McCoy stared stupidly after his last patient as two yeomen took the Andorian woman away to recovery. He absently hoped the heat seals on her femoral artery would hold or she would lose what even he had had to admit was a very shapely and lovely leg. Another yeoman, pressed into service as a scrub nurse, tried to wipe at the sweat on his face. He batted irritably at the swab, yanking it out of the man’s hands with a snarl. The yeoman, inured to doctors’ moods, shrugged and handed him a squeeze-tube of electrolyte mixture.
It had been 22 hours of straight trauma surgery and seven hours before that of preparation and emergency planning. The call had come in from Derethia III, a mid-sized science and mining colony attacked by pirates who had snuck in from the Neutral Zone. The small Federation peacekeeping force stationed on a nearby moon had been hard-pressed, but had eventually repelled their attackers. The Enterprise, as the closest Federation starship, had been the first responder, arriving at Warp 8 nearly seven hours after the first emergency hails had been received.
The scene on the ground had been something from a nightmare. Smoking ruins, twisted and blackened bodies caught out in the open, bloodied and mangled corpses left behind in the mines and caves. Anything not stolen had been destroyed by the pirates in a kind of fury rarely seen. McCoy had registered all of this when he and his team had beamed down to set up triage stations closest to the central buildings and the mine entrances. Almost all of the colony’s medical personnel were dead or wounded, but the clinic building was still standing, so the stable wounded were placed there and the stream of critically injured had begun to flow toward the two operating rooms on the Enterprise.
Some had lived, some had died. He and M’Benga and Chapel and her team kept making hard decisions, not even able to waste a moment hoping they were right in passing up one critically-injured colonist or soldier to help another who might have a better chance of survival if someone operated right now. They had all been in a kind of highly efficient fugue state in which they were nothing but eyes, hands and brains working desperately to keep the spark of life inside the bodies brought before them.
Now, it was done. The floor of his operating room was slick with blood and a dozen other fluids. The sharp citrus flavor of the electrolyte gel in his mouth seemed to shock his awareness back into his own body. Misery bloomed behind his eyes, along his spine and up both legs. He stank, sticky from sweat and blood, reeking of fear and rage and failure. Too many dead, too many saved, but crippled and mutilated, and for what? For handfuls of blood-red rocks.
A migraine that must have started hours ago throbbed in time to his heartbeat, making him wonder if he would be able to keep down the nutrient gel he had just swallowed. How many stim shots had he taken- three? Four? The only migraine medication that worked for him couldn’t be taken with the stimulants still in his system, dammit. The only thing he could do was take himself off-duty and hide in a dark, cool room and hope that he didn’t begin bleeding from his eyeballs.
Five steps had him leaning against a bed in the middle of the Sickbay, grappling with the nausea. That had always been his gift, the ability to narrow his focus down to the patient before him, paying no attention to his body beyond whatever it needed to keep him functioning. His stamina in the operating room had become legend, but there was always a price to pay. He gritted his teeth and swore that he would hang onto his dignity – this crew had never seen him lose it before, during or after a crisis, and they sure as hell weren’t going to now. Straightening up, he nodded at a passing nurse, then started toward his office again.
The Sickbay doors swished open and he was brought up short, staring into his own face. Well, his own face if it had two days of stubble, a smear of dirt above his brow and if the body below it wore the combat fatigues of a Federation peacekeeper. A bright spark of recognition in those familiar eyes and a brief quirk of the lips in greeting.
McCoy nodded. “Gran -- John.”
Then he threw up.
* * *
A brief argument over his own treatment with his relief staff, a skeleton report to the Bridge and then he was staggering his way toward his quarters, his unlikely twin walking beside him. John had shifted his rifle to his other hand and kept his left hand under McCoy’s elbow, steering him back on course when he swayed. He swore under his breath, and not for the first time, at whichever bright housing ensign had decided to put the C.M.O.’s quarters four decks and half a ship away from the Sickbay. John just smiled as they waited for the ‘lift and commented, “You’re still one cranky bastard.”
“My parents were married, as you very well know.”
A chuff of laughter and then the ‘lift doors opened and John was leaning him against a wall. McCoy mumbled his deck and hall number at the sensor and then let his gaze rest on the other man.
“What the hell are you doing out here? Last time I saw you, you were teaching at some military academy in upstate New York.”
“That was five years ago, Len.”
McCoy blinked as the ‘lift doors opened onto his deck. “S’that way,” he pointed and started walking. 87 steps, he reminded himself, having counted them more than once after late shifts and later drinking bouts.
“Last time I saw you, you were married to a pretty lawyer, had a brand new baby girl and were the hottest young thoracic surgeon in Charleston. What the hell are you doing out here?”
82, 83, 84… huh, guess he counted wrong. He thumbed his door open and waved John in over his shoulder. He lowered the lights with a curse; throwing up had helped the worst of the migraine but his head was still throbbing and his eyes were incredibly sensitive.
