Nyota Uhura's had her dark hound since she was still in the cradle. It was her grandmother's crazy idea, bonding the blank faced, empty eyed Vulcan child with the soft, squalling infant, newly orphaned and alone.
"That's insane," Nyota's Aunt had said. "He'll kill her. Even a full grown human can't take on a Vulcan. And this one isn't... look at him. Just look at him!" The Vulcan boy didn't look back at them. He stayed settled in the corner, where they'd left him, rocking himself slowly back and forth. He'd eat if they gave him food. He'd scream and kick, fight with nails and teeth, elbows and knees if they tried to touch him. He didn't respond to words, Vulcan or Standard. Just hands and sometimes boots.
He'd been like that since they'd bought him from the market. Strong, ridiculously strong, but feral and absolutely useless for any purpose. A waste of good money.
Grandmother just pursed her lips. "Maybe," she said. "But who else is there to care for the girl? You've got your own still at the breast and I'm an old lady. We'd try, she's our kin, but if this works it might be something... interesting."
"Interesting? Hmph. Lethal, more like it." But they try. They pull the infant's cradle into the room with sullen, rocking boy and watch and wait. At first he ignores her like he ignores everything that isn't touching him. Then she starts to wail. Maybe she's hungry, maybe her diaper is dirty, maybe she's just alone.
Whatever it is, the sound makes him lift his chin. He has big, dark eyes under a rat's nest of hair no one can get close enough to wash or comb. Eyes that don't blink. The baby keeps crying while he stares at her, sound pitching higher, more desperate. Grandmother and Aunt settle back and watch it play out.
Watch him stare. Watch him move, climb slowly and tentatively to his feet and stumble toward the cradle. His small hands grasp the edges of it, holding tight, still just watching the scrunched up, red face of the weeping baby. He's soundless the entire time, soft footed and sure.
For what seems like forever, he just stays there while the baby screams. While those screams get louder and more forlorn. Abandoned. It's not until the screams dissolve into sobs and hiccups, soft sounds because the baby is too worn out to do more, that he reaches out to touch. Nyota's Aunt jerks forward like she's going to stop him, but Grandmother grabs her by the shoulder, holding her back.
Two fingers, one to the infant's soft cheek, the other resting against her chin. He mouths something, but no sound comes out. When he touches... when he touches Nyota stops crying. Instantly, like the world has just righted itself.
She reaches out with a tiny hand until she brushes over his fingers. Then she grasps on tight, fist wrapping around one finger. The boy stares down at her, face still impassive until Nyota's dark infant eyes focus on his and she makes another noise, a soft, gurgling coo.
He smiles down at her. There is nothing human in that smile, nothing sweet or joyous, but it is a real thing, alive if not quite tender. Across the room, Grandmother smiles too, bright with victory. Aunt shudders and averts her eyes.
It is a beginning.
Her bright hound she gets later, much later. She's sixteen, tall and wiry, and two hundred years ago she'd have been considered still a child in the schoolroom. She's a woman grown in these dark times. Phaser in her hand, hound at her heels and the beginnings of the reputation that will shake a galaxy swirling around her head.
He's obviously human, so he can't be any older than she is. He might be younger, it's hard to say. He's so skinny you can count his ribs and so bare that they're all available to be counted. He's scarred viciously, in patterns made with obvious deliberation, like someone wanted to see just how well fair skin can hold marks. Very well, it happens.
His hair glints gold under a layer of filth and his eyes are blue and bruised around the edges when they meet hers. He bares his teeth at her in what might almost be a smile. Lips peeling back and curling up. They're surprisingly good teeth compared to the shape the rest of him is in. White and even.
The Klingon woman holding his leash cuffs him across the back of the head. "Don't look at the customers," she spits. "Worthless human." When she looks up at Uhura, though, her face is all smiles, as close as a Klingon can get to eager to please.
"You like this, girl?" she asks, tugging the leash, forcing the boy's neck to arch. It's a long neck with a nice curve. If he were better fed, Uhura can see where he'd be beautiful. It's a waste, she decides.
She doesn't let herself look too interested, not yet. Just shrugs and looks back at her hound, at Spock. He's by her heels and a pace behind, arms at rest, face dispassionate, almost bored, as usual. It's only when she meets his eyes and he lifts his eyebrow just a little that she can see that inside, he's almost vibrating. He looks past her for just a moment and she follows his gaze to the human boy's sprawled figure and vivid blue eyes. There's something here her hound wants. Definitely. She looks back again and grins at him and lets him slide closer, close enough for his warmth to fit in at her side, a solid presence.
Then she turns to the Klingon woman. "He's kind of scrawny and filthy for my taste," she says and cracks a yawn. "My hound likes him, though. For sale or for rent?"
"Either, whatever you prefer." As if to show what's on offer, the Klingon woman pulls the boy back with a violent jerk. It sends him sprawling over her knee, legs spread. His cock is soft, but not ungenerous. There are scars there too, but nothing severe.
Still, Uhura frowns. "Does that work?" she demands. "They're no fun if you break them."
The Klingon woman laughs. "His hole works, if your hound is the one that wants him," she cackles. "But, no, fair question, human. I'll show you." She puts her own hand over the boy's cock and jerks it roughly. He winces, but it's a barely visible motion.
He stays soft for a long moment and the Klingon woman spits something nasty in her own language that makes Uhura frown. Then he looks up at her-- those eyes. Something feral and twisted and hungry... out of all the emotions there, it's the hungry that Uhura recognizes. Starvation in so many forms, though, that's common. She's seen so many who've just given in to it, but this boy, he still wants things. He's not broken.
Then he lowers his gaze and she knows he's looking at Spock. Licks his lips, just once and smiles. A dare. Shivers under the Klingon woman's touch and then, finally, his cock stirs. She laughs at that too, a mocking sound, "Little human slut," she mutters. "Always ready. Comes when he's fucked too, in case you're wondering."
Uhura doesn't pay attention to her, she just keeps watching her boy-- in the back of her mind, he's already hers. Splayed thighs, smooth line of back. Well made. He watches her, watches Spock, like he's imagining that they're the ones touching him. When he comes he smiles at her. It's so sudden-- like light coming through after a planetside storm-- bright and sunny and real.
It's only when the Klingon woman wipes the come off her hand and onto his face and that the smile fades. She smirks when she sees Uhura's expression. "You do want him, I see. Won't be cheap, but will be worth it."
"Cheap enough," Uhura says softly. "At least for me." She turns back to Spock, who nods at her. Just once, just the bare inclination of chin. She nods back and drops the lead from her hand. Spock moves. Fast, inhuman. Beautiful.
Uhura's seen that before, though, and will again. Now she just watches the boy's eyes, summer blue and fixed on the spectacle of destruction before him. He smiles again, but this smile is different. Just as sweet, but full of razors and death, bleeding things. Uhura steps up to him, closer and closer, close enough that he could snap at her if he chose.
She keeps her hands open and shows no fear, none at all, when she takes his smiling face between her palms. He looks at her, compliant, at least for now. They'll see. "Definitely worth it," she tells him softly. "That I won't dispute."
He's beautiful, Uhura's new boy, but the scars on his throat make her frown. Like another smile line, thin and white. She threads her fingers against the scar, following when he tries to jerk away. "Shh," she soothes, like she's talking to something without sense. "I just want to see if you're hurt. Can you talk?"
He glares at her for that, jerking back further, but not out of reach. He can't get far, she can see that. There's a chain on his ankle, dull and heavy looking. She's going to guess the answer is no, he can't speak or he would, but she might as well find out for sure. She looks up without taking her hands off the boy's skin.
"Spock," she says. "Bring her to me."
The Klingon woman isn't crying, but that's only because she's a Klingon after all. She's shaking, thick rage and madness in her eyes. There's blood on her face and wet spots on her dark clothes. Spock has her arms twisted behind her back, but his expression is as cold as her's is hot. Empty. Uhura nods to him and then looks the woman in the eye. "You're going to die," she says.
"So I'll die," the woman spits back. "For what? For trash? I'm not afraid of you or your little Vulcan slave."
Uhura shrugs. The boy's pulse is steady under her hands. He's not afraid either. That's how she knows he's for her. "Answer a question," she says out loud. "This boy, does he speak?"
The woman laughs at her. She shrugs again and nods at Spock. He breaks her arms. Just a jerk of motion, perfectly timed, but it's enough. When Uhura speaks again, it's in Klingon. "Answer the question and your death will be honorable," she says, softer this time.
The woman spits again, but she speaks. Slow, careful, hiding the tremors of pain. "No, he can't. It wasn't me that did it, if it's anything to you. It was the little slut's own dam. Stupid whore-- she begged us for his life when we first caught her, said she'd do anything and did. After all that she slit her own son's throat as soon as he was old enough to be useful. We had to get rid of her and what a waste that was."
Uhura nods, she's heard what she needs to. The boy under her hands is still. She looks back at him, at those endless beautiful eyes. Then she leans down and kisses him on the mouth, tastes what he has to offer. Once, but once isn't enough. She laughs when he sinks his teeth into her lower lip-- not hard enough to break skin, just a nip. Just to show off. He bares his teeth at her and she kisses him again.
His mouth is filthy but warm and she can imagine what it will be like clean. She'll find out soon enough.
"Boy," she tells him, voice soft, coaxing. She slides the knife out of her sheath, hilt first, and wraps his fingers around it. That startles him. He stares down at it, gleaming in his hand like he's never seen anything like it before. It wavers in the light, reflecting his dirty face. Uhura smiles at him. Then she points her phaser at the chain on his ankle. One blast and he's free.
"Show me," she whispers. "If you want to. Show me what they did to your mother." And she sees it, that knife's edge gleam in those eyes to match the edge in his hands, watches it come alive.
The Klingon woman only gets it a second after he does. "No!" she howls. "An honorable death. You swore. Not like a slave. Not at the hands of a... a human slave!"
Uhura shrugs and says nothing. She sits down and watches, let's the boy show her. As far as she's concerned, there's honor in this.
Leonard McCoy was having a bad day by any human standards... and these days? Human standards are really fucking low.
Today was the day that one of his few remaining hypos broke, his landlady told him the rent was due, or else, and he got a message from his ex-wife saying she was taking the kid out of this hell hole and high tailing it for fresh air, blue skies and the supposed safety of New Terra. McCoy, who remembered Old Terra well enough even though he'd been a kid when it went, thank you very fucking much, was not interested in fantasy reenactments.
He'd have done it for Joanna, though, if he'd had the chance. So, yeah, Leonard McCoy was already having a motherfucking bitch of a day-- it was just that it was about to get a lot worse.
So now he's in a sleazy bar, all the worldly possessions he'd managed to scavenge before the landlady got him crammed into a small bag for medical supplies and a duffel for everything else, just as simple as that. He's in a bad, nursing something purple and toxic looking that puts hair on your chest and then burns it right back off in one easy step. He knows something's up when the room goes a little quieter.
That's when she walks in. If she weren't what looked like a decade too young for him he'd figure she was the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. Human, with a sharp face and smooth dark skin, hair bound up tightly behind her. It was the way she carried herself that made him look, though. Head up so high, like the queen of the motherfucking galaxy. McCoy can't remember the last time he'd seen a human woman-- a human anything-- walk like that that.
