“I don’t care what you see, Bones. I don’t care if someone is actually bleeding from their eyeballs. Unless someone specifically asks for help, you don’t get your doctor on, you got it?”
Bones rolls his eyes. “I’m not an idiot, Jim. I did read the brief on their culture.”
“Yeah, well, you’re also a stubborn son of a bitch who doesn’t do well seeing people hurt,” Jim reminds him with not a little affection.
Bones grumbles under his breath, but he does nod and so Jim’s hopeful. Besides, it’s a three-hour dinner party for the Aivlis High Council to blow smoke up Jim’s ass, gush about the Federation, and make noise about wanting to join it one day. That’s unlikely considering their current beliefs on healing, but mostly the Aivlis just want to strike a trade agreement. It’s probably not going to result in anyone needing a doctor.
Jim can’t grab Bones fast enough and he just watches with a sick sense of horror as he reacts on instinct.
Jim’s heart is racing and he shoots a glance at Spock, his mind spinning at a million miles per second, trying to figure out what they’re going to do. It’s unlikely they’d execute Bones, Jim doesn’t think. But he will be punished. Jim’s read all about the Aivlis’s punishments.
He needs Bones to shut up. Shouting loudly that Geb would have died is not helping the situation, it’s piling up the insults and Jim isn’t going to be able to talk them out of this.
“I saved his life!” Bones continues to his own detriment. Jim would groan aloud if he wasn’t so busy trying to convince Alisera that it was a simple mistake, that he can handle Bones’s punishment aboard the Enterprise, privately.
Geb, apparently entirely recovered from his ordeal, delivers a hard backhand to Bones’s face, stunning Bones silent and splitting his lip.
“Dammit, listen to me! He didn’t mean it as an insult. He’s just—he’s a doctor, it’s his instinct to help.”
“He brought shame to my name!” Geb declares loudly. “And I demand satisfaction.”
Jim’s pretty sure he would find satisfaction in punching this douchebag in the face. He makes himself stay calm, holding up his hands in a gesture he hopes they read as nonthreatening. (Body language can be so damn tricky when dealing with alien cultures.)
Alisera speaks then, her voice devoid of any of the softness it held the first time they interacted. “Your doctor was informed of our laws and customs before he came here, just as everyone else. He will answer for his crime.”
Jim can see the moment this tips out of his control, Bones’s eyes going wide as the guards take him by the arms. He starts to fight in earnest and Jim bursts forward, he’s not sure what for; he’s surrounded and outnumbered and getting into a physical fight is not going to help the situation, but then Bones takes a brutal punch to the stomach and Jim’s world goes sideways.
In the end, it’s Spock who holds him back, who keeps this from escalating and prevents Jim from losing any future opportunities of getting Bones back relatively unharmed. Jim has to watch in horror as Bones is dragged away.
Hours of being stuck in a room with Spock, entertaining his myriad anxieties by pacing around like a zoo animal, while Spock just sits in a corner and mediates peacefully.
“Jim,” says Spock eventually, and it’s the fact that Spock isn’t calling him captain that stops him in his tracks. “If you persist, and complete your two hundred and seventy-fifth circuit of the room, then I will not be held accountable for my actions and you may suddenly find yourself in a state of prolonged unconsciousness.”
“Oh come on,” says Jim. “You could’ve said that in about ten words.”
Spock opens his eyes and fixes Jim with a flat gaze. “You are worried.”
Jim opens his mouth to let Spock in on what a massive understatement that is, but he’s interrupted by the door to the room sliding open with a hiss to reveal Geb looming stony-faced on the threshold.
“Appropriate punishment must be administered for this offense,” says Geb, not even bothering with the polite greetings anymore. Clearly he means business. “Your doctor will not be released until we are satisfied.”
Jim bristles, but Spock steps up behind him, an immediate, soothing presence, and Jim bites back what promised to be a completely inappropriate response.
“I’m more than capable of reprimanding my own officer for his transgression,” retorts Jim. “Please understand—he wasn’t attempting to shame you. He saw you in distress and couldn’t help his response.”
“Your doctor was briefed,” says Geb stubbornly, and the frustrating thing is that Jim knows he’s right. He’s angry with the Aivlis and with Geb and with Bones for being so damn obstinate himself.