“Take off your gear, stay awhile,” he said and headed for the bathroom, stripping off his crusted, filthy scrubs as he went. Two full minutes groaning through a sonic shower and he was hygienic, even if he didn’t feel clean. He didn’t bother looking in the mirror – he knew what he’d see.
He wandered back into the main room to see that John had put down the phase rifle and neatly piled his gear belt and phaser holsters beside the door.
“Shower’s yours. I’ll get you something clean to wear.” John nodded and brushed past him, ignoring his nudity. Well, it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen everything McCoy had before and that plenty of times.
He slid into an old pair of faded blue sleep pants and pulled an even older t-shirt over his head. He took another pair of sleep pants and a newer black t-shirt for John into the bathroom, arriving just as John finished his shower. He got a nod of thanks before he left to give the other man his privacy.
He managed to make it back to the main room and to flop onto the couch before saying, “I assume you didn’t come to Sickbay for treatment.”
“No. Just to see you. I brought in one of my team and one of your nurses mentioned a ‘Doctor McCoy’, so I came up to check it out when your red shirts took over security. And there you were.”
“There I was,” McCoy agreed with a sigh. God, it felt good to be off his feet, even if they had started throbbing in counter-point to his head.
“The booze is over there,” he pointed when John came out of the bathroom wearing his clothes. They fit, of course. John went to inspect the cabinet McCoy had pointed him toward.
“Tennessee whiskey, Cuban rum, Kentucky bourbon, Russian vodka – you’re an anthrocentric traditionalist, Len. What’s the unmarked bottle?”
“White Lightnin’ from South Carolina. You never answered me – what are you doing out here?”
He leaned his aching head back against the couch and closed his eyes. He heard the clink of glass on glass and something pouring out, then the click of ice disks being dropped in. He counted – one, two, three, four – John’s habits never changed.
“I got bored. What are you doing out here?”
“I got drunk.”
“And divorced and lost custody of my kid and taken for every cent and then I got recruited by Star Fleet.”
“And saved the planet, I hear.”
“That was Jim and Spock. I just stowed Jim away until things got interesting.” He felt the couch beside him dip as John sat down.
“That’s not how your mother tells it.”
McCoy snorted. “She’s biased.”
“How’s the head?”
“Hurts like a sumbitch. How’s the whiskey?”
“Better than I can buy out here. Here, lean over here.” John patted his lap.
McCoy opened one eye and stared at him.
“Hey, it used to work.” John patted his own leg again. “What have you got to lose?”
“My dignity?” McCoy said, even as he was leaning over, swinging his feet up onto the couch and squirming over onto his back. He came to rest with his head in John’s lap, his aching legs draped over the arm of the couch and John’s cool hand resting over his forehead.
“Don’t worry, kid, you never had any dignity to lose with me.”
“Gee, thanks.” But he sighed as John began to stroke through his hair, strong fingers gently urging tight scalp muscles to relax. God, how long had it been since someone had done this for him? He felt tears pricking behind his closed lids and knew it was only partially because he was so damned tired; he’d missed John more than he’d guessed.
They sat in silence, John’s gentle hands working over his head and neck, sometimes surprising a grunt or a hum of relief from McCoy. Occasionally, he would stop and rest one hand on McCoy’s chest, rubbing soothing circles as he sipped from his drink. How long they might have remained there in peace and quiet was questionable, but they were not left to find out.
There was a quick tap at the door, then it was swiped open and Jim Kirk came striding into the room with a tray in his hand, already talking.
“Hey, Bones, thought you might need something to eat. Yeoman Reez said that you were probably feeling pretty empty after…uh, hello?”
McCoy opened his eyes and turned his head slowly to look at his friend. Blue eyes ringed with red stared back, assessing what he was seeing as they flicked from his face to John’s and back again.
“Wanna introduce me, Bones? Since you two seem kinda close and all?” Something indefinable in Jim’s voice, something a little bruised and a lot curious.
McCoy looked up into John’s face and asked a question with his eyes. John nodded slowly, just once, the way he always had when a McCoy had asked this particular question.
He sat up slowly, John’s careful hand guiding him upright to keep from jarring his newly-pacified skull. He sighed, not really having the energy for the conversation he was about to have.
“John, this is Captain James T. Kirk. Jim, this is John Grimm -- my great-great-granddaddy.”
Jim Kirk, once again proving that he was unlike just about anyone else Leonard McCoy had ever met, said only, “Hunh,” and put his tray of sandwiches and coffee down on the low table in front of them. “Sorry I only grabbed two coffees; I didn’t know you’d be having a family reunion.”
“It’s okay,” John said, raising his glass to show that he was already taken care of.
He and McCoy watched as Jim folded himself down to sit on the floor and started rifling through the stack of wrapped sandwiches. Jim made a happy noise as he found a chicken sandwich, setting it aside for himself, before passing over a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff one to McCoy.
