Thanks to my betas, T'Aaneli and Islaohope. This story also posted to another list in draft form. I'd like to thank those who commented on it. You know who you are. :)
Sterile ceilings. Gary looked up, open eyes staring blankly at the gray-white stretch of sickbay ceiling. Sterile walls meeting sterile floors in sterile rooms with sterile beds and sterile bodies. So damn clean. The smell of disinfectant tickled his nose.
He shifted slightly in the biobed. The rustle of fabric against fabric floated in the air for a second then vanished, leaving the steady monotone beat of the biosensors for company. Jim would be by soon, he mused.
It felt like he had been here for decades. Decades of empty colorless walls with the smell of enforced cleanliness curling around him. He smiled a little at his exaggeration. He would use that one on Kirk, maybe convince his friend to release him from sickbay before he went mad from lack of stimuli.
Decades, Jim. I've been in here for decades.
His smile broadened even more. It would never work. Kirk would just smile that smile of his and then turn to the Doc who would be just as much a pain in the ass as the Doc always was. Gary sighed. God, he was sick of sickbay.
He had known he wouldn't die, when he stood in front of Kirk and took that poisoned dart. Had known even as the cold feel of death paralyzed him and he fell to the ground in slow agony. Had known as he looked up, lying in his friend's arms, and met Kirk's pained eyes.
Hey there, Jimmy. Don't look so serious. I'm not going to die. Not yet.
Jim, it's cold.
Where're you going?
Don't leave me.
What he hadn't known was that his little unselfish act of heroism would get him confined to sickbay for an eternity. If he had known, he might have thought twice before jumping.
Closing his eyes, he wished for sleep to dream of green pastures and lovely ladies lounging by a beautiful lake. Of sun-filled days that never were and never will be.
The soft slap of shoes on hard floor told Gary he was no longer alone. He caught a whiff of Kirk's aftershave and smiled.
"What are you smiling at?"
Gary opened his eyes, keeping the smile. "Nothing. Good to see you, Jim. It's been ages."
Kirk stood by the door, leaning against the bulkhead with his arms crossed in front of him, a smile tugging at his lips. "Miss me much?"
"Oh, don't go and get any ideas, kid. This is sickbay, remember? I'd be happy to see my Aunt Bertha."
Kirk chuckled and moved into the room. "You don't have an Aunt Bertha."
"Always have to point out the obvious, don't you?" Gary shifted on the bed to give Kirk room to sit. "So tell me, when can I get out of here?"
"Not soon enough, I'll wager." Gary sighed.
"The doc just wants to make sure of a few things. Your blood still shows signs of the poison."
"It's been two whole days since Dimorus, Jim. If something were going to happen, it would have already. At least let me go on restricted duty."
"Not up to me, remember? You know, whining doesn't become you. It's not going to get you out of here any faster."
Gary had to chuckle at that. "Sorry. I'll remember that next time you're stuck in here."
Kirk lifted his eyebrows at the comment. "Okay, so neither of us are saints when it comes to sickbay. Just hang in there a bit longer."
"Yes, sir." Gary gave him a mock salute.
"I don't know why I bother.
"'Cause I'm your best friend."
"Best friend, huh? Could have fooled me." Kirk said this with a smile, teasing, but Gary heard the slight shading of something else there.
Standing up, Kirk moved away from the biobed, ambling around the room slowly. A long moment of silence passed. Gary watched Kirk, waiting.
"You know," Kirk turned towards him, "You have no one to blame but yourself. What were you thinking, stepping in front of that dart like that?"
Gary should have seen this coming. "You're saying I should have just let you take it? You would have died, Jim."
"And you very nearly did."
"But I didn't."
"That's not the point. I never asked you to die for me, Gary."
No, you never did.
Gary opened his mouth, ready to respond, then changed his mind. He looked steadily at Kirk, taking in the dark circles under his eyes and the pale cast of his skin. "I suppose it wouldn't change anything if I told you I knew I wasn't going to die."
He watched Kirk's expression shift from one of contained anger to one of confusion and finally understanding.
Kirk nodded, moving back to sit with Gary. "No, it doesn't change anything." He paused and sighed. "You could have been wrong, Gary."
"I've never been wrong before."
Kirk sighed. "Just promise me you won't do something like that again. If you need to be a hero, you can just push me out of the way next time I'm being stupid."
Gary smiled at him. "Okay, I promise." Then he pushed Kirk, gently.
Kirk chuckled and righted himself. "I suppose you're sitting there smug in the knowledge that you'll live to the ripe old age of one hundred."
Gary didn't say anything. He should have joked back at Kirk. A hundred and two, actually Jim. Get it right. Somehow he couldn't form the words. Lying never came easy with Kirk; the kid always knew.
Kirk's smile slowly faded. Gary could feel Kirk go still next to him.
"It doesn't work like that."
"When, damn it."
Gary looked up, meeting Kirk's eyes. "Not for a while yet. I don't know exactly."
Kirk stared back at Gary. Unable to hold up under the weight of those eyes, Gary turned his head. Time ticked past, measured by his heartbeat.
He felt a warm hand on his arm and he looked down at it.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with you, Gary. You're more trouble then you're worth."
"Do tell." The hand moved from his arm to grasp his hand. Skin made contact.
He was surrounded by rocky terrain, by hot sun and loose dirt, by graves and an unimaginable surge of power; he was surrounded by the darkness of his own death and the wild and pained hazel eyes of his best friend.
Gary, forgive me.
For a moment, James. But your moment is fading.
Gary's heart stopped and then started. He shook Kirk's hand off, trying to control the sudden need for air.
Phaser fire. Deep earth-rumbling shake. He looked up and saw his death falling. Pain, his chest crushed. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. Oh my God, what have I done. Jim.
Oh God, don't leave me.
Gary concentrated on breathing. In. Out. "I'm all right." His voice sounded far away to his ears.
"I don't think so. You look like Aunt Bertha just walked into the room."
"I'm fine, Jim." Gary clenched his hands. "Just didn't realize I was holding my breath."
"Maybe I should get the doctor." Kirk put his hand back onto Gary's shoulder, gripping gently.
"I said I'm all right," Gary snapped, then forced a half laugh. "I didn't realize you were such a mother hen, James. Did you want to kiss it and make it better as well?"
Kirk's eyes shifted and hardened. He withdrew his hand. "I guess you are fine." He stood up and looked down at Gary. "I'll speak to the doctor. See what I can do about getting you on restricted duty. Till then, you do as he says." Then he turned to go.
Kirk paused and turned.
There was no response at first, then Kirk nodded.
"How about a chess game later? I'm about ready to start climbing walls in here."
Kirk stared at him, then gave him a tight smile. "Sure. Later, after alpha shift."
Gary closed his eyes, somehow not wanting to see his friend walk out.