The punching bag swings heavily and slams against the wall, but Jim’s not done yet. His knuckles feel raw, even within the red gloves, but he’s not finished. He jabs with the right and he slams his left hand against thick leather and padding and takes consolation in the fact that he’s taking this out on an inanimate object and not on some bully in a bar. How far he’s come.
“Captain,” Spock’s logical voice comes blasting over the com. “Captain, Doctor McCoy has requested your presence on the bridge.”
Jim wipes away the sweat from his upper lip with his forearm and doesn’t even bother to look back over his shoulder. The irrational anger that’s flooding him won’t be stopped by any logical thought process in his mind and he lets out an almost inhuman cry of anger as he slams one more punch against the bag, collapsing upon it with his arms wrapped around it.
“I’m busy, Spock,” Jim snaps at him through uneven breaths and cuts off the communication before questions can be asked.
Spock’s voice is the very last voice in the universe that he wants to hear at that exact second. Spock, the man who they all knew, who they were all going to know, and in some cases, knew too well. Jim’s breathing is hard and rough and he clasps hold of the bag tight as he can, trying to ignore the doors opening behind him.
“Spock, I don’t want to talk about it,” he growls.
“I’m not him,” comes Bones’ voice.
Jim steadies his gaze forward and he knows that what happened isn’t Bones’ fault at all. In fact, there’s no blame that should go on his head and yet, Jim’s irritated on his behalf. They’d been making such a good go of things and had been so close to making it work. Their first date had been four days earlier and the night had ended pleasantly on the buzz of coffee and spirits. They had tumbled together into bed with McCoy’s hands under Jim’s shirt and loosening the buckle of his trousers and…
And, well, if Jim thinks about that, his annoyance and his anger dissipate and he wants them to last.
Slowly, Jim begins the ritual of pulling off each glove and watches the ribbons unwind, the leather of the gloves creaking as he tugs them to the ground and turns to watch Bones, taking a moment when he knows Bones is watching to spit on the floor. It’s as much disrespect for the situation as he’s able to muster and a part of him wants to pick this fight with Bones, even if it isn’t his fault.
He’s just the one standing right there in the path of his fury.
“Jim,” Bones gets out a growl of warning.
“Don’t do this to me,” Jim warns lowly. “Don’t take the high road and pretend I have nothing to be upset about. I can be angry if I want to be and I don’t care if it’s fucking illogical,” he says, voice raising another few ranges of sound at the word. “This is my life, this is our life, and finding that out from you, having to hear it come from your lips, Bones…” He’s halfway to laughing hysterically at how fucked up their lives can be sometimes. “God, sometimes I wish I had stayed in Riverside because then I wouldn’t have to deal with alternate-realities where Vulcans are…are…”
Bones is just staring at him calmly and Jim knows what that means. He knows this routine by heart. Bones is furious inside, but he’s keeping an icy sheet of an exterior to let Jim get things out. Bones will take the issues and repress them until they cascade into one massive waterfall to the base and never submerge again but for volcanic eruptions once in a blue moon. He’s letting Jim rage, though, constant and furiously.
“Fuck, Bones,” Jim lets out a helpless sound. “I can’t do this.”
“Then I’ll come back when you can,” Bones informs him curtly and he’s gone as quietly as he came.
Two Days Earlier
McCoy has come back to Georgia for his old medical bag. It’d been an heirloom from his father and came equipped with stethoscope, bandages, old tourniquet materials, and more. He’s let Joanna play with these items (after removing the scalpels) since she was a child and has explained the practical use of each one now that she’s older. He’s made the final arrangements for Spock’s Pon Farr and he’s ready to go back to the Enterpriseafter one final stop.
It’s with bag in hand that he traipses on the brittle fall ground and ignores the desolation and the decay of the old family house. It’s falling apart through no one’s fault (and no one’s care), but the graves on the edge of the property are kept perfectly.
DAVID MCCOY, the gravestone reads. LOVING FATHER, HUSBAND, BROTHER. REST IN PEACE. As it’s meant to be, his mother lays nearby in eternal rest. McCoy hopes they’re both at peace wherever they are, that the inscription isn’t just some balm to him to keep him sleeping at night.
McCoy stops in front of the graves and sits down with his flask, setting the medical bag at his side. He takes his time as he closes his eyes and lets his mind drift away to the happier days of the past. He’s got fond memories of this place before his father grew ill, before his mother died, before the funerals and the wakes took over all the joyful days of McCoy’s youth. He still remembers the day he went from being Len to the Doctor and the man of the house. It’s the day he grew up and knew he would never be able to look back.
“Just came to see you, Dad,” McCoy grumbles heavily. “Heading back into space for another long haul. You’d be proud. I’m handing out cures left, right, and center. Suppose I’m making up for not getting to you in time.”
