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Good for the Soul

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YEAR ONE

Semester One

 

ACT I

  • Part 1: Leonard arrives at Starfleet Academy.
  • Part 2: McCoy's dislike of James grows with every moment.
  • Part 3: McCoy and Kirk are partnered up for an assignment.

 

ACT II

  • Part 1: McCoy learns more every day, and he and Jim spend time on their project together.
  • Part 2: McCoy gets more glimpses of who Jim may be, and the kid somehow gets him to go to a bar.
  • Part 3: The consequences of Friday night's bar fight make themselves clear.

 

ACT III

  • Part 1McCoy willingly spends more time with Jim, mostly due to the fact that the kid gets injured.
  • Part 2: McCoy talks to Jim about his behavior at the hospital, and then Thanksgiving rolls around.
  • Part 3: Finals week comes around, and Jim and McCoy have to spend some time studying in Jim's dorm.

 

 

Semester Two

 

ACT I

  • Part 1: They're still in winter break, and McCoy has returned to Starfleet Academy to wait for classes to start. He runs into someone he wasn't expecting on his nightly walk.
  • Part 2: It's the first day of the second semester.

 

ACT II

  • Part 1: It's Leonard's birthday.
  • Part 2McCoy is getting very depressed. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT I

Part 1 of 3

 

Leonard McCoy was beyond relieved to be off of the shuttlecraft.

 

It had already been about an hour since he and the other new recruits had landed, but he still felt like all of his bones were made of jelly, and his chest was still as tight as it had been when he’d boarded.

 

He shook his limbs out for what felt like the hundredth time and glanced around himself.

 

They were all gathered in what was most likely the common building. There were about eight tables, and each was designated a different letter in the alphabet. The line for M-O was packed with kids as bright eyed and young as everywhere else on the goddamn campus and McCoy scowled.

 

If only he’d been born with a last name that started with the letter Z. That line was much shorter, less kids to be sandwiched between.

 

He just felt so out of place.

 

The mid-morning sun filtered in through the high-reaching windows and illuminated their surroundings. McCoy eyed the flags that were hung along the ceiling, each one representing other federation planets and colonies. What was he thinking? Honestly, what was he thinking? Starfleet. Him, at the Starfleet Academy. He didn’t belong with such a big scale operation, especially not one that operated in space.

 

God. Fucking Jocelyn.

 

The damned woman had literally taken every last option from him, and this was what he was left with.

 

McCoy was miserable as it was. The next few years were going to be hell.

 

He was just glad orientation was almost over. He had to get his schedule and the key to his living quarters, and then he’d be free to mope for the rest of the day. He itched for his flask, but unfortunately he and that other recruit had finished it during the flight over.

 

Oh, that's right. That recruit.

 

McCoy had lost track of him almost as soon as they’d landed. He hadn’t realized they had gotten separated, after all McCoy wasn’t trying to get close to anyone, so he hadn’t felt any pull to be aware of who was near him and who wasn't.

 

It almost seemed like a shame. The two of them had been able to have an interesting conversation when they were seated next to each other, interesting enough to somehow more or less distract McCoy from the flimsy death trap they’d ridden in.

 

And there was something about the kid… He seemed just as out of place as McCoy felt. There had to be some comfort in that fact. McCoy ran his gaze over the other lines, but he couldn’t find… Wait, what was his name again? Fuck. McCoy had already forgotten who he was.

 

The alcohol had been running rampant in his bloodstream, so no matter how hard McCoy thought, he couldn’t quite remember what the kid looked like. Except for…

 

Blue eyes. Blue, blue eyes.

 

“Name?”

 

McCoy blinked in shock at the officer in front of him. He’d reached the front of the schedule table without even realizing it and he hastened to respond. “Uh—McCoy. Leonard McCoy.”

 

The officer flipped through the stack of papers on the table, before pulling out a large folder. “Here you are, Doctor. Your schedule has been modified to fit your hours at the hospital and you’ve been given a single-person dorm, lest you bother anyone else or anyone bother you.”

 

Damn, they were really on top of things. McCoy took the folder with a quiet thanks and headed towards where they said to retrieve their assigned dorm keys. He thumbed through the folder, looked at the map they provided and what his schedule for the next few months would be.

 

Looked like he had classes on Monday through Thursday—a total of four classes—and shifts at Starfleet’s hospital on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. His Sundays were completely open. McCoy couldn’t help but sigh. At least he would have one day to himself.

 

As he was passing by the services tables, McCoy’s attention was caught by what sounded like a heated argument between a medical officer and a… cadet?

 

Wait, not just any cadet. It was the kid from the shuttle, the one he’d sat by. There was no way those eyes could belong to anyone else.

 

McCoy paused in his step and listened in on what they were saying. The kid had seemed nice enough. What could he possibly get in an argument with an officer about?

 

“I don’t need a care physician, I have one!” The kid all but shouted.

 

The medical officer who was dealing with him gave him a hard stare. “That is unlikely, Cadet, we have not yet assigned you one.”

 

The kid immediately shook his head at the officer’s response. “No, no, I don’t need a new one. Doctor Puri, I need Doctor Puri to be my care physician.”

 

Puri? Wasn’t Puri Starfleet’s top surgeon? How in the world did this kid, this rundown and bruised kid, get access to Doctor Puri?

 

The medical officer didn’t glare, but McCoy got the sense that they really wanted to. “Doctor Puri is very busy and does not have the time to be a Cadet’s personal caretaker.”

 

“Look, I’m not asking for special treatment,” the kid insisted, “but Doctor Puri knows me. I’m Kirk, James Kirk. Just tell him I’m requesting him!”

 

That’s right, that’s what his name was. James Kirk.

 

Kirk… Where had McCoy heard that name?

 

The medical officer actually gave James a full on glare this time, and as they responded their lips pulled back in a mild sneer. “You being George Kirk’s son does not grant you special access to Starfleet’s top surgeon. I’m sure it must be very difficult to be told no, but Doctor Puri cannot be requested to adhere to the whims of a mere Cadet.”

 

Oh, shit. He was George Kirk’s son? McCoy remembered when the Kelvin Incident had happened, it had been all over the news and even though he had been too little to really understand its significance, it was a major event that was talked about even still.

 

James spluttered in offense and McCoy shook his head, before turning to continue on his way to retrieve his uniform. He didn’t need to hear anymore.

 

God, what a brat. McCoy hated people like that, the ones who thought just because their daddy was someone famous they could ride on their coattails and get whatever they wanted.

 

He snorted. James had probably had everything in his life handed to him on a silver platter, and was probably expecting everyone on the campus to willingly go under his thumb. McCoy didn’t want to have anything to do with someone like that.

 

A spoiled infant like James wasn’t worth Leonard’s time.

 


 

It was the first day of classes.

 

McCoy’s first class wasn’t going to start until 10 am, but he’d been awake since 6 am. Not on purpose, exactly. He just couldn’t sleep. He’d been lying awake all night, tossing and turning, and every time he slipped into unconsciousness dreams of Jocelyn and Joanna forced him awake.

 

He hadn’t even gotten started and he was already prepared to give up.

 

He didn’t belong there. He didn’t belong at Starfleet.

 

He belonged with his daughter, he belonged in Georgia, but there he was instead. Miles away from his home and instead in the clutches of Starfleet’s medical track.

 

McCoy turned on his side in the stiff bed provided in the dorm. His room was more like a small apartment, with its own bathroom and kitchen and separate living area provided. He blinked at the dimly lit, completely bare wall opposite him. He would never be comfortable there.

 

He glanced at the clock on the bedside table.

 

9:25 a.m.

 

Well. It would be best for him to start getting ready for class.

 

With great difficulty, he sat himself up and out of his nest of thin blankets. Starfleet issued bedding wasn't the worst, but it certainly wasn't the best. There was nothing about it that felt comforting. Nothing about it that felt like home. 

 

His dorm only had one bathroom, which was only accessible through his room. Which was fine. He was never going to have any guests over, so he was never going to have to worry about someone having to cross through his bedroom to take a piss. 

 

McCoy took a brisk shower, temperature colder than he preferred, as a means to liven up and steel his nerves. He didn't know what was in store for him, but no matter what Starfleet was going to throw his way, he would take it with gritted teeth and forward momentum.

 

McCoy was a man that believed in following through with one's choices. He chose to join Starfleet. He was going to suffer through it with as much dignity as he could, and that would include looking his best. 

 

With a rough towel around his waist, McCoy shaved off the stubble that had been festering on his face in his days-long bar binge. Once that was done with, he took a moment to observe his own freshened appearance. His skin looked... well, not soft, but not as haggard as before. His complexion had been practically gray before, due to a mix of unfettered depression and alcohol that had been stealing every ounce of presentable healthiness he had.

 

Now that he'd showered for the first time in longer than he'd like to acknowledge, he was already looking better. Like someone Starfleet would be proud to have as an officer. 

 

God, it was still such a strange concept. Him, an officer of Starfleet.

 

He eyed the clock on his nightstand while he dressed himself, noted that he still had about fifteen minutes before he'd have to start worrying about being late, and turned to the full length mirror provided in the room. 

 

His own appearance shocked him to stillness.

 

The red cadet uniform provided somehow made his physique seem blockier, larger. More put together. It probably had to do with all of the straight lines included in its design, the stiff uniform giving him a posture more proud than he had expected. 

 

He ran his hands over the surprisingly soft fabric hesitantly. Its texture was almost like velvet, the seams so tight and rigid, yet allowing the room to breathe.

 

McCoy sighed at his own reflection shakily, eyeing the Starfleet insignia he could see on his own neck through the mirror. "You've made this bed," he whispered. "Time to lie in it."

 


 

Autumn was right around the corner, and so the walk to his first class was warm and almost soothing. If there was one thing he could say about Starfleet Academy, it was that the campus was a beautiful place. It had a great view of San Francisco's harbor and it had a decent amount of foliage and green grass scattered around. All of the buildings and grounds were clean, almost as though dust or dirt couldn’t reach that side of the city.

 

McCoy looked over his schedule and map, just to make sure he was going to the right building.

 

His first class was Federation Law. It was a required class regardless of which track he followed. Understandable, but still annoying.

 

Fortunately, it didn’t take him long to find where it was to take place. The room it was held in was spacious, and the seats climbed up in a way reminiscent of an auditorium. McCoy was early. There were a few cadets here or there, but the seats were mostly empty.

 

He contemplated going to the back for a moment, but ultimately decided that would make him seem too suspicious or something. He settled for the middle, close enough to comfortably see and hear but far enough away to blend in with the rest of the students.

 

As other cadets began to filter in, McCoy was once again struck by how young they all were. God, it made him uncomfortable. He felt like he was infiltrating a high school, since most of the cadets were freshly eighteen. At least the human ones.

 

He heaved a deep sigh, resigned himself to his situation, and pulled out his tablet to distract himself until the class started.

 

He checked through his mail, in the off chance that his daughter or mother messaged him, but it was empty. He swallowed back the disappointment of being left on his own.

 

Rubbing his hand over his eyes, he reminded himself that this was his own decision. He could’ve gone anywhere, but Starfleet was his final choice. It was yet to be clear whether or not that was the right choice.

 

“Hey, Bones! Looks like we’ve got class together!”

 

McCoy jumped at the suddenly loud voice, this person the first one to actually raise their volume above a whisper. He glanced up hesitantly, just to see who would make so much noise, and swallowed back dread when he realized who it was.

 

James Kirk. Shit, fuck, McCoy did not want to be around this kid.

 

And then it occurred to him that James’s previous statement had been directed at him. That he was grinning at McCoy expectantly.

 

He scrambled to recall exactly what James had said, and then grimaced when the kid’s words registered. “ ‘Bones’ ?” he asked in disbelief. What the fuck did that mean? Was that what this spoiled son of a bitch was going to start calling him?!

 

“Yeah! You know, ‘all I’ve got left is my Bones’.” James said the last part in a hideous mimic of McCoy’s timbre.

 

“What- what the hell are you talking about?” he asked. God, people were staring now. He didn’t want any attention, he just wanted to suffer through these next few years alone in silence, with as little contact with others as possible.

 

James was still grinning at him, not in the least bit perturbed by McCoy’s glare. “It was the first thing you said to me. Back on the shuttle,” he said.

 

McCoy wracked his brain to remember how their introductions to each other had gone, but he’d been so drunk then that no memory came up. But even if it was something he had said, there was no way James could remember that. “What- No it wasn’t,” he said decisively. “How the hell could you even remember that? That was days ago!”

 

James smirked smugly and shrugged. “I remember everything I hear.”

 

That was unlikely.

 

“I highly doubt that, but whatever. Don’t give me any weird-ass nicknames.” McCoy pointed a finger at the self-righteous little shit, intent on making something very clear. “We’re not friends. Leonard is fine—but even that is too personable. I go by McCoy.” He didn’t want this kid to start thinking they were familiar or something.

 

James rolled his eyes skyward like he was thinking hard, his lips jutted into a pout, before he finally said, “Mm. No, I think I like ‘Bones’ better.”

 

There was no way that was going to stick. Not on McCoy’s watch.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT I

Part 2 of 3

 

 

To McCoy’s utter dismay, James sat beside him instead of anywhere else in the goddamn classroom. He barely refrained from releasing a drawn out sigh, but he did scoot his chair a little farther away as subtly as he could.

 

He didn’t want to socialize. He just wanted to study, finish in the medical track, and graduate from the academy. He didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody.

 

“Hey, you know what?” James asked.

 

McCoy sent a sidelong stare at him, trying to convey with his glare that he wasn’t in the mood to talk.

 

James was propping his head up on his fist and was grinning at McCoy with a too-bright grin. “You’re pretty handsome now that you’ve cleaned up.”

 

McCoy released a startled scoff and promptly turned away, and instead glued his eyes to the front of the classroom. Where the hell was the teacher?

 

“Hey, I’m serious,” James insisted. “I’m almost starting to think that you shouldn’t have shaved, you’re gonna have to beat people back with a stick. You’re like, a Grade-A babe.”

 

With his scowl focused firmly to the front, McCoy responded with, “Stop talking to me.”

 

Luckily, the teacher chose that moment to make her appearance. She situated herself at the front and the other cadets immediately settled.

 

Huh. At least they were more mature than the common rabble at other schools.

 

Peeking at James out of the corner of his eye, McCoy amended the thought. At least most of the cadets were mature, but that definitely couldn’t be said about all of them. He just hoped to God James wouldn’t be distracting him during every second of the class.

 

“Is this your first class of the day?” James whispered, way too close to his ear.

 

McCoy leaned away with a scowl, and tried to ignore James’ question and instead focus on the teacher. Who was talking, damn it.

 

Apparently not noticing that he was being ignored, James continued. “This is my second class. I had Xenolinguistics right before this. The teacher just went over the syllabus, but it took the full two and a half hours. I hope this one doesn’t do the same thing.”

 

McCoy didn’t dare grace him with an answer. Maybe if he didn’t reply, James would figure it out and would stop talking.

 

“But this is a general requirement class, so it’s likely the teacher might get us started on notes today,” James mused. “That would make sense. I checked the class plan for the semester, we have a lot of units to go through.”

 

“Oh my God,” McCoy groaned. “Would you stop talking?”

 

Even without looking at him, McCoy could feel James’s blue eyes staring at him. “Why? The teacher’s not saying anything important.”

 

Holy hell, what a self-righteous little shit. How could he be so arrogant?

 

“That’s not for you to decide,” McCoy growled, unable to keep from snarling at the blond. “Unlike you, I actually take my schooling seriously. I’m not trying to talk and I’m not trying to make friends, so would you just keep it down already?”

 

“Cadet!”

 

McCoy jolted in surprise and whipped his head towards the teacher, who was glaring at him from the front of the class. “Is there something you wish to share with the rest of us?” she asked.

 

McCoy shook his head as heat rose to his cheeks. Damn it, God damn it. “No, ma’am.”

 

“Then please keep your comments to yourself and stop distracting those around you.”

 

As she turned away, indignant rage festered within McCoy’s lungs. He narrowed his eyes at James, the fucker, and clenched his teeth together to keep from shouting at the stupid, smug looking little bastard beside him.

 

A tiny smirk spread across James’s lips as he blinked sweetly at McCoy. “Yeah, Bones, stop distracting others.”

 

A hot huff of fury puffed out of McCoy’s nostrils and he forced himself to keep his eyes on the teacher, and not throttle James like he so dearly wanted to.

 

James allowed the silence between them to continue on for a few minutes, but to no surprise it didn’t last long. He leaned into McCoy’s space, which sent the doctor’s hackles aflame, and whispered, “You need to lighten up more.”

 

McCoy ground his teeth together and could feel the vein on his temple pulsing. Past his clenched teeth, he ground out, “I’m trying to pay attention,” as a last ditch effort to get James to leave him alone.

 

James scoffed quietly, and the kid’s breath blew past McCoy’s ear. “This is an easy class, you don’t have to pay that much attention,” James mumbled. “Honestly, I thought you were smart. This material isn’t hard for you, is it?”

 

What a pompous little shit.

 

The teacher pulled up a slide for them to start deriving their notes from, and McCoy steadfastly ignored James and instead set to work on his PADD. He couldn’t keep responding to James’s baiting, not if he was going to survive the class.

 

The teacher ended up using the full two and a half hours of the class for notes, and after the first half hour where McCoy didn’t respond, James seemed to have gotten the hint and kept mostly to himself.

 

All McCoy could think when the kid had stopped talking was thank fuck.

 

As McCoy gathered his stuff after the teacher’s dismissal of the class, his tension built back up as he anticipated James to try to chat him up again. He pointedly didn’t look at the blond cadet as he shuffled out of his seat, and hoped that James wouldn’t try to block his escape before his next class.

 

“Bones.”

 

McCoy immediately reacted to the nickname and glanced up at James, with a surge of frustration and shock at himself. He really shouldn’t respond to such a name, he didn’t want to encourage James to start using it.

 

James was smiling at him lopsidedly and was already backing away. “I’ve gotta get to my next class, I’ll see you Wednesday.”

 

McCoy didn’t respond, but James didn’t really give him a chance to before he bolted off. Well. He couldn’t complain about not having to make small talk right after class.

 

Really, the less he would have to interact with James, the better. He was just thankful they only had the one class together.

 


 

Seven thirty in the morning was too early for a class to start, in McCoy’s opinion.

 

He didn’t have the time to grab breakfast and only had a small cup of coffee to bring him to wakefulness. He sipped on it gingerly as he made his way across campus, the early morning air uncomfortably cold while wearing nothing more than his cadet reds.

 

Diplomacy. Another required class.

 

It was a stupid idea to start every day with required general classes. What had he been thinking? He was a doctor, he was there for the medical track. Not to say he necessarily needed most of the medical classes, since he was already a certified medical practitioner, but he should have at least started his days with the subjects he was interested in.

 

Granted, if he was going to be working for Starfleet he was going to have to know everything about the Federation, but he should have been more mindful of how he constructed his schedule.

 

He rested his teeth on the styrofoam of his cup as he approached the Federation Law building, and reflected on his classes from the day before. Federation Law, Medicine, and Introduction to Medical Laboratory Science. Each of them basic, but each of them necessary.

 

The medical classes would be a walk in the park, as they were likely going to cover stuff he already knew. Maybe some new information would be introduced that could be helpful, but overall, neither were going to be very high maintenance.

 

Federation Law, on the other hand, had the potential to be harrowing. If not only for the new information that came with working with the Federation, then for how exhausting it was going to be to have James in a class.

 

McCoy didn’t like him. He had known too many kids whose parents were famous that had grown to be pompous, selfish, and way too entitled. They all acted as if their parents’ achievements were their own.

 

And based on the way James held himself, it seemed he was the same as all the others. Cocky and uncomfortably friendly, no sense of boundaries or personal space, acting as though everyone owed him their attention and adoration.

 

What someone like him wanted with someone like McCoy, the doctor wasn’t sure. But he did not like it.

 

He was just glad he was only going to be seeing James on Monday and Wednesday mornings—

 

“Oh my God, Bones!”

 

Oh, fuck, no!

 

It took all of McCoy’s willpower not to about-face right out of the classroom.

 

James was sitting on top of the desk of a—whoah, really pretty—black girl, who seemed in mixed parts bemused and exhausted. She must have been receiving the full brunt of James’s attention before McCoy got there.

 

James hopped off of her desk and tromped over to the doorway, where McCoy was trying to either melt into the floor or dissipate into nothing. James clapped a hand to McCoy’s bicep, and the action caused some of McCoy’s coffee to slosh out of his cup and onto his hand.

 

It burned, but for some reason the only reaction McCoy was able to muster was a glare to send straight into James’s too blue eyes.

 

It only seemed to make the blond grin wider. “It looks like we have another class together! What are the chances, huh?”

 

“Not low enough, apparently,” McCoy ground out.

 

James released a light laugh, apparently not realizing that McCoy’s grumbling anger was genuine. “Oh man, this is gonna be fun. We’ll get to see each other every day!” Jim crowed.

 

McCoy leaned back slightly and tried to step around James to find a seat near the back. “I don’t want to see you every day.”

 

“That’s a funny one,” Jim chuckled. “Who wouldn’t want to see me every day?”

 

God, how could anybody be so conceited?!

 

Hot air was blowing out of McCoy’s nostrils and he could feel that fucking vein pulsing again on his temple. He started to make his way up the steps towards the seats at the back, but James was suddenly blocking his path with an outstretched arm.

 

“Wait a second, Bones! Come here real quick, I want you to meet someone.”

 

No, damn it, he wasn’t there to be meeting people or making friends! He just wanted to study and graduate, that was it!

 

But before McCoy could voice his desire to keep to himself, James was grabbing his arm and was pulling him back to where the black girl was sitting. “Bones,” James said, “This is Uhura.”

 

McCoy outstretched his hand to shake hers, and gave her a polite nod as she did the same. Just because he didn’t want to be meeting people, it was no reason for him to be outright rude. Especially because it seemed she got caught in James’s sticky, relentless web as well. Maybe they could find a camaraderie in James’s imprisonment of attention.

 

Her hand was a lot smaller in his, and it was soft. He didn’t think about it long. “Bones,” she said. “Is it safe to assume that’s not your actual name?”

 

He snorted, and briefly flicked his gaze to James beside him. “This fucker gave it to me against my will. My name’s McCoy.” He gave her an imploring stare, and gave a slight shake of his head. “Please don’t call me Bones.”

 

She gave a soft laugh, but before she could respond, James cut in. “What? But it’s the perfect name for you! Having nothing but your bones was such a grim and morbid thing for someone to say, and you definitely seem grim.”

 

McCoy sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t going to survive the semester. He just wasn’t.

 

James was convincing him with each interaction that joining Starfleet had been the wrong choice.

 


 

Somehow, McCoy had managed to get a seat at the back of the class and away from James. He thanked the stars for his fortune, but then it ended up being for naught anyway because the teacher had them get into groups for an assignment.

 

And, because the cosmos hated him, Jim had wound up in McCoy’s group.

 

Seriously, it was the first day of the class, why were they getting into groups already?

 

Luckily, Uhura was in his group too, along with two other Cadets. They gave introductions around the group, starting with McCoy and then moving to a pale kid named Jeff, then to an Orion girl named Gaila. Both seemed amiable enough.

 

Uhura shook Gaila’s hand and was introducing herself, when Jeff blinked in apparent confusion and frowned at her. “Uhura? Wait, but I thought your name was—”

 

Uhura held up a hand to cut him off. “No, don’t say it.” She nodded at James, who was gaping at her with aghast betrayal. “He’s not allowed to learn my first name.”

 

“What the hell!” James huffed. “You’re gonna get them in on it, too? You’re making this so hard!”

 

McCoy raised a brow at the interaction and stared at Uhura in question.

 

Before she could explain, James spoke up. “She’s making me figure out her first name on my own,” James grumbled. “Because she hates me.”

 

McCoy snorted. “I guess she and I have that in common.”

 

“But how could you hate me?” James sat up and pressed a hand to his heart. “I’m so lovable!”

 

Gaila extended a hand to James, which thankfully took James’s attention off of McCoy. As he shook it, she asked, “And who are you, then?”

 

James gave her an admittedly charming grin, and said, “I’m Jim. Jim Kirk,” before next taking Jeff’s hand.

 

As Jeff shook Jim’s hand, he cocked his head and narrowed his eyes at the blond. “Kirk? Why does that sound familiar?”

 

So it seemed they hadn’t figure out who James was yet.

 

Jim smiled at Jeff and shrugged. “Hmm, I don’t know. It’s a pretty common name.”

 

McCoy squinted at Jim. What was he playing? “No, it isn’t,” McCoy interrupted and crossed his arms. “You’re George Kirk’s son. From the Kelvin Incident.”

 

There was an immediate uproar across the table.

 

“Wait, holy shit, you’re George Kirk’s son? ” Jeff gasped.

 

“Oh my God, you must be so proud!” Gaila exclaimed. “What is that like? You’re practically a celebrity!”

 

Uhura was blinking owlishly and muttered, “That explains so much.”

 

And while everyone’s reactions to the discovery were amusing, what really caught McCoy’s attention was James’s reaction.

 

James was staring at him a little wide-eyed, his shoulders slack as though all of his bravado had bled right out of him. He wasn’t even looking at the others as they tried to question him or discuss his icon of a father, and was keeping his gaze on McCoy.

 

Jim licked his lips and muttered, “When did you figure that out?”

 

That was… an odd response. Why did he seem subdued? “I heard you trying to use your name to get Puri as your care physician,” McCoy admitted.

 

Jim closed his mouth and continued to stare at McCoy, though he somehow seemed more reserved than before.

 

“Wait, Puri?” Uhura asked. “Isn’t he Starfleet’s top surgeon?”

 

“He is,” McCoy responded, as he continued to hold Jim’s unnaturally quiet stare. He was probably so quiet because he hadn’t been expecting to be found out.

 

That’s right, you little shit. I know who you are.

 

Jim’s head tilted to the side ever so slightly and he said, almost too softly to hear, “I wondered why you were acting different towards me. It’s kind of a shame you had to find out that way.”

 

McCoy shrugged noncommittally, his gaze never leaving Jim’s. “I would have found out eventually. I do have access to everyone’s medical records, after all.”

 

If Jim had seemed reserved before, after McCoy’s statement he practically closed off like window shutters in a storm. And in a neutral, detached voice, he asked, “You’re a doctor?”

 

What the hell? What was up with that reaction?

 

McCoy glared at him, and replied, “Yeah. The best one in Georgia.”

 

Jim tilted his head the other way and gave a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “You’re not in Georgia anymore, Bones,” he said. “I dunno if I can take your word for how good you are.”

 

McCoy’s frown deepened in confusion. Jim’s demeanor towards him was suddenly so different. It was… colder. Was it because he had figured out who Jim was?

 

Something about Jim’s change in manner made McCoy feel like he couldn’t be trustworthy. McCoy couldn’t stand people that were as fickle as feathers, there was no way to be sure that what they presented was ever genuine.

 

Nobody at the table said anything for a few moments, Jim and McCoy caught in a stare off, and the other three cadets left out of the loop in uncomfortable silence.

 

Finally, Gaila clapped her hands together and said, “Well, why don’t we look at our assignment! I think the other groups have already gotten started.”

 


 

Unlike the day before, James didn’t stick around long enough to even say bye once the class was over. Not that McCoy minded, it was just strange.

 

He grabbed his things and wandered out of the room, and noted that he had a two hour break before his shift at Starfleet’s hospital. A deep sigh drew itself from his lungs. He wondered if his duties there would be very different from what he had in Georgia, or if it would be basically the same.

 

He found himself in the center of campus, and after a few long moments of deliberation, decided to grab himself a lunch. Or was it a late breakfast? Brunch?

 

No, brunch was usually something you got with someone else. What the hell, the terminology didn’t matter.

 

McCoy bought himself a small sandwich, just something to hold him over before he left for the hospital, and sat himself in a shaded patch of grass that was off of the main campus path. It was out of the way, but not so far that he would seem like a weird loner or something.

 

He leaned against the closest tree trunk and scrolled through his PADD. Again, no messages. He supposed he would have to get used to that.

 

As he was pulling up his Medicine textbook to study while he ate, a bright and familiar laugh drew his attention to the main path.

 

James. God, could McCoy not have even one minute where he didn’t have to look him?

 

James was walking with someone, and it looked like—Wait.

 

Was that Captain Pike?

 

McCoy squinted hard at the pair as they walked down the path, watched how they chatted and seemed so companionable beside each other.

 

Pike suddenly laughed at something Jim said and then clapped the kid on the shoulder.

 

Of course. Of fucking course.

 

Of course James had friends in high places. How else did he get such immediate admission to Starfleet? McCoy had seen him on that shuttle ride, he had definitely been a last minute addition.

 

It only made sense that he was allowed into the game so late because of who he knew and who he was.

 

As James and Pike rounded a corner that took them out of sight, McCoy swallowed back sour saliva. Fuck. Everything about James put a bad taste in his mouth.

 

Why the hell did he have to share a class with James every day? McCoy was positive that it would take a miracle for him not to murder Jim by the time the semester ended.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT I

Part 3 of 3

 

An entire two weeks had come and gone at Starfleet Academy, and during that time, three things had made themselves very clear to McCoy.

 

One, he couldn’t stand James T. Kirk.

 

Two, everybody else loved him. (Or at the very least, encouraged him.)

 

And three…

 

The universe was taking every possible opportunity to throw the two of them into each other’s company.

 

They were only on the second week, and McCoy had already been forced into the same group as Kirk seven. Different. Times.

 

They only shared two classes! The chances for both classes to insist on so many group projects and discussions already, and for he and Jim to be in the same group every time, had to have been so much lower than they apparently were.

 

And yet, just like everything else in McCoy’s life, anything that could go wrong would go wrong, no matter the likelihood of such things happening.

 

Which was why it was with a heavy sigh of defeat that McCoy felt he could do nothing more than slouch in his seat as he and Kirk were paired up once again.

 

“Holy shit,” Kirk chuckled beside him. “We’re in the same group again. Do you think our teachers are matchmakers or something?”

 

McCoy rubbed his hands over his eyes and brow while weariness laid a heavy blanket over his shoulders. “Do you think anyone would notice if I killed them for subjecting me to this so often?”

 

A mock gasp sounded out of Jim’s too-big-mouth, and he said with no small ounce of affrontment, “What?! I thought doctor’s weren’t supposed to have a malicious bone in their body!”

 

“Who the fuck gave you that idea?” McCoy grumbled, and eyed the board at the front of the class.

 

Jim had brought up the whole doctor thing at least once a day since he found out. McCoy couldn’t figure out why he was so fixated on it, or why Jim’s demeanor towards him had become particularly unpredictable ever since.

 

He would still annoy him every chance he got, and his whole buddy-buddy schtick hadn’t abated at all, but… Jim's expressions seemed a little tighter, and he often made little comments that implied that doctors were dangerous, or maybe just McCoy specifically. To add to that, McCoy had noticed during the second week that Jim never made physical contact with him. He also noticed that Jim made physical contact with everybody else.

 

McCoy huffed and blinked himself from his musings. He wasn’t bothered by how Jim treated him, just confused. It didn’t matter anyway. What did matter at that moment was what he and Jim had just been assigned to work on together.

 

He ran his eyes over the board that was displaying the assignment details and chewed on his lip.

 

Since the class was Diplomacy, their assignment was to write a report on what makes successful and unsuccessful diplomatic missions, and how to maintain a sense of control and peace when dealing with unknown or hostile civilizations—or individuals. They were going to have to offer a thesis of the three most important fundamentals for proper diplomatic interaction, and they were also going to have to include an interview with a starship captain that had been involved in at least one diplomatic mission.

 

God. The whole assignment sounded not only arduous, but incredibly time consuming. When was the teacher expecting them to finish it by?

 

Jim’s hand shot up just as McCoy finished his thought.

 

“Commander Galaar?” Jim called, and continued once the professor noticed him. “When is this due?”

 

“Thank you for asking, Kirk, I was just about to get to that. Now, I realize that assigned projects that determine a large portion of one’s grade have become sort of old fashioned,” the Tellarite professor said, just as a sinking feeling worked its way down McCoy’s stomach.

 

Oh, no. How intensive was this project going to be?

 

“But I still see the appeal in it,” their teacher continued. “I’ve put you all into pairs, as you saw on the list I just put up, and I want you and your partner to reassure me that you’ve understood the fundamentals of Federation diplomacy by the semester’s end.”

 

The semester’s end?

 

The slide on the board changed, and showed the intended due date for the project.

 

December 14th. The second to last day of the semester.

 

“Now keep in mind, not only do I expect a full twenty pages of exemplary writing, but you will also be presenting your thesis to the class on the final date,” Galaar added.

 

Oh, God, what made McCoy think going back to school was a good idea? Did he really hate himself so much? The assignment was a death sentence. A massive project, in a required class that he needed to graduate, and that he would be working on with Jim Kirk. And it would be just the two of them.

 

And if he was being honest with himself, he just knew he was going to have to do the majority of the work. He’d been in plenty of group assignments back in public school, and it always ended up that he was the one who kept the assignment afloat.

 

He side-eyed Jim, the way the younger cadet was chewing on the end of his pen like it was a stick of jerky and not a writing utensil. Fuck. It seemed like McCoy was going to be doing all of the work this time, too. There was no way he was going to be able to trust Jim to help him in the assignment.

 

“Man, doesn’t this sound fun?” Kirk hummed beside him, looking over and catching McCoy’s gaze dead on. His smile was too bright for someone who understood how much work was going to be involved in the project, which meant Jim must have also figured out that McCoy was the type of person to pick up the slack in a group project.

 

McCoy was going to murder him before Christmas.

 


 

As if the nightmare that was going on in Diplomacy wasn’t bad enough, McCoy still had other classes he had to do work for. Topped off with a couple of eight hour shifts at the hospital.

 

We’ll make sure your shifts don’t add too much stress to your schoolwork, they’d said. The lying bastards.

 

McCoy slammed a couple of hardy textbooks onto the first small table he set his eyes on, and was immediately shushed by the librarian. “Sorry,” he whispered.

 

He shook his head at himself and sat down, while his chair squeaked under his weight.

 

McCoy hadn’t been in a library in a long time, not since he had just been married. When he was walking around the campus during his lunch the day before, he happened upon the Academy’s library. It was bigger than he expected, but it shouldn’t have surprised him.

 

Starfleet was an interplanetary establishment, after all. Of course they would have useful texts ranging from Terran to Edosian, and of course there would be lots of it. He had wanted to get his hands on the books immediately after spotting the large building, but it was just before his Introduction to Medical Laboratory Science class had started.

 

But now, he had almost two hours before his day’s shift at the hospital was to begin.

 

He scratched his hair and pulled the Andorian Anatomy textbook off of the stack he'd grabbed. He figured he could use the library’s resources to not only catch up on material in his classes, but he could also read the things that just weren’t available in Georgia. Like books or documents on diseases unique to Vulcans or Orions, or how measles affected Andorians when compared to humans.

