One Little White Lie
It all happened so fucking fast.
One moment Jim and Spock had been stuck in pleasant yet slightly boring negotiations with Rash'Tar, leader of the people on Nibilia II, about the mutual benefits of the Nibilians joining the Federation. Jim was even slightly envious of the other members of the landing party who were granted tours of the various facilities on the planet's surface while he was stuck doing the Captain-thing.
Then the door had burst open and an aide had come running into Rash'Tar's office, hurrying over to the High Senator to whisper urgently into his ear.
Jim had known then that something had happened.
Even as Rash'Tar's eyes widened as he listened, as the scaly ridge of his forehead lifted in surprise and shock, he had known.
He had been sure when Rash'Tar had looked at him while the aide was still whispering away urgently. It didn't need any premonition or emphatic abilities to know something unplanned had happened. Something bad. Really bad.
"What's wrong?" Jim forced out as soon as the aide had finished speaking and started to withdraw respectfully, back never turned to the senator as was custom in the Nibilian society.
Rash'Tar put his scaled blue hands onto the desk and pushed himself into a standing position.
"An accident. Please come."
That was all the senator had to say on the matter, and all that was left for Jim and Spock to do was to follow.
They managed to get some more details about what had happened on their way to the big hospital complex in the city center. There had been a shuttle malfunction, and one of the Nibilian transports carrying his crewmembers had crashed. But no matter who he asked, no matter how much Jim pressed for information, all the senator knew was that one of Jim's men had been injured and was being treated at the hospital while the others involved in the crash had escaped with minor cuts and bruises. That, and the fact that the shuttle that had crashed had been the one headed towards a science facility outside of the city.
Those were the crewmembers who had been on that transport, and Jim felt sick at the thought of any of them being injured. Spock sat silently in his seat during those news, and while Jim knew better than to expect a different reaction from his First Officer, it was still unnerving.
The transport to the hospital took forever, and once they reached the building it was all Jim could do not to run into the building and down the corridors until he found his people. Instead he stayed back, walking behind Senator Rash'Tar as the man strode through the entry hall. Jim was barely aware of all the other Nibilians bowing respectfully as their leader passed, the nursing staff lifting their veils in respect at the sight of their leader. He didn't care about proper cultural protocol right now. He needed to find out what the hell had happened, and who had been hurt.
Rash'Tar didn't have to ask for directions, a Nibilian in the green garb of the healers immediately started leading them down the hallways, shifting sideways so to never present his back to the senator which would have been an act of disrespect. Jim barely paid him any mind. All he had eyes for were signs of humans amongst the Nibilians, a flash of gold or blue that would tell him his people were all right. And of course he was worried about all of them. He cared about all of them, and didn't want to see any of them get hurt. But Bones was…it was Bones, and no matter that Jim was supposed to be impartial as far as his crew was concerned, Bones was always going to be his best friend. That was something that went far beyond their roles aboard.
So yes, he had to make sure that all his people were all right. But he had the damn right to be that tiny bit more worried about his best friend and not feel bad about it, hadn't he?
Jim saw Chekov first.
The young ensign was standing in the corridor ahead of them, engaged in a lively discussion with a Nibilian healer. Chekov's shirt was torn at his upper arm, it was stained with grease and soot, and there was some blood on his shirt around the tear, but other than that and a copious amount of dirt spread liberally over the young man's skin, he seemed to be all right.
Jim's eyes wandered, and his heart gave a funny lurch in his chest as he caught a glimpse of a science blue shirt. It was just a second of relief though before his brain caught up with what his eyes were seeing. Blue shirt, but not Bones. Blond hair, female figure, petite stature – it was Chapel. She looked similarly disheveled as Chekov was, minus the blood on her shirt but with some added abrasions on her cheek, but seemed fine otherwise.
Which meant Bones was hurt.
Jim's heart crashed down pretty much the same way the shuttle must have.
Bones was hurt, and without any thought about what interstellar protocol he was breaking, Jim was rushing forward to where Chekov and Chapel were.
"Chekov, what happened?" And, because he was still the Captain and even underneath all that ugly worry about what had happened to Bones, he had to know. "Are you two all right?"
