"Hey, Bones. Someone left this taped on our door panel."
"What?" says Bones, only half paying attention, and he flinches when a flower drops from somewhere above his head to land on his notes. He stares at it, breathing in the familiar scent that rises to meet his nose, then reaches out to touch one of the silk-smooth white petals. "Oh," he says softly, a smile coming unbidden to his face. He reaches up to cover it with his hand under pretense of rubbing his chin. "It's a Cherokee rose."
He picks the flower up, careful of the thorny stem, to examine it, and looks over at Jim. "State flower of Georgia. Used to have bushes and bushes of these growin' around my house when I was a kid."
"Oh, yeah?" answers Jim nonchalantly, flopping onto his bed, seeming to Bones like he's trying to sound interested for his sake but really isn't. Bones rolls his eyes. He wouldn't expect someone like Jim to have much interest in flowers, anyway.
"You found it outside our door?"
"You must have a secret admirer," says Jim with a smirk. "Nobody would leave me flowers."
"Like I'm the kind of guy someone would bring a bouquet," Bones snorts. "Must be the wrong room number."
But he puts the rose in his toothbrush cup with a little water and sets it on the window ledge, anyway. It lasts a remarkably long time.
When Bones arrives at the hospital for his shift after class the following Friday evening, he's not in the best mood and definitely isn't looking forward to a night in the ER. It's a double shift, eight tonight 'til Saturday afternoon, and that's only if they don't keep him longer. It essentially wipes him out for the rest of the weekend - he'll be in no condition to go out with Jim or do anything Saturday night but sleep, and Sunday will be taken up with coursework.
But when he passes the nurses' station on the twelfth floor, Nurse O'Donnell calls out to him. "Doctor McCoy! Doctor! Someone left a package for you." She rummages on the desk and holds up a little wrapped box, and Bones raises a brow.
"It was delivered by courier. There's no return address."
Bones takes the box like there might be a bomb inside, and unwraps it right there at the counter, because he knows O'Donnell's probably dying to see what it is. What's in it is...coffee. Little sachets of different flavors of a gourmet brand of glorious, glorious caffeine. A lot of which he's going to need to make it through this shift. Considering the shit that passes for coffee in the machine in the doctors' lounge, it couldn't have come at a better time.
"Ooh," O'Donnell says, sounding a little disappointed. Probably been hoping it was something naughty or illicit, like drugs or sex toys. "That's sweet. I wonder who sent it."
Bones eyes her suspiciously, and she turns pink, like she usually does when he makes eye contact. "It wasn't me," she says quickly.
"Okay," he replies, and he closes the box up and takes it to his locker.
Five hours and two loads of car crash victims later, Bones is sitting on the couch in the lounge with his hands wrapped around a mug of hazelnut-flavored coffee that smells like heaven. Whoever it was who sent him that box, he thinks he might be in love.
The little gifts continue, finding their way to him at intervals for almost six months. Jim thinks it's hilarious and never stops ribbing him about his 'secret admirer', and Bones is pleased but just plain bewildered - he'd tried some haphazard investigation that hadn't led him anywhere, and now just has to accept the fact that somebody in San Francisco - presumably - knows who he is, likes him, and has been watching him closely enough to know his likes and dislikes and his work and school schedule. It'd be creepy if there were ever any sexual or threatening messages with the presents, or if they were anything expensive or intimate, but in actuality it all kind of has the air of a grade-schooler with a sense of humor who's trying to impress their first crush but too shy to say anything outright.
The roses come when it's cold and wet and all Bones wants to do is stare out the window at the raindrops pelting the Bay waters, thinking of fragrant, breezy Georgia nights. On Valentine's Day, while Jim's conquests send him invitations and candy and novelty condoms, there's a heart made of lace and red foil on the door - not just the usual decorative heart shape, though, but an actual stylized human heart, valves and all, that surprises a laugh out of Bones before he can stop himself. Another day, when his umbrella turns inside out in the middle of the bustling lunchtime crowd on the quad and he spends five minutes cursing and trying to right it before giving it up as a lost cause, a new umbrella from one of the downtown vending machines outside the bars, brightly patterned with blue and yellow polka dots, shows up in the mail that evening.
