stipe snorted. "You're the one with scars on your face, asshole. I know you didn't have them before. Most people use dermal regenerators, you know." Stipe turned and headed out of the clump of trees they had dove into. "You stay out of my way, and I'll stay out of yours."

"What is this, a soap opera holo?" Jim stated, and Stipe shrugged.

"Do I look like I give a fuck?"

"Good point." Jim paused for a second. "How's your mom?" That stopped the younger man, who turned towards him with a surprised expression.

"Doing well, she's still stationed on the Yorktown." Stipe paused. "Not going to ask about my dad?" Jim shook his head.

"No, I figured if you wanted to say anything on the subject, you would." Stipe's eyebrows lifted, and Jim blinked.

"How mature of you, Kirk," Stipe said drolly. Jim didn't respond, and the two of them rejoined the rest of the cadets in silence. Jim mouthed later to Bones, who gave a slight nod in acknowledgement.

"Hey, what was that?" Stipe smiled and shrugged at Aki, who was looking between the two of them curiously; Jim kept his mouth shut to see what the younger man would do.

"We were just catching up. Old acquaintances and all that." If Stipe wanted to bury the proverbial hatchet, he was all for it. At Aki's questioning glance, he nodded. The young woman gave a spectacular pout at Stipe.

"Why didn't you say anything, you idiot! Here we were, going on about him, and you were acting like you had no idea who we were talking about." Jim interposed himself between the two, giving Aki a winning smile.

"There are a lot of people with the last name of Kirk, Aki- and it has been a long time." The woman's nose crinkled as she considered this, before letting out a giggle.

"That's true. Sorry, Mikel!" Stipe grunted a reply while Jim moved back to Bones' side. "Gotta go?" He nodded, and she smiled. "See you in class, Kirk!" He gave the woman a playful salute, nodded to Stipe and walked off.

"What in the world was that all about?" Bones flanked Jim, who shrugged and shot his friend a smile.

"Stipe's an old acquaintance. We never really got along, so we were just- clarifying some things." Bones made a hmm sound, and Jim glowered. "What?"

"Since you both came back in one piece, I'll assume that your clarification was verbal only." Bones raised an eyebrow, but Jim could see a hint of amusement in his eyes. Instead of responding, Jim gave his shoulder a light punch.

"Of course, jackass."

"So it's just me that gets abused." The corresponding sigh earned Bones another punch to the arm.

Summer segued into Fall, and the regular term started up, bringing back the other two-thirds of the cadets. Things had gone rather calmly during the summer, as the cadets who had been there had mostly been either new or busy with their own dedicated projects and work to pay more than cursory attention to him; but Jim's luck ran out as the cadets returned and immediately resumed their gossip circles and rumor milling. The rubbernecking had calmed down after the first week or so, but Jim felt as uncomfortable in his skin as he did the first day he went to university. Oh, most could care less, and the higher percentage of non-humans than there had been at Mojave added to that roster, but there was still a significant group who appeared to have jumped on the chance to talk about the new weird cadet. After the fifth time or so he heard a variation on the can you believe he's that Kirk? theme, Jim found himself slipping into the self-imposed isolation that he had cultivated at Mojave; distant and polite, avoiding confrontation when possible. He would have stayed that way, but there was a major difference this time around, and it came in a somewhat husky framed, brown-haired package that liked to gripe a lot. He had only known the man for about four months now, but Jim was beginning to realize that he had never really had a friend like him before, and for the first time since he had moved in with Chris, a person besides his Dad and John that he felt simply comfortable with. Carol would have been the closest, but there was still no comparison. It was actually a bit frightening. Jim took a deep breath and plastered a smile on his face.

"Good evening, Admiral!" Ms. Nakashima visibly bit back a giggle as Jim strode into John's office with a loud announcement, bowing to his ever-present secretary. From behind the partially closed door to the inner office, he could hear John groan. "Is the Admiral busy, ma'am? I wouldn't want to bother him if he is!" Ms. Nakashima couldn't hold it together any longer, bursting into laughter while waving a hand towards John's door.

"Get in here, you wretch," John growled as Jim sauntered in, smiling at the sleeping beagle resting in a dog bed and tossing off a borderline insubordinate salute as he did so. "You're damn lucky there wasn't anyone else in here, Jimmy. Sit down." Jim fell into the chair in front of the older man's desk, barely resisting the urge to kick his feet up. John may be fifty-eight years old, but Jim was still pretty damn sure he could beat the shit out of him. "So, Cadet Kirk, it's a third of the way into your first term here at the Academy, how do you feel about your position and progress in your courses?" John reclined back in his chair, and Jim smirked.

"How many times have you had to say that this week?" John's response was immediate.

"Once. I don't have any other advisees named Kirk." Jim let the grin overtake his face, and John returned it momentarily. "Well, Jimmy, anything to tell me? The handful of things I've heard from your instructors have been positive, excepting an argument you got into with Commander Gabrielle over the ethics of forcing aid on a group that has not requested your help." Jim frowned, and opened his mouth, only to be preempted by the Admiral raising a hand. "Jim, I know you have strong feelings on the subject, due to your experiences-" He paused, and sighed before continuing. "-elsewhere. But you cannot disrupt a class, for a whole class period, just to make your point." John's gaze was stern, and Jim felt his shoulders slump. "Next time, take it up with her after class. Are we clear?"

"Yes, sir." It was like throwing a switch, and Jim watched as John's face instantly relaxed.

"Now that I've got the serious stuff out of the way, how are you doing? I may be one of the old and crusty guys that the cadets look at me like I was born before Zefram Cochrane, but I still keep up on the campus talk." Jim had no idea what the older man had heard, but he could take a pretty good guess.

"Let's see, the early ones stated that the only reason I'm here is that Dad was friends with my parents, some of them don't believe I'm that Kirk at all, some have reached the conclusion that I must have become mutated due to the circumstances behind my birth-"

"Which is ironically the most accurate one of the bunch, I had heard that-"

"-and, oh yes, can't forget the most important one! I'm apparently a waste of a pretty face, who should have been euthanized at birth." He couldn't keep the edge out of his voice, and John's expression immediately went dark.

"May I ask where you heard that one?" Jim shrugged.

"Is it important?" Jim asked plainly, and John sighed, his eyes straying to where Porthos lay snuffling, his rear leg kicking absently.

"No, I suppose not. That sort of statement treads the boundaries between a simple insult and something far more serious, and Starfleet doesn't need bigots in its ranks." The man who Jim thought of as his uncle met his eyes with a firm gaze. "Let me know if you hear any similar comments, Jimmy." Jim nodded, but he knew he would never report it himself, not unless it effected someone else.

Jim bid farewell to John a short time later, the man standing up and drawing him into a short hug before taking him by the shoulders, looking him up and down before nodding and sitting back down, a smile on his face. Jim gave him a cocky grin and yet another silly salute as he was shooed out when the Admiral's comm rung.

"Have a good day, Jim." Ms. Nakashima gave him a fond smile, and he returned the favor as he swept out the door. Just as he about to head out of the building, a small group of cadets came up from behind him, one of them bumping into his arm as they passed. Jim didn't say anything; he had learned through simple experience when it was accidental and when it...wasn't, and it was obviously an accident. The second person all but barrelled into him, however, causing him to have to fumble for the wall, and he couldn't keep his mouth shut any longer.

"What the hell?" PADDs scattered the floor, and he instinctively bent down to gather them up.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I really should stop running, humans seem unable to get out of the way in time." A green hand entered Jim's vision, grabbing the PADDs he hadn't already picked off the floor, and Jim looked up to an...Orion? Jim blinked, and the woman gave him a brilliant pale lipped smile, her white teeth a mesmerizing contrast on her skin. Jim thought he could be a little bit in love. The moment was broken by her taking the PADDs he had fetched out of his arms. "Thank you for your help, Cadet-" She dragged out the 'e' sound, and he felt like smacking his forehead; instead managing to hold out a hand.

"Jim Kirk." Her mouth formed a circle, and Jim felt something inside him ping with sadness. It figured; who knows what rumors she had heard; Jim smiled, and it was probably more bittersweet than he intended as he made to stand back up. Before he could get up, her hand grasped his, and they rose back to their feet together.

"I am called Gaila." She reached out and patted his cheek, her smile sweet. "I am glad to meet you."

"Gaila, we're going to be late!" One of the cadets who had passed him earlier ran back in the door, stopping at the scene in front of him. Gaila laughed and withdrew her hand.

"I'm afraid I have class, Jim. I will see you around?" Jim knew he probably had a complete idiot grin on his face, but he didn't care.

"Absolutely." She shot him that gorgeous grin one last time before she pranced out the door, the other cadet giving a nervous smile before he followed.

"Holy shit." He didn't know that Starfleet had Orion cadets. Why hadn't Chris said anything?

As he jumped out of the taxi he took home, keying open the door without barely slowing down, Jim had important and vital questions that needed to be answered. He blew into the living room, spotting Chris reading a PADD in the recliner. Bullseye.

"Holy shit- Dad! Did you know that there are Orion cadets?" Jim threw himself onto the sofa; coming to rest on his stomach, with his chin sitting on his hands. Chris gave him a dull look over the PADD he was looking at. "Well?" Jim blinked at the older man, who just looked at him for a moment longer before rolling his eyes and setting his PADD down with a sigh.

"Yes, Jim, I am well aware that there are Orion cadets. I did the recruitment interview for one of them." Chris looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Why are you mentioning this now?" Jim blinked innocently, and Chris rolled his eyes. "Please don't tell me you just got back from making out with one of them, there are things I don't need to know." Jim snorted, waving a hand in the air.

"I wish. No, one of them plowed into me as I left after my meeting with John. She was hot." That managed to raise a choked laugh from his dad, who gave him an amused look.

"She was hot? Now, Jim, I don't think you can find any more descriptive of a word than that. I mean, hot is so- detailed." Chris paused for a moment, his lips twisting with mirth. "-but usually pretty accurate. Orions are usually quite the lookers." He blinked, and Jim boggled as the older man's ears inexpicably reddened. "But you didn't hear that from me. So, what was this lovely cadet's name? Did you have better luck than the last time you got ran over by a girl?" Jim wished that his glare actually worked on his dad; but over a decade later, he was still trying. "Well?"

"Gaila. It sounds like a first name; I'm actually unsure if Orions have family names or not. I should look that up." Chris nodded absently.

"I've only met a handful of Orions, and they've all been addressed by one name only. So if they do, they don't advertise. Cadet Gaila was in a class I taught the first term of last year. She'll make a good officer." Jim glowered, and Chris chuckled. "Jim, it's not exactly appropriate for me to assess the physical attractiveness of my students, especially considering that many of them are your age and younger. I haven't hit dirty old man status quite yet." Jim let his chin slip off his hands, tipping forward and face mashing into the seat cushions.

"You're no help."

"Think of it as revenge, son. I've got over a year and a half of this built up." Jim could hear the mischief in Chris's voice and gave a muffled groan into the upolstery.

Gaila turned out to be the catalyst for a sudden growth in acquaintances and people that Jim would be willing to call friends; within just a few weeks, he had met more people than he had the entire time he had been at the Academy. The difference was he had been able to talk to some of these people more than once, and both in and out of class. It was a complete switch than what he was used to, and he wasn't quite sure how to handle it. Oh, the usual rabble was there, led by Jearo, who was still furious that he had been caught red-handed by Chris beating the shit out of Jim back in Riverside, and had resolved to let him know it everytime their paths crossed, but it had become easy to ignore them. For the first time since he had gotten to the Academy, he felt like he really could belong here, not just orbiting the outskirts for the next three years.

"You aren't used to having a lot of people around, are you?" Bones said as Madeline and Cadet Lennox walked away, the residual smile fading from Jim's face as they did so. "Jim?"

"What? Oh, err, it's not a problem." Jim was still watching the two walk away, and Bones let out a sigh next to him.

"I didn't say it was a problem, I was just asking a question." Jim snapped out of it, looking towards his friend as he started walking.

"I've generally kept to myself, yeah. I like being able to think." He almost missed the odd expression that Bones shot him, the man's eyebrows drawing together in what Jim would have normally labeled concern. He must have misread the intent. Jim gave his friend a smile as they headed towards the Tucker Building, where Jim's next class was, the cooling air much more comfortable on his skin (both real and fake) than the horrid summer had been. Once they reached the portico, Bones pulled away with a pat to the arm.

"This is my stop, Jim."

"Are you sure you don't want to come to my Warp Theory class?" The scowl he received was answer enough, and Jim chuckled. "Catch you later, Bones." Bones grunted, and headed off; Jim stood on the steps and watched him leave.

"Good afternoon, Cadet Kirk." If his wings had been unbound, he would have been wrapped around the top of the closest light pole; but as it was, he did a rather impressive jump at the voice, before spinning around with a quickly assembled smile.

"Good afternoon, Captain." His salute was late, and Chris gave him a stern look, the effect tempered by the amusement in his eyes. "How are you doing today, sir?" Chris inclined his head, and gestured towards the door.

"Walk with me." The two entered the building together, and Chris led them to a quiet area by his next class. "You doing okay, Jim?" Jim frowned.

"Why is that coming up all of a sudden?" Chris gave him a pat on his shoulder before leaning against the wall with a smile.

"So defensive, Jim; I walked up to you, and you were staring at Doctor McCoy like you were never going to see him again." He ended his statement with a smirk, and Jim's jaw dropped.

"I was not, you-"

"Watch it, Cadet, you're at school right now." The smirk had joined forces with the mirth in his eyes, and Jim bit his tongue and glared instead. "You seem to have gotten quite busy this term, Jim; one week, it's all about Gaila, the next I catch you giving moon eyes at the good doctor. Maybe if you asked nicely, you could combine pleasures and save yourself the trouble." Jim was just going to keep his jaw in a southerly configuration, saved on the energy.

"-and you've always said I've been hanging around John too much. I think you seriously need to reassess your own time spent with the guy after a comment like that." Chris's shoulders began to shake in silent laughter, and Jim rolled his eyes. "As much as I'd love to continue this with you, I have class, Captain. If you'll excuse me?" Chris straightened, pulling down on the bottom hem of his jacket as he moved away from the wall.

"Of course, the last thing I want to do is impede on your education." The older man's smile softened to a look that Jim had termed the relieved expression, which was a new addition since he had returned from his...travels. He was beginning to doubt that the pang of guilt that hit every time he saw it would ever fade away. "Will I be seeing you for dinner tonight?" He thought for a moment, before shaking his head.

"I've got plans with Bones. I should be in before midnight, though." Chris nodded, and the two left the niche they had been inhabiting. "Have a good day, Captain."

"Same to you, Cadet." Jim smiled and turned, walking down the hall towards the classroom, passing Aki along the way.

"How are you doin' today, Aki?" The girl gave him a distracted look before registering his words with a slow blink.

"Oh, I- I'm doing okay. Thanks for asking." She was giving him an odd look, but Jim didn't think anything of it. He gave her a wave as he entered the classroom, wondering if Bones would go to that club Madeline had told him about earlier.

He first heard it about two weeks before the end of term, overheard as he walked by two cadets on the way to Bones' dorm. He only heard part of their conversation, however, and dismissed it from his mind in lieu of the more important activity of deciding where to drag his best bud to for lunch. Almost a week went by before he heard it again, and this time, both he and Bones were present for the occasion. Jim was pretty sure he had never been completely struck dumb by anyone but Chris before, and Bones seemed to take personal offense as well.

"Where in the blazes did you hear that shit, Lennox? I mean, good god man, the campus riffraff can't just leave a man alone, can they?" Bones was working up to full grump mode, which gave Jim the chance to mentally regroup before speaking, his voice reedier than he would have liked.

"Repeat that again, Tom." The skinny Scottish fellow actually inched back, and he could see Bones shoot him a look. He took a deep breath and tried to give the increasingly nervous looking man a smile. "Please."

So he did, and it was all Jim could do to refrain from sending his fist through the nearest hard surface. His head had been already buzzing, from a mix of stress, anticipation, and other things that he hadn't bothered or wanted to think about, and the sudden increase of pressure was almost overwhelming. Lennox had started scooting backwards again, and Bones actually wrapped a hand around his shoulder, which he was pretty sure was a first. Bones had figured out quickly that he didn't like people to touch his back, and this was easily the closest the man had gotten to doing so. He was too damn pissed to focus on it, though.

"Jim-" His voice, slightly gravelly like usual, held a grain of something else that helped Jim calm down; Jim looked up at Tom, who was standing a meter away looking like a deer caught in headlights, and shook his head at the younger man.

"It's a fucking lie, Tom. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise," Jim snarled, and the other cadet nodded as he stormed off, knocking Bones' hand off his shoulder in the process. He couldn't go home like this, Chris would immediately interrogate him on what was wrong- and that was the last thing he wanted. Footsteps came from behind him, and a familiar hand wrapped around his arm.

"Christ, Jim, what the hell is wrong? You looked like you wanted to kill someone!" Jim threw his arm out of Bones' grasp, dropping to the ground by a tree, wincing as the damp grass soaked into his pants. The older man looked down at him for a moment, his lips pursed, before joining him on the wet grass, close, but not touching. "I know it's a lie, Jim, but what is making you so damn angry? This sort of shit is pretty common in an environment like this, if there's no truth in it, it eventually gets forgotten when the next big scandal, true or not, comes along." Jim raised his head and met his friend's eyes, the silence drawing long between them as he struggled to figure out the way to explain.

"I'm not mad on my behalf, Bones- I'm angry for Captain Pike. The man doesn't deserve to be spoken about like-" Jim waved an arm about wildly, trying to find the words. "-like a dirty old man. He's a decorated Captain in Starfleet, Bones, they should be giving him their respect."

"Why is he different than the others, Jim?" Jim opened his mouth to protest, but Bones raised a finger to silence him. "Ah-ah, don't start. If this was Commander Gabrielle or something, you would be laughing it off. I've overheard you talk to the man several times, you definitely seem to get along with him better than one would expect." Jim bristled at the accusation. "Jim, it's not an accusation, I'm just saying what I've noticed." Jim shook his head, ignoring the ache that his jaw was starting to protest with from all the clenching.

"He recruited me, we like to keep in touch." The look Bones shot him was a standard one, and easy to read. He usually translated it as I'm not a fucking idiot, Jim, so don't even try it.

"It's more than that." He wanted to tell him the truth, but- not yet. Not for the first time since he had met Bones, Jim was suddenly very tired of keeping secrets. He ran his tongue over his lips nervously, knowing that Bones was waiting for him to say something.

"Fine. He's a friend of the family, I've known him since I was a kid. I don't advertise it, because I didn't want anyone to think he pulled strings for me or any of that shit. He didn't need to." It wasn't a lie, in any literal sense of the word, but it was a truth that was definitely lacking. The older man met his eyes without speaking, before looking forward, a sigh escaping his lips.

"I hate to say this, Jim, but your strategy appears to have backfired." That was the understatement of the year. Trust the gossip machine to twist an overheard question from Chris asking him if he was coming home for dinner into a grand tale of sex and illicit affairs. No longer was it that Chris had merely pulled some strings for him, now the talk was that he had earned, and was maintaining, his admission into the academy on his knees. From what Lennox had heard, the rumor wasn't gaining a lot of ground yet, but the class rankings for the term would be up in less than two weeks. He had a bad feeling about this.

"Fuck." Jim let himself slump sideways, his head falling onto Bones' thigh. His new pillow's eyebrows shot up, but he didn't move.

"This really bothers you, doesn't it?" Bones' hand rested on his head, and Jim closed his eyes against the warmth.

"It's disgusting." His skin felt tight, and he tried to focus on the fingers lightly combing through his hair. He could hear Bones sigh again, and the fingers traced his scalp for a beat before changing into a tap. He opened his eyes and looked up into the hazel eyes of his friend, who was staring at him expectantly; Green-bean casserole suddenly came to mind, and Jim knew he needed to get up. "Let's go get something to eat, Bones." Only lack of food would cause him to compare Bones' eyes to a dinner entree. They both got to their feet, grimacing as they scrubbed the grass off the seat of their pants.

"I agree, you felt like a massage pad set on high. Your blood sugar is probably off kilter." He rubbed again at his pants, grimacing. "I need to change first. Your bright idea of sitting in the wet grass is not agreeing with my pants." Jim snorted.

"Fuck your pants, they'll dry. Let's get out of here." He could hear Bones grousing behind him as he walked off, and Jim shivered against the early evening chill seeping into his legs through his own wet pants. The restaurant would be warm.

It had been about six months or so since he had last done this, and honestly, that last one had ended better. As Bones dragged him outside the small bar cursing a blue streak, blood pouring down his face from a cut on his temple and a busted nose, Jim felt the familiar tension fizzle out, and he barely kept himself from sighing in relief. Part of him had missed this, the surge of adrenaline as he dodged fists aimed at his head, but he knew better. He should have snuck away weeks ago, found somewhere he could do some aerial laps, but he had persisted in putting it off. Combined with the anger still bubbling in his chest over the damn rumor- he knew better. It was this same sort of combination that had led to his mess of a life not so long ago. He couldn't afford to repeat that mistake here.

"Dammit Jim, what the hell were you thinking? If a bruiser tells you to lay off his girlfriend, you listen to the fucking guy! Were you trying to get your ass handed to you?" Bones was furious, but his hands were steady and warm, holding Jim up against a wall as he did a quick inspection of his injuries. Jim turned his head to the side and spat out some blood that had trickled into his mouth, bringing a shaking hand up to wipe the rest away.

"-wasn't his girlfriend, 'ones. Jus' a guy who thought I shouldn' be talkin' to a pretty girl." Bones was in Doctor mode, poking and prodding at his wounds, and Jim fought back a wince as the cut on his head was examined. After a minute, the older man stepped back with an exasperated sigh.