"Keptin!" Chekov seemed almost ridiculously relieved to see him. "I do not know exactly what happened. There was a technical malfunction, apparently. The transport went down after the pilot initiated the landing sequence, probably a computer glitch, or an overload in the electrical system. Nurse Chapel and me suffered no serious harm, but Doctor McCoy was injured. I've been trying to get more information, but…"
"They won't let us see him," Chapel interrupted. "I told them that I'm a certified nurse and well acquainted with the Doctor's medical history, but they refuse to let me see how he is. Some sort of cultural norm, if I understand correctly."
Jim turned towards Rash'Tar, eyes ablaze and his heart beating wildly in his chest.
"Why are we not allowed to see Doctor McCoy?"
The Senator seemed a little taken aback at the strength of Jim's outburst, but he inclined his bald head to the side in a gesture of regret.
"We do mean no offence, Captain, and believe me that I am truly sorry about this incident and will investigate its causes with great scrutiny. But we have strict rules about this. Sickbed is a very vulnerable situation for our species. When ill, we are absolutely vulnerable and defenseless. It might seem like an outdated custom to you, but we only permit the closest relatives to be at our side during that time of weakness. We cannot break those rules easily. Only immediate family and spouses are permitted to visit the sick."
Jim didn't even have to think before he said his next words. If he had, he might have spent some more thoughts on the possible implications. But not even he could have predicted just how far this thing was going to go, and in this moment he didn't care. Bones was hurt, Chekov was terrified, Chapel was angry, and damn it, this was Bones. Bones who was afraid of brutal, violent death any time he stepped onto a shuttle. He was Jim's best friend, and right now Jim didn't give a damn about cultural norms and whether or not the Nibilians didn't trust their own friends enough to let them visit their sickbed. He was going to see Bones, and there was a very easy way to achieve that particular goal.
"Well, that's great. Doctor McCoy is my husband, and I respectfully ask that you let me go in and see him immediately."
Jim didn't look at Chekov or Chapel as he said those words. He was too afraid their reactions were going to give him away, or that he would reveal his lie if he looked at them. So he kept his gaze firmly focused on Rash'Tar, but over the High Senator's shoulder he did notice how Spock's eyebrow rose slightly at his words.
Rash'Tar cocked his head slightly.
"I was not aware that you and the healer of your crew were bound in such a way."
Jim swallowed hard against the sudden dryness of his throat, unwilling to lie to someone who could be a valuable ally to the Federation, but even more unwilling to leave his injured best friend in the hands of strangers.
"And I was not aware that it was a matter of importance for our negotiations."
Rash'Tar nodded once, the Nibilian gesture of accepting someone else's point. "Of course."
The High Senator's next move surprised Jim. He stepped forward with an agility that belied his apparent age and pressed a hand to Jim's forehead. The movement was quick and unexpected, yet not something Jim felt threatened by. Surprised, yeah. Definitely surprised. The scaly palm was warm against his forehead, and the moment Rash'Tar touched him, a small tingle started in the back of his head and at the base of his spine. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, but not comfortable either, and just as Jim was about to draw his head back, Rash'Tar withdrew his hand again. He looked at Jim for a second longer, then stepped aside with a small bow.
"Of course," he repeated. "The healers will show you the way, and they will tell you everything about your husband's condition. Since you will undoubtedly want to be staying with your spouse, we can continue our negotiations at a time when he is feeling better. Again, I am deeply regretful that this incident will tarnish the first impression you have of our planet, and I wish Doctor McCoy a speedy recovery."
Jim was too surprised and baffled to wonder about this sudden turn of events. He hadn't expected his little white lie to go over this smoothly, but right now was not the moment to question it.
"Thank you, High Senator." Jim turned towards Spock. "Spock, take Chekov and Chapel back to the ship. I'll be in touch as soon as I know more."
Spock nodded, and in the knowledge that everything official was taken care of, Jim turned around and followed the green-robed healer through a door and down another corridor. Bones was going to give him hell for this, Jim knew that. As soon as his friend was awake again and got to know about this charade, Jim would never hear the end of it. Especially since Bones was going to have to play along. Oh, Jim was going to pay dearly for this, he already knew that. But that was okay, as long as he got to visit Bones and see with his own eyes that friend was going to be all right.
Broken left arm.
Two broken ribs on the left side.
Laceration to the left side of his head, due to the impact with the shuttle wall at high velocity.
