The Rapunzel Syndrome
Rosalinda StMatthew

No one looks him in the eye anymore. His eyes are arresting, remarkable even among humans themselves, much less among the diversified beings which make up the Federation. His eyes have literally stopped traffic in some circles. His eyes have always garnered the complete, adoring attention of anyone who laid their eyes on him.

But not lately. Lately, people have been talking to his forehead. Eying it when they think he's not looking. Whispering when they think he can't hear them. Not that he can ever make out what they're saying, or can definitely draw a laser sight from where they are looking to the fluff at the top of his head, but he know that's what they're up to.

Socializing had become damn near impossible. Honestly, Jim never thought the day would come when he'd be tied up in knots to talk to people he already knew. But lately the number of people whose company he could tolerate more than a few off-duty moments had dwindled to a handful, and even they were beginning to address his forehead, as if to call the line of burnished gold closer to themselves. Only Bones was proving trustworthy enough to have a long, quiet, sensible evening with.

Jim nursed his brandy and waited for Bones to return to the table with their dessert. He was finally feeling relaxed, ready to open up and ask Bones for some advice on dealing with this newfound social anxiety. It would probably involve a lot of laughter, a lot of swearing, and a lot of pointing out how paranoid and ridiculous Jim was being, but he was finally starting to feel like that sort of reaction might be just what the doctor ordered.

Bones set a hefty slice of lemon cake in the center of the table, but he didn't move around to his own side to partake just yet. Instead he shifted his weight, leaning ever so slightly against Jim, and softly drew his fingers through Jim's feathery bangs. "Huh." He shifted again, and Jim could feel Bones' breath ghosting over the top of his face. "You gettin' a little light up here, Jim?"


Vanity is something Starfleet Medical should really screen for. Being stuck on a starship with the same few hundred jerks for year makes it really hard to keep people out of your damn business, and when you're trying to get creams and gels and shampoos and weaves shipped without anyone noticing, it's fucking impossible.

In the end, Jim found it easier just to cut himself off from the crew. He knew it was a little extreme, but it was either that or field a zillion questions about what he was picking up whenever they had a stopover. This way, at least, the rumor mill couldn't harass the source directly.

They also couldn't ask him why his hair was three different colors on some days, curly and bushy on others, and bone straight and stringy on still others. They couldn't comment on the strange aroma of burnt k'artak root or sickly sweet mango candy, or the odd tint of fluorescent blue to the skin around his hairline and the pads of his fingertips.

They also couldn't ask him to be a sparring partner without getting the evil eye if they saw him in the gymnasium, or comment on the excellence of the latest fresh food shipment when he was in the mess, or how much they enjoyed serving under him if they saw him on his increasingly infrequent rounds. But Jim was surprisingly okay with that. They didn't want a captain they could talk to - if they did, they wouldn't make comments about his damned appearance, of all things, behind his back.

"Energize." Jim watched the transporter pad light up as a trio of figures materialized in the waiting chamber. Two men, a blue eyed Vulcan and a red haired Human, stood carrying, and surrounded by, what had to be enough equipment to seed a brand new Federation outpost on a dead moon, while the third figure, a thin limbed, dark skinned, elegantly clad Human female, stood on the receiving pad between them. She had a soft, welcoming smile on her otherwise serious face.

Jim took a deep breath and mustered all the charm he could, tilting his chin up in the hopes of keeping her from settling her gaze on his hairline. "Welcome aboard, Ambassador Hillington."

"Thank you, Captain Kirk," she said, glancing briefly at the braid on his sleeve. She was beautiful and observant, two excellent qualities in an ambassador, particularly one on a first official contact mission. Hillington glanced back at her assistants and waited for them to gather their materials before gliding off the pad towards Jim. She held her hand out to Jim, not necessarily as if to shake, but almost like she expected him to kiss the large silver ring on her middle finger. He grasped it firmly, wrapping his hand around to shake properly. Her smile changed from soft pleasantry to a geniune toothy grin that lit her large, dark eyes. She shook his hand enthusiastically, and the redheaded man behind her seemed to sigh in relief. The Vulcan didn't shift perceptibly, but Jim sensed a similar change in him. Nice to pass tests he didn't know he was taking…

Hillington turned to the two men as they pulled up beside her. "These are my assistants, Captain." She gestured to the human. "This is Tom Hughes, who will be staying aboard and coordinating efforts here aboard the ship, so we can stay in constant contact with both the Council and Starfleet Command." Then she turned to the Vulcan. "And this is Surtak, who will be assisting me on the surface - this way you don't have to assign multiple security officers to acccompany me, which will be less of a strain on your crew, and the Yanik's perception of our friendliness." Jim tried not to look too surprised by that, but he could tell his confusion was apparent to them all. "There's a reason your ship was chosen to escort my team to Yaneqa." Jim blinked - he only knew the planet as Delta Doradus III. His ignorance annoyed him, but he kept his mouth shut and waited for the ambassador to finish. "Captain," she continued, "these people have been observing the stars for some time, and have been, apparently, aware of our existence for a number of years, despite our precautions. They have some vague knowledge of Nero's actions, and know of the basic steps taken to correct matters: essentially, they want to meet the already quite legendary Captain Kirk and Commander Spock." She waggled her eyebrows. "You see, they'll get a nice introduction to Surak's principles, whether you arrange to have your first officer greet the Yanik personally or not, and I get to have a nice, strong bodyguard who knows exactly how to make my coffee."

Surtak sighed audiably, and Jim couldn't keep the smile off his face. He had the distinct impression that Surtak was no more Hillington's bodyguard than Spock was McCoy's, but Jim made certain not to incite the rage of the ambassador's assistant. Instead, he handed them off to Lieutenant Leslie with instructions to escort the ambassadorial team to their suites, and notified the bridge that he would be remaining in his quarters for the rest of the day. Time to find out a little more information about Delta Doradus III.

There turned out to be very little information available in the computer banks about Delta Doradus III - first contact was established by the natives when they intercepted a private Tellarite vessel passing through the outskirts of their system. Information was exchanged, governmental bodies were contacted, meetings were arranged. There was a note about the receipt of subspace media transmissions, and possible likenesses of certain Starfleet officers showing up in the cultural exchange, but no mention of the native words for either the planetary body, nor their racial designation. Jim shrugged and switched off his computer. Maybe he could just pick the ambassador's brain directly. It wasn't necessarily something he needed to know to get his portion of the mission done, but it was always nice to be well informed, and he wanted to make sure that the next visiting starship had enough information not to screw things up down the line.

Okay, also, it was really nice not having someone focus on his questionable hairline for once.

Jim strode through the halls like a man on fire. He arrived at the ambassador's quarters shortly, and hesitated. She'd just gotten in, and who knew what sort of traveling adventures she'd been subjected to before boarading the Enterprise. Maybe he should wait a day, give the lady time to rest. But he'd come all the way down, and various crewmen were watching him, probably noting that he was standing at the ambassador's door, looking like a lost puppy.

Great. Now he was going to be the balding twenty-something who had a crush on the new girl in school.

The door opened, and Ambassador Hillington sat inside, head tilted, eyebrows raised. "Are you going to just stand out there like an idiot, or did you want to come in, Captain?"

Jim guffawed and went inside. "Wow. Um. Hi."

"What can I do for you, sir?" She was no longer in her traveling clothes, but had changed into a frumpy looking shift that spread out around her seated form like a circus tent. It made her more accessible, which, of course, just served to make her hot. She stuck her pinky finger in her ear and dug around, making itchy faces. Okay, a little less hot, but whatever. Not here for a date.

"Well, before I forget my manners entirely, are the rooms to your liking?"

The ambassador snorted and rolled her eyes. "Honey, this is the Federation flagship. After the rusted hunk of recycled garbage I've been stuffed into, you could have stuck me on the outside of the damn saucer, and I would be in heaven. Yes, the rooms are definitely to our liking."

"Great. Uh… can you tell me about Delta Doradus III?"


"The planet. Where we're going. My orders are to take you to Delta Dor-"

"Oh! Oh. Wait, they didn't tell-? Hang on a sec." Hillington tapped at the screen, read through something for a bit, scowled, tapped at the screen again, shrugged, and turned to Jim. "Well, I have no idea why they didn't tell you more, Captain - you actually have more security clearance than my assistants do, and they know everything I do." She scratched her head. "Maybe it was a military thing… seems silly, though, since you could just ask me, and I'd tell you anyway..."

"Don't try to understand the higher ups in Starfleet, Ambassador. It'll just hurt your head." Jim cringed. He'd just opened himself for the whopper of a joke.

But Hillington just laughed and shook her head. "I think that's higher ups everywhere, Kirk." She patted at her bed. "Might as well get cozy, Captain. I'm sure we're gonna be here awhile."

