Jim’s gaze follows Spock as he backs away from the bed, scrutinizes Bones, and executes a precise heel turn that any true military organization would be proud of. Bones, in turn, watches Spock’s departure with more concentration than Jim has seen him expend on Spock. Jim can't help but speculate on the possibility he woke up in a parallel dimension where Spock and Bones share a connection in which Jim doesn't factor.
He has no idea what it means.
Before Jim can question him, Bones blinks and twists away to catch another glimpse of Jim’s monitors. He continues to avoid looking at Jim despite Jim’s focused stare, the passive aggressive equivalent of waving his hands above his head and shouting for attention. No response even though he’s always been sensitive to Jim’s scrutiny. He just makes another notation on his PADD—how many notations does one file need anyway?—and hums to himself.
“Bones!” Jim says once impatience gets the better of him. He clips the name to nothing, using his Displeased Captain’s voice to get his point across; it does the trick admirably.
“Yeah, Jim?” Bones answers, graciously flicking a fleeting glance in Jim’s direction.
Okay, so maybe it only does the trick adequately. But results drive Jim. As long as he gets his way, it doesn’t matter to what degree it happens. He’ll count this as a win. At least Bones has acknowledged him.
“What’s with Spock?” Jim asks, squinting as he points between Bones and the door. “And you. And the furtive looks.”
Bones snickers. Actually snickers. And shakes his head. And ignores Jim’s demand for information. “Get some rest, Jim.”
“You do know Spock and Uhura are, like, serious, right?” That will get a rise out of Bones.
“I am aware,” he answers, amused of all things, voice pitched low as his eyes remain glued to his PADD.
“So last I checked you don’t scope out the involved.” In fact, Bones doesn’t scope anyone out at all. He dated at the Academy, but he never went in for coy displays of intent. He approaches love with the same no-nonsense dedication to straightforwardness he applies to everything else in his life. And that’s why Jim never tried anything though he’d have liked to. Bones gives off no cues he’s got a shred of romantic interest in you until he’s asking you out on a date. And he’s never agonized over the asking either. He doesn’t pine and he doesn’t long and he’s not into Spock. Just like he’s not into Jim.
“Well,” Bones says. He swipes his finger across his PADD, not even pretending to play into Jim’s hand. “He’s just so handsome. It’s enough to look at him occasionally.”
Jim’s head falls back against his pillow in defeat. There are times Jim can bend Bones to his will, usually when it’s important, but sometimes when it’s not, too. This is not one of those times. Bones can be obnoxiously tight lipped when it comes to keeping other people’s business to himself. Whatever’s going on between him and Spock will stay between him and Spock. He’s where gossip goes to die: a black hole from which gossip never escapes. That makes him an excellent confidante, but lost causes have a better chance of succeeding than Jim does of getting information out of Bones at this moment.
“You’re the worst, Bones,” Jim says. His plaintive delivery turns the words from a vicious complaint to a pathetic whine. He deploys the wide-eyed stare that has never worked in a last ditch effort to get Bones to spill. You’d think Jim’s brush with death would make Bones more malleable.
You’d be wrong.
Bones does pat him on the shoulder though, hand lingering with absent comfort against the joint. “I know, kid. I know.”
Leonard doesn’t pray: too much has gone wrong in his life to make the thought of prayer palatable. A horrible way to think about it, he’s well aware. But sometimes things are the way they are and no amount of hoping can make it otherwise. He looks around at Spock and Uhura and Dr. Marcus, the platoon of security officers arrayed around Khan fucking Singh, and wishes he could explain how they reached this point. Dead captains and deadlier terrorists within feet of each other.
Instead he jerks his head at the door. “Out. The lot of you.”
“Doctor, that’s not—” one of the security personnel, Yi, says. She steps closer to Khan and holds her phaser more securely.
“Do as he says,” Spock answers, herding the crowd out with his proclamation alone. Once the room clears—no one but Leonard is prone to arguing with Spock by the looks of it—Leonard turns his attention to Khan and tries to ignore the taste of bile in the back of his throat.
“I am surprised to see you again so soon, Doctor,” Khan says from his place on the edge of a biobed.
“That makes two of us,” Leonard says as he readies his syringe. He prepares to draw enough blood to exsanguinate the bastard if he has to and takes a deep breath to steady himself. He never expected to be in a position like this, so far beyond the scope of what he supposed a doctor to be that it’s not in the same galaxy as truly proper. He risks a glance at Jim’s cryotube and reminds himself that Khan isn’t—he’s done—
Khan is still a person. Leonard refuses to believe otherwise no matter how easy it would make things. His hands don’t get the memo, though, because they don’t shake. Looks like physical dexterity will see him through when his own conscience won’t. Dispassion shouldn’t rule his limbs any more than it should shackle his mind, but here he is, the picture of outward calm.
“I had wondered if that tribble of yours would offer up my secret,” Khan continued, staring at Jim’s cryotube with mild curiosity. “But even I didn’t know I could cure death. How lucky for you.”
Khan builds his words on a bedrock of innuendo that makes Leonard’s skin crawl.
“You have a high opinion of yourself,” Leonard says, inspecting the syringe in his hands. His eyes catch on the manacles around Khan’s wrists.
Khan smiles. “So your precious captain isn’t dead?”
“That’s none of your concern.”
Khan tsks at him, all condescension and pity. Leonard wants to stab the asshole on principle. All the more reason why he must tread carefully. Leonard’s more cynical parts wonder if Khan wants to rile him as a self-protective measure or because he actually wants to goad him into action.
Leonard’s hands curl into fists at his side. Every moment he delays feels like the moment he loses Jim for good. And he can’t afford that, can’t waste time worrying about his motives and ethics now, can’t when his answer is right here in front of him.
“You’re quite the risk-taker, Doctor,” Khan continues in that accent-slow voice of his. “Just what are you planning to do with me?”
“You’re an augment who took out a bunch of Klingons. I’m not sure Starfleet’s finest could stop you if you wanted to snap my neck. So if you want to, go ahead. I sure as hell can’t stop you. But I’m not the risk-taker you think I am,” Leonard says, busying himself with his equipment. He won’t think about the second question too closely. “And I don't have much of a plan besides doing what I have to do.”
Khan pivots his head back and forth, conciliatory, and holds out his arm without further comment. Leonard takes vial after vial of blood, unsure how much or how little he’ll need. He suspects even Khan would be of no use at this point. He said it himself; this is beyond his acumen, too. And what does that make Leonard, going where Khan never ventured?
“There,” Leonard says, releasing Khan’s forearm after a glacial age passes. A long row of blood samples extend across the length of the tray in obsessive order.
Khan lowers his eyes. “I could stop you from doing this to me,” he says. “In fact, I admire your courage in going forward despite that fact.”
“Didn’t I just say that?” Leonard rolls his eyes, despite the unwelcome sense of relief Khan’s words offer. He hadn’t needed to resort to force to get the samples, to learn firsthand just how far he’d go for them. He’s grateful for the cooperation despite his discomfort with it, too. Begs too many questions. Khan only does what benefits Khan. How does giving up his blood accomplish that? His arms cross over his chest and unease winds its way snakelike through his body. “What’s your angle, Khan? I have no time for flattery.”
“I have a request, Doctor,” Khan says, reaching his point with good time, making the word request into a demand. The only reason Leonard hears him out is because he’s already given Leonard what he wants. It’s too late to bargain. And though Leonard is in no mood, he’s got this much time.
“Put me back into stasis.”
Leonard’s thoughts stutter to a halt. Out of all the things he’d expected, this isn’t one of them. He’d assumed they’d keep him under armed guard until they could move him to a more permanent and secure location. He hadn't considered the possibility stasis offers. “Why would I do that?”
“For the safety of you and everyone around you?” Khan points out, too reasonably. “For that matter, do you trust me with Starfleet while I’m awake?”
“Even if we put you in a cryotube, what’s to stop Starfleet from popping the lock on you whenever they feel like it?”
“Oh, I have an idea,” Khan admits and the smile that contorts his face at that admission sends trickles of cold fear through Leonard.
Leonard straightens, bolstering his spine with steel. What else can they possibly do with Khan at this point anyway? Maybe Spock will have a better plan. “I’ll have to talk it over with Spock.”
Please let him have a better plan.
Bones strolls into Jim’s room at 08:30 like clockwork, same as yesterday and the three days before that. He’s already deep into his readouts as he walks in. And how he manages to walk through bustling halls and not run into someone or something is beyond Jim’s understanding. Must be a doctor thing.
“Consider yourself sprung,” he says, waving his PADD at Jim. “I can’t find anything wrong with you.”
Spock follows behind in full dress uniform, crisper and better pressed than usual. Compared to Spock, and Bones, too, whose slacks have creases that could cut a person, Jim feels like the last pair of sweats before laundry day. They sure do punish patients with ugly clothes in here.
Bones tosses him a canvas bag and when he opens it, he sees his favorite pair of jeans and a worn white t-shirt. Jim smiles up at him. “Thanks, Bones,” he says.
Bones coughs his response into his fist.
Jim hops to his feet and tugs on the jeans before either of his visitors can turn away. He loses the ridiculous hospital gown with joy and shrugs easily into the soft cotton t-shirt. It stretches over his shoulders, comfortable and familiar. He pats his stomach muscles, tightening and relaxing them in turn under his palm.
Bones actually arches his eyebrow at this display and glances down at his PADD. “Huh,” he says, disconcerted by something in Jim’s readout. After a moment, he shrugs it off. “Guess that explains the weight gain.”
“What?” Jim asks, pulling at the shirt, as his heart rate jumps. He looks fine. Bones wouldn’t take away his discharge because of his weight.
“I believe the doctor has become aware that you have gained approximately three pounds of muscle during your stay in the hospital,” Spock answers. Twin pairs of eyes scrutinize him for his observation, but he goes on with only the slightest wash of color on his cheeks. “It is merely an observation, Captain. That is, I believe, your favored off-duty apparel and while it fit snugly before—”
“It fits three pounds’ worth of muscle more snugly now. Thanks, Spock.” He pokes himself in the abdomen and then his arm. Huh.
Spock inclines his head. “Indeed.”
“The computer’s right, Jim. Both of them,” Bones says, pinning Jim with a glare, as though it’s his fault he’s suddenly more cut when Bones is the responsible party here. “Don’t get used to it. We have no idea how long this side effect will last.”
“Maybe it’s permanent,” Jim says and maybe he’ll stop by the gym before he heads home—wherever home is now—see how three pounds of muscle look like under some weights. He bounces on his toes in anticipation.
“Maybe we’ll have to rethink your fitness and dietary regiment then,” Bones answers back smartly. “Whatever the case may be, you’re free to go. I secured you the apartment next to mine. Spock knows where it is. He’ll take you. And you’d better not do what you're thinking about doing.”
“You have no idea what I was thinking.” Jim turns to look at Spock, though he spares one mischievous glance at Bones, too. Bones returns the stare with blank incomprehension. Goddamn. The guy still won’t react to Jim’s taunts. He presses on anyway. “You’ve been to Bones’s apartment, Spock?”
Spock straightens a little at that, his attention brushing Bones’s way for a moment. On anyone but Spock it would look like discomfort. “Indeed. Dr. McCoy has been most accommodating to Nyota and me.”
Bones elbows Jim in the arm. “Uhura and I are teaching him five-card stud. Trying to anyway. It’s an ongoing project.”
“It is a most fascinating game. Illogical, of course, and therefore in keeping with my understanding of human behavior.”
A warning shot across the bow. Jim’s scrutiny volleys to Bones, who has to be working himself up to a righteous takedown.
“You’re just mad that Uhura outed you as a cheat yesterday. It’s okay. I won’t hold it against you. It’s human nature to win by any means necessary after all. Just ask Jim here.” Bones waves his hand dismissively at Jim. “He counts cards, too.”
“Hey,” Jim says, wounded. And trying to ignore the fact that they play cards without him.
“You explained that poker is a game of skill. It is only logical—”
Bones crosses his arms and rocks back on his heels. “Maybe it is. But it’s still cheating and it’ll still get you kicked out of a casino. Since it’s against the rules, it would be logical to abandon the practice. And yet you persist… particularly when I’m whuppin’ your ass. Sounds pretty human to me. But what do I know? I’m just a doctor.”
Unlike every other argument Jim has witnessed between Bones and Spock, this one almost sounds like banter. They are bantering. Jim can’t believe it even though he’s experiencing it right at this moment. Maybe it’s a hallucination brought on by Bones’s unorthodox treatment.
“False humility will not help your case,” Spock answers, short and prim.
“Guys?” Jim asks, cutting in because that sounded like a compliment and a concession. Spock has issued a compliment and admitted possible wrongdoing. From the smile—smile?!—on Bones’s face, he knows it, too. This isn’t a hallucination; this must be death. Jim’s dead. He’s just imagining this whole exchange from the afterlife.
Compliment or not, it shuts Bones up and makes him flush a becoming shade of red. Bones then clears his throat and turns away as though that’ll destroy the evidence of his reaction. Too late, Bones.
“Get the captain out of my hospital, would you, Spock?” Bones demands, gruff. “I need the space for actual sick people.”
“Aww, Bones. You don’t think I’m sick?” Jim asks.
“Not in any way I can cure you of,” Bones lobs back.
Jim grins. Fair enough. He’s happy to skedaddle. Just in case Bones does change his mind.
The game of musical cryotubes Leonard plays in order to give Khan what he wants picks at his desire to get to work on Jim. He has better things to do than defrost human popsicles and then make sure they’re kept in a coma so he doesn’t do them any unnecessary damage. But he needs to get Khan back into stasis sooner rather than later and he can’t give Khan Jim’s cryotube until Leonard’s got a serum worth a damn.
Leonard glares needles as sharp as the abominable syringe Khan had insisted he use to administer the drug cocktail that Khan assures him is necessary to put someone of his particular constitution under. He goes along with it because he wants this bullshit over with. He’s jumpy with Khan’s continued presence in his medbay. His angry bravado has abandoned him. And Khan’s liable to stab him with something the longer he’s up and about. Or maybe he’ll rethink his decision or try to take over the ship or break Leonard’s spine for the hell of it. Anything could go wrong.
“You might consider giving this to your friend, Commander Spock,” Khan says, pulling a small square of plastic from Lord knows where. Leonard has no idea what it is, but obsolete might begin to cover it. “You might also consider wiping all identifying information from the cryotubes before returning them to Starfleet Headquarters. Just a suggestion.”
Leonard takes the… chip? Drive? Whatever. He tries to act like it’s not going to blow up in his hands, but it’s hard going. He places the thing on a nearby table and sends it rolling away with a slight push from his foot. Doesn’t make it far enough to save him if the thing does explode, but he feels better anyway. “That’s your big plan?” he asks, dubious. “What’s in it for you?”
“The only thing I ever wanted, Dr. McCoy: peace.”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever you say,” he answers, drawing the words out in disbelief. There are a lot of things Leonard feels sure Khan wants, but peace can’t possibly be one of them. But Leonard doesn’t have it in him to argue. Instead, he administers the drugs exactly as specified. He’d nearly nixed the whole thing when Khan demanded the use of the old-fashioned syringe and needle combination. Barbaric. “Guess it’s a good thing I’m a paranoid sonuvabitch, Mr. Khan. Not too many doctors keep these things around just because.”
