The first time Leonard wakes, it’s hot and he’s sweating profusely.
He thinks for a few wild moments that he’s back on Earth at the height of a Georgia summer, the kind with air so thick it’s difficult to breathe; the kind of summer that reminds everyone on Earth that their weather nets are only so effective. The nets are an illusion that allow humanity to believe that it can control the world around them.
But nature finds a way, it always does, and the sun isn’t a beautiful, golden disc in the sky but rather a ravenous, burning ball of gas that doesn’t care which planets it bestows life upon and which it bakes alive.
The universe is indifferent to the life that inhabits it.
Leonard wakes with that thought on his mind hours or minutes later, but this time he knows he’s not in Georgia. He’s nowhere even fucking near Earth, that much he knows, but his recollection beyond that is hazy.
He pushes himself into a sitting position and, with a wince, touches an exploratory hand to the back of his head. It comes away tacky with drying blood, and Leonard scowls in irritation. He remembers little of the events leading up to now, only that Enterprise was on a relief mission and that he had been in the midst of issuing instructions to Ensign McKenna when a sharp blow caught him in the back of the head.
He’s in a windowless cell that’s bare except for a bench along one wall and a bucket in the corner. The door is thick and heavy, and of course doesn’t budge when Leonard throws his weight against it. The heat in the room is thick and oppressive, intolerable even for a Georgia boy, and Leonard soon is forced to shed his outer uniform top. The sleeveless black shirt underneath quickly becomes soaked through with sweat, and the temperature in the room continues to climb.
Leonard sinks to the floor, back against the wall, his breathing quickly becoming labored. His head throbs from the original blow that knocked him out and his hands are swollen from the heat. He can hear nothing but the pounding of blood in his ears and the laborious breaths in his chest. He grows dizzy, and the room tilts dangerously around him.
It isn’t long before he loses consciousness again.
He has three interrogators.
“What are you doing on our planet?”
Their voices are high and tinny, distorted by the helmets they wear over their heads. They appear to be humanoids, and they wear grey uniforms that cover them from neck to ankle. They have also donned knee-high black boots and gloves that cover their hands. They are tall and lean, and their gender is indiscernible.
Leonard sighs forcefully through his teeth. He’s sitting on the bench in his cell, having been slapped awake by one of the aliens. The temperature in the room has been returned to a much more tolerable level, and as the sweat cools on his body he begins to shiver.
His captors don’t bother to restrain him, and that’s perhaps the most disheartening thing at all. They don’t care if he attempts an escape; it would fail anyway. Leonard sees their point. Even if he could fight off all three of them, there’s no way he could get past that reinforced door. The only thing he can do is buy time, and hope that there’s someone out there looking for him.
“‘Cause y’called us here, you sons of bitches,” Leonard spits when the silence becomes expectant. “We picked up your distress signal. Terellian Death Syndrome, remember? We came to offer aid!”
The blow comes from the left, and splits open the skin along his cheekbone.
“What are you doing on our planet?”
“Thought it’d be a nice spot for a vacation,” Leonard grumbles. “All that sand and rock and desolation. Very appealing.”
That earns him a kick to the ribs and he grunts, biting his lower lip to keep from crying out.
“Fuck you,” he snaps finally. “Fuck you, fuck those God awful uniforms, and fuck -”
He doesn’t get to finish that sentence. The next blow to his head stops his words and knocks out one of his back molars. He spits it out onto the ground, and feels blood dribble down his chin. His interrogators take a step backward, almost in unison, and turn to leave the room.
“Hey!’ Leonard bellows carelessly after them. “Come back and face me, you assholes!”
He continues yelling long after they have left the room, because it is the sole defense that he has against them.
“Just where the hell do you think you’re off to?”
“Bones! Where are you off to?”
Leonard sighed heavily as Jim jogged up behind him.
“Morning meetin’ with my staff,” Leonard said. Jim lifted the mug from his hand and took a long swallow of the hot liquid. “Hey, now, I was drinkin’ that.”
He snatched the mug back from Jim and wrinkled his nose unhappily. Half the coffee was now gone.
“There’s still some left for you,” Jim pointed out cheerfully.
Leonard winced. Jim was always horrendously upbeat in the mornings--actually, he was obnoxiously enthusiastic at near every time of day, but especially at ungodly hours such as this one.
