After Jim wakes up, Bones refuses to discharge him from Starfleet Medical.
As far as Jim is concerned, this is total fucking balls.
“I’m awake,” he says on more than one occasion, with an escalating degree of annoyance. “I can make it to the head to take a piss, I can feed myself grape jello, and I can string together a sentence and remember enough inane childhood memories that you can’t even properly confirm to ensure my brain hasn’t been totally scrambled by radiation. Why do I have to be here when I can be recovering in my own apartment?”
“Because I like you where I can see you,” says Bones, again and again, flat and uncompromising.
Jim sinks back into his blankets and quietly hates him.
“Hmm?” says Bones. He’s standing over the bed with a PADD in his hand, ignoring Jim himself in favour of scrutinizing his blood pressure and white blood cell count and all the numbers that definitely, absolutely, state that Jim is ready to go home.
“You are my torturer and jailer,” says Jim with a deep sigh. “And you will slowly drown me in a mountain of artificially flavoured gelatin.” He cracks a small smile and arches his eyebrows expectantly at Bones, a little spike of good humour rippling through him.
Bones narrows his eyes at Jim. His jaw is tight and there’s a tension to his shoulders and spine that hasn’t really left his body since Jim first woke up. “Your heart rate is a little high today,” he says at length.
Jim scowls. “So what? Maybe I’d be more relaxed at home.”
There’s a rapid shift in Bones’s expression, something intensely vulnerable crossing his face before impatient anger replaces it. “You listen here, Jim,” he snaps. “I didn’t drag you back from the dead to risk losing you again just because you’re a poor patient that doesn’t know the meaning of the word recovery.”
“I’m fine, Bones, come o—”
“Maybe I don’t trust your goddamn opinion anymore!”
Jim blinks. “Bones—”
“Shut up,” snaps Bones. “Shut up, and let me work. Don’t get in my goddamn way. I’m not interested.” He stabs at the display, adjusting the flow of Jim’s IV, and then turns on his heel and stomps right out of the room.
In the hallway, Jim hears his voice addressing the head nurse. “I am the first person you call if he tries to sweet-talk his way out of here or otherwise makes a break for it. You hear me? The first person.”
Jim grits his teeth and ignores every annoying, helpless, needy emotion that's clamouring for his attention.
“Fuck you, too, Bones,” he mutters. “Fuck you, too.”
“Sir, do you need something?”
“Yeah,” says Jim. “My doctor. Where the hell is he?”
“Doctor McCoy is currently off site. He’ll be back this evening.”
“It must be so nice for him, getting to come and go,” says Jim.
“Nothing, I’m fine,” he sighs, sitting back and rubbing at the bridge of his nose, where a headache is forming. “When he gets back, tell him I need to see him.”
He naps under duress, and wakes up to Bones in his room, dressed down in a rain jacket and jeans and the beat-up blue sneakers he wears everywhere when he’s not in uniform. “Imagine my surprise when I show up today, thinking you’d appreciate the alone time, only to discover you missed me,” he says, setting a neatly folded pile of clothes on the end of the bed. “Get dressed.”
Jim frowns, watching Bones suspiciously. “Why?”
Bones rolls his eyes. “You’re free. You’ve served your time and now you’re getting released.” He pauses. “Not for good behaviour, mind.”
“Seriously?” says Jim, incredulous. “I get to go? What’s the catch?”
“There is no catch,” says Bones, but he’s hedging.
“Bones,” says Jim sternly.
“No,” says Bones sharply. “Don’t use that tone on me. I’m the doctor, you’re the patient. Turn the captain voice off. Now get dressed, and I’ll take you home.”
The catch is that once Bones takes him home, he doesn’t exactly leave.
Jim bristles. “Am I under house arrest?”
“What? No,” says Bones. He pushes his fingers through his hair and lets out a slow, controlled breath, like he’s restraining himself. “You are unbelievable. You are the only person I have ever met that actually equates recovery time with a prison sentence.”
“Hey, the stupid metaphors are your fault,” retorts Jim hotly. “You’re welcome to leave if you don’t want to hear it.”
“Nice try,” snorts Bones. “What’s gotten into you, anyway? We shared a room for three years. Not to mention a bed for coming on four.”
“I didn’t like the mothering then, and I don’t like it now,” snaps Jim.
He’s aware, as he’s saying it, that this is too far, this is over the invisible line, this is stepping into altogether unfamiliar territory. This isn’t how he talks to Bones.
Jim doesn’t know who he is, what he’s doing, or why. Until he figures it out, he’s holding Bones at arm’s length.
“You’re being an asshole,” says Bones, the hurt on his face quickly veiled by irritation as red rashes his cheeks. “I guess it’s a good goddamn thing we never moved in together.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Jim snaps back before he can stop himself. “Maybe we’re just a bad idea altogether, Bones.”
Too far. Too far, but not far enough; Jim Kirk has spent a lot of his life jumping blindly.
There’s a tell-tale tightness to Bones’s mouth. He carries all his stress there, in the tense pull of his jaw, sloping down to the hunch of his shoulders. “I’m gonna go take a shower,” he says. Then he turns on his heel and disappears down the corridor.
Exhaustion hits Jim as soon as Bones is out of sight and he lets out a harsh breath. He feels waterlogged, too heavy to raise his head about the surface. After four weeks lying in bed, just the idea of being vertical for longer than an hour at a time is enough to make Jim want to lie down exactly where he’s standing and take a nap on the floor.
Bones would want to know. He’d ask Jim to catalogue the bone-deep ache in his joints and the twinge in his abdomen.
Frustrated, Jim goes into his bedroom, gets under the covers fully clothed, and goes to sleep.
As far as Jim can tell, the only thing Bones does when he isn’t parked in the living room monitoring Jim’s vitals is cook.
He holes up in the kitchen, wearing an apron that Jim doesn’t ever remember buying, and he makes an entire week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Then he packages them up in containers that Jim also doesn’t remember buying (leading Jim to believe that at some point while Jim was sleeping, Bones went out and did some shopping, because it’s not like Jim had groceries either) and stores them either in the fridge or the freezer.
There are smoothies and energy bars, pasta dishes, sandwiches, soups, and fruit salads. Jim’s fridge is full to bursting. Vitamin boosters appears on the counter, labelled neatly and split into daily dosages.