 

Georgia had plenty of info on human diseases, and there was some interplanetary material available through public networks, but most interplanetary works could only be found in physical form and the vast majority of it was kept at Starfleet’s homebase in San Francisco. At least, that was where all of the good stuff was being kept.

 

And now that he finally had his hands on the material that really interested him…

 

Well, there was a giddiness building in his chest that he hadn’t felt in years.

 

He flipped his chosen textbook to its first chapter, Andorian Bone Structure, and set to reading.

 


 

McCoy soon made it a habit of his to visit the library every Tuesday and Thursday before his hospital shift.

 

It was a place of reprieve from all of the rabble that dominated the rest of the campus, and there were books and documents that were actually interesting everywhere he looked. He could entertain himself for hours on end—if his schedule only allowed it. But as things were, he only had a maximum of two hours per library break, but it was still better than nothing.

 

And the absolute best part about the library, the thing that had been inspiring him to go more than anything for the past few days, was that there was absolutely zero chance of ever running into Kirk there.

 

Hell, McCoy wondered if Jim had ever even held a book in his life. If he was ever even read to as a kid, it was probably done for him by nannies or whatever the heck comes with having your daddy be a highly valued hero.

 

Shifting in his seat, McCoy cast the thought aside. It didn’t matter whether or not the kid ever read, all that mattered at the moment was that he wasn’t there. McCoy was going to take what little relief he could get.

 

Which apparently wouldn’t be very much at all, because with a quick glance up, McCoy realized that Jim was sitting a few tables away.

 

A knee-jerk reaction of repulsion punched him in the gut and he shot up straighter in his seat, effectively slamming his knee into the table.

 

Fuck, damn it, shit!

 

He bit his tongue to keep from yelling out loud, and clutched at his leg in both pain and frustration.

 

What was Jim doing there?!

 

He couldn’t possibly be studying, McCoy had never seen him jot down a single note in any of their classes. Was he there to steal something? Vandalize the books?

 

McCoy swallowed down the rest of the throbbing in his knee, and lifted his head from the book that he had smothered his face into to combat any expletives that had tried to escape.

 

Jim was definitely right there, in the library, and it wasn’t a hallucination as McCoy had briefly hoped. Luckily the kid wasn’t looking his way, which meant McCoy hadn’t inadvertently given him more teasing material by slamming his knee. Lord knew McCoy didn’t need Jim to have more reason to talk at him.

 

McCoy glanced at Jim’s surroundings and immediately realized Jim wasn’t there for books—but a cute Zaldan girl that was standing nearby him.

 

God, that just figured. Of Course Jim couldn’t keep his predatory hunt for bedmates outside like a normal person. Why did he have to come into the library to do something like that?

 

McCoy chewed on his lip in agitation and averted his gaze, and tried to force himself to refocus on his homework. Because even though he liked going into the library just to read, he had also found that it was the best place to get classwork done. And as it was, there was a lot of classwork.

 

Especially with that Diplomacy project. McCoy had gotten a head start on it, because he knew that if he wouldn’t, then Jim never would.

 

And almost as if to prove his point, Jim’s bright laugh floated its way back to McCoy, causing the doctor to glance up and catch an eye-full of Jim’s glowing smile. How nauseating. Nobody who was working on classwork could ever laugh that brightly.

 

McCoy watched what Jim was doing more critically, to see what had the kid in such high-spirits in a place reserved for studying. It looked like Jim was offering for the Zaldan girl to join him, and she… actually seemed to be taking the offer. Figured. Another person caught in Jim's charms. But just as she approached the table, Jim pulled her chair out for her.

 

Which was a bad move on his part.

 

Not surprisingly, the Zaldan swiped a hard slap across Jim’s face as soon as she was close enough. Oh, McCoy knew he was going to treasure the kid’s stunned look for weeks to come. She promptly turned and strode away, and with how Jim was blinking owlishly at her retreating figure, McCoy couldn’t keep the bubbling chuckles in his chest inside.

 

So he really shouldn’t have been surprised when his laughing caught Jim’s attention.

 

McCoy quickly swallowed down his mirth, as Jim’s oncoming approach convinced McCoy he should have left the library as soon as he noticed the Kirk kid.

 

Jim stepped right up to McCoy’s table, rubbing his cheek, and said, “Do you have any idea what that was about?”

 

McCoy raised his eyebrow and closed his textbook. He wasn’t going to be getting any work done in the near future. “She was a Zaldan.”

 

“So?” Jim pulled the chair across from McCoy out and plopped into it. “Do Zaldans always just slap people?”

 

McCoy shook his head. “No, that’s not it. You pulled her chair out for her.”

 

The confused squint Jim gave him was almost pitiful. The kid really was too stupid to understand basic social interaction with other species.

 

“Let me explain,” McCoy huffed, “in simple terms. Zaldans don’t like acts of courtesy. So when you pulled her chair out for her, she saw that as you being dishonest with your intentions.”

 

Jim shook his head in disbelief and threw his hands up. “How is that a dishonest act?”

 

McCoy raised his brows and propped his chin on his hand. “You wanted to sleep with her, didn’t you?”

 

The kid had the decency to look away before shrugging. “I mean, yeah.”

 

“Well, there you go,” McCoy said, and flipped his textbook back open. “She probably knew you wanted to sleep with her, and would have preferred that you were upfront about it instead of trying to act courteous.” McCoy started trying to find the page he had been on before. Maybe Jim would get the hint and leave, so he could get back to working on their project. "Zaldans hate courtesy. They prefer for people to act genuinely. Doing otherwise is seen as rude."

 

“I had no idea,” Jim mused while blatantly staring at McCoy. “Thanks for letting me know. That’ll make it easier to get with Zaldans from now on.”

 

McCoy shook his head as he ran his eyes over the table of contents. “Is sleeping around all you think about? You do realize that this is a school, right? A school is where you go to learn stuff.”

 

Jim didn’t reply for a moment, which spurred McCoy to glance up at him. Jim was sitting there with his arms crossed, leaning into the back of the chair like he was comfortable. He was watching McCoy quietly, and the doctor was once again thrown by how strange Jim’s subtle behaviors towards him were.

 

McCoy didn’t know what Jim thought of him. Or, more importantly, why Jim still spoke to him. Surely it wasn’t being lost on Jim that McCoy thought very lowly of him.

 

And then there was the staring Jim would sometimes do, like now. McCoy wasn’t sure what he was getting out of it. Was he trying to decipher something? Like if McCoy really hated him or not?

 

What was it that he was looking for?

 

“What are you reading?” Jim asked and sat up, which McCoy reflexively did in turn.

 

Having Jim ask him what he was studying was not something McCoy was expecting. Did he even care? “Um, I—I’m looking up the most common aspects of successful diplomatic missions.”

 

“Oh!” Jim suddenly stood out of his seat and came around to McCoy’s other side, and sat himself down there. “Is this for our project? You should have said something! This is supposed to be done by both of us, not just you!”

 

“Oh, please.” McCoy couldn’t keep from rolling his eyes if he tried. “You really expect me to believe you’ve been paying enough attention in class to actually help me on this?”

 

A genuinely affronted expression scrunched Jim’s face. “Of course I’ve been paying attention! Trust me, I’m really good with projects like this. What’ve you got done so far?”

 

McCoy released a deep sigh and scratched at his hair. Would it really be a good idea to trust Jim to help? The kid didn’t even take notes, and was more often than not talking while the teacher was. And McCoy really wanted to get a good grade. “No offense, but I’m seriously having my doubts as to how helpful you’re gonna be. I mean, have you even heard a single thing the teacher has said this semester?”

 

“Yeah, absolutely, I’m a great listener,” Jim huffed. What a lie. “But, I get it,” the kid admonished and raised a hand. “I know you don’t trust me and I know you think I’m an idiot. Which, I’ll admit, there’s a lot I don’t know.”

 

McCoy flushed. He hadn’t been trying to be subtle with his dislike of Jim, but to have confirmation that Jim was well aware of what McCoy thought was in dual parts embarrassing and confusing.

 

If Jim really was aware of what McCoy thought, why would he even waste time talking to him? Why hadn’t Jim been responding in kind, or at least been keeping the interactions between them at a minimum?

 

“But you should let me help anyway,” Jim finished. “Even if you think my contributions are lousy, some help is better than no help, right?”

 

That was… a rather generous thought. McCoy almost wanted to take it, but he still had his doubts. “Look, I appreciate the sentiment, but…” The alarm on McCoy’s PADD chose that moment to go off, signifying that it was time for McCoy to get ready for his shift. “Oh, hell. We can talk about this tomorrow, but I’ve gotta go.”

 

As McCoy started to gather his stuff, Jim sat back and out of his way, and only turned as McCoy started to head towards the exit.

 

“Oh, Bones,” Jim called.

 

Again with that nickname.

 

McCoy turned around, while a flush of disappointment with himself for responding to the name rolled its way down his neck.

 

“If you’re looking up good examples of diplomacy, don’t look at the missions whose sole purpose were to negotiate. Look up the ones involving hostage situations or battles. That’s where the good stuff is.” Jim gave him a wink, and waved while McCoy turned from sight.

 

That was an interesting suggestion, something the teacher hadn’t recommended they study. McCoy squeezed the strap of his bag, and took in what had just transpired. It felt like… there was more to Jim than he had originally assumed. A lot more.

 

Later that night, when McCoy had a break at the hospital, he found time to look up a mission like one Jim had mentioned. And the kid was right. In the high-stakes situations, where lives were on the line, the diplomatic choices were much more interesting.

 

Maybe… Jim wouldn’t be as bad of a partner for the project as McCoy had originally thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT II

Part 1 of 3

 

 

McCoy was starting to suspect that Jim wasn’t as much of an idiot as he had originally thought.

 

He was definitely still an idiot, but just… maybe less so than McCoy had initially assumed.

 

They were once again in Federation Law and Jim was sitting beside him as usual, but for this class McCoy was trying to pay more attention to Jim than he’d ever cared to before. After their encounter in the library the day prior, McCoy was confused by the younger man.

 

To be honest, he had thought he’d had Jim figured out.

 

Spoiled, arrogant, careless, and attending Starfleet Academy for the sole purpose of hooking up with as many different species as he could. And the kid undoubtedly had no interest in academics or learning.

 

McCoy had been sure that was all there was to him.

 

But after taking Jim’s suggestion for their project’s topic, and seeing how good of an idea it actually was, McCoy was stumped. Was Jim actually way smarter than he had been letting on?

 

It didn’t seem likely.

 

Jim just didn’t have the air of someone who was hiding something, and he certainly didn’t have the air of someone who knew what he was doing. And again, he was never paying attention.

 

McCoy was watching Jim out of the corner of his eye. They were supposed to be taking down notes (which McCoy was doing, because he’s a good student), but Jim was just sitting there on his PADD and scrolling. Scrolling through what, McCoy wasn’t sure. But nothing they were doing at that moment should have even involved scrolling.

 

“What're you staring at, doc?” Jim asked without taking his eyes off his PADD.

 

McCoy blinked at him in surprise, he didn’t exactly expect to be caught so soon. He wouldn't let himself get embarrassed though, so he just swallowed and continued typing his notes. “Why aren’t you paying attention? We're supposed to be taking notes right now.”

 

Jim grunted in acknowledgment, but didn't stop what he was doing. “Don't need notes.”

 

Yeah, right.

 

McCoy sighed. “Whatever.” They were going to have an exam the next time Federation Law met. If Jim wanted to fail, that was his choice. Maybe it would teach him to pay attention in the future.

 


 

The cosmos hated McCoy.

 

That was all he could figure, because even when he wasn’t in class with the kid, he just couldn’t escape conversations about Jim. He was in Medicine, Goddammit, the class was supposed to be a safe haven from anything Jim related. But, no. Apparently even that was too much to ask for.

 

“No, yeah, I have him in one of my classes too!” Salha, a nice Orion girl, practically shouted in McCoy’s ear. “He’s super cute, don’t you think?”

 

The first response came in the form of a huff on the other side of the table. “I guess. But he seems kind of stupid, doesn’t he?” Ange, the other girl in the group, responded. She scratched at her nose distractedly. “He keeps asking me to get drinks with him, but I’d like him more if he’d drop the dumb act.”

 

“What makes you think it’s an act?” The Orion named Thelen grumbled beside McCoy. “He’s as dumb as he seems.”

 

McCoy almost wanted to agree with Thelen, but he’d rather not get involved with the conversation at all. They were supposed to be working on a worksheet, damn it, not gossiping about James Fucking Kirk.

 

“Hey,” McCoy started, “On question fifteen, I think the component most prevalent in Vulcan medicine that they’re talking about is—”

 

“C’mon, it’s got to be an act,” Jeff interrupted, bringing the conversation right back to Kirk. “I mean, it’s just not possible to get admitted here if your intelligence isn’t at least a little above average. Remember how hard the entrance exam was? The pass rate is as low as it is for a reason. Only the most capable could ever even reach the preparatory program. If Jim wasn’t capable, he wouldn’t be here.”

 

Wait, what?

 

What were they talking about? What entrance exam? What preparatory program?

 

“Hm, Jeff does have a point,” Ange mumbled. “But then, why does he act like that? Do you think it’s for attention?”

 

“Wait,” McCoy said quietly. “He took an entrance exam?”

 

Salha shrugged. “He would’ve had to have to even be here. You know, like the rest of us?”

 

“Unless he was officially recommended by a high ranking officer,” Thelen huffed.

 

What?

 

“Oh, shit, that’s true,” Ange murmured. “Officially recommended students are so rare, though. Do you seriously think he is one?”

 

Wait a second. Wait.

 

There was an entrance exam? A difficult one, with an extremely low pass rate?

 

McCoy definitely didn’t take it, that sounded like something he would remember. He didn’t know why it hadn’t occurred to him before, of course Starfleet had an entrance exam. It was a prestigious establishment for a reason.

 

But… not only did McCoy not take the entrance exam, he definitely didn’t go to a preparatory program either.

 

Fuck. The school wouldn’t have let him get on the shuttle if he wasn’t permitted to be there, which meant…

 

He was officially recommended and he hadn’t even realized it.

 

He tried to wrack his brain, tried to remember how that came to be.

 

He could vaguely remember some Starfleet personnel trying to recruit him at the hospital in Georgia, years ago. He had still been married then, and it was after he had released his first research paper.

 

The Starfleet representatives had come back multiple times, but he had turned them away each chance he was given in typical Leonard McCoy fashion.

 

He had been refusing them, at least until just recently. After Jocelyn had ripped the rug right out from under his feet, the only possible option he could even remember having left was Starfleet, and the persistent medical officers that kept trying to fetch him.

 

In his drunken haze approaching the nearest shipyard (which happened to be all the way in Goddamn Iowa), he had just stumbled to the first shuttlecraft he saw, gave them his name, and holed himself up in the bathroom.

 

It hadn’t even occurred to him at that time that most everyone on that craft had had to undergo an extensive screening process, including exams and training and the sort of stuff that involved weeks of work, just to be allowed on the shuttlecraft. He had just…

 

Walked right in, with nothing but the clothes on his back and the whiskey in his flask.

 

Forget about exams, he’d hardly put in any effort to get into Starfleet, excluding the medical work he had been doing before.

 

Now that McCoy had it figured out that he was an officially recommended student, he was faced with an even bigger problem.

 

Who had recommended him in the first place?

 

He should know who he had to thank for giving him a second chance. But he hadn’t received any messages, and no one had come to talk to him or express their relief at him finally joining. But obviously their want for him to be there had withstood the years of his rejection, because if they didn’t still want him to join, then they would have given up and rescinded their recommendation for his admittance.

 

And if their recommendation had been withdrawn, he wouldn’t have been allowed on the shuttlecraft in the first place. But he was, which meant they had still hoped he would show. But if they had been waiting for him for so long, why hadn’t they approached him about it yet? Were they waiting for him to approach them?

 

But he didn’t even know who they were. And try as he might, he couldn’t summon up any faces of the officers who had once come to him in person. After years of work and grief and self-hatred and drink, their physical appearances had been completely drowned out.

 

All he knew was that he had once met officers who talked to and wanted him, but he couldn’t remember a single distinguishing feature of theirs. Who had originally scouted him?

 

“McCoy? Len?”

 

McCoy jolted at his old nickname being used, and blinked at Salha.

 

She raised her brows and smiled. “You with us? We were wondering if you had any input as to whether or not acthelatyne was a safe or unsafe amino acid to introduce to a Tellarite’s system.”

 

“Unsafe,” McCoy responded as he continued to blink himself back to the present. So, it seemed like they were back to working on the worksheet. Thank God. He could always count on medicine to take his mind off of more disconcerting matters.

 


 

Later that night, as McCoy quietly cooked himself some chicken and vegetables, he contemplated his stay at Starfleet.

 

He was only three weeks in.

 

Three weeks into what was likely going to become three years, if all went well.

 

He had no idea what was to come, and he still didn’t have a clear idea as to how he got there.

 

The revelation that he was an officially recommended student was troubling. Not knowing who gave him the free ride into the most prestigious institution was sitting wrong within him. It just didn’t feel right to have been given a such an opportunity without being able to express an inch of gratitude. Because really, he was grateful.

 

Regardless of how exhaustive everything had been so far, McCoy wasn’t so self-centered that he couldn’t appreciate the chance he’d been given. Even if it didn’t include Joanna.

 

McCoy scooped his dinner onto the one plate he owned, and settled himself on the small couch with his textbooks and study notes spread out around him. He placed his warm plate of chicken in his lap and, as he paged through the chapter with the night’s assigned reading for Medicine, his mind once again wandered to officially recommended students.

 

But for the first time since learning of the program’s existence, his thoughts didn’t focus so much on himself, but rather on James Kirk.

 

His group in Medicine had suggested that Jim was officially recommended. And as he thought back on the moment they met, back on the shuttle, it made sense. He and Jim were the only ones on that ship that had been without a uniform. And Jim had that… feeling to him.

 

McCoy had almost forgotten about it. But he suddenly remembered that when they first met, McCoy had gotten the distinct impression of Jim being a fellow misfit. Someone out of place, with no other options, on their very last leg. Someone with nowhere else to go.

 

He bit down on a forkful of chicken, and wondered for the first time where Jim had been before Starfleet.

 


 

McCoy couldn’t help but frown as they packed up their stuff.

 

They had spent the last half of Diplomacy discussing the final project, in regards to what their professor expected to see and how far along they should already be. And considering that their first draft introductory pages were due at the beginning of the next Diplomacy class, McCoy wasn’t exactly confident with his progress. He hadn’t received any help from Jim since that first suggestion, but neither had McCoy asked for it.

 

Well, it was only Thursday. They wouldn’t be meeting again until Tuesday, which meant McCoy had practically all weekend to work on the writing. And plus, the day’s hospital shift wouldn’t begin for another two hours, which meant McCoy could use that time at the library as he usually did.

 

“Hey, Bones.”

 

Jim was already all packed up and was leaning against the nearest chair, head tilted as he stared at McCoy. The doctor in question ticked up a brow as a way to ask, ‘what’s up?’

 

“Are you doing anything right now?” Jim asked, adjusting his bag strap.

 

McCoy hesitated. What did Jim want him for? “I was going to head to the library.”

 

Jim’s eyes lit up, though it was almost unnoticeable. “To work on the project?”

 

“Ah, yeah.” Was Jim… Was Jim going to ask to join him? Was he going to help?

 

Jim grinned that grin of his that seemed so popular with the ladies and gentlemen. “Mind if I come with? I haven’t seen anything that you’ve done so far, and I wanna make sure it’s up to my standards.”

 

Cheeky bastard. McCoy glared at him, at the implication that his own academic work could be anything less than exemplary. “You can come with,” McCoy huffed, “if you actually help and don’t use it as an opportunity to scout out warm bodies.”

 

Jim rolled his eyes and sighed. “Do you just hate fun or something?” he mumbled.

 

As McCoy led them out of the classroom, he replied, “Just the thought of fun makes me want to hurl.”

 

From behind him, he could hear Jim whisper, “I knew it.”

 


 

“But would that be an example of good diplomacy, or just appeasement?” Jim mumbled around the end of his pen.

 

McCoy raised a brow at his textbook. “They’re more or less the same thing, right?”

 

“Not at all,” Jim huffed. “There’s more of a power imbalance when appeasement is a factor. It would be an example of good diplomacy if that representative found an effective way to satisfy both parties, but most importantly, doing it without handing all of their cards over to the other side. But, look, most of the interaction involved them accepting the Tellarites’ conditions, without setting any for the Tellarites in turn. It was all give and no take.”

 

“Hn,” McCoy grunted, as he typed out what Jim had just said.

 

They’d already been in the library for almost an hour and a half, and they’d made some serious progress on the project. It turned out, Jim was actually a bigger help than McCoy could’ve hoped.

 

Diplomacy seemed to come naturally to the kid. He was really good at detecting underlying intentions when observing footage of diplomatic missions, and he was especially good at identifying people who had sinister ulterior motives before they showed their true colors.

 

He had a natural sense of it, when working with both visual examples and written. And it seemed he was pretty good at reading not just humans, but almost every species they were observing. Or at least the ones he had prior knowledge of.

 

“Hey”, McCoy muttered as he finished typing out the last of the sentence. “Are you going into the command track?”

 

Jim paused, long enough that McCoy glanced up at him. The kid was writing something down on the notepad in his lap, eyes focused and face passive. “Something like that,” he finally responded.

 

McCoy hummed in acknowledgement, and started thumbing through one of the other diplomacy books they grabbed. “Well, you should.” He hesitated. “You’re good at this,” he added, quieter.

 

There was nothing but the sound of turning pages for a moment, until the silence was broken by a single utterance of, “Bones.”

 

McCoy glanced up in response to the nickname, a request not to be called such a thing on the tip of his tongue, but he stopped at the grin Jim was giving him. It was all feral-toothed and wild-eyed, the kind of look a predator would give its prey. Sweat broke out on the back of McCoy’s neck.

 

Jim leaned forward, folding himself over his own lap to close the distance between he and McCoy. “Are you hitting on me?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

 

"Fuck off," McCoy bit out, leaning back into his own chair, as far from Jim as he could manage. Fuck, he almost let himself forget that Jim was a complete bonehead, with nothing but sex and groping on his mind.

 

Jim let out a bright laugh. “Oh, Bones, you look so cute when you blush.”

 

“Fuck you, I’m not fucking cute,” McCoy growled. The little fucking prick, he was doing this on purpose. He knew he was getting a rise out of McCoy. It was pissing him off.

 

“Wow, doctor, you have such a dirty mouth,” Jim said wistfully, and stared pointedly at McCoy’s lips. “I can’t help but wonder exactly how dirty you can be."

 

That was it, McCoy couldn’t take much more of this goading. “Jim, you little shit, if you don’t shut your Goddamn mouth then I’m going to take one of these textbooks and shove it up your—”

 

“Leonard?”

 

Whatever self-damning thing McCoy was about to let himself say died softly in his throat, as he turned in the direction the familiar voice had come from.

 

It was Vera, one of his classmates from the University of Mississippi. He hadn’t seen her since a few days after they’d graduated, years ago. “Vera!”

 

“It is you!” She gave him a beautiful grin, and McCoy’s belly swooped low. Not so much in attraction, but more so horror.

 

He had had a massive crush on her in their first few classes together, at least until he had met Jocelyn. Vera had been in the medical program like him, and they would challenge and quiz each other all the time. It helped that they had shared most of their classes together.

 

And she had always been his type. Blonde, blue-eyed, with such luscious lips.

 

Seeing her now, however, instigated nothing but a spike of anxiety and fear in his chest. Fuck, Jocelyn had fucked him up so bad. Now just seeing someone that he had once been attracted to, but not even been with, made him feel guilty and sick and worthless.

 

God, Jocelyn broke him. She had made damn sure he couldn’t comfortably feel an intimate feeling ever again.

 

“How are you doing?” Vera asked as she stepped up to his table. “Last I saw you, you were heading to Georgia. What are you doing here?”

 

“Ah, well…” McCoy didn’t want to bring up Jocelyn’s name, didn’t want to explain that his life and soul had been shattered and burned. “I, uh, figured I could use a change of pace.”

 

She laughed softly. “I’ll say. I never would’ve thought you’d come here. I think I distinctly remember you denouncing this place as ‘the school where adrenaline junkies go to ride around in flying death traps in space, also known as the hell hole of disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence’.”

 

McCoy shrugged, but before he could respond Jim cut in. “Wow, Bones. Is that your catchphrase or something? How many years have you been using that line?”

 

McCoy glared at Jim, both for saying something that was borderline true and for calling him ‘Bones’ again. And he was still mad about the teasing Vera had conveniently interrupted.

 

“Hi,” Vera interjected, restricting McCoy once again from responding. She held out her hand to Jim, all jovial and civil. She always had been so nice. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Vera Floyd.”

 

Jim took her hand and gave her the smile, the one that always got everyone swooning. “Jim,” he replied.

 

...Huh?

 

Just Jim?

 

McCoy stared in confusion at the way Jim omitted his last name, but couldn’t ask about it as Vera continued talking. “How long have you known Len?”

 

Shit, again with that nickname. Jocelyn used to always call him that. McCoy was starting to seriously prefer ‘Bones’. Just anything to get away from Len.

 

“Not long,” Jim replied. “Though it feels like we’ve known each other forever. We’re best friends.”

 

Vera released a light laugh. “Really? Len? I’ve never known him to make friends so fast.”

 

“We’re not friends,” McCoy grumbled. “We have to work together on a project. That’s it. I wouldn’t spend more than ten seconds with this brat if I didn’t have to.”

 

“Ah, I see. That sounds right,” Vera nodded. “Well, I’ll let you two get back to your project. I hope I’ll see you around more.”

 

“Yeah, you too,” McCoy responded, and gave a small wave as she walked away.

 

McCoy watched Vera’s retreating figure, chest hurting at all of the unexpected memories her presence brought on, and tried to choke down invasive thoughts of Jocelyn.

 

“So, she was kind of cute. Don’t you think, Len?

 

McCoy scowled at Jim. “Don’t call me that,” he muttered, the fire in his voice more defeated than he’d have preferred.

 

Jim blinked once at him, eyes a little wide. Shit, he must have heard it.

 

McCoy had to change the subject before Jim could comment. “Why did you only introduce yourself as Jim?”

 

Jim smirked. “As opposed to what? ‘Jim the Great and Gorgeous’?”

 

Smart ass. “As opposed to Jim Kirk.”

 

Although McCoy was asking as a way to change the subject, he was genuinely curious. Most famous people he'd known, or kids of famous people, wouldn't hesitate to use their full name and reap the benefits that their moniker brought on.

 

And Jim, being the little attention-whore that he was, didn't seem like the type to want to miss a single opportunity to use his dad's name.

 

“Ah,” Jim breathed, and immediately looked down at his notes as though they were suddenly interesting. “I don't know. A lot of people recognize it here, more than anywhere else. I'm not used to it catching so much attention.”

 

McCoy frowned. He didn’t think… didn’t even consider that Jim didn’t want people to know who he was, whose son he was. “I thought you liked attention.”

 

He was always making such a fuss, McCoy had assumed it was because he couldn’t get enough attention from those around him. As though his name didn’t suffice, as though he wanted to be constantly seen and adored, or at least constantly talked about.

 

Why else would he constantly be egging people on? And flirting? Surely, his name had served as a surefire method to get at least a few bed-mates.

 

“Well, sure I do,” Jim confessed, tilting his head with a frown as he shuffled through his notes. “But even Jim Kirk has his limits.”

 

McCoy wasn’t sure how to respond.

 

Not only was Jim not as much of a slut for attention as he had thought, but the kid even admitted to not being able to withstand too much scrutiny. That was incredibly unusual. Most famous children basked in attention, and McCoy had thought for sure that Jim was the same way.

 

But it seemed he wasn’t.

 

Or maybe, he had just been receiving more attention than he had anticipated.

 

But more than anything, McCoy was astounded that Jim would admit to this minor weakness to him. Jim seemed like the type to want to seem invincible to everyone, but most of all to those he didn’t exactly get along with. And the two of them didn’t really get along.

 

“The Treaty of Alpha Cygnus IX.”

 

McCoy’s eyes snapped to Jim. “What?” What was the kid talking about now?

 

“The Treaty of Alpha Cygnus IX,” Jim repeated, scrolling through his PADD. “If we want to talk good diplomacy, few species have it down better than Vulcans. Ambassador Sarek is one of the best diplomats out there right now, so I suggest we use this as one of our good examples.”

 

As Jim handed his PADD over to McCoy, which was displaying all of the important and relevant information on the treaty, McCoy couldn’t help but note how Jim had deftly changed the subject back to the homework.

 

It felt eerily like something McCoy himself would do as a form of evasion.

 


 

McCoy and Jim found time to work on the project once more Saturday morning and Sunday evening, but they didn’t have much more time than that. Mainly due to the fact that McCoy had to study for the Federation Law exam (while Jim, apparently, did not).

 

They did manage to complete a coherent first draft, however. McCoy was proud of them.

 

It seemed when push came to shove, he could almost comfortably rely on Jim to help complete the task at hand. Which was good, because if the kid seriously wanted to go through with the command track, he was going to have to be reliable.

 

“Alright, now that everyone’s finished with the exam, I’ll have it graded right now,” their Federation Law teacher said. “Just give the computer a few minutes, and I’ll put the score up. After that, we’re going to start on our next unit.”

 

McCoy leaned into his chair with a heavy sigh. The exam took two hours, which left them with a half hour to get started on the next unit. “Thank God that’s all over with.” He listened to the bustling excitement of the students around him, as they discussed the questions they encountered and how well they may have done.

 

Surprisingly, however, there was an unusual silence to McCoy’s right.

 

He glanced over at Jim, who was being uncharacteristically quiet.

 

The kid had his head propped up on one hand, and was picking idly at the edge of his desk. Oh. The exam must have been harder than he had expected.

 

“I bet you wish you’d taken notes now, huh?” McCoy grunted.

 

Jim blinked hard and turned to him, and slowly his eyes filled with awareness. “Huh? Oh, no. I did fine.”

 

“Oh, really.” McCoy raised his brow, and tilted his chin at Jim. “Then why are you moping?”

 

A soft snort blew from Jim’s nostrils, in a sad mimic of a laugh. “I’m not moping. Just thinking.”

 

“Is that right.” McCoy wanted to press further, but for once, the kid didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk.

 

Which was a first.

 

What the hell. McCoy didn’t care either way. In fact, he should have found the rare opportunity of a non-talkative Jim to be a gift from the heavens.

 

“Alright, I’m putting your scores up now,” their teacher announced, before the main screen was overtaken by a list of their names and scores, ordered from highest to lowest.

 

And, by some Goddamn miracle, Jim’s name was at the very top. A solid 100% score.

 

The next highest score beneath him was 96%, and there were only two other grades in the 90 percentile range after that—which made sense, because that exam had been fucking hard.

 

“What the fuck?” McCoy whispered, at the same time that all of the other students in the class suddenly rushed Jim’s desk.

 

There was a cacophony of noise, but what McCoy was hearing the most of was, “How did you get so good of a score?”

 

And that was what he wanted to know.

 

He stared at Jim, looking for any signs of that usual cockiness or some hint that he had cheated, stolen the teacher’s grading rubric, was hiding some sheet with all of the answers, just something.

 

But all he was seeing was a wide-eyed Jim, who had forced an insincere smile onto his lips as he tried to address all of the people and questions that were surrounding him. One of the students suddenly declared, "You don't even take notes!"

 

“Like I said,” Jim chuckled, in a way that almost sounded nervous. “I don’t need them.”

 

And McCoy wanted to call bullshit. Really, he did.

 

But… he couldn’t help but think back on how efficient Jim’s work ethic had been over the weekend, how much he unexpectedly understood and how much information seemed to be maintained within that head of his. And if he had such a deep understanding of diplomacy, maybe it wouldn’t be so far-fetched for him to have a natural understanding of federation law, as well.

 

Maybe Jim really was as smart as he had been claiming.

 

But what McCoy was finding really interesting… was how Jim wasn’t glowing under all of the attention his apparent smarts had garnered. He seemed smaller under the focus of his classmates, like a deer caught in the headlights. He appeared wholly unprepared to have done as well as he did, and how that changed his appearance in the perceptions of fellow students.

 

“Alright, class, get back to your seats.” The other students settled back to their seats at the teacher’s call, and a relative quiet descended back over the class.

 

With the attention off of him, Jim seemed even smaller than he had before. He visibly swallowed, and McCoy had difficulty taking his eyes off of the strangely behaving Kirk until the teacher put up the first slide of their new unit.

 

“Okay, now today we’re going to move on to the most recent and harshest example of Federation Law being broken,” she said. “Tarsus IV. I imagine most of you were alive at the time of this event, so I’m sure this will be easier for you all to follow.”

 

McCoy could definitely remember the whole Tarsus Massacre. God, it had been such a ghastly tragedy. He remembered seeing it on the news, back when he was just turning twenty. The whole thing really wasn’t that long ago.

 

This was going to be an interesting unit to cover, he was sure. The most information he had gotten about it had been the public info that had been released at the time—which wasn't very much at all. The specifics of the incident were very hush-hush. He was sure to learn more in the Federation, it being a disaster particular to them and all.

 

“Now, I hold this unit at this particular time of year,” the teacher said, “for a very special reason. Can anyone guess why?” Her eyes scanned the rows of students, until she called on someone at the back.

 

“It’s the anniversary, isn’t it?” the student responded.

 

“That’s exactly right.” She changed the slide, which had a photo of one of the many mass graves that had been discovered on the planet. McCoy could see children among the bodies, and his throat closed up against his will. His mind immediately went to Joanna. “Although the Federation didn’t discover the massacre until early October of 2247, the initial massacre occurred in September of 2246. Now, who can guess why it took so long for the massacre to be discovered?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

The lesson was abruptly interrupted, by an officer at the classroom’s door. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Cadet Kirk has been requested immediately.”

 

Kirk?

 

McCoy glanced at Jim, who had turned pale and whose neck was dotted with sweat. His ears were bright red and his eyes pink.

 

Shit, was he in trouble? He definitely appeared to be in a panic. McCoy wondered what the kid could have possibly done as Jim shakily gathered his stuff. Maybe he actually had cheated on the test, and Starfleet wasn’t wasting any time in gathering him up.

 

Jim stepped to the ground floor of the class on unsteady legs, spoke some brief words with the teacher, followed the officer out, and then he was gone.

 

It was so strange and so unexpected, that McCoy couldn’t help but stare at the closed door even a few minutes after the teacher started her lesson back up. However, once she started to go over the medical experiments the doctors on Tarsus had conducted, McCoy’s attention was drawn back in.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT II

Part 2 of 3

 

McCoy only had a half hour before his next class, which didn’t leave him with much time to do anything other than grab a lunch.