"You need to get checked out, Jim. You don't look like you have a concussion, but that cut is too nasty for my tastes, and your nose could use a proper setting." Bones motioned to the main road with his head. "Come on. We'll get a taxi, and I'll fix you up at Starfleet Medical-"

"No." Jim knew that this was going to happen one day, especially in having acquired a doctor as a best friend, but he hadn't thought it would come so soon. Said doctor's face collapsed into an irritated grimace as he took Jim's hand and pulled him away from the wall.

"Jim-" Jim snapped his hand back, and set his face in the most serious expression he could manage with the pain.

"No. No hospitals, no clinics, no tricorder-type devices. This is not a discussion." He could hear the glacial tones in his own voice, and he watched as Bones' face ran through a gamut of emotions, his mouth opening and shutting several times before finally giving a loud exhale and taking Jim's wrist, but he didn't pull this time.

"Are you sure about this, Jim?"

"Yes. I'll go ahead and go home, Bones, sorry for fucking up your evening." He really didn't want to go home; he didn't think he would be able to grab the dermal regenerator and sneak into his bedroom without Chris noticing, and he really wasn't up to a lecture tonight. Bones sighed and began to guide him out of the alleyway.

"No, you need to be cleaned up. I've got a dermal regenerator back in my room, that should take care of most of it." Jim moved with Bones, but well-trained suspicion kept him dragging his heels. After a moment, Bones spun around and grabbed his upper arms, his face alarmingly close to his own. "Jim, I promise to only use the regenerator. I'll leave the tricorder packed up. Okay?" Concern had replaced most of the anger in the older man's eyes, and Jim felt his resistance crumble at the sight, far easier than it should have. Maybe Chris had a point with his insane little comment, but he sure as fuck didn't want to think about it.

"Alright." A taxi was flagged down, and fifteen minutes found Jim sitting on Bones' couch, feeling the odd and unfortunately rather familiar stretch of the regenerator working over his skin. After the majority of the damage was knit back together, Bones gave him a once-over and packed up his regenerator, his face tired but as calm as Jim had ever seen it.

"Your pretty face should be completely back to normal by tomorrow afternoon." He was exhausted, but Jim couldn't leave a comment like that unspoken. Letting himself slowly fall into a parody of a sexy lounge, he blinked his eyes up at the older man, who responded with a groan.

"You think I'm pretty, Bones? I don't know what to say!" It was a little hard to radiate coquettishness when you felt like sleeping for a week, but he gave it his best shot, which led to the reaction he was hoping for; Bones snorted and threw one of the sofa pillows at his head, misjudging his aim enough for it to smack into his chest instead. Jim chuckled as he wrapped his arms around the projectile, his body slumping back into a prone position. "Can I stay here tonight? I don't feel like getting up again." Without waiting for the man's answer, he stuffed the pillow under his head and squirmed around, trying to make himself comfortable. Without responding, Bones walked over to a closet and pulled out a blanket, throwing it in Jim's direction; he managed to catch it and shake it into position. "Thanks, Bones."

"You realize your uniform will stink of grass and other shit tomorrow, right?" Jim's eyes were already drifting shut, but he hmmed a reply. The last thing he noticed before he fell asleep was Bones murmuring good night as the blanket was adjusted to cover his feet. If Chris noticed anything when he finally made it home the following evening, he kept it to himself.

The holidays were starting tomorrow, and Jim was thrown for a loop when he sauntered into Bones' room to discover him packing a duffel. They hadn't discussed the holidays, but Jim had let himself assume with all of the man's griping about the ex-wife that he wasn't going anywhere. He had obviously misread the situation. The sofa was covered in clothes, so Jim flopped down onto the bed instead.

"Whatcha doing, Bones?" The older man hadn't even looked up when he came in, but he paused at Jim's voice before stuffing a pair of pants into the bag as he craned his head behind him.

"What does it look like, genius?" Bones growled, getting to his feet and grabbing a few of the shirts on the sofa, sending them into the duffel as well. Jim frowned as he watched the other man putter around the room, and after the silence ran between them for a period of time, Bones sighed and dropped the duffel. "What do you want, Jim?" Jim shot Bones a pout as he flopped back onto the bed.

"You didn't say you were going anywhere." It came out far more hurt than he intended, and Jim winced inwardly; something flashed in the older man's eyes before he looked away.

"I just got the word two days ago, Jim; originally...I was staying here." Bones wasn't looking at him, his eyes were focused on some invisible spot on the wall; Jim had no clue what he was talking about. Pulling himself upright, he kicked his legs and hopped off the bed, moving to Bones' side.

"I have no idea what you are talking about. Did- did a family member die?" That got his friend's attention, the man spinning on his heel to face him.

"What? No!" The wide-eyed look on his face faded as he seemed to mull it over. Jim forced himself to remain quiet. Bones heaved a deep sigh, his shoulders raising and lowering with the effort. "No, no one died. I just found out that I'll be able to see Joanna for Christmas. I didn't think-" He paused, swallowing heavily, and Jim blinked in confusion. "-I didn't think I'd be able to see her." Jim knew he wasn't talking about his ex, there was no possible way; not after six months of vitriol and bitterness. But who was Joanna? An old girlfriend? The only answer that made sense barrelled into him, and his jaw dropped open.

"You have a kid?" Bones actually flushed, and Jim bit his tongue against the surge of anger. Why hadn't Bones told him? Jim watched in shock as Bones shook his head, lines of exhaustion making him look older than his twenty-eight years.

"Don't even try it, Jim. I don't ask you about your secrets, and god knows you have a lot of them; you don't have the right to get angry over mine." Jim wanted to argue, to complain; but that would make him a hypocrite of the highest order. His whole damn life was framed around secrets, who was he to insist on others to do otherwise? "Yes, I have a kid. Her mother got sole custody, and I was under the impression that she wouldn't let me in the state, let alone see my daughter." Bones' face softened, and Jim marveled at the simple smile that was sneaking its way onto the man's face. He needed to smile like that more often. Bones smiling was far more important than dwelling on shit that was unimportant. Jim grinned and slapped the older man on the arm.

"That's awesome, man! How old is she? What kinds of things does she like? Do you have a picture?" Bones locked eyes with him, and Jim could see the exact moment when his resistance crumbled; the green tones of his irises brighter than ever as he cuffed the side of Jim's head with a fond snort. Reaching into a drawer, he pulled out a PADD and turned it on, tilting the device so Jim could see it. An image of a skinny armed girl dangling from a low-lying tree branch popped up, her light brown hair and hazel eyes gleaming in the afternoon sun. Jim looked at the focused expression on the girl's face as she clung to the branch, so like her father's, and chuckled. "She looks just like you, Bones! How old is she?" He looked again before Bones could reply. "Five? Six?" Bones poked at the screen, the image changing to one of her a year or so younger, clinging to her father's neck as he appeared to be dozing on the front porch of a old-fashioned wood house.

"She's six. Her birthday was a few months ago." The smile faded as he spoke, and Jim cursed himself for bringing her age up. Bones hadn't left the academy since they had arrived. Time for a redirect. Jim threw his arms dramatically in the air, startling Bones out of the funk he was working himself into.

"Well, what does she like? Have you bought a Christmas gift yet?" He smiled expectantly at the older man, who rolled his eyes and gestured in the direction of his bag. Jim pouted at Bones, who rolled his eyes even harder. "-and you didn't even take me with you shopping! You are such a jackass, Bones." The man in question snorted and turned off the PADD, putting it back in his drawer before walking over and picking up his duffel.

"I'm sorry I couldn't say anything earlier, Jim." Jim's smile dimmed, but he shook his head in dismissal.

"This is more important, Bones." He walked over and threw his arms over Bones' shoulders in a quirky hug. Bones' arms twitched in shock, before the older man settled them loosely around Jim's waist. "Have a good trip, Bones. I'll see you when you get back."

"I would offer my mother's old advice, but I think the hypocrisy might strike me dead." Jim looked into his friend's face, his mouth twitching at the ends with suppressed mirth, and Jim chuckled.

"Oh?" Bones gave his waist a light squeeze and let go.

"Stay off the streets and outta the bars, kid." Jim raised an eyebrow.

"I expect us to be struck by lightening at any minute."

"Got any big plans for Christmas, John?" Jim asked as he stretched in the family room, his spine making a tight curve as he touched the backs of his feet. He could see the older man wince, and he let out a tight chuckle. "Well?" John shifted in his seat, glancing over at Chris. The good captain was completely out, his mouth slightly lax in sleep with Porthos curled in his lap, and John didn't even bother to disguise the affection on his face. Jim returned to a standing position and looked between the two. "Why don't you say something to him?" He didn't miss the muted expression that fell over John's features, and he sighed. "You guys have been rotating around each other in an orbit of denial for years now, and it doesn't look like anything changed when I was off being an asshole." The lines around John's eyes were different than Chris's, not as deep or as numerous, but they were competing with his nasolabial folds to make the dour-looking man look even older than he was. He lowered himself to the floor and placed a hand on John's knee as he leaned against the front of the sofa. "You two would be amazing together, John. I've known this since I was a kid." John closed his eyes and slumped back in his chair.

"Your dad and I have been doing this for decades, Jim; this is nothing new. We're both far too busy, and gone too often to consider it anytime soon." Jim pressed his lips together and scowled.

"Bullshit. Dad's in denial, and you won't push it. That's what it comes down to." John's eyebrows drew sharply together, and Jim braced himself for the verbal lashing. Both of them missed the near silent groan from the far side of the sofa.

"What in the world are you two...arguing about?" Chris muttered, the words twisting as he sat up and stretched, leading both Jim and John to jump in their respective spots. Chris gave the two of them a suspicious look, the effect weakened by the bleariness in his eyes. "Well?" The two looked at each other, before turning back to Chris.

"Nothing, dad. I was just asking him what he was doing for Christmas," Jim said, John nodding minutely in agreement, and Chris raised his eyebrows, clearly skeptical.

"Mmmhmm." Chris looked over at John, and Jim knew he could tell that John wasn't happy. "You're going to your mother's for a week, right?"

"That's the plan. I'll be back by your birthday, brat." John grumbled the last line in Jim's direction, and Jim patted the man's knee as he got back to his feet. Chris looked up at Jim, who plastered an innocent smile on his face.

"Looks like it's just going to be the two of us, then. Did you have any plans?" Chris rose to his feet, and pulled the hem of his shirt down before facing his son. Porthos shuffled into his vacated spot on the sofa and went back to sleep.

"What happened to Doctor McCoy? Or the other cadets you've spoken of?" Jim shook his head.

"Bones is in...Georgia? He's visiting his daughter for the holidays. Gaila is on a trip with her roommate, and Madeline and Lennox went home. My intent is to stay away from campus. Beyond that, I have no idea." Chris smiled, and Jim blinked. "What?"

"I'm glad to hear that about McCoy; he was so depressed about it at the recruitment interview." Chris paused, twisting his lips. "You didn't hear that from me. I shouldn't open my mouth when I'm not fully awake, I talk too much." John chuckled, and Jim frowned.

"You already knew? Well fuck." He ignored the incoming glare, and tilted forward to start stretching again. John was the next to speak.

"Why are you avoiding campus, Jimmy?" Yeah, he shouldn't have said anything. Chris tilted his head and looked down at him, the question mirrored in his features.

"That's a good question, Jim. I mean, there's usually events you can go to, I'm sure there will be parties-" John cut him off.

"This is about those rumors, isn't it." A statement, not a question, and Jim looked up at them from an odd angle, his head between his legs and his wings flaring up. Chris's brow crinkled together in confusion.

"Rumors? Which ones?" John sighed and scratched at his jaw stubble, while Jim stretched forward even further, feeling it in his back and lower wing muscles. He didn't want to explain it, hell, he didn't want Chris to even know about them if he didn't already, considering how fucking embarrassing they were. He watched John lock eyes with his dad, and Chris's furrowed eyebrows stayed put.

"What have you heard?" A simple question, and Jim took the opportunity to straighten back to a standing position, before slowly falling into the splits. Chris seemed be going through them in his head, his fingers doing a air countdown one digit at a time.

"The worst I've heard is that I've supposedly used my so-called influence to get him into the academy, because his difference in appearance clearly effects his brain." John raised an eyebrow, and followed with a leer that Jim started to bristle at, but the older man's eyes weren't reflecting the emotion.

"It's been upgraded! Congratulations, Chris, you are having a filthy forbidden sexual relationship with Cadet Kirk, and obviously it's because he has a pretty face, because the rest of him is surely disgusting to look at." The sarcasm in John's voice was bleeding, and Jim was pretty sure Chris's eyes couldn't get any wider.

"Come again?" Jim groaned, and let himself tip back until he ended up on his back, wings taking up most of the floor. John had once compared the pose to a dead bird; he may have almost tripped the older man a moment later. Chris was forced to nudge one of his wings inward to get around to be able to look down at his face. "Jim, why didn't you say anything?"

"What could you do? Better for it to be bandied about without backup than to have you say something and it explode in our faces." Chris pinched the bridge of his nose.

"You didn't exactly answer the question." John had moved around to stand beside Chris, and he followed the statement with a shake of his head.

"I can guarantee that you didn't want your dad to know, Jimmy. You have a track record in these sorts of things." Jim sighed and rolled onto the side facing away from them, one wing shifting and acting as an feathered rug, while he curled the other around him like a cloak. He could hear them both shuffle behind him, and what sounded like John saying a few words to Chris before one left the room. A moment later, his unpinned wing was gently lifted, and Jim locked eyes on his dad, who poked a bit at the other wing before carefully sitting down. He had learned early that it didn't long as he didn't move it. That had been a nice collection of feathers lost.

"Jim, he has a point. I appreciate you trying to keep me out of the campus gossip, but if it's gotten that bad, I would have preferred that you told me. Now that I know, it explains an odd statement that one of the lower-ranking professors said to me a week ago." Chris stopped, a thoughtful frown on his face. "I'm guessing it's gotten worse since the first term results posted." Jim nodded, and Chris rolled his eyes. "Jim, you are only going to hear this once from me." He leaned in with a conspiratorial smile, careful to not put weight on any wing bones; Jim couldn't resist a boyish smile in return. "Fuck 'em."

Jim was immediately and painfully reminded why he shouldn't move his wings if someone was sitting on them.

The place was called All I Can Do, and a older gentleman named Crosby ran it; he and Bones had been there quite a few times ever since they had arrived in San Francisco. He liked the music, and Bones liked the booze. Well, the fact that Bones allowed him to take him back there proved that he at least tolerated the music as well; they had once tried out a joint that specialized in Kobheerian pop songs, and they had barely lasted an hour. Despite enjoying Crosby's place, he had never gone there alone, if simply because he liked doing his bar-hopping with Bones. He had wanted to go to the desert for Christmas, as he had only gotten a week there before they had to return for the fall term, but Chris was given last minute orders and shipped off to Mars for several days, effectively ending any chance of a long holiday. He could have gone down alone, of course, but he didn't want to. He would never admit it to anyone, but he had long had his fill of being alone. He had been running laps around the area, trying to keep his mind off of things, but it hadn't been working. He sealed his fate by making the dumb decision to try and call his mother for Christmas. As he expected, he was directed to leave a message, but unlike the last time he had checked it, there was no pre-recorded note stating that she was off-planet. A short hack into deployment records verified this, and Jim hoped against hope for almost a day that she would actually respond. Wherever he was, Jim spared a thought to hope that Sam was having a good Christmas as well. Not that he would know. It was times like these that he knew better than to go to any establishment resembling a bar.

Which is why he doing his best to pile drive the idiot currently trying to beat his face in (why was it always the face?) so he could get out of there. He liked Crosby, and really didn't want to cause him any extra trouble, but this was getting ridiculous. That x-gene tweaked synapse in his brain that wanted him to fly was still confused into firing when he was fighting, and he knew he should have just sucked it up and gone to the desert, but it was too fucking late now. He should have listened to Bones' stupid advice. He dodged a kick from a scrappy looking guy, but was caught across the back of the knees, causing him to crumple; as the pain surged into being, Jim found himself listening to the bar's namesake before everything went black.

The next thing he saw was familiar blue eyes, the lines fanning out from the sides as his eyelids were peeled open; groaning and batting loosely at the hands in front of his face suddenly sounded like a great idea, until the hands grabbed and held onto his.

"Jim, wake up." Opening his eyes led to the denouement of a Klingon opera being performed in his skull, and Jim moaned and shut them, trying to curl into a ball. He was thwarted by the grasp on his hands, and the voice leaning down and whispering in his ear. "Jim, you need to wake up. Doctor Phlox is off-planet, and if I have to take you to get checked out for a head injury, we all know what's going to happen." It took a moment, but the words finally filtered through his aching brain; he stiffened and shot into a sitting position, the nausea following in its wake. Jim managed to focus on the concern on Chris's face, and the nausea settled marginally.

"When- you get here?" His tongue felt like it didn't belong in his mouth, but he was able to form enough words for his Dad to sigh quietly in relief.

"About five minutes ago. You are damn lucky that Crosby called me first, Jim. What the hell were you thinking?" Chris paused, and looked up at something out of view. "I'll be right back. Don't move." That sounded like a fantastic idea. He let his eyes droop shut again, but remained in a sitting position. After an immeasurable amount of time, Chris returned and hauled him to his feet. "Thank you for the call, Crosby."

"No problem, Captain. I hope he's feeling better soon." Crosby's deep voice was soothing, and Jim mumbled a thanks to the man as Chris steered him out of the bar and into a cab, then into the house a short time later. At least it felt like a short time later, but his sense of time was a little wonky at the moment. He was guided up the stairs and into his bedroom, where Chris dumped him on his bed and told him to try and take his shoes off, before turning and heading back downstairs. The headache was excruciating, but he managed to wriggle out of his ornery footwear before he fell back onto the soft mattress.

"Sit up, Jim."

"Don' wanna." The disgusted sigh from Chris roused him enough to open his eyes, just in time to see his dad grab him by the shoulders and pull him upright again. A humming sound came from behind, and Jim automatically tried to see where the sound was coming from; but Chris's hand on his jaw kept him from moving.

"You have a nice bump here, son. The dermal will take care of most of it, but you are going to be staying here tomorrow." Jim moaned softly in relief as the regenerator did its magic, and he finally felt like he could utter a complete sentence.

"Why did Crosby call you?" The amusement that suddenly appeared on Chris's face was not what he expected. "Buh?" The older man smiled as he gently moved Jim's head to the side, and he tried not to wince when firm fingers prodded at the base of his skull.

"I've been going there for years, Jim. Crosby called the first night after you and the doctor went in, asking if you were who he thought you were." He turned on the regenerator again, keeping Jim's head angled as he ran it over the back; Jim squawked in irritation.

"You mean he's been spying for you? That's not- I mean- what the hell?" Chris snorted and killed the device, releasing Jim's jaw in the process and sitting back.

"No, Jim, he wasn't spying, you paranoid pain in the ass. I simply confirmed that you were that Jim, and I haven't really spoken to him besides some small talk over drinks until tonight." Jim sagged when the full weight of Chris's authoritative stare fixed on him. This is something he really hadn't wanted to repeat again. "Speaking of tonight, son, what in the blazes were you thinking? You've managed to keep out of trouble for quite some time now."

"I didn't start it," Jim whined at his dad, cringing at the tone. Chris rolled his eyes and adjusted in his seat on the bed.

"No, but you finished it. Crosby said you fought like a man possessed, Jim- said you were smiling like a kid in a candy store right up until you got knocked out." Chris frowned. "I would be lying if I said that his description of events didn't concern me." It was time to fess up.

"I didn't want to bother you with it," Jim mumbled, and the older man tilted his head expectantly. "Remember how I would get antsy if I hadn't gone flying for awhile?"

"I do-"

"It's gotten more pronounced." Jim scratched at a cut on his hand, looking away from Chris. "It started when I was in New York; or at least I really noticed it then. It's like something crawling under my skin, in my head- my wings actually start spasming if it gets bad enough. The owner of one of the places I worked at thought I was on drugs." His laugh was harsh and self-flagellating, and Chris's mouth thinned in response. "I discovered soon after that something besides flying tricks my head into calming down."

"Fighting," Chris commented, and Jim nodded.

"Unfortunately. Found out by accident, too. I know you saw that mess on my record." The flash in Chris's eyes answered that one; the older man seemed to be going over a mental list before he spoke.

"The fine in Buffalo?" He even picked the right one; but it was logical, considering his previous statement. Jim ran a hand through his hair, the dust and grime from the floor of the bar competing with the tell-tale sensation of dried blood near the location of the bump, and he pulled his hand away with a grimace.

"They went easy on me because it was a first offense, and because they felt sorry for me or some shit. It was really-" He felt the need to explain himself all of a sudden, confess a small portion of his sins to the man who had given him everything.

"Jim." It wasn't an excuse, and he wanted Chris to know that, it was a catalyst, but not the direct cause of his issues; he could have fixed the symptoms both in the past and recently if he had bothered to make the effort.

"-but it didn't stop me from being an idiot or anything, mind you-"

"Jim." Jim snapped his mouth shut at the irritation in his dad's voice.

"Yeah?" Chris was pinching the bridge of his nose again. This never boded well.

"The trip we did down to the house at the end of the summer term was your last real outing, correct?" He ran it over in his head, but that was right. Doing stretches and short glides down the stairs just didn't cut it long term.

"Yeah." Chris groaned, massaging his temples before opening his mouth.

"That's almost six months, Jim. You would have been bouncing off the walls even when you were younger by this point." Chris looked at him for a long moment, before getting to his feet and walking over to his console. Jim watched him without speaking, if only because fatigue was making a reappearance, and he slumped forward, his face pressed against his hands. The older man hmmed before nodding slightly at whatever he was looking at, rising from the chair and turning off the machine before returning to Jim's side. "Stop hiding these things from me, Jim; it's gone beyond irritating and straight into migraine-inducing. I have a solution for your little problem, which I could have done months ago had you actually said something." Yeah, he deserved the exasperated glare Chris was shooting him. Jim sat up a little straighter to respond.