Whatever Khan’s really planning, it’s out of Leonard’s hands now. In any case, Leonard calms a bit once Khan slumps back. He turns his attention to John Q. War Criminal, some nobody from one of the other cryotubes, and sets about getting that guy out of there unscathed. That's one thing he knows how to do by now anyway.
Jim follows Spock into his apartment and darts for the large window on the opposite side of the room. He hasn’t had much of a chance to see the damage Khan did, just newsvids and holos, but three weeks out the San Francisco skyline bears fast-healing scars. Myriad construction projects have mushroomed up across the bay, making quick work of the damage. Spock remains in the center of the room, uninterested in the view. He waits for Jim to look his fill though.
“Dr. McCoy argued in favor of these accommodations,” Spock offers once Jim turns around. “It bears the least violent view of the city.” Then he glances at another door that looks as though it leads to the apartment on the other side, like this is a hotel rather than an apartment complex. Jim walks over and keys the door open. He’d guessed correctly. He wonders how long Bones looked for this place. No doubt he vetted it himself. Jim knocks thoughtfully at the door with his knuckles; it’s probably the only reason Jim’s not bunking with Bones for the duration of his medical leave. Bones has always made it clear that Jim has a right to some privacy while he recuperates from his injuries, but even Jim would have a hard time arguing with Bones if he had demanded a stricter definition of the word observation under the circumstances.
“The place is fine, Spock,” Jim says. “Anywhere with a real bed is fine with me.”
“That’s what Nyota said before she rescinded her offer of assistance in locating a suitable apartment. However, the doctor made it clear he would not settle ‘for just any damned place in San Francisco.’”
Jim huffs in amusement and wags his finger at Spock. “Not a bad impression of Bones, there, Spock. You should look into going pro. But whatever. Uhura is softening up in her old age, Spock. I think she might like me.”
“She is 25, hardly entering her prime. Your precision leaves something to be desired.”
Jim smiles and suppresses the urge to sigh at Spock. Spock is like Bones; he’ll never cut Jim any slack. Jim wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s saved all of their asses on multiple occasions no matter how infuriating it can be. “Keep fighting the good fight, Spock.”
“I believe all I will do at this moment is leave you to your rest,” Spock answers distractedly, looking around the room as though unsure how to conduct himself out. But then he hitches his shoulders and nods, satisfied apparently, with it at least if nothing else.
Once Spock makes himself scarce, Jim scrutinizes the room with closer attention. It’s an apartment. And Jim’s sentimentality has never extended to his possessions, so the fact that it’s bare matters little. It’s the people closest to him that matter. And living next to Bones. That’s pretty close.
He bores of investigating—fridge full of food, a box of clothes in the bedroom, knick-knacks lined up on the desk in the office—and decides to inspect Bones’s apartment. Bones wouldn’t have left the adjoining door unlocked if he wanted Jim to stay out. He locks drawers and doors and keeps his PADD password protected at a level that makes it impossible to hack even if Jim had the time if not the inclination. An unlocked door is an open invitation; he has no scruples about entering.
Jim frowns at what he sees, which is a whole lot more nothing than Jim's apartment boasts. There's some furniture, but no vidscreen, not even an unopened box to suggest Bones lives here or had his stuff brought over. And the furniture isn’t to Bones’s taste; it’s sleek and stark, metal and glass, and grey upholstery, like he hasn’t bothered to have it exchanged for something more comfortable. The first thing Bones had done on the Enterprise was change the crisp white sheets to the well-cared for flannel he’d had all through the Academy. Jim can’t imagine why Bones would keep his home like this.
Leonard stares at the last in a long line of failed simulations. Frustration prickles in the corners of his aching eyes. Exhaustion blears the figures and forms oscillating on the glass display before him. He’s never floundered so fully over so important an experiment before. Stuck at square one. Again. This bullshit has fought him at every turn and he almost wishes Khan was still around just so he’d have someone to yell at. The relief at having Khan out of his hair only lasted through the first night when he still believed all that fancy training he got would see him through. Now that it’s almost thirty-six hours later he’s ready to punch a wall and question the medical discipline as a whole.
“Doctor, may I be of assistance?” Spock asks. Leonard jumps at the sudden sound Spock’s invasion of his lab causes. His heart all but ricochets around the room at the disruption. He hadn’t even heard the door slide open. He’s had zero contact, human or otherwise, except to give useless updates every few hours and he’s already slid into old customs, grown intimate with the silence that pervades the lab. Funny how quickly these habits have roared back to life. It’s just him and Jim and that damned cryotube. Pamela would laugh herself sick if she knew.
“No,” Leonard says simply, swiping at the screen and resetting the simulation for a new configuration. He punches at the glass with more vehemence than necessary, but he has to admit he needs to relieve at least some of his stress somehow. If abusing the display works, he’s going with it. He turns to a second simulation and repeats the action. He checks both and starts them before he gives Spock more of his attention. He spins the chair and looks up. “Whatever interference you’re running for me with Starfleet is help enough.”
“That has been an easy enough task to accomplish,” Spock says.
Leonard arches his eyebrow. “Yeah, I’m sure. And just how’s a trustworthy Vulcan like you managing to keep Starfleet off my tail without giving up what I’m doing?”
“Can you not guess, Doctor?”
“I can guess a whole host of things you could’ve done. They all involve lying.” He crosses his arms. “But ‘Vulcans do not lie.’”
“And as I’ve asserted in the past, I am half-human.”
“Right, well. I don’t really want to know,” Leonard answers.
“That is wise,” Spock answers. “Perhaps it would have been even more so had you not asked to begin with.”
“Never claimed to be a wise man, Spock,” Leonard says, risking a glance at this latest round of numbers. The computer’s still chomping away at them, but it’s not looking good. Just another dead Jim staring back at him in the mathematics.
Right now Jim has nothing much to do, not even an appointment with Starfleet Medical to suffer through. He has no desire nor reason to go out, so he heads over to Bones’s apartment and watches the city from Bones’s window. The view isn’t any different—not that Jim expects it to be—and he finds himself inspired by San Francisco’s resiliency. It has continued to conduct its business despite the havoc wreaked upon it. He takes comfort from that, knowing if San Francisco can recover from so much, then so can he. He wonders what it was like in those first days, if it had seemed bleak and hopeless and overwhelming, when he’d been dead and comatose in turns.
And he had been dead. The minute Bones had given him a PADD he’d abused the thing to hell and back for access to his charts and all associated reports. He’d expected a three-thousand page door jamb laying out the exact nature of Jim’s idiocy, but that wasn’t what he'd gotten. Instead, he'd had bloat, medical lingo and statistics. And Jim had to admit the paucity of material, the lack of specificity in anything but pure numbers, had surprised him. Bones has never been the kind of doctor who lets the raw data speak for him. He explains his way to a clear conclusion that anyone, medically trained or not, could understand. Jim, genius though he’s purported to be, had a hard time understanding any of it. But with four days of hospital-bound recuperation under his belt, he'd figured it out.
Officially, Jim’d received a near-fatal dose of radiation, had flat-lined in the medbay and Bones had determined the best course of action was to stick him in stasis so he had time to come up with something better than a hope and a prayer. Okay, fine. Jim's been known to stretch the truth himself. Khan’s serum had enjoyed a reference. A long analysis of its properties contrasted with the Harewood child’s had followed—including Bones's belief that further therapeutic development would be a waste of time considering the source and the less than perfectly successful facsimile he had stumbled upon. Makes sense. Who wants to give Starfleet a reason to study a homicidal superhuman with a grudge?
There’d been no mention of the warp core failure.
He’s going to have to talk to Bones about that. Starfleet’s going to find out about it when they analyze the Enterprise’s data recorders. And they’re smart enough to put two and two together. And when they do, they won’t be happy about Bones’s misdirection.
Maybe now’s the time to bring that up. He’d hesitated before, not wanting to load Bones up with more worries while Jim was still in the hospital. He glances at the chronometer on the wall, another artifact that perfectly matches the surrounding décor and is nothing like what Bones would pick for himself. Bones should be on his way soon according to the schedule he’d left with Jim in case Jim needed anything.
He calls in an order to some Thai restaurant down the street and leaves Bones a message on his comm. Taking a detour into his own apartment, he grabs his keycard and wallet. And then he commands the computer to keep the door between their apartments retracted.
Bones’ll know what it means.
“God dammit.” Leonard slams his hand against the table. Jim’s cryotube doesn’t budge despite the force with which Leonard acts. His palm numbs briefly before warmth throbs up his hand and makes his body’s displeasure with his abuse known. “It’s never gonna be easy with you, is it, Jim?”
Jim doesn’t answer. Leonard can’t even see his face through the frosted-up glass anymore. The cryotube looks more and more like a coffin the longer Leonard fails.
Jim deposits the take-out on the counter and pulls his comm from his pocket. No messages. Not that he’s surprised. He hadn’t heard so much as a beep out of it since he ventured out into the late afternoon sun.
Bones’ll show up eventually or he’ll call Jim back. In the meantime, Jim commandeers the couch and stares at nothing while he eats his pad see ewe. No reason for the surprisingly comfortable piece of furniture to go to waste after all.
Failure after failure flashes across Leonard’s screens. Each round punishes him with poor results. Like a gambler, he can’t bring himself to stop for a moment; each new opportunity feels like The One. And every look at the cryotube sends him frantically searching for a better answer. The right answer. The answer that will bring Jim back. He’s not sure how his hands haven’t started shaking. With as many stims as he’s injected himself with, he should be bouncing. His heart has given up racing and settled into a perpetual buzz that probably should worry him more. Or he’s gotten so used to the frantic heartbeats that they’ve receded in his awareness.
By the time his simulations return one positive result, a long chain of molecules that flash green and gold at him rather than the varying shades of red he’s used to, he almost swipes the data away before he can stop himself. It’s already a habitual action. His hand hovers over the touchscreen as he reads the output. When he notices how close his hand is to the screen, he quickly pulls it away. It falls atop his thigh where it will safely avoid destroying almost two days of work.
He slumps forward, jamming his elbows against his desk as he laces his fingers behind his head and gulps air, trying to bring himself back down from the stratosphere now that he has what he needs.
“Son of a bitch,” Leonard says hoarsely, out of breath, pulse hammering against his neck and wrists, even his abdomen. He pushes his chair back and bends nearly in half in something approaching the same position he used to need whenever he took a shuttle. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he whispers, rubbing at his eyes with his knuckles.
Now that he has an answer, he realizes he’d never really believed he’d figure it out. He’d gone on instinct and autopilot and hadn’t for a moment thought this would work. Laughter sticks in his throat, gummed up by the panic that won’t recede. He tries to punch the command into the computer that will take Khan’s blood and synthesize the serum, but he can’t quite do it. His index finger stops inches away from the screen. Taking a shaky breath, he looks back at that cryotube before he shuts his eyes and bridges the distance to the comm unit on the wall, committing to the course blind. “Jim, you’d better hope I’m actually as smart as I like to think I am,” Leonard says.
He punches the talk button. “Spock, I’m gonna need some help down here.”
Jim buries himself in engineering reports while he waits, content to get something approaching work done. At least it feels like work going through Scotty’s ever-lengthening list of grievances masquerading as reports. And every new page seizes Jim’s heart. He’s so engrossed in the task that he actually startles when he hears the beep of the card reader and the whoosh of the door. The sounds scatter Jim’s thoughts as he looks up. He relaxes against the back of the couch and pretends he has every right to be here at—he glances at the chronometer—01:24. Where the fuck has Bones been? He whips open his comm. And why didn’t Bones ever message him back?
Jim opens his mouth to complain, but he stops himself because Bones looks like hell. The shadows under his eyes extend so wide and long they all but swallow his face. He’s too out of it to cover immediately, to limit the damage such openness accrues when you have a best friend to worry about you. Then the veneer of sardonic prickliness he wears like a shield rights everything and Bones is Bones again.
“Figured you’d be out celebrating your freedom,” Bones says, dropping his shit in the doorway. Jim can’t even find it in himself to be angry that he’s spent half his life waiting for Bones to come home, that he reminds himself of a dog who'd just sit and wait by the road for an owner who'd never come to get him. He knew a dog like that when he was a kid. But Bones doesn’t just leave his stuff in the first convenient location he stumbles across. As annoyed as Jim wants to be, he can’t, not when Bones is only pretending to be himself.
“Celebrating’s overrated,” Jim answers neutrally. “Besides, you told me not to.”
“When have you ever said that? And when have you ever listened to me?” he asks, dropping onto the couch next to Jim, closer than Bones usually sits, warming the space between them with his proximity. “Maybe I let you go too soon. Sure you’re feeling okay?” Bones lifts his hand to Jim’s forehead as though to check his temperature. Jim’s not sure if the action is meant to be sarcastic or sincere. Bones has always been a mass of contradictions with regard to his caregiving philosophy. He knows the ins and outs of ancient medical practices and slanders them as barbaric, all while that knowledge has saved them a time or two in the course of pear-shaped away missions. And yet he almost instinctively makes a move parents the world over have probably been using for centuries. But Bones is all about drama, too. He’s probably just trying to make a point.
“I’m fine,” Jim answers, batting Bones’s hand away and glaring ineffectually, “as you well know.”
“I’m never as sure of that fact as you seem to think I am, Jim,” Bones says. “But point taken. I wouldn’t much be in the mood for celebrating either.”
Jim glances sideways at him, telling himself it’s not worth trying to pick the fight that’s gnawing its way through his chest cavity. Jim’s not good at worrying about people, especially Bones, who doesn’t need to be fretted over most of the time. Of course, that just means when Jim does need to worry, it’s for good reason. Like now. “What would you be in the mood for then?”
Bones’s eyebrows knit together in confusion. That’s a good sign. Means whatever Bones is doing he’s at least not doing it on purpose. “You lost me.”
“This place looks uninhabited.”
“Oh,” Bones answers easy, like it’s nothing. “That. Been busy, kid.”
“Yeah, you know. Curing death, watching you sleep, making sure you stay in bed when you wake up. You know, busy. As in not having time to make sure my apartment is the right amount of lived in for your persnickety ass.”
“Uh huh. And what about now that you’ve done all of that?”
Bones cuts a sly, too knowing, look in Jim’s direction as though he can see through Jim’s bullshit into something Jim’s not sure exists. Whatever he sees there it keeps him from yelling at Jim for being a jerk.
“We all gotta pay our lumps, Jim,” he says, levering himself to his feet. “Now get to bed, will you? I’m not treating you for mental exhaustion and I’m not much up for entertainin’.”
“I need to get him to Starfleet Medical. He’s stable, but who knows how long it’ll last,” Leonard says, tapping his fingers against his biceps. Spock watches Jim’s nearly motionless body with no small measure of fascination. Leonard allows him a moment to marvel; Leonard’s not above doing so himself. He still can’t quite believe it every time Jim’s chest rises and falls in a living pattern. He can’t quite believe it even though he watched it happen for five minutes straight while Spock looked over his work. “My notes have to be scrubbed, Spock.”
“I can accomplish that task for you, Doctor,” Spock says, finally turning his attention back to Leonard. “Medical transport is waiting for you in the shuttle bay and the hospital has been alerted of your imminent arrival.”
