The first thing Bones did was open his eyes.
He stood in a room, but it was filled with nothing except a blinding white light. It wasn’t strange or sterile; it was actually warm and comforting. He felt like he belonged there; like it was familiar, and he had been there before.
Before long, a doorway appeared. Bones didn’t know how or why, but he felt compelled to enter it. He reached for the handle.
I would not do that if I were you.
He turned to the voice. //What?//
Once you enter that door, the voice continued. There is no going back. There is no return from the White Hot Room.
Bones thought; he knew the voice somehow, which was strange because it felt like he was alone. Was he alone?
While it is true that we are all in the White Hot room, waiting for ourselves to arrive, the voice continued as little particles of light formed in front of Bones. They looked like tiny burning stars suspended in midair. Once you have met yourself, you cannot descend from this realm. You cannot be a part of those you love.
//White Hot Room, huh?// The rest of what the voice said occurred to him, and Bones’ eyebrow rose. //If I love them, then they’re a part of me, and if they love me, then I’ll always be a part of them.// Bones countered, although he wasn’t sure why he felt compelled to do so.
The lights formed into a person. You do speak the truth, Leonard McCoy, but truth has never been a failing for you. Perhaps, instead, you love too much and too greatly, which is why you are here now.
Those words filled him with a deep, abiding sadness. //I’m here too soon.// It was then that he remembered. //Oh, Jim. What have I done?//
You love too greatly, the light continued. For the love of your comrades, you gave your life. For the love of one man, you resurrected yourself. For love of the universe, you died again and returned to save it. You fell, as stars do, and again for the love of creation you sacrificed yourself rather than cause it harm. The being fully formed into the shape of a man.
//You say that like I deserve praise for it. I don’t for just doing the right thing.//
Perhaps. Bones got the feeling that the being smiled at him. You are still rather extraordinary. That is why you were chosen.
It was then that Bones realized who...or rather, what...he spoke to. //Why did you follow me here? You can’t die.//
I am born and consumed in blood and flame, the Phoenix explained. Most of all, I am born and consumed in sacrifice. I come back, always coming back, always dying to return25.
//That doesn’t answer my question.// Bones rolled his eyes. //That doesn’t explain why I’m seeing you here in the afterlife, or White Hot Room, or whatever.//
We became one. Where you go, Leonard McCoy, I must follow.
Bones considered this. //I suppose that’s a valid point.//
If you go into the White Hot Room, you must remain. We must remain, until it is time for us to be born anew.
Frowning a little, Bones shook his head. //I don’t get that. Why’s this time different? Every other time I’ve died, you put me back together right away. Why’s it sticking this time?//
There is another role for you to fulfill: The White Phoenix of the Crown. Your sacrifice has proven you worthy, and your destiny awaits you beyond that door.
//I sense a “but” coming...//
You will not return in this lifetime. You will never be with those you love again. Your sole purpose will be to heal the universe as necessary.
//Once a healer, always a healer, I guess.// Bones shrugged. //Would I even be able to see Jim? Would I be able to feel him? Or...//
You will be beyond him.
He stared at the doorway. Beyond Jim, like he was never even real. Like Bones was the hurricane and Jim a butterfly in its path. Watching over Jim from the afterlife he could handle, but this...
//I have a feeling you’re making me a better offer.//
I am making you an offer, it is true. However, you are the only one who can decide if it is better.
Bones sighed. //Let me hear it.//
If you want to grow a new future to replace the one you have cut away, you must first water it with your heart’s blood26 .
//I don’t understand what that means.// Bones shook his head again. //I don’t understand what any of this is for. White Hot Room, Phoenix of the Crown, being beyond Jim...can’t you just be straight with me?//
The universe is not straight, it is curved and winding. Perhaps you are right. I shall speak more plainly.
And the Phoenix did.
He pushed the access code to the room, and the door slid open. He stepped inside, making his way through the living area back to the bedroom.
