The first time Jim Kirk sees the sky, he cries.
It's poetic, but—to put it kindly—it's bending the truth. He's seen the sky before, just not for twelve years. And he cries because the first thing he does upon emerging from the bunker is look up, become completely overwhelmed by the hugeness of it, fall over, and vomit in the snow. It makes his eyes water.
The air feels different as well. It's not as stale as the recycled air he's been breathing for more than half his life, but it's thinner. Less oxygen, Jim thinks vaguely. He tries to keep his breathing deep and steady as he waits for his eyes to adjust to the glare of the sun.
It's only then that he realises exactly how cold it is. Jim's wearing the thickest coat he could find in the bunker after the rest of its residents had cleared it out ten days before. There were five of them—Kevin, Gary, Simon, Andrew and Ryan—and they could carry far more than Jim could manage alone, but the bunker was big. He didn't know how many people it was supposed to support but he knew that they hadn't made much of a dent in its supplies over the last twelve years. The others took the best of what remained with them.
Jim pulls his coat around himself more tightly and squints into the distance. There's no sign of life for miles bar footprints in the snow that lead off across the sprawling landscape. He follows them because he doesn't know what else to do.
The glare from the snow becomes unbearable almost immediately. The snow isn't packed down, so he doesn't need his arms for balance and he can cover his eyes with his fingers. It's inconvenient, though. Jim loses count of how many times he stumbles over some unseen obstacle obscured either by the snow or by his hand.
He walks until the sun goes down, then makes a half-hearted sort of camp on the leeward side of a large snowdrift. With no experience in setting fires, Jim only manages to keep his alight long enough to heat up the contents of one of the cans he brought with him. He's ravenously hungry but he doesn't want to eat too much of his food, so Jim limits himself to just the one can. Even without a fire, the warming effect of food in his stomach is enough to keep him mostly comfortable as he talks himself to sleep.
Four days later, Jim's fairly certain he's dying. He's barely slept since that first night thanks to the fear that the cold will kill him if he stops walking and his face is raw with sunburn. He covers it as best as he can, but most of the time it's a choice between that and seeing where he's going. His exhaustion means every stumble is a fall, but all he can think about is catching up with the others, even though he's so tired he can barely move.
Jim's hands itch uncontrollably. His eyelids and lips are swollen. But the worst part is the loneliness. Jim's been alone before, but never in such a profound way. Before, there was always someone to come running if something went wrong. The bunker was big, just not big enough for true isolation. Nothing like this.
So he keeps walking, one foot after the other, because it's the only thing he can do now. He can't go back.
On the fifth day, he wakes after less than three hours of sleep to find that the sky is overcast. "Clouds," Jim says in wonder. It's difficult; the sunburn has left his skin feeling impossibly tight. He turns his hot, sore face to the sky and lets the snowflakes that are beginning to fall settle on him.
After a moment, Jim realises that fresh snowfall will cover the tracks and so he sets off again, hoping that five men move more slowly than one. If he catches up with them today, maybe they can help with his face. His hands have finally stopped itching and he's starting to feel hopeful.
Not long after that, he finds the bodies of the others lying in the snow. They aren't bodies anymore, though; they're skeletons, splayed beneath a few bare-branched trees. A large black bird is hopping around and pecking at the few scraps of flesh that remain on the bones. It's the first sign of life he's seen since leaving the bunker.
Jim retches violently and throws up again. With no food in his stomach, all that comes up is bile and water. It burns his throat and his sore, broken lips. He manages to stagger a few paces away from the remains of his friends before he collapses face down in the snow. It's all over.
I'm alone, he thinks before he passes out.
The hum of a motor wakes him, and the fact that he's warm. Whatever Jim's lying on, it's cushioned and comfortable—a mattress, maybe—though it's also vibrating steadily beneath him. He inhales sharply when he realises his face is bandaged and he can't open his eyes.
"You're awake," says a voice from behind his head. "I was beginning to think you were comatose."
Jim tries to wet his lips with his tongue and groans from the pain it causes. "Wha' happened?" he croaks, every word an effort. "D'you... kidnap me?"