"Yes, sir." The other man exhaled loudly, and the glare was replaced by a softer look.

"The Academy sponsors a free lift to Yosemite every weekend, and they are always looking for volunteers to pilot the flights. I'm now the listed pilot for the trip on the third weekend of every month." Jim blinked, and tried to think of an appropriate response. "I can drop the rest of the passengers off in Yosemite, then take us to a different area for you to stretch your wings for an afternoon in peace. You need it for therapy, and I can use the downtime." He wondered if Chris had been considering going on these trips anyway, with how fast he had been able to get that together, but it sounded great. Chris leveled his gaze at him. "Well, mister stubborn, what do you think?"

"I- uh- sounds great. Thank you," Jim said, still a bit thrown by the ease of the solution. These things were never this simple to solve, why was this any different?

"Don't make me hit you, son," Chris drawled, and Jim flushed.

"No, really, it sounds amazing, I'm just kinda worn out."

"A likely excuse." Chris gave a soft smile, getting to his feet. "Get some sleep, Jim. I'll check on you a few times later to make sure you don't have a concussion, so don't panic if you see me in here." That warm fuzzy feeling was supposed to be something you grew out of, wasn't it? Jim wondered (not for the first time) how in the hell he ever left for so long. He had to swallow a few times before he could scrape together a response.

"...thanks for your help, Dad." A tanned hand ruffled through his hair, and Jim smiled up at the older man.

"All you have to do is ask, Jim. Don't forget that."

Jim hadn't felt this calm and comfortable in his own skin in several years. The trips to the Sierras were amazing, Chris had been switching between two areas that had all but been forgotten by the rest of the world, and although it wasn't the desert, they were both absolutely beautiful in their own right. John had even joined them on a few of the excursions, and Jim was fast working the fine art of matchmaking through annoyance into a world class feat. He was pretty sure the Admiral had wanted to beat the shit out of him on several occasions, but Jim could see that he was slowly having an effect on the older man. Empathis on slow. He might fess up to Chris before he turned eighty, at the rate things were going, and that...wasn't acceptable. He had no clue what else he could do.

He had taken his dad's slightly painful advice to heart, and after the clump of feathers he lost grew back in, he set about internalizing that simple philosophy. Bones had noticed and obviously approved of his change of heart regarding the rumors and other crap being slung all over the campus. He was pretty sure that the main reason was that it gave the good doctor more time to bitch about his own issues, but sometimes Bones got this look in his eyes that he couldn't quite figure out, and then he would reevaluate that opinion. The winter term blew through with little drama, his marks even higher than the fall term. Like the previous term, the nasty rumors spiked right after the top results were published, but this time, he ignored all but the ones that directly insulted Chris. Stipe had taken to giving him the stink-eye around the same time, and it felt almost nostalgic. At least unlike the Yorktown, he had a hell of a lot more space to avoid him.

A month and a half before the end of his first year at the Academy, Jim was cornered by Chris and John after what had been a pleasant dinner of lasagna and corn on the cob, and one look at the two men's faces made Jim barely able to repress his urge to dive between the older men's legs and run for it, if only because his wings would cut them both down if he attempted it. He didn't want to have to explain that one to Starfleet Medical.

"Uh, what's going on?" John's face broke out into a naughty grin, and Jim knew he was in trouble now. He never thought he'd be jealous of Porthos, who had slipped around the lot of them and was currently trying to will the scraps of food on the table to come down to him, based on his focused expression. Chris's expression was more level, so he focused his attention on him. "I've been keeping out of trouble! Promise, Bones likes pulling my ass out of the fire even less than you do-" John burst into laughter mid-babble, and Chris gave a dramatic roll of his eyes before lightly smacking him upside the head.

"You know what my mother would have said if I was you?" Jim shook his head, and Chris raised an eyebrow. "She would have said that you had a guilty conscience." Jim snorted, but he didn't bother denying it. "Relax, Jim. I just want to give you some fair warning about a specific end-of-the-year event, and perhaps some assistance if you are willing." Chris stepped back and gestured to the sofa, which Jim gladly flopped onto as John settled into the recliner across from him. Chris balanced his hip on the armrest of the sofa and looked down. "The Academy Military Ball is always held at the end of the year." He had no clue where Chris was going with this.

"Yeah, I think I remember seeing a notice about it," Jim returned, and Chris clicked his tongue. "What's the big problem?" Jim blinked and opened his mouth again. "Is this about me getting a date or something?" Chris gave an amused exhale.

"No, nothing like that. I wanted to inform you of a tradition that is always upheld at the ball." Jim just looked at his dad, and Chris tilted his head. "How would you like to learn how to do some basic ballroom dances?" Considering it was a ball, this wasn't exactly the most shocking thing. He was definitely missing the direction of this conversation.

"I am guessing by your buildup that there is a reason beyond the obvious." John chuckled at this, and Chris shushed him before speaking again.

"Every year, all attendees are randomly matched and required to dance together for a song, and unlike the rest of the night, where most will be engaging in the standard walking in a slow circle type dance." Jim could hear the air quotes around the word dance, but Chris was great at imparting his meaning without unnecessary gestures. "This is the one time where an actual attempt is expected. I figured that you would want to at least look competent on the ballroom floor when you got dragged into it." It sounded like the cliched plot out of an old movie, and his lip curled in only somewhat-feigned disgust.

"I'm guessing you've gone every year you've been back?" John started laughing at his tone, and Chris looked like he wanted to join him, but he managed to keep it together.

"-and all the years I was at the Academy as a student. It's an institution." John was still laughing, the bastard, and his wonderful dad was starting to join in the act. Jim found himself wondering if they were just completely full of shit, but he had a horrible suspicion that they weren't. Was it too late to drop out and go join a Tibetan monastery?

"No way of skipping?" The jackass started shaking his head, and Jim set into a good sulk. Damn Starfleet and their damn traditions. Chris raised an eyebrow, the amusement he was getting out of this perfectly clear as he shook his head.

"Not without being injured or arrested," Chris said drily, and Jim gave a dark grin.

"...hmm-" He knew better, of course, but it was always fun to yank on his dad's chain a bit. Chris obviously thought better of him, though, as the amusement didn't fade.

"-and don't get any ideas." Jim gave an over the top sigh and crossed his arms.

"Damn." John was still chuckling, but had calmed down enough to take a chug of his beer without choking. Jim felt this was a little unfortunate.

"Don't bother, Jimmy, even if you managed to wheedle out of it this year, you would never pull it off two years in a row. Just suck it up." Could he get court-marshaled for punching an Admiral who happened to be a family friend at a casual dinner off-campus? He couldn't think of a specific regulation at the moment, but either way, it wouldn't end well. He had seen John at the gym. Jim leaned away from the wall and shrugged.

"Whatever. So, who would I be learning these dances from?" Chris and John exchanged a look.

"Who else, Jim?" Chris said, and Jim's eyes widened.

"You can ballroom dance?" John looked comically affronted, and Chris glared.

"Why do you sound so surprised?" He was pretty sure he would have noticed his dad dancing. Singing, sure, but dancing? Jim smirked and tilted his head. Seeing either of the two dance would be worth the price of admission.

" reason." That earned him a smack on the side of the head from Chris, who snorted.

"Brat." Jim raised an eyebrow in response.

"You know you love it. Ow." He would need to check for bruises later at this rate. Chris drew back his hand and gave his son a smile that made Jim shiver.

"Only when it doesn't involve me smoothing your messes over at one in the morning, son." The innocent look hadn't worked on Chris since- ever, but it never stopped him from trying. Jim watched John chuckle and fall into one of the recliners out of the corner of his eye, and shot his dad a sheepish look.

"Point taken." The next few minutes found him being treated to a crash course on formal ball etiquette and general expectations, before being poked and prodded into some sort of proper posture and stance. Jim squawked in surprise when Chris grabbed his wings and pressed them in towards his back in a semblance of his harness for a moment before releasing them with an absentminded nod.

"What?" Jim squeaked as Chris stared at him with a thoughtful expression.

"It might be better if you put on your harness for this, but I think for the first day we can just run through the steps." Chris stepped up to Jim and grabbed his arms, placing them in what he assumed was the appropriate places. "Now, the tango is rather...pushy, and is never done in the blind partner dances because of this. Most people stumble through some sort of waltz." Jim shot his dad a skeptical look, and Chris laughed, those amazing lines around his eyes crinkling with the effort. Jim would bet every credit to his name that John was doing that besotted idiot smile again behind them. "I'll run you through both sides of a slow waltz, I know the spins won't bother you."

Jim never thought he would ever be in a situation where he would need to waltz, let alone waltz with his dad, but he supposed there was a first time for everything. He considered himself rather graceful by nature, a necessity of executing aerial maneuvers; Chris seemed to agree with his internal assessment after they ran through a few repetitions of the steps, as ridiculous as Jim felt. After a half hour or so of practicing, he was released to relax for a few minutes, Porthos's head coming to rest on his leg when his dad grabbed John from the recliner and ran through a demonstration with the older man. Jim watched the two men with a soft smile as they moved around the room, their attentions wrapped up wholly in each other, and it reconfirmed his resolve to see the two together before they all died of old age, or before Chris left on the Enterprise. Preferably the latter.

Any hopes of the whole affair being a construct of a very specific set of bored flag and future flag officers flew out the airlock the next time he spoke with Bones, who had been warned of it by a few upperclassmen at Starfleet Medical. Jim groaned and prodded at Bones' thigh like a pillow before lowering his back to the ground and burrowing his head into said thigh. The older man glowered at him as he made himself comfortable, but the leg didn't move. Jim looked up at Bones, a goofy grin on his face.

"At least I've been practicing." That got his friend's attention, and he found himself enjoying a rather nice view of Bones' hazel eyes as Bones looked down at him incredulously.

"You've been practicing?" Bones said, the surprise evident as he raised an eyebrow. "With who?" Oops. Deflection time. Jim gave the most guileless smile he could scrounge up. It was surprisingly easy, and he needed to keep in practice on someone.

"No one in particular." The eyebrow was ascending again, and Jim snorted with laughter. Bones seemed less amused.

"Bullshit." Jim twitched, but forced himself not to respond; he set about kneading Bones' thigh with a free hand as he adjusted his head, earning him a scowl.

"You have comfy thighs, Bones," Jim said, blinking up at his friend before closing his eyes. He could hear the irritated intake of air above him as Bones warmed up his inner grump motor.

"I'm a doctor, Jim, not a goddamned pillow!" Nope, still running cold; he was clearly not running on all cylinders today. He had heard far better from Bones.

"You can be a doctor and a pillow." Jim smiled into the warm leg under him, and he heard Bones sigh. "Wake me up before my Conversational Andorian class starts."

"I'm also not an alarm clock, you idiot," Bones grumbled, but it was just for show at this rate. The older man went quiet, and Jim began to drift off, Bones' pulse lulling him to sleep. He thought Bones made both a great alarm clock and pillow, personally.

Jim met Bones outside his dormitory building two days after finals, the two of them walking in silence towards the courtyards near the front of the campus. There was always a small group of people that enjoyed giving him the stink eye, but Jim could see and feel that the number was far larger than normal, and even Bones looked a little stunned with the attention; Jim cracked a small smile when he shot Stipe a glare in response to the murderous look he was aiming at Jim. He kept his mouth shut and waited for the older man to speak up. It didn't take long.

"So, Jim, explain to me why everyone is giving you even dirtier looks than usual?" Bones' voice was thick with badly disguised curiosity, and Jim affected the most angelic face he had in his arsenal. On a scale of one to ten of effectiveness, Jim took another glance at his friend- and gave it a five. It was too obvious today. Still smiling at Bones, he shook his head lightly.

"No reason." Nope, about a two; the eyebrow simply rose with Jim's statement, and Jim let his grin calm down. His cheeks were getting tired. Bones gestured towards Stipe's retreating back, and snorted.

"That Stipe fellow just shot you a look that even my mother would have taken a second look at, Jim. That's multiple degrees above his usual expression of strangled intolerance." Got it in one. Jim wished that the good doctor had known the idiot when he was younger; Bones would have scared some sense into Stipe. Both of them. Jim fought down a scowl as he thought about his old acquaintence. Stipe was playing an odd game, and he wasn't quite sure how to address it. The man knew damn good and well that Pike was his dad, not his illicit lover, and had more than enough venom towards Jim to happily announce that to anyone who cared to listen. Maybe he thought that it would be more irritating to Jim to let the rumors run down the path they had taken instead. Jim groaned inwardly. That was probably it; since the gossip implicated both he and Chris, Stipe probably thought it was hillarious. He glanced towards Bones, who was guiding them towards the landscaped inner portion of the courtyard. Time to change the subject.

"Hey, Bones, got a date for the dance yet?" Jim smiled mischievously, earning an eyeroll as Bones leaned against a tree, rubbing his back against it for a moment like he was scratching an itch.

"You know I'm not looking for a date, I'm too damn old to be-" Bones stopped short, and Jim couldn't restrain a guilty grin. "Damnit, Jim, don't change the subject!" Jim bumped shoulders with his friend as he settled against the tree next to him, and looked out on the cadets passing by. Uhura walked by without sparing a look to either of them. It was almost refreshing. He gave an over-dramatic sigh and replied.

"Dang, almost worked." The brunet shook his head in disgust, before blinking and turning back to Jim.

"Wait, they announced the class rankings today, didn't they?" His voice was suspicious, and Jim blinked right back at him. Bones was getting faster at this.

"Yeah. Say, why don't we go together to the dance thing? That way you don't have to go in alone, probably looks bad on the receiving line." That actually drew a rare chuckle out of the doctor, who bumped his shoulder and gave him the amused eyebrow. It had taken awhile, but Jim was pretty sure he had finally catalogued all of them.

"I'm in shock that you even know what a receiving line is," Bones said, leaving Jim to gasp in feigned insult and fold his arms with a pout. As expected, the older man rolled his eyes at the theatrics and scoffed.

"I'm not totally a lost cause, Bones! I know things." Jim finished his statement with a firm nod, pout faded to a haughty expression; the eyebrow went from amused to what Jim liked to call the really now setting. Jim bit his lip to fight the laughter that bubbled up from the last thought. Bones the preternaturally grumpy robot; with multiple eyebrow expressions! He didn't even realize he had started chuckling until the person in question kicked him in the calf, startling Jim from his musings. The older man worked his jaw for a moment, but no sound came out; Jim let a smirk out into the open. That woke Bones up.

"There is a key word in that statement, kid." As a comeback, he would give it a four; Bones had far better material in his arsenal. Jim felt his stomach grumble. Time for both of them to find some lunch, but not until he was done screwing around with Bones.

"Boo~nes?" The drawled tone that Jim adopted got only him a slight raising of an eyebrow. It was defintely time for some food, hunger was making his own banter weak. Bones pushed himself away from the tree trunk and moved into Jim's line of sight, his arms crossed.

" never answered my question regarding the class rankings, Jim." Yup, Bones had definitely gotten better at dodging the bullshit redirect. Jim moved forward, brushing a hand against the older man's folded arms as the two turned and walked out of the garden. After their feet contacted concrete again, Jim shrugged and answered Bones' question.

"I did alright." Bones opened his mouth, but before he could get a word out, they had company. Jim took a page from his friend's book and scowled at the newcomer.

"Hey, Kirk, you obviously are a better fuck then you look!" The anger surged in his chest, freezing and burning all at the same time, but he forced himself to relax. Fuck 'em. He turned slowly and faced the bastard.

"Care to explain that, Jearo?" The man's pale skin was red with emotion, not unlike the day they met. He had no intention of letting his blood tattoo the asshole's knuckles again, however.

"That's the only way your scores would be where they are. Or does Pike like your mouth more?" Jim restrained a squawk, turning the full force of his glare on Jearo, only to be intercepted by Bones, who was clearly pissed. Bones was angry for him, not at him, and the pleasant thought made him calm down and focus just as the older man opened his mouth.

"Now wait just a damn minute-" Bones growled, but Jim needed to do this himself. Bones trailed off as he stepped in front of him, facing Jearo head on; the bastard clearly hadn't expected to be confronted, and he didn't bother suppressing a dark smile when Jearo moved back a few paces.

"I don't give a flying fuck what you say about me, asshole, but Captain Pike deserves some goddamned respect." Jearo sneered, mouthing his dad's name with a look of amusement that Jim wanted to sock off his face. He settled for getting in the man's face instead. "I'm not going to repeat that, Jearo. Get the fuck out of here. If you spent less time being a nasty fucker, then you might have actually passed some of your classes." Jearo's eyes were darting between him and Bones, who had stepped up beside him, and it was clear that the math was being calculated in his head. Logic actually appeared to have won out, and Jearo shot both of them a furious glare as he withdrew.

"Do you kiss the Captain with that mouth, Kirk?" Any bite the man may have had was gone, and Jim rolled his eyes and turned towards Bones, but not without returning the man's glare one last time.

"Fuck you, Jearo." Bones snorted, and Jim didn't bother to acknowledge when Jearo stormed off. "Bones, I'm starving. Let's go find some lunch." His stomach rumbled boisterously in agreement, and his friend raised an eyebrow.

"When was the last time you ate, Jim?" That was a good question, and he honestly couldn't recall, now that he put his mind to it. Bones' brow was arching in irritation, and Jim knew his face had already betrayed him.

"Err- yesterday?" The older man growled, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him towards what Jim could only assume was going to be somewhere that provided food.

"Damn it, Jim, you're too skinny as it is! What are you, sixty kilos? That's too low for a man of your height-" Normally, Bones would be one hundred and fifty percent right, but he wasn't exactly normal. He had to keep within a relatively small weight range, or he had to overcompensate when trying to fly. It wasn't fun.

"I'm actually sixty-one kilos, and it is for me, Bones. I have...issues if I go over sixty-three or so. Trust me on this." Bones's scowl was deepening, but he seemed to be warring with himself on what to say, his mouth creeping open and shutting again.

"Jim-" The older man looked at him with such intensity that Jim felt his cheeks reddening before the doctor heaved a exasperated sigh. "Alright. But it's still not good to skip meals." He empathised the last line by squeezing Jim's bicep, Jim responding with a cocky smile.

"Yes, mother." The hand wrapped around his arm tightened, and he winced. Between Chris and Bones, he was going to be a bruised mess at the rate they were going. "Ow."

"You are such an infant sometimes."

Gaila looked stunning in her shimmering reflective excuse of a dress, a Betazoid creation that concealed little and tempted much. The cadet she had chosen to be her escort to the ball looked like a kid who had just been awarded all the toys he could ever want, and even Bones had expressed his amusement as they watched the two as they made their way around the room, the lively Orion woman clearly the life of the party. Bones kept pulling at the neck of his dress uniform as they sat at their table, poking at the overcooked remnants of the beef bourguignon while Jim tried not to watch his dad and John, who were both working their way around the dance floor with Admiral Nogura's wife and Commodore Newton respectively. Their experience was clear, and Jim felt a twinge of guilt at second-guessing their skill. He had been hammered with it twice a week ever since the ball came up, and he was about as ready as he would ever be. It would be a handy skill if he ever got invited to a wedding or something, he figured.

"Gaila would dance with you if you asked." Bones' voice tore his attention away from the dance floor, and he blinked owlishly at his friend for a moment before he mustered a proper reply.

"Nah, she's having too much fun dragging that guy- err, Cadet Band? Around." Jim paused, and began to laugh. "Talk about an unfortunate name." Bones snorted, stabbing at a chunk of cubed meat and popping it in his mouth with a grimace.

"You'd think Starfleet could rustle up a proper meal for these things, but it's the same mediocre crap as always," Bones muttered as he chewed, and Jim laughed and shifted in his seat, looking up just in time to see Gaila drift over, a brilliant smile on her face.

"Hello, Jim, hello, Doctor. You should come dance!" Jim could see Band bristle as Gaila draped herself over Bones, the older man tensing for a moment before tilting his head up and giving the woman a smile.

"Is that an invitation, ma'am?" Gaila threw back her head and laughed at his tone, both teasing and flirting and something Jim definitely wanted to hear more often. Band looked like he wanted to punch Bones, though, and Jim tried to communicate that quickly with a pointed tilt of his head. Bones gave her a soft smile and patted her arm, Gaila getting the hint and releasing him. "I'm not quite done with my dinner yet, unfortunately. However, I think Cadet Band would love a dance." The green skinned woman looked behind her, giving the jealous cadet a smile before turning back to the two of them.

"Of course, Doctor. Jim-" Gaila met his eyes with a stern look, and he flushed. "-I expect to see the both of you out on the dance floor sometime tonight. No hiding back here until it's time to leave." A finger was thrust at his head, and his eyes crossed as he tried to focus on it automatically. "Jim?" Jim pulled his eyes away from her hand and gave her a cocky salute.

"Aye aye, Captain." Gaila closed the gap with her finger and pushed at his forehead for a moment before stepping back, looping an arm through Band's and walking off. Jim turned his attention to Bones, who still looked completely amused. "Band looked pissed. I wonder what he thought he was getting when he agreed to be Gaila's date for the evening." The older man pushed his plate away from him and raised his arms, stretching his back over the chair.

"Probably entertaining delusions that she would ignore the rest of the academy and stare at him the whole night," Bones drawled, and Jim chuckled in agreement. "Considering you and Band are probably the prettiest ones in here, he was probably feeling threatened." Jim shot his friend a very strange look, Bones happily ignoring it and downing the rest of his wine. "Don't even start, Jim, you know damn good and well that Gaila could care less about any of your so-called lacking characteristics. She enjoys seeing you happy." The look in Bones' eyes seemed to agree, and Jim couldn't think of a damn thing to say. Bones set down the wineglass and got to his feet, nudging Jim's ankle with his foot. "Come on, then; I suppose we best make the lady happy. That academy tradition aught to be starting soon, anyhow." Bones sounded like he was listing off STDs with that last statement, and Jim barked out a laugh and followed him onto the edge of the dance floor.