Jim walks into the kitchen while Bones is making an omelette, for, Jim assumes, himself. It would only be reasonable, considering Jim hasn’t seen Bones eat a single thing he’s actually made since the cooking mania started.
Jim’s actually eaten a lot of it, but only when Bones isn’t looking.
With a scowl etched on his face, Jim stands in front of the open fridge in his boxers and pours out a glass of (pulpy, freshly squeezed) orange juice. Bones’s constant hovering presence is akin to that of a bee trapped inside the apartment, buzzing angrily and without stopping, occasionally crossing Jim’s path and nearly bumping into his face.
Bones glances at him sidelong and dumps the omelette onto a plate, sliding it on the table. The expression on his face is the closest thing to neutral that Bones can actually manage.
“Breakfast,” mutters Bones, the sound startling them both.
“Looks like,” says Jim, twisting up the corner of his mouth.
Bones fills the pan with warm, soapy water, wipes his hands on his apron, and leans against the counter, arms crossed over his chest.
“Aren’t you going to eat it?” says Jim, when absolutely nothing else proceeds to happen.
“It’s for you,” says Bones. His neutral expression has collapsed into knitted brows and a tight mouth.
“I didn’t ask for eggs,” says Jim easily, taking a sip of his juice.
“You don’t ask for a lot of things,” says Bones slowly. “But I’m still going to give them to you.”
Just like that, the tension in the room ramps up. Maybe it’s just Jim, because Bones is the complete opposite, withdrawn, collapsed in on himself, while Jim straightens up, lifts his chin, and pegs Bones with a hard glare.
Then Bones swallows and licks his lips, his eyelids fluttering as he blinks rapidly. “Please,” he says softly.
Maybe Jim imagines the catch in his voice, but it doesn’t matter. It still hits Jim right in the stomach, his guilt all wrapped up in love and affection and apology, and it settles low in his gut, practically doubling him over. Jim draws in a deep breath and resists the urge to reach for Bones as he passes him on the way to table.
He sits. He eats the omelette. He pretends he doesn’t hear Bones sigh in obvious relief.
He goes down with his ship and everyone on it, spiralling endlessly down to earth in an all-consuming plume of smoke that stinks of fear and failure.
As the city comes up to meet him, Jim wakes with a gasp, eyes open wide.
The mattress and sheets are soaked with sweat. For long minutes, Jim just lies on his back and shakes, his heart hammering at the cage of his ribs. Every inch of him hurts. He’s nothing but a mass of damaged cells, reconstructed and exposed. The weighty press of a headache settles just behind his eyes and Jim lets out a measured breath.
The dim glow of the clock reveals it’s just past three am and Jim is hungry and feels a little like he’s never going to get warm again, so he gets out of bed and pads out into the living room, intent on finding something he can heat up and eat.
Only he stops short just outside his bedroom, because Bones is still up.
Bones is still up, curled on the couch with a PADD propped on his knees, and he’s crying.
Jim’s breath freezes in his lungs. He curls his fingers into the doorframe to steady himself.
Seeing Bones cry has never been something from which Jim can successfully distance himself; he wants to crash through the walls he’s built to get to Bones.
He’d rip the universe apart to get to Bones. He’d—
(Bones crashed through death to get to Jim.)
Jim breathes shallowly, his head spinning.
On the couch, Bones is curled on his side, arms tucked around his midsection like he’s trying to keep himself from flying apart. The reflexive tremor in the broad slope of his shoulders shows he’s repressing sobs, holding them inside, smothering them.
Jim’s mouth forms the shape of his name.
The PADD on Bones’s knees isn’t visible to Jim from where he’s standing. He doesn’t want to know what he’s looking at that’s unravelling him like this. It’s already an intrusion, standing here watching Bones sob silently, tracking the progress of the tears slipping down the red curve of his cheek, when Bones doesn’t realise Jim sees him.
Bones thought it was a safe moment to let go and Jim is betraying his trust.
With a shudder, Bones lifts his hand and presses it over his mouth. The muffled sound that’s caught in his throat is a wounded, broken little thing. His eyes burning, Jim mirrors him, pressing his own hand into his gut.
By the time Bones quiets, head turned away from Jim and pressed against the back of the couch, Jim is shaky on his feet and there’s a lightheaded buzz in his skull.
He’s not hungry anymore.
Jim waits Bones out until he falls asleep before he goes to him.
The expression on Bones’s face is faintly worried, brows drawn up, the flush fading from his tear-stained cheeks as he breathes heavily into the deep stillness of the room, lips parted and pleading. Jim realises, looking at him warm and slack in the cradle of his own arms, that he’ll never be able to leave him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, trailing his fingers through Bones’s thick hair. “Bones, I am so sorry.”
Jim wants him and needs him, his chest tight with the desire to shake him awake and pull him into his arms, to drag him into the bedroom so he can fill the desperately empty space in his bed.
Before he goes back to his room, Jim hesitates for just a moment and then bends over Bones, brushing his lips against the anxious wrinkle of his forehead.
And with a soft, sad sigh, Bones shifts closer, his face smoothing out.
Jim doesn’t get back to sleep for a long time. His thoughts drift but his heart stays with Bones, the distance between them incalculable.
They only ever had one massive blowout fight over the three years they roomed together, and it was about laundry.
Or, rather, how when they finally got around to even doing laundry, their clothes inevitably got mixed together, and something of Bones’s that shouldn’t have been washed with something of Jim’s, because the something of Jim’s was bright red, and the something of Bones’s was white, well...
Jim remembers pulling everything out the machine and wondering vaguely how he could have possibly tossed a red shirt into what he intended to be a batch of whites but was now a batch of uniformly shaded pale pinks. At the time, he’d shrugged and shoved it all into the dryer. Live and learn.
(Unfortunately, the something of Bones’s was also something that shouldn’t have been put in the dryer.)
“Where’s my favourite shirt?” Bones had demanded three days later, standing topless in the middle of the dorm, his hands on his hips. “Did you steal it again?”
“Borrow. Did I borrow it, Bones,” Jim said, squinting appreciatively at his broad, bare shoulders. “I think that’s a good look. Just go out like that.”
“No. I want my shirt. Did you wash it?”
