Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek.

Author's Note: We're here. Almost done. One more chapter after this. This chapter has a language warning.

Thank you for following and reviewing! Any loose ends that I don't tie up could very well appear in another story I have planned. DLB48- thank you for beta reading. I could say that a million times and it wouldn't be enough!

Chapter 22

Jim awoke sometime later to a melodic voice that described a princess.

It was Carol. Her voice made princesses sound intriguing so he lay there, eyes closed and tired.

As she spoke, Jim conducted a quick mental survey of his body- it was disappointing. His face felt bandaged, his chest had to have been pricked with needle after needle, his wrists were sore, and his feet immovable. He felt ragged, but again, Carol's English accent distracted him. He wanted to listen to what she was saying, even if it was a fairy tale little girls loved.

Besides, he couldn't recall ever having a fairy tale read to him.

He sneaked a peak by sliding one eye half-open towards the direction of her voice. Carol sat, a real book in hand, with Ayhan on one side of her lap and Delvia, Devlok's sister, on the other side.

"Over the years, the promises of the fairies came true - one by one. The Princess grew to be beautiful, modest, kind and clever. Everyone who saw her could not help but love her."

"Like you," Devlia smiled and Ayhan bobbed her head up and down.

Jim closed his eyes, repeating the words in his mind. They were true of Carol, describing her perfectly. Beautiful, modest, kind, and clever. Everyone who saw her could not help but love her.

"Oh, you girls," Carol chuckled. Jim wanted to see her smile so he opened his one eye again.

"More, more," cried Ayhan, her little feet bobbed up and down as she was too short to reach the floor. Carol squeezed her, and something in Jim's chest tightened.

"Shhh," whispered Devlia. "Captain Kirk needs quiet."

"I sowry," mumbled Ayhan.

"It's okay, dear. His doctor says he should sleep another day. He needs his rest," Carol said.

"Because of the bad men?" Devlia asked.

"Yes, but he's going to get better."

"He's sad," said Ayhan, quietly. "I sad if Mr. Jim sad."

"Oh, sweetie," Carol said.

Jim forgot how intuitive Ayhan was.

She probably knew he was awake. Sneaky kid.

"Let's keep reading. We're more than halfway done, alright?" Carol asked. "The King and Queen were determined to prevent the curse placed on the Princess by the spiteful fairy and commanded that all the spindles in the whole kingdom be destroyed. No one in the kingdom was allowed to tell the Princess of the curse that had been placed upon her for they did not want her to be sad."

"Like Lenore," said Devlia. "She didn't know of a curse put on her."

The room went silent. Jim felt hot. Too hot.

"And now she does," the girl added.

Jim swore silently. He didn't want to think of what happened to Lenore. Ever. Again.

"More storwy," said Ayhan.

"Round the castle a hedge of brier roses began to grow up. Every year it grew higher until at last nothing could be seen of the sleeping castle."

Carol paused. Jim looked at her, sensing her discomfort. Carol swallowed and rubbed her eye. For some reason, Jim knew that particular passage made her think of him.

She knew he had a hedge. Bones was privy to that as well. And now Spock.

Jim's past was unraveling faster and faster.

"The Prince went on further. All was so still that he could hear his own breathing. At last he reached the tower and opened the door into the little room where the Princess was asleep. There she lay, looking so beautiful that he could not take his eyes off her. He bent down and gave her a kiss. As he touched her, Sleeping Beauty opened her eyes and smiled up at him."

Carol turned her head Jim's way and lifted an eyebrow at him. Busted. He gave her a small smile. She winked and placed the girls off her lap.

"It appears our own Sleeping Beauty has awakened," Carol laughed. "You need to go back to your quarters while the doctor checks on Mr. Jim, okay?"

"Bye, Miss Carol," Devlia said. Ayhan did not exit the room but walked up to Jim's side before Carol could stop the little girl.

She didn't say anything, just put a little finger in her mouth and stared. It unnerved him a bit, but Jim knew she did that a lot. She contemplated. Besides Joanna McCoy, she was the cutest kid that he knew.

