No Way To Be In Heaven
Chapter 5 - Or Ever Be Tender


Thing. A thing. Never told him he was a thing. The phrase turned itself over and over in Jim's mind, folding and flipping and inverting itself, on and on and on it went.

Jim watched Bones sleep, splayed out under the mountain of non-regulation blankets he'd collected during their time in California, mouth open, not a care in the world. It was the first night since that awful Friday morning that Bones had slept peacefully, something for which Jim had prayed every night in the week that followed. Those prayers had finally been answered, but the cost had been Jim's own peace. Each time Jim tried closed his eyes that night, he could see the leering eyes of the suited woman from that unknown past, glaring down at him, hissing her disapproval at everyone. He'd given up on sleep the moment he heard Bones snoring softly across the room, and was instead plagued by the wild ravings of the doctor who'd examined him that day. Another of those things.

Jim got up and scrawled out a note on Bones' padd, before stalking off into the foggy night in his boxers and fuzzy slippers. The cold damp nipped at his bare skin, but he didn't care. It made him feel something other than perpetual fear and loathing, gave him sensations to focus on that were real, sensations that said he was real. Or did they? After all, he was the one processing these sensations - what proof was that? He believed he thought that the cold was cold and the wet was wet, but what if he was a series of circuits that were simply reacting accordingly various external stimuli? What was reality, and how did it apply to him? Did it apply to him?

"Fuck." Jim hadn't shouted, but the word sounded unnaturally loud to his ears in the close, grey night. "Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck." Still close, loud, unnatural. Jim peered into the night, trying to distinguish the faint lights that illuminated the dorm rooms of those still studying during the night, but he could see nothing but the glow of the footlights that brightened the path he'd intentionally strayed from. He was all alone. Jim chuckled humorlessly. "If a tree falls and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?" No answer, not even the rustling of fauna in the manicured flora. "If a man isn't real and there's no one there to answer him, does he exist?"

No answer.

Jim dropped to the grass, almost unaware of the dull thud of pain as he banged his knees against the hardpacked earth. For all the terror and philisophical mumbo-jumbo that clogged his brain and kept the horror of sleep at bay, his body was well beyond exhausted. He lay back, detached from any sense of movement or intent, and stared up at the dark, heavy, gray clouds that closed in on everything close to the Earth's crust. The gray fog thickened, grew progressively darker, while the air around him drew in cold, cloying and thick, until all he knew was that if he ever was alive, it soon wouldn't matter, because nothing can live in the isolated cold.


Warm hands gripped Jim's left arm, squeezing, shaking, pulling. He blinked his eyes open slowly - when the hell had he closed them? - and blinked at the harshness of the silvery bright fog that still covered the treetops in the quad. On his left, a human male was growling overhead, yanking on his arm as if to tear it from the socket and rip into it like like a starving man. Jim reached out with his other hand to try to push the man off, and was surprised when it was captured in the hot, slick grip of the other man's hand.

"Finally. What the hell were you thinking?"

Jim came fully awake as his brain finally processed the sounds he'd been hearing and the sights he'd been seeing. Bones' face loomed over his, contorted with rage and fear. So much for that good night's sleep, then. "Hey," Jim croaked. Not the most eloquent greeting in the world, but it would have to do.

"Don't you 'hey' me!" Or, not. "I'm serious, Jim! In the middle of the night? You could have caught your death of cold out here!"

Jim snorted and struggled to sit up right. "Apparently not."

"Did you want to?" The way Bones' voice cracked - that wasn't right. And no, he didn't. It just seemed rather inevitable, and then it didn't happen, and Jim didn't know which way was fucking up anymore, or what to say, or do. "Jim!"

"I don't know what I was thinking," he finally said softly. "I was thinking... everything. And nothing. And it didn't make sense."

"So you took off in the middle of the night, in your goddamn boxers?"

Jim looked down at himself. So he had! That would explain why everything was so dark and cold and clammy, why his back felt like there were earthworms all over it when he'd first opened his eyes. "I can't stop it."

"Stop what, Jim?"

"The memories! Nightmares! Whatever." Jim held his head in both hands, as if he could squeeze the vision of the suited woman out of his brain. "I can't stop it, Bones. I feel like I've opened Pandora's box, and I don't know how to close it again."

Bones looked at him for a moment, before getting to his feet and offering his hands to Jim. Jim looked at him blankly for a moment - what, just go back to the room? Pretend nothing was ever wrong? - but he reached out slowly and allowed himself to be pulled up to stand nose to nose with Bones. "Let's get you warmed up," was all Bones said, but there was a softness to the way he spoke, a softness that made Jim want to curl into a ball and cry forever. Bones released his hands and turned to walk towards their dormitory, and Jim forced himself to follow in silence.

When they got into the room, Bones stalked right into the bathroom, shedding clothing as he went, leaving a trail of sweatpants and nightshirts for Jim to follow. Jim said nothing, couldn't bring himself to tease Bones about the mess he was making, just kicked off his own soggy slippers and slipped out of his boxers, and followed Bones into the steaming shower.