“What kind of punishment?” asks Jim carefully.
“It must be public,” Geb says. “Your doctor has brought shame upon my name and reputation. The same must be delivered in turn.”
“Humiliation,” Spock suggests quietly.
“Yes,” agrees Geb.
Jim’s mouth goes dry. Okay. Jesus. He chances another glance at Spock and their eyes meet.
With Spock’s help, they manage to negotiate a compromise.
The door to the cell opens, flooding the tiny dark room with light, and there’s Bones, and then that’s Jim’s head quietly exploding with rage and his heart compressing into a void of breathless horror.
Bones doesn’t look up right away, but when he does it’s with a squint that suggests he’s been sitting in the dark for a little while. There’s a rough wooden pole propping him up, his arms twisted behind his back and bound tightly to it. His shirt’s been stripped away, leaving him in his uniform pants, stark bruises and sluggishly bleeding cuts speckled over his skin.
“Bones,” Jim says softly. He drops down to his knees, settling a hand on Bones’s shoulder, squeezing gently, before sliding up to cup his jaw. “You okay?”
“Sure,” mutters Bones, meeting Jim’s eyes only briefly, his shoulders tensing. “Just another exciting day in the life of can’t-keep-his-mouth-shut-McCoy. I did such a good job doctorin’ today that our gracious hosts beat the shit out of me in violent gratitude.”
Blood is still trickling from Bones’s nose, upper lip and chin slick with it. Bones grimaces and cautiously meets Jim’s eyes, his own dark with muted fear and embarrassment. “That’s what I aim for.”
“Bones,” says Jim, lowering his voice. He keeps hold of his chin, not letting him look away. “Do you trust me?”
A glimmer of something pure shines through the blood and grime on his face, and the corner of his mouth lifts in the shadow of an honest smile. “What kind of a question is that?”
“A serious one,” Jim says. “Do you?”
“It’s kind of melodramatic,” Bones mutters, but after glancing behind them at their hosts, he sighs. “I’m in space with you, ain’t I? Of course I do.”
“Okay.” Jim doesn’t let go yet, but he eases the pressure on his chin. “Is there anywhere else you’re hurt?”
“Just my head,” Bones says, then amends, “though he got me good in the gut earlier.”
“Yeah, I saw,” Jim says, glancing down but not seeing anything that looks too serious. He moves his hand up to push limp bangs away from Bones’ forehead, grounding himself in further touch as his mind wanders off, figuring how they’ll do this. “The problem is that they’re not satisfied yet. They still want retribution.”
“Damn,” Bones breathes, eyes closing, and he pales further beneath the blood. “I was hoping this was it.”
“Here’s the thing,” Jim continues. “What comes next has to be from my hands.”
Bones frowns, looking quizzically at him. “Like what, spank me and send me to my quarters without dinner?”
“Something like that,” Jim says, and brings his finger down to press on Bones’ lips, making sure he doesn’t touch the split. “Actually, no, it’s worse than that, and it has to be me. To repair the dishonour you did to Geb.”
That gets an eyeroll, but Bones is definitely looking nervous now. “How?”
“Well, how about we start off with some horrible medical care?” Jim starts. “After that, I can’t promise what it is, but I won’t lie. They want to humiliate you. Whatever they plan, I promise it won’t be anything you can’t handle.”
There’s an odd expression crossing Bones’ face, and he isn’t quite meeting Jim’s gaze; his eyes are fixed somewhere on Jim’s chin. When he speaks, it’s formed carefully around Jim’s finger. “I trust you, Jim.”
Jim lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He nods once and then turns back to look at Geb, his malevolent glare almost heavy enough to be a physical touch. “I need the medical supplies I was promised.”
Geb sneers, turning to one of his guards and snapping his fingers. “Can he not even survive a few bruises, Captain Kirk? Are you sure he’s worth your time?”
Every muscle in Jim’s body coils, wanting desperately to lash out, to make Geb deal with a few bruises, among other things, but he can’t. The simple truth is that he doesn’t have Bones back on the Enterprise, safe and sound. Until he can say that, he has to play by their rules.
Gritting his teeth, Jim forces himself to say, “He’s only a healer.”