Turned out their timing was impeccable, and only a few minutes after they had joined the crowd, a cadet that Jim remembered seeing in one of his diplomatic courses ascended the stage stairs, a PADD in hand. After the room quieted, the woman launched into a chipper introduction of the major event of the evening.

"Good evening, officers, cadets, honored guests, I hope everyone is enjoying themselves tonight at the ninety-fourth Starfleet Academy Military Ball! In the spirit of cooperation and friendship, there is a tradition that is always honored at these events, and I look forward to introducing it to you." Jim listened to the cadet explain the procedure; a modification of a Jack and Jill-style competition, but without the actual competition, and found his gaze wandering towards Chris again. His dad was standing with John and Commodore Newton and her husband, all of them looking particularly sharp in their own dress uniforms (and in Commodore Newton's husband's case, a silk suit of Indian design.) Jim decided he was going to be a sap and hope that John and Chris got paired up together, although the chance was incredibly slim. The pairs were read off for the first group, and John was paired with the Ambassador to Betazed, a flirtatious-looking woman with a wild wig and a dress to rival Gaila's, killing any chance of he and Chris dancing. The next group included Bones, and Jim waved him off with a grin as he was paired with Cadet Slic, a nice Bolian woman he had talked to on several occasions. The older man cut quite the figure out on the floor, and he watched Bones spin the blue-skinned cadet flawlessly again and again. If Jim was able to get dizzy without being ill, he knew his head would be spinning watching the two of them. He gave Bones a swat to the shoulder as he returned, earning him a glare in return.

"What, Jim?"

"You old dog, you never told me you could dance! You cut quite the figure out there with Cadet Slic." Bones growled and downed a glass of champagne as the two of them sniped back and forth, waiting for the next group to be called. When the MC walked up to the stage again, his friend turned to him and smirked.

"Should I prepare for treating your partner's toes, Jim?" The look he leveled at Bones screamed bite me, or at least he hoped it did, before he rolled his eyes and scoffed at the idea.

"I've been practicing, I told you. Just be prepared to be dazzled by my skill." Bones raised an eyebrow.

"I'll believe it when I see it." Jim opened his mouth to snark right back at him, but the MC began to read off the next pairs, shutting him up. Uhura was paired with a stoic-looking Vulcan instructor, Lennox with Cupcake, of all people, and Madeline with Gaila. Just as it looked like he was going to be waiting again, the judgement came down.

"Captain Christopher Pike and Cadet James Kirk." Jim froze, and glanced up at the stage to make sure he had heard that right. The monitor confirmed it, and Jim shot a quick look at the cadets manning the consoles; two of them were smirking and glancing between Chris and him, and Jim remembered seeing the blond one with Jearo before. It fucking figured. Bones looked a bit bemused by the situation, and he couldn't help but agree. With a quiet groan, he walked onto the dance floor and pretended he couldn't hear everyone whispering around him as he passed. Chris was already there, and he gave a nervous smile to his dad, who responded with a softening of his eyes and a tiny shrug. This would be just like their practice sessions, just with more people. Chris put his hand on his son's waist, and Jim placed his hands on his shoulder and other hand respectively, and they set off across the floor.

"Just relax, Jim. Might as well show them up." Jim couldn't help but smile as they ran through the steps; he wasn't perfect, but just the snatches of what he could see of the others told him they were definitely one of the best. After going through the first series of spins, Chris chuckled. "It's a good thing I don't get dizzy easily, with you looking so unflappable during them." Jim laughed quietly as they moved.

"As much as I hate to admit it, I'm glad you taught me this; I'd feel like a moron if I was stumbling around out here." The look that Chris gave him was understanding, and Jim smiled in thanks.

"I know you would have, which is why I brought it up. Next year, you'll actually get to dance with someone else, there's no way that they'll be allowed to rig it two years in a row." That was a good point, but he had his doubts. Asses like Jearo didn't just disappear, they just got more idiotic. Next year would be probably with John instead.

"I wouldn't be surprised, honestly. But hopefully they'll have moved on to a new person to bother." Chris's eyes reflected his agreement, and they fell into a companionable silence as they continued their dance. If anyone had told him two months ago that he would be ballroom dancing and enjoying it, Jim would have thought the commenter needed to get his head checked. But now- Jim wished he could be out on the dance floor unencumbered. Some of the steps had to be slightly modified to account for the wings, but he had preferred it; he simply felt more stable on his feet with his wings out. He was pulled from his thoughts by Chris clearing his throat, and he met the older man's eyes.

"I hate to point this out, Jim, but Doctor McCoy is looking at us the same way he probably does at a difficult incision," Chris said bluntly, and Jim pursed his lips in thought.

"I already told Bones that we were acquainted." That earned him an eyeroll and that expression that he liked to think of as the I raised you not to be an idiot look. Jim had the unfortunate feeling that he was too far gone already. Chris sighed, and after a spin, he spoke.

"Jim, there's acquainted, and there is having lived together for over ten years. McCoy is a psychologist, among his many talents; he knows how to read body language." Yeah, that was a good point. A really good point. One that he should have thought of. Jim snorted inwardly. It was too late now.

"Yeah, that's true," Jim muttered, and his dad groaned in disgust.

"Jim, stop being a wimp and bring him over for dinner or something. You've got to learn to trust people sometime, and he is clearly the most obvious candidate. You didn't have any problems with Carol knowing, and you had known each other for less time than you and McCoy have." Jim sighed as they went into the final spins. Chris had a point. Like usual. They came to the finish and bowed. "Jim-"

"The only problem with your example is that we aren't going out." Jim cultivated a carefully blank look, and the older man snorted.

"Jim, with the amount of time you two spend together, you might as well be." The expression on Jim's face was flat at that comment, and Chris frowned.

"Pot kettle much?" Jim said, raising both eyebrows, and Chris flashed a surprised grin and chuckled before stepping away.

"Get out of here, you rascal." Jim did a picture perfect about-face, returning to Bones' side. The look on the man's face made him pause, and when that eyebrow joined the fray, he had to comment.

"Ooo, what's the eyebrow for?" Bones snorted and shook his head, amusement clear in his eyes as Jim settled in next to him.

"Nothing. You were actually pretty damn good out there." He was pretty sure he was blushing. Bones generally didn't give out compliments without a serious amount of sarcasm behind them, and all Jim could do was chuckle in response, triggering an eyeroll from the older man.

"I told you I practiced, Bones." He glanced over to where his dad and John were standing; Chris was talking to Commander Gabrielle, of all people, but John caught his eye and smiled, he doing the same in return. "Got any plans for tomorrow?" Jim said as he turned back towards Bones, and after a moment of thought, his friend shook his head no. He plastered a grin on his face, if only to conceal his nervousness. "Awesome. I'll make us lunch. I'll pick you up at ten." Bones blinked slowly, then nodded his agreement.

The rest of the evening passed in a flash, with both an irritated Jearo and a blank-faced Stipe both going in the last round; he expected to hear something from Stipe, but he continued to avoid them. At least it was one less thing to stress about. Jim bade Gaila, Madeline and the others a good night a short time later, Gaila whining about how she hadn't been able to watch his dance very well because they had been on the floor at the same time.

"You didn't miss much." He had gotten smacked for that one. He walked with Bones part-way back to his dorm before splitting off and heading off-campus. When he had walked about a quarter of the way back to the house, a taxi came up along side him and slowed, the back passenger window opening.

"You want a ride, kid?" John drawled as he dipped his head out the window, and Jim could hear Chris laughing behind him in the cab.

"I don't know, my daddy always told me not to accept rides from strangers," Jim said, his voice pitched high as he stretched the syllables. John promptly choked on his own spit, and he could hear his dad howling as the taxi came to a stop. Jim climbed right over John as soon as the door opened, the older man still coughing into his arm, and settled down in-between them as the taxi set off again. Chris was wheezing by this point, and Jim looked between the two incredulously. "What did you guys do, drink all the champagne in the room before you left? I haven't seen Dad this drunk in...ever!" John leaned in close, and his nose crinkled at the scent of alcohol on the man's breath.

"No, but another esteemed Starfleet officer may have lost a bet with Chris." John appeared to be more sober than Chris, at any rate; the captain was slumped in his seat, his head falling onto his son's shoulder. Jim could smell the liquor on his skin, it was so strong.

"-aaand what was the spoils in this bet?" Chris was a lost cause, so he focused his questioning on the admiral instead. Who wasn't cooperating.

"That would be telling," John slurred, and Jim had never felt so...grown up. At least they were happy drunks.

"Dad's actually passing out, John, this may be a first." John peered around him and grimaced in acknowledgement.

"It may have been a bottle of a certain blue liquor." Jim looked back down at Chris, the slivers of his eyes glazed over as he stared at absolutely nothing, and slapped a hand over his eyes. John gave him the sort of very serious expression only the truly blitzed could pull off. "What's the problem?" Jim groaned and propped his dad back into a sitting position before moving to Chris's right, nudging the captain over until he was falling against John instead. The drunken haze in the admiral's eyes seemed to clear for a moment as he stared down at Chris, the younger man burrowing his head into the side of the stunned John who glanced back up at him for a moment before wrapping an arm around Chris's shoulders and closing his eyes. Jim gave them both a boyishly sweet smile before turning and telling the taxi driver to take his time.

When Chris staggered out of his bedroom the next morning, Jim had taken one look at the tangled mess of his hair and burst out laughing. The older man had promptly tried to smother his son with a pillow, and Jim knew it was going to be a good day. His euphoria was dimmed slightly when he saw John come out of the guest bedroom instead of the master, but he supposed he couldn't win them all. He took pity on the two hungover men, plying them with coffee and hyposprays he had pilfered from Bones' stash. It was clearly a testament to how bad they felt that he didn't get a single question regarding the origin of the drugs. John left for home a short time later with a promise to be back, and Jim took the opportunity to make sure the house was feather-free, cleaning multiple rooms before he was satisfied. When Chris emerged the second time, he was an entirely different animal, freshly showered and focused; he took a look around his newly-cleaned downstairs and chuckled.

"Decided to bring him over today, did you?" Jim remembered just in time that it was generally considered impolite to flip off your parents, instead looking over at the clock. He would need to go soon to pick Bones up, and he still needed to put on his harness and do a last minute sweep. "Jim, sit down for a minute, you're working yourself up for no reason." Before he could protest, he was pushed into the recliner by Chris, who sat on the coffee table in front of him.

"You're sitting on the coffee table." Chris smirked.

"I bought it." Jim shrugged, and let his head fall back. "Jim, when I said you should bring him over, I didn't mean you had to do it immediately, you know."

"Yeah, well; usually how I do things," Jim muttered as he jumped onto the back of the recliner, balancing with a childish grin as he rode it as it flattened down, before leaping from the back when his dad tried to smack him.

"I hope John is over when you finally break that chair; I look forward to watching him exact his revenge." A short beat of his wings later, and Jim was on the stair-rail with a naughty smirk.

"I look forward to it." Chris rolled his eyes before he turned and headed out of the room.

"Hurry up and get ready for your date, Jim." Chris's voice faded as he walked away, leaving Jim to boggle at its echo.

"This isn't a date!" The laughter that returned at his statement was boisterous and downright evil, and he scowled in its direction.

"Now you know how I feel, you brat!" He probably deserved that.

Thirty minutes later found him swooping into Bones' dorm room, where the older man was walking out of the bathroom, and before he could say anything, Jim had maneuvered him into a taxi. The two-hundred year old fixer-uppers that were popular with most of the off-campus living cadets rushed by as the driver took them on the usual way home, and after a moment, Bones gave him a confused look.

"Er, Jim, where are we going?" He just smiled in response, and Bones took the hint with an infinitesimal sigh and sat back, his head angled out the window. The gates to the mostly 'fleet-owned group of homes opened automatically, and the driver proceeded through the streets with practiced ease for a minute before coming to a stop in front of a familiar residence. He swiped his credit chip as he slid out of the vehicle, giving the driver a wave in thanks as he bounded up the steps. Bones was lagging behind, standing at the bottom of the steps like he had just been dropped in the middle of Qo'noS instead of the Ghost Town, and Jim rolled his eyes as he placed his hand on the identification pad.

"Well, come on!" He entered the house, Bones behind him, and looked around the living room before he heard the sounds coming from the kitchen. "Hey Dad, I'm back!" Bones stiffened behind him as he finished his statement. "-and yes, I brought Bones with me." He could hear Chris set down whatever he was working on.

"Only took you a year to bring him over, Jim." Chris walked out of the kitchen with a dishrag thrown over his arm, and Jim would have given up his wings for a camera at that moment. He had never seen Bones that stunned; the older cadet's mouth was hanging open, and his eyebrows were attempting to mate with his hairline. It was fantastic. As was the smell coming out of the kitchen, so Jim threw his friend a quick grin that Bones was too shocked to notice as he sidled around his dad and entered the kitchen. It was pasta with pesto alfredo sauce and chicken breasts, and he spared no time in grabbing a spoon and sampling the sauce while listening to Bones babble out in the living room.

"Friend of the family, huh?" Bones growled with exceptional feeling behind it, and Jim didn't know why he had been so nervous about bringing him over in the first place as he chuckled and poked at the chicken. There was easily enough for four people, and he smiled at his dad's back as the older man spoke to Bones.

"My devious coward of a son-" Then again, he and Bones could just eat it all. Jim sucked on his spoon and scowled.

"Hey!" Chris ignored him, finishing the explanation to Bones before turning his attention to lunch.

"You better not be eating my lunch, you brat!" Chris griped, just as Jim popped the sauce spoon back in his mouth.

"You made a ton of it, old man, stop being so stingy!" Jim bitched right back, turning to poke at the chicken again just in time to get smacked in the back of the head, the blow making the spoon fall out of his mouth and clatter on the counter next to the pan as he grabbed the back of his head and hissed. Chris responded with an eyeroll.

"If you are going to eat it, finish cooking it for me. I'm going to have a chat with the doctor," Chris said as he put the vicious dishrag on the counter and strode from the room. Jim frowned at his back, before turning his attention back to the stove. He had figured this would happen, as Bones probably had a shitload of questions that would need to be clarified; but he had kinda wanted to be there for it. He sighed and turned the chicken, catching snatches of dialogue from their conversation as he tested the pasta and stirred the sauce. He heard the front door open a short time later, and John's voice was clearly audible as he joined the two men in the other room. As he turned off the heat on the separate dishes and covered them, a sound he did not recognize pulled him out of the kitchen. The sight that met him when he peeked around the doorway made his jaw drop. Bones' head was thrown back and he was laughing, truly laughing; Chris and John were also cackling like deranged hyenas as they began to snipe at each other. Jim watched Bones wipe at his eyes, the grin still firmly attached, and he couldn't stand it anymore. He entered the room without a word, setting himself down next to the brunet as his dad and John continued bitching at each other. It was a familiar sight, and he wasn't surprised when Bones leaned in.

"Are they always this-" Jim grinned.

"-married? Yep, although they'll both deny it." The look the older man shot his dad and John was classic, and he wished again for a damn camera.

"I know many a person who would call what they're doing foreplay," Bones stated with a dubious tone to his drawl, and Jim couldn't keep the girly giggle from bursting out in response as he swung his head from side to side.

"The two have been sailing the great river denial for well over a decade. It's reaching epic proportions at this rate." That got their attention, and he quickly plastered on an innocent smile as the two men turned their gazes on them in almost perfect unison. Bones actually shook a bit, and Jim's innocent grin was starting to hurt.

"Is lunch ready, Jim?" The expression on Bones' face was glorious, and as they all sat down for lunch, his friend loosened up and began to talk to the two officers like he would anyone else, with John and Chris countering right back. Jim interjected occasionally, but he was simply enjoying watching the three men talk. When the eyebrow was used without remorse after a baiting comment from John, Jim knew Bones was going to fit in just fine.

Bones had never been to the desert before. He had never been to the desert before, and as Jim pulled the dubious doctor out of the taxi, Chris laughing silently behind them, he felt like he had come full circle.

"This explains why you are such a lunatic," Bones muttered as they walked up the remaining few hundred meters to the house, the dry oppressive heat of late June bearing down; Jim thought it was almost refreshing after all the humidity in San Francisco, but he had a strong suspicion Bones wouldn't agree with him.

"What do you mean?" Jim quipped cheerfully, and Bones leveled a dull look at him.

"Between the brain-frying heat and endless amounts of sand and dirt, I'm surprised either of you are able to form complex sentences." Chris had remained silent up to this point, but Jim knew he wouldn't stand for insults to his desert. The look on his dad's face as he flanked Bones parroted that belief, and he barely resisted laughing at the sight.

"Might I remind you, Leonard, that I grew up here in the Mojave; I don't take slights to my home soil lightly." Chris adjusted his duffel as the house began to come into view. "Besides, I don't believe it is that much warmer than your part of the continent this time of year." Jim smiled as Bones scowled in response, his attention turning to the house that was only a minute away now, its sand-colored facade complementing the surrounding scenery like it always had.

"A week, huh?" Bones said as he looked around the front of the house; with its creosote bushes and the old motorcycle still covered off to the side, looking skeptical at the scene laid out before him. "Is there really enough going on around here to fill up a whole week?" As they entered the house, the twin naughty smiles that he and Chris shot Bones in response made the man look like he was going to run for it. He settled for grumbling about the heat instead, and Jim's answering smile was interrupted as he sniffed at the air that rushed out. Despite the wonders of modern technology, there was always a staleness to the air after the house had been left vacant for a long period of time, and dust still managed to creep into niches throughout, regardless of the filtration system. Chris's expression mirrored his own, the older man hitting a few buttons to open up some of the windows as they headed for the stairs.

"He's worse than John," Chris chuckled as they scaled the stairs, showing the doctor to his room, Jim chucking his duffel into his before following his dad to the master bedroom, where the older man was taking the time to actually put things away properly. Jim smirked.

"He's used to his peaches and whatnot, not endless dirt and sagebrush." He angled his head towards the door, and Chris raised an eyebrow. "Whaddya say to Amboy Crater? He could use a hike, he spends too much time in Starfleet Medical to get some proper exercise."

"I heard that!" Jim snorted and headed towards the door.

"Sounds like he's done." He intercepted Bones as he left the guest bedroom, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Now to figure out what to do with you." Bones gave him the stinkeye, but didn't move away from his reach.

"I have a wide selection of hyposprays that can do everything from make your fingers fall off to making you turn the color of a freeze-dried Andorian," Bones drawled, and Jim scoffed, waving his free hand in dismissal.

"But you wouldn't use them on your favorite person, would you?" Bones' skin was hot under his fingers, but he had no desire to let go; the other man smirked in reply.

"You're right, Jim; I wouldn't use them on myself. You, on the other hand-" Jim pouted, pointedly ignoring the chuckles from the peanut gallery behind them.

"Harsh, Bones. Harsh."

Despite all the complaints, Bones actually seemed to enjoy the crater, even if he was watching every beetle that walked by with a critical eye and constantly darting his head around for snakes. Chris lagged behind as Jim pointed out the wildlife and rattled off the history of the area; Jim assumed it was because he had done this hike on several other occasions, and didn't say anything. Bones was a surprisingly attentive listener, and he only freaked out a little when he managed to pick up one of the zebra lizards running around and show it to the older man, displaying its blue and black-striped belly for Bones before setting it back down. They watched it run away in silence, before Bones looked towards him with a considering look.

"What?" His friend looked at him for a moment longer before giving an amused huff and walking a few meters away to a streak of black on the pale floor of the crater. Jim followed him as he bent at the knees and picked up a dark rock, moving it between his fingers.

"Y'know, I didn't know what to expect when you asked me to come down to your desert house for awhile; I assumed you were just bullshitting about a nice cushy place in Mojave or something." Bones let the rock slip from his fingers back to the dirt and rose to his feet, scrubbing his ash-stained fingers against his pants as he turned towards Jim; Jim bit down a rush of inexplicable nerves when their eyes met. "You really are full of surprises, Jim. I mean, look at you- I've been listening to you go on about a damn crater for over an hour like it paid you to." Bones actually smiled, and Jim felt himself grinning self-consciously in response as the other man slapped a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Well now, Mister Expert, you were going on about a crazy lakebed around these parts? Something about salt and other particulate matter that will clog up our damn lungs." Bones released his shoulder and began to walk back the way they came, passing Chris with a nod. Jim took a minute to process his sudden departure, and looked over to see his dad looking at him in amusement.

"What?" He was starting to feel like a glitchy recording. Chris grinned wide, his laugh-lines in full display, and Jim just shot him a look as he sped up to catch up with Bones. Chris flanked him, his dark blue eyes gleaming.

"McCoy's quite the character," Chris said, turning his head to follow the man in question's progress. "He's a sarcastic and pessimistic son of a bitch who hates the world-" Jim's jaw dropped, and he opened his mouth to say something, but was stalled by his dad shaking his head. "-but he's also a good man who is wholly dedicated to those he cares about, regardless of extraneous issues." The older man's hand found its way to the base of his neck, and Jim gave a little smile. "Too bad you didn't meet him years ago, might have prevented some things." He half-choked on his laugh as he stared wide-eyed at his dad, who gave his head a push before letting go. "Go catch up with Leonard, Jim, before he starts thinking we've abandoned him to the rattlers."

"I think they'll run from him instead," Jim said drolly, and Chris barked out a laugh as they caught up with the grumbling man.

