Jim honestly forgets that, after an event like their encounter with Krall at Altamid and the crash of the Franklin in Yorktown, the surviving crew will be clamoring to see their loved ones in other parts of the galaxy. He collaborates with the Commodore and her staff to get them accounted for, situated, and taken care of, of course, but with both ships he has recently commanded thoroughly out of commission, communications are entirely the province of Yorktown.
He calls his mother on his birthday, of course, but it’s not because of what happened. All he says about Altamid is, “We just came through some bad shit, and you might start to hear about it soon, but that’s not what this call is about.”
Maybe that was cowardly, but Jim doesn’t think so; reminding his mother how easily she could lose him on the anniversary of the day she lost his father just seems cruel.
So it doesn’t occur to him that people might be looking to do something with the leave Starfleet gives them to recover until Bones’s mother calls him. “I’ve asked him to come home for his father’s and my 50th anniversary celebration three times now, but he just keeps ducking the question,” Eleanor says, exasperated. “When the anniversary was going to fall in the middle of your five year mission obviously he had to give his regrets, but two months is more than enough time to justify a trip back to Earth. Would you speak to him for me?”
Jim hesitates. It’s not that he can’t speak to Bones on his mother’s behalf, it’s that, if he’s perfectly honest with himself, he doesn’t really want to. Yorktown is far enough out that the trip to Earth, plus some time to visit, will probably eat up about half of the leave Starfleet gave them to recover before temporary assignments are made to bridge the gap to the new Enterprise’s construction. Jim had assumed that he and Bones would spend that leave together. If he goes home, if Jim lets him out of his sight, Jim is half afraid Bones won’t come back again.
But Eleanor is waiting, and this is Bones’s family. Jim doesn’t know why he’s been avoiding committing to the party, but Jim should at least ask. “I’ll find out what’s up,” he says, and Eleanor smiles as brightly as if he’d agreed to personally haul Bones home by the hair. It makes Jim feel vaguely guilty, because he knows that if Bones has a half decent reason for avoiding the celebration, Jim will run with it.
Bones does not have a half decent reason. He rubs his eyes and sighs. “I’m not going to disappoint my parents,” he says. “I’ll go. But this party is going to be filled with people who hate me. Maybe three dozen folks who had a celebratory drink when I crawled out of Georgia in a booze soaked daze.”
Jim frowns. Bones is prickly and hard to get close to, sure, but hate? He’s pretty sure even Jocelyn doesn’t hate Bones. Besides which, Eleanor and David don’t seem like the type of parents who force their kids to endure things that make them unhappy; Jim would know. “Why would they hate you?” he asks.
“I don’t know, Jim,” Bones says tiredly. “My Dad works in the same hospital I used to; maybe they thought it was nepotism that got me there, though I swear to you he never threw his weight around. Maybe they resented how quickly I finished med school; I started my residency two years early. Maybe they thought Jocelyn deserved better. All I know is that the Chief of Medicine had been trying to get me to transfer for more than a year before I actually quit, and once I left Georgia I never heard from anybody but family again.” He snorted. “If I had any friends there, I lost them during the divorce.”
“Your parents really expect you to deal with all of that just for a party?” That’s what’s really puzzling Jim.
“No,” Bones shakes his head. “They don’t know. Dad had a health scare just as Jocelyn and I hit the rocks. I didn’t want to put anything else on him. It turned out to be nothing, but once I started pretending everything was fine, I couldn’t see how to explain how bad things were without hurting them by admitting I’d kept it from them. And then it was all a moot point.”
Jim hesitates. He doesn’t want to overstep, but… “Would you like some back up? I mean, if I wouldn’t be crashing a family event.”
The way Bones’s expression lightens all at once warms something in Jim and makes him desperately glad he offered. “Yes, Jim, please. And you won’t be crashing at all. Hell, if my mom thinks you’re family enough to ask you to talk to me, that’s practically an invitation in itself.”
Which is how, two ship transfers and a shuttle later, Jim ends up being ushered into the McCoys’ expansive yard, practically on Bones’s arm. It’s late spring, so it’s warmer than Jim is used to, but not the soul crushing Southern heat that Bones subjected him to the first time Jim met his parents. The yard is decorated for the occasion and neatly attired servers are circulating in and out of the house with trays of drinks and plates of hors d’oeuvres.
“Are we underdressed?” Jim whispers, eyeing the women in their neat dresses and the men who are wearing vests or ties or both, despite the warm weather. There’s even someone in a jacket. He and bones are in slacks and button shirts, but neither of them is wearing a tie or a vest, and they’ve both already got their sleeves rolled up.