“Thanks, much appreciated,” Leonard muttered under his breath. “D’you need something, or are you just bein’ irritating?”
Jim’s smile softened slightly, taking pity on Leonard’s strained early-morning nerves.
“I’m just on my way to the bridge; thought I’d say hello.”
“Well, you’ve said it, now scurry along.”
Jim snorted and rolled his eyes and, when they rounded a corner and found themselves in a deserted corridor, he shoved Leonard up against a wall and kissed him senseless.
Leonard did not let out an undignified squeak, and he did not slosh coffee over the side of his mug, and he most certainly did not give a disappointed groan when Jim pulled away.
“Morning, Len,” Jim murmured against Leonard’s lips. “See you tonight, yeah? 2100. Don’t be late this time.”
And he was off again before Leonard’s synapses started firing again, jogging towards the turbolift at the end of the corridor.
Leonard dragged a ragged breath through his nose, his eyes glued to Jim’s lean, retreating figure.
It was going to be a very long day.
The punishment continues long after his captors leave the room.
When Leonard wakes again, the cell is cold. Or perhaps he wakes because the cell is cold, shuddering out of unconsciousness as chills wrack his body. He fetches his uniform top from the corner where it had been discarded earlier and puts it back on. The material is light and the shirt was almost completely shredded in the ambush that led to his capture, but it’s the sole defense Leonard has against the cold.
It only gets worse from there.
An hour passes, perhaps less, and Leonard starts to be able to see his breath with every exhale. He quakes and shudders, teeth cracking together, and suddenly he’s longing for the heat of earlier.
And on top of that, everything hurts.
It is painful to draw breath, and when Leonard tentatively lifts his uniform top in order to inspect his wounds he finds that his torso is a map of black and purple bruises. There’s a perfect impression of a boot print on his left side, in fact, and Leonard sighs. He wraps his arms around his torso and shivers, desperate for warmth, desperate for anything that will stop his chills, because every vibration jostles his bruised muscles and cracked ribs.
Consciousness fades from him like ink bleeding out of a pen, and Leonard’s last thought is that he never imagined that oblivion would come on so peacefully.
Leonard was pulled from oblivion by the chime of an alarm, his nose pressed against Jim’s shoulder and his arm draped across the younger man’s stomach. Jim was on his back, his head turned toward Leonard and their fingers twined together.
The time is 0600.
Leonard groaned. He was sure they had only gone to bed moments ago, not hours.
The time is 0600.
Jim shifted, beginning to rouse. Leonard sighed and buried his face in Jim’s neck. The computer chimed again.
The time is 0600.
Jim reached for the intercom just above his head and pressed the button.
“Acknowledged, computer,” Jim rasped finally, his voice barely more than a whisper.
The time -
Leonard batted Jim’s hand away and jabbed the button in irritation.
“Shut up , you goddamn machine,” Leonard growled, his voice much more audible than Jim’s sleep-roughened one. The computer cut off mid-sentence.
Jim tugged his arm out from where it was trapped between their bodies and held it open in invitation. Leonard slid closer, resting his ear over Jim’s heartbeat and letting his arm fall across Jim’s torso again. Jim wrapped his arm around Leonard’s shoulders.
“G’morning,” he whispered.
Leonard grunted moodily. Jim smoothed a hand over Leonard’s shoulder blades and turned his head so that his cheek rested against Leonard’s hair.
“0600,” he muttered under his breath.
“Don’t remind me,” Leonard snarled. Jim sighed through his nose.
“When was the last time we made it through the night together without one of us getting called away?” he asked wistfully.
“Don’t ask,” Leonard said shortly. And then, slightly softer, “I don’t want to think about it. Too damn long.”
They lapsed into silence, Jim’s hand continuing to brush over the tight planes of Leonard’s back. After a moment, he said, “You’ve got some leave coming to you.”
“So’ve you, Captain, but the only way we can get you off this ship is if that green-blooded hobgoblin First Officer of yours shoves you in an escape pod and shoots your ass into oblivion. And I ain’t settin’ foot on any more ships than is necessary in my lifetime. This one’s enough, thanks very much. I’m stayin’ put ‘til we’re back in spacedock. On Earth.”