Spoiler: Jim had washed it. Bones didn’t take it well.
The point is, Jim’s always been comforted by Bones. By his presence, his manner, the way that when they’re in the same room together Bones saves about 75% of his attention for Jim and Jim alone.
It’s always satisfied the deeply possessive part of Jim that reached out to the first person that thought to reach out to him; he picked Bones and Bones picked him, and so Jim named and claimed him the moment he realised that Bones was unlikely to leave him.
Fuck-ups stick together, Jim. Bones has said that in their first week, fall-down drunk and leaning on Jim’s shoulder, his weight heavy but not unmanageable.
Jim had brought him home and cleaned him up and tucked him in, and it was maybe the first time in his life that he’d felt responsible for another person.
It hadn’t made him want to run.
Then they’d started sleeping together and Jim made Bones that much more his own. In his mind and in his heart, Jim knew they were going to be stuck together for life. They weren’t the kind of people that knew how to dial back the raw connection that made them friends and partners.
Because while he’s never said it out loud, Jim is rock solid in his belief that Bones belongs to him.
Now, though. Now he’s constantly aware of where Bones is in the apartment, being driven slowly but surely mad by the way he’s always there. Analysing, cataloguing, watching, obsessing, cooking, in Jim’s face even when he’s being careful to be surreptitious in his data collection, and Jim is done. He is so done. Having Bones’s attention 100% on him without the added bonus of his dick in Bones’s ass is pretty much intolerable.
“I need you to stop making that noise,” snaps Jim, stalking into the living room.
Bones looks up from his PADD, finger frozen in mid-air above the screen. “What noise?”
“I can hear you tapping,” says Jim, miming the stab of his finger in the air to indicate what it feels like Bones is doing to his soul. “I need you to stop.”
“How can you even hear it from in there?” says Bones, arching an eyebrow. “Are you sitting in the doorway listening for it? Christ, Jim, what do you want? What do you want from me?”
For you to leave me alone, he thinks. For you to stay forever. I don’t know. “Can we just go out?” he says instead. “I just need to not be in here. It’s like the walls are closing in.”
“I don’t know if you’re really ready—”
“You’ll be right there,” interrupts Jim, scoffing. “Come on. Just a walk.”
And just like Jim knew he would, Bones caves. “Fine,” he says. “Get a sweater, though. You’ll catch your dea—”
Bones cuts himself off, horrified, but Jim laughs until his stomach aches.
“It’s not funny,” says Bones miserably.
“Are you kidding,” wheezes Jim. “It’s the funniest thing you’ve said in weeks.”
Jim wants to walk and use the tram, but he only gets as far as saying, “Why don’t we—” before Bones says, “Hell no,” in a flat voice. Jim puts up token protest, but Bones shoots him down with seasoned flair, like herding Jim is his job (it is, it totally is, but Jim doesn’t have to like it), and they end up in the car, Bones in the driver’s seat.
And Jim knows that Bones hates driving in the city, usually keeps up a mumbled hiss of curses, but the ride this time is silent and stiff. Jim wishes he’d say something, anything, maybe break the tension with an exaggerated complaint about traffic rules or the person taking their time crossing in front of them, but Bones just hunches over the dashboard and glowers out the windshield, his eyes viciously tracking the pedestrian’s slow progress.
It’s a relief when Bones pulls into the parking lot.
Jim gets out of the car and immediately shudders at the crisp, cold breeze. Bones materializes at his elbow, holding out the jacket Jim definitely didn’t bother to bring.
“Are you going to keep doing this?” asks Jim, taking the jacket if only to avoid the lecture Bones is sure to deliver if Jim attempts to cope with the weather in true Midwestern style.
“Doing what?” says Bones gruffly. He zips up his own jacket and stuff his hands into his pockets.
“Nothing,” says Jim, biting back sarcasm. “Let’s just walk.”
For about half an hour, they don’t exchange another word, making their way down to Ocean Beach. Jim picks a path down the sand to the water, waves crashing up against the shore in misty plumes of brine, and follows the beach while Bones trails along a couple of feet behind him.
It’s not warm, but Jim turns his face up to the sun and closes his eyes, taking deep, even breaths.
Behind him, there’s a splash and a muffled, “Fuck!” and when he turns around, Bones is standing in the surf, his shoes off, staring at his own feet like he’s just made a terrible mistake.
“What the hell are you doing?” demands Jim, squinting at him.
“I don’t know,” admits Bones. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s really fucking cold.”
Jim’s mouth curves up at the corner and he raises an eyebrow at Bones. “Then get out of the water, Bones.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” says Bones miserably. “I’ll stand here and freeze if I want to.”
Jim wraps his arms around himself and huffs out a breath, watching Bones stamp restlessly. The surf is foamy as it washes rhythmically past Bones’s naked ankles, wetting the cuffs of his rolled up jeans. “If you’re trying to prove a point, I don’t understand what it is.”
“And you call yourself a genius,” says Bones.
“I don’t,” points out Jim. “I just tested that way. So did you. Not looking like much of a genius now.”
Bones angles his head at Jim, making a face. “That’s my point right there.”
“You mean here?” teases Jim, waving his hand in the air. “Sailing right over the top of my head?”
“I have high blood pressure, you know,” says Bones, shaking out each foot and padding back into the dry sand. He waves his sneakers fussily at Jim. “I have high blood pressure at age thirty two, and do you know why? Because of you, Jim. Because my life has spiralled out of my control, and you stress me out so badly I can’t relax.”
Jim rolls his eyes. “There’s a hypo you can take for that. I bet you can even administer it yourself.”
“That’s not the point. The point is I didn’t ask for any of this,” snaps Bones, and Jim can tell the exact moment they shift gears from Bones’s unique brand of over-the-top theatricality to actual strained emotion.
Jim opens his mouth and finds himself at a loss. There isn’t a single flippant comment on the tip of his tongue and he doesn’t know how to reel them back in from the deep end before they both drown. He catches Bones’s gaze, the tightness around his eyes and mouth. “I know, Bones,” he says softly. “I know.”
Bones looks at him closely. Very slowly, the tension bleeds out of his shoulders and he lets out a soft, soundless breath. He looks grumpy and ruffled and helpless, his eyes green in the sunlight, shifting away from Jim’s face (he never holds a gaze for long, Bones, he always looks away first) to find patterns in the waves.