 

He was sat at one of the tables outside of the common area. Winter wasn’t quite upon them yet, so he was trying to take what he could from the good weather while it was available. He chewed on his salad pensively, and ran that day’s class over in his head.

 

Tarsus was so fucked up.

 

He knew that already, of course. Everyone did. But he hadn’t realized exactly how bad some of it had been. He had never known that the masses weren’t all killed at once, but rather in a stream of firing squads or public executions.

 

Nor had he known that pockets of survivors had tried to live throughout the colony’s outskirts, of which most ended up being killed anyway. The official report said that by the time Starfleet showed up, less than a hundred of the chosen 4,000 had survived. Which was practically a miracle in and of itself, considering the constant patrols by Kodos’s men and the lack of supplies for anyone who tried to escape.

 

He could barely comprehend the horror those people had experienced in their last moments. For most of the colonists, their deaths were drawn out for days, or weeks. For some, even months.

 

McCoy shook his head, relieved that Tarsus was in the past. He was especially relieved that he never knew anyone who had been there.

 

God, how heartbreaking would that be?

 

His salad was just about finished, so he started to gather up his stuff. As he was tossing out his trash, he looked up at the main pathway in time to see Jim heading eastward. McCoy couldn’t see much of him, but the kid looked pale and sweaty.

 

Was he sick?

 

Before he could even process it, McCoy’s doctor instincts kicked in and prompted him to follow after Jim. “Hey,” he called, once he was near enough.

 

Jim turned to him, blinking a lot as he did so. His eyes were bloodshot.

 

“Hey,” McCoy repeated, suddenly unsure as to why he had even trotted after him. He didn’t know Jim. Didn’t particularly like Jim. But his urge to help and heal didn’t discriminate. “You feeling alright?”

 

Jim blinked at him once more, and his blue eyes seemed a little clearer than when McCoy had first called out to him. “What?”

 

McCoy motioned weakly at the sweat on Jim’s face. “You’re sweating. You have a fever?”

 

“Oh,” Jim breathed, before wiping a hand across his face, a disgruntled frown pouting his lips. “Oh, no. I’m fine. I got hit by a sprinkler.” He huffed at his hand and shook the moisture off. “Nothing wrong with me.” He sent a slight smile McCoy’s way. “Physically, at least.”

 

McCoy squinted in mild confusion at that comment, but just accepted that Jim was probably one of those people who joked about his own mental state, regardless of how mentally stable he actually was. “Right. Well, hey, why’d you have to leave class today? Are you in trouble?”

 

Jim shook his head. “Nah, Pike just wanted me for something.”

 

Pike? So… it seemed Jim was on good terms with the officer. Maybe Pike was the one who had recommended Jim after all. An urge to ask Jim about his relationship with the famous captain was on the tip of McCoy’s tongue, but… he didn’t really care. It didn’t matter to him who had recommended Jim.

 

“What’d he want you for?” McCoy asked instead.

 

Jim released a deep sigh, his eyes trained on the ground. “Just command track stuff. He’s gonna need me for the next couple of weeks during the same time as Federation Law, so I’m going to have to miss this unit.”

 

“Oh,” McCoy frowned. “That’s a shame. For you, I mean. This is a really interesting unit.”

 

Jim let out a soft snort.

 

Jesus. How could he be so insensitive? Tarsus wasn’t something to snort at. “I’m serious,” McCoy added, frown growing more prominent.

 

“I'm sure you are,” Jim responded, while he closed his eyes and rubbed at his forehead.

 

McCoy shook his head at him. “As boring as I'm sure tragedies like this are to you, I'd like you to keep in mind that it's an important part of our history. You can't act like Tarsus isn’t interesting or important.”

 

Jim, his eyes still closed, raised his hands while a crooked smile notched itself in place. “Look, I never said it wasn't,” he said, a chuckle in his voice.

 

“You just don’t care,” McCoy clarified.

 

And why would he? Though Jim admittedly wasn’t as bad as other child celebrities, he was still a self-centered bastard.

 

Jim’s bloodshot eyes locked onto McCoy briefly, before he gave a stiff shrug. “I just don’t feel like it’s worth talking about.”

 

McCoy couldn’t believe the gall Jim had. How could he say such a thing? How could he think a tragedy like Tarsus could just be swept under a rug and not seriously and repeatedly talked about? The ignorance of such events was what allowed them to continue to happen. If they couldn’t learn from their history, then they could never become better.

 

McCoy shook his head at Jim while disgust and disappointment warred in his gut. “Your attitude is the exact reason why things like this happen. Your lack of empathy isn’t going to help you, Jim, you can’t be going through life—can’t be going into Starfleet—without feeling even just a twinge of sympathy for people who are victims of tragedies.”

 

“I didn’t say I wasn’t sympathetic,” Jim grumbled lowly.

 

“Then why don’t you acknowledge Tarsus as something worth being talked about? I mean, if we don’t talk about this kind of thing, then it’s going to happen again. Maybe not something exactly like it, but if we never address our mistakes then we can never learn from them. You have to care about these things, Jim, or at least act like you care!”

 

“Well what the fuck do you fucking want from me?” Jim snapped.

 

McCoy blinked at him, startled.

 

Jim continued, his blue eyes sharp and face tight. “What do you want me to fucking say? Should I just crumple to the floor in a heap of noisy sobs, crying over people who died almost ten years ago? Who would that fucking help? Not me, and not them. There’s no point in discussing the details of what happened, no point in going over the mutilation and torture if it’s not going to stop it from happening again in the future.”

 

McCoy swallowed unevenly. The kid did kind of have a point. But before he could say anything, Jim continued.

 

“Shouldn’t just a simple acknowledgement of ‘Oh, Tarsus was bad, let’s not do that again’, be enough? I mean, Jesus, how is curling up with a good book about the skinnings and scalpings of the kids going to stop men like Kodos from getting into power again? Why the hell are we focusing more on the mutilation than on what sort of toxic idealizations could have harbored someone like Kodos for as long as it did? Why aren’t we more concerned that someone with those sorts of ideas was able to get to the point of power that he did? I’m tired as hell with this shit, tired of everyone studying it like it’s fun, and I—” Jim cut himself off to press a hand to his forehead. “God, look, talking about this shit on a moral high ground isn’t at the top of my fucking list right now, alright?”

 

“Alright,” McCoy conceded, raising a placating hand.

 

He’d never seen Jim angry before. McCoy didn’t know what to say. Not only because Jim’s change in character was so jarring, but because Jim’s thoughts on the matter of Tarsus didn’t feel uncaring or ignorant. In fact, McCoy found himself agreeing with a lot of what Jim had said.

 

And yet, Jim’s outburst was extremely emotionally charged. More so than what made sense for even a heated discussion of a class topic. McCoy couldn’t help but wonder if there was another underlying cause to Jim’s apparent agitation.

 

As Jim panted unevenly, McCoy noticed how tightly wound Jim really was. He was holding himself very rigidly, and sweat was starting to collect on his brow again.

 

Then he remembered why he had stopped Jim in the first place. Maybe Jim really was sick. More than McCoy had initially suspected.

 

McCoy suddenly felt like a massive douche. He hadn’t meant for the conversation to devolve into something that could agitate an already ill person, and McCoy realized that that was entirely his own fault. If Jim was sick, it would make sense for him to not want to have too deep of a conversation right now. “You sure you’re feeling alright?” McCoy asked quietly, unsure of what else to say.

 

Jim rubbed his hands over his face again, his shoulders slumping. “Yeah. Fuck.”

 

McCoy huffed. “I don’t know how you could think that sounded convincing.”

 

Jim didn’t respond and only shrugged tiredly. He looked pathetic.

 

“Hey,” McCoy started quietly, “do you need to go to medical?”

 

Jim shook his head. “Hell no,” Jim replied with a surprising amount of vigor. “I don’t want to go to the fucking nurse, I just want to go to my class. Which I'm late for.”

 

“Do you want someone to walk you there?” McCoy asked.

 

Which, what the hell? Why did he say that? McCoy didn't know what he was thinking, his mouth just moved without him.

 

And based on the look Jim was giving him, he didn't know what McCoy was thinking either. Goddamn it, they weren't even friends.

 

Jim parted his lips slowly, while the gaze of his wide eyes didn't waver. “Are you offering, Bones?”

 

Fuck. It wasn’t like he could back out now. McCoy scowled to the side and refused to let himself sigh. “Yeah, sure.” That came out a little too unwilling, so he tried again. “Yes.”

 

Jim’s pink eyes drifted downwards and he visibly swallowed. He looked small and defeated, and he really should have been heading home and not to class if he was so sick. But Jim’s gaze flicked back up to McCoy and just like that, his vulnerable expression was gone and instead replaced by a solid smirk. “Well, who am I to turn away the kind offer of someone as handsome as yourself?” Jim’s smile didn’t reach his eyes at all.

 

It was the most lukewarm flirt Jim had sent McCoy’s way yet. He was definitely sick if he was so far from his A-game.

 

McCoy nodded and exhaled. “Lead the way.”

 

Jim took a second to rub his hand over his face again, before motioning forward. “Alright. It’s that way.”

 

Jim was quiet while they walked. It was unnatural, and it made it hard for McCoy to keep his eyes ahead and off of Jim. His instincts were screaming at him to heal. To steer Jim around, straight to medical. Or at least to a bed where he could rest.

 

It was frustrating and confusing.

 

As much of a help as Jim was being in Diplomacy, McCoy still wasn’t crazy about the kid.

 

But he just… had to help. Wanted Jim to not be sick.

 

McCoy was so focused on his own internal struggle, he wasn’t really paying attention to where they were headed. At least, not until the shadow of one of the campus’s larger buildings shrouded over them.

 

He blinked up at it, not quite comprehending for a second. “Wait, isn’t this the maths building?”

 

As they stomped up the steps, Jim gave a half-hearted, “Good to know your eyes are still working, Bones.”

 

“Why are we here?” McCoy asked, while he held the door to the main hall open for Jim. “Are you taking a math class?”

 

Why would Jim be doing that?

 

Jim had said he was going into command, and the only tracks that had to actively take math classes at the academy were the science and engineering divisions. To be admitted into the academy, it was a given that you were already more than decent at math.

 

So if it wasn’t required for Jim to be taking a math class, why was he?

 

“I mean,” Jim said, tilting his head, “I don’t come in here to watch the paint dry.”

 

“Well, what—what—,” this was so baffling to McCoy, he took a second to find his words. “What class are you taking?”

 

Probably one of the easy ones, just to stay fresh on his maths. Right?

 

They turned a corner and Jim scratched at his neck. “Finite Mathematics.”

 

Finite—Jesus, that sounded complicated as hell.

 

You’re taking that class?” McCoy asked, unable to keep the incredulity from his voice.

 

Jim squinted his eyes at McCoy for a second. “Bones, how stupid do you think I am that I can’t take math?”

 

“No, it’s not that—,” entirely, “I’m just wondering why you’re taking a math class if you’re in the command track. If it’s not necessary, why do it?”

 

Jim watched his own feet while they walked, before he finally replied. “I just think it’s fun.”

 

What the hell?

 

Jim cleared his throat as they came to a stop in front of a large pair of doors. “Alright, this is it.” He glanced at McCoy, his eyes still suspiciously red. He gave a tired looking smile. “Thanks for walking me here. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

Jim stepped inside of the class, and McCoy was left to stare at the doors to one of the more complicated math classes available at the academy. Only one thought was swirling through his head.

 

How smart was Jim Kirk?

 

First the test results, then the well thought-out opinion on topics like Tarsus, and now fucking Finite Mathematics.

 

McCoy was seriously starting to wonder how deep the rabbit hole that was Jim Kirk went.

 


 

McCoy didn’t see Jim again until Diplomacy the next day.

 

Jim was in his usual spot, twirling a pen between his fingers and staring blankly at the front. When he noticed McCoy, he gave a slight smile and acknowledging nod.

 

Hm. He seemed to be doing better than the day before. His color seemed healthier, and even his mood seemed to have improved.

 

McCoy set his bag on the floor and took his seat beside Jim. “Did you go to medical?”

 

Jim scoffed. “What the hell would I do that for?”

 

“I don’t know, because you’re sick and ought to be seen to?” McCoy said, raising a brow.

 

Jim folded his hands behind his head and leaned back in his seat. “I’m not sick.”

 

As if. “So you weren’t running around half dead yesterday.”

 

“Nope,” Jim said, popping the ‘p’.

 

McCoy sighed as he got his tablet out. “You do realize I’m a doctor, right?”

 

Jim flapped a hand at him in dismissal, “Shut up, Bones, the teacher’s here.” He sent a mock imploring, wide-eyed gaze at McCoy. “I’m trying to pay attention.”

 

Indignation contorted McCoy’s face, but he couldn’t respond because the teacher started his lecture.

 

Jim didn’t really care about class. The little imp was just deflecting.

 

Oh, well. It wasn’t McCoy’s place to press. Goddamnit, he didn’t care about Jim anyway. He sighed to himself, and started to write down notes as needed. If Jim wanted to let himself get even more sick, then that was his business.

 

Besides, they’d already finished their project’s first draft and would have no trouble turning it in at the end of class, so McCoy didn’t really need to hold onto him. Just so long as Jim didn’t die before their final was due.

 


 

Tarsus really was fascinating.

 

His conversation with Jim two days before was still sitting in McCoy’s mind, but he couldn’t help some level of morbid curiosity in regards to what had happened on Tarsus IV. There was an inkling of guilt for being able to go over everything so objectively, but he hadn’t been there. Neither did he know anyone who was a victim of the event.

 

So it was pretty impersonal for him to study it, just like it was for everyone else.

 

Of course, that didn’t mean he was having no emotional reaction to the information he was learning. The unit was going to last them about four weeks, and already McCoy could barely comprehend the inhumanities they’d gone over.

 

What was baffling him the most was what was done to the kids.

 

Since there wasn’t just one but multiple waves of executions, a lot of kids had been initially missed. It was such a horrific concept.

 

To be a child and to witness the murder of your family, only to struggle to not be killed yourself for days, or weeks, or months. The textbook said there had been a few pockets of kids that tried to survive on their own, ages ranging from five to fourteen.

 

Joanna was already six.

 

To think that kids just like her had been put through that… It made McCoy sick to his stomach.

 

As if the idea of children trying to fend for themselves in the middle of a famine—living out of caves and holes—wasn’t bad enough, then what was done to the kids that had been caught was so much worse.

 

At first, kids that had been caught were killed more or less right away. But as the months dragged on, and resources dwindled and the situation became more dire, the mental stability of those still in power obviously went to hell.

 

That was all McCoy could figure, because there was no way a sane person would starve and torture a thirteen year old for weeks on end.

 

They hadn’t quite gotten to the Tarsus 9 yet, but they took a quick detour to discuss how five of the Tarsus 9 had been kids. Children.

 

Five kids that were in the clutches of Kodos and his men for weeks, left to the mercy of their captors. Apparently the five of them hadn’t all originated from the same group of survivors, and had actually been captured along with others from their own groups.

 

But by the time Starfleet had arrived, those five kids were the only ones that had survived.

 

There was one kid in particular that was notable. He was only officially referred to as Survivor T, so as to keep the person’s identity hidden. But apparently Kodos had fixated on him more than the other Tarsus 9. They had performed experiments on him, the majority of them meant to test his limits. Meant to bring him to the brink of death, and then pull him back at the last minute.

 

What sickened McCoy the most was that Survivor T had been fucking thirteen.

 

And what’s more, the room that the Starfleet officers had found him in was full of dead kids. He and two of the other Tarsus 9 were the only living beings in the cell, and they were surrounded by their rotting friends.

 

McCoy could not fathom how anybody could survive that.

 

If Survivor T was still around, McCoy couldn’t even imagine what sort of state he could be in. He was probably taking lots of counseling, and probably had been since his return from Tarsus. It would be completely understandable if Survivor T was in a mental health facility.

 

For fuck’s sake, the amount of trauma the kid had likely undergone was nigh incomprehensible.

 

Kodos was a sick fucking bastard.

 

McCoy sighed lowly as the teacher changed the slide, and glanced at the empty seat to his right.

 

If Jim had stuff he had to do with Pike, then it couldn’t be helped. But it really was a shame that he was missing such an important unit. No matter how much Jim probably thought he knew about Tarsus, McCoy was sure he would be learning so much more if he had been able to stay in the class.

 


 

“Alright, now I know there are only three minutes left of class, but don’t leave just yet,” their Diplomacy teacher said. “You all turned in your first drafts on Tuesday, and I’ve already gone through and graded all of them. If you’ll just wait a moment, I’ll get your grades back to you.”

 

McCoy idly scribbled a series of lines on the corner of his PADD's notebook screen. He glanced at Jim beside him. “How do you think we did?”

 

Jim shrugged, before he leaned back in his seat and placed his boots on his desk.

 

McCoy sighed. Did Jim always have to be so Goddamn irreverent? He wanted to comment on how their desks were not footrests, but Jim spoke up before he could.

 

“Dunno,” he mused. “I’ll bet we did beautifully. Probably got the highest grades in the class.”

 

“Do you ever wonder if you’re a bit too confident?” McCoy scratched out his doodle. “I doubt we did that much better than our classmates. We probably did fine, but ‘best in the class’ seems like a bit of a stretch.”

 

“Wanna make a bet on it?”

 

McCoy flicked his gaze towards Jim. The kid had a dangerous glint in his eye, even though he wasn’t quite smiling. To say McCoy hesitated would be an understatement. “What do you have in mind?”

 

“Nothing dangerous,” Jim murmured, rolling his eyes. “But if we got the best grade in the class, then we ought to drink on it. Come to the bar with me.”

 

All of the muscles in McCoy’s back and shoulders tightened until they were stiff. A sparking flame of fear lit up his chest, and he gripped his pen so tight his whole body went rigid. “I don’t do dates,” he ground out.

 

This time, it being Jim wasn’t even the big issue.

 

He just could not—would not—get close to anyone. He couldn’t risk it. There was very little left of his heart as it was.

 

Jim released a very put upon sigh and swung his legs off of his desk, until his feet planted firmly on the floor. “Not a date, you old coot. Just some friendly drinking, that’s all I had in mind.”

 

McCoy’s muscles loosened some, but barely. He continued to stare at Jim warily, at least until their PADDs lit up.

 

Their teacher had sent them their graded papers.

 

McCoy and Jim scrolled down the marks their teacher had put on their paper, and by the time he reached the seventh page, McCoy realized that all of the marks were positive. Comments of agreement, or additional suggestion. At the very bottom of their first draft was a 100/100 score.

 

And as he listened in on the reactions of his classmates to their own scores, it was becoming increasingly apparent that a good grade on the assignment was an anomaly. It sounded like very few of their peers even reached a high B.

 

McCoy swallowed nervously.

 

“Oh, shit,” Jim muttered beside him. “Looks like you lost the bet.”

 

“I never agreed in the first place,” McCoy bit out in return.

 

A light punch hit McCoy in the arm, and he glared at the grinning Jim beside him. “C’mon, don’t be such a sourpuss,” Jim chortled. “I know you don't like me, but we work super well together. We don't have to drink to a friendship, but there's no harm in drinking to a working relationship, right?”

 

McCoy blinked at him, a frown firm on his face. “You just want an excuse to drink, don’t you?” Then again, who was McCoy to judge? He hadn’t been drinking much since he started attending the academy, so a couple of glasses of something hard sounded downright heavenly. A heated gust of air blew from his nose. “When were you thinking of going?”

 

Jim gave him a stronger grin than before, one that involved biting his lip and slapping McCoy on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit, Bones.”

 


 

As McCoy unlocked the door to his dorm and tossed his bag to the corner, despair swirled in his gut.

 

Yesterday he had agreed to go drinking with Jim. Since it was the weekend, they figured they could head out Friday night without too many repercussions for Saturday. It was 5:45 pm already, McCoy’s shift at the hospital had only finished fifteen minutes prior.

 

He started to work his way out of his scrubs while he toed off his boots.

 

What was he thinking? Honest to God, what was he thinking? Him, going out drinking with Jim. This was all so fucking weird. He didn’t even like the kid. Why did he agree to go out? Fuck, he kept telling himself he wasn’t trying to get close to anyone.

 

Obviously that wasn’t quite working out, not if his shifting through his wardrobe was any indication.

 

God. What was he even going to wear? Should he spruce himself up? He wasn’t trying to catch anyone’s attention. But he didn’t want to look like a total sleazebag. McCoy sighed wearily and buried his face in his clean clothes.

 

What was he doing?

 

His PADD suddenly vibrated beside him. He opened it up, realizing he had just received a message.

 

It was an unknown contact. I’ll be there in 5, it read.

 

That had to be Jim.

 

Scowling, McCoy replied, How did you get my number?

 

Don’t worry about it.

 

“‘Don’t worry about it’, he says,” McCoy grumbled. Griping under his breath, McCoy grabbed a simple black long sleeve and a pair of jeans, and hastily changed out of his hospital uniform and instead into his civvies. He grabbed the jacket that he had worn on the shuttle ride to San Fran, and checked himself in his mirror while he put it on.

 

He looked alright. Good, but not like he was trying. As he combed his fingers through his hair, he suddenly recalled something Jim had said to him in their first class together.

 

“You’re like, a Grade-A babe.”

 

He stuttered to a halt. Did Jim really think that? The kid had said this wasn’t a date, but… could he have been lying? Did he even like McCoy? The doctor didn’t feel like the two of them got along, and he doubted Jim was as fond him as he occasionally acted.

 

He chewed on his lip nervously. Was this a good idea?

 

A knock sounded at his door. Well. It was too late to start worrying about it now.

 

As he unlocked the coded lock and swung the door open, he was caught off guard by the sight of Jim still wearing his school uniform. Without thinking, he blurted out, “Don’t you have any clothes?”

 

Jim raised his brows in what appeared to be amused surprise. “Bones. Do I look naked to you?”

 

“I’m talking about something other than your reds,” McCoy replied in heavy annoyance, while he gestured in Jim’s general direction.

 

Jim waved a hand in dismissal. “Hey, it's fine. The uniform will make me seem more presentable and respectful. Don’t worry, it'll keep me in line.”

 

McCoy frowned at him dubiously, but conceded. He double checked that his wallet and keys were in his pocket, before he shut his door behind himself and locked it. “Alright,” he sighed. “Lead the way, kid.”

 


 

Jim had led them to a bar that was about a fifteen minute walk from campus. McCoy hadn’t known of its existence, but now he was glad. Alcohol wasn’t allowed in the campus dorms, but that didn’t mean he had to give up drinking completely. It was good to know there was an establishment that he could easily reach whenever need be.

 

The bar was far from the dingy crawl McCoy had holed himself up in the day before boarding Starfleet’s shuttle. Here, in San Francisco, the place Jim had taken them to was pretty clean. It had a good amount of clientele, but not enough people to make McCoy feel claustrophobic. The lights were comfortably dim, and everything was cast in a warm, orange glow. Even the music wasn’t too loud.

 

He lazily swirled the glass of whiskey in his hand, and he took a careful sip.

 

They hadn’t been there long, maybe thirty minutes, but McCoy was already on his second glass. Jim was on his third. He eyed the kid while he gulped at his chosen poison.

 

It seemed Jim really had something to drink about. But what that could be, McCoy wasn’t sure. Maybe school was taking a harder toll on Jim than anyone suspected.

 

“You’re drinking a lot,” McCoy commented. He would have to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t toe the line with alcohol poisoning. No matter the hour or situation, McCoy would always be a doctor first and foremost.

 

Jim glanced at McCoy, before he took another drink. “You, too. You downed your first glass like it was gonna catch fire if exposed to oxygen too long.”

 

McCoy snorted. “Haven’t had a drink in a while.”

 

Jim smirked at him while he ran his fingers over his glass. “What, like five hours?”

 

McCoy scoffed and shook his head. “I’m not that bad.” Not to say that he hadn’t had phases where he was that bad.

 

The more he didn’t think about the days leading up to and following his divorce, the less shame could find a comfortable perch in his thoughts. The memories from those days had been completely drowned out in the honey glow of cheap Georgian whiskey. But Jim didn’t need to know that.

 

McCoy took another careful swig from his glass, and belatedly noted that a warm body had sidled up beside him. He glanced at the admittedly beautiful woman that seated herself on his other side.

 

She was smiling at him with half-lidded eyes, and a surge of panic pierced McCoy in the gut.

 

“I haven’t seen you here before,” she said, her voice saccharine like too thick syrup.

 

“Well, I’ve never been here before,” he grumbled. He turned away and tried to refocus on his glass, hoping she would read his body language and leave him alone. His heart was pounding unevenly in his chest.

 

“Oh?” A delicate hand was placed on his arm, and his muscles stiffened until he felt like he was going to break. “Are you new around here?” she asked. “Would you… like someone to show you around?”

 

McCoy tried to control his breathing. Fuck, he was just being hit on, why did it feel like someone was pressing a gun to his head? “No, thank you,” he ground out, his words a deep rumble from his tight chest.

 

He could feel sweat breaking out on his neck. His pulse was jumping wildly through his veins, and he had to place his glass on the counter lest he drop it. He was starting to shake.

 

“You’re wound pretty tight,” she purred. “Seems like it would do you some good to ease that tension.” She leaned in closer, and McCoy forgot how to breathe. “I could help you with that, if you’d like.”

 

Another hand, larger and warmer, suddenly grabbed the wrist on the same arm that the woman was hanging off of. McCoy glanced at Jim, eyes wide in a silent question as to why Jim had suddenly grabbed him.

 

But Jim wasn’t looking at him, and was instead smiling sweetly at the woman that was hanging off of McCoy. “Sorry to interrupt, but he and I are here on business,” Jim said, voice jovial and light. His grip on McCoy’s wrist was tight.

 

Her hand slid off of McCoy’s arm, and the doctor’s strained heart continued to beat itself into a panic.

 

Jim continued to grin at her, gave her a quick wink, and said, “I promise, though, you’re too gorgeous to give up here. Keep looking around, you’ll find someone even more worth your while tonight.”

 

His brief comment on her appearance seemed to have bolstered her mood, but McCoy couldn’t tell for sure. He couldn’t even look at her. Jim’s interruption was apparently enough, however, because not long after McCoy could feel her presence disappear to head elsewhere.

 

Once she was gone, Jim immediately released McCoy.

 

The doctor panted unsteady gusts of air that could almost be considered breaths. Fuck. Fuck. God, Jocelyn had fucked him up so much worse than he thought. He squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to calm his breathing.

 

“I knew you’d had a bad break up,” Jim murmured thoughtfully. “I didn’t realize it was bad enough to give you PTSD.”

 

McCoy couldn’t open his eyes to look at him. He should have realized sooner that his aversion to intimacy was more than just wanting to keep to himself. God, Jim was right. How did he not realize sooner that his relationship with Jocelyn had given him fucking PTSD?

 

He had been abused. He knew that, though he didn’t like to acknowledge it often. But whether or not he acknowledged it didn’t change the fact that it happened.

 

Jocelyn had mentally and emotionally abused him. He was only able to see it after they’d broken it off, but there was no denying that the way she treated him—the things she called him—was abusive. Abuse often created trauma, no matter who you were or how old you were. McCoy should have known he was no exception.

 

He exhaled shakily and picked his glass of whiskey back up, before downing it one gulp. Still not looking at Jim, he rose from his seat. “I’m going back,” he croaked. He couldn’t be there anymore. He couldn’t risk being hit on again.

 

“Hey, wait!” Jim spun towards him in indignation and grabbed McCoy’s arm. “You can’t leave yet, we just got here!”

 

“Jim, I just…” McCoy choked on the words, but he forced himself to continue. “I just can’t do this right now.”

 

“Wait, hold on, don’t leave,” Jim insisted. “Seriously, I wanted to talk about school stuff with you. I know your past relationship was bad, but don’t worry about that right now, alright?”

 

McCoy glanced at Jim out of the corner of his eye. That wasn’t why Jim had brought him there. McCoy had studied psychology enough to notice that Jim was just trying to distract him. A need to resist built up in him and he tried to weakly pull his arm from Jim’s grasp. “If you wanted to talk about classwork, we could have done that elsewhere. Not fucking here.”

 

Jim sighed. “You’re right,” he admitted, but he continued to gently tug Bones back to his seat. “But you seriously need to get out more. It’s gotta be kind of suffocating to just go to your dorm and class and hospital, and never anywhere else, right?” He did kind of have a point. “You gotta let yourself get out a little, or else you really are gonna die a lonely old man,” Jim finished.

 

Bones felt defeated. Tired. The rushing adrenaline from the encounter was starting to slow in his body, and the sound of another glass of whiskey sounded more promising than his bed back in his dorm.

 

“If you’d like,” Jim added, “we can move to a booth. We’re less likely to be interrupted if we’re in the back corner.”

 


 

They didn’t find a booth, but they did find a seat at a table that was a little farther from the bar. It took McCoy a while to calm down, but multiple spirits coursing through his body definitely helped. They’d been there long enough, McCoy had long lost track of time. He could only guess that they were already well past midnight.

 

“It just, it doesn’t make any sense,” McCoy continued, his voice slurring a little.

 

“Sure it does,” Jim replied, tilting his chair back. “I’m bored, and you’re funny.”

 

“But I can’t be the only funny person around here. Seriously, why—why—” McCoy cut himself off to plant his elbows on the table. “Why spend so much time hanging around with me? Why not people your own age?”

 

Jesus, Bones, it’s not like you’re ancient or something.” Jim tipped his head back so he was facing the ceiling as he replied. “Besides, everyone else here is younger than me, too. Most of them are, like, eighteen. I’m twenty-two, dude.”

 

“Yeah, but I’m twenty-eight,” McCoy replied dejectedly, slouching against his hand. “I’m six years your senior.”

 

Jim tipped a little farther back in his chair, and for a second McCoy thought that he was going to fall over completely. “That’s what makes you interesting,” Jim mumbled. “To be honest, I don’t really like you—”

 

“I don’t like you either,” McCoy interrupted.

 

“—But you’re definitely interesting,” Jim finished. He blinked at the ceiling for a few moments and dabbed his tongue at his lips. “You’re past the age of acting like something you’re not. You feel honest. Everyone else feels like they’re putting on a front so they’ll be liked more, but you feel honest. Hell, you’re one of the only people that has been genuine in their behavior and feelings towards me.”

 

Jim came slamming back into an upright position, all of the legs of his chair back on the floor. He slouched against the table like McCoy was.

 

“You would not believe how many people have been sucking up to me.” Jim shook his head, and his face scrunched up in affrontation. “It’s making me so Goddamn uncomfortable. What do they think I have to offer them? Fame? Glory?” He chuckled sardonically and leaned against the back of his chair again, and added in a whisper, “I have nothing to give.”

 

McCoy eyed him thoughtfully. Jim was… more human than he had thought. Of course he knew Jim was a human, he was a doctor for God’s sake, but… Jim wasn’t as vapid as he had assumed. He sounded so dejected talking about his popularity. Which was the last thing McCoy expected.

 

Jim picked at the edge of the table. “And you…” He paused to swallow back some saliva. “You’re a doctor. I’m not crazy about that. But my gut tells me… my gut tells me that you’re not dangerous.” He stopped moving and stared blankly at the tabletop. “My gut is usually right, but it’s been hard trusting it this time.”

 

McCoy blinked at him in confusion, and a slight stirring of offense swirled in his stomach. What had he done to make Jim think he was dangerous? He was a doctor, damn it. Doctors are safe. Didn’t Jim know that?

 

Before he could reply, the sound of a heated argument reached Bones’s ears. He glanced over his shoulder, at the couple that was seated at the table behind theirs.

 

“Please, babe,” the girl pleaded, presumably at her boyfriend. “Don’t raise your voice. Don’t get angry.”

 

“Don’t get angry?” the guy all but shouted. He looked beefy, and like he’d one too many drinks. His volume awareness had obviously been turned off. “How the fuck can you ask me to not get angry? You want me to just act like you weren’t hitting on that guy?”

 

“I wasn’t,” the girl said. She was so much smaller than the man. Worry was starting to build in McCoy’s chest. “Please, sweetheart, please drop it.”

 

“No! I’m not gonna fucking drop it!” The guy was gripping the edge of his table, and it looked like he was getting ready to stand up. “I’m not gonna act like you aren’t being a fucking slut, right in front of my fucking eyes! Why don’t you just hit up every guy in this Goddamn bar if you want to be such a fucking whore?!”

 

“Please,” she pleaded again. Her back was to McCoy, but he could hear the tears in her voice. “Babe, please just drop it. Can we go home?”

 

This time the guy actually did stand up. “Why, so you can just turn around and fuck the next guy you see while I’m asleep? I love you, and this is how you want to fucking treat me?!”

 

McCoy couldn’t take a breath. The argument was laced with the same kind of energy as the arguments he and Jocelyn used to have. Not the same words or exact context, but it was the same feeling. It was making him sick to his stomach.

 

“I bend over backwards doing things for you!” The douchebag continued. “I’ve sacrificed so fucking much for this relationship, and how do you repay me?! By being a worthless fucking slut!”

 

That was it. McCoy couldn’t take anymore. He gripped the edge of his table to hoist himself up, but before he could even get to his feet Jim’s voice sounded from right next to him.

 

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Jim said from beside McCoy’s chair (when had he even gotten up?), his eyes trained on the couple. “But you’re being a fucking shitwad.” He turned a pleasant smile on the girl who was seated behind McCoy. “He’s really not worth your time. What say you ditch this son of a bitch, hang out with me and my friend here?”

 

“And who the fuck are you?” Shitwad asked, face red and seething. “Are you fucking her too?”

 

“Nope, never met her before in my life,” Jim replied easily. “Doesn’t mean I have to sit by and watch someone with a dick as small as yours take all of your insecurities out on her. Honestly, you might want to seek some help for that. I hear they’ve developed some really nice microscopes to find genitals that are too small for the human eye.”

 

McCoy almost laughed at Jim’s comment, but his mirth was quickly forgotten the moment the big hulk of an asshole lumbered closer to Jim. Without a second thought, McCoy rose from his seat and stood behind the kid.

 

“You wanna say that again, you fucking twink?” Asshole seethed, face all up in Jim’s.

 

Jim shrugged casually. “Sure, if it’ll make life easier for you. I heard small dicks often come with small brains, so I’m not surprised that you can’t comprehend anything on the first go.” Even without looking at Jim’s face, McCoy could just feel Jim’s grin before his next words. “Let me try again. You have,” he poked the guy’s chest, “a tiny dick, and an even tinier brain.”

 

Even drunk, Jim apparently has great reflexes, because he somehow dodged the guy’s meaty fist before McCoy could even register the guy moving. Which was how McCoy managed to catch the brunt of the punch square on his nose.

 

McCoy stumbled back, as stars and a fizzling of static filled McCoy’s head, which was immediately replaced by a prominent and throbbing pain. It was only worsened when his legs knocked against something that threw off his balance, sending him crashing to the floor.