Jim gave a soft huff of laughter.
“Even if,” he ventured after a few minutes, “you were with me? Just the two of us, the safest shuttlecraft in Starfleet... and two weeks of leave before us.”
Leonard drummed his fingers on Jim’s sternum. The only part of that which sounded even remotely appealing to him was Jim, in all honesty, and four years ago he’d have insisted that they take their leave right in San-fucking-Francisco, thank you very much, because getting on a shuttlecraft and blasting his ass halfway across the world--or the galaxy--wasn’t worth the time he’d have alone with Jim.
But the years had changed him, the times had shaped him, and now he lived not for his own skin but for the smile on Jim’s face, and for the moments like these--the minutes they had together before the realities of the day settled in.
“I suppose if my atoms are gonna be scattered across the godforsaken sector,” he muttered finally, “they might as well be scattered with yours as well. Where’d you have in mind?”
He felt Jim grin against his forehead.
It isn’t the end.
Not quite yet, at least.
His captors return half a dozen more times, pulling Leonard out of varying levels of unconsciousness every few hours. Sometimes physically slapping him awake isn’t enough and they need to resort to drugs, which leave him feeling jittery and over-stimulated. In-between the interrogation sessions the room is kept too hot or too cold, and the harsh lights overhead don’t afford Leonard any sleep. The only time he rests is when he blissfully, mercifully, falls unconscious.
The question never varies.
What are you doing on our planet?
Leonard has delivered a variety of answers, each one more imaginative than the last. Sometimes he doesn’t even answer, just sits there and curses at them. Other times, he counters their questions with ones of his own.
Where are we? What have you done with my team?
He keeps his true fears to himself, the ones about Jim and Enterprise, because though they live simple lives the inhabitants of this world have technology that is comparable to Starfleet’s. They could blow Enterprise out of the sky without thinking twice about it.
For all he knows, Jim is long dead.
It’s a nightmare that has plagued his sleep and a thought that has eaten away at his insides during his waking moments for almost two years now, ever since Jim made captain. He’s imagined Jim’s death countless times, each scenario more gruesome than the last, and all of them equally horrifying. But never, not once, did he imagine it would happen while he was away from Jim’s side.
Whatever came, they were supposed to meet it together.
Dammit, Jim. It’s not supposed to end like this.
“Dammit, Jim, hold still!”
Jim ducked under Leonard’s outstretched arm, deftly avoiding the hypospray, and sprang back a step so that Leonard couldn’t grab him.
“Bones, I’m fine -”
“You are not fine,” Bones snarled, voice skittering up the scale with his fury. “You’ve got a cracked rib, second-degree burns, and damn it all if you weren’t one centimeter away from being caught in the very middle of that damn explosion! Now sit on that biobed and shut the fuck up or I swear to God, Jim, I’m gonna have you thrown into the Brig for disobeying your CMO!”
Jim looked stunned at his outburst, meek even, and after a moment of hesitation he sat back down on the biobed.
“Thank you,” Leonard said tersely, and he returned to treating Jim’s injuries.
The medical bay was filled to bursting with casualties from the accident in engineering. Thankfully, none were fatal, but the presence of so many observers didn’t give Leonard the chance to say what he truly needed to tell Jim.
I can’t lose you. Not so soon; not like this.
Jim’s voice was so quiet that for a moment Leonard thought he had imagined the name. It drew his attention anyway, imagined or no, because no one else alive today called him by that name. It was Jim’s alone, reserved for moments when words failed altogether. It was an affirmation; an apology; an invocation.
The smile Jim gave Leonard when their eyes met was reassuring and apologetic, with nary a trace of his usual cockiness. It was private, meant only for the two of them, and it gave Leonard the slightest of pauses. He returned to his work after a moment, his heart lighter and the anger fading slightly.
Jim had understood after all.
Leonard estimates that two days have passed since his capture.
Several well-placed kicks to his chest have finally caused part of his ribcage to give way. His left eye is swollen shut and his right ankle is twisted. Someone delivered a blow to his right leg with a heavy staff not long ago, and he’s sure those bones have shattered. A lot of the pain doesn’t register due to shock, but he knows that it’s only a matter of time.
He was supposed to have been on a shuttlecraft with his lover this morning.