They were there a while - long enough for Hughes to come and insist the ambassador 'quit boring the captain and eat some damn dinner'. Jim's heartstrings tugged a little bit at the tough love act. Maybe he should quit avoiding Bones so much - maybe he'd feel a little less lonely walking back to his room after listening to a beautiful woman wax poetic about a group of people he'd get to meet himself in just a couple of days. Maybe he could drag Bones planetside with him and they could check out the local scene. Maybe he could apologize for going a little nuts after the hair comment.

Jim thought about going straight to Bones then and there, but it was late, and he'd been kind of an ass, and he didn't know if Bones was even kept up nights by this shit, or if he'd gone ahead and written him off, and Jim just wasn't in the mood to try to figure it out. So he bypassed the doctor's room and headed for his own quarters, several meters down.

His bed was soft and warm and inviting - except for his pillow. On it lay three golden hairs, very fine, one longer than the other two. Jim stood over the bed and glared at it hotly. Even the fucking pillow was stealing his mojo. He turned on his heel, stalked to the head, and proceeded to take a long, hot, wet shower. If another hair washed down the drain, Jim didn't know - he kept his eyes closed and waited for the shower to shut itself off before opening them again. He dried off, wrapped a towel around his waist, padded to the desk, and proceeded to make a preliminary report on Delta - on Yaneqa.

He awoke with his face plastered to the console. A small puddle of drool pooled around his lips, refracting the light from the readout just so. He lifted his head and wiped away at the moisture with disgust. Whatever. No hairs on the damn computer, anyway.

Getting dressed was a bitch and a half, but he forced himself into a clean uniform and ignored the various aches and pains and tweaks and twinges that came from sleeping at a computer console instead of a bed. He fussed at his hair delicately, checking the comb for any missing bits, but apparently his hairline was going to cooperate that morning. It must have known he was on a mission of diplomacy and good will and good looks. Whatever the case, Jim stepped out of his quarters bright eyed and bushytailed, and totally pretended that his back and shoulders weren't fucking killing him.

He paused at Bones' door and hesitated. He was getting really good at hesitation. Maybe he should just get on with his duty. Maybe Bones was already working. Maybe he should have called ahead.

Maybe he should just quit being a fucking chicken and see if the man is still in bed or not.

As it was, Bones was still in bed. He came to the door, bleary eyed, hair sticking up every which way, still in boxers and a too tight t-shirt. "Can I do something for you, sir?"

Jim's stomach flopped. That wasn't the sort of greeting he was hoping for at all. "I… um. Are you on duty today?"

Bones shrugged. "As the CMO, I'm always on call."

"Sure, but are you on duty?"

"No, not today. Is there something you need? Something you don't want to take to my staff?"

Jim smiled ruefully. "Well, actually, I was going to offer you the day off, but you already have it, so I don't really have anything else I can entice you with..."

Bones scrubbed at his face with the heel of his hand. "You wanna come in? You're good at making shit up as you go along."

That was a little more like it. Jim slipped into the room and sat down in his usual spot, across from Bones' desk. "You know we're on a first contact followup, right?"

"Sure. Everybody's been all abuzz. I kept tellin' 'em it don't mean we're gettin' a bunch of new fangled equipment to play with, but nobody ever listens to me. Coffee?"

"No, thanks. I wanted to know if you wanted to come down to the surface with me. The ambassador says I'm kind of a hero there-"

Bones snorted "Big surprise."

"...uh. And, um, she said they might offer me a tour." Jim watched Bones doctor up a cup of coffee with a little whiskey. "Of any place I wanted." Bones sipped at the coffee and took a long pull from the whiskey. "I thought, maybe… you might like to see the hospitals… or… something."

Bones turned a hard eye on Jim. "Don't bullshit me, kid. You haven't said two words to me since I made a comment about your precious hairline." Jim felt all the blood rush to his face. "I told my staff, and now I'm telling you: those people down there don't have any miracle potions that are gonna cure what ails you. If your hair is that damn important to you, more important than your friends, then you don't need any medicine. You need a damn psychiatrist." Jim's heart started to pound. "That said: yes, I'd love to go with you. On one condition."

Jim swallowed hard. Conditions were always a big problem for him. They never ended well, especially when he was angling to get something he really wanted. "What's that?"

Bones slammed his coffee cup down and marched to Jim, leaning down to get right in Jim's face. "Quit avoiding me, you ass. I missed you."

Jim felt something break in his chest, and waves of relief poured over him. "Sorry. I missed you too, Bones."

"I know you did. Ass." Bones turned away and went digging in his closet.

It didn't occur to Jim for three days that his relief was not because he wasn't losing his best friend - it was because he didn't have to choose between his best friend or his vanity.

The Yanik were beautiful people. They were a few inches taller than the average human, and somewhat narrower. Their skin was softly translucent, where the blue and orange lines of bloodflow could be seen easily under the pinkish, purplish, sometimes reddish tones they seemed to favor. They had long, thick hair in a variety of colors and textures, hair that they adorned with various natural and synthetic baubles and accoutrements.

It was enough to make anyone sick.

Jim was good at hiding his loathing, though. He plastered on a polite smile, and wore his 'yes, I'm totally listening' face while he followed McCoy and a small group of excited Yanik through the wings of a large, rather advanced hospital. The universal translator was having trouble with some of their words, but for the most part, Jim was able to keep up reasonably well. Not that he was particularly interested, of course.

Until they came to the Physical Restorative Action Wing.

It sounded to Jim like cosmetic surgery, but unlike most aspects of Human, Vulcan and Andorian cultures (which made up more than half of the major ethnic groups in the Federation), physical apperance was considered as important to proper well being as was having all expected appendages or full mental capacity. Their philosphy was that if one felt unhappy with one's physical appearance, then measures needed to be taken to see if the problem could be fixed quickly and easily with a change of appearance. The concept of trying to teach people to be okay with what they already looked like was alien to them. Bones had a good laugh.

Jim had a better laugh.

He lingered behind to speak to the firey red woman with silken, pale green hair. "What happens if someone among you starts losing his hair?"

The woman looked horrified, though Jim wasn't sure he should assign such a human expression to the face of a Yanik. "Unheard of impossibility! It is addressed at once!" Or, okay, maybe horrified was exactly the expression he should be assigning. "Hair is the symbol of status in our culture. Is it not so among yours?"

Jim thought for a moment. He certainly was in better standing when people weren't checking out the height of his damn forehead. "I'd say so, yes."

"And hair is what keeps our bodies swathed in beautiful garments. Do you not wearing such items?"

The translator seemed to be having some difficulty with her latest words, but he couldn't argue with its translation, not in a way that wouldn't veer the conversation in a totally different direction. "I suppose I am."

She narrowed her eyes and peered closely at his hair. "You have very fine hairs. Beautiful, but delicate. Are you interested in learning more of hair restoration procedures?" This time, the translator lagged behind so much that guide began to apologize before he was fully cognizant of her offer. "Please, KirkCaptian, forgive, I do not intend to offend-"

"I'm not offended! I just… needed to figure out what you meant! Yes, I'd love to learn more!"

The woman seemed to glow and pulsate for just a moment, like a beacon in the dead of night. She spread her mouth in a smile so warm and luminous that even her teeth seemed to glow. Then she turned down the hall, heavy lemon-lime strands swinging with her motion. "Follow, KirkCaptain, to the innerchambers of Physical Restorative Action. The restoration procedure is simple but all important among us - highly refined." She looked back at him, a kittenish look on her delicate face. "We show the galaxian hero our pride and joy, yes?"

A flush crept up Jim's cheeks. His tourguide giggled and turned away again, as if she understood the significance of his color change. Or perhaps he didn't understand the significance of a similar shift in skin tone among the Yanik? Whatever. Maybe he'd learn something to take back to McCoy.

Jim awoke in a white dome, under a bright white light, in a furlined bucket seat of some kind. A man with salmon colored skin leaned just under and to one side of the light, like a nightmarish pink elephant dentist. "KirkCaptain, you are well?"

Jim frowned. The last thing he remembered was following a red devil with moss hair through a showroom. What?

"Ah, yes that was Karziktarch. I am Fintictarch."

Jim scowled. "Fen teek tarsh?"

"Fintic. Kirk. Tarch. Captain. Yes?"

"Oh." Whatever. Jim's scalp burned, and so did his eyes, and kinda so did his brain. "How long have I been here?"

Fintic's answer was melodious and broad and hilariously untranslated. His smile faltered at Jim's obvious lack of comprehension. "Our time divisions are not made up to match in the speech facilitator?"

"Erm… no. I guess not." Jim tried to sit up, but Fintic pressed him back into the furry seat with a smile. "I need to check in," Jim said.