"Somebody's a romantic," Jim teases him, sitting on Bones' desk chair with his feet up on Bones' bed, nibbling on the chocolate-covered almonds that had comprised the latest gift.
"Apparently," says Bones slowly, pondering this latest development. Now he definitely knows it's somebody on campus...or at least, somebody who hangs out on campus and had seen him tromping through the rain. Unless it was a coincidence - but Bones doubts that.
Jim neatly bites an almond in half. "The way to Doc McCoy's curmudgeonly old heart is to waterproof him," he says solemnly. "Who woulda thought."
"I wish they'd show themselves," Bones says impatiently. "It's been six goddamned months. If someone's bothering to take the time to do all this, why won't they just say so to my face?"
"Maybe they don't want to." Jim crumples up the top of the bag and tosses it over. "Maybe they're afraid of all the issues that might come up if they confessed."
"I don't bite."
"Or maybe," continues Jim, like Bones hadn't interjected, "they know somehow that you've been burned before and they think you're not ready for another relationship."
Bones tucks his legs up under him on the bed and fishes around in the bag. "That's not up for them to decide."
"Maybe they see you grumping around campus and just like giving you stuff that cheers you up."
Bones looks suspiciously at Jim, realization dawning. "Jim? It's not you - is it?"
Jim snorts. "Bones, you know me. If I got you stuff for no reason, don't you think I would just give it to you?"
True. Jim's a forthright kind of guy. Bones hadn't really thought it was him - doesn't seem like his style - but he strikes Jim's name off his mental list anyway.
"You think it could be your ex?"
"My..." Bones gapes incredulously. "Yeah. Right. Jocelyn? We'd be dead right now from eating this chocolate. Cyanide and almonds, you know."
"Hey, just saying. Maybe she feels bad and wants to make up but she's afraid you won't have her. So she's buttering you up and has spies on campus, shopping for her. You never know."
"Don't be ridiculous," Bones scoffs, and Jim just shrugs.
But that gives him something to think about for a while - even if it's just paranoia.
When he takes up his post aboard the USS Enterprise, Bones thinks the secret admirer business is at an end. There hasn't been anything since the Nero incident, and he'd thought, afterward at the memorial service, that maybe his gift-giver had even been killed out there on board one of those ships. That had left him with a sick feeling in his stomach, one of sadness and guilt mingled - they'd spent the past half a year thinking of him, and he'd never had a chance to really thank them, apart from leaving awkward little notes on the door panel that had promptly disappeared but never been responded to.
On board, though, getting his sickbay organized and learning the ship and the staff and adjusting to the feeling of knowing he's hurtling through space even while lying in bed, he doesn't have a spare moment to think about it for weeks. And then a little box appears on his desk in sickbay. Bones undoes the wrapping and finds, inside, a tiny pin in the shape of a caduceus, the Earth symbol for military medical practitioners, in a shade of silver that just matches the stripes on his cuffs.
He smiles and runs a finger over the edges of the wings, and affixes it to the lapel of the lab coat he sometimes wears over his uniform, sending a silent thanks out to whoever might be listening. He still doesn't know who left it, but whoever it is, they're still alive and healthy and they're on board.
He decides not to check the security footage. Hopefully they'll reveal themselves of their own volition in good time.
Flowers - not Cherokee roses, but roses nonetheless, velvety and blood-red - appear at his bedside without a note when he's in his own sickbay convalescing from a poison-tipped-knife wound to the kidney, sustained on what they'd thought would be a simple away mission. They're vivid and beautifully organic against the blue and white sterility of the walls, and as Bones lies there, pissing through a tube and breathing into a mask and too weak to talk, they're something interesting to gaze at. Sulu comes in and administers plant food that keeps them perfect for days on end, and Jim, smudges of tiredness under his eyes, sits by his bedside and teases him about them, naming this nurse or that, or Spock, or an ensign in astrophysics who has a crush on him. The day he's able to roll his eyes and make a croaky retort, Jim's grin is brilliant enough to rival a supernova.