The implication that this makes Bones weak is almost too big a lie for Jim to get his mouth around. He’s never met anyone stronger than Bones. The man would do just about anything for the crew of the Enterprise. It’s one of the things Jim loves about him. He just hopes Bones understands.
Either way, it does result in Geb waving the guard forward once she returns. Jim takes the meagre offering of supplies and goes to work, focusing on the injuries and not Bones’s eyes.
The small handheld regenerator doesn’t have much oomph, but he does what he can, guiding it along Bones’s ribs. He doubts he can repair them fully, but if he can keep them held together so they don’t puncture a lung, he’ll consider that a win. The thing gives out before he can put it to Bones’s face, so he has to settle for cleaning the cuts with antiseptic and dabbing them with an antimicrobial.
Bones keeps surprisingly quiet throughout, offering no commentary on Jim’s healing skills, only barely flinching when Jim knows it must sting. When there’s nothing left to do, Jim finally meets Bones’s steady gaze. Softly, Jim reaches out and brushes his bangs away again, allowing himself a small smile when they fall immediately back into place. “You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” rasps Bones.
It’s bad enough that they’ve even had to agree to this appalling resolution. Bad enough that Jim is not only going to let Bones’s punishment proceed but actively deliver it; the situation is made exponentially worse by the fact that Jim knows what he’s going to have to do while Bones is left completely in the dark.
Jim can’t tell him, can’t even give him a hint, because Jim is suddenly responsible for putting on a damned good show or risking the consequences of failure. He can’t afford to be nice to Bones for this, or they’re just going to find someone else to do it.
There’s about a hundred Aivlis seated in the gallery.
Jim is chewing his lip anxiously, wishing desperately for a giant cosmic rewind button, when Spock sidles up beside him.
“Don’t do that,” snaps Jim irritably. “As if it isn’t bad enough that you loom, you have to creep, too.”
Spock doesn’t rise to the bait. “Your presence is requested on the viewing platform. The guards are bringing out Dr. McCoy.”
Jim swallows hard. “Okay. Fuck. What a fucking mess this is.”
Spock places a hand briefly on Jim’s shoulder. “I will be nearby,” he murmurs.
Later, when Jim’s heart isn’t hammering his other organs into submission, Jim will remember to thank Spock for being the only dependable presence in this nightmarish clusterfuck.
Now, he just nods shortly and walks out in the very public open space, and waits.
Bones, when he’s brought out, is ashen, his dark eyes wide.
From where he’s standing, Jim can tell Bones is trying extremely hard not to struggle against the complement of guards herding him into the little ring on the platform, and he seems to lose it only when the guards stop and roughly begin to undress him.
That’s when a fresh round of struggling rips through him, uncontained and dangerously panicked, and Jim pushes his way in, grabbing for Bones. Despite the fact that he wants to pull him right into his arms and hold him there, Jim drags him out of the scrum and dumps him right onto the ground, ignoring Bones’s little grunt of pain.
“I was under the impression,” says Jim coldly, finding Geb’s eyes on the sidelines, “that we’d agreed I would be in charge of punishing my doctor.”
The guards look to Geb. Geb nods slowly, a smirk curving his lips.
When Jim kneels down and continues stripping Bones, the look of betrayal in Bones’s eyes hits Jim like a physical punch to the gut. “Trust me,” hisses Jim under his breath. “Do you trust me?”
“Jim, please,” says Bones. There’s a tremor in his voice and he’s shaking bodily, squirming away from Jim’s hands. “Jim, I can’t, please, I… I’m sorry. I can’t do it like this. I trust you, but not like this.” His gaze leaps around the gallery in raw alarm, disoriented and pleading.
“I can’t look like I’m making this easy for you,” Jim says, low enough to just be heard by Bones. He tears a strip off his own shirt, knotting it twice, holding it up for Bones to see but keeping his own expression flat and even.
For a moment, Bones looks confused, but then Jim murmurs, “Open up, sweetheart,” and a flush settles in Bones’s cheeks and his lips part for the gag.
Heart pounding, Jim ties it off.
The assembled gallery murmurs approvingly as Jim finishes stripping Bones naked, Bones gone practically pliable under Jim’s firm hands.
