It is true that Jim's mouth tastes like death itself. But as Bones grabs him around the waist again, and Jim's now-free hand finds its way to the small of his back, fisting in his shirt, Bones can't find it in himself to care. Because it's Jim - and Jim is everything he never knew he was missing. Figures it took miles of distance and a near-death experience to drive it through his oblivious skull.
Their fingers twine inextricably, Jim's palm messy with sweat and grit against his own.
Bones never wants to let him go again.
It's never a good thing when Bones is woken by a personal alert in the early hours of the morning. And it takes him a minute, once he's done throwing on a shirt and shoving his feet into his boots and grabbing his emergency kit from the bedside table, to realize that an emergency in the transporter room on this particular day can only be for one reason.
Damn it. The scout shuttle.
His quarters are close for a reason. Two people are still standing on the transporter pad when he arrives - before he can even open his mouth to ask where the third is, Spock is wavering on the spot, then crumpling to his knees, a heavy rivulet of moss-green blood streaming down the side of his head and soaking into his uniform. Sulu's trying to hold onto him so he doesn't hit his head, and Jim -
Where’s Jim, where’s Jim, where’s Jim, Bones' heart pounds out, even as he springs forward to catch Spock before he tumbles off the platform, cradling his bleeding head gingerly against his shoulder as Sulu crouches to support him around the waist. "Stretcher,” he snaps, but the tech is already calling for one, and as Bones and Sulu get Spock lowered safely to the floor, Bones looks over his shoulder at Scott. "Where the fuck is the captain?”
"The signal cut out, interference - damn it!" Scott looks gutted, his forehead shiny. "We bloody had him!"
Spock shifts restlessly, making a low, pained sound nobody would ever have expected out of him, and Bones wrests his medkit open one-handed and gets some bandaging to press against the nasty gash in his scalp. Vulcans are hard-headed, all right, but head injuries are still no laughing matter. "Easy, now. Stretcher’s on its way.”
"Find that shuttle,” Scott is snapping to the transporter tech in the background, "and call Ensign Chekov down here, he’ll be useful - no, I’ll do it, you keep tracing that ion trail. Don’t lose it or we’ll end up looking for a damned pinhead in a bog. Transporter room to bridge -”
"He was right there,” said Sulu hoarsely, sagging over Spock’s motionless legs. "He should have been beamed out - he was right beside me. It happened so fast."
"Tell me what happened," Bones commands, applying pressure to Spock's wound. "You were still on the shuttle? How did Spock get this?"
A couple of the medical techs, looking as bleary-eyed and confused as Bones feels, rush in with their equipment. "Nothing even hit us, the engines just suddenly cut out." Sulu keeps rambling as they help get Spock loaded onto the stretcher, his eyes wide like he's in shock, and for once he actually looks as young and vulnerable as he is. As the techs hustle Spock out of the room, Bones wipes his hands on his sweatpants and takes Sulu by the shoulders to urge him after them. Scott's still barking something into the intraship comm as the doors hiss closed behind them. "Something exploded and - I don't know, the magnetic seals on the overhead compartments broke. Kirk was piloting. Spock was further back, he got hit in the head with a box, and I turned to look at him, and then we were up here. He should be here."
"Okay. C'mon, Lieutenant, we're gonna get you to sickbay."
"Shh," says Bones, and Sulu goes quiet. Bones wants to throw up. But he's got patients to see to, and only after that can he start to deal with whatever comes after.
Word spreads somehow, as it tends to do in a small community like that of a starship, and when Bones emerges from surgery, leaving Chapel to see to the patched-up and sedated Spock in recovery, Sulu is gone. Uhura, who'd come running just as Bones had been scrubbing in, is also gone, and the halls are packed with worried crew members looking for answers. Bones is stopped countless times on his way to the bridge by people asking about the captain, and every time he has to say "I don't know, I'm sorry, I don't know," the nausea twisting his gut becomes more and more overwhelming.
He takes a deep breath before stepping onto the turbolift, and prays somebody has found something. Anything.