He sits and drinks in the quiet loneliness and listens only to the rustling of the leaves. It’s when he feels the heavy weight of a hand on his shoulder that he readies a string of insults at Jim to tell him that he didn’t want to be followed. A wild glance upwards shows that it isn’t Jim, but Ambassador Spock. McCoy has no idea what he’s doing there, has no idea why he’d follow him, but he knows that there’s a sense of peace radiating over him and there’s only one person that can be coming from (as it certainly isn’t McCoy).
“It has been too long, old friend,” Spock remarks, voice gentle and quiet. “I am sorry to impress upon you at such a difficult time, but as you are disembarking for another journey and I am remaining here for research, this was the only time our paths could meet.”
Jim and the Ambassador have done most of the talking over the last five years. McCoy’s held his share of conversations with him, sure, but they’re never alone. There’s always Christine around or M’Benga. There’s always Jim or Uhura or the other Spock. This is the very first time they’re alone and McCoy’s in the worst possible shape for it.
He’s pretty sure he doesn’t need to say that because the Ambassador still has his fingers on McCoy’s shoulder, brushing barely at his neck. He can feel it.
“You need not feel ashamed at your emotional state. While illogical, it is most understandable given your current location,” the Ambassador reasons. “I am only here to offer you comfort and peace, though I had hopes that we could finally be permitted to conduct a conversation in private.”
“You’ve got one hell of a sense of bad timing, you copper-blooded computer,” McCoy lashes tiredly, the insult falling heavily short of the intended target.
“My mind to your mind, Doctor,” the Ambassador offers as he holds out a hand and if the flickering of peace, the small promise of solace is anything to go by, McCoy feels like maybe a meld into the older-Spock’s mind will allow the grief to wash off of him in waves and the guilt to peel off like a summer skin. “Shall I?”
Yes. McCoy doesn’t speak it, but he closes his eyes and lets it exude from the tip of his tongue and every pore of his body.
This is what passes for approval between the two of them. As far as McCoy’s concerned, he’s come a long way in the past few years. However, he understands that the truths between them will never come out as crystalline and clear as they will if McCoy closes his eyes and permits the Ambassador entrance to the murky corridors of his thoughts.
The Ambassador’s fingers touch his forehead and the world is immediately sucked of sound. McCoy dives into the vacuum of the space of his mind and finds himself in the dark, staring at multiple scenes before him.
They’re lying in bed. They had sambuca after dinner and Bones is laughing endlessly on the bed as Jim shows him his impressions of Admirals and Starfleet staff both and ends it with a fairly impressive impression of Bones himself, finishing with a growl and a ‘If you see a donkey-brained Captain wandering around, I found him a mule to marry’ before climbing on top of Bones and kissing his neck.
Bones wraps his arms around Jim’s waist and brushes his fingers over Jim’s skin. It’s the first time they’ve actively decided to make plans and follow through on them. It’s a date and Bones is the one who kisses Jim first and skates his fingers slowly down until they’re meshed with the treasure trail leading down from Jim’s belly.
Lower and lower to the gold.
Jim looks at him, turning wide and wanting blue eyes on him and Bones only offers a reassuring smile as he pushes his fingers lower and lower, wrapping each around Jim’s cock as he presses a lengthy promise of a kiss to Jim’s lips that is secure and safe and can transfer promises in its longevity.
“Relax, Jim,” he murmurs against the warmth of Jim’s lips. “I know what I’m doing, I’m a doctor…”
“I’m a doctor, damn it, not a miracle worker,” he’s saying to someone and his voice sounds rougher than before. He’s older. Leonard knows that he’s older, but the feeling of the other scene is still there. That fondness, that sense of incomparable enjoyment, that love, it’s still lingering there. Leonard searches blindly for the sheets and tugs them over his head, swatting at imposing fingers. “I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, I can’t go this many times in the morning.”
Leonard turns and finds the source of his frustration in the bed beside him. This bed is different and the technology is strange.
“A mind-meld, Doctor, is hardly a physically demanding activity,” comes the steady and bemused voice of his companion, a voice that McCoy’s heard just moments ago. Somehow, he knows the date is 2284, somehow he knows this. Leonard gives in and curls up with the other man, one hand lying flat on his chest.
He wearily notes that Spock is ignoring Leonard’s age.
Spock merely replies that such comments are nonsense and the meld begins anew and Leonard is reminded of the previous night and just why Spock does not believe that Leonard is too old for such things.
All the fondness, the love, and the enjoyment of such simple pleasures is coming from Spock.
Jim’s lips are pink and swollen as he looks up for approval from his position at the base of Bones’ cock.
Spock looks at him with curiosity and Vulcan delight as they stand shoulder-to-shoulder on a new planet and Leonard announces ‘this is Spock, my t’hy’la’.
Jim kisses him and tastes sweeter than anything, all liquors and treats and sweetened desserts that leave a lingering taste in Bones’ mouth.