"I saved your life, you idiot. What did you think you were doing?"
"Not sure... dying." His face hurts so much it's almost unbelievable.
The owner of the voice chuckles quietly. "You sure were, kid. Another day or two and I couldn't have done a thing for you."
"You can call me Bones. But right now, you shouldn't be calling me anything. You should stop talking before you split your face open."
Jim whimpers at the thought and obeys, letting the sensation of movement rock him back to sleep.
When he wakes up again, the movement has stopped and everything is quiet. The owner of the voice—Bones—has unbandaged his face and is in the process of smearing something over it.
"What in the hell," Jim starts. Then he realises that he can talk without it hurting—but he can't really see anything. "Am I blind?"
"Stay still," Bones says. His fingers keep moving over Jim's skin. "I don't think you're blind. Your eyes just need to recover after the beating you gave them. But there are some other things I probably need to tell you about."
"Like what you're rubbing into my face?"
"An ointment. There's a local anaesthetic in there but its main purpose is to heal your skin as quick as possible and try to stave off the cancer."
"From the UV. The ozone layer's recovering, from what we can tell, but it's nowhere near what it was. What we need it to be."
"Oh," Jim says quietly.
"Like I said earlier, I got to you in time—but only just, so thank your lucky stars. And I hope you weren't growing your hair for something special," he adds, his fingertips sliding up and over Jim's scalp. "Your head got burned through it so I had to give you a buzzcut. Only way I could treat it."
"Aw, man," Jim says half-heartedly. He'd be more offended if Bones' fingers didn't feel so damn good.
"There's something else. You had frostbite."
"I had what?" He squints up at Bones and manages to make out the pale oval of his face. He thinks Bones probably has dark hair and a beard, but it could be shadow. There's no way to tell with his eyesight as bad as it is.
Bones sighs heavily. "You don't know what frostbite is? No wonder you weren't doing anything to prevent it. Kid, your hands froze. No circulation in your fingers and, well. I managed to save most of 'em."
"I'm really sorry," he says, and he does sound regretful. "You lost the little finger on your right hand and half of your ring finger. They looked real bad, kid, and I couldn't risk you losing your whole hand. This way, you've still got something."
Now Jim thinks about it, he can't feel his pinky. And that makes him remember something else. "There was a ring," he says. "It was on that hand, on my pinky. What happened to it?"
"Hang on." Bones stops massaging his scalp and there are a few rustling noises as he looks. Then Jim feels warm, slippery fingers take his left hand and press something cool and metallic into it. "There. It's some kind of class ring, ain't it?"
"Yeah," Jim says. He tightens his fist around the ring until he can feel the metal biting into his skin. "My mom's. She was an astronaut. She left it with my dad before she went on her last mission—which I guess was lucky, seeing as she never came back."
"I'm sorry," Bones says. "How old were you?"
"Ten." He feels for a pocket and slips the ring into it.
"That must have been tough on you."
"Yeah, well," Jim says lightly. "The world kind of ended around the same time, so I never really got to dwell on it."
Bones snorts. "At least you know how to look on the bright side. You hungry?"
Now he thinks about it, Jim realises he is. He nods.
"I'm not surprised; you were asleep for three days. I'll make you something. Soup or a sandwich?" he asks. Jim hears him getting up and moving across the room. "You probably shouldn't eat too much to begin with."
"I can't see, so soup is probably a dumb idea. I mean, thanks. I'll have a sandwich." Jim braces his hands on the mattress and pushes himself up, wincing at the sharp needle of pain that lances through his right hand. He grunts faintly before he can stop himself.
"Be careful or you'll open up the wounds again."
"Don't be an idiot. If you really want to talk, why don't you tell me where exactly you've been these past twelve years? Because I can't quite understand how you've survived for so long given your complete lack of common sense."
"We lived in a government bunker."
"Who's 'we'? You and those bodies I found you with?"
"Yeah. There were more of us when we started out but people died. My dad died when I was sixteen. In the end it was just the six of us. No," he corrects himself, "in the end it was just me. They left first."
