The first thing that Leonard McCoy notices about Jim Kirk – apart from that he’s remarkably okay with the concept of being thrown up on – is that he hasn’t gotten around to showing off his powers yet. If he hadn’t liked him before, then he certainly does now.
It’s something that he’d always resented Clay for, even back when they were teenagers, brawling on the floor of the school gym while the girls in their floaty dresses danced around them and McCoy’s skin grew unbearably cold wherever Clay’s fists struck him. The resent had only grown when he’d come sauntering back into McCoy’s life all those years later. He’d come home one balmy Thursday evening after sixteen hours on the clock to find Clay standing there in his kitchen with his wife, and he’d known before Jocelyn could open her mouth what she was going to say.
Hey honey, you remember Clay? Well, I’ve been sleeping with him for the last year of our marriage whilst you’ve been pulling double shifts to keep our family afloat.
He’d only not started shouting because at that moment Joanna came through from the next room wanting her cup refilled. The room had gone completely silent as Jocelyn had taken the plastic cup from her and held it under the tap, the water streaming out slower than it ever had done before.
And then Clay had reached out a hand and frozen the water in the cup that Joanna was holding, and she’d squealed with delight. McCoy picked her up and carried her out back to the tire swing, silently fuming and furiously jealous and feeling completely inadequate.
Because that was something that McCoy had never been able to do. Jo would come home from school telling them all about how Emily’s daddy could make fire with his hands and how her mommy could read minds, and ask what him and Jocelyn could do. And Jocelyn would bend a stream of water around the kitchen for Jo to play with while McCoy looked on. Or he’d wait at the school gates for her after managing to rearrange his shifts and stand with all the other parents, who’d shake his hand with sparks flickering over their skin and sneer when they found out what his ability was.
Well. His power might not be impressive or flashy but as far as he was concerned, it was the most important thing in the world so long as Joanna was alive.
There’s a pair of guys sat across from them, one pyrokinetic and the other cryokinetic, and they’re having a battle of wills to see whose ability comes out tops. There’s a man with big ears sat near the door who keeps turning invisible, and a woman whose fingers are sparking as she talks to those around her. And then there’s Captain Pike, who keeps phasing through the walls to talk to the cadets.
All in all, it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before, but having someone who isn’t trying to impress him with an ability is refreshing and completely unexpected. But then McCoy reasons that maybe it’s a more passive ability like his own, one that can’t be shown as a way of greeting, and maybe he should stop overthinking this.
“Nice power, Cupcake,” Kirk drawls with a smirk, leaning forward with his forearms on his knees, and McCoy follows his gaze to where a burly man is manipulating some rocks in the air in front of him. “I bet terrakinesis comes in real handy in space.”
The cadet looks up sharply and with a twitch of his eyelid, one of the rocks whips through the air to shatter on the steel where Kirk’s head had just been a split second before.
“I’d be careful,” Kirk says mildly, dusting lumps of dirt from his shoulder as he straightens up. “You never know when Pike’s going to phase through the wall next to you and I don’t think you want to be in any more shit than you already are, am I right?”
McCoy watches as the other cadet grinds his teeth together and growls something that’s probably offensive, but does nothing more than just hold out his hand as the rocks reform and fly back into it. Kirk’s looking around the shuttle and grinning from ear to ear, and he tries and fails to catch the attention of an attractive woman sat opposite them. Uhura, if McCoy remembers correctly. Omnilinguist.
The shuttle shudders around them as it encounters turbulence as they prepare to land, and he tightens his grip on the seat arms. “What about you, kid? Something dangerous and exciting, I’ll bet.”
Kirk turns his gaze to him and away from the other cadet, and his eyes and bright and wicked and fiercely intelligent, and he smirks.
“Well, that’s a secret,” he says genially, and McCoy snorts.
“You’re messing, right? You’re not actually going to hide your ability?”
“Who says I’m not?”
“So you’re not going to ask me mine either?”
“Don’t need to, I already know,” Kirk says, the smirk twisting into a grin. “You’re a qualified doctor joining one of the potentially fatal careers on the planet. Out of the two concerns that you showed within two minutes of meeting me, you were more worried about being sick on me than my eyes actually popping out – more worried about your own health than mine. You’re a healer.”
McCoy can’t help but laugh because damn, but this kid has a quick mind.
“No point denying it,” he says amiably, and Kirk shrugs.
“Most doctors are, to be fair.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Hardly, I’ve just encountered my fair share in my time.”
“You look like you could do with one now.”
McCoy raises his hand a little awkwardly and lays it down the side of Kirk’s face, and by this point in his life he doesn’t even have to try to make his power work. It’s been used so much, so often and for so long that his body knows when someone needs healing, and he watches as the skin under his palm glows a faint gold before the glow spreads briefly over the rest of Kirk’s face. His nose aligns and the cuts on one side of his face knit themselves back together as the bruises on the other side fade into nothingness.
“Not bad,” Kirk says and he sounds almost approving, and it’s enough to make McCoy snort.
“Well I’m glad I passed your test,” he says sarcastically and removes his hand, flexing it and reaching for the bourbon again. “So what is your ability?”
Kirk doesn’t say anything – he just holds his hand out for the flask and grins.
Of all of compulsory courses and lectures that he has to take at the Academy (and probably including his elective modules too, if he’s completely honest), Power Development is the one that McCoy enjoys the most.
He actually expected it to be horrendously dull. One of the major drawbacks of already having been practicing medicine for five years is that he’s had to resign himself to spending at least the first semester of the academic year sitting through material that he’s not only learnt years ago, but been using in practice for nearly as many. Despite the admissions office being fully aware of his circumstances, he’s been told at least three times that he still has to attend the introductory courses as a “refresher” to his existing knowledge – so most of the time he just sits at the back of the class and either does research or naps, or on the odd occasion when Jim gets bored of his own lectures and join him, the pair of them make scathingly derisive comments behind their hands at the rest of the room’s occupants. The highlight of October had been when they had spotted a girl on the fifth row brazenly pouring herself a mojito at ten in the morning.
McCoy had assumed, therefore, that he’d have the same issue with Power Development, and in the first instance he was right – two weeks of meditation and breathing exercises, of learning to locate their power sources within their bodies and determine both their triggers and blocking techniques, and he was starting to get frustrated. But then they were split by their ability type, and in walked Doctor Boyce with a gleam in his eye; an eye that was fixed firmly on one Leonard McCoy.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’ve agreed to tutor me, sir,” McCoy said appreciatively, taking the seat offered to him as they entered Boyce’s office. “No offense to the rest of the cadets, but I needed something more challenging.”
Boyce fixed him with a hard look and a grim smile. “Oh if it’s a challenge you want, Doctor McCoy, a challenge you shall get,” he said warningly, and promptly poured a martini for himself and a bourbon for McCoy.
He wasn’t lying; by the time February rolls around, McCoy has assisted on sixteen major surgeries (including the removal of a pituitary carcinoma that has him giddy with triumph for three days), forty-two minor surgeries, three births and the broken pinky toe of Admiral Archer’s three-year-old grandson.
Most of the procedures are successful. For the ones that aren’t, Jim is always waiting for him when he gets back to their dorm room exhausted and drained and empty-hearted.
But most of the time it works, and most of the time it’s incredible. Boyce is a healer too, and he teaches McCoy more in four months of training than he ever learnt in four years at Ole Miss. He shoes him how to reknit a bone so that it’s not just fixed but stronger than before. He teaches him how to detect vitamin deficiencies in newborns and how to tell which organs are failing in the elderly. He shows him how to break down gallstones without even having to administer anesthetic, and how to draw out years and years’ worth of cigarette tar from a patient’s lungs, syphoning the resinous material into a container and giving it back to them as a reminder. He’s shown how to detect potential fetus abnormalities at four weeks, and then how to fix some of those defects months before birth.
As the cold snaps of winter finally give way and the leaves start to regrow on the trees in the quad, Boyce brings all of the Medical cadets together in a workshop to exhibit their various abilities, and teach each other basic skills. McCoy learns about nerve manipulation, sedation, empathy, aura absorption, telepath, and dreamwalking; he learns how they can all interconnect, how they work and how they can be used for medicinal purposes. As a potential Ship Medical Officer, he learns extensively about the psychological, emotional and physical effects of power withdrawal when on missions and how to combat them. He learns, and learns, and learns.
But through it all, McCoy never sees Jim at any Power Development workshop or demonstration.
Jim’s birthday isn’t entirely a pleasant experience for anybody, really, but at least there’s no broken bones so McCoy cheerfully counts that as a win in his book of Jim-related incidents.
It’s unpleasant not because Jim’s mom comes to visit, but because she doesn’t come to visit. Instead McCoy meets Jim’s charmingly enthusiastic older brother and his visibly long-suffering wife, Aurelan – they get a shuttle to the Bay late on the Friday afternoon and Jim and McCoy are there to greet them as they step into the fading spring warmth.
As much as the brothers clearly get along fantastically, and as wonderful as Aurelan is and despite the fun they have over the weekend with dinners and daytime outings and reminiscing about Sam and Jim’s childhood adventures (McCoy would personally label them as ‘misdemeanors’ but that gets him an exasperated look from Jim), the topic of Winona hangs heavy over them for the whole weekend. No amount of good spirits and effort from any corner will change it.
McCoy wants to ask, but at the same time doesn’t want to intrude on what’s obviously an extremely personal matter – every time Winona is mentioned, even in passing, Jim’s eyes darken and his shoulder tense up even though he probably doesn’t realize he’s doing it, and it takes a touch to his arm to make him relax again.
Sam and Aurelan leave on Sunday night, saying that they have to pick up the boys from their maternal grandparents; one of the twins, Alex, had been too ill to come all the way but they say that the boys send their love and Jim makes them promise that they’ll bring them next time.
After they’ve gone and McCoy is reshuffling their bedroom back to its normal arrangement, Jim abruptly announces that he’s taking his bike out for a while and wants to be alone.
“Try not commit a felony that costs more than forty credits cause that’s all I got in my bail jar right now,” McCoy says absently as he wipes down the kitchen counter, and vaguely registers Jim’s distracted salute as he grabs his jacket and strides out of the dorm room.
Bail costs thirty credits, and Jim pretends not to cry as he curls up against McCoy at three in the morning.
"Okay, I give up," McCoy says as he strides into the dorm room and drops his bag onto his bed. "I have exhausted all of my resources and I am no closer to finding out what your power is."
"You're still banging on about that? After this long?" Jim asks incredulously from where he's sprawled on the sofa, nose buried in a PADD and his feet propped up on the opposite arm. "Seriously, Bones, you need to drop it."
"Jim, everyone has a power, that's kinda the defining point of our species. And yet in the seven months that I’ve known you, I haven’t seen you exhibit any signs of having one."
"Maybe I'm not human," Jim counters, looking up from the PADD long enough to smirk at McCoy, and he wonder vaguely what's so interesting anyway. Probably porn.
"Hilarious," he says drily, and begins to pull off his cadet uniform in favor of more comfortable clothes. "I've seen enough of you to know that you're human. So what is it, a latent one? Completely passive?"
"I'm not telling," Jim says lightly, back to taking in the contents of the PADD, and McCoy sighs as he pulls his sweater over his head.
"Well, according to the Suresh Institute you don’t have one, and you know how ridiculous I think that notion is," he mutters, and Jim's head snaps up. It's such a sudden movement that McCoy starts - and Jim's expression is approaching furious as he freezes, his eyes narrowed over the PADD that apparently isn't particularly interesting any more.
"What the hell do you know about the Suresh Institute?" he asks in a low, dangerous voice, and McCoy swears that he can feel the air vibrating between them. It's a complete U-turn from the atmosphere in the room just minutes before and it startles him.
"It was in your file," he explains and he can hear the wary tone to his own voice and curses himself for it. This is Jim, for god's sake, not a Klingon. He's got no reason to feel like this and feel guilty when Jim's been goading him, teasing him about his power for months now. "There's a section on abilities and yours is blank, save for a reference to the Suresh Institute."
"You looked at my fucking file?" Jim spits, throwing down the PADD and standing abruptly, and McCoy frowns at him.
"I look through hundreds of files a day, Jim, it's part of my job," he says defensively. Jim’s scowl only deepens at that though and he snorts in derision, pushing past McCoy into the kitchenette to lean against the counter.
“Don’t give me that shit, it’s not the same and you know it.”
“Look Jim, aside from friendly curiosity, this is something that I genuinely need to know. No, don’t pull that face, I’m being serious,” he says sharply as Jim rolls his eyes expansively. “You keep on banging on about me being your chief medical officer when we graduate, and for that to happen, I need to know exactly what the crew that’s in my care is capable of, what they can do and how their powers will interact. That crew happens to include you.”
“And if you do become my CMO, I’d hope that when I order you to respect my wishes and not pry, you’d obey that order and stay out of my personal life!”
“Your personal life is my professional life, as unpleasant that may be,” McCoy says and his voice sounds a little too cold, even to himself, and Jim folds his arms tightly across his chest. “Now if this is true, and you genuinely don’t have an ability, then I’ll shut up about the whole thing and won’t ask any more questions. But if it’s not – if you do have a hidden power – then I need to know. Not only for everyone else’s safety, but your own too.”
Jim glares mutinously at him for what seems like a full minute before he lets out a long breath and his whole body slumps against the counter. The fading autumn light is slanting in through the kitchenette window and casting the whole room with a gentle glow that belies the tension in the air.
“Fine. But this goes no further than this room, got it? A lot of people… they wouldn’t understand. They definitely wouldn’t approve. Some might even freak out,” he says as he shoves his hands deep into his pockets, and McCoy nods slowly.
“Another benefit of me being your CMO is confidentiality. I promise that I won’t mention it to anybody.”
Jim watches him carefully for a moment, and then returns to his original position on the couch and sits down somewhat stiffly in the corner of the L-shaped piece of furniture; McCoy follows his lead and positions himself a few feet away.
“Do you even know what the Suresh Institute is?” Jim asks suddenly, and McCoy shakes his head.
“I’ve heard them mentioned in some texts, but not really.”
"The Institute deals with dangerous powers," he says tightly, twisting his fingers in the hem of his shirt, and McCoy can't help but watch the repetitive movement. "They've developed a kind of genetic manipulation - they remove the genes attributed to abilities. Change them in for ones from similar species. I don't know, it's a process that takes four days and then that's it, your power's gone. For good."
McCoy just stares at him because whilst he's heard of studies into dampening dangerous abilities he's not heard of any being actually implemented. There have been columns on it in journals for years, and every time they say that they've got a new formula, a new process, but every time nothing comes of it.
"Permanent ability repression is a myth," he says flatly, but Jim just pulls his knees up to his chest and glares at him, and his resolve weakens.
"Well, this myth kinda came true," Jim replies stolidly, and looks away as though to avoid McCoy's assessing gaze. "I was 'deemed hazardous to the safety of myself and those around me', that's what they said. So they took it away."
"What the hell did you do to get them to take it away from you?" he asks incredulously, and even as he asks he still can't believe that the technology has advanced so far without him even noticing. "What even was your ability?"
"Molecular disintegration," Jim replies bitterly, curling up even further on himself, his bare feet poking out of the bottom of his tracksuit. "And it was when I was just a kid. I manifested late, you see - like, when I was fourteen. My brother's got enhanced strength and he'd manifested at eleven, so he was a perfect son, helping out on the farm with the heavy lifting and stuff. Frank fucking loved him."
"Step-father. And it’s kind of ironic because until Sam manifested, Frank fucking hated him. I don't know, maybe because he reminded him of my dad or something but he'd whack him around the head every so often and shout at him and shit and I kept my head down, got on with stuff and worked hard in school and he never had anything bad to say about me."
"You sound like a model kid," McCoy says a little wryly, and Jim huffs a half-laugh and his lips quirk.
"I was - until Sam got his power, and I didn't. Every day I'd wake up, hoping that it would be day my powers manifested. We didn't even know what it would be - I mean, my dad had flight and mom's telekinetic, but Sam got enhanced strength. You know how sometimes, powers run in a family? Well they didn't seem to in mine so I always hoped that I'd get something like super-speed, or pyrokinesis, I don't even know, they say that the longer a power takes to manifest, the stronger it is. So I started doing stuff, reckless stuff, trying to jumpstart it - jumping out of trees, joyriding, getting into fights, that sorta thing. Force my body to do something to save me, but it didn't work."
Jim pauses, slowly unfolding his legs so that he's not scrunched up in a tiny ball in the middle of the sofa and reaches for the coffee that's still steaming on the table in front of him, taking a sip. McCoy stays silent and just waits, because he gets the feeling that this isn't something Jim shares with just anyone, and he'll be damned if he's going to interrupt him and make him clam up when he's got this far. So he waits as Jim steels himself to continue, his face set and motionless even though his hands are shaking.
"It finally came when a few days before my fifteenth birthday, but not in a good way. Frank had taken me and Sam out into the desert, showing us some patch of land him and mom were wanting to buy to set up a ranch, get some horses in. Diversifying the farm, that's what he called it. He said that it'd take some effort building but that was fine, Sam could help out with that. And he told me that I'd better get my ass into gear and manifest some sort of useful power, because he sure as hell wasn't going to keep watching my back if I couldn't protect myself."
Jim takes another deep, shuddering breath and McCoy chances a look at the chrono. It's nearly half ten - shit, he worked longer tonight that he thought - and it's dark out, but he can see the rain falling outside the window anyway. The weather doesn't seem to fit with the mood inside the room, so he turns back to Jim.
"Sam wandered off, checking out the area, shifting some of the rocks to see what we could do with it. Frank kept going on about my lack of ability, about how I ought to be ashamed of myself, leeching off him and mom when I didn't even put in my cent's worth because I was weak and I didn't even have my ability yet. And then… I can’t even remember what he said. I think it was something about my father, but I can’t remember. Whatever it was, it must have been pretty bad, because it made me snap. I don't know at what point I realized my ability was manifesting - maybe if I'd been quicker, it never would have happened. I just remember my whole body vibrating, feeling really tense and coiled and ready to burst and on fire. And I remember that the ground was shaking and I remember wondering where Sam was, and then whatever it was that had been building up inside me just kinda... exploded outwards."
Jim takes another swallow of the coffee, staring into the bottom of the cup like it holds the answers to everything if only he could read what it says in the lines of the porcelain.
“Frank didn’t get a chance to even scream.”
Jim sighs heavily and sets the empty mug down, pulling his knees back up to his chest again and McCoy pours him a few fingers of the bourbon that he's drinking. He takes it without a word, staring into the liquid.
"What happened?" McCoy prompts when it seems like Jim's not going to explain, and Jim just squeezes his eyes shut and tightens his grip on the glass until his knuckles are bone white.
"I don't know," he says tightly, a hint of desperation in his voice. "I passed out at some point. When I woke up, it was like a bomb had gone off or something - I was lying in this sort of crater and there wasn't anything inside it even though I knew there's been a tree not ten feet from me and Frank. Sam was leaning over me, telling me to wake up. Frank wasn't anywhere."
“The next few days all kind of blurred after that. I remember being at the police station, and they kept on asking me what happened, but I had no idea. I remember Sam telling them that he’d seen me explode, and I’d taken out everything within a ten meter radius. I remember Mom crying a lot – they got professionals in to assess me and my power, see if they could work out how I was triggered, and how to control it, that sort of thing. In the end Mom found a telepath who was willing to go through my brain and work it all out, and I reckon what he found is what made her send me away. I don't blame her," Jim says tiredly, setting down his tumbler and scrubbing his hands over his face. He's pale and looks as though he's been drawn out and wrung dry. It's an odd look for Jim Kirk, and not something that McCoy is particularly interested in seeing again. He knows that he should feel guilty for forcing this out of him but he can't help but be glad, because they're meant to be good friends and good friends share this sort of shit.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asks when Jim doesn't elaborate, and he certainly isn't expecting it when Jim turns to quirk a crooked half-smile in his direction.
"Bones, she'd lost her husband – the first man she ever loved – when he was blown apart by Romulans while she gave birth to me. And then nearly fifteen years later she loses the second man she's ever loved when he's blown apart by the very son she gave birth to when the first husband died," Jim points out, looking amused though for the life of him McCoy can't find the funny side of this whole thing. "That'd mess even the most stable person up, and she was never quite all there after Dad died, I don't think. Anyway, she couldn't cope - she tried for a few months, but couldn't manage. I don't know how she found out about it, but the next thing I know, I'm being told to pack my bags and get ready for a vacation, because I was going to the Suresh Institute."
"You didn't get a say in this?" McCoy asks in surprise, and Jim just shakes his head as he shifts and rearranges himself on the sofa, propping his feet in McCoy's lap and shrugging.
"Like I said, Mom wasn't thinking straight. So she packed me off to the Institute and left me there and I came out six months later with no powers. I left home six months after that. She wasn't the only one who couldn't cope."
Jim falls silent once more, and McCoy lets him. His initial distrust and disbelief has gone flying out of the window because of all of the crap that Jim comes out with, he wouldn't make something like this up, and it explains a hell of a lot when he thinks about it. But the technology's still bothering him - how in God's name had it been developed without him knowing? He's subscribed to every genetic journal that's in English from around the world, plus a few in languages that he can just about muddle through, and he wouldn't have missed something like this if it had become public knowledge. Which means that it isn't public knowledge.
"How long had the manipulation technology been completed when you were processed?" he asks suddenly, breaking the fragile peace that has settled over the room, and Jim looks up in surprise, tilting his head to one side.
"It hadn't, not really. I was one of the test subjects. There was ten of us – I don’t know what abilities the rest of them had, but we were all stripped. One of the guys had a complete meltdown, he couldn’t cope with having his power removed; he was transferred to a more secure wing after he tried to stab one of the orderlies, so the rest of us just learnt to accept it and not complain. That wouldn’t help.”
“It sounds barbaric.”
“The way that it was done, maybe. But the fact that it was done at all? It was necessary,” Jim says firmly. “We weren’t there on a whim, we all posed a genuine danger to ourselves or others that couldn’t be controlled.”
McCoy falls silent again. After everything that he’s just been told he’s not entirely sure how to react, and Jim’s not giving him much to go off – he’s worked out that being offended on Jim’s behalf isn’t the right approach, considering Jim believes it to have been an unavoidable procedure, but is he supposed to feel pity? Understanding? Agreement? Because he has know idea what he’s supposed to feel and as to what he’s actually feeling… mostly confused, if he’s honest, but he senses that Jim doesn’t want to say any more about his time in the Institute itself.
“So who knows?” he settles on, what he thinks might be a fairly neutral topic, and the way that Jim relaxes into the couch is a good sign.
“Mom, Sam, Aurelan. The people who were involved with the Institute. Pike. And now you,” he says with a crooked half-smile that McCoy returns.
“And I’m guessing Pike’s made it so that not only are you magically not enrolled in Power Development, but a passing grade won’t be required for your end-of-year assessment, and nobody will ever think to question why?”
“Got it in one.”
McCoy takes a deep breath and reaches out to rest a hand on Jim’s shoulder. His shirt is soft beneath McCoy’s palm, his muscles strong and his skin warm. “Thanks for telling me, kid.”
“Well you wouldn’t have given in asking otherwise.”
“You’re not wrong. Now what am I supposed to do with all of the time that I now have that was previously dedicated to working out your ability?”
“Well, I know what we can do on Saturday.”
“Do I actually want to know?”
“I sweet-talked a girl that I met the other night who works for the visitor information center and she gave me two free admissions to the paintball fields up in Vallejo,” he says with a grin, then a thoughtful expression comes over his face. “Huh, she was probably hoping that I’d take her. Shit.”
McCoy sighs heavily. He can think of a hundred and one reasons why this is a monumentally bad idea; Jim’s competitive streak is the basis of about half of them, and McCoy’s terrible aim and bad temper cause for the other half. But Jim is looking at him expectantly and somewhat giddily, and considering the amount of trust that he’s just displayed with his admission, McCoy can’t bring himself to say no to him. He’s finding it harder to say no every day.
Jim walks into their room on the first day of summer as McCoy is relaxing, laid flat out on the couch with his right foot twitching in time to the flowing piano tones of some twenty-first century composer and a glass of bourbon gripped loosely in the hand that’s dangling somewhere near the floor. McCoy cracks open one eye as Jim snorts in derision, and casually flips him off as he shuts his eye again.
“Jesus, could you be any more of a stereotype,” Jim mutters as he walks past, and McCoy feels the weight of his leather jacket being dropped on the back of the couch. “Don’t you have class today?”
“Last one was on Monday, remember? There’s a couple of workshops scheduled between now and exams but other than that, I’ve got a clear schedule.”
“And this is how you’ve chosen to spend your free time?”
“Enjoying the finer things in life? Yes, always,” McCoy says frankly, and puts his tumbler down to roll over and peer at Jim where he’s making a pot of coffee. “I’m guessing from the fact that you stink of motor oil and have bruises all over you face and… oh, yes, that’s a broken nose, that you didn’t have class today?”