"No, KirkCaptain, HillingtonAmbs is well aware of your location. McCoytarch views the grounds still. Relax! You will be exhausted still a little longer, yes?" Fintic reached for a plate of what looked like piled up lettuce leaves. "For the recouperation of strength."

Jim wrinkled his nose, but he took a leaf. It was sweet and buttery and unexpectedly delicious. He suddenly realized that he'd beamed to the planet's surface without having a decent meal first - a stupid move to be sure. He took another leaf, and one more, just to be on the safe side, and what the hell, Fintic is still offering, one more for the road - the plate was empty in a matter of seconds. "Wow. I didn't realize how hungry I was."

"Yes, yes, good food for the recouperation, very very important, KirkCaptain. Now. You will be fine, the sensations of pecuiliarity will stop in the soon times, before rest, yes?" Jim decided to just go along with whatever Fintic was on about - he wanted get the hell out of this mystery room before negotiations fell apart on his account. "Excellent, excellent. The first stirrings will be in the days to come, and then you will be fruitful! Beautiful, thick, glorious gold! All abundant! To match the legends of heroic KirkCaptain!"

Jim rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Wait. So… you're saying you performed the procedure on me?"

Fintic laughed. "Oh, Karziktarch was true, you are the tingling one!" Jim laughed half heartedly with Fintic and hoped like hell someone was going to explain the joke. But Fintic just patted him on the arm. "Karzik! Kirk is ready for post procedure process!"

A moment later the red skinned woman reappeared. "Ah, yes, you will be happy soon, KirkCaptain! Fintic is the most sought for tarch in the process of hair restoratives. But it was his honor to serve you, and mine, yes! To have you grace our facilities is to grace the whole of Yaneqa." She went to a console near Jim's chair and watched the readings for a few seconds before adjusting his chair enough so his feet were flat to the floor and his back was straight up and down. She stepped in front of him, took hold of his hands and pulled him to his feet, then bowed slightly and cupped her hands to him in what looked like a ceremonial gesture. "Abundance, KirkCaptain."

Jim tried his best to mimic the motion. "Abundance… Karz..."

She smiled sweetly "Karzik. I thank you. I take you to McCoytarch now?" And she turned away with the same ridiculously peppy step that landed him inside the dome in the first place.

Hughes was waiting in the transporter room when Kirk and McCoy returned to the ship. "Mr. Hughes. Is there something wrong?"

Hughes had a great grin plastered on his face. "Nope. I just got finished with the council - they've authorized us to start lengthy talks."

McCoy frowned. "I thought that's what you all were doing."

"Not really, Commander," Hughes said, glancing at McCoy's sleeve. "We were establishing governmental protocols, basically putting feelers out. But this has been one of the easiest first contact missions I for one have ever had the opportunity to participate in, and I recommended that we move immediately to Stage Two - partly for my own selfish reasons, but also to free the Enterprise to do her real job, which isn't ferrying an ambassador and her entourage around."

"I suppose not," Jim said with a smile. "Is this good-bye, then?"

"Well, it's so long, anyway." Hughes held his hand out to shake. "Any message for Ambassador Hillington?"

"Just thanks for last night." Jim smiled at Hughes as they traded places on the transporter pad, and watched him disappear in a twinkle of lights and atomic particles.

A quick jab to the ribs cut short his romanticizing of the transporter beam. "Honestly, Jim, your studly ways are going to be the damn death of me. I'm going to Sickbay."

Jim rubbed himself gingerly and went off in search of something tasty to soothe his aching side and bruised feelings.

The burning had stopped by the time Jim had gone to bed the night of the procedure, but it was replaced with this incessant itching, almost like someone had hooked a low level current to his scalp, and just left it on to buzz him out of his mind. It was working. For two days he was impossible to talk to, and he knew it. He removed himself from duty and holed up in his quarters, mostly in a cold water shower, trying to make the itch go away. It finally eased up on the third day after the procedure, enough for him to venture out to the mess halls to find a little company to go with his giant fried chicken dinner.

And company he did find - word had gotten around in his absence that he'd been picking the ambassador's brain while they should have been sleeping. Apparently, those crewmembers who hadn't had the opportunity to see Yaneqa in person were dying for any first hand reports they could get, and dammit, if that meant the captain, then they were willing to brave his ill temper.

But he wasn't ill tempered at all. In fact, by the time he finished regaling the theta shift communication techs with tales of Karzik's flirtatious insanity, his head wasn't itching, his spirits were high, and dessert was on. He and three security men finished off an entire sheet pan of brownies without batting an eye, and Jim was still looking for a little something to fill in the corners. No one seemed to care that he was eating like a pig, though - apparently, they were all too happy to have their old captain back to concern themselves with any gossip fodder just yet.

He slept fitfully that night. Visions of pasta covered with tomatoes and cream and wine danced in his head. He was trapped in an invisible, viscous fluid, fighting to get a little closer to the river of rich pasta, but it seemed to dance just out of reach, diverting its flow to fit the shape of his outstretch fingers. Basil leaves wafted through the air, like maple leaves falling from his uncle's cabin in late November, spreading their warm aroma through the air. Perfectly round, little bite sized meatballs leapt from the pasta and dove back in further down the line, like jumping fish. Everything smelled so damn good.

Jim awoke naked, covered in sweat and crusted over cum. It had been years since he'd suffered with nocturnal emmisions, but he didn't ever remember having them over food. At least, not without another hot body involved. "Lights, thirty percent." He shifted to check his chronometer: 04:32. He had hours before he needed to report to the bridge, but it really wasn't enough time to try to squeeze out a little more sleep. Besides, he smelled like a whorehouse and looked even worse. He padded to the head to take a quick sonic shower, just enough so he'd be presentable in the gym. Maybe he could work off whatever was ailing him, and get some better sleep at the end of the shift.

He showered quickly and paused at the sink long enough to rinse his mouth - and was startled by the reflection in the mirror. His hair stuck out crazily all over his head - the regulation spikes were replaced with curls to rival Chekov's, curls Jim hadn't been cursed with in years. He grabbed some hair goop and slathered it over his skull, before raking a comb through it with more force than he'd used on his head since he'd signed up for Starfleet. It took several passes, but he managed to get it all slicked back into perfectly shellacked waves, shiny, hard and dark with the solidifying hair goop. It curled around the base of his neck and tickled the slight rise of his trapezius muscles.

Jim tore himself away from his reflection and searched for appropriate sportswear. He started to go out topless, but the hairs touching the base of his neck tickled so much he couldn't keep his hands away. He settled for a high necked t-shirt and stepped out of his cabin, jogging lightly towards the fitness facilities.

Jim was out of breath by the time he got to the gym, out of breath and dizzy like a spinning top. Strange… He sat down heavily in the resting lounge nearest the door and waited for the spell to pass. His heart was pounding, his hands were shaking, his vision blurring - someone walked by with a hot roast beef sandwich, and Jim could literally feel his body being pulled along by the scent. He forced himself to sit up straight and ignore the crewwoman with the delicious smelling sandwich.

"Are you alright, sir?"

Jim didn't recall his name, and was having trouble focusing on his face, but he was well familiar with the attendant's voice. He was one of the crewmen that would insist on giving the captain a smile and a greeting even after the rest of the ship was cowering in fear of his temper. Good man, that one. "Not really. I guess my blood sugar's a little low?" Jim chuckled sheepishly. Why the hell else would he orgasm in his sleep over freaking spaghetti in pink sauce? And to think, he'd just ignored it.

"How about some orange juice for a quick pick-me-up, and then we can see if you need another bite before you get started, sir?" The vague form moved away before Jim could reply, and was back before Jim could feel annoyed that he'd left. "Here you go, sir. It's a fortified formula, so it should get some vitamins into your system pretty quickly, too."

It was like manna from heaven. Sweet and slightly syrupy, thick with juicy bits of orange, fragrant and spicy and fucking delicious. Delicious. Jim chugged the whole glass in one go, despite the alarmed crewman's cries to be careful and go slowly. He slammed the empty glass on the table and turned to the handsome young man with the thick rug of short, tightly coiled curls. "More."

"Yes sir," the young man mumbled, and hurried away to get a second glass. Jim was feeling fine, very fine. "Hey, can you bring a roast beef sandwich with you? Hot! Take a break, bring something for yourself!" The crewman reappeared a few minutes later with a steaming platter of sandwiches, a pitcher of juice and two glasses. "Awesome. Dude, I haven't been this hungry in a looong time." Jim looked up at his savior and paused. "What?"

"Did you… did you change your hair, sir?"