Gripped by loneliness, by the distance between them, Jim reaches out to bridge it.
Without needing to look to find Jim’s hand, Bones reaches out to take it, and together they stand in the cold sand looking out at the Pacific.
Clearing his throat, Jim runs his thumb along the groove of Bones’s knuckles. “Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you hadn’t come back for me?” he asks, keeping his voice soft. “Before Vulcan?”
Bones shudders, his eyelids fluttering closed. His grip on Jim’s hand tightens. “To be honest, Jim, I try not to.”
Jim does. Jim thinks about the multitude of possible ends, but in all of them, Bones never came back, and that was the last time Jim saw him. It’s a very private fear he carries in his heart, losing Bones. It’s so all-encompassing he can never bring himself to think about how Bones would feel in that same position. How Bones felt. Because for Bones, it happened.
I’m sorry, he wants to say. I’m sorry, but it will probably happen again. I know why you don’t want to let me out of your sight, why you find it impossible to give me space. I know why, and I understand, and I don’t hate you for it.
In fact, I love you. I love you.
“I can’t lose you,” says Jim finally. His voice is thin, half lost on the wind. It hurts to even say it.
Bones sighs. It’s a sad, resigned sound. “You won’t. You won’t.”
It’s not a promise.
He goes to bed without any urging from Bones. Without Bones beside him, Jim curls up in the middle of the mattress, wrapping his arms around one of the pillows. It’s no substitute.
In his dreams, Bones is there, every facet of him, and Jim loses him over and over again. He never comes back from that first emergency mission to Vulcan, the universe falling to pieces around Jim’s ears without Bones there. Then he dies on the planetoid with Dr. Marcus, Jim forced to listen to the explosion, left knowing Bones had enough time to really feel terror.
After countless deaths, countless failures, Jim is finally left to die alone inside the heart of his ship, heavy with the knowledge that he put Bones into the relentless danger of space, that Bones might be safe if it wasn’t for Jim.
Jim can’t breathe.
He sits up in bed sweating and shaking, his chest tight.
“Jim?” Bones is silhouetted in the doorway, peering in at him.
“What?” snaps Jim. He clutches at his chest with cold fingers, heart hammering at his ribs like it’s going to burst.
Bones hesitates. “You called my name,” he says roughly.
“Oh,” says Jim. “Can you just—” He moves over on the bed, makes enough room, and Bones just knows, like he always does, what Jim wants from him.
He lies down carefully next to Jim, body sleep-warm and solid. They don’t even touch, but when Jim goes back to sleep, he doesn’t dream about death.
“Hey,” says Jim. “Did you sleep at all?”
Bones has his arms crossed, body reined in tight like he’s trying not to take up too much space. “Some,” he says, his eyes searching Jim’s face. “You?”
Jim nods. Bones is less than two feet away yet it feels like a chasm. Jim reaches out but doesn’t touch. “I miss you,” he whispers.
“I’m right here,” says Bones, unfolding his arms and reaching out until their fingers brush.
“I know,” says Jim. “I know. But I don’t know.”
Bones sighs, his eyes closing. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this, Jimmy,” he says. His voice is small and sad. “Either you want me or you don’t. It can’t be both at the same time.”
Jim tugs his fingers back and sits up, shaken. “You said...”
“I know what I said,” says Bones. He sits up as well, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and getting to his feet. “And it’s true. You won’t. But I think I need...” He hesitates, passing his hand in front of his face like he’s trying to suss out a headache. There’s a tremble to his fingers that’s never been there before. For the first time, Jim wonders why he’s not working, how he’s getting all this time off from Starfleet Medical to trail after Jim’s broken body and brain.
“Need what?” says Jim sharply. “To not be around me?”
“You haven’t wanted me here,” yells Bones, his voice rising abruptly in volume, and Jim shuts his jaw and stares at Bones.
Bones is a little wild-eyed himself, his nostrils flaring and his hands curling into fists. “Since the moment you woke up and couldn’t even spare me a glance, you haven’t goddamn wanted me around, and I can only take so much, Jim. I can only subject myself to so much before it gets into my skull and I come to terms with how—everything has changed, including what we were. So if this is it, if it’s the end, and you only want me in your bed on your terms, if you don’t want to touch me, to talk to me, then... you’ll have me, Jim, for however long you want me—as a friend. I won’t. I won’t leave you. But it’s not all about you.”
Jim’s ears are ringing. “Are you leaving?” he demands.
“I’m—going home for a while,” says Bones. “You need me, you call. But I need—I think we both need time. And you need space. I haven’t given you any space. I’m sorry for that.”
Something in Jim that’s been tight and resentful eases with the apology. But he doesn’t say anything, and Bones turns around and pads back out into the living room, and eventually the front door opens and closes, and Jim is alone.
Jim is left alone and he can’t breathe.
Without Bones there, he can’t bring himself to go back to sleep.
He’s not sure how he’s expected to ever sleep again.
“Recovery?” says Jim, holding the bottle of wine Uhura had presented him with. “I’m recovered. Bones isn’t my keeper, Spock.”
Uhura and Spock exchange a glance and Jim does his best not to bristle. “Are you guys fighting?” asks Uhura carefully.
“He was here,” says Jim shortly. “Now he’s not. C’mon, let’s pop the cork on this baby and have a glass.”
Because Jim is a recovering invalid, Spock and Uhura have also supplied dinner, and Jim’s thrown together a salad and a dip, and as soon as he’s got a glance of wine and some crackers and spinach dip inside him, things aren’t nearly so awkward. It’s a relief to just—pretend, to not think about everything that looking at Bones reminds him of, and even though Spock and Uhura carry a similar legacy with them, they occupy a different part of his heart. He can distance himself from them.
He can’t distance himself from Bones without physical separation; how else would he be expected to distance himself from someone that’s basically a part of him now?
“We should go,” Uhura says around midnight, making motions to leave. “You’re probably tired.”
Spock nods. “You require rest.”
Jim doesn’t find that sleep has been particularly restful lately. “You guys sound like Bones. Come on!”
“Jim,” says Uhura. “Where is Leonard?”