Jim’s face twists into a grimace as he grabs a cup from the drainer. “I was supposed to have an Advanced Plasma Physics class, but Lefler said that we weren’t going to cover any new material anyway.”
“And going to a bar looking for a fight is how you’ve chosen to spend your free time?” he says sarcastically, hoping that conveys some amount of disparagement without being accused of nagging him, but Jim just grins.
“Hey, I don’t go looking for fights, they just happen to find me.”
“Well then maybe you should stop attracting them,” McCoy huffs and settles back down onto the sofa. “And don’t give me that ‘Sam was a bad influence on me as a kid’ crap, he has super-strength and you most definitely do not. What power did today’s guy have then?”
“Tactile telekinesis. I’m so jealous, he made throwing tables look easy.”
McCoy opens his eyes again as Jim’s voice come from directly over his face; he’s come around to the side of the couch and is leaning over him, grinning from ear to ear. His nose is most definitely broken, there’s an impressive black eye forming, and there’s a thick cut on his lip that’s scabbed over.
“Get out of my face.”
“If you fix me?”
“You know, if you didn’t come home to a healer every day, would you still let yourself get into these messes or would you be slightly more responsible?”
“I didn’t have you for the last twenty-three years of my life and still ended up in both hospital and juvie on such a regular basis that I knew the names of all the orderlies and my arresting officers, so that’s probably not a great sign.”
McCoy glares up at him – gives him his best, most effective ‘fuck off’ face that normally has the other cadets that try inadvisably to annoy him – but it doesn’t phase Jim. There’s something slightly unsettling but nevertheless heartwarming in the way that Jim won’t move away because he knows that as much as McCoy grouses and grumbles and swears violently, he will always give in and heal any damage that Jim’s acquired over the course of the day. It’s sickening, really, when he thinks about it.
“You’re an ass,” he says flatly as he reaches up with splayed hands and touches the tips of his fingers to Jim’s skin. If he’s done it once he’s done it a thousand times, but there’s still something entrancing about watching the process – the way that the blood beneath the skin around his eye fades away, the way that his nose realigns and straightens with a gentle scraping noise, the way that the sensitive skin of his lip rapidly reknits into a smooth surface.
“You’re the best,” Jim says, the same as he does every time McCoy heals him – with a blinding grin full of shining white teeth and eyes that crinkle at the corner. He leans down and drops a kiss on McCoy’s lips before bouncing back up and away from the couch, back to where his coffee has finished brewing as McCoy’s nose wrinkles in displeasure.
“God, you are sweating that beer out, you need a shower. I can almost taste it on you, and I’ve been on the bourbon for the last hour, so that’s saying something.”
“Oh man, that’s the worst. I hate smelling other people’s alcohol sweats,” Jim moans as he downs his coffee. “You should have said when I first came in, now I’m just stinking out the room.”
“It kinda hit its peak when you were literally inches from my nose.”
“Fair point,” Jim concedes as he sets down his mug, and promptly tugs his shirt over his head. “What plans have you got for tonight? We can get takeout.”
“We’ve had takeout for the last three nights, we probably oughta actually cook proper food for once.”
“Really? Three nights?”
“Chinese, Indian, pizza,” McCoy counts off on his fingers as Jim pulls off his boots and strips down to his boxers. “Plus we got sushi from that place on Grant Avenue on Sunday. We should cook, we do have food in the fridge you know.”
“Or we could go to the canteen.”
“Or we could cook.”
“Shall I cook?”
“You could cook.”
“God you’re so demanding,” Jim says dramatically, dumping his clothes in the laundry basket and hitting the light switch for the bathroom as he fishes a fresh towel out of the cupboard. “You find the ingredients, I’ll make something magnificent out of what you provide. Sounds like a fair deal?”
“Deal,” McCoy murmurs, and takes a quick swig of bourbon as the shower is turned on. There’s a pause, and then Jim’s boxers come flying out of the bathroom and hit McCoy squarely in the face, accompanied by a burst of laughter from behind the door. McCoy freezes in shock for a second before abandoning his liquor in favor of leaping up from his position on the couch and launching himself at Jim.
They get takeout for dinner. Again.
There’s only so long that McCoy can spend fiddling around in the medbay before he gets hopelessly bored.
It’s not that Christine’s poor company, but after three hours of cataloguing hyposprays with her and with nobody else in sight, even he’s running out of things to talk about. He’s waiting for the ship to burst alive with excitement, waiting for Jim to announce in a broadcast that they’ve reached their destination, but that’s all he’s doing; waiting. They’ve been sailing through space for ten days now, and Jim can’t seem to decide where it is that he wants to go first – and even when their shifts coincide and McCoy thinks that they might get to spend some time together, Jim ends up being too busy poring over starmaps with Spock to determine their course or training with Sulu, loading more and more information into his helmsman’s muscle mimicry.
He makes his excuses and leaves Chapel to organise her files, and finds himself walking the corridors. The ship is familiar at this point, and despite his original misgivings about space the Enterprise always makes him feel safe and secure, and he passes one or two crewmembers as he wanders the corridors rather than go to his own quarters. They feel empty and cold at the best of times – now, that feeling would just be amplified.
The lights are on in the conference room, and he pokes his head in briefly to greet Spock and a new tactical officer who transferred from the Merrimac, the two of them illuminated by the computer screens that they’re talking over in low voices. He’s been introduced to the other man before but can’t remember his name – he’s a good strategist though, and one of the best in the fleet if Jim’s gossip is anything to go by.
He pauses outside the conference room for a moment, and decides against visiting the bridge; Scotty has the con for this shift and McCoy doesn’t have the energy for his enthusiastic chatter right now. So instead he keeps on wandering, popping down to the sickbay for a few minutes before standing in the turbolift for a good two minutes before realizing that he’s reached his destination.
He ends up on the observation deck. There’s nobody else about – but then, it is mid-shift – so he sits on the balcony and stares out of the aft viewscreen. The nacelles are glowing a comforting blue directly in front of him, with two hundred or so meters of shining hull stretching between him and the impulse engines.
The sky is black and empty and strangely peaceful, and there are wakeangels gliding alongside the nacelles, giving off a soft light that helps to calm him. Five years ago, he would have laughed at the sight of himself finding peace by watching the stars and then probably had a stiff drink to bring him to his senses.
But it’s not the space that’s calming him; it’s not the stars that are easing the ache in his chest. It’s the wakeangels, flying down their energy wake as they cruise through deep space. It’s the wakeangels, which are supposed to be good luck, granting safe passage to the ships that they follow. Because they bring luck to the ship, and to Jim. And the reason that McCoy is in space in the first place is not to escape Jocelyn, like he’d first pretended. It’s not for any humanitarian impulse or a lack of anything better to do. He came into space because he was following Jim.
“You are one of the last people that I expected to see down here.”
McCoy starts; he was so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn’t heard Jim approaching, neither the sound of the doors opening nor Jim’s footsteps on the suspended viewing platform.
“I wanted to come somewhere quiet,” he replies as Jim sits down beside him, their legs dangling together over the balcony edge, thirty feet above the ground below. “I thought you were with Sulu this evening?”
“There’s only so many beatings that I can take in one week,” he slants McCoy a grin and leans in towards him, then winces slightly at what McCoy can only assume is bruised ribs. “Ow.”
“You were the one that insisted if he was going to learn every single fighting style that you could think of, then he’d need somebody to practice on.”
“I’m detecting a distinct lack of sympathy here.”
“You’re so perceptive. Have you been reading psychology texts again?”
“Well, I’ve gotta do something to keep up with our telepathic First Officer.”
McCoy chuckles briefly and lets out a deep breath, and glances at Jim briefly before gazing back out of the viewscreen. The engines are rumbling with a deep, gentle thrum that’s rapidly becoming a comfort rather than a complaint (though McCoy will never admit to the sound soothing him).
“What’s wrong?” Jim asks quietly after a short while and bumps his knee against McCoy’s. “And don’t say nothing, because I hate it when you lie to me.”
“I wasn’t going to, it’s just… I don’t know. Just… five years, Jim.”
“Five years,” Jim agrees pleasantly. “Which you knew before you came aboard.”
“Yeah, I know. But all I can think about is how big my little girl’s gonna be by the time we get home, and I’ll have missed it all.”
“Bones, we’re not forbidden from returning to Earth within those five years, you know,” Jim points out with a laugh and a twinkle in his eye. “Who’s to say I’m not going to get bored going this direction and decide head out past the Helical Nebula instead? Besides which, she’s eleven years old, not eleven months. It’s not like she’s going to forget who you are.”
“You wouldn’t understand, you don’t have kids,” McCoy grumbles and he’s rewarded with Jim waggling his eyebrows at him.
“None that you know of.”
“Oh my god, you’re such an ass,” McCoy says plaintively and Jim cracks up – only for his chuckles to dissolve into reluctant noises of pain as his ribcage flares up again. He wraps an arm across his chest as he whinges incoherently, and after glaring at him for approximately five seconds, McCoy heaves a put-upon sigh and gestures to Jim’s body.
“You’re the best,” Jim says with a faint grin. McCoy just grumbles gently to himself as he presses a hand to the bruised skin over Jim’s tattoo, and smiles in satisfaction as one of the dislocated ribs pops back into place and Jim lets out a howl of shock and pain, which tails into a weary laugh.
Jim leans down to assess his own chest once he removes his hand – and then gives McCoy a pleased look, and leans forward to kiss him.
“Whoa there, kid,” McCoy says with alarm and pushes Jim away with a hand on his shoulder, casting a furtive glance around to make sure that nobody else has come onto the deck in the last five minutes. He looks back at Jim, whose head is tilted to the side with a quizzical expression on his face.
“Relax, literally everybody knows. Or at least, most people do.”
“Yeah, Scotty mentioned it when we were on the bridge and a few people overheard, plus people keep on seeing you trying to sneak out of my quarters at strange times of the day. You do realize that you’re not even half as stealthy as you think you are, right?”
“Scotty did what?”
Jim seems to notice the shift in McCoy’s voice because he looks up with a slightly sheepish expression, and his own tone becomes distinctly more placating.
“Look, he didn’t mean to, and he did apologize…”
“I’m going to dismember him,” McCoy says matter-of-factly as he hauls himself to his feet and brushes himself off. “I’m going to give him a really powerful anesthetic, and then I’m going to cut off all of his fingers whilst he watches, and then I’ll cut off his toes, and then I’ll heal him and start all over again.”
“I am going to dismember him!” he says, rather shrilly, and the ensign that has just walked through the doors and onto the deck jumps in surprise and edges away from him as he stalks past; the last thing that he hears before the doors slide shut behind him is Jim desperately trying to explain to the poor boy why the ship’s Chief Medical Officer is threatening mutilation.
Jim eventually decides to aim for Canopus, after spending several weeks skirting around the edges of the Romulan Empire and the whole crew starting to feel tense. They briefly stop at two planets on their way – both of which turn out to be completely deserted, but Jim insists on leading away teams down the surface anyway, and both times he returns to the ship looking relaxed and happy so McCoy can’t really complain.
Jim was right, too – pretty much everybody on the Enterprise is aware of their relationship, and McCoy genuinely can’t decide how he feels about this. As a general rule he doesn’t exactly take well to other people prying into his personal business and making snide comments behind his back, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here at all; he’d gotten so used to the other parents whispering behind their hands when he and Jocelyn starting picking up Joanna separately that he’d fully expected it to start up again, but it doesn’t. He’s not sure if it’s out of respect for him, for their Captain, or that they’re just all decent people but he’s grateful regardless.
It also means that he doesn’t feel like he has to sneak around all the time, and he gets a lot more done now that he’s not spending times lurking in corridors and waiting for people to turn the corner before dashing into Jim’s quarters.
He gets his first case of power withdrawal after they’ve been at sail for six weeks – Lieutenant Hendorff, the terrakinetic that McCoy remembers Jim antagonizing on the shuttle where they first met, years and years ago.
“I can’t even explain what it feels like,” Hendorff says disconsolately as he lays down on the biobed and McCoy sets it for a full scan. “It just feels like a gaping hole inside me that’s getting bigger and bigger every minute I’m off the ground. And it’s draining, too – you know, I feel physically exhausted nearly all the time, and some morning when I wake up I really don’t want to get out of bed.”
“I know it’s no consolation, but these are all common symptoms of power withdrawal,” McCoy murmurs and Hendorff scoffs slightly. “Yeah, I know, that doesn’t help. Has this happened before?”
“No, and I’ve been away from the ground for longer than this before – I was assigned to the Enterprise when we went to Nibiru and I didn’t have any problems.”
“Well, you’re physically fine, so that’s all good,” McCoy says and sits down opposite him. “Could it be the thought of a five-year mission that’s bringing on withdrawal? Just the idea of it can be pretty heavy.”
“I try not to think about it.”
“Unfortunately, we’re all going to have to deal with it. Am I right in thinking that you do have some earth with you on board?”
“Yeah, but only about half a kilo. It’s just not enough – I mean it helps, but it’s no substitute for standing on actual ground.”
“Then I’ll find a crewmember with some sort of replicating ability, and we’ll increase the amount that you have aboard. I’ll also recommend to the Captain that you assist on as many away missions as possible, so that you have better access to earth to counter the withdrawal.”
“Aye, sir,” Hendorff says earnestly as he clambers down from the biobed. “Thank you, Doctor.”
Christine sidles up to McCoy as he watches Hendorff leave, the doors sliding shut quietly behind him. She’s fiddling with a hypospray, pushing a lavender-colored cartridge into the mechanism as she approaches.
“He won’t be the last,” she says mildly, and he shakes his head.
“Not by a long shot.”
It’s been well over a year, but the nightmares still wake McCoy at night.
At least once a week his eyes will snap open in the pitch black of their quarters, a cold sheen of sweat glistening on his skin and his heart pounding viciously in his ribcage. It’s the same thing every time, just variants on a theme – something goes wrong on a mission, something goes wrong with the ship, something goes wrong when they’re home on Earth and relaxing on shore leave. Something goes wrong, and there’s nothing that McCoy can do except unzip the body bag and see Jim’s deathly pale face staring back up at him, and the tears come freely.
When he wakes, he reaches out for Jim immediately, to reassure himself that he’s not dead dead dead, not again; the times when Jim’s not there, when he’s in the gym or on the bridge or just sleepily having a piss are the worst. He’s grateful in a million different ways that nobody has ever commented on him stumbling frantically through the halls in his pyjamas calling for Jim, or coming the bridge in desperation just to hear his voice.
Jim has just as much trouble and though he tries to be quiet when he wakes from his nightmares, the way that he shakes and sobs before he’s jolted into consciousness are usually enough to wake McCoy anyway and when he does, he holds onto Jim and gently kisses the tattoo on his chest until they both fall into dreams again.
They don’t talk about what happened. Nobody does; only three people outside the Enterprise know what actually happened that day, and one of them is Sam Kirk. The decision was made that the serum containing Khan’s blood was far too powerful for the world to know about – a drug that could bring people back to life was too dangerous. So they had told Ambassador Spock, and they had told Admiral Archer, and McCoy thanked whatever gods were watching over him that he wouldn’t be dragged before an Ethics committee and have his license revoked, because that would mean not following Jim back into the black and that… was unthinkable.
Sam wasn’t supposed to know. Nobody was supposed to know. But when McCoy found Jim curled up in their quarters at the Academy, crying as his brother soothed him and whispered into his hair, he couldn’t help but be glad that somebody else knew, and could help with the fallout.
But McCoy can’t fix the panic attacks that they both have at the most inconvenient times. He can’t seem to stop his hands shaking every once in a while, and has to take a step back and let somebody else take over. He can’t stop the way that Jim hates the turbolift now, the way that he always leaves the bathroom door open and avoids going down the Engineering decks unless he absolutely has to.
They don’t talk about what happened, but the crew knows, and they do McCoy proud every day – whether it’s reassuring McCoy that they’ve just seen Jim with Chekov in one of the labs, or not crowding Jim in the lifts and corridors, or just giving them space and time. He sees the way that Spock watches Jim a little more closely, he notices that Uhura will often bring McCoy coffee in the medbay when she’s off-shift, he’s aware that Sulu always seems to offer a sparring session when Jim’s getting particularly antsy.
They still have nightmares; they probably always will. But at least they’re not alone.
Hendorff is back in the medbay pretty quickly, and other people start to follow. There are more people aboard who can be affected by power withdrawal than McCoy realized, and the fact that they haven’t had an away mission in over a month now means that people who rely on the ground can’t access the earth that they need and those with potentially dangerous powers don’t have a large enough, safe enough space in which to discharge.
The tension in the ship is at a breaking point, and Jim is the worst for it – with every day that goes by where they achieve nothing except float through the black, hoping to come across a planet or a moon or a colony or something, he gets more irritated and jumpy, and the more irritated and jumpy Jim gets, the more cantankerous McCoy gets. He knows that it’s happening but he can’t stop himself, and though he feels bad whenever he makes a technician have a meltdown he knows that it’s only happening because of Jim.
Which is frustrating in itself, especially when the whole crew knows it and can see it happening. At least he’s not the only one who’s affected – he shouldn’t be satisfied by it, but the fact that the whole of the bridge crew is suffering for Jim’s bad mood is at least consolation that he’s not the only one who’s being miserable by osmosis.
He knows that he’s getting the worst of Jim’s temper, which is only fair and how it should be, but still no easier to stomach when Jim begins railing against him in scathing tones for things that he hasn’t even done, constantly complaining of headaches and backaches and fatigue and expecting McCoy to fix it all, and reacting violently when he doesn’t. Not that Jim will talk to him about what really needs fixing, of course – it’s not as if he’s going through power withdrawal but McCoy doesn’t have the energy to ask him what the hell’s going on with him, not when he’s spent the whole day dealing with paperwork and real patients and trying to diffuse the awkward tensions that are filling the ship.
Punches are thrown, sometimes. They make up afterwards and Jim apologizes profusely as blood drips from his nose even though McCoy’s blow landed on his jaw, and McCoy wonder if the rest of the crew really has any idea what Jim can be like when he’s not coping; but it’s worth it, to take the furious shouting and angry fists if it means that all that the crew witnesses are Jim’s attitude problems and not his violence.
After one particularly vicious argument, McCoy throws a spectacular tantrum and bellows that he’s going to sleep in his own quarters that night. Only, when he gets there, the sheets are cold and the whole room smells oddly clinical; there’s no scribbled drawings or sarcastic notes pinned up on the corkboard, there’s no dirty plates on the counter or clothes abandoned in haphazard piles on the floor. There’s no toothpaste marks in the bottom of the sink, no half-empty bottles of shower products all over the floor of the cubicle, and there are no padds strewn across the coffee table.
McCoy wakes up in an even fouler mood that morning than he’d gone to sleep with.
They’ve been floating through the black for eight weeks when they strike gold with a binary star system close by with nine orbiting planets. After nearly an hour of manipulating the holographic star charts from as many different angles as possible, and about as long spent observing the stars’ orbits, Chekov and Spock confidently declare that they have reached the system of Spica.
This level of excitement hasn’t been felt on the bridge in several weeks – everyone is manning their stations eagerly, waiting for instructions and hoping for a major discovery and all of the strain and stress since the last away mission dissipates quickly and it’s almost as though it’s back to normal. The Science side of the Enterprise put their heads together and after half an hour at the sensor array declare that the ninth planet is the only one currently inside Spica’s habitable zone and preliminary scans indicate both a solid surface and a breathable atmosphere.
Within the next half hour, Jim has assembled an away team – led by himself – and has beamed down to the planet’s surface.
It’s nearly four hours later when the door to their quarters slides open with a gentle hiss and Jim strides through cheerfully, and McCoy has to squint to see him at first. The last time he looked at a chrono it was only two o’clock and he’s been poring over the padds and paperwork for so long, and so intently, that his eyes are over-worked and sore. Jim, on the other hand, seems to be in the best mood that he’s been in since they left their home galaxy.
“Success!” he declares as he walks past where McCoy’s sat on the couch with his work all over the coffee table. “I’m looking forward to making this entry. Captain’s log, stardate 2260.138: we actually achieved something on our five-year mission. At last.”
“So you found something down there?”
“Yes and no. On the one hand, it’s completely uninhabited,” Jim says brightly as he stretches out on the bed, his muscles more loose and relaxed than they have been in weeks. “On the other hand, Hendorff detected absolutely ginormous topaline deposits in the ground, so hopefully we’ll be able to start mining it before the Klingons get wind of it.”
“The Klingons get territorial about topaline?”
“Oh yeah, it has a ridiculously high market value for them. If they find a planet with high amounts you can be sure that they’ll invade and start mining.”
“Which is kind of what you’re proposing with this planet. Wait, does it have a name?”
“We’re being unimaginative and just going with Spica IX for now. And it’s hardly the same, there’s no indigenous population here, whereas the Klingons will wipe out entire cultures to get their minerals if necessary. Like they did with Altimara, check that in the history files.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” McCoy concedes, and throws the padd that he’s been glaring at for the last hour or so onto Jim’s stomach. “That’s a list of all personnel suffering from withdrawals. I need to know if anybody you took with you today is on that list, and if it helped them getting down onto the ground.”
Jim pulls himself into a sitting position and shuffles to the end of the bed. His eyes whizz over the screen as he flicks through the list, pausing ever so often and making a few noncommittal noises as he does so.
“That’s a lot of people getting withdrawal,” he murmurs as he reaches the end and scratches at the back of his head. “But I only took two of them down – Roberts and Hendorff.”
“Roberts is a microwave emitter, right?”
“And do you reckon it helped them at all?”
“Oh, definitely,” Jim says with a firm nod and begins to untie the laces on his boots. “They were both having great fun. I actually sent Roberts off into one of the craters to blast away at the rock, she loved it, those stones didn’t know what hit them. I know that Scotty always uses her if he needs any microwave stuff doing, but she still doesn’t get much of a chance to discharge her power when we’re on the ship. Same for Hendorff, I think he would have literally moved a mountain if I’d asked him to.”
“Where are they know?”
“I don’t know, Roberts said something about Garvey from Engineering having made some sort of secret sauna hidden somewhere on the ship that moves every day? I don’t know, I think they’re got a party planned tonight, they said that loads of people would be going. If they could find it, obviously.”
“How can it move every day?”
“Dunno, Garvey’s got some sort of quantum power,” Jim shrugs as he comes across to the kitchen and starts opening cupboard doors listlessly. “Do we have anything to eat? I’m starving but the mess is so far away. Why is there nothing but sweet tea in the cupboards?”
“Look in the fridge, there’s some leftover cannelloni, or you could always use the replicator and order something. And the mess isn’t far away, it’s only two decks down.”
“Cannelloni it is,” Jim says decisively as he pulls the tub from the top shelf of the fridge and grabs a fork. “So what’ve you been doing whilst I’ve been planetside?”
McCoy leans back in his chair with a sigh and pats at his chest as he yawns; in reality, he had actually spent over an hour skulking in the corridors between the bridge and the transporter bay just after lunch, just in case the away team did come back quickly and he was needed. In hindsight he’s quite grateful that Christine found him lurking in the turbolift and firmly told him that she needed assistance in the medbay, and that she didn’t want to find him up here again once they’d finished. Not that he’s going to tell Jim that.
“Had an unsurprising outbreak of herpes amongst some of the new crewmembers, so there was that to clean up, but mostly just research. But one of the problems of this being the first ever five-year mission is that there just isn’t the data about how to deal with long-term ability withdrawal on the scale that we’re looking at.”
“Any chance that it’ll get better with time? Like with drug withdrawals, it’s really bad to start with but then as your body gets used to it, it’s not so bad?”
“Perhaps, but I don’t want to have to tell people that they just have to buckle up and wait for a miracle. I have been considering the possibility of asking Ensign Hume if she would assist me – her ability is power negation, and she says that if Janice was supercharging her, she could place a temporary repression on all of the people that need it.”
“Bad idea,” Jim says around a mouthful of cold cannelloni. “Yeah, I’m going to say no to that one.”
“Why?” McCoy asks incredulously and tries not to be disgusted as a clump of mince falls off Jim’s fork and onto his shirt; Jim scrapes it off with his finger and licks it clean. “Surely if something is causing you that much distress and fatigue, it’s better to get rid of it temporarily than to have it malfunctioning on you and making you feel like shit?”
“Definitely not. I can tell you now, feeling like your power’s not working is a thousand times better than feeling like it’s not there at all. Personal experience, remember?” he says, pointing his fork at McCoy for emphasis.
“Can you please eat that over the sink, or at least stop making such a mess?”
“Whatever,” Jim mumbles, but moves to the sink anyway. “But I’m positive about this, don’t get Hume involved in this unless a crewmember specifically asks for her. And if you don’t believe me, get her to take away your power for like, one shift, and see how you feel at the end of it. I guarantee that you’ll agree with me after an hour. Do we have any pudding in here?”