Then there’s a little ripple of laughter, and a roar of amusement from Geb, and Jim realises with mounting horror that Bones is hard.
The best thing about being in command is that Jim’s used to improvising; he can turn on a dime if he’s given a new stream of intelligence, and this isn’t going to be very different.
Or so he wants to believe, even as he takes in the evidence of Bones’ reaction. This is the last kind of reaction he ever expected, and it’s coming from the most extreme end of left field that Jim knows there’s an extra second where he pauses, staring, before lifting his gaze to meet Bones’s eyes.
They stare for a heartbeat, maybe longer, before Bones breaks the connection by looking down, his cheeks reddening. His body language is the most curious mix of self-effacing and mortified, his shoulders folding in, but there’s no hiding his goddamn cock.
It’s twigging something in Jim’s mind, but he has to push it aside for the moment.
He lets Bones chew on the gag anxiously, because Geb’s indicating the nearby table. Jim goes, and his guts twist as takes most of the items in. There’s everything present that could inflict pain on an individual, and even for the ones he can’t name, he can give an educated guess as to their purpose. He rejects most immediately, but he can’t take too long. The crowd’s amusement over Bones’ predicament is starting to fade—he can feel it in the general mood—and the desire for blood is building again.
He needs to decide. The only logical solution—and he really appreciates the irony in thinking that way—is to pick something that won’t be difficult to use and will allow him to control the damage. He spots a whip, but knowing his own luck, he’ll catch a blow to his own chin and ruin the entire effect. Luckily, there’s a crop next to it, and Jim picks it up, taking an experimental swing; he strikes his own thigh to judge the power behind it and then nods.
Well, not quite yet, because he’s worried Bones won’t react well to this. Then again, nothing is clear, but Jim doesn’t want to ruin their chances of getting this done quickly. There’s a collar of sorts, with leather cuffs dangling from the sides; that could work. Jim takes both over, and clamps the crop between his teeth as he quickly secures the restraints.
If anything, the red deepens in Bones’ cheeks, and there’s an approving murmur from the crowd. Jim ignores them, watching as Bones complies with his wrists being secured. What he wants to do is follow it with a kiss, to make sure he’s doing all right, but both their company plus the gag makes that impossible.
Judging by the expression in Bones’s wide hazel eyes, he’s simultaneously dreading and anticipating what’s coming next.
“Okay,” Jim murmurs, and positions himself where he can wield the crop without obstacle. He takes a deep breath, glancing at Geb, and regretting it when he sees the satisfaction on the man’s face. “Get ready.”
Just how Bones would get ready for this, Jim doesn’t know, but he doesn’t wait, bringing the crop down in a controlled arc. He strikes the fleshy curve of his ass, and there’s almost a lag before it registers, Bones arching his body away from the blow. His eyes are squeezed shut, nostrils flaring, and then a low, gravelly sound that’s part moan and part cry escapes his throat.
And then he’s pushing himself back against the crop, even as a bright, red line flares to life against his skin.
It’s bad enough that Jim is doing this at all, that he has Bones bound and gagged on his knees, head bowed to the floor while Jim brings the crop down again and again.
Bones’s ass and the tops of his thighs are covered in welts, the heat under Bones’s skin spreading, a bright cherry red that flares out from the area of impact. It’s making the stark gleam of well-polished metal stand out against Bones’s back where it connects the collar to the leather wrapped around Bones’s wrists.
The horror of the situation actually pales in comparison to the goddamn sounds Bones is making with every crack of the crop against his skin. At first, it was more of a startled noise. But somewhere between pained whimpers and grunts, his moans have become distinctly… debauched.
Fuck. There’s no other way to describe it. Bones is moaning like he’s getting fucked, not beaten, like every sharp blow might as well be a cock in his ass or a mouth on his dick. And Jim would know. He’s fucked Bones enough times. He knows what Bones sounds like during sex.
Unfortunately, so does Jim’s dick. Every wanton, ragged, bone-deep cry makes it increasingly difficult to stand straight, to not break into a sweat. Jim just wants to drop the stupid crop to the ground and let his knees follow so that he can get to Bones, so that he can hold him and search his face and make sure he’s okay.