Those ludicrous sandwiches were the other shameful indulgence in McCoy’s life. He knew how horrible they were and figured that was only underscored by the fact that they replicated perfectly, taste indistinguishable from those made in his grandmother’s kitchen. But mature knowledge took a back seat to simple comfort that didn’t come in a glass. He really had been trying to stop drinking himself into unconsciousness every time he’d had a bad day. Once Jim had noticed that fact, he had saved the presents of booze for special occasions and begun bringing the sandwiches whenever some odd internal gauge told him that his friend needed them. Today definitely counted.
He gingerly nibbled at one half, checking to see that his stomach could handle it. He only noticed the other two staring at him after he had swallowed and taken a larger and happier second bite.
“What?” he demanded, still chewing.
Both John and Jim were wearing identical smiles; both reached for their own sandwiches, both said, “Nothing,” in that same indulgent tone. A truth began swimming its way to the surface of his mind as he hmmphed at them both and took a sip of coffee.
“You still eat that damned stuff, huh, kid?” Turning to Jim, John said, “He once refused to eat anything else for lunch for nine straight months.”
“I was nine!”
“What’s your excuse now?” John smiled, then unwrapped his own sandwich and looked at it critically before taking a business-like snap at it. Soldiers learned to eat when it was offered, never knowing if they would be able to finish any meal they started.
Before McCoy could retort, Jim swallowed and said, “So you’ve known him for a long time, then?”
John looked at him directly. “He told you who I am, Captain. I’ve known him all his life.”
“I know he doesn’t lie – to me, anyway,” a secret smile between the two of them. “But since you look like you’re a couple of years younger than he does, I’m guessing there’s a damned interesting story here.”
Despite the red rimmed eyes, the pale skin and the two days’ worth of beard, Jim looked like nothing more than a kid eager for a bedtime story.
“Not tonight, Jim. The short version is: he got a dose of some ancient Martian experiment that gave him a 24th chromosome.”
Jim’s brows knit for a bit and John could almost see the man going back over his basic genetics schooling. “Hunh,” he said again. “And that resulted in…?”
“A man who’s over 200 years old and looks like my kid brother. And always will, unless someone blows his fool head off in one of these damned hot zones.”
“Len, it’s what I do,” John said gently. It had the sound of an old, well-worn argument.
“In 240 years, you couldn’t have figured out something else to do?!”
“I’ve done a lot of different things, kid. I just keep coming back to my main skill-set.”
McCoy snorted but subsided. Jim, a thoughtful furrow still on his brow, said slowly, “I haven’t heard of anyone selling a working ‘Fountain of Youth’ drug anywhere in Federation space.”
John shook his head. “And you won’t. It doesn’t always work like this; most of my squad and half the population of the Olduvai research base mutated into mindless monsters. The UAC, the corporation that owned the place, were trying to build super-soldiers. They got ‘em, in a matter of speaking. Seven foot high monsters that tore up and ate anyone in their path. Unless you had the psycho gene, at which point, they converted you to one of them.”
“How’d you get them to let you go? I would have thought a pre-EW corporation would have been replicating your gene therapy so fast you’d have been bled dry.”
Smart man, this starship captain who sat on the floor at his feet like a kid at a campfire. And one who had obviously studied what UAC had done to spark the Eugenics Wars and how they had cleverly made money selling to all sides.
“I never told them how I survived and it doesn’t show up in a regular physical. Unlike young Leonard here, I have no problems lying.”
McCoy snorted again.
“Can the research be duplicated?”
“Nope. I blew the place up and we destroyed the data chips.”
A flat look came into John’s eyes and McCoy suddenly spoke up. “Not tonight, Jim.”
Kirk nodded and crammed the last quarter of his sandwich into his mouth. “Hey, Bones, does this mean you’ll live forever?”
The blue eyes were lit with hopeful excitement and John suddenly saw how much the young captain cared for his friend. McCoy, who was sucking the last sticky bit of marshmallow off his thumb, didn’t see.
“Doesn’t work like that. It won’t pass on to the offspring. Damned shame, too. I could have used the instant healing ability a time or two.”
“Like the time you broke your leg trying to jump a five-barred gate?” The two men smiled at one another reminiscently. “You were five and stuck under the osteoregenerators for a whole week, as I recall.”
“Yup. You came every day and read to me.”
“I read you all those damned medical journals.” John turned to Jim. “He wanted to know every single detail about what the regenerators were doing and how they were doing it.”
“You taught me how to play poker, too.”
“That was just in self-defense, kid. I wasn’t the one who wanted to be a doctor.”
“So you’re the reason he keeps cleaning up at Senior Staff poker nights,” Jim said lightly, but John could see something darker and sadder in his eyes.
“Gentlemen, it’s been fun, but I have to get back to the Bridge.” He stood up and began to gather the wrappers back onto the tray.
“Jim, you should be off-duty, too. You’ve been up for over a day and a half.”