The rest of the week continued on along the same vein, with the three of them travelling to various landmarks around the Mojave; Jim telling Bones everything he didn't need to know about each one with Chris interjecting occasionally, and the good doctor bitching (mostly)goodnaturedly along the way. On the morning before the doctor was to head out to catch a shuttle towards Georgia, Jim went out onto the low jutting platforms near the house, his muscles burning from the strain of climbing up to them instead of his usual mode of travel; he didn't know how long he perched there, his toes wrapped around the edge as he watched the kestrels dart to and fro from their own niches in the mountainside. He was disturbed from his contemplations by the sound of gravel falling and dirt shifting, and he glanced down just in time to see Bones hoist himself onto to the ledge, his eyes wild and chest heaving as he pressed himself against the side, his gaze fixed to Jim's feet.

"Are you insane, Jim? Get away from the edge!" Bones' voice was higher-pitched than usual, and Jim just blinked at his friend as he looked back at him, the older man's expression oddly frantic.

"This has always been a great spot to watch the birds, I used to go up here to study sometimes as well," Jim said with a soft smile, gesturing with his head. "Those are American Kestrels over across the way." Bones's brow furrowed as he glanced towards the direction indicated before returning his gaze to Jim.

"Jim, get away from the edge." His voice was actually shaking a bit, and Jim gave him a concerned look, twisting at the waist to better look at his friend without moving his lower body, not missing the sudden intake of breath from the older man.

"Bones, you alright? Maybe you should have just yelled for me, I would have come down." He adjusted his feet on the ledge as he stretched his arms high above his head until he heard satisfying pops in his spine. "Do you need help getting back down?" He rose to his feet in one smooth motion, sparing one last glance to the raptors before going to Bones' side. "You have any practice mountain climbing, old man?" Bones was staring at him open-mouthed, and without thinking, Jim extended a finger under his friend's jaw and pushed his mouth closed. That seemed to snap him out of his daze, and he was awarded with a double eyebrow assault and a scowl.

"Jim, are you trying to give me a heart attack?" Bones sputtered as Jim walked over to the small dent in the ledge that marked the way down, dropping to a crouch before grabbing the rock and swinging himself over. "Jim!" Jim was already halfway down the cliff face when the older man's face appeared above, and he stopped in his descent when he took in his pallor.

"Bones, do you need help down? Seriously, you don't look too good."

"" Bones shook his head and gave a shaky sigh as he gingerly lowered himself over the edge, and Jim kept an eye on him as they worked their way to the ground. The instant Bones' feet contacted the canyon floor, he spun on Jim, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Don't do that to me, you asshole!" Jim jerked back out of his grasp, a wounded look on his face.

"What the hell's your problem? I've gone up there for over ten years! I'm not a fucking kid, Bones, don't treat me like one," Jim sniped back, spinning on his heels and tromping back towards the house, passing his dad as he flopped onto a sofa in the front room. Chris frowned at his son.

"Jim? Where's Leonard?" Jim huffed in response, and the older man's frown deepened. "Don't tell me you got into a fight just before he's going to leave."

"He started it, the fucker."


"I don't know what his problem is! I was just out on my ledge watching the birds and he started yelling at me." Jim felt like a two-year old, but a look of comprehension came over Chris's face in response to his statement. "What?" Chris pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

"Jim, you forget, not everyone is as comfortable hanging to the edge of cliffs as you are, and by not everyone, I mean very few." His sigh was deeper this time, and Jim's irritation faded. "I'll go talk to him. You know, Jim-" Chris paused at the doorway, and Jim looked up. "-if you just told him, you wouldn't be arguing with him right now." He felt his chest squeeze the instant his dad spoke, and the older man stood there without speaking as he struggled to take a deep breath. "I'm getting too old for this- and you're far too old for this. I'll be right back." Chris left the room with twisted lips, and Jim sagged into the sofa cushions and closed his eyes. Bones came in a few minutes later, his eyes still flickering with emotions that Jim couldn't name; he shoved his body next to Jim's and poked at his cheek with a dirty finger, causing Jim to bolt up in his seat and swat at the offending appendage in response.

"I'll try to remind myself in the future that you have always been a lunatic who likes relaxing while in mortal peril," Bones said, and just like that, the tension was gone. Jim grabbed one of the pillows and smacked the dusty man across the back of the head, sending him lurching forward in shock. He was only stunned for a moment, and Jim barely dove out of the way as he countered with the other cushion; by the time Chris let out that ear-splitting whistle sometime later, they had managed to take out every thing sitting on the tables around the sofa and were melting in a heap on the floor. The Starfleet captain sized up the two downed cadets and clearly labeled them a lost cause as he stepped smoothly over Bones' prone form and headed into the kitchen.

"Clean it up, kids; and if you stained my sofa, no one will ever find the bodies." Bones was still laughing as he helped Jim to his feet, and they quickly got the room back in order. Luckily, the sofa was just a bit dusty, and Chris agreed to grant them a stay of execution for the time being as he handed them each a beer and took over the reassembled couch. When Bones left a few hours later, Chris waited two hours to the second before kicking him out of the house and closing the door behind him with an amused smile. Jim took to the sky, his sky, the mottled colors of his mountains falling below as he broke into the open air, the heat of the desert floor left behind as he caught the currents and rose higher than he had gone since the last time he had been here; as he coasted, his gaze kept wandering to the northeast, even though he knew that Bones was probably half-way to Georgia by now.

Commodore Newton was a sneaky broad (John's words, not Jim's.) She had been the instructor for his Basic Communications course, and she shared the dubious distinction of being one of the only active instructors that actually knew his connection to one Captain Christopher Pike, who she also got on well with. Jim liked her because she was his partner in crime regarding the never-ending romantic situation between his dad and John on occasion. What he wasn't so sure about was her sudden propensity for stopping by all the time. Bones had been coming over pretty frequently since the end of the last school year, usually for meals, but she had been showing up at least once a week, talking about her newest projects and dragging Chris off to talk about who knows what.

So when she showed up late morning on a Saturday about fifteen minutes before Bones was going to be there, accompanied by her husband and what looked like ten of her closest friends, most carrying musical instruments, he was just really fucking confused.

"Uh, Dad? Something you wanna tell me?" Chris waved the crowd into the living room, a cryptic smile on his face.

"Just a little something I've been working on with the Commodore, Jim. Feel free to stick around." Jim looked at the unexpected guests in bemusement as they began to unpack their equipment, and he looked back at his dad and raised his eyebrows.

"Are you holding a concert in here or something?" Chris laughed at the confusion in Jim's voice, and he snorted. "It's been awhile since I've done any musical stuff," Jim murmured, a wistful smile coming to his face; he saw Chris exchange a look with Newton out of the corner of his eye, and glowered. "What are you up to?" The commodore laughed and shook her head while his dad gave him an innocent look.

"So paranoid, Jim; who says we are up to anything?" Jim shot the older man a incredulous look and opened his mouth, before the front door chime interrupted. Chris gave an imperious wave. "Might want to go get that." Jim groaned and rolled his eyes, but did as he was told.

"Hey, Bones." The doctor stepped inside with a curious expression.

"There's a fleet of hovercars outside the house." Jim rolled his eyes again, motioning to the inner part of the house.

"Yeah, the good Captain had plans he didn't tell me about." He turned and headed back into the fray, Bones trailing behind him with a confused eyebrow already slotting into place. Chris nodded to Bones as they entered, and Newton ushered him towards a chair.

"You must be Doctor McCoy! I've heard much about you from the campus grapevine. Judy Newton." Jim watched his friend shift cleanly to his professional persona, shaking the Commodore's hand with a friendly smile.

"I sincerely hope it wasn't all bad, ma'am." Newton laughed and patted Bones' hand before releasing her grip.

"No need to worry about that, doctor." Bones sank into the indicated chair, and Jim propped his hip against the armrest as the rest of the people settled into various spots all over the room. Chris sat down on the sofa closest to Jim, and the Commodore sat down next to him, a keyboard in her lap.

"Is anyone going to explain- Dad?" Half the room burst out into chuckles as Jim glared at Chris, who shrugged and motioned to Newton as he tuned his guitar. The woman shot Chris a glare of her own.


"Oh, be nice to the captain, Judy; his brain's been warped from raising Jimmy."

"You can shut up, old man," Chris and Jim said in almost perfect harmony, and the laughter started all over again. John pouted as he found a place to sit on the floor near his friend. Newton snorted delicately and turned to Jim.

"I got the idea of recording a collection of classics, traditional, and bluegrass- and considering your dad is the best guitar player I know, he was an obvious choice to help get everything together." Bones shot Chris a wide-eyed look, and Jim nodded.

"Sounds great, but why are you doing it here? This isn't exactly the most ideal location." John tittered from his position on the floor, and the understanding hit Jim like a phaser blast. He glared again at his dad, but he knew he was screwed.

"You know, you could have just said something." Chris actually looked guilty for a moment, and Bones shot the two of them a confused look.

"You haven't so much as brought it up since you've come back, Jim- I wasn't quite sure how to go about asking you." Jim scoffed, but sat down on Bones' armrest.

"So you went for the guilt me into it day of method instead? Dad, I'm surprised; what happened to those Starfleet-honed instincts?" John opened his mouth, but a glare from Chris closed it with a snap. He glanced at Bones, who looked entirely content to just wait and see, and sighed. "Alright. What's the set list?" One of the other musicians passed it over, and Jim ran over it quickly as everyone finished tuning their instruments. "You knew I knew most of these already. I can't promise anything decent, it's been a long time." Chris smiled and shrugged as he maneuvered the guitar into the proper playing position, and the room fell silent as he began to play Amazing Grace on his guitar, a clean rendition that caused Bones to sit up sharply, his focus entirely on the Captain as he performed. As he finished, Newton smiled and gestured to the recording device.

"Wonderful as always, Chris. Now, Jim, I've heard good things about you, but I actually haven't heard them, if you get my drift. Is starting with Mary okay?" Jim nodded, and the Commodore gave the room a brilliant grin. "Time to get playing, ladies and gentlemen." She counted off, and Chris started on cue as she began to sing. Jim adjusted his position next to Bones, his eyes on his dad as they came to the chorus, joining voices with the older man at the right time. He was so focused on the song that he didn't notice Bones staring at him until after the song finished, his eyebrows almost embedded with his hairline.

"What?" Jim knew he was blushing, and John and Chris both chuckled as Bones shook his head.

"You're just full of surprises, kid." He gestured loosely towards the assembled musicians. "I pictured you a top forty rock and pop type of guy, not...this." Jim gave Bones a childish pout, before snorting out a laugh.

"Yeah yeah, I know I don't look the type. I like all kinds of music, though." Bones conceded the point with a tilt of his head, and Newton gave both of them a bright grin before starting the count into the next song. The next hour flew by, with Jim singing backup on several of the songs and Bones shooting him more smiles than he had ever seen out of the man, which spurred him on more than anything else the rest of the scheming peanut gallery could have cooked up. Bones needed to smile like that more often.

"Well, Jim, I know it's been awhile, but feel up to doing a very specific one on there?" Chris smiled, and Jim glanced over the list one more time before finding the song his dad was talking about. His expression fell a bit, and Chris's own mirrored the act; he could see Bones shoot him a look of concern as he chuckled dryly to himself.

"Why wouldn't I?" Jim said, meeting his dad's eyes with resolve; the older man smiled with his eyes and nodded. Jim got to his feet, but stayed at his post next to Bones' chair. The doctor shifted in his seat to look at him, and Jim smiled to him as the musicians began to play. It had been over four years since he had last performed this song, sung with starstruck eyes to a young woman who he didn't part with under the best of circumstances, but time had given him prospective on Carol. It had been a good year, and it had come to an end. There was no reason to dwell on what was lost, a lesson that he realized with a sudden closure of his eyes applied even more poignantly to the relationship between him and his mother. Someday, he hoped he could reconnect with her, but he- wasn't going to keep fighting a battle that went around in circles. He wasn't giving up, but he was done for now. Jim was so absorbed in the song and his thoughts that he didn't realize right away that John had actually joined in as backup, leading Bones to shoot the older man a shocked look before turning his attention back to Jim. The song came to a close, and as soon as Newton paused the recording, the room burst out into applause. Jim affected a cocky grin in defense, but he could feel that damn warmth creep onto his face again. Bones' applause was subdued, a slow clap that added little to the volume, but the glimmer in his eyes told Jim what he really felt about the performance. The smile that split Jim's features in response was as heartfelt as he had ever managed.

Newton and her travelling band packed it up soon after, with the blonde woman giving all of them, Bones included, big hugs and a peck on the cheek before coasting out the door with a wave. Chris decided that pizza sounded excellent for their much-delayed lunch, and as they tucked in, Jim watched as Bones kept shooting him looks over his food. After it continued on for a while, he finally shot the older man a dirty look.

"Going to spit it out this century, Bones?" Jim drawled, and Bones actually jerked in his chair before schooling his features into a more typical dry expression, but not before a flash of sheepishness got though. Jim smirked.

"I'm still trying to mentally adjust my view of you, kid; it may take a few more hours." John laughed, before tensing into a series of hacking coughs. Bones tensed in anticipation as Chris pounded on the admiral's back, but after a moment, the older man managed a shaky smile and sat there sipping at his drink.

"I would say something, but I think you already got punished." Jim grinned mischiviously at John, who rolled glassy eyes right back at him. Bones leaned over and smacked him upside the head.

"I didn't say it, you jackass!" It took another five minutes until John could speak again.

Mid-term exams for the last term of his second year were over, and Jim was enjoying a drink at Crosby's with Bones. The good doctor had clearly had too much to drink already. Jim turned and glanced back towards the bathroom. Crosby leaned towards him from across the bar, his lean frame mirroring Jim's pose.

"Is the doctor alright?" Jim chuckled and nodded, absently waving a hand in Bones' general direction.

"Yeah, he made the mistake of starting on the cheap beer instead of just going to the good stuff." He rolled his eyes, and Crosby quirked a smile.

"It is rather early for a bladder break for him. I'll remember that for next time." His deep voice was always pleasant to listen to, and Jim tipped his head in thanks. A voice called from the other end of the bar, and the older man patted the countertop and headed towards the caller. Jim took the opportunity to stretch, his neck cracking from the effort; when a shadow fell on him from someone taking Bones' vacated seat next to him, he was too busy wincing at the pops his spine was making to notice.

"Did your friend leave?" Jim shook his head without turning towards the speaker as he switched off rotating his arms in a tight circle. He had been lax on his stretches lately.

"He'll be back in a minute, but if you want the seat, we can clear out." Jim finished his stretches and spun his seat to face his new neighbor. As his eyes fell on the gorilla-sized man sitting less than half a meter away from him, his hair greasy and face covered with dust, he felt tension grip the base of his spine. He flashed the man a shaky half-smile as he rotated back to face the bar proper. "We- we were about to head out anyway." Jim's voice fell to a mumble for the last few words, and the man chuckled as Jim felt a meaty hand wrap around his shoulder.

"Don't be like that, kid, I just wanted to talk. You looked lonely." Jim went rigid under the man's grasp, and flashed his eyes in the guy's direction, but didn't turn his head to match.

"Could you let go of me, please?" Instead of complying, the hand tightened, and Jim fought to keep from ripping it off of his shoulder. "Look- look man, I'm doing fine. I need to go see how my friend is doing." That earned him a snort, and Jim was spun in his chair before he could react. The man's expression was no longer friendly, and Jim glanced in Crosby's direction, but the bartender was on the other end of the bar.

"Look, bitch, I'm trying to be friendly here. Where do you get off being a little princess?" The grip was becoming painful, and Jim couldn't summon the resolve to do more than a nervous glance around as the man leaned in, his fetid breath making bile rise to Jim's throat.

"I asked you to let go of me." He couldn't meet the man's eyes. Where the hell is Bones? "S-seriously, let go. I've got shit I need to do." Jim could see Crosby had noticed, the older man's face looked concerned as he finished up a drink and pushed it across the table. Jim tried to force his shoulder away, only managing to half-fall out of his chair with the effort.

"What the fuck is your problem, princess? Not used to people actually paying attention to you?" The gorilla was over a head taller than him, and Jim could see him raise his other arm-

"I told you to let me go!" His knee smashed into the bigger man's gut before he even thought about it, and the hand disappeared as the bastard doubled over. Jim staggered back as he recovered, and he barely dodged the left hook that flew his way, falling against the side of the counter.

"Are you fucking crazy, bitch?" Jim didn't move fast enough to avoid the hand that wrapped around his neck and jammed his back into the countertop, and he gasped for air as his fist snapped out and caught the man in the nose. The shriek of pain that ensued was followed by Jim dissolving into a coughing fit, and he heard Bones' voice before he saw him.

"What the hell is going on?" Jim was pulled off the bar by Bones, who gave him a quick glance over before turning to glare at the massive man, who was clutching at his nose futilely, the blood dripping between his fingers. Jim saw Crosby grab a comm unit and punch in a few buttons out of the corner of his eye. Fuck. Jim hated police stations.

"I was just being friendly to your crazy little friend, and I get a fucking knee in my stomach for my trouble. I need to call the fucking cops." Jim closed his eyes against the bullshit explanation, allowing himself to slump against the bar. He could feel Bones tense next to him, and Jim glanced towards Crosby, who had finished his call and moved around to position himself between the two men. His sparse brown hair was impeccable as usual, Jim noted in a daze as he looked at the slender man.

"Anyone else see what happened?" Crosby pursed his lips as he scanned the crowd, and most grumbled denials and slunk back to their seats. Crosby rolled his eyes. "Anyone?" The guy who had been sitting to his right raised a hand, and Crosby fixed his gaze on the rotund fellow that Jim had seen in the bar many times. "What happened, Burl?" Burl pointed at Jim, who focused his gaze on Bones' nape. Bones had a nice neck.

"The kid was minding his own business, and the big guy thought he could get touchy-feely with him. I heard him-" Burl paused, but Jim didn't look up. "tell him at least two or three times to let go, and he didn't like being blown off." Jim could hear Crosby sigh, and he glanced up to see the bastard surge to his feet, his nose still leaking, and snarl.

"Stay out of this, old man! Where's the fucking comm in this dump?" The question was posed to Crosby, who raised his eyebrows and made his way slowly around the bar, only to pause and turn towards the door, relief fresh on his face.

"Good evening, Captain." Jim let his head fall forward as Bones sighed next to him. Crosby hadn't been calling the cops. He didn't know which was worse. He could hear some of the other bar patrons bidding his dad welcome, and he wondered, not for the first time, why he continued patronizing the same bar that Chris always went to.

"Mind if I ask what happened?" Bones relayed what he had seen to Chris, Burl chiming in as well as Jim kept his eyes closed against the whole mess. He had fucked up. He hadn't overreacted like that- ever, so why now? Jim opened his eyes to see Chris talking to the bruiser, who snorted and stomped out of the building seconds later, his blood covered face matted with his already filthy hair, and Jim knew with a jolt of shame why he had acted that way. Chris gestured to the two of them as he nodded to Crosby, and Jim was hustled outside by Bones before he could get his mouth to formulate anything, his arm warm and reassuring around his shoulders. Chris told the taxi driver to head to the Academy, and they all settled back in their seats. Jim kept looking between his dad and Bones, but silence had become the order of the hour, and Jim let his shoulders slump as he rubbed at his neck. He could feel hazel eyes on him, and he raised a hand in dismissal. As the taxi came to a stop at the Academy gates, Chris turned around and addressed Bones.

"Leonard, thank you for your help." Jim watched him shake his head as he got out of the vehicle, before turning back to face Jim. He looked worried, and it was all he could do to not duck his head at the scrutiny. Bones gave him a tight smile before speaking.

"Take care, Jim; I'll talk to you later." He rounded the car and nodded to Chris as he passed, heading through the security gates. Jim watched him until the car turned around and headed off, and then he closed his eyes until the door opened again. The cool air hitting his face spurred him to movement, and he followed Chris into the house. They hadn't said a word to each other since Chris had shown up at the bar, and Jim didn't want to start now. As the front door closed behind them, Jim pivoted on his heel and all but ran up the stairs to his bedroom, ignoring the tired sigh from behind him as he stripped off his jacket and flopped onto his bed, burrowing his face into the pillow. He felt like a fucking infant. Jim didn't look up as the mattress depressed next to his head, and a warm hand found its way into his hair.

"What happened, Jim?" There was no accusation in Chris's voice, which just made Jim feel even worse about the whole damn situation. He shook his head without budging from the pillow.

"Nothin'." The sigh was even deeper this time.

"Last time I checked, you didn't have a habit of kneeing people in the gut for nothin'." Chris's voice was filled with equal parts confusion and concern, and Jim forced himself to shift so he could see him.

"He just rubbed me the wrong way. He wouldn't lay off. Obviously I've had too much to drink tonight." Chris raised an eyebrow at his son as he settled his hands in his lap.

"Jim, Crosby told me that you, and I quote, looked like a scared deer being run down by a starship as that idiot hassled you. As much as I hate to admit it, you are a rather experienced bar brawler. You shouldn't be getting the jitters over some random pushy guy without a reason." Jim flinched, and turned on his side away from his dad, who he could feel shift in his seat. "Jim, you completely freaked out on the guy. That's not like you." Chris paused, and Jim tensed slightly as he touched his fingers to the bruises on Jim's neck. "-and you didn't have enough to get you anymore than mildly buzzed, son. That excuse won't work." Jim felt himself curling into a ball, and wished his wings weren't still under the harness so he could hide under them. "Jim, please." Please. Jim hated hearing Chris say that, especially in that tone of voice. He took a shuddering breath and tried to think of something to say that would get him to drop it, but he couldn't get his brain to work.

"Nothing happened."

"Jim-" Chris's hand wrapped around his shoulder, almost in exactly the same spot where the bastard's hand had been, and Jim threw himself off the bed with a shout.

"I said nothing happened!" The sudden movement had thrown Chris off balance, falling off the bed with a thump, and Jim staggered back in horror. "Shit- fuck, I'm sorry." Jim reached out a hand, and the older man took it, rising to his feet and guiding them both into sitting on the edge of the bed. Jim gave a half-hearted attempt to pull his hand back, but Chris held it firm. He couldn't stop shaking, and he knew Chris could feel it.

