Leonard McCoy was awakened by a crash, followed by muffled cursing. For a frantic moment he thought he was being burgled, albeit ineptly, and groped for a weapon. He'd fallen asleep at his desk, so the first heavy object he came across was his textbook on space-born viruses.
Turning and rising from his chair, he'd have hefted the heavy volume at the intruder's head – had the intruder been anyone other than Jim Kirk. McCoy let the book fall and was moderately gratified when Jim winced at the thud.
"Some people," McCoy said dryly, "use the door."
"Your window was open," Jim pointed out.
"Some people," McCoy repeated slowly, "use the goddamn door. Some people have their own rooms. Unless, of course, some people are so damn drunk they can't even find their own dorms. The door," he added with a jerk of his thumb, "is over there."
"One," said Jim, for all the world as if he were making a point in class, "yours is closer to the station. Two—" He grasped the windowsill and started to pull himself slowly to his feet. "You have the best stash of alcohol on campus, which I could use right now because, Three—" He winced again and, leaning against the windowsill, put a hand to his ribs, "I think I broke something."
McCoy glanced at the clock. 3:17 a.m. Great. Fully awake now, and by no means pleased by the intrusion, he said, "Was that before or after you fell through my window?"
"Before," Jim said. "I was in this bar—"
"And there was this girl."
"Of course there was. Sit down."
But Jim seemed reluctant to let go of the windowsill, so McCoy had to pry him loose – gently – and prod him toward the bed, which he quickly swept clear of notes and medical journals. Once he had Jim seated, his back to the wall, he reached under the bed for his medkit. "You realize," he said, taking out his scanner, though he was fairly sure he could make a diagnosis without it, "the infirmary and my dorm are the same distance from the station?"
"They don't have alcohol there."
"What makes you think I'm going to give you any?"
Jim's eyes were closed. His lips – broken, blood-flecked – quirked in a weak smile. "'Cause you love me."
McCoy treated that casual observation like a glancing blow; he shrugged it off. "Uh-huh," he muttered, continuing his assessment. Pale, clammy skin. He'd probably been sick on the way here. At least he'd done it before tumbling through the window. Minor lacerations and contusions on the knuckles and face. No scalp wounds, despite the blood crusting the dark blond hair. And yup, one cracked middle rib.
"Anyway," Jim was saying. "God, this girl was hot. She was just sitting at the bar, drinking. Alone. I thought. Turned out her boyfriend – who, I swear, looked half-Klingon, I mean he was hulking - was just in the john. He was drunk, and he thought I was hitting on his girlfriend, which – all right, I was--"
"You should have gone to the infirmary," McCoy said, setting the scanner down as he rose. "Stay right there," he instructed. "Take deep breaths. I'll be back in a minute."
"It hurts when I breathe deeply."
"Damn right it does."
Swearing under his breath, McCoy walked out of the room, leaving the door ajar, and down the carpeted hall to the kitchenette. The dorm was quiet, even for such a late hour on a Friday night. No, it was an early hour on a Saturday morning. God, he didn't need this. He'd already been through college and medical school. He should be working on his residency, living in an apartment with its own fucking full kitchen and bathroom. He was too old for this shit.
In the kitchenette, he found a clean glass and filled it with cold water from the tap. Before returning to his own room, he paused and looked at his reflection in the window. A mistake. He looked old, he thought. Older than thirty, much too old for someone like Jim Kirk. Why in the hell they were friends was as much as mystery to him as it was to just about everyone else at Starfleet Academy.
Back in his room, McCoy found Jim exactly as he'd left him, except that his eyes were open. Between the thick eyebrows and the bruised cheekbones, they looked almost preternaturally blue.
"You still haven't put anything else up," Jim mumbled, as McCoy knelt once more by the bed and started looking through the medkit.
"What are you talking about? And I said to take deep breaths. Unless you want to increase your risk of pneumonia."
"You still only have that one picture up. I'd have thought it would creep the hell out of you."
McCoy glanced over his shoulder. Stuck to the wall above his dresser was the crayon drawing his daughter had sent shortly after he'd enrolled at Starfleet. Not a bad drawing for a six-year-old, it depicted a man with brown hair and the blue uniform of a medical officer being sucked out of a ship's airlock. In deep space. It did creep the hell out of him – mostly because he wasn't sure if Joanna had drawn it in anger or if he'd somehow communicated his very real fears to her – but it was one of the few things of hers that he had. She'd even drawn dark circles under the man's eyes.
"You should put something else up," Jim said. "I've only been telling you that for what, two years?"
Turning back to the medkit, McCoy found what he'd been looking for. He unscrewed the bottle cap and shook three tablets into Jim's palm. He handed him the glass of water. "Take those. Drink all of that. It's just acetaminophen. It'll help with the pain. You should have gone to the infirmary. You need an osteogenic stimulator."
"I won't die without it."
"No. You'll just be in a world of hurt."
Jim swallowed the three tablets at once and gulped down the water. "If I showed up at the infirmary at three in the morning," he explained, "they'd know I was fighting." His voice had a distant quality, as if his weariness had just caught up with him. His eyelids drooped again. Hastily, McCoy took the empty glass, then helped Jim lower himself into a supine position.
"And when I drag you there first thing tomorrow morning, what'll they think?"
"Sports accident. You hit me with a soccer ball."
"That an invitation?" McCoy closed the medkit and shoved it back under the bed. Jim was using the only pillow, so he grabbed a sweatshirt from the laundry bag in his closet and, bunching it into a rudimentary pillow, lay down on the floor by the bed. At least the carpet was relatively soft and comparatively clean. "Lights," he said.
In the darkness, McCoy listened to Jim's breathing. "Deeper," he growled after a minute or two.
Jim's chuckle was strained. "That…almost sounded dirty."
"Oh, for fuck's sake."
"Seriously, Bones. This place is as blank and sterile as – a goddamn hospital. Get a few posters, some Christmas lights, anything."
"I don't want it to look like a goddamn dorm room."
"I've got news for you. It is a goddamn dorm room. Sooner or later you're going to have to accept it that you're enrolled at Starfleet. Shit, you're like halfway through. You're probably going to end up on a starship…going places…doing…stuff."
"Keeping you alive and out of trouble?"
"Fuck, you'd better," said Jim. "You really think I trust anyone else? I mean," he went on with a little more strength, which told McCoy that the acetaminophen had kicked in, "I don't understand you. You're going to be in space. You're probably going to get to see some crazy, amazing shit. I can't believe you're not excited about that."
"I can't believe you are." After a moment, during which Jim said nothing, McCoy added quietly, "Come on, you know that's not true. Maybe excited isn't the first word I'd choose, but, seeing how this world hasn't been overly kind to me, I could stand to try a new one. And I want to be good at my job – as I'm sure you do, despite appearances. Dammit, Jim, you know I'd follow you to—"
He trailed off, mildly surprised by what he'd nearly revealed and by the lack of interruption. He waited, but Jim was quiet except for his steady, shallow breaths.