Jim is right.
McCoy goes to Hume six days after his conversation with Jim, at a time when he’s off shift and knows that there’s nothing major planned to happen in the next eight hours, and asks for her to repress his ability for a short time. She frowns as he asks her, wants to make absolutely sure that he knows what he’s asking for, but he insists that she does; she’s still frowning as she places two fingers on either side of his head, and closes her eyes in concentration.
Immediately, he feels as though a sort of plug has been removed somewhere behind his ribcage and everything is being drained away, dragged out of his body and leaving nothing but a hollow, ever-expanding blackness. His whole being feels weak and helpless like a newborn and he wonders briefly if this is how he had felt until that unassuming morning when he’d woken up suddenly, all of his synapses firing and his breath coming in big gasps and he’d known, in his bones, that he’d manifested. He wouldn’t know – it was so long ago, and why would he remember such an awful and exhausting sensation?
This is a feeling that Jim hasn’t been able to turn off or compartmentalize, McCoy understands with a jolt. This is the sensation that Jim feels every single day, this emptiness that’s eating away at him, and there’s nothing that he can do about it.
The only thing that compares was the sucking feeling that he’d felt when Jocelyn was granted full custody of Joana.
He’d originally planned to go powerless for the full shift, but he only manages three hours before he goes in search of Hume again. He finds her at the communication monitoring stations on deck four, deep on conversation with Uhura about Cardassian phonology, and begs her to restore his healing abilities.
Jim was right, though – what Hume can do is only an option is a crewmember specifically requests it, and then only when they’ve been made fully aware of the effects. He couldn’t force this sort of pain on anybody.
That doesn’t make it any easier to try to help the people that keep trickling in to see him, day after day, as they pass through the empty darkness.
He wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of Jim snoring loudly in his ear – or at least that’s what he initially thinks has woken him, until he feels the room shake around him and the air vibrate against his skin.
It takes him a few seconds to orientate himself, and by the time he’s opened his eyes, he realizes that the lights are flickering too and there’s a flutter to the engines that he normally only hears when they’re at warp – which he knows that they shouldn’t be doing right now.
He throws Jim’s arm off his stomach and rolls out of bed with a groan, navigating his way across the darkened bedroom to where a computer interface is embedded on the wall beside the door, its lights glowing very faintly; they increase in brightness as he taps it clumsily and leans in towards it.
“Doctor McCoy to Engineering,” he says muzzily into the comm, and after a second, it beeps a response and Scotty’s harassed-sounding voice emits from the wall.
“Mr Scott, what is going on with our ship? She sounds like she’s going through the wringer.”
“I know she does Doctor, and I’m trying to get her sorted, but she’s really not happy – nothing that I’ve done has helped.”
“Have you asked her what her issue is? I mean, she does know that the majority of us are trying to sleep at this time, right?”
“Aye, I’ve tried asking her, but I don’t think she knows herself – just that something’s putting a lot of strain on her right now.”
“Well. Okay. Keep up the good work. If she’s not quiet soon I’ll come down there myself.”
“Pretty sure that’d just make matters worse, sir,” Scotty says flatly, and a loud clanging noise comes through the comm. “Sorry McCoy, got to go.”
McCoy waves his hand absently at the wall and stumbles back over to the bed in the dark, narrowly avoiding where Jim’s boots are upside-down beside the coffee table. Jim himself is now snoring in earnest – he’s rolled onto his back and starfished across the sheets, and his mouth is hanging open. It’s a terrible position and McCoy shoves at his arm, both in an attempt to wake him and to move him, but it’s no use; Jim just snorts ever louder and rolls even further into the middle of the bed.
He kicks at Jim’s foot, which is now dangling over McCoy’s side of the bed, and at the same moment the metal of the Enterprise’s hull gives a huge groan in protest of something. McCoy’s face drops into a scowl; he pauses for only a second before pulling on an old t-shirt and promptly leaving Jim’s quarters.
He finds Uhura sitting in the officer’s lounge as he enters in what he won’t admit to be a bit of a tantrum, and she looks just as surprised as he is to see somebody else in the room. He raises a hand in a vague greeting as he heads straight to the food counter – one benefit of the officer’s lounge is its constant supply of fresh coffee.
“Hey,” she says quietly as he pours himself a cup and yawns. “What’re you doing up and about at this time? I thought you were on gammas this week.”
“I am, but between the ship making all this racket and that shitbag snoring like a freight train in my ear? Not going to happen,” he mutters, and Uhura laughs gently.
“Snoring’s the worst, right?”
“And he’s goddamn good at it. Though to be honest, I don’t think I could have dropped off anyway,” he admits as he takes a sip of his coffee and sighs with satisfaction. “I’m spending so much time dealing with power withdrawals right now that even when I’m not on shift, I’m trying to figure out how to accommodate everyone. I’m just glad that not everybody suffers from it.”
“Is Jim in withdrawal? I don’t even know what his ability is.”
McCoy opens his mouth, and then closes it again, and she looks at him curiously. Even so long after their first argument, the topic of Jim’s lack of ability is still an uncomfortable topic between them, and McCoy is fairly confident that there are very few people who know the truth. But this is Uhura – McCoy knows that he can trust her not to judge Jim or gossip about him.
“He doesn’t actually have one.”
“What do you mean, he doesn’t have one?”
“Exactly that. He used to, but it was removed he was a teenager.”
“I’ve heard rumors about that, but I didn’t think anybody actually went through with it,” Uhura says with a frown, and McCoy shrugs as he settles into the armchair opposite.
“Some abilities are just dangerous. Acid generation, radiation manipulation, astral trapping, reality warping, liquefaction… they’re all useful abilities but if they can’t be controlled, they can do permanent damage. Maybe Jim just couldn’t get a handle on his powers when he was younger.”
Uhura purses her lips and pulls her legs up onto her chair, folding them beneath her. Her hair is in a loose bun at the base of her neck and she’s wearing very casual clothes, and she looks softer than usual.
“So what was his power, before they took it away?”
“Molecular disintegration, if you can believe it,” he says with a wry smile, and she returns it over her knees.
“The Captain doesn’t seem like the sort of person who would give up his power so readily,” she comments – but he shakes his head with a smile.
“Now that part of the story you’ll have to get out him yourself, though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to anybody.”
“But what about you? How come you’re sat here alone with your green tea? Is it because of the pon farr?”
“Got it in one,” she says with a wry smile, toasting him sardonically with her mug. “It’s still over a month away, but Spock says that it’s better for him to start meditating as soon as possible to try to keep the blood fever down. He gets boring when he’s in those trances, and oh my god they last for hours.”
“Well, better to be safe than sorry, I guess. I take it he’s discussed it with Spock Prime as well?”
Uhura pulls a face. “Yeah, but apparently when Spock Prime had his first pon farr it ended up with the other you pretending to kill the other Jim? I don’t know, if I’m honest I tend to kind of zone out whenever Spock Prime gets involved in our personal life. It’s kind of weird.”
“My first thought is that something must have been going on for me to pretend to kill Jim, but to be honest I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t fantasize about sedating him several times a week.”
“I thought that the standard sedatives don’t work on him?”
“Yeah,” McCoy says with a wistful smile and a burst of memory. “They just make him act really high. One time when we at the Academy I tried to knock him out, but he just ended up convinced that a plastic bag was the pet cat that we didn’t have and stroked it for like, half an hour.”
Uhura looks both horrified and entertained, and her eyes widen in curiosity. “What were you sedating him for?”
“To make him sleep the night before one of his Advanced Subspace Geometry exams – he always dealt with exams one of two ways. Either he’d refuse to revise at all and get blackout drunk the night before and still pass with flying colors, or he’d take a shit-ton of Adderall and drinks gallons of coffee until he claimed that his notes sounded like they were in pain, and he’d still pass with flying colors,” he sighs, and shakes his head. “I swear I could never work out which method he was going to try until he was already too far into it to stop him.”
“As much as I respect the captain, sometimes I don’t know how you’ve put up with him for five years, Leo.”
“Well, somebody has to,” he says with a crooked smile. “But since we’re both here avoiding our respective partner’s antisocial behaviors, how about we occupy ourselves?” he suggests as the caffeine hits his system and his brain starts to focus, and he starts tapping commands onto the table between them.
The available games flicker into view with a gentle glow, and they both peer at them as they float between them, until Uhura points to one that’s a faint blue color. “Let’s do Monopoly, I haven’t played that since I was a girl!”
“Monopoly it is,” he says graciously and with a few more taps, a holographic board rises up out of the table, the pieces glowing gently and waiting to be selected. McCoy’s just reaching out for the car when the door slides open and Sulu stumbles in, bleary-eyed and sleep-ruffled.
“Hikaru! Welcome to the pyjama party!” Uhura cries cheerfully, and gestures to the board. “We were just about to start a game, care to join us?”
Sulu slowly blinks at the pair of them and they wait expectantly for an answer. McCoy has a moment of wondering if the helmsman has fallen asleep again on his feet when Sulu suddenly lurches to the side and towards the counter.
“’ll be th’iron,” he slurs as he reaches for the coffee.
“This is probably the most boring away mission that I’ve ever been on.”
“Hey, I didn’t invite you down here.”
“No, I invited myself, because I’m getting as stir crazy as everyone else on that ship.”
“I still don’t get it. We already know that there’s no civilization down here, we are purely here for curiosity, there aren’t any people here for you to yell at.”
“I can yell at you, can’t I?” McCoy murmurs as they slow to a halt and he stretches his arms over his head with an expansive yawn. Jim’s right though, there’s nothing around here at all – no civilizations, no primitive cultures, not even any wildlife that they can see. There’s no life at all, not even any grass or shrubbery or trees to speak off, just a wide, rocky tract of land. McCoy’s not sure if Jim’s hoping to find mineral deposits, because there’s definitely not anything else.
“Captain! I’m getting readings of excess alpha radiation over here!”
Jim turns to the voice, and nods in Mathis’ direction where she’s stood near a cave entrance, waving the others across to her whilst consulting the scanner in her hand. The sun is bright but not enough to dazzle them, and the air is pleasantly warm – the lack of any signs of life and the quietness make the landscape slightly unsettling, but completely harmless as McCoy and Jim bump shoulders as they walk across the plan to Mathis.
“What could cause excess alpha particles in an area as remote as this?”
Jim shrugs as his fingers brush McCoy’s and tangle with them for a brief moment before releasing. “Hopefully something useful to us – could be a compound that we don’t know about. Or it could be that somebody’s been here before us and found nothing, same as us, but left a residue. We won’t know until we find the source.”
“Best guess would be a transuranic element,” Gonzales adds as she jogs up to them from where she’d been scouting the edge of the ravine and sending intermittent streams of fire down into the gorge. “Ooooh, I hope it’s darmstadtium, I haven’t had a decent sample in years and I’ve got loads of theoretical experiments that I want to run on it.”
“If it’s darmstadtium, you have my official permission to extract it and take it back to the ship to play with, Delia, but only if you promise not to cause an outbreak of cancer amongst the technicians. I’m being serious here, Bones has serious issues with cancer epidemics.”
“Only because it’s like treating for something equally archaic like typhoid or cholera,” McCoy points out in what he feels is a very reasonable tone. “Mathis, what’ve you got?”
Mathis looks up briefly as they reach her and points vaguely towards the cave. “Not sure, really – just high alpha radiation coming from in that cave, thought you’d want to have a look at least?”
“We didn’t bring any flashlights.”
“That’s okay, Reeves is bioluminescent,” Jim says absently as he squints into the darkness of the cave. “That looks like it goes pretty far in. Somebody contact the Enterprise, tell her that we might be going off-grid for a while, but not to worry.”
Chapin unclips his communicator from his hip as McCoy and Jim follow Reeves into the cave, the technician’s glow brightening as he leads them into the darkness. The light pulses gently – almost imperceptibly – and it takes a moment for McCoy to realize that it must be oscillating in time with Reeves’ heartbeat. That’s pretty interesting, he’ll have to make a note of it and remember to ask him for more details about his ability in the upcoming quarterly medicals.
“Okay, this cave is way longer than I thought it was going to be,” Gonzales says after ten mintutes of silent traipsing through the cave that had quickly turned into a tunnel. There’s a brief flash of light and a whoosh, and a blast of hot air hits the back of McCoy’s head. “Lynda, are the readings getting any stronger?”
“Not by much, but yeah. We’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
“Man, I hope it’s darmstadtium.”
“Bone cancer. Seriously, if you cause bone cancer, I’ll make your life hell for the next four years,” McCoy grumbles, and he hears Jim laugh quietly beside him.
“Guys, I think we’ve found something…”
McCoy jogs the few meters that they’ve fallen behind and glances at where Chapin is pointing to what looks to be some sort of nested hollow in a larger part of the tunnel. At first, McCoy doesn’t spot the creature inside it – or at least, doesn’t realize that it’s all one entity instead of just a filthy, dust-covered piles of rotten limbs. It’s twisted and broken into an awkward position, but if it weren’t it would be at least two meters long and several tall. At one end of the body is what seems to be the head, with five pairs of eye sockets gaping in the dirty bone of the skull and horns protruding from the top.
“Jesus, how many legs does it have?” Mathis mutters as he walks around it, and McCoy peers in.
“Looks like six? Or maybe some of them are arms… no, those ones at the back are definitely legs.”
“The skin looks almost… patchwork though, don’t you think?”
Jim’s face screws up in disgust, and McCoy doesn’t blame him – the stench of rotting flesh is almost overpowering; he doesn’t want to even guess at how long this creature has been dead. “You’re right – once you get past the oozing pustules and random bone spikes, you’re right. It looks like this has been almost sewn together. And don’t even get me started on those wings, I mean look at them, they’re just connected with sinew. It wouldn’t even be able to fly, there’s no way that it would evolve those wings naturally.”
“So somebody was here before us then…”
“This thing must be the source of the alpha radiation. Talk about experimentation gone wrong.”
McCoy feels a shiver run down his back, and the hairs on his neck slowly stand on end. There’s been no other signs of human interference that they’ve seen, but there’s no denying that this creature in front of them is not natural. Somebody was here, experimenting on animals – for what purpose? What was the gain for them in creating some sort of eldritch abomination?
The ambient light surrounding them flickers slightly as Reeves visibly shudders.
“Let’s get moving,” Jim says slowly, his eyes transfixed on the creature’s skull. “This thing is giving me the creeps.”
“Same. Maybe we should be looking for whoever made this thing instead?”
“A sound suggestion, Gonzales. Hustle hustle kids, I’m gonna have nightmares after this,” McCoy mutters and in a move that he immediately regrets, starts actually shooing them onwards and past the nest with its unpleasant inhabitant.
There’s a creaking sound, a slow groan that makes them all freeze in position. The gentle pulse of Reeves’ luminescence increases in speed as his heart rate goes up, and McCoy turns to look at the creature.
All ten of the eyes inside the skull snap open suddenly, and a crack below the bone opens to reveal a disproportionate large mouth with rows upon rows of teeth like a shark, and it gives a rattling roar as its limbs stir.
“Move move move move move!” Jim roars as it lurches out its nest in a mess of jointed legs, all six of them stretching and cracking as it falls forward. McCoy gets a glimpse of its gaping, tooth-filled maw before Jim crashes into him and grabs at his arm, yanking him along with him.
“Chapin!” Mathis screams, and with every pounding step that they run down the tunnel, another clone of Chapin peels away and turns back to take on the creature that’s bearing down on them, and each one disintegrates with a scream.
“We have to get out before they can beam us up!”
McCoy drops his head as a stream of fire shoots over it directly from Gonzales’ fist as she punches through the air. He’s never run so fast in his life, and never with nothing but Reeves’ bioluminescence to light the way and never in the knowledge that if he falls, he will die.
“Oh my god, there’s more of them!” comes a horrified yell from one of Chapin’s clones before it’s torn apart by teeth and claws, and McCoy daren’t turn back. There’s a tiny, almost imperceptible light ahead of them that can only be the exit and it gives him hope, but barely. His lungs are burning and legs are aching and all he can focus on is Jim beside him and the scrabbling of a ten-foot, six-legged monster behind him.
“They’re gaining on us!” Gonzales shouts as she glances over her shoulder, her long black hair flying wildly, and she spins on her heel and heads straight back the way that they’ve come; McCoy starts to call her back, but the oxygen is ripped from his lungs as she propels an enormous fireball down the tunnel that fills it from wall to wall, searing everything in its path.
“My clones were in there,” Chapin pants as they slow to a halt, and Gonzales punches him gently in the arm as she bends forward to catch her breath.
“You can always make new ones,” she replies with a half-hearted grin. The stench of burnt flesh hits them all at the same time and McCoy pulls a face – it’s a strong, sulphurous smell that clings to the back of his throat. He tilts his head back as he breathes through his mouth instead of his nose, and reaches out blindly for Jim – his hand connects with his shoulder and Jim automatically moves closer to him.
“Okay, let’s get out of here,” Jim rasps after a moment, and there’s a murmur of assent amongst the group as they slowly continue towards the exit.
There’s a rattling screech from behind them – they don’t even look, they all just stumble into a run again, because something about that screech was furious and the sound of that thing’s legs is just getting faster and closer.
“Go!” Jim shouts and pushes at McCoy’s shoulder, urging him to run fast. The tunnel exit is close now, it’s only a hundred yards away but it feels more like a hundred miles. He glances back and oh god, there’s even more of them, and there’s nothing between them but more of Chapin’s clones and they’re not going to make it. He knows, over the sound of the pounding blood in his ears, that Gonzales won’t be able to produce another pyro attack like the previous one for another few hours and the sparks that she’s shooting aren’t having much effect.
“I’ll hold them off!” Mathis shouts, but she’s stopped from turning back as Jim grabs her arm on his way past and drags her along.
“No, we’re nearly there!”
“They can’t hurt me!”
“I don’t care, move!”
Forty meters, and they’re nearly on top of them. Chapin’s hit the same exhaustion as Gonzales – he’s stopped producing clones, and the creatures have destroyed all of the previous ones.
Thirty meters, and the lights go out with a blood-curdling scream as Reeves falls too far behind and McCoy hates himself for not turning back to try to save him.
Twenty meters, and McCoy’s legs are screaming and his lungs burning. He feels like he’s going to collapse but he pushes forward, away from the heavy breathing at the back of his neck.
Ten meters, and Jim isn’t beside him anymore.
Five meters, and McCoy turns to see Jim looking back at creatures before the tunnel behind him explodes in a deafening crashing of rock and stone, collapsing on top of the creatures as they advance and crushing them into the ground.
And they’re out, stumbling into the open air in a cloud of dust.
McCoy can hear Mathis calling on her comm to be retrieved immediately. He thinks Gonzales is crying, but he’s not sure – it could be Chapin. He wants to go to each of them, to restore their energy but he doesn’t have any himself. He’s in no position to heal anybody right now so he just falls to his knees and he’s vaguely aware of being transported back to the ship but all he can hear is the pounding of feet and Reeves’ agonized screams and the echoes of an awful, rattling roar.
Reeves had a girlfriend on the ship. It turns out that he also had a wife back on Earth, but she’s not here so it’s the girlfriend that Jim is more worried about. He refuses to rest after the mission, much to McCoy’s consternation, and immediately goes off in search of Singleton to deliver the bad news himself.
After getting an energy boost and a quick once-over from Chapel and one of her adoring technicians, McCoy retires to Jim’s quarters to wait for him. A mission report is waiting to be written, but McCoy figures that it can wait until tomorrow. Besides which – he’s only just now starting to remember what happened. It happened so fast and so suddenly that it didn’t seem real or even tangible, and it was like every time he blinked he lost several seconds of panicked, terrified running.
Reeves’ scream is still echoing through his head when Jim finally crawls into bed with him an hour later, his skin cold and clammy and his fingers trembling where they come to rest on McCoy’s chest. He props himself up slightly, trying not to dislodge him. “Is Jean okay?”
Jim sighs heavily and presses his face further into McCoy’s shoulder. “She’s torn up. Says he wasn’t even supposed to go planetside… and she’s right, it was supposed to be Mullins but he got sick. He shouldn’t have even been there.”
“Without his power, we never would have been able to get out of there alive.”
“Without his power, we never would have gone in there in the first place.”
McCoy can’t argue with that, so he doesn’t try – instead he just rolls onto his side and pulls Jim into his chest, one hand carding through his hair and the other stroking down his back. Slowly, the tension in Jim’s body eases away as he breathes deeply against McCoy’s skin and after a few minutes he pulls back slightly.
“What if we never find anywhere, Bones?” he asks and he sounds so bone-tired that McCoy is overcome with the memory of singing lullabies to Joanna when she was still small enough to fall asleep on his shoulder. “What if we just drift through space for five years, and never come across any civilized worlds?”
McCoy leans forward and kisses Jim on the forehead. “Are you kidding me? We’ve only been at this for four months and we’ve not really travelled that far. We’ll find something. And if we don’t after another few months, then we turn around and try in a different direction. It’s kinda up to you, Captain.”
Jim smiles tiredly and rolls away. “Shit yeah, I’m the captain.”
“And I’m your CMO. And I always will be, even if we drift for years and never find anything. I still will be even if we get lost and never make it home, and I will follow you to the edge of the universe if that’s where you decide to take us.”
He catches Jim’s eye and holds it, and he tries to convey all of the seriousness that he’s feeling into the look. What he said is true of course but he wants to make sure that Jim really, truly understands what he’s saying. He wants Jim to understand the depth of his feelings for him, and just how far he’s willing to go – beyond breaking Starfleet regulations to sneak him onto the Enterprise, beyond breaking Federation laws and resurrecting Jim from the dead. There is absolutely nothing that McCoy would not do for Jim and sometimes the thought scares him, but right now it just fills him with resolve.
Jim seems to understand at least part of what he’s trying to communicate, because he pushes in closer and kisses him as though they really are at the end of the universe.
McCoy begins his quarterly medical checks on the crew on a Tuesday.
By Friday he and the rest of the Medical team have barely made it through half of the crew and McCoy is absolutely exhausted. Aside from asking the same questions of each and every one in their three-hundred strong crew, he still has all of the normal day-to-day work to be getting on with, including dealing with an increasingly-recalcitrant Jim. The temptation to fob off some more of the crewmembers to his team is great, but the fact that he’s spent the whole day having to personally be the one to sign off on the Senior Officers hasn’t helped his mood.
He finally locates Jim in the hydroponics lab after a particularly one-sided argument with the new AI that Scotty’s installed into the system – what had previously been a very generic, clinically cool female voice is now a distinctly male, British voice and the interface now sounds constantly exasperated by the entire crew. He swears that this new AI is judging every single person on the ship and keeping secret records.
Jim looks up from where he’s carefully pruning a tomato plant. “Experimenting, actually. I wanna isolate the solanine in the foliage and see if we can’t find an application for it.”
“You’re trying to weaponize the tomato plants?”
“Hey, there’s new material come out that those anticonvulsant theories are actually viable, it’s not just a poison.”
“Really? What journal was that in?”
“Royal Society of Toxicology’s biannual report, I’ll leave it out for you,” Jim says absently as he drops another section of greenery into a tub to his right. A few aisles over there’s a faint shriek as one technician’s ability goes awry and she’s suddenly engulfed by pumpkins. “What’s up? I’m guessing you didn’t come down here searching for fresh produce as well, though our fridge is looking as empty as ever.”
McCoy shakes his head and jumps up onto a nearby empty counter, picking up a miniature trowel and turning it over in his hands. “Just needed to get away from the medbay for a while. Quarterlies are making me wanna scream, I always forget how much I hate them.”
“How can you forget? You do them four times a year.”
“Yep, and yours is due tomorrow, just so you know.”
Jim’s face drops and his voice pitches about an octave higher than normal. “Boooones, really? Do we have to? You’ve always just pretended to do mine.”
“Yeah, but this is a five-year mission kid. I can’t pretend to do checks on you for that long and neither can you pretend that you’re okay, because you’re not. I’m getting a headache from your mood swings, and I can’t keep track of what side of the bed you wake up on every day. I swear to God, if I didn’t know you better I’d suggest medication.”
“Well, you do know me, and I’m telling you that I’m fine.”
“Yeah, I know you, and you’re not,” McCoy pushes firmly and ignores Jim’s scowl. “Look, if you’re not going to tell me what the problem is then fine, at this point you’re welcome to act like a toddler and keep carrying on. But I swear to you if it gets out of hand, I’ll not have a choice.”
“What d’you mean, ‘gets out of hand’?”
“Your bad moods. And don’t look at me like that, you know exactly what I mean. Now I don’t give a rat’s ass if you blow up at me because whether I like it or not, I signed up for it when I offered you a drink on that goddamn shuttle to the Academy. But if it starts affecting the staff any more than it already is, then we’re going to have issues.”