He can't help but watch, mouth open like an idiot. It's not the last mistake he'll make that day, but maybe the worst. She catches his eyes. Smiles. Then she strides up to the bar, easy as you please. He can half hear muttering in the background, guttural languages. Human bitch, like she owns the place followed by shushing hisses Don't be an idiot, you know who she is, that's Uhura. In the back of his mind, McCoy knows he's heard the name before and it means nothing good.
She just ignores the whispers like they're not even real to her and leans in to say something to the bartender, a green skinned Orion girl with a shady smile. The bartender frowns, shrugs and then suddenly nods. She points right at McCoy. Like an idiot, he doesn't get up and run, but later he figures that wasn't a mistake. If he'd run, Uhura would have caught him.
When she walks over to him, she says, "Gaila says you're a doctor that needs work. I happen to need a doctor."
He gives her the up and down and goes back to his whiskey like he's not still staring from under his lashes. "You look perfectly healthy to me," he mutters.
She laughs at him. It's a nice laugh, rich and warm. It shouldn't feel like nails on his spine. "Not for me," she says. "For my hound. Sometimes... sometimes he needs to run for a while. This time he got himself hurt."
"Your what?" McCoy sputters. "Lady, I'm a doctor, not a veterinarian. Go bother someone else."
Her eyes narrow. "I really don't have time to argue with you about this," she says, thoughtfully, like she's talking to herself, not to him. "He didn't like the last doctor."
McCoy's about to tell her exactly how much he cares about what her stupid dog likes or doesn't like when he feels something pressed into his side. He looks down and blinks. Swallows. It's a phaser. Her expression hasn't changed a whit. She's still looking over him with a proprietary, thoughtful air. "I think he'll like you better," she says. "Shall we go?"
McCoy stares at her and she just smiles. That's when he recognizes he's in the hands of a madwoman. He was pretty sure there'd been a class on dealing with armed pyschos in med school, but he might have missed that day. "You're the crazy with the gun," he mutters and stands up, trying not to let his hands shake. Maybe if he doesn't show it, she won't know his pulse is pounding and his skin is crawling where she's got a fucking phaser on him.
She dimples at him. "Thank you," she says. They go... or rather he walks ahead and she's a pace behind, telling him where to go. It's down to the shuttle docks, the parts where no self respecting-- or sane-- human would go. She doesn't seem to sweat it. She does urge him to move faster, but he's pretty sure it's just that she wants to get back to her fucking... dog or whatever.
McCoy spends the whole time twitching, trying to decide if he's more freaked out about the things that have to be lurking in the corner, the filthy dock side diseases, or the woman behind him. Then she leads him into a small, but exquisitely high tech looking shuttle docked out of the way and it all falls away.
There's a kid bleeding on a pallet by the wall. Okay, to be fair someone's taken the time to staunch the flow and there's the tell tale shimmer of a field bandage keeping pressure on it, but McCoy has never felt fair about bleeding kids. This one can't even be eighteen-- pretty face, but too skinny, bare to the waist with visible scarring, eyes closed and bruised looking. But all of that is something McCoy pushes to the back of his brain, since that's not important now, the fact the kid has a hole in his side is.
Everything else is pushed away and he's reaching for his medical bag with one hand and walking right toward the kid when something hits him from the side. McCoy hasn't had a lot of call to encounter a hand on his throat, but there's one now and it belong to a blank faced young Vulcan who looks like he fits right in with the nursery school of crazies brigade on this shuttle.
"Spock," the girl chides. She sounds like she thinks it's funny. Maybe. "It's fine. He's the doctor, for James."
The Vulcan-- Spock, whatever, looks at her and raises an eyebrow. She looks right back, like there's no fucking medical emergency and they have all the time in the world. "Let me see that kid, damn you," McCoy manages to wheeze out. "An injury like that--"
The Vulcan drops him and it takes his all not to fall on his ass. He didn't sign up for this, not even close. The girl just sighs. "I'm sorry," she says. "Spock needs to be sure if you're all right. The last doctor was really not acceptable at all, he didn't understand about James."
McCoy shrugs it off, now isn't the time to argue about this. He kneels next to the boy and breathes a sigh of relief when he gets up closer. The wound is messy, but shallow, like something sharp had glanced off skin. No wonder the nursery school brigade isn't that worried.
He cleans it off first, because infection is the real danger from something like this. Then a few minutes with a dermal regenerator and the wound starts to close. This wound won't scar, but the kid has enough of those to last him anyway.
McCoy waits until he's finished sealing things up before he turns back to the girl. Her homicidal Vulcan looked like he'd taken himself somewhere else, which was something, at least. "Want to tell me what the hell is going on here?" he spits, too wound up to be afraid. "What happened? You said you needed a doctor for your dog."
The girl slides past him, quick and easy, so she's kneeling next to the boy's prone body. She puts her palm against his face, like she's trying to read something in his skin before she looks back up at McCoy like she'd suddenly remembered he's still there. She nods at him. "And you've done very well. I think this will work out."
"What the hell is wrong with you?" McCoy asks, even though he's guessing the question is futile. "Work out? Someone... it looks like someone tortured that kid for years. Those scars." He runs his fingers through his hair, probably dripping drying blood onto it.
"I know," she says, but he can hear the hiss of her breath. It bothers her, at least. He thinks it bothers her. It's hard to tell.
"You did this to him?" McCoy spits, growling down at the mess of boy on the bed, like she doesn't have a phaser and a crazy Vulcan under her boot-heel somewhere. "For running?"
Uhura shakes her head. For the first time, including when she held a fucking phaser on him, she looks horrified. "Of course not. He's mine, he can run if he needs to." She frowns and tilts her head a little to one side. "Actually, it was my hope you could do something about the scars." She runs her fingers over the boy's neck and McCoy can see the line of his throat move under her hand, like he's starting to stagger toward consciousness. "At least here," she says.
"Around the vocal chords, you mean," he says. For a second he actually thinks about it, before he shakes his head. "It's a delicate operation. I can't. I don't have that kind of time or equipment."
She frowns. "What kind of equipment would you need?" she asks. "I'm sure we can get it at the next port."
It takes a second for what she's saying to sink in. It just doesn't make any sense. He even has to ask before it quite hits him. "Next port?" he repeats softly.
She nods and smiles at him. It's a very pretty smile, even white teeth, shining dark eyes. She doesn't look crazy at all. She looks like a little girl, all proud of herself, like an older version of Joanna when she first learned to write her own name. "Spock took us into warp about twenty minutes ago and our ETA should be about twenty standard hours," she says. She waits, like she's expecting him to say something, but his mouth is still hanging open.
She answers the question he hasn't raised the stamina to ask. "Gaila told me she had a doctor for me, Dr. McCoy," she says. "One that didn't have anywhere to go. How did you think I knew to find you?"
"You... you can't... you," he sputters. He puts his hands over his face, but when he takes them off, it's still all real. She's still smiling at him. She can and she knows it, damn her. There's no one and nothing left to miss him. "This is kidnapping," he says anyway, like it might penetrate.
"I needed a doctor," she explains, like that's all there is to it. "You'll do, just as long as James like you." Her smile fades momentarily. "Just remember one thing. He can touch you if he wants but if you touch him before he does, I'll put you out the airlock." Then she claps him on the shoulder, hard and hearty. "Welcome aboard, Dr. McCoy."
He wants to yell at her, to scream, to shake her until her smile rattles off. He might even be gearing up to try, when the expression on her face changes and suddenly she's not looking at him at all anymore, but behind him.
When he turns to see what she does, the kid is awake. His eyes are very wide and very blue. He mouths something that looks like a name, maybe 'Uhura' and grins, a brilliant, lightening smile that makes McCoy's breath catch. She kneels down next to him and kisses him on the mouth, deeply enough that McCoy has to flinch and close his eyes, like he'd caught a private moment through the cracks in someone's blinds. When he opens them again they're not kissing anymore, but the boy's hands are spread wide on the back of the girl's neck and her forehead is pressed against his.
"Next time," she says, "Don't take on a Klingon with your fists. Use a phaser. You're lucky we found you."
He laughs soundlessly, but it's obvious from his face that laughing is exactly what he's doing. His hands move quickly, gracefully, and it takes McCoy a second to recognize an old version of a sign language. He can't make out what it means, but at least he knows what it is.
She laughs back, out loud. "Always," she says, like she's agreeing with something he said. "We always will. Now, say hello to our new doctor."
And then blue eyes fix on him, curious and wide, like he's a brand new toy. McCoy gets the barest inkling of how deeply screwed he really is going to be.
The first time you didn't have the words for what was happening to you-- you barely had words at all and the ones that were still there all trapped in your head, ricocheting like a projectile gone bad. Later, when you could have talked about it, it would have come out in colors, smells, the touch of hands on your skin. Later, when you can talk, it's only a shadow of what it was.
This is the important part-- her and him.
You remember the stench of cooling Klingon blood. It was on your hands, your face, dripping down your stomach, blinked out of your eyes. Like come after getting fucked too much, only the taste was different, metallic, sharper. Only this time you weren't the one that was hurt.
You don't feel sad about it or happy either. Just cold. You're always cold.
"You're mine now," the girl says, the tall, dark girl, who holds her head up like a Klingon warrior. It makes you want to bow your own head, offer submission, but you don't, you won't, you keep your eyes on hers. She smiles at you, and the Vulcan nods, acknowledging something. You don't know what they're looking at, but you don't look away either.
They don't ask your permission. You wouldn't have known how to give it anyway.
You remember thinking they'd take you then and there, with the body still cooling on the floor. Maybe you even wanted it, then it was hard to know for sure. Your body felt strange to you sometimes, disconnected. Fragments of thought and and cold and want and hunger that didn't go in any order.
They do take you, but not in any way you expected. It starts with a touch. It's just a warm hand on your cheek, his, fingers sliding through the drying mess of blood and coming to rest. His eyes are dark and he mouths something to you.
No words, he doesn't talk. It's okay, you barely understand.
Except when he touches you, you do hear, you do understand. My mind to your mind. Let us know you, see who we are, who you are . And you think Who am I? and you know he can hear you too.
It's not words, but you don't have words then either, so it's better like this. The mess on the surface is easy to cut through. They saw what you are already, what was done to you. They're not interested in it, Spock's thoughts slide deeper, helping you push it aside, away from you. Where it belongs.
He gives you sense memories instead, tasting what you are, how you feel, your skin and blood and bones. He takes all of that in, and then-- then the world shifts. He's done taking and instead he gives you something. The world shifts and you're not you anymore, you're so much smaller. You're Spock and you're watching a whole world end.
The sound of a woman's voice and her arms wrapped around you, pulling you in tight and close and, yes, that's her, MotherMom, Mama, Mommy. And you can see her, it's so crowded, people pushing in, trying to be orderly, but they fail. You can see her, the way she pushes you--pushes you onto a shuttle full of silent, wide eyed children. You can see her.
You never see her again. Spock gives you the memory of her face, of love of Mother.
You remember that.
The world shifts. This time you are you, you remember this. You, but before, in the time before. Your Mom holds you like his did, just like that, arms wrapped around you, clutching tight enough to bruise. Her hairy feels stiff and dirty on your cheeks and she's crying. You keep trying to reach up, to tell her it will be okay, to make her feel better, but she shushes you and holds on harder.