 

His head smacked against the tile and moisture sprang to his eyes. “Fuck!” he yelped and hurried to cradle his suddenly bleeding nose, just as he heard Jim shout, “Bones!”

 

Pain ricocheted through McCoy’s head, and all he could do was curl onto his side and try to catch the majority of the blood that was seeping from his nose. Tears were threatening to spill from his eyes, and it was so Goddamn frustrating. He had heard that getting clocked on the nose was a surefire way to tear up, but he’d never had to experience it firsthand.

 

The sound of flesh getting smacked drew his attention, and he blinked enough times to clear his vision. He sought out Jim, who was nimbly dodging the hulk’s swings and landing an impressive amount on the guy’s ugly mug.

 

“You fucker!” Jim was yelling. “Keep your fucking hands to yourself!” Without so much as taking a hard hit, Jim landed one solid blow to the guy’s jaw.

 

McCoy could hear the hard clacking of teeth, and the sound was immediately followed by the sight of blood pooling from the guy’s mouth. Oh, he must have bit his tongue. Serves him right, McCoy couldn’t help but think.

 

Jim landed one final blow on the guy’s jaw, before asshole hulk tilted to the side and landed in a heavy heap on the floor. A general quiet had descended over the bar, save for Jim’s ragged breaths and the girl’s quiet sobbing.

 

McCoy allowed himself a moment more to shake off the dizzy feeling being punched had given him. He wiped at his face, but accepted that the blood wasn’t going to stop. He released a tight sigh. Time to get to work.

 

He used the nearest table as leverage and got himself to his feet, and ignored how the room swayed once he was upright. “Call an ambulance,” McCoy ordered, staring at the bartender. “I’m going to tend to him, but there’s only so much I can do without my equipment.”

 

The bartender hesitated.

 

Frustration boiled in McCoy’s chest, and he repeated louder, “Call an ambulance!”

 

Once the bartender scurried off to do as he was told, McCoy blinked a few times in an attempt to clear his head, before he carefully made his way to the unconscious shitwad. He noted that Jim was staring at him as he went, but he would check the kid over after he addressed the most obviously injured person in the room.

 

He knelt beside the hulk, swiped at his own bleeding nose again, before he gingerly took a hold of the guy’s head to assess the damage.

 

It looked like a fractured cheekbone, a fractured jaw, and his tongue had been nearly bitten clean off. Good, he thought for a moment, before he looked up at Jim who was watching him quietly.

 

“Go see if there’s a medkit behind the bar,” McCoy commanded.

 

Jim did as he was told silently, and McCoy would have wondered more about the kid’s silence if it didn’t feel like his fucking head was trying to split itself open. There were still tears that kept trying to drown his eyes, and the blood that was trickling over his lip was starting to itch.

 

God, this was why he shouldn’t go to bars.

 

Jim came back and held the medkit out in front of him.

 

McCoy accepted it with a quiet thanks, took out the tricorder provided and a dingy little dermal regenerator that was also there. The tricorder told him that his initial assessment was right. Fractured eye socket, fractured jaw, nearly severed tongue. There was more damage done across the guy’s face that would soon form a mottling of bruises.

 

He started up the regenerator to more or less fix the guy’s tongue, lest he drown in his own blood.

 

Everyone else was still being awfully quiet, except for the girl. McCoy glanced at Jim, who was still staring silently. “Go comfort her, would you?”

 

As Jim went to go do as he was told, McCoy got to work on the guy’s mouth. Paramedics showed up not long after. They continued what work McCoy had been doing with better equipment, and ushered him to a side table where he could be treated.

 

McCoy felt dazed and tired. He allowed them to use a regenerator on his nose and hypo him to dull the pain. They let him sit at the side while he regained his bearings, but he wasn’t allowed to leave. They were going to have to take a statement.

 

McCoy rubbed at his head in exhaustion. He stayed like that for who knew how long. When he finally opened his eyes, Jim was standing in front of him and holding out a glass of water. As McCoy took it, he whispered, “Thanks.”

 

Jim didn’t respond, and instead just sat in the chair that the medic that treated McCoy had vacated.

 

McCoy raised a brow at him. Why wasn’t he saying anything? “What’s eating you?” McCoy croaked groggily.

 

Jim was watching him contemplatively. His blue eyes almost looked like they were sparkling. “Why did you help him?” he finally asked.

 

The question threw McCoy off guard. He raised his brow and leaned back in his seat, and carefully sipped at the water. “Why wouldn’t I?”

 

Jim tilted his head. “He was an asshole. He didn’t deserve your pity.”

 

McCoy scoffed through his nostrils while he took another sip. “It wasn’t pity.” He thrummed his fingers against the glass in thought, and maintained eye contact with Jim. “I made an oath. Do no harm.” His eyes drifted downward, back at his glass of water. “Allowing pain to continue is the same as causing it. At least to me.”

 

Jim was still being quiet, so McCoy glanced at him again. Jim was clutching his own glass of water with white-knuckled hands. “Do you really believe that?” His voice sounded hollow. He was probably tired.

 

McCoy squinted at him. “Of course I do. I made an oath. I don’t care who it is, whether it’s the sweetest little kid or the worst person I’ve ever met, if someone is in pain then I have to help. It’s my job and I take it damn seriously.” He took a deep sigh, and ignored the dull pulse of pain that still emanated from his nose. “If it is within my power to heal someone or to keep them safe, then I will.”

 

“Doctor,” one of the paramedics called. He glanced at them and they motioned for him to come over.

 

He looked back at Jim, at the way Jim was watching him with slightly wide eyes. “They want a statement," McCoy explained. "Don’t worry, I’m gonna let them know you were acting in self defense. Neither of us will get in trouble.”

 

As McCoy stood and placed his water on the nearest surface, Jim spoke up. “You know, you’re not half bad.” McCoy stared at him, at the genuine twinkle of Jim’s blue eyes. He was smiling softly, almost warily. “For a doctor, I mean.”

 

McCoy didn’t really know what that meant. But it was two in the morning, he got clocked in the face, and this was not at all how he intended to start his weekend. He couldn’t find the energy to look too far into Jim’s words now. As he approached the other medics, he decided he could reflect on it all later.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT II

Part 3 of 3

 

McCoy spent all of Saturday sleeping off a raging headache. The only times he got up were to use the bathroom, take some painkillers, and check in with Starfleet hospital to let them know he wouldn’t be coming in that night.

 

He couldn’t even bring himself to eat more than toast. His nose throbbed incessantly the whole weekend, and he prayed he’d feel better by Monday morning. He couldn’t afford to miss any class, not at this point in the semester.

 

Besides… Part of him was anxious to see Jim again. The kid had been acting strangely by the time they parted ways Friday night, his expression a little too stiff and his blue eyes alight with… something.

 

And he’d said that thing.

 

“You’re not half bad. For a doctor, I mean.”

 

What the hell was McCoy supposed to take from that?

 

His weekend consisted of him refraining from tossing and turning in his tangled blankets--as unnecessary movement seemed to only worsen his pain--and toiling over dissecting Jim’s actions and words at the bar. Attaining sleep was in dual parts simple and harrowing. Simple because the pain and the pills kept him mostly unconscious, harrowing when his mind wouldn’t let him find rest.

 

What few dreams he had were filled with visions of Jim fighting, alone and out of reach.

 


 

McCoy took his time getting dressed. He felt infinitely better than he had on Saturday and Sunday, but he knew he’d have to take a few painkillers throughout the day to keep himself going. He was just glad he didn’t have a shift for the night.

 

He studied himself in his mirror as he situated his uniform, and couldn’t help but scowl at his swollen and purple-bruised nose. He had placed an inflammation-strip over the bridge of his nose, but it could only help so much.

 

So what if he’d be walking around looking like a beaten apple? Maybe it would convince some of the more annoying cadets to keep their distance. Give him the image of being tough and unapproachable. He snorted reflexively and winced at the pain.

 

He smoothed his uniform out with one final huff, before grabbing his stuff and heading for the door.

 


 

McCoy barely made it to class on time. His skin was crawling with pent up agitation, his swollen face having garnered more stares on his walk than he'd anticipated. To his dismay, the staring didn’t abate any upon entering the supposed sanctuary of the classroom.

 

His classmates blatantly eyed him, and he was on the verge of shouting, Go on, take it all in, keep staring! I just love feeling like an attraction at a sideshow! Get your cameras, take your fill! God forbid any of you keep to yourselves!!

 

With an exhale toeing the line with a growl, McCoy set his stuff down and dropped into his chair. McCoy was going to make Jim suffer for this one. Let’s go to a bar! Bright fucking idea that was.

 

McCoy eyed the empty seat to his right, a grand speech of heated words he would give Jim collecting on his tongue, and remembered that the kid was still doing stuff with Pike during this class. Oh. Damn. McCoy sighed and carefully scrubbed his hand through his hair.

 

Right.

 

He wouldn’t be seeing Jim again until tomorrow.

 

“Hey.”

 

Startled, McCoy blinked up at Jerome, another cadet in the medical track that sat a few rows back. Jerome placed his stuff on the desk and sat himself in Jim’s usual seat.

 

McCoy raised an imploring brow at him, curious as to why Jerome was sitting himself here. They didn’t really talk, even though they shared a decent number of classes.

 

Jerome leaned toward McCoy, and his voice hushed down conspiratorially. “Is it true what they’re saying? About Kirk?”

 

“What?”

 

The teacher entered the class, calling attention to the board and the lesson.

 

McCoy reeled while he tried to pay attention to the outline for the day’s class. What about Kirk? What did Jerome mean? McCoy glanced at the black kid out of the corner of his eye.

 

Jerome was writing on his PADD, but he kept looking at McCoy.

 

There was a brief lull in the teacher’s talking, and Jerome leaned towards McCoy again. “They’re saying Kirk got into a fight, and that you got caught in it. Is that true?”

 

McCoy side-eyed him again, brow furrowing. “Yes.” Why was their bar escapade running through the rumor mill? It really wasn’t that exciting. Some douche got heated, hit McCoy, and Kirk fought back.

 

It was pretty straightforward and no one died. Why would that be of any interest to anyone?

 

Jerome gave him a wide-eyed stare, curiosity and interest on full display. “Seriously?” The teacher gave a few instructions and Jerome quieted down for a few moments, writing on his PADD as needed. When done, he turned to McCoy again. “So… Kirk did that to you?”

 

What the hell? Was Jerome talking about his nose?

 

McCoy frowned at the kid beside him. “You serious? You mean this?” He gestured lightly at his face, and frowned harder when Jerome nodded in affirmation. “Of course he didn’t do this. What the hell gave you that idea?”

 

Jerome took a few minutes to answer, as the teacher was giving them a heavy load of stuff to write down. As soon as he was able, he raised his brows at McCoy. “Kirk got called into a conference of suspension this morning.”

 

What?

 

McCoy turned his full attention on Jerome, the teacher’s lesson completely forgotten. “What do you mean?”

 

“There are a couple of conflicting stories right now, but the recurring tale is that Kirk went to a bar on Friday and got drunk, and sent a couple people to the hospital.” He took his eyes from the notes he was writing down and glanced at McCoy. “You included.”

 

“Wait a second, wait,” McCoy held up a hand, and had to make a conscious effort to keep his voice at a whisper. “What are people saying? That he went on a drunken rampage? Beat people up, and now he’s—what—getting suspended?”

 

“He was summoned this morning at seven, got taken right out of his Xenolinguistics class. Some of the cadets that share that class with him said that some of their friends in the medical track heard about a bar fight happening Friday night, and that he was in it.” Jerome’s eyes flicked between his notes and the board at the front. “One person was able to get the info on who was involved, saw that Kirk fractured a civilian’s face and that you also had to be filed in a report.” He eyed McCoy again, his gaze lingering on the doctor’s nose. “He beat you worse than I imagined.”

 

“He didn’t do this,” McCoy blurted, thoughts in a frenzied scatter.

 

What the hell? Jim was getting in trouble? But why? He hadn’t instigated the fight, he had been acting in self defense. Why was he being punished for it? And why the hell did people latch onto this story?

 

“Why is everyone talking about this?” McCoy asked, voice low.

 

“Everybody knows who Kirk is,” Jerome said, as though that was answer enough. “If he’s not popular, he’s at least famous. Of course people would want to hear about the Kelvin Baby’s escapades, especially if he was getting in trouble.” There was a long pause while he wrote down notes. When Jerome spoke again, his voice was softer, almost solemn. “Summons of suspension are rare here. It would be a big deal no matter who it was, but the fact that it’s the famous Kelvin Baby who has been summoned is capturing everyone’s attention.”

 

...Kelvin Baby?

 

McCoy lowered his head, gripped his pen in a cold hand.

 

He had made the connection who Jim’s dad was as soon as he heard the name Kirk. But he hadn’t…

 

God, how did he not make the connection that Jim was the Kelvin Baby? How the fuck did that not occur to him?

 

McCoy stared blankly at the notes he was supposed to be writing. Certain parts of Jim’s character suddenly clicked into a place of understanding for McCoy. Jim wasn’t only the child of a famous person... he himself was famous. That had undoubtedly affected everything in his life.

 

Jerome spoke up again, startling McCoy. He had forgotten the kid was there for a moment.

 

“There’s a lot of speculation as to what Kirk did or what’s going to happen to him. And as for the rumors,” Jerome studied McCoy’s nose again, “arriving on campus with your face looking like that has added more fuel to fire than I think you realize.”

 


 

After class, McCoy packed his stuff with stiff limbs. Jerome had run off as soon as they were let out, apparently having to rush to his next class.

 

The news of Jim’s situation pricked McCoy’s skin with discomfort. He felt like this was his fault, somehow. If he hadn’t gotten himself hurt, if he hadn’t let himself get punched, then Jim wouldn’t be getting the blame for everything. And McCoy had promised Jim that he wouldn't get in trouble... Fuck, he just couldn't not feel guilty.

 

As he walked down the hall, the vast sea of eyes trained on McCoy’s face became palpable, and he couldn’t help but be acutely aware of all the staring.

 

It was so fucked up. People thought that Jim did this to him? They thought the bruises and his misshapen nose were all Kirk’s fault? An urge to scream was building in McCoy the further he walked and the more gazes he gathered.

 

Jim didn’t do this! It was some bastard in a bar, it wasn’t Jim!

 

Uneasiness crashing in his gut like waves in a storm, McCoy took a sharp right onto a hall he knew was usually fairly empty, and bumped right into Uhura.

 

“Oh!” she gasped, and McCoy hurried to grab her arms so as to keep her upright. She blinked at McCoy, eyes immediately settling on his nose. “Oh my God,” she whispered, hand reaching up as though to touch his face, though no contact was made.

 

“Are you alright?” he asked, withdrawing his hands once it was clear she was steady on her feet. Her attention to his nose was making him uncomfortable, and he hoped his question would distract her.

 

Suddenly she frowned, her eyes harder than he ever could have imagined them being. “He did this to you? That fucking prick.”

 

He was thrown, both by her cursing and by the realization that she, too, believed the rumor that Kirk had mercilessly beat him up.

 

A strange heat building in his chest, McCoy glowered. “Jim Kirk didn’t do this to me,” he said lowly, words as clear as he could make them.

 

She blinked at him in blatant confusion. “But, everyone’s saying—”

 

“Everyone is fucking wrong,” McCoy grumbled. “I don’t know where everyone’s getting this harebrained idea, but Jim didn’t fucking touch me.”

 

She continued to study McCoy’s face, as though in disbelief that the rumors of Jim going batshit on poor helpless people could be false. “Doesn’t seem that harebrained to me,” she mumbled. Her eyes bore into his. “Especially not with what his roommate’s been saying.”

 

McCoy tilted his head in confusion. He hadn’t even considered the fact that Jim had a shared dorm, but of course he would. Single dorms were only for senior medical officers. What was Jim’s roommate even like? “What has his roommate been saying?”

 

She sighed. “Apparently Kirk is a repeat offender.”

 

...What?

 

McCoy’s mouth went dry and he struggled to wet his lips. “What, like… criminally?”

 

She nodded grimly, frown prominent. “Apparently he’s got all sorts of charges. Like--”

 

McCoy threw up a hand to stop her. A cold stone had slid into his gut, and his nose was starting to ache from how tightly pinched his brow was. “I don’t want to hear it,” McCoy said, voice a low murmur. “I don’t want to know.”

 

She sighed through her nose. “Fine. But when you hear what sort of stuff he’s done, you’ll see how it’s easy to think him guilty of what he’s being accused of.” She glanced at her PADD. “I have to go to class.”

 

“Wait.” McCoy kept his hand up, and only continued when their eyes locked. “You talk to people, right?”

 

She squinted at him like he was an idiot.

 

He continued before he could either be ashamed or offended. “If you hear anyone discussing Jim, do me a favor and make it clear that Jim is not in the wrong. Can you do that? Make sure all these false accusations get nipped in the bud. And make sure they know it’s me that’s vouching for him.”

 

Her expression softened marginally, before she nodded. Having shared a class with both he and Jim, he suspected she had a pretty good idea of how intolerant McCoy was in general. Especially when it came to Jim. He hoped to God she’d understand his adamance was proof enough of how stupid these rumors were.

 

“Alright. I have to go.” She touched his arm as she passed him. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Feel better, and good luck dealing with Kirk.”

 

McCoy could only stand there after she left. His head pounded ceaselessly, though whether it was from his healing nose or from the flurry of new information gathering in his head, McCoy wasn’t sure. He massaged at his temples gingerly, face distorted in distress.

 

Jim had a criminal record. For some reason that made sense, Jim definitely had that sort of bravado and aura of someone who’d been to hell—or at least seen it—and even stranger yet, McCoy wasn’t completely bothered by this revelation. Because, really… So what?

 

What did him having a record have to do with anything? It didn’t change who he was as a person. And as McCoy was steadily learning… Jim Kirk was not a bad person. And what kind of fucking roommate was that, to be giving out that information like this? What right did they have? That seemed like something Jim and Jim alone should disclose, no one else.

 

Especially not at a time like this, when the rumor mill had gone crazy enough with false accusations built over incorrect retellings. For such a stupid rumor to suddenly have damning evidence thrown on top…

 

That just wasn’t fair. None of this was fair.

 

McCoy had been there when the bar fight happened. He knew what Jim did, and most importantly, what Jim didn’t do. So, what? Apparently Starfleet didn't care about getting whole stories? Were they going to punish Jim for stuff they merely heard in rumor?

 

There was no factual basis in what was being said about Jim, his past records be damned. McCoy saw Jim that night. How thoughtful he was. Both in regards to distracting McCoy from his divorce, and for stepping in on behalf of a girl who couldn’t defend herself against the fucking meat-head that had punched McCoy.

 

Jim hadn’t done anything wrong, and he certainly hadn’t done anything to deserve all these fucking lies that were being spread about him. Sure, he got on McCoy’s nerves on an exhausting daily basis, but that didn’t mean he deserved this.

 

As resolve took the form of fire in his lungs, McCoy turned on his heel and began a steady trek towards the Administration building. If they were going to fucking punish Jim for something he shouldn’t be getting in trouble for, especially not publicly and socially crucified for, then they might as well get a statement from someone who had actually fucking been there.

 

It was easier ignoring the stares this time, as he mentally projected, Don’t fucking talk to me, Jim Kirk is fucking innocent, Think for your fucking self for Goddamn once, Don’t believe every fucking thing you hear, you Goddamn idiots.

 

He strode with such purpose to the steps of the Administration building, he could practically picture the trail of flaming footprints he was leaving in his wake. With outrage pounding in his head, the actual pain of his nose had been muted to a distant ache.

 

But as soon as McCoy’s foot landed on the first step to the Administration building’s main doors, he stopped dead in his tracks.

 

Because Jim had just exited, face stony in apparent frustration and fury. He was descending the steps with the same air of outraged determination that McCoy had just felt within himself, and the kid’s hands were balled into white-knuckled fists at his sides. His clear, clear blue eyes were trained straight ahead, and McCoy only realized Jim wasn’t seeing his surroundings after he’d passed the stunned doctor.

 

“Jim!” McCoy choked, lurching towards the cadet.

 

Jim flinched and turned, blinking multiple times as he made eye contact with McCoy. “Bones?”

 

“Jim,” McCoy said again, as he came around to Kirk’s front. “What happened?”

 

The kid continued to stare at him, wide-eyed gaze lingering on the doctor’s nose, almost as though he wasn’t processing that McCoy was there. His blue eyes flicked back to the Administration building, before settling on the doctor. “What are you doing here?” he asked instead of answering McCoy’s question.

 

McCoy frowned and also eyed the building the kid had just come from. He licked his lips nervously, dully aware that the flames in his chest had begun to abate with Kirk’s presence. “I came here for you,” he admitted. “I heard you got in trouble.”

 

Jim’s lips thinned into a tight line, and he continued to study McCoy’s face before suddenly turning and continuing his path away from Administration. “Come on, let’s talk somewhere else.”

 


 

Jim brought them to a small cafe on the far side of campus, right beside the bay. Salty sea air whipped through their hair, and McCoy’s eyes were already sore from glaring at every person they had passed on their walk. He wasn’t even sure if Jim was aware of how many people had gaped at the two of them. He rubbed at his lids tiredly and bumped right into Jim’s back, the kid having stopped while the doctor was distracted.

 

“I’m not in the mood for come-ons right now, Bones,” Jim said over his shoulder, pushing McCoy away carefully.

 

McCoy frowned at him but didn’t answer, and stepped into the cafe when Jim opened the door for him. The smell of the ocean was replaced by wafts of coffee, and McCoy hadn’t realized how low the temperature was outside until he shivered from the sudden blanket of warmer indoor air.

 

Most of the light was coming from the windows, despite the cloud cover that hung over San Francisco, and the mix of warmth and low light soothed McCoy’s nerves. It definitely helped that there were hardly any people there. Two girls talked together at a table near the door, and in the back corner was what seemed to be a Vulcan professor reading Alice in Wonderland. McCoy didn’t even know there was anything about that book that could appeal to such a stuck up species.

 

McCoy eyed the back of Jim’s head and appreciated Jim’s ability to find a place with so little traffic, and briefly wondered how he hadn’t heard of the cafe on campus before.

 

Jim turned towards the doctor, and McCoy couldn’t help but notice that no eye contact was made as the kid spoke. “You want anything?”

 

McCoy grunted and shook his head. “I’m alright. Don’t really want coffee right now.” Just the thought of adding caffeine to his already throbbing headache made McCoy slightly nauseous.

 

Jim cocked his head to the side, as though he were cracking his neck, and reached into his pocket as he stepped up to the counter. “I’ll get you tea, then,” he mumbled before ignoring McCoy’s indignant sputtering in lieu of placing an order.

 

The doctor crossed his arms and glowered at Jim’s back. The kid didn’t have to buy him anything, damn it. Besides, he wasn’t there to drink.

 

They were there to talk.

 

McCoy gave the cafe’s patrons another once over while Jim spoke with the cashier. The other three customers didn’t seem in the least bit interested in McCoy’s ugly nose or Jim himself. Gossiping must not be their thing.

 

His eyes settled on the Vulcan for a moment and he wondered if gossiping was something Vulcans even did. 

 

Wait. Since when were there Vulcans at Starfleet Academy...?

 

A warm hand nudged his elbow and he blinked at Jim, who was already headed to the corner farthest from everyone else. The kid led them to a small table beside a window that overlooked the bay, and McCoy kept his gaze outside while he took his seat across from Jim.

 

He watched the clouds sail in a huge mass of gray fog, and rubbed his fingers over the velvety soft fabric of his pant leg while he waited for Jim to say something. A long bout of silence continued, and McCoy finally looked at Jim. The kid was scowling at the bare tabletop, eyes cold and distant.

 

McCoy couldn’t help but be worried the longer Jim stayed quiet. Was he not going to say anything? Was he in serious trouble? What did Starfleet decide? What did they summon him for? Was he going to be suspended? Expelled? Did he blame McCoy?

 

Did he know what people were saying about him?

 

“Two chamomile teas,” the barista called, luring Jim away from the table for a few moments.

 

When he came back, he handed McCoy the warm drink without making eye contact. “Hope you’re not allergic,” Kirk muttered.

 

McCoy squinted at the strange attempt at humor (who the fuck was allergic to tea?), and took the tea with a quiet thanks. He watched Jim sip at his, and instead of doing the same just wrapped his hands around the heated cup.

 

He felt like they had a lot to talk about. There was a lot he needed cleared up. But how would they start? How do two classmates get into a discussion like this? If they were actually friends, it would be a little different, but McCoy didn’t think they were.

 

Should he tell Jim about the rumors? Was there a chance he knew already?

 

And what the fuck did Starfleet call him in for?

 

The more he thought about it, McCoy decided that that was the most pressing issue at hand.

 

He watched Jim take careful sips of his tea for a few moments longer, until it was clear by Jim’s silence and deep frown that he was too troubled to start talking on his own.

 

McCoy took a careful breath. “Jim, what did you get called in for?”

 

Jim turned his scowl towards McCoy, but by the way his eyes softened McCoy knew the expression wasn’t because of his question. Jim instead averted his gaze to the bay beyond the window, and placed his tea on the table as his lips parted. “For the fight on Friday. They heard about it because they hear about everything.” Jim snorted quietly and one of his brows ticked up, before he shook his head and took another sip. He was quiet for a few seconds, his glare fixed outside, before he added, “Apparently cadets getting into fights is a big no-no. Who would’ve thought?”

 

“So it was for the fight?” McCoy could feel his own frown deepen. “Then why the fuck didn’t I get in trouble?”

 

McCoy didn’t want to be in trouble, and part of him was very relieved for having not received any heat, but it wasn’t fucking fair. Jim wasn’t alone Friday night. Besides, neither he or Jim were even the ones that started the fight.

 

Jim rubbed at his forehead and closed his eyes. “You were in your civvies. I wasn’t.”

 

“So what?” McCoy growled. “What does that mean? Just because I wasn’t in uniform, I suddenly wasn’t involved?”

 

“It’s not that,” Jim muttered, his icy eyes glued to the tabletop. “As far as I’m aware, Starfleet doesn’t give two shits what cadets do on their free time. So long as they don’t do stuff that could make Starfleet look bad.” His nose twitched in what McCoy could only interpret as distaste. “A first year cadet sending a civilian to the hospital makes Starfleet look very bad. Like they can’t keep their dogs on a chain or something.”

 

“But that ‘civilian’,” McCoy huffed, “wasn’t some innocent passerby that you wailed on for no reason. He hit first, you acted in self defense.”

 

“That doesn’t fucking matter,” Jim hissed, shifting the tea between his hands. “Starfleet officers have to be able to display self control, have to make peace without violence. Use fucking words and diplomacy and the shit we’re supposed to be learning. Not aggravate a situation by attacking in kind.”

 

“You didn’t aggravate anything,” McCoy responded, disbelief and shock and frustration hitting it off in his gut. “The guy was beyond words. And even if he was in a state where he could be spoken to, he had riled himself up enough that words wouldn’t have solved anything.” He quickly held up a hand. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying violence is the answer to everything, but…” He bit down on his tongue, reminded himself that as a doctor he couldn’t—shouldn’t—condone violence. “But… sometimes there’s no other option. If more damage will be caused to yourself or others by doing nothing, then of course you have to do something."

 

Jim went quiet again, and the expression he wore while looking out the window seemed more pained than frustrated. His Adam's apple bobbed. “Again, that didn’t matter in this case. It might’ve been different if I’d been here awhile, or if the officers in the committee knew who I was, but…” He swallowed again, and he gazed balefully at the tea in his hand. “But they know what I am. And right now that doesn’t make me look very pretty in their eyes.”

 

McCoy’s grip tightened around his own cup. “What do you mean?”

 

“I…” Jim’s eyes wandered upwards, though they didn’t quite reach McCoy’s own. “I figure you’re probably going to find out eventually, so I guess I might as well tell you now. Myself.” His eyes drifted down again. “I’ve got a record. A long one.”

 

McCoy pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth, as all of his saliva turned sour. Damn. Damn it.

 

Fuck.

 

Guilt slid down McCoy’s chest and he felt shamed, frustrated, and so sorry that he already knew. All because of rumors that were being spread. God damn it, regret was wailing on McCoy’s already aching head and he tiredly massaged his temple.

 

That was obviously a hard thing for the kid to admit. Hell, that would be a hard thing for anyone to admit to, especially in a place where they were obviously trying to start fresh. McCoy wished all to hell that he had learned of this from Jim and Jim alone, as the kid obviously wanted.

 

That was how it should have gone. It should have been Jim’s to reveal.

 

McCoy wished he had learned of Jim’s record by the kid’s own choice.

 

He continued to rub his hand down his face, and only opened his eyes after resignation had settled over all of the guilt and regret in his chest. His gaze drifted towards Jim’s. “I know,” McCoy croaked.

 

Jim’s blue eyes widened for a moment, before they tightened in hesitation. “How do you know?” he asked, voice verging on suspicious.

 

McCoy heaved a deep sigh. He didn’t want to be the one to break the news to Jim, but someone had to. “The rumor mill’s been going crazy all day,” he muttered. “About Friday. And you and me.”

 

Jim cocked his head, eyes growing harder. “What about ‘you and me’?”

 

“The rumor of the day is that you sent a couple people—myself included—to the hospital in a drunken rampage.” McCoy scowled at his tea. “I don’t know who the hell started it, but it’s plain idiotic. And for whatever God damn reason, everyone’s latched onto it. They think you,” without looking at Jim, he motioned towards his nose, “did this. And no one’s bothered to even ask me if any of it’s true or not. Which it’s not, but that doesn’t seem to matter to any of them. They’re like starved wolves that have been let loose in a butcher’s shop. It doesn’t help matters that your...” He trailed off and had to swallow around his unbearably dry throat. “Your roommate is telling everyone about your criminal record.”

 

A long bout of silence dragged on, and McCoy couldn’t bring himself to look at Jim’s face.

 

“He fucking what?!”

 

McCoy startled at Jim’s outburst and looked up to see the kid staring at him with raging incredulity.

 

The kid’s jaw cocked to the side and his heated glare went back to the window. Jim shook his head in outraged disbelief. “Mother fucker.” He dragged his hands over his eyes and his teeth bared in a snarl. “That fucking bastard . What kind of sick fucking--?” Jim cut himself off and his lips thinned in a tight line and his nostrils flared, while he continued to shake his head in barely contained rage. His hand that was on the table tightened into a fist. “What right did he have to pull a stunt like that?” Jim asked, his quiet voice shaking with anger.

 

Based on Jim’s reaction, McCoy’s suspicion that the leaking of information was a major breach of trust was more than confirmed. “How did he find out?” he asked, as he had no way of answering Jim’s question.

 

Jim clenched and unclenched his fingers, one or two of his knuckles popping as he did. “Fucker must have hacked into my info.” He bared his teeth again and covered half his face with a tense hand. “Shit.”

 

McCoy wasn’t sure what words of comfort he could offer. He’d like to say, ‘no one will believe it’, but… hell, if he hadn’t already spent so much time with Jim, then he definitely would’ve believed it as much as the next person. He probably would’ve believed the rumors about Jim beating people up for no reason, too.

 

He couldn’t even say, ‘this won’t affect you’, because obviously it already had. Jim insinuated that his being in trouble was largely due to his past record. Wait.

 

“I’m sorry to change the subject from your God-awful roommate,” McCoy said, fingers tightening around his cup, “but… you didn’t tell me what Starfleet decided. Did you get suspended?”

 

Jim dragged his hand down his face and steadied his cold blue eyes on McCoy. “Why’re you asking, Bones?” he asked. His voice was still in a growl, apparently an after-effect from the fury of a few moments ago. “Afraid to lose your partner on your final?”

 

McCoy shook his head slowly. This had nothing to do with their project. “I don’t care about that. I was just…” Concerned? Worried? “...Wondering.”

 

Jim stared at him for longer than was comfortable, before bringing his thumb to his lips to chew on the nail. “In school suspension for the rest of the semester.”

 

McCoy squinted. “What does that mean?”

 

Jim raised his brows at the doctor like he was stupid. “It means exactly what you think. I’m to stay on campus for the rest of the semester, going nowhere but to my classes and dorm.” His eyes drifted to the tabletop. “They don’t have a good enough reason to expel me, so this is their way of keeping me from acting like a wild animal.”

 

McCoy studied the kid’s face. It was blank, his blue eyes so clear and cold.

 

He didn’t deserve to be treated like this. No one deserved to be treated like this. Yet Jim was almost seeming… resigned to his situation. Not to say he wasn’t obviously angry and frustrated, but it almost seemed like he wasn’t surprised by the situation.

 

McCoy hadn’t known Jim long. But he could already tell that, criminal record or not, Jim wasn’t a bad person and certainly didn’t deserve to be treated or spoken about like this. And he definitely didn’t deserve to feel like it was his fault.

 

The doctor quietly rubbed his thumbs on his cup. “I’m sorry, Jim.” He waited for the kid to look at him. “This is all fucked up and you don’t deserve it.”

 

Jim huffed and leaned back in his seat. “If that’s what you think… then you obviously don’t know me.” He fingered the lid on his drink. “I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this.”

 

“Cut the self-pitying crap,” McCoy grumbled before he could stop himself. “You’re not a bad person. I haven’t known you long, but bad people don’t stick up for others who can’t stick up for themselves. So if you wanna be pissed, be pissed. Don’t just accept things as they are. I sure as hell don’t want to.”

 

Jim paused. “What, are you saying I should break some rules? Ignore my suspension?”

 

“Not at all.” McCoy kept his gaze leveled with Jim’s. “But their treatment of you isn’t right, and you shouldn’t think it is. Shouldn’t think you deserve it. And you shouldn’t have to accept their idea for who you are. You don’t even have to accept mine.” McCoy leaned forward, his grip on his cup tightening. “But don’t let them decide who you are. It doesn’t fucking matter that you’ve got a record. You’re here, same as every other cadet, and whatever you’ve got in your past doesn’t make you lesser than the people that’ve had it easy. If their idea of you is wrong, then you need to fucking prove it to them.”

 

Jim stared at him, face open in astonished vulnerability. He licked at his plump lips, and slowly his eyes softened and warmed all at once. The barest hint of a smile graced Jim’s features. “Didn’t you hate me, like, last week?”

 

McCoy raised a brow and tapped a finger against his cup. “Believe it or not, I’m having an easier time tolerating you than some of the other people on this campus.”

 

Jim chuckled quietly, the sound almost raw when compared to the heated discussion from just moments before. “I told you I was lovable,” he mumbled. He brought his cup to his lips and while looking through the window said, “Are you gonna drink your tea? It’s probably gone cold by now.”

 

Oh.

 

McCoy realized with a hint of bashfulness that he had yet to take one sip. He brought his cup to his lips, eyed the slope of Jim’s shoulders, and found that the tea was at the perfect temperature.

 

It wasn't bad at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT III

Part 1 of 3

 

It was only after McCoy had finished his tea that he realized he was twenty minutes late to his Medicine class. Jim laughed at him the whole time he rushed to get out of the cafe, the sound a stark brightness in comparison to the rain that slowly began to fall outside.