"If you'd gone with them, you'd be dead by now," Bones says. "Why did they leave?"
"The environmental controls were failing. I thought I could fix them—my dad taught me a few things about engineering before he died—but I couldn't, so I left as well. Nearly a week behind them, but not long enough for them to just be... you know. Skeletons."
There's a long pause. "I think that can wait until you've recovered a bit more."
"Should I be worried?" Jim asks. No matter what Bones says, he thinks he will worry. Whatever killed Kevin and the others, he was out there with it. What happened to them could have happened to him.
"Not as long as you don't tell anyone your name. Not to a single living soul. And don't even think about saying it aloud when you're alone, do you hear me?"
"God, you're weird," Jim says, closing his eyes. It doesn't make much of a difference. "Is it worth me asking why?"
"Not today, no."
That kills the growing companionable mood completely and they eat in silence. When they finish, Bones clears up—Jim assumes from the noises he can hear—and hands him a jar, telling him to use it if he needs the bathroom during the night.
"And if you piss on the floor or my mattress, there'll be hell to pay," he warns Jim.
"I'll be careful."
"Good." Then Bones drapes a blanket over Jim and lies down next to him.
"Are you ready to move our relationship to the next level?" asks Jim.
He doesn't have to see Bones' face to know that he's rolling his eyes.
"There's only one bed," Bones says. "I wasn't exactly expecting company and I'm not sleeping in a seat just for you. Is that going to be a problem?"
"No, no problem," he says agreeably. "I used to share a bed sometimes in the bunker."
"You and your magical bunker."
"It wasn't the worst place in the world," Jim says. "It was stocked for way more people than were living there so we always had plenty of food and water. And medical stuff," he adds. "Medications and bandages and shit. I don't know how many people it was meant to support but I don't think we used more than an eighth of what was there in twelve years."
Bones whistles quietly. "We could use those supplies," he says. "If there's as much down there as you say, it'd be stupid to leave it to go bad, even if that does take another hundred years. Can you tell me how to get back to this bunker of yours?"
"Sure," Jim says. "I think I even have a map. But I told you, the environmental controls failed. There's nothing to breathe down there anymore."
"I can get around that. The air was bad for a long time—that killed about as many people as the burst. Took a while longer, but in the end only the people who had masks and air tanks are still around today." He looks across at Jim, shifting his fingers on the wheel. "And you."
"A closed environmental system is kind of like an air tank," Jim says.
"Less effort on your part, though."
"I was ten," Jim says defensively. "I'm so sorry I didn't do twelve years of hard... manly surviving in the wilderness or whatever." His face is beginning to hurt again, aching around the corners of his mouth. He makes a small, pained noise.
"Stop talking and go to sleep," Bones says. "I'll give you some more painkillers in a few hours, but for now you should get some rest."
Jim decides, childishly, that he wants the last word. "Okay." He shifts and relaxes, letting the sounds of another person breathing next to him ease him into sleep.
His face is freezing. His entire body is freezing, he realises, though he can't feel most of it. Jim struggles weakly but his own weight is holding him down and suffocating him. He thrashes his limbs, trying to push himself up. He doesn't know if his eyes are open or closed because all he can see is black—he's blinded, still.
And then it's gone, all of it; banished by the tight grip of fingers on his shoulder.
"Wake up," Bones says softly, "you're having a nightmare."
Jim's eyesight improves every day. The blacked out windows of the truck are easy enough on his eyes and it doesn't take long for him to learn where everything is. Bones won't let him out by himself, even to go to the bathroom. When he is allowed out, Bones makes Jim wear sunglasses to prevent any further damage to his eyes.
He's pretty sure he looks completely ridiculous every time they stop, pissing behind a tree in aviators while Bones holds onto his arm. It's a good thing no one's around to see.