All in all, it could have been a lot worse, even if the list the Nibilian healer rattled down – in layman's terms for Jim's benefit – sounded awful. The only reason why it wasn't much worse was that Bones had been strapped tightly into his safety harness. Bones' life wasn't in acute danger, even if his injuries weren't minor, but still it was hard to hear them rattled down like that. Bones wasn't supposed to get hurt. He was the one who fixed injured people. The thought that it was different now was hard to bear for Jim.
Apparently, Bones had been sitting in a seat on the left side of the shuttle, the side that had taken the brunt of the impact during the crash. Chapel and Chekov had both been on the right side of the small craft, that was why they had fared so much better.
It might look bad now, but Bones was going to be all right, and rather quickly at that. Jim had made the healer repeat that particular reassurance twice, just to make sure he had understood correctly. Already, the broken ribs and the fracture in Bones' arm had been treated with an Osteo-regenerator, and the cut on the side of his head had been healed, even if the new skin still looked pink and to Jim's eyes seemed too thin and vulnerable to hold his head together.
Bones was pale, and much too still on the hospital bed as Jim approached. A startling number of monitors were recording Bones' bodily functions, and Jim was glad for the chair that had been pulled up beside the bed as his knees started to feel suspiciously weak as he approached his best friend.
A distant part of his brain was aware that the Nibilian healer was still present, and that he was supposed to play the part of the worried husband, but right now Jim didn't have the capacities left to be anything but the concerned best friend. Because no matter how often he was told that Bones was going to be just fine, he was only going to believe it once those hazel eyes opened and Jim could convince himself of that fact by himself. Only then.
So he didn't have to act as he sank down onto the chair with a slightly shaky sigh and immediately reached for Bones' hand.
They weren't like that. They weren't touchers. The physical quality of their friendship consisted of pats on the back and bumps with the shoulder, and the occasional instance when one of them abused the other as a pillow after an evening of too much bourbon and too many drowned sorrows. But Bones was going to be absolutely pissed at Jim for the whole lie about them being married anyway, he might as well freak out about the hand-holding. Right now, Jim needed the reassurance that Bones' skin was still warm under his touch. If his skin was still warm, then Bones was only sleeping.
According to the healers, he was, and it was unlikely that he was going to wake up before the following morning. But it was just as unlikely that Jim was going to move from this bedside until that happened, either. He had time, and it wasn't as if he'd be able to sleep even if he beamed back to Enterprise. He might as well stay here; it was what the Nibilians expected of him, anyway. Apparently, this was what worried husbands did, never mind the fact that worried best friends did the exact same thing.
The night stretched endlessly.
Once or twice Jim dozed off, only to be woken by the sound of a healer or one of the nurses coming in the room to check up on Bones. Jim had called Enterprise and informed them of Bones' condition as soon as the first shock of seeing his best friend so still and silent in the hospital bed had abated, and after that Jim didn't leave the room just once during the night. Bones slept on, much like he probably would have even without Jim's presence, but that was just as well. Jim's intention for coming here had never been because Bones needed him. He was the one who was still conscious, and he was here because right now he needed to be with Bones, so it didn't really matter whether or not Bones was aware of his presence.
Nibilia's twin suns started to rise a little after five in the morning planet-time, and half an hour later a nurse and a healer came in for a thorough morning checkup for which they respectfully asked Jim to vacate his chair at Bones' bedside, even if they allowed him to stay in the same room. Bones would have an ulcer at the thought of a doctor allowing an audience around for an examination, but here on Nibilia they had a much more all-encompassing concept of what a spousal bond was. It wasn't just a legal formality to the Nibilians, but something Nibilia, so there wasn't any question about whether or not a spouse was allowed to witness a physician's examination, either.
Jim stepped back from the bed, with far more reluctance than he had thought possible, and watched as the doctor started scanning Bones' head. The examination as such was pretty unrevealing to Jim, who had no real medical knowledge outside of the things he had already experienced himself. But he was glad he stayed, nevertheless. Not only because he had to keep up the pretence of being Bones' husband. No, but if he had left, he would have missed the moment Bones opened his eyes.
The doctors had been right. Of course they had been. Bones' injuries hadn't been severe enough to warrant any real worry about his life, but nevertheless Jim was surprised at just how incredibly relieved he felt when those hazel eyes tiredly blinked open. He tried to step closer towards the bed and into Bones' line of vision as soon as he noticed that the other man was waking up. Bones was bound to be confused, and waking up to two green-robed, blue-scaled creatures looking down at you probably wasn't the most comforting sight for any human.