 

After the day they had been having, though… McCoy couldn’t find it in himself to be bothered by Jim’s teasing chuckling. But that didn’t stop him from flipping the kid off as he stumbled out the door.

 


 

People got over the whole debacle with Jim faster than McCoy expected. In fact, getting suspended somehow seemed to make Jim even more popular. Made him an official bad boy, or something equally idiotic.

 

(What was attractive about bad boys, McCoy couldn’t guess. Nor did he care.)

 

Overall, it appeared being suspended wasn’t going to have any sort of negative effect on Jim’s ever-so-social life. It quickly became apparent that when it came to Jim, other cadets fell into one of three groups.

 

One; those that were horribly infatuated with Jim and could only see the positive in his every action.

Two; those that had already disliked him and would probably always dislike him.

And three; those that didn’t care either way what their classmates got up to.

 

And really, when it came down to it, everyone was too busy to get caught up in gossip for long. They were attending Starfleet Academy, after all. Class work was relentless.

 

And speaking of class, that Wednesday Jim was able to rejoin Federation Law. Since they were back to sharing a class every day, McCoy became rapidly accustomed to Jim’s presence. The kid was definitely annoying, but he also wasn’t the worst company. At the very least, their conversations were always—or usually—interesting.

 

McCoy wanted to keep to himself still, of course, but… If avoiding Jim was going to be an impossible endeavor (and the cosmos kept reminding him that that was the case), then he was starting to question the point in fighting. He and Jim were going to be stuck together for a few hours every day anyway, so McCoy figured it would be better for everyone if he stopped trying to push others away.

 

Surely, it would only prove futile in the end.

 


 

“Hey, what are you doing right now?”

 

McCoy glanced at Jim as he continued to pack up his stuff. “Why? I know Galaar just mentioned the project, but ours is pretty polished at the moment. And we’ve still got a few weeks before it’s due.”

 

Jim flapped his hand at McCoy lazily, sighing softly. “No, I’m not asking if you wanna do work right now. I’m asking if you’re free.”

 

“Oh.” McCoy faltered. Did… did Jim want to hang out? McCoy’s knee-jerk thought was to say, “remember what happened last time we hung out? I got beat up and you got suspended!”, but he managed to stop himself. He instead frowned down at his bag as he closed it up, and swung it over his shoulder with a hearty exhale. “I don’t have to be anywhere until twelve.”

 

Jim’s face lit up. “Oh, great! Me too!” He smacked McCoy’s arm as he headed towards the door, presumably as an invitation to follow.

 

McCoy hurried to catch up to Jim. The kid reminded him of a freight train sometimes, he was all forward momentum and horribly unyielding, and that somehow meant Jim was always a few steps ahead of McCoy. He was a hassle to keep pace with, so most of the time McCoy didn’t even try.

 

“Where are we going?” McCoy asked, once he finally reached Jim’s side.

 

“Uh.” Jim stopped in his tracks, suddenly and effectively blocking the traffic of the hall they were in.

 

McCoy could only grimace in apology at those that had to now sidle around them.

 

“I don’t actually have a destination in mind,” Jim said, a thoughtful smirk twisting his lips. “You got any ideas?”

 

McCoy sighed and started ushering him out of the hall, so they were instead in the corner closest to the building’s doors. McCoy would’ve put them outside, save for the fact that it was pouring and freezing out.

 

“Well…” McCoy’s mouth twisted to the side while he thought. It wasn’t often Jim reached out to him, so McCoy was a little curious… Maybe he wanted to talk about something specific. Where would be a good place to talk? “How about the mess? I could go for some lunch right now.”

 

The kid’s eyes were trained on a gaggle of girls that were passing by, and for a second McCoy wondered if Jim had even heard him. After the kid shared a flirtatious grin with a couple of them (cheeky bastard even threw in a wink) he answered. “That sounds fine.”

 

McCoy nodded in silent agreement. After a long pause of mental preparation, he held his bag a little bit tighter and lead the way out.

 

His first thought was that it was cold.

 

San Francisco was getting to be way too cold for his taste. Sure, Georgia had its frigid season, but this incessant wetness was a whole ‘nother level of hell.

 

“Fuck this weather,” he hissed under his breath before breaking into a light jog. He left his umbrella back in his dorm like some sort of idiot, leaving himself completely susceptible to the biting downpour and merciless winds.

 

The sound of nearby splashing told him Jim had caught up. “What, not one for rain?”

 

“Rain is fine, in moderation!” McCoy narrowly managed to avoid a massive puddle, and quickened his pace just a little once the mess hall came into view. “But it is a thousand times more tolerable with an umbrella!”

 

“Well, I—!” Jim cut himself off to splutter water from his mouth. “I can’t disagree there!”

 

The two of them skid into the dry area under the awning of the mess hall, and McCoy could only squawk in indignation when Jim started to shake the water off like a fucking dog.

 

The kid straightened up, cheeks rosy from the brief run and the cold air, and a glowing smile was spread across his face. “I’ve gotta admit, I’m not that used to the rain myself.”

 

McCoy made an attempt to get the water out of his own hair by scrubbing a hand through it. “No?” He pressed his shoulder into the door to open it, and relaxed when the warm cafeteria air washed over the two of them. He exhaled contentedly. “Where are you from that you don’t get rain?”

 

“The Midwest. What about you?”

 

McCoy turned to him with a raised brow. He hadn't realized they had gotten close enough to share their birthplaces, so he took his time giving a reply. “The south.”

 

Jim’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, yeah? Where?”

 

“Mm.” How much to reveal? “Uh… Georgia.”

 

Jim nodded, made a humming noise in interest.

 

McCoy led them deeper into the mess, and waited for Jim to say something. He glanced back at the kid the longer he stayed silent.

 

Was he not gonna offer where he was from?

 

McCoy really didn't care either way, but it was common courtesy to answer the same question you forced on someone else.

 

Jim was scanning his gaze over the tables, nonchalant in his whole demeanor, and McCoy frowned at him. “What about you?” he asked, raising his voice a little so as to be heard above the permeating noise of chatting cadets.

 

The kid glanced at him distractedly. “Huh?”

 

“Where are you from?” McCoy clarified as he stepped into line.

 

Jim turned away again and went back to watching the rest of the room. He clapped a hand to McCoy’s back (really hard, Jesus Christ) and started stepping away. “Iowa. Hey, I’m gonna go get us a seat.”

 

“Ah—” Jim had bolted off before McCoy could give him a proper reply. The doctor sighed as he gathered his food.

 

Iowa, huh? McCoy spared a moment to wonder if Jim was from Riverside, or if he had just happened to be in the area when the shuttles took off. He tried to imagine what sort of life Jim was coming from, and scenes of cornfields and shipyards came to mind. Kid wasn’t kidding when he said the Midwest. In fact, McCoy was a little surprised that he didn’t sound more like a hick.

 

McCoy’s eyes roamed over the cadets through the hall as he grabbed some pasta salad, and thought about how well Jim seemed to have adjusted to the difference in climate. From what he remembered, that part of the country didn’t get much rain. Not as much as Georgia, and definitely not as much as San Fran.

 

After gathering what was hopefully enough food to tide him over until the end of his hospital shift that night (which wouldn’t be until almost 9 pm, because the world hated him), McCoy braved the sea of boisterous cadets eating and mingling, until he finally spotted Jim at a table near the corner with the most windows. He took his seat across from the blond and frowned at him. “You’re not eating?”

 

Jim took a quick second to glance at McCoy before redirecting his gaze to the rain outside. “Nah, not right now.”

 

Hm. He must have already eaten.

 

“So hey, Bones.” Jim crossed his arms on the table and leaned over them, bringing him just a little closer and making it clear that his full attention was on the doctor. “What’s your schedule?”

 

McCoy paused, his forkful of pasta only halfway to his mouth. He squinted at Jim in suspicion. “Why’re you asking?”

 

Jim shrugged. “I dunno. Just wondering if any of our breaks line up.”

 

With his squint still in full force, McCoy continued his endeavor to eat and took his time chewing before replying. “Well, it seems this break lines up for sure. Unless you’re not normally free right after Diplomacy.”

 

“No, I always am. I’ve got nothing until my Systems of Theories and Rhetoric class at twelve.”

 

McCoy choked on his food.

 

“Whoah, the food here that bad?” Jim muttered.

 

McCoy shook his head until his airway was clear again. “No, it’s fine. But— What the hell? Why are you taking that class?”

 

Jim raised his brows at him, before giving a light shrug. “Why not? It’s interesting.”

 

A flashback of walking Jim to math shot through McCoy’s head, reminding him that Jim had said something similar when asked why he was taking math.

 

Was he… Was he seriously taking these classes for fun?

 

Even though he wasn’t the one that had initiated the topic of conversation, McCoy’s intrigue was beyond piqued. “What does your schedule look like?”

 

“Hey, no deflecting, you haven’t answered my question yet!”

 

“I’m not deflecting.” McCoy scowled at his food for a moment, before rifling through his bag in search of his PADD. He pulled it out and turned his concentrated frown onto Jim. “You have your PADD on you, right? Why don’t we just compare visually?”

 

“Ohh,” Jim nodded with a little smile on his face, before doing as suggested. “All right, I like how you think. You a visual learner?”

 

McCoy shook his head noncommittally. “Just a learner.”

 

Jim snorted, but didn't reply. After a second of tapping on the screen, Jim finally placed his PADD on the table between them, tilted so they could both read. McCoy hurried to do the same.

 

Jim was taking seven classes versus McCoy’s measly four. The kid’s Mondays and Wednesdays started at fucking seven in the morning, and were packed until four pm. And his Tuesdays and Thursdays had three classes stretched out between seven thirty am and seven pm. That was so much time spent in class.

 

McCoy couldn’t help but scowl the longer he looked at Jim’s schedule. Regardless of the fact that his hours didn’t leave much room outside of class, McCoy was finding himself especially troubled by what sort of classes the kid was taking.

 

Federation Law and Diplomacy he was already aware of, since the two of them shared those classes, and he already knew of Finite Mathematics and the newly revealed Systems of Theories and Rhetoric. But in addition to those, Jim was also taking Xenolinguistics, Ancient Literature and the Formation of Culture (what the fuck?), and Basic Piloting.

 

His heart stopped when his eyes landed on that last class.

 

McCoy had been doing a lovely job so far ignoring the fact that piloting was a required class. Seeing that Jim was taking it suddenly made its existence much more difficult to ignore. McCoy hurriedly swallowed back panicked saliva and mumbled, “Why the fuck are you taking so many classes?”

 

“I’m going to graduate in three years.”

 

McCoy’s brain fizzled in confusion before it rebooted. “What?”

 

Jim was eyeing their schedules with a pleased little smile. “Captain Pike told me I could graduate in four years if I tried. So I’m going to do it in three.” His blue eyes shot up to McCoy before the doctor could respond. “Looks like our only breaks that line up this semester are the half hour before Federation Law, and the two hours after Diplomacy.”

 

A sound of acknowledgment rumbled at the back of McCoy’s throat. “That’s nice and all, but why the fuck would you want to graduate in three years? The workload here is bad enough, why the hell do you wanna make it worse for yourself?”

 

Jim shrugged easily, his whole demeanor content as all hell. “To prove that I can.”

 

“To who? Pike? Yourself?”

 

“Everybody.” Jim’s tone in his response was noticeably less jovial than it had been in the past few minutes. He closed down his PADD and McCoy couldn’t look away from the strangely pensive sheen he could see in the kid’s eyes. “I want to prove that I’m not only able to graduate, but that I can do it faster and better than anyone else.”

 

“Why?” McCoy asked again, a little quieter.

 

Jim blinked up at him, the pensiveness once again gone from the kid’s expression. “What’s with all the questions, Bones? Can’t a guy want to accomplish something?”

 

“But why strive for the impossible?”

 

“Why not? This is Starfleet, isn’t it? Isn’t everything about Starfleet striving for the impossible?”

 

McCoy faltered. Yes, it could be argued that everything that Starfleet stood for was trying to attain the unattainable—universal peace, complete understanding of all living things, discovering and uncovering all unknown in the galaxy and beyond—but… Did Jim even believe in any of that stuff?

 

Or was he just trying to show off?

 

Narrowing his eyes, McCoy snorted derisively. “I guess. Is that really what you’re about? Doing as much as you can for Starfleet?” McCoy tilted his head, and Jim’s gaze followed him with interest. “Or are you just doing what you can to make yourself look good?”

 

Jim paused for only a moment, before he snagged an apple slice off of McCoy’s plate and bit down with an obnoxious crunch. “And isn’t that the big question? Am I ambitious or just selfish?” He grinned at McCoy, as though they weren’t discussing Jim’s morality or intentions. “What do you think, Bones? What am I?”

 

McCoy sighed in annoyance through his nostrils, and eyed the blond in front of him.

 

Jim was an enigma. He was annoying, brash, undoubtedly selfish, and yet… He was smart. Aware. And there was definitely so much more to him than McCoy had yet seen.

 

The doctor blinked slowly in thought, before voicing his decision. “A pain in my ass.”

 


 

McCoy loved Saturdays.

 

Or at least he used to. When he was in Georgia, his weekends were generally free of any work, and he usually had that time for himself or—... well, his family, when he had it. But at Starfleet Academy, his Saturdays were once again filled with eight and a half hours of working. At least his Sundays were free.

 

McCoy tightened his coat around himself and glared at the early morning sky. There was a thick, dark cloud hanging over the city, and McCoy had his umbrella with him just in case. The last thing he’d want would be to trudge home in the pouring rain after a day of work.

 

He was heading towards the entrance of the campus, since Starfleet decided he could be most useful at the city hospital on the weekend. Him not having classes on Saturdays probably played a big part in their decision, since there would be no need for him to rush between the city clinic and the Academy buildings, and make them worry about how punctual he could be.

 

But he was always very punctual, thank you very much. Which was why he always got himself out the door before eight (regardless of the fact that it was a Goddamn Saturday), so as to give himself the best amount of time to reach the San Francisco hospital he was stationed at. He just wished it wasn’t always so cold in the mornings…

 

And it was only going to get colder. They weren’t even in December yet, and he was already clinging to his coat like a lifeline. He sighed in irritation and sent another hearty glare at the sky.

 

Just as he was passing through the center plaza of the campus, the sound of a worried, verging on frantic voice caught his attention. McCoy hesitated and looked around, surprised that other cadets were up so early on the weekend. His eyes finally settled on a pair of cadets that were shuffling in the general direction of the Academy clinic, and were dressed only in the Starfleet issued workout clothes. God, if he was cold, then the two of them had to be freezing.

 

He continued walking, not quite taking his eyes off the pair of blond guys, and couldn’t help but eavesdrop. They were some of the only other souls out at that moment, after all, it wasn't like McCoy had much else to listen to.

 

“Listen, Coby, I told you! I’m fine, I seriously don’t need—”

 

“Jim, don’t say that! It’s my fault this happened to you, I want to make sure you’re fine!”

 

Wait— Jim?

 

Before he even realized what was happening, McCoy’s feet began carrying him to the pair. And the closer he got, it became apparent that that was definitely Jim Kirk. And— Fuck, was that blood?

 

Quickening his pace a little, McCoy called out in question. “Jim?”

 

The two blond cadets froze in their tracks, before turning to McCoy.

 

Jim’s eyes lit up in surprise. “Bones! What are you doing here?”

 

McCoy ignored the kid’s question and instead put all of his focus on the dried blood trailing from Jim’s right ear that had smeared all over the side of his neck. “Are you all right?” He glanced at the shorter cadet beside Jim before addressing the both of them. “What the hell happened?”

 

“It’s my fault,” Jim’s friend said.

 

McCoy raised his brows in surprise. Jim’s friend—Coby, Jim had called him—was pale and gangly, noticeably more slight than Jim. How did he manage to hurt Kirk?

 

Jim made a weird sort of sighing sound that was in dual parts exasperated and reassuring. “I told you, it’s not your fault. I’m the one who got distracted, it’s my fault for not dodging in time.”

 

McCoy frowned, waiting for someone to give him a straight answer.

 

Jim apparently noticed the doctor’s expression, because he quickly elaborated. “Coby and I were sparring, and he kicked me in the ear.”

 

“Jesus,” McCoy hissed, his hands moving towards Jim’s face on reflex. He stopped himself just before he made contact, and scolded himself for not first making sure touching was allowed by the patient. “Is it alright if I check?”

 

Jim swallowed before haltingly nodding.

 

McCoy gingerly pressed the pads of his fingers against Jim’s jaw and the back of his skull, and carefully tilted the kid’s head to get a better look at his ear. It seemed most of the blood came from the antitragus, which was torn on the edge closest to the tragus. Coby’s foot must have somehow caught on it during the kick, hence the ripping of flesh.

 

However, McCoy also noticed that there was a small amount of blood coming from the auditory canal.

 

His frown tightened and he locked his gaze with Jim’s. “How does your inner ear feel? Be honest.”

 

Jim smirked, but it didn’t look like his heart was in it. “I mean, it hurts.”

 

McCoy carefully touched the shell of Jim’s ear, as he leaned in a little closer to get another look at the damage. “An ache? Or a stab?”

 

“Kind of both. Every few seconds there are waves of a condensed sharp pain.”

 

McCoy grunted in acknowledgment. “Can you feel the pain in your throat and behind your eyes?”

 

Jim paused. “Yes.”

 

He leaned back out and once again leveled his gaze with Jim’s. “And your hearing?”

 

“Muffled on that side.”

 

“Hm.” McCoy frowned harder at Jim. “You ruptured your eardrum.”

 

Coby cut in before Jim could react. “Oh my God, are you serious?” McCoy had been so focused on Jim’s injury, he’d almost completely forgotten about the other person that was standing right there. Coby grabbed Jim’s arm nervously, while his other hand curled by his own mouth. “I’m so sorry, Jim! Does it hurt bad?”

 

Jim turned one of his famous thousand-watt smiles towards Coby, a confident gleam twinkling in his blue eyes. “I told you, it’s no big deal. You’ve hurt me no worse than anything I accidentally do to myself on the daily.” He even gave a little wink. Fucking little charmer.

 

It seemed to ease Coby’s worries, though, and his shoulders noticeably sagged.

 

“You really should get that checked out, though,” McCoy interrupted. “I’m on my way to the hospital right now. I can take you there.”

 

A loud feh! sound erupted from Jim’s mouth. “There’s no need to do that, Bones, this isn’t that serious.”

 

Was he fucking joking?

 

“You’ve got blood all over you,” McCoy replied flatly.

 

Jim waved a dismissive hand. “Head wounds always bleed more than others.”

 

One of McCoy’s brows shot up in indignation. “Oh, I'm sorry, are you the doctor here?”

 

Jesus, why was Jim being so difficult about this? How on earth would avoiding medical care benefit him?

 

Coby stepped a little closer, once again reminding McCoy that he was there. “Jim, if he's a doctor, then you should probably listen to him.”

 

Jim let out a very put-upon sigh. “Will either of you believe me if I say I’m fine?”

 

Both McCoy and Coby gave a resounding, “No.”

 

“Alright.” Jim raised his hands in surrender and hung his head. “Alright. I don’t have enough fight in me to take on both of you right now.” With a full-on pout, he raised his eyes to McCoy’s before presenting his wrists as if for handcuffs. “Go on, officer. Take me away.”

 

“Drama queen,” McCoy muttered under his breath, before grabbing one of the offered wrists and gently tugging in the direction of the campus entrance.

 

“Oh, wait,” Coby suddenly spoke up. The kid was holding onto Jim’s elbow. “Jim, can I… How can I find you later? Just so I can see how you’re doing…”

 

Kirk’s whole demeanor suddenly seemed to brighten, as if the sun decided that possessing Jim would be a better alternative than trying to peek through the cloud cover. “How ‘bout I give you my number?” Jim said through his most charming smile, and McCoy could practically taste Coby’s swooning.

 

Oh, wait a second. Shit. What the hell?

 

Were they flirting? Had Jim and Coby been flirting the whole time?

 

A burst of flustered embarrassment overtook McCoy as it dawned on him that he had interrupted what might have been a date gone awry. And as Jim and Coby exchanged numbers, it occurred to McCoy that he was still standing in on their private time. What the hell? What was wrong with kids?! Who got together so Goddamn early in the morning?!

 

Jim leaned down to whisper something in Coby’s ear, and the shorter blond immediately blushed. McCoy looked away, as an urge to bolt into some dark corner started to build up between his ribs.

 

“Okay, then I’ll see you around,” Jim said as a final farewell, before stepping to McCoy’s side.

 

McCoy and Coby shared an awkward nod with no eye contact on McCoy’s part— God, fuck, shit, why the hell did he have to be so fucking awkward?— and the doctor hurriedly started ushering Jim away.

 

They only got a few steps before McCoy caved under embarrassed guilt. “I’m sorry for interrupting you two.”

 

Jim snorted quietly (and McCoy noticed him subtly wince in pain). “It’s fine, not your fault it ended up like this. Besides,” a downright lewd smile overtook Jim’s face. “I know just how to make it up to him later.”

 

The surrounding cold air was abruptly the easiest thing in the world to ignore, as searing heat washed over McCoy’s face. “Alright, stop, I don’t want to hear about it.”

 

Jim chuckled quietly, but it didn’t last long. “Hey, Bones,” he muttered. “Where are we going? The clinic is that way.”

 

“We’re not going to the clinic. I’m taking you to the hospital.”

 

“What?” Jim disappeared from beside McCoy, and the doctor looked back to see the kid had stopped in his tracks. “The hospital?” Jim croaked. “When you said that before, I thought you were talking about the clinic and were just being pretentious about it. You’re taking me off campus?”

 

“Yeah.” McCoy rolled his shoulder as a subdued way to beckon Jim over. “Now, come on. I’m already running late.”

 

“Bones, I can’t go off campus.” Jim frowned at him as though he were simultaneously an idiot and a threat. “I’m suspended, remember? You can’t take me to the hospital. Not there.”

 

“Yeah, but you forget I'm a doctor? Certified by Starfleet?” McCoy stepped towards Jim, to get rid of the distance the kid had created. “My medical expertise overrules what they say. And if I say you ought to be treated off campus, then you're gonna be treated off campus.”

 

To his astonishment, Jim didn’t seem the least bit pleased about being able to break his suspension. Instead, he shuffled his feet in obvious discomfort and looked around as if for an escape route. “Look, Bones… Honestly, I'm actually fine. You don't have to take me to the hospital. Here—I'll just take myself to the nurse, all right? So you can just… be on your way, and I'll be on mine.”

 

McCoy scowled before he could stop himself. “Why do I get the feeling that you'll just run off without getting any treatment if I leave you alone?”

 

Jim released a weird laugh that just convinced McCoy he had hit the nail on the head.

 

“Jim.” McCoy sighed in irritation through his nose (even though it kind of hurt, he was still healing from the bar fight). “If you don't let me help you, then there's a chance you'll lose hearing in that ear. Are you sure you want to take that risk?”

 

Jim’s response was silence and a nearly unnoticeable gulp.

 

After releasing one more sigh for good measure, McCoy held a beckoning hand out towards Jim. “Come on.”

 

Jim let McCoy take his elbow, but he was definitely dragging his feet.

 

McCoy felt like he was trying to haul a petulant child to the dentist. “What are you, four? ” McCoy grunted as he tried to get Jim to pick up the pace.

 

“Three and a half, actually.”

 

Oh my God.” Why? Why was Jim like this?

 

And why the hell couldn’t McCoy just leave him to suffer like they obviously both wanted him to?

 


 

McCoy tried to ignore it. Really, he did.

 

But Jim just wouldn’t stop shivering, and it was getting to a point where it was not only distracting, but worrying.

 

McCoy side-eyed the blond beside him, at the way Jim’s hands were gripped tight around the seat of the tram they were in. His leg was bouncing furiously, most likely Jim’s best attempt to hide how badly he was trembling.

 

But the effort was futile. It was cold as balls, after all, regardless of the meager heat blowing through the tram. And Jim was still only clad in gym clothes, which was just a pair of red sweats and a gray t-shirt. That wasn’t nearly enough to protect against the frigid San Francisco air.

 

McCoy sighed irritably. He probably should’ve let Jim grab a jacket before they’d left. “Sorry,” he grunted.

 

Jim didn’t look at him, and instead kept his eyes straight ahead as he answered. “For what? Kidnapping me?”

 

McCoy snorted despite himself. “No. For taking you without letting you grab your jacket first.”

 

“I don’t have a jacket.”

 

Wait… what?

 

McCoy leveled a hard stare at Jim. “You don’t? At all ?”

 

Jim, still not making eye contact, shrugged as much as he could while keeping a tight hold on the bottom of his seat.

 

“Do you have anything warm to wear?”

 

Jim scoffed quietly. “Bones, do you think I only wear my reds in this weather for fun?”

 

Was he implying that his uniform was the warmest set of clothing he had? It occurred to McCoy that he couldn’t think of a single time where the kid wore anything but his reds. Well, save for their first shuttle ride together. But if his memory served him right, then McCoy remembered those clothes being filthy. His shirt and jacket had been covered in blood, and there was nondescript grime and dirt all over the rest of him.

 

And McCoy had only sat next to Jim after the other had already been seated, so he had assumed that Jim had already put away his stuff in the luggage compartment. But… God, what if he didn’t have any luggage? He hadn’t seen Jim after getting off of the shuttle, at least not until he passed by Jim arguing with that medical officer, but he couldn’t remember seeing any sort of bag near Jim at that time.

 

Did the kid own anything that wasn’t given to him by Starfleet?

 

Fuck, if that was the case, a whole bunch of things suddenly made sense. Like Jim never having an umbrella on him, or any sort of jacket, or… Or why the only thing he wore to the bar was his reds.

 

Jim getting in trouble for that night suddenly felt ten times more unfair. Jim wore his reds that night—and subsequently fought in his reds—because it was literally all he had to wear. Him making Starfleet look bad by fighting while in uniform couldn’t have been less deliberate.

 

“Jim, do you… Do you need clothes?”

 

Jim finally made eye contact with him, though he still seemed as pent up as he had been the whole ride. “Why’re you asking?” His face abruptly pulled into a jarringly smug leer. “You offering to be my sugar daddy?”

 

McCoy choked on his spit. “No! God, no! Forget I asked!”

 

Jim laughed brightly to himself, apparently pleased as peaches for getting McCoy flustered.

 

McCoy glowered at him, but his irritation with the other dwindled away the longer he watched Jim shiver. Damn it. He just could not in good conscience let the kid continue to freeze. Without another thought, McCoy shucked his jacket off of his own shoulders and draped it over Jim’s head.

 

Jim stiffened.

 

“Gripe if you want, but I can’t call myself a doctor if I just let someone get sick when there’s something I can do about it.” McCoy fought off a shiver of his own once the colder air really hit him. He pulled his sleeves farther down his arms in a feeble attempt to make himself just a little warmer. At least he had long sleeves, unlike Jim.

 

Who still hadn’t moved or spoken.

 

McCoy couldn’t see Jim’s face beyond where the jacket was draped, but his tone was unexpectedly devoid of emotion when he finally spoke up. “I don’t need your charity.”

 

What the hell?

 

McCoy blinked at him before giving a slight huff. “It’s not charity, you imbecile. I’m doing this for my own good.”

 

Jim peeked at him, but his icy eyes betrayed nothing.

 

“I’d rather not deal with you as a sick patient, you know?” McCoy added, shaking his head. “Just the thought of you when you’re sick is sending shivers down my spine. If I can save myself from that nightmare, then I will. Now put the damn thing on already.”

 

McCoy refrained from staring at the kid as the seconds dragged on, and instead eyed the other passengers of the tram like he wasn’t invested in Jim actually keeping warm. Finally, out of the corner of his eye, McCoy watched Jim slowly ease his way into McCoy’s jacket. It was bigger on the kid’s frame than on the doctor’s, but McCoy didn’t dwell on it.

 


 

As they stepped up to the hospital’s main doors, McCoy noticed that Jim was twitching like he was preparing to bolt at any moment. And that just wouldn’t do. McCoy pressed a hand in between Jim’s shoulder blades to usher him forward, and idly noted how tight the kid’s muscles were. “Don’t even think about running off,” McCoy warned.

 

“I seriously think this is overkill,” Jim hissed. “I’m fine. I can head back on my own.”

 

“Uh-uh.” McCoy shook his head, frowning sidelong at Jim. “You are not going anywhere without getting treated first.”

 

Jim sighed through bared teeth, though it came out as more of a growl. What the fuck was up with him? Why was he so against getting treatment? Once they stepped into the hospital’s lobby, his back muscles somehow bunched up tighter against McCoy’s hand.

 

“Hey,” McCoy whispered. “Relax.”

 

They stepped up to the desk and McCoy nodded at Marta, the nurse currently running it. “Where’s Almanzar?” he asked her.

 

Marta eyed the blood that was still caked on the side of Jim’s head and neck. “She’s upstairs right now. I’m guessing we need her?”

 

“Yup.” McCoy shifted his bag on his shoulder. “Burst eardrum. Shallow tearing around the tragus.” He started heading towards the doors that led to the back, but a cold hand gripped his elbow really hard. McCoy blinked at Jim owlishly, took in the tension in the kid’s whole appearance and the wild look of panic in his eyes.

 

“You’re not treating me?” Jim asked, and the vein on his neck was frantically pulsing. “You’re just gonna leave?”

 

“Look, ears aren’t my area of expertise,” McCoy said while he laid a careful hand over Jim’s covered wrist. Something in his instincts was telling him to act like he was dealing with a caged, frightened animal. What in the hell was setting Jim off so much? “But it’s fine, you’ll be alright. Doctor Almanzar is perfectly capable.”

 

Jim swallowed roughly, and his ears were turning a vibrant shade of red. McCoy was reminded of how they looked that day Jim had been taken out of their Tarsus unit.

 

“I’ll be around,” McCoy promised, softer. “But I can’t stick around here, I’m needed elsewhere for my shift.”

 

Jim yanked his hand back and the sleeves of McCoy’s jacket covered the kid’s balled fists. “How long will it take?” Jim ground out, his eyes still sharp and cold. “How long will it take before I can get out of here?”

 

“Not long.” McCoy made brief eye contact with Marta, and she nodded, quietly assuring him that what he was telling Jim was true. “Definitely not more than an hour.”

 

Jim’s nostrils flared, and he winced, apparently having disturbed his hurt ear with the action.

 

“McCoy?”

 

McCoy turned to the velvety voice that had just come from the nearby lift, nodding in acknowledgment at Almanzar as she approached. She was tall and lean, her dark hair kept in a sleek ponytail that always swayed when she moved.

 

“Hey,” McCoy greeted. “This here is Kirk. He hurt his ear, as you can see.”

 

She hummed and stepped closer.

 

Jim eyed her warily, which was strange. McCoy had been expecting Jim to start flirting immediately. Almanzar was beautiful, after all. She seemed like she’d be Jim’s type.

 

“How are you doing, mister Kirk?” she asked, and held out her hand for shaking.

 

Jim stared at her hand but didn’t move to take it. Jesus, why the hell was he being so rude? “I’m fine,” he bit out.

 

“That blood would say otherwise,” Almanzar replied as she took her hand back, and McCoy noted how her posture relaxed minutely. She must have also picked up on Jim’s inexplicably heightened nerves. “If you’d come with me, then we can get you cleared out of here in no time at all.”

 

He watched her like a feral dog would a potential threat, and still didn’t say anything.

 

“It’s alright,” Almanzar soothed. “The sooner you let me see to you, the sooner you can leave.”

 

Jim continued to eye her, and McCoy realized that the kid was squeezing the ends of his sleeves with white-knuckled fists. “Okay,” Jim finally said slowly. “Then let’s get it over with.”

 

Almanzar nodded amiably, before turning and trusting Jim to follow her. As Jim haltingly forced himself to trail behind her, he cast one final look at McCoy over his shoulder. His eyes were alight with… something that McCoy couldn’t quite place, and a hot, confusing burst of worry lit the inside of McCoy’s chest.

 

Once the kid was out of sight, McCoy leaned towards Marta. “There’s a good chance I won’t see him again once I start working. When he comes back out, make sure he takes that jacket with him.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT III

Part 1 of 3

 

“Ah, McCoy!”

 

McCoy paused halfway into his civvies, and turned to Almanzar who was approaching him from the locker room doorway.

 

“I’m glad I caught you before you left,” she said once she was closer. “I wanted to talk to you about the cadet you brought in.”

 

McCoy frowned and finished situating his clothes. “About Jim?” He paused, as a strange spark of worry lit his chest. “Did something happen while you were treating him?”

 

“Sort of.” Almanzar’s lips thinned into a line of concern, and her eyes wandered to the side while she thought. “How much do you know about his past?”

 

Huh?

 

“Absolutely nothing,” McCoy admitted. He and Jim were only acquaintances, after all. They just barely learned where the other was from. “Why are you asking? What happened?”

 

She sighed. “I’m asking because he was very agitated while I treated him.”

 

McCoy thought her words over for a moment, and nodded slowly in agreement. “Yeah, I noticed he was particularly strung up this morning.”

 

Almanzar only continued talking after she'd caught his eye. “He was very curt with us the whole time, and only responded when absolutely necessary. And he wouldn’t stop watching us with these… I don’t know how to put it. These... stares that were borderline accusatory.” She paused. “Is he always so on edge?”

 

“No,” McCoy shook his head and tightened his grip on his bag in thought. “That kind of behavior is really abnormal for him, at least based on what I’ve seen. He’s generally a pretty talkative and sociable guy, and I… I don’t really know why he was acting the way he was.”

 

“Hmm.” She glanced at her watch, before inching back the way she had come. “His behavior reminded me of some things I’ve seen in some trauma patients, but… I can’t imagine what would make him correlate hospital personnel with trauma. Just be sure to keep an eye on him, alright, McCoy?” She paused in the doorway. “If you’re friends, try talking to him to see what you can do to make this easier next time. And if you’re not friends… Well, just be careful with him.”

 

McCoy nodded at her as she left, but his heart wasn’t exactly in it. He tried to think back on how Jim had been acting.

 

Had Jim been showing signs of trauma? Or was there something else that had been bothering him?

 


 

McCoy didn’t hear from Jim again until Sunday.

 

When he did, it was in the form of a message on his PADD. He had been taking his time getting ready for the day and was leaning on his counter, waiting for his coffee to heat up, when a loud vibrating sound came from his table.

 

In his sleepy state, it took him longer than he’d like to admit to realize that it was just the sound of a notification on his PADD, and not that of a beehive that had abruptly manifested in his dorm. Once he swiped it open, he had to stare at the message for a few seconds before its words finally registered.

 

Hey r u busy rn?

 

He hesitated.

 

Why?

 

How do u feel about hot chocolate?

 

How did he feel about hot chocolate? What kind of question was that? Was—Was Jim asking about having hot chocolate together? Was Jim actually wanting to spend time together?