But oh god, what Jim’s body wants is to… to let his tongue trace every mark on Bones’s ass, to work Bones open, to fuck him. And he kind of hates himself for even thinking that, for his physical reaction to Bones, but he can’t exactly help it. He just… he needs to keep it in check, he needs to keep going until the Aivlis look satisfied and then he can take Bones home and they can just… forget any of this ever happened.
Jim likes that plan. It’s a good plan. It’ll be a lot easier to stop feeling so guilty about all of this if Bones never has to know it’s getting him all hot and bothered. Jesus, what is wrong with him? He bites down hard on the inside of his cheek as he glances up at Geb, hoping beyond hope to see some sort of sign that it’s been enough, that the twenty-six strikes he’s delivered (oh yes, he’s counted every single one) have satisfied him.
Instead, it just becomes clear how screwed they all are.
Geb’s mouth has curled into a cruel-looking smile, and his voice booms out across the gallery for all to hear. “Your doctor moans for it like a professional slut. Is that why you keep doctors in your culture? Is that how they really serve your Federation? I admit there may be some things lost in translation from our tongue to standard. Is healer synonymous with whore where you’re from?”
It takes everything in Jim not to attack Geb right there and then. He bites down so hard on his own tongue he tastes blood. Jim’s gaze falls back to Bones, hoping that Bones is much too out of it to hear Geb’s taunt.
It’s very quickly made obvious that this hope is fruitless. Bones’s posture has folded in even more, crumpled, slumped and defeated in a way that makes Jim’s blood boil. He jerks his head up to find Geb again, narrowing his eyes.
“No, and I wasn’t aware that this was a vocabulary lesson. Are we finished here?” he snaps, and immediately regrets it by the way Geb’s amusement collapses into fury.
This is all spiralling out of Jim’s control, and if he doesn’t compensate for his smart mouth, it’s going to be Bones who suffers for it.
“Is this proving too much for you, captain?” demands Geb, getting to his feet. He takes a step forward, into the circle. “I will gladly take over.”
No, no, no, thinks Jim frantically. Calm your tits, you bull-headed motherfucker.
Forfeiting Geb’s aggressive dick-measuring contest or showing any manner of contrition will only make things worse.
He thinks. He hopes desperately he’s not reading Geb wrong.
“No,” says Jim, taking his own step forward and drawing himself up. He rests the crop on his thigh and meets Geb’s eyes squarely. “You wanted to see him brought down low, didn’t you? You wanted to see him shamed? What the fuck do you think this is?” He waves a hand at Bones, not even daring to look at him. “Is it not enough? You think I’m not as disappointed in him as you are?”
Christ, that hurts to say. But he can’t stop now, not when he’s almost won back the upper hand. He needs a show of force to back it up and he knows exactly what he should do but if he thinks about it long enough, he won’t be able to do it, fuck fuck fuck—
Without taking his eyes off Geb, Jim takes up his position behind Bones, swings the crop so hard it whistles, and lands a blow on the exposed flesh of his balls.
Bones’s reaction is completely expected but that just makes it all the more galling; he sobs, body jerking so hard he loses his balance and falls hard onto his shoulder, body curling up protectively. The sounds coming out of him are completely involuntary, broken cries and shuddering, hitching breaths.
“Imagine that,” says Jim, simultaneously proud and disgusted by how his voice doesn’t tremble. “Aroused by punishment.”
The words have the desired effect. Bones lets out another low, ragged moan, shutting his eyes tightly.
Tears track down his dusty cheeks.
Jim is going to hate himself for this for a long, long time.
“Indeed,” says Geb, and while he doesn’t sit back down, his posture reflects grudging respect rather than outright hostility as his shoulders relax and he crosses his arms over his chest. The little half-smile returns to his face and Jim immediately wants to punch it off.
“We have helped each other, then, captain. It is clear you were not previously aware of your doctor’s mortifying predilection for submission. Perhaps in future, you will select your crew with more care.”
Jim clenches his teeth so hard he thinks he cracks a molar. “Perhaps,” he echoes.
“Well?” says Geb, nodding at Bones, the gesture almost inviting. “Give him what he needs, then. Put him out of his misery.”
For a moment, Jim is numb with shock. He hears the words, and they don’t make sense—Geb can’t be requesting death, not after all this, but then the only other option is… “And then?” says Jim.