"Ayhan." Jim loved saying her name. It rolled off his tongue even now, even with his voice rough with disuse. He must have been out for several days. He tried to smile at her, but it fell flat. Ayhan's stare continued and Jim realized she knew how he felt about Lenore.

This is how he felt about Lenore- too terrified to feel anything about her.

His forehead tightened and he pressed his lips thinly. Jim's distress hurt. It just damn hurt. Something akin to tears threatened behind his eyes. Crap. This little kid was going to undo him. Ayhan was silently telling him to care for Lenore.

She'll be fine, Ayhan, without me.

"Ayhan, it's time to go," called Carol softly. She took the girl by the hand. "Jim, I will tell Dr. McCoy you're awake. Do you need anything before I go?"

"Water," Jim blurted out. Jim wanted her to stay. If Bones came in, more than likely Carol would have to leave. Who knew what the good doctor had up his sleeve for Jim next.

Like talking.

Carol gave a slight smirk as if she knew what he was up to. She wasted no time to bring him a glass and a straw. Carol elevated his head a bit more.

Jim looked at the glass and straw and realized how foolish his request was. He sighed. His arm needed therapy to get moving. His chest was tender. He assumed Bones knitted his breaks, but the twinges hung on. Clearly, he was not well enough to hold the damn drink.

"Um, I guess..." He looked at her sheepishly.

Ayhan giggled. Carol sighed dramatically. "I suppose I can help you, Captain Kirk, just this once."

She lifted the cup. Her eyelashes fluttered a bit as she concentrated on getting the straw directly into his lips. Her fingers briefly touched his lips. His breath hitched. She jerked her gaze to his.

"Th...the...they...are blue...again," Carol stammered. "Oh, God, Jim, I was so worried."

The water refreshed him, but seeing Carol's relief struck him so much he forgot about his water and pushed the straw out of his mouth.

"Scotty rather liked the Gothic look."

Carol rolled her eyes and shoved the straw back into his mouth.

Jim sipped noisily, just to see the girls' reactions. Just to keep his mind off everything he should think about.

He liked being ornery. The look on Ayhan's face was priceless.

"Apparently, Captain Kirk missed a few lessons on manners," Carol said.

"What? Can't I drink my water?" Jim said innocently. Then he blew the air back into the cup, making bubbles.

Ayhan put her hand over her mouth. Jim grinned at her.

"That's enough of your shenanigans, captain," Carol said and pulled away the cup even as his head leaned forward to keep the straw in his mouth and the cup close. She tried to hide her grin but failed miserably. "You are a bad influence, Jim. She's going to tell everyone about your childish antics. How does McCoy put up with you?"

"He usually doesn't," said Jim, dryly. A wave of sleep was coming again and it felt good because that bit of fun had worn him out.

"Jim, are you in pain?" Carol's hand brushed his forehead. A nurse ventured in, looking shyly at them.

"Captain, the doctor wants me to adjust your pain meds. He will be here shortly." The nurse went to work, and Carol stepped back.

"Carol, what were you doing," Jim whispered, "in here? How are Kevin and Spock?"

"It's been four days since you returned to the Enterprise. Dr. McCoy treatment to rid the drug from your system was extensive. Spock was approved for duty and Kevin has been up and about for a day," Carol said, saying nothing about particular his omission of Lenore. "And, per Doctor McCoy's and Commander Spock's orders, I am off duty watching over you but helping with the Vulcan children until Ambassador Spock arrives. As far as being in here, Jim," she smiled. "it's not the first time I read to you while you were sleeping."

"Umhmm," Jim mumbled, steadily losing the battle against sleep as his eyes closed. He doubted if he could stay awake for Bones.

He settled deeper into his pillow when the nurse checked his IVs, now really wishing Bones would hurry up. Carol certainly had not given him the worst of any news. Jim was sure there was bound to be something else.

After the girls waved goodbye and left, Jim's thoughts lingered on Carol's last words. She'd been hesitant with her contact with him after Khan. He did recall Uhura telling him Carol had alternated with her reading aloud to Jim when he was in a coma. She came a couple times while he was in therapy. Even helping him into his wheelchair after an especially brutal session.

This gentle attention was...nice. It was also more legitimate concern he'd ever garnered from a woman his age.