Leonard moves toward Jim and then stops, giving Spock the look that Jim calls his Cadet Special, guaranteed to make cadets cry or your money back. “You’ll destroy all of it? No chance of anyone in Starfleet getting hold of them?”
“I could quote the precise statistical likelihood, but it is so small as to be nonexistent. I assure you, Starfleet will not find out.” Spock nods with all the graveness of a full-blooded Vulcan. Leonard relaxes for maybe the first time in two days. Spock wouldn’t exude that much certitude if he couldn’t deliver it. Leonard can live with small statistical likelihoods. All things considered, he should be used to them by now.
“Good,” Leonard says absently. “That’s good.”
“Indeed.” Spock gestures toward the door. “As you said, Doctor, time is short. Perhaps we should go?”
“Yeah. Right. Of course.” Leonard shakes his head and wipes his hands on his trousers. “Lead on.”
Jim kicks the toes of his shoes against the rug just inside the door before pulling them off and leaving them in the flakes of mud accumulating around them. Between all the construction and the rain that won’t stop for more than a half a day at a time it’s a wonder he hasn’t tracked more dirt in. It’s a mess out there, but a much improved mess according to Bones. From up here everything looks better, sure, but getting down into it, seeing all the incongruous chunks of metal and broken glass and other detritus at street level, it’s harder to reach that conclusion.
The impromptu memorials that dot various streets and street corners haven’t help. Bright flowers and balloons, cards and pictures and people, punctuate the city at regular intervals. And he’d stopped at every one of them he'd crossed as he'd walked home from his appointment with Dr. Dehner. If anyone had recognized him, they’d ignored the fact and gone about their business.
He’s lucky. And he would do well to remember and honor that fact. Dehner had agreed with him, which he supposes means he’s got the right idea about the whole thing. It’s been hard, though, with Bones occupying so many of this thoughts.
He unwinds his scarf and drapes it over one of the hooks by the door. As he walks across the carpet in his socks he hears laughter drift through the now permanently open connecting door.
Jim has to investigate now. He peeks in and knocks on the wall inside Bones’s apartment. Uhura, Spock, and Bones all look in his direction at once. Uhura and Bones smile widely at him, pleased with his appearance. Spock’s the only one who looks like he’s got two sticks shoved up his ass rather than the usual one.
“Oh, hey, Jim,” Bones says, relaxed and happy, voice well into a normal register instead of the perpetual growl Bones adopts most of the time. He motions at Jim from the table they all are seated around. “Come on in. Figured you’d be along sometime. Told Uhura and Spock to stick around.”
“I didn’t realize you’d be having company, Bones,” Jim says, spotting an unopened deck of cards on the table. Huh. That’s nice. Bones still hasn't played any cards with him. Not lately anyway. “Uhura, good to see you. Likewise, Spock.”
“Captain,” Spock says, inclining his head.
The sound of his title coming out of Spock’s mouth irks him. He’d actually thought they’d gotten somewhere in the hospital… and before. “Jim, Spock. Call me Jim. I’ll be a captain again once Bones here clears me for active duty. Isn’t that right, Bones?”
“Seventeen days and counting,” Bones answers easily. He slides the empty chair to his left in Jim’s direction with his foot. “Pull up a chair in the meantime.”
“Don’t mind if I do.” Then Jim looks at Spock again. “Seriously, Spock, you might as well get used to saying my name. It’s the more accurate moniker at the moment anyway.”
Bones stands and gives Jim’s shoulder a squeeze before walking into the kitchen. “Get you anything, Jim?”
“Whatever you’re having is fine,” Jim says. “If you’re having anything.”
Bones returns with an empty snifter and a decanter of something vaguely familiar. The bent neck bottle holds some memory for Jim, but he can’t recall where he’s seen it before.
“More for you, Uhura?” Bones asks, tilting the bottle back and forth, after he fills Jim’s snifter with the pale liquid.
She steers her glass across the table, fingers pushing it around by the base. “Why the hell not?”
“That’s the spirit,” Bones says, tipping a generous portion into her glass. “What about you, Spock? Some of that tea you like so much?” He winks at Uhura, who hides a grin behind her now raised drink.
Tea? Bones makes tea now? Like, real tea? Because somehow Spock doesn’t seem like the type of guy who’d appreciate the tea-flavored sugar Bones sometimes drinks when he’s feeling maudlin and homesick. Jim doesn’t even want to touch on whatever inside joke is going on between Uhura and Bones.
“I am adequately hydrated, Doctor. Nothing more is necessary for me. Thank you.”
“Sure, Spock,” Bones says, taking his seat again and leaving the mystery bottle at the table with them. Bones nods at Jim. “Drink up. Doctor’s orders. You’re at least two glasses behind the rest of us. Well, Uhura and me anyway.”
Well, when Bones puts it like that—
“Saurian brandy,” he says, pleased with the immediate remembrance the first sip offers. The only time he’s had it was when he and Bones had just finished their last exam their first year at the Academy and felt that a celebration was in order. Neither could decide on which top-shelf liquor to splurge on. In too good a mood to argue about it, they’d decided to split the difference and go with something neither of them knew anything about. Most fun he’d had that year. Good thoughts associated with this brandy. “Same brand?”
Bones flushes a little, though whether it’s the effect of the alcohol or being called on for his sentimentality, Jim can’t be sure. “Good memory. Well, goodish memory. Who could forget such a ridiculous bottle?”
“Wait,” Uhura says, lifting her hand as though remembering something. She laughs briefly. “This the stuff you two got drunk on at the end of first year?”
“How’d you know?” Jim asks, narrowing his eyes.
“You wouldn’t shut up about it on campus the next day, remember?” Uhura laughs again. “You were still drunk and everyone else was packing and getting ready to head out for the summer or they were sleeping like reasonable people. And you were in the mess hall dedicating poetry to some liquor no one’d ever heard of.” Uhura stares down into her glass, thoughtful. “It is pretty good. I will give it that.”
For whatever reason, that pricks Spock’s curiosity. Uhura notices immediate, and pushes the glass toward him, smiling fondly at him; their fingertips brush during the exchange. He takes a tentative sip, spending a long moment gauging his own reaction to it.
“While it is incapable of inducing intoxication, I will concede that the taste is not unpleasant,” Spock says as though forcing the admission out at phaserpoint.
“Good man, Spock,” Bones says as he takes Spock’s near approval as his cue to bring out another glass. Bones may be many things—a curmudgeon with a soul older than dirt and about as pleasant as it sometimes—but he’s always the first to share what’s his and gladly. That generosity is maybe Jim’s favorite aspect of Bones’s personality. It’s gotten Jim out of more spots than he can count anyway.
Leonard hesitates in the doorway of Jim’s room. Every time he tries to leave, Jim does something to reel him back in—anomalous readings, cardiac events—you name it, it’s made his sensors squeal. Given that the man’s in a coma, the least he could do is keep quiet. It’s gotten so bad that Leonard almost can’t bring himself to take a step beyond this point. He expects the worst every time he gets close to leaving.
Black thoughts swirl through Leonard’s mind: Jim will reject the treatment, he’ll succumb, and Leonard won’t save him this time. Maybe Leonard missed something when he synthesized the serum; maybe the universe wants to punish him for playing God. Hell, Jim’s always had a constitution just this side of delicate. He can take a beating, but his immune system will give him hell for the strangest things. This kind of medicine is light years beyond his understanding. He’s a caveman playing with lightning. He’s not good enough to see this through.
So he stays. Mostly. And hovers. Constantly. It’s not like he’s got anything else to do. All Starfleet wants from him is his presence at an inquest as soon as Jim recovers and in the meantime he can sit back, his medical practice limited to this room. He sees frantic doctors and nurses rush through the halls, knows they’re all still hard at work salvaging what’s left after Khan’s last, desperate act against Starfleet. And that galls Leonard. Truly.
As much as stepping away from Jim feels a whole lot like abandonment, he’s not above admitting he’s going crazy in here. He gets too wrapped up in his mind sometimes and the chokehold of overreacting neurons has done a number on his calm. He’s going to tatters, his skin might as well flay open for how exposed he feels and he’s liable to lose all sense of physical integrity at any moment. But he’s stuck here, forced to be grateful that Starfleet Medical’s scared enough of what he’s done to keep him with Jim because they could just as easily have banned him from the premises.
And if it’s bad like this, how much worse would that be?
Leonard wishes he could have gotten away without mentioning Khan at all in his initial report, but it would have stretched the bounds of incredulity if he had not. Everyone in the medical division had heard about the Harewood child’s miraculous recovery. And everyone had guessed that Khan had something to do with it. Leonard had to confirm that much for them. How else would he explain why although Jim'd been exposed to radiation, there's no sign of it? He won't give Starfleet more than that, though, and he's sure they're punishing him for it now on that basis.
But right now, Jim seems fine. As fine as he can be anyway. And the best nurses Leonard’s ever seen outside the Enterprise are on duty. Leonard can leave.
He glances down at his PADD.
He can leave long enough to ensure that Jim’s eventual accommodations are actually to his specifications anyway. Can’t trust Starfleet as far as he can throw ‘em under the best of circumstances. And now ain’t those.
Jim wants breakfast. And he wants to have it with Bones. And if he’s hoping to catch Bones before he has a chance to disappear again, well, that’s between Jim and his sneakier side. But when he walks through Bones’s apartment, he finds no sign of the man. He’s too late. Again.
Jim groans, thrusting his hand through his hair, resisting the urge to tug strands of it free. “I cannot believe you,” he says out loud. It doesn’t make him feel better. “What’s a guy gotta do, Bones, huh?”
He flops down onto Bones’s couch and lets his neck fall backward against the rectangular cushion behind him. He has to be at Starfleet Medical. It’s the only logical place he could be at 07:30. He knows they’re still swamped. And they need all the hands they can get. Jim knows that. But he’s still never seen a situation where Bones is always gone like this.
Every time Jim thinks he’s going to have a chance to see Bones, Bones finds a way to wriggle out of it and at this point Jim can’t figure out if he’s doing it on purpose or not. He hopes it’s not, but there’s a small part of Jim that wonders if maybe he went too far this time, pushed Bones past an invisible line Jim hadn’t known existed, and this is Bones’s way of gaining distance.
Best not to think of that though. On the other hand, making a mess of Bones’s kitchen sounds like an excellent idea. For how often he’s here, he might as well call it his own. He’s better acquainted with it than his own anyway.
He opens the refrigerator and removes the eggs he’d bought when he went grocery shopping for himself. Peering into the carton, he’s not surprised to see it’s still full. No one has touched the milk either. And all of the vegetables look intact. He sighs, placing the eggs on the counter, before going back and bringing out said milk, vegetables, and some cheese for good measure.
And then the computer announces a visitor with a jaunty chime that startles Jim from his preparations.
He deflates when it’s just Spock, which is stupid because who would it have been? Bones? Why would Bones ring his own chime? Jim shakes his head.
“Capt—” Spock begins, cutting himself off before Jim can do the job for him. He looks surprised to see Jim. For a Vulcan anyway. “Jim. Is Dr. McCoy available?”
“No,” Jim says. He jerks his head toward the living room behind him. “Come on in, Spock. I think he’s at the hospital.”
“Already? That does not—” Spock cuts himself off again as though reaching a conclusion that Jim is not privy to. It pisses Jim off, because Spock seems to know a good deal more than Jim at this point, which isn’t difficult because Jim knows nothing. Spock has some idea of where Bones is. Or at least where Bones should be at the present time, which is more than Jim can say for himself.
“Spock. What’s going on?”
“It is not my place…” Spock says with uncomfortable deference. “He has not spoken with you?”
“I haven’t seen him for more than five minutes at a stretch since he released me. There hasn’t been a whole lot of time to catch up.” Not for lack of trying, Jim doesn’t add verbally. “The longest I’ve seen him stay in one spot was when you and Uhura were here.”
Spock arches one eyebrow and nods as though mulling Jim’s words over, forming a fuller image of the situation in that logical brain of his. Jim waits because it’s important and he can be patient when the situation calls for it and Spock will never tell him anything if Jim badgers him about it anyway.
Spock eventually resolves whatever conflict he feels and decides to speak. “While you were in a coma, Starfleet Medical allowed Dr. McCoy to treat you. Their logic was that the damage was already done and no one had a better chance of pulling you through than he did should complications arise. Which they did.”
“Yes. However, they take very seriously—as is within their purview—the ethical implications of Dr. McCoy’s actions.”
“Spock,” Jim says, voice flat. He doesn’t like the sound of that at all. Nibiru flashes through his thoughts unbidden. “You didn’t.”
Spock straightens and pins Jim with a baleful glare that reminds Jim of Bones and sends an equally effective cascade of shame through Jim. “Of course not, Jim. I suggested he not say anything at all, but he felt that Starfleet would find out certain details anyway. I assured him that I had taken care of everything, but he would not see the logic of such an action and has chosen to be as truthful as he can be under the circumstances.”
“Sounds a lot like someone else I know,” Jim says a little snottily, because Nibiru still smarts, even after everything. He’d always suspected that Spock and Bones were more alike than either of them is entirely comfortable with. It’s almost nice to have confirmation. “So what’s the big deal? If he’s cooperating…”
“He is not cooperating as well as Starfleet would like.”
Ah. So Bones is being punished. Jim sighs, running a hand through his hair. “So now they’re kicking up a fuss about his ethics because he won’t play ball.”
“I believe that to be so, yes.”
“Any idea which way the wind’s blowing?”
“I do not believe they will do permanent damage to his career with Starfleet.”
“But in the short term they’re giving him hell?” Then he shakes his head. What a mess. Guilt and gratitude tangle together in Jim’s heart. This is his fault after all and he’d always thought he’d be okay when his time came. Now he knows better. He can’t think of a better reason to have gone than for his crew and he’d still been scared out of his mind. But leave it to Bones to go above and beyond to fix him. “Is anyone else going to be hauled in front of an ethics panel?”
“No,” Spock says. “Once you were in suspended animation he wouldn’t let anyone in the medbay save myself and he wouldn’t let me anywhere near his equipment when I was there. Almost everyone had beamed back to Earth by the time he'd completed his work.”
Of course Bones wouldn’t let anyone else come within walking distance of an ethics violation if he could help it.
“Thanks, Spock,” Jim says, despite wanting to pump him for more information. He’ll get it eventually. Maybe. He can wheedle it out of Bones if he has to.
The tension Jim’s been carrying cracks and relaxes into acceptance. He itches to call in every favor he can scrounge up to get that panel dismantled. But it won’t help Bones’s case and he can’t blame Bones for feeling the same way and keeping the details to himself to guarantee it. Who would trust Jim Kirk to hold back? To not go in guns blazing? It’s practically his trademark.
But Jim’s different now. He hasn’t had a chance to prove it to anyone, but he feels it. Has felt it, to be honest, since Marcus threatened his crew and he couldn’t talk himself out of the sure, swift death that would follow. He’d realized then for the first time how precarious his control had been. And how little regard he’d had for that fact. His impulsiveness and brash arrogance hadn’t been enough; he couldn’t protect anyone with tricky words and bluster. He’d told Pike he hadn’t lost a single crew member in their first year, as though that had been an argument in his favor. But Pike had realized the truth and tried to guide him to a better place. Jim: not so much with the listening. If only he had listened.
