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Southern Comfort

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The air was thick with humidity. Even this close to dark it was sticky, and Jim found himself longing for a cool breeze, or at least a dip in the ocean. Maybe he could convince Bones to drive down to the beach one weekend while they were here, he thought as he swung in the hammock on the wide porch--no, the verandah, he corrected himself--remembering the way Bones’ dad had ordered him out of the kitchen when he’d tried to help clean up the dishes.

He stretched, grunting as his body protested. The deep, all-over aches had more or less subsided, but they flared up when he was tired. That still seemed to happen a lot faster than he was used to, but Jim found it a lot easier to swallow out here, with a view of the big back yard and its trees draped in Spanish moss, rather than in the sterile, quiet atmosphere of Starfleet Medical. There was something about watching Bones, wearing worn, frayed jeans and a t-shirt that fit snug across his shoulders as he sprawled out in a wicker chair, dead to the world.

“Boy’s had a long couple of days,” David McCoy observed as he stepped out onto the verandah with a couple of glasses of lemonade. Jim watched as he caught the screen door with his foot to keep it from slamming shut, his glance fond as he checked that the soft thump of the closing door hadn’t woken his son.

“He has,” Jim agreed, watching as the elder McCoy set the glasses down on the table and walked over to his side. The salt-and-pepper of David McCoy’s hair and the lines around his eyes gave him an idea what Bones would look like in a few decades’ time. Father and son were a lot alike, both with the same broad shoulders and sun-browned skin. The same hands, surgeons’ hands, and Jim gave a resigned sigh when one of those hands reached to check his pulse, the other touching his forehead, then his cheek to gauge his temperature. “He wouldn’t let me help drive out here from San Francisco.”

It had been like stepping into a sauna, Jim had reflected when he took that first deep breath after stepping out of the car. The scents and sounds of the city were there, too, and as he shouldered his duffel bag—with an exasperated glance from Bones, who had tried to take it himself--he looked around. “So this is Marietta.”

“Yeah,” Bones replied. He put his own rucksack over his shoulder as they made their way up the driveway to the comfortable two-story house with its wide front steps. “We could’ve flown, but I liked the idea of a drive.” He hadn’t looked Jim in the eye.

That modicum of comfort Bones had found after months in space was gone after that free fall toward Earth, something they would have to work toward again over the next few months. But he hadn’t pressed the issue, not this time. Jim knew it was the residual shock, that and the knowledge of how close they had all come to death. None closer than Jim, but he was alive and on the mend.

So they’d driven cross-country, or Bones had. Jim had ridden shotgun the entire way, and not without protest.

“You with me, Jim?” David McCoy gave him a look as he reached for the med kit on the table. He shook his head as he reached for the hypo and checked the dosage. “You’ve got no business driving, son. Not yet. Give it another couple of weeks, now, and maybe we’ll talk. Might let you and Len take the T-Bird out for a spin.”

“Yeah?” Jim laughed at that. Bones had told him about his father’s prized classic Thunderbird, and how he’d only been allowed to drive it after he’d graduated from Ole Miss. “I’ll hold you to that, sir,” he cracked as he submitted to the hypospray, the older man’s hands steady and sure. “…You’re not as rough with that as Bones is.”

“Enough with this ‘sir’ business. I told you to call me David,” Doctor McCoy growled, but the tone was almost as affectionate as that he used with Bones, which made Jim glow with warmth. “I’m not in my dotage just yet.” He snorted as he put the hypo back in the med kit. “If he’s rough, I imagine it’s because he’s administering a dose of tough love along with the medication,” he observed.

“Tough love?” Jim repeated, his face coloring just a little.

“Yep,” Doctor McCoy said, leaning against the porch railing. He folded his arms and gave Jim a direct look. “Same as you did, making him earn his pilot’s certification, keeping step with him the whole way. You didn’t let him back down. Kicked his tail when he needed it, Len said.”

“Yeah, and look where it got him,” Jim said before he could think twice. He paused, then swallowed. “He could’ve died.”

“You did die,” the older man pointed out. “And that has a lot more to do with why he’s rough with you than anything else.”

“I didn’t have a choice,” Jim protested, but the sight of an all-too-familiar scowl brought him up short.

“That, son, is a load of bull,” Doctor McCoy said, jabbing a finger at him. How someone could put that much indignation into that low growl was beyond Jim, but David had passed it down to his son. “You chose to sacrifice yourself. My boy could’ve died, but you did. You went and died on him.”

Glancing over to the other end of the porch, Jim saw that Bones still slept soundly. He blinked hard, then looked away. “So what am I supposed to do, sir—I mean, David?” He didn’t have a clue.

“Don’t do it again.” Doctor McCoy unbent a little then, and eased himself into the chair next to the hammock. He handed Jim one of the glasses of lemonade and took the other for himself. “That’d be a start. You do a damn fine job of looking out for everyone else, Jimmy boy, but it seems to me you don’t do yourself the same courtesy.”

Jim took a sip of the lemonade. It was ice cold, with just enough sugar to take the edge off the fresh, tart lemons that had gone into it. “Maybe I don’t. …Maybe I still feel like I’m proving myself,” he admitted.

David sat back, his elbows on the arms of his chair as he studied Jim. “To Starfleet? Or to yourself?”

“I… don’t know,” Jim admitted. He stared at David, those hazel eyes staring back at him so like Bones’. “Nobody’s ever asked me that before.”

Across the porch, Bones started to stir. David glanced over, then reached out and patted Jim on the knee. “Figure out the answer to that, son, and you’ll be all right.”