“He doesn’t live here, you know,” says Jim. “He’s at his place. We were getting on each other’s nerves. No big. We’re taking a mental health break.”
Another sly exchange of glances. Jim frowns. “What? He’s been driving me nuts. He didn’t even ask, you know. He just took up residence on my couch and then conquered my poor, defenseless kitchen.”
Uhura looks like she’s about to say something vehement when Spock clears his throat and she gives him a fractional nod and sits on her hands. “Captain,” he begins.
“Spock, what did we say about that?” interrupts Jim.
Spock looks pained. “...Jim. I do not think you fully understand what occurred while you were—indisposed.”
Jim smothers a snort. “Dead, Spock,” he says flatly. “I was dead.”
“Yes,” says Spock, and there’s the barest hint of strain in his voice. “I am well aware. We are all well aware, much more so than you seem to be.”
“What he’s trying to say is that what happened to you took quite a toll on Leonard,” says Uhura, narrowing her gaze at Jim.
Jim knows, okay? He knows. Maybe this was a bad idea. He’s just opened himself up to being double-teamed by Spock and Uhura, and not in the fun way. By this point, he’s pretty much ready for the evening to be over. “Yeah,” he says. “If you think I don’t understand that, then you really don’t know me or Bones very well—”
“You know him best,” cuts in Uhura. “Jim, what are you doing? He didn’t sleep, barely ate, while he worked on that serum. He wouldn’t let it go, couldn’t let you go. He saved your life.”
Jim sucks in a deep, shuddering breath. “I know,” he says weakly. “I can barely look at him without remembering that. I have dreams, nightmares—being near him all the time makes me sick knowing what I put him through. I don’t deserve all the time he devotes to me. I kept trying to make him angry enough to leave me alone, to realise I’m an asshole, I’m not worth it, and he finally—left. Only it didn’t work. It doesn’t feel better. I can’t sleep without him around, I just want him to come back, and I know he will if I ask.”
He looks to Spock, then to Uhura, feeling half-crazed, desperate for their understanding. He’s shaking, unstable, foundation unfit for rebuilding. “He keeps coming back. I can’t hurt him enough to make him fuck off for good, do you know how sick that is? I can’t even succeed at protecting him from me.”
Uhura gets to her feet and goes to Jim, wrapping her arms around him. “Don’t make him lose you again,” she hisses in his ear. “Whatever you think you’re doing, stop it right now. You died. He brought you back. Don’t make him lose you again.”
Jim is crashing against the shore, and no matter how many times he breaks apart and thinks, this is it, this has got to be it, no way will I be able to put myself back together, someone picks him back up and brushes him off and winds him back up.
Spock watches them with quiet concern. When Uhura lets go of Jim, Spock takes her hand. “What would you do?” Jim asks him. “If I was you, and Bones was Uhura.”
Spock glances at Uhura. “I would make an attempt, however poor it may be, to communicate.”
“I love him,” says Jim. It’s the first time he’s said it to anyone other than Bones. “More than anything. He was there when no one else was.”
“Then the answer should be easy,” says Uhura.
After they leave, Jim goes to bed, but he doesn’t sleep a wink.
Jim doesn’t shower and he doesn’t change his clothes and he lives off the food Bones prepared, distracting himself with the specs Scotty sends him detailing the Enterprise’s repairs and refit. It’s a good way to occupy himself when everything else gives him a migraine and sends him into anxiety attack territory, pulse racing and chest tight.
If he were here, Bones would be scanning him incessantly, and Jim doesn’t know if the thought comforts or infuriates him. He misses Bones like a limb. He’s never felt so removed from him before.
Jim dwells on the dreams he’s been having. Where, in another universe, Bones left him behind, didn’t think quick enough to justify dragging Jim aboard the Enterprise with a vaccine flooding his blood, and as a result, the-Bones-that-could-have-been is nothing but stardust, scattered to the farthest edges of the galaxy.
In yet another, he died on the planetoid with Carol or without her, lost to a mission Jim volunteered him on.
Jim catalogues all the possibilities, the paths and choices that lead to universes in which Bones doesn’t survive, and finds that he’s the root cause of them all.
The disease and darkness and danger is Jim. Would Bones be in space without him? Is there a Bones that never met him, living happily with the Earth safe beneath his feet?
In his weakest, neediest, most possessive moments, Jim pretends Bones was created for him. That his life is divided into pre-Jim and post-Jim segments, and only one truly matters, because what were their lives before each other? If Jim has discarded his past, why wouldn’t Bones?
Except Jim lives despite his past while Bones is defined by his, and he’ll never be wholly, truly Jim’s.
“We are each of us a multitude,” says Jim. He puts his head down on his pillow and reaches out over Bones’s half of the bed. Bones’s half of Jim’s heart.
“I miss you,” he whispers. “Please come home.”
Falling out of bed, he brushes the phantom grip of hands off him, panting and shaking—I’m as good as dead, Scotty, don’t call Bones, don’t you dare call him, he’ll open the door and flood the compartment, the radiation will—and the floor is cool and hard and solid underneath his hands and knees.
“Jesus,” he whispers. The buzzer goes again, and Jim suddenly realises—Bones. It must be Bones.
Scrambling to his feet, he stumbles out of his bedroom and through the living room, swiping his hand over the lock. The door swishes open and Jim cries, “Bones!”
Only, it’s not Bones. Uhura and Gaila stand in the corridor.
Jim’s face goes red. “I thought—”
“Can we come in?” asks Uhura gently.
“I...yeah,” says Jim, running his fingers through his hair and stepping back from the doorway to let them in.
Gaila passes him and wrinkles her nose, levelling a frank look at his wrinkled t-shirt and shorts. “You need a shower. You need to go do that right now before we take you out for lunch.”
“I’m not going out to lunch,” says Jim flatly, wrapping his arms around his middle, suddenly self conscious.
“Yes,” says Gaila. “You are.” She points down the hall toward the bathroom, locking eyes with Jim. Yeah, he knows where it is, thanks very much. It’s his apartment.
“I’m going to take a shower,” says Jim after a brief but furious staring contest. “But because I want to, not because you said I should. And definitely not because we’re apparently going out to lunch. We’re not. You might be, but I’m not.”