When he's well enough to sit up and bitch, Bones tries to coerce M'Benga and the nurses into spilling the details, but they seem to honestly not know. Either that, or they're all exceptional actors. He wouldn't put it past them.
Then something else happens that takes his mind off it again. Jim buzzes his door at one in the morning the day after he's released from sickbay with a strangely determined look on his face, and steps forward when Bones grumbles something about it being the middle of the goddamn night, and cuts off his complaining with a kiss. Startled, Bones grabs him around the waist, which only makes Jim make a little noise in his throat and press even closer, until he's out of the doorway and the door closes and Bones' lips open willingly under the onslaught. It lasts a few mindblowing seconds - then Jim pulls away, taking Bones' face between his hands and touching their foreheads together, gentle and so sweetly un-Jim-like that Bones could almost cry.
"Don't you ever dare -" Jim chokes on the rest of the sentence, but Bones gets the message, loud and clear.
"Try not to. As long as you promise me the same."
Jim doesn't leave that night. Or the next. Or the next. And Bones isn't sure when exactly it happened, but he's realized that he's in love with his best friend. And it's pretty damn nice.
When the little gifts keep coming, month after month, it's only natural to suspect Jim, because, after all, the secret's out - to Bones, at least - that Jim's been nursing an infatuation for him for some time now. But Jim just raises his eyebrows and says, "Bones, didn't we already talk about this?" in that perfectly open way of his, blue eyes guileless, and Bones is helpless before him. He has to believe it.
So he turns to other options - at first, with the flowers and all, he suspects Sulu, who runs the botany lab and happens to grow just the breed of daisy that Bones finds poked through the handle of his coffee mug one morning. But then Bones steps into a turbolift while reading a PADD, finds Sulu and the lieutenant from Engineering he's been dating enthusiastically making out, and steps right back out again, deciding that a man who seems as happily attached as he does wouldn't keep on secretly-admiring someone else.
Then he thinks of Christine Chapel, who he's always suspected of having a heart of marshmallow under that lovely and businesslike exterior - until she mentions her fiancé, and pulls the ring on a slender silver chain out from under the neckline of her uniform to show everyone. Not her, then, and none of the other nurses or doctors are past-year Starfleet Academy graduates.
He honestly doesn't know who else it could be. It's not Uhura, sure as hell not Spock, and Bones doesn't know anyone else on the crew who'd gone to the Academy with him that well. It could always be an acquaintance, or maybe even a complete stranger... "Just forget it," Jim tells him one night, "and enjoy it. Somebody wants to make you happy."
"You make me happy," Bones replies, smiling, and Jim's eyes brighten. "If they're keeping tabs on me they probably know we're together, so why keep on with it?"
"Why don't you tell them that? Leave a message somewhere."
Bones sighs. "Maybe I will."
He writes a note on real paper and goes to sickbay to leave it on the desk in his office.
Whoever you are, you must have some kind of sixth sense, because you've cheered me up whenever I've been down, and you've sure made the last year anything but boring. I don't know what I ever did to deserve this kind of attention, but - thank you. I need you to know, though, that I'm with somebody now. If this is some drawn-out flirtation, I'm sorry, but you never let me know who you were. And if it isn't, well then, I'm sorry again for assuming so. I still want to meet you face-to-face, though. This can't go on forever, and I've been wondering for far too long. I'll be in sickbay on gamma shift tomorrow. Please don't leave me hanging.
Then he returns to his quarters, satisfied that the deed is finally done but feeling vaguely guilty, and Jim wordlessly lifts the covers for him so he can snuggle back in, and kisses the back of his neck.