She whispers that she's got something for you, pushes into your hand. "My favorite thing to eat when I was little," she whispers. "Never thought I'd see it again. Try it." It's brown and weirdly soft, smells sweet, not like what you're used to, but good. It smells really good.
You look at her. She smiles, pushes your hands to your mouth. "Try it, Jimmy," she says. And, oh, yeah, that's who you are. "It's chocolate." It melts on your tongue and you can feel your eyes get wide. You take another bite. Another.
You stop close to the end of it and hold it back up to her, "Mom, don't you want some?" you ask in a whisper. You always whisper, it's bad if they hear you be loud. "If it's your favorite?"
She looks at you and cries.
And then the world shifts and you're small, but you're not you, because you never felt like this in your life, in your skin like this. You're Nyota and, yes, you're small but fearless. You don't know what fear means because nothing can touch you, nothing ever has.
You're not alone, you're never alone. In your oldest, deepest memory, he's there, usually close enough to touch, to reach out and press skin to skin whenever you need it. Even when he's not you can feel him, wrapped close, like silk threading through your mind.
The other children keep clear of you, you can see them with their sidelong glances and their nervous hands, but you're not interested in them. One day one of the braver ones, a cousin of yours, catches you alone in a ship's corridor and says, "What's it like having your own dog following you everywhere? Does he sleep at your feet and wear a leash?"
You look at him and smile. Then you go after him with your fists, going in hard and fast, no hesitation. Like Spock showed you. Your cousin gets in one good hit that splits your lip, but you just laugh and kick his knees out from under him.
When Spock sees you, his eyes go narrow and he touches your bruised mouth with his fingertips and you can hear angry, buzzing thoughts in your head. You just smile and kiss his fingers where they brush your lips to show him you're not hurt. You're victorious.
Your cousin loses two of his teeth mysteriously. He'll never say who punched him, but of course you know. So does everyone else.
You don't like the way your Aunt looks at Spock after that, but you're not worried. Nothing can touch you, Spock tells you that with every stray glance and raised eyebrow. No one ever will.
And then you're Jim again, and you lose the thread. When you're Jim you know how fear tastes, and you also know it doesn't matter. Being afraid never saves anyone.
Mom has a knife in her hand. You stare at it blankly, like you don't know what it is, even though you've seen lots of them. They carry them, not us. We are not supposed to touch weapons. You know that. You don't understand.
Mom has a weapon in her hand. She smiles at you and you bite your lip and force yourself to smile back. "I love you, baby," she says. "My beautiful baby. I'm so sorry."
"I love you too, Mom," you whisper and your voice comes out soft, like a little kid's. She's crying again, slow tears that drip down her chin and onto your skin.
"I won't let them do this to you," she says, and her voice sounds firmer, determined. She's sure of herself. You just shake your head, confused. When she tells you to close your eyes and lift us your chin you do it.
She's your mom. You trust her. You know she's trying to save you.
After this, you mostly remember pain.
The world shifts and so do you. You're on that shuttle crammed with rocking, eerily silent children. Dark eyes, blank eyes. No one speaks, no one whispers.
On a view screen of the shuttle you see Vulcan looming on the horizon, the black ship hanging above it like a predator, a monster from a story. You hold out your hand like you can touch it, like you can...
And Vulcan, Vulcan, the planet, it shudders. It shakes. In your head, in your head you hear them scream. You hear them scream and there's so much quiet, so many voices, empty and quiet.
You're alone. There's no one. You're all alone.
And the world shifts, forcing you out and you're you again, but something sticks. Your thoughts are fragments, wordless, but they weren't always this way. Someone talked to you, someone...
The black ship? Wait. That... the black ship. You know this one. Think.
"Think, James," Mom snaps. She takes you by the shoulders and makes you look at her. "I might have been a Starfleet officer once, but now I can't give you anything but this. If they take your mind, if you grow up so that you can't think, they'll have taken everything."
Her voice is sharp, mad, but her eyes are wet. She's shaking. You bite your lip and lean back down over the calculations and formulas she's drawn with her fingertip in the dusty floor. This one is for the speed of light and this one is at the core of a warp engine. This one is...
No, not here, this isn't what's important. Think.
The world shifts and you're Nyota, sitting in a classroom full of other children, cousins and refugees. In front of the room is the teacher, a tired looking man sitting on his desk, talking about the end of the world.
"A black ship of unknown origin," he says and shakes his head. He looks like he wants to cry. "It happened quickly, within hours. No one knew it was coming."
And then you're James, in a dark, dusty corner, and your belly hurts because you're hungry.
"The Kelvin was destroyed by a black ship," Mom says. "George-- your father, he saved us. He gave us time to escape." Her mouth twists and she doesn't look happy.
"What kind of ship?" you ask, softly, face turned up. You imagine your father saving you now, running in and getting you and Mom away from here. Then she'd never cry and you'd get to eat all the time and you wouldn't have to whisper or hide. "How did he save us?"
Your Mom frowns. "It hailed us, but there was so much chaos. I was in labor, I wasn't really with it, but the word was that it was the Romulans. I don't know, maybe... the technology wasn't like anything we'd seen."
"How did he stop them?" you demand again, wanting to hear the story where your dad won. "Tell me." She shakes her head. Replaying the memory now you realize he didn't win at all.
Replaying the memory through Spock and Nyota you know something else. The black ship-- that was the Romulans. Maybe? They're the ones who did this to us, to all of us. Maybe we should do something about that.
But that's something for later.
The world shifts and you open your eyes. You're sprawled on a dirty floor, with your head resting on Spock's knee, his hands on your skin. Nyota is holding your hand and she's smiling down at you, beautiful and perfect and absolutely without fear.
"I knew you were perfect the second I saw you," she tells you. She says, "James," and no one has called you that since they slaughtered your mother.
Perfect? You want to ask, but you can't. But you don't have to ask, Spock can hear you and if he can, she can too.
Spock lifts you up, arms under your knees and shoulders, easy as if you were still the kid in your memories. You feel like you could almost get there, almost remember what it means to be a person again. He's so warm. You can feel his thoughts, just vague and under the surface and those are warm too. And this is how Nyota felt when she was small and safe because he was with her so you're not sure if any of this is real or an echo of her memories.
It doesn't matter. You close your eyes. You're so much more tired than you expected and there's nothing different you can do if you stay awake.
You expect to wake up where you'd been-- chained in a small dirty room, no escape, just the fragments of dreams in your mind. Instead you're scrubbed clean and covered up with soft sheets and blankets. When you lift your head, you see Nyota and Spock, sprawled in a chair.
She's curled in his lap, close and comfortable, eyes closed and breathing evenly, like she's slept that way a thousand times before. He's awake, watching you. He smiles when he sees your eyes are open and he leans forward carefully, like he's trying not to jostle her. He drops something on your pillow, a small, silver package.
You blink and stare and then you open it, because why not? It's something brown and smooth and sweet smelling. Chocolate. You can hear Spock without him ever opening his mouth, My mother once said that on Earth, such things were courting gifts. When one wanted to express one's intentions. Nyota also thought it would be appropriate.
You can't help it. You roll your eyes and grin at the same time. Then you break off a square and pop it into your mouth. It's as good as you remember, the way it melts on your tongue. Like a kiss. Better.
It was Nyota who saw the connection first, when she was fifteen and apprenticed to the camp's archivist, trying to piece together old records, but Spock had no trouble following her logic.
"It's practically a myth," she says and frowns. "If it hadn't happened, it would be considered a myth. One day and four planets die. The four federation home worlds. In one day. And the story is that no one, I mean no living being, saw what was inside that black ship. A mystery race."
He raises an eyebrow, as if to ask where she intends to go with a story they all know, but she just shakes her head. "I don't believe that's true," she says. "I think someone has to know more and I want to know who did it."
Spock frowns and he shakes his head slightly.
That's when Uhura presses her hands against his and comes to her point. "I saw an old transmission in the archives this morning—completely by accident. I think it got lost in the chaos of—well, everything. Spock, less than a day before the destruction of Vulcan, a federation vessel was attacked by a black ship." When Spock meets her eyes, they're shining. She's breathing hard, excited.
He nods, as if urging her to go on. She does so. "The USS Kelvin," she says. "If what I learned is right, they hailed that ship. They spoke to the people on board and they know who and what they were."
They know who did this to us. To our worlds. It is-- there is a logic to this.
"Yes," she breaths. "Exactly. The only issue is finding them, survivors. If there were any. Whoever made the transmission seems to think there were."
And then? But the answer is obvious. He nods. She smiles and leans forward, quick and fearless to kiss him. The kiss is warm and wet and eager with her thoughts, her excitement. To her it's a puzzle, a mystery. She doesn't remember Earth, never walked on its shores, not the way he remembers Vulcan.
When she grieves, it is with him, never for herself. He kisses her and tastes the lack of it. It's the only time he can. It's why he belongs to her. She slides her skirt up and climbs into his lap like she's coming home and his hands tighten on her hips, pulling her close. She grabs his hands by the wrists and pushes them back down again, presses them against his sides, and he lets her.
She's ice cool and beautiful. Nyota he thinks, and she smiles at him. Pulls his trousers down just enough to pull his cock out and slip it in.
After that, they make plans. Plans to chase rumors of escaped shuttlecraft. Plans that need money, ideas, power.
"We'll hire out," Nyota says. "As bounty hunters. Retrieval experts. Whatever else-- we can do that. Unless you're afraid to."
He frowns. She is human and small, in a galaxy that has not had much use for humans since their planet fell. Vulnerable. She just laughs at him. "They call you my dog, did you know that, Spock? So be that. Be my hound. Protect me and nothing will ever touch me."
If she wants it, she knows he'll do it. He nods.
They chase rumors and blood for a year until they hit a small space station orbiting a gas giant in the Vega system. There is a bartender there who stares at Nyota hard enough to make Spock hang a little closer, meet his eyes until he bites his lip and looks away.
He coughs nervously, but Spock keeps his gaze steady. Imagines what he could do to the man if he tried to move too close. Smiles, just a bit.
"The Kelvin," the man stammers, tearing his gaze from Spock's. "Yeah. Old Federation ship, right? There was a shuttle came through here, fuck, sixteen years ago, almost. I doubt that any of them are still around, though-- Klingons got'em, you know? For the slave markets."
"Klingons?" Nyota repeats. Her voice is calm, deceptively so. Spock can feel her excitement pick up, like electrons stirring under her skin. The knowledge that they may not be chasing ghosts.
The man nods. "Nasty fuckers." He frowns, scratches his head. Gives Spock a long, wary glance. "Look, like I said, most of em got sold on a damn long time ago, but there is something. I mean, if it were worth my while, I might have something a little more concrete for you. Something real close at hand and very sweet."
Nyota smiles. Bright, vicious. "Is that so?" she croons. Spock settles in close and watches her work.
It leads them to a narrow, dirty room that stinks of sex and filth. Death. Even before he steps inside, Spock thinks that it is fortunate they are here now and not later-- whoever this room contains does not have much life left in them. They are dying.
That is before he meets James Kirk's blue eyes and life is all he sees. Poisoned and bruised, beaten to the brink, but still pouring out. For the first time since he was a small, empty souled child poised over an infant's cradle, Spock sees something he wants.