"What are the sensors picking up?” When he gets there, people are crowded around the science console, jockeying for a good view as Chekov taps buttons and twists dials trying to get a clear reading. "Got anything?”
"Wait,” says Chekov distractedly. "Just one moment." It's more like eighteen minutes, but who's counting? Bones is just glad when Chekov lets out an "aha!"
"There! The patch of red, see there?” On the otherwise mottled blue-and-green of the surface map, there’s one main red splotch and a couple of other smaller patches around it, shifting like amoebae under a microscope as the atmospheric conditions play havoc with their sensors. It blinks out of existence for a heart-stopping moment, then back again. "The temperature of that area is about twelve degrees Celsius, but that color indicates the object is emitting more heat. And a few pieces are broken off it.” He indicates the smaller red spots. "The main one is roughly the size of the body of the shuttle, which means the crew compartment may be intact.”
Something in Bones' stomach relaxes a little bit at that news, and a shaking breath escapes him before he can catch himself. Scott claps him on the shoulder, eyes fixed on the screen. "That means he could still be alive,” Sulu says in abject relief. "We still had control functions when we were hit, it was just the engines that were out. Kirk’s a good pilot; he would’ve tried to coast his way down, propulsion or no propulsion.”
"Judging by the pattern of debris," Scott observes, "looks like he came in on a shallow approach rather than a -” He lets out a sharp descending whistle as he aims two fingers straight down and collides them with the edge of the console. Chekov tries to suppress a wince. "Would’ve been a bumpy ride, but if the body of the shuttle’s still intact, chances are he’s okay. Just waiting down there to be picked up. But there’s nothing more we can do until this storm passes.” He taps the swirling mass of cloud on the display. "We tried a test earlier, and the electrical interference is wreaking havoc with transport and communication."
"If I'm not needed at the moment, I’ll go see if Commander Spock is awake yet and let him know,” says Uhura, the circles under her eyes and the restrained impatience in her stance belying her even voice.
"He won't be," Bones warns her, but he follows her anyway. He can do another post-op checkup, just to make sure Spock's brain is doing everything he wants it to - and besides, he doesn’t think he can stand dumbly there listening to theories on debris scatter and propulsion any longer, staring at the crash map hoping a tiny Jim will emerge from the red mass of the shuttle and wave cheerily up at them. "Wait. I’ll come with you. Gotta head back anyway.”
Uhura slows and holds the turbolift door for him. "Deck five,” she says when he’s in, and the lights start flashing by. Bones stares straight ahead at the shiny surface of the door, trying to clear his mind, but he can always tell when he’s being watched. Sixth sense, it is. Eyes in the back of his head, Jim always laughed -
"Are you okay?” Uhura asks, and when Bones looks down at her, there’s sympathy in every line of her expressive face, her big doe eyes.
"Are you?" he retorts, and she closes her eyes.
"Well, obviously not, but - you know what I mean.”
Bones shakes his head, with a smile he knows must look as tight and false as it feels. It’s okay, though. Nobody would expect anything otherwise at a time like this. "Jim’s like a Human cockroach,” he says easily, in a tone that sounds like y’know, that lovable little bugger and really means I don’t want to talk about it. Uhura nods, seemingly catching the nuance. "He’ll be fine. He'll be back on board before we’ve even gotten tired of the peace and quiet. And Spock'll be just fine, too."
The lift stops, and they step off and into sickbay, making a beeline for the bed in the corner, where Spock is resting peacefully, the bruising on his temple a livid, mottled olive. By all appearances, he’s still asleep, but as they approach, his eyes open, the tense line of his mouth softening slightly as Uhura sits on the bed and covers his right hand with hers.
That Vulcan healing rate is just short of miraculous. "How do you feel, Spock?”
"Disoriented,” he says, after a few seconds, one neat vertical line appearing between his brows. "But not particularly uncomfortable.” Bones heads over to grab a medical tricorder from the nurses’ station, letting the two on duty, Chapel and Ayoub, know what’s going on - their resulting smiles could power the ship for a week - before he returns to give Spock a once-over. "Is there news of the captain?”
"We found the shuttle,” Uhura says with a nod. "It looks like the body of it is in one piece.”