But it scared the shit out of him. He noticed Carol's attention when he was slowed down. Or in a crisis. And still, she came, despite those tendencies.

What did that say about him?

He was a crazy, adrenaline-addicted, distrusting bastard who probably would break her heart eventually.

Especially now, when all Jim wanted to do was raise hell.

He didn't know what to process first. Or how to do it.

Kodos' death- he'd heard Sloan mention it. It infuriated Jim that Kodos had not met with appropriate justice. Then there was Sloan's misuse of his Section 31 power to get Jim's blood. Explaining that to Admiral Cartwright would be challenging. Kevin. Kevin held a spot in Jim's heart nobody understood, except maybe for Bones. Jim owed Spock a lot of explanation, as well. Jim's worthless feet and whatever else meant hours of physical therapy in his future- again. And then, what the hell happened to him while he was drugged? Whatever he remembered didn't make a lick of sense.

"I hear a certain lady noticed you got your eyes back."

"Mmhmm," Jim mumbled. "Go away, Bones. I'm tired."

"Yeah, you awoke too early, kid," Bones said. "But since you're up, tell me what's giving you the most pain."

"The thought of being flat on my back for the second time in less than two years." Jim felt like being honest, since Bones asked. "But, really, go away, Bones. I'm tired. I don't want to talk."

"Jim," Bones sighed. "I'm sorry. You're looking at more time in physical therapy."

Jim snorted. "Therapy. Overrated."


"Actually, I lied. What pains me most is that Kodos was killed by another maniac and the other maniac got away."

"The other maniac got away because the Enterprise needed to be in one piece."

"Oh, and what also pains me is that my damn blood is being used to harvest who knows what," Jim spat out. "That's what Sloan wanted, you know. My drugged Khan blood."

Bones face grew dark even as someone coming into sickbay distracted him. Jim did not care who it was and he did not make any effort to look. He kept the storm coming, directed right at his friend. Jim needed to fight. If he didn't, Jim was certain he'd go back to being crazy.

"I knew it. What did you find? You studied it again, I bet, before you cured me."

"Jim," Bone said, "don't start this now. You're not well enough."

"I'll start it whenever the hell I want. What did you find Bones? Hmm?" Jim taunted his friend, firing curse after curse. "Something that was similarly found in Khan's blood? What did the drug do?"

"Jim, calm down." Bones demanded, tricorder in hand as he hovered over Jim's chest. Jim would have pushed him away had he the strength.

"I can't calm down," Jim hissed. "Nothing about anything makes sense to me right now, Bones. I cannot calm down. The safety of other people is in my hands...again, Bones. And I can't do a damn thing about it. Don't you dare tell me to calm down."

"You're right. Things are not okay." Bones warned. "But I'm telling you this, Jim. You still saved the Enterprise. You saved Kevin and the rest of the Tarsus 9. The Vulcan children are safe. You even saved Lenore."

"Don't you dare mention her name to me again."

Jim ignored Bones' confusion and kept on berating the doctor.

"How do you like having a friend who is constantly used as a science experiment? After Khan, I guess I should post a sign on the Enterprise that says 'get in line.'"

The instant Bones' face showed hurt, Jim's stomach rolled. He'd delivered personal injury to his best friend, in the worst way.

"Why are you doing this, Jim?" Bones blurted out. "I know you're upset and lashing out. But what the hell?"

Bones stopped what he was doing and crossed his arms.

"I'm a moron, that's why, Bones!" Jim lashed out to hide his anguish, just as Bones suspected.

"Stop it, Jim, just stop."

"No. I don't deserve to stop." Jim cracked down on his tears. They threatened and Bones would catch on to him. "Those maniacs got away."

"Like I said, only one of those maniacs escaped. He may be captured yet. The other maniac is no longer a threat. You've been drugged, beaten, tortured, and your body torn up by sliding on ice. I know you're hurting and feeling helpless, Jim." Bones calm manner irritated Jim even more. "It has to be terrifying. You're here now, getting well, Jim. You're being unreasonable."

"Unreasonable would be letting Carol actually continue a relationship with me."