Nyota goes still at his side, and he knows she sees what he sees, feels what he feels. They will not be leaving this place without that boy. He will not die.
Later, when James is in their shuttle, passed out from exhaustion, they wrap him up in clean sheets and confer. There are words for what they experience when they see him, touch his mind, in the Vulcan language, but Spock was a child when that world ended.
The human word might be destiny.
"We should seduce him," Nyota says, and smiles like she's discovered a new theorem or stumbled over a once untranslatable alien language. "Make him want to be ours."
Spock shrugs minutely. He takes her hand and shares the thought that it would not be necessary. James would undoubtedly agree to any proposition of that nature without any thought. Nyota should and does know this.
Nyota shakes her head. "That's the reason why we should do it, because it's unnecessary."
Humans are irrational. Nyota normally far less than others, but even so.
Nyota laughs. "Not at all. Watch and see." She doesn't say, trust me. She doesn't need to. They are in accord.
The weirdest thing about sharing a ship with the people McCoy's always going to think of as the nursery school brigade of doom is the absolute quiet of it-- or at least the lack of human voices. It's worse than he imagines a solitary shuttle must be, because he knows that they're out there. Even Uhura, who can talk, doesn't bother to much up here. It's just the ship sounds, engines and machines, gliding through the emptiness of space and McCoy's never been big on emptiness.
It should be better when he's in the same room at Uhura or Spock, because even homicidal maniac company is still company, but it's worse. It's like they're thinking at each other and fuck knows what they're thinking. Maybe how he'd taste spit roasted. The whole thing makes him shudder.
At least on the first day out he has a patient to see to and the patient is badly enough off to spend most of his time unconscious after a few brief moments of wakefulness when McCoy finished gluing his insides shut. Later on McCoy will learn that an unconscious Jim is the best kind when it comes to administering medical care.
The first day, though, he's just frustrated and angry and tries to reduce what he has in front of him down to clinical terms. A young male human, of approximately 18 to 19 standard years. The most recent evidence of injuries, of which there are plenty, are primarily superficial. They bear the characteristics of short term, non-lethal trauma. Fist fights, probably, that kind of thing. The kid's knuckles are scarred from them. If he had to guess, McCoy would have said that anything more serious had received prompt medical attention, high quality enough to not leave traces behind.
The older injuries... those left traces. Scars. Knife scars in such deliberate patterns that he could have sworn they were words dug into skin. Something in Klingon, maybe? Other things, burns, broken bones and torn up muscle. The deep scarring all the way into the meat of his throat, where someone had sliced it open years ago. The biggest part of McCoy doesn't want to know the stories his tricorder tells him, but he can't help seeing them anyway.
It makes it weirder when the kid wakes up and proceeds to violently remove himself from the category of patient by pushing the doctor trying to keep him from hurting himself out of the way and wandering out into the corridor while he was still at risk of his insides falling out.
"Hey," McCoy calls after him, even though he hasn't got the slightest clue if the kid can or will listen to him. "Hey, kid! You're gonna hurt yourself! Kid!" What had the crazy girl called him? "James!" That makes the kid turn around and grin and wink, hitting McCoy with the sight of those blue eyes again.
The kid makes a sweeping, dismissive gesture, almost as good as any verbal blow off McCoy's ever gotten from a testosterone laden teenager, and keeps walking. McCoy chases him down the corridor. He doesn't know how Uhura or Spock would react if he let the kid reopen his wound.
It turns out he doesn't have to worry. The shuttle's not big, and McCoy's shouting brings Spock out of whatever coffin he was sleeping in. The Vulcan's blank face seems to twitch just a little when he sees them. James stops in his tracks and grins at him, bright and thoughtless, like a trusting kid. Spock raises an eyebrow at him and then over his shoulder, giving McCoy a long, hard look.
"He can hurt himself," McCoy says, clear as he can, not backing down. "He should be on bed rest for at least another day."
James makes a scoffing gesture but Spock nods, just once. They look at each other, like they're fighting out some kind of battle McCoy doesn't know the rules to. Fighting with just their eyes, like two hopped up, adrenaline laden wolves. He has no idea how long it would have gone on just like that if Uhura hadn't walked in, her flat boots clicking against the metal floor.
"Listen to the doctor," is all she says. "It's what we have him for. If you're bored, think about that the next time you need to hit things. If you want to work on something, we'll bring it to you."
Work, it turns out, is a PADD full of twisted mathematical equations, at least as far as McCoy can tell from looking over the kid's shoulders when Spock and Uhura finally maneuver him back to bed. Math had never been his subject in school but he'd put his all into it because anything that got you out of the refugee camps was a damned good idea.
This though... it was so far out of his league that even a glimpse gave him the beginnings of a pounding headache. The kid just hunched over it, though, line of concentration bunching between his eyes.
"What is that even for?" McCoy mutters after about an hour of just watching that shit gets really old. The kid looks up and just blinks at him, like no one ever asked him a direct question in his life, and McCoy feels like an idiot for bugging the mute. He's about to apologize, but the kid waves him off and taps something onto the PADD.
Temporal navigation the words say. For something we're working on.
"Temporal navigation?" McCoy repeats blankly. "What on God's green Earth for?"
James blinks again. God? he types.
McCoy shakes his head. "Nothing. Just something my father used to say. What's a kid like you need to do with temporal-- whatsit? Do you mean time travel?"
James rolls his eyes and laughs soundlessly. If I'm doing it right? I'll need it to destroy this universe, he types and then smirks at McCoy, all bright white teeth and brilliance.
McCoy grits his teeth. "Fine," he mutters. "Don't tell me anything, then. Just make shit up."
James looks at him blankly and then shrugs his shoulders before bending back down to his math problems. After a while at, his hands start to waver and he yawns heavily. McCoy waits him out and pulls the PADD free and tucks the blankets around him when he finally falls asleep.
For a while, McCoy thumbs through the available files, but none of it tells him anything. There are three authors noted, by initials and it only takes him a few minutes to see why the kid's so careless with it in front of a stranger. There's no way he'd get shit from this.
JK is mostly those weird, unfathomable equations with a couple of side notes about a girl in a bar on a planet that has a name made up mostly of consonants. McCoy skips through that part hurriedly.
S is more math and text typed out in Vulcan, which McCoy doesn't read. Naturally the translation program on the PADD is disabled.
NU is a linguistic jumble. The only parts written in standard are the headers and those look like names of people. From the format, he'd guess he's looking at transcripts of conversations. The only words that he can pick out in the scraps he can find are 'black ship'.
All of it just leads McCoy back to the idea that he's been kidnapped by crazy people. All he can do is make a run for it at the next port. His... patient, or whatever this kid was, he was obviously going to be fine.
It's probably a good hour before he starts to move. REM sleep, McCoy figures, and doesn't worry much about it. Not until it goes on too long and then James starts to shudder in his sleep.
McCoy doesn't know what to do with that, if he should say something, shake him, wake him up, or let him sleep through it. The sounds he makes are muffled, deep, from a ruined throat. They barely sound human at all. While McCoy hesitates, the door slides open and someone pushes him aside, not roughly, but implacably, like he's an object in the way.
The Vulcan, McCoy knows that without having to see him. Spock kneels down next to the sleeping kid and slips his hand against his face in a gesture McCoy doesn't really understand. Whatever it is, though, it works. James stops making those awful low, guttural sounds, stops shaking.
McCoy's pretty close to a psychic null, but even he can feel something. It's thick and heavy and it pounds in the back of his skull like an Orion's pheromones.
"What is it you people really want from me?" McCoy whispers, and Spock looks up from his task for just a second with dark, wide eyes. If he sees McCoy, if he has any real interest in him at all, it just slips away, like slick on glass.
"What is it you people want?"
There's no one to answer that question.
James needs to run. He manages it for years, those long years of nameless, mindlessness where all he knew was blood and flight. Reflections of knives and the deep burn of sex. He can't get away often and it gets harder every single time he gets caught. He always gets caught, but it's always worth it, the rush of adrenaline in his blood, steel under his bare feet. Ducking into corners and seeing what else is out there, the width and breadth of the station that's his world.
Being caught means being hurt, but not doing it-- well, that's just saying that you wouldn't jump because you don't like the way it feels to hit the ground. James always jumps.
Even after everything changes, the first time that Spock and Nyota's ship slides into dock he ducks out the back cargo bay while they're speaking to the customs officer and goes. He's got shoes on his feet, food in his stomach and clothes that fit covering him from neck to wrist to ankles so he's already better off than he's ever been before. He's even got a knife strapped to his ankle. Vaguely, he thinks he'll get really far this time.
He does, too. It's not easy, the ground is heavy under his feet and his body twitches under it. Artificial gravity is supposed to be as good as real, but James is a space station brat from birth. Being on a planet feels different.
It's not just the weight, it's everything. The smells. The motions of the air, how free it moves, but no one's afraid, no scared whispering about possible hull leaks and depressurization. It's the smells, heavy and sweet, like the insides of the hydroponics lab he'd escaped through once or twice, but a million times stronger. He just wants to hold up his hand and feel it move through his fingers over and over, but there's no time. He runs instead, and it's not easy, but it's not hard either, he's stronger and healthier now than he ever remembers being. The air is so warm and he eats up the ground underneath him.
Out of the spaceport, through the gate, and no one stops him. No one even gives a second look to the human boy dressed in soft synthetics, cutting and dashing through the port crows, up and away. Off the main path the ground turns green under his feet and it feels wrong somehow, like slamming his feet through the hydroponics gardens that provide the oxygen a working station needs. These plants, though, they go on forever, like there will always be enough. They feel so soft, make his tread so light.
He runs until he can't anymore, until his knees lock up and his muscles shake. Vision gone black at the edges and panting for air. Half way up a hill with only the green all around him, lights of the spaceport in the distance, blinking and shining. He falls where he stops, on his knees and watches and waits. The ground is soft and wet and alive under his palms.
He waits, like he expects something to happen. It does. The sky starts to shift and change color, the stars fading out as it does. From a formless gray to a deep, vivid, spreading blue.
He remembers a hand, careful, but not gentle, lifting his chin up and a mouth smiling down at him. Speaking about him but not to him, no one talks to him, "Your whore has eyes like the morning sky. Beautiful." He never knew what that meant.
This is what it means. The light spreading, changing the sky from black to blue. And then other colors, violet and orange and red, pouring in from the east. He can only sit there, open mouthed, and watch. He's so caught up in the moment he doesn't notice when he's not alone anymore.
Not until there's a soft thump on either side of him and hands reach out to slide between his lax ones. "It's risky to run like that on a strange world. You're not trained to defend yourself and you don't know where you're going," Nyota tells him softly. Spock doesn't say anything at all, but he can feel the echo of agreement, like a rumble in the back of his head.
He flinches involuntarily. The hands in his aren't rough or demanding, but he's been here before a dozen times or more. Caught running means punished, means knives and blood and screams that get tangled up in his ruined throat. He's used to that but pain didn't mean as much then when his mind slipped in and out, tangled and confused. They'd made him an animal and animals can forget.