“We’re family, we’re fine,” Bones murmurs back.
Oh God. Jim suddenly has a whole new appreciation for Starfleet diplomatic protocols, because he knows more about how to negotiate a peace treaty between warring planets he’d met two days before than he did about how to navigate this party. On the other side of the room, Eleanor and David catch sight of them and beam, but don’t break away from their current conversation.
“Leo!” someone calls out. Jim scans the crowd and catches sight of a woman about Bones’s age, maybe a couple years older, breaking away from her current cluster and heading their way. She smiles when she reaches them, but it’s not exactly warm. “David said you’d promised to come, but I admit I didn’t believe it until now.”
“When I make a commitment, I keep it,” Bones says, but there’s something brittle about it. “Leslie Gielen, this is Jim Kirk. He’s the Captain of the Enterprise. Jim, Leslie was in administration when I left the hospital. I’m sorry, I don’t actually know your current position.”
“Senior Client Care Coordinator,” Leslie says. She smiles at Jim. “Leo and I had a bit of a running feud back in the day. Tell me, does he still duck out on client complaints and meetings to organize collaborative care?”
Jim blinks. Bones, duck out on clients? Well, patients, anyway. And blow off care meetings? In what universe? “I don’t think that’s actually possible,” he says aloud, “since he’s my CMO.”
Leslie frowns. “CMO?”
“Starfleet terminology,” Bones explains. His shoulder brushes Jim’s, and Jim realizes he’s leaning closer. The hand that comes up to rest supportively at the small of Bones’s back is automatic. “Stands for Chief Medical Officer.” He offers a wry smile. “Which means I’m the one who gets to do the scheduling and the complaint handling. Believe me, I’ve wished for one of you,” he nods at Leslie, “more than a few times.”
Whatever Leslie came over here to do, Jim can see that she’s been thrown off her game. Jim has a pretty good guess that she’d been planning get a little revenge for this apparent feud, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to let anyone even try to make Bones look bad in front of him. So Jim smiles brightly at her and says, “I think Bones has had to invent an entirely new organizational system to handle the things we’ve run into. There’s not exactly a space on the form for touch communicated drunkenness off of alien water, or interphase-induced violent tendencies.”
“Actually,” Bones says dryly, “the drunkenness was due to a complex in the water, not the water itself, so it went under regular intoxication, although due to a novel intoxicating agent. The interphase violence went down as environmentally induced psychotic breaks.” Bones smirks. “The new filing system was for you and your damned laundry list of allergies; not nearly enough space on the regular forms.”
Jim turns to Leslie, who looks faintly startled now. “He only blames me because he thinks it’ll give him ammunition when I review his research and development budget.”
“Not that he’s ever turned down a request to increase the research budget,” Bones tells her, rolling his eyes.
“What can I say,” Jim says, smiling at Bones now. “It’s kept me and my crew alive.” Both of them sober for a moment as they remember all the folks lost in the battle over Altamid. But this isn’t the place for that.
They turn back to Leslie to find her smiling more honestly now. “Well, it looks like you just needed to find your niche,” she says to Bones.
“I guess the administrative side of things is easier to handle when it’s not half of what you’re doing every day,” Bones offers. It’s not strictly true, Jim knows--as CMO, Bones does easily that much admin, if there’s not a crisis. But it sounds like an apology, so he doesn’t argue the point.
Leslie says her goodbyes, and Jim lowers his voice as they move further into the party. “Ducking meetings, Bones? Aren’t you the one telling me I should be setting an example by appearing for all my follow ups promptly?”
“It’s a small hospital, Jim,” Bones replies, just as quietly. “We’re talking about 90 year olds calling in with minor complaints--sometimes medical, frequently administrative--over and over again because they want someone to talk to. Food poisoning and broken bones and high society mothers who refuse to authorize the treatment that would cure their child’s asthma because their precious offspring couldn’t possibly have such a plebeian illness, don’t you know their breeding is better than that?” Bones is more bitter when he says that than Jim has ever heard him before. “I used to wish for car accidents, as awful as that is.”
“Hey,” Jim says, sliding his hand from the small of Bones’s back to his hip and giving it a little nudge to turn Bones more towards him. Bones’s mouth is tight with shame and Jim wants to ask if he’s okay, but he’s not sure Bones will answer him properly right now. So instead Jim falls back on a gentle tease. “I’m going to remind you of this the next time you complain about Scotty’s engineers blowing up a panel and being herded into Sickbay en masse.”