He’d been a terrible captain. And a terribly lucky one. And he has no one except Bones, Spock, and occasionally Uhura to tell him when he’s gone too far. Everyone else is too young and green to be expected to make such statements. Not that it would have mattered. Bones used to tell him twice a day what a reckless such-and-such he was, used to press him to think and feel more before he committed to a course of action:
And 99 times out of 100 Jim did what Jim wanted to do regardless, giving only the most cursory of thoughts to Bones’s suggestions before dismissing them. There’d never been time. Jim was right. Every mission was of the gravest necessity. Jim had to win at all costs. Immaculate records mattered. Jim Kirk’s score mattered. The Enterprise was the best and her mission stats needed to reflect that. It’s a surprise his impetuousness hadn’t gotten anyone killed before Marcus and Khan.
So he won’t march down to Starfleet and demand, cajole, and plead for clemency. He’s willing to trust that Spock and Bones know what they’re doing. And if he’s suddenly out one CMO, well, he can always cash in those favors then.
“I apologize for the disruption of your morning routine,” Spock says as he rocks impatiently on his heels and glances at the door. “As Dr. McCoy is not here, I believe I should be going. I have other matters to attend to this morning and I only meant to stay for a short while.”
“Right, of course,” Jim answers, smiling weakly. He leads Spock toward the door, grabbing his jacket from the hook next to it. “I think I’ll go for a walk. Might as well accompany you part of the way.”
“What about your breakfast?”
Jim looks back just as the door slides shut. “Leave it. Bones hasn’t been eating here anyway. I’ll clean it up when I get back.” He rolls his eyes in self-deprecation and smiles crookedly. “Besides, I have an appointment I need to be getting to. Damned doctors are prodding me left and right. Almost makes me miss Bones’s not-so-gentle ministrations.”
Spock arches one disbelieving eyebrow, which sure. Jim’s never been known for his love of doctors. But he’s gone to every one of his appointments. There’s no reason for Spock to look at him so strangely.
“What?” he asks, defensive.
“Nothing,” Spock answers.
“No, really. What?”
“I’m just glad to see you taking your health seriously,” Spock answers, looking away, perturbed. “It is logical that you should do so, but you are not known for your logic.”
Jim turns and walks backward into the lift down the hall as Spock continues to avoid eye contact. “I’m logical. But glad? You’re glad?”
“A turn of phrase.”
Spock glowers at him, probably wishing the ground would swallow Jim up and save him the trouble of having Jim as a friend. Jim can relate. Spock and Bones can be pains in the ass when they get it in their heads to be stubborn, too.
Jim also backs down, because he hadn’t really wanted to embarrass Spock. He raises his hands in surrender to seal the deal. "Mea culpa, Spock. Speaking in the vernacular, yadda yadda. I know. I'm just messing with you."
Leonard stares down at his PADD as though it personally offends him. With no one around to watch, he’s taken to doing that a lot, contorting his face to express his emotions rather than using his voice. What’s the point when there’s no one listening? He looks up at Jim’s bed: no change. Even the slow rise and fall of Jim’s chest does little to reassure him. Checking Jim’s vitals has become like reaching for a worry stone so many times it has lost its efficacy.
Jim’s alive and Leonard would do it all over again if he had to. No matter if—
He manages to leave the document open for more than a minute this time before sending it to the trash again. He’ll just fish it out when his courage returns anyway. The official looking header denoting the severity of the content to follow only intimidates him a little now. He’s even gotten a line or two into the writing of it.
He chews on his lip and stares up at the ceiling before deleting the document again.
When Jim returns to the apartment, Bones is watching him, warily sipping from a glass of water.
“Spock told me that he told you,” Bones says without preamble as his eyes follow Jim while he removes his coat. Bones has always been the guy to get everything out in the open even when he’s not looking forward to it. The only surprise here is Bones’s presence in his own apartment.
“Giving you fair warning, huh?” Jim says evenly. “That was fast.”
“Look, Jim. It’s not—”
“I get it,” Jim says, not wanting Bones to feel like he needs to explain or start a fight or any of the things he’d normally demand of Bones when he keeps something to himself. “I totally get it, man.” He sits on the couch as Bones makes his own slow way over to sit next to him. “How’s that going anyway?”
Bones throws him the most incredulous look Jim’s ever seen. And in response, Jim turns a disapproving eye on him that makes him back off and settle into suspiciousness.
“Over with today,” Bones admits after a moment. “I’ll be around more often. Keep you out of trouble.”
“I haven’t been getting into trouble,” Jim says.
Then Bones looks at him again, gaze piercing through to something Jim has only just articulated for himself. “I guess you haven’t.”
“So are you gonna tell me about it?”
Bones shrugs. “What’s to tell? They yelled, threatened my license, decided I’m worth more in Starfleet than out of it with all that fancy learning they put me through. Six months supervised practice. A slap on the wrist. I hold up my end by pretending I’m thoroughly chastised by the experience. The end.”
“Far as I know.”
“So you’re going back out when the Enterprise is ready?”
Bones peers at him again as though seeing something else Jim hadn’t intended to expose. Apparently Bones has gotten real good at it. “As long as you want me there,” he says uneasily. “What’s going on, Jim?”
Jim rolls his shoulder. Nothing’s going on really. Not anything Jim can put a name to or explain. Jim isn’t exactly worried for Bones or himself. And he doesn’t think Bones would choose to take a dirtside post if it’s offered to him. But he’s not sure.
“Come on,” Bones says. “You know you can tell me anything. You have told me anything. On numerous occasions. Even when I asked you not to. Something’s bothering you.” Bones elbows Jim in the side, reassuring, like old times. “Better out than in or so someone once told me.”
“I guess I just don’t want what I did to change anything for you,” Jim says.
“Oh, Jim,” Bones says. He reaches out and clasps Jim on the shoulder, jostling him back and forth. Maybe he’s trying to shake some sense into Jim. “You’ve pulled a shit ton of stupid crap over the years, but I can’t blame you for protecting your crew.” Normally, Bones would end the contact here, but he continues to rub soothing circles into Jim’s skin. His cotton shirt catches on Bones’s callouses, a more intimate feeling than some of Jim’s more personal encounters with people in the past. “I might slap you upside the head for saying the Enterprise deserves a better captain though.”
Jim groans. “Spock told you about that?” Does Spock tell you everything now, Jim doesn’t say.
“Maybe a little bit,” Bones admits cagily. He looks chastised as though he hadn’t been planning to bring that information up to Jim. “Don’t blame Spock too much though. You traumatized the poor Vulcan. I didn’t think that was possible. He doesn’t know what to do with himself as a result.”
Jim admits he’s surprised to see Bones take Spock’s side in an argument. This truly is a brave, new world.
“Jim, I’m serious. I know I haven’t been your most vocal proponent, but you’re a fine captain,” Bones says. It’s nice to hear though Jim already knows better. He also knows that Bones believes in him, probably more than Bones believes in himself at this point considering how often he just goes along with Jim which… Jim just doesn’t know how he managed to deserve that. “And you’ll only get better. I trust you.”
“I know, Bones.”
“Spock trusts you, too,” he adds with more authority than Jim thinks he should have on the subject.
“Since when do you advocate for Spock?” Jim asks, curious to know what’s changed for them and, if he’s honest, how that’s going to affect all of them.
“He was around a lot for those two weeks you were out. I’m a big enough man to admit when maybe I’m wrong about something. Or someone.”
Jim snorts at that. Bones has to be dragged kicking and screaming into an admission of wrongdoing under normal circumstances.
“When I have to be,” Bones amends knowingly. “He’s good people. Most of the time.”
“I’m glad you two are getting along,” Jim says.
“Should make your life easier,” Bones points out. “If it lasts.”
“Oh no,” Jim says lightly. “I think it might make my life more difficult, you two getting on. Still, it almost makes me believe in miracles.”
Bones shoves at Jim, pushing him into the armrest. He now smiles openly at Bones and his admission, glad just to still be around to tease Bones about something like this. Gratitude for Bones suffuses Jim’s being. Jim wouldn’t be here twice over now if it hadn’t been for Bones.
Bones stops horsing around, awed by something. It sends nervous energy jolting through Jim, who has never seen anyone look at him the way Bones is scrutinizing him. But Bones doesn’t question him or speak at all, which relieves and disappoints Jim in turn. Maybe he could find the words if Bones asked. He’d do that for Bones if he could. He’d admit to something if Bones wanted it.
Thankfully Bones doesn’t seem to mind when he doesn’t have anything to share with him without prompting.
Leonard startles awake, unsure at first what disturbed him. And then he sees Spock bent over Jim’s monitors, face lit by the sickly light they emit, as though reassuring himself that Jim’s still alive in there somewhere. Leonard can’t begrudge him the action. He does the same about thirty times a day, too, even if he doesn’t interrupt anyone else’s sleep to do so.
“I apologize for upsetting your rest,” Spock says before turning to face Leonard.
“I wasn’t…” Leonard says and then stops himself from telling that lie outright. What would be the point? He rubs at his aching neck and shifts on the hard plastic chair he’d fallen asleep on. “I wouldn’t call it rest exactly.”
“Nor would I,” Spock says simply, uncanny look grazing over Leonard’s haggard appearance. He’s not sure quite how poorly he presents himself; he hasn’t been able to look at himself too closely in the mirror, but he knows he can’t bring himself to shave more than every other shower these days. Stubble prickles under his fingers when he rubs them across his mouth. His hair, too, has begun to fall across his forehead.
“His… recovery is going smoothly?” Spock asks then. And although Leonard can’t hear the worry in his voice, he can sense its presence all the same. The fact that he’s asking an irrelevant question just proves it. Spock would be one of the first to find out if Jim’s progress had stalled or degenerated. “It’s following as you expected?”
Leonard shrugs. “Search me, Spock. I couldn’t tell you what I should be looking for any more than you can tell me. I just don’t know. The monitors say he’s doing fine. I’m just putting my hope into that.”
“I see,” Spock answers with that neutral tone that suggests displeasure.
Leonard tries to summon affront at Spock’s attitude, but he can’t be bothered. “Sorry, Spock. Wish I had something better for you.”
True to his word, Bones starts spending more time around, a fact for which Jim is imminently grateful. Both Spock and Uhura have taken gigs at the Academy leading seminars for third and fourth year cadets. It sounds awful to Jim, who’d rather gnaw off his own arm than teach a class now that doing so won’t get him ahead in his studies. Unfortunately Jim can’t even contribute that much until Bones clears him for duty. And Bones will do that only when he’s good and ready to.
And as long as Bones stays true to his word, good and ready is still a week and a half away. Jim’s not too worried; Bones only breaks his word when Jim’s health is at stake and Jim feels perfectly fine. He’d definitely prefer doing something to doing nothing with how good he feels physically. Having a distraction will be nice.
So when Jim strolls into Bones’s apartment, intent on staging a coup of some sort, levering Bones off the couch for a few hours of late-afternoon sunshine or whatever, he’s surprised when Bones looks up from his PADD and says, “I’m springing you early.”
That is definitely not what Jim expects to hear because it’s exactly what he wants and therefore he’s suspicious of it. After all, he still has medical leave to suffer through. “What?”
Bones arches a knowing eyebrow at Jim, though how Jim knows it’s a knowing eyebrow versus an incredulous one versus any other of Bones’s eyebrows is beside the point.
“Seriously?” Jim presses, because this is unprecedented. He comes over to stand behind Bones, arms on the back of the couch bracketing Bones’s shoulders.
Bones shrugs and tilts his neck back to look up at Jim. “Numbers don’t lie, Jim. You’re fine. And you’ve behaved yourself, so… consider it a reward. I’m turning you over to Starfleet in the morning.” Bones twists ninety degrees and throws an appraising look his way. “Have fun with that by the way. Be careful what you wish for, etc. etc.”
He jostles Bones about the shoulders. “I’ll be sure to regret having something to do on principle just for you. In the meantime, want to go out?”
Bones looks prepared to turn him down. His eyes dart to the PADD in his hand, while Jim lines up all the standard arguments in his repertoire: it’ll be fun, we’ll go somewhere chill. I haven’t seen you in ages.
“Okay, Jim,” says Bones decisively, disrupting the normal rigmarole for getting Bones to go anywhere and throwing Jim for a loop in one fell swoop. He gets to his feet, seemingly happy for the invitation if the quickness of his acceptance means anything. A small smile graces his features as he claps Jim on the arm. “First round’s on me.”
“You look unwell, Doctor,” Spock says. He carries a tray with food from the hospital cafeteria and Leonard wants to smash something because really. He doesn’t need a Vulcan nursemaid. Then Uhura walks in after him and that’s just not fair. He doesn’t have it in him to be rude to Uhura. She just mimes holding a tray behind Spock’s back and mouths ‘his idea’ while she points at Spock. And that’s almost worse than Spock using her against his better senses, because now he’s touched.
“Now’s not the time for mother hennin’, Spock,” Leonard answers, less vehemently than he’d like while he adjusts Jim’s monitors. No change. No change. And no change. Five days and Leonard’s no closer to an answer than when he’d started.
“I believe you would say otherwise were someone else in your place.”
“Well, someone else isn’t in my place and you’re not me,” Leonard says wearily. He’d tried to make it snappy, but he just sounded defeated. And he kind of wishes he wasn’t himself at this point. Jim’s a frustrating patient and the whole hospital’s breathing down his neck. “I’m fine.”
He looks up in time to see a slight disturbance in Spock’s neutral Vulcan mask. That heartens him. Anytime Spock experiences an emotion is a good time for Leonard. Proves something to him anyway. He’s not sure what. It’s petty is what it is, but it’s something to focus on that isn’t Jim disobeying all reasonable medical expectations.
“There are more linguistically useful words I would use to describe your current situation,” Spock says.
“I never was very good in English,” Leonard answers, deadpan. Leave it to Spock to insult him in fourteen words when four would do. He looks up at Spock pointedly, eyebrow raised as he gestures grandly around the room as though this is his kingdom. And in a way it is. Not that Spock seems to care. “Now, if you don’t mind?”
Spock doesn’t catch the hint Leonard so obviously threw him. Leonard has always suspected that Spock just chooses to ignore that which he does not wish to engage with. Like now, when instead of backing away, he gets himself more in Leonard’s way, practically blocking him from accomplishing anything. It’s a good strategy. Bones has yet to figure out a way to argue with a person-shaped brick wall. He has the same problem with Jim on occasion.
“Spock,” Leonard says, voice pitched low, crackling with what little breath he uses to get the word out because he’s afraid it will come out as a yell otherwise. “I got work to do.”
“And you will do it,” Spock says evenly, exuding reasonableness like that’ll convince Leonard. “After you’ve taken a moment to eat.”
Leonard is going to stand his ground. Really. He’s not going to let Spock boss him around.
“Leonard,” Uhura says. In the way she says his name he can hear his own defeat.
Leonard throws up his hands. Figuratively anyway as his hands are full. He peers down at the tray before relieving Spock of it with some awkwardness, balancing the plastic on the PADD he’s carrying in one hand. He picks up a cherry tomato with the other and pops it into his mouth, viciously glaring at Spock the whole time.
Spock doesn’t seem to mind.