It's different now. He knows his own name now and that means that it can hurt, that the pain can last beyond the moment. He'll remember it. He shudders deep down and then forces himself to stillness, but he knows they can feel it anyway. Feel uncertainty echoing in the link, waiting for the blow to fall.
There's a slow, soft exhale, breath ghosting against the rim of his ear and skin of his cheek. A voice in no language he knows, human or Klingon or any other race Dear one, be at peace. Jim breathes out too, only realizing he's been holding his breath when he stops doing it.
Sorry, he thinks at the voice, at both of them, and tightens his fingers in theirs. He's felt them, felt their minds, they let him all the way in. He knows what they are, even if he's not really sure what they want him for yet. He knows it's not for his pain.
"Don't be," Nyota says and she presses her mouth against his cheek, light and delicate. He nods and turns around to kiss her for real, slide his tongue over her lips, wet and easy. For a few long breaths, she lets him, strokes her hands through his hair while Spock rubs careful palms over his shoulders and back in slow, soothing circles.
She breaks the kiss too soon, just as it deepens, and he pushes after her like he's homing in on her touch. She catches him by the cheek and holds him back, but she smiles at him. "None of that. When you're being courted, James, there's no need to rush it."
He honestly can't help it. He laughs at her, bright and loose, something in his stomach relaxing and letting go. He can't hear it, but he can feel it, vibrating in his belly. She grins right back, bright and in his face while Spock's arms wind around his shoulders, holding him loosely. He thinks they've both got the madness, the way Klingons get, but stranger. Better. If this madness wants blood, it isn't his.
"Crazy," she agrees. "But that's fine. Now we know you like chocolate and running and watching sunrises. Why don't we find out what else you like?"
He doesn't know what that means, not really. He shrugs and looks away, but that just brings him face to face with Spock. Who smiles at him, just a hair, but a real smile.
"It's a human thing, a Terran thing to draw someone to you like that. You'll see," Nyota says and draws his hand up to her mouth before pressing a kiss over his knuckles, sweet and sure. He blinks.
Maybe he doesn't much mind being human today.
McCoy has no idea how hard it might be to get off the shuttle after it docks. How close an eye they're going to keep, how much it matters to Uhura that she hold on to the pet doctor she nabbed.
In the end it's easy. He just has to follow Jim out the back way and not make him turn around or notice he was being shadowed. McCoy figured he was lucky, the injuries and meds were probably making the kid slower than he'd normally be.
The next thing he should do, if he weren't a complete idiot, would be to high tail it in the other direction like his ass was on fire. The dumbest thing he could would be to keep following Jim and see where he went to.
Dumb apparently needs to get added to his name, because the next thing he knows, he's going after Jim-- who is fast, goddamnit, and seems to know exactly which way he's headed. Kid barely pauses to look at street signs, just runs, weaving through crowds and jams of people like he's been practicing it all his life. McCoy almost loses him a few time before he turns into an alley and walks through a curtain into a dirty looking dockside bar. He hates to think what it would be like trying to tail him if he was 100%.
Anyone with the brains of an Andorian cockroach would have to know that the right thing is to run the other way. But, hell, McCoy's known some really bright Andorian cockroaches. He waits a few breaths and then goes in.
His head aches and fuck if he knows what he's doing. Kid might be damaged, but he could obviously take care of himself and if he couldn't, the Vulcan and Uhura clearly had a handle on it. Kid might be the prettiest damned trap McCoy had ever seen outside of his dreams, but he was too fucking young, and there again, someone a hell of a lot scarier than McCoy was had a handle on that.
None of that makes him do the smart thing. Closest he can come is settling in by a corner table near the door while the kid heads right for the bar. He tells himself if anything happens, he'll still be able to get away. Self-delusion ain't pretty, but it's what he's got.
He has no idea what he's expecting to see, but it isn't for the blueskinned barfly with an outfit that shows off everything to pull up the stool next to Jim and lean in to put her hand on his shoulder. It's dark, so he can't see the expression on Jim's face, only imagine it. Upturned blue eyes and that smile, wide and deep.
McCoy has never seen anyone pick up a girl that fast without saying a goddamned word to her. It's kind of terrifying in a remarkable way. Then again, if it were a dark night and someone with a face like James sat down next to him and tilted his head, he couldn't be so sure he wouldn't have followed. Too damned young or not.
And, damnit, he's not going to follow them into the alley, not going to see what happens next. He's going to sit here and order a drink and think about how the fuck he's going to get to New Terra and Joanna without a cent of money. Never mind pay for his drinks.
He doesn't either, just sits in his seat and motions over the waitress. Except that's when he sees the Klingon, nasty looking one with a wide bladed knife, stand up and walk out the back way into the alley where Jim and his blue skinned girl had wandered.
He gets up and goes, cursing himself the whole time. The man probably has not a damn thing to do with anything and even if he does, McCoy doesn't give himself great odds against a heavy from an alien race that everyone knows is stronger than humans. Whatever happens, he doesn't know if there's anything he can do with it but watch.
What he sees, though, is about as far from what he'd expected as it got. There's Jim and the girl, but they're both fully dressed, leaning against the wall. The only place they're touching is hands, just fingers pressed together. Jim's sleeves are long enough to cover half way up his palms, like they were made for a bigger man. There's no way to even see his scars the way he's dressed, he just looks like a kid, holding hands with a girl. Up close, she's a little older looking than he'd have guessed, but other than that, it's a picture. If there's more, McCoy can't see it.
On the other hand, the Klingon looks huge in front of him, a hulking mass. "You want her, human? She ain't free and you better show me the credits up front," he growls.
Jim tilts his head, like he's thinking about something. The girl smiles. Her teeth are sharp, filed to a point and her blue skin gleams like she's flushed, excited. Her voice is pitched high, almost painfully so. "Don't you remember him, Torak? He remembers you, in fact, he's come a long, long way to find you and you made it so easy. He wants me to tell you, five down, two to go."
McCoy can't see the Klingon's face, only his back, but he can hear growl. Something incomprehensible about humans and then the fucker lunges and McCoy thinks he's going to have the sew Jim's insides in again.
Right up until Jim pulls the phaser out of his sleeve and shoots the Klingon in the head. The setting must have been the highest, because the bastard goes down like a sack of rocks. Jim and the girl let go of each other, ducking out of the way of the crashing body.
She's laughing, wild sounding, like she just got a hit of adrenaline. Jim waits a breath and kneels down by the body. For a second, McCoy can't tell what he's doing, then he realizes he's going for the credit chip and coin pouch. McCoy just finds himself staring, shaking and breathing too hard. He can't imagine what he looks like when Jim raises his head and sees him there watching. He can only stand there under the weight of the kid's eyes and not like what he sees there.
"You set that man up, didn't you? All that and you rob the dead too?" McCoy mutters. "Or was robbing him the whole point?"
The kid makes a sharp, palms up gesture, like a shrug. The blue girl shakes her head. "It's our money," she says. "Believe me, we earned it."
"What, finders keepers?" McCoy says, and he has no idea what's driving his tongue. He knows, he really knows that's not what this is.
"No. By right," she spits. That flaring blue of her skin almost blinds him. Her knuckles are tight, wound into fists. "Ever been a slave, human? Ever been a whore that didn't even get to keep the profits?"
He stares at her and doesn't flinch. The punishment for slave-running isn't death in any world he knows of, even the ones where it is any kind of crime. Then again, he wonders if those worlds had ever seen something like the marks on Jim's body or the glare of this woman's eyes.
"No," he says. "I haven't been."
Jim doesn't pay any attention to him. He just stands up and spills what looks like an even half of the chips and coins into the girl's hands. If McCoy can count there's enough there for a decade of living, if someone's careful, a year if they're extravagant. Jim leans forward and kisses her on the forehead, light and chaste and she smiles at him.
"Thank you," she says. "I never thought I'd see you again and definitely not like this." Jim shrugs and makes a quick string of signs with his hands. Whatever it is makes her laugh out loud. She secrets the money away, so fast McCoy can barely tell where it's gone, and then lays her hands on Jim's shoulders. "You look so good. So grown. Your mother would be pleased, gods' rest her. If you ever need anything..."
Jim allows the touch for a few quick moments and then shrugs her off, still smiling, but in a softer way. He waits until she slips off into the dark before turning to look at McCoy, both eyebrows raised. Vaguely, McCoy wonders if he could leave now, if the kid would try and stop him.
There's still a naked phaser in easy reach so he doesn't even try. Instead McCoy raises his eyebrows back at Jim. "Do you do this kind of thing often?" he mutters, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
He gets a wide, brilliant grin and a nod in response and he feels something deep and tight in his belly uncurl. One more reminder that he is unfathomably screwed.
Sometimes James arches his back in the mirror, craning to get a better look at his scars. Most of them are just marks, methodical and deep, but without any special meaning. They're just so he can't forget what punishment was.
Some of them mean something else. The one on his lower back he's glad only remembers getting in the haziest way is one of those. Sli'Vak. Someone had whispered that to him while they carved the letters in, slow and deliberate, millimeter by millimeter. Slow enough that the pain never numbed, just shot on and on while he could feel the blood dripping and pooling down his spine and into the crevasse of his ass. There'd been drugs, paralytics so he couldn't move, but nothing to keep him from feeling. They wanted him to feel.
Sli'Vak. The closest Standard word is whore. It makes him laugh, because he can see it on his skin, he can remember it in muscle and blood and bone, but he isn't that anymore. If he isn't, the word shouldn't be there. It makes him laugh because it's ridiculous.
After a while, maybe he laughs too long, because Spock comes in to see what he's doing. He doesn't touch, doesn't put any words through their link, just looks in the mirror, meeting James' eyes and then following his gaze down to the flesh and the carved in word. Then he frowns and James can feel the silky tangled whisper of his thoughts.
A dermal regenerator can remove such a thing. And behind the thought there's the press of distaste. Spock doesn't like the mark, that someone else put it there. Not just because it isn't true any more-- they all know that. But that someone else put it there.
The sensation of those thoughts makes James shiver, like cool hands cradling the back of his neck. Daring, just a little, James turns and puts his hands over Spock's, letting the touch of skin on skin magnify their connection. What would you call me if not that?
Before Spock can answer, James pulls his knife from the sheath he always wears these days. He hands it over, hilt first, pressing his fingertips against Spock's palm to show him how much he means it, how much he wants.
Then he leans forward, so he's bent over the counter, back exposed like canvass to be rewritten. He can hear Spock breathe, fast and even. Like he feels it. There's a hesitation, but James matches it with his impatience, turning to glare at Spock over his shoulder until the man moves.
The knife is so sharp and sweet it barely stings sliding over skin. James sighs and lets his fall back down, neck bent and breath fogging the mirror. Otherwise he holds himself perfectly, perfectly still while Spock changes the patterns of his scars. Spock moves fast and clever, fingers warm where they touch skin. The first cuts start to ache and sting just as the last ones are opened up, but James still doesn't move, doesn't even let his breathing change.
Spock uses the dermal regenerator after, carefully, to close the wounds but keep the scars. James closes his eyes as the pain fades from a white and red throb to something duller and then to nothing at all. When he opens them again the afterache of adrenaline and endorphins makes his knees weak, but when he looks at Spock, meets his eyes in the mirror, he smiles.
What did you name me? What am I now? he wonders.