“I ain’t finished, boy,” McCoy growls. “I want you to swear to me that when you need me, you come for me. You got that? Suffer in silence if you will but don’t think for one minute that I will not be right there the minute that you call me.”
Jim holds his gaze for a long moment before looking down, setting his secateurs beside the tomato plants. “You can’t call me boy you know, I’ve been awarded the Grankite Order of Tactics and the Karagite Order of Heroism,” he mumbles.
McCoy leans back on hands, nearly dislodging a tray of cucumbers, and waits. He’s been at a standstill with Jim about this on and off for over six weeks and though sometimes Jim has better days, McCoy’s at the end of his tether. Jim will either tell him now what’s going on, or he won’t, but McCoy won’t make that decision for him.
“I’m sorry,” Jim says eventually in a quiet, tiny little voice as his shoulders drop. “I swear I’m not doing it on purpose and I don’t mean for things to get out of control, and I know that it’s all my fault. And I swear that I’ll try harder, I promise I will.”
“But you won’t tell me what’s wrong?”
Jim gives him a pleading look as he steps in between McCoy’s legs and rests his hands on his hips. “I can’t. It’s nothing that you can help me with anyway.”
“I want to help, Jim.”
“But you can’t. Nobody can, that’s the problem.”
Jim lifts up a hesitant hand towards McCoy’s face, which hovers for a moment before settling against the side of his neck. His eyes are roaming over McCoy as though searching desperately for an answer that won’t turn everyone on the ship against him, but he’s not having much luck if the way that his expression looks more deflated by the second is any indication. After a while McCoy takes pity on him and leans into his touch, sitting forward and pulling Jim into a tight hug.
“An apology ain’t gonna fix this, but it’s a start,” he concedes as Jim’s whole body relaxes against his and his hands move to fist in the back of McCoy’s shirt as he shakes.
McCoy lies awake long after they’ve gone to bed.
Jim had dropped off almost as soon as his head had hit the pillow, and had followed the same routine as every other night – he’d started off wrapped into McCoy’s side with his leg flung over the doctor’s thighs and a hand curled against his ribcage, but had rolled away when he got too warm and ended up on his back. That’s when the snoring had started in earnest and McCoy knew that he was dead to the world.
His mind races through several different topics before it quietens and settles on going over a few of his quarterly reviews from that day. Doctor Carol Marcus had been his first patient that morning, and she’d displayed the same cool grace whilst on the biobed as she had whilst diffusing a fake torpedo. He’d asked her all of the routine questions, ensured that she wasn’t suffering from any withdrawals – even though he already knew the answer to that one. Carol was one of the lucky crewmembers whose power of electron perception could be used at any time, even if it wasn’t being of any use. She had told him that she’d learnt more about the molecular composition of the entire ship and its contents that she’d ever thought possible in three months.
Sulu had been next on his list of Senior Officers, and again his power is easy to manage – whenever he’s feeling restless or strained, it’s easy enough for him to access holos of boxing, athletics, dancing, whatever takes his fancy and then perfectly mimic the movements in the gym or his quarters. He tells McCoy conversationally that he’ll be performing selections from La Sylphide during Sunday’s beta shift and would be honored if both he and the captain would attend.
Chekov is, like so many of the others, perfectly happy and healthy. His intuitive aptitude manifests in a devastating thirst for knowledge that is easily sated by the sheer quantities of texts available to him. He does, however, admit that he feels left out when the other ensigns play Trivial Pursuit and don’t let him join in.
If only it were so easy for everyone, McCoy thinks bitterly as he rolls over. At least he can chase random people down the corridors and diagnose minor problems that they didn’t even know that they had on the spot in order to exercise his powers. As for Jim – he doesn’t even have to worry about it all, though at least McCoy understands that it’s not exactly a blessing for him.
He turns his gaze towards Jim and watches him in the near-darkness. Okay, so the consistent and horrendously loud snoring kinda detracts from the image, but in sleep Jim is far less frenetic than when awake; he has the abhorrent ability to be asleep within minutes of settling down nine times out of ten and falling into such a deep sleep than sometimes the chrono alarm doesn’t wake him, instead waking McCoy who has to push him out of bed. Unpleasant noises aside, he’s not the worst person to share a bed with.
And it scares him a little bit, sometimes, when he thinks about how accustomed he’s become to sharing a bed with Jim and how much he dreads the day when it stops happening. He doesn’t like to admit how much he cares about him either – neither of them do, and they don’t talk about the way that their relationship was awkward and fumbled and the complete opposite of exclusive for the first four years and only really developed in the year after the Khan incident. They don’t talk about the women and the men in between, and they don’t talk about the desperation on both of their parts in the few weeks after Jim’s resurrection.
McCoy still remembers vividly the first morning that he’d woken to Jim snoring beside him, and that was when he knew that something had changed – because every other time he’d fallen asleep with his palms on Jim’s skin, he’d always been alone in the bed by the time that morning came.
He reaches out now with a careful hand to stroke his fingers along Jim’s jawline; there’s faint stubble that if left unchecked will grow ginger and thick, which McCoy has witnessed all of three times during leave when Jim decides that he’s either too lazy to shave or declares that he wants to feel more masculine. There’s no tension in his face when he’s sleeping, there’s no chance that he’ll snap at a crewman for no reason or be overheard shouting at Scotty in the ready room. Here, with only the faint lights from the wall-mounted comm padd to light his face and nothing but the sound of the engines to complement his snoring, he’s more like the Jim that McCoy knew five years ago than the one that’s come to occupy his space.
Ten days later, and to his credit Jim is clearly making a conscious effort not to be such an irritable dick – there’s less shouting, less shrugging off concerned touches and less mutinous binges on pizza, but whilst his moods swings and inexplicable tantrums have lessened they’re still there and now there’s a tension between them that wasn’t there before. Now, there’s the knowledge that Jim purposefully won’t tell him what’s wrong, rather than just a willful ignorance of any problem even existing.
So he’s taken to hiding from everyone in order to keep his promise – and that includes McCoy. Sure, he’ll turn up on the bridge when he’s on shift and when he’s tired, he’ll fall into bed and snore for eight hours, but where he goes when he’s not working or eating is anybody’s guess. He’s stopped sparring with Sulu; he’s stopped inhaling information with Chekov; he doesn’t hang out on the observation deck anymore and he doesn’t spend hours slouched in an armchair in the lounge and chatting to whoever comes in for coffee.
McCoy actually goes to Engineering one day to see if Jim has started lurking in access hatches down there, but it’s a fruitless search.
They’ve been at sail for ninety-three days when it happens.
It actually starts off pretty innocuously. McCoy wakes briefly when Jim gets up for alpha shift and is fairly quiet until he slips in the shower and curses colorfully; he wakes again properly a few hours later and slowly prepares for his beta shift with fresh coffee and a new vidstream from Joanna, who seems to be entering her moody teenage years. The shift itself progresses normally and quietly and it’s a pleasant break when Jim doesn’t come down to loiter in the dispensary and whinge that he’s bored and pretends to hate his job.
It’s not until he gets a private comm from Scotty, whose voice sounds odd and fractious, that the day starts to go downhill drastically.
“I had to leave some very important paperwork behind for this. What’s up?” McCoy asks as the door to the transporter bay closes behind him. There’s something really wrong – there’s a distraught expression on Scotty’s face and he keeps wringing his hands, looking around furtively as though he’s expecting somebody to jump out from behind a console.
“It’s the Captain,” Scotty says in a rush. “Something’s wrong with him.”
“What do you mean, wrong with him? And why did you need me to come down to the transporter bay to tell me?”
“Because he was just here. He just ordered me to beam him down onto the planet’s surface, alone.”
McCoy’s breath catches and he freezes, his whole body going cold, and for a moment all he can think about is Jim dying, scared and in pain, inside the warp core whilst he did nothing to save him. But that’s not what’s happened here, not this time, and McCoy shakes his head to clear the thoughts from it.
They’d established the day before that there is a breathable atmosphere down on the ground, but after scans showed that the planet was uninhabited the decision had been made to move on and try to find planets with people, rather than empty rocks. Just because there’s nobody down there doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous – besides which, they’d scanned for civilizations, not biological signatures. There’s no telling what sort of creatures could be roaming around, and if there’s anything down there like what they found in that cave…
“Did he say why he was going down there?”
“No, but he seemed… odd. He was pale and shaking, and he said that it was important that he went down there. I tried to ask him why but he wasn’t having it, and he ordered me not to tell anybody on the ship where he’d gone.”
“But you’re telling me?”
“Like I said, something was wrong. Besides which, you’re the CMO, you’re above his orders.”
“Unfortunately, yes,” McCoy says grimly as he straps a weapons belt on and steps up onto the transporter pad. “Well, I suppose that you’d better send me down there, Mr Scott. I’m sure he’s only managed to get himself into trouble – how long ago did he beam down?”
“Just before I contacted you.”
“Then we’re in luck, he may still have all of his limbs attached. Energize.”
There's the familiar humming as the transporter prepares to beam and the high-pitched, almost sonic sound as the molecules speed up, electrons whizzing from orbitals and gathering in improbable places so that they can move in improbable paths, and McCoy takes a deep breath as it engages. His molecules shift and drift and rearrange and he squeezes his eyes shut.
He knows that he’s arrived because the overwhelming need to vomit nearly causes him to bend over, but he takes a deep breath as his body realigns and opens his eyes to look around.
He’s standing in a desert, and the world is collapsing around him.
There are no roads. There are no buildings. There are no obvious signs of civilization. There are trees though, and it’s not just a flat landscape – there are cliffs and valleys and rocks strewn around, and there are birds and insects and other small animals.
And they are being blown apart.
McCoy’s first instinct when he fully materializes is to crouch and cover his eyes as the wind and dust whip around him, and a nearby tree is uprooted and flung in his direction. He can’t breathe properly – it’s as though the air is being sucked from his lungs and pulled into the chaos. His whole body feels as though it’s about to shed away, layer by layer, until he’s down to his skeleton and his bones will just fall apart and into the wind.
It takes him a few moments to remember why he came down to this hell in the first place, and when he does, his heart judders. Jim only had a few minutes head start on him and he can’t have made any decent ground in this storm. He’ll be able to find him soon enough, and ask him why in god’s name he wanted to come down here in the first place.
The first thing that he sees as he stands is a nearby rock formation shake and rumble and then explode, blasting outwards into smaller rocks, then pebbles, then sand then dust then nothing, and he ducks instinctively as what feels like a shockwave hits him and the tree next to him; the tree is gone within seconds, and McCoy himself can’t breathe for five.
There’s a dip in the land to his right, what might be a crater or valley, he can’t tell through the debris flying in front of his eyes but it’s the only place with decent cover that he can see – it’s the most likely place for Jim to hide but the path down to it is rough and crumbling away even as he approaches it, the ground dissolving beneath his feet.
He coughs as another shockwave hits, simultaneously flooding his mouth and nose with dust and dragging the air from his body. It’s not a storm like any that he’s ever encountered before – there’s no rain or lightning or thunder, but there is sheer destruction. No winds that he knows can rip a boulder into a thousand pieces or tear the skin from a nearby animal.
There’s a sudden crack and the rumbling intensifies, and he staggers backward as the path that he was edging around shifts into sand beneath his feet before sinking down and down into the ground, and he just manages to get out of the way as the area that he was standing in disappears as though someone’s pulled the plug on the planet.
He slips as he edges around the area, around the large rock that he was circumnavigating to get to the valley, and ends up having to stop as another coughing fit wracks his body, and he can’t even hear himself hacking up his lungs over the sound of the roaring that’s spreading across the desert. He tries his communicator; nothing. The screen is blank and there’s no noise, as though the whole thing’s been taken offline – he swears to high hell at the storm and pushes his communicator back onto his belt, where it bashes against his phaser.
The storm’s getting worse, and he’s going to need to get out it before he can beam back up from the looks of things. But he hasn’t found Jim yet, and if there’s any chance that Jim could be in the storm and unable to escape it, then McCoy’s damn well not going to go anywhere without him.
He takes in a deep breath that only gives him half of the air that he expected, shields his eyes, and clambers around the corner of the rock formation as a shockwave rattles his bones and a mountain in the near distance crumbles.
And then he sees Jim, standing right in the eye of the storm with his eyes closed and his hands clenched into fists, perfectly still as the desert whips around him – and McCoy realizes with a horrifying certainty that actually, Jim is the eye of the storm.
And now that he knows, he can see how the air is rippling in circles around him, throbbing and pushing outwards in waves of exploding force that tears through all of the matter around him and rips apart the atoms, and are causing the world to break down.
“Jim!” he shouts, but no sound comes from his mouth. There’s no air left – no particles to vibrate and take the call from his lips to Jim’s ears. There’s just the collapsing desert and Jim and a million photons that will be the next things to be destroyed.
He stumbles as his skin begins to tingle, and whatever it was that was shielding him from the force of Jim’s power gives way. The landscape’s barely recognizable now, and he can tell even though his eyes are covered that the area will soon be flattened and vaporized into the atmosphere. Everything in Jim’s radius has been; it’s only a matter of time before he himself is subjected to the shockwaves and torn into his component parts.
He falls to the ground, and Jim opens his eyes.
And he looks at him, finally noticing him in the midst of the destruction, and the last thing that McCoy sees is the expression on Jim’s face as it goes from blank to shocked to angry to absolutely terrified.
And then there is nothing.
McCoy wakes to the sound of Jim pacing, and for a moment is tempted not to open his eyes, to put off the inevitable shitstorm that is about to go down and just wait for Jim to get too agitated to stay in the room and leave – but he’s not a coward, and he has a whole load of his own questions and accusations.
He stands quickly, takes a step forward, and punches Jim solidly in the face before Jim can react or the head rush can get the better of him.
“I suppose I deserved that,” Jim says quietly after a moment, as McCoy squeezes his eyes shut and rubs at his temple until his vision has cleared. “I’m sorry.”
McCoy swallows a few times before opening his eyes to stare at Jim. He’s rubbing his cheek sullenly, and the beginnings of a nasty bruise are already forming. His eyes are overly bright and he’s vibrating with nervous energy, like he’s worried that any second now McCoy’s going to comm an admiral and have him arrested. McCoy’s tempted to, just to spite him.
“You could have killed me down there. I nearly asphyxiated,” he accuses, and it’s not what he’d been planning to say but it’s what comes out of his mouth anyway.
“That’s because there was no air,” Jim snaps, scowling. “And I stopped as soon as I saw you; I got you back here as soon as I could.”
“But what if you hadn’t seen me? Or if I’d fallen over behind the rocks and I’d not come to you?” McCoy presses, and there’s a faint sneer on Jim’s lips as he begins to pace again.
“You were never in any real danger. You saw me, I annihilated every living thing within a mile – hell, you managed to walk through the worst of it – and yet you weren’t hurt. Think about it, Bones. My ability won’t work on you.”
“So what, it works on everything but humans?”
“I said it wouldn’t work on you,” Jim bites, and turns away from him as though embarrassed. “Believe me, it works on other humans.”
McCoy’s silent for a moment, half to push down the fury that’s shaking his skeleton and half to consider what Jim’s said. It doesn’t take him too long to work it out. “Frank,” he says, and it’s not a question. Jim nods, but doesn’t look back at him.
“What I told you was true. Frank was killed when I manifested with molecular disintegration,” he says with a shrug, and sits down at the table. His dinner is set out on it; Janice must have brought it whilst they were in the desert, and he pokes at his knife with his little finger. “It might be manipulation, I’m not sure, but I’ve never been able to do more than destroy things. You never know, if I train myself, I might be able to enhance it – immobilization, you know. Or more.”
“You’re sat there contemplating evolving your ability whilst your family and the people who care about you all think that you don’t even have one,” McCoy says slowly, trying to wrap his head around it, and Jim shrugs a little guiltily.
“They don’t need to know,” he replies, and concentrates hard on his food but doesn’t make any move to eat it. “As far as they’re concerned, I went into the Institute, underwent treatment, and my power was removed. Technically, they’re not wrong.”
“Funny, that looked suspiciously like a blatant use of your ability down on the planet.”
“My power was removed,” Jim repeats firmly, and still doesn’t make eye contact. “Or maybe it was just dormant for a few hours, hiding or something. But I swear to you, for a short while, it wasn’t there. I know it wasn’t; I could feel the space where it was meant to be. But then it just… came back. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, it’s not as if I planned it. The treatment just didn’t work.”
“Well then why the hell did you let everyone believe that it had worked?” McCoy snaps, gesturing wildly, and Jim’s face screws up in disgust as he finally looks up in surprise.
“You think I would tell them that I still had my ability and just let them take me back to try again?” Jim asks, his eyebrows shooting up into his hair. “God, Bones, do you have any idea what they do to you there?”
“Not completely – I’ve only heard rumors. Genetic manipulation to block your power, but not concrete. Nothing until they’d finished with the testing and confirmed that it worked.”
“Yeah, they block your ability. But that’s only the end product – it’s the psych tests where they twist your every word to prove you’re mentally unstable. It’s the stress they put you under to see how much you can take before you lose it. It’s the room that can withstand anything that they put you in to see just how destructive your ability really is,” Jim says bitterly, and stands abruptly only to grip the back of his chair. “But worst of all, it’s the suppressing hypos that they give you when they’re not testing out your power, the ones that cut it off from you.”
“They put you through these things for a reason, and they wouldn’t go have continued with the procedure if they hadn’t been damn sure that it was the only option.”
“We’re talking about my ability, Bones, not some fucking benign tumor!” Jim shouts as though if he says it loud enough then McCoy will listen. “They took it away from me. You know how it feels to have that done to you – you only managed a few hours before you got Hume to lift the repression. Imagine what it’s like to face that sensation for the rest of your life!”
“It’s not the same, Jim. My power saves lives. Yours destroys them.”
“It was one mistake!”
“That one mistake cost your stepfather his life,” McCoy reminds him, and even as he says it he feels a small pang of guilt that he quickly stamps on. “What if it had been Sam? Or worse, your mother? And what if it happened again? You’re not safe, Jim.”
“I am safe!” Jim growls, letting go of the chair to pace around the room, and McCoy watches him carefully from beside the bed. “I’m in control of my powers. It was an accident, when I was a kid. Nothing like that’s happened since.”
“Nothing? Really? Because you flattening the desert out there looked like something to me.”
“I meant nothing bad!” Jim says through his teeth, and McCoy can feel the air vibrating between them. “All that happens now is that I go planetside every now and then, and I discharge in an empty space – usually a desert. Nobody gets hurt that way and so long as I don’t have any goddamn nosy doctors following me around, nobody notices either!”
“But it’s just a matter of time!” McCoy insists, and resists the urge to begin pacing as well and gesturing wildly. “You need to get it removed as soon as possible, it’s dangerous!”
“I am not dangerous!” Jim shouts and with a perfect tinkling, the glass on the table between them shatters into a million pieces.
The room is silent except for their heavy breathing, and McCoy can’t bring himself to look away from the pile of dust that was a glass just two seconds ago. He’d seen it in action in the desert – he’d seen Jim destroy the ground underneath his own feet – but having just a tiny part of that power directed at something so close to him is far more terrifying than he’d like to admit.
“Well,” Jim says eventually, and though he’s trying to hide the shake in his voice McCoy can still hear it. “There’s your proof, I guess.”
“That I’m unstable. That’s what you’re so pissed at me for, after all,” he says bitterly and McCoy’s about to agree but then he manages to look away from the glass, and up at Jim, and can’t agree. Because Jim’s holding tightly onto himself, clutching at his own arms as if to hold himself together and watching McCoy so carefully, that McCoy realizes that no, that’s not what he’s so pissed off about.
“No, Jim. Because if you’d told me, then I might have been able to help. The worst part is that you lied to me.”
“I lied to everybody,” Jim says blankly, and shrugs. “You’re no different.”
“Really?” McCoy snaps, and almost regrets feeling sorry for him. “Because my ass in your bed every night kind of made me think that I was.”
Jim freezes for a moment and for a moment McCoy thinks that he’s going to go too far – his face is twisted down into an ugly sneer and he looks completely unlike himself – but then his expression falls and he looks at McCoy with a broken sort of desperation. “Bones…”
“I’m having a shower,” McCoy cuts him off coldly and pushes past him. “Try to pull your head out of your ass before I come back out.”
He doesn’t wait for a response, just smacks the lock on the door viciously and listens to it slide shut with a faint click behind him. He does actually need a shower – everything about him is covered with a thick layer of dust from his adventure into the desert and when he runs his hair through his hair, a small cloud billows out from the dark strands and dissipates into the air.
There’s a muffled crashing sound from the bedroom which could well have been Jim smashing something else; McCoy decides as he strips off his clothes and throws them into the laundry chute that he doesn’t really care which, so long as it’s cleaned up by the time he gets out of the shower.
He briefly considers walking out and sleeping in his own quarters for a few days, leave Jim to himself until McCoy’s calmed down, but the logical side of his brain quickly shuts him down. Leaving Jim to stew by himself right now could result in the disintegration of the Enterprise by breakfast and he doesn’t have the energy to deal with that.
When he emerges clean and dried fifteen minutes later, Jim’s quarters are dark and it takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the difference once the door’s shut. Jim’s body is a hard line under the covers of his bed, and his back is turned to him; he could be sleeping, but he’s not. McCoy navigates the six feet across the room to the bed, stepping over a pile of dirty clothes before lifting the covers in silence and sliding between the sheets.
“Are you going to shout at me again?” Jim bites, his voice harsh in the quiet of the room and his body tense under the covers, and McCoy smiles to himself as he settles down.
“No, I’m not going to shout at you. But you’re an idiot,” he murmurs against the back of Jim’s neck, pressing up to him, and Jim huffs with annoyance. He stays firmly facing the opposite direction.
“You’re so fucking charming,” he complains, but McCoy knows that he’s glad for the company; he knows that as much as Jim sometimes tries to keep him at arm’s length and out of harm’s way, he’s not really trying, and the thought warms him down to his toes where they’re poking out of the end of the bed.
“That’s why you keep me around,” McCoy replies quite matter-of-factly and Jim grunts in response. He’s silent for a moment and remains unyielding within McCoy’s loose embrace, until he finally relaxes and wraps his hand around his wrist. “So what now?”
Jim shrugs against him in the dark and lets out a deep breath. “Nothing, really. I mean obviously you know now, but other than that…”
“Of course things have changed. I can help you, if you want – I’ll admit that I over-reacted. If you don’t want to try and remove your power again, then fine, I won’t push you. I’m assuming that you’re never planning on returning to the Institute and undergoing treatment again?”
“No. Never. Besides, it wouldn't make any difference anyway. It didn't work the first time, so why should it work the second time?” Jim says bitterly, and Bones frowns, running his fingers absently over the tattoo on Jim’s chest.
“Because whatever went wrong, they'll have fixed. It must have been some sort of error in the manipulation process, somehow it didn't permanently suppress the right genes.”
“It worked for everyone else. There was ten of us remember? Except for me, they’d had a perfect record.”
“Then they must have miscalculated something about you personally -”
“I'm just too powerful, Bones,” Jim says suddenly, sounding far too tired, and slumps backwards against him. “My ability is too strong. Hell, I probably destroyed the suppressor once it was inside me, or something, or it just couldn't handle it. I don't know, okay? But it won't work even if I do try and have it done again because I've just gotten stronger over the years.”
“And now you're just being big-headed,” McCoy says flatly, because seriously, whose is really strong enough to resist genetic manipulation?
“You saw me in the desert. That was just me letting off five weeks’ worth of power, I was relaxing. Just think of what I could do if I was provoked. What if my ship was threatened? What if you were threatened? I’d rip a wormhole in the cosmos. Hell, you should see what happens when I get near dark matter, now that’s not pretty.”
“Five weeks of power?” McCoy repeats, catching onto the first part and trying to ignore the image of Jim tearing through spacetime if he were threatened. “What, were you storing it or something?”
“Sort of, yeah. I can’t use it when I’m on the ship – I don’t have that sort of control, I wouldn’t be able to use it without being worried that I’d destroy the hull or the engines. So I have to wait til I can get out in the open, where there’s no risks. I mean, I let off a blast when we were being chased in the tunnel by those Eldritch abominations, but that hardly made a dent in what I’d been building up.”
“You used your power to collapse that tunnel? You could have killed us all!” he says in alarm, and Jim shoots him a mutinous look.
“We would have died anyway. It was a calculated risk and luckily, it paid off. But that was only a tiny amount of power, it didn’t help the pressure inside me. It’s just been building up inside me for a few months and it was ready to burst out, Bones. If I hadn’t done it when I did I could have seriously damaged the ship.”
“You're really that powerful?” he asks, and he can hear the amazement in his own voice that'll probably just fuel Jim's ego but Jim just sighs, his chest moving gently against McCoy’s arms, and presses closer.