“Not until we find those pirates. They massacred 242 civilians and 27 peacekeepers. I want them in my brig now.” Or blown across the stars as a cloud of particles, seemed to hang in the air, unsaid.
John shook his head once. “These guys aren’t minor league players, Captain. They’re fast, ruthless and very professional. You saw the kind of damage they did before we could even scramble. They’ve got some damned fine cloaking technology; I don’t think you’re going to find them, not today, not ever. Not when they have the whole Neutral Zone to hide in.”
McCoy saw the set of Kirk’s jaw and that muscle above his right eyebrow had become rigid with determination. “Care to make a wager, Major Grimm?”
How had the man known his rank? A paranoid flicker started up, then died when John saw his field jacket piled beside the door, rank stripes folded on top. Of course Jim would have read the insignia automatically.
“Don’t do it, Granddaddy,” McCoy warned in a drawl. “The kid has the devil’s own luck. And he has a Constitution-class starship at his command.”
“And Spock and I have been tinkering with the sensors,” Jim added. “I could find a Romulan fingernail in an asteroid belt at this point.”
It was the smug look that did it.
“Done,” John said and offered his hand. “What do I get if I win?”
“A bottle of Tennessee whisky.” Jim’s hand was warm and callused and gripped his firmly.
“Hey! I thought you were saving that for my birthday,” McCoy complained.
They ignored him, staring challengingly into each other’s eyes.
“And if I lose?”
Jim’s answer was just as quick as before. “Tell me the whole story of Olduvai. Everything.”
“It’s okay, Bones. You know I would never tell anyone.” He turned his attention back to John. “Do we have a wager?”
“We do.” A slight squeeze, then Jim let go of John’s hand.
Jim turned to leave, the tray in his hand, then looked back. “Do you need guest quarters, Major, or are you heading back to the base?”
McCoy spoke. “You can stay here.”
“I’m off-duty for the next 48 hours. Think you’ll find your pirates before that?”
Jim laughed once and waved a hand, “Watch me,” he said and went out the door.
“You can have the bed,” McCoy said, slowly toppling sideways onto the couch. “I’m too tired to move.”
John saw through him, but he appreciated the kid’s good manners. Starfleet senior staff got much nicer quarters than frontier-based peacekeepers did and a nice soft bed would be a pleasant change from a single soldier’s rack.
He grabbed a pillow from the bed and tossed it over the couch, then found a spare blanket and spread it over his grandson, who already looked half-asleep. Giving in to an old impulse, he leaned down and kissed the man in the middle of his forehead. “G’night, Len.”
He got a half-smile, smaller then it used to be, but holding the same innate sweetness he had always found in this, his most favorite grandchild. “Night, John.”
John crossed the room and slid into McCoy’s bed, calling for the lights to drop to five percent, mimicking the darkness he might have in a city bedroom.
Then, into the dark, he said, testing, “I like your captain.”
“Me, too,” was the wary reply.
“It’s like that, is it?”
“I don’t know.”
But it was an answer, a confirmation. That was a surprise; Len had always gone for women, from the moment he had first noticed there was something interestingly different about girls at about age ten.
“Hmm,” John said thoughtfully into the dark, and then there was silence and sleep.
He didn’t need more than about four hours of sleep in general and the five hours he had gotten felt like sybaritic luxury. A piss and a slurped handful of water had him feeling like a new man.
Leonard was still out cold on the couch, his breathing slow and deep. John paused to pull the rumpled blanket back up over the sleeping man’s chest and smiled a little at how many times he had done this over the years. He had been a real presence in both Leonard and his mother, Julia’s childhoods and he treasured those memories. That he was not equally involved in Leonard’s child’s life was a shame and could represent the breaking of a line more than 100 years in the making.
He decided that this train of thought was likely to bring him down avenues of memory which were better left alone. Food and coffee were now his primary goals. Ship’s time said it was 0420, so he could reasonably get away with wandering the corridors shoeless and in rumpled sleepwear. Which was all to the good, as his own gear stank of sweat and blood and smoke and he had no intention of waking Leonard just to borrow something decent to put on.
A computer inquiry told him the nearest Mess was down the hall and up six decks. The ‘lift that opened on his deck held only one other person – Jim Kirk.
“Captain,” John said, stepping in to stand beside him. Jim had the moist look of the freshly-showered. His face was smooth, his uniform freshly laundered and his eyes looked like they had been staring into supernovas. Whatever the young captain had been doing in the intervening hours, it hadn’t involved sleep.
“Major,” he said cheerfully enough. “The problem with sending your yeoman to bed after she’s been up for 27 hours is that you are then faced with getting your own damned snacks at 0400.”
“Burden of command, I guess.”
“Bones still asleep?”
“Len? He’s out cold.”
John refused to even consider how the kid had gotten that ridiculous nickname. Considering the fey light in the corner of the captain’s eye, he figured he knew where it had come from.
As the doors to the Mess deck opened, he asked casually, “How long have you and Len been together?”