The weight of the tray becomes burdensome almost immediately. Leonard takes a seat away from Jim’s bed and monitors. Spock, like always, takes it upon himself to double check Leonard’s work. He takes a bite of the sandwich Spock and Uhura brought to keep himself from blurting out something else rude. Like a complaint about the synthesized crap they serve in the cafeteria.
Once he finishes eating and Spock stops staring at Jim’s readings, Leonard finds he does feel a little better, a fact he absolutely will not share with Spock, who turns just as he tries to stifle a yawn behind his fist. Spock catches the movement with hawk-like accuracy. Of course. Because Leonard can’t catch a break.
“How long has it been since you’ve slept?” Spock asks.
“Oh, I don’t know. I think it was last night at none-of-your-business o’clock.”
If Spock is fazed by Leonard’s behavior, he doesn’t show it. “Doctor?” he asks again. Uhura’s eyes narrow thoughtfully when Leonard looks toward her for assistance. She doesn’t look too great herself. Red around the eyes, hair in disarray, chipped fingernail polish. He recognizes the fatigue he sees in her; it’s exactly the same as his own.
Leonard sighs, feels about three inches tall and about the same number of years old. He rubs his palms over his eyes and scrubs at his forehead as though that will return some of his vigor. “I haven’t,” he admits.
Spock arches an eyebrow at him but does not speak.
Leonard arches an eyebrow back and decides he might as well hang himself good and proper. “Stims have been doing a little too good a job.” He looks up at Spock before letting his gaze skitter away. He clears his throat. “Dreams have taken care of the rest.”
“I see,” Spock says with that tone of voice that makes it seem like he’s crunching numbers instead of thinking through another person’s thoughts and feelings. Normally that tone pisses Leonard off, but he’s still drained and sniping at Spock won’t help. And anyway, Uhura’s there, although she’s too focused on Jim to pay much attention to them, having taken a seat by his bed. He doesn’t like getting nasty with her boyfriend in front of her.
He can still express impatience though. “Well?” he asks when Spock doesn’t elaborate immediately.
“I do have a suggestion,” Spock says, “but I am unsure how receptive you’ll be to it and I do not wish to aggravate you further at this time.”
Leonard huffs, not quite laughing, but amused all the same. “Now this I’ve gotta hear,” he says, leaning forward a bit. “Since when is your main purpose in life not aggravating me?”
Spock opens his mouth to argue, but then he shuts it and shakes his head, like this argument isn’t worth having. And it’s not really. It’s just that Leonard’s purpose in life at this moment is to aggravate Spock. What else has he got? His best friend’s comatose.
“Well, out with it,” Leonard says. “We don’t have all day.”
“After the Captain returned from Delta Vega, he informed you of his experience with the Vulcan mind meld, did he not?” Spock asks, words clipped and quick, as though he wants to get through this all as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Leonard laughs instinctively for half a second before he processes the words and falls silent. “You must be out of your twice-damned mind.” He squints up at Spock while Spock stares at the wall behind his head. “What are you telling me, Spock? You wanna meld?”
His brain tells him that this is the stupidest idea he’s ever heard, but his heart argues that he can’t keep up like this long term. And nothing else has helped. He won’t take sleeping aids in case of an emergency; basic meditation of the sort most doctors suggest for stress hasn’t done a damned bit of good either.
“It is possible that a mind meld would leave you with a shadow of the calm all Vulcans strive to cultivate. Even the slightest hint of serenity would be an asset at this point, would it not?”
Leonard chews his lip, a bad habit he’d thought he’d left behind in high school. He slides an indecisive glance at Jim’s bed. Truth is he’s not operating at his finest. And though his stomach protests at the thought of a meld, he knows Spock. And he knows Spock can’t possibly want to do this anymore than he does.
But he’s willing to do it if it would help Leonard and by extension help Jim.
“You may consider the proposal at your convenience, Doctor,” Spock said, shoulders shifting minutely.
“Ah, hell, Spock. You really think it’ll work? You’re not exactly known for your perfect Vulcan calm.”
“I cannot confirm it to any degree of specificity, but I do not believe it will harm you. And I have had time to… adjust. I assure you, I would not have suggested it if I believed I would hinder you in any way. ”
Leonard looks toward Uhura, who looks suspiciously engrossed with Jim’s stupid, bedridden self. “Well, ain’t that something.”
“As I said, all I ask is that you consider the proposal. If you decide it is too much an invasion of your privacy, I will not press you further.”
Jim chooses the only bar in San Francisco Bones has never grumbled about in all his years in the city. He figures he can do that much for Bones. And he’s glad to have made that decision when a knowing smile tugs at Bones’s lips when he realizes where they’re going. It doesn’t take long. Bones has a mind sharp as a tack. He remembers Mick’s from their Academy days.
“You know, Jim. You don’t have to butter me up now. I already let you loose,” Bones says agreeably.
Jim jostles Bones’s shoulder. “Positive reinforcement, Bones. You’re a psychologist.”
“Bribing after the fact,” Bones says, mimicking awe, as though he thinks Jim’s idea is brilliant. Bones never thinks Jim’s ideas are brilliant. “That’s gonna work well out in the middle of space where there are no good bars to bribe an honest person with.”
“I’ll think of something else to bribe you with once we’re out there,” he says decisively. They amble down the sidewalk—the bar’s not far, another plus for the apartment Bones chose—and the evening is pleasantly cool. In no time at all they’re right outside the place.
Bones holds the door open for Jim, waving him in with as much drama as he can muster. And since it’s Bones, he can muster a lot. “After you,” he adds as Jim passes, close enough to speak his sardonic words directly into Jim’s ear.
“You’re the last of the southern gentlemen, McCoy,” Jim tosses back. Bones just shoves him forward into the smoky atmosphere and dim light of the bar.
As Bones promised, the first round’s on him. It’s Bones’s only round as it turns out, but that’s okay, because he doesn’t begrudge Jim the second and third rounds Jim orders for himself, and he drinks his own liquor slowly enough that it’s almost like they’re meeting each other glass to glass. Jim’s feeling pretty good, riding that pleasant line between buzzed and sober, and it’s early enough yet that when Jim orders a water and some grease-soaked fries just to prolong the night Bones joins in for onion rings and tea.
He doesn’t even complain when Jim swipes an onion ring from his plate, just pushes the basket closer to Jim when he sees him eying it.
Jim hopes he doesn’t get too used to this pod person version of Bones, because while the garden variety version is awesome and Jim wouldn’t trade him for the world, he doesn’t generally allow Jim access to his food. And that’s an oversight Jim wouldn’t mind seeing rectified.
“Why are you sharing?” Jim asks, taking over the basket completely just to see what happens. Which is nothing. Bones doesn’t complain about it. Doesn’t notice. Doesn't care.
“No point wasting ‘em,” Bones answers. Or doesn’t answer. Bones usually answers the question Jim is really asking rather than the one he voices. Not tonight apparently.
Jim doesn’t push. He doesn’t know what to push for. Maybe Bones just isn’t that hungry.
“So what’s the deal with Spock?” Jim asks eventually for something to do. “And none of that emotional trauma bullshit.”
Bones frowns, but doesn’t shut Jim down immediately. In fact, he looks like he’s trying to formulate a response.
“We came to an understanding,” Bones says, shrugging as though it’s nothing. “He ran a lot of interference for me. And he stuck around, Jim. Him and Uhura. One of ‘em was always there.” He fiddles with his straw, trying to collect more words. “Or both. Doctoring can be a lonely business and I didn’t like leaving you alone, so they helped in that respect. I don’t know, Jim. I can’t really explain it.”
“Okay, Bones. I get it.” And he does. “I mean, I told the guy I’d miss him after he was reassigned, so of course I get it…”
Bones snorts, drawing an amused smile out of Jim at the memory. It’s not the greatest memory, but Jim can see the humor in at least that much of it now. “How’d that go over?” Bones asks, morbidly curious, elbow to table, fist propping his chin up. And now Jim remembers that he hasn’t had much time to talk to Bones lately. Hadn’t had a chance to catch him up about anything from before.
Jim pops an onion ring into his mouth and chews quickly, swallowing before he answers. “About as well as you’d expect.” Jim laughs then, lifting his hands to wave at his own face, mimicking Spock’s expression. “He gaped at me. Looked like a fish. Annoyed the hell out of me. I couldn’t believe the emotionless bastard.”
Bones’s attention flits to his drink again, like he’s embarrassed and trying to hide it. “That’s a little harsh, Jim.”
“I practically poured my heart out to him and he denied me completely.”
Bones looks up at him again, more normal. “Pour your heart out, Jim? Did you really?”
“Hell yeah, I did.”
“Right. Well, I’m sure he appreciated it,” Bones answers cryptically, shaded just enough by irony that Jim assumes Bones is poking fun at him and Spock.
“What do you think about all this, Uhura?” Leonard asks. Normally she and Spock visit Jim together. But today it’s just her. So far anyway. If today turns out to be like the other eight days Jim’s been here, then Spock will be along soon. Spock turns up like a bad penny at the worst of times. And now that he’s got an idea in his head, Leonard’s sure he’ll never be free of Spock’s presence.
“About what, Leonard?” she asks, turning away from the window to give Leonard her full attention. He respects the courtesy, but it would be easier if she at least pretended like she wasn’t doing it. It’s hard enough to discuss without her kind eyes staring back at him. He wishes the view was better so he could tell her to keep watching it instead of him.
“Melding,” he says, dismayed still by the whole idea. A mind meld. He never wants to have anything to do with one to be honest. But look where he is now. Actually considering it.
She purses her lips and rubs her arms. “I think it’ll help.”
Uhura may be the communications officer, fluent in languages verbal and physical, but Leonard knows his psychology, too, and he can read body language as good as anyone. “But?”
Uhura locks eyes with Leonard. “But I think it’ll help. Isn’t that what matters?”
“I think I don’t want to do it and you’re not helping change my mind.”
“Do you want me to change your mind?”
Leonard sighs. “Not really. I can make my own decision. I just wanted to hear your side.”
“I’m worried about what he’ll pick up from you,” Uhura answers after a moment’s pause. She looks away then and Leonard’s grateful for that. “Which is stupid. I know it’s stupid. But he’s only just regained his peace of mind and all I know is I’m a fucking mess. And if I’m a mess, well…” Her nail polish catches the light when her hand flutters at him.
Leonard can’t deny it. He is a fucking mess. “Thanks,” he quips with a flat affect.
Uhura laughs weakly. “Sorry, Leonard.” She breathes deeply. “I do think it’s the best solution for a bad situation. And Spock will manage. We all want Jim back and you’re the person best in position to make sure it happens. Spock wants to help. He might even need to.”
Then she pulls out an old-fashioned deck of cards from her bag. “Now, what do you say to having your ass handed to you at Rummy?”
“I say we ought to find some suckers and play a real card game.”
Uhura, unimpressed with Leonard’s response, slaps the cardboard against her palm and shuffles the cards that fall into her hand while Leonard resigns himself and retrieves the table wasting itself by Jim’s side. “We’re playing Rummy.”
“We could teach Spock poker. It’d be good for a laugh anyway.”
“Maybe next time.” She lowers the table while Leonard grabs two chairs. “He does need something to keep that mind of his occupied.”
Jim feels like a bomb is going to drop on him at any moment. Foreboding casts a strange pall over everything, but nothing has happened to relieve that pressure. And every time nothing keeps happening, it just ratchets up the sick tightening in his chest. Storms always come after a lull. Nothing remains stable for long. And everything blows up in his face. He’s used to the fact. He’s good with it. He can handle crises. What he’s not good at is the waiting.
He doesn’t tell Bones although Bones could probably rattle off a thousand psychological explanations for Jim’s odd feeling. But Jim knows what psychological mumbo jumbo feels like. His head is full of that stuff. This is nebulous and it doesn’t do anything except cause a low-level unease that takes up permanent residence in his gut. He doesn’t lose sleep over it; and he isn’t distracted by it exactly. But.
He’s sure something’s coming.
He sits in Dehner’s office, tapping his thumbs against his knees while she reads through her PADD and writes something, scribbling with a stylus and leaving Jim alone—just the way he likes it. He likes her, the way she keeps her distance and the way she asks him no-nonsense questions and doesn’t mind when he answers succinctly. He likes that she’s smart and tries to game him, to trip him up, but doesn’t force him to play if he doesn’t want to.
“Are you worried about any side effects Dr. McCoy’s treatment might incur?” she asks suddenly, still engrossed in her PADD. And he likes that, too. He’d rather talk to a brick wall than to someone who exhibits signs of giving a shit about his thoughts. Maybe that’s why Bones is his best friend. He can pretend like he doesn’t care with the best of them.
“No?” Jim says. “I’m pretty sure Starfleet would have locked me up a whole lot sooner if I needed to worry about it.”
“There’s more to you than your Starfleet career, Captain.”
The use of his rank lightens his mood. “And that’s the part of me that’s happy to stay out of lock up,” he says, smiling. “Do I get my commission back? It’s always been Mr. Kirk before.”
“I’d like to keep seeing you. Next week and then every two weeks after that.” She looks up at him. As though anticipating his lack of enthusiasm, she adds, “It’s a recommendation that’s been forwarded to all Enterprise personnel. Not required, of course, but as a starship captain I’m sure you’d agree it’s an important step following such an event. Don’t treat yourself with less care than you’d want a fellow crew member to treat themselves.”
Jim nods his acquiescence. She’s not wrong, damn her. “Dr. Dehner, my commission?”
“Pending the physical you’re to report for as soon as I release you, you will have your commission back. As Dr. McCoy is a skilled physician, I’m sure that will not be a problem. Congratulations.”
The weird feeling recedes through the final moments of his session with Dehner and his buoyancy carries him through the invasive battery of tests the medical staff complete. Not an hour after he leaves the hospital complex, his PADD chimes with his marching orders. He hasn’t even made it back to his apartment to yet.
Without the need to worry about his captaincy any longer, he has nothing to think about but his unfocused concerns. The late morning crispness centers his thoughts as he trudges home.
Everything has gone off so perfectly since he woke up. Nothing ever goes perfectly for Jim Kirk.
As he swipes his keycard over the sensor outside his door, he realizes that Bones never yelled at him, never blamed him for anything. Never chastised him for dying. Didn’t balk at the knowledge that Spock had been behind that glass instead of him when he’s a trained medical professional, dammit, who the hell else would you want in a case of acute radiation exposure?
It stops him cold.
He’d expected Bones to be angry with him. Furious even. Wrathful.
But Jim doesn’t know how Bones really felt about any of it. He’s been so cool since Jim woke up. Nothing seems to touch him. Hell, first thing he’d done was joke with Jim. And Jim doesn’t know why. Was he trying to put Jim at ease? Make himself feel better? Did he feel betrayed? Jim has no idea. For a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and speaks plainly, Bones hasn’t come within sniffing distance of a true reaction. That troubles Jim to a degree he’d never expected. Not that Jim thinks Bones didn’t feel anything—he’d have to be a goddamned moron to believe that—but Bones only really tries to keep himself to himself when something’s got to him. He’s playing it too close. The fact that it’s taken Jim this long to notice just solidifies Jim’s worry into a course of action.