But before Jim could even get to Bones' bedside, the heart monitor above the bed began to beep in alarm. Jim looked at it, as if the device could tell him anything beyond the fact that Bones' heart rate was elevated. But when Jim looked down at the bed again, Bones' eyes were wide and he was looking at the Nibilian healers in obvious confusion. Confusion and, Jim noticed with a sinking feeling, fear.
Jim took another step closer, and the healer immediately let him pass through to Bones' bedside. At the sound of his voice, Bones' eyes had turned towards Jim and tracked his progress towards his bedside.
"Bones, it's okay. They're doctors. You've been in an accident, but you're going to be okay. Just let them take a look at you, all right?"
Bones' expression did not change, just as if Jim was speaking a language he had never heard before, and for a moment Jim was inattentive. If he had watched closely, he might have seen the signs. But he was too relieved to see that his friend's eyes were open to take notice of the small things, like the wide-eyed stare that was all-too similar to that of a frightened animal, or the way he tried to shift away from Jim as he approached.
But Jim didn't notice those signs, so when he stretched out his hands in order to put them on Bones' shoulders and Bones flinched away as if Jim had just threatened him with a phaser, Jim was genuinely surprised.
"Bones, what's wrong?"
Bones was shaking his head, still shifting away from Jim on the bed, and his eyes were wide with surprise and again that horrible undertone of fear.
"What happened? Where am I? Who are you people?"
Jim didn't understand. He had answered those questions just a few seconds ago. But Bones was concussed, and he had just woken up, so maybe it was going to take a little reminder.
"You were in a shuttle crash, and now you're in the hospital. We're on Nibilia II, remember? And these two are Nibilian healers, they want to examine you again."
Bones looked at Jim for a long moment, then he turned his eyes to the two Nibilians, carefully examining their blue scales, bald heads, and pleasant smiles. When he looked back at Jim, some of the earlier panic had vanished from his gaze, but the confusion was still there, strong as ever, even if it was nearly overshadowed by newfound determination.
"And who the hell are you?"
Jim's heart did a funny lurch in his chest before it decided to take a swan-dive to somewhere in the vicinity of his knees.
"What?" He asked in a voice he didn't recognize as his own.
Bones looked around the room again as if trying to figure out if all this was real or just a bad dream.
"Who are you?"
Jim felt like he couldn't breathe.
"What do you mean, who am I? I'm Jim."
There were steps beside him, but through the haze Jim barely noticed how the Nibilian healer pushed past him to Bones' bedside.
"You don't remember your spouse?"
Bones' eyes narrowed at the healer's words.
Jim bit his lip to hold back a curse, but he couldn't escape Bones' gaze as it was leveled on him.
Great. Just fucking great. If the healer hadn't brought it up, there might have been a way out of this, but now…
Jim drew a deep breath and tried to put on his most reassuring smile. Judged by the way some of the panic returned to Bones' face, it hadn't really worked.
Fuck, fuck, fuck!
The fact that Bones didn't remember who Jim was seemed to agitate the Nibilian healer, and he immediately began questioning Bones while scanning him at the same time. Inwardly, Jim was cheering Bones on, keeping his fingers crossed that this was all just a moment of momentary confusion and nothing else. But with every question Bones failed to answer, Jim felt his own heart sink a little more. Name, age, stardate, place of birth, parents' names, occupation – Bones didn't know the answer to any of these questions. And with each answer he failed to give, Bones grew increasingly agitated, shifting uncomfortably on the bed, unwilling to meet anybody's eyes. There was a slight flush to his cheeks now, but Jim was unable to tell whether it was from embarrassment or his rising frustration.
Fifteen minutes later, the healer had come to a conclusion. So had Jim, although his conclusions were of a more general nature – doctors didn't make good patients, Bones wasn't the most patient of all people on a good day, and today definitely wasn't one of the good days.
The healer's conclusions were much more sobering.
Amidst all the attempted explanations, the recounting of symptoms and the reassurances that none of the readings suggested that Bones' condition was permanent, the results were the same.
Bones didn't remember who he was.
He had no clue about his own name, his job, or even his age.
He didn't remember anything about himself, and he had no clue who Jim was, either.
But thanks to one over-zealous Nibilian healer, there was one thing Bones thought he knew for a fact: that he was married to Jim.
This was bad. This was absolutely, positively and irrevocably screwed up. And once the truth came out, Jim was dead.
He was so screwed.