“Then I will be satisfied. Your debt of honour will be paid, and negotiations will resume.”
And at what cost? Jim thinks grimly.
Breathing shallowly, Jim reaches out and makes a show of brusquely repositioning Bones, sneaking a squeeze of his hand in the process. Bones squeezes back and meets his gaze steadily. His eyes are red-rimmed, droplets of sweat and tears caught in his lashes, but there’s nothing but raw trust in his expression. How Bones can still have faith in him after all this, Jim doesn’t know.
Maybe he has nothing else to cling to.
“I’m going to have to touch you,” Jim whispers under his breath. “Jerk you off, or something. Or I can try and talk us out of this. But they’re waiting for something.”
Bones grunts wearily, drawing in a deep breath. Then he nods, and rolls all the way onto his back, letting his legs fall open.
There’s more Jim wants to say, but the words stay caught in his throat. He takes a moment to breathe, glancing quickly at Bones’ body; it hurts to see what he’s done. Bones watches him through heavy-lidded eyes, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his gagged mouth even though Jim knows his lips are thinned from pain. He’s lying on his arms, chest thrust up and vulnerable, and there’s a new scrape from when he fumbled over. He doesn’t want to think about what it must feel like to be lying on his ass, but the audience is murmuring approval, the tone sharpening with interest as they wait to see what Jim will do next.
At the moment, Bones’s cock is soft; that, in some way, is both a relief and a disappointment. It means that whatever level of masochism that’s helped Bones endure this experience wasn’t too happy with that last blow, but it also means it’s going to take a bit longer to finish up with this.
He shuffles closer, putting himself between Bones and the audience—they can see his lower body, but his face is hidden to their view. It’s the least Jim can do, and that way they can keep eye contact while Jim ends this. At least this part is familiar, though he’s never done it this way; in the light, Bones’ eyes are a dazed green, blinking slowly as he meets Jim gaze and it’s like the one thing he wants Jim to understand is that it’s okay.
It makes Jim want to cry, but he keeps up with the smile.
Bones’ balls are too hot under his hand, but they don’t seem damaged other than the expected swelling; he leaves them be at the moment, and Jim can barely restrain the sigh of relief as Bones’ cock almost rears back to life the second Jim’s closed his fingers around it. He’s not quite going through the motions, but there’s no teasing. He wants it over.
He probably should care what Bones would want, but it’s kind of moot right now. At least he’s moaning, eyes clenching the closer he comes to the brink, and it’s all about the show now. He thinks Bones knows it, or he hopes he does. When he comes it’s the kind of orgasm that makes him clench everywhere—when Jim rides him out for the duration before taking what he wants from his now-pliant body—before going lax. His head lolls, and Jim removes his hand, wiping the palm on his pant leg before he thinks about what’s on there.
“There,” he says, and gets up. He hopes the effect of Bones’ body at his feet is enough to show the care he’s supposed to be lacking. “We’re finished.”
“Yes, you are,” Geb says, and the audience applauds.
Their gear is waiting for them, and so is Spock. He’s the last person Jim wants to see at the moment, and so ignores him in favour of focusing on Bones once the door is closed. He’s lying on his front, the restraints still around his neck and wrists, and the first order of business is removing them.
“Thanks,” Bones slurs, sounding absolutely exhausted.
“Shhh.” Jim tosses the restraints as far away as possible, and then checks his wrists. The skin is red, a little sore, but not raw. That’s a relief, and he continues ignoring Spock as he kneels by the bed, looking Bones in the eyes. “Just lie there, okay? I’ll take care of you, I promise.”
“I know,” Bones sighs, eyes drifting shut.
Spock is there in a second, handing the medkit, and Jim knows it well enough that he’s able to find the basic regenerator with little difficulty; it helps when you’re dating a doctor, apparently. Jim’s filled with a drive to erase every line from his body.
“Jim?” Bones has his fingers around Jim’s wrist, and while his grip isn’t tight, he still wouldn’t be easy to pry off. “Too bad you were just performing.”
Jim’s stomach lurches, feels as if it’s trying to cram itself up in the same space his heart is currently occupying, but he gives Bones a small smile, continues to pet and soothe him the best he knows how.