The truck is almost as slow as walking thanks to the snow and the uneven terrain, and it takes them nearly as long to get back to the bunker as it did for Jim to get as far away as he had on foot. The journey seems longer thanks to the CD that Bones has had on repeat since they started out for the bunker. One Celine Dion song is bad enough, as far as Jim's concerned, but when the same album's been playing for several days straight, he's ready to perforate his own eardrums.
"Do they call you 'Bones' because your taste in music is so bad it kills people?" he asks.
"Driver picks the music," says Bones impassively.
"But I can't drive," Jim says in anguish.
Jim sticks his fingers into his ears and goes back to staring out of the window. He can still hear the music faintly. He'll hear it in his nightmares.
When they reach the hatch that leads down into the bunker, Bones climbs into the back of the truck and starts pulling on a selection of padded clothing. Once he's dressed, he drags a cylindrical tank and the mask that connects to it out into the snow. Jim, still in the passenger seat, puts on his sunglasses and opens the window.
"I'm going to get this done as quick as possible. I'll get it out and into the truck and we can sort through it later. You can sort through it while I'm driving." He shoots Jim a look. "It's probably the best way for you to help at the moment."
"I could help you right now."
"Stay in the truck," Bones says, strapping the air tank onto his back.
"But I'm wearing my sunglasses," Jim replies. "Are you telling me I got all dressed up and now I have nowhere to go?"
So Jim sighs and stays. He moves into the driver's seat as soon as Bones disappears down the hatch and looks through the meagre collection of CDs. Logically, he knows he should be grateful that any music survived the gamma-ray burst. Illogically, he's ready to shove the Celine Dion CD down Bones' throat. Jim settles for flinging it out of the window and watching it skim across the snow a good distance before it slides to a halt, shiny side down.
"Good riddance," Jim says. He rests one foot on the dashboard and adjusts his sunglasses, then winds the window back up to keep the heat in. There's only one CD with a name he recognises on the front of the case, so that's what he chooses to listen to.
Jim puts on The Best of Johnny Cash and picks at the scab where his pinky used to be.
Bones reappears at fairly regular intervals, hauling up cases of various supplies. He does everything by himself, though Jim's certain he could at least help move the boxes into the back of the truck. Even one-handed, he could manage that. Bones, however, seems unwilling to give Jim the chance.
"This would be faster if you'd let me help," he calls out of the window.
"You're still healing, kid. Your body's been through a lot and it needs to recover."
"That's slander," Jim says.
Bones stops in his tracks and looks at him. "Do you even know what slander is?"
"It's what you just said."
He rolls his eyes, pulls his mask back into position and climbs back down the ladder. Moments later, Bones' head reappears and he lifts the mask again. "Get out of my seat," he says, then drops back out of sight.
Jim grumbles but he does move, slumping into the passenger seat as if it's a punishment. After a while he gets up again and climbs through into the back of the truck. There isn't any kind of entertainment back there either. Instead, Jim pokes through the cans that Bones has already brought back and finds one that contains his favourite type of soup. He heats it on the stove, eating a protein bar from the same box of supplies to take the edge off his hunger while it warms through.
He's a little surprised that Bones hasn't stopped to eat. He's normally the person pushing the importance of regular meals on Jim, but maybe in this case Bones would rather get it over and done with and eat when he's finished.
When the soup is cooked, Jim climbs carefully back into the cab of the truck to eat it. He timed his meal carefully; Bones was in the bunker the entire time he was in the back and by the time he reappears, Jim's halfway through the can.
Jim can feel Bones looking at him. He doesn't acknowledge it.
The sun isn't setting but it's dipping lower in the sky when Bones comes back up for the final time. He closes the trapdoor firmly behind him and pulls off the mask and the air tank. For some reason, he hasn't brought anything up with him. Bones climbs straight into the driver's seat, passing the tank and mask to Jim.
"Let's get out of here," he says, starting the engine. "I get a funny feeling about this place."
"I grew up here."
"I know. Maybe that's why."
"Ha ha," says Jim, turning around to put the breathing apparatus into the back. He doesn't climb through to put it away properly; for all Bones is trying to be light-hearted, he seems genuinely unhappy about something. Jim pulls on his seatbelt without Bones needing to prompt him.