Jim felt a blush rise to his face, but he shrugged casually, and began stuffing his face. "Eh, I've been trying some different stuff. I don't think this is the look for me, though. I look like a cheap gigolo. Wait, is that an oxymoron?"

But the crewman wasn't listening. He was staring, obviously at Jim's head. Finally, the young man got up and moved away, mumbling something about checking on someone, though Jim was pretty sure that was just an excuse to leave. Whatever. More sandwiches for Jim.

The plate was cleaned in less than ten minutes. Jim actually could have used a couple more sandwiches, but he thought he'd better cool it, before he made himself sick. He got up and went to the private wrestling rooms, with the mirrored walls and matted floors and prepared to stretch.

And then he saw what his benefactor had been looking at.

The hair he'd slicked down had already crept down his collar, so that it hung oddly around his face. The roots were soft and supple and free of any of the goop he'd shoveled in.

He had about half an inch of new growth.

Wow. The Yanik weren't kidding.

"Wow, Kirk, what the heck is going on with your hair? There's unorthodox interpretation of regulation, and then there's you." Uhura, as usual, was blunt, though she had the good grace, also as usual, to keep her voice from carrying across the bridge. Still, she tacked on a quick "sir," before spinning her chair back to face her station.

Jim was feeling warm and fuzzy and just the tiniest bit nostalgic, though, and let it slide, chosing instead to walk the perimeter of the bridge. At first, the crew seemed unnerved by this, falling silent as he paused by various stations, but Jim just smiled and greeted everyone by name, occasionally praising them for some minor task he'd either observed first hand right then and there, or for some task that was noted in the daily report. He was feeling guilty by the time he'd gotten over to the environmental and security stations - clearly, he'd become the kind of taskmaster he'd positively hated in the academy - but by the time he made his way back to science and communications, his guilt had shifted to hope and a the faintest flicker of joy. The mood on the bridge was noticably lighter, people were cracking jokes loud enough for him to hear, and Spock was doing that not-smile-thing he usually did in the rec room while everyone around him was pretty much bouncing off the walls.

Jim flopped down in his seat, as exhausted as he was pleased with himself. He arranged himself in what he hoped was a casual pose, and used the intercom on his chair to quietly call for a yeoman. He swiveled the seat around to see if anyone was paying attention, but people were focused on work and their own conversations. He ignored the vague impression of relief just as he'd ignored the vague impression of embarrasment that preceded it, and tried not to fall asleep.

Something was shaking the ship. "Sir?" Funny, no one sounded particularly alarmed. Maybe they were going through an earthquake. San Francisco had those from time to time. "Captain?" Except the whole room would sway, not just his arm. "Captain Kirk, are you alright?" Also, the ship wasn't in San Francisco. Wasn't even on the planet anymore. "Sir!"

Jim cracked open an eye he hadn't intended to close, and saw four or five crewmembers standing around him, all looking very upset. "Cancel medical alert," the nearest crewman said.

"Negative." Though he wasn't standing in the cluster of worried crew, Spock's voice rang out loud and clear. "This is an unusual event, and given the captian's unusual mood swings, I believe there is cause for continued concern for his well being."

Jim squirmed in his chair and leaned over to the confused looking young man at the far end of the group - he wasn't usual bridge crew like the others. "You the yeoman?"

"Yes, sir." He was chewing his lip. Kid made Chekov look like a crotchety old fart.

"Pasta. Lots of it. Lots of cheese. And sauce. And meat, don't skimp on the meat. Uh…capellini. In pink sauce. Fuck yeah, pink sauce. With italian sausage. And meatballs. Swedish meatballs. But not the sauce for Swedish meatballs, just dump them in the sauce. And chocolate. On the side, not in the pasta. And orange juice. Holy shit, can I get the orange juice first? That would be so awesome…like a pitcher." Jim glanced at the onlookers still gathered around his chair. "You guys want something? Some juice? He's taking orders..."

"Seriously?" Sulu was still at his post, but he was turned fully around to face Jim's chair.

"Yeah, why not? He's got a lot to bring back anyway. Hey, yeoman, can you bring the chocolate with the orange juice? Dark chocolate. Please. Actually, can you come back with that and get everybody else's order on the second trip? I'm about to pass out right here in this chair."

"You already did," Uhura cried.

"What? No, no, I was just resting my eyes."

The turbolift doors opened, and three officers in uniforms and white coats came trooping onto the bridge and down into the command post. "Okay, everybody, stand back, give him some room." The poking and prodding started almost immediately.

"Do you mind? And you, what the hell are you waiting for, a personal invitation from Jesus and the Buddha on purple unicorns riding golden pogo sticks? Hungry!"

"Belay that order, yeoman," the white jacketed woman snapped. She'd been running a scanner over him while her colleauges literally poked and banged at him in various places, and now she was millimeters from his face, holding his right eye open with her fingers, and peering into it as if she could find Nirvana inside. "Gentlemen, get the stretcher ready. " She straightened up and looked in the general direction of Sciences. "Commander Spock, I am temporarily relieving the Captain of duty-"

"What the hell?!"

"-and remanding him to Medical until further notice. I'll have a prelim report ready for you by the time he's checked in, sir. Communications officer, please relay that message to the CMO."

"You can't just relieve-"

"Try to stay calm, sir, I'm sure you'll be back in the morning. Just a blood sugar issue."

"And that's enough to-"


Jim snapped his mouth shut at that. He glared at the other two medstaff, who were quickly assembling a portable antigrav unit, before standing up and pointing haughtily at the woman giving orders. "Fine, but I'm walking to Sickbay." He tugged at the hem of his shirt, blinked through the sudden, random accumulation of tears, and took a step into a giant bowl of Enterprise shaped Jell-O. Fortunately, it all disappeared before he could crack his head on the hard deck.

"Here he comes." A woman's voice, cool but soothing, floated into the soft, warm fog Jim draped himself in. He tried to gather the fog closer, but the various beeps, chirrups and whorls from the world just beyond his cover pulled at him, forcing him closer to the surface.

"You might as well go on ahead and open them, Captain. The bed knows you're awake again. So do we." Bones' grumbling cut through the fog like a rusty knife through a stick of butter in a hot kitchen - ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.

Jim cracked open first one eye, then the other. Through the little blue and yellow spots that blured his vision, he could just make out the vague shape of his CMO hovering over the left side of him, while an angel in white stood sentinel on the right. "Hey, Chapel, how you doin'?" sounded more like "Ehhhh shable ahyew nnnnnnnn…" Jim smacked his lips together and squinted at the black, blue and brown blob on his left. "Whaaaaaaaoooo wah wah wu ma maow?"

"The hell he say?"

"I have no idea, Doctor."

"Ma maow! Maowt!" Jim lifted a hand to point to his face, but his bones were replaced at some point with soft scrambled eggs, because his arm crashed mid lift, smashing his hand onto his nose. "Fuh!"

"Take it easy, Jim, just hang on a second… Nurse, dial it back a little, we want to slow it down, not turn him into a vegetable." Jim could see some activity down at the foot of the bed, but he couldn't make it out. His vision swam in and out, his chest began to burn, and nausea rolled over him in waves, each one stronger than the last, until he began to retch. Sounds began to fade away as a vague thump pulsed in his ears, on his face, over each pulsepoint on his body, each one slower than the last. He could just make out someone swearing in the ether, a short, clipped sound, before time stopped.

Jim awoke to brilliant technicolor. Something touched his head - a hand. Bones' hand. He was smiling down at him, smiling and trying not to cry. "There you are."

"The fuck? Bones?"

"I'll fill you in later. You breathing okay?"

Jim laid back and took stock of his body. Breathing was fine. Head was a little achy, but nothing he couldn't live with. He flexed his fingers and toes - they wiggled on command, stopped on command. He flexed one arm at the elbow, made a few random gestures, stretched the other arm all the way up from the shoulder, bent his knees -


Jim reached out a hand to grab at the back of Bones' shirt. "Wait, wait, what happened? Was I still baking?"

Bones turned to look at him thoughtfully. "Jim, I need to make a report to Spock, but I'll be back to sit down and talk to you at length about this. Right now, you're stablized, and that's what's important. I want you to get some rest while we look into what's going on with you-"

"The hell is that supposed to mean? I'm the damn patient, you make your report to me!"

"Jim, I want to talk to you about this when I can sit down and answer all your questions. Right now, I can't." He turned and walked away, ignoring Jim's indignat sputtering.

Jim pounded his fist on the bed and growled low in his chest. He passed a hand over his scalp in frustration, and paused when he felt a full, thick ponytail extending out well past where he gripped the hair at the base of his skull. Whoa.