One that, unfortunately, involves someone other than Bones. And that sucks, because Jim’s always prided himself on being the single authority on Bones and his behaviors. He’s always known the whats. The whats are—were easy. Bones hands out the whats on a silver platter. The whys take more time and study. Jim has earned the whys. And now he has neither. And can't bring himself to demand them of Bones himself.
But he thinks Spock has both. And he doesn't have the same compunctions there.
“I don’t want to do it,” Leonard blurts as soon as Spock walks through the door into Jim’s room. Day nine; still no change. But at least Jim’s dialed back on the medical emergencies. He can sit for hours with nothing to do and so does nothing but sit. He might accumulate three hours of sleep in the course of a night if he’s lucky. He’s cut back the stims to the bare minimum and goes through the rest of the day in a fog, hardly caring about anything at all until someone—Spock or Uhura, or one or more of the others sometimes, he can put on a good show—arrives or Jim’s vitals spike.
“That is your prerogative, Doctor,” Spock says with uncommon courtesy.
“It might be better if we do,” he continues.
“The captain is in need of a physician who can work at full capacity.”
And that’s not Leonard. Leonard can’t even argue with the point no matter how much he'd like to. “What about you? You think you can handle it?”
If Spock had answered with that tone of Vulcan superiority Leonard hates, Leonard might have called it off. But Spock considers his question carefully with a thoughtful downward tilt of his head.
“I have taken a number of precautions,” Spock admits. “I do not believe any turmoil you now feel will cause me more than temporary discomfort.”
“Lucky you,” Leonard answers.
“I do not mean to make light of your experiences.”
“No, I know. I’m sorry.” Leonard shakes his head. He squints too-dry eyes at Spock. “I’m not trying to be an ass.”
“It is well, then, that I would not be adversely affected should you act as such.”
“I’m not sure how I can be of assistance, Captain,” Spock says uncomfortably, handing Jim a mug of tea and stiffly offering Jim a seat at the bar stool tucked under the island in their kitchen. If Jim didn’t know any better, he’d think that Spock doesn’t really want to be alone with him. The words Bones had offered—take it easy on him, Jim, you traumatized the poor bastard, remember?—ring in his head and he has to wonder when his first officer and his chief medical officer needed to act as their own go-betweens. At one time, Jim could read their tells easily. Now… he’s got no clue. Which is why he doesn’t berate Spock for the use of his title. It’s his again technically and he really likes the distance it puts between him and his failure at parsing Bones’s emotions. And if it makes Spock more comfortable, well, fine. He can put a hold on that project for the time being.
“I know this whole… thing has been hard for you,” Jim says without preamble. “And for Bones. He’s not acting normal. I’m not sure that you’re acting normal either.”
“I believe he has handled himself admirably considering the stress he’s been under.”
“Yeah,” Jim says. His fingers trace the rim of the delicate cup in front of him. “Does that sound like Bones to you?”
Spock sips his tea and Jim’s not sure it’s not a stalling tactic. “Despite our many disagreements, he has never carried himself in any way other than that which is most honorable. I confess to not understanding your dissatisfaction with his conduct.”
“I’m dissatisfied because I think it’s hurting him,” Jim says, annoyed with Spock for being so dense.
“You believe he hasn’t expressed his emotions in a way that is beneficial to his well-being,” Spock says, as though he’s making some great breakthrough. Jim bites back the sarcastic retort just waiting to escape from between his teeth. “I disagree,” Spock continues. “Nyota and I have spoken with him on numerous occasions and watched him during your treatment. He was receptive to assistance that both of us were more than happy to provide. It appears to me he has improved his emotional sensitivity. I fail to see the problem.”
“You and Uhura assisted him with what?” Jim asks. He’s imagining all sorts of scenarios, each wilder than the last. “I don’t even know what his problem was or how he fixed it or what he’s doing now—”
“A mind meld,” Spock answers simply, taking another sip of his tea like this isn’t the wildest suggestion Jim’s ever heard. Jim would sooner believe they’d invited Bones to a threesome. And that Bones had accepted the invitation.
“A meld? You expect me to believe that Bones would meld under anything but the most… I don’t know. This is Bones we’re talking about. He wouldn’t mind meld with a Vulcan if he was dying and it was his only chance at survival.”
“Perhaps not. And yet he did in fact take part in the melding ritual. He did not wish to risk your health with the potential side effects administering sedatives to himself might have caused and no other option had worked for him.”
“So he had trouble sleeping, that’s what you’re saying?”
“And now he’s acting like everything is okay,” Jim says, frustrated. He can’t explain, not even to himself, why this bothers him. “He used to flip out at me over bruises. Does this sound right to you?”
“Captain—Jim, are you sure it is not you who is troubled by this development?” Spock asks awkwardly. “I haven’t seen anything that concerns me about his behavior. You are aware of the nature of the meld from personal experience. It would be strange if his behavior had not temporarily altered.” Spock looks momentarily thoughtful. “If it makes you feel more secure, Nyota has not spoken of any worries she has on the doctor’s behalf either.” Spock then gives Jim a pointed stare. “Perhaps you should speak with Dr. McCoy about your apprehensions.”
“Yeah,” Jim says, scoffing.
“The effects of melds are not permanent if it’s any consolation.”
“Well, that’s something,” Jim answers, feeling absurdly petulant. It's not like he doesn't know that. And it's not like he'd been there. Who is he to judge what Spock and Bones had needed to do to get through it?
Spock moves as though he’s going to touch Jim before he stalls himself and forces his hands behind his back. “I understand that your experience with the meld was less than pleasant, but I did everything within my capabilities to ensure a successful and appropriate meld.”
“Yeah, okay, Spock,” Jim says, standing. He has something to go on now. That’s what he wanted. He doesn’t need to stay. “Thanks for the tea.”
“I apologize if this information has made you uncomfortable,” Spock says, standing, too. “And I wish I could be of more assistance, but my own emotional center has been disrupted by the contact between Dr. McCoy and myself. I'm still unsure what of our interactions belongs to me and I do not wish to betray Dr. McCoy’s confidences, but I will tell you that your worries are unfounded.”
Jim shrugs as he backs toward the door. “What worries, Spock? I’m not worried.”
Leonard hasn’t left the hospital for more than a handful of hours total and now that he’s sitting in Spock’s apartment, he’d like to say the nerve-jangling onslaught of anxiety is all due to that.
It’s not, but he’d like to pretend it’s more than a minor contributing factor. Sitting on the floor across from Spock certainly isn’t helping matters, but Spock had insisted for some reason only a Vulcan would understand.
“You will need to calm yourself, Doctor,” Spock says, admonishing him in that neutral delivery that Leonard knows is at least half bullshit.
“That’s not likely to happen,” Leonard says sickly.
“I will not do this if you cannot master yourself at least that much,” Spock answers.
“Okay,” Leonard says, nodding and breathing through his nose. He repeats the action a couple more times, drawing in more and more air with each inhalation.
“Dr. McCoy!” Spock says, snapping through the tangle of Leonard’s thoughts with such an abrupt delivery that it feels like a slap. “You are not helping yourself.”
“Sorry.” He scrubs at his eyes with his palms.
“That is not good enough,” Spock answers. He stands gracefully, but doesn’t offer his hand to Leonard, who clamors to his feet beside him.
“What? Is that it then?”
“You have selfishly allowed your well-being to deteriorate despite the Captain’s continued survival. He is well on his way to a full recovery, but what should happen if he needs you, but your reflexes are not as exact as they need to be for you to assist him? You tell me whether this is it.”
“Selfish. Listen here, you so—”
“And what about once the Captain has recovered? Your superiors will want to discuss this with you and you’ll have to explain it in such a way that you won’t compromise your own future with Starfleet.”
“Hell, Spock. Like that matters at this point—”
Leonard likens the silence that follows to the empty space he’s so afraid of. They stand there, locked in that moment for what feels like a disconcertingly long time and Leonard knows he has made a grave mistake with that outburst.
Then Spock narrows his eyes. “What do you mean?”
Leonard winds his way toward the couch and slumps into it. “What I did… it was a gross ethical violation. I thought… at the time I believed it was the right thing to do. But I just don’t know anymore.”
“It was the correct course. You neither coerced Khan nor betrayed the medical code.”
“Like hell, Spock,” Leonard says, conviction beating through every word. “Medicine doesn’t bring people back from the dead with untested therapies like that.”
“People have recovered from remarkable circumstances before.”
“Not like this.”
“You intend to turn yourself in,” Spock says, as sure of Leonard’s plan as Leonard is. It’s taken him days, but he knows he has to do it. “Do you believe I should turn myself in as well?”
“Of course not. You didn’t—”
“I filed incomplete and inaccurate reports with Starfleet. With Khan’s assistance I wiped any record of the warp core breach from the data recorder, a criminal offense, no doubt. And one Starfleet believes is impossible.”
“You did that?” Leonard says, weak with the knowledge that Spock had gone so far. “That doo-dad he gave me?”
“Yes,” Spock says, clipped. He hardly stops his recitation to answer the question. “Dr. Marcus, Mr. Scott, Lieutenant Uhura and at least twelve members of your staff and several casualties still in the medical bay at the time have stated on the record that the captain was still breathing when he came under your care. Should they submit themselves to further scrutiny from Starfleet?”
“No, goddamn it. You’re twisting everything around.”
“No, I’m merely point out how martyring yourself will do harm to more than just yourself. We all share in the risk of what we did. And the rest of us believe it was worth it. Are you saying you would not do it again? You would let Jim die for a clearer conscience?”
“Jesus Christ, Spock. That’s not—”
“Then explain to me how you not are indulging in a level of cowardice I did not believe you capable of before this moment. If you intend to turn yourself in for your conduct, you will sacrifice not only yourself, but the lives of your closest colleagues. You will give Starfleet a reason to look more closely at Khan and perhaps open his continued existence to exploitation by another like Admiral Marcus despite the precautions we all took. And I suspect that Jim would not escape the repercussions. Would it not stain his record as a starship captain if it was known that he led a crew capable of committing so much perjury on his behalf?”
“It’s not just on his behalf. Starfleet shouldn’t—”
“Would anyone else see it that way?”
“Fuck,” Leonard says, bending in half, hands draped over his knees as he takes a couple of shallow breaths. “I thought you wanted me to calm down?”
“My apologies,” Spock says, stepping toward Leonard. He doesn’t sound too sorry though.
“Fuck off, Spock.”
He perches on the edge of the couch as far away from Leonard as he can manage. “I must confess that I am angry with you and will do no such thing until you assure me you do not intend to martyr yourself.”
“You’re angry?” Leonard says, turning a disbelieving eye on Spock. “No shit? I wouldn’t have guessed.”
Spock quiets for a moment and in that silence Leonard actually does find himself losing his fear of the mind meld. It seems Spock has given him a great deal more to worry about if he doesn’t get his shit together.
Then Spock speaks again. “Have you read Frankenstein, Doctor?”
Leonard sighs. “Most people have, Spock.”
“Then you understand perfectly well that it is not until Dr. Frankenstein has abandoned his creation that a monster takes form. It is not Frankenstein’s achievement, but his reaction to it, that causes his undoing and the undoing of others.”
If Jim ever finds out about this, he’s going to get one hell of a kick out of it. Maybe he'll have to save this charming anecdote for a day when Jim's behaving more churlishly than normal. Christ, argued around by a Vulcan talking Old Earth literature. What a fucking joke. “Anyone ever tell you you’re kind of a dick?” Leonard asks. “I’m just curious.”
Spock blinks at him, but doesn’t answer his question.
Leonard takes another deep, soothing breath. His heart rate chugs back to normal and he’s so drained of feeling that maybe Spock was right to dress him down so epically. Not that he’d planned it—Spock doesn’t think that way—but credit where credit’s due. “You think we can get this over with now?”
“I see no reason why not.”
Leonard eyes him suspiciously. “You’re not gonna eviscerate me inside my own head, are you?”
“No,” Spock answers, placid. “I believe I have quite fulfilled that particular urge.”
“Fine. Let’s do this then.”
Jim thinks it’s cool that Spock and Bones are friends now, trusting each other, leaving Jim out of the loop. Melding.
Really. It’s awesome. He’s glad they’re getting along. It’s just that Jim doesn’t understand. So he was dead for a couple of minutes and Bones whipped up a cure—and how is it that Jim has so many miracle workers on his crew, it’s incredible—and now Bones is a completely different person. Okay, that’s maybe too strong a word. He’s still Bones, and Spock says he’ll become more Bones-like with time, it’s just that he’s…
He seems older, Jim thinks suddenly. He doesn’t look it and lord knows Bones has always been the second most grown-up person Jim’s ever met in his age group besides Uhura, but now he’s demonstrably grown up and Jim doesn’t think that has anything at all to do with the meld. He certainly doesn’t believe it’s as temporary as Spock thinks. Like, having people over for conversations grown-up and not immediately reaching for a bottle after a bad day grown-up and leaving Jim to his own devices without treating him like a child grown-up. That’s not Spock’s influence. Bones hasn’t hassled Jim about appointments with Starfleet Medical; he hasn’t fussed at him. Of course, Jim’s too afraid to skive off on those, but evidence of good behavior had never stopped Bones from preemptively scolding him before.
And so Jim cracks into Bones’s liquor cabinet and liberates Bones’s second best bottle of whiskey. He’s not sure why that’s his go-to idea. And he doesn’t mess with the best bottle because it’s only for the most special of occasions or the shittiest of days and Jim just wouldn’t do that. But he’s feeling vindictive enough to want the good stuff. And if it annoys Bones in the process, well.
That’s okay, too.
Bones could use the shaking up.
Jim makes sure he’s drinking some when Bones walks through the door. He hadn’t bothered to change out of that stupidly pristine and impractical medical uniform Starfleet Medical gives its staff. Red marks mar the skin of Bones’s neck where the stiff collar has rubbed repeatedly against it. Bones narrows his eyes in Jim’s direction, probably suspicious. He then flicks his gaze down to the glass in Jim’s hand.
Jim knows it’s only Bones’s encyclopedic knowledge of Jim’s behavior that tips him off, but Jim is still impressed when Bones makes it clear that he knows exactly what Jim is drinking.
Bones strips off the jacket, exposing an equally pristine white t-shirt. “I know you think that’s almost the best whiskey in that cabinet, Jim, but you have awful taste in whiskey.” He flicks Jim’s ear as he passes him. “You’re doing me a favor taking it off my hands.”
Jim grins, delighted despite not getting the response he’d expected. Spock doesn’t flick ears and that cheers him if nothing else does. “All I’m hearing is you keep whiskey in your liquor cabinet especially for me.”
“And all I’m saying is whiskey’s for drinking, not gathering dust in a cedar box somewhere. It’s not like you didn’t know I do that.” Bones then disappears into his bedroom. When he returns, Jim has stolen another generous portion of the whiskey and is in the process of pouring Bones’s preferred bourbon into another glass.
He comes up behind Jim and swipes Jim’s glass, sampling it delicately before returning it to the counter. His face twists gargoyle-like in distaste. “Nope. Still don’t get it.”
Jim rolls his eyes. “There’s nothing to get, Bones. It’s a drink. It tastes good. That’s it.” Then he turns, surprised to see how close Bones actually is to him. He hands Bones’s drink to him and snatches up his own.
“It is a drink,” Bones concedes. “I guess.”