Jim might not have known Bones for very long but it seems obvious that something down in the bunker rattled him. He's driving faster than normal and he doesn't look like he wants to talk, so Jim keeps his mouth shut.
The landscape gets more interesting as the sun sets and casts reddened light across the snow, with dark, distorted shadows in sharp relief. Jim presses his forehead against the window so he can see through the treated glass more easily. It doesn't really help. They're driving away from the sun and following the shadows, towards the east.
The Johnny Cash CD whirrs in the player as it skips back to the beginning, stuck on repeat.
"What happened to my Celine Dion album?" Bones asks.
"I have no idea."
"Do you still celebrate Christmas?"
"I couldn't even tell you when Christmas is. I don't even know what month it is," Bones says.
"It's December," Jim tells him.
"How do you know that?"
"My watch's got the date on it." He tries to show Bones the watch.
Bones doesn't take his eyes off the snow ahead of them. "Dates don't mean much anymore. Either way, we don't celebrate Christmas."
"Are you kidding? I bet there's loads of decorations and stuff lying around. If no one else is using them, why can't we?"
"Where do you want to go, kid?" he snaps. "The mall? Because we don't go to malls. That's not how things work now."
"I know that—"
"You don't know anything. You don't know jack shit, okay? Malls are graveyards. People went there because they watched movies about apocalypses and thought it was a good idea and they died. We don't go there anymore. We're never going there again."
Abashed, Jim shuts up.
"I'm sorry," Bones says after a moment. "You didn't know."
"What happened?" he asks. "You said you'd tell me—what killed my friends, I mean. Is it the same thing?"
"Yes. You know what happened, don't you? When the world ended?"
Jim nods faintly. "A gamma-ray burst. My dad told me it took out all the electronics. Almost all," he amends. "And it killed a lot of people. It killed my mom."
"That wasn't the end of it. These things rode the wave in, like they were surfing it."
"Things?" Jim asks.
"Aliens of some kind. They don't have a name, or at least not one we gave them. They're just the things that came and picked people off in the aftermath, until we learned how they were doing it and how we could stop them."
"Aliens? That sounds pretty implausible."
"Well, it ain't."
"What do they do?"
"Once they know your name, your real name, they get in your head and eat you from the inside out. That's what happened in the malls. My advice to you is to forget you ever had a name," Bones says. "Your friends had no idea and that's what killed them."
"You have a name," Jim points out.
"I have a nickname. No one alive knows my real name but me, and that's how I'd prefer it to stay. That's why I never asked your name; there's few enough of us left that I need to get you back to our camp in one piece."
"It can't be all that bad," he says.
"Assuming no one died while I was away, there are two hundred and seventy-three of us in the camp. We're one of the biggest groups left."
Jim stares at him in horror. "What about other countries? Surely things are—"
"Kid, we were the lucky ones," Bones says brusquely. "Europe is gone; so is most of Asia and most of Africa. We think Australia and New Zealand are still functioning, but there's no way to tell. It was one thing after another and it killed almost everyone. I'd be surprised if there were more than two hundred thousand people left in the entire world."
"I guess this might make repopulating the world take a little longer."
"That's not going to happen." Bones sounds tired.
"Why?" Jim asks, even though something tells him he shouldn't.
"Almost everyone's sterile now and both babies that were born in the camp since the burst died before they were six months old," he says. It's very matter-of-fact but something in his eyes tells Jim that the loss of those babies hit Bones hard. It probably hit everyone hard.
"I'm sorry," he says.
"Don't be. No point in dwelling on the past."
"So, no Christmas. And no mall."
"No Christmas," Bones agrees. "And definitely no mall."
Their progress is slow, partially because of the weather and partially because Bones is the only one who can drive. They stop every night and then—if it snowed again—they have to dig the truck out the next morning.
"Does it snow like this all winter?" Jim asks breathlessly. The shovel slips out of his gloved hands for the fifth time.
"Not usually. But we'll be heading south as soon as we hit the coast anyway, and it doesn't snow so much down there to begin with."