"Don't you dare think like that." Bones uncrossed his arms. "Things may be rough for awhile, recovering from all this, but she's worth it. You know that."

"She deserves better."

"She deserves you, man"

"She deserves someone who can face his past, someone not broken," Jim choked out. "I can't..."

"You can't what?"

"I just...I can't be anyone of worth to her, Bones. I need to let her go."

"Jim, you're not in a state to make these decisions." Bones called a nurse. "Prep a sedative for Captain Kirk."

"I can and I will make them, doctor," Jim yelled at Bones. "If you dare sedate me now, I'll..."

"You'll what?" Bones scoffed. "Give me that look you're giving me now, Jimmy? I can take your crap. Carol can actually put up with a lot too, considering she's still here listening."

"She's not really here, is she?" The thought made him sick. She shouldn't have heard any of that.

"Oh, yes, Jimmy," Bones said. "But I'm not letting her get near you until you calm down, Jim."

"I hate you," Jim's anger was severe. He couldn't understand his anger, and it wouldn't go away. Jim had trusted Bones, and Bones had let Carol listen to the awful things Jim said. "You should've made her go."

"Jim, you're not yourself. I am sorry for the trauma you've experienced. Admiral Cartwright has been briefed according to regulation. His recommendation to the board will be to allow you to remain captain only if you agree to psychotherapy." Bones sighed. The guilty expression condemned Bones instantly.

Jim swore. "Is everyone against me? You'll get me out of it, won't you, Bones?"

Bones looked at the other person who came into sickbay. Jim was too tense to follow Bones' gaze. Instead, he willed his best friend to save him from that...that...shit. Psychotherapy?

Jim pleaded with all he had. "Bones?"

Bones shook his head. "You weren't completely out these past three days, Jim. Spock heard your fits and tirades, and so did I and the nurses. It was bad, Jim."

Carol's presence came clearer to Jim as Bones grabbed the hypo from the nurse.

"No," Jim said brokenly. "It's because I won't see Lenore, isn't it?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You can't make me see her." All was on fire again. His ears were ringing. It wouldn't stop. "Stop talking about her. Just, make it go away."

He couldn't breathe again. "Len..."

Bones pressed a hypo in his neck in lightning speed. "No more panic attack today, kid. This will help. It's not the sedative yet."

"No, I just..." Jim argued, even as the effects of the medicine filtered in his body.

"Jim, shhh. You don't have to see her just yet," Carol's hand stroked Jim's cheek to She bent and kissed his forehead.

"Buddy, it's okay." Bones laid a hand on Jim's shoulder as he stood on the opposite side as Carol. "We just want you well, and back in the chair."

"Bones, I can't do psychotherapy. You know that."

"Jim, you can do most anything. And I know you don't want to give up the Enterprise." Bones said. "And that's why you're going to agree."

"I failed her. I failed Lenore, Bones, and I can't begin to understand what happened to her and why." Jim confessed. "Don't you understand?"

"She wants to talk to you Jim, when you are well enough. She's a bright young woman, thankful to be alive. She's okay. And you will be too, even when you see her next." Carol's voice made Jim pause, and backtrack his thoughts.

"Her life...it was ruined because of me."

"Lenore's life was returned to her because you were smart and took all those precautions on Revlair." The fondness in Bones' voice tore at Jim. "I don't care if you are a moron, you're a smart moron."

"Sorry, Bones."

"Think nothing of it, kid," Bones muttered.

"Carol, you shouldn't like me so much. You shouldn't be here with me." Jim winced as Bones pushed the hypo into his neck

"I want to be here with you, Jim. And who said I liked you so much?"

The kiss on his cheek told him and he closed his eyes, the sedative beginning its work.

"Stay," he mumbled. "Close."

"If you're talking to me, Jimmy, I'm too big to be there next to ya," Bones said in a large drawl. Jim was too tired to comment on his friend's humor. "And, you just said you hated me. That's not exactly a lovin' moment."

As Jim drifted off, another body slipped in beside him on the biobed. An arm wrapped around his chest gently while something soft tickled his neck. It was comforting and Jim wanted that feeling to stay.

He could've sworn Bones muttered something about someone needing a room.

And then Jim smelled strawberries.