The water was hot, too hot, and Jim hissed and scooted to the back of the stall, away from the stinging spray. Bones murmured something apologetic and adjusted the controls, splashing his fingertips in the spray, before reaching for Jim's arm and pulling, slowly but inexorably toward the water. Jim resisted, even when he felt the tepid spay soothe his pink shoulders, even when he felt warm, sure hands on his arms, poking, prodding, examining.

"I'm sorry, Jim," Bones hummed. "Does it hurt?" He touched Jim's shoulders with gentle fingertips. Jim found himself relaxing into the touch despite himself. "Tell me where you hurt, Jim," Bones was whispering.

"Nowhere." He wanted to say he was fine, but it was too obvious a lie. Instead, Jim closed his mouth and turned his face away from Bones' gentle touch. "It just surprised me." That was true enough - any and everything that could respond to outside stimuli could be surprised in one way or another. Even computers locked up when presented with input it couldn't understand. "I'm fine."

Bones didn't speak for several moments before he slipped his hands down Jim's back and pulled him closer. "Liar," he finally whispered.

"Who's a liar," Jim whispered back. "Not me. I can only tell the truth that I've been given." He wriggled his hands up between them and pressed them against Bones' chest, forcing a void between their bodies. "So who's lying? You? The other doctor?"

Bones sighed and moved back, but he wouldn't take his hands from where they came to rest on Jim's arms. "What lie, Jim?"

"What the fuck am I?" The violence of his cries was as big a surprise to Jim as it could possibly have been to anyone else who'd heard him. He snapped his mouth shut and stalked out of the shower, dripping wet, to stare at his steam-distorted reflection in the mirror. "What the fuck am I?"

"I don't know, Jim," Bones said from the still running shower. "What do you think you are?"

Jim snorted. "A thing."

"Maybe you are." Jim snapped his head around, ready to lunge at Bones for daring to say such a thing, but something about Bones' face gave him pause. "In fact, I'd guarantee you are." Jim watched warily as Bones stepped out of the shower and walked back into their livingspace, just as sopping wet and naked as Jim was. He went to the computer and pulled up Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of NorthWestern Standard English. Jim slowly moved out of the bathroom to stand behind Bones, who had pulled up and highlited a definition of thing. It read:

3. a separate and distinct individual quality, fact, idea, or usually entity

Jim sighed and turned away. "That isn't what I mean."

"It's what I mean, though," Bones said softly. "You're not a creature-"

"I woke up in that drawer, once, Bones. I..." Jim shuddered, unable to tolerate the memories any longer.

"You woke up... What do you know about Holister Pharmaceuticals, Jim?"

Jim shrugged. "That they were shut down by the Federation for some kind of scandal. I don't really know the details..." Jim trailed off as a terrible suspicion began to raise its head.

"They were cloning people illegally, Jim. They'd put out advertisements to find subjects for paid medical subjects, stole their DNA, and replicated their subjects for years for a host of unsavory projects."

Jim struggled to get his head around Bones' words. "Unsavory projects... I don't... what are you telling me?"

"They were replicating people, creating an invisible workforce with no past, no unique identity, no contact with the outside world, and then selling those people to the highest bidders."

Jim stared at Bones in horror. "Slavery...?"

"Yes, Jim."

Jim wrapped his arms around himself, chilled by the water on his skin and the latest strange turn the conversation was taking. "Alright. Alright. So... what does that have to do with me?"

"I'm not sure. But I do know that SFGH was one of the hospitals where the experiments were taking place. And... your chart flagged as identical to the man who'd died Thursday night." Bones shook his head. "That can't be coincidence."

A seed had been planted in the morgue that day, a seed Jim was trying his best to ignore, but Bones had watered it, fertilized it, and now it was beginning to grow, full and lush, into a terrible idea. "It isn't," Jim said slowly, and sank down on to the bed, heedless of the damp spot he was soaking into his covers.

Bones disappeared for a moment and returned bundled in one bathrobe and clutching another, which he draped over Jim's shoulders before settling down next to him. "I was right, then, wasn't I? You were one of the victims."

Victim. It wasn't the kind of word that Jim ever associated with himself. He was young and strong - hell, he half believed in his own invincibility. He was no victim... only... "Yes."

Bones closed his eyes and let out a long, shuddering breath. "So young... I can't believe they took someone so damn young. Couldn't have been more than seventeen."

"Yes, seventeen," Jim said softly. He looked at his hands. The fingers were long and elegant, nails fairly clean for a man in the service, callouses still soft. These were not the hands of a parentless slave. "What do you suppose they did to the the slaves?"

Bones shook his head sadly, slowly. "Not sure. They're still being found from time to time, slowly but surely, usually living outside of Federation space - if they're still living."

"And the... originals? Do we know what happened to them?"

"Not really." Bones snorted. "We usually find them the way you've been found, Jim. Someone runs across a clone, and it comes out that, yes, the original victim was terrorized into silence." Bones sighed and shrugged. "Sometimes they're already dead anyway, usually from hard living. Most of the victims were hardluck cases who needed the compensation badly enough to get involved in the first place."

The suited woman flashed across Jim's eye. "Terrorized into silence. You mean, forced to sign non-disclosure statements." You talk too much.