Instead he’s in this godforsaken cell, and Jim might be dead, and isn’t this a hell of a way to go?
He’s imagined the end countless times. For some reason, it never quite looked like this.
Eventually, Leonard stops giving them answers altogether.
What are you doing on our planet?
“Leonard McCoy,” he answers. “CMO. Starship Enterprise. Serial number -”
What are you doing on our planet?
“Leonard McCoy. CMO. Starship - ”
One of his interrogators lands a blow to the side of his head. Leonard hears a crack and blood fills his mouth. He turns his head to the side and spits out a mouthful of blood and another one of his molars.
“Leonard McCoy,” he rasps again, “CMO -”
One of the aliens seizes him by the front of his shirt and throws him to the ground. Leonard lands hard, jarring his injuries, and the heel of a heavy boot comes down on his left hand, shattering it. Leonard bellows in pain as his vision whites out, and someone kicks him sharply in the side of the head.
The world goes dark.
Leonard came off-duty just as Jim was going on alpha shift, and they crossed paths briefly in Jim’s quarters. Leonard was weary beyond words, his eight-hour shift having turned into a twenty-hour one due to multiple, but thankfully minor, incidents on deck twelve. He ached everywhere and he was on his third uniform of the day, the others having been ruined by blood.
Had they been anywhere but here, Jim probably would have made a quip about Leonard’s appearance and clapped him on the shoulder in friendly solidarity. Leonard, in turn, would probably have snarled at his cheerfulness before they went their separate ways. They weren’t open about their relationship, though it wasn’t much of a secret on this ship. It was just something they didn’t discuss with the others.
But here, behind closed doors, Jim took one look at Leonard and sympathy etched itself in his features. He touched Leonard’s shoulder and Leonard, who had been only one breath away from sleep for the past two hours, swayed dangerously.
“C’mon, big guy,” Jim muttered, steering Leonard over to the couch. “You all right?”
Leonard kicked off his boots and leaned back, sinking deep into the cushions.
“Yes,” he breathed. “Am now.”
“Good. Then sleep. You’re not due back on again until gamma shift.”
Leonard sighed. If he remembered the duty roster correctly, that was when Jim was due back on duty as well.
Jim leaned down and pressed his lips to Leonard’s forehead. Leonard held him there for a beat with a hand curled around the back of his neck.
“Hell, Jim, I miss you,” Leonard muttered. Jim sighed.
“Yeah, I know. Feeling’s mutual.” Jim straightened and gave him a feeble smile. “But we’ve got two weeks of leave coming to us. Something to look forward to.”
“And then it’s back to this, spending a night with you once every two weeks and only seeing you briefly in staff meetings every other goddamn day. I shouldn’t have to make an appointment to see my - ” Leonard cut himself off abruptly, biting back the rest of his complaints. He sighed. “Dammit, Jim, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. You’re right.” Jim leaned down for a proper kiss this time, one that straddled the line between tender and needy, but Leonard was just too damned tired and it tapered off into chaste. Jim pulled away and kissed his brow. Leonard rested his hands on Jim’s hips, as though he could hold him there. But eventually Jim had to step away, and Leonard bit back a sigh.
“What’d you have to go and make captain for, anyway?” he muttered, but it lacked heat.
They had had this discussion too many times to count, and it didn’t end in shouting anymore. Now it simply ended in grim resignation. This was the way things were, and though it wasn’t how Leonard imagined his future—their future—Jim didn’t belong anywhere else but here.
And Leonard would always follow him, there was no question about that. There never had been. He’d followed Jim into the silence, and he would follow him into the dark.
Once, a lifetime ago, they’d talked about signing a contract, because Leonard wasn’t ever getting married again and Jim wasn’t exactly the marrying kind. Form 23-B seemed a safe alternative, a contract that was a way for Starfleet couples to formalize a relationship without a marriage; a way to put their commitment on record and be afforded certain levels of recognition within the ‘Fleet. But the timing was never quite right, for one reason or another, and when Jim made captain it rendered the entire discussion moot. Starship captains weren’t supposed to sleep with their subordinates – not even starship captains named James T. Kirk.
“I’ll make it up to you someday,” Jim murmured, as he always did, before leaning in for one last, lingering kiss.