"Jim-" He took a deep breath and looked at his ceiling, scarred from his wings smacking into it too many times, and responded.

"He reminded me of someone. That's all." The hand wrapped around his squeezed gently, and Jim dropped his head level.

"Son, please don't make me have to find out what just happened on my own." Jim swallowed. He would read that damn statement, about how he was pinned down, knocked around, and fondled before pissing the main bastard off enough to make him want to strangle him instead-

"It's ancient history. Don't worry about it." Wrong answer. Chris's jaw clenched, and Jim couldn't even start to form any reply that didn't scream that he was full of shit.

"Obviously it isn't, if you have such a strong reaction. Is this something that happened during your- while you were gone?" Chris replied, turning at the waist to face him fully, and Jim was forced to look him in the eye.

"-yeah." What else could he say? He lied enough in his everyday life, he didn't want to start lying to Chris.

"Might it involve that last, sealed record on your file?" Chris said, his tone dry, yet somehow still concerned. Jim absently wondered how he pulled that off as he sighed again.

"Nothing happened." Chris's other arm snapped up, his fingers wrapping around Jim's forearm and shaking him firmly, startling the younger man.

"Jim, stop it. Something did happen, and it was serious enough to trigger a panic attack. If this had happened on campus, Jim, you'd be looking at being reevaluated for your suitablity in the command track, at the very least. You can't have a Captain who is going to go around freezing up everytime a dirty thug corners him." Chris's voice was stern, and Jim found himself preferring that far more than the alternative. But he had to say something, or Chris would never drop it. Jim looked across the room at his bookshelf, where the Secret Garden sat on its cover on top of the other books.

"I wasn't- some ugly bastards got too close for comfort outside a bar, that's all. The cops showed up before it got out of hand." The sharp inhale from Chris that followed his explanation was one that Jim never wanted to hear again. He decided to keep talking. "They wrecked my saddlebags too. I was just thinking about replacing them when I ran into you." He glanced up at Chris's face. The older man's expression was grave, and his normally tan skin was wan with shock. Jim closed his eyes against the sight. That's why he hadn't wanted to say anything.

"My god...Jim, why didn't you say anything? I could have-" Chris sounded like he wanted to do something, but it was clear to Jim that he was unsure what that would be. Jim huffed, slouching in his seat and scratched at his chest nervously.

"The whole mess took less time than you take to drink a cup of coffee. It was done. You were dealing with enough shit from me, you didn't need this too." Chris's arms wrapped around his shoulders, and Jim burrowed his face into the soft shirt Chris had thrown on. "You aren't always going to be able to help me, dad. I've gotta learn to handle things on my own. I am twenty-four, you know. I'm not exactly a kid." Chris's hands rubbed at his upper back, soothing circles that took the edge off of his nervousness. Jim could feel him swallow.

"This isn't the kind of thing you can just handle, Jim. If you don't want to talk to me, talk to John. Or Leonard...or even Doctor Phlox. Don't just shut it away." He had been handling it just fine, hell, he hadn't thought about it in years; it was just a fluke. Jim lifted his head from Chris's shoulder, looking up at his dad's lined face. He looked ten years older than he had ten minutes ago, and Jim took a shaking breath against the rising guilt, shaking his head. Chris generally only let down his personal shields for him and John, and it was times like these that Jim hated that he could do that to the man.

"It's not-" Jim sighed and extracted himself from Chris's arms, rising to his feet. "I'm sorry Crosby hauled you out of bed for this. I could have handled it." Chris sighed quietly, then stood up as well, and the two men locked eyes for a long, uncomfortable beat. The older of the two broke his gaze first, walking to the entrance of the bedroom, his stride slow with exhaustion.

"You're right, Jim. You aren't a child anymore." Chris pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes for a moment before letting his hand drop. "But you are still my son, and I'm always going to worry about you." Jim stripped off his shirt as his dad spoke, and began fiddling with the join of his harness. "Get some rest. I'm sure Leonard is going to be his usual charming self tomorrow when it comes to you, you best be ready." Jim shot Chris a confused look, his nose crinkling as the harness fell away, and some of the tension in the elder's features softened with amusement.

"What the fuck are you on about?" Jim muttered as he stretched his sweaty appendages, and Chris cleared his throat with authority right on cue as he left the bedroom. It was an unlikely trigger, but Jim felt the stresses of the night dive straight for his toes and out. Fuck, he was tired.

"Good night, Jim." The door closed behind Chris, and Jim kicked off the rest of his clothing and got into the shower. He was right, of course; this is the kind of shit that would get Jim kicked out of the command track so fast his head would spin. No one in any serious position of command could afford to entertain such hangups; it was a sign of weakness that was inexcusable at worst, and debilitating at best. Or in other words, it couldn't continue. Chris had every right to report the incident, and Jim would be immediately facing a psych exam if he did. He knew that his dad wouldn't do it this time, but if it happened again- Jim swallowed heavily as the hot water beat into his wings and back. It wouldn't happen again. Even if he had to vent to Phlox about it. Snagging a towel, he dried himself off and put on some clean underwear before diving face-first into his bed. He was asleep within minutes.

When Jim staggered out of his bedroom the next morning and fumbled around for some coffee, Chris marched into the kitchen with his comm, told him that he refused to become a parent of a teenager all over again and to keep track of his own damn communicator, as he wasn't his answering service. Bones was on the other end, as expected, and Jim listened to him bitch about some idiot at the hospital as he stole a cup out of the pot that Chris had just made, triggering a growl from the older man. There was no further mention of the incident at the bar from Chris.

Jim ended up dancing with Admiral Nogura at his second Military Ball. He wasn't sure if it was intentionally done or not this time around, but he marked it down mentally as quite possibly the six most awkward minutes in his life. The fact that Jearo hadn't been bothering him about it made him think it really had been random this time. Figures. Bones hadn't stopped spontaneously snorting in laughter yet, even though it had been a week since the damn event, so every time someone asked why he was laughing, the whole story got told. Which is why Crosby was chuckling while passing Burl a fresh shot of whiskey, and he was giving Bones the deadliest glare he could level on the man. It wasn't working very well.

"Okay, okay, I'll stop, you big baby. Can't even give an old man some enjoyment." Jim snorted, and took a swig of his beer.

"Old man my ass, Bones- you just turned thirty, not eighty. I can hear the captain and the admiral rolling their eyes from here." The older man downed his shot and slid off his stool, meeting Jim's eyes.

"They aren't here, are they?" Bones raised an amused eyebrow as he passed Crosby his credit chip. "This old man needs to go, he has things to do tomorrow. You staying here, Jim? Or do you want to walk an o-" Jim slid off of his own stool and smacked Bones' shoulder to shut him up, earning him a glare.

"Might as well, kid," Jim countered, and even Burl and Crosby laughed at that one. The two men settled their tabs and left, walking back in comfortable silence towards the academy. When they reached the gates, Jim turned to Bones. "What's your big plans for tomorrow?" Bones shook his head in dismissal as he stepped up to the ID reader.

"Just need to get some things done, nothing big." The gate opened, and Bones looked at Jim over his shoulder. "Have a good night, kid. Careful getting home." Jim blushed as the gate closed behind him.

"I'm not a kid, Bones!" he yelled back, but there was no answer. Jim rolled his eyes and hailed a cab.

The next day, Jim slept in, then tried to comm Bones. Then tried again. And again. By the time sixteen-hundred hours rolled around, he had grown tired of recording messages. Pulling on a more proper set of clothes, he caught a taxi to the academy, heading straight for Bones' dormitory as soon as he arrived.

"Hey, Bones, you home?" Jim waited for a moment, but no answer was forthcoming. A knock followed his shout; after his knock went unanswered, Jim plugged in the code for the door, which promptly denied him. He stepped back, glancing to make sure he hadn't accidentally gone to the wrong door, but he hadn't. He had been here hundreds of times. Jim frowned at the offending door. This wasn't like Bones. If he was busy, he usually sent a message imparting that information between the lines of a not-so-finely veiled insult. He didn't just...drop off. Jim knocked one last time, then set about hacking the door lock, smiling when the barricade gave up and slid open. He advanced slowly into the dorm, freezing when the smell hit him.


"Fuck off." Jim's eyes adjusted quickly to the dark room, and he spotted Bones sitting on the edge of his bed, drinking straight from a bottle of Jack, the tumbler he appeared to have been previously using was tipped over onto the carpet, whiskey soaking into the floor. That explained the smell. He walked a few steps into the room, only to be stopped by the scratchy voice of the older man.

"I told you to leave, Jim."

"Bones, what's wrong? This isn't-"

"-like me?" Bones sneered, a cold look that didn't fit on his features well. "Tells you what you know." Jim walked a step closer, concern overcoming any irritation.

"Bones, just tell me," Jim said quietly, trying to be soothing; instead, Bones snarled and took another swig from the bottle.

"I told you to fucking leave, brat." Jim stiffened, but swallowed most of the anger that was bubbling up into his chest. He walked to the end of the bed and glared at the red-eyed man as he took another drink.

"I just want to help, asshole. Give me the damn bottle, you're going to give yourself alcohol poisoning." He reached towards the whiskey, only to watch Bones stagger to his feet, bottle still clenched in his hand. "Bones-"

"I told you to leave!" The tumbler hit the wall behind him before he even realized what happened, glass raining down onto his hair and shoulders; Jim raised a shaky hand up to his cheek, lifting blood-touched fingers away from his face as he looked up to see Bones drop the bottle of Jack, horror obliterating the anger that had been twisting his features. Jim avoided the rest of the glass as he backed up to the door, his mouth trying to formulate a response, but he couldn't get his thoughts together. His mother hadn't even connected when she had thrown a glass at him during his last visit. Bones took a few shaky steps towards him, his face paler than a corpse, but Jim's patience was at an end.

"Jim- god-" The cut on his cheek was beginning to sting, and sudden blinding fury opened Jim's mouth.

"Fuck you, McCoy." The door hissed closed behind him, and Jim didn't look back once as he stormed off campus. He ducked into a public restroom and cleaned off his face. It wasn't serious, but a few centimeters higher, and he would have been looking into replacement eyes. He didn't know what the hell the man's problem was, and he wasn't in the mood to worry about it anymore. The fucker can enjoy his goddamned booze. Jim left the bathroom and leaned against the wall of the building, watching the people walk by while he figured out what to do. Gaila had told him about a new club that had opened downtown near Union Square a few weeks back. That sounded like a good place to forget about things.

The club was fantastic, and he was able to mostly forget certain assholes who needed to get their shit together as he alternated between the bar and the dance floor, talking with anyone who approached him. But they kept playing music that Bones loved to insult, insults which Jim usually enjoyed as much the venue itself, and he just found himself getting really depressed instead. A young man with brilliant blue hair that caught the flashing lights of the dance floor kept dancing near him, his pale skin covered in a shimmering body glitter that kept drawing Jim's gaze; before he could even try to get the guy's name, he was pressed against one of the walls of the club with the guy's tongue down his throat and a hand working its way down his front. His skin started to flush, his body tingling with a heady feeling as he took a deep gasping breath, the other man releasing his lips and kissing along his jaw as his hand found the front of Jim's jeans, popping them open. Jim immediate tensed, his hand snapping down to wrap around the other man's wrist.

"Clothes stay on." He shot the man a charming smile, but the moment was broken; Jim's hand was left coated with body glitter as the man wrenched his wrist away and shoved him hard into the wall with a snarl, his head bouncing unpleasantly against the concrete.

"Fucking cocktease!" The man's blue hair fluttered impressively as he spun on his heel and stalked off, leaving Jim to catch his breath and ignore the bruise that was blossoming at the back of his skull as he re-buttoned his pants, not bothering to look away from the curious gazes he was getting. This was not going down as a good day. He flinched when a hand worked its way into his hair, feeling at the back of his head; before he could pull away, a green finger came into view, tracing the cut on his cheek.

"What happened, Jim?" Gaila's curious face came into view, and Jim relaxed with a sigh. "I was surprised to see that it was you with that guy; you usually aren't going for hookups when you are out." She paused, then poked at his cheek. "Where did you get this?" Jim frowned, pulling away from her and walking towards an empty table as the Orion gave a disgusted groan and followed. She fell into the booth next to him, her sharp eyes fixed on his own. "Where's your doctor?" She looked concerned for some reason, which made the irritation come back in full force.

"I don't give a shit what that bastard is doing," he grumbled, earning him sharp fingernails wrapping around his chin as she forced his face towards hers, her expression set in a disapproving frown.

"What happened, Jim? Don't start throwing your troubles onto those who don't deserve it." He jerked away from her grip with a defiant snort, letting his head fall into his arms. Gaila sighed, and he sagged when her fingers returned to his scalp. "That blue-haired idiot didn't give you that cut." Trust Gaila to get to the heart of the matter; he lifted his head back up and looked into her expectant features.

"Bones threw a goddamned tumbler at my head in his dorm room." The Orion woman inhaled in shock, and Jim felt the illogical urge to defend the man's actions for a split second before his brain caught up. "He was fine last night, but I tried calling him this afternoon, but he never responded. After trying for hours, I went over to his room." Concern started inching into the back of his mind, but he disregarded it as he spoke. "He wouldn't answer the door, he had changed his code- so I hacked into the room to make sure everything was fine." Gaila rolled her eyes at the mention of hacking, but stayed quiet. "He was sitting on his bed drinking Jack straight out of the bottle, he had already dropped and spilled a tumbler by the time I had gotten there. I tried to get him to tell me what was wrong, but he kept telling me to get out. When I tried to get the bottle away from him, he picked up and chucked the glass at me. I left right after." The green-skinned woman's expression had gone grim, and Jim shrugged and slumped back in the seat.

"Sounds like something happened." No shit. He looked over at Gaila, who pursed her lips at his expression.

"Yeah, it does," Jim muttered, scratching at his nose as his seatmate groaned and poked at his injured cheek. His attempt to swat her hand away failed miserably as she grabbed his hand and looked him in the eye.

"You need to go back, Jim. He could hurt himself." She was right, of course, but Jim didn't know if he was prepared to get rid of his cultivating anger just yet. Even if it felt increasingly childish.

"I-" He was amazed he still had eyebrows after the heated glare Gaila cut him off with.

"If you say you don't care, I'm going to hurt you." Or stab an exceptionally sharp fingernail up his nose, by the look of it. Jim looked at her, completely at a loss.

"He- fuck. I'd never seen him like that before." It had spooked him, and like he did with a lot of other emotionally-charged situations, he had run away. He let his head fall back into the cradle of his arms again, and Gaila's warm fingers resumed combing through his hair.


"Alright alright. I'll go. I'm blaming you if I lose an eye." Jim's words were muffled, but the pat he received told him that she had understood him perfectly. Gaila waved and blew a kiss to a group of people he didn't recognize, and he was inordinately amused by the jealous looks they all shot him. That was an assumption that he didn't mind people making. It was better than being hooked up with his own dad, at any rate.

"I'll walk with you back to campus. I promised my dear roommate that I would help her out with packing." They left the club together, saying little as they entered the academy grounds and steered towards the dorms. When they reached Bones' building, Gaila nudged him with her shoulder. "Do you want me to come up with you?" He seriously considered it for a moment, but dismissed it just as quickly. No one else needed to see Bones like that.

"No, I'll be fine." Approval was in her features as she patted his uninjured cheek.

"Comm me if you need anything." He nodded, and Gaila walked off, leaving him to stare up at Bones' window. He gave up too damn easy earlier, he should have stayed- Worry clenched his insides, and Jim ran up the stairs to Bones' floor. If he had continued drinking- He reached the older cadet's door, and began to pound on it.

"Bones, you okay?" No answer, and Jim tried his number before hacking the door open yet again, bursting into the room without pretense. "Bones?" The glass was still on the floor, and anxiety gripped him when he didn't see the older man anywhere. "Bones!" A groan stopped him cold, and Jim pushed the partially ajar bathroom door open to find his friend on the floor unconscious, and he immediately dropped to his knees. "Bones, you didn't party hard enough to deserve to pass out in the bathroom. Come on." It took a moment, but he managed to get enough of a grip on the bigger man to haul him up and drag him back into the main room, dumping him onto the bed. It took some pulling and prodding, but he finally got the covers over the moaning mess that made up Bones at the moment, and he looked him over quickly before deciding that he wouldn't need to get him to the clinic. Bones was going to feel like shit in the morning, but he didn't look like he had any other signs of possible dangerous overindulgence. Jim ran a hand through the man's hair until the strands fell in something closer to their usual pattern. Bones was going to tell him what the fuck had happened tomorrow. He didn't care how hungover the man was, he deserved that much after taking a tumbler to the face. Jim set about cleaning up the room, disposing of the glass, as well as scrubbing and sanitizing the where the vomit had dotted a few spots on the carpet. After he was done, he checked Bones one last time before grabbing a blanket out of the closet and curling up on the sofa.

The tingling sensation across his cheekbone brought him back to himself, and he swatted randomly as he grunted and opened his eyes. Bones was kneeling by the side of the sofa, running his dermal regenerator over the cut he had helped create the day before, guilt plain on his still-wan features. His lips set in a grim line when he realized that Jim was awake, but finished his work before rising to his feet.

"Jim-" Bones trailed off as Jim rose to a sitting position on the sofa, then glared up at him.

"Are you feeling better, asshole?" The eyebrow automatically shot up, but just as quickly deflated as Bones sat down next to him.

"I'm sorry, Jim. That was inexcusable what I did yesterday." He met Bones' eyes for a long moment before speaking.

"Tell me what happened," Jim said bluntly, and the older man tensed. "You owe me that much after using me for target practice." Bones grimaced, dropping his head to look at his feet. Jim waited patiently until he sighed and looked back up, swallowing heavily.

"-remember how I was supposed to go visit Joanna in about a month?" Jim nodded slowly, and Bones sighed. "Jocelyn informed me yesterday after I was done talking to Jo that they were going off-planet for the rest of the summer with her fiancee. Went on about wanting Jo to get used to him, since I wasn't going to be able to visit with any regularity much longer. Said some shit about wanting me to detach with love, tried to tell me to stop calling. She may have custody, but I have the right to talk to my little girl!" Jim tensed as Bones' voice raised in volume as he spoke, until the other man took one look at him and sagged. "So- yeah. You came about two hours after she hung up on me, I think. I don't remember a lot until I- hit you with the glass." Jim closed his eyes with a wince. He shouldn't have left. It wasn't like he hadn't had far worse in any of his bar brawls, but Bones...was different.

"That's a fucking load of shit, Bones. No wonder you were so angry." He put his arm around the older man's shoulders, leading Bones to boggle at him before frowning.

"It still isn't an excuse. Fuck, Jim, I could have put your eye out." Jim almost crossed his eyes when Bones' left hand came up to feel at the now-healed spot on his face, the sensation of the callus at the base of his thumb rubbing across his cheekbone making his stomach prepare hastily for a sudden influx of butterflies. He forced down his nerves and met his friend's eyes.

"This isn't normal for you. I know it isn't, or I would have noticed sooner." Bones' hand slipped from his face and dropped onto his shoulder. "Have you done this before?" The other man blinked, but shook his head firmly.

"I've thrown some things when no one was around before, but never at anyone." Jim nodded, reaching up and taking Bones' hand in his own.

"Then I got to be the lucky audience to what was hopefully a one-time show," Jim said, squeezing the older man's hand and releasing it. Bones' eyes had a suspicious shine in them for a moment before he blinked heavily, nodding his head at the same time.

"Damn straight." Jim nodded in confirmation, then hopped to his feet.

"Well, now that we have that cleared up, what do we do about your ex?" Bones' eyebrows shot up his forehead, and he grinned down at the surprised man. "There's got to be something that I can help you with."

"Damn it, kid," Bones said gruffly, but the appreciation was clear on his face. Jim chuckled as the older man rose to his feet, giving him a light cuff to the side of the head and tilting his head towards the door. "Let's get you breakfast." If the butterflies did a small reemergence when Bones wrapped a hand around his forearm to steer him towards an off-campus cafe, he completely disregarded them.

It was quite possibly the most amazing experience he had ever had. The orbital skydiving mini-course was optional, but it was recommended for all cadets on the Command track and those doing a Security focus. Jim knew it would look good on his record, so he signed up for it; the temptation of seeing how it compared to his personal experiences of flight was also too much to resist. The suits were made to be put on quickly in case of emergency, and he was thusly allowed to keep most of his uniform on, which was also a good thing as they had to provide him with one that would accommodate his back. He was pretty sure they stuffed him the same one they had given Cupcake, the shoulders far too wide and legs and arms far too long for him, but the clothing layers helped.

It had been frightening to consider that he would be jumping with his wings out of commission, but he knew that, realistically, that was the only way. Not because of the secrecy, but because of the fact that the force would rip them off in seconds at the altitude, if they weren't already destroyed by entering the atmosphere. Which they would be. Jim was pretty sure that among his gifts, surviving temperatures of over a thousand Celsius wasn't among them. Jearo was with his jump group, but the man kept his mouth shut for once as they boarded the shuttle and ascended to the appropriate height. He barely heard the pilot wish them good luck over the short burst of adrenaline, and before he could blink, they were plummeting to Earth.

The jump went perfectly. The only thing that had made him marginally nervous was the reminder of that he had to pull a chute instead of spreading his wings; the concept of going into lazy spirals near the end to slow descent was the same, however, and he was standing on the dirt in between Teakettle Junction and the Racetrack in no time at all. His jump-mates landed around him as he stretched, grinning from ear to ear. It was unfortunate that only third and fourth year cadets could sign up for the course, or Jim would have done it in the first term. What he hadn't expected when he went in the next day to hear the results of the test was to be pulled aside after everyone who passed, which included him, was congratulated, and told that although he had probably was the best jumper they had tested in years, they wanted him to speak with someone at Starfleet Medical. They wouldn't tell him the reason why, despite his attempts, and Jim had to bite his tongue to keep from saying something he would regret.