"Is that what they made you do, Jim? Is that why you were so afraid today?"

"Partly." Jim's throat worked in a vain attempt to bring some moisture to his mouth. "Does anyone know what they did to people who wouldn't sign?"

Bones shook his head. "I've never heard of that. Why?"

Jim shrank in on himself. "Because... I think the original Jim Kirk probably refused to sign those papers."

Silence filled the room. It pounded in his ears, in time with the blood gushing in and out of his heart. It held him frozen on the bunk, next to an equally frozen Bones, waiting, listening. Slowly, Jim forced himself to look at Bones - at the long, wet spikes of hair sticking out over the smooth, pink forehead, at the gold-green eyes that glinted in the soft light of the computer screen, at the parted cherry red lips that twitched ever so slightly, lips that wanted to deny what was painfully obvious to Jim. Jim smiled and bumped his forehead to Bones'. "I'm not a real boy."

"Yes you are." The declaration was a hoarse whisper, but it was bold, strong. "Yes." Bones scrambled away and dug around in his nightstand, until he found his tricorder, and made a cursory pass over Jim. "What did you tell me early Friday morning, when I came home and just knew you were dead? What did you tell me?"

Jim snorted. "That you smelled like a distillery?"

Bones paused and laughed long and loud. It was a beautiful sound, something Jim hadn't heard since Thursday night. It was almost normal. "Not that, you jackass. Not that..." He made some adjustments to the tricorder before turning it so Jim could read the display. "These are your readings, Jim. I just took them. Here," he said, adjusting the screen. "These are your readings from Friday. The ones I took after... the other." Bones turned away for a moment, as if to suppress the visible shudder that jangled through him. Jim placed a steadying hand on his shoulder and waited. "They're almost the same, Jim. Your hormone level's a little better, and your external temperature's a little low - dammit, put this on, that's why I gave it to you - but it's essentially the same."

"I'm a living, breathing fake." Jim shrugged off the bathrobe that Bones was still trying his best to adjust, and flopped back in the bed, naked as the day he was... generated. "Great."

"How the hell do you even know you're-"

"Fake?"

"Replicated. The recovered replicated victims are as real as anyone else, Jim - they have a sense of self, of individuality, a wish for self preservation and an understanding that they have a unique experience of consciousness that makes them sentient. They think, therefore, they are." Bones leaned over Jim, covering his body like a lover. "They aren't fake. Don't use that word anymore."

Jim turned away from Bones' earnest look. "Fine."

"Good." Bones moved down the length of his body, until he could lower his head comfortably onto Jim's shoulder. "So how do you know?"

Jim tried to shift a little under the extra weight, but Bones made no attempt to remove himself - if anything, he seemed to get heavier. "You're heavy."

"You're fine," was Bones' rapidfire comeback, but he moved to the side, leaving only half himself draped across Jim's bare form. "Tell me," Bones said softly once he resettled.

"I woke up in that drawer," Jim said. He slowly began to recount the memory that fell him in the morgue, filling in other forgotten details as they broke through the haze. He told Bones about the neverending injections, the creepy cheer of the support staff, the not so thinly veiled threats, the snatches of overheard conversations about memory, development, contingency plans. "Bones... I think I was a contingency plan."

This revelation was followed by more silence, but this was a softer, kinder silence, a silence that allowed movement and touch. A response of sorts was offered - a hand splayed out over Jim's heart, gently pressing, not to hold him down, but to keep him near. Jim turned to look at Bones, and was surprised to see the naked emotion in his friend's eyes. "I wonder how different he was from you, Jim. I wonder if he was as resilient as you. If I'd have liked him as much as I like you."

Jim shrugged. "We'll never know now."

"Why not? We could quit this gig, go looking for him."

A nearly unbearable sadness settled over Jim. "Bones. Don't you get it?" He wrapped his arms around Bones, to keep him near and comforted. "I'd been to a lot of places as a kid... he'd been... whatever. But California wasn't one of them. I have no memory of even signing up for this... experiment, even though obviously someone did, and I clearly remember my childhood as if it were... mine. But some other verison of me died, right here, in the same hospital. If they were selling clones for illegal sentient trafficking, why in the hell would a copy of me still be hanging around so close?"

Bones shook his head. "That's not necessarily true. That might have been another clone, too."

"And if it was, then they probably killed the original James Kirk outright. Because I do remember waking up from the hell of a bender on a flight back to Des Moines from Pheonix, with a large sum of credits to my name, and no real idea of wht the hell was going on. I also remember being terrified of doctors after landing, but I don't think I gave a shit one way or the other before. I went back to live out the rest of Jim Kirk's life, Bones, but I woke up in a drawer. If the man in the morgue isn't the original Jim Kirk, then he probably died the day I signed those papers. If not before."

After a moment, Bones pressed his hand a little harder to Jim's chest. "Doesn't matter," he choked out. "That wasn't the man I met on the shuttlecraft. And I know how I feel about you, which is all I care about."

"And how do you feel?"

Bones chuckled. "Invincible. Like... like I can do anything, as long as I know you're around."

Jim smiled. "Then I guess I'd better stick around."


Chapter 4
Epilogue

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