He gathered several strands at his widow's peak, combing through the tangle of wavy locks with some difficulty, until he was able to pull them down over his nose, and hold them out to see. It was a thick swatch of burnished gold, soft and silken, and it coiled around his fingers like a sleeping lover. He pulled his fingers through it lightly, stretching it out until it sprung back, released from his hold. It tickled his chin, his chest, his neck.

Curious, Jim grabbed his hair in makeshift pigtails and pulled it all forward so it would drape over his shoulders. It coiled around itself, settling in to a single golden nest, creating a lion's mane to frame his face.

"I guess that crap you've been buying like a backwoods idiot when the preacherman comes to town must have done you some good, Jim." Bones came strolling back into the room with a padd in his hand. He grabbed a chair and swung it around to straddle it backwards, folding his arms on the back of the chair so he could properly rest his chin on them. "Too bad you focused all your ridiculous vanity on your damn hair instead of your body, Jim." He smirked briefly, but then he straightened up and placed his free hand on Jim's thigh. "Jim, I want to ask you a question, and it might be uncomfortable, okay?"

"Uh…" Jim did his best impression of a shrug while hardly moving a muscle.

"Jim, are you happy with your body?"


"I realize this can be a… disconcerting topic to have to contemplate, but it's something that really can have a profound effect on the choices you make, Jim, and those choices can have some pretty drastic results."

Jim began to edge his hair away from his face all while Bones spoke, in an effort to fight the heat that crept up around his cheek and forehead and threatened to erupt into flames. "What's your point, Bones?"

"I just want to know how you feel about your body. If you're looking to change it. Maybe the shape of it."

Jim narrowed his eyes. "Dude. Are you calling me fat?"

Jim expected a snarling rant, but to his surprise, Bones' face seemed to deflate a little. He made some notes on his padd and sighed. "Does your weight concern you, Jim?"

"What? No! Shit, should it? My clothes don't fit funny…" Jim looked down at himself. Nope. Still the same meat hands, same ginormous shoulders, same reasonably trim middle, same ridiculously scrawny chicken legs. Mmm. Chicken. "Hey, what happened to my pasta? I was ordering lunch… brunch… whatever, second breakfast. Did he put that in? What time is it, anyway?" Bones was making more notes on his padd. "Dammit, Bones, are you listening to me?"

"I am. I'm still not sure of what to make of what I'm hearing. I might have you start in on sessions with Dr. Palmer."

"That's fine, McCoy," Jim said slowly. "Do you think, since I'm obviously not ever getting my pasta, that maybe you might be able to tell me what I'm still doing in sickbay now? What the hell happened the first time I woke up? What made Connor decide to drag me down here, which, okay, fine, maybe she was right about that one, but still?"

"Short answer? You're malnourished. Significantly."

Jim blinked. "What? How… what are you talking about? I eat every day - I just had like three roast beef sandwiches for breakfast today!"

Bones began ticking his fingertips. "Body temperature is lower than your previously recorded norm. Your pupils are different sizes. You're sweating. This is after treatment, Jim."

Jim laid back and tried to wrap his head around what Bones was saying. "So… you mean… I'm not getting enough to eat. Right?"

"I'm trying to eliminate that as a possible reason for your symptoms."

"Bones, I'm not on a killer diet, you can relax."

"All the same, you're going to be talking to Palmer. I can't clear you for duty until you do. And if she rules the cause to be psychiatric in nature, we're going to have to discuss… career options."

Jim slowly turned to look at Bones. "You mean my career options?"

"Yes, Captain."

Jim snorted. "You know what? That's fine. There's nothing psychiatric in nature about whatever is supposed to be wrong with me, other than the fact that I choose to hang out with you, so we'll just sign me up to talk to Dr. Palmer so she can hand me back to you and I can get back to my damn work."

"That's fine. I'm scheduling it for after the 48 hour hold-"


"Jim, calm down! Just take it easy, now," Bones said soothingly, even as he popped up from his chair, eyes plastered to the readings above the bed. "I can't have her bringing up topics that will get your heart rate up-"

"She can't bring up topics?? ARE YOU SERIOUS?"

"Jim, relax before you have another heart attack!"

Wait, what? "Wait, what?"

Bones sighed and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "I haven't isolated the cause of your condition - hell, I'm not even sure what your condition really is. I just know that your body seemed to be… metabolizing at a much higher rate than usual. I've implanted a stabilizer in your hypocanthus-"

"YOU PERFORMED SURPRISE BRAIN SURGERY, ARE YOU FUCKING SHITTING ME? Was this before or after the goddamn heart attack??"

"I had to do something, your tox screens came back normal, but your body was reacting as if you were od'ing on some kind of stimulant - you were out of control, Jim!"

Jim laid back in the bed and took several long, drawn out breathes to try to force himself to calm down. "So if I'm not crazy, and it's just some kind of hormonal thing speeding me up, then the brain implant will solve everything?"

"Possibly. I don't know. It's a relatively new procedure-"

"Oh wow, really?"

"Okay. I'll go ahead and schedule Palmer now. It seems like you're too angry to discuss this with me, and I doubt she can upset you more than I already have." Bones went to the console station a couple of beds away and started making notations.

"Wait, Bones, I'm sorry, come back."

Bones sighed, but he didn't leave the station until he was finished with whatever he was inputting. "There's no need to apologize, Jim. I've been treating you like a friend, not a patient, and I misstepped there. I should have had Dr. Connor explain all this to you - you'd have been more likely to treat her like a doctor than a friend, too." He took Jim's hand in both of his and gave a gentle pat. "Don't worry, we'll get to the bottom of this. Palmer should be through shortly. Just try to take it easy, now, y'hear?"

"Light duty?" Jim looked down at the screen swung over the bed. "What the hell is 'light duty' supposed to mean?"

Bones zoomed in on the clause in question, to bring up the medical jargon and legalese, as if he wasn't going to go ahead and translate it himself. "It means, Captain, if we wind up in another of those spectacular situations that you enjoy putting us in-"

"Ha ha."

"-that you are to turn command over to your first officer until the crisis is passed."

Jim looked from Bones' face to the screen and back to the doctor. "Well that's backwards."

"It's not forever, Jim. I just don't want to take any chances."

"You mean you don't want this thing in my skull to fry my brains out."

Bones cuffed his ear, hard. "It's in the base of your skull, and it's the only reason I'm letting you out of here, Palmer's recommendation be damned."

"Yeah, you would damn her." Jim had read that part of the report three times with obvious glee. Hell, the woman might have been brownnosing him for a commendation, but she was thoroughly convinced not only of his mental and emotional stability, but that he was in more danger of emotional turmoil if he were to remain stripped of his duty, even for valid medical reasons. "Whatever, she says I get to sit in the big chair again. You gonna contest that?"

"Only the way I've laid it out here." Bones smiled broadly, until his dimples cut deep grooves in his cheeks. "I'm sure you'll be off light duty in a couple of days, too. I know you think I like torturing your little ungrateful ass, but I'd much rather have you up there doing all that crazy shit you're so good at. Means you're enjoying life."

"Awww, I love you too, Bonesy."

The smile dropped like an anvil in a blackhole. "Don't push it." Bones stalked out of the room, cranky as ever. "Get him the hell out of my hair," could be heard echoing through the medbay. Jim just chuckled and changed back into his uniform.

He finished checking out of medical quickly and decided to take a walking tour. He was greeted warmly by all who noticed him - though he was surprised by how few people seemed to recognize him at first. The ones who did were staring openly at his hair, which was resting gloriously on his shoulders. One young ensign pulled a decorative pin from her hair and, after shyly asking permission, pulled his hair up in a strange sort of French twist thing, so it was a little closer to being within regulation. He promised to return the hairpiece to her before Alpha shift, and was pleased to note that he was more easily recognized with his tresses camoflauged.

He followed his discharge instructions to the letter, logging the times he took his meals and what they comprised, listing any non-food ingestibles (which, given the fact that they were currently starmapping, and therefore stuck inside the ship with no chance of romping around on a planet that could smack him in the face with a big dose of what-the-fuck-was-that, was moot), and tracking any and all strenous physical activity. He wanted no fuss when it was time to review his work status.

After two weeks of this monitoring, there was little anyone in Medical could say to Jim. The implant was showing some signs of wear already, but Bones (very unjustly) chalked it up to Jim fudging on some of his reports. So Jim found himself released to full duty again, with instructions not to hesitate if he began experiencing unusual symptoms. Bones wouldn't say what 'unsual symptoms' was supposed to mean.

At first, Jim felt like a hypochondriac - he kept running to sickbay every five minutes to ask if some new development could be seen as an 'unusual symptom'. Pain in his joint? Quit jogging so fast. Sensitive teeth? Just worn enamel, a coincidence and easy to fix. Stiff neck? Stress. Peckishness? More stress. Eventually, he was warned that he might be sent to discuss his symptoms with Dr. Palmer instead. Jim got the message.