At seven hours and forty-five minutes through his eight-hour shift, there's been no sign of his gift-giver. It's quiet, with the few patients in sickbay sleeping, and Bones has sent the nurse off-duty early. He's reclining in his desk chair, going over some paperwork on his PADD, when a hand holding a white box appears in his peripheral vision, placing it on the desk on top of a tricorder that needs calibrating. Bones' gaze follows the hand up past the triple-striped cuff, up the gold sleeve, to meet Jim's solemn face, and he sits up straight, confused. "Jim."
"They left another present for you."
"Where did you -"
"Just open it." Jim taps the top of the little box with his index finger, and Bones looks at it a second before pulling the lid off. Inside is a paper, which he unfolds - he discovers that it's his note from last night, one sentence highlighted in fluorescent yellow. I don't know what I ever did to deserve this kind of attention.
"I'm here to tell you." Jim's throat bobs once. He looks almost...nervous. "You're the best friend I've ever had, Bones. You're one of the best people I've ever known, period - you do what you genuinely believe is right. Always. Do you know how rare it is that you come across someone like that?"
"No. You have so much love in you, Bones. Even when you like to think you're the bitterest, most jaded bastard that ever walked the Earth, you still give so much of yourself. To your patients, to your friends, to me -"
"Jim, you said it wasn't you."
"I never actually said that," Jim answers steadily. And he's right. He never had said that outright, just dodged the question or cleverly left the answer up to him. Bones had just insinuated a denial into his words and believed it - damn that sneaky bastard.
"Damn it. This entire time, it was you." Bones shakes his head helplessly. "Why?"
Jim hops up on the desk and crosses his legs, and for once Bones doesn't have the heart to tell him off for it. "'Cause I liked the way your face would light up when someone left you a flower that reminded you of home. Even when you tried to pretend you weren't smiling because of it. Or how you'd come back after losing a patient and there'd be something waiting for you that would - I don't know, soften that frown, make you look not so tired." Jim's cheeks are uncharacteristically pink. "I like seeing you like that, and knowing that I did it. Even if you didn't know."
Bones can feel his own face warming. "But why didn't you tell me? You knew it was drivin' me nuts."
Jim shrugs. "I thought it'd make things weird between us." He brushes an errand strand of hair out of Bones' eyes before Bones has the chance to do it himself. "Keep going. They always leave a present, don't they?"
"They?" Bones quirks an eyebrow but does as he asks, delving deeper only for his fingers to touch metal and to discover, with a shock, a simple silver ring lying in the midst of the fluffs of crumpled white tissue. He draws it slowly out and puts it on his palm, pulse pounding in his head, and watches as a hint of gold starts seeping up the lower edge of it. "Jim," he says, hoarsely.
"It's Proxima durite. I know you usually aren't comfortable with expensive presents, but this had to be, because I want it to last a long time." Jim takes the ring from him and cups it between his hands, breathing on the metal and looking at Bones over his fingertips with anxious eyes. "It wasn't a flirtation," he says, muffled.
"I got a present for me, too. It matches." When Jim reveals the ring again, the metal has brightened entirely to a pale gold from the warmth of his body. He holds out his hands, cupped, and the look in his eyes is like nothing has ever been as important to him as this moment, right now. "I'll be yours if you want me," he says softly.
Bones swallows and rises from his chair, putting his palms on the tabletop and leaning forward. "Only if I get to be yours, too."
"Deal." Jim's smile is blinding, and Bones grins back.
Nurse Chapel finds them still there when she arrives for work five minutes later. She smiles, and quietly closes the office door.
When Jim comes onto the bridge at the start of his shift, it is to muffled mirth and sideways glances. He looks around, bemused, absently twisting the warm ring that's lived on his finger for a month. "What?" he says to the room at large, meandering over to his chair. "Something on my face?"
Then he sees it - there's a little box waiting for him on the chair console, neatly tied with a length of blue ribbon. "Who left this?" he asks, feigning confusion.
"No idea, Captain," says Uhura promptly. She turns away, but he can see the reflection of her expression in the screen in front of her.
Jim picks the box up, fingering the end of the ribbon with a smile of his own. "Cool. I must have a secret admirer."