Jim Kirk didn’t even miss a beat, stepping out of the ‘lift and striding down the hall with John at his shoulder. “We met first day at the Academy. Been friends ever since.”
John wondered why he was pushing this. Len had been running his own life for well over a decade now and didn’t need any young-old man’s meddling interference.
“You warning me off?”
The stubborn set of the younger man’s jaw made John want to smile and pat him on the head. He’d bet that pout on a younger version’s face had gotten him anything he wanted as a kid. They came to the mess replicators and stood side by side as they scrolled through the offerings, considering their options.
“Nope. Len’s all grown up. Not my place, anyway.”
John decided on a bowl of beef stew and punched in his choice. “How did you become friends?”
Kirk took a banana and stack of crackers from his slot. “It was on the shuttle to the academy. He threatened to throw up on me, then he offered me a drink.”
“That’s my boy. Honest and polite to a fault.”
Jim grinned at him. “It was good whiskey.”
They sat across from one another and ate in silence for a few minutes. But John could see the questions bubbling in the other man and tried to guess which would be first: what was it like to know he couldn’t die? or isn’t it awfully lonely? Although that one tended to be asked more by breathless young women with moist underwear and a weakness for his perennial scruff. Jim Kirk, as he was quickly coming to expect, came at the problem from a completely different angle.
“Your children should have been sterile. How’d you ever get grandchildren? Or did they adopt?” Then he shook his head, answering his own question. “Nah, Bones looks enough like you to be your twin; no way he’s not your own flesh and blood.”
John’s spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl as he chased the last bit of gravy before answering. “Sharon and I only had one kid – my daughter, Megan. Megan and her husband had to have a hell of a lot of fertility treatments before she could even conceive a single child. Her daughter, Sarah, had two daughters. Only Julia decided to have a kid – Len. He’s a bit of a sport; theory says he should have been a girl, too.”
“You’ve known them all?”
John nodded but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t about to share the stark realities of his life with this unmarked boy sitting before him. Besides, how do you explain to anyone what it’s like to watch your own baby girl age and die – and then your grand-daughter, drooling and too weak to lift her own hand to take yours at the last? His great-granddaughters were both aging, beginning to be wrinkled and slow-moving; when he closed his eyes, he could still see them nursing in his arms, taking their first steps, learning to drive his car, getting married.
“The kids have always known who I am. They can keep a secret.”
“Because you taught them to,” Kirk said confidently. “Bones is like that, too.”
“Kid was a natural clam anyway.”
Kirk got to his feet, laughing. “Yeah, that’s true. No one gets anything out of Bones that he doesn’t want to give.”
John rose, too. “How’d he get the nickname?”
The Leonard McCoy he’d helped to raise had flatly refused to answer to any nickname save ‘Len’ and that was only if it were a family member. And woe to anyone who called him ‘Lenny’. His tantrums in that line had been epic.
They slid their trays into the recycler and Kirk led the way down the hall back to the lift, talking all the way.
“It was that first shuttle ride. He said something about his ex-wife taking everything, leaving him nothing but his bones.”
John snorted. “Melodramatic little shit.”
“Not so much.” Kirk’s smile had faded. “When he got off that shuttle, he had one bag, 50 credits and one hell of an alcoholism problem to his name. His wife wouldn’t even let him talk to Joanna for the first year.”
John was silent, brooding over that little bit of news, while they waited for the lift. Julia hadn’t mentioned anything about how bad it had gotten for Len. He’d known about the divorce, of course, but it gave him a pang to know that his boy had been suffering like that and he had known nothing about it. Then he reminded himself, as he had always had to, that his kids made their own lives.
Kirk said suddenly, “You coming up to the Bridge?”
John accepted the tacit invitation and stood beside the captain, still musing.
“He’s ok now,” Kirk said into the silence. “Really.”
The lift doors slid open and they stepped in, John lost in thought. Five years since John had seen Len in person. All their sporadic contact since had been recorded letters and e-cards at various holidays and birthdays. David’s funeral – the last time he’d seen Len had been at his father’s funeral.
David McCoy’s death had been a damned shame; they’d lost him a good forty years before his time to an incurable disease. John would be willing to bet more than a bottle of Tennessee whisky that Len’s problems had begun on the day he buried his father.
“He ever tell you why his marriage broke up?”
Kirk shook his head. “No. He didn’t need to.”
“You ever meet the ex?”
Kirk shook his head again. “He always goes to see Joanna; Jocelyn never brings her to see him. Is she as big a bitch as I suspect she is?”
John stared at the wall, trying to remember her. A tall, cool blonde woman, sophisticated, witty, a razor-sharp legal mind. Sexy as hell, but uncompromising. She knew what she wanted and she intended to keep it. But what she would have done if she decided she didn’t want something any more, he couldn’t decide.
“I don’t know,” John answered as honestly as he could. “I liked her fine the few times I met her.”