Everything was fine. Quiet. Typical. He resettled into his routine, the one that had been upset months ago when he first grew concerned with other people's opinions about his looks. It was nice to have his life back.

He was bored as fuck.

On a whim, Jim decided to harrass the quartermasters after shift one evening. "Guys. Guys. I'm bored. I can't exactly go shooting at planets, though, so I thought I'd change my look."

"It's pretty different already, sir," came a disembodied voice from the back, where the crew had their hair trimmed.

"Yeah, but would you believe, I'm tired of it already? Let's shave some of it." He trotted towards the sound of the voice, and flopped down in the first available salon seat. "Hey, how ya doin', Yeoman?"

The hapless yeoman who'd taken his pasta order before he had fucking brain surgery was getting the nape of his neck lined up. The poor boy gulped and nodded, before squeaking out a hoarse "Hello, sir."

The older woman trimming the yeoman's hair just stared at Jim. "You want me to what, now, sir?"

"Just at the bottom. Right here." Jim parted his hair from ear to ear, just above the earlobes, and gathered the section on top into his hands, leaving the bottom third of his hair to hang. "Hack that part off and shave it bald. And let's dye some of the front brown. I want a lot of lowlights in the front here, make my eyes pop a little more." He tugged at some of the hair he'd gathered up top, until he looked like drunken blonde geisha. "Maybe we could donate the part in the back? It's kinda nice, isn't it?"

"Very nice, sir," the yeoman said.

"That's… so far from regulation that you could be a Klingon spy and no one would blink. Why in the world would you do that?"

Jim wrinkled his nose. "Anyone ever tell you you sound like the CMO?"

"Frequently." She resumed trimming the yeoman's neck. "Not doin' it. Sir."

"I will," came the original voice, through a different set of opening doors. It belonged to another older woman, though this one seemed less straightlaced no-nonsense school marm and more badass aunt that always pissed your parents off.

"You can't do that-"

"Who you gonna tell, the captain? I'm sure he'll let it pass."

"Just this one time," Jim said with a smile. He turned to the rules abiding hairdresser. "Come on lieutenant, we're in deep space - what could go wrong?"

Okay, one day, I'm gonna learn to quit daring Fate to kick me in the nuts.

Jim itched for two days straight after his new haircut. From ear to ear, widow's peak to nape, and the entire skin surface between those four points, Jim itched. The scratching was discreet at first, but by the end of Alpha shift on the second day, he'd drawn blood. Now he was standing in the turbolift, staring at his bloodied fingertips, wondering if a visit to sickbay was genuinely in order, or if he was going to shuttled off to talk to Palmer.

Then he thought about the cool chick in the quartermaster's office, and how his own decision to rock a cool 'do would probably get her in trouble with… well, somebody. It was fine. He was fine. Everything was fine. Just wash his hair, oil the shaved part a little, have some dinner, go to bed, everything would be fine. If he still itched come morning, he'd suck it up and see Bones. Well, probably Conner and then Palmer, but whatever. Problem addressed, Jim went about his business for the night with a relatively light heart (except for the itching, which could drive a man to kill, but whatever).

He awoke with no itching.

Yeah, everything was fine.

Hell, he'd even awakened early. Sweet. A hearty breakfast to celebrate not going to the funny farm! Eggs, bacon, juice, toast, tea, ham, apples, pastry, kippers -

The fuck? Jim didn't even like kippers. But there he was, scarfing them down like they were gonna swim off his damn plate and breed all over the ship if he didn't shove every last little fucking one in his goddamn mouth-

The fuck? Jim straightened up at his desk and stared at the plate he'd been scarfing questionable preserved fish from. He hadn't dressed yet, so his hair was free from its usual binding, and draped over his shoulders like a golden stole. A golden stole that was getting fish oil and herb butter in the ends.

Jim hopped up and ran to the mirror over his dresser, afraid of what he might find. The uncut mop in front was hanging well below his armpits, covering his chest with ease. The dark streaks framing his face ended abruptly near his eyebrows, rather than blending near his skull as they'd been placed. He grabbed a hand mirror and twisted himself and his volumes of hair until he could see the shorn portion at the base of his skull.

Not skin, not stubble, not even closely cropped; the hair curled around his neck, full and plush and was growing fast enough to be seen with the naked eye.

"What. The. Fuck."

Okay. This? This might possibly count as an 'unusual symptom'. Jim stumbled to the intercom, intending to alert Medical that he was on his way. "Galley? This is Captain Kirk. I need a stuffed turkey, with all the fixings. Yes, mister, a whole turkey, how are you going to stuff a leg? DON'T argue, just get that bird down here!" Jim stabbed angrily at the button to disconnect the call - and realized he hadn't called sickbay at all.

Panicked, Jim ran to his replicator and ordered half a kilo of creamed spinach and a liter of tomato sauce. He spilled the tomato sauce all over the place when he reached for it, and wound up with two handfuls of hair instead. "Oh shit, shit, shit shit-"

His door chimed, and the platter of spinach that he'd managed to grab went clattering to the floor. "Fuck - just a sec!" He got down on his knees and started scooping up the spinach and tomato with both hands, slurping it up like it was manna from the fucking heavens. The door chimed twice more before he was fairly sure he'd cleaned the floor enough to let in a crewman. "Lights, thirty-five percent. Come!"

The door opened at his barked command, and a pair of crewmembers wheeled in a cart that held a giant turkey with a beautiful garnish of potatoes and onions, with several side dishes that Jim couldn't see from his kneeling position. The crewman with his back to Jim twisted to address him - it was the pasta yeoman again. "Uh..." He was looking down at Jim, who was perfectly illuminated by the light shining through the door from the halls. Jim looked down at himself - no shirt, baggy sweatpants, bare feet, shaggy hair that seemed to have magically grown to his fucking elbows, overturned dishes, messy hands, messy floor… Jim could only imagine what his face must look like. "Where… would… uh…"

"Just put it on the desk. Did you bring cornbread?"

"It's in the bird."

Jim could feel his blood pressure rising. "CORNBREAD."

"We'll bring you some, sir," the young woman on the other end of the cart said. "C'mon, let's just get him the damn cornbread…"

"And fish! Salmon! Hey! Bring some carrot salad, too!" Jim followed them into the hall, still calling after them, until they disappeared into the nearest turbolift. He ducked back in, and faced the gorgeous turkey sitting on his desk. There was extra dressing, gravy, lots of fresh cranberry dressing, and even more spinach. "Oh, yeah, baby."

He trailed his fingers along the edge of the desk as he walked around it, leaving a sticky pinkish stripe behind in places, before he settled in his chair. He studied the bird for a moment, before tearing a hunk of the breast away with his clawed fingers, ripping it right off the bone. He used the flesh like a thick, clumsy ladle, and scooped up so much gravy that it ran down his arm when he lifted it from the dish. He grabbed a handful of spinach in the other hand, squishing the juices out of the tender leaves before stuffing both hands to his face. "Fucking shit yes. Yes. Yes yes yes."

Jim devoured the whole thing that way, picking the carcass clean, licking the bottoms out of each side dish, chewing on the gristly ends of the smaller bones and cracking open the larger bones to suck at the marrow. He stood from the desk, and nearly toppled forward - his center of gravity was shifted with the load in his distended belly. He tucked a hand under it for support and waddled to the replicator to order something to drink.

"This unit has been locked down and will require a medical override to resume operation. Please contact Medical Bay for assistance."

"What? What? Wait, no, what? What?" Panic dropped down on Jim like a ton of bricks. There was no fucking way he was going to contact any damn body in sickbay with his gut poking out like he was six months pregnant. But he was thirsty - desperately so. His lips were chapped, despite the gravy and buttered spinach he'd just gulped down, and his hands were starting to crack. He was starting to crack. He was going to shrivel up and die, a pile of dust and glorious golden hair, and no one would know what happened to him, because those lying bastards were never coming back with his fucking cornbread and holy shit but he was thirsty.

There was water in the head. He could get in the shower and drink his fill there. Yes. Yes, that would work. Water. Plus, water fills you up. Maybe he'd be less hungry if he just had filled up on some water. Yeah.

Jim climbed in the showed and turned the cold water on, blasting himself with an icy deluge. He turned his face up towards the frigid spray and gulped as much water down as he could catch, which he felt really wasn't much, until the shower automatically shut itself off. Annoyed, Jim jammed his hands against the controls, forcing the spray back on for another ridiculously long time.

The second time the water turned itself off, Jim could hear his doorchime again. About fucking time. He stepped out and grabbed a towel to quickly rub himself down with - and was shocked to see that his belly was flat as usual, and that his hair was now curling around his waist. "What in the hell...?"