To Jim’s relief, Bones’s expression relaxes into exasperation the way it often does. “Just because they’re not actually the most foolish patients I’ve ever had doesn’t mean they aren’t foolish at all,” he says. “You’d think engineers would have some understanding of safety margins.” Jim scoffs and Bones pins him with a familiar glare. “Not that they’ve got a good example to live up to.”
Jim laughs. “Come on,” he says, curling his hand around Bones’s arm. “Let’s go greet the guests of honor.”
Getting across the lawn to Bones’s parents is easier said than done. They’re waylaid several more times on the way there by former colleagues and friends of the family. The more conversations they navigate their way past, the more glad Jim is that he came with Bones. Because, as strange as it still feels to think it, most of these people really did dislike him. Hate is too strong a word for most of them, but definitely not all. Jim is a tactile guy in general, but now he finds himself keeping a hand on Bones at all times, both to give him support and to make it clear to everyone else just whose side Jim is on here.
Part of Jim wants to write every one of these people off as assholes themselves, if they can’t see how great Bones is, except that nearly all of them exit the conversation looking surprised, confused, or both. They do double takes when Bones cracks one of his typical, dry jokes. They look back and forth between Jim and Bones like they’re at a tennis match when Jim works in a little banter to help Bones loosen up.
The Bones that Jim knows, he’s realizing, is not the Leonard McCoy that any of these people knew.
They’ve almost made it to Bones’s parents when Bones mutters, “Oh, fuck, please no,” and steps closer to Jim.
Jim follows his gaze just in time to catch the final approach of an older man. Older than Bones, and older than Bones’s father, as well.
“Leonard!” the man greets as he draws up in front of them. His tone doesn’t, Jim notes with interest, have the sharp undercurrent that most of the others started with. “I was so pleased when David told me you were going to be here.” He turns to Jim, the first person to do so before Bones introduces them, and smiles, holding out his hand. “You must be Captain Kirk.”
“Doctor Olson,” Bones says. He half turns to Jim. “Doctor Olson was the Chief of Medicine when I was in Georgia.” Which means that this is the man who spent a year trying to get Bones to quit before every had fallen apart; it’s all Jim can do not to drop the man’s hand like a hot coal.
“Still am,” Olson says, beaming. His cheerfulness is screwing with Jim’s expectations, given the man’s history with Bones. He lets go of Jim and turns to Bones again. “Not you, though. I was right about that after all, wasn’t I?”
What the hell does that mean? Bones is rigid next to him, so Jim prompts the man--not that he really seems to need it--with a careful, “Oh?”
“Well, you should know,” Olson tells Jim, but there’s nothing malicious in it. “Leonard was bored to tears at our little hospital,” he goes on. “Complete waste of his talents.” He turns to Bones. “It was obvious to me how brilliant you are,” Olson tells him, “and how completely we failed to challenge you. How many times did I try to tell you that Rockshell Memorial wasn’t the right place for you?”
“It felt like every day for a while there,” Bones says. His expression is very nearly blank. Bones doesn’t do blank; he’s the most expressive person Jim knows. Even when he’s covering one emotion, it’s always with another emotion. Maybe this is what genuine shock looks like on Bones.
“It might have been,” Olson admits. “I never understood why you chose us in the first place. You could have had a much more prestigious placement.”
“It was local,” Bones says. He’s slowly starting to regain his animation. “And I was getting married. I want to be stable, I didn’t want Joce to have to leave her family. I didn’t think I need anything--” he tosses Jim a look that’s almost helpless “--complicated.”
How many times has Bones given him that line? I’m a simple man, Jim.
Olson’s expression sobers. “I was sorry to hear how things went with the divorce. I’d have written you a recommendation, if you’d asked, but considering the research you’ve been doing with Starfleet, I suppose it’s just as well you didn’t.”
“You’ve followed my research?” Bones asks faintly.
“Of course,” Olson says. “Even if you weren’t a local boy, I try to be well read about things that may end up in clinical trials. Not at our hospital, of course, we’re much too small, but we should informed about all the options available to our patients.”
“Of course,” Bones repeats.
When Olson is done chatting and wanders away, Bones turns to Jim. He still looks baffled. “I thought he hated me.”
I thought you were happy before things fell apart with Jocelyn, Jim thinks, but it’s not time to say that just yet. “Didn’t he ever explain why he wanted you to transfer?
Bones shakes his head. “He just kept saying I didn’t belong, that I’d be better off in a bigger hospital. Hell, I thought he felt that I needed more support, that I couldn’t be trusted to work independently.”
Bones never has been particularly conscious of his own brilliance. Impatient when other people can’t keep up, yes, but it rarely occurs to him that they’re having trouble because he moves so much further so much faster than most.