A certain tension goes out of Spock’s face at the news, and for once, Bones feels like they’re both on exactly the same wavelength. "What is the rescue plan?”
"Scotty’s working on it.”
"I could be of some assistance -”
Bones points the tricorder forebodingly at his head. "Your skull was just fractured in two places. You even think about moving from that bed for the next forty-eight hours, and I’ll sedate you so hard Jim himself’ll be the one to chew your ear off when you wake up.” Spock falls silent, and gives him a terse nod. "Good. You two just...carry on."
He puts the tricorder back, nods to the nurses, goes into his office and sits down at his desk with his head in his hands.
C'mon, he thinks, squeezing his eyes shut. I know you can. You always make it out okay. This time isn't any different from all the other times. Do it for me, you death-defying bastard.
Do it for him. Do it for anybody, he doesn't care. He just wants Jim to be okay.
When Scott tells him there's no way to go get Jim, by shuttle, transporter, parachute or otherwise, no way to even find out if he's dead or alive until the weather changes, Bones doesn't react well.
"It’s not like he’s being put up at a nice hotel for the weekend,” he snarls - he’s being unfair and petulant and he knows it, and for once, he feels Spock would be completely warranted in calling him illogical, but damn it, he’s frustrated. "He could be dying of exposure down there."
"It's twelve degrees," says Uhura reasonably, but Bones doesn't care.
"God knows if he has food, water, if there are predators, and we’re just sitting here on our asses hoping everything’ll turn out all right?”
There’s something in Scott’s face that’s close to pity. Bones doesn’t like it; contrary to popular belief, he does not do this to be the center of attention like a five-year-old throwing a tantrum in a shopping mall. He’s always been this way. He rages when he’s worried, lashes out at whoever’s unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity and bear the brunt of his ire. Jim always knew how to calm him, burn his anger out quickly by prodding him in just the right emotional pressure points or getting him to laugh at himself.
Knows. Jim knows how to calm him, because Jim is still alive. But if Jim were here, he wouldn’t need calming over this, now, would he?
"This isn’t helping, Leonard,” says Uhura, her voice soft but sharp, and Bones immediately feels about an inch tall. He is not, after all, the only one who’s concerned. He doesn't have a monopoly on love for Jim Kirk, much as he sometimes feels he does. "The engineers and scientists are doing their best. We just have to be patient.”
"That lightning in the upper atmosphere is fierce,” Scott adds. "That storm came up out of bloody nowhere. Shuttle shielding is decent, but only up to a point. Now, I am all for leaving no man behind, McCoy, especially the captain, but I’m not willing to risk more lives. We wait it out, we monitor his signal, and when things clear up we try another tack.”
Bones takes a deep breath, lets it out through his nose, and nods tightly. "Okay,” he says. "Okay. I’m sorry. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in sickbay.” He goes without another word.
He sends the nurses off-shift early and spends the rest of the day doing inventory, cleaning, and burying his head in his latest research project. Distraction is a tactic he’s used many times in the past, always with fantastic results - he’s so involved in his cellular decay experiment that when he next checks the time, it’s six hours later, the middle of the ship’s night, and he’s got a padd full of results, a growling stomach and a hell of a neckache from sitting hunched over the table for so long.
It really has been a long time since he got up that morning. He walks back to his quarters in a fog of equations and diagrams, not running into a single soul on the way, and when he gets there, yawning and toeing his boots off and ordering the lights down, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to pick up his comm as he goes by his desk and tap in a quick message - coffee 0800?
It isn’t until he’s going through the rote, thoughtless motions of scrolling through to Kirk, Cpt. J.T. and tapping send with the pad of his thumb that he realizes what exactly he’s doing and freezes. Jim can’t meet him for coffee in the mess, because Jim isn’t on board. Bones is thinking about breakfast while Jim is down there, stranded, maybe without even any drinkable water or food supplies, maybe shivering in the rain or gravely injured, wondering when the hell his crew is coming for him.
Signal disruption. Message may not be received.