Uhura and Gaila exchange a glance and Jim is really tired of having people communicate silently about him when he’s right there.
He turns on his heel and stalks to the bathroom. Fuck everyone.
And the company isn’t half-bad. Uhura and Gaila really are two of his favourite people, and Jim Kirk holds his favourites tight to his chest, close to his heart.
“I thought you were going to talk to him,” says Uhura, scooping up a forkful of pasta.
“I was. I am,” says Jim, furrowing his eyebrows at his chicken. “I’m giving him time. He asked for time, I’m respecting what he said.”
Gaila clears her throat. Jim assumes she’s probably holding an entire conversation with Uhura while Jim examines his plate. He can’t bring himself to be angry about it. He’s been harbouring too much resentment lately anyway; misdirecting his anger is precisely why they’re here.
“How’s the refit going?” Uhura asks Gaila after a moment.
“Very well,” says Gaila. “We’re proceeding on schedule. Yesterday all the final plans were approved; actual reconstruction begins next month. I’m overseeing engineering with Commander Scott.”
Jim looks up. “How long?”
Gaila cocks her head. “A year at the most.”
Jim lets out a long sigh. It’s not like he wasn’t just looking over the specs the other night, reading the damage report over and over again, filing away the details. He knows the estimate. “That’s what I thought.”
“Once you are cleared for duty, you may visit us on Starbase 1 and view the repairs first hand,” offers Gaila. She pauses, her smile turning wry. “She has missed you.”
With a shaky laugh, Jim takes a sip of his fruit juice. “I don’t know about that.”
Jim’s ship was as broken as he was, last time he saw her, crumbling to pieces around him, unable to carry her crew safely. He’s not sure if he wants to view the damage at all. The memory of it is enough, burned into his brain.
“Can I try some of that?” Gaila asks Uhura, pointing to her half-finished dessert.
“Of course,” says Uhura. “But my fee is a bite of yours.”
Leaning back in his seat, Jim watches them through half-lidded eyes, letting the warmth of their presence and unwavering friendship surround him.
Once he includes the loss of Admiral Pike and the deaths on the ground, the level of Jim’s guilt becomes incalculable.
And it might have meant something if Jim had died for them. His life for theirs. It seems like a paltry, inadequate sacrifice, but it was all he’d had to give, and Bones had taken it away from him.
Jim stands in the kitchen and holds his hands out, watching them shake. The cracks are noticeable.
With a deep, shuddering breath, Jim curls his hands into fists.
He’d never considered, even in his wildest dreams, that he’d mean enough to someone that they’d literally refuse to accept his death.
He’d never considered that Bones would be as possessive of Jim as Jim was of Bones.
And because Jim is an entitled dick that’s had his thumbprint programmed into the hand scanner since Bones got this apartment, he doesn’t bother to ring the door chime. He needs to see Bones, and he needs to see him pretty much right now, so he just—lets himself in.
He takes two steps into the apartment, opens his mouth to call Bones’s name, and then freezes in place.
The thing about Bones’s apartment is it’s an open-concept loft, and the only separate room is the bathroom. So when he stumbles through the door, he can’t really miss Bones and Carol Marcus sitting on the couch together.
“Oh, wow, hey,” says Jim, rapidly taking in the scene with sharp eyes. “Carol! Hey, guys. Nice—pyjamas.”
“Thank you,” says Carol, arching an eyebrow.
If this is a date, then they’re having some weird themed pyjama party date while they play video games on the couch and eat ice cream and Jim has a moment of silence for Bones’s complete inability to show a lady a good time.
“Jim,” says Bones, putting down the controller he’s holding and getting to his feet. He’s wearing the t-shirt he won on Risa for being the only human able to put twenty five marshmallows into his mouth at the same time and the plaid flannel pants Jim’s mother got him last Christmas. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” says Jim, taking a step back. “I should leave.”
“You should goddamn knock,” says Bones, his brow furrowing. He looks at Carol, scrubbing a frustrated hand through his hair, and she inclines her chin at him and is everyone speaking in secret code but Jim?
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” stammers Jim. “I didn’t know you were—I mean, it’s totally cool if you are, I just—”
“We’re not on a date,” says Carol smoothly.
“It would be fine if you were, though!” protests Jim. “I’m not jealous!”
“Jim, we’re not on a date,” says Bones. He pinches the bridge of his nose wearily. “We were just—”
“We’ve become friends,” offers Carol, getting to her feet and brushing popcorn off her lap. “And if you need some time to talk, I’d be happy to give you a moment. I’ll just run to the grocery and get another pint of ice cream.”
“No, you know what,” says Bones wildly. “I’ll go.”
“No, Jim,” says Bones sharply. “Just—give me a damn minute. You can’t just surprise me like this and then expect I’m good to talk. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He grabs his jacket off the rack next to the door and shoves his feet into his ratty sneakers before stalking out of the apartment.
“Well,” says Jim after a moment, coming around the coffee table to sit on the couch. “This is kinda awkward.”
Carol settles back down next to him and hands over Bones’s discarded controller, restarting the game. “Only if you make it that way.”
“I’m really bad at this one,” says Jim. “Bones doesn’t usually want me to play it with him because I make him lose.”
“I wonder if that’s because it relies heavily on stealth,” says Carol mildly, rolling her eyes. She’s perched primly on the couch with her knees tucked under her, and her gaze, after its detour to examine the ceiling, fixes intently on the vidscreen. “We’re only friends, truly.”
“I know,” says Jim. “I didn’t really think this looked like a date, anyway. Or, if this is Bones’s idea of a date, he’s never tried it on me.”
“How long have you been together?” she asks.
Jim rubs at the side of his face. “Uh. It’s complicated. We started screwing in the Academy, but it was always kinda open. Then we saved the Earth, and things kicked into high gear. Anyway, I didn’t know you guys were....hanging out.” He glances at the empty carton of chunky monkey on the table. “You’ve been...talking?”
“Yes,” says Carol. “About many things. Leonard has been particularly helpful in helping me...” she pauses, searching for the words. “—deconstruct what I’m feeling about my father.”
“Oh,” says Jim quietly.
“And since I was called upon to testify at Leonard’s hearing, we’ve—”
“His what?” interrupts Jim.