The door to the main cabin slid open suddenly, and there stood Spock and McCoy, frozen in place in the doorway, staring at the remains of the turkey dinner. They hadn't yet noticed Jim standing in the doorway to the head, ass naked to the world, Rapunzel locks twirling around his arms like the tails of a million friendly kitties.

"Captain? Are you in need of assistance?" Spock stepped into the room, moving closer to the rumpled up bed. "It is significantly past eight hundred hours. Why have you not- He is not here, Doctor."

"Computer, current location of Captain Kirk," Bones growled to the air.

"Crewmember James Tiberius Kirk, rank, Captain, function, Captain, is on Deck 5, cabin 1AA; Captain's Quarters."

"Jim, where in hell are you hiding! Come out-" Jim gave a little wave when Bones' eyes settled on him. "Jim…? What's going on? Are you alright?"

Spock came to stand next to Bones. "Captain, your presence has been requested multiple times via intraship communications. We are currently observing unauthorized activity in the Moldarus Sector, involving-"

"Spock, you're gonna have to handle this yourself, I think there's something wrong with the captain."

"Nevertheless, Doctor, he needs to have the full facts at his disposal-"

"Later, when he can stand up straight. Right now he's coming with me-"

"I'm not going with anyone until I get a pot of coffee and a pan of cornbread." Jim tossed his towel aside and thrust his hands on his hips in defiance. "And scissors. I need a trim."

"A trim? Are you serious?"

"Don't I look it?"

Bones threw his hands in the air. "You look like you've been having a one man party after giving up on a month-long fast! What's the deal with you, anyway? Are you just trying to wind up back on my damn table?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Jim glanced down at himself. "I don't look… wow, that is not how I went to bed last night." He could see his bellybutton poking out more than usual. He went back to the head and checked out the half length mirror, to see his navel better.

He could see it better, alright, along with his lower ribs, hipbones, the cartilage the connected his collarbones to his shoulders, the sinews of his neck, the points in his elbows… he seemed to be shrinking.

His hair, on the other hand, was getting longer, fuller, thicker - hell, even his fucking eyebrows looked good. His beard was curiously absent, though, as if all the hair growth faculties in his body were being trained on his scalp. Jim checked his arms - hairless. The patch on his chest had disappeared, though he could have sworn it was there when he woke up. Even his pubes were bare, which, honestly, was a little disturbing. "Um."

"Exactly." Bones was standing in the doorway to the bathroom. "Jesus, you look even worse in the light."

"Gee, thanks."

"Captain, we are on the brink of interstellar war with the Orions."

All thoughts of hair and bodyshape fled Jim's mind. He forced his way past Bones to look at Spock. "What?"

"The unauthorized activity I spoke of, sir. Your tactical skills would be most welcome at this time. I… do not believe my experience to be… adequate to the situation at hand."

"Now wait just a damn-"

"Hush, Bones. You can fix me when I get a handle on the situation." Jim was pulling his uniform on in haphazzard fashion, hardly remembering to pull pants on before boots. He was also chewing on the collar of his undershirt, rather than pulling it properly over his head. "Did you know these things taste like licorice? Taste it!" Jim grabbed at Spock's collar and tried to yank it up to his lips.

"I believe you, sir."

"Dammit, Jim, it's not edible-"


The three of them left his cabin in step. Jim could feel the adrenealine surging through his veins with each step. Everything seemed brighter, the sounds louder, crisper. More defined. Everything seemed to stand out in sharp relief, as if it were more real than it had ever been. This is what he was meant for. This is the job he was born to do.

"Jim, are you breathing okay? You're sweating a little," Bones said on the turbolift.

"I'm fine, Bones. Just a little warm."

The lift doors opened out to the bridge, but they didn't step out right away. They moved to step out, certainly, but their feet were caught in the silky tendrils of Jim's hair. "This…this is most unusual, Captain," Spock said in what Jim would almost swear was awe.

"Meh, this has pretty much been my life since we left Yaneqa."

"Ah-ha!" Bones clapped once and pointed furiously at Jim. "I knew you were gone too damn long! It was whatever that little Christmassy girl said to you, wasn't it? Wasn't it?!"

The relief at being caught out was more surprising than the realization that he'd been unintentionally hiding the procedure from Bones. "Yes. Yes, it was her, and we can work on all of that in a minute, but right now, I've got more important things to take care of. Now, if you don't mind…?" He gestured impatiently at the hair slowly but surely filling up the turbolift.

After a fair amoutnt of tugging and ripping, they managed to free themselves from the mass of curls, nearly falling out of the turbolift in their escape. Jim strode towards his seat, with Spock right in his ear, filling him in on the details of the situation at hand. Apparently, the governing body on Alpha Moldari II had sent out a distress signal in the night, claiming that they were experiencing long range phaserblasts over their uninhabited mountain regions. People weren't seriously harmed, but it was an unprovoked attack all the same. Current sensor readings showed some interesting mineral activity deep within the planet's crust, and evidence of heavy ionic trails indicated Orion involvement.

Jim absorbed all of this quickly, while trying to determine the quickest, easiest course of action. Look for Orions? Too far, too quick, especially if the initial attacks were launched by ships that didn't intend to return home. Set up a perimeter? Might be a decoy to weaken security in some other sector, and Enterprise had plenty of fire power. He reached for his chair, to settle in to consider other options. "Mr. Spock, do we have any- oof!" Something yanked Jim by the hair - hard. He lurched back, his feet slid forward, and he landed flat on his back, sprawled out like a half dead starfish. He looked up - his fucking hair was caught in the turbolift doors.

Spock, Bones and Uhura were kneeling over him in an instant. "Captain," Uhura cried. She followed the length of his hair to the doors and pulled up short. "They won't open!" She tried tugging on the hair, but all she did was yank painfully at his head. "And it won't budge!"

"Back to your post, Ms. Uhura. Monitor all frequencies. Have engineering shut down Turbolift One and have someone bring something to cut the captain's hair with." Spock went to sit in the big chair. "Doctor, remain with him until he is free. Hanity, Johnson, bring that degauser here, create the illusion that you are working on panelling here to mask the captain.

Jim chuckled, a strained sound to his ears. "And here I thought you needed me."

"Indeed I do, sir. But in your current predicament, this situation will spire quickly out of con-"

Something rocked the ship, sending equipment and personel flying over Jim. "Status report!"

"We've been hit - standard phasers," Chekov said over the scream of alarms.

"Forty-five percent damage to starboard nacelle," Sulu interjected. "Raising shields."

"All hands, red alert," Jim snapped automatically. He pulled himself closer to the turbolift doors and got shakily to his feet. "Goddammit, get me some shears!"

Spock ran to him and grabbed the hair near his neck in both hands, wrapped it around each hand a couple of times, and pulled. The shredding sound echoed through theh bridge, seeming to drown out even the red alert klaxon, and Jim held his head in pain. "Will that suffice, Captian?"

The ship lurched again. "It'll have to. Damage report!"

The battle was fierce, but quick. There were three ships in all, and it seemed that none of them planned a return trip. They were able to channel all of their power to blasting away at Enterprise, until she was battered and bruised, and half dead on one side. Sulu had managed to pick one off, but things were looking grim. Uhura intercepted a coded message to an unknown party, and set to work unravelling its secrets. One of the remaining enemy vessels trained its attention on the northern polar mountain range and began blasting away again, while the other kept weapons trained on the Enterprise. Jim chewed at his cuticles, partly from nerves, partly to suck the blood that was beginning to drip down his fingertips. Everyone pretended not to notice.

"Uhura, do you-"

"Working on it."

"Work a little fast-"

"Goddammit, I'm working as-" She snapped her mouth shut when she turned to glare balefully at him and caught sight of his hands. "I'm doing my best, sir."

Jim's face crumpled. "I know. I know. I just… I'm out of ideas, I can't think, we're going to die out here, and I don't know how to do this anymore!"

Just then, a crewman in blue coveralls appeared through the starboard service doors, carrying what looked like a large carry-all and a pair of basic barbering shears. He left the shears at the science station, and took the carry-all to Bones, who'd been hovering over Jim through the entire firefight. "Is this enough, Doctor?"

"Not hardly, but maybe we can stabilize him long enough to get us out of this mess." Bones lowered the heavy looking case to the deck and began fiddling with the side of the thing. He pulled out a long tube that ended in a sharp, metal point, and grabbed one of Jim's hands from his mouth. He paused, rubbing Jim's wrist with his fingertips for a bit, before sliding the point under the skin on the back of Jim's hand.