Spock turns him around to show him, moves his hips and thighs with careful hands so he can see best. James frowns and mouths the word soundlessly, even if he's pulling the syllables more from Spock's mind than his memories and bare minimum of language skills. It sounds Vulcan, but it's not one he knows. T'hy'la. What's that?
There's a faint curve to Spock's mouth. His hands are gentle and steady, there on his hips, there on the curve of his ass. T'hy'la. Ashayam. That's what you are now, Spock tells him, like a buzzing in the back of his head that makes it hard to think about anything himself. James frowns, bites the inside of his cheek to clear the haze of adrenaline and touch so he can think, consider it. Feel what Spock feels when he sees James, the glint of wildness and sweetness. Sharp lines of flesh and cracked glass, chiming in a planetary breeze. Most beloved. T'hy'la. He doesn't know what that means, but he feels seen. He can see himself in the mirror, but he knows it's not what Spock sees.
One breath, two, in and out, and then nods slowly. Why not? He can be that.
He's hard. He doesn't even really notice until he feels the press of Spock's palm, there and there between his legs, hot and flush against bare skin and his breath stutters. He looks up again, startled, to meet his own eyes one more time, sees the red veins of sleeplessness. The soft pink of skin hunger. He looks like he wants it even if he didn't know he did.
Spock touches him, fingers over the head of his cock, too gentle, and down the shaft making him gasp. Palm against his balls and lower, to the sensitive skin behind. It feels stranger than being naked, weirder than being fucked, just held like this, against a counter, mirrored so he can see.
Spock smiles at him, tongue out, brushing pink against his lower lip like he can taste his thoughts, taste the disconnect. Then he lets him go. Not fast, but carefully, while James watches, watches and waits for what comes next. There's no next, though. Spock picks up the trousers and underwear he'd crumpled in the corner and helps him back into them, one foot at a time, easy and gentle over his erect dick.
His legs barely keep him up and he has to lean on Spock to stumble out of the bathroom and into the main lounge. Nyota's sitting on a chair, curled up with a PADD and she looks up when she sees them. Her eyes are dark, curious. It's hard to think. She smiles at them, but it's not a knowing smile, not a smirk. It's just Nyota, calm and curious.
James doesn't bother to expect anything so he's not surprised when she looks him right in the eyes like she doesn't even see the bulge in his pants and says, "Do you read Human Standard, James?"
He has to think about it longer than he should. He's still leaning against Spock and Spock's so warm. His back doesn't ache, but it feels tender, too present. Strange.
He finally shrugs in response and shakes his palm back and forth. Klingon, sure. Orion, a little. Standard, though... someone... Mom, had tried to teach him once, but that was a long time ago. Wasn't like there was much reading material.
She nods, slow and thoughtful. "Well, let's see, why don't we?" Spock helps him over to a seat and the back of the chair is just hard enough to feel it against the raw skin of his back. If it makes his cock notice, he doesn't worry about it anymore, just leans over to see the text Nyota's opened up for him.
He hums deep in his throat and bites his lower lip as he watches the symbols resolve themselves into words. Maybe he remembers this better than he thinks. Letters and sounds and the cool, careful touch of a human woman's hands on his elbow.
He's half way through the first page before he realizes what he's reading. That the way the words are put together is... familiar. Intimate. He recognizes this. He frowns, teeth cutting into his lower lip and looks back up at Nyota. At Spock.
In his sorrow and madness, he has marooned me on Delta Vega. He would force me to share his pain. As he once did, I will watch my world die.
James scans the headers again, cutting through the string of numbers and codes to the name. Personal log. Ambassador Spock. He puts his hands to his temples, like he's fighting off a headache. Warm, careful hands rub his neck, his shoulders.
He sighs, loosens under the touch. Bends his head down and keeps reading.
They knew he existed, had known for a long time before Spock saw him in the flesh. The whispers you could catch if you listened in the right places about an ancient Vulcan survivor. Whispers that had led them to scraps of logs that made no sense at all.
It was one thing to know, to anticipate. Spock could do both of those things simply enough. It was another to see it, and more, to see it unprepared.
In a world where few things came about by happenstance, this one was. On a planet with two blood red moons and strange tides, Spock came face to face with himself. The others were not present and that, he decided, was just as well.
He could have asked a thousand questions about time and meaning and a lost Romulan ship names Narada, but they have come so close to an ending that he already has the answers.
Spock's world is not a wide one. There is only one thing he wants to know now, one decision the right data can still shift. This man has that data.
Spock looks this ancient other self straight in the eye and for the first time since his world died, he speaks. There has been no need for it, Nyota and James can hear him and no one else is of any importance. His voice is much changed since he was a child, deeper, louder, rusty from disuse. "Tell me," he says. "In this other world, your world, what would they have been?" He does not say who, he cannot imagine any world where any him would not understand.
The sorrow is visible in the other's eyes. It stains everything, spilling out in waves. "As they are now, they would have been beautiful. That much remains the same."
"Tell me," Spock says, louder now, words coming more strongly. "No, do not tell. Show me." He lunges forward, and the other does not move to stop him. It is as good as permission. To touch, to meld, to know.
In the other's mind, he sees them. Older, fully grown into their bodies. Nyota in Starfleet red, bent over a book, looking up to smile at him. Her smile is the same and absolutely different at once. The fierce edge that he knows that humans would call madness is missing. He sees her with her friends, with her work, with her languages and music. They do not turn away from her. He sees her in his bed, smiling and at peace.
He sees James and it makes him gasp and stare as if he had completely forgotten himself. James in gold, same proud tilt to his head, but unscarred. There was focus in his eyes, like James at his best and steadiest, without the edge of shattered things and confusion. James on the bridge of a starship, sprawled in the captain's chair, like the universe was built for him.
"I would have this for them," Spock whispers to the other. "This is how I would have them be." The course is set, then.
"I grieve with you," the other says, as if he does not understand what needs to be done. "But that was another life."
"I would have it be this life," Spock says firmly, drawing his hand back and his mind away.
"Spock, that is impossible." The other sounds old, weak. Withered.
And Spock shakes his head. "I do not have interest in impossibilities," he explains, and still he does not understand how any other him could not know this. "I will have this for them."
"Even if there was a way, you would destroy this entire universe to make it happen. That is the only true way to eliminate this... possible future. The loss of life in this galaxy and beyond would be... unfathomable."
Spock can only shrug. "It is of no great concern to me."
The other nods. He eyes are thick with emotion. Sorrow. Spock knows sorrow, but it is of a different quality. "You are mad," the other tells him, kindly, gently.
Spock shakes his head. "That also is of no concern."
"If I cannot make you see, I will talk to Jim," the other says. He stands straight, hands clasped behind his back like a Vulcan. "He, at least--"
Spock does not say, You will not. You will leave him, leave him be. There is not point to such a thing. He acts instead. The other is very old and frail, after all. Even Vulcan strength fails given enough time. It gives him a chance, in any case, to take what he can from the other's mind. More knowledge can only be useful.
No one asks him where the blood on his collar came from. It is as well, he would not like to discuss it further.
James is the one who introduces him to Montgomery Scott. It's on one of his crazy expeditions that veers from a street fair to a weird outbuilding that looks like some holonovel's idea of what an engineer's lair would look like. If engineers had lairs.
Scott was perched precariously on top of what looked like a ladder doing something unlikely to what looked like a shuttle engine. McCoy tries not to know too much about things like that.
The man's eyes brighten when they walk in and he calls out, "James, my lad, I didn't know you'd be on planet again this soon. How are you?"
Jim smirks, wide and white and spits out some rapid fire array of signs that McCoy doesn't know if he's ever going to learn to follow. Whatever it is, it makes Scott laugh and clamber down off the ladder.
"Montgomery Scott, but you may as well call me Scotty. I assume your name isn't actually Dr. Sawbones," the man says, and offers McCoy his hand. "It's hard to tell with James."
McCoy shrugs. Sawbones? Who even knows? "McCoy," he says instead.
Scotty grins at him. "Pleased to meet you, Dr. McCoy."
When McCoy looks around for Jim's, he's vanished into a corner somewhere. Kneeling beside a console, expression full of careful concentration, like he's got the most amazing math in front of him. McCoy's never met anyone who's got this much of a hard on for the stuff before.
Scotty laughs and walks over to him. "I see you found what I've been working on for you. Does it meet your specifications, lad?"
Jim looks up, eyes wide and startled, like he'd forgotten he wasn't alone very quickly. His pupils swallowed up by the pure blue of the iris. He smiles though, and gives a slow nod, followed by more rapid motions of the hands.
Scotty makes a scoffing sound in reply. "Aye, I can build you that. You, Spock and Uhura bring me the funding I need and I can build you any damn thing you please."
McCoy asks the question of the only person he's met so far that he thinks might answer it. "What are you building?" he asks.
Scott raises both eyebrows and looks over at Jim who just smiles and shrugs, palms up. "If it works," he says. "Believe me you will have the opportunity to find out." Jim makes that silent gesture that means he's laughing.
Later, while Jim's distracted picking apart some electronic toy, Scott puts his hands on McCoy's shoulders and looks him right in the eyes. "He's quite mad, you know. It's not his fault, but it's not gonna change, Dr. McCoy."
"I think I know that," McCoy mutters, keeping his voice soft enough to not draw attention. "What do you expect me to do about it, I'm a doctor, not a fucking miracle worker."
Scott gives a sad, head shaking smile that makes McCoy want to punch him in the mouth. "All I mean to say is, you seem like a nice enough fellow. Watch out for yourself."
McCoy snorts. "That's my specialty." It doesn't seem like a lie until Jim gets bored with whatever he's been doing and comes out to grab McCoy by the hand, touch coming fast and easy these days. He tugs him impatiently out the door and McCoy doesn't look back.
He can feel eyes on the back of his neck all the way out, though.
It's nearly two months after he's shanghaied into the nursery school brigade of doom before McCoy actually performs the surgery he talked to Uhura about on the first day. He lets Spock give Jim the sedative-- knows there's no way he'd get close enough himself-- and then takes the tricorder readings to show him where exactly he needs to work.
The scarring on the throat is horrific, it's a shock the kid didn't die of it, but the underlying wounds are long healed. There's nothing there that should have meant a delay of this long, fucking years, while the kid couldn't talk.
Uhura's right there and McCoy figures there's no way she'll be able to make him regret the question too bad while he's got a scalpel within easy reach of Jim's throat. God, that throat. It wasn't right. "Why didn't you have this done before?" McCoy demands, staring down at the rigid line of scars that mar the line of throat.
Uhura shrugs. There's a weight of something in that shrug that makes McCoy look at her. "The doctors I spoke with didn't have much experience with human anatomy."
"Even so--" She doesn't let him finish.
There's something in her tone, sharp as rusty tacks. It makes McCoy look at her again, harder, and then flinch away from what he sees. Even after the sight of her hands shaking is all too visible out of the corner of his eyes. "They, were, of course, willing to experiment on my slave as long as I understood that they couldn't guarantee anything but interesting results. They pointed out it would be of great interest to science in any event and offered financial compensation if it went badly."
She puts one hand on Jim's hair and strokes, like she's not sure if she's soothing him or herself. McCoy wants to scream at something, but there's no one here he can do that too. Even Spock, silent and pale in the corner, looks like a family member in a clinic waiting room, trying to be patient while someone found out if their brother/father/son was going to live or die.