 

After Jim’s behavior at the hospital, and with the way his coworkers had talked about him, McCoy had been working under the assumption that the kid wouldn’t want to be near him for a while. Certainly not before Monday.

 

After all, it was McCoy that had dragged Jim there. And it hadn’t been lost on McCoy at that time how unhappy Jim was about that. The kid’s discomfort had grown even more obvious in hindsight.

 

So McCoy had been anticipating Jim’s unhappiness—particularly with him—to last a while longer. McCoy couldn’t help but stare apprehensively at Jim’s message.

 

Eventually, he figured it would be in bad form for him not to reply at all.

 

I have no problem with it.

 

Jim’s reply was immediate. Alright I’ll see u at same cafe as last time

 

“And just like that, he’s decided,” McCoy huffed to himself. Jim’s message left him no choice in the matter whatsoever.

 

He glanced forlornly at the coffee on his counter. He wasn’t a big fan of wasting food or anything of the sort. He sighed. Well, he supposed he could put it in a container and reheat it for tomorrow. It wasn’t going to taste very good, but at least it wouldn’t go to waste.

 

Grumbling under his breath, McCoy took his time getting ready to leave. Jim hadn’t given him an exact meeting time, after all. The kid could wait for a while.

 


 

“Finally!” Jim huffed once McCoy walked through the cafe’s doors. “For a second there, I was afraid I was getting stood up!”

 

McCoy almost stopped in his tracks the moment he processed Jim’s appearance. The kid was wearing the jacket. McCoy’s jacket, the one McCoy had given him on the tram. He… seriously hadn’t expected Jim to hold on to it, and he steadfastly ignored the weird little jump his heart did at seeing someone else wearing his clothes.

 

We are not going down that road, he reminded himself. We’re not getting close to anyone here. The kid simply would have gotten stupid sick if he’d gone any longer without a jacket.

 

Before too much time could pass of McCoy just staring and not responding, he finally said, “I bet it’d do you good to get rejected every now and then.” He ignored Jim’s affronted gape and placed himself in the chair across from the younger cadet.

 

“That’s so not true,” Jim sniffed. “Rejection does nothing good for one’s self-esteem! I’m just as sensitive as the next guy!”

 

McCoy raised a brow at him. “You. Sensitive.” He leaned forward, as though he were sharing a secret. “You do know body sensitivity and emotional sensitivity aren’t the same thing, right?”

 

Jim paused for a long while, McCoy’s comment apparently throwing him off guard, and the dragging silence started to make McCoy wish he could take it back. But eventually Jim’s face pulled into a devilishly pleased grin, and the kid muttered, “Bones, look at you. Making jokes at my expense that are laced with sexual undertones. Are you coming on to me?”

 

McCoy leaned back and started unwrapping the scarf around his neck. It was soft and brown, one his ma had made him when he was still attending Ole Miss. “You wish.” Once it was off, he held it in his lap and sighed. He really wanted to know why Jim had called him out. He leveled the other with a hard stare. “So, Jim—”

 

“Ah, hold that thought,” Jim broke in, as he stood from his seat to approach the counter.

 

McCoy sighed and watched him go.

 

It seemed Jim was back to acting like his old self. McCoy frowned and wrung the scarf in his lap, as it occurred to him that this wasn’t the first time he’d seen Jim’s behavior do a 180. When Jim had gotten sick a few weeks ago, right when they started the Tarsus unit, Jim had acted abrasively for a day and then somehow got over it. Granted, he had been sick at the time, and most people tended to get grouchy when sick. But the thing that had caught McCoy’s attention was how quickly Jim had been able to brush his own less-than-friendly attitude off.

 

McCoy narrowed his eyes at Jim, who was obviously flirting with the barista at the counter. Jim didn’t seem like the type to be prone to mood swings. First of all, if he was, then McCoy would’ve heard about it by now.

 

Jim was always being viewed under a tight lens by the rest of the student body, so if he ever did something abnormal, word got around. And if he was someone who was prone to being aggressive like the few times McCoy had seen, then… That definitely would have found a solid foothold in the rumor mill.

 

But it seemed Jim was so good about keeping his behavior in check that most people had never had to interact with a blatantly unhappy Jim. McCoy had the feeling that the only reason he’d seen Jim in bad moods was because he just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Or wrong time, rather.

 

Another sigh breezed past McCoy’s lips, and he rubbed at his chin unconsciously. Jim was good at maintaining an appearance of happy-go-lucky idiocy, and that mask had only slipped twice in McCoy’s presence. It seemed… that mask almost never slipped. That Jim had perfected the front he put up.

 

An image of Jim’s demeanor at the hospital flashed through McCoy’s mind, and he focused hard on the memory of the strange fire that had been burning in the kid’s eyes. His behavior at that time was so, so different from his regular self. It made McCoy wonder…

 

How much of what Jim presented was the true Jim? And exactly how much was he hiding?

 

“His behavior reminded me of some things I’ve seen in some trauma patients,” Almanzar had said.

 

If Jim was so good at keeping up appearances that all was well, then wouldn’t he conceivably be able to hide trauma until pushed to a breaking point? Like, say, pushed into a situation that made his trauma impossible to ignore? Like being forced to go to a hospital?

 

And if that were the case—that he could control how much of himself he showed until put into a situation that hit his tolerance threshold… Then exactly how much trauma would Jim be able to hide?

 

How much of himself was he hiding?

 

“Bones, if you keep thinking so hard you’re gonna give yourself an aneurysm.”

 

McCoy blinked at the cup of hot chocolate that was placed in front of him, before turning his gaze towards Jim’s. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how aneurysms work.”

 

“And how would you know?” Jim asked incredulously as he plopped into his seat, before adjusting McCoy’s jacket closer around himself. “It’s not like you’re a doctor or anything.”

 

McCoy raised a brow at how normal Jim made wearing his jacket seem, but didn’t comment. If Jim wasn’t gonna mention it, then neither would he. It would only be a big deal if they made it one, and McCoy was pretty sure neither of them needed or wanted that. Plus… Jim seemed like he’d give the jacket back if any attention was brought to it, and that wasn’t exactly what McCoy wanted. So he took a sip instead of responding. He wasn’t really in the mood to play into Jim’s games about his doctorhood, anyway. At least, not with so many questions still swirling in his mind.

 

He set his mug down and stared at it for a few seconds. “Jim, why’d you call me here?”

 

“Oh.” Jim averted his eyes and tapped his hands against the table, his tapping a little too loud for it to be just casual movement. “Thanksgiving is coming up, you know? We’re gonna have a few days off, so I was wondering if there was anything else you wanted to do about our project before the break.”

 

McCoy blinked in mild confusion. Was that really Jim’s reason for calling him out? “Oh… No, I think we’re all right. I haven’t thought of anything to add to it. All we have left to do is polish it up.”

 

Jim nodded and sipped at his own hot chocolate. McCoy noted that it didn’t have any whipped cream, which was kind of surprising. Jim seemed like a sugary drinks kind of guy.

 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Jim muttered. “I suppose if we spend too much time on it, we’ll just end up hating it.”

 

“Hm.” McCoy frowned. He wondered if the project really was what Jim wanted to talk about. Either way… it wasn’t what McCoy had been waiting to talk about. He honestly wanted to know why Jim had acted the way he had at the hospital. Well. Might as well be out with it. “Jim, why were you like that at the hospital?”

 

Jim stopped fidgeting, but he didn’t look up. “Like what?” His voice betrayed nothing.

 

McCoy crossed his arms. “You know what I’m talking about.”

 

Jim finally looked at him, but his expression was one of pure innocence.

 

McCoy sighed and rolled his eyes. “Abrasive. Aggressive. All strung up.”

 

“Ah. That. ” Jim went back to tapping the tabletop in what was likely a physical manifestation of discomfort.

 

He didn’t say anything for a few long seconds, and as the silence continued McCoy’s apprehension and curiosity increased.

 

Jim finally leaned back and, still not looking up, said, “Alright, look. I’m gonna be honest with you.”

 

Oh? McCoy had had his suspicions that Jim wasn’t always truthful, especially not with him, so he gripped his cup a little tighter in anticipation while he let the kid gather his words.

 

Jim cleared his throat and scratched at his cheek, a small series of little stalling actions. “I’m, uh…” He tapped the table once, twice more, before he withdrew his hands and took a deep breath. “Look, I,” he brought his eyes up to McCoy’s, and the doctor was immediately trapped in that earnest blue gaze. “I can not stand medical spaces. I’m talking hospitals, medbays, nurse’s offices… I just can’t do it.”

 

Almanzar’s words struck McCoy again, particularly what she had said about thinking Jim had trauma. If Jim had an actual repulsion with medical spaces, then maybe something happened to him in one. Something bad. He tried to imagine would sort of ailment could give someone such a strong aversion to a place they may have been treated in, and wondered if it had been a serious illness or injury that had put Jim in a hospital. He looked over Jim’s visible skin, but couldn’t see any marks or scars that could hint at a previous significant injury. He frowned and decided to lay out the option for Jim to tell him himself. “Bad experience?”

 

Jim huffed quietly and looked away. “More like a few.”

 

A few? Then, maybe it wasn’t an injury and had been a recurring illness, some sort of sickness that would send him to a hospital multiple times. “What happened?”

 

Jim shifted in his seat and started tapping his fingers again. “Let’s just say Iowa doesn’t employ the best or brightest.” Jim took a long sip from his hot chocolate and didn’t look up. His hands were trembling.

 

Wait… Wait a second. What?

 

Was he implying his aversion to medical spaces wasn’t necessarily because of a bad injury or illness, but rather… because of bad medical care? An apoplectic wave of disbelieving rage rolled through McCoy’s chest at the mere thought.

 

Few things made him as furious as medical professionals doing a poor job, especially if their inadequacy could affect their patients like Jim apparently had been. Having an aversion to hospitals because of spending time in one due to being sick or hurt was one thing, but having an aversion because of the treatment given?

 

McCoy’s breaths stilled as a memory from the second day of school rushed to the forefront of his mind.

 

Jim had been acting reserved, but after McCoy stated he was a doctor the kid practically closed off like window shutters in a storm. And in a neutral, detached voice, he asked, “You’re a doctor?”

 

Oh, fuck.

 

So much about Jim—particularly his reactions to McCoy—suddenly made so much sense. No wonder he always seemed so tense around him, no wonder he acted weird whenever McCoy’s profession was brought up. God, McCoy couldn’t even fathom how badly Jim must have been treated if all mentions of doctors or hospitals got such bad reactions out of him. If just alluding to what had been done to him in the past got his hands to start shaking.

 

Trauma. Jim had been traumatized by doctors.

 

What the fuck had they done to him?

 

With this realization, McCoy couldn’t find it in himself to be at all bothered by any of his past interactions with Jim. He had seen how Jim was at the hospital. He had trauma, and he had it bad. And still… all things considered, he was always civil with McCoy. Despite the fact that apparently all things having to do with the medical field affected him in an incredibly negative way. It was a wonder that he could tolerate being around McCoy, and even more astounding was the fact that he had allowed Almanzar and the others to treat him despite how being there affected him. McCoy couldn’t begrudge Jim his behavior at the hospital at all.

 

“You don’t trust doctors,” McCoy said, clarifying what had been insinuated for months now.

 

Jim spared him a glance, and without even trying to sugarcoat himself, replied with a solid, “No. I don’t.”

 

It was unspoken, but McCoy knew that meant Jim didn’t really trust him, either. He wasn’t hurt by this, as he had suspected it were true even before he knew Jim disliked all doctors in general.

 

McCoy stared into his nearly empty cup, observed the specks of chocolate that were collecting around the edges of the warm liquid. “Jim...”

 

What could he say? He wanted to apologize, wanted to atone for how Jim had apparently been treated in Iowa, but he didn’t know the kid well enough. Didn’t like the kid well enough. And… part of him suspected that even if Jim were to get an apology, it would be too little too late.

 

And it wasn’t like it was his responsibility for all patients everywhere to be treated correctly. Jim’s past wasn’t his fault. But… even so, he didn’t like it. It really, really bothered him. Jim wasn’t a bad person, and in McCoy’s opinion, he didn’t deserve half the stuff that seemed to have been dealt out to him. Especially foul treatment from other doctors. God, it really pissed him the fuck off whenever he learned about medical professionals acting as anything but.

 

He could feel a headache starting to thrum at the back of his head, and he rubbed at his eyes tiredly. It was a miracle that Jim had let his ear get treated at all. “Jim… thank you.”

 

Jim made a confused sound at the back of his throat. “What for?”

 

McCoy ran his hand into his hair, and blinked at Jim. “For letting me take you to get treated.”

 

Jim gave a little smile, but he sighed softly. “Yeah, well. You wouldn’t have let me go if I didn’t.” He paused to pick up his cup, but all he did was stare into it. “The reason I told you is so that you don’t take me back again. To the hospital or clinic.” He glanced at McCoy, his eyes once again alight with an earnest sheen. “If it can at all be avoided, do not take me in to get treated. Please, never take me back there.”

 

McCoy was floored by how quiet and serious Jim’s voice had gotten, by how he pleaded. He found himself nodding despite being unable to promise anything with certainty. As a doctor, he knew it was his duty to ensure those who needed help got the best that was possible, and that usually meant taking them to the hospital. But... being put into psychologically stressful situations wasn’t good for anyone.

 

He thought back to the tension he had seen in Jim’s whole body at the hospital, and wondered if Jim were the type to get violent if put into a situation too triggering or traumatic.

 

If it really could be avoided, maybe keeping Jim out of the hospital would be best for everyone.

 

McCoy finished off the last of his drink in a quick swig, before looking at Jim again. “If you keep yourself healthy and unharmed, that won't be a problem. If there’s no reason to treat you, then you won't have to be taken anywhere to get treatment.”

 

Jim gave a smirk, but it didn’t reach his eyes. "Yeah, you're right."

 


 

The rest of the week had continued like normal, aside from the fact that it only lasted Monday through Wednesday. Starfleet gave them Thursday through Sunday off, to celebrate Thanksgiving either in San Francisco or elsewhere.

 

Not everyone celebrated the holiday anymore, but Starfleet Academy had modeled a fair amount of its structure and breaks off of the scheduling of the Old American school system. Either way, no cadets were complaining about a little break every now and then.

 

McCoy took the opportunity to visit Georgia, at least for a few days.

 

He left Wednesday night and arrived early Thursday morning, and he used his train ride to Atlanta to calm the panicked jitters the shuttle ride out of California had given him. He hated flying, and probably always would. Starfleet was such a weird fucking career choice, but at least he knew he wouldn’t have to serve in space. He’d be plenty useful in one of the planetside Starfleet hospitals.

 

He arrived at his mom’s ranch house around mid-afternoon. The first day with her had been a little awkward, their relationship still a tad strained after everything with Jocelyn and everything with… his dad.

 

But it was nice, even still. McCoy liked being back in Georgia, even if his ma’s house was a little unfamiliar to him. The family’s house that McCoy had grown up in was given to his sister, and his mom moved out in the country after she was widowed.

 

The property was pleasant enough. There was a lot of land, perfect for morning walks and sitting on the porch, and it provided a good amount of running space for his mom’s horse. McCoy’s favorite thing about the place was the pond, though. Reeds grew along its edges, and there was a charming little deck for sitting and reading.

 

Which was where McCoy had been spending most of his time for the weekend. Being outside always made him feel a little lighter, a little fresher. And though there were plenty of spots to hang around outside on campus, there was nothing quite like the Georgia air on a healthy and well-kept ranch.

 

The solitude was an added bonus. McCoy knew his ma was happy to have him, but he also knew she was still sore. He was, too, so he didn’t blame her. This new property allowed them to spend time together, and still spend plenty of time out of each other’s hair.

 

McCoy rearranged his textbooks beside him, and brushed aside some stray leaves before he continued typing. Just because it was break, that didn’t mean he didn’t have any work to do. He was just grateful for the change of scenery. He chewed idly on the end of his pen and looked up.

 

The sun was low in the sky, but he still had maybe twenty minutes to sit outside. He liked being able to work in the open air, but he could also feel how quickly the temperature was dropping. The body of water he was sitting in front wasn’t helping things, either. He drew his coat tighter about himself and watched a sparrow fly from the house to the big tree across the pond.

 

The light was slowly developing into a hazy orange, heralding the oncoming sunset, and it reminded McCoy of the fire that was waiting for him in the living room. Being here was… relaxing.

 

It would be infinitely better if he were able to see Joanna, but… Jocelyn said she didn’t want to have to drive all the way out to the country. McCoy wanted to see his little girl desperately, but he could wait a little longer. Jocelyn had agreed that he could see his baby on Christmas.

 

It was just one more month, and he knew December would be on him before he knew it. He sighed softly and watched his breath fog in front of his face, signaling that it was time he went inside.

 

He carefully gathered his things, and stared out across the water once he was on his feet. Reds and yellows reflected off of the pond’s surface in blinding sparkles, like fireflies in a jar. He inhaled deeply.

 

He loved being home, but… it wasn’t really his home. Not anymore. This house belonged to his mom, the place he grew up in belonged to his sister, and Jocelyn… Anywhere he had lived at with her no longer belonged to him in any capacity.

 

He glanced at his PADD where his and Jim’s project was open, and wondered if he would ever again find somewhere—or someone—he could call home.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER ONE

ACT III

Part 3 of 3

 

McCoy didn’t notice at first.

 

After the brief break, the countdown for the end of the semester began ticking—which meant there were copious amounts of deadlines looming on the horizon and a shitload of work to be done.

 

He’d been back from Georgia for about three days, back in time to hit the ground running and get as much of a headstart as possible for the assignments that needed his attention. Upon his return to San Francisco, he was initially so concerned with his workload that he didn’t pay much mind to the people around him.

 

At least, not until he was in the library with Jim, as they worked towards completing the presentation for their diplomacy project.

 

McCoy was halfway through writing a sentence when it occurred to him that Jim had hardly spoken throughout the entire time they’d been working. Just a few words here and there, and only ever about the project.

 

McCoy glanced up at Jim, who was sat across from him with a lap full of PADDs and books.

 

The kid didn’t… look any different. Maybe a little pale, but that could have been the winter shade outside playing tricks on the light. He wasn’t frowning, there was no tightness to his brows or mouth, and his gaze didn’t seem at all unfocused. In fact, McCoy only just realized how quickly Jim’s eyes were scanning through the documents. (How fucking fast could he read?)

 

Still, there was something different about him. Something off, however slight. He was… subdued.

 

Which was not a word that ever made sense to attribute to Jim Kirk.

 

McCoy frowned and wondered if it would be his place to ask. The last time they were around each other, they’d had a talk that could almost have been considered bonding. Right? Jim had confided in him.

 

Granted, Jim’s admission to his aversions to medical spaces was likely done more out of necessity than trust. Jim could better avoid a clinic if there was a medical officer who was aware of his situation.

 

And yet…

 

McCoy knew that they weren’t as distant as they had been at the beginning of the semester. Would it be okay if McCoy implored? Because, if Jim was sick or injured, or otherwise incapacitated, then McCoy ought to be the first to find out anyway.

 

McCoy watched the kid for a moment longer, before grumbling, “Are you feeling alright?”

 

Jim looked up at him with his big blue eyes, the perfect picture of confused innocence. “Huh? Of course I am. Why do you ask?”

 

McCoy frowned harder and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was never good at confronting things, at least not things like emotional wellbeing. Jocelyn could probably write a dissertation about it.

 

“It’s just…” McCoy cut himself off to wave a hand in a nondescript fashion, and squinted at Jim’s quiet and not-at-all animated form. “You’ve been really subdued since we got back from break.” He leveled a stare on Jim and tried to gentle his own features, before asking, “Did something happen?”

 

“Oh,” Jim breathed out, before putting his attention back on the texts surrounding him. He let out some soft chuckles, soft enough that McCoy had difficulty telling if they were genuine or not. “No, no. I’m all right. It’s just…” One of Jim’s lewd smiles broke out on his face, and he scratched at his nose while he answered Bones’s question. “I just can’t stop thinking about this amazing orgy I went to over the weekend.”

 

Oh— Of fucking course. He should’ve expected something like that.

 

McCoy sighed noisily and shook his head. “Enough, all right, enough. Keep it to yourself, I don’t wanna hear about it.”

 

Jim huffed in amusement and was grinning to himself as they got back to work. Cheeky little shit. That’d teach McCoy to ask about his wellbeing.

 


 

The end of the semester was coming up fast, and the panic of cadets was starting to become palpable in the air.

 

There was a lot of work to be done, for everyone.

 

McCoy stared out at all of the completely filled up tables and seats in the library, just a sea of red uniforms that probably spread all the way to the other floors. He glanced sidelong at Jim, who was standing beside him and taking in the definitely full capacity of their usual study area.

 

“Damn,” Jim muttered, frowning. “Where the hell have these people been all semester? It feels like the academy just had an influx of recruits in time for finals week, am I right?”

 

McCoy snorted, and Jim gave him a quick glance before chuckling along with him. Though, he seemed immediately caught off guard by his own reaction. His brows furrowed together as he continued to smile, like them sharing a laugh was completely unusual.

 

Wait, it actually kind of was, wasn’t it?

 

McCoy decided he wasn’t going to acknowledge it. “Well,” McCoy sighed, and hiked his bag a little further up his shoulder. “It’s obvious there’s no room for us here. Should we look elsewhere?”

 

Jim shrugged. “Might as well.”

 


 

It turned out that “elsewhere” was just as packed as the library.

 

McCoy and Jim trudged away from the last common area they checked, and they sighed in unison.

 

Rain was starting to fall, and it was obvious by the dropping temperatures and rising winds that a downpour was on its way. But every building was packed. They were completely and totally stranded, with no place to go to work.

 

McCoy scowled at the sky as a rumble of thunder roared. “This fuckin’ figures,” he grumbled. “I swear, all’s we need is a few good hours to work, and I’d say we’re done. Why the hell doesn’t the world want us to pass?”

 

He continued to glare at the roiling, dark clouds over the city, but when Jim didn’t give an answer, he looked over in confusion.

 

Jim was also staring at the sky, and McCoy noted how the traveling thunderclouds reflected in the kid’s blue eyes. Gray and black and white shrouding over what should have been a beautiful and clear blue, the movement of colors incessant and as ferociously animated as smoke. For a brief moment, McCoy felt like he was getting a glimpse of Jim’s soul, but the moment was ruined when Jim redirected his gaze to the rain that was cascading beyond the awning they were sheltered under.

 

“Um,” Jim said, face blank and distant. “I wouldn’t offer if the situation wasn’t so dire, but…” Jim glanced hesitantly at McCoy, his expression calm but his eyes too wide to be anything but nervous. “We could study at my dorm?”

 

McCoy drew in a long, shallow inhale reflexively.

 

Want to study at my dorm?

 

It was a simple, objectively innocent request, but Jocelyn’s voice rang out clear and loud in his head, asking the exact same question. It was that tiny offer of hers that lead them to dating, to marriage, to divorce and heartbreak.

 

McCoy pinched the bridge of his nose.

 

Get it together, Leonard. He’s not Jocelyn. He’s just your study partner.

 

He had to remind himself that if he wanted to get a good grade, then he had to finish everything he was working on with Jim. And that wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t find themselves the space to work. Jim wasn’t asking for anything more, which—he had to be grateful, he’d heard plenty of how bold Jim was when it came to finding sexual partners.

 

And, at least he wasn’t asking McCoy if they could go to his dorm. That would be… a totally different situation.

 

McCoy was still getting used to his dorm, but it was his, his own private space. Having somebody come into that space would mean the shift of a personal dynamic, and he couldn’t have that.

 

It was just Jim’s dorm. They needed to study. Jim seemed to have long gotten the hint that McCoy wasn’t interested in others, anyway.

 

He sighed heavily and smeared his hand over his face, and realized that Jim had been silent for the few seconds he’d been deliberating Jim’s offer. He was thankful. If the kid had tried to press further, it would have complicated things so much more.

 

McCoy glanced up at the kid, who was watching him quietly and patiently. Quiet and patient were not words he’d have ever thought he’d use to describe Jim.

 

“Yeah,” McCoy huffed. “Yeah, all right. If it’ll get us out of this rain, lead the way.”

 


 

“I should warn you,” Jim said as he fished out his key from his bag and scuffed his shoes on the doormat outside his dorm, “there’s a good chance my roommate is here.”

 

McCoy was still forgetting that most cadets had shared dorms. It kept slipping his mind exactly how lucky he was to have a single dorm.

 

“Ah, well, that should be—” He was going to say fine, but then a thought occurred to him. “Uh. Is this that same roommate who gave out your personal records for shits and giggles?”

 

Jim smirked and cocked a brow at him. “The very same.” As Jim swiped his key and pushed at the door, he mouthed at McCoy, “He’s a dick.”

 

That said a lot coming from Jim.

 

“Honey, I’m home!” Jim shouted into the dorm as they passed the threshold, tacking a bit of a sing-song at the end of his declaration.

 

As McCoy began to disentangle himself from his bag, Jim glanced back at him over his shoulder.

 

“You can leave your stuff on the floor,” Jim said. “The wetter, the better. My roommate gets on my case all the time about leaving my things everywhere, even though I don’t have anything. It’ll do him good to have something to complain about.”

 

The grin Jim gave was downright devilish, and McCoy found himself hesitating with his stuff just hanging out of his fists, waiting to be placed on the floor.

 

Jim noticed his hesitation and flapped his hands encouragingly. “Go on, go on. Unless you plan to just stand like that the whole time and dictate to me what you want written down.”

 

That didn’t sound appealing at all. McCoy ultimately set his things down in the corner closest to the door. He toed his muddy shoes off beside it all. “Uh, where’s your bathroom?”

 

“Over there.” Jim pointed at a narrow door on the other side of their equally narrow ‘kitchen’. “When you flush, be sure to jostle the handle a few times. This dorm building is kinda old, and it’s especially obvious with the plumbing.”

 

McCoy cocked a brow. Yeah, he was definitely lucky to have gotten the quarters he did.

 


 

When he came back out from the bathroom, Jim had spread McCoy’s things across the living room floor, muddy shoes and all. Apparently he had been unsatisfied with McCoy’s original placement of his stuff.

 

“Jesus,” McCoy sighed, as the thought occurred to him that maybe Jim’s roommate was a dick for a reason. “How old are you? What is this, middle school?”

 

Jim was lounging in a stained and rugged couch, his feet propped up on an unstable looking coffee table. There was duct tape on one of its legs. McCoy didn’t even know that was a thing anymore. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jim said, voice betraying nothing.

 

Before McCoy could make any move to start regathering his stuff, one of the two small doors on the other side of the room opened. A pale and spindly guy emerged, large headphones over his ears, and an unbecoming frown on his face. It made him look nothing but petulant.

 

Roommate.

 

The guy’s eyes landed on McCoy and briefly flitted to Jim before going back to McCoy, when an ugly scowl fit itself where the small frown had been.

 

It made McCoy feel like he was covered in mud. His hackles prickled to life, and he wondered if this was the sort of warm welcome Jim got every day when coming back from class.

 

“I thought I said you can’t bring your dates back here anymore,” the guy snarled, voice dripping with venom.

 

“Not a date, just a friend,” Jim said, not looking up from where he was writing. “He and I have a project to work on.” Jim glanced up at McCoy and pointed at his roommate. “Bones, this is Virgil. Virgil, Bones.”

 

With introductions out of the way, Jim went right back to writing.

 

But they weren’t proper introductions at all, and as unsure about Virgil as McCoy was, he was still raised to be polite.

 

He approached Virgil with an outstretched hand, and said, “Leonard McCoy. Pleasure to meet you.”

 

Virgil sneered at McCoy’s hand in a way that the little prick must have thought was subtle, before leveling his beady, disdainful eyes on McCoy.

 

He sidled around McCoy without a word, and the sheer disrespect of being ignored sent McCoy into a shocked stupor. Was this kid for real?

 

And he had thought Jim was bad.

 

Virgil placed himself in front of Jim, his hands on his hips and headphones around his neck. “I know you were raised in a barn,” the kid started, “but where civilized people like me come from, we tell our roommates when we plan on filling the dorm with strangers.”

 

Jim scoffed lightly. “Filling? Dude, Bones is just one guy. You’ll hardly even notice we’re here.”

 

“And what am I supposed to do while you guys are ‘studying’?” Virgil used air quotes when he said the last word. “Stay in my room?”

 

“Unless you want to listen to us put our presentation together,” Jim sighed. “Look, I wouldn’t have brought him here if I had some other choice. Campus is packed.”

 

“Well, why did you have to come here?” Virgil huffed. “Doesn’t he have a dorm? Why didn’t you go bother his roommate?”

 

Jim shrugged, still reclined in his relaxed position. “Mine’s closer.”

 

No, it actually wasn’t. But Jim wouldn’t have known if that were true or not either way. McCoy blinked at what he could see of Jim’s face, and a weird sense of gratitude blossomed in his chest.

 

Jim hadn’t even asked McCoy if they could go to his dorm, even though the kid knew that he was going to get undeserved crap from his roommate for bringing someone else over.

 

McCoy realized that Jim was being considerate in his own way, by not considering the option of imposing on McCoy and his space. He didn’t even toy with the idea of inviting himself over to McCoy’s.

 

When compared to Virgil, McCoy felt like he was catching a glimpse of how thoughtful a kid Jim really was.

 

Virgil let out a noisy sigh through his nostrils. “I have a lot of work to do tonight. I can’t have you intruding on my space like this, not if I want to get a good grade. My quarters are an extension of my mind, and I can’t have you clogging it up like you always are.”

 

God, the kid sounded pretentious. And rude.

 

Jim sighed softly and rubbed at his temple, and McCoy was mildly astonished by the well of patience he was displaying.

 

“Hate to break it to you, but they’re my quarters, too,” Jim mumbled.

 

Virgil just frowned harder. He started tapping his foot, apparently bothered by how Jim was still unpacking books and PADDs from his bag.

 

“Jim, unlike you,” Virgil snarled, “I actually had to do work to get into this academy. This is my first semester, and I will be getting perfect final grades. If my scores come up at all short, then I will bring your disruptive misconduct up to the administration, and make it clear exactly how much you hindered my academic abilities.”

 

Holy shit. Was this kid seriously for real? McCoy was staring at the whole confrontation with a raised brow, just an uncomfortable bystander on the sidelines.

 

Virgil narrowed his eyes at Jim, whose shoulders were shaking in what McCoy assumed was silent laughter.

 

“If my scores come out bad enough,” Virgil continued, “then I’ll make sure you’re not the only one who answers for it.” His beady eyes swung over to McCoy, who tensed under the unexpected attention. “What did you say your name was?”

 

McCoy’s other brow rose to join the first. Was this twerp about to threaten him? He stared back at Virgil, completely unamused, and said, “Doctor Leonard McCoy.”

 

Virgil’s eyes squinted. “‘Doctor’? You really expect me to be believe a doctor would willingly work on anything with this idiot?” He pointed at Jim, who glanced up with sparkling eyes

 

“Actually, he really is a doctor.” Jim’s voice was teetering on laughter. “Full-fledged. Works at Starfleet’s clinic and everything.”

 

Doing his best not to smile (his mother always said his sadistic side was an ugly one), McCoy added, “I can give you my credentials to show administration when you tattle on me for studying, if you’d like.” McCoy put his own hands on his hips and felt oddly satisfied when Virgil seemed to deflate.

 

Threatening others, especially your elders, was very impolite.

 

A garish shade of red rose to Virgil’s cheeks, and he swung angry frowns at both of them. “Well,” he muttered, as he headed back towards his room, “just— keep it down out here.”

 

He slammed his narrow door to his room, and McCoy raised a brow at Jim in the ensuing silence. “Ain’t he a dandy to be around,” McCoy said.

 

Jim smiled at McCoy, warm enough that McCoy wondered if it was doubling as apologetic.

 

Before he responded, Jim started rearranging his stuff on the couch so McCoy could sit. “He hates that I’m an officially recommended student,” Jim admitted softly, not looking up. “I saw his scores on the entrance exam. He barely made it in.” He paused as he laid out his books on the table, and when he spoke again his voice had softened. “He’s the kind of person that blames others for his own shortcomings. I…” Jim glanced over his shoulder, at the door that Virgil was behind. “I hate people like that.”

 

Hate was a strong word, but McCoy had to agree. It was the sign of an ugly soul that didn’t value other people’s thoughts, feelings, or lives.

 

And every life deserved to be valued.

 

McCoy pulled out his own PADD and settled into the surprisingly soft couch, but still refused to put his feet up on the table like Jim. That was just plain unsanitary.

 

As he pulled up the documents for their project, he spared one more glance at his stuff that was spread across the floor. He eyed Jim’s profile, and decided to take Jim’s suggestion and leave it all out.

 

Besides… the space didn’t belong just to Virgil. It was Jim’s, too. And if Jim was okay with the mess, then so was McCoy.

 


 

McCoy found himself over at Jim’s apartment every night for the rest of the week. Tuesday had been unexpected, because he had shifts Tuesdays and Thursdays that went all the way until 8:30, which usually meant he wasn’t getting back on campus until almost 9 pm.

 

It was Thursday, and after reaching the hospital staff lockers, he found a message on his PADD that read, You can come over if you want.

 

It was… a nice gesture. It was generous of Jim to offer his space for them to work on stuff, especially as late as it was.

 

McCoy had his suspicions that his presence bothering Virgil was a big motivator for Jim to invite, but regardless. It provided them the relative privacy to get their work done, and seeing as how it was their last week to finish things up before exams and final due dates, McCoy appreciated the opportunity.

 

He was surprised by how easy it was to get relatively comfortable in Jim’s living quarters. The only parts of it he spent time in were the living area, kitchen, and bathroom, but it was more of anyone’s dorm than he had ever expected to see.

 

McCoy shook rain droplets off of his umbrella and knocked on Jim’s door. It slid open just moments after, revealing a bed-ruffled Jim on the other side. He was wearing a loose t-shirt and his gym pants, and his hair was sticking up a lot on one side, like he’d been lying on it.

 

“Hey,” Jim yawned as he lazily waved.

 

McCoy hesitated. “Did… Did I wake you up?”

 

Had Jim actually been planning to go to bed? If he was gonna sleep, why the hell had he invited McCoy over?

 

“No, no,” Jim shook his head and ran a hand through his mussed hair, while he used the other to grab onto McCoy’s jacket to pull him into the dorm. “C’mon, get in here. It’s cold out.”

 

McCoy watched Jim close and lock the door, and realized exactly how tired Jim looked. He had major bags under his eyes, and his blinks were slow and squinty, like he wasn’t ready to be up and about and looking at things. “Were you sleeping?” McCoy asked.

 

Jim glanced at him, and trodded over to where all of his books were scattered on the couch. “Ah, I might’ve taken a quick nap by accident. I was in the middle of writing out an equation, and just sort of… passed out, I guess.”