Carol’s sharp gaze slides from the screen to Jim’s face and she pauses the game. “His hearing,” she says slowly. “Has he not told you?”
“Told me what?” asks Jim numbly.
“Stubborn man,” chides Carol, sighing. “Did you not think there might be consequences for what he did? Using the augmented blood of a genetically engineered superhuman to bring someone back from the dead? Of course he was tried. It was held after you regained consciousness, don’t you remember?”
Jim shakes his head, but then he thinks about the day that Bones didn’t show up to visit him at Starfleet Medical until late evening, looking drawn and irritable. “He didn’t tell me,” he mutters. “What happened? What did they decide?”
“They didn’t revoke his medical license,” she says. “But he’s been suspended from practicing for six months.”
“Jesus,” says Jim. He tosses the controller aside and covers his face with his hands. “That—stubborn—”
The door swishes open and Bones tramps inside clutching a shopping bag. He takes one look at them and seems to know exactly what they’re talking about, because his expression goes flat and neutral.
Carol looks between them and gets to her feet. “I should be going,” she says briskly. She collects her coat and slips on her boots, leaning up to kiss Bones’s cheek. “I’ll talk to you later, Leonard.” She pauses in the doorway to meet Jim’s eyes meaningfully. “Good night, Jim.”
Then she leaves, and they’re left alone, Bones standing there clutching a tub of ice cream and a bag full of god knows what else, Jim staring helplessly back at him.
Jim doesn’t know where they go from here.
“So,” he says after a long awkward silence. “You and Carol have been talking, huh?”
That seems to unroot Bones from the floor and he huffs and crosses the living area to the kitchen, where he takes his purchases out of the bag and starts to put them away. “She’s a good person. We get along.”
“Right, sure,” says Jim. “I’m—glad. That you had someone to talk to.”
Bones glances at him and then goes back to putting away the groceries. Which, by the way, are such a truly random assortment of food items that Jim knows Bones walked into the nearest store and just started knocking things into a basket without paying attention to what he was buying.
“Bones,” says Jim. He can’t stand how Bones can’t—or won’t—make eye contact. He gets up and goes to him, only once he’s within arm’s length, Bones abandons the groceries and makes to scoot past Jim and escape. “Bones, stop—” He catches him by the arm and herds him against the island and, even now, Bones just—yields. “Please,” says Jim, holding Bones steady by the upper arms. “Look at me.”
“Jim—” Bones makes brief eye contact before his gaze skitters away again like a spooked animal. “What do you want?”
“I want to say one thing,” says Jim firmly. “Something I should have said a lot sooner.”
“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” says Bones, his throat working.
“Bones.” Jim gives him a little shake, and Bones looks at him, his face a weary wreck. “I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for saving my life.”
Judging by the sharp intake of breath, the way Bones goes utterly still in Jim’s grip, that’s not what he was expecting to hear. Jim watches Bones’s expression crack, all jagged edges and raw vulnerability. His eyes and cheeks are red. “I thought you hated me for that.”
“I’m sorry,” says Jim. “Bones, I am so sorry.”
Bones drops his head, shoulders sagging like he just can’t physically hold himself up any longer. Jim wraps his arms around him, cradling Bones’s head against his shoulder, burying his fingers in his thick hair.
“I’m sorry too,” mumbles Bones. “For—being too much to handle, for not letting you forget what you were dealing with when all you wanted to do was move on. For just plain driving you nuts.”
Jim chokes on the sudden swell of tears, his throat tight. “I’m a dick. I’m such an asshole, Bones. I don’t deserve you. I don’t.”
Bones draws in a shuddering breath, his fist curled tight into the back of Jim’s shirt. “Shut up. I’d rather you alive and an asshole than dead and a martyr.” He lets out a deep sigh. “I miss you.”
“I’m right here,” says Jim.
“I know,” says Bones. “I know.”
“I can’t sleep,” admits Jim. “I can’t sleep without you around, Bones. I don’t want to sleep because when you’re not there I just—I’m so tired. I’m just really tired. I can’t lose anyone else. I’m so tired of dreaming about death.”
Bones lifts his head and peers at Jim, hazel eyes scanning his face, big hand coming up to cup Jim’s cheek. “I want you to see a counsellor,” he says at length. “You need to talk about your grief with someone that isn’t me. You need to promise me that if I set it up, you’ll go.”
Jim hesitates and then nods. “Okay. Okay. For now, can we just—go to bed? Please?”
Bones pushes his fingers up through Jim’s hair, like he’s relishing just being able to touch. It’s been so long since they touched. “Yeah.”
They end up in the centre of Bones’s bed, Jim spooned up behind Bones, holding him tightly around the waist, forehead tucked against the curve of Bones’s spine. It’s not the most comfortable configuration for sleeping, but it gives Jim maximum skin-to-skin contact, and when he closes his eyes, it’s to quiet darkness.
Bones is warm and solid in Jim’s arms and that night, his dreams are empty of loss and destruction.
Jim traces the line of his jaw and watches him. “I want you to move in with me,” he says, his voice hushed.
Bones snuffles softly and shifts his arm away from his face, blinking blearily at Jim. “What?” he asks roughly.
“I said, I want you to move in with me,” Jim repeats.
“Jim,” says Bones. He blinks and rubs at his eyes to clear the sleep away, his brow furrowing and the generous curve of his mouth slipping into a concerned pout. “You really think that’s a good idea?”
“I don’t know,” says Jim. “But if you’re in my bed instead of on my couch, then I’ll feel like you’re there because you want to be there, not because you feel responsible for me.”
Bones huffs. “I am responsible for you.”
“Whatever,” says Jim, brushing the thought away. “I just need—” He cuts himself off, faltering.
“What do you want me to do?” asks Bones, tone sober.
“I want you there with me,” says Jim after a moment. “I don’t want to be alone. I need you, Bones. I know I haven’t been—coping. I’m not saying there aren’t moments when I’m going to be a dick. You are simultaneously my favourite person in the world and the person that annoys me the most. It’s like you’re in my head and I don’t even want to be in my head right now so I want to turn you off and just have you be instead of actively doctoring me through this. That’s not what I need.”
Bones props himself up on his elbow, sliding a hand onto Jim’s hip, and that small touch, the pressure of contact, makes Jim’s eyes prickle with tears.