So an hour after leaving the meeting, Jim found himself walking the halls of Starfleet Medical, then being shuffled promptly into a room after announcing himself to the unit secretary. Jim flopped into a chair and let his head fall back as he waited. He was honestly stumped. The jump had been amazing, hell, they told him he had done about as flawlessly as a person could do at it, so why was he here? At the sound of noise outside the door, he lifted his head back up, just in time for the door to open and Bones to walk in. If this had been any other time, he would have laughed his ass off at the look on his friend's face, but he wasn't in the mood.

"Hey, Bones." The older man scowled, looking between him and the PADD he was holding before walking around and sitting in the chair opposite.

"I really need to read the names on these before going in the rooms," Bones grumbled to himself, and Jim felt a smile come onto his face. Before he could speak, the older man met his eyes with a serious expression. "Jim, do you want someone else to go over this with you? It's perfectly understandable and acceptable, considering our existing relationship." Jim smiled a little wider for a moment at Bones' choice of wording, before the situation reasserted itself in his mind and he shrugged.

"Honestly, Bones, I have no idea why I'm here. They wouldn't tell me. I don't mind if it's you-" Jim trailed off, and Bones looked at him expectantly. "-is this an official psych session? Or are we just talking?" The other man glanced back down at his PADD.

"This is a preliminary talk at this point. Depending on my recommendations, this will either be it, or you'll come back for an official session." Jim blinked, and Bones raised an eyebrow.

"If you are fine with it, I'd rather talk to you." The doctor nodded, looking at his PADD for a moment before speaking.

"The instructors monitoring and analyzing the data from your orbital jump two days ago were a bit...concerned with some of your reactions." He opened his mouth to protest, but Bones lifted a hand. "According to said data, you might as well have been taking a leisurely stroll through Golden Gate Park, considering the pace your heart had set itself. The only spike anywhere near normal levels for this sort of activity was around the time you pulled your chute." Jim's jaw dropped.

"Wait a minute, are you saying that they referred me to talk to someone because I was too fucking calm during the jump? What kind of shit is this?" Jim sputtered, and Bones leaned back in his seat with a sigh.

"Jim, almost every known species has a natural fear of falling, and even in a trained individual, there is an expected level of bodily response to the stimulus of plummeting thousands of meters, chute or no chute. You exhibited almost none of that. According to my information, you maintained a remarkable regular breathing pattern, and the only sound you made outside of the calm reporting of your current altitude was a short mutter reminding yourself when to open your parachute." Bones looked concerned, and Jim was still trying to figure out what the problem was.

"I'm not suicidal, Bones, if that's what this is about." The older man's eyes widened for a moment, before shaking his head.

"That's one of the things I'm expected to rule out here, but no, I know damn good and well you aren't suicidal. An idiot, yes; but not suicidal." Jim glowered.

"Thank you. I think." Bones snorted.

"Anytime, kid. No, that's not it. They wanted me to make sure you had fear responses at all." Bones shook his head as Jim opened his mouth. "A total lack of fear can be indicative of multiple mental disorders, and it carries a much higher risk of dangerously impulsive behavior across the board, something that is obviously considered undesirable in a command position. Ability to control your fear is a trait required in this line of work, but to not have it at all-" The older man's eyes softened, and Jim instantly felt much of his tension vanish. He didn't want to think about why the man had such influence over him, especially not at this moment. "I know you have fear responses, Jim, hell, I've seen them in action before. You really don't have any fear of heights, do you?" He shook his head before he even thought about it. Of course he had no fear of heights, it came with the territory; Jim squashed down the urge to just strip off his shirt and harness. Not yet. He would tell Bones soon, but...not yet. The doctor was staring at him with a thoughtful expression, and he fought the urge to squirm. "Jim-" Bones sighed. "-your lack of fear of heights is obviously joined by a complete lack of fear of flying and falling as well. All a bit...unusual, but nothing to warrant any further discussion." The tired looking man entered something into the PADD, and glanced back up. "All those years climbing the cliffs near your house probably helped. That's all for today, Jim. You won't need to come back here." Jim let out a relieved sigh, sinking back into the cushions of the chair; Bones raised an eyebrow in amusement as he rose to his feet. "Off the record, have you eaten today, Jim? I don't like the way you look." Jim shot his friend an insulted look as he pulled himself out of the chair, stretching his neck.

"I had to get to the results meeting, I didn't have time for breakfast," Jim said, and Bones reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him in front of him and marching them both out the door.

"You look like you are going to pass out. Out you get, get yourself something healthy, Jim. None of that greasy diner food you seem to enjoy so much." Jim scoffed, and spun around to reply, only to be forced to grab the closest thing to keep from falling from the dizziness that snapped through his system. Bones took one look at the hand on his shoulder before rolling his eyes and dragging Jim down the hallway, grumbling under his breath. "I told you, you idiot, but you never listen- how in the hell did I get tangled up with a crazy kid with an even crazier family who somehow manages to achieve some form of crazy zen when falling from a fucking shuttle through the goddamned atmosphere-"

"Bones, I'm right here."

"-who then forgets to eat for the next day, and he wonders why he's getting dizzy-"


"-and who I am damn well aware is right next to me!" Bones hissed into his ear as he pulled him into the hospital cafeteria, forcing him into a chair before stalking off towards the food counter, promptly returning with a tray of what looked like grilled chicken sandwiches and cut fruit. "Eat, Jim." Jim pouted at his friend for a moment before grabbing one of the sandwiches and tucking in.

"Don't you have work you need to be doing?" Jim mumbled spitefully through bites, and Bones grimaced at the sight, before giving him a evil little smile.

"Nope, you were the last one for today. I'm just following up to make sure you don't pass out on the way home. I would prefer to not have to explain things to certain people." Never mind all the other problems that would immediately arise from that. Jim settled for giving Bones a dull look while he inhaled his food.


Gaila was an amazing woman. Jim had decided this within minutes of meeting her, and over two years of acquaintance had only strengthened that belief. She treated him like a normal person, like Bones, and had been the key to much of the campus social life, unlike Bones. The fact that she regularly flirted with him, and actually appeared to mean it, was something that never got old. As he found himself lounging on her bed in her dorm, discussing classwork and keeping up a solid stream of verbal foreplay, Jim wondered absently what she would think of wings. The thought actually startled him out of a rather complicated explanation of a Class E shuttle warp matrix, causing Gaila to shoot him a confused look.

"Are you well, Jim?" He fumbled for a response, anything that wouldn't make him sound like an idiot, but he soon realized that it was hopeless.

"Sorry, Gaila, just got distracted for a moment. I'll start over." He paused and looked down at the PADD in front of him, trying to figure out where to begin, when a shadow fell over the screen. Jim looked up to see that the Orion woman had moved very far into his personal space, and automatically began to shift away. Gaila sighed and wrapped her arms around him, back and all, and he froze.

"Jim, Jim, Jim." The look in her eyes was wistful, and Jim found himself staring as a hand came up and stroked his cheek. "You are so very beautiful, yet you never allow anyone to see you. Always drawing back, never getting too close-" Her hand, soft save a few calluses on the fingertips ran over his features, the smell of saffron from her perfume strong in his nostrils. Jim could barely breathe, let alone speak, and she smiled. "-only that doctor of yours knows anything about you, and you hide even from him." He managed to recoup enough brain cells to protest, but he was silenced by her thumb running gently over his lips. "Life is very lonely when you veil yourself in a robe constructed from secrets and insecurities, Jim." Her last few words were barely audible, but she was so close that he could hear them as if she was shouting. He was just considering trying to speak when she closed the gap between their faces.

Gaila's lips were soft, and it was far from his first kiss; something about her made him crumble, his own mouth responding from rusty instinct as she moved against him with purpose. After what felt like both no time at all and an eternity, he was forced to pull back for air, and Gaila responded by nipping at his neck and sliding her leg between his. The moan that erupted from his throat brought the situation home with a bang, and Jim threw himself from his friend's bed, his chest heaving in both arousal and fear. Gaila had been momentarily stunned by his sudden departure from her side, but rose from the bed and faced him, moisture in her eyes. He felt like the biggest asshole on the planet.

"Gaila- I can't. I'm really, really sorry...I just- maybe another time." The moisture had gathered into actual tears, and Jim grabbed his PADD off the carpet and stumbled back, ready to flee the room. "I know I'm an asshole, Gaila- please don't cry." Jim let the last three words out in a defeated whisper, Gaila responding with what sounded like a choked sob; but when her hands came up and cradled his jaw, it was not anger he saw in her features.

"Jim, I'm not mad at you, you silly human. I'm mad about your situation, about your fear of others; but never at you. I wish I had known you when you were younger, I would not have let such ideas that you now harbor dig into your head." Jim boggled at Gaila's words, his head shaking in denial automatically. It wasn't like that; it wasn't based on a fear of people, he just wanted his privacy, didn't want people to treat him a freak. Too late. Jim closed his eyes as Gaila's forehead came to rest against his. She was right, in a way; not in the way and context she thought, but right nonetheless. She thought it was from years of discrimination and ostracizing, when it was actually from him going out of his way to make sure people didn't get too close. He had fucked that resolution up solidly since he had joined Starfleet, now with Bones and Gaila in the picture...god, he was tired of secrets. Jim tilted his head up and gave Gaila a kiss on the forehead, bidding her good night before leaving her quarters in a cloud of regrets. He didn't even acknowledge Uhura as she passed him in the hall.

He spent the night in Golden Gate Park, perched high in the branches of an old Tasmanian Blue Gum; the cool breeze coming off the ocean tempting to his restrained wings as he tried to sleep. The world felt like it was closing in on him, and he didn't want any part of it for awhile. Shifting his feet on the branch, Jim let his head dip forward as he closed his eyes.

"Jim! Jim, are you out here?" He awoke with a start to a very familiar voice coming from the ground far below, and he rocked jarringly on his perch for a moment before managing to stabilize himself against the tree trunk. The morning sun was actually winning in the usual battle with the fog, and Jim had an unobstructed view to the park floor. "Jim!" Bones came into view, grumbling loudly in-between yells, and Jim had no clue how he knew he was there.

"Bones?" He didn't say it loud, but the older man froze, peering up through squinted eyes towards Jim; Jim could see the moment he was spotted, as Bones' eyes widened comically and his eyebrows shot up his forehead. Before the man could start ranting to everyone within a three kilometer radius, he grabbed his bag and leapt from his branch, working his way down several more before landing in a crouch on the ground. Bones' jaw was working, but nothing was coming out; Jim took the lull to brush off his uniform and shoulder his bag properly before facing his gaping friend. "You alright there, Bones?" Bones' fists were clenching and unclenching, and Jim took a step back automatically, but kept a welcoming smile on his face. His friend's eyes flashed with guilt for a moment, before carefully opening his hands and taking a deep breath.

"Jim. Would you care to explain to me why I was dragged out of bed at shit-o-clock this morning by a panicking Gaila going on about how she had scared you off and how you left your comm at her dorm so she couldn't call and apologize, and when I called Chris to talk to you I was informed that you hadn't come home last night, so he assumed you crashed at my place, so I had to promise both of them that I would go look for you, and the only reason I had an idea of where the hell you were is that one of the medics swore he saw you climbing a tree around this area last night after a bender and I just happened to run into him as I was leaving campus?" Jim was pretty sure Bones hadn't paused for breath once during that entire speech. In fact, he was pretty sure that he had never heard Bones say so much at one time. The older man's shoulders sagged, and Jim lowered his eyes to the ground.

"I just needed some time to think, Bones; I didn't think that Gaila was going to flip out." He looked up enough to see Bones rub at his eyes and sigh, and he scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration. "I'm sorry I somehow fucked up your morning, Bones. I'll go talk to Dad and Gaila, go ahead and go back to bed." Bones snorted and shook his head as he walked up to Jim, stopping so close that their noses were almost touching; Jim flushed in surprise but managed to keep himself from moving.

"Jim, what happened with Gaila?" Bones' breath smelled like that cinnamon toothpaste he always used as it brushed against Jim's face, and it took more effort than he ever would have expected to meet the older man's eyes. "She came to my dorm ranting about how she had practically assaulted you, Jim; the woman has a massive propensity for exaggeration, but she was hysterical enough for me not to completely discount her." He closed the distance between them, pressing his forehead to Jim's; Jim waited for the panic to appear like it did with Gaila.

"It was just a misunderstanding. She's blowing things way out of proportion," Jim mumbled, trying not to focus on his friend's lips. The last thing he needed was a repeat of last night.

"You could stop anytime with the need to give me minor heart attacks, you idiot," Bones muttered, wrapping his arms around Jim's shoulders and drawing him into an embrace. Jim's arms twitched in confusion for a moment before he wrapped them around his friend's broad back, letting his head fall to Bones' shoulder. It had been a long time since he had done this. "Sometimes I don't know what to do with you, kid." He could feel the sigh reverberate through the man's body as a hand worked its way into his hair, stroking soothingly at his scalp. He was still waiting on that panic. Bones turned his head in, and he felt the press of what could only be lips to the side of his head before those strong arms gave one last squeeze and released, the older man taking a few steps back, reaching into a pocket and pulling out Jim's comm. "Stop leaving it everywhere, Jim." Jim caught it on the toss and shoved it into his own pocket, giving Bones a sheepish smile.

"You're a lifesaver as usual, Bones," Jim said, an apologetic smile on his face; Bones snorted, but the effect was spoiled by the soft look in his eyes as they began to walk.

"Someone has to be, with you scaling mountains, falling from space, and climbing forty meter tall trees, I'm amazed that you haven't ended up in the hospital a hundred times over by this point." Jim scoffed.

"I'm just that awesome, old man." The aforementioned old man fell silent, a considering look on his features, and Jim felt an odd tension fall between them. He didn't want to face Gaila this morning, but he owed her that much after running out on her last night. Chris was just going to tell him to stop forgetting his communicator everywhere. Bones still hadn't spoken, although he glanced over at Jim every so often with that expression that he just couldn't put a finger on, the one calmed him no matter what the circumstances around it. He almost wanted to bring Bones with him just so he'd feel better about talking to Gaila, but that was a box of tribbles that he didn't want to open. They split shortly after entering the academy grounds, Bones rushing off to his shift at Starfleet Medical, while he met up with his favorite Orion. Gaila threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around his back and squeezing as she apologized profusely for pushing him the night before. Jim could see the eyes of passing cadets turning towards the scene, but he disregarded them, keeping his attention on his friend. Let them say what they want, he didn't care. Gaila kept up her stranglehold on his torso regardless of the amount of times he told her that it was alright, that he was honestly flattered, he just couldn't be in a relationship right now; it finally reached the point that he was pretty sure she was going to crack something if she didn't let up, and he allowed the pain to flash over his features. His wince did the trick, and the green-skinned woman looked aghast at herself as she jumped away from him.

"I just keep messing things up, Jim. I'm sorry." Jim flexed his back as much as he could pull off while shaking his head, luckily, the ache began to subside.

"Gaila, stop. It's alright, you didn't do anything wrong." He flashed her a wide grin, and Gaila's disturbed expression mellowed. "Just try to not break my back in the future, it's kinda sensitive," Jim said with a wink, and he laughed when she blushed an amazing shade of verdant green. He saw a familiar shape out of the corner of his eye, and twisted his head to see Uhura, Gaila's rather austere roommate taking in the whole scene; Jim felt his eyebrows work their way up his forehead. "Something you need, Uhura?" She shrugged gracefully as she glanced between the two of them.

"I was a bit concerned after how she was acting last night, but I'm glad to see that you two have straightened things out." Jim answered with a slight nod of his head, and Gaila gave a nervous giggle as she moved to Uhura's side.

"See you later then, Jim?" He gave her a dramatic bow in reply, leading to a disgusted snort from the human half of the two women. It never got old.

"Of course, milady." He could feel Uhura's gaze on him as he walked away, but he didn't rise to the bait. It was time to go home and get the look from his dad. He needed a shower and a change of clothes.

The Kobayashi Maru sucked. Jim would be damned before he let a computer program beat him, however, and Bones had gotten the brunt of his constant studying and theorizing over the test for over a month now. Although his dad wasn't one of the proctors or administrators on the test, he was still far enough in the loop where Jim knew he do little more than bring it up around the man. Gaila was one of the cadets assigned to the monitoring and coding of the thing, so she was out; he didn't hang out with either of the Lennox siblings or Madeline enough to inflict himself on them for a concentrated period of time. So if he wanted company, his choices had been pretty simple. He almost felt sorry for Bones after he passed out on his couch at least a dozen times over a four week period, but then the man would drag him out and force him to stop studying through the fine art of bitching about his health and the lack of it. Afterwards, Jim didn't feel bad about drinking all of Bones' beer. He may have done it a few times or six. When the scheduled day came around, Bones made sure they both ate a real breakfast as Jim reviewed the dossier one last time. He had been allowed to choose his "crew" for the exercise, and Bones was going to be one of his helmsmen, with Uhura as his communications officer and Madeline on operations. He was as ready as he could get for the thing.

Then he actually took the damn test. As the Kobayashi Maru went down with all hands, he stiffly thanked his "crew" for their effort before turning on his heel and leaving the building in silence. He had almost reached the front gates when he heard footsteps come up swiftly behind him, their cadence revealing exactly who they belonged to. Jim slowed automatically, but didn't turn around.

"I'm not really in the mood, Bones." A large hand wrapped around his arm, grinding him to a sudden halt. Jim tried to jerk away, but Bones' grip was too strong; he settled for dragging him along as he exited the gates. It didn't work very well, considering the older man had over twenty kilos on him. "Fuck off, Bones."

"No." That stopped him, anger shooting through him for a moment before he took a deep breath, his shoulders sagging as he let out a tired sigh.

"Bones-" The hand around his arm pulled at him until he was facing the older man, and Jim let his head drop as he looked at the ground. "-can't I just have a little time to myself?" He could feel Bones' breath against his scalp, and he closed his eyes against the sensation.

"Are you going to find that time at the top of some unstable surface?" He could feel the grumbling in his friend's voice against his hair, and a little smile worked its way against his will onto his face as he lifted his head and met his eyes.

"Probably." Bones sighed, but released his arm without further comment. Jim looked at the man in mild shock.

"At least tell me where you are going to go this time." Bones raised an eyebrow. "Back to that tree in the park?" He honestly hadn't decided, but that place was just as good as any other. He nodded, and Bones glanced down at his hip. "Do you have your communicator with you?" Jim's lips twisted as he tried to suppress a chuckle.

"You aren't my mother, asshole." The shadow that had been in those hazel eyes seemed to lift, and Bones let out a exaggerated snort as he folded his arms.

"Thank god for that." Jim gave his friend a joking salute, and turned to leave. "If I haven't heard from you by dinner, I'm coming to get you. The last thing you need to be doing is skipping meals again." This was an old argument, and it didn't deserve a real answer.

"Yes, dear."

It took a little more maneuvering to get into the tree during the day, as he didn't want to get kicked out of the park because some busybody ratted him out to the caretakers, but he managed it, scaling the spaced branches until he reached the shaded alcove he had enjoyed before. Settling into his usual crouch, he let the events of the test run through his head. He knew that no one passed it, knew that it was supposed to demonstrate a commander's ability to remain calm in the worst of situations, but it was shit. Absolute shit. The stricken look that had flashed over Bones' face when the simulated ship was destroyed had made his insides twist painfully; even though they all knew is was a simulation, it was real enough to them. The idea that there was no possible way to beat the damn thing didn't sit right with him. There were difficult situations and there were improbable situations, but he refused to agree that there was a truly impossible situation; the so-called no-win scenario. Most would have called what his father had done some twenty-five years ago the very proof of its existence, but he had turned what would have been a complete and bloody rout into a triumph of spirit, pulling victory of a sort out of what would have sheer tragedy. Chris had used the example of his father to spur him out of his apathy, and looking back, he was one-hundred percent glad that he had. It was a compelling creed to adopt, but he knew he needed to take it more to heart in his personal life, not just his professional. He wouldn't be able to dodge the advances of people like Gaila and Bones forever, romantic or not, and...there was a growing part of him that no longer wanted to. The strain of the morning caught up in a rush, and Jim let his eyes drift closed. A short nap wouldn't hurt anything.

"Jim, get your crazy ass down here! It's almost nineteen-hundred!" Startled, he swayed dangerously on the branch, and for the first time in a very long time, he actually lost his balance. The only thought that broke through as his world tipped sharply was that he really needed to stop waking up like this.

"Fuck!" He scrambled for a handhold as he fell backwards, missing the branch he had been on and falling; he felt something glance his cheek just as his hand found painful purchase about four meters down, but it was good enough. Why was it always the face? He swung his other hand up and hung for a moment as he figured out his strategy for descent.

"Christ, Jim, are you okay? Shit, I knew this was going to happen someday-" Bones was never going to shut up about it now. Jim frowned and ignored the ranting coming from below as he found his route, ignoring the twinge in his wrist as he worked his way down.

"Bones, I'm fine. Relax." He grumbled right back as he dead ended at a branch about three meters off the ground. Hooking his knees around the branch, he allowed himself to dangle upside-down, his gaze falling on the clearly concerned face of his friend. "Really. You just startled me, nothing that hasn't happened before." Bones approached, his eyes scanning Jim's swinging form before he lifted a hand to Jim's face, tracing the side of his cheek with a gentle touch; Jim couldn't restrain a shudder as he looked into his friend's eyes, which were darker than he had ever seen them.

"Is that why you have a cut here?" Bones murmured, and Jim mentally cursed his choice to hang from the branch as he watched the older man's lips from eye-level.