“Well, she took just about anything that ever meant anything to Bones, so I think I’ll just keep her in the ‘Bitch’ category until I have a chance to judge for myself.”
John raised an eyebrow at the vehemence in Kirk’s voice. “No argument from me, kid. From what you tell me, she hurt my boy; I’m not going to be heading up her fan club anytime soon.”
That pout was back on Kirk’s face, accompanied by a pugnacious jaw. John found himself liking the boy enormously for his uncomplicated championship even as he wanted to snort at his too-simple evaluation of the situation. Loyalty and love shouldn’t blind you to the flaws in a loved one. Then again, Kirk seemed to have met Len at his lowest point and stuck with him ever since. If anyone had seen Leonard McCoy’s flaws laid bare, it was likely to be this man.
The lift door opened to the Bridge. As Kirk took his first step, John reached out and laid a hand on his arm.
“Just so you know – Len never told Jocelyn who I am.”
The challenge in those startling blue eyes faded to a small and very real smile as Kirk nodded, then stepped onto his bridge.
* * *
Either it was a testament to how well-trained this crew was or how unpredictable their captain was – no one even blinked at the addition of a rumpled barefooted man trailing after him as he called for reports. One man, a blue-shirted Vulcan with light commander’s stripes on his cuffs, raised an eyebrow then answered Kirk’s questions.
“Their projected route from the Derethia system leads straight into the Neutral Zone, captain. There is a 78% chance that the pirates we seek have a base of operations on one of two moons within twenty light-years of the border.”
John heard the ‘lift open behind him and moved out of the way to stand in an empty spot behind the captain’s chair. Two gold-shirted young men came in and tapped out both the navigator and pilot, sliding smoothly into their positions with an air of competence that was a pleasure to see.
“Have we got a trail, Mr. Spock?”
It was the navigator who answered, in breathless, accented Standard. “Yes, Captain. The exotic particles from their engine modifications show up like crumbs on a dark carpet.”
“Put it up onscreen, Mr. Chekov.”
The main viewer showed a pathway of bright green speckles superimposed over the starfield before them.
Without being asked, the navigator said, “The trail leads to a mid-sized moon 12 light-years into the Neutral Zone, Captain.”
Kirk turned to throw a pleased grin at his first officer, who acknowledged the implied compliment with a dip of his head. Then the captain said,
“Lieutenant Uhura, I’m going to need a communications problem in … how long, Chekov?”
“Four minutes, sir.”
A stunningly beautiful woman to their left sighed, touched a few controls on her communications console and said resignedly, “Captain, I am reporting a temporary inability to read or broadcast on any Starfleet-approved channels. I anticipate this problem to last…?”
“Oh, I’d say about two hours, wouldn’t you, Mr. Spock?” Kirk consulted his first officer with a glance over his shoulder.
“That should be more than ample time, depending on the degree of readiness the pirates display.”
“Two hours,” Uhura repeated in a dutiful monotone.
Kirk nodded, smacked his hands down on the arms of his chair and said cheerfully, “Take us in, Mr. Sulu.”
Kirk turned to John with a cocky grin. “I hope you’ll be free for story-time tonight, Major? I’ll bring the milk and cookies.”
John had to smile at the kid’s balls. “Does Starfleet know about your little field trips into the Neutral Zone, captain?”
Kirk cocked his head. “Of course they do, Major. But they prefer to be enlightened post-facto. Preferably when I report the pirates completely destroyed and no sign of Romulan High Command getting word of our incursion.”
“So the communications failure is…?”
“Plausible deniability. I’m all about giving Starfleet Command exactly what they want.” Kirk’s smile could have cut glass.
“Aren’t you a bit young to be this cynical? I would expect it from a career officer with 20 years under his belt, not someone two years into his first command.”
“I took the accelerated course,” Kirk said, then turned back to the main screen.
They went to yellow alert almost immediately after that. John listened as each section on the ship reported battle readiness. When Sickbay reported in, Len’s voice was crisp as he said, “Try not to mess with my solitaire game, Jim. I’m supposed to be off-duty down here, you know.”
“I’ll do my best, Bones. Don’t forget - the red queen goes down on the black king.”
The appalled snort Kirk got as McCoy signed off had them all grinning. And then the green-speckled trail on the view screen began to wrap around a deserted moon.
The band of exotic particles showed up as a set of concentric rings, showing that the cloaked ship had gone into orbit around what must be their home base.
“They must be on the far side of the moon, Captain,” the pilot said. “Orders, sir?”
Kirk nodded. “A textbook ambush, I think. Mr. Sulu, line us up to catch them as they come around the rim of the planet. Take us to red alert.”
The klaxon began to sound and John felt that old instinctive urge to gear up and get ready for a fight. He had never seen a battle from the deck of a starship this size. The pilot maneuvered the ship into position, tucking them into the penumbra of the moon. They were practically invisible and undetectable, hidden by both the physical and the gravity shadow of the moon itself.