"I can't guarantee anything either," McCoy admits softly. "Medicine is never one hundred percent, even under perfect conditions. I might do further damage. Even if I don't, he may never speak anyway. I'll do my damndest for him, though."
She rolls her shoulders and he can see her shake something off. "Yes," she says. "You will do your damndest. And it will be for him."
He meets her eyes and it finally makes sense why she waited this long. She smiles at him, showing teeth. "And if you fail, of course, I won't even have to touch you to make you regret it. That's very efficient. I like that."
McCoy doesn't wince, but it's a near thing. Instead he bends his head over his patient and gets to the slow, intricate surgery that just might let him speak again.
The first time James has sex because it just seems like a good idea, the surprise is that it isn't with anyone he knows. She's not human, but she's his age and she has long dark hair that's so smooth and straight he wants to know what it feels like and a soft red mouth that sets off brown skin. James likes that shade of brown so much-- it's a living color. He could just watch the way this system's starlight dances over it for hours and not get bored.
She smiles at him like she can hear him thinking when he hands over the credits to buy engine components. Her hands brush over his, just fingertips. A warm touch, like her body temperature's higher than his. He likes that too.
He can't say, may I? Instead he lets the touch linger and waits for her to ask. She does and he smiles and nods, leans over to kiss her. She lets him take the lead and yields to it, fearless and sweet.
She's got a machine shop that looks lived in, with a pallet in a loft on top. Her thighs are warm and hairless and her hands are tender on his back, no nails, just fingertips. It feels really good, light and easy and he rests on top of her while she kisses him through it. Her mouth is warm and it takes what feels like forever, but her heels dig into his thighs and he thinks she likes that.
After, she puts her hand on his cheek and breathes something that sounds like a well wish and he smiles one back at her. They keep smiling at each other while he pulls his clothes back on and straightens himself out and he turns to wave before he goes. She waves back. They never get each other's names.
He has his hands jammed in his pocket and there's a swagger in his step. He's not worried anymore. He gets something he never really understood before except as an echo in someone else's memory.
On the shuttle Spock and Nyota are asleep, curled up together. He can feel the easy tenor of their minds slipping into his as soon as he comes close enough and it makes him smile. He waits for the retinal and DNA scans to recognize him, toes his shoes off, and pads over past the quarters that are de facto his and into theirs.
He doesn't try to find a way to tell them, 'hey, guys, no more of this courting shit', doesn't even wake them up to hear him think it. Instead he strips down to a t-shirt and slides onto their bed, curling himself up by their feet and listening to them breathe.
He thinks about staying awake, but he's warm and loose and languid, so he shuts his eyes and wraps his arms around his knees, letting it all go.
He's used to jerking awake, sharp and sudden, from the voices clanging inside his head and imaginary hands on his skin, if nothing else. But this time waking comes easy. Something soft and hot and careful, touching his cheek and the faint, bubbly sound of human laugher.
He yawns and stretches and fingers slide in through his, curling in close and tight, the silk of someone's thoughts weaving in with the touch. The thoughts are deep, not words at all, but they warm him up from the inside while hands pull him up the bed, tugging him so he's stretched out between two bodies.
"Figure out what you want?" Nyota whispers into his ear when they're level with each other. James nods and then sighs when Spock's hands slide free of his and brush down the thin fabric of the shirt he's still wearing to seize the hem.
They're careful with him until something in his head breaks free and he's kissing Nyota's neck at the pulse point and Spock's got hands on his hip, warm and solid and all he can feel is this and them. Skin and hands and mouth and the chords of their thoughts anchoring him here.
He's not stupid, he knows it won't always be this easy, but this time it is.
Jim doesn't talk right away. The recovery period's not protracted, McCoy can see the results with his tricorder and the swelling of the surgery goes down after a few days. He thinks it might be a psychiatric thing and that's outside his skill-set. Spock and Uhura don't seem to think anything of it and just keep on ignoring him, which he can more than deal with.
Maybe it's just that Jim doesn't need to, that damn psychic thing. Who the hell does the kid actually need to talk to?
Then, about five days after he should have been all healed up, he just frowns, blinks those blue eyes at McCoy and tilts his head consideringly. "Tell me something," he says. His voice is just a voice, a little husky and hoarse, but McCoy can tell he did damn good work. His Standard is accented, but McCoy's not good enough to say what the accent might be or why.
"How's your throat feel? Any soreness?" McCoy says, leaning forward instead of answering. "Tingling?"
Jim makes a sweeping gesture with his hand, taking in his throat and the rest of him by implication. "It's fine. Thank you. Now, c'mon, tell me something." He sounds like a kid, too young and a little petulant.
McCoy manages to suppress the grin that comes with the thought. "Like what, kid?" he asks instead, like there's nothing freakish going on here.
"Dunno," Jim says and frowns. "I don't know anything about you. Nyota brought you here and then you were here."
McCoy can't help the startled laugh that spills out. "That didn't bother you before."
"It doesn't bother me," Jim says and shrugs before grinning back. The smile fades a moment later and he looks serious and still again. "I just want to know why you're still here."
McCoy frowns. "It's not like I had a lot of choice."
Jim rolls his eyes, as visible and expressive as words. "Don't you?" he mutters. Then he turns around, like he's lost interest.
"I resent whatever you're insinuating," McCoy says. Of all the nerve, like he wanted to be here. Like there aren't people with phasers keeping him from just wandering off without a by your leave.
Jim just stands up and walks out of the room. McCoy waits a few breaths before following him, muttering under his breath but grinning too, because fuck if it didn't work. Kid can talk. He did that. It's a hell of a thing.
When he follows him out into the main lounge, Jim's sitting crosslegged on the floor, his head pressed against Uhura's knee while she does something with a PADD. She looks up when McCoy enters the room, but Jim doesn't.
"Why don't you sit down, Doctor?" she says, in a tone that makes it more order than question. McCoy shrugs and settles in on a chair across from her, not looking at the boy at her feet.
She waits until he's stopped twitching to talk again. He doesn't know what he expects her to say, but it's nothing like she does. "Does the name Narada mean anything to you?" she asks quietly.
McCoy raises his chin and meets her eyes. "Sounds Romulan. Should it mean something?" he demands.
She sighs. Out of the corner of his eye, McCoy can see her lean down to rest a hand on Jim's head. "It is Romulan. It's the name of a ship-- to the best of our knowledge, a heavily armed, retrofitted mining vessel. Armed with technology that shouldn't-- in fact, that doesn't exist. It hasn't been seen in nineteen years."
McCoy's hands fist at his sides. "You didn't kidnap me because you were looking for a doctor, did you?" he mutters, even though the answer is really obvious now.
Uhura shrugs. "I did need a doctor, in fact, I needed a doctor first. I'm grateful for what you've done. James is as well." She leans forward and the hand not touching Jim is one the table, steady and still. "I don't strictly need the information you have about the Narada, but it will move things ahead much more quickly."
McCoy snorts. "What makes you so damned sure I know anything?"
Uhura's eyes are fervent, brilliant. Shining from within. "Doctor McCoy," she says. "You grew up in a refugee camp, didn't you? So did I. And we were the lucky ones, there are so many like James. This entire world, this entire universe, is a temporal horror show. It shouldn't exist."
He doesn't know how to argue that point. "It does exist," he says, because there's nothing else to say. "We're all here. There's nothing anyone can do about it now."
It's Jim who lifts his head up to say, "No. You're wrong." His eyes are as a bright as Uhura's, the same fervent shade. He doesn't really get to his feet, not all the way. It should be awkward as hell to move, but it isn't, not when Jim does it. There's something graceful and too bright about the way he moves, hands and knees, eyes on McCoy's until suddenly he's right there.
Right there, on his fucking knees, his hands spread over McCoy's thighs, like he's offering something, anything. Everything. McCoy can barely swallow. Those damned eyes and that crinkled little smile. Like Jim knows a secret, a whole boat load of them. Like he'd whisper them all if McCoy came a little bit closer.
McCoy can feel his hands shaking, and, god, fuck, he must be dreaming this, it's exactly the kind of thing his subconscious would pull. Jim just smiles at him and licks his lower lip. "Come on, Dr. Saws and Bones," he says. "There was a Romulan, right? One with tattoos on his face. He came to find you in a bar, in Gaila's bar, same as Nyota found you. He took you to his ship to treat a wounded man, right?"
McCoy swallows hard, tasting spit and sour bile. He can feel the hot press of his dick, about an inch and a layer of fabric from where Jim's hands are resting. "So what if there was?" he whispers.
"Tell me something," Jim says. There's that air of something that McCoy doesn't understand again. A tightness around the eyes, a softness in his mouth. He moves so fast that McCoy doesn't even realize what's happening before he's being kissed.
Jim's mouth is sweet but nothing like tender. Human hot and boy fierce, like he's going to have his fill and it leaves McCoy gasping after him when he pulls away, trying to follow, to taste a little longer.
"Tell me about the ship," Jim says. His eyes are clear and he's a little breathless, but his voice is steady, unaffected. "Nyota asked and now I'm asking. You don't want Spock to have ask, Bones."
McCoy can feel his bones ache and he wants to shake his head, close his eyes, but he doesn't. "What are you going to do?"
Jim smiles. He looks young like that, he looks like a teenager, excited and bright and so damn sure of himself. "Make things right," he says. He doesn't look crazy at all. McCoy sighs and opens his mouth.
James doesn't ask if they're sure, if they understand the implications of this thing they want to pull. When they explain the plan to him it's mostly a technical explanation. Spock runs him through the things he can't follow yet, the gaping holes in his education. Nyota shows him the other side, the possibilities. What will be if they make this happen.
He understands one thing fully before the rest-- everything could have been different. It didn't have to happen this way, they didn't have to lose.
I'm tired of losing, he thinks at Spock when their hands brush together. I wanna win.
T'hy'la, we will, Spock tell him and Nyota smiles and threads her fingers through theirs. There's no question. James believes this, he believes in this, he can.
It's better than being loved and known, feeling this undefeated certainty. The certainty is Spock's and the fearlessness is Nyota's, but they both share it with him so close and tight it feels like it's all his. It's like coming home.
This is the story McCoy tells Jim Kirk. It happened during an active month in terms of stellar flares and ionic interference. Lots of ships coming in wounded with personnel needing medical attention. At first he'd figured the Romulan for one of those, and hell, it wasn't like he didn't need the money.
He'd gone, and he'd never, never forget what he saw there. The Captain, with his strange, gnarled hands, twisted up by too much time in a hard vacuum. Dying.
"I know your face," the man had said and he'd touched his face, fingers on McCoy's skin. It made him shudder. "You were in the history books. In another life." Then he smiled, and the smile was empty, rotting from the inside. "A life that will never be now."
And later, much later, Jim will look up at him with serious blue eyes, practically kneeling between his legs. "And that's it?" he'll ask.
"He died," McCoy will say. "I couldn't save him, there was too much internal damage. Space is a bitch sometimes."
"It hurt him. He died in pain," Jim sounds hopeful, almost. McCoy frowns but his face is still.
"Yeah. Even industrial strength pain meds don't do much for that kind of damage." It makes him squeeze his hands around Jim's, remembering the pain of that death.