They grieve over a grave of a man they both loved more than anything. Surely and with no hesitance, Spock’s fingers find Leonard’s own and they share their sympathies and their loss together and begin to forge a new bond.
Bones wakes to the sounds of a happy home and an argument over the merits of pancakes, waffles, and which he would prefer.
Leonard holds a grandchild in his arms as Spock leans over and presses two fingers to Leonard’s own and admires the child’s beautiful blue eyes, passed down through the McCoy family line.
“I’m coming for you,” whispers Jim and Bones can feel the heat off of his body.
“You carried me once, let me carry you now,” Spock murmurs to him as he lifts Leonard from the ground and brings him so close that their hearts may as well be one.
He holds Jim up as best as he can so he won’t stumble and fall as Bones helps him up to the stars.
He holds Spock up as best as he can in his mind so he won’t stumble and lose his place in the world forever.
They are dancing and Bones feels as if he’s being watched.
He is dying and Leonard knows he’s being watched.
McCoy fights furiously to regain some control and wrenches out of the mind-meld by stumbling backwards and away from the touch. He finds himself nearly unable to speak. He is on his back. He can’t find his breath and he stares up at Spock while struggling to regain his balance. He knows that Spock had to have let him out of it and there’s absolutely no mistaking what he saw and felt.
“T’hy’la,” he echoes. “Lover.”
“Only after Jim had departed this world,” the Ambassador murmurs gravely. “I lost you recently, in what is still an open and difficult memory. It does not seem to assuage my grief that you outlived so many, Leonard. One hundred and forty years old.”
And he knows this. He knows everything about the relationship they shared and he knows every detail of the other McCoy through this Spock’s eyes.
“While I find it illogical to express the depths of my emotions in verbal form, you have long since reminded me that you are human and that your society deems it fit that you hear what is expected of me,” the Ambassador reasons, standing firmly and staunchly as McCoy struggles to regain composure on his back on the ground. “I am sure you are aware of the great emotion I felt for you.”
“Yeah, I felt it too,” McCoy points out, feeling ragged and worn around the edges.
“It lasted until your very last breath. You carried me once.”
McCoy lets out a shaky breath as he licks his lips and rubs a hand over his face. His father’s grave is a million miles away now that he can feel his own mortality creeping around his life and sniffing at his corpse, like early vultures to the evening feast. He’s not sure what to make of things, but he understands now why they needed to be alone for this.
“I get it,” McCoy says roughly as he manages to sit up and doesn’t shake Spock’s hand from his shoulder as he rests it there. “You’re carrying the memory now,” he agrees.
Together they sit and watch the sun descend on the horizon past the grave.
McCoy is still mourning his father. He suspects that the Ambassador is still mourning the life of a man that was once his and now sits before him so out of reach that it must be straining at that Vulcan side of him in an impossible way. Together they grieve and McCoy tries not to feel too guilty that he’s the one being mourned.
When he returns back to the ship, he tells Jim about the situation within minutes of his arrival. That had led to Jim’s fits of anger and his appointments with the punching bag. It had begun a steady campaign of ire at the younger Spock. The Ambassador had taken his leave for his research post and so none of the anger is funneled at him and all of it is dispersed at innocent parties.
McCoy’s tried to let Jim stew for the most part, but he checks in every once in a while. Tonight, he’s caught up with him in his quarters. Jim’s trying to pretend as if his attention is fully on the book in his hands, but McCoy knows better than that. He knows that Jim’s just trying to bait a reaction out of him and he’s been calmly preparing for this all day.
“Jim,” McCoy sighs heavily and crosses the room. He wants to know what happened to the air of the mood between them only days ago when they were drinking and dining and laughing together and in the bed together sharing firsts that are never going to vanish from either of their minds.
Jim yanks back his book when McCoy tries to get control of it, a glower on all his features. It doesn’t help that it comes off petulant and adorable, but McCoy doesn’t tell him that. “I’m reading. I’m busy and I’m reading.”
“Are you really going to keep acting like this for the next five years?” McCoy wonders dubiously. “Damn it, Jim. Talk to me about this!” They’re supposed to be mature now and for all the problems they’ve encountered and put behind them, it seems like they’ve reverted right back to form because someone else has their hands on one of Jim’s toys.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jim insists.
“You’d rather punch your way through the ship?”
“Yes! No! I mean…damn it,” he hisses and slams the book shut. He’s on his feet and pacing the length of the room as if his feet are going to etch a path that he’ll always be able to find in future. “Bones, I just…why are you okay with this?” he finally asks wildly, as if he’s been keeping that in for so long now that it’s just blurted out without abandon.