He just needs this to be over, needs to be off this planet and putting it in their warp trail right now. Then he can deal with what he’s discovered about Bones today. Then he can begin to process what Bones has admitted to him.
By the time Bones has finally drifted into a heavy sleep, Spock informs him the Aivlis are ready to finalize the trade agreement they came here for to begin with. A part of Jim would rather burn this bridge and write these people off as a lost cause. Somewhere deep down, he feels guilty about that. He’s a Starfleet Officer through and through. He believes the company line and tries his damnedest to uphold it. Every culture is unique, every culture has merit, and Starfleet’s goal isn’t to change them or make them more like Us and less like Them. It’s to cooperate for the prosperity of all and cohabitate this universe in peace.
It’s just that being forced to publicly humiliate and harm the love of his life isn’t really putting him in the best mindset.
But he does his duty, not without a lot of help from Spock, and in the end, he gets them all back home, back on the Enterprise, safe and mostly sound.
So it’s like a weight is being lifted off his shoulders when he sees Bones lying in bed, obviously freshly showered and in clean pyjamas. It’s comforting, familiar, and it’s so, so tempting to just take the out he knows Bones is offering. To just go back to life as they’ve always known it and forget any of this ever happened.
But Jim won’t do that. He can’t. He loves Bones too much.
Most of all, he wants to give Bones what he wants without them being forced into it, without Bones believing that’s the only way he can have it.
He takes a breath and takes himself to the head, gets cleaned up, changed for bed, and only then does he crawl in with him. Carefully, he wraps himself around Bones and sighs when Bones relaxes into it.
“In the morning, we’ll talk about it,” says Jim firmly. “We’ll talk about everything. Right now, I want—I want to know you’re okay.”
He feels Bones momentarily tense in his arms, but he brushes a kiss to Bones’s shoulder and hopes it’s the right thing to say as he whispers, “You were so good today.”
There’s a heartbeat and then—
Bones lets out a sob, his whole body shaking.
Somehow, Jim knows this is right. He understands that Bones needs this release.
He lets instinct guide him as he tightens his hold and kisses Bones’s shoulder again, then his neck, light glances of his lips to Bones’s skin like a prayer or penance or praise, but probably all three.
“You were perfect, my perfect boy. I’ve never been more proud of you,” says Jim, letting every bit of sincerity and conviction he feels soak into the words, pour from where they’re welling up from his chest and out into Bones.
With every bit of steadiness and control he has left, Jim holds Bones tightly and quietly accepts the anguished flood of emotions he’s been holding back since this whole thing started.
“So good,” he whispers, as Bones hides his face against the pillow and muffles each hitching sob and ragged breath into the fabric. “You were so good, I’m sorry it had to be like this, but I’m still so proud, Bones. You did so well.”
On the mattress, Bones is curling and uncurling his fingers into a fist.
Jim can’t stand it. Can’t stand seeing such a futile expression of how Bones is feeling—reaching—and he slides his hand along Bones’s arm and winds their fingers together, squeezes hard until Bones snuffles and squeezes back.
Jim kisses the curve of his neck. When he blinks, hot tears slide down his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “I’m sorry I couldn’t take care of you.”
Bones makes a soft sound. “You did.” His voice is raw. “You did take care of me.”
The tangled knot of what feels like failure and helplessness that’s taken residence in Jim’s belly doesn’t exactly ease, but it does turn over once and then settle a bit. Enough to let him press his forehead to Bones’s shoulder and close his eyes.
“Shhh,” he murmurs. “C’mon, Bones. Go to sleep.”
It’s the act of reaching across the pillow and finding nothing but cool fabric that draws him out of anxious, twisting dreams, and for a while he just stares at his own hand, reaching, before he comprehends the absence.
Then he’s sitting up, kicking off the blankets, worry bursting in him like a flare.
And before Jim can just dissolve into a full-blown panic attack, Bones calls, “In the bathroom, Jim.”
There are lots of perks to being captain. One of them is a bathroom that’s actually big enough to walk into without turning around and banging your shins on the toilet, with a shower that can fit two people and all their accompanying elbows and knees.