Jim just nods, slow, considering. His face is steady, serious. For once he doesn't look like an overgrown kid. "Well, that's something. Thank you. Now tell me about the ship," he'll say. "It might not all seem important to you, but tell me what you can."
McCoy will tell him everything. He won't even see Uhura, still sitting across from them with a PADD in her hands, taking notes on everything. He'll just see Jim, his pretty face, the length of his lashes and the color of his eye. How warm and close his breath feels, and how nice it is to feel the touch of his hands.
That's just how it goes.
When it's over he feels wrung out, like those too specific, quiet questions took physical work to answer. Like after his last round of med school finals, himself the only human in the room and all eyes on him. This time it's just Jim's eyes, morning blue, Jim's hands and voice, quiet and not unkind, but it's just as bad, maybe worse.
He's still so tired. He just wants to curl up and sleep when Jim slips away, those warm hands gone, leaving him cold in their wake. It feels like forever later, but it can't be long, before Jim's back with a glass of water to push into his hands. McCoy swallows it gratefully.
Spock is the one who takes it from him when it's empty. McCoy flinches, can't remember when the man even walked into the room. He's here now, though. Dark eyes, staring at McCoy like he can't quite figure out what he's still doing there now that there are no more questions left to ask.
When Spock takes that heavy gaze off of him it's a relief, pure and clean, to have those eyes anywhere but on him. Fuck, he needs a drink and he doesn't want it to be water this time. For a few seconds he doesn't even notice what it was that distracted Spock, he's so relieved the fucker isn't looking at him.
It's Jim, of course. One hand on Spock's, fingers interlaced. "You believe in compassion?" Jim murmurs, so soft McCoy can barely hear him. Spock's eyebrow goes up and Jim shrugs in response.
He can't hear their conversation, he can only watch it in the Jim's pale face and the rise and fall of Spock's eyebrows and the curl of his mouth. The set of Jim's jaw, stubborn and hard and the way he shakes his head.
Whatever they're saying, it stops when Spock puts his hand on Jim's lower back, palm pressed close and fingers spread wide and holds it there. Jim shudders, just for a second, barely visible and then closes his eyes. When he opens them again, he's looking at McCoy. Spock doesn't, doesn't even spare him a glance, just walks away like it didn't matter, like nothing McCoy ever said or did could do anything but bounce off his pale, green veined skin.
Jim looks tired, bone worn. "If you wanted to leave now, Dr. McCoy," he says, "No one would stop you."
McCoy doesn't move for a while, even with Jim watching him like he's waiting for him to do just that. It feels like a long wait, like forever. "What if I don't want to?" he finally asks.
Jim snorts, but he's not smiling. "Then I'd say you're willing to go pretty far for a piece of slave ass you aren't even going to get."
That makes McCoy forget his exhaustion for long enough to stand up and give it his best glare. "Is that what they think you are?" he says, too loud, but he doesn't give a damn. It's not right. None of this is right.
Jim does smile at that, lopsided but wide. "Them?" he says. "If you mean Noyota and Spock, no. It's not. Think about what just happened here. Try looking in a mirror while you do it." Then he turns and walks away like he's daring McCoy to follow him.
His legs feel like jelly. He doesn't. God, he should, but he still doesn't. He needs to see this through.
Fuck it, it still doesn't feel hopeless yet.
The last time he meets Montgomery Scott, McCoy has no idea how late and close to the end things really are, not right away. He doesn't even know why he's here, why any of them let him be here, like a love sick puppy on their heels.
Scott acts like this is completely normal. He's excited, but he hangs back a little with McCoy while the nursery school brigade of doom goes off to inspect their purchase.
"They're a sight, aren't they? Lovely," Scott says with a faint grin, gaze following them as they walk down the corridor. Uhura in front, with her hand reached out behind her for James to grab. Spock a pace behind, pace steady and unhurried.
"Yeah," McCoy mumbles and tries to look away.
"They're completely mad, of course, but you forgive it of them on the strength of looks. It's like one of those old Terran cats. Wee monsters and forces of destruction, but when they curl up in your arms, you don't think of that. If they were hairless and covered in warts, you'd think differently. All of us would." Scott rubs his palms together vigorously and McCoy can feel himself being watched.
McCoy shrugs. "I haven't seen a cat since Earth went," he says. "I was a real little kid, then."
Scott catches him by the shoulder, the touch sudden and surprising. "Listen to me, man," he says. "You still think there's something there to fix, that there's something there for you. You're a doctor, maybe there's a medicine, maybe there are words, maybe there's a way. Stop thinking that. You're not the first to think like that."
And if that wasn't the last thing McCoy expected. "Wait. What?"
Scott's hand just tightened on his shoulder. "He will never be sane and he will never be yours. You're a fool to think it will play out the way you want because you like the look of him." Then he lets go and walks down the corridor. It takes McCoy a little longer before he follows him. He hears Jim's voice, the voice he built for Jim, damn him, Try looking in a mirror.
"What did you build them, anyway?" McCoy calls after Scott, hurrying before he disappears from view.
Scott turns and smiles at him, a wide, brilliant smile. "A temporal anomaly," he says. "In engine form. A work of absolute genius. I can't take all the credit-- James and Spock dreamed up the underlying math, the madmen. But without my practical knowhow it would have taken them years to build this."
McCoy shakes his aching head. "And they're going to use this to-- what? Go back in time and stop the Black Ship? What happens then?" The Black Ship, the legend that destroyed four worlds and brought down the Federation. The one he'd never think of without remembering the stinking, pain filled breaths of a dying man.
Scott laughs and waves his hands around, as if to take in the whole room, the whole world. Everything. "This all goes away, I hope."
He'd like to say he didn't understand before this, that he didn't really get that it was real. That this was what the three of them had been aiming for all along. This ship, to be in exactly the right time and place to disrupt the Narada and change a timeline forever.
Destroy a timeline forever.
McCoy doesn't realize he's running until he's past Scott, down the hall and into the room where Nyota's hanging back, watching, while Jim and Spock are inspecting what looks like an ordinary engine block. Spock looks like the emotionless bastard he is, but Jim is grinning, bright and brilliant.
He looks happy, damn him.
"Wait. Don't do this," McCoy says and his tongue tastes gray and heavy even as the words leave his mouth. "You're killing a universe, don't you understand that?" And he thinks of the dead and he thinks of Joanna, gone with her mother to New Terra where he'll never see her again, but at least he'll know she's there. "You're killing everything."
They look at him, like they're all surprised to notice he's still here, still following like that damned lost little puppy after a pride of lions. He's the insane one, he gets that now. Maybe he always has been.
Spock raises one eyebrow and Uhura shrugs. "It is what it is," she says. "It's the wrong universe." There's no passion, no compassion in her eyes. Nothing human in Spock's.
Jim, though, Jim is looking at him. Watching. Curled mouth and wide blue eyes, like he's thinking something McCoy is too slow to follow. Like maybe he's listening. Maybe. McCoy looks at him, really looks. "James," McCoy says. Pleads. "Jim. Don't. Remember compassion? You asked Spock to have it for me." He doesn't know if that's true, not really. There's so much he's nowhere near understanding.
And then there's nothing but those wide, summer blue eyes. Confusion, chasing consideration, chasing sense, like clouds. Finally, Jim smiles, slow and unlike himself. He blow a kiss. He's beautiful-- it's like staring into a sun. "I have to. I'm sorry for you, but it'll be better, you'll see. See you in another life, Bones," he says in his slightly accented, steady voice.
They walk out the door and disappear. When McCoy goes back to the shuttle pad he's not surprised to find that it and them are gone.
For a day after nothing at all happens and McCoy is sure it hasn't, can't have worked. Time protects itself, doesn't it? It must, it has to. Somewhere out there he has a daughter. Somewhere out there are a millions upon millions of stars. Worlds. Lives. This can't just end, it can't be that easy.
He just hopes that the kid is okay, he tells himself that. He just hopes.
He's in a bar drinking something bright green and acrid tasting when the universe stutters. Whispers. McCoy covers his ears. Someone screams, but he doesn't think it's him.
Flatline. It doesn't hurt, it doesn't feel like anything. He blinks and it's over.
Leonard McCoy is standing on a landing platform of an outdoor shuttleport. He's got the clothes on his back, a knapsack and some crumpled paper stuffed in his pocket. All around him is something he hasn't seen since he was a kid in a refugee camp.
People. Human people. Everywhere, laughing and talking, yelling at each other. Sweat and blood and the smell that was right and familiar. Just everywhere.
Even the air smells right, homey. Proper, the way only one planet ever can, the one that's built right into his DNA. He's on Earth and it's solid under his feet.
His hands shake when he pulls the paper out of his pocket. There are two sets, both written in Standard. One is a divorce order from the Campbell County Kentucky Family Court, with a tiny holo of Joanna in a prettier dress than he'd ever been able to afford for her tucked inside. The second is a set of enlistment papers with a Starfleet logo on them for one Dr. Leonard McCoy of Kentucky.
"Yo! Over here," someone shouts, practically in his ear. It's a woman, with dark curly hair and a ferocious smile. She's wearing a uniform he doesn't recognize, but he's going to guess is Starfleet. "Recruit shuttle is this way."
There's nothing else to do, so he follows directions and climbs on board, still trying to make any kind of sense at all of what's in his head.
He almost falls in his tracks when he steps inside. There's this kid sitting right next to an open seat, still dressed in civvies and looking like he doesn't know how he got there either. There are bruises on his face like he took the worst end of a barfight, but otherwise he looks unscathed. Unmarked. His mouth is soft, like he smiles a lot.
His eyes are blue, summer blue. He's James. Jim. He looks older and younger at the same time.
McCoy runs for the bathroom and hyperventilates there very happily until some supercilious ass of a woman who's probably never watched a planet die in her life herds him out again.
He sits down next to Jim and grins at him, waiting for the recognition, the triumph. Something. He gets a blank stare back. "I might throw up on you," McCoy mutters. God, he wants to throw up.
When Jim's eyes get big and he pulls off an excellent 'back away from the crazy man sidle', especially for someone's who's been the crazy man the whole time, it finally hits him. Jim really has no idea who he is. Wherever they are, Jim's probably not crazy at all here.
They did it. Those horrible fucking nursery school brigade of doom bastards pulled it off and for some reason he knows it. They don't.
Fuck, he really is going to throw up. Jim's voice when he speaks is a little hoarse but unaccented. Pure heartland Terran, born and raised. It sends shivers down McCoy's spine.
He's got Jim talking to him and drinking whiskey (actual fucking whiskey, excellent) out of his flask by the time the shuttle is airborne. It gives him a nice buzz that helps plenty when Jim elbows him in the ribs and points out a beautiful girl in red with long dark hair laughing with a bunch of other kids. Uhura.
Jim grins at him and leans close enough for McCoy to smell the whiskey on his breath. He says, "She thinks she hates me now, but that'll never last. It's destiny."
McCoy rolls his eyes. "Destiny?" he says and knocks his knuckle against Jim's. "Don't tell me you believe in that species of bullshit."
Jim laughs at him, wild and wicked and like it doesn't hurt at all. He doesn't pull away from the touch. "Prove me wrong, my man. If you can."
It sounds like a challenge.