 

McCoy carefully laid his own things down next to his usual spot on the couch, and sat while analyzing Jim’s appearance. “Maybe you needed it. You look exhausted.”

 

Jim huffed quietly, a sad mimic of a laugh. “Well, it’s… been a long time since I last went to school. I forgot how much… how much work it takes to stay on top of everything.” He rubbed at his eyes distractedly. “Haven’t been getting a lot of sleep.”

 

The doctor in McCoy perked up immediately. Was the kid not taking care of himself?

 

“Have you been eating?”

 

Jim froze at McCoy’s question, just for a moment. A weird little smirk flit over his face, before he shrugged. “When I can.”

 

McCoy would take that as a no. He sighed slowly as he pulled out his class work, and glanced at Jim. “I can order takeout, if you want.”

 

Jim waved a hand as he fell onto the couch next to McCoy. “Nah, don’t worry about it. Besides, Virgil would complain about the smell. I mean, unless you haven’t eaten yet. If you wanna get something, don’t let me stop you.”

 

McCoy wasn’t really hungry.

 

It had been a long day at the hospital, taxing in a number of ways. There was a kid that was brought in for a massive gash that ran along the back of his head. The kid hadn’t talked the whole time he was in, just cried quietly while his dad told them what had happened. The boy was around Joanna’s age, but he was so quiet and reserved compared to McCoy’s own daughter.

 

The boy had flinched at fast movements and loud noises, in a way that made McCoy worried and uncomfortable. They were signs that hinted at something sinister, but of course, it was just a feeling. The kid’s dad was amiable enough, seemed worried about his kid, but… Body language was just as loud as any other language.

 

It had all put a bad taste in McCoy’s mouth. There was nothing inherently wrong, there was nothing to suggest foul play… Nothing but the look in the kid’s eyes. McCoy had been helpless, unable to do more than heal the physical wound on the boy in his care.

 

He was the only one among the medics that had had suspicions, so his concerns were easily brushed away. It put a bad feeling inside of him that still hadn’t gone away.

 

He valued the wellbeing of others, but especially children. The health and safety of children was beyond precious, and dealing with hurt kids was always the hardest part of the job. Especially when he was unable to do more.

 

McCoy rubbed his hand over his eyes. “No, I’m not hungry either.”

 

Jim was quiet, before asking softly, “How about some coffee?”

 

McCoy sighed shallowly and nodded. “Yeah. Coffee sounds fine.”

 

“Okay, then I’ll get it started.”

 


 

Virgil ended up taking most of their coffee.

 

McCoy would have been more upset, but he was mostly just focused on his medical homework. He and Jim were nearly done with their project, so they had a mutual agreement to take a break from diplomacy and instead work on the assignments they had in their other classes.

 

It was nearing 2 am and McCoy rubbed at his brow in consternation. His brain functions were slowing, especially since Virgil took the majority of what he was relying on to stay awake. “Visual hallucinations,” McCoy mumbled, hoping that saying what he was working through out loud would keep him stimulated enough to solve the problem. “What disease... Leads to… visual hallucinations, signs of Parkinson’s disease, poor regulation of the autonomic nervous system… cognitive problems… sleep difficulties… fluctuating attention, depression, apathy—”

 

“That sounds like Lewy Body Dementia,” Jim cut in.

 

What the fuck?

 

McCoy blinked up at Jim, who was curled on the other side of the couch and writing quickly on his PADD. “What’d you say?”

 

“I said that sounds like Lewy Body Dementia,” Jim repeated, not slowing at all in whatever he was writing. Like his brain was involved in his own homework and could still focus on everything McCoy was saying.

 

“How—” God, it was too fucking late for this. “How the hell do you know what that is?” McCoy growled.

 

Jim glanced up at McCoy, though he didn’t stop writing. “I read about it once. The symptoms you described sounded just like it.”

 

Well, he wasn’t wrong. But what the hell did he mean he had just “read it once”? Did he just remember everything he read? And how the hell had he not stopped writing yet?

 

Jim opened his mouth again. “Are you having to identify diseases based on their symptoms, or are you required to list the symptoms that come with certain diseases?” He was still writing. It was driving McCoy mad.

 

“Neither,” McCoy said quietly. “I’m having to create a worksheet of sorts, listing off different forms of brain conditions that affect memory and cognition, like Alzheimer’s. The idea is that everyone in the class comes up with about ten questions and ten answers, so our final exam will be entirely student made.”

 

Jim cocked his head in acknowledgment. “That’s one way to get the class to do your work for you. Good on your professor, man.”

 

“I don’t know if that’s what I would call it,” McCoy grumbled. He held his head in his hands and scowled down at his PADD. “God, I’m so fucking tired. I’ve come up with nine different conditions right now, I just need one more—”

 

“What about Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus?”

 

God fucking— what the fuck?

 

McCoy scowled at Jim and how he was still focusing on writing up his own stuff. “What the hell, Jim?” McCoy sighed, completely done with Jim’s constantly shocking intellect. “God, you exhaust me. Why do you know what that is?”

 

“Like I said,” Jim muttered, shuffling through his books. “I read it. I remember a lot more than people think I can.”

 

That… was becoming increasingly apparent.

 

McCoy frowned and continued to watch Jim go over his work, and thought back on his own initial assessments of Jim.

 

He had been so sure a few months ago that Jim was an idiot.

 

And, if he was reading between Jim’s words correctly, then he wasn’t the first to have thought so. He felt like he was seeing him in a different light. Jim, an observant and reckless kid, who was smarter than he really let on, and who everyone seemed to make incorrect assumptions of. McCoy was not exempt from that.

 

Because, Jesus, the kid was smart. It made him curious as to what kind of education Jim had had before starfleet.

 

McCoy fiddled with the ring on his pinky finger as he stared at Jim, and asked, “What university did you go to?”

 

Jim’s expression didn’t change. “Never went to college.”

 

...Oh. McCoy frowned just slightly, and tried again. “Which high school did you graduate from?”

 

Jim’s mouth tightened, though it was barely noticeable, and he didn’t look up from his books. Softly, he said, “Didn’t graduate high school.”

 

... Oh. Before he could stop himself, McCoy asked, “Why the hell not?”

 

Jim looked up at him for the first time in too long, his blue eyes sharp and clear, reminiscent of how they looked when they were outside of the hospital. Their sheen caught McCoy off guard, and he was confused further when Jim gave him a smile that didn’t reach his eyes at all.

 

“Want some more coffee, Bones?”

 

It was a blatant change of subject. McCoy couldn’t find his voice for a few seconds, but he eventually settled on, “Yeah, that sounds fine.”

 


 

Finals week came and went.

 

McCoy and Jim presented their diplomacy project and passed with flying colors, to the extent that Commander Galaar requested they submit their report to be published among Starfleet’s academic journals of the year.

 

It was a good feeling, and McCoy couldn’t help but notice how Jim practically glowed under the commander’s compliments.

 

At that moment, he was reminded of the revelation that Jim had apparently dropped out of the school system before graduating high school. He’d never considered the possibility that Jim was a high school dropout, but upon the revelation, it got him thinking. And wondering.

 

Was Jim as familiar with receiving praise as McCoy had at first believed? Or… had he actually received very little of it upon growing up?

 

It was McCoy’s understanding that those that dropped out were very unlikely to have had any sort of proper upbringing. And with an improper upbringing came a distinct lack of care, or praise. Most people that were driven to drop out had received some form of neglect or failure on the part of guardians.

 

It… made McCoy wonder exactly what sort of role Jim’s mom had played in his life.

 

He had assumed, as had most people probably had, that the Kelvin Baby had a good life ahead ensured for him because of his father’s deed. But, now… McCoy suspected that had not at all been the case.

 

Did anybody ever ask what the Kelvin Baby’s life had looked like? Had anyone checked up on him as grew? Did anyone else know Jim was a dropout?

 

McCoy watched Jim interact with their teachers and classmates on the last days of the semester, watched him glow under praise and compliments and companionship.

 

He doubted very much that anyone had obtained the same pieces of knowledge regarding Jim’s life that McCoy had. And the more pieces he did get, the less he was liking how the picture was shaping up to be.

 

But the more he got to know Jim, the more time he spent with him… McCoy was beginning to feel that him being one of the few people that even had pieces was for the best.

 

As a doctor, McCoy had plenty of prior experience with maintaining confidentiality. There was no reason for things with Jim to be any different.

 


 

It was finally winter break, which meant McCoy finally had the chance to return to Georgia.

 

Which, in turn, meant he finally got to see Joanna.

 

Jocelyn pulled up to the driveway of McCoy’s mother’s ranch house, and she’d hardly even parked before one of the passenger doors swung open.

 

“Daddy!”

 

Hearing that little proclamation was enough to make McCoy’s heart soar and his throat tighten, and he nearly tripped over the porch steps in his haste to meet Joanna halfway. He swept her up into his arms and squeezed her as hard as he dare. “Hey, darlin’! Oh, I missed you.”

 

“I missed you too, daddy!” Her tiny, six-year old arms were wrapped around his neck, and she leaned back just enough that McCoy could look at her face. He couldn’t keep from smiling if he tried.

 

He caressed her rosy cheek with the backs of his fingers, and basked in the warmth of the sun that he held in his arms. “Oh, Jo, look how big you’ve gotten! My baby girl!”

 

“I’m second tallest in my class!” she declared, with such pride that McCoy couldn’t help but feel it reflected in himself.

 

“I’ll bet you just are, darlin’,” McCoy grinned. “I’ll bet you are.”

 

There was a small vibration in his pocket, which indicated the receiving of a message. He sneaked a peek at it.

 

You have ten minutes. --Jocelyn

 

Only ten minutes?

 

That was hardly time at all to make up for the months he’d gone without his darling angel, but… But he had to concede that it was infinitely better than nothing. Much more than Jocelyn had been allowing him, for sure.

 

By God, he was going to make the most of it.

 

He planted a kiss on his daughter’s cheek, and said, “Tell me all about school, honey pie. I wanna hear everything you have to say.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER TWO

ACT I

Part 1 of 2

 

McCoy came back to San Francisco after about four days in Georgia. They had two weeks for winter vacation, but… After his brief visit with Joanna, there was no other reason for McCoy to stay. He didn’t want to impose on his ma for too long, anyway.

 

When he came back to campus, he was a little surprised by how empty it was. He should’ve expected it, though, considering how much of the student body was basically made up of kids. Or teenagers, or— young adults, he supposed.

 

No, kids was more accurate.

 

Since they were all so young, they probably all had family to see for the holidays. Or, at the very least, they had better things to do for break than stay on campus. It wasn’t like they weren’t going to spend most of the year at Starfleet, anyway.

 

Since the campus was so empty, McCoy figured it would be as good a time as any to take a walk.

 

He liked having time to himself.

 

When he was younger and attending med school, he’d enjoyed taking long walks by himself at night. At least, he’d enjoyed it when he was single. As he grew older, he just stopped doing a lot of the things he had enjoyed, a lot of that having been decided for him by Jocelyn. She wanted to have as much of his time as possible, and he had been happy to give it to her.

 

Now, he conceded there were a lot of old pleasures that he missed. A lot of time and happiness that was taken from him.

 

McCoy dug his hands deeper into his coat pockets and sighed, and eyed the puff of his breath that was illuminated by one of the many walkway lights Starfleet had all over the place. It was nice. A well lit place was a safe place.

 

The night air was crisp against his cheeks, refreshing and comforting. He glanced up at the sky, remembering how vibrant the stars could be during Georgia’s summer nights, and tried not to be surprised when he couldn’t see anything beyond the city’s light pollution.

 

It was all right. He didn’t really have a want to see the stars, either from where he was or up close.

 

God, he was glad Starfleet had the option for medical officers to serve planetside. There was no way he would ever agree to operate on a starship.

 

He redirected his gaze to the path ahead of him, and hesitated when he noticed a figure laying on a bench a few yards away.

 

His first thought was that he didn’t think vagrants could get onto campus without Starfleet clearance.

 

His second thought, and the louder one, was that it was way too cold for anyone to be sleeping outside, especially as underdressed as this person appeared to be.

 

McCoy strode forward, mind made up that he was going to make sure this person was safe, or at least help them find a situation that would result in their safety. It would not do to have someone die on campus, especially if it could be avoided.

 

The person was laying on the bench, one knee bent up, and both arms covering their face. The only things they were wearing were some dark jeans and a black jacket that couldn’t have been thick enough to stave off the cold. He assumed they were wearing a shirt under the jacket, but it still wouldn’t be near warm enough.

 

McCoy came close enough to not have to yell, but not yet close enough to touch. He wasn’t sure how this person would take to being disturbed, and though he wanted to make sure they were okay, his own safety was also a priority. They didn’t look armed, but some people didn’t need a weapon to inflict damage.

 

“Hey,” McCoy said, as he put as much relaxed calm as he could into his tone. “Are you all right?”

 

The person flinched when McCoy spoke, which was relieving. That meant they were conscious, and conscious people were way less susceptible to dying from cold.

 

They removed their arms from their face slowly, and—

 

Holy shit.

 

“Jim?” Bones gasped, jerking forward.

 

“Bones?” Jim blinked up at him with wide eyes— well, one wide eye. The other was swelled shut. There were bruises and abrasions all over Jim’s face, and blood that had long dried across his cheeks. His lip was completely busted, and the dark patches around his mouth and nostrils revealed where Jim had been wiping at streams of blood.

 

“Jesus, kid,” McCoy gasped as he hurried to crouch beside the bench, hands raised and wanting to asses the damage, but not daring to touch. “What happened to you?”

 

Jim sat up with obvious difficulty, and his face scrunched up in pain once he was more or less upright. He grunted in discomfort, his eyes screwed shut, before opening one to McCoy’s worried stare. “Bar fight,” he muttered. An open mouthed, apparently difficult to form smile spread on his face, and the movement threatened to reopen the wound on his lip. “It’s okay, though. I wasn’t in my reds this time. And I won.”

 

“Screw if you won, you’ve been beat to shit,” McCoy said, his voice still breathless with disbelief. His hands were still hovering awkwardly, but he couldn’t bring himself to pull them away.

 

Jim was sitting practically folded in half, his feet firm on the ground and his arms wrapped around his middle. If his face was in as bad a condition as it was, how much worse off was the rest of his body? What if he had a busted rib, had internal bleeding?

 

McCoy couldn’t stop thinking about the last time he and Jim went to their usual cafe, about the discussion they’d had regarding Jim’s dislike of clinics and hospitals. All of Jim’s words, his facial expressions, kept rushing through McCoy’s head.

 

He suspected he knew what the answer would be, but he had to ask. “Will you go to a clinic? You need to be looked at.”

 

Jim tightened his swollen lips together, and swayed slightly in his seat. He didn’t seem aware that he was doing it. “We’ve talked about this,” Jim whispered, his one open eye as vibrant as the lights of the city behind him. Bright and clear with agitation. “I can’t do clinics.”

 

“You can’t just sit out here untreated, either,” McCoy admonished. “Jim, you’re hurt. You can’t— you can’t stay like this.”

 

“I won’t go to a clinic,” Jim repeated, low voice teetering on a growl. “If you try to make me, then I’ll just have to bring my fists back out for the night. I can keep fighting. Don’t think I can’t.”

 

God, that wasn’t what McCoy wanted to hear at all. And there was something about Jim’s look, some gleam in his eye, that convinced him that the kid wasn’t lying. If pushed any further, Jim would be able to get himself to fight.

 

McCoy pressed his hand to his own eyes and sighed.

 

He couldn’t just leave Jim like this. Not in the cold, and not this hurt. But, he also couldn’t bring Jim to a clinic to get treatment.

 

There was… there was really only one option that he could see.

 

McCoy ran his hand down his face and stared at the floor for a few seconds, before bringing his gaze to Jim’s. “Jim,” he murmured, his words embarrassingly stilted and hesitant. “Would you… let me treat you? I have a medkit at my dorm. It has just enough to close your wounds and ease some of the pain. Would that… Would that be all right?”

 

Jim was staring at him with open surprise. His lips were parted and his head was a little tilted, and he didn’t blink as his one eye studied McCoy’s face.

 

Jim didn’t answer for a long while, which just made McCoy more nervous than he could ever describe, but the kid eventually closed his mouth to nod once. “I think… that would be fine.” He dabbed his tongue at the split in his lip. “No clinic?” Jim’s voice was quiet with uncertainty, so McCoy hurried to reassure him.

 

“No clinic. Just us and my dorm, and my own medical tools. If you’re not on the verge of death, then we won’t have to go to any clinic. As… much as I hate you not being seen to in a better setting, I won’t push you to go where you don’t want to.”

 

Jim nodded again, movement still slow and deliberate. “Okay.” He smiled at McCoy, his eye squinted in mirth. “How could I decline an invite to the famous McCoy dorm? Will I be the first guest?”

 

McCoy’s stomach flipped at that reminder. Right. He’d never had anyone in his dorm before, and he’d planned to not ever have anyone in his dorm. But… this was a special case. Jim needed to be treated, and McCoy could not abandon him to the cold. “...Yeah. You’re the first.”

 

Jim smiled wider. “Ooh, I’m special.”

 

McCoy huffed. “Especially annoying, maybe.” He stood from his crouched position beside the bench, grunted at the ache in his knees from staying curled so long, and tilted his head at Jim. “Can you walk? Have your legs been hurt at all?”

 

“Ah…” Jim glanced at his lap, and straightened his posture slowly. “I might’ve messed up my ankle. Or maybe my knee. Not too sure right now.”

 

McCoy held out his hand without a second thought. “Then you can lean on me as we head back.”

 

Jim stared at him, his face once again colored with blatant surprise. Though, McCoy personally couldn’t understand what was so surprising about the offer. The kid was hurt. Of course McCoy would do everything he could to ease as much suffering as possible.

 

He was a doctor for God’s sake. That wasn’t just a title.

 

Jim’s eye was glued to McCoy’s outstretched hand and for a long while he didn’t move, but eventually he began to straighten himself out. He used the bench’s armrest as support while he pushed himself to his feet, but as soon as he was vertical he released a choked yelp and stumbled forward.

 

McCoy’s hands shot out to grab the kid by the shoulders, and most of Jim’s weight pitched into McCoy’s chest. Jim squeezed his fists around McCoy’s upper arms and groaned long and low, the sound of blatant distress making McCoy anxious to start getting him fixed up.

 

“Whoah, are you okay?” McCoy asked, leaning back to get a look at Jim’s face while he resituated him to the side. With him this close, McCoy could smell the lingering scent of booze and the underlying musk of blood. It churned anxiety through McCoy’s gut.

 

“I’m fine,” Jim gasped, his eyes squeezed shut. He wrapped a hand around McCoy’s arm and obviously tried to take back most of his weight, but he nearly buckled again when he put pressure on his left foot. “Fuck, fuck!

 

“Okay, take it easy,” McCoy soothed. “We’ll get that sorted out. Lean on me as much as you need, all right? Don’t put too much pressure on that side.”

 

Jim sighed, his breath borderline guttural. “Yeah, all right.” He wrapped an arm around McCoy’s shoulders and placed his other hand over his own ribs protectively.

 

Shit, so his ribs were hurt, too? Exactly what had Jim done to himself?

 

McCoy wrapped an arm around Jim’s waist and carefully started to shuffle them back in the direction of his dorm, mindful of any gasps or pained sounds Jim made. “How’d you get like this, kid? You get hit by a bus?”

 

Jim huffed softly and shook his head. “I told you, it was a bar fight.”

 

“Well, Jesus, your opponent had to have really been something.” McCoy remembered how nimble Jim had been that one time he went to the bars with the kid. Jim had made fighting seem so easy and effortless, like he’d had plenty experience holding his own. That guy in the bar, as big as he’d been, had hardly stood a chance against Jim. What kind of person had Jim gone up against this time?

 

“Opponents,” Jim mumbled, voice almost slurring in his apparent exhaustion. “Plural. There were five of them.” Jim’s head lolled back, and McCoy almost panicked, afraid that the kid was losing consciousness, until he realized Jim was grinning at the stars. Closing his eye, Jim said, “I still won.”

 

Damn. Okay. So he really was a good fighter. But what the hell was Jim doing fighting five different people?

 

“What was the fight about?” McCoy grunted, re-positioning Jim so he could better take some of his dead weight.

 

“Ah, well,” Jim sighed, before stumbling and hissing softly in pain. “It— it doesn’t matter. I settled it.”

 

Fine. Keep your secrets.

 

McCoy exhaled heavily as they entered his building, and more or less dragged Jim over to the lift. He was only on the second floor, but he highly doubted they would be able to take on the stairs in their state.

 

“Damn, your building is way better than mine,” Jim mumbled. “It’s so clean. Like, this feels like a hotel or something. Or a hospital.” He turned his head to look at McCoy. “Is that why you like it around here?”

 

“I like it around here because no one else is around here,” McCoy muttered. “Everyone in this building is already serving at one of the clinics, so we’re all too busy to do anything other than keep to ourselves. It works for me.” As they approached his door, a thought occurred to him. “Wait. Jim. Why were you laying out there?” McCoy asked, glancing at Jim as much as he could. “How come you weren’t in your dorm?”

 

A snort burst out of Jim, loud and short. He winced in pain immediately. “Ah. My roommate had a date over, so he kicked me out when I showed up.”

 

“Are you serious?” McCoy asked, frowning at Jim. “He kicked you out, into the cold, looking the way you are? He didn’t even bother to call a medic?”

 

Jim stared at McCoy sidelong. “Are you really surprised? You’ve met the guy.”

 

McCoy grunted in quiet acquiescence, and carefully untangled himself from Jim once they were in front of his dorm. Jim didn’t say anything as McCoy leaned him against the wall, but Jim’s mouth had clamped shut and his one open eye was squinted in obvious pain.

 

“Sorry,” McCoy said, “just hang tight for a second. Gotta get my key.”

 

Jim nodded just barely, and then continued talking. Probably as a way to distract himself from the apparent discomfort he was in. “I mean,” Jim said between gasps as McCoy began to unlock his dorm, “he goes by his middle name. Which is Virgil. What kind of name is Virgil?”

 

McCoy raised his brow. He and Jim had confessed to each other their middle names a few weeks ago. It had just come up during one of their breaks from studying, and in McCoy’s opinion, Jim didn’t have much ground to judge someone else for their name. “Your middle name is Tiberius,” he reminded Jim.

 

Jim stared at McCoy, his own brows raised in what seemed to be disbelief. “And yours is Horatio. Let’s not get started on this route, neither of us will win. This is about Virgil.”

 

God, he was right. Both of them had been screwed in the middle name department, no point in pointing fingers at allies. McCoy reached for Jim again now that his door was open, and helped the kid shuffle into his dorm.

 

“Hot damn, this room is really nice,” Jim breathed, his voice still noticeably tight with strain. “You have this all to yourself?”

 

McCoy nodded, and stopped in front of the couch. “It makes keeping the place clean way more simple. No one to worry about but myself.”

 

Jim sighed softly. “That sounds nice,” he whispered, and the sincerity of his tone really made McCoy feel bad. Jim didn’t draw a lucky card for his own living situation at all.

 

“So, Jim,” McCoy said, loosening his grip on Jim’s waist just slightly. “I’m gonna sit you down right here, and then I’m gonna get my equipment. Will you be able to get your shirt off?”

 

“Ooh, second base already? I didn’t realize we were this close, Bones.” Jim grinned at his own joke as he lowered onto the couch, and McCoy suspected he was using his smile as a way to combat the wincing that was trying to flit over his face. Jim exhaled shakily once he was situated on the couch.

 

“I want to check your torso for injuries,” McCoy explained. “I doubt your face was the only target, as noticeable as it is.”

 

“Aww, Bones,” Jim crooned settling back into the cushions. “Now you’re saying I have a pretty face? You’re so romantic.”

 

“Hmph.” McCoy stalked away from Jim and instead towards his room, where he kept his best supplied kit. “Don’t twist my words,” he called. “I didn’t say it was pretty, I said it was noticeable. That does not have to be a good thing.”

 

“No taking it back now, Bones, you called me pretty.”

 

Whatever. Jim really was such an infant. And an infant that was still bleeding, so McCoy revved up his regenerator as he came back over to the couch. He paused when he realized Jim hadn’t moved at all, and was instead still completely dressed.

 

McCoy frowned, and considered that maybe Jim wasn’t able to undress himself in the state he was in. He had suspected the kid had messed up ribs, after all. “Can you not undress yourself?” he asked quietly.

 

Jim’s one good eye had closed, but it fluttered back open when McCoy spoke. He studied the stuff in McCoy’s hands, before saying, “Sorry. This couch is comfy. Moving didn’t sound appealing.”

 

Was that another way of saying that moving hurt?

 

McCoy frowned and set his things aside, and brandished his personal tricorder. He scanned it over Jim for a few seconds, and he couldn’t help but notice how Jim tensed once it had powered up. That tension couldn’t have been good for his already weakened muscles. “Relax,” he murmured softly.

 

He could see that Jim was trying to do as he was told, but his fists continued to grip the fabric of McCoy’s couch. “Sorry,” Jim whispered.

 

The tricorder told him that Jim had two bruised ribs and one that was broken, bruising and abrasions on his face, a gash on the back of his head that was hidden by his hair, and another gash across his chest. There were also cuts all over his hands that McCoy somehow hadn’t noticed before.

 

“I’m going to remove your jacket,” McCoy said, reaching forward.

 

Jim didn’t move, just continued to watch him with an alert but undeniably tired eye. “How bold of you, doctor,” Jim muttered as he closed his eyelid, apparently too weary to keep watching. “I always imagined you undressing me would go a little different.”

 

McCoy wasn’t going to grace that with a response. If he did not acknowledge that Jim apparently imagined him undressing him, then it wasn’t true.

 

He gripped the zipper of Jim’s jacket and slowly undid it, careful not to jostle him too much. He wasn’t sure how bad the wounds were, exactly.

 

But once he had the jacket open, McCoy couldn’t help but suck in a sharp breath at the blood covering Jim’s gray t-shirt. There were splatters of dark brown speckles all across it, and a worryingly thick stain right below where Jim’s collarbone was. The shirt appeared to be torn right in that same spot, and McCoy carefully pressed a finger at the edge of the large blood stain in an attempt to get the fabric pulled back just a little, just enough to see the wound underneath.

 

Jim hissed immediately and grabbed McCoy’s wrist with an alarming amount of force. “Hah,” Jim’s voice lilted up in audible pain, and his already closed eyes were clenched tight. “Careful, Bones, c’mon. You’re gonna undo all my hard work.”

 

Huh? What did that mean?

 

McCoy was gonna have to get the shirt removed if he wanted to be able to treat Jim’s wounds right, but Jim’s reaction at the minor amount of contact had him very concerned. “Can this shirt come off?” he asked, pushing at the hem of the shirt just slightly.

 

Jim released a breathy groan, his eyes still shut, and his fingers tightened around McCoy’s wrist almost painfully. “Don’t think so. Blood is acting like glue.”

 

Damn… If he was resorting to sentence fragments, then that meant that Jim was definitely in a lot of pain. McCoy couldn’t stop ignoring it, especially not if they were going to go farther.

 

Berating himself for having not done so sooner (he’d been causing Jim a lot of unnecessary hurt the past few seconds), McCoy started getting a hypo of anesthetic set up with his free hand. As soon as his vial of anesthetic clicked into place, however, Jim’s one eye that wasn't swollen shot open, wild and wide and shockingly blue in the dim light.

 

“What is that?” Jim ground out, staring at the hypo as though it were a venomous snake that had just materialized in McCoy’s hand.

 

McCoy frowned. “A hypo.”

 

“That’s not what I mean.” Jim tensed more than before, and his grip on McCoy’s wrist was way too tight. “What’d you put in there?”

 

McCoy frowned harder. “Just common anesthetic.”

 

“Don’t.” Jim’s response was immediate and completely baffling. “Don’t give me any anesthetic.”

 

“What the hell do you mean?” McCoy carefully took his wrist back from Jim, the kid’s grip having become too much to handle. “Why don’t you want anesthetic? You’re about to pass out on my couch, kid, this will make things way easier. The pain is making you tense up, anyway, which is just worsening your condition.”

 

“Do I have to give you a peer reviewed essay on why I don’t want it? Why can’t you just take my word?” Jim glanced from the hypo back to McCoy, genuine worry on full display. “You have to respect the patient’s wishes, right? Isn’t that a thing?”

 

McCoy sighed, low and long. “Well, yeah…” He set the hypo back down, and noted how Jim’s shoulders drooped. Why did anesthetic make him so agitated? It made no damn sense. “Yeah, all right, if you insist.”

 

“I do.”

 

He couldn’t stop frowning if he tried. McCoy picked out his pair of scissors and eyed Jim’s bloodied shirt. “Fine. And I won’t ask, since you obviously don’t want me to.”

 

“I don’t.” Jim’s voice had gotten quieter, but he was still watching McCoy warily.

 

McCoy stared back before ultimately shaking his head. “Was just trying to save you the trouble of suffering through more than you’ve had to.”

 

“Don’t worry about me,” Jim replied, voice breathy. His head plopped back into the couch cushions, his eyes once again closed. There was a tight grimace pulling at his face. “I can handle anything you throw my way. I promise.”

 

McCoy had his doubts, and as much as it pained him personally, he would still always take the patient’s wishes seriously.

 

No anesthetic. Somehow… That seemed like a very Jim decision. Maybe it was an adrenaline junkie thing? Pain got him going?

 

McCoy studied the discomfort clear on Jim’s face and highly doubted that was the case.

 

Oh, well. He said he wouldn’t press, so he wasn’t going to.

 

McCoy knelt in front of Jim’s knees, the position kind of awkward, but easier to manage than if he tried to sit next to the kid. “Can you get your jacket off?”

 

Jim huffed softly. “Yeah.” He sat up a little and gripped the edges of his jacket, but as soon as he started to twist to maneuver it off he froze, and sucked in a sudden noise of pain. Jim didn’t move for a second and McCoy watched him with his heart hammering, his hands raised from the moment Jim had gasped. Jim, his eyes screwed shut and his lips pulled back in a snarl, amended his previous statement. “No.”

 

“Okay.” McCoy set down everything he was holding and grabbed the collar of the kid’s coat, and started to carefully peel it off of Jim himself. “Let me know if I have to stop.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, just get it off,” Jim sighed, exuding weariness.

 

It came off without any further incident, but McCoy wasn’t entirely sure if that was because he’d been careful enough not to hurt Jim again or if Jim was just that good at keeping most pain in.

 

Once it was removed, McCoy picked his scissors back up. “I’m gonna have to cut this off to get at your injuries underneath.”

 

Jim groaned, but it sounded more indignant and petulant than hurt. “Aw, man, seriously? This is, like… my only shirt. Do you really have to ruin it?”

 

Jim only had one shirt? What the hell?

 

McCoy cleared his throat. “I’d really like to get it out of the way, and unfortunately this is the best option,” he explained. “But, if you’d like... I can get you a new one. To make up for this. Besides, with all this blood on it, I’d say it’s already ruined. You can’t exactly wear it out like this.”

 

Jim exhaled shallowly. “I guess you’re right. Fine, just cut it. I don’t care anymore.”

 

Damn… McCoy felt bad about having to destroy one of the few things Jim had, but, it was as he said. Shirt was already beyond help, and it was going to have to come off one way or another.

 

Without any more pomp and circumstance, McCoy gently slid the blade of the scissors up Jim’s shirt front. Once the fabric was halved, McCoy carefully peeled it off of Jim’s skin, mindful not to go so fast that it could pull on Jim’s forming scabs.

 

Once Jim’s chest was uncovered, though, McCoy balked.

 

The wound across Jim’s chest had been sutured closed, with actual fucking stitches.

 

“What the fuck?” McCoy suddenly remembered Jim saying something about ‘ruining his hard work’, and he looked up at Jim in absolute disbelief. “Did you do this yourself?”

 

“Well, yeah,” Jim mumbled, still laying back with his eyes closed. “It’s not like I had a regenerator on hand, and there was no fucking way I was gonna go to a clinic to get this fixed.”

 

God, what the— What the hell?

 

McCoy continued to stare at the stitching job, completely frozen in place. To think that Jim had such a strong aversion to medical spaces that he’d gone so far as to treat himself, using methods that had long gone out of practice. And the worst part was…

 

The stitching job itself was really well done.

 

When he first got into the medical field, McCoy had insisted on learning how to treat wounds using older procedures, just in case he ever found himself in a situation where he didn’t have his own equipment with him. But, he had never met anyone else who had done the same.

 

And Jim wasn’t even a medical practitioner, which meant he had taught himself how to treat wounds long enough ago that he got good at stitching himself. It was at an awkward place on his own body, being on the upper part of his chest, but the stitches were clean and seamless.

 

Another horrifying thought struck McCoy as he analyzed the wound.

 

Jim had insisted no anesthetic be used, and whatever his reason was, he had been extremely adamant about it. Which meant it was safe to assume that when had done this, when he had stitched his own flesh, he had done so completely unanesthetized.

 

Exactly what had happened to Jim that made him detest medical spaces so much that he could be driven to this?

 

“Jim…” McCoy trailed off, not entirely sure what he could say. He swallowed unevenly. “Do— Would you like me to use the regenerator on this?”

 

Jim released a light exhale before shaking his head. “It’s fine. I don’t feel like taking the stitches out now that they’re in, and I don’t really think we should use the regenerator if they’re still in there.”

 

Good God, Jim exhausted McCoy. “These will have to stay in for about two weeks, you know.”

 

“I know.” Jim opened his sharp blue eye and it settled on McCoy, half-lidded but still unerringly alert. “This isn’t my first time at the rodeo.”

 

Fuck— and that was confirmation that Jim had stitched his own wounds plenty of times in the past.

 

McCoy sighed and rubbed at his forehead. What time was it? He felt like he’d been up for way too long, the time he had so far spent with Jim taking all of his energy out of him. “Well, then, what about your hands? Can I at least fix those?”

 

Jim shrugged. “Go for it.”

 

All right. Finally. McCoy was starting to feel like there was nothing he could do for Jim, not if he couldn’t give him any pain killer and not if he couldn’t even deal with the worst of Jim’s wounds. So far all he had done was destroy Jim’s shirt, which he still felt pretty shitty about, so being able to actually heal something lifted a previously unidentified weight off of his shoulders.

 

Jim held his hands out and McCoy took them carefully, held them in place while he used the regenerator on them.

 

Neither of them spoke while Jim’s skin was mended, and McCoy couldn’t help but notice how most of the damage was on Jim’s knuckles. That meant he had gotten a lot of punches in.

 

McCoy briefly thanked the stars that he and Jim had never had relations bad enough that Jim would want to fight him. However, that wasn’t to say that there weren’t times when McCoy had wanted to hurt Jim. He would never act on it, of course, but the want was definitely occasionally there.

 

“All clear,” McCoy announced once the kid’s hands were more or less unblemished.

 

"Thanks." Jim started to shift in his seat, but immediately stiffened up and released a choked hiss. "Fuck, shit," he gasped, his hand hovering just above his left knee.

