They meet at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market just as it’s opening. The sky is pink and yellow and looks delicate as an eggshell. The breeze is cool and laced with salt. Jim feels somewhat like a secret agent on a mission. Winona looks like a secret agent on a mission, with her sunglasses, her iridescent trench coat, and her blond hair spilling over one shoulder. She removes her sunglasses, snaps them closed, and slides them into her coat pocket before opening her arms to him.
“Don’t want anyone to recognize you?” he teases as he hugs her indulgently.
“I just like the coat.”
She takes him by the wrists as they pull apart, studying him at arm’s length for several moments. She tips her head and frowns, but the light is behind her, and it makes her eyes difficult to read. “Hmm,” she says finally.
Jim feels a wary flutter in his stomach. “What?” he asks, not sure he wants to know.
“You look good,” Winona says. “But tired. Aren’t you getting enough sleep?”
“How much sleep did you get when you were a cadet?”
“Nice try. You need more sleep. Instructors working you pretty hard?”
“They try,” Jim says with a shrug.
Winona nods. “Good. You need a challenge.” She says it the way a doctor - not Bones, though - might say You need to start taking vitamin supplement X. With authority and some detachment.
Her tone reminds him of the fact that they’re still on somewhat shaky ground, and that it’s mostly his fault, even though she blames herself. Iowa ran out of challenges for him years ago, and since that time, she’s been exhorting him to do something with his life. Go to college, travel, find a career, find a legal hobby. He spent most of his adult life resisting her suggestions, only to accept Christopher Pike’s dare to join Starfleet. He knows it stings and he’s sorry. He doesn’t know why he does all the things he does; he only knows when something feels right.
Which reminds him of the reason they’re here.
“I have a challenge right now,” Jim says.
Winona drops his wrists. “Your friend.”
“My--” Jim falters and focuses on Winona’s right ear. “He’s more than a friend, okay?”
“Jim…” His name hangs in the air between them. Something should follow, but after a few moments, Winona closes her mouth and nods again.
Which, for whatever reason, makes Jim want to talk. About how Bones has no idea that Jim snuck out of their dorm early so he could meet his mother on the other side of the city. About how red Bones would get if he knew why Jim arranged this meeting. About the names Bones is likely to call him when he finds out - none of which he actually means, Jim hastens to add when the crease appears between Winona’s eyebrows. He goes on and on about pretty much everything related to Bones, except for how truly unsettling it is to see him so sick. Last night, he threw up and passed out. This morning he was feverish, shaking so hard under his blankets that his teeth were rattling. It’s wrong. Bones isn’t supposed to get sick. The sight of him huddled under his blankets, his eyes sunken deep in his pale face pretty much turned Jim’s world inside out.
“Okay, okay,” Winona cuts in finally, which is good because Jim can’t seem to find his off switch and it’s getting a little scary. She stands on her toes to clasp his face and kiss his cheek. “Jim, okay. I get it. Someday, I would really like to meet this doctor of yours. Meantime, I said I’d teach you my secret recipe and I will. It’s okay.” She kisses him again, then steps back. “Jim?” she says cautiously. “Okay?”
He breathes in deeply through his nostrils, holds it for five heartbeats, then exhales slowly through his mouth. “Yeah,” he says, feeling somewhat closer to normal. They have a plan and they are going to execute it. Bones has two Kirks taking care of him now. “Okay.”
“Good.” Winona links her arm with his. “Let’s do this mission.”
It’s late afternoon by the time Jim returns to the dorm. Bones is still in bed, seemingly asleep. The sunlight streaming through the window lends some color to his cheeks, but not much. At least his breathing doesn’t sound quite as harsh as it did this morning, Jim thinks as he sets the soup on the desk, then strips down to his boxers and t-shirt. He climbs into bed next to Bones, careful not to jounce the mattress or put his knees on any blanket-covered body parts.
Bones’s skin is still searing, he notes as he cups his face between his hands. “Bones.” He kisses the bruised-looking eyelids, then his forehead. “Bones, wake up.”
Bones whines softly, but otherwise he doesn’t stir. Jim frowns. It’s kind of a shame to wake him, but he hasn’t eaten anything in at least twelve hours; he needs nutrition. Keeping his voice low-pitched and gentle, he tries again. “C’mon, Bones. C’mon, it’s me. Wake up for me.” He strokes his fingers through the matted brown hair and presses more gentle kisses to the hot, dry skin.
The damp lashes twitch, then rise sluggishly to reveal glassy, red-rimmed hazel eyes. “Hey,” Bones croaks. Okay, no, he doesn’t sound any better than he did this morning.
“Hey,” echoes Jim, beaming at him as he climbs up onto his knees. The sunlight feels good against the back of his neck. “I made you soup.” And he did, he thinks proudly. Winona picked out all the ingredients and told him what to do, but he did all the actual cooking. Bones is sick, which is at least twenty different kinds of wrong, but Jim did something.
As if sensing Jim’s thoughts or at least his mood, Bones struggles, then finally manages to disentangle one hand from his cocoon of blankets. Beckoning Jim closer, he wheezes, “C’mere.”
Jim ducks his head and accepts the dry, chaste kisses that Bones presses to his lips and cheek. While he watches, half-amused, Bones rolls his eyes and points to his throat, as if to say I can’t really talk right now, sorry.
Jim murmurs soothingly as he hugs Bones, tangling their limbs in the blankets between them. They lie together like that for a little while, Bones breathing slowly and thickly against his neck, his lips just barely grazing Jim’s shoulder.
Jim could lie like this forever. But his mission this morning will be meaningless if he does. “Soup,” he says, patting Bones’s hip. “It’ll make your throat feel better.”
Bones whispers, “If you catch this and lose your voice, it’ll all be worth it.”
Jim laughs and claps his palm over Bones’s mouth, then leans in to kiss the back of his own hand.
Bones scowls up at him, albeit weakly.
“Soup,” Jim repeats, turning his wrist and ghosting the back of his hand over Bones’s lips.
Jim strokes his hair. “The soup that I made for you. That I gathered the ingredients for and assembled while you were asleep.”
Apparently Bones can never be too miserable to raise an eyebrow at him skeptically. Jim traces it with his fingertips.
“All by yourself, kid?”
For a moment, Jim actually considers lying. Then he shakes his head. “I know my limits.”
Bones’s explosion of laughter crumbles very quickly into a painful sounding cough.
“Shh, shh,” Jim murmurs, wrapping his arms around Bones’s shoulders and draping himself back over him like another blanket. He wishes he could just give Bones his body heat, just hand it to him, the way he’s handed him pretty much everything else. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”
Bones curls against him, snuffling unhappily against the collar of his t-shirt. When he speaks, his voice is so low and scratchy that Jim almost misses the words.
“You … asked for help?”
Jim can’t blame the sudden warmth in his cheeks on the burnished afternoon sunlight. “Yeah,” he admits, rubbing his cheek against Bones’s, and getting scratched by his stubble. His lips find the hectic pulse at Bones’s throat. “Only for you, though,” he whispers.
He feels Bones smile against his collarbone.
Mission accomplished, he supposes.