Jim almost pouts. That’s it? No ranting about respecting Bones’s space? No name calling? Just tacit acceptance of shenanigans without an eyelash so much as thinking of batting itself?
“So the meld,” Jim blurts out suddenly in the least finessed accusation he’s uttered in Bones’s presence ever. He waves his free hand about Bones’s person. Still, he presses on now that it’s out there. “Is that why you’re so…”
At this, Jim does expect an explosion. Despite weak protest, Bones is surprisingly okay with invasions of his physical space, but Bones has never been happy about anyone prying into his business. Jim often does it anyway, but this seems like it should be a particularly fraught minefield for Bones. Jim wasn’t there, so he feels like there’s distance between himself and whatever it is Bones got up to that Bones can't possibly share considering he melded with a Vulcan because of it.
“So what, Jim?” Bones asks, more curious than annoyed.
“Chill, damn it,” Jim says, frustrated. “You’re, like, not you, man. You’ve been nice. Well, your version of nice, which is apparently letting me run roughshod over your life without a complaint.” He holds up his glass to prove his point.
“Oh, I’m sure I’ve been complaining. Can’t help it. Mama always said I came by it naturally and got plenty of practice every day,” Bones says, amused, but dangerously so. Maybe. He’s got that edge about him that tells Jim when he’s close to pressing at something Bones doesn’t want pressed and he’s trying to distract Jim from it with that weird, southern deprecation Bones only pulls out on special occasions. “What I’m not sure of is what’s going on inside that head of yours.”
“There’s nothing going on,” Jim answers.
“Oh,” Bones answers, light and wide eyed, snapping his fingers. “That explains it. You’re telling me you want me to yell at you and there’s nothing going on? You haven’t done anything worth yelling about.”
The phrase ‘well, when you put it that way’ exists just for Bones’s unique ability to make just about anything sound ridiculous. Only Uhura can come within spitting distance of Bones’s talent while Spock’s takes a surprising and distant third.
Then Bones touches him on the arm, faintly worried and sympathetic, maybe a little nauseated as well. “Jim, it wasn’t good… when you were out, so yeah. It was that or a stim overdose. And it was hard, you know? Obviously you know...”
Bones laughs at himself then, scraping his nails over the back of his neck. “I even wrung an emotion out of Spock over it.”
“You do that anyway,” Jim answers, guilty.
“That I do.” Bones pauses as though collecting himself. “But the one thing I have figured out in all this was that all-consuming worry I have for you is just holding us back. For all your hare-brained stunts, you never came back to me dead until your whole crew was in jeopardy. And then we fixed it anyway. So I figured I should cut you some slack. And you know what you did?”
Jim shakes his head.
“You did what you should’ve been doing. Or what I would have pestered you into doing anyway.” Bones begins counting off with his fingers. “You’ve taken it easy; you haven’t harassed me about my medical judgments. Hell, you’ve gone to every physical I’ve set for you without a complaint that I could tell. I’m pretty sure you’re bullshitting the psychologist a little bit, but I can’t blame you there, and if you got away with it, it’s because Dehner let you. Point is, you don’t need me to fret over you. On the other hand, I think you’ve more than earned my trust in this matter. What’d you think I was doing?”
And there’s that feeling of ridiculousness again. It humbles him that Bones should so openly speak of trust. He’d thought that losing Bones’s ever present nagging was a bad thing. Leave it to Bones to frame it as the opposite.
Bones takes his silence as something negative, because he steps forward, a little emotional around the eyes, Jim thinks. “Jim, just because I’m not clucking at you about your food intake doesn’t mean I don’t care. Is that what this is about?”
Jim averts his eyes, but whatever Bones sees anyway must confirm the truth for him. He turns away and Jim worries that he’s hurt Bones’s feelings. Before Jim can apologize, Bones goes to his office and returns with his PADD. He boots it up and flicks through screen after screen until he finds what he’s looking for.
“I… why didn’t you say anything? About the meld?” Jim asks as Bones works.
“Oh, hell. You’re dealing with your own issues, Jim. Do you really want mine, too?” He looks up from the PADD, expectant.
“Yes!” Jim says. “You put up with my bullshit on a constant basis. I’d gladly return the favor if you’d let me.”
Bones stares at him for a moment, PADD completely forgotten until it nearly tumbles from his hands. He flushes as he grapples with it, ensuring everything is still there before he gives it to Jim.
“I don’t know if this will help explain some things,” Bones says slowly, offering the PADD to Jim, who takes it and begins reading while Bones continues speaking. “I mean, maybe it won’t, but, well. That's where I was, Jim.”
“What is…?” Jim reads and rereads the words, uncomprehending until the third quick pass. “You were planning on resigning?”
Bones laughs. “Hell, Jim, resign. I was gonna turn myself over to the Inspector General when I got you back on your feet again.”
“That’s stupid, Bones,” Jim says, feeling an unbidden thickness in his throat that he tries to swallow around. And Bones does nothing by halves, so despite not saying it, Jim’s pretty sure he’d have so spectacularly destroyed his career he’d never practice medicine again, if he somehow stopped himself from getting put away, too. And Jim’s not sure he wouldn’t have gotten himself arrested, too, just to complete the picture, if Bones had followed through.
“Spock said the same thing. Not in so many words—not in so few words anyway. Man’s gotta lot of words.” Bones looks Jim straight in the eye, exposing his weaknesses for Jim’s dissection. Jim sees all the despair and hope and relief that Jim had expected to hear from him as nags and pestering. “Pissed him off good, let me tell you.”
Jim, needing to lighten the atmosphere, quips a half-assed, “Did you tell him anger is an emotion?”
“No,” Bones admits a little brokenly as he pulls the PADD from Jim’s slack grip. “But I thought about it.”
Jim doesn’t do well with emotions generally. He has them and he buries them and he moves on. He doesn’t dwell, choosing to forge ahead instead, as unafraid and unburdened by his past as he can manage. It doesn’t always work, but he wouldn’t have made it through the Academy if he’d allowed his shit to hold him back.
But this, the thought of how close he’d come to losing Bones, and not knowing if he’d have been able to fix it, having to rely on Spock of all people to keep Bones around because he hadn’t been there… the feeling is not unlike the sensation of driving through a devastating winter storm blind and in the dark. Which he's done before, so he definitely knows.
All manner of what ifs flash through his mind, each one a lightning strike that cracks him open.
“I was wrong, Jim,” Bones says. “I panicked. A lot. So yeah. I had to maintain some calm and that's what Spock came up with. He says it’ll go away eventually, but I’m trying to hang onto the feeling as long as possible. It’s kind of useful.”
“Bones, you know I—” Jim starts, still focused on that resignation. “Space can be dangerous.” Can you deal with that, Jim doesn’t ask. But Bones hears him anyway.
Bones always hears him.
“Don’t I know it,” Bones says, rocking back on his heels and pushing at Jim’s shoulder. “Just give me a fighting chance, huh? Next time don’t show up in my medbay already in a body bag. I’ll fix you up.”
God. He should’ve had Scotty call Bones down, too. Jim can’t articulate why he didn’t. It had seemed so important at the time that Spock understand the nature of their relationship. And there was nothing Bones could have done for him anyway, so what was the point in having him there, too? As though Bones doing something for him was a prerequisite to saying goodbye. As though it didn’t matter that Bones deserved that much of Jim’s attention. As though Bones’s presence wouldn't have been a comfort, too.
“I’m such an asshole,” Jim says suddenly, grabbing Bones by the biceps. He pulls Bones into a hug, wrapping his arms around Bones’s shoulders, squeezing tightly. Bones’s hands curve around his shoulder blades immediately.
“Don’t go too easy on yourself, Jim,” Bones says into Jim’s shoulder, chin bumping his clavicle with each word. “I have a whole list of names that apply to you.”
“Ssh,” Bones says, shaking his head in defiance of Jim’s self-censure.
“Quiet, damn it,” Bones answers quickly, voice low and too insistent. “I know. I know already. Don’t worry about it.”
“Bones, come on. You deserve an—”
“No.” Bones sighs and clutches Jim closer. “I was where I needed to be. And I wouldn’t have been able to leave you in there. You did the right thing, not trusting me to be there.”
“I’m sorry,” Jim says, because Bones isn’t wrong. It's not an excuse and it's not an explanation. At the time, he hadn't even thought about it like htat. His heart breaks canyon wide with the admission. He can trust Bones with everything else; but he can’t trust Bones to embrace his death. And worse, Bones believes in no-win scenarios, but that wouldn’t have stopped him from trying. He’s a flipped version of Jim. And he has the credentials to back up the kind of power play Jim’s brain conjures as they embrace. And Spock probably would have gone along with it. He might even have helped. Between the two of them, they could have opened that hatch. Maybe none of them would have made it out of that damned warp core alive.
As though Bones can read Jim’s thoughts, he says, “I can’t blame you for making the responsible decision, no matter how crisped up you were at the end of it. It was probably the right one, too. I’ve seen the inside of Spock’s head.”
“I would want to be there if—if it was you.”
Bones pulls back then, focuses on Jim from an arm’s worth of distance. Jim’s seen every permutation of Bones’s anger writ bold across his features, but Jim sees no jagged downward twist on his lips nor a tornado in his irises. The wrinkles stacked atop his forehead soften into nothingness like they do when he finishes talking to his dad on the comm and his cheeks pink the same way they did the first time he’d successfully piloted a shuttle.
Jim would burn every bridge between them if Bones had tried the shit Jim pulled. He’d yank every string he could get his hands on to ensure a safe reassignment for the bastard and never talk to him again. Or he’d prod and needle Bones into a fight and then bury him in accusations and bruises until Bones removed himself from his post. Jim would never see past that betrayal. The fact that Bones doesn't even see what Jim had done as a betrayal just speaks to how much better a person he is.
Jim’s eyes prickle unexpectedly and he swipes at them, hoping a casual preemptive strike will avoid later embarrassment. But the confusion digging a furrow between Bones’s eyebrows just makes it worse, so he reels Bones close again out of self-preservation. Seeking solace through touch isn’t so strange a habit of Jim’s. And it’s better than exposing Bones to whatever he can’t keep off his face.
“Jim?” Bones asks, muffled against Jim’s neck.
Bones rubs warm arabesques into Jim’s back with one hand and riffles the fingers of his other through the short hairs growing at the base of his skull. “That may be so, but I gotta admit you have me a little outside of my purview here.”
Jim opens his mouth to speak, but his throat won’t cooperate.
“Jim?” Bones asks again, now scratching at the bone behind Jim’s ear to punctuate his question.
Jim takes a deep, steadying breath, his senses full of Bones and the faint clean scent of that stupid lotion he always wears because scrubbing up is a bitch on the skin. He doesn’t want to move except to tilt his head a bit to better encourage Bones’s ministrations.
“Give me something here,” Bones presses on. “I cleared you on the strength of your psych evals. Don’t prove me wrong for doing so.”
Jim doesn’t point out that Bones hasn’t thrown him into a rubber room yet. “I don’t know what to tell you,” Jim says, eyes shut tightly as though he’ll squeeze out a coherent answer that way. “I’m just really fucking happy you could fix what I did.”
Bones sucks in a sharp breath himself, hands stilling. But he doesn’t reshape the usual distance between them and that’s what matters. Instead, he pulls Jim closer, which doesn’t seem possible until Bones makes it happen. Just another way the world bends itself to Bones’s will.
“Christ, kid,” Bones says, voice wavering with undefinable emotion. He turns his head; his nose brushes over Jim’s ear and his lips graze over the stubble on Jim’s jaw as he speaks. “You’re nuts if you believe for a second I wouldn’t. How’d you get Dehner to release you anyway?”
Jim has, in the course of their friendship, laid a good many kisses about Bones’s person. Not since the Academy, admittedly, when he’d had more leeway and a taste for pushing Bones’s boundaries and riling him up. The occasional forehead kiss. An obnoxious smooch on the cheek every so often. The rare but exuberant full-mouth smack when something had really gone his way. All bids for attention and silly, safe expressions of affection. Bones had always swatted at him, face flushed, a rueful smile curling the corners of his mouth against its will.
Until this moment and the accidental brush of Bones’s mouth, Jim hadn’t realized how much he’d missed that uncomplicated physicality. Another casualty in the life of a starship captain and his CMO, he supposes. He'd like it back. He'd like more than that back to be honest.
Jim’s shared a lot of kisses with a lot of people in his time, but never one that’s broken him apart so thoroughly as this inadvertent contact. He has no idea what it meant to Bones, if Bones even noticed, but he knows exactly what he means when he turns his head to capture Bones’s mouth with his, consequences be damned.
His resolve backs him toward the couch with Bones in tow. And bless him, but he follows, trusting Jim to lead the way without stranding him in the shoals. Jim lands them both on the couch. Bones tosses his PADD somewhere in the direction of the coffee table. Jim’s torso twists awkwardly so his hands can better travel the topography of Bones’s jaw, imprint the arc of Bones’s skull into his fingertips, learn the jut of Bones’s cheeks with his thumbs.
Bones bows his head and tugs at Jim’s bottom lip with his teeth.
He presses closer, hikes himself up onto his knees on the couch cushion to get more leverage, only breaking contact to avoid injuring one or the both of them. Bones tilts his head back, giving Jim a more generous angle to accompany the new height difference. He straddles Bones’s thighs, which take Jim’s weight easily, and startles a low whine out of Bones, whose fingers trail down Jim’s sides and over his flanks, catching in Jim’s belt loops.
Bones opens his eyes and looks up at Jim with new yes, as though Jim is the newest, greatest advance in medicine, in science, in avionic safety equipment. “Jim,” he says, reverently twisting his hands in those belt loops, causing the denim to bite into Jim’s hips. “What…”
Jim kisses him again, testing to make sure the first kiss wasn’t just a fluke. Bones can figure out the what on his own. The important thing is Bones’s hands traveling up his back and his thighs flex beneath Jim’s.
Bones must agree, because he abandons his inquiry easily enough. He tugs Jim’s hips up and cranes his neck to better access Jim’s lips, the best kind of chase game and one he clearly intends to win. He peppers Jim’s skin with kisses, nips at his chin, and puts his not inconsiderable skills to work on Jim’s neck, his clavicle, everywhere he can reach, scraping, sucking, and laving every inch of skin above his collar with nerve-splitting attention.
“Bones, how are you only known for your steady hands?” Jim asks, breathing raggedly against Bones’s forehead. “Where’d you learn to do that?”
“You ask all your potential lovers for their credentials?” Bones answers in disbelief.
“Only the special ones.” Jim grins at him, ghosting his knuckles over Bones’s temple, endeared by Bones’s use of the word lovers. Bones catches Jim’s wrist with his hand and brushes his lips across it, grazing his teeth over the veins there, shutting Jim up more effectively than usual.
Bones explores Jim’s hand, his palm, down his fingers. Jim wants more. He wants everything, not just this and not just once. And yet this is enough, too. More than he’d known to expect. If Bones wants to spend his life doing this and nothing else, Jim could be happy. Hell, it would be enough if Bones just wants to stay. For a man known for his take everything and run ethos, it comes as something of a surprise.
And he’s never been surer of anything despite of the frantic rhythms leading his heartbeat on a wild-goose chase around his chest.