"Oh, good. Hey, I've been thinking about a nickname."
"You've got a nickname," Bones says.
"'Kid' is a terrible nickname," Jim fires back. "Why can't you call me something like Awesome McSuper?"
"Because that's the stupidest thing I ever heard. That's why you don't get to pick your own nickname."
Jim sighs and puts the shovel back in the truck. "Fine."
He starts asking if Bones will teach him how to drive the truck the next day. At first, Bones seems hesitant, but Jim keeps asking until he wears him down. In the end, it takes less time than he thought it would. It's only a few days later when Jim is allowed into the driver's seat and given the keys to the truck.
"Okay, we're going to take this slow," Bones says. "Check your mirrors first."
The driving lesson ends abruptly when Jim nearly puts the truck into a quarry in what Bones says used to be southeastern Iowa.
"I don't need breaks from driving that much," Bones tells him firmly. He seems shaken. "You're just going to have to be patient. We'll get there when we get there."
"No. Slow is preferable over dead, kid."
Jim resigns himself to fuck knows how much longer in the passenger seat.
"I used to have a brother," Jim says.
"Older or younger?"
"Three years older."
"Is he dead?" Bones asks eventually.
"I don't know for sure. I guess so." He glances at Bones. "He was away at this military school three states over when it happened. Mom was dead and there was no time to get to the school and then back to the bunker, so... Dad chose to save me."
"If he was with the military, he might have had a chance. A lot of the people who survived were military or from military families."
"I don't know," Jim says wistfully, looking out of the window. The landscape doesn't really change from day to day, but there's nothing else to look at. "I think it might be better for him if he did die."
Bones reaches out and squeezes his shoulder lightly, just for a moment. "It's not all bad."
"Are you kidding? You don't even have Christmas anymore. It totally sucks."
"Sometimes, none of this makes sense," Jim says.
"The world ended. Nothing makes sense any more."
"I know," he says quietly. "I know."
They stop in the remains of a city by the ocean. This time, Bones lets Jim help him scavenge anything they can find that might be useful. Most of the cars littering the streets have already been stripped of usable parts but Jim enjoys the mindless checking of each vehicle just in case someone missed something. More often than not, he doesn't find anything at all. Some of the cars have even had the seats removed.
He finds more shoes than anything else. Bones finds him staring at a pair of abandoned stilettos in a side street.
"Leave them," he says.
"Why are they here?"
"Things get left behind," Bones says. "Finish up; there's a storm coming and we need to get back to the truck."
"Shoes, though," Jim says. "Why shoes?"
Bones looks at Jim like he's an idiot. "Because you can run faster without them. Not that running helped anyone."
"Oh." Depressing, he thinks.
They walk back through the deserted streets. There isn't even any trash for the wind to blow around any more, and even when Jim was alone in the snow before Bones found him, he doesn't think he felt as isolated as he does now. It was awful then, but in the snowy landscape it almost felt right to be alone. Here, it's just wrong. Jim can't wait for them to move on down the coast towards Bones' home.
"I don't think I like it here," he says.
"You and me both, kid," Bones answers.
They eat and go to bed early, because there's nothing else to do. It's not raining outside—it's still far too cold for that, even by the ocean—but the storm is loud. The wind rocks the truck a few times and Jim can't sleep.
He checks his watch again and again as the time ticks by agonisingly slowly. The storm eventually quietens down outside, but he thinks it's just the eye passing over. Bones said it would last all night so it can't be finished yet. Jim finds that Bones is almost always right about this sort of thing. When the hands of his watch say it's after midnight, he turns over on the mattress.
"Hey, Bones? Are you asleep?"
Bones rolls over to face him. "Not yet. It's late."
"I know. But it's Christmas Day."
Bones sighs heavily. "I thought I—"
"I know," Jim interrupts. "But, listen, it's important to me and you saved my life and all. I just want to thank you."
"I saved your sorry ass for Christmas. You're welcome." He starts to roll back over but Jim grips his shoulder to stop him.