“I’m sorry,” says Bones quietly, his voice wavering.
“No,” says Jim. “No, Bones, don’t be sorry, I get it. I get that you were scared I was just going to drop dead if you turned your head for a second, I get it, okay? I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t even know you—Carol told me—”
“It’s only six months,” says Bones, casting his gaze away, his lips pursing. “I’m lucky I just got a slap on the wrist. I’m guaranteed my job back. I didn’t even get demoted. I’m lucky.”
“So am I,” says Jim.
Bones snorts, his cheeks flooding with colour. “I’m too old to make new friends. I couldn’t just let you stay dead. Maybe I’m selfish. You ever think of that?”
“You’re as selfish as me,” says Jim, shrugging. “As selfish as each other. I can’t lose you, too, Bones. How will I ever understand myself without you there to translate?”
“What about me?” asks Bones, letting out a rough chuckle.
“What about you, Bones? What do you need?” Jim weaves their fingers together, squeezing his hand.
Bones closes his eyes. “I just want you to try.”
“No, Bones.” Jim’s stomach flips. “What do you need?”
“I already got what I needed,” says Bones. “I needed you not to be dead. So I made it happen. I don’t get to ask for anything else.”
“That is not how this works,” laughs Jim humourlessly. “It’s you and me on this ship of feelings, crew of two.”
“The USS Emotionally Compromised Assholes,” says Bones.
They both go quiet, Bones lying down again, and Jim eases himself down, too, looking at Bones across the mattress. “I’m sorry I pushed you away,” says Jim.
“I’m sorry I held you too tight.” Bones’s face is soft, tired, the sun coming in through the blinds washing him out, highlighting the high cut of his cheekbones and the lines around his mouth.
“Don’t be,” says Jim. “You didn’t let me go. I didn’t want you to. Even when I tried to make myself think I did. I don’t know how you don’t give up on me, Bones.”
“Because,” says Bones, and he cups Jim’s jaw and leans in to kiss him, a soft press of his mouth. “I have to believe in something.”
“Way to put the pressure on, Bones,” teases Jim.
Bones rolls his eyes. “You thrive under pressure.”
“Yeah, but now that I know I’m basically your raison d’être...”
“Stop right there,” says Bones, his cheeks red. “If the next words out of your mouth aren’t ‘and you’re mine,’ then I’m kicking your ass out.”
“Well, considering you brought me back from the dead, you realise that’s literally true, right, Bones?” asks Jim.
“What about figuratively?” Bones looks a little like Jim’s answer has the potential to tear him apart.
“Yeah, Bones,” says Jim softly. He presses the palm of his hand over Bones’s sternum. “Figuratively most of all.”
“You ready?” asks Bones, standing beside him. They’re both dressed down in civvies, not here in an official capacity.
Jim takes a slow, steady breath in through his nose. He reaches out to take Bones’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “Yeah. Let’s go check on our lady.”
Three months into repairs, Gaila had sent Jim a note informing him that bridge repairs were complete. The message had come with a postscript suggesting that maybe it was time for a visit.
That week, Jim had spent his hour with Dr. Dehner pointedly not talking about how the thought of seeing the Enterprise made him want to vomit. He didn’t need to see what he already knew. He’d been there. He’d crawled right into the guts of his ship as she fell to earth.
“Are we taking a shuttle?” asks Bones, trailing along in Jim’s wake as he clears a path through the busy crowds.
“No,” says Jim. “No need. The transporters are online. We can beam aboard.”
“Oh,” says Bones, “Great.” His tone implies that this is not, in fact, great, and is in actual fact really goddamn awful. It’s the kind of tone that loses all meaning once someone grows familiar with Bones and the fact that for all his complaining he’s actually a total pushover that will whine about being told to do something as he’s obediently doing the thing he was told to do.
“Just close your eyes and think about how I’m going to fuck you tonight,” says Jim, “that should keep you occupied.”
“You’re an asshole,” sputters Bones. “I’ll do no such thing!”
But judging by the blush on his face as they take their places on the transporter pad, he’s doing exactly that such thing.
Just before they dematerialize, Jim catches Bones closing his eyes and biting his lip.
Gaila is there on the other side to greet them.
“Jim!” She throws her arms around him in a tight hug, while Bones gets a kiss on the cheek after he ducks in to embrace her. “It is good to see you both. Come. I think you’ll be happy with our progress.”
Jim’s not quite sure “happy” is the word to describe what he’s feeling. There’s scaffolding throughout the corridors to support the damaged infrastructure and entire sections of the ship open up into the gaping maw of empty space, only a force field between them and the vacuum.
Bones shudders when they pass them, skirting back away from the hull breaches to press against the wall. “How do you stand it?” he asks Gaila. “It’s like you could fall right out.”
“It’s best not to think about it that way,” says Gaila matter-of-factly.
Last stop is the bridge.
“I have some things to do,” says Gaila, hovering outside. “I will return in a little while. Take your time.”
She disappears down the corridor, and Jim and Bones stand in front of the door. Jim breathes through his nose and then palms the door control.
“You go first,” Jim says, his chest tight.
Bones arches an eyebrow but he walks through, heading for the chair, and after a moment, Jim follows him. Standing at parade rest just behind and a little to the right of the captain’s chair, Bones gives him a crooked grin and says, “Captain on the bridge.”
Jim exhales a measured breath and walks to Bones slowly, trailing his fingers over consoles and panels.
When he reaches his chair, he stops and looks at him. “Crew of two, right, Bones?”
Bones huffs out a laugh. “USS Emotionally Compromised Assholes. Sit in your damn chair, Jim. Nobody else’s ass is ever gonna fit that groove.”
“I dunno,” says Jim. “Sulu made a pretty good case for captaincy.”
“He can and will get his own ship,” says Bones, raising his eyebrows. “This one is yours. Now sit.”
With Bones in his place at Jim’s back, he sits.
“Where to?” murmurs Bones, sliding a hand onto Jim’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
Jim thinks about where they’ve been and where they’re going and who they’ve lost along the way. He lets himself think about Admiral Pike, who, like Bones, always gave Jim as many chances as he needed to get to where he had to be. This ship belonged to Pike first.
“Nowhere,” says Jim, blinking back tears. “We’re home.”