But it’s the full-length mirror Jim likes best, and even though Bones teases him about liking it because he’s a vain son-of-a-bitch, Jim is grateful for it because it forces him to see himself, everyday, head to toe, and acknowledge that he’s only human, he’s Jim Kirk, and he can wear this uniform as well as anyone else who puts in the effort.
Bones is in front of it, now, naked, considering.
“Hey,” says Jim, unable to keep the fraught edge from his voice. “What are you doing? Are you okay?”
It’s unexpectedly painful to see him so exposed.
Almost worse than in the arena, because here there’s nothing else to focus on, no task at hand, no act to put on.
It’s just Bones, pale and faintly bruised under the bare lights, tracing his own healing cuts with trembling fingers.
“I’m fine,” says Bones. His gaze doesn’t shift from his reflection, so Jim steps up behind him, wrapping his arms around Bones and tucking his chin over his shoulder. “Really.”
There’s a fading purple-green bruise that follows the curve of his ribs, curling around him like a ribbon. Jim covers it with his palm.
“Jim,” says Bones. He meets Jim’s eyes in the mirror. “I’ll be fine.”
“I know,” says Jim. He presses a kiss to Bones’s jaw. “You’re a lot stronger than you give yourself credit.”
A flush creeps up to dust along Bones’s freckled cheeks. “Shut up,” he mutters. “You don’t have to do that. I know it’s all my fault. You wouldn’t have had to do it if I’d just listened, if I’d—”
“Stop,” commands Jim. To his surprise, Bones actually falls silent. “It wasn’t. It wasn’t your fault, and you didn’t deserve it.”
Bones inhales sharply. His eyes drop, lashes obscuring dark irises.
“Nobody should ever be humiliated like that,” says Jim firmly, giving Bones a solid hug. “Nobody deserves that.”
“Nobody deserves that,” continues Jim, as if he hasn’t heard Bones. “Unless it’s on their own terms.”
Bones looks up. His mouth is soft, vulnerable, and his shoulders slump a bit, losing that ramrod tension. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” says Jim. “That I will always give you what you need, when you need it. And that all you ever have to do is ask. I will make sure, Bones, that next time, it’s on your terms. Our terms. You and me. If that’s what you want.”
“What if it was?” Bones asks carefully, and they’re staring at each other in the mirror. There’s something crossing his face, like doubt, and Jim isn’t sure what to make of that. “Are you sure you know what you’re offering me?”
“I know what I’m saying,” Jim says.
It’s apparently the right thing to say, because a tentative smile is touching Bones’ lips but then it turns wry. “That’s what they all say.”
“What the hell's that supposed to mean?” Jim asks.
“What if you don’t like what we do together?” Bones says, and drops his gaze. “It's not that I hate what we already have. You know that. I just don't think I can handle starting something different on account of me and then you hating it.”
The apprehension in his voice makes Jim pause, and he reaches up to grasp Bones’ chin, making them look at each other again. “Is that what’s happened before?”
Bones gives a short nod, swallowing past his emotion. “So I stopped asking.”
“That's not going to happen with us,” Jim says, and tries to choose his next words carefully. “Listen, what happened in front of the Aivlis, it was fucked up, there's no way around that. I can't enjoy hurting you, but that's not what it would be. I've been around long enough to get that, and to understand that hearing you make those noises under the right circumstances would be sexy as hell.”
This time, when Bones smiles it’s decidedly positive. "Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” Jim says, and his hand slips down to tweak Bones's nipple. Bones lets out a startled little moan, and Jim grins. “As much as I’d like to fuck you where you’re standing, though, we should probably do the adult thing and talk more about it first, and if we're gonna do that, I require more sleep.”
“Tease,” Bones says, but there’s no heat behind the word as he turns his head so they’re able to kiss. “Thank you.”
The bed still has a bit of lingering warmth when they snuggle under the covers, and it’s only when Jim curls up behind Bones once more than he thinks about taking off his clothes. He shifts, starting to tug off his top, when Bones stops him by tugging his arm back into place.
“What?” Jim asks, brushing lips behind his ear.
“Go to sleep,” Bones murmurs.
That suits him fine. Jim’s in no rush, and so with a yawn muffled against Bones’s shoulder, he lets himself fall back asleep.