“Yeah,” Leonard said with a faint smile. “Yeah, I know you will. Someday. Now get. I’ve got about two days of sleep to cram into twelve hours, and you have a duty shift.”
Jim gave him an exaggerated salute and a wink.
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Leonard spends long, endless hours in the bare cell.
Usually he remains where they drop him, lacking the strength to move after the brutal interrogation sessions. Occasionally he manages to muster enough strength to drag himself over to the bucket in the corner, which contains water. It’s questionable at best, and Leonard has to force the foul-smelling liquid down. He needs it, or he runs the risk of dehydration on top of everything else.
He can’t remember the last time he ate.
Leonard is face down on the floor this time, legs splayed, one arm trapped between his chest and the concrete and the other outstretched on the ground. He can’t summon the strength to move, even though his throat is burning and his mouth is coarse as sandpaper. The chill from the concrete seeps through his forehead, dulling the throb in his head, and he lets out a soft rush of air that’s almost a laugh.
Do no harm .
He’s done no harm, certainly not to these people. He’s a doctor, he’s a lover, he’s a man once-divorced who used to treat drink like it was the solution to all his problems. He’s not a saint, but he’s done no harm--no harm--and still it ends like this.
And he wasn’t even supposed to have been here in the first place.
Leonard squeezes his eyes shut and breathes heavily through his nose, fighting for composure. There are a million little things that led them to this point, and a million ways they could have avoided it. None of those things would have happened, of course, but the speculation is a welcome, if feeble, distraction from the pain of his broken and bleeding body, so he lays on the floor and wonders what might have been.
If only they had planned to start their trip a few days earlier.
If only Jim had relayed the distress call to another vessel. If only they had investigated it more thoroughly before sending people down.
If only Bones had refused to go when Jim came to his quarters and informed him about the change in plans.
“Busy,” Leonard called through the open door of the head. Jim appeared in the doorway. He crossed his arms and leaned against the frame, watching Leonard’s reflection in the mirror.
“I can’t understand why you use those things when there are safer ways to shave,” he said after a moment spent watching Leonard drag the blade of his razor along his jaw. “You, the man who abhors danger and yet who willingly takes a knife to his throat every damn day.”
“I abhor unnecessary risks, there’s a difference,” Leonard corrected between swipes of the blade. “What can I do you for?”
“We picked up a distress signal from a planet in a nearby system,” Jim said briskly. “Not a member of the Federation, but they’re sufficiently advanced. Uhura had a hell of a time translating their message, but it seems they’re suffering an outbreak of Terellian Death Syndrome. I offered our services. We’ll be there in less than forty-eight hours, and I’ll be sending all available medical personnel to the planet’s surface.”
“Let me guess, that includes me,” Leonard said dryly. He reached for a towel and began to dry his now stubble-free face. Jim at least had the decency to look vaguely sympathetic.
“Sorry, Len,” he said apologetically. They were supposed to go on leave together in two days; this timing could not have been worse.
“There’re people out there who need me. Don’t need to apologize for that. We’ll just have to put off the trip for a couple of days.” Leonard turned around the tossed the towel at Jim’s face. “But I do have one question. Who the hell gave you the code to my quarters?”
“Captain’s prerogative,” Jim teased, but he kissed Leonard before he left, and Leonard decided that that was apology enough.
In the end, it’s Jim who finds him.
Leonard hasn’t slept, but there are hours he doesn’t remember; hours that are lost to the red haze of unconsciousness. He comes to as Jim presses a cool hand to his forehead, rambling frantically.
“It’s over,” Jim says. He rolls up Leonard’s discarded uniform top and shoves it under his head. “Bones, it’s over. We’ve got you. Bones, stay with me.”
Leonard drags a dry tongue across cracked lips and tries to summon the breath to speak. Jim’s hands are flying over him, cool fingertips grazing damaged flesh and pressing aside clothing, trying to assess his injuries.
“Yeah, I’m here, Bones.”
Leonard catches one of Jim’s hands in his own. He’s weak, too weak to hold him still, but Jim’s movements quiet anyway. He’s staring at Leonard, eyes feverish and wide, and Leonard tries to give him a smile. He can feel his breath rattling in his chest, imagines that he can feel his broken ribs cracking together with every exhale, and wonders how many organs have been punctured. He’s bleeding profusely, both outside and in, and the world is already hazy at the edges. He can only see out of the one eye and he knows, he knows, that even if medical teams are on the way he won’t survive being moved back to the ship. He won’t survive being moved out of this damn building.