The first officer said calmly, “I estimate the pirate ship will come into range in 2.3 minutes. Sending coordinates of their expected position based on previous orbits to your station now, Lieutenant.”
“Captain?” the pilot asked as he moved to arm the phaser banks. “Am I shooting to disable or…?”
“Spock, what are the odds of there being any innocent captives onboard their ship?” Kirk asked, turning abruptly to his first officer. “Are these assholes slavers, too?”
Spock met his gaze gravely. “There have been no signs of any prisoners being taken during any of the reported attacks. None of the colonies that have responded report any missing personnel. Derethia III’s casualties have all been accounted for.”
“Uhura,” the captain’s chair swung abruptly as he addressed the communications officer, “has there been any Romulan chatter about slavers on their borders?”
Kirk turned to face forward again.
“Dust them, Mr. Sulu.”
Well, that was decisive. “What Starfleet wants, huh?” John said. The captain’s chair turned to face him.
Kirk’s expression was positively feral now. “They want the problem solved, I want the pirates vaporized. This way, everyone’s happy.” His eyes glittered at John’s.
“Two hundred and sixty nine dead,” John said in perfect agreement.
The battle, if it could be called so, was anticlimactic. The invisible pirate ship got one shot off that barely grazed the Enterprise’s shields before being engulfed in a barrage of phaser fire. With some slight adjustment in aim, Sulu raked the invisible ship again and again, explosions in space marking his accuracy. Soon, wholly visible wreckage was floating in space before them.
“Any survivors?” Kirk asked.
“None,” Spock answered after checking his instruments. John thought he might have heard a note of satisfaction in the Vulcan’s tone.
There was no question about the feelings of the rest of the bridge crew, however. Even the formerly disapproving communications officer had a fierce curl to her lips.
“Excellent. Well done, people. Chekov, plot us a course out of the Neutral Zone and back to Derethia, soonest.” The klaxon fell silent, the alert level dropping back to yellow.
“Mr. Spock, you have the conn. If you need me, I’ll be in my cabin.”
He heaved himself to his feet and the blue-shirted Vulcan slid easily into the command chair. Kirk smiled genially at them all, then started off the bridge.
John joined him on his way to the ‘lift. “Thank you for letting me observe. It was very … instructive.”
Kirk turned from directing the ‘lift to the officers’ deck. The crackling energy that had been sustaining him seemed to drop away suddenly, leaving him slumped against the side of the ‘lift. Now John just saw a tired kid rubbing at reddened eyes and trying to hold back yawns behind gritted teeth. The difference was startling and he considered it until the doors opened on their deck.
John stepped out and turned right, while Kirk turned left. “’Night,” Kirk yawned and waved a careless salute at him.
“Hey. That was some good soldiering back there, Captain.”
Then he slanted a smug look over his shoulder at John. “I’ll expect you and Bones for dinner at 1900 hours, Major Grimm?”
John tipped his head in acknowledgement. “We’ll be there, Captain.”
Dinner in the Captain’s Mess turned out to be a pleasant and luxurious affair. Real food, prepared by real cooks, simply served, made for a feast. The conversation, kept light during the meal, was pleasant. Len told some of the more outrageous anecdotes from their Academy days, punctuated by the captain’s laughing protests and revisions. Dessert was served with a flourish and John had to smile: large glasses of ice cold milk and chocolate chip cookies the size of dinner plates for each of them.
True to his word, John began the retelling of his disastrous life history with the Martian Olduvai project; first losing his parents there as a child, then losing his whole team and nearly losing Sam to the horribly mutated victims of C-24.
He found himself talking about Duke and Destroyer, about Goat’s fucked up religious mania and the Kid’s desperately noble last stand, about coolly efficient Mack and about Sarge, closer than a brother, who had become something unrecognizably hateful and doomed at the end. Then he told them about Samantha, his twin and his match for brains and determination; she had ferreted out every last scrap of data about C-24 and destroyed it from the system, even as her body trembled in pain. He showed Kirk a picture of his sister and even grinned when the kid murmured, “Whoa – she was hot!”
But hard on the heels of that came a sudden surge of resentment in him at Kirk’s bright-eyed and detached interest in the story of his long years of hiding, the games with make-up and disguise as Samantha grew older and John just continued on. But John reminded himself that he had agreed to this, fair and square. And Jim Kirk’s downturned lips when John spoke of Sam’s death and the empty years afterward soothed the ache some. Len’s hand on his arm, warm and alive, the connection of blood more comforting than he could say, helped him finish the tale.
When John finished speaking, Kirk nodded into the silence, then poured three glasses of port and handed two of them over. He held his glass up and then said only, “To Dr. Samantha Grimm.”
John felt his eyes smart a little, but replied to the toast in a strong voice in chorus with his distant grandson. The port was smooth and sweet and it was fitting; suddenly, he was grateful to Kirk for demanding this telling.
“To the Marines of the RRTS,” he said, raising his glass again, then slowly draining it off to the others’ murmured agreement.