He stares at the blinking message, fingers going white around the comm and a surge of fierce anger rising up in him at his own stupidity. He snaps the comm shut and throws it with all the force he can muster, and it bounces off the wall over the headboard with a sharp crack and lands harmlessly in the middle of his bed, open now but still in one piece.
Starfleet technology for you, Bones thinks dully as he walks over and sits down on the edge of the mattress, his whole body curving into a weary slump. The little screen gives off its faint standby glow, a pool of blue in the dim light. Shit doesn’t break when you want it to. Only when you don’t.
After a minute, he lies down on his side and curls up, his back and shoulders stiffly protesting, and taps the touchscreen a couple of times. The message field reappears, cursor blinking in expectation. Bones stares at it, brow furrowed, then types in a new message - sorry. never mind.
Signal disruption. Message may not be received.
Apologizing to nobody. Jim won’t get it, even if his comm has survived the crash, but for some stupid reason, it makes Bones feel a little better to write it.
So he keeps doing it.
Spock's up and around again, and damn, is Scotty glad about that. He never looked very comfortable in the big chair. Neither does Spock, really. Not like you do - you make it look like it sprouted out of the floor specifically to cradle your ass.
I think you were born to do what you do, you know. The crew misses you like hell. I think the ship misses you, too, though don't go telling anybody I anthropomorphized her like that.
I miss you the most. Be safe.
An image of the storm system is now perpetually up on many of the consoles all around the ship, the crash location clearly marked. The crew talk in quieter-than-usual voices amongst themselves, often stopping to take a look at the map and go on their way with solemn faces. The Enterprise just isn’t right without her captain on board, and everyone feels it.
Bones sure as hell does. Like a punch to the face. He’s never realized just how much of his life revolves around Jim Kirk until the man suddenly isn’t around anymore. He’d like to say he’s an independent person, one who doesn’t tend to form attachments and values his precious solitude, but the truth of the matter is that he’s probably more reliant on Jim than he’d ever meant to or wanted to be.
How the hell did you manage to do this to me? I never used to be this codependent. Not even with my wife. Guess you're just special.
Get up in the morning, meet Jim for a quick bite to eat before their shifts if they both happen to be on Alpha, which they generally are. A visit to the bridge around mid-afternoon, when things in sickbay are starting to flag - he’ll chat with Sulu or engage in a little harmless flirting with Uhura if Spock happens to be around, but mostly, he’ll stand behind and just to the left of Jim, one hand on the back of his chair and the starfield spread out in front of them on the viewscreen, and they’ll talk without ever even looking at each other, because they don’t need to. Presence is enough. Bones’s so used to that spot, he goes around expecting Jim’s tousled head and gold-clad shoulders to appear in his lower right-hand field of vision whenever he looks out a viewport; the natural foreground to a space vista, Jim’s aura somehow mitigating the sucking blackness Bones still can’t get himself used to.
There's something I always meant to tell you, Jim. It sounds kind of sappy, but...
...yeah, it sounds really sappy, but it's true. Maybe I'll say it to your face when you get back, and maybe I won't.
You make me unafraid.
They’ll eat another meal together, usually a late lunch, then hang out after shift for a while, have a drink, play some cards or some pool in the officers’ rec room. Of course, he can’t claim all of the captain’s time, so Jim goes off to play chess with Spock or work out with Sulu or what-have-you, and Bones goes back to his quarters, tired and suddenly anti-social, and does paperwork on his bed until he passes out.
Spock is an alright guy. Don't laugh at me for saying that. I still hate it when you two do that look thing like you're reading each other's minds, though. That kind of shit spreads rumors.
Yeah, I'm a jealous bastard. So what?
There's been a strange shift in his and Spock's relationship over the past week. Apparently, Jim is not only a buffer but must be, by his very presence, an instigator of their arguments, because they haven't had a single one since he's been gone.
Spock's been quieter in general, actually. Not that Spock ever was very loud, but the responsibility of command seems to weigh him down in a way that never really showed (shows, shows) with Jim. Bones decides, as the ship's physician, to stop by Spock's table one day at lunch with two cups of tea, and sits down without being invited.
"You doin' okay, Commander?" he says without preamble. Vulcans don't like rambling bullshit; that much he knows. "You seem stressed."