Even a stiff breeze could do him in, as precarious as his injuries are at this moment. He has gone untreated for far too long, and broken bones have been scraping unchecked at delicate, fragile organs.
The world is fading but Jim is here, Jim is here, and Leonard can only see out of the one eye but damn if he’s not going to keep his gaze fixed on Jim’s face--gorgeous lovely forever--for as long as possible. He’s not going to ever find out what happened here, but what hurts more is that he’s not ever going to wake up in Jim’s arms again; he’s not going to know what Jim will look like when he’s sixty; he’s not going to be there for the rest of what he is certain is going to be a long and distinguished career for Jim.
“Shut up, Bones, don’t try to talk,” Jim says frantically. “Damn it, man, just... just stay quiet. The medical teams will be here soon.”
“Not... soon enough.”
Jim’s face twists horribly, and Leonard feels a stab in his gut that has nothing to do with his injuries.
“Sorry, darlin’,” he breathes, tasting copper and feeling liquid pool at the corner of his mouth. “I was... lookin’ forward to that trip. Jus’... the two of us. Sounded nice.”
Jim leans down, whispers frantically across his brow, “Don’t you dare, Bones, don’t you fucking - Len, dammit, stay awake, stay awake.”
There’s shouting the corridor, and Jim’s calling for Spock, and Bones wants to weep because they were so close, they were so close. He wants to tell Jim that he was loved and that he’s going to brilliant, but there’s not enough air and now he can’t even see out of his one good eye, and so Leonard gives Jim’s hand a squeeze and hopes that it will be enough.
Jim squeezes back and whispers, “Len.”
Leonard sighs, and the world rushes away.
Leonard wakes up to Christine Chapel leaning over him, which is the second astonishing thing that he experiences in three seconds.
The first astonishing thing is that he wakes up.
“Doctor,” Chapel says briskly. “Can you hear me?”
“Don’t be an idiot, ‘course I can hear you,” Leonard grumbles, and he hates how weak his voice sounds. He grunts in pain and turns away as she shines a light into his eyes, testing his reactions. “Christ, woman.”
Chapel pulls back, the corner of her mouth twitching as she suppresses a smile.
“I’d say you’re back with us,” she says dryly.
“Would you like the list of your injuries chronologically, or alphabetically?” Chapel’s face turns serious once again. “You had a broken hand, a crushed eye socket, broken ribs, a fractured ankle, and too many bruises to count. They also shattered your right femur. We were able to repair most of your injuries, but the femur will take some time to knit back together completely because the break was so messy.”
Leonard glances down at his right leg, and can see through the blanket the outline of a metal splint that holds his leg in place while the oseto-regenerator unit works to repair the damage, humming away quietly in the background.
“Your internal injuries will also require some time to heal completely, but we stopped all of the bleeding,” Chapel goes on. “You’re on mandatory leave as of this moment.”
“Not in here, I ain’t,” Leonard grumbles finally. Chapel nods.
“Captain had a feeling you’d say that. You’re restricted to quarters as soon as we feel it’s safe for you to be moved from the medical bay.”
Leonard nods and doesn’t even think to protest, because at the mention of Jim he feels an unexpected pang. Where was the idiot, anyway?
Chapel appears to read his hesitation in his face, for she adds, quietly, “We had a hell of a time getting away from the planet. Captain’s still on the bridge.”
“As he should be,” Leonard says automatically, but whether he’s trying to convince her or himself, he’s not entirely sure. “But we got away?”
“We got all our people back, too, and relatively in one piece. You’re hurt worst of all. The transporter wasn’t able to beam through the interference, so they had to bring everyone back up by shuttlecraft,” Chapel tells him.
“Don’ remember,” Leonard rasps.
“That’s to be expected, considering the fact that you died a couple of times on them,” Chapel tells him. “They lost your heartbeat twice and had to resuscitate you.”
“Not sure I needed to know that, Christine,” he mumbles. He’s quickly growing weary, and suddenly wants nothing more than to be left alone.