Jim used his right hand without thinking and he stares at his missing fingers. "You saved my life," he repeats. "You didn't have to do that."
"What are you getting at here?" Bones asks. He sits up, running his fingers through his hair.
"I want you to have something," Jim starts. He pauses and takes a deep breath, reaching into his pocket. "I want you to have my mom's ring. I can't wear it any more and it seems like the right thing to do is to give it to you."
"Kid, think about this," he says, looking at Jim seriously. "You've got another hand. You can wear it there."
"It wouldn't feel right. And anyway, I think she'd want you to have it." He holds out the ring.
Bones doesn't move to take it. "Do you?"
"I don't know," he says. "But I want you to have it."
"I don't think it'd be right for me to wear it on that hand when you can't," Bones says eventually. He takes the ring from Jim's hand, examining it for a moment. Then he slips it onto his left pinky.
It's not a perfect fit; Bones' hands and fingers are slightly bigger than Jim's and he has to push the ring down over the knuckle. But once it's on, it just looks right on Bones, and Jim knows he made the right choice in giving it to him.
"Looks good on you, Bones," Jim says.
Bones makes a disparaging noise but Jim's pretty sure he's pleased. "I suppose you want a present now," he says.
Jim shrugs. "It's cool. I know you don't like Christmas."
"Get dressed," Bones says. He starts pulling on his own clothes. "Kid, get dressed or this'll be a lot more unpleasant than it has to be."
He's not sure he likes the sound of that, but Bones has never steered him wrong up until now, so Jim puts on the thermals and padded outerwear that Bones lent him. "Where are we going?" he asks, remembering to tie his boots before he puts his gloves on. Even though he never really used the fingers he's missing to tie his laces, Jim feels clumsier without them and he'd never manage it with gloves as well.
"Up onto the roof of the truck. Got something to show you."
"Bones, you're so coy sometimes." Jim throws his head back and laughs lasciviously.
Bones rolls his eyes and says, "Don't do that." He reaches up to open the hatch in the roof of the truck. "Get up there before I change my mind."
Jim climbs out onto the roof, wrapping his arms around himself immediately. It's even colder than he expected, and snowing heavily with it. Jim groans at the thought of how much digging he'll need to do in the morning to free the truck. Bones hauls himself up beside Jim and passes him a pair of binoculars.
"Look that way," he says, pointing.
"What am I looking for?"
A bolt of lightning brightens the sky momentarily. "Ships, out on the ice. Locked in." Almost before Bones gets the words out, there's a loud crack of thunder.
Jim finds them through the lenses. They're closer to the coast than he thought they'd be and when he lowers the binoculars he can see the ships just as easily. "What about them?" he asks.
"Just watch," Bones says.
Lightning flashes again on the horizon. Jim counts in his head, waiting for the thunder. He doesn't remember how he knows to do it, but he knows what it means. The storm is moving closer to them, coming in from across the Atlantic.
"I've only seen this once before," Bones says.
"Seen what?" Jim asks.
The thunderstorm answers his question. The lightning strikes one of the ships, or maybe more than one, because they all light up. Jim can see it perfectly well but he jerks the binoculars back up to his face in disbelief, looking between all the windows he can see before the long-dead circuits use up the energy lent to them by the storm and power down again.
The air is thick with electricity and it feels like a giant hand pressing down on the back of Jim's neck. "Holy shit," he breathes. "How is that even possible?"
"I don't know," Bones replies equally quietly. "But it happens. It's happening."
"It's like a dream."
The look Bones gives him is indecipherable. "Pretty cold for a dream," he says.
It reminds Jim of the nightmare he had. It makes him wonder. He watches as another fork of lightning tears down from the sky and illuminates the ships again. The lights reflect off the icy ocean and stain the clouds a sickly orange for a moment, until they fade out slowly. The thunder rolls across the landscape, amplified by its emptiness. It makes his teeth ache—or maybe that's the cold.
"They're not quite Christmas lights but they're the best you're getting," Bones says gruffly.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Bones."
After that, they watch the storm pass in silence.