"We are all stressed, Doctor." Spock accepts the tea with a nod of thanks. "Given the circumstances."
Bones swirls the teabag around in his cup. "Yeah. But this captaining stuff is more than you're probably used to, 'specially after recovering from surgery and all. You getting enough sleep? Getting your vitamins?"
"Yes." Spock hesitates like he isn't done, then pushes forward with what he was going to say. "However, I believe that, fundamentally, I am more suited to the science officer and first officer role than that of ship's captain - which is not something that can be alleviated with vitamins." He wraps his hands around the warm cup and stares down into its depths, almost abashed, like he can't believe he's saying it. "This is, of course, off the record."
Well. A heart-to-heart conversation with Spock. Something he's never before imagined happening - he'll never tell Jim about this, ever. He derives far too much glee from their just-this-side-of-aggressive banter. "I know how you feel. Let's leave the captaining up to Jim, huh?"
"Indeed." Spock looks up, they meet each other's eyes, and for lack of anything else to say, they take a simultaneous sip of tea.
I’ve just realized, he types out, that I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. You’re always everywhere I am, I spend all my free time with you, and now you’re not here. Is that pathetic? He thinks about it, chewing his lower lip. Probably. Bet you’re glad for a respite from my constant bitching, though, right?
He sends it - silly him, spending his evenings alone, writing to nobody - and leans back in his chair with the comm open in front of him on the desk, and waits for an answer.
That answer never comes. But something better does.
The storm system’s beginning to move north instead of tracking down over the shuttle site and swallowing it up completely. The sensors are finally able to get some sporadically clear readings as the electrical interference lessens; at about midday ship’s time on the eleventh day after the crash, Bones is called up to the bridge. He affects a brisk, professional walk when there are people in the hallways, flat-out runs the rest of the time, and when he bursts out of the lift, it’s to about fifteen people, full senior staff included, babbling incomprehensibly over each other and the static coming over the audio system.
"What the hell’s going on?” he demands, and Scott makes a flailing gesture at the screen. The map is there, image steady and in greater detail than before, and near the dot that is the shuttle is another, smaller dot. It’s moving away, up to the higher terrain, and the static pulses a couple of times and grows stronger. Almost like it’s trying to form itself into words. "Jim?” All of a sudden, he can hardly breathe. "That’s him, right? It’s Jim?”
"The captain is attempting to contact us,” says Spock, about as visibly excited as he ever gets. "Mr. Chekov, boost the output.”
"Aye,” says Chekov, cheerful, and the static pulses take on an artificial-sounding regularity. The bridge grows silent as they try to make out any words hidden in it, but Uhura is the first to speak.
"That’s Morse code,” she says suddenly. "He’s probably getting static on his end, he knows it’s the only way he can get through - S. O. S.” Her smile grows. "S. O. S.”
Bones laughs giddily. "Jim, you goddamn history nerd.”
The scientists estimate they can try beaming down, or beaming him up, in about thirty hours, and in Bones’ opinion that calls for a celebration. He lies on his bed in his boxers and t-shirt, tumbler of bourbon balanced squarely on the middle of his chest for easy alcohol-to-mouth access, and his comm open and transcribing a little further down, on his stomach. He can’t see it, which seems to make it easier to just let all his thoughts spill out, like Jim’s right here in the room with him, sitting somewhere out of sight but listening quietly and intently like he does when he’s truly interested. He can imagine Jim doing it somewhere else now, maybe sitting on a rock or on the shuttle’s roof under a finally almost-clear sky, arms around himself and his comm on his knees.
"You know, turns out I’m a way better conversationalist when my partner isn’t actually here.” He brings the glass to his mouth and tips it carefully, enough to get a good swallow but not so much that he pours good alcohol all over himself. "I can tell you stuff, like how I miss you. You're the most important person in my life. You are, swear to God. I hope you’re up here sharing this bourbon with me soon, ‘less I drink it all, which I may very well might. Wouldn't share stuff this good with anybody else but you. Maybe Scott.” He sips again, and a bit goes down the wrong way and makes him cough. The comm slides off into the folds of his blankets. "Damn. Jesus, I’m glad you’re not actually reading all this. And if you are, just -” He motions with the hand holding the glass, and the whiskey sloshes dangerously - "ignore it. Or be entertained, whatever. Knowin' you, you probably would be. Drunken Bones rambling on and on. I think it's time to go to bed."