“It's not that great, really. There is absolutely no use for it. It’s a force of pure destruction, and it’s unpredictable. I mean, I thought about using it on the Narada, but I had no idea what the consequences would be. I have it under control but I’ve never used it in space before; I could have opened up another wormhole without using the Jellyfish, but the wormhole could have torn apart the nearby galaxies. It’s just… pointless,” Jim says with a disgruntled sigh. “And the only control that I have over it is to keep it locked away inside me.”
McCoy is silent, and simply absorbs for a few minutes. He had wondered why Jim hadn’t used his ability at all during the Narada incident, or with the Vengeance – surely even his own paranoia and fear of being discovered would have been trumped by the safety of the Federation – but his reluctance to use his power makes sense. He says that he has his ability under control but it’s patently obvious that he doesn’t. He can’t use it to any fine degree – he can just store it until it can be unleashed and then, it’s just destruction and chaos.
“I can help you learn to control it better,” he offers suddenly, and Jim grunts after a moment. It’s not quite an agreement but it’s permission to carry on, so he does. “I mean, I spent over a year at the Academy working on my own and I made pretty decent progress. We can find something useful for your ability, and make sure that you’re always safe and never in any danger of releasing it and hurting people.”
“I don’t want anybody else to know about it,” Jim says suddenly, and there’s a sharp edge to his voice. “So there’s no point.”
“So we’ll just find a way for you to discharge safely on board the ship, so you’re not always needing to go planetside. So you don’t even have to discharge – we’ll find a way for you to release it normally, and every day. Sound like a plan?”
“Only if it’s safe, and nobody finds out.”
“That can be arranged.”
“Okay then. Here’s what we’ll do,” he says, and he closes his eyes and begins to plan out loud, until Jim’s breathing evens out and he talks himself to sleep.
He wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of Jim’s snoring, and the feel of the air vibrating against his skin. The room rumbles with every inhale; the metal groans and the lights flicker, and Jim’s fingertips are humming with contained energy where they’re reaching across the bed to just touch McCoy’s arm.
The Enterprise shudders gently, and McCoy rolls closer to Jim.
There is absolutely no chance that the rest of the crew knows what went down between him and their captain on the planet, but they seem to have all correctly deduced that McCoy is directly responsible for Jim’s improving mood and all seem quite eager to thank him profusely every time that the opportunity arises. After the tenth crewman stops him in the corridor to try and awkwardly acknowledge something that he doesn’t even know happened, McCoy snaps and hides in his office for the next two days.
He’s only just dared to venture out from behind his growing stacks of paperwork and has finally returned to lurking on the bridge as an intense form of procrastination when suddenly, with no forewarning, Spock abruptly stands straight up where he was bent over the navigation console with a distinct green tinge to the tips of his ears.
“Captain, I wish to request personal leave of eight days effective immediately.”
Jim looks up, startled, from where he was reading a report on his padd and glances at McCoy before turning his gaze back to Spock. “What? Er… sure, I guess. Is everything –”
“I wish to request personal leave for eight days on behalf of Lieutenant Uhura also.”
A series of alarmed expressions are exchanged between Jim, Uhura, and McCoy – until it seems to clicks in all three of their heads at the same time and Uhura blushes just as much as Spock is whilst McCoy’s eyes roll up to the ceiling of their own accord.
“Uh yeah, sure, you guys crack on. Let me – uh, Doctor McCoy – know if you need anything…” Jim trails off, and Spock merely nods efficiently before moving towards the turbolift with Uhura following him.
“You have my thanks, but I find it highly doubtful.”
Jim watches them leave in a sort of mute, embarrassed horror and immediately turns to McCoy as soon as the turbolift has zoomed them away to Spock’s quarters.
“Oh my God, did he just go into pon farr?” he whispers, and his expression turns gleeful. “As if that just happened!”
“Could you at least try to be respectful?” McCoy hisses and leans in close. “It’s a very private time for him, you know that. No mocking.”
“You know what, you’re no fun at all,” Jim replies, but he’s grinning in a relaxed way and his eyes are twinkling; his head is tilted towards McCoy in a very particular way, and so he reaches out and gently presses his hand to the back of Jim’s neck with an affectionate smile.
He’s pretty sure that he spots a science ensign look away blushing out of the corner of his eye, but he’s saved being embarrassed by Chekov piping up from the navigation console.
“Captain! We appear to be approaching a planet, and telemetry is indicating an earth-like atmosphere on the surface.”
Jim leans forward in his seat eagerly as his left knee begins to bounce. “Do we have any information for this area?”
“Nothing sir – hopefully we can make first contact, if it’s inhabited.”
“Yessss,” Jim hisses with excitement and performs a small victory dance in his chair, much to the amusement of the current bridge crew and to McCoy’s continued exasperation. “Seriously though, if this planet is both inhabited and friendly, we are so having shore leave down there. I mean, we’ve been sailing for what… five months now?”
“One hundred and two days, sir,” corrects a tactical petty officer and everyone in the room looks slightly surprised.
“Seems like a lot longer than that,” Sulu says after a moment, and it’s clear that he’s voiced exactly what everyone else was thinking as those paying attention all smile in agreement. Jim pulls a bit of a face as he clocks everyone’s reactions, and he looks so dangerously close to sulking that McCoy decides to intervene.
“Yeah well, that’s what happens in these long-term voyages,” he says matter-of-factly. “Going for extended periods of time operating under a forced circadian rhythm instead of a natural one will play hell with your sense of time, especially when outside of your office window, it’s always night time even when you’re pretending that it’s day. I’m not surprised that you’re all confused.”
Considering he made it up on the spot, everybody seems to accept his completely fabricated explanation and Jim visibly comes back from the edge of his guilty tantrum. He shoots a grateful look at McCoy before craning his neck around the communications station.
“Are you guys picking up any frequencies that we can hail on?”
“Not yet Captain, but we’re working on it.”
“And Chekov? Has telemetry detected any signs of life yet?”
“Signs, yes, but nothing concrete yet.”
“This just keeps getting better,” Jim crows and rubs his hands together with glee.
McCoy agrees, but he knows that it’s probably for different reasons. Jim is no doubt hoping to have a few weeks of idyllic shore leave and relax on some paradisiacal planet where he’s waited on hand and foot by beautiful women, to make strong political connections with the most powerful people on the planet and report back to Starfleet having secured an alliance with these people, and then they’ll continue on their journey and find more and more equally welcoming planets to make first contact with.
McCoy’s just looking forward to dragging Jim into some empty space on the ground and forcing him to learn to control his powers. To him, that’s far more important.
There’s a brief scuffle and some hushed words at the comms station, and Alden ends up nearly falling off his chair as Garison forces him out of the way.
“Captain!” Garison calls with his hand to his ear, listening hard whilst grinning. “We’ve managed to hail the planet – and the Grand Parliament of Zakdorn would like to invite us to dock at their spaceport and join them on their planet. They’re eager to meet us.”
“This is not what I had in mind when I said we’d take shore leave here!”
It’s impressive, really, how much Jim can sound like a five-year-old when he puts his mind to it – there’s a perfected sort of cadence to the whine in his voice which McCoy knows for a fact comes from over a decade of solid training in the art of being a brat as a child, compounded upon by several years of polishing his efforts whilst whinging incessantly at McCoy at the Academy.
In McCoy’s defense, he allowed Jim a whole three days of relaxation and exploration before bringing him into the middle of nowhere.
“I know you didn’t, but this is the perfect opportunity to get started on training your ability. We’re on leave, so nobody will be bothering us, and I know that nobody’s gonna find us by accident either. No limits out here, kid.”
“Spock and Uhura get to have a good time.”
Jesus, McCoy can even hear his goddamn pout. He pauses as they reach a fork in the dirt road and looks around; the Zakdorn civil servant who’d given him directions to the abandoned quarry site had seemed slightly suspicious of him when he’d first asked for a large, empty, unused area of land that was reasonably far away from civilization but as soon as he’d mentioned the phrase ‘power withdrawals’, the woman had been very helpful. Apparently this wasn’t actually first contact with the Zakdorns – a lost ship of humans had been through before, though no affiliation to Starfleet – and so the native people were well aware of the superpowers that humans exhibited.
Obviously McCoy hadn’t told her what Jim’s power was, though. There was just something about the term ‘molecular disintegration’ that didn’t sound safe.
“Spock and Uhura are going through pon farr, you don’t ever get to use that excuse.”
McCoy holds up a hand in his direction as he decides to take the left-hand fork. “You agreed to this, so quit your whining.”
Jim huffs and jogs a few steps to catch up with him and reaches out to grab McCoy’s left hand and entwine their fingers; for a moment, McCoy thinks about resisting, but then just goes with it. As they crest the top of the hill, he has to raise his spare hand to shield his eyes from the sun where it’s shining brightly over the quarry. Zakdorn, as a planet, is freakishly similar to Earth – the urban areas are highly technological and everything is smooth, metallic lines whereas further out into the rural parts, where they’ve come today, is much more undeveloped and old-fashioned with bright green grass carpeting the grounds and knarled trees growing over the roads.
The quarry ahead of them, on the other hand, is massive and sprawling with a huge flat, clear area in the middle; in fact, it’s almost identical to a quarry that McCoy once visited near New Cardiff when he was in Britain on an exchange program while at Ole Miss. The sight of their training grounds seems to prompts Jim into action and he speeds up, practically dragging McCoy down the road and towards the quarry basin.
“You know that this is probably a bad idea, right?” he says tersely as McCoy nearly falls flat on his face. “I mean, I could kill you.”
“You told me that you couldn’t.”
“Well my power might not be able to, but if I bring the whole quarry down on our heads then I can hardly protect you from five thousand tons of rubble, can I?”
McCoy rolls his eyes. “And this is exactly why we’re training you. So that the possibility of blowing up a quarry isn’t even on the cards.”
“Yeah, I get that but still…”
“It’s okay to be nervous, Jim,” McCoy says quietly as they hit the bottom of the basin and Jim slows down to a normal walking pace. “I get it, I really do, but we have to do this. You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding your power and living in fear that the same thing that happened to Frank is going to happen to somebody else.”
Jim squirms uncomfortably, but McCoy keeps a firm grip on his hand and doesn’t let him pull away, even though his palm is sweaty and gross. “Why are you always right about these things? I mean seriously, I’m the one who’s supposed to be a genius here and yet somehow you’re the one who seems to be putting me on the right track all of the time.”
“Not all of the time. Trust me, I do the wrong things too – I overreact, I make assumptions, I get self-righteous. And those are my good qualities,” he jokes, and it’s worth it for Jim’s half-smile. “Just because you’re a genius doesn’t mean you have to be right all the time – just the opposite. It means you gotta know when you’re not right and do what needs to be done to fix this. Now, we need to grab a whole load of rocks and shit for you to aim at, so let’s get to it.”
“Okay,” Jim sighs, and between them they each pick up an armful of loose rocks from the floor of the quarry and bring them back to the center of the basin. Jim stumbles as they lay them in a pile and drops a few – every move of Jim’s is tense and jerky, his body coiled tightly like a spring and barely held together. It’s hardly the most conducive mental state for working on his powers, and McCoy has a brief flash of memories of hours and hours of meditating in their first few weeks at the Academy.
McCoy can understand his trepidation, though; if what Jim’s told him is true, he hasn’t performed a controlled show of his abilities in front of any living person, ever – even himself. McCoy had made him describe his releases in as much detail as possible, from how he felt to how the environment was affected, if at any point he thought that he could stop and lower his levels of disintegration and if he would be able to increase them, should he wish to. Jim’s answer every time was the same: he couldn’t control it.
“How far back to you want me to stand?”
“Is ‘on the Enterprise’ an acceptable answer?”
McCoy sticks his tongue out at the back of Jim’s head and slowly walks backwards until there’s about ten yards between them. The sun is bright and the air is still and quiet, and there’s no birdsong at all; McCoy silently thanks the gods that there’s no other life here that could potentially be wiped out by Jim’s ability.
A single rock about the size of a football has been placed another ten yards beyond Jim, an isolated target for him to start on. It looks terribly unassuming, but Jim’s acting as though it’s a nuclear device that could explode at any second. Which, McCoy concedes, it could well do with Jim stood so close by.
“Remember what we talked about,” he calls. “You want to send a single, isolated blast to that rock. Just enough power to destroy it, but not the ground below it.”
Jim mutters something unintelligible but no doubt derisive, and shifts on his feet; he reaches out one hand and McCoy can swear that he hears Jim take a deep breath through the silence.
The rock implodes abruptly, with a sharp sucking noise that stops as soon as it starts. For one brief second McCoy is frozen in disbelief that Jim’s managed it – and then the shockwave blasts outward from where the rock once stood with massive force and a resounding whoomp, knocking McCoy backwards and off his feet. He lands painfully on his left shoulder, and looks up just in time to see the secondary wave ripple across the ground – and it’s a literal ripple, the earth buckling out in a perfect circle with a doughnut of dust following the expanding ridge.
The dust cloud hits McCoy full in the face, and it takes a good twenty seconds of coughing violently and scrubbing at his eyes before he can sit up properly and take a good look around himself. Still standing where he was a minute before is Jim, wringing his hands sheepishly and hunching his shoulders. The pile of rocks that was beside him has been utterly destroyed – all that’s left there, and for thirty yards all around where the single stone had once stood, is the bare dirt.
McCoy sighs, and brushes himself off as he climbs to his feet.
“Let’s get some more targets, shall we?”
And so it goes, every day for the next two weeks of shore leave. They wake early every morning (or rather McCoy wakes early and alternates between throwing cold water on Jim and blasting music really loudly by the bed in order to rouse him), head down to the quarry after breakfast, and spend at least four hours in the training grounds before returning, exhausted, to the compound where they’re billeting with the rest of the senior officers.
The junior officers are in another building, and the enlisted personnel in yet another; the Zakdorn are nothing if not hospitable, which is odd considering that the ensign that Jim had sent to find out about the planet’s history had reported back that the Zakdorn are galactically feared as tactical experts whom nobody dares to attack. McCoy personally finds them to be fussy and pretentious, but so long as they’re not going to kill them all in their sleep then he really doesn’t care.
Upon arriving on the ground and meeting with representatives of the Grand Parliament, Jim had barely had a chance to speak before his rehearsed offer to join the Federation was politely rebuffed – their President, a stout woman with impressive wrinkling on her cheeks, had kindly but firmly informed them that they were well aware of the Federation and its ethos but at this time did not wish to join. Jim had just stared at her, open-mouthed and aghast, whilst she continued pleasantly to tell them that the Enterprise and all of her crew were nevertheless more than welcome to stay with them as guests for as long as they needed before continuing on their journey.
The walk to their assigned quarters had been amusingly silent – it was obvious that Jim was torn between the disappointment that he hadn’t secured an alliance, and the fact that he wouldn’t have to fill his shore leave with tedious negotiations and council meetings.
The quarters that they’ve been given are spacious and modern, and they split their afternoons between relaxing there and wandering around the capital city; on most of the evenings, they make the effort to socialize with the rest of the crew in bars and restaurants downtown, or at the beach under the starlight.
Training or not, they’ve all needed this shore leave.
“Are you sure that nobody’s gonna disturb us in here?” McCoy asks warily on the ninth day, looking around the gymnasium that they’ve got to themselves. Jim shakes his head as drops his duffel with rocks scavenged from the quarry on the floor.
“Nah, I’ve put a holo on the door saying that the room is out of bounds because I needed private, one-on-one physical therapy sessions with you,” he says, and then leans in with a leer. “Doctor’s orders.”
“Oh, great, so now the whole crew is going to think that I’m some sort of sex-crazed maniac, that’s just fantastic.”
“Hey, it’s me who’s being made out to need therapy here.”
“Physical therapy. Nobody would be suspicious about you getting beaten up badly one too many times and needing a little extra work to get your body back under control. No, focus,” he says pre-emptively and catches Jim’s smirk at the mention controlling his body. “We’re here for your power, remember?”
Jim pulls a face at him, but he get started on piling up the rocks – which are all roughly the size of a baseball – into a very neat, two-foot high pyramid. Every gentle click as he sets down a stone echoes loudly around the room, making it feel even emptier than it really is as McCoy sits down on a stack of benches against the wall.
Once he’s finished positioning them, Jim takes a careful twenty paces back from the pile and performs an over-dramatic full-body shake; as ridiculous as he looks, McCoy knows that physically trying to release some of the tension that’s wracking his body helps Jim to chill out mentally as well, which can only help with his training. He settles into a loose stance, angled to the left with his feet shoulder-width apart and his knees slightly bent; McCoy can see that his breathing is deep and full, and his hands are held out in front of him.
He shifts; his foot slides forward as he twists his right hip, and his hand curls into a fist and punches forward through the air in front of him.
The rock on the very top is atomized in an instant; the rest remain untouched and perfect.
The first time that he’d managed to actually hit the right target, Jim had abruptly performed an elaborate victory dance that included ripping off his shirt and running around the quarry, and by the time that he was ready to continue it took him over five minutes to calm down enough to concentrate. Now though, he just aims and fires at each stone in turn, reduced the pyramid in size one by one until the last one disappears in a perfect puff of dust.
Jim pauses, and then stands up straight and closes his eyes to take three deep breaths. He opens them again and glances over at McCoy, and the intense look that had been in his eyes when he’d been targeting the rocks is gone and there’s just a playfulness there that McCoy hasn’t seen in a while.
When Jim starts to walk over to him, there’s a horrendous swagger in his hips. “Yeah, that’s right, I’m a molecular disintegration pro,” he says with a shit-eating grin as he comes to stand between McCoy’s legs. “You saw that, right? Every single one on target.”
“Really? Oh, sorry, I was distracted by my fingernails and was mentally composing a grocery list.”
“You are such a jerk.”
McCoy grins as Jim leans in to kiss him. He’s so immensely proud of him that he feels about ready to burst – he should have expected it really, considering Jim’s the only one on the Enterprise who can even come close to competing with Chekov on an intuitive aptitude level, but still – he’s known people both in his time at Ole Miss and at the Academy who couldn’t attain this standard of power and control in nine months, let alone nine days.
And with his increased control of his ability has come the most happy and relaxed Jim that McCoy’s ever known – more so than before Khan, before the Narada, before that goddamn transporter shuttle from Iowa; in fact he’s pretty sure that this Jim has been locked away since well before Frank was killed. It’s almost embarrassing, really, how much McCoy is falling even more in love with him with every passing day. Jim before training was remarkable; Jim after training is incandescent.
He reaches up to grab at Jim’s face and one hand finds its way into his blond hair as he leans into the kiss, Jim’s own hands fisted in the back of his shirt – and then there’s a strange, quiet rushing sound and a blast of air against his chest. He pulls back from Jim sharply only to smack his head on the wall, and as he swears and looks down he can see that why he’s suddenly cold – his shirt has disappeared. Or rather, his grey Henley that he’s had for years and years that’s worn soft and warm, has been disintegrated.
His head snaps up to glare at Jim, but the expression quickly fades. He doesn’t know if it was done on purpose or not, but by the look of absolute glee on Jim’s face he’s just thrilled that he successfully got rid of McCoy’s shirt without it backfiring and also destroying the hair on his chest. There’s a moment where Jim just looks between McCoy’s chest and the torn expression on his face, and then he takes a breath and with a familiar rushing sound, his own shirt disappears.
“Now we’re equal!” he says with a beam, and McCoy can’t argue the fairness in that, so he just grabs Jim by the beltloops and pulls him back in close, and rumbles something inarticulate about having to walk back to their quarters shirtless. Jim says that it’s okay, he brought a spare change of clothes for both of them just in case anyway.
“This is perfect. I mean, no, seriously, this is amazing.”
McCoy cracks an eye open and glances past Uhura to where Jim is lounging in the jacuzzi a few meters away, surrounded by bubbles and with a blissful expression on his face, and telling anybody who will listen how much he’s enjoying himself. Once most of the crew learnt that the senior officers had access to a private outdoor swimming pool, they’d begged and pleaded (and in the case of Hawkins, employed her power of persuasion) and after a few negotiations had been allowed into the area. Some of them are cavorting in the pool as though they’re children, some are relaxing on the sun loungers with thick layers of sunblock on, but they’re all enjoying themselves immensely. McCoy thinks that it’s sickeningly heartwarming.
“You know, you could act like you’re having a good time,” Uhura says with a faint smirk, and he’s taken by surprise for a brief moment before he adopts his customary scowl.
“Seriously, my kid behaves better than they do sometimes,” he grouses but she just laughs.
“That’s because she’s still a kid, Leo. Wait a few years more and you won’t be saying that anymore. Trust me, teenage girls can be the worst. I used to be one and I was awful.”
McCoy sits up to take a swig of water. “Now that, I certainly don’t believe, ma’am.”
“No, seriously. I used to act out so badly, the thing that set me straight was the threat of being sent to live with my grandparents.”
“You were scared of them?”
“Scared of how guilty they could make me feel. If I’d gone to live with them, they would have made sure I was always aware of how much my ancestors sacrificed in order for me to be able to do what I can right now, in order to have the rights and opportunities that I do. Which obviously, I know, but they made me really feel it. I guess the thought of having that hanging over me actually made me think about it, and to stop acting like a spoilt brat all the time.”
“Hopefully I won’t have to go through that with Jo.”
Uhura adjusts her sunglasses and gives him a wicked smile. “You can hope all you want, but chances are slim. I’ll probably have the same problem if I ever have children, but I reckon I’ll just put Spock in charge of discipline.”
“Speaking of Spock… I haven’t seen him since we landed. Is everything still okay?”
Uhura shrugs, but it’s not defensive or dismissive; just the shrug of a woman who sometimes has no idea what her partner is thinking. Uhura had surfaced from her and Spock’s quarters a week after they’d arrived on Zakdorn and assured Jim that it had all gone smoothly, and they would both be back and ready for work whenever the Enterprise was ready to leave – however Spock hadn’t been seen by anybody in the last seven days. Uhura at least looks happy and healthy, with a glow that McCoy would attribute to pregnancy if he didn’t know better.
“He says that it’s just his telepathy – it’s been running at a massively increased capacity since the pon farr and it hasn’t calmed down yet, so it’s pretty overwhelming for him to be with anybody but me. It’s kinda weird, we keep on having whole conversations using his power and don’t even realize that we’re doing it.”
“Well, just remind him that I did specialty courses in that included Vulcan biology, so I am in fact qualified to help him out.”
“I’ll remind him. Again,” Uhura says with a smile, which immediately slips off her face and is replaced by outrage as Jim divebombs into the pool as close to their sun loungers as possible and completely drenches them.
The summons is sent down from the Enterprise where she’s being manned by a rotating skeleton crew in orbit the morning that they’re due to leave Zakdorn.
The Klingons are coming to Earth to discuss what happened on Qo’noS eighteen months ago, and they want the senior officers of the Enterprise there when they do.
A blur of gold and green is the first thing that McCoy sees as the hangar doors open, and then something that’s laughing loudly hammers into Jim with considerable force and knocks him flying backward and onto the floor.
Jim wheezes faintly where he’s laid flat on his back as the teenager that hits him scrambles to his feet quickly and brushes himself down. Thick sandy hair and dark blue eyes identify him immediately as a Kirk, and the sturdy teenager sticks out a hand towards McCoy with an easy grin as Jim continues to lie winded at their feet.
“You must be Doctor McCoy,” he says cheerfully as he shakes McCoy’s hand with a firm grip. “I’m Pete, Sam is my dad.”
“Pleasure to meet you.”
Pete looks down at where Jim is slowly beginning to pull himself to his feet, and reaches out a hand to help him with a wince, completely contradicted by the amused gleam in his eye. “Sorry Uncle Jim, haven’t quite got a handle on the brakes yet. I came down as soon as I heard that the shuttle had docked.”
“Your parents? And the twins?” Jim coughs, and envelops Pete in a firm hug.
“Mom’s just dropping the twins off with Grandma Beth, she’ll be back later; Dad was going to come down and get you, but I beat him to it.”
“Well no shit.”
Pete just continues to grin widely as he hefts Jim and McCoy’s duffels onto either one of his broad shoulders and leads them down the corridor; the rest of the Enterprise crew that’s come onto the Jupiter Station has already dispersed and mingled in with the rest of the personnel bustling around the station. “So how long are you gonna be here for?”
“Well, we’ve got a meeting with some of Starfleet’s top dogs on Thursday – and it’s a joke, seriously, it took us only three days to get back from Zakdorn at warp and it took us like five months to get there. So we’ve got spare time before this meeting, and it’s Bones’ daughter’s birthday tomorrow but I haven’t got anything else planned Tuesday and Wednesday, so we can have some solid family time.”
“Oh cool, how old’s your daughter?” Pete asks, leaning forward to see McCoy past Jim.
“She’ll be twelve.”
“Manifested her power yet?”
“We’re still waiting on it.”