"Ha- happens all the time." Bones' fingers had yet to leave his face, and he could feel his cheeks grow hot from the attention. He really should get down.

"Why do I have the feeling that I'm going to spend the rest of my life always looking up to find you." It was not a question, and Jim couldn't think of a damn thing to say, but the accuracy of the statement was jarring. Bones' lips formed into a wistful smile as he tilted his head up and brushed his mouth against Jim's, causing him to almost fall the rest of the way out of the tree. His mouth opened automatically, but the kiss stayed relatively chaste; he could taste that cinnamon toothpaste on Bones' lips, feel their smoothness- As first kisses went, it was the most sedate one he had ever gotten, but his head was spinning and Bones' neck was amazing and he didn't know what to say- "Jim, come on down. You need to eat something." Bones' voice was soft as he backed away, and Jim swung himself up, grabbed onto the branch, and dropped to the ground.

"Bones-" The soft look was still in the older man's eyes, but it hardened a bit when his gaze dropped to Jim's wrist.

"Don't tell me you strained that," Bones muttered, reaching out and lifting up the offending arm without pretense. The wrist was written off with a huff, but the consummate doctor took one look at the palm of his hand and grimaced. "We need to get you cleaned up before this gets infected." Bones released his arm, and began to walk; Jim stared at his back for what felt like a lifetime before he followed, running for a moment to catch up with the other man.

"Bones, what-"

"How did the thinking go?" Jim looked over at Bones, still dazed. The other man was looking straight ahead, muscles shifting under the red uniform as he moved with purpose, and Jim couldn't fight back a grin any longer. Shuffling in closer, he wrapped his arm around Bones' waist, the man tensing automatically before he lifted his own arm, settling it around Jim's shoulders. He could definitely get used to this. Jim met Bones' eyes and squeezed his waist as he began to speak.

"I'm gonna try the test again." He decided a second later that Bones had a far more advantageous position as the arm around his shoulders worked its way around his neck, pulling his head in until it bonked into the older man's.


"Yeah?" Jim squeaked in reply, leading to an dark smirk from Bones.

"If you use that damn test as an excuse to drink all of my booze one more time, I have a nice hypospray with some rare STDs I can and will gleefully introduce you to."

"Hey, that's not-" Bones pulled him until their cheeks were pressed together.

"Did you know that the Markalian Plague causes the genitals to turn black then disintegrate into-"

"I get the point!" Jim was pretty sure his voice hit soprano that time, and he shot Bones a dirty look when the bastard threw back his head and laughed as they wandered towards the academy dorms and Bones' dermal regenerator. A short time later, he was lounging on the sofa in Bones' dorm room with his head in the man's lap as he ran the regenerator over the cut on his cheek with one hand, the other lightly holding his jaw to keep him from moving. Jim let his eyes drift closed as the tingling sensation did its job, not even registering when he finished the work. The hand that had been keeping him still loosened, and he sighed contentedly as fingers caressed his features, a thumb running crookedly over his lips as he smiled and opened his eyes. "What are we doing, Bones?" Those amazing eyes met his own, the frown lines between the older man's brows smoother than he had ever seen as he lifted his newly healed hand and ran his fingers over them.

"We'll worry about it later, Jim." That sounded like a good plan; between that damn test and other concerns, he really didn't want to have to freak out over...whatever this was along with it. Jim took his leave of Bones a few hours later, freshly stuffed with food and head swimming with all the events of the day. Chris met him at the door when he got home, and Jim was forced a tiny bit off of his confused high when he took in the concern on his dad's face. "Something wrong, dad?" Chris's eyebrows shot up, and he shrugged.

"I was a little worried when I heard through the campus grapevine that you had one of the more interesting sessions of the Maru this year and you didn't stick around for the assessment." Chris's Captain-face flickered on long enough for Jim to let out a sigh, scratching at his nose.

"I didn't feel like listening to it. I know what I did in there." He let his determination show through as he met his dad's eyes. "I'm going to take it again. I'm not buying into the whole idea of an unbeatable test." Chris exhaled an amused hmph, and clapped his son on the shoulder.

"I can't say I'm that surprised. Just don't take it too hard if it doesn't end the way you want it to." Jim gave a go at the Bones-perfected snarky eyebrow lift, and Chris snorted. "Speaking of Leonard, can you tell me if there is any truth to the rumor I just heard...oh-" The older man glanced over at the old clock, and Jim rolled his eyes. "-about two hours ago? A little bird told me that you two were walking towards the dorms all but glued to each other."

"I have a feeling that the little bird is more like an ancient, decrepit, and general pain in the ass bird I'm well acquainted with," Jim said flatly, and Chris hmmmed, laughter brightening his eyes.

"I can't verify anything one way or the other." Jim shot his dad a mischievous grin as he sashayed up the stairs.

"Neither can I, I'm afraid. Good night, old man!" After a short shower, he fell onto his bed and wiggled under the covers, falling asleep within minutes. If he dreamed of a certain cantankerous doctor that night, he would never admit to it.

The second time was even worse. For awhile, it almost looked like he might have cracked it; they had managed to force back the Klingons enough to link up with the stranded vessel and were transporting their crew, but a well-formulated triangle attack from the regrouped Klingon warbirds cut through their shields. Before Jim could do little more than blink, the simulated bridge went red, signalling their destruction.

"That went well," he muttered, more to himself than anything; Uhura sighed behind him as she stood up and stretched, Tom shot him an apologetic smile as he rose to his feet. The proctors began to read off the general results as he nodded to his crew in thanks, the motion stuttering when he finally met Bones' eyes.

"Three hours, kid...I'm pretty sure that's a record," Bones said as he pushed himself out of his seat, rocking his head from side to side; Jim heard a crack a few seconds later. He blinked dumbly at the older man as he moved to join his side. "We've been in here for three hours, Jim. Didn't you hear them announce that?" He looked blankly at his friend as he processed the information, before his eyes widened in shock.

"Holy shit." Bones snorted as they headed off the bridge, passing into the assessment room.

"I was beginning to wonder if you had clocked out with the ship, you idiot."

"It didn't feel that long," Jim mumbled, before giving Bones the stinkeye. "-and that's Captain Idiot to you, Doctor." Bones rolled his eyes as he herded him into a seat, sitting down beside him.

"Only when we're actually doing the test, Jim." He gave Bones a dim smirk as he slid down minutely in his chair.

"You can call me captain anytime, Bones." The only reply he got was a short-lived squeeze to his shoulder and a tired half-smile as the administrators filed in to outline the results. It was all well and good to hear that he had lasted longer than any other cadet who had attempted the test in the last two years, but he had still failed. Jim Pike- Jim Kirk may screw shit up, may not always get the best result; but he didn't just fail. He didn't fail.

"Jim. Jim!" He jerked in his seat, his eyes darting around wildly before settling on Bones, who had wrapped a hand around his wrist. "I think you need a drink, kid. Let's get you out of here." He allowed himself to be led from the building after he briefly spoke with the proctors, the older man leading him in a very well-trod direction before Jim stopped. "What's the problem?" Jim shook his head, and pointed aimlessly in another direction.

"I am not going to Crosby's today. I know what Dad says, but I have no doubt that the two commiserate occasionally; I don't feel like giving them any fodder." Bones looked him over for a moment with his mouth set in a thin line, before nodding and walking in the opposite direction.

As much as getting drunk sounded wonderful, the monthly trip to the Sierras with Chris was tomorrow, and on the list of things that he didn't do that he kept in his head, drunken flying was pretty high up on it. Right along with getting shot and letting people get too close. As he watched Bones swipe his ID through the reader at his dorm door, he mentally revised his goals to best two out of three. The buzz from the swill was still present, making his muscles loose and emotions muffled, like his face was pressed into a down-filled pillow. It was also making it far too easy to watch every movement Bones made. Jim dropped into his usual position on the sofa as the man in question got them water out of the drink dispensers, not even slowing as he put the glasses on the coffee table and lifting Jim's head up off the cushions far enough to sit down, then lowering it back onto his thigh.

"Y'know, you coulda just told me to move." Bones snorted as he leaned over Jim and grabbed his glass off the table, taking a swig. It was completely unfair that he still looked good even from this horrible angle.

"It would have taken too long." Jim scowled up at the older man as he watched his Adam's Apple bob. The sigh emerged from his throat before he could swallow it down, and Bones looked down at him as he set his glass back down. "You are a crazy bastard, Jim. Why the hell would you want to take the test twice?" Jim's scowl flattened out, and he turned his face into Bones' thigh, its owner sighing with the motion. "This isn't like you, Jim. Why does this test, out of all the other things you've done here at the academy bother you so much?" Jim closed his eyes as a hand began carding through his hair, the strong fingers rubbing light circles into his scalp.

"I- I don't just fail at things, Bones. Mangle them, sure, but I don't fail," he mumbled into Bones' leg, the soothing hand coming to a stop as he spoke.

"Are you saying that the only reason you keep doing this is because you're a sore loser?" The incredulity in the older man's voice was biting, and Jim jerked his face up to glare at his friend.

"What? No!" Bones adjusted his hand and set back to work on massaging Jim's head, his gaze thoughtful as he looked down at him.

"Then why?" His voice came out in little more than a whisper; Jim's eyes hooded as he collected his thoughts.

"Alright, it's a small part of the reason. But-" He extended his right arm, looking at his fingers as they obscured the light from above. "-I refuse to believe in a completely impossible situation, Bones. It's practically a family tradition." That actually got a ghost of a smile out of Bones, whose fingers migrated to Jim's temples, still moving in relaxing circles.

"So your entire family is batshit insane and you're a sore loser. Got it." He tried to dig up a proper glare in response, but the humor in Bones' eyes kept him from doing anything more than a childish pout.

"Fuck you, asshole," Jim bitched, followed by a wince as the fingers suddenly pulled at his hair.

"Do you want to watch a movie or something, kid?" That got his attention, and he boggled up at Bones as the hand traced invisible lines on his forehead.

"You never watch movies with me, why now?"

"I'm hoping it'll get your mind off of certain things I'm tired of hearing about."

"Yeah yeah, clue received." A grin exploded onto his face, and Bones grimaced. "-and I know exactly what movie we are going to watch!" Jim started to sit up, only to be impeded by the older man's hand on his head.

"I got it." Bones leaned over and grabbed the room's PADD, handing it over to Jim, who gleefully began to call up the movie. The look on Bones' face was worth the choice, and he was just happy to make it through Le Jazz Hot this time before the warmth of his friend's body lulled him to sleep.

Jim roused slowly, not to the expected sound of grand musical numbers, but to Bones groaning; he managed a mmph sound as he opened his eyes.

"Movie...over?" He yawned, cringing at the rather painful crack his jaw made in protest. The person he was addressing finished stretching, and looked down with bleary eyes.

"It's been over for hours, sleeping beauty. I've been attempting to study since." Bones' expression told what he thought of that chain of events, and Jim let out a sleepy chuckle.

"Then go to bed, you idiot. I'll stay here on the couch." Bones' hand came to rest on his collarbone, lightly stroking, and he looked up as the doctor seemed to come to a conclusion.

"Why don't you just sleep in the bed, Jim. It's far more comfortable." Jim froze up instantly, and Bones rolled his eyes as Jim pushed away his hand and struggled to his feet, all but gasping for breath around the sudden worry in his chest.

"-on second thought, I should get going, I need to be up pretty early." He reached for his bag, only to be intercepted by Bones, who grasped his shoulders and turned him around.

"Jim, relax. I'm just saying that the bed is big enough for both of us, I'm not inferring anything else." Jim tried to pull away, but the other man's grip was firm. "Seriously, Jim. Just sleep. As long as your boots are off, you can stay fully dressed. I don't care." Bones leaned in, pressing his forehead to Jim's; Jim inhaled sharply and avoided his eyes. "Just trust me, Jim," Bones whispered against his lips, and he felt any fight he had bleed out of him. Forcing his eyes forward, he looked into his friend's, their green tones shadowed by tired concern, and nodded. Without another word, the older man led him back towards his bed and pushed him into sitting on the edge before walking off to the bathroom. Jim listened to Bones brush his teeth without moving, and didn't meet his eyes when he came back out of the bathroom. "Jim-"

"Yeah." He bent over and worked his boots off, shucking them to the side as he rose to his feet, pulling off his uniform jacket and revealing the matching red sweater underneath. He started to sit back down, before glancing at his waist; the belt joined the boots and jacket a moment later. By this point, Bones had already changed into an old t-shirt and sleep pants, and he rounded the bed, sitting on the opposite side.

"You okay over there?" His voice was rough with exhaustion, but Jim could hear the affection in his tone. He had no clue what he had done to deserve Bones. He scooted towards the headboard until the other man was able to turn down the covers, letting the bed's owner climb in first. "Get in here, you ass." Jim snorted at the muffled grumbling, but did as he was told, carefully lowering himself onto his side. Bones reached out and cupped his hand around his cheek, and Jim pressed his face into it, his lips grazing the palm. "Go to sleep, Jim. I'll wake you up when you need to get going." Jim murmured a thank you as he shifted, trying to find a comfortable spot as he ignored the impulse to flee, letting his eyes drift closed. When Bones' hand drifted down the side of his face and he heard the sighed words What am I going to do with you, Jim, he wasn't sure if he was dreaming or not.

He had never slept in the same bed with anyone else since he was a little boy and he would crawl into Sam's bed during thunderstorms, excepting the one time on shore leave with Chris and John where their room reservation had been screwed up, leaving them with a single massive bed. But that was different. Completely different. Through the haze of sleep, he could occasionally distinguish soft snores, feel the heat of the other man next to him; despite what people had probably thought, he had never so much as slept in the same room as Carol back when they were dating. Sleeping was when he was at his most vulnerable, where all it would take is someone pulling at the right article of clothing covering his wings to blow the whole game right open...and not once had he worried about it with Bones. Not once.

The bed dipped next to him, and Jim opened his eyes, or tried to, anyway; he brought a stiff hand up to wipe the gunk out of them as Bones shifted his weight and leaned over, brushing his lips over his temple. He was pretty sure he wasn't awake enough for the warm and fuzzy crap to start building in his belly, but the rest of him disagreed; after a lazy moment inhaling Bones' scent, he slowly turned onto his side, squinting up at the older man.

"I- I think I could get used to that." That actually drew a laugh out of the older man, who replied with a peck on the lips.

"I can't say I'm sorry to hear that," Bones drawled, giving a firm pat to Jim's arm. "We'll have to have that discussion later, kid, I've been trying to wake you up for almost a half-hour now." Jim looked at the other man blankly, his eyes widening.

"What time is it?" He squawked, almost falling out of bed as he jerked to a sitting position. His jacket and belt appeared on the bed next to him, and he got to his feet and began winding his belt back through the loops. Bones looked over at the clock and frowned.

"You leave at oh-eight-thirty, right? You've got twenty minutes."

"What?" He yanked his jacket on, closing it with one hand while grabbing for his boots with the other. "It takes almost fifteen minutes to get to the shuttleport from here!" Bones snorted, but handed him his boots.

"I tried just about everything to wake you up, but you didn't even twitch. I thought I was going to have to turn on that Andorian rock song again." Jim winced dramatically as he jiggled the last boot into position and got to his feet.

"Thank you for refraining, I don't think I would have woken up well to that." He swiped a hand through his hair, then turned to Bones, the moment stretching between them. "I'll- I'll talk to you later." He had no idea why he was blushing, but he definitely could feel the heat on his face; Bones saved himself from getting slugged by not laughing, although he could see it trying to sneak out through his eyes.

"Get out of here, you infant. You're going to be late." Oh yeah. He barreled towards the door, waving goodbye as he ran out of the building and sprinted across campus. Twenty minutes later, he was gasping for breath in the co-pilot seat of the small transport shuttle, listening to his dad run through the usual pre-flight checks.

"So, where were you last night?" Jim found himself blushing all over again before he could tamp it down, and it had the unfortunate response he expected. "Oh ho, moving up in the world, Jim?" Chris smirked at his son as he raised his finger to the comm. "Hold that thought." Jim sat back and buckled himself in as his dad did the announcements, listening to the sounds of the people settling into their seats in the cabin behind. The trip to Yosemite was a short one, and as soon as they were level, Chris's head swivelled towards Jim. "So?" Jim rolled his eyes.

"So- what?" Chris's eyebrow wasn't quite like Bones', but both were equally telling in their own right. "I just crashed at Bones' dorm after the Maru, that's all. We even watched a movie." It was his dad's turn to roll his eyes, the older man giving an amused exhale as he turned his gaze back to the front.

"Jim, there's crashing with Leonard, and there's crashing with Leonard. Considering you've been staying there off and on for almost three years, your reaction definitely indicates something a little different, hmm?" Jim's lips twisted in irritation, and Chris gave his son a soft smile, his laugh lines in full bloom as he looked down at the controls. "Jim, although there are times it doesn't seem like it, you are an adult, and in a few months you'll be an officer in Starfleet. I'm not going to treat you like a child anymore. I wouldn't be doing you any favors by doing so." Chris trailed off, and Jim looked out the viewscreen without speaking, before taking a deep breath and flashing a smile.

"It's- I'm- everything is just...beginning, I guess. I mean, there are obvious issues that I have to...figure out." The atmosphere in the cockpit sobered, and Chris sighed as he entered the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Jim watched the peaks go by, and after a moment, he heard an intake of breath.

"I hate to say this, Jim, but I think your time is running out. Doctor Phlox is one-hundred percent right; you'll never be able to hide it on a starship." That was the crux of the matter, and he closed his eyes as he thought about it. Almost fifteen years had passed since he had woke up one morning with horrible back pain; he didn't remember much after entering the front room to tell his mother until Chris appeared, helping him the way his mother should have. For all of the secrecy and problems he had gone through, he wouldn't change a minute of it. Except getting shot. That had really not gone well. Bones could probably fix the scar if he asked him sometime- sometime after.

Chris set down at the usual spot a few hundred meters from the Ahwahnee Hotel, still standing after three-hundred years and several world wars, letting the passengers out before lifting off again and heading north-east. The familiar oblong-shaped valley of Lundy came into view, and he couldn't help but smile as the shuttle touched down near the wooded shore. Once upon a time, it had been a moderately popular destination for fishermen and campers, but those days had died after the wars; the dam had been destroyed in a failed missile test, and the tourist facilities had all washed away in the resulting torrent of water. When Chris had taken him here for the first time, he told him that he had stumbled upon it by accident when he was travelling around the Mono Basin during one of his summer breaks during his time at the academy, and had to this day never seen another person besides himself and anyone he brought with him. Which meant it was perfect. Jim hopped out of the shuttle and looked at the lake; he could see the ripples from the fish breaking the surface in the distance and a few gulls coasting overhead as he tilted his head to the sky. He admired the snow covering the peaks above, and he knew he couldn't wait any longer. He peeked back at Chris, who was setting up a folding chair.

"Mind if I head up?" Chris sat down in the chair, shaking his head.

"Don't piss the gulls off again." Jim grinned as he pulled off his jacket, followed by his shirt and harness; Chris glowered at him as the discarding articles of clothing landed near his chair. "You know, you could actually fold them up for once."

"That would require too much effort." The older man snorted as he powered up a PADD.

"God forbid you expend any effort." Jim slowly unfurled his wings, wincing as the blood flow began to circulate properly again. The older he got, the longer it took to recover from the harness; he began to jog down the shoreline, his wings half-spread as he flapped gently. No one could complain about pins and needles in their limbs when it came to him, there was simply a massive scale difference that he doubted few species could compare to. After a few minutes of jogging back and forth, he started to flap in earnest, the breeze lifting his wings naturally as he ran flat out; just before he was to run out of straight shoreline, he took to the air, banking over the lake as he rose in altitude. The gulls shrieked and scattered around him, and he looked down for a moment to see his dad shoot him a dirty look and pull up an umbrella.

"Sorry!" He let the currents send him up, higher and higher, until all he could see below was the tiny circle of Chris's umbrella against the dappled shore. The air was cold, and getting worse as he climbed, but the sheer exhilaration he felt more than overcame the chill; Jim twisted and dove into a spiral, before pulling up with a twirl and hovering for a moment, watching the birds in the distance. The world was amazingly quiet at this height, with only scattered bird calls and the occasional stray sound from the lake below reaching his ears, and he allowed himself to flutter back and forth as his eyes drooped. The jarring sound of an air horn burst through his calm, and he immediately drew his wings in and allowed himself to fall for a few seconds before unfurling them again, coasting down to where his dad was. He opened his mouth as soon as he was within audible range.

"Kinda early, yeah?" Jim shouted, and he could just make out Chris shake his head.

"You need to get down here, Jim." The tone that he could still decipher even in shouting told him that his statement was not a suggestion. Jim's brow furrowed as he dropped into a spiralling descent pattern, coming to a clean stop only a few meters from the older man.

"What's wrong?" Chris's face seemed to be twitching, emotions flickering off and on, and concern caused him to step closer to his dad. "Dad?" The older man's face settled into what Jim translated as amused resignation, and he felt a jolt of anxiety shoot through him.

"You forgot your comm, son." Jim heard a noise nearby, but ignored it in favor of Chris. "-and I forgot to check to make sure the cabin was empty before leaving Yosemite."

"You forgot to check-" His voice trailed off as the blood immediately drained from his face, and he turned with a jerk towards the sound he had heard a moment earlier. Bones stepped out of the trees, his eyes wider than Jim had ever seen them and his mouth slack with shock; as the doctor drew closer, Jim expected to see many things in his expression: disgust, anger, even fear; but wonder wasn't among them. Bones seemed to be trying to say something, his jaw tensing and his mouth opening and closing, but Jim wasn't listening. He staggered back a few steps as his eyes darted around and his head screamed for him to run; his heart felt like it was clawing its way out of his chest as he began to sway in place, fighting the urge to just pass out so he could pretend this wasn't happening.

"Oh- oh fuck."