Before Jim can get into that--again--Bones’s parents manage to close the last of the gap between them. “Leonard! Jim,” Eleanor greets them warmly, hugging them in turn while David stands at her elbow and beams. “It’s so good to see you. How was the trip? Are you sure you won’t stay in the house with us?”
“It’s good to see you, too, Ma, Dad,” Bones says, shoulders relaxing and eyes crinkling with real happiness. He hugs her back and nods at his Dad over her shoulder. “The hotel’s fine, I swear. We’re going to be here for two weeks, I don’t want to be in your hair all the time.”
“Being in our hair is the whole point of a visit,” Eleanor says, but she doesn’t insist they give up the hotel room.
David chuckles. “Maybe it’s that they don’t want us in their hair,” he says, and for a moment Jim’s not sure what David means. Then David shoots a significant glance at about waist height and Jim realizes that his arm is still around Bones, his hand resting in the small of Bones’s back. His arm has been around Bones for a couple of hours now. And yeah, it was for support, but Bones stepped out of the curl of his arm when they hugged his mom hello, and when she let go Jim had put his arm right back where it had been without thinking about it. It’s comfortable. Jim likes having it there, doesn’t want to move it, and Bones doesn’t seem to mind.
Bones just laughs at his Dad’s comment and asks after some family friend who apparently hasn’t made it to the all-important anniversary party. David catches Jim’s eye and raises an eyebrow, and Jim can’t help the faint heat that touches his cheeks. David chuckles and takes another sip of his drink.
Jim lets Bones carry the conversation, only jumping in when Bones gratuitously misrepresents his actions.
(“It wasn’t a cliff!”
“It was an 83 degree slope!”
“And a cliff is a vertical or near vertical face. So not a cliff.”
“If you need climbing gear to get up it, it is a cliff.”
“Well, I didn’t need climbing gear.”
“Only because you were going down, not up, you idiot!”).
But for the most part, Jim lets Bones chat and spends his time people watching instead. After the last couple of hours, he’s not surprised to see a lot of eyes on Bones as the people who’ve talked to him circulate and spread gossip. There are surprised looks, and skeptical ones, but the people that Jim keeps track of are the few who end up looking pleased, or even relieved. Those are the folks who understood that Bones wasn’t an asshole, he was unhappy.
When Bones’s parents have to break away to continue circulating--they are the guests of honor, after all--Jim puts his focus on wrapping up conversations with the skeptical and surprised folks quickly, while making sure Bones sees that the pleased and relieved folks are happy for him. Bones shoots him a couple of sidelong glances, but doesn’t say anything.
At least, not at the party. When they finally get back to the hotel, Bones lets them both get changed into their sleep clothes and settled on their respective beds before he says, “You don’t have to manage me, you know. I wasn’t going to make a scene.”
Jim rolls onto his stomach and skews himself on the bed so that he’s looking at Bones, chin propped up on a pillow. “I wasn’t managing you, I was managing them. That’s the whole reason I offered to come, remember? To make this easier for you.”
Bones turns his head and smiles. “All you had to do to make it easier was be there, Jim.”
Jim grins. “You know me. Always the overachiever.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Bones snorts. He looks up at the ceiling, hands folded behind his head. “Is it weird that I didn’t realize until tonight how unhappy I was back then? I thought I had everything. Good job, nice house, smart, beautiful wife… I remember people asking if I was happy. I always said of course I was.”
“It’s not weird,” Jim says automatically. He pauses to really think about it for a minute. “I think it’s hard to know what it’s like to be happy--or truly sad, for that matter--if you don’t have a basis for comparison. School is too different from life after to judge, maybe. And then your life fell apart, and what you had was better than that, so you had to have been happy, right? Except that ‘happy’ and ‘not viciously depressed’ aren’t the same thing.”
Bones rolls onto his side to face Jim. “So why didn’t I get it now that I am happy?”
Fuck, it’s good to hear that. Jim would shrug, but it doesn’t really work when you’re lying down. “No reason to compare?” he offers.
“Or maybe my brain was too engaged to bother with shit like that,” Bones says thoughtfully.
“You’re really happy?” Jim asks, despite himself. His heart rate picks up a bit. If Bones is happy, maybe he can...
Bones’s eyebrows go up. “Didn’t I just say I am?”
“Yeah, but…” Jim pushes himself up and swung his legs around, sitting on the edge of his bed. He leans forward a bit and waves a hand. “Space. Disease and danger. You hate space.”
Bones blinks, because his eyebrows can’t get up any higher. “Jim, I never said I hated space.”
For a moment, all Jim can do is open and close his mouth because there are no words for how wrong that is. “Bones, you say it all the time! Five years in space, God help me, you said. A snow globe that could break at any moment, you said. I’ve heard that rant in a thousand different variations for eight years.”