Pete nods genially and turns to Jim, filling him in on family business as they walk through the station. He won’t admit it, but McCoy’s glad that Pete came down to collect them – the Jupiter Station is enormous and very poorly signposted, considering how many transit personnel they have at any one time. McCoy’s still not entirely sure why they had to dock at the station and not at the Spaceport and take a shuttle down to Earth, but Jim had insisted that the Enterprise come to Jupiter for a routine maintenance check whilst they’re here.
“This is you. Deck 2, room 3B,” Pete says suddenly as they turn onto a corridor lined with residential units, and gestures with a jerk of his head. Jim reaches out and presses his hand to the access pad on the wall; it glows briefly green before the door slides open with a slight squeak, revealing a small but comfortable-looking set of quarters. There is – to McCoy’s mild embarrassment – a double bed that’s been neatly made up, storage space built into the walls, and what he assumes is an ensuite bathroom through a door on the left-hand side. A large porthole shows that their room is facing the planet and it shines a bright orange through the screen.
“Hey douchewaffle, make yourself useful and tell your dad that we’ll meet him for lunch in half an hour, will you? Give us time to settle in?” Jim asks as he takes the duffels from his nephew and dumps them on the floor.
“I’ll get them to comm you, Captain,” Pete says brightly with a playful salute, and then with a loud crack and a brief rush of sucking air that ripples over the whole room, he’s gone in a blurred flash.
McCoy closes the door and hears Jim collapse on the bed behind him. He issues a low groan where he’s faceplanted into the pillow but doesn’t say anything, so McCoy just starts unpacking their belongings into the storage spaces available whilst Jim mutters into the fabric of the pillow.
“Seems like a good kid,” he remarks mildly, making a mental note to never let Jim pack his bag for him again as he pulls out only two pairs of underpants. “He’s a lot like Sam.”
Jim starts to respond but his voice is completely muffled where it’s pressed against the bed, and with a groan he lifts his head and starts again. “Yeah, but the twins are more like Aurelan. We’re expecting them to have really serious, responsible abilities.”
“What’s Aurelan got again?”
“Invisibility. Sam swears that she used to play pranks all the time in middle school but I don’t believe it,” Jim says flatly, and McCoy has to agree. The few times that he met Aurelan whilst they were at the Academy he got the impression of a kind but firm woman who spent most of her time trying to rein in her husband, whose personality was so similar to Jim’s that McCoy made a pointed effort to avoid the pair of them when they were together. The incident with the motorbike and the fountain was not one that he wished to repeat, despite how much fun Jim insisted that they’d been having before he and his brother were both arrested and spent the night in detention whilst Aurelan and McCoy both flatly refused to post bail.
Four hours later, and they’re lurking near the doors to the shuttle hangar again, waiting for the Treadaway contingent to arrive. It’s almost perfect coincidence, really, that they’ve ended up back in the Terran Solar System just in time for Joanna’s birthday and even more lucky that they’ve managed to scrape together the whole family with such little notice and in truth, a bit of Jim’s charm on some higher-ups on the station.
Sam had suggested at lunch that they all have dinner together once Aurelan was back on the station, since neither side of the family has met before, and whilst McCoy’s first thought had been to refuse point blank on all principles Jim had gotten there before him and started declaring what a good idea it was, and how much they were all going to get along and be one big happy family. There’d been a note of longing in his voice when he’d said that, and McCoy had thought about how long it had been since Jim had spoken to his own mother, and didn’t object any further.
The hanger doors open at ten past four on the dot, and he spots them immediately. Jocelyn and Clay have hardly changed in the eight months since he’s last seen them, but Joanna definitely has – according to the holo that Jocelyn sent him just before they shipped out, puberty had kicked in and with full force and now that he sees her, he completely agrees. She’s not the little girl that she was back when he was still waking in cold sweats every night, dreaming that Jim was back in the reactor chamber. Her dark brown hair used to be straight and neatly parted down the middle, but now it’s long and wavy and swept to one side; she’s hitting her growth spurt and is several inches taller than he remembers, and oh god, is that a piercing in the top of her left ear?
“Hey, Uncle Jim. Leonard,” she says scathingly as she sets her bag down on the floor and folds her arms across her chest, looking them up and down. “Nice to see you Sol-side for once.”
For a second, McCoy’s too pre-occupied by how much she’s grown up in the past eight months to even realize that she’s spoken to him, but when he does, it’s in a way that later Jim will refer to his “dad-moment”. He feels his eyebrows draw down to match hers, and the scowl that she’s sending in his direction is probably reflected on his face.
“Excuse me? Where have your manners gone, young lady?”
“I don’t know, maybe they flew off with you in that hunk of junk you like to call home now.”
“Leo!” Clay exclaims over-enthusiastically as he and Jocelyn catch up, and he quickly steps past Joanna to get to them and offer his hand. “Jim, hi. It’s great to see you, we were so lucky that we’d already booked the time off work for Jo’s birthday when we got your holo.”
“Yeah, well it was all pretty last minute, so obviously we would have understood if you couldn’t come up,” Jim says genially as Jocelyn reaches up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. “But my brother and his family have managed to come too, so we were thinking of a family dinner tonight?”
Jocelyn smiles as she kisses McCoy, and absently rubs her thumb at the crease on his forehead caused by his frown. “That sounds great, we’d love to meet them.”
“Yeah. Sounds great. Now what room are we in? I don’t want to spend the rest of my time here standing in a corridor like a bunch of losers.”
McCoy looks over Jocelyn’s shoulder sharply to where Joanna is glaring at him sullenly, and feels a sudden, angry heat in his chest; but before he can say anything, Jim’s hand is on his shoulder and he’s pulling him back slightly with a friendly smile.
“You’re staying on deck six, room 9K. Jocelyn, you and Clay are the same deck but you’re in room 1W – sorry we couldn’t get you closer together. Sam and his family are pretty spread out too.”
“Don’t worry about it, we’re just glad that you could reserve accommodation at such short notice.”
“So what time are we having dinner then?” Joanna pipes up again as she hoists her bag back onto her shoulder. “I guess I have to come, right?”
“We’re meeting Sam in the officer’s mess at seven and yes, you do have to come,” McCoy snaps and her glare does nothing but intensify. “And you can bring a better attitude with you.”
“Whatever, Dad,” she snarls, and pushes past him roughly. “Like you even care.”
He wants to respond as she stalks away from him in her leather boots – he really does – but something in him stops him. Maybe it’s the memory of a girl only a few years younger than her, giggling as he chases her around the bridge of the Enterprise, begging him to read her a bedtime story and braid her hair, her brown eyes lighting up with joy when he’s close enough to Earth that she can comm him in real-time.
That is not the same girl that’s just brushed him off like he’s not a part of her life anymore, and the contrast is so jarring that it simply doesn’t make sense to him. He can’t reconcile this new version of his daughter with his memory of her. He’s been trying to keep in contact with her since they shipped on the five-year mission, but as they’ve drifted further away it’s become harder to send comms reliably back to the home galaxy. All of the nervousness that he had when they first set out about Joanna forgetting him have quickly been replaced by the realization that instead, she’s focusing on all of the bad things about him.
He blinks and takes a breath, and looks back – Jocelyn and Clay have matching expressions of tired defeat, as though they knew that this would happen but were desperately hoping that it wouldn’t. And Jim… his face is half horror, half unadulterated glee.
“Oh my god, Bones, your daughter has turned into such a little shit!” he gasps after a second of trying, and failing, to keep it together.
“I’ve failed as a father.”
“What? No. She’s twelve years old, she’ll grow out of it, it’s just her rebellious phase. I’m saying this from experience, remember? I was the king of juvenile deliquents.”
“Juvenile deliquent?” McCoy barks sharply and he notes with satisfaction that Jim’s shit-eating grin falters slightly. “Boy, you were still picking bar fights and bucking authority when we were at the Academy, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your advice on the subject.”
“No,” McCoy cuts across Jocelyn. “No, you could have warned me that I was about to faced with… I don’t even know what that was. You could have told me.”
“It’s just the five-year mission, Leo. She resents you for it.”
“But we talked about it with her! We explained that it was a big deal, that I’d send comms whenever I could, that I’d be back in five years and it would just fly by! She was fine with it when we told her!”
“I think she changed her mind around April,” Clay explains, and gestures for them to start moving down the corridor and towards their room. “Maybe someone at school said something, I don’t know, she wouldn’t tell us. But suddenly, she didn’t think it was fair that nobody else’s dads disappeared to other side of the universe for five years at a time.”
“But this is ridiculous!” he seethes as he pretends not to notice the way that Jim is looking at him with concern. “And even if that’s true, she can’t act like this over it!”
“Hey, we’re not the ones with the issue here,” Jocelyn says placatingly. “We’ve had this conversation before with her, remember? And I mean she’s angry now, but… she’s a teenager. She’ll grow out of it.”
“And until then, I have to live with her hating me for being away?”
“Of course not. We can talk to her whilst we’re here, try to sort something out.”
“Fine, but not tonight. Or tomorrow, it’s her birthday then, so sometimes later in the week. And no, Jim, you’re not allowed to join in. One recalcitrant child is enough for me.”
The first few minutes of the Kirk-McCoy-Treadway dinner are immensely awkward due to Joanna’s thunderous expression and the fact that the only person she’ll deign to speak to is Pete, which may have something to do with his bright blue eyes and easy smile. Aurelan casts a concerned look at McCoy, who in turn looks helplessly to Jocelyn; she shrugs and shares a knowing look with Clay, and at that point McCoy notices that Sam and Jim are giving each other identical grins, and mentally groans as Jim catches his eye across the table and winks.
“So did I ever tell you about the time that Bones got absolutely wasted during third-year orientation week? He was supposed to be leading a tour of the Medical department at like, eight o’clock the next morning but we ended up at this party, I can’t even remember why, and we got split up. And when I find him again a few hours later, he’s shouting ‘OSTEOPOROSIS’ at this girl who’s got her arm in a cast, and then he threw a glass of milk at her, and yeah. We got kicked out of the party at that point.”
At some point during Jim’s cheerfully embarrassing tale – which they had agreed not to tell anybody ever again, mostly because the story actually ends with them both drunkenly stumbling into some sort of society induction and stuffing their faces with free food, and then getting kicked out of that, only to discover the next day that they’d gatecrashed the first ever meeting of the Starfleet Ukelele Society – Jo’s stopped talking to Pete and is staring at her father with a mixture of horror and amusement. McCoy’s pretty sure that he’s only projecting horror right now and oh my god he’s going to kill Jim, but then Jo snorts with laughter and shakes her head, and somehow normal conversation commences around the whole table.
“Yeah, well you’re the reason why the RA in first year had to specifically make the rule of ‘no lighting smoke-bombs inside the dorms’,” he mutters darkly, and Sam just laughs even harder.
“So what are you guys doing back home so soon?” Aurelan asks, and McCoy has to tear his eyes away from where Jo is now deep in conversation with her mother. “Pete said that you have a meeting with Starfleet Command?”
“Follow-ups for what happened last year,” Jim says around a mouthful of chicken and mushroom pie. “Some new information that we need to go over, pretty boring stuff.”
McCoy follows Jim’s lead on not mentioning the Klingons as he nods in agreement. “Kind of annoying that they’ve pulled us back when we’re only five months into our mission, but when they call we gotta answer.”
“When they call,” he hears Jo mutter sardonically from across the table, but he chooses to ignore her for the time being. As much as he has accepted that they’re all family here at the table, he’s still not one hundred percent comfortable airing their dirty laundry in front of everybody and the last thing that he wants is a full-blown argument with his teenage daughter over the dinner table. That can wait until after the meeting, once they’ve both had a day or two to work out exactly what it is that they want to say to each other.
McCoy leans closer to where Clay is sat on his left-hand side. “What’s with all those piercings in her ears?” he says in a low voice, and Clay offers him a sympathetic smile as he chases a few peas around his plate.
“Obviously she’s had one pair for years, but she got the second pair and the one in the top of her left ear whilst she was at summer camp,” he says wryly and shakes his head. “By the time she got home, they’d fully healed. She said that we couldn’t stop her from ‘expressing her personality’, and after a few weeks of battles we just gave in. It’s definitely not the worst thing that she could have done.”
“No, she could have gotten a tattoo,” McCoy agrees absently, and Clay looks at him askance.
“I meant she could have gotten her nose pierced. She’s twelve, Leo.”
“Sorry. I’m used to dealing with Jim, who has the same mental age as my daughter. And believe me, he once did get a tattoo when going through a phase.”
“Did he regret it?”
“Well I hope not, because the idiot got an anatomically-correct tattoo of both his left and right third and fourth ribs traced across his chest,” he blurts out, and immediately wishes that he hadn’t; he blushes furiously the moment that he’s disclosed it and mentally kicks himself. He sees the second when the cogs click in Clay’s head and focuses his attention firmly on his food.
“That’s actually kind of romantic,” Clay murmurs, and McCoy nearly chokes on his potato.
“Romantic? It’s horrendous!”
“No, it’s romantic. A permanent reminder of the ‘bones’ that protect his heart? That’s romantic, Leo.”
“It is not.”
“I’m happy for you.”
McCoy has serious difficulty swallowing his potato at that point. Whilst yes, he can proudly say that over the last seven years he’s actually become a real grown-up and no longer blames his divorce on Clay (and can even now admit that it was probably at least only half his own fault), he’d assumed that there’s always be some remnants of bad blood between them. He’d been an absolute dick to Clay when Jocelyn had first announced that she’d wanted a divorce and whilst Clay has told him on several occasions that he considers it water under the bridge, McCoy knows that he was still a massive asshole and hadn’t even really expected forgiveness, let alone a blank slate.
But Clay is happy for him. And when McCoy briefly glances up at the profile of his ex-wife new husband, he can see that the man is utterly sincere. Clay can see how Jim and McCoy are with each other and it’s not just that he’s accepting of it but that he approves, and he wants McCoy to be happy. It’s not a concept that he’s entirely familiar with and his mouth feels very suddenly dry.
“Thank you,” he mutters as he takes an enormous swig of water, and promptly chokes on it, much to the Kirk men’s amusement.
“What do you reckon’s gonna happen at this meeting?”
McCoy lets out a long sigh and wraps his arms more securely around Jim, who’s breathing gently against his chest. Large space stations are never completely still and quiet, even during gamma shifts, but the Jupiter seems to be the best of a bad lot – it’s hardly silent, but it’s enough that they’ll be able to sleep tonight. The gentle orange glow of the planet behind them casts a soothing warmth over the room, from where they’ve both dumped their clothes on the floor to the glimpse of the sink in the ensuite, and where Jim’s fingers are tracing idle patterns on his chest.
“Apart from ask us a bunch of questions about Qo’noS? Hopefully not much. I mean, Starfleet knows everything that we do, they know that it was Admiral Marcus who sent us there. They’ll back us up – we didn’t do anything wrong, technically.”
Jim huffs out a short laugh. “Yeah, because the Klingons are really big on technicalities.”
“Okay fine, but what are you thinking they’re gonna do? Start an all-out war? Even they’re not that stupid.”
“I wouldn’t say that to them.”
“No, I’ll get Uhura to phrase it better.”
McCoy feels Jim smile against his skin, then abruptly shift up on his elbow so that he’s leaning over McCoy and looking down at him with a fond expression on his face.
“What?” McCoy murmurs when it becomes pretty clear that Jim’s content with just staring at him like a creeper, but he doesn’t reply – his smile just widens, his bright blue eyes flicking over his face as though he’s looking for something and he’s found it in spades. Just as McCoy’s about to give in to irritation and push him off, Jim leans down quickly and kisses him, hot and hard and insistent as he throws his leg over McCoy’s hips and presses him down into the bed.
“I love you,” he whispers in between kisses as he rocks against McCoy, drawing guttural moans from him as he digs his fingernails into his skin. “More than anything else, in this universe or any other.”
The declaration takes McCoy’s breath away like a sucker-punch to the gut; he knows that Jim loves him, knows that Jim knows how much he loves him back, but they don’t talk about it. In fact they have a track record of not talking about it, because saying it out loud makes it real and if it’s real, then it’s fragile and it can break or be destroyed. They’d rather do it with stupid gestures, like refusing to leave each other behind or getting tattoos or one of them bringing the other back to life. They don’t talk about it, because as far as McCoy’s concerned, there aren’t words for it.
So instead of telling him he rises up to meet him, and shows him instead.
McCoy and Jim are both fast asleep, the chrono ticking over through the early hours of the morning, when the explosions force them both into consciousness with a thunderous noise and violent shaking of the station. They’re both fully awake in seconds and leaping out of bed in a tangle of limbs and curses, pulling on the previous day’s clothes before their brains have quite caught up.
“What the hell was that?” Jim shouts over the wailing alarm as he pulls on a shirt and McCoy shakes his head frantically as a shipwide broadcast comes load and clear in the small room.
“Attention, attention. An explosive device has been activated on deck six and the hull has been damaged. All medical personnel to report to triage on deck five, corridor twelve. All personnel with relevant abilities to report to deck five, corridor two to assist with damage control. End of broadcast.”
McCoy’s face falls in horror as he launches himself across the room, pounding the comm ferociously. “Computer!” he shouts. “On which corridor was the device detonated?”
“The blast originated on corridor nine.”
McCoy’s can’t move. He can’t breathe, and he can’t think, and he can’t see anything. Jim’s speaking to him but he can’t hear him – he knows that there’s movement outside in the corridor, can feel the vibrations through the floor of people’s feet pounding on metal, but he can’t take it in. All he can do is run out of the door faster than he’s ever run in his life, straight towards the danger.
He's not seeing or hearing anything as he runs down the corridors, towards the flames and smoke that everyone else is running away from. His head is just filled with an endless screaming litany of JoannaJoannaJoanna, a terror inside him that should be paralyzing but can't afford to be. He reaches out his hands as he stumbles down the decks, touching anyone he can as his fingers glow, offering them aid that he hasn't really got the time to give them because he needs to get to Joanna.
The second explosion hits as he’s flying down the stairwell, and the force of it knocks his feet from underneath him. He stumbles and trip and makes the last four steps in a painful tangle, landing hard on his left hip; but by the time he’s on his feet the shaking has stopped and he’s away again, ignoring the stabbing pain in his side.
And then he's on deck six and everything is blackened and burnt and bloodied, ship parts and body parts strewn in the corridors and he doesn't even pause as he runs his fingers over their skin, he just checks that it's not Joanna lying mangled on the floor keeps moving towards the destroyed section where the fires are still blazing. It's only then that he realized Jim's been at him side the whole time, and only because there's a strong hand on his arm, pulling him back and away from the inferno.
"Bones, stay back," he shouts, and McCoy blinks because he can hear everything. The moans and screams and shouts and sobs and the whoosh crackle of the fire and the wailing siren of red alert, and he wonders just how he managed to block them out because they're kind of deafening.
"I need to find Joanna!" he shouts back and Jim's grip just tightens on his arm, tugging him away but he digs in his heels. "Dammit Jim, she was staying on this deck!"
"She was staying on this corridor," Jim shoots back, yanking him away from where the heat of the fire is seeping through the back of his shirt, and Jim's face is hard but his voice sympathetic. "Nobody could have survived that attack."
“I have to try!”
"You're a healer Bones, you're not fucking invulnerable!" Jim roars, grappling with him and managing to push him back against the wall and as much as he struggles, McCoy can't get free. Even as his heart screams for his daughter he can't compete against Jim Kirk and brute strength, so he lashes out with his free hand to punch him in the neck and Jim reels, choking and coughing and wheezing and staring at McCoy accusingly.
The third blast comes, and throws them both to the floor with a wave of heat and a lick of flames, and it takes McCoy a little longer that time to climb to his feet and continue staggering toward the twisted metal corridors.
And then there's movement in the smoke - a person, small and slight and McCoy feels a huge surge of hope even though it's an inferno in there and anyone that manages to stagger out will be horribly disfigured and it's her, oh it's her but half of her face has been blasted off and her beautiful chestnut hair is falling from her head; her bones are shining wet with blood because most of the skin and muscle from the right-hand side of her body has disappeared and she's limping, holding her intestines in with both hand where they’re about to fall out of her body because most of what would usually keep it in just isn’t there.
McCoy can't move and even after over a decade of medical service he wants to be sick. But this is his daughter, and she needs medical attention and maybe he might be in time to save her, if only he can make his body move again. He can drain himself if he needs to, knock himself out for a few days, that'll be fine, if it means that she'll be okay.
"Daddy," Jo whimpers, her voice dry and cracked and coming out of a twisted and broken mouth, and that's enough to release McCoy's muscles and he takes a step forward as she approaches, and then another, but something inside him wants to just turn around and run away and pretend that this hasn't happened.
Then as he steps closer he takes another look and almost stops dead in the middle of the corridor again because either he's hallucinating, or her face is reconstructing itself at an astonishing rate right in front of his eyes and her muscles are reknitting up along her bones and her skin is meshing out over her body. McCoy’s breath leaves him with a whoosh and he breaks into a run, and he knows that Jim is still right behind him.
It's only another ten steps to his daughter but even in that short space of time she's nearly completely healed, and he drops to his knees in front of her and takes her face in his hands and pushes all of the healing energy that he possibly can into her body, watching as it complete the process and she turns smooth and healthy and alive in front of him.
He pauses for a second as he checks her over, eyes scanning her terrified face and perfect skin that's still splattered with blood and then he wraps his arms around her in the heat of the corridor, a team of pyrokinetics running past them and straight into the fire. Jo's shaking in his arms and he pulls her in closer to his chest, her arms hooked around his neck and her stomach trembling against his.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," he whispers as he strokes her hair and holds on tight, the wet patch on his shoulder matching the one on Joanna's. "Oh God, thank you."
"I guess you're your daddy's girl after all then, aren't you?" Jim rasps from behind him, and then there's a warm hand curling around the base of his neck. McCoy wants to apologize, but he knows that he doesn't need to. The flames are receding rapidly now that there are people actually controlling it, and as McCoy picks Jo up in his arms and turns he can see teams of telekinetics and metallokinetics waiting for the heat to clear so that they can get to work.
McCoy has never heard such an animalistic and frenzied scream before; Jocelyn and Clay are sprinting down the corridor at full-tilt, and they push past the recovery teams and head straight to them. McCoy’s glad for Jim’s stabilizing hand on the small of his back because Jocelyn slams into the pair of them so hard that she nearly knocks them both over, and suddenly his arms are full of his daughter and ex-wife and he can feel Clay and Jim’s arms around them. He could pretend that he’s not crying and scrub at his face before anybody notices, but he doesn’t care at this point. His little girl is safe and she is whole, and he can’t ask for more than that.
“Here,” he murmurs as he hands her over to Clay’s frantic hands. “I have to get to work, they need medics. Jim will stay with you.”
“Jim will come with you,” Jim says pointedly. “I want to find Sam and the others.”
McCoy nods absently as the frenetic energy that had possessed him for the last ten minutes suddenly drains out of in one swift movement that leaves his knees shaking as what’s just happened catches up to him. He knows that he needs to get moving, to report to triage and help with the wounded, but he just feels a sort of deep, bone-tiredness that roots him to the spot.
It feels like he’s been watching Jocelyn stroke Jo’s hair for an age before he looks across at Jim who’s been waiting for him to make a move, and his words feel heavy in his mouth. “Let’s go then.”
He doesn’t even complain as Jim takes his hand as they walk down the corridor, but they’ve barely hit their stride when the cool, clinical tones come over the shipwide comms.
“Attention, attention. Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy to Security. Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy to Security.”
It’s the first time that McCoy’s seen Peter Kirk without anything other than a smile on his face, and he didn’t expect it to be in a small room with Commodore Hudson, Spock, Uhura, Jim, and a beat-up looking Klingon cuffed to a table between them.
“Like I said, he just looked really suspicious. Maybe it was the way he was walking, I don’t know – but it just felt wrong. So I followed him for a little bit and he seemed to be heading for the shuttle bay, so I kind of got his attention and started stalling him. I told him I was lost, I needed to know which deck I was on and where to go, that sort of shit. He just kept on checking his chrono and he was getting more and more antsy so I kept on stalling him, and then he checked his chrono again and he looked terrified, man. Like, he shoved me to one side and started running – and then the explosion went off, and it just clicked together, so I went after him. I mean, I knocked him out but that’s only down to my speed, I couldn’t have done it without it. Then I brought him here.”
“You did very well, son.”
McCoy has met Commodore Hudson a few times before – twice whilst at the Academy when Hudson had given guest lectures on new medical technologies that Starfleet was developed and once in the aftermath of the Narada incident. On each of those three previous encounters he had come across as pompous and over-bearing; now, he just seems tired.
Jim claps Pete on the shoulder and offers him a wan smile. “We’re all proud of you. Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Pete says quickly, but McCoy steps over to him and pushing general healing energy into him anyway.
“Go and find your parents and tell them what happened, they’ll be worried sick,” he says and glances at Hudson. “If you don’t need him for anything else, Commdore.”