 

Oh, right— Fuck, McCoy had almost completely forgotten about Jim's left foot. "Hold on," McCoy soothed, as he carefully wrapped his hand around the back of Jim's calf and lifted, giving himself better access to the kid's ankle. "This'll only take a second."

 

He rested the back of Jim's leg atop his own knee, to keep it elevated and stationary. While the regenerator did its job, he steadfastly did not think about the warmth of someone else's leg touching his own. Neither of them spoke while the ankle was mended, and as soon as it was clear McCoy struggled to remove it slowly and carefully from himself. 

 

Just shoving at a newly healed ankle would not be good. 

 

"Now you can walk again," McCoy mumbled, and Jim grunted in acknowledgment. McCoy glanced at him, at how exhausted he looked and sounded. Upon looking up, he was once again struck by the sight of Jim’s stitched chest. There was still a bit of dried blood around the area, but Jim had obviously cleaned it before he’d gotten to work. Still… It would be best if it could stay clean.

 

McCoy fished out a small pack of sterile bandages and removed one, large enough to cover what Jim had stitched. Jim was watching him quietly, so McCoy felt like it would be weird if he started touching Jim’s shirtless chest with the kid looking straight at him. He held the bandage out. “Cover that cut on your chest with this. You’re gonna need to replace it about once a day, so I’m gonna give you enough to tide you over.”

 

Jim took it with a quiet thanks and did as McCoy said.

 

“And as for your ribs…” McCoy trailed off to frown at Jim’s chest, particularly at the bruising that was starting to form on Jim’s right side. “I have an osteogenic stimulator, but I don’t think we should use that without anesthetic.” He met Jim’s gaze and raised a brow. “Would wrapping them be all right? It's a bit old fashioned, but... It's better than nothing.”

 

Jim nodded. “That’s what I was gonna do anyway.”

 

Of course he was. McCoy rubbed at his eyes before reaching back into his kit and gathering up what he could use to help Jim’s ribs. He didn’t think Jim was in much of a state to wrap his own chest, so McCoy motioned for the kid to raise his arms.

 

Jim did so after a moment’s hesitation, and McCoy made sure to finish wrapping his chest as quickly and efficiently as he could. He hadn’t gotten this close to anyone in a long time, and though he was just doing his job, he was still touching the bare chest of someone he had to see on a daily basis.

 

It made him feel… weird, so he forced himself to stop thinking about anything as his fingers brushed and pressed against the warm skin of Jim’s torso. Jim didn’t talk as his ribs were wrapped, and McCoy had to figure that it was just because he was too tired to quip at the moment. Either way, he was glad he wasn’t trying to chat when they were as physically close as they were.

 

As soon as the bandages were tight and secure over Jim’s ribs, McCoy wasted no time in sitting back and resuming the same level of distance that they had been in before.

 

He quietly wished his own aversions to closeness weren't as severe as they were. They always made an already tense and uncomfortable situation worse.

 

McCoy got to his feet and grumbled at how much his knees ached. God, he wasn’t even thirty yet. Why did his joints feel so ancient? He waved at Jim in a shooing motion. “Scoot over. I’m gonna get that cut on the back of your head.”

 

As Jim slowly turned so he was instead facing the armrest, he lightly touched his fingers to the back of his own head, right where blood had clumped in his hair.

 

McCoy sat himself at the kid’s back and got out a swab to clean the blood and dead skin out of his hair. As he got it prepped, he ran his eyes over the skin of Jim’s back.

 

It was covered in scars.

 

They were all in varying shapes and sizes, and the amount of them shocked McCoy. He wondered, briefly, if some of them looked as bad as they did because Jim hadn’t been able to reach back there to stitch them up. There were a few of them that were jarringly deep.

 

He placed one hand on the back of Jim’s neck to steady himself and noted how Jim tensed up immediately, and how just as quickly the kid held himself still. It was… concerning body language. McCoy didn’t let it deter him too much since he had work to do, and he began to gently wipe the swab around the cut.

 

Jim was being extremely quiet. In a way McCoy kind of appreciated it, since Jim was usually so obnoxiously boisterous, but… If pain was what it took to get Jim to shut up, then McCoy didn’t like it at all.

 

Once he pulled out the dermal regenerator and got to work on Jim’s head, McCoy’s gaze kept getting drawn to Jim’s back.

 

They were such awful looking scars.

 

Most people never got scars, since injuries could usually get healed well enough and quickly enough that no scar could form. And when they still did, then there were plenty of ways to get rid of them.

 

But for whatever reason, Jim had scars that appeared to be years old, and hinted at injuries that McCoy didn’t even want to try imagining.

 

He stared at Jim’s bowed head, at his tense shoulders, and the history that was written all over his back.

 

He used to think Jim was so two-dimensional.

 

But someone as carefree as Jim acted would never have such horrid marks littering their body. Marks like these suggested countless adverse life experiences, and not for the first time, McCoy wondered where Jim had been before Starfleet.

 

What had his life been like? What had he gone through growing up? What experiences could have possibly left him so marked?

 

McCoy blinked at the still form of the person sitting in front of him, and consciously loosened the grip he had on the back of Jim’s neck. “Jim,” he whispered, “what happened to you? How did you get these scars?”

 

Jim didn’t move and he stayed quiet, and nothing happened for so many seconds that McCoy started to wonder if Jim had heard him at all.

 

When Jim finally spoke up, his voice was so subdued it was barely audible. “Let’s just say... I got into trouble a lot as kid, was bad, and there were… There were certain adults who would make sure I knew.”

 

Adults had done this? Jim—

 

Jim was a child abuse victim?

 

A cold, hard stone slid through McCoy’s chest, and he turned the dermal regenerator off since it had finished doing its job. McCoy swallowed roughly.

 

Jim had been abused as a kid.

 

That thought was more distressing than McCoy could explain. To think that Jim Kirk, the center of attention and notorious playboy and Goddamn Kelvin Baby, had been abused as a child. And if his scars were any indication, then horribly so.

 

McCoy didn’t know what to say, what to do. He didn’t want to accept that such a thing could have happened to Jim, the one person in the whole fucking school that McCoy was starting to feel somewhat comfortable around.

 

To the point that he would even dare to call Jim a friend.

 

He didn’t want— Would never wish such an awful thing on anyone, but for it to have happened to Jim bothered him more than he could say.

 

“Jim,” he whispered, but any other words he may have uttered withered in his throat when Jim turned to him from over his shoulder.

 

“Do you have a phone I could borrow?” Jim asked, his voice light and easy. “Mine got fucked up in the bar fight.”

 

Oh. Okay.

 

So, they were very clearly not going to talk on the subject any farther. All right.

 

If that was what Jim wanted.

 

“Yeah,” McCoy replied, and pulled it out of his pocket. He handed it over after unlocking it. “Just don’t fuck mine up, all right?”

 

Jim gave him a smile, and settled back into the couch.

 

While Jim set to doing whatever he needed McCoy’s phone for, McCoy gathered his things and began the process of putting it all away. As he did, he noted how the soft patter of rain was starting to fall outside.

 

He took it all back into his room to give Jim the sense of privacy, once it became apparent the kid was making a phone call. He wondered who Jim was calling. His roommate, maybe?

 

McCoy tried not to listen in and was busying himself with grabbing a shirt out of his dresser, but his ears honed in on Jim’s voice the moment he heard Jim say, “Hey, mom.”

 

His mom? McCoy paused and watched Jim through the doorway, but tried not to be obvious about it. He was just curious what the mom of someone so heavily abused could possibly be like.

 

“I hope you’re doing good,” Jim was saying. “If you’re still serving aboard the Alliance, then I hope there haven’t been too many crazy things happening. I’m sure starship life can get stressful.” Jim was picking at the hem of McCoy’s couch cushion, quiet and distracted like a nervous child. “So, uh, some pretty big changes have happened this year. I’m not in Kentucky anymore, and I, um, am actually… attending Starfleet Academy now.”

 

There was a brief pause, and McCoy wondered what Jim’s mom might have been saying.

 

“It’ll be interesting, I think,” Jim added, his voice much quieter. “I guess we’ll just have to see how it turns out. Okay, well… I love you, mom. I’ll call you same time next year.”

 

Next year? Did… they only talk once a year?

 

Jim hung up the phone and sat back, and McCoy continued to watch him from where he was leaning against his room’s doorway.

 

“She never answers,” Jim told the other side of the room, his face completely passive as far as McCoy could see. “But it’s sort of tradition, now.”

 

McCoy frowned, and studied how reserved Jim was. “But… she picks up?”

 

Jim shook his head. “She never answers any calls on this day, but… that’s when I call her to let her know where I am. How I am.”

 

McCoy wrung the shirt in his hands, just enough to give his fingers something to do. “Why wouldn’t she answer calls today?”

 

Jim finally looked over at him, and McCoy was struck by how Jim’s eye was lit with apparent amusement. “Today is my birthday.”

 

“Oh— shit, happy birthday!” The words were out of McCoy’s mouth before he could process what Jim’s birthday actually meant.

 

The anniversary of his dad’s death.

 

“Oh,” McCoy whispered again. “Shit.”

 

Jim was still just staring at him, though he seemed infinitely more amused than before. He was even smiling a little. “You know, I can’t remember the last time someone told me happy birthday.” Jim huffed out the ghost of a laugh and he looked at his lap, where his fingers were twiddling. “I appreciate it.”

 

God. Who wasn't used to being told happy birthday? It made McCoy feel sick, and sad, and—

 

McCoy had learned way more about Jim in this one night than he had the entire semester before.

 

And everything he learned just made him inexplicably sad. Not pitying, just… So sad for Jim.

 

Exactly how many bad cards had the kid been dealt in his life?

 

For fuck’s sake, it seemed his only birthday present had been a severe beating. And after seeing his scars, McCoy wondered exactly how many times he’d gotten the same thing for his birthday.

 

It all put a bad taste in his mouth. Jim was a good kid. He didn’t deserve any of this.

 

McCoy frowned down at the shirt in his hands and walked back towards the couch. He held it out to Jim once he was close enough. “Here. I don’t need you freezing to death in my dorm.”

 

Jim eyed the shirt dubiously, before glancing at McCoy. “Uh… are you— Are you sure? I can’t just take your shirt.”

 

Since when was Jim so humble? Little shit always knew just when and how to inconvenience McCoy. He sighed low, and dropped it in Jim’s lap anyway. “Then just think of it as a birthday present.” He tilted his head, and remembered that Jim had said his other shirt had been his only one. “You can keep it. I have plenty for myself.”

 

Jim squeezed McCoy’s shirt in his now healed hands and raised his brows questioningly. “Are you really sure?”

 

He nodded. “Don’t worry about it, kid.” Jim opened his mouth to reply, and McCoy quickly held up a hand. “No more fussing. Just accept the gift I have bestowed upon you out of the goodness of my heart.”

 

McCoy turned to head to the kitchen, as a need to keep doing something remained in his chest and he remembered some dishes in his sink that needed cleaning.

 

From the couch, Jim called, “Am I gonna have to pay you back for this later?” He paused, before adding in a softer tone, “I mean, any of this? Not… Not just the shirt.”

 

McCoy frowned hard at his dishes as he grabbed some soap. Was Jim used to having to repay people for favors others did for him? Did other people often expect compensation from him? McCoy glanced at Jim as he got some warm water running. “Jim, if I did things for others expecting something out of it in return, I would’ve never become a doctor. You don’t owe me anything.”

 

Jim watched him quietly from his spot on the couch, his expression for once not seeming agitated, just a little… curious. Without another word, Jim put the shirt on. The kid wasn’t that much smaller than McCoy, but his shoulders were significantly more narrow. For that reason, the shirt hung off of him in a way that made him seem so much younger.

 

McCoy had to remind himself that Jim was young. Sometimes… it was easy for him to forget that. Jim carried himself like someone who had seen many more years than those around him, who had experienced more than those around him.

 

After seeing the scars on Jim’s body, McCoy wondered exactly how true that was. Those with adverse childhood experiences generally had to grow up much quicker than their peers.

 

With the kind of family history he had, and the evidence of an absolutely abysmal adolescence, McCoy got the feeling that Jim had never been given the opportunity to act his age.

 

Perhaps… that was why he acted as childish as he often did, now that he was at Starfleet. In a safe environment, with people his own age, with guaranteed food and a roof over his head, there were significantly less threats to his personhood. Less reason or need to protect himself.

 

McCoy exhaled slowly as he scrubbed at a plate. He hoped Jim felt safe at Starfleet.

 

Everybody deserved to feel safe.

 

“You can stay the night here,” McCoy said. “I don’t have an extra bed, but that couch shouldn’t be too bad. I have plenty of blankets and pillows.”

 

Jim made an unusual sound in the back of his throat. “Bones, are you sure about that? You’re, like… You’re being awfully nice right now.” A nervous laugh bubbled out of Jim, and McCoy glanced at him. “You’re actually making me kind of worried here. What’s the catch?”

 

“No catch,” McCoy assured. “It’s just…” McCoy turned his gaze back to the dishes. “It’s raining, you live on the other side of campus, it’s well past midnight, and there are a bunch of other reasons why I don’t like the thought of you heading back on your own.” He shook water droplets out of a bowl and placed it in the drying rack. “And you’re hurt, so that’s even more reason why you should take it easy.” He sighed. “But if those aren’t good enough reasons for you, then if you’d like, this is a ‘thank you’ for making sure we got a good grade last semester.”

 

Jim didn’t give a reply, so McCoy glanced over at him.

 

The kid had drawn his legs onto the couch and had his arms wrapped around them. And… it was probably a trick of the dim light, but his eye appeared to shine as though it were damp.

 

“All right,” Jim said. “If you insist, Bones.”

 


 

McCoy busied himself in the kitchen well after Jim had agreed to stay, feeling restless and needing to take his nervous energy out on something. Cleaning ended up being the best outlet.

 

He’d look over at Jim every now and then, at where he was curled up on the couch under half of McCoy’s blankets. The dorm was more or less dark, the living area lights off and the kitchen lit just enough for McCoy to see.

 

He rubbed at his eyes and yawned, before glancing at his clock. Almost three in the morning.

 

He was glad it was break, and that his shift the next day wouldn’t be until late. He was going to be exhausted.

 

Everything about the past few hours was so weird. Hell, he had someone sleeping in his dorm. He had been promising himself for months that nothing of the kind would ever happen. He understood that the circumstances were different and that Jim staying over was the best option, but still. There was someone else in his living space, and McCoy wasn’t entirely sure how to react.

 

After everything, his kitchen was more or less spotless now, the culmination of every moment and discovery sending him into an agitated cleaning frenzy.

 

It was like… after learning what he had of Jim, he was overcome with such a resounding feeling of helplessness and inability to assist that he put his attention on improving what he could. And that meant fixing up his kitchen.

 

He would have migrated his panic-cleaning to the living area as well, if not for the fact that Jim was sleeping in there. There was a good chance the kid was so worn out he wouldn’t have woken up if McCoy started banging around near him, but he didn’t want to risk bothering the kid.

 

Jim deserved to rest while he could.

 

McCoy put the cleaning supplies away and turned off the lights to the kitchen, but a strip of light from the lamppost outside the window streamed in and lit the area enough for McCoy to see.

 

The rain outside was falling softly, the pattering of rain soothing and gentle, and McCoy watched the shadows from water droplets on the window crawl across the carpet.

 

What a weird night it had been. And so fucking long.

 

Jim’s life… was so much worse than he would have ever imagined. He hadn’t learned anything outright, but what information he had received was plenty. Nobody deserved to have gone through the things Jim had.

 

Fuck, the kid's own mom didn't talk to him. Not even on his birthday. And Jim had said that he always called her on his birthday—only on his birthday—and that she never picked up. How many years had that situation been going on? How long ago had Jim been abandoned by his own mother?

 

McCoy padded towards his room as quietly as possible, and eyed Jim’s sleeping, curled form as he went.

 

After learning everything he had, it put everything he knew about Jim’s character in an entirely new perspective.

 

Jim was not at all the person McCoy had thought he was.

 

Because despite everything he had apparently gone through, Jim was a good classmate and a good person.

 

And in fact… the more he thought about it, the more McCoy realized that Jim was a really good person. He had never seen him behave maliciously towards anyone. Sure, sometimes the kid might act a little petty, but it was always harmless enough. Jim would treat people with respect when he felt like they deserved it, and usually he treated everyone as though they did until proven otherwise. He was conscious of others. Aware of those around him.

 

He was smart, and he was patient, and he didn’t seek to make others uncomfortable. He worked well with others. He was easy to talk to, easy to laugh with, made people feel important and listened to.

 

McCoy had seen how their classmates looked at Jim, and the majority of them adored him. And, usually, rightfully so. Jim had charm, and it wasn’t the manipulative kind. He was just… an easy person to be around, most of the time.

 

It had just taken McCoy a long time to figure that out for himself.

 

But, finally, he was beginning to understand Jim’s popularity. In addition to that, he was beginning to understand that Jim’s likeability was an active effort on the kid’s part. To be accommodating and social was never easy, especially so for those who had experienced as much trauma as Jim apparently had.

 

The extent to which Jim was able to hide his past experiences was… impressive, and McCoy wondered how he’d never noticed any hints before. Was Jim’s front really that good? Or, did most people just assume that there was no way anyone like Jim could have anything to hide?

 

After all, that was exactly what McCoy used to think. It was safe to assume that everyone else was thinking the same.

 

But, now that McCoy knew otherwise… he was going to keep a closer eye on Jim.

 

No one else knew about Jim’s background. Nobody else knew what he had gone through, what he was likely still going through. The marks all over Jim’s body were lifelong scars, and McCoy knew that scars were never only physical.

 

The enigma that was Jim Kirk was growing more complicated everyday, and as much as McCoy disliked getting involved with others, he couldn’t deny that a newfound interest in Jim had developed.

 

The kid was a walking bad luck charm, but seemingly only for himself. Someone as smart and subtly gracious as Jim didn’t deserve half the stuff he went through, and he certainly didn’t deserve to go through it alone.

 

Maybe… Maybe he wouldn’t have to.

 

McCoy studied the lump of blankets on his couch, and noted how Jim was covering his face with his hands in his sleep. The sight made McCoy's heart jolt painfully and unexpectedly.

 

Jim was hiding himself in every way. He had likely grown up believing that he had to. Living like that wouldn’t be healthy for anyone, and McCoy hated the thought that someone as young as Jim had already been conditioned to believe the opposite were true.

 

Being the doctor that he was, McCoy didn’t think that he could just keep ignoring Jim and who he was, who he had been, who he might be.

 

Not anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER TWO

ACT I

Part 2 of 2

 

It was the first day of the new semester.

 

McCoy studied his own appearance in his mirror, ran his eyes over the red uniform he was going to be wearing for a whole ‘nother set of months. The Starfleet insignia glistened on his neck and he couldn’t take his eyes off of it.

 

At the beginning of the last semester, when he’d first arrived… He hadn’t been entirely sure he’d be able to stick with it all.

 

But he was still here.

 

Still attending Starfleet Academy. Still working towards becoming a Starfleet officer.

 

The very idea wasn't any easier to comprehend than it was when he had first arrived.

 

McCoy sighed at his reflection and nodded slowly in resignation. “You’re still making this bed,” he whispered. “You’re still having to lie in it.”

 


 

 

God, it was so fucking cold.

 

The cadet uniforms were designed to be worn in any type of weather, but that didn’t mean it could block out the cold entirely. Not enough to McCoy’s liking, at least.

 

He wrapped his arms tighter about himself, the thick fabric of his coat nearly working as a blanket. He grumbled uncomfortably and drew himself tighter in his seat. He’d probably be plenty warm in about twenty minutes, but he’d rather be warm immediately.

 

He just hoped the teacher would show up soon, so that they could start their lecture and give McCoy something other than the cold to focus on.

 

Advanced Topics in Anthropology.

 

The lectures for this class were sure to be plenty distracting.

 

The door to the classroom slammed open and revealed a flushed and panting Jim, wind ruffled and looking like he had just run a marathon.

 

Ah. Now there was a grade A distraction.

 

He remembered how much Jim had talked to him the semester before. There were times when McCoy couldn’t believe he’d even been able to pay attention, what with how Jim had always talked his ear off.

 

McCoy wasn’t sure if he wanted to be relieved or annoyed that he was going to be sharing yet another class with the kid. And the first class of the week, no less. But, regardless of what the kid’s presence meant for his grades in the coming semester, McCoy was relieved now.

 

Because he’d been thinking a lot about the kid, and how his injuries from a week prior were faring. Jim seemed better than before, only some light bruising on his face. He wondered if Jim had been keeping his stitches well bandaged and clean. He’d ask him about it after class.

 

Jim’s eyes scanned the rows of cadets and he practically lit up like a firework once he spotted McCoy. “Bones!”

 

McCoy waved halfheartedly, and wondered how Jim always managed to be so loud.

 

Jim took the steps up to McCoy’s row two at a time and threw his stuff on the desk in front of the quietly amused doctor.

 

“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” Jim crowed, way too enthusiastic so early in the morning.

 

McCoy cocked a brow up at him. “And you’re an eyesore.”

 

Jim barked a laugh, his eyes squinted closed in mirth. “Ah, Bones, always such a kidder.” He came around the desk, and McCoy tried not to be surprised that the kid took the seat right next to him.

 

As Jim was getting situated, McCoy couldn’t help but notice how so many of the other students in the class were staring at Jim with blatant longing. So he was still as popular as ever, huh?

 

And still he was choosing to hang around McCoy.

 

“Sorry I’m breathing all over everything,” Jim huffed, still smiling and panting. “I have a class right before this one that just barely lets out in time.”

 

McCoy analyzed Jim’s open smile and relaxed posture, and flashes of Jim’s birthday shot through McCoy’s head. The ice in his eyes, the blood on his face, the scars on his back, and the whispers of his past in his voice.

 

Jim’s finely tuned front of an easy going idiot was definitely set and ready to go for the new semester.

 

A frown tugged at McCoy’s lips as the instructor arrived, and pulled everyone’s attention to the front of the class. McCoy only paid half attention to the introductory statements for the course, and kept glancing at Jim out of the corner of his eye.

 

Maybe… having another class with Jim would be a good thing. This was definitely going to allow him the time to get to know the kid better.

 

And maybe allow him the time to figure out how to keep the kid out of trouble, which Jim seemed to be a magnet for.

 

Jim suddenly shoved a hard elbow into his ribs and McCoy grunted in surprise, as Jim leaned in and whispered, “What you wanna bet we ace this class, too?”

 

McCoy raised his brow at him.

 

Of course they would.

 


 

It was only the first day of class, and McCoy was already beyond exhausted. He was just glad his Mondays weren’t too bad.

 

Only two classes, one right after the other, and then he was free for the rest of the evening. Monday was the only day in the week that he didn’t have a hospital shift.

 

McCoy lounged back in one of the comfier chairs hidden in the back corner of the common building and closed his eyes. He didn’t feel like walking back to his dorm yet.

 

Mondays and Wednesdays he had Advanced Topics in Anthropology with Jim, and then Exobiology. The only class he had on Tuesdays and Thursdays was Anatomy, and he highly doubted he was gonna have Jim in there.

 

Which meant he was only going to be seeing the kid twice a week.

 

That was fine. Too much of Jim gave him a headache, anyway.

 

Or, at least… it used to. He hadn’t had a bad headache in a while, though. Over a month?

 

Someone kicked his leg and his eyes flew open, immediately landing on a pleased looking Jim. Ah, wait. There’s the headache.

 

McCoy rubbed at his temple and sighed. “Jim.”

 

“Bones,” Jim returned, and set his bag on the floor next to McCoy’s. “What’re you doing napping out here? Don’t you know you have a really nice dorm waiting for you?”

 

Jim plopped down next to McCoy, and the doctor waited for the plush cushions to stop bouncing from the abruptly added weight before he spoke. “Didn’t feel like braving the cold,” he admitted.

 

“I understand.” Jim leaned his head back in relaxation and scanned his eyes across the ceiling. “How’s your first day back been? What classes did you have aside from Anthro?”

 

McCoy exhaled slowly before leaning back and staring at the ceiling like Jim. “Just Exobiology. I’m focusing more on my shifts at the hospital this semester.”

 

Jim made a sound of acknowledgment, but didn’t comment further.

 

They sat in silence for a few moments, to McCoy’s slight surprise. Jim was appearing particularly exuberant now that classes were back in session. That probably meant he was an extrovert. Got recharged from interacting with other people.

 

Which, now that he thought about it...

 

McCoy frowned slightly and peered at Jim out of the corner of his eye. He hadn’t known too many traumatized individuals to be particularly outgoing, especially not to the extent that Jim was.

 

There was plenty reason for him to think that Jim had underlying trauma that he was dealing with, no matter how old it might have been. He’d only caught glimpses of Jim’s mind and body, but it was enough. Jim had definitely experienced things that would leave trauma.

 

McCoy just didn’t know what it was.

 

But he also wasn’t going to ask. As healing as talk therapy could be, that wasn’t always the case for everyone. And it was becoming apparent that Jim was one of the most heavily guarded people McCoy had ever seen, so it would be logical to assume that talking was not something he was going to do. Not comfortably, at least, and there would be no point in making him do something that would just stress him out more.

 

No… McCoy couldn’t ask. Not yet. Maybe if they got more comfortable with each other, but he knew better than to get his hopes up. Jim had made it clear how he felt about doctors.

 

And what was McCoy, again? Oh, right. A fully licensed doctor.

 

“So I have this one class I’m taking,” Jim started, and turned his head to face McCoy as he spoke. “And I’m pretty damn excited about it. I mean, I’m excited about it because it’s Matrix Translation Programming—and that’s pretty exciting on its own. But you wanna guess who’s in it?”

 

Jim paused to grin cheekily, so McCoy nodded to prompt him to continue.

 

Jim smirked and said, “Virgil. It’s gonna be so fucking funny, because I don’t think he knows how good I am at working with technology. He think he’s the shit and all, like oh, I hacked into Jim Kirk’s records. Big whoop. Like he’s the first to have done that. It’s gonna be so fun to just—”

 

Jim was cut off by a shout reaching them from across the commons, and both of them whipped their heads to the source of the yelling.

 

McCoy’s heart rate picked up just slightly, but it became obvious pretty quickly that the noise was just some cadets fooling around and chasing each other. No one was in danger.

 

McCoy let himself relax back into the cushions and glanced at Jim, waiting for him to continue.

 

But Jim was still eyeing the other cadets, and McCoy wasn’t sure how, but... His eyes seemed to have become a much brighter blue, as though he were ten times more alert than he had been moments before.

 

Well, fuck. He probably was.

 

Jim had been abused. Of course he’d been conditioned to react to anything that could be even slightly threatening. Jim’s hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists atop his thighs, and though his position hadn’t changed any, McCoy could see that he was wound up, tight and tense.

 

But all the changes in Jim were so subtle, there was no way McCoy would have noticed if he weren’t looking for them. He frowned hard. Had Jim always reacted this way to people yelling? He tried to remember if he’d ever thought to pay attention to Jim’s body language, and he realized there were the smallest of instances that hinted at reactions that were second nature for Jim.

 

Pausing when people yelled, hesitating as though he were holding back a flinch when people moved too quickly, quietly and intently watching anyone who acted even slightly agitated.

 

How could McCoy have not seen the signs before?

 

Jim turned his gaze back on McCoy once the other cadets had quieted enough that they were no longer a disruption, and McCoy realized that Jim’s eyes had warmed to a relaxed blue once more. Just like that, his front was back up. “It’ll be fun to put him in his place, you know what I’m saying?” Jim huffed, finishing his comments about his class with Virgil.

 

McCoy wasn’t sure if he was more impressed or concerned. Snapping out of a trauma reaction that quickly was not normal.

 

“I’m sure it’ll be a hoot,” McCoy muttered, though he wasn’t entirely engaged in the conversation. “Especially for you, since you’re such a show pony.”

 

Jim smirked and raised his brows a few times suggestively. “You don’t know the half of it, Bones. But if you’d like, I can show you some time.”

 

McCoy scoffed in disgust and gently shoved Jim away, though the kid willingly let himself be pushed almost completely off of the couch and laughed the whole way down.

 

“Keep it in your pants, kid, I’m way too good for you,” McCoy grumbled. Jim continued to laugh in his own amusement, and McCoy had the fleeting thought that laughing suited him.

 


 

They were walking back to their dorms, because if they were to wait any longer, it was going to get so cold that heading back at all would be miserable. And they couldn’t exactly stay in the common buildings the whole time. They had showers to take, beds to sleep in.

 

They didn’t talk as they walked, which left McCoy pleasantly surprised. He enjoyed silence, and he was still getting used to the idea that things could be quiet around Jim.

 

He glanced at the kid, whose eyes were glued to the stars above them. McCoy looked up to do the same, but didn’t get much out of it. He personally didn’t see the appeal. They had their own planet that was plenty fine. He didn’t understand why everyone wanted to leave and endanger themselves on big floating rocks that weren’t even their own.

 

He turned his eyes back to Jim, and analyzed his face in the light from the street lamps.

 

For the first time, McCoy realized that there were pock marks all over the kid’s face. Especially around his mouth and jaw. They looked… sort of like acne scars, but that didn’t make any sense. There had been major dermatological advancements in recent decades, so he didn’t see how Jim could have gotten anything bad enough to leave scars.

 

“What treatment do you use for your skin?” McCoy asked, wondering if Jim was doing anything to fix the pock marks he had.

 

Jim was still watching the stars when he answered. “Treatment? I don’t use anything.”

 

McCoy frowned. Jim wasn’t unhygienic, so he didn’t see the kid as being someone that wouldn’t take care of his skin. “So you don’t get acne?”

 

Jim smiled slightly, and he looked from the stars to the path ahead of them. “Nope. I was blessed with baby smooth skin, not a blemish has ever formed.”

 

Not a blemish has ever formed?

 

McCoy frowned harder as he studied the pock marks. If Jim had never had acne… then where the hell did he get those scars?

 

The images of Jim’s ruined back floated into McCoy’s head for what felt like the millionth time since that night, and a hard rock slid into his gut. Would it be possible that whoever had done that shit to Jim’s back had also done things to Jim’s face?

 

He was desperate to reject the very idea, so McCoy had to confirm for himself. “Then… what about those acne scars?”

 

Jim stopped walking and it was only then he realized they had reached the kid’s dorm building. Fuck, he hadn’t been paying attention at all.

 

Jim turned to him, and McCoy’s heart jolted when he recognized the cold, cold sheen of Jim’s blue eyes. He was beginning to realize that Jim’s eyes only looked like that when they were toeing the line with Jim’s past. Jim’s awful, horrible, absolutely shitty past.

 

Jim smiled at him, the same smile that always gave McCoy chills. “Those aren’t acne scars, Bones.” Without another word, Jim turned around and headed into his building.

 

It was such an abrupt departure that for a few long seconds, McCoy worried that he had pressed too far this time. It would make sense if Jim didn’t want to talk about whatever demons were haunting his past. It made sense for him to leave a situation that was making him uncomfortable.

 

McCoy chewed on his lip as his chest became just a little tighter, terrified that if he asked too many questions, he would scare Jim away. And that wasn’t what he wanted. He just— wanted to look out for the kid. Everyone deserved to have someone on their side, after all.

 

McCoy’s PADD vibrated and he pulled it out to reveal a message from Jim.

 

Have a safe walk back to your dorm. See you wednesday.

 

Okay. Okay. So he wasn’t that upset. Good.

 

McCoy sighed in relief and frowned at himself. It wasn’t going to be easy to figure out a balancing act between giving Jim space and getting closer to him to help him.

 

He rubbed at his eyes tiredly. What the hell had he gotten himself into? Why was it so impossible for him to ignore others in need? And it’s not like Jim even asked for any help, or gave any hint at all that he wanted to work through his shit.

 

As much of a fan as McCoy was of suffering in silence, he didn’t think he could ignore Jim. Because, it seemed to him… that Jim had been suffering in silence long enough. And suffering alone.

 

The thought made him feel ill at ease, though there was no way he could explain why. He just… His very nature was screaming at him that if he had the means to help, then he had to try. What good was he if he couldn’t help others?

 

What good was he if he wasn’t going to be able to help Jim? The least he could do was keep an eye on him. And afar, if need be.

 

He just felt like it was only fair if Jim had someone in his court.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER TWO

ACT II

Part 1 of 3

 

Two weeks of the semester had already passed, which meant they were already about three weeks into January.

 

Which meant it was the 20th.

 

Which meant it was Leonard’s 29th birthday.

 

McCoy was staring at his ceiling, and tried to remember when he had last blinked. He’d been laying on the couch for what felt like hours. Maybe it had been hours. Could he conceivably just lay there— unmoving— all day in his living room? Could he manage that?

 

It was Sunday, after all, so it wasn’t like he was going to be needed anywhere.

 

He sure as hell didn’t want to be going anywhere. He didn’t want to do anything.

 

Fuck… this was the very first birthday of his that he was going to be spending alone. No friends to take him out, no siblings to tease him for getting older, no—

 

...No family at all.

 

No parents. No wife. No daughter.

 

McCoy didn’t know what to do with himself. Did he even want to bother to do anything? He didn’t really want to eat anything special, or do anything special, or— Well, fuck, maybe he could drink something special.

 

Was that a viable option? Just drink himself into enough of a stupor that he could forget what day it was, or that he was completely and utterly alone?

 

That sounded more appealing than he really wanted to admit.

 

He was going to have class the next day. Did he really want to go through it with a hangover? Did he really want to deal with Jim when he had a hangover?

 

McCoy watched the shadows of birds outside fly across his ceiling and figured, fuck it. Might as well get drunk off his ass.

 

Today would be as good a day as any.

 

As set as he was on that decision, though, he still couldn’t quite find it in himself to get up yet. Just laying the day away was too easy.

 

McCoy closed his eyes and sighed. Maybe he could just sleep through the day. Then he wouldn’t have to think at all. It would be like a one day coma. Convenient as all hell.

 

His PADD vibrated and he startled, having grown used to the silence that had settled throughout his dorm over the past few hours. With his heart pounding embarrassingly hard in his chest, McCoy flung a lazy arm towards the coffee table next to his couch. He let his hand flop around its surface until his fingers brushed his PADD, and he pulled it towards his chest to read whatever message he got.

 

Maybe it was a birthday message? He hadn’t gotten one of those in a while.

 

He tried not to be surprised when he saw it was from Jim.

 

What are you doing today?

 

McCoy stared at the message for a long while. How was he going to give Jim a reply when he hadn’t figured out the answer to that question for himself yet? He exhaled slowly and sent back, Dunno.

 

Jim replied immediately.

 

So you’re free?

 

That… sounded like Jim was checking his schedule because he wanted to hang. McCoy did not feel up to interacting with others. Especially Jim.

 

He was in the middle of typing out not exactly when a knock sounded at his door.

 

You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.

 