Kirk refilled their glasses and John wondered if they would end the night by getting shitfaced. But the young captain merely looked him straight in the eye and raised his glass. “To you, John Grimm, for giving me the best friend a man could ask for.”
Len’s blush and embarrassed grumbling were funny enough to put a half-smile back on his face. “I did have some help with that project,” he pointed out after he drank.
“Well, sure,” Kirk grinned, “but I don’t have five generations worth of port left and Bones has been making dire predictions about his liver again.”
“No, Jim, I was making dire predictions about your liver,” Len said, and the dinner broke up with laughter.
The next morning, John Grimm stood in the transporter room in his freshly-cleaned uniform, his gear already piled on the transporter pad. His grandson stood before him, uniformed in Starfleet science blue, looking every inch the officer and gentleman. He was also blushing like a school boy as he stood next to his captain, a man fairly golden and grinning and glowing with good humor. Since John had slept alone in McCoy’s room last night, he suspected he knew the reason for both men’s moods.
“John, keep in touch this time, ok?”
“You’ve got my comm code, Len, use it.” Age had to have some privileges, after all. One of them should be that a man’s descendants actually called him on occasion.
“I want us to coordinate our next shore leave together back on Earth. I want you to come meet Joanna.” McCoy took a deep breath and, not looking at either of them, said, “Both of you.”
John stepped forward and wrapped his arms around McCoy and spoke softly into his ear. “I’d like that a lot, Len. He’s a good man, your captain. You be happy now, you hear?”
“Yessir,” his grandson whispered and hugged him with strong arms.
When he was released, John turned to Captain Kirk. “You look after my boy, all right, Captain?”
The blue eyes met his and there was something of that yearning in them again. Without thinking about it, John reached out and drew the man into his arms.
“Take care of yourself, too, kid. Or at least let Len do it, Ok?”
“Yessir,” Kirk echoed McCoy’s reply, then released him and stood back.
As John turned to step up onto the pad, Kirk suddenly handed him a small bag.
“For later,” he said, all the shyer emotions hidden by the shiny grin now back in place. John could feel the square whiskey bottle under its wrapping and smiled slowly. Apparently, there were to be some compensations for losing a bet with James T. Kirk.
“I’ll see you boys in Georgia, then,” he said, then the swirl of transporter lights took him.
They were walking down the hall, away from the transporter room when McCoy realized that he was grinning like an idiot. Here he was, walking next to a man he'd been hiding too-long looks from longer than he'd like to remember, getting a hard-on in the hallway thinking of the things they'd done last night. Things they maybe shouldn't do again, if either of them had a lick of sense. However, experience had proven that neither of them does.
He shot a sideways look at Jim to find that he had a criminally smug look on his face, too. McCoy thought about calling him on it, but he had earned it. Jim Kirk could and had backed up every single claim he’d ever made about his bedroom prowess last night. Almost as good, he had been unstinting in his very vocal appreciation for any skills McCoy brought to the party as well.
“I’m going to miss him,” Jim said, hooking a thumb back over his shoulder toward the transporter room. Then something in his face changed, his eyes went smoky and half-lidded as he licked his lips slowly. “Or maybe I’ll just send John a thank-you note every time I get to do this,” he said in a low purr.
A hand on his shoulder spun him back against the wall, while another tucked itself behind his head to cushion it before it hit the panel. Then Jim kissed him, right there in the hallway, gossipy starship personnel walking past them pretending not to see what they will be urgently comming their friends about two seconds after they get around the bend of the corridor and neither of them gave a good goddamn.
Jim’s kiss could have been mistaken for shy, it was so slow. It was nearly gentle, almost chaste. The reality was that it was none of those things. Before Jim’s tongue even slipped fully past his lips, McCoy was melting for him. How in hell had the kid managed to hotwire McCoy’s body in one night? He had never responded to anyone else like this and he suspected that he never would.
Jim pulled back with a sigh that sounded so damned happy that McCoy wanted to cry for him. Leonard McCoy wasn’t such a great catch that one kiss from him should make someone sound like that. Then again, maybe Jim Kirk wasn’t either, and all McCoy wanted to do was to drag him somewhere private and do things to him that would make him sound like that forever. Do things, say things, be there for whatever comes along… Leonard McCoy knew what this was. And so did his four-times-great-grandfather.
John had said very little to him last night as they got ready for dinner, except, “Life is short, Len. Do what makes you happy. And if that’s Jim, then go for it.”
He was in love with Jim Kirk. He had had this before and it didn’t last. But somehow, deep in his bones, he knew that this will last. It was the same stupid sense of assurance that he had had before, too. But this time, he’s different. This time, he won’t let go.
He couldn’t, anyway. It’s Jim Kirk.
“See you tonight after shift?” he asked, trying to sound normal and failing miserably. He blamed the curve of his mouth and the sheen of Jim’s eyes.
“Count on it.”
And Leonard McCoy did.