Immediately, Jim's terror and self-recriminations lifted, and the answer was in front of him. He pushed a swatch of heavy hair from the panel on the arm of his chair, and began barking orders. "Scotty! I need you to cut all power, but be ready to juice up the forward shields on my mark. Weapons room! I need a full salvo of photon torpedos available to me, now. Mr. Sulu, target their power source - if this is a suicide mission, let's give 'em what they came for." He turned to Spock. "Scissors! I'm spilling all over the damn room here!" Shears were passed to him, hand over hand, and he began hacking away furiously at his hair. "Lieutenant, how about that translation?"

"Sketchy at best, sir." She turned to him again, twisting up her nose at the hair flying all over the bridge. "No guarantees at this point, but there might be a hitherto unknown dilithium deposit in the northern polar caps, and it looks like Klingons might be involved - possible buyers, is my understanding, but as I said, it's sketchy."

"Keep at it -"

"I can't, sir, not without considerable power." She looked at the viewscreen. "Power they'll be able to detect."

Jim scowled. "Kill it, then. Better to stay alive and figure out whodunnit after the fact than die with the answers." He hit his intercom again. "All hands, this is the captain. We've taken some hits in the skirmish, and in an effort to confuse the enemy, all power is going to be discontinued until life support becomes critical. I repeat, all power will be cut. Find a safe place to wait it out, refrain from using portable battery sources, and hold tight until further notice. Kirk out." He switched frequencies. "Kill it, Scotty. Keep this channel open for my next order."

"Aye, sir." The lights dropped everywhere. Where the bridge was once a beautiful, brilliant white, it was now bathed in total darkness; the only light came from the medical equipment Bones had attached to Jim's hand, the emergency lighting panels built into every station, and the starlight from the viewscreen itself. A thick silence descended, as if they were afraid to be heard over the vacuum of space. The only sound that could be heard was the furious shnipt shnipt of the barbering shears.

"We're drifting, sir," Sulu said softly. "Should I correct?"

"No." Jim shoved the piles of clipped hair to the floor and began to pace, chopping off more hair all the while. "Don't ruin the illusion."

"Aye, sir." Sulu let his hands drop into his lap. Slowly, others around the bridge followed suit, staring out at the viewscreen. Eventually, they began to see evidence of their drift; the enemy ship was no longer quite in the center of the screen, and at the very left, a glimmer of impossibly bright light could be seen - the star, Alpha Moldari.

"Chekov," Uhura said. "Get down to maintenance. See if we can get someone to deal with this… issue." She picked up some of the cut hair, and held it up. "It's so pretty…"

"It's a monster," Jim growled, kicking at the shorn pieces he was trailing all over the place. "It's eating me alive." He went back to his chair and hunched down, as if to hide. "It won't stop. It won't fucking stop."

"Go, Mr. Chekov," Spock said. "Notify Medical that another feeder may be required on the bridge," he added.

"No, don't do that! It's just going to keep getting longer and-"

"They're powering up, Captain!" Sulu shouted.

"Scotty! Now!" The helm suddenly exploded with lights, and Uhura ran to take Chekov's station. A series of explosions lit across the screen, and everyone threw their arms up to shield their eyes. When Jim looked again, debris was scattering through the inky blackness of space, and the final aggressor was turning its attention from the planet's surface.

"Oh fuck… kill them! Kill it!" Jim's heart was pounding so hard he was sure everyone else could hear it. "End this! I can't!"

Spock was at Jim's side in an instant. "Doctor-"

"Hell with it, lights are on now, I'll get it my damn self." He was gathering the equipment. "Just try to calm down, Jim, take it easy. I'll be right back."

"Spock, make it stop!" More explosions erupted on the screen, but Jim was beyond trivialties like space battle and intergalatic piracy. The edge of his vision was turning white, and there was a ringing in his ears. "Make it stop!"

"Jim, you need to calm yourself at once," Spock said from somewhere far away. He seemed to be standing at the end of a tunnel, and the only thing connecting them in this tunnel was the long, glossy, warm river of gold that Spock was turning over in his fingers. "Jim. Jim."

The nausea was back, and this time it brought a million tons of pure lead to squash out everything in Jim - no air, no food, no light, nothing. He was turning into nothing, and there was nothing he could do about it.

"You stupid, vain, inconsiderate, selfish, self-centered, self-obsessed son of a fucking bitch!"

Jim blinked blearily. "Heeeey, Bones."

"What did I tell you? What the fuck did I tell you?"

Jim was stiff all over. He moved his arms with some difficulty, to try to wipe away the crust that had sealed his eyes shut. "Uh… you might throw up on me?"

"No, goddammit! I said there's no miracle cures for what ails you! But I'll bet you're cured now, goddamn you! God…damn you!"

Jim's belly flipflopped a little. "Oh. Yeah."

"Yeah! Ass!" Bones stabbed him in the neck with a hypo.

"Unnnnnngh! Whaaaaa?" Jim swatted fitfully at his sore neck - and realized he could touch his neck without having to dig under eleven zillion pounds of glorious flaxen locks. "Hey. It's gone…"

"It's in storage. In case you want something done with it."

Jim touched his head. His hair was a proper cut, mostly regulation, with just a little extra shag on top. "But… how?"

"The Yanik explained their process to us. They have a symbiotic relationship with some kind of creature that absorbs waste from their bodies, and secrete the hormones which encourage hair growth. But what's considered waste for them is nutritional for us - so in a human, it's not symbiotic at all, but parasitic. In addition, Earth primate hair growth is regulated primarily by two separate hormones, estrogen, which is a sort of basic, any-hair-is-probably-good-hair kind of thing, and testosterone, which is a manly-man kind of thing. The creature only secretes one type of hormone, and it more closely resembles estrogen than testosterone."

"So I'm gonna grow boobs?"

Bones' face turned as red as the engineering uniforms. "I have a good mind to fill this goddamn hypo with cyanide and piss, and stick it in your eye, goddammit."

"I'm just trying to understand what the ramifications are!" Jim held his hands up weakly. "Seriously, is that an iss-"

"NO GODDAMMIT!" Everything in Medical stopped at McCoy's eardrum splitting roar. He huffed for a few minutes, until the color began to drain properly from his face. "No, Jim. The consequences are more serious than that."

Jim frowned. "More serious than growing moobs."

Bones sighed. "Should I come back?"

"No, because I'll just worry about it, and make up other shit that you'll find equally stupid and innane, and you'll never tell me, and I'll find out on my own and hate myself for the rest of my life, or something else equally dramatic."

"Okay." Bones pulled up a chair and got comfortable. "But shut the hell up and let me finish. If you have a question, just shut the hell up anyway." He waited for Jim to nod. "Okay. An overabundance of estrogen itself is relatively harmless. But whatever this hormone is that this creature was pumping into your body, it isn't estrogen. It's similar, the way poppy seeds and heroin are similar. One is a tasty treat on your morning bagel. The other is a trip to Toontown." He paused, but Jim didn't have anything to say to that, so he moved on. "Whatever this stuff is, it leaches protein from bones, internal organs, nails, skin - basically, anywhere that isn't hair. In addition, it binds to calcium and phosphate wherever it can. In short, Jim, it was breaking down your bones."

Jim scowled at that. "Do..." He clamped his mouth shut, not wanting another tirade, and waved Bones on.

"No, go ahead."

"Do I have osteoperosis?"

Bones mulled that over. "Well… yes." He held his hands up when Jim's breath began to quicken. "You're fine, you'll be fine, you'll make a full recovery from most of your injuries, and you'll be cleared for duty." He smiled. "This is not the 1970s, Jim. You'll be on supplements to help keep your calcium levels up, you'll come in for monthly treatments to increase bone density, and you'll probably wind up getting real cozy with the dermal regenerator. But with the way you get into trouble on away missions, you were shaping up to do that, anyway, though. It's okay."

Jim swallowed nervously. A captain that could be snapped in two by the wind? What the hell use was that? "If you say so, Bones."

"I say so." His smile faded. "There are some other complications, though, a little more serious than that."

"Oh, this should be fun."

"Your organs took some hits - all of them. Between the heart attacks and the severe malnutrition - which was highly fascinating, so thank you for that - you've probably cut about ten to twenty years off your potential lifespan."

Jim stared blankly for a minute. "Bones. Have you met me?"

Bones frowned and looked off into space for a while, before turning back to Jim, face beet red and contorted with rage. "YEAH, NEVERMIND THAT LAST PART. YOU'RE FINE, CAPTAIN JACKASS."

Jim laughed for a good, long while, until his sides ached and his face hurt and his belly was sore and tight. Truth be told, there wasn't very much about the situation that was funny - organ damage? brittle bones? heart attacks plural?? - but he knew it would be okay, that with Bones' help, everything would be back to normal - or as normal as it would ever be again. That was good enough for Jim - just what the doctor ordered.


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