“I’ll be just over there if you need anything,” Chapel says, pointing to the other side of the room. “Get some rest, sir. You need it.”
Leonard’s about to tell her that the only thing he needs right now is a strong glass of Kentucky’s finest, but sleep is dragging him under with irritating efficiency and the most he can manage is a grunt.
His wonders, in the last moments before consciousness fades completely, whether Jim will be there when he wakes up.
Leonard is moved to his quarters the following morning.
Bits and pieces of the story have filtered through to him from eavesdropping on different conversations. The distress call that they picked up was actually decades old, and wasn’t supposed to be transmitting anymore. The medical team therefore beamed down unawares into the midst of what turned out to be an incredibly xenophobic society. Their intentions were taken as hostile, and all had been captured. Leonard had been inferred by the aliens to be their leader, and he had borne the brunt of the interrogations as a result. It explains many things, such as why the aliens kept themselves covered when talking to him. They didn’t want to risk contamination from other-worlders.
He spends his time puttering around the cabin--that is, when he isn’t sleeping, which happens an awful lot. He’s restless during the few hours that he’s awake, and being cooped up in his rooms is agony, but at the same time he has no desire to venture out into the rest of the ship. It’s bad enough that he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror every now and again, even when he doesn’t mean to. He can hardly stand the sight of his own battered face; he doesn’t want to deal with the stares or averted eyes of the rest of the crew.
And the mandatory leave is a sharp reminder that there’s a reason he doesn’t do this; a reason why he doesn’t allow himself to have vast, unoccupied stretches of time. He doesn’t take time off because it gives him a chance to think; a chance to sit back and realize where he is, and what he’s doing. He doesn’t take time off because he knows that if he stops, even for a moment, there’s a chance he won’t be able to start back up again.
He wasn’t cut out for this life.
It takes Jim three days to visit him.
Leonard is reading on the couch when the chime sounds, and he ignores it. He has no intention of entertaining any visitors--save perhaps one, but that particular visitor never uses the courtesy of the chime.
It sounds three more times before Leonard barks, “Go away.”
There is a pause, and then Jim’s voice says, “Open up, Bones.”
Leonard considers this for a moment, a protest is on his lips. But Jim has never used the chime before, not when he could just as easily break the code on the door, and Leonard finds this unsettling. He reaches for his temporary cane with an irritated grunt and swings to his feet.
“Can I come in?” Jim asks when Leonard keys in his code and the door slides open. He lingers on the other side of the threshold, looking hesitant, which is an alien expression on his face and unnerves Leonard.
“I didn’t open the damn door for nothing.” Leonard turns and limps back over to the couch, feeling Jim’s eyes on his back and hating every moment of it. “What d’ya want, Jim?”
Jim follows him into the room, but doesn’t sit on the couch. He stands in front of it, hands clasped awkwardly behind his back.
“I should’ve come sooner,” he says abruptly. Leonard snorts.
“Don’t blame you for it. I’m a goddamn mess, Jim, look at me. Can’t even fucking walk.”
Jim shakes his head.
“No. On the planet. I should’ve been there sooner.”
Leonard looks away.
“Not your fault,” he says gruffly. “You had no idea what they were doing to us. No one died, so don’t worry your head over it.”
“We were in negotiations with the government,” Jim goes on stiffly. “We thought... we thought you were all simply being held. They assured us no one was being harmed. God, we even knew where you were being kept. But we kept talking and talking... and they kept stonewalling us at every turn. If we hadn’t finally gone after you...”
He trails off. Leonard grimaces.
“Like I said,” he says finally, softly. “You couldn’t have known.”
He leans back against the sofa and casts a critical eye over Jim. His skin looks paper-thin, stretched tight across his cheekbones, and there are deep pools of purple under his eyes. He’s looking at Leonard strangely, as though he can’t quite believe the man is sitting in front of him. The gaze is unnerving.
“For God’s sake,” Leonard snaps at last, “sit down. Before you fall over.”
Jim perches tentatively on the couch. Several inches of empty space separate their bodies.
“I ain’t gonna break, you know,” Leonard mutters.
But he almost does a moment later, when Jim reaches out to cup his face with one hand and Leonard flinches away from him. Jim freezes, and then withdraws. Leonard sinks his teeth into his lip to bite back a curse and tears his eyes away from the expression of shock and underlying hurt that flashes across Jim’s face before he can recover himself.