Hudson shakes his head and gestures in a vaguely dismissive manner with his hand; as soon as Pete’s out of the door there comes the now-familiar crack-whoosh of Pete going supersonic. McCoy turns to the Klingon, who looks slightly worse-for-wear after Pete’s impromptu superspeed attack on him but otherwise fine if the angry noises that he keeps on making are anything to go by. Every now and then he’ll snarl out something in Klingon and whilst nobody else in the room can speak the language, it’s almost entertaining to watch Uhura’s reactions to his outbursts.
“So have you managed to get an explanation?”
Hudson shrugs at Jim, and nods. “That’s why we commed you here. From what we can get out of him, he’s just some sort of low-level government employee who somehow heard about what happened on Qo’noS. Apparently his sister was part of the patrol that encountered your away party, and she was killed by Khan. He discovered that the Klingon High Council was planning a conference this week and that the Enterprise would be docking at Jupiter, and since he blames your crew for his sister’s death, decided to take matters into his own hands.”
Jim frowns. “And he told you this?”
“Lieutenant Uhura provided us with an excellent translation.”
He looks up sharply at Uhura, and there’s a very tense silence in which Uhura seems to be very carefully choosing her next words.
“He was very… forthcoming,” she says after a moment and McCoy knows that he’s not the only person in the room who noticed her tone of voice. Their glances flicker between each other and a look of understanding passes around the circle; Spock shifts slightly closer to the cuffed Klingon as Jim moves towards Commodore Hudson, taking him by the shoulder with a firm hand and steering him away slightly as he gestures for McCoy to join them.
“So what you’re saying is that this attack was aimed at my crew?” Jim asks in a low voice. Hudson nods, completely unaware of the fact that Spock has taken hold of the Klingon’s wrist and is telepathically extracting all possible information from him, without his knowledge.
“It would seem that way, I’m very sorry.”
“No, I’m the one who’s sorry for bringing this to your doorstep. Do we have a casualty list yet?”
“We’re working on it. Doctor McCoy, I understand that your daughter was injured in the attack?”
“Yes, but luckily manifested as regenerative when she was attacked – so physically she’s fine, just shaken up.”
There’s a shuffling movement behind them and Jim smoothly turns back to the Klingon, prompting Hudson to copy him. Uhura is holding Spock’s bicep in a loose grip and something about the slightly unfocused expression in her eyes makes McCoy believe that they’re communicating telepathically.
“Well, I think that the only option here is for us to leave the Jupiter Station,” Jim says matter-of-factly, rubbing his hands together. “There’s a chance that he wasn’t working alone, and our continued presence will only put you and the rest of the people here at further risk.”
“Please Captain, don’t blame yourself for this attack. You couldn’t have known.”
“No, but it’s still my fault,” Jim says bleakly. “Only about a quarter of my crew came aboard, but I’ll have them back on the Enterprise within the hour. Again, my sincere apologies. Commodore.”
The sight of Jim saluting the Commodore whilst bare-foot and in his pyjamas is an extremely odd one, but McCoy doesn’t really have time to commit it to memory for later amusement as they follow their captain out of the interrogation room. The second that they’d walked into the room something had felt wrong, and Uhura’s hesitant translation had only confirmed it – he just hopes that whatever the hell’s going on, Spock now has an explanation for it.
“Did you get everything you needed?” McCoy asks him in a low voice as they follow Jim down the corridor, and the Vulcan gives a small nod in return, and what might even be a smirk.
“The true meaning behind the attack is certainly different from those that the captive recounted to Lieutenant Uhura; whilst I am sure that he did not intend to be captured, care was made to ensure that he had a seemingly valid reason for the attack in the event that he was intercepted. Unfortunately for him, that contingency plan did not account for a telepath being in the room.”
It takes them a little over Jim’s promised hour to collect the rest of the crew and say goodbye to their families before returning to the Enterprise. McCoy’s never been so devastated to leave that part of his family behind but he knows, instinctively, that he has no choice – whatever’s going on with this Klingon has to be more important than staying here with them, even though it’s ripping his heart open to say goodbye to them.
It’s only when they’re back in the Enterprise turbolift and heading for the ready room that the full weight of what’s just happened hits him. The fatality count by the time that they left had risen to twenty-four, and telekinetics were still moving debris and finding more people buried underneath collapsed walls and caved-in ceilings. Twenty-four people, dead because their crew had chased Khan across galaxies to atone for what he did.
Twenty-four people that McCoy is, in part, personally responsible for killing.
He knows that the Klingon’s story isn’t true but from the look that Spock had gave Jim, it’s not far off the mark; whatever reason he had for attacking the Jupiter Station, it’s rooted in their excursion to Qo’noS eighteen months ago. McCoy’s job is to save people, to mend their broken bones and heal their aching muscles, not to get them killed and yet here he is, surrounded by blood and death that he helped to create.
Maybe they can at least aim for redemption here, though – if they can stop this Klingon and whatever his plans are, maybe they can save more lives than they’ve helped to destroy. On the bridge of the ship, he watches as Spock sets up an elegantly-crafted device on the table between them all.
The device had been created as a gift of sorts from Scotty to Spock – a combined telepathic/technopathic method by which he can extract memories both from himself and other people and view them from a detached viewpoint, immune to any emotional reactions that he’d otherwise by subjected to. Jim had initially declared that it was creepy, but quickly changed his tune when Spock pointed out that he wouldn’t ever have to undergo a mind-meld again. From what McCoy’s heard, it’s not a pleasant experience.
Once Spock’s finished loading his memories of the Klingon interrogation onto the device, there’s a moment of tense silence – and then bright holos burst to light in front of them in a swirling mixture accompanied by rattling sounds.
McCoy has learnt that memories can be hard to follow, especially when a whole load of them are being recounted at once. There’s a brief flash of the Klingon kneeling before the High Council in their war room, their emblem glowing a dark red on the wall behind them; one of the chancellors is speaking to the Klingon in guttural tones that for a few seconds McCoy doesn’t understand, until the device kicks in and translates it for him.
“…declared war upon the Klingon Empire, and tried to hide behind lies and falsehoods instead of admitting to their treachery. This act of terrorism will not go unanswered; we will make the Terrans regret ever attacking Qo’noS…”
The memories swirl and shift; now the Klingon is in a briefing room with a brigadier, blueprints spread across the table between them.
“…to place the bombs where they will have the most impact, Lieutenant, though it doesn’t matter if the damage isn’t all-consuming. Just enough to keep them occupied and eyes on the Jupiter Station. If you manage to kill the Enterprise crew then all the better…”
It shifts again; the Klingon is preparing for departure, strapping into his flight suits as three suspicious-looking packages are loaded onto his ship.
“…are set to detonate at 0200 local time, so make sure the fuse is long enough for you to get away before the blasts hit. The iron star device will be launched at the same time as the blasts, and if you get caught in the fallout, you’re on your own…”
The Klingon is walking quickly down a corridor that’s faintly lit, his footsteps echoing on the metal floor as he hurries down the stairwell. There’s a blur of movement to his left and suddenly a human teenager is standing in front of him, blond hair glinting in the half-light and mouth set in a grim line – and then the holo disperses and fades to black.
There’s a long moment of silence as the lights on the bridge gently brighten again; Spock and Jim are looking at each other so intensely that McCoy’s fairly confident that they’re having a telepathic conversation, but the rest of those gathered seem as confused as he is.
“Do you two of you mind explaining what the hell an iron star is?” he says flatly when the silence drags on too long, and they both turn to look at him with grim expressions.
“A hypothesis,” Jim mutters, standing from his chair and rubbing at his temples. “Come to the ready room. Mr Sulu, you have the conn. Dr Marcus – with us.”
Ten minutes later, and McCoy’s growling in frustration as the holo of the Klingon’s memories starts to repeat itself for the third time in the background. “So if these iron stars aren’t only hypothetical, but not even supposed to perhaps occur for literally billions and billions of years, then how the hell are the Klingons planning on turning the sun into one?”
“We can only assume that they have successfully created some sort of mechanism which initiates the quantum tunneling and subsequent cold fusion in a star.”
McCoy looks up sharply, and gestures awkwardly with his hands. “Wait, didn’t you use a cold fusion device in the volcano on Nibiru?”
“Yeah, but comparing that volcano’s capacity to the sun’s volume is like, I don’t know, comparing one drop of water to the whole of earth’s oceanic systems. Only a billion times smaller. The sort of device that Spock used wouldn’t even make a dent.”
“But where the hell would they have found that sort of technology? They’re no further advanced than any other species in the quadrant.”
Jim shrugs at Carol. “From the Narada, maybe? Don’t forget, they did capture Nero’s ship and had the opportunity to inspect it for over a decade before he escaped from Rura Penthe. Maybe they cannibalized some of that future technology?”
“How do we even know that he’s even telling the truth?” McCoy asks. “This could all be some sort of bluff, another diversion for what they’re really planning.”
“Doctor, I can assure you that my telepathic interrogation of our prisoner was entirely truthful. Even if he had himself been convinced of an incorrect plan, I would have noticed that also.”
“Okay fine, say that it is possible,” he grumbles. “What sort of scale of destruction are we talking here?”
Spock and Carol both look to Jim, who meets their gaze unsteadily. McCoy hadn’t noticed it before, but now that he’s looking more closely, he can see the way that Jim’s shoulders are shaking, his fingers trembling as he runs his hands through his hair.
“Don’t forget, Iron stars are entirely theoretical, all we have to go off is speculative data models – but we could still be completely wrong. I mean, the Klingons are claiming to have this technology, but what if it doesn’t work the way that they plan? What of instead of turning our sun into an Iron star, they cause it to go hypernova? Jim scoffs, and laughs nervously. “I mean, inducing cold fusion and then enough radioactive decay to turn the sun literally into a solid sphere of iron? That’s just… it’s just not…”
“Jim,” McCoy says quietly, and Jim stops talking, and takes a long, shuddering breath. “Theoretically. How would this change things?”
Jim is silent for a long minute. McCoy’s not sure if he’s refusing to answer, or calculating a timescale, or maybe just running through all of the possibilities in his head. But he’s scared, McCoy can tell – he’s scared that the Klingons might be telling the truth.
“It depends how long the process would take,” he says eventually, and his voice is shaking. “But it’s less than ten minutes from Sol to Earth. Once the star turns into solid iron, it’s game over – not just for us, but for the whole Terran System. We’d only be able to survive for so long without solar power, and all of the planets’ orbits would change, as well as things like asteroids and meteors.”
“So is it even feasible to attempt an evacuation?”
Jim looks at Spock, who shakes his head imperceptibly.
“Captain, there simply is not the time or facilities to extract the entire population of the solar system; it would seem that the only option is to attempt to prevent the cold fusion of the sun from occurring.”
“This, of course, relying on us finding the device before it’s shot into the sun,” Jim points out, and McCoy growls in dissatisfaction. “And considering it was launched at the same time as the explosions on the Jupiter Station, we might not have a lot of time – they’re already nearly two hours ahead of us.”
“What I’m still wanting to know is how they plan on getting this iron star device to our sun. Even if everyone’s concentrating on the Jupiter Station, they’re still going to notice if an unauthorized ship comes shooting pell-mell into the system.”
“They wouldn’t be able to use their own ships, that’s for sure,” Jim agrees, and rubs his hands vigorously across his face. “It’d have to be something way more discreet than that. Maybe they’ve hijacked a Starfleet ship and are going to use it as the carrier?”
“We can easily monitor all starships entering the system.”
Jim shakes his head in frustration and recommences pacing about the ready room. “Nah, it can’t be that, not when they’ve gone through the trouble to cause this diversion – they wouldn’t make it that easy to detect, no way, they’d know that we could monitor the boundaries.”
“So what if it’s already within the solar system?” McCoy suggests, but Jim screws his face up and shakes his head again.
“We can run another check, but all ships within the system are either at spaceport or engaged here, which means that they’re all accounted for; they’re not using a ship that’s already in the vicinity.”
“What if they’re not using a ship at all?”
All three of them turn to Carol with a mixture of expressions – Spock with a familiar impressed stoicism, McCoy with unabashed confusion, and Jim with pure glee.
“Oh my god, I think you’ve got it, you’re a genius, come on!” he exclaims loudly, and kisses her on the cheek as he scrambles over the furniture and heads back to the bridge. “It’s almost perfect!” he calls back over his shoulder as they follow him into the turbolift.
“You know I really don’t like being involved in discussion with you three, I always end up feeling left out,” McCoy mutters plaintively, and with a quick grin, Jim claps him firmly on the shoulder.
“We’ll have a medical vocabulary test next week, will that make you feel better?”
Jim grins at him, and the moment that the turbolift glides to a halt and the door slide open he bursts into frenetic activity once more. “Chekov, I need you to scan the solar system for any bodies that are moving in an unexpected way; anything at all that’s not in its normal orbit,” Jim says urgently as they burst onto the bridge, and McCoy watches as Chekov’s fingers whiz over the nearest control panel with unerring speed. A star chart of the system immediately pops into view, each of the planets highlighted and their moons glowing faintly.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary, Captain,” Chekov says apologetically after a moment, the projection swirling and twisting as he moves his hands to view it from all angles. “All planets and centaurs are orbiting normally, there’s very little starship activity except for at the spaceport and at the colonies, and especially here. We have a few meteoroids and comets moving around, but nothing –”
“Yes!” Jim explodes with such enthusiasm that Spock raises his eyebrows and Carol takes a pointed step backwards. “The small bodies, I want them all accounted for – are there any that don’t belong, or are moving oddly?”
McCoy rests a hand on Jim’s arm, and it’s vibrating with excitement – Jim gives him a quick, wild look as Chekov quickly assesses each of the small bodies within the solar system; labels with names and critical information pop up alongside all of them and one by one they’re all eliminated as normal movement. Jim’s knuckles are white where he’s gripping the back of the chair that he’s leaning against, but McCoy’s the only one watching him; everyone else is watching Chekov puzzle over a body that’s currently making its way past Neptune, on the opposite side of the solar system to where they are now.
“This one, Captain… its specifications don’t match any data that we have, and it’s moving strangely. That’s not an orbital pattern that we should be expecting.”
“Can you get anything from it? Size, composition, density, trajectory, anything?”
“It looks to be approximately fifty kilometers wide, not too large. As for its composition – judging by its density, it would seem to be a rock and ice body, probably with an atmospheric mix of hydrocarbons and methane.”
“And its trajectory?”
“Give me two minutes to project one, I need to account for the gravitational pull of the planets that it’s passing.”
Jim nods quickly and begins pacing as the machines run their projection, his eyes fixed on Spock as he moves around the bridge rubbing his hands together. “What is a Kuiper Belt Object doing moving away from the Belt, Spock?” he asks pointedly, and Spock’s mouth twists as he watches Chekov work.
“I think you already know what trajectory this body is taking, Captain,” Spock says flatly, and Jim nods impatiently as he turns on the spot.
“I want confirmation though. I want to be sure that it’s going to make it there before we go in and do something exceptionally stupid.”
“What the hell are you guys talking about?” McCoy interjects in frustration, just as Chekov looks up from the telemetry screen in triumph.
“The body is on a collision course for the sun,” he says proudly, but he doesn’t seem to register the dark looks that Jim and Spock are exchanging, instead going back to the screen and investigating the body more. “Its path will take it past Saturn and around Mars, before coming in towards the sun just behind Mercury, as you can see on this model.”
“That’s great Chekov, but I need to know more about this asteroid – specifically, I need to know if there is anything on it, like a device of some sort, any sort of technology that you wouldn’t expect to be there.”
“Are you guys seriously suggesting that the Klingons have stuck their iron star device onto an asteroid and shot it at the sun?” McCoy says in a low voice, and Jim winces.
“When you say it like that, it sounds kinda stupid.”
“But unfortunately, it’s what seems likely,” Carol confirms, and pushes her hair back from her face as she blows out a deep breath. “It’s coming in from the opposite side of the solar system – the Klingon we captured was right, the attack on the Jupiter Station was just a diversion. Nobody’s going to look twice at an errant asteroid when they’re so busy trying to recover the station – it would only set off alarm bells if it were headed towards a colony or the earth.”
“Nobody except us,” Jim points out. She smiles falteringly, and nods.
“The surface of the asteroid seems mostly clean,” Chekov pipes up from the screen. “But I am detecting significantly larger amounts of radiation coming from one particular spot.”
“That’s it, that’s the device,” Jim declares, and immediately snaps into action. “Sulu, I want us within transporter range of that asteroid, but don’t get too close. Chekov, I want specific coordinates for that area of increased radiation. Bones, with me.”
“This is ridiculous,” McCoy says as soon as they turbolift doors shut behind them, and he watches carefully as Jim paces around the small room as they drop through the floors. “You seriously want to go down there and fry an iron star device? What happened to Captain ‘Nobody Can Ever Know About My Powers’ Kirk?”
“Hey, I’m not saying that I want everybody to know, but what other choice do we have?”
“I don’t know, perhaps we could just transport the device and hand it over to Starfleet instead of you going all gung-ho and destroying it on the asteroid!”
“And what if the device is too big to transport? What if it’s too unstable, what if moving it will set off some sort of chain reaction? We know absolutely nothing about what we’re going to find down there, and we don’t have a lot of time to start making contingency plans. Chekov’s prediction has it impacting the sun in just a few hours – our safest option is just to destroy it as quickly as possible.”
The turbolift doors slide open as they reach deck five, and McCoy follows Jim for the short walk down the corridor to his quarters. The window is unscreened at the moment, and the Jupiter Station is easily visible through the enormous glass panel, the sunlight glinting off the dented metalwork and floating debris. Jupiter itself looms large behind the station, glowing gently. He slouches down on the couch as Jim marches straight to his closet, pulling off his command shirt as he goes.
“What if something goes wrong?”
“Thanks for the support, Bones,” Jim snipes as he rifles through his closet for a spacesuit, and throws the one that he finds onto the bed between them. “I’d have thought that after all of those training sessions that you put me through, you’d have a little more faith in me than that.”
“It’s not that, it’s just… Jim, wait.”
He grabs Jim’s forearm as he stalks past, expecting to be shaken off, but Jim stops and sighs and sits down beside him with a slump, half-landing on the leg that McCoy has pulled up onto the couch. His whole body is tense, the light reflecting from Jupiter casting a gentle orange glow across the room, and McCoy takes hold of his other arm and holds on tight. “I’m worried about what it will do to you if something goes wrong, and you hold yourself accountable. I don’t want you to have to deal with that, and if you do this, everyone will know about your powers, and how dangerous they have the potential to be. We don’t want to risk you being sent back to the Suresh Institute – or proving them right.”
Jim is quiet, looking at where McCoy’s hands are holding him. All that McCoy can hear is the constant thrum and rumble of the engines and their combined breathing, gentle and unconsciously synchronized – and he’s suddenly struck with the weight of the decision that Jim’s making. Only the two of them are aware that Jim even has a power, and only he and Jim know what it is; to go on a mission and destroy this device would throw his power right into the open, and McCoy dreads to think what questions and demands would come next.
He’s pulled from his thoughts as Jim raises his own hands and rests them carefully on McCoy’s shoulders, shifting them up to his neck and stroking the edge of his jaw with his right thumb.
“I can do this,” Jim says insistently, and his grip tightens on McCoy’s neck. “I have this abomination for a reason, Bones. I couldn’t use it to save Vulcan, but maybe I can save the Terran System. I have to at least try, I can’t just sit here and watch everything fall apart.”
Jim has never looked so desperate in the years that McCoy’s known him – his hair’s sticking up and his face is flushed, and he’s breathing heavily with a wild look in his eyes. His whole body is shaking but he’s holding onto McCoy firmly; he’s not waiting for permission, but he won’t go without McCoy’s blessing.
McCoy leans forward and closes the gap between them, crushing Jim’s lips in a quick, brutal kiss.
“You can’t go down there alone. You’ll need others, but you can’t force them to go with you,” he growls against Jim’s mouth, and Jim nods frantically.
“I know, I know I can’t, but I have to ask them at least.”
Jim takes a few deep, calming breaths before pulling away from McCoy and standing up; as the pressure is lifted from his right calf, pins and needles come rushing into McCoy’s legs and he stumbles awkwardly as he stands himself and follows Jim to the computer.
“I need a list of all personnel and their abilities,” Jim instructs the system, sitting down heavily in the chair and swiveling it round into the center of the room. “I think. I don’t know what I need at all. Bones?”
“You’ll need Yeoman Rand,” he replies promptly. “You’re powerful, but she can make you unstoppable. And since you’ll need skin contact with her, you can’t wear suits, so you’ll need someone to fix the oxygen issue – and someone with forcefields, too.”
“Okay, well let’s see if we can do that, and I’ll ask them all personally.”
Jim blows out a sigh and leans his head back. His feet are tapping nervously on the floor and his breathing is uneven; he might be putting on a brave front, but McCoy knows him. He knows his flaws and all of his perfections, he knows what makes him smile and what makes him scowl, and he knows that Jim is terrified about what might happen on the asteroid – especially if he’s the one that causes it.
Jim lifts his head and cracks open one eye as McCoy comes to crouch between his legs, propping his elbows on Jim’s knees. He hasn’t looked this utterly exhausted since after the Narada, as they limped home without their warp cores and licked their wounds for weeks and weeks.
“You don’t have to ask me. I’m already coming with you, boy.”
Jim sighs and closes his eyes again, one hand pushing into McCoy’s hair and fingertips rubbing at his scalp; McCoy leans into the touch with a hum, and waits until Jim’s ready to keep moving.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Jim sighs exasperatedly as they approach the transporter bay, fully-suited and with an away team in tow. McCoy has a moment of being torn between amusement and irritation as he spots Doctor Marcus in her own blue suit, waiting patiently in the corridor beside the bay door.
“Permission to join the away team, Captain,” Carol says smartly as they reach her, and Jim strides past her with a roll of his eyes.
“Under what pretense are you wanting to join the party this time, Doctor?” he says scathingly.
“A notion that unfortunately, I am inclined to support,” Spock adds as he enters the room with Uhura close behind him. McCoy smirks as Jim throws his arms in the air dramatically and groans loudly.
“This team has already increased from four to five against my better judgment, I am not bringing along a passenger purely for ‘scientific curiosity’, and god help me if you get suited up in the next two minutes Spock.”
“Certainly not. Doctor Marcus, Mr Chekov and myself discussed the matter at length whilst you were recruiting Yeoman Rand, Ensign Froman and Lieutenant Saavi, and established that Doctor Marcus would be the best candidate to secure knowledge of the device.”
“If you really are going to destroy the device then this will be our only opportunity to learn from it. Just think of the possibility, Captain,” Carol insists. “If this technology really does what the Klingons are saying, it could be revolutionary. I’d only need a few minutes with it – they I can always beam back onto the shop whilst you destroy it, if you’re concerned for my safety.”
“Okay one, I didn’t recruit Rand, Froman and Saavi, Spock, they agreed to come of their own accord. And two, of course I’m concerned for your safety, we’re about to beam onto a Kuiper Object headed straight for the sun, containing some sort of mechanism to initiate cold fusion within the star and annihilate life support for the whole system. I’m generally concerned for everybody in this galaxy’s safety right now.”
McCoy doesn’t need to look up from where he’s adjusting the cuffs of his suit to know that it’s a losing battle – but he knows that Jim knows that too, can tell by the tone of Jim’s voice that he’s already going to let Carol come with them. He just waits patiently along with the rest of the people in the room who are watching Jim expectantly.
After a moment, Jim sighs heavily, and stomps across to the control panel, hitting the comm button with an unnecessary ferocity. “Scotty, where are you? I said that I wanted you in the transporter bay,” he snaps, and turns to the away team before he gets a reply. “I want full suits on going down there, helmets included. As much as I trust your forcefields, Froman, I’m not risking the transporter messing with them and it cutting out as we arrive down there.”
The others nod as Scott bursts into the room full-tilt, skidded slightly on the floor and only avoiding a collision with the control panel because one of Froman’s quickly-formed fields blocks his path.
“Apologies, captain. Minor incident in the intermix chamber, all sorted, nothing to worry about.”
“We’re up from four to six on the away team,” Jim says as though he didn’t hear the excuse. “As for Doctor Marcus, she will be returning to the Enterprise very soon after we land, and well before the rest of us, so please be ready to transport her back at my command.”
“Certainly, sir,” Scott says easily as his fingers whizz over the screens. “Though with respect, might I ask why Doctor Marcus is accompanying you in the first place? I was under the impression that the aim was to destroy the device, not study it.”
“Scientific curiosity,” Jim hisses in annoyance, and pushes past a smirking Rand and up onto the transporter pad. “Come on, we’re wasting time.”
The landscape of the meteor, McCoy reflects with an uncomfortable twist in his stomach, is remarkably similar to the planet with the abomination creatures that killed Reeves – except there’s a potential galaxy-ending technology hidden here instead of some sort of monstrous experimental creature. The thought doesn’t fill him with much resolve.