“Why are you not?” is McCoy’s immediate retort his way. They’re facing each other with hardly any distance between them and the first official date feels so far in the past that it’s in another evolutionary period. They’re face to face, matched nearly height to height, and neither is worrying too greatly of the volume of their voices. “You really think I’m about to go traipsing off?”
“You’re so fucking calm and…and…”
“It’s a different universe, Jim,” McCoy says with that infuriating calm that Jim has to be so familiar with by now. “So what if I’m with the man over there, it’s not like he deliberately crossed over time and space just to come snatch me away and have me for another hundred years and change.”
Jim doesn’t reply to that and something must flash on his face that looks like uncertainty because McCoy sighs and rubs his forehead.
“Oh, for…some part of you thinks that’s a possibility,” he says and reaches out to clasp Jim’s wrist. That’s not happening anytime soon as Jim yanks himself away and staggers two steps back.
McCoy can’t even make a second attempt at him before he’s pouring himself a hefty helping of brandy and swigging it back. McCoy can only imagine what he’s thinking and he’d bet it’s running around in circles from focusing on the fact that the other Spock had kept that from him during their mind-meld on Delta Vega and that McCoy’s acting so calmly about this and that they’re supposed to be something now.
McCoy lets out a tired sigh and pours himself a drink before sitting down in Jim’s desk chair. “Look, Jim, the way I see this, we can either sit down and talk about this like adults or you can keep pouring through this rage of yours to try and find answers that don’t exist,” McCoy presents the solution as he rubs his fingers over his temples.
McCoy feels slightly like he can understand the depths of this. He’s definitely not about to make it worse by pointing out that he’s never heard Jim say the all-important word to him and he’s heard the other Spock from another universe whispering it to him in his mind a thousand times.
“I choose the latter,” Jim announces and he’s gone before McCoy can even say ‘Vulcan’.
The room is silent but for the soft sounds of a ship running smoothly and McCoy stares into the golden depths of his drink and he can’t help but laugh wearily as he downs the single finger in one long sip. “Damn it, Jim,” he exhales.
He doesn’t leave the room, though.
He stays and makes himself a spot in a bed that he’s shared a scant number of times and had been hoping to share more. He still hasn’t ferreted out of Jim what the ‘arrangements’ were that he had supposedly made and given the current mood, he doesn’t think that’s going to be the topic of the day anytime soon. He tidies up after Jim’s disastrous ways and tucks books aside before taking up one of the early-Earth history books and settling in Jim’s bed to read.
He falls asleep with it crooked in with his elbow and almost doesn’t feel the pressure on the bed, the weight descending and forming a new canyon amidst the sheets. It’s a testament to the strange state of his mind that for a moment in the shadows of half-sleep that he doesn’t know who’s crawling in with him.
He turns and drapes a strong arm over the waist of the man and one deep pull of breath tells him that it’s Jim.
“You co-opted my bed,” Jim accuses with nothing more than a whisper, curling into McCoy’s touch and pressing in against him. They’re both still clothed in their day-wear and if McCoy focuses, it’s as if he can still hear the thrum of nervous anxiety pouring off of Jim, wave by wave.
McCoy drags words from the depths of his being and tries to make them work so he can assure Jim that he’s not going anywhere and that a universe to the left doesn’t mean that the odds of it happening again are going to come crashing down through the sky to ruin whatever chance they have of a future. Instead, all he manages is a tired, “I don’t want to be anywhere else, Jim. I was waiting for you to calm down.”
McCoy doesn’t think he’s found that moment of perpetual calm, but he’s found a lapse in the anger that he can sneak into and burrow his way down. He can talk sense and hope the seedlings take.
He sighs and turns so that he’s eye to eye with Jim and even though they’re in the dark, McCoy knows that Jim will understand the heaviness of what’s happening between them. “You were gone in that world, Jim. The only reason we got so close is because you were gone. So as far as I see it, it’s simple. You stay and it won’t happen. And I know that sounds vaguely like a threat, but hell, I have to do something to keep you alive and kicking, don’t I?”
“Bones, don’t joke about that,” Jim reprimands him slightly. “I don’t seek out danger and injury. It happens. Just like it happens to Sulu and Uhura and Spock.” He seems to choke that last name out, but he gets it in the open. “I’m not running off cliffs to try and plunge away from you.”
McCoy sighs and presses a strong hand to Jim’s back and keeps him close. “So does this mean that we…us…we need some time?”
Even in the dark, McCoy can see Jim pressing his lips together and he feels the tension coming from the both of them. He wants to be able to forget what he’s seen and he wants to treasure it for the sake of this other him that’s lived so many years and through so many tribulations.
So when Jim sighs out a quiet, “I don’t know what it means, Len,” the whole world is somehow right and topsy-turvy at once.
McCoy keeps his hand firmly on Jim’s back and bows his head to rest against Jim’s shoulder. This is how they fall asleep and it will be how they wake up. They won’t have found any answers between them through the course of the night.