“Yeah, and never once did I say I hated it,” Bones says. His expression relaxes into… embarrassment. “Shit, Jim, I didn’t think I had to explain this.” He looks away for a moment before dragging his eyes back to Jim’s. “I don’t hate space. I’m afraid of it.” Jim is silent, stunned, and after a few minutes Bones goes on. “I know what decompression does to people. I know that even though we’ve got treatments, if not cures, for damn near everything the Earth can throw at us, there’s stuff out there,” he waves his hand upwards, “that defies every bit of medicine I know, up to and including the ways we try to make the dying comfortable. I’ve seen people die of those things.” Bones lets out a long, slow breath. “I rant because I’ve gotta get that fear out from under my skin, so that it doesn’t cripple me when it’s my job to drag someone back from all the terrible things I saw coming for them.”
Jim huffs an unamused laugh. “I can’t decide if that’s better or worse than hating it.”
“Better,” Bones says firmly. “Because I can do something about the things I’m afraid of. I don’t think I could be happy out there if I hated space. But I get a hell of a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that, thanks to me being out there, there are treatments for half a dozen diseases and traumas that used to be untreatable.” He catches Jim’s eye, his own gaze fierce in a way that makes Jim fight down a flush. “I like knowing that you and the crew are alive because I’m out there holding you together. I don’t think there’s many people that could do it better.”
“None,” Jim murmurs.
The corner of Bones’s mouth turns up. “Maybe so.”
“And when it does go wrong?” Jim asks. He doesn’t have to explain what he means; they lost nearly half the crew in the battle over Altamid.
Bones’s expression softens and he levers himself up off his bed, coming over to sit next to Jim instead. “Things go wrong everywhere, Jim. Granted, it’s a hell of a lot more likely in space, but only because we haven’t been up here as long. Earthquakes on Earth used to level cities before we could engineer for and predict them. Being out there lets me help figure out how to get a handle on space just like we got a handle on Earth.”
Jim manages to laugh. “Did you ever imagine you’d end up saying something like that when you stumbled onto that shuttle?”
“No,” Bones says. He smiles. “But I hadn’t met you, yet.”
Jim catches his breath. Bones’s gaze is so warm, and he doesn’t hate space, and he isn’t out there just for Jim, and despite knowing that his face has to be showing everything he’s feeling, Jim can’t look away. After a long moment, something uncertain creeps into Bones’s eyes. “Jim?”
Uncertain, but not averse. Jim slowly raises a hand and rests his fingertips on Bones’s jaw. He doesn’t pull away, so Jim leans in and slowly brings their lips together. The kiss is light and brief, but Bones kisses back. Jim’s heart is pounding as he pulls back despite that response.
Bones licks his lips. “Why now?” It’s almost a whisper.
Jim knows what he means. Even if Jim had been sure Bones wouldn’t reciprocate his feelings--and he hadn’t been--he knew Bones would never be angry with him for giving it a shot, and Jim was the type to take the shot if there was even the slightest chance of success. So why hadn’t he?
“I thought you hated space,” Jim says. “I mean, really hated it. I thought I was the only reason you were out here. I told myself it was okay, because if it got to be too much, you would request a transfer. But if…” Jim swallowed and looked away. “If we were together-- If you just knew how I felt, I was afraid you’d stay even if it got worse, even if being out there was killing you inside. I couldn’t do that to you.”
“Jim.” Bones’s tone is warm in a way Jim has never heard before. It’s enough to make him meet Bones’s gaze again. It’s full of love, and Jim’s stomach swoops. “I’m happy,” Bones says, and it’s his turn to trail his fingers along Jim’s jaw. They catch under his chin. “I’m happy, and I love you.”
Bones’s kiss is anything but light and brief. The second their lips meet again, Jim lights up inside. From the way Bones leans into him, until they topple over and lay half on and half off the bed, kissing desperately, Bones feels the same. They kiss until their lips hurt, rolling over halfway through to get them fully onto the bed.
Eventually they break apart, and one look at Bones, hair disheveled and lips swollen sets Jim laughing, giddy and still a little in disbelief. After a second Bones starts laughing, too. When they finally calm, Jim smiles and says, “And to think, you thought this party was going to be all about people hating you.”
Bones snorts, even though he’s still smiling. “Well, you knew better, didn’t you?”
Jim’s smiling, too, but it softens at that. “Would’ve been true even if this hadn’t worked out.”
“Yeah,” Bones says. He rests his forehead against Jim’s and smiles against his lips. “I know.”