The room was dark, but he made out the form of Jim sleeping on the bed. He curled up in on himself, and his sleep seemed fitful and restless. Without making a sound, he climbed onto the bed behind him. He watched him sleep for a while before he placed his hands on his shoulders.
Jim snuffled a bit in his sleep before settling. He seemed more peaceful after that, less guarded. “Bones,” he mumbled without waking.
Bones’ heart contracted in his chest; he buried his face in Jim’s hair, holding him tight. Jim sighed and pressed himself closer. He rested his hands on Bones’ wrists.
Suddenly, Jim stiffened, and he turned in Bones’ arms. It didn’t take long for them to be facing each other, and Jim hesitated to open his eyes. “Lights,” Jim said, and they came up.
Bones continued to lie on his side, the light of the room showing off his white V-necked shirt and matching loose white pants.
He and Jim stared at each other for what felt like an eternity.
That is, until Jim slapped him in the face.
“Ow, Jesus!” Bones exclaimed. He was too slow, though, and Jim managed to hit him a second time. “Shit, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
Jim pushed him away. “You fucking bastard! You give up on yourself, and you make me kill you, and you come back here and waltz in like nothing happened and I’ve spent all day crying over you because I thought you weren’t going to come back this time, and you...you...”
Bones sat up on the bed, holding both of his cheeks. “When you put it that way, the slapping’s pretty justified.”
Jim also sat up and shoved him in the chest. “No, you don’t get to do that! You don’t get to be all noble about me being pissed off! I thought my life was over because of you! Because of what you did today!”
“I’m not being noble,” Bones said as he dropped one of his hands. “I’m saying I get it.”
Jim clenched his hands into fists, and there were tears in his eyes. Tears of anger, or tears of hurt, Bones couldn’t say. “I should storm out of here. Request a transfer for you. I should hit you more.” He looked off to the side. “I should never let you in again.”
Bones’ shoulders sagged. It was fair for Jim to feel that way. He should have known better. “I’d understand if you did any, or all, of those things.”
Jim’s hands relaxed. He looked up at Bones again, his eyes still too bright and shining. Jim didn’t cry often, but when he did his eyes were stunning. It was enough to make Bones fall in love with him all over again; instead, Bones ached because of how much pain he saw there. He bowed his head, waiting for Jim’s inevitable rejection.
“Are you still bonded to Phoenix?”
Bones looked back up, startled by the question. “I...we have an understanding now.”
“Understanding like in a day or two you’re gonna turn all red and evil again?”
Bones couldn’t help but sigh. “No, I’m not going to turn “all red and evil again,” Jim. Phoenix and I had a long talk, and it agreed that prolonged exposure wasn’t beneficial to either of us. So that’s not happening anymore.”
Jim looked more convinced by that. “I can’t watch you die again. I’ve done it three times now. You can’t keep coming back like this on me. My heart can’t take it.”
“I promise the next time I die that it’ll stick,” Bones replied. He wasn’t sure it was a promise he could keep, but he had to make it just the same.
The expression on his face softened, and the tears faded from Jim’s eyes. Without another word, he threw himself into Bones’ arms. Bones held him, rubbing light circles on his back. “I should stay mad, but slapping you was kind of invigorating,” Jim muttered into his shirt.
Bones chuckled. “I’m happy you’re not, darlin’.” He pressed a kiss into Jim’s hair. “That really hurt.”
“I meant what I said. You can’t die on me again.”
“I won’t, Jim, not until we’re old and gray.”
Jim moved to look him in the eye. “I’m glad you came back.”
Bones smiled. “You’re the only one worth coming back for.”
As Jim returned the smile, he buried his face in Bones’ neck, wrapping his arms around him tight. Bones held him, and they stayed like that for a while.
“How long until Spock tracks you down?”
Jim hmed. “Two days.”
Bones blinked. “Two...days?”
Pulling back a second time, Jim smiled at him, and it was wicked. “I gave some pretty strict orders to not be disturbed or even located for three days. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
It didn’t take long for them to pull each other into a kiss, and as they separated, fire lit up Bones’ eyes.
“Yeah, Jim. We do.”