But then Bones pushes Jim back, forcing him to clamor to his feet so that he himself can stand. He grasps Jim’s hand and leads him toward his room. Jim trails behind him, smiling that painful bright smile he’s never learned to dim so rarely does he use it, and Bones looks back once, surprised, before he ducks his head and tugs Jim forward.
Bones pushes him toward over the threshold into the bedroom. “You ready for an answer to that question about my hands?”
“Is this always what it’s like for you?” Leonard asks. He stares at his hands, seeing them for the first time. He can almost sense the electrical impulses flowing through his body as he stretches and flexes his fingers.
“I’m no longer in your head, I wouldn’t know,” Spock answers, and Leonard can hear the twang of his own testiness in the way he speaks.
Leonard doesn’t feel the need to grin in satisfaction, to share his amusement with Spock just to get a rise out of him. It’s enough just feeling it. Even if it serves Spock right to experience life from the other side, he doesn't need to say as much.
“I do not wish to repeat this experience,” Spock continues, jiggling his knee.
That physical benchmark drains the experience of entertainment. Leonard knows, now that he has some outside perspective, just how bad he’d been. And it had been worse than he’d known. He’s not sure he would have agreed if he’d realized and he regrets putting Spock through it. “You okay, Spock?”
“Of course. I just need—”
Spock glares and goddamn if it isn’t a face intimately familiar to Leonard. “Meditation.”
“Suit yourself. Knowing me, the drink’s the better bet.” Leonard stands, more graceful in the movement than he's ever been in his life. “I think I’ll head back to the hospital.”
“Good,” Spock answers. Leonard doesn't need a degree in psychology to realize that good in this case means please fuck off for good.
Leonard reaches the door and turns to give Spock one last look. “Thank you, Spock. You’ll let me know if you need anything?”
“Of course, Doctor.” Spock softens, just a little, just enough to let Leonard know he will be okay. “You’re welcome.”
Jim wakes when Bones stirs beside him in the feeble morning light. Bones has always been an early riser, needs almost no sleep at all it seems. Spiking worry prickles Jim all over as Bones rubs his face back and forth into the pillow. Even though he’s the one who started this, he wants to ask the question, and must resist the temptation to put what has happened under a microscope. He always wants to analyze good things to death. And he knows Bones would let him spoil the fragile atmosphere if he could get the words out.
His question can wait for the sun at least.
Bones stretches and groans. Bones’s joints crack in the otherwise silent room. Not even the sparse traffic outside intrudes on the quiet. “Mmm. Morning, Jim,” Bones says muzzily.
Jim, then, feeling bold, feeling Bones out maybe, sneaks his arm beneath Bones’s neck and hauls him close. “Hey, Bones.” Bones murmurs something into Jim’s shoulder and shifts into a more comfortable position against Jim’s chest. Jim presses a kiss to the top of Bones’s head. Bones shuffles a bit more before settling.
“Time’s it?” Bones asks, warm breath puffing over Jim’s sternum.
“Too early for that question,” Jim answers before the computer can answer for him, starting the day. No doubt Bones would just go ahead and get up if he knew the precise answer. Jim expects an argument. What he gets is whispered ‘kay and a cold hand slid under his back. Jim flinches at the sensation, but doesn’t berate Bones for the dirty trick, not when Bones laughs discretely against his ribs.
When Jim wakes for a second time, Bones is definitely more awake and a lot more sneaky about it because Jim doesn’t know how long he’s been up. staring down at Jim like a crazy person. Looks like Jim’s not the only one harboring worries. He can work with that. With as much confidence as he can muster, he nods and hopes Bones gets it what he’s trying to say.
Bones’s features mellow into acceptance. Admittedly, he’s only right if he's accepted that he’s stuck with Jim now, but they can talk about that later. Or never. Jim would just as soon stick around without talking about that fact.
Bones leans down, kisses Jim lightly, pushes himself upright.
“How do you feel about pancakes?” he asks.
“I’m firmly in the pro-pancake camp, Bones,” Jim says, making a good-natured production of rolling his eyes. Who says no to pancakes unless they have to?
“Good,” Bones says, patting Jim on the knee as he gets out of bed. Jim regrets this development, but he supposes it had to happen sometime. Jim goes to follow Bones, getting as far as stretching the pleasant ache from his muscles before he decides he’d rather stay put for a few minutes longer. He falls back against the pillows and does his best impression of a starfish, arms and legs spread wide, before rolling into the quickly fading warmth on Bones's side of the bed.
Jim must doze, because the next time he’s aware of anything, there's a pillow smacking him in the side of the head.
“Rise and shine, sugar,” Bones says mockingly.
Jim’s lower lip juts precariously, which is impressive considering the smile that wants to free itself instead. “No breakfast in bed?”
“Not unless you’re planning on doing my laundry for me,” Bones answers, leaning over the end of the bed with two fistfuls of sheets in his hands, ready to take drastic action should Jim not comply.
“I can do laundry,” Jim offers as he stands, making Bones’s threat with the sheets unnecessary. Bones just stomps out with a mournful shake of his head and a muttered, “pull the other one next time, Jim.”
“And they say romance is dead,” Jim answers expansively, lunging toward Bones and hooking his arm around his neck. Then Jim catches a whiff of breakfast and can’t in good conscience allow his original comment to stand. “Bones, I take it back.”
Then he actually witnesses the huge stack of pancakes, small as sand dollars, with butter melting all over them. Next to the plate, a small glass pitcher gleams with thick brown syrup. Bacon, scrambled eggs, and orange juice are lined up nearby on the counter.
Bones has game. Maybe better game than Jim. This right here is an expert wooing. And one accomplished after the fact at that. It stirs the competitive spirit in Jim; he has to top this somehow. He wishes he’d hit Bones up for tips at the Academy. Now that he thinks about it, Bones never once got turned down at the Academy if he’d set his mind on someone. Jim might have had him beat on sheer quantity and variety, but Bones aimed high and was never slapped for his trouble.
Bones hands him a plate, disapproving scowl in place, as though he can read Jim’s mind and finds his thoughts lacking. Jim just smiles back innocently. Obviously good intentions are not the reason Bones is a divorcé.
And then Jim sits down and takes a bite and thinks he could happily slap a new ring on that finger. Not that he’ll say as much to Bones. Poor guy would probably have a nervous breakdown at the thought of being hitched to Jim. “Did you put bourbon in the syrup?” Jim asks.
“‘course I did,” Bones answers, affronted, “What do you take me for? Grandpa Horatio would rise from his grave and smack me with a spoon if I didn’t.” He adds, scoffing, “‘Did you put bourbon in the syrup?’ My God.”
“No wonder you bitch about breakfast so often,” Jim says sympathetically. “I’d be mad, too.” Jim looks down at his plate morosely. Generally speaking, Jim doesn’t much care what his food tastes like. Food is food. Generally speaking. But specifically… specifically he could eat this for the rest of his life. “You’ve ruined me for food synthesizers, Bones.”
Bones snorts, but doesn’t stage a reenactment of his third favorite gripe in the world: ‘Why Food Synthesizers Are a Crime Against Good Taste.’ Jim almost regrets that fact. He likes listening to Bones gripe as long as it’s not Jim he’s griping about.
“This bacon tastes like heaven,” Jim says, growing more despondent as he goes on, knowing he’ll have to live with this knowledge forever. He’s never once faltered from his desire to captain a starship once he hit the Academy, but damn. This is one earthly appeal he’ll miss up there. “I kind of hate you right now.”
“No, you don’t,” Bones answers blithely, mostly ignoring Jim in favor of balancing as much of his eggs onto his fork as he can manage.
“What else can you do?”
“Why? Wanna use my secrets on someone else?” Bones says, jovial.
“I’m wounded,” Jim says, miming a painful blow to his heart. Then he leans forward conspiratorially. “Maybe I want to use them on you. They seem like good ones.”
“My tricks don’t work on me,” Bones answers meeting Jim halfway across the table. “Use your own.”
“Is that a challenge?”
Bones stands smoothly, bending down to pick up Jim’s empty plate. His mouth comes dangerously close to Jim’s ear. “Maybe I’d just like to see some of your moves firsthand for once in my life.” He smiles enigmatically and walks loose-limbed over to the still warm food.
So not a challenge, but definitely an invitation. Jim can work with that.
Jim gets up and comes to stand behind Bones at the stove, lifting his hands to rest on Bones’s hips. “Firsthand, huh?” Jim asks, laying it on thick for effect. He refrains from pressing himself fully against Bones’s back—no need to be crass after all. Bones has proven himself even more gentlemanly than Jim might have expected. He does push his palms under Bones’s worn t-shirt and walks his fingers over Bones’s stomach to play with the elastic of Bones’s pajama bottoms though. “I can do that.”
Bones leans back into Jim’s chest and looks up at Jim. Under normal circumstances, Bones has an inch or so on Jim, so getting to look down at Bones is an interesting experience that Jim would like to repeat as often as possible. Then Bones waves a piece of bacon in Jim’s face and he wouldn't mind it if that action repeated itself, too.
“You done with breakfast yet?” Bones asks.
Jim plucks the food from Bones’s hand and folds it in half before popping it into his mouth. “Yeah. I’m good.”
Then Bones ducks out from their near embrace and grabs Jim by the wrist. “Glad to hear that.”
“You look better,” Uhura says. She comes right up to Leonard and inspects his features, getting onto her toes for a better angle. “The bags under your eyes aren’t carrying their own luggage anymore.”
“That wasn’t even a backhanded compliment, Uhura,” Leonard answers. “Aren’t communications specialists supposed to know how to charm people?”
“Oh, I speak fluent Leonard McCoy, don’t you worry.” She watches him speculatively. “Even if you are standing straighter than Spock when he speaks to an admiral.”
Leonard looks down at himself and leans back a little. He tries to relax his posture, but he finds it impossible without exerting more concentration than it’s worth. “My spine’s a little confused right now.”
“Yeah, well, Spock’s sudden distaste for spice tea is confusing him right now, so I’d say the trade is fair.”
One corner of Leonard’s mouth lifts. “How’s he doing otherwise?”
Uhura shrugs. “He’s a little irritable, but it’s not as bad as I’d expected.” She walks over to Jim’s bedside and peers down at him, concern on her features. “He’s been out two weeks now. How much longer do you think it’ll be?”
Leonard shrugs in turn, but it feels awkward when his usual mannerisms are doing battle with Spock’s inside his head. That said, he’s well aware that a few days ago he’d have been angry at that question, so he can deal with the warring physical impulses. “He’ll come out of it when he comes out of it. His brain activity has changed a bit in the last day or so. More like he’s dreaming now. Might be a good sign.”
Jim flips onto his stomach and pushes his head between two pillows, eyes squeezed shut as Bones actually fucking whistles from somewhere on the far corner of the room. Jim peeks his head out and glances at the chronometer sitting on the nightstand on Bones’s side of the bed. 0800. Ugh. Jim hasn’t felt this relaxed since before the Academy when he kept a more open policy on substances less savory than alcohol. It’s nice right up until the moment Bones brings him back to reality.
“You do remember I cleared you for duty, right?” Bones says as he pulls on his fancy fucking scrubs.
“Yeah, I’m trying to forget,” Jim says, glaring at him. He doesn’t want to pull on that stupid uniform that reminds him way too much like his cadet reds. It feels too much like a demotion. Which is stupid. He’s lucky they haven’t scrapped the Enterprise to start from scratch on something else. He's just temporarily reassigned. It could be worse. “Why’d you clear me again? Should’ve held off for a bit longer. We could’ve had a lot more fun. And I wouldn’t have to pretend I know shit about teaching.”
Bones pins him down with an unamused expression. “Would that I’d known, Jim,” he says mournfully. “Think it through next time.”
“Would you really have held off?”
“No. Now get up.” Bones smiles. “The best part of my day is gonna be seeing you in that black getup.”
Jim climbs out of bed. “Man, are you in for a disappointing day then. That much black’s just not for me, I guess. I can’t pull it off like Spock.”
Bones feigns a sympathetic look. “Now isn’t that a shame.” Then he thinks about what he’d said and his lips twist in distaste. And then he flicks a suggestive glance at Jim. “I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Not as fine as you in all that white,” Jim says cheekily. He saunters close enough to Bones that Bones can and does elbow him in the stomach to make him retreat. But Jim sees the way Bones’s cheeks flush, practically targets for Jim to kiss, just to see Bones redden even more. It’s not unlike the way he used to tease Bones, only now it’s a lot more fun and Bones won’t pull a hypo on him.
“See you later?” Jim asks.
Jim pecks him on the cheek a second time. Just for effect, of course. “For dinner?”
Bones rolls his eyes. It’s the first time Jim’s seen that familiar act since he woke up. And it’s a glory to behold. Spock would never be caught dead rolling his eyes. That’s pure Bones. “Yes, Jim.”
Jim then traces the collar of Bones’s tunic with one fingertip. “And dessert?”
“Not at this rate,” Bones threatens.
Jim claps him on the shoulder before backing away to ready himself for what is sure to be a stupidly painful day. “That’s the spirit, Bones.”
Leonard watches Spock as he and Jim talk, trying to see if he can spot himself in the way Spock carries himself, the words he speaks, his mannerisms. But so far he sees nothing but a carefully choreographed facsimile of Spock’s usual behavior.
He does say Jim’s name though. That must count for something, right? No. Not really. Leonard has no idea how well Spock’s handling the whole thing; he’s only got Uhura’s word, which is good, but he’s always trusted his own observations first and best.
It’s hard to miss the way Jim keeps sneaking looks at him though, even as Leonard makes a point of scribbling notes into his PADD, nothing notations meant to obscure the fact that Leonard’s telling Starfleet Medical way less than he should.
“Bones!” Jim says, using his Captain Bastard tone. Leonard hates it; it makes him feel like he ought to salute the punk.
“Yeah, Jim?” he answers, continuing to write. He’s running out of ways to say he has no fucking clue what’s happening to Jim or why. This, at least, is true, but he’s never been good at fluffing up his reports with jargon just for the sake of it.
“What’s with you and Spock and the furtive glances?”
Leonard freezes, can feel panic trying to sneak through the inhuman serenity coursing through him. But Spock’s mojo holds. Had he really done anything approaching furtive today? What would he do under normal circumstances?
Snicker. He snickers and shakes his head. “You ought to rest, Jim.”
“You do know Spock and Uhura are serious, right?” Jim says, pretty much out of nowhere because yes, Leonard knows. It’s not like it’s a secret.
“I’m aware,” he answers, unsure why Jim would bring it up, but curious all the same.
“So since when do you check out the involved?”
“I—” Leonard glances down at his PADD, thinking furiously for a way to deflect Jim’s attention. “Well, he’s just so handsome,” he says, mustering as much sarcasm as possible. “It’s enough just to look sometimes.” He's not ready to burden Jim with why he's paying such close attention to Spock. He should've known Jim would notice. He smirks for good measure, but it feels forced.
It must work though, because Jim’s head falls back against his pillow in defeat. “You’re the worst, Bones.”
Leonard touches Jim's shoulder; a thrill dances through his fingertips at the contact. He'll be glad when that wears off. He nearly pulls his hand back, he’s so startled by the sensation. Like he needs it on top of everything else he feels. “I know, Jim.”
He should’ve taken his chances with the sleep deprivation. This can’t possibly end well.