Damn it all to hell.
Leonard balls his hand into a fist on his knee, trying to quell the sudden tremors that wrack it. He can’t meet Jim’s gaze. His skin is crawling and his breaths are becoming shallow, and he pushes himself to his feet and hobbles over to the window.
It’s not often that Leonard stares out into the vacuum. The medical bay is a blessedly windowless room, and he’s not usually in his quarters long enough to do more than shower and sleep. Most days, he’s able to almost forget the darkness and the silence that presses in on them from all sides.
He forces himself to stare out at it now, at the unending black; at the soft pinpoints of light that look so harmless from this distance, but he knows that each one is a violent ball of burning gas. Each one of those stars will die a violent death, taking out entire solar systems, perhaps even entire civilizations.
He stares until his palms begin to sweat; until the tremors have nothing to do with his abduction. He stares until he feels faint, because he’s never been afraid of Jim before and hates that his body is betraying him in this way. He stares because he is supposed to be terrified of the vacuum, not of Jim. He stares because it shouldn’t be like this, and yet it is.
“I don’t know how you do it, Jim,” Leonard says dully after a moment.
“Do what, Len?” Jim remains sitting on the couch.
“I don’t know how you stand it out here.” Leonard sighs heavily through his nose. “I ain’t cut out for this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about just... leaving. Breaking my contract, getting off at the nearest starbase. Getting out of here.”
He hears a rustle of clothing, the soft swish of fabric brushing against itself as Jim gets to his feet and crosses the room to him.
“I don’t take leave for a reason, Jim,” Leonard says quietly. Jim is standing behind him, and he avoids looking at his reflected gaze in the glass. “It’s not entirely because of the shuttles; it’s because I know if I leave - I won’t come back. I can’t come back. If I stop, even for a moment, I won’t be able to do this anymore.”
He takes a deep breath and repeats, quietly, "I don't know how you do this."
Jim puts a hand on his shoulder, the warmth bleeding through the thin fabric of his shirt. He grabs Jim’s hand with his free one, the one not holding the cane, and holds on fast.
It is his sole anchor in a storm-tossed sea.
“I do this because I have to, Len,” Jim says quietly. “Because I was born on a shuttlecraft in the wake of a massacre, and it wasn’t the stars that killed my father. I have loved them too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
Jim comes to stand in front of him and Leonard tears his gaze from the window, staring instead into the safe depths of his lover’s eyes.
“We will get through this, Len,” Jim goes on. He brings his hand to rest over Leonard’s heart, as though he can physically slow its frantic beat. His voice is low and commanding, and Leonard almost believes him. “It won’t always be this way.”
“You don’t know that,” Leonard croaks.
“I do know that,” Jim says firmly. “I know it because you were the one who couldn’t leave me behind to begin with; who risked everything to bring me out into the void. I know it because you could've had your pick of half a dozen planetside posts after the incident with the Narada, but instead you came back out here. With me. I know it because there’s no one else in the galaxy who infuriates me like you do, and no one else I couldn’t bear to be without.”
Leonard gives a soft huff of laughter, even as his chest swells with Jim’s words.
“Sentimental ass,” he mutters, but his voice is heavy with emotion. Jim snorts.
“All right, there’s this as well: I know we’re going to get through this, because we’re going to sign that contract, Len.”
Leonard blinks at him.
“Contract,” he echoes, and it’s almost a question. Jim smoothes a hand over Leonard’s shirt, brushing away a wrinkle absently.
“Form 23-B. I had it all downloaded and ready to go when everything blew up in our faces,” he admits quietly. “I was gonna ask you when we were on our trip. But it’s not going anywhere, Len. It’ll still be there when you’re - when we’re - ready. And that day will come.”
Leonard isn’t sure which of them moves first, but suddenly his face is pressed into Jim’s shoulder and Jim’s arms are around him, clutching him so tightly that his breath stills in his chest. Leonard closes his eyes and holds Jim in return, breathing in the sweat-worn scent of him--how Jim always smells after a stint on the bridge. It is familiar and warm, and when Bones opens his eyes, he finds himself staring out at the black again.
This time, it doesn’t seem quite so suffocating.