After placing his glass on the bedside table, Bones fishes the comm up from where it's gotten half-lost in the sheets, and turns the recording off. The transcript’s still comprehensible, if a little wonky - apparently he’s slurring more than he’d realized, whether it’s from the alcohol or from tiredness. "So, yeah. Good night. I’m glad you’re there.” Glad is too mild a word. But he doesn’t think he can pronounce ‘ecstatic’ at the moment.
Signal disruption. Message may not be received.
"Yeah, thanks. I got it. Computer, lights out.”
But, head swimming, he finds he can’t sleep for thinking of Jim. Jim, still down there alone, despite the promise of impending rescue. What if he has been getting all these idiotic, rambling missives Bones fires off into the ether every evening? Shouldn’t Bones be saying something useful? So he hauls himself out of bed and adds a postscript.
"Keep your hands and feet warm and dry and stay hydrated. And since it’s getting sunny, stay out of the sun. That’s all. Bye, Jim. I’m comin’ for you soon, promise.”
He sends that, too, and goes back to sleep with the comm clutched against his chest like a teddy bear, able to rest more soundly now that he’s given Jim his word.
Jim is hollow-eyed, dirty, and looks like a mountain man with the two weeks’ worth of dark reddish beard growth on his usually smooth face. His back is straight and his gait sure, though, as he steps down off the transporter pad, to be engulfed in a flurry of hand-shaking and back-clapping by Scott. Uhura hugs him, and so does Sulu. Chekov gives him the ardent and grown-up double handshake of a serious teenage boy, and then Jim claps Spock on the back and murmurs something to him in a low voice, eyes twinkling. Bones bristles, until Jim turns to him - then everything is swept away, because Jim. He's fucking here, safe and whole.
"Bones,” says Jim, his eyes impossibly blue in their unkempt setting. "Hey.” He steps forward and Bones’ arms come up and then he's hugging Jim like he's the only thing keeping him from being swept out into the black. When he tries to pull back, thinking he must look ridiculous and that he's probably suffocating the man, he finds that Jim is squeezing him back just as tightly. So Bones, uncaring of their audience, clutches the back of Jim’s head with one hand, his waist with the other, and dares to press a closed-lips kiss to his ear. He smells like mud and ozone. It's glorious.
"You look like hell,” he grunts, and Jim's laughter shakes him and thrills him. "Sickbay. Now.”
"Yes, doctor." Jim grins at him when they part, then waves around at the crew. "Party's over, people. Don't you have jobs to be doing?" There's a general burst of laughter, welcome relief after two weeks of stress, and they all file out, even the transporter techs.
As Bones turns toward the door, expecting Jim to follow him, Jim catches his hand instead. Bones stops, looks down at their linked fingers, then back up, and Jim pulls his comm - slightly battered - from his pocket with his other hand and holds it up. "A couple hours ago, I got something. Text messages. From you."
Bones stares at him in surprise, feeling his cheeks go warm. "I didn't think you'd get those."
"Guess it stored them all up and sent them in a packet as soon as the interference cleared." He takes a step forward.
"God damn it." Bones feels like he's going to die of embarrassment, but Jim doesn't look amused at all. He just cocks his head, his expression soft. "You really weren't meant to read those. I was just...worried about you, I guess."
Jim wets his lips and looks away, a smile spreading across his face. "It's okay to say you missed me, Bones. That I'm important to you. I missed you, too. The most."
If Jim's fingers tight around his are any indication, Jim's been doing just about as much thinking these past two weeks on his own as Bones has, and maybe came to some realizations a little sooner. "Well," says Bones. "Good."
"I haven't brushed my teeth in two weeks."
"Like I give a shit, Jim."
Their mouths crash together, and Jim's comm drops and clatters to the floor.