“Saavi, Froman, set up a breathable atmosphere around us so we can take off our helmets and gloves,” Jim says absently as he peers into the cavern. “Everyone stick together and keep the forcefield small. Let’s head inside, if I was going to hide a device I’d do it in here.”
Once they’re through the opening and awkwardly scrambling down the ice-and-stone slopes, it becomes obvious that this cave is far larger than they could have imagined. The lights on their spacesuits combined with the flashlights that they brought don’t help that much – the ceiling is barely visible, and at the other end from the entrance is just darkness. Luckily, the stone seems to be cracked through all over with both ice and a faintly glowing blue substance that casts an eerie glow through the chamber.
“Eyes on, guys,” Jim murmurs. “Any sign of a device and you shout out.”
“Sir, can I ask how you’re planning on destroying this device? You said that was the plan, but never explained how. And to be honest I’m not entirely sure why I’m here either.”
Jim stops walking and fixes Janice with a hard look, and McCoy can see the conflict going on behind his eyes. This is it – the moment that Jim has been avoiding his entire life, hiding himself and his powers from everyone around him in a desperate and ill-informed attempt to protect them. He watches as Jim’s eyebrows drawn down and his mouth twists into a scowl, so he steps up to him and lays a hand on his shoulder in silent support.
“My power,” Jim blurts out suddenly, as though McCoy’s touch unblocked his reticence. “It’s molecular disintegration. I can literally destroy anything, but I don’t have great control over it. That’s why I need both you and Doctor McCoy here – him to help me control it, you to make it more powerful to make sure that the job gets done.”
“I was under the impression that you didn’t have a power, Captain,” Carol says flatly and Jim gives her an incredulous look before throwing his hands up in the air.
“Yeah, well, that was a cover story that nobody was even meant to know anyway. How the hell did you know?! Actually, you know what, I don’t care. It’s too complicated for right now.”
Jim stomps ahead, and they follow him for another few minutes in silence. There’s nothing anywhere near them that look even remotely like the device that Jim’s convinced is here – he checks the coordinates the Chekov sent them over and over again, but what they’re saying doesn’t change. There’s a massive amount of radiation right where they’re standing but they can’t see the source.
“I would love to get a reading of this blue substance before I beam back up,” Carol says as they pause again to take stock. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Don’t touch it,” McCoy says sharply, and his voice echoes strangely within the artificial atmosphere. “We don’t know anything about it, it could be toxic.”
“I’m not going to touch it,” she rebukes him. “I’m an astrophysicist, not an idiot. I just want to do an electron scan of it, I need to be closer for that.”
“Make it quick, Doctor,” Jim calls over his shoulder, and she grimaces as she bends down and holds her hand over the veins of glowing blue running through every rock beneath their feet.
McCoy nudges her gently with her foot as the others move off. “Come on, we need to stay together to keep the forcefields small.”
“Wait, I’m just… oh my god,” she whispers. Her face is one of complete horror, strangely lit by the glowing substance, and the others stop in their tracks to turn and stare at her. “This is the technology. It’s not a device, it’s a compound – it’s activated by a specific form of extreme radiation. They’ve turned this whole asteroid into an iron star device!”
“How far through the asteroid does the substance stretch? Is it only in this area?”
“I’m not sure… Janice could you-” Carol reaches out her hand and Rand takes it obligingly; McCoy sees Carol tensing in the half-light as her power is supercharged, and the hand that she reaches out in front of her is shaking. “It’s all the way through the rock. It’s strongest here and in other places it’s fairly weak, but it’s distributed throughout. We can’t stop an asteroid this size, and even if we tried to blast it, parts of it would still reach the sun and initiate the fusion. There’s no way to stop it.”
McCoy looks immediately to Jim, and his stomach drops out of his body – Jim has completely frozen up, his whole body rigid and unmoving and his eyes wide and staring.
“Carol, collect some of that substance and beam back to the Enterprise immediately,” McCoy barks out, and she nods quickly and starts rummaging in her belt for equipment. “Jim?”
“I can’t do this,” Jim mutters. McCoy grabs his arm and yanks him a few feet away with a hiss of annoyance – the last thing that the rest of the away team need to see is their captain having a mental breakdown when the whole solar system in only hours away from destruction.
“Jim, this really isn’t the time.”
Jim turns to him with wild eyes and shaking hands. “I know this isn’t the time, Bones, but I can’t do this! I don’t have the control, I could do even more damage than the iron star device would. At least that thing will only render the galaxy uninhabitable, I might make it non-existent. No,” he says firmly and shakes his head. “I won’t do it. I can’t, and I won’t.”
McCoy doesn’t even register what he’s doing until his fist has connected sharply with Jim’s jaw and sent him reeling backwards against the stone wall with a shocked expression on his face.
“You selfish ass,” he seethes furiously, rubbing his knuckles. “People will die if you don’t do this. You really think that we’ll be able to evacuate the whole system before everything goes to shit? There’s no way in hell we’d manage it and even if we did, where would we go? There’s tens of billions of people relying on you to save the solar system, and you won’t even try. Where’s Sam right now, and Aurelan? Where’s your mother? Your nephews? Do you even know? Do you even care at this point?”
“You have no right,” Jim spits at him as he pushes himself away from the wall and rubs fiercely at the red mark on his jaw. “You have no idea what it’s like, you’ve never had to do anything on this scale when you know that you’re going to fail no matter how hard you try!”
“What the ever-living fuck do you think I’ve spent the last three years doing in the medbay, sitting on my ass and watching people die? Do you think that when the Narada attacked us, I just waited for the other doctors and nurses to take over? Do you think that when the Vengeance came for us and nearly destroyed our ship that I just watched it happen, you asshole?”
Jim’s face falls for a second, and he takes a tentative step forward.
“Bones, even you couldn’t save them all, I know that you tried…”
“Exactly. I tried. We all did, even though we knew that it was hopeless, because that’s what we’re supposed to do – that’s exactly what you were talking about back in your quarters, when I told you that this was ridiculous and you said that you had to try. Nothing has changed since then. You were the one who wanted to come down here to destroy the device, and that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.”
“That was when we thought that the device was going to be small! Not a goddamn meteoroid that’s fifty kilometres wide! I could control a small event, but this? I could open up a wormhole and create a parallel universe! I could destroy the whole galaxy!”
“But you won’t,” McCoy says firmly, grabbing Jim’s flailing hands and holding them still. “You won’t, because I am going to be right here beside you, and I know that you can do this.”
Jim gives him a look that he knows all too well – the one that says I know best, I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m talking about and nobody will stop me – but it fades away quickly as Jim’s eyes drop to the floor and all of the tension leaves his body. McCoy knows that Jim won’t say it out loud, but he can read his body language better than any other in the universe, and he turns back to where the others are waiting awkwardly, Carol having already departed for the Enterprise.
“Saavi, Froman, Janice – in a circle,” he barks out as he drags a reluctant Jim back over to them. “Janice, you need to be on Jim’s other side. You’ll have to put your helmets on the ground, they’ll be contained within Froman’s forcefield once the floor disintegrates. Froman, you’ll have to be next to Janice, you need her supercharging powers. Remember, we need a second forcefield around the asteroid to contain it if it starts to break apart.”
McCoy takes Jim’s hand in his as the others move quickly to obey his orders and form a circle. It’s sweaty and warm to the touch, but it’s real and solid and here, and he knows that Jim needs him – needs an anchor, something to hold onto so that he doesn’t get lost in his own powers. McCoy watches as Jim takes three deep, steadying breaths.
One – Rand takes Froman’s hand, and both the forcefield surrounding them and the one surrounding the entire meteoroid pulse and thicken, becoming utterly impenetrable to the oncoming destruction.
Two – Jim’s body tenses as Rand supercharges him, his eyes going hard and his fingertips vibrating with power where they’re gripped in McCoy’s hand.
Three – the world begins to shake.
Jim’s targeting his power to come from right within his core, and McCoy watches the familiar pattern as the air inside Saavi’s artificial atmosphere ripples and burns around him, a hazy sort of oscillation expanding out around them. It hits the wall behind them first, and McCoy hears the gasps from the others as the compound-infused rock simply turns to sparkling dust and then nothing before their eyes.
“Hold onto each other,” he warns as he feels the ground beneath his feet shift. “Do not let go under any circumstances, especially when the asteroid’s gravity starts to collapse.”
Their little bubble of teamwork drops down in jolts as Jim’s power destroys the ground beneath their feet, but soon they’ll be drifting – it’s a slow process but the walls and ceiling of the cave are getting further away as the opening hollows out, Jim’s radius expanding bit by bit as he screws his face up in concentration, and with every pulse of power the asteroid’s weak gravity becomes even weaker.
“You guys holding up okay?” he asks over the heavy breathing that’s echoing in their helmets, and nod haltingly; Saavi gives him a weak smile and tightens her grip on his hand.
“I never imagined that I’d be doing this when I signed up to the Enterprise,” she says with a shaky laugh, and he grins in response.
“With this guy as your Captain, are you kidding me? This is going to be the biggest adventure of your life!”
“If we survive it,” Froman says quietly, and McCoy suddenly realizes that the asteroid’s gravity has given way and they’re floating, deep inside the planetoid as it hurtles towards their sun, being gradually disintegrates and its atoms cast into the void.
“We will survive,” McCoy says firmly. “The minute that the last asteroid particle has been taken care of, you will all be transported directly back to the Enterprise.”
“We will? What about you?”
McCoy glances at Jim before responding. His eyes are shut and he’s breathing deeply through his nose, but he’s holding onto McCoy’s hand so tightly that his fingers are starting to hurt – a quick look at Jim’s other hand shows that Janice is in some degree of pain from where he’s holding her.
“We’ll be right behind you,” he assures them. “It might just take a moment to bring the Captain back down from his powers.”
A sudden shaft of light pierces down towards them; Jim has broken through the roof of the cavern. His power seems to be progressing faster now – where the cave had twice as large as an old cathedral ten seconds ago, now it’s the size of a city block and expanding ever quicker.
Janice lets out a whimper and McCoy looks at her sharply – her eyes are rolling backwards, and he reaches out quickly with his left leg and kicks her in the knee.
“Janice!” he barks, and her eyes roll back down as she gasps, struggling to catch her breath. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know how much longer I can hold onto him,” she admits weakly. “He’s just so strong, and it’s like… normally, I can only increase people’s powers to a specific amount, but he just keeps taking more and getting stronger…”
There’s very little left of the meteoroid at this point, McCoy notices – they’re more exposed now to the void of space than the icy rock, but Froman’s secondary forcefield is holding the glittering remainders of the Iron star device together as they continue to hurtle towards the sun. McCoy looks around himself and sees the rings of Saturn behind them – he only hopes that the Enterprise has followed them at a safe distance as they’ve travelled across the system.
“Just a little bit longer, Janice, I promise.”
She bites her lip and nods, squeezing her eyes shut. Jim’s own expression is vacant and loose, his eyes wide and staring into the dark, and the bottom drops out of McCoy’s stomach very suddenly as the last of the meteoroid dissolves around them, and takes with it any threat of the sun being turned into an iron star.
“Janice, let go of him, now!”
She winces as she tries to pull her hand from Jim’s grip, but to no avail – he’s holding her so tightly that her bones are grinding together and his nails are digging into her skin.
“I can’t! He won’t stop!”
“Hold on!” he hisses, and kicks at Jim’s wrist hard with his right foot, the whole group jumbling around as McCoy’s grip on them prevents him from being pushed out into space. It works though – Jim loses his grip on Janice just enough for her to pull her fingers from his, and she moans softly as she stretches them out.
“Froman, you can drop the outer shield. Put your helmets on right now and seal yourselves!” McCoy says quickly, the urgency in his voice making it sound strange in the silence surrounding them as they grab their floating helmets from the center of their little circle and quickly fit them. He seals his own suit awkwardly with his free hand before seeing to Jim, whose blank eyes are more terrifying than anything McCoy’s seen in a long time. “You all in?”
“Yes. Doctor -”
“He’s lost in his own power – he has no idea what he’s doing, and you’re all at risk if you stay here,” he explains, and gestures to Froman. “Drop your inner shield when I say. You three are beaming up.”
“What about you?” Froman hesitates, glancing between McCoy and Jim, and McCoy smiles wryly.
“Would you believe it, but I’ve done this with him before. He can’t hurt me.”
“Are you sure…?”
“Positive, Yeoman,” he says briskly, and scrabbles for the communicator on his hip. “Scotty, prepare to beam back Yeoman Rand, Ensign Froman and Lieutenant Saavi on my command, and then stay as far away as you can until I contact you again.”
“At the ready, Doctor,” comes the voice from the communicator, and as McCoy nods to them, Froman drops his second forcefield and they push away slightly, slowly floating backward and away from them.
“Now, Enterprise,” McCoy calls, and before the trio of drifting personnel has even begun to glow, he’s turned back to Jim. There’s a small piece of space debris floating a few hundred meters to the left, and out of the corner of his eye McCoy sees it disappear in a puff of powder and dust. They’re too close to Rhea – McCoy can see spirals of its atmosphere winding towards Jim as though he’s a black hole, only to vanish into non-existence as they get closer; the spirals are sparkling, which McCoy realizes with a jolt is the surface of Rhea being pulled in too.
“Jim,” he whispers into the silence, and moves in as close as their suits will allow. Jim’s eyes are unfocused, staring blankly into the void and completely unseeing McCoy in front of him as his whole body continues to vibrate with power. “Jim, please, you have to stop. If we go back to the Enterprise like this, you’ll tear the ship apart.”
The worst part is the knowledge that he himself is Jim’s anchor, he’s what Jim focuses on to ground himself and control his awesome power, but he’s utterly useless right now, and he feels like he’s failed him as he shakes Jim’s shoulders and shouts his name in desperation.
There’s a flicker of further movement to his left, and he turns to see larger and large swathes of Rhea surge towards them in intricate, beautiful patterns of destruction. McCoy doesn’t know how far Jim’s power will extend if permitted to, but having had Janice supercharge him, it’s as though there are no limits. Rhea is the closest celestial body, and even then is thousands of kilometers away – Jim had been right when he’d said that he could rip a whole in the cosmos if put under enough pressure. He can only hope that Jim’s power has instinctively spared the Enterprise where she’s floating far closer than Rhea.
“Jim. Look at me, please. It’s over, you did it, we’re safe. Please, you can stop now.”
And suddenly, Jim does – with a faint, broken noise and a gasp, and with a gentle blast and a sickeningly familiar sensation, McCoy and Jim’s suits both disintegrate into nothing.
There’s a brief moment where McCoy thinks that he’s about to die immediately. He nearly holds his breath out of pure habit, then his training kicks in and he remembers to exhale instead to reduce the possibility of his lungs tearing, and he fumbles for his communicator as he starts counting the seconds down - but his communicator's gone. Everything’s gone except their naked bodies, everything except Jim’s warm hand clasped tightly in his and his eyes, shining a brighter blue than they’ve ever been, the sun reflecting off the final remnants of Rhea that are glittering across the solar system.
“It’s okay,” McCoy whispers, pulling Jim towards himself and pressing their foreheads together, blinking back tears as his eyeballs burn hot. Jim’s shoulder and hand are growing cold beneath his palms and his joints ache, and he keeps on counting down in his head. “It’s okay, I promise, everything will be okay.”
The words don’t sound though; there’s just the deafening silence and cold. McCoy had always assumed that he would die in space – it kind of goes with the job – but he’d hoped that he would be old and decrepit, that he’d live to see Joanna’s children growing up, and he’d be surrounded by people and happy and loved.
Instead, it will be here, floating in the nothingness whilst the Enterprise sits safely away from Jim’s apocalypse, waiting for a command to retrieve them that will never come. It will be here, holding onto Jim and counting down. He’s already past fifteen, so he knows that unconsciousness comes next, and then he won’t feel a thing as his body shuts down. He doesn’t mind, that much, really – it would have been nice to have grandchildren, but he’ll make do with saving the solar system with the man that loves him.
He closes his eyes and presses his lips to Jim’s as his body begins to tingle, bright lights sparking behind his eyelids. He wants to take a breath, but he knows that his lungs won’t fill with anything except star dust and Jim – so he just grips Jim tighter against himself.
He lands on the ground hard, Jim’s elbow crushing into his solar plexus and his head bouncing painfully off the floor, and he takes a deep breath of synthesized air that instantly makes his head hurt.
“Ow, Jesus,” he grunts in surprise, and then struggles beneath Jim’s squirming. “God, get off me, do you even know how heavy you are?”
McCoy blinks a few times in the bright light on the transporter bay, and looks over Jim’s head to where Scotty is staring at the pair of them, utterly aghast.
“Good timing with the beaming, Scotty,” McCoy wheezes whilst trying to push Jim off his chest, but it’s a losing battle. “How did you know to come and get us? I told you to wait until I commed you.”
“It wasn’t us that got you,” Scotty falters, sounding slightly dazed. “You appeared by yourselves. Madeline, could you get some clothes for these two strapping young men before anybody else arrives and is faced with the sight of those pale buttocks?”
“Hey, my ass is amazing,” Jim slurs from somewhere around McCoy’s shoulder, and finally rolls away. “What’d you mean, you didn’t beam us in? You must have done.”
“I swear to God I didn’t,” Scotty insists, bending down to help them both up. “Doctor McCoy’s instructions were to wait until you contacted us, Janice said that you were having trouble getting your power under control. I was twiddling my thumbs and then suddenly the pair of you just appeared out of nowhere.”
“That’s impossible,” Jim says flatly and Scotty shrugs and gestures to the computers.
“Check the logs. The last people to be transported onto this ship were Janice, Saavi and Froman.”
“That’s still impossible,” Jim repeats, and they both gratefully take the clothes as Madeline returns with fresh sets of blacks. “If you didn’t, then somebody must have done, somebody else on the ship. Do we have anybody that can teleport things other than themselves? Do we have a teleporter, full-stop?”
“No,” McCoy says slowly as he pulls his shirt over his head, and realization hits him like a freight train as he hears Scotty reporting their arrival to the bridge. “We don’t have a teleporter. But we do have molecular manipulator.”
Jim slants him a look as he pulls his pants up and loosely ties the drawstring – and then his head jerks up and McCoy sees with a grin the moment that he understands. He watches with a strange swell of pride as Jim’s mouth drops open and he leans forward slowly.
“I did this?” he whispers, in awe of himself, and McCoy twitches his shoulders.
“It sure as hell wasn’t anybody else.”
Jim closes his mouth abruptly and stares down at hands for a moment before looking up with a shining grin on his face, all white teeth and glee.
“I did that?!” he shouts, wiggling slightly in the same way that Jo used to when she was particularly excited about something as a child, and McCoy pulls him into a tight hug.
“I fucking told you that you could do more than just destroy things, you idiot,” he laughs into Jim’s hair, but Jim’s already pulling away and dancing giddily in front of Scotty.
“I transported us! Me! I did that!” he crows, pausing to look back up at McCoy where he’s still stood on the transporter pad. “Do you reckon I could do it again?”
“Not right now, but we’ll work on it,” he promises as static buzzes on the comms and Uhura’s voice rings through the bay, a note of distinct triumph in her voice.
“Captain, Commander Spock requests you on the bridge. The Klingons have opened a channel with us, and having seen what just happened to the asteroid… they’re prepared to negotiate.”
The Helical Nebula is beautiful – even more so when viewed from this side of the quadrant.
Jim takes a deep, stabilizing breath and holds it for a count of four before letting it out slowly. The observation deck is quiet at this time of day, with the odd person drifting in and out but mostly he’s got it to himself, sat with his bare feet dangling over the edge of the balcony and playing with a tricorder that Bones had foolishly left on the kitchen counter that morning. He’s already taken it apart and re-assembled it three times, just to keep his hands busy.
He likes coming up here, where it’s generally silent save for the constant thrumming of the warp core and the subtle beeps and dings from the comms point above him. They’ve had far more success exploring in this direction than skirting around the Romulan Star Empire, and there’s been a near-constant buzz of activity on the ship ever since they left Deep Space Three nearly four months ago after a quick stop at the last port before heading into the unknown – the specimen labs are full and busy at all times of the day now, and Carol has been in her element whilst mapping the atomic frameworks of everything that the away teams are bringing back with them.
It helps that Jim doesn’t feel like he’s going to explode any more if he doesn’t release a massive burst of destructive energy every couple of weeks; boy, had that been exhausting. But whilst they were stuck planetside during the Jupiter Station debrief, Bones had pushed him and pushed him with his power control until he was pretty much a pro, and even his mom had come to visit and told him in hesitant tones that she was proud of him, and what he’d achieved.
The crying had been kinda embarrassing – especially when Sam joined in over-dramatically – but mostly he was just so relieved that she didn’t still hate him for what happened to Frank.
He turns the tricorder over in his hands once more, and then throws it high in the air – it spins as it rises to the apex of its arc, the metal twinkling gently in the light, until it slows and begins to falls back down towards him. He watches it carefully as it drops and then when it’s two feet above his head, he gestures faintly towards it. It freezes in mid-air, suspended perfectly in space.
Jim turns at Bones’ voice, gruff and irascible and always the one thing that can send Jim to sleep at night, and grins at him as he sits down next to him. “Something like that.”
“With my tricorder?”
“It was just lying around.”
Bones slants him a half-hearted glare before reaching out and plucking the tricorder from where it’s still hovering completely still above their heads, and stashes it in a pocket somewhere. Probably to use on Jim later on as punishment.
“You’re looking pretty confident with your immobilization now.”
“Only on shit like this. We still don’t know if I can do bigger things, or if I can use it on living things. Hell, we won’t know about that one unless it happens by accident – hopefully it wouldn’t be fatal, that would be kinda catastrophic.”
Jim glances at Bones and is met with a flatly unimpressed expression, but he knows that it’s just the front that Bones puts up – in reality, he’s just as curious and excited about Jim’s powers, only he won’t admit it because he’s too busy pretending to be the mature, responsible adult in their relationship. If only everybody else knew about the flamingo incident in their second year at the Academy, they wouldn’t view him as such a strong voice of reason.
“So we’re up to three now? Disintegration, teleportation and immobilization?” Bones asks as he gazes out of the viewscreen, and Jim shrugs.
“That’s all for now. And you know, I’m kinda hoping that we stick with the three subpowers. It’s hard enough training up one ability, three is exhausting and I definitely do not have the energy for more.”
“We don’t even know how much sub-abilities you could have, molecular manipulation is hardly a common power. What was that statistic that you found? Only zero point one two percent of the recorded human population has it?”
“Zero point one two seven.”
“Exactly, compared to the twelve point four percent of healers running around, fixing up shitbags like you. You’re even more of an unknown quantity than before.”
Jim can’t help it; his face breaks out into a grin again. “I like that. James Kirk: Conundrum Captain.”
“Oh god, don’t start, the press would have a field day with that. Or maybe not, they actually left you alone whilst were at Command for the debriefs. I guess that super-injunction that the councilors issued against the press worked, I don’t remember a single reporter coming knocking and asking questions.”
“Yeah, I reckon that was more to do with the fact that Pete somehow got the addresses of pretty much every reporter in the Bay and threatened them with some sort of neural parasite that he got hold of on Deneva.”
Jim doesn’t need to look at Bones to know that he’s currently wearing an expression of absolute horror; it’s a face that he’s seen pulled a thousand and one times before, but it’s kind of satisfying to know that for once the familiar frown is being aimed and somebody else.
“That boy is a maniac. He’s like a clone of you and your brother!” Bones exclaims. “How did he end up with none of Aurelan’s better personality? He’s a terror!”
“So you say, and yet you’re the one who gave him permission to date your daughter.”
“Don’t remind me,” Bones says, and his voice comes out muffled where he’s buried his face in his hands; Jim takes pity on him and after a moment, wraps an arm around his shoulders with a laugh and pulls him into his side as Bones sits back up straight. “I swear to high hell that if he hurts her –”
“If he hurts the indestructible girl?” Jim raises an eyebrow, and Bones punches him in the ribs.
“Emotionally. If he hurts her emotionally…”
“Hey come on, Kirk men aren’t like that,” Jim protests lightly, but he catches the look that Bones shoot him from under his eyebrows and amends it hastily. “Any more. I mean Pete never will be, he takes after his dad for that, not me. But I’m not like that. Any more.”
Bones continues to glare at him for approximately four seconds, and then his face relaxes into one of those soft smiles that he rarely ever lets anybody see and which Jim cherishes, and leans his head on Jim’s shoulder.
“Yeah, well. I’ll give him the old one-two if he does.”
Jim smiles. “I don’t doubt it.”
He takes another deep breath; Bones’ warmth shifts against him comfortably as his ribcage expands, and he can feel the Enterprise breathing with him as they float on through the black.