When the rescue team finally arrived on Tarsus IV, they gave all the children their own rooms. Jim argued as loudly as his eight-year-old voice could, but no one listened to him. He heard them telling each other that he just needed time to learn to trust authority again, that he was rebelling because he didn’t like being told what to do.
But when he woke up in the middle of the night, cold and shivering, feeling like he was floating in the vacuum of space without the other children’s bodies pressed up close to him like squirming puppies, he knew they were wrong. When he heard Kevin crying two doors down, he gave up on trying to get them to listen to him. Instead, he crept down the hall, jimmied the lock on Kevin’s door, and crawled into the bed with him. They clung to each other all through the night, Kevin’s uneven, tear-soaked breaths snuffling humidly into Jim’s neck.
When someone came to check on them the next morning, Jim was already awake. Kevin clutched at him with sweaty hands even in his sleep, and Jim leveled his iciest glare at the adult in the doorway.
They never made Jim go back to his own room for the rest of the trip home.
Jim liked it when his mother wasn’t seeing anyone. He knew he was getting too old for it, but Tarsus wasn’t that far removed from his recent memories and sometimes he still dreamed about it. He hated dreaming about watching people die, about worrying that he would be next—that somehow, somewhere, someone had found something wrong with him, and he’d be the next one killed.
Or that he’d look up and see that his mother was one of the ones being chosen for the slaughter.
So even though he was ten years old, when he woke up from one of those dreams to find himself hugging the edge of his bed, his room ominously empty around him, he would creep down the hall to his mother’s bedroom and crawl in beside her. He wouldn’t touch her; he would just lay curled on his side, watching her eyelids flicker and listening to her breathe until he could finally go back to sleep.
He didn’t tell anybody at first, but one of the reasons he befriended the crazy man ranting on the shuttle was because he sympathized with him. Well, the flask of bourbon didn’t hurt, but it was mostly the sympathy.
He wondered what had happened to the guy to make him so scared, but he could at least understand the feeling. Sometimes being in a shuttle, especially one of the older ones, reminded him of that first ride from the surface of Tarsus IV to the starship that had come to their rescue. He remembered the blind terror of not knowing if he could trust these people, of wondering if it was a trick or if Kodos had found a new way to get rid of them without leaving any evidence.
It probably wasn’t just the shuttle ride that did it—it probably had something to do with the way McCoy rattled off every dramatic way to die in space that he knew and some of the mundane ones too—but for whatever reason, his first night at the Academy, he had worse dreams than he’d had since he was eleven. That was the year he’d discovered the way a rush of adrenaline could make him forget about the whole world and feel like he’d faced down the whole universe and beaten it, just him and his scrawny little body.
He woke up alone in a bare, sterile room in the middle of the night, got up, put on his civvies—blood-stained shirt and all, since they hadn’t gotten him any new clothes except his cadet uniform—and went looking for a bottle and a friend to help him drink it. He knew exactly which door to knock on first.
The first time he slept with Bones was the first time he’d slept with anyone after he’d had sex with them. He never invited anyone back to his room because it was far less awkward to excuse himself from their room—“I don’t wanna piss off your roommate” or “It’s been awesome, but I gotta go”—than it was to ask someone to leave his.
But he knew from the moment Bones kissed him, that gorgeous mouth sharp with Kentucky bourbon, cane sugar, and tingly fresh mint, that he wasn’t going to ask Bones to leave. He thought that Bones knew him well enough to know that taking him to Jim’s room was his way of asking Bones to stay.
He’d never had a hangover in his life despite some truly impressive drinking sprees, but when he woke up to piercing bright sunshine and an empty bed the next day, he felt like he’d been run over by a speeding hoverbike.
He called himself ten kinds of pathetic while he was doing it, but he checked his entire room and both his PADDs for any kind of note from Bones saying whether he’d be back, if he wanted to do this again, or even if he and Jim were still on speaking terms. When he didn’t find anything, he scowled in disgust at his bed and stalked out of the room before he could give into his impulse to set it on fire.
He hadn’t gotten in ’til well after three in the morning, and he was lucky as hell that the night guard liked him and liked good liquor. A promise of the best non-replicated stuff he could find got him into the dorm without setting off the alarms and testing the student handbook’s dire promise of academic probation for being caught breaking curfew.
He’d stopped just around the corner and quietly asked the computer to check the location of Leonard McCoy. Not on campus was the answer, and Jim couldn’t help the sharp spike of worry behind the surprise. Bones never broke curfew. Jim told himself that if Bones wanted to go off and find someone else to sleep with just to make it clear to Jim that what they had wasn’t really anything at all, then it wasn’t his business.
He was still trying to figure out who the fuck lived off campus that Bones would want to sleep with when he crawled into his bed and pulled the covers up. The sheets still smelled like Bones, sweat, and sex, and Jim couldn’t decide whether to bury his nose in them or throw them out the window.
He thought he was too angry to fall asleep, so he was doubly surprised when he woke up some time later to the sensation of ice cold skin sliding along his.
“Holy fuck, you’re cold!” was not exactly how he’d planned to greet Bones when he finally saw him again, but it seemed appropriate given the circumstances.
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you spend six fucking hours wandering around San Francisco in the fall looking for your prodigal boyfriend.”
It wasn’t often that Jim found himself speechless, but there was so much in that statement that he didn’t know where to start. Especially not when he’d just been jerked awake by the coldest fucking toes in the whole damn universe.
“You fucking idiot. You don’t remember me telling you I had the early morning practicum today and would be in surgery for ten hours, do you?”
“Ah. Now that you mention it, I do sort of remember that. Somewhere after the eighth shot of Jack, while I was figuring out the best angle to use to kiss you just in case I had to dodge a punch afterward.”
Bones snorted, pulling Jim tighter against him. “Like I said. Fucking idiot.”
The affectionate tone in Bones’s voice warmed Jim right up despite the fact that Bones’s skin was still chilled and clammy. Jim snuggled in closer, tightening his arms around Bones’s back.
“I’m sorry I made you come looking for me.”
“Yeah, well. Let me sleep in tomorrow and I’ll think about forgiving you.”
Jim yawned and pressed his nose against the curve of Bones’s neck, already halfway to sleep himself. He knew he’d be awake long before Bones was in the morning, just to reassure himself that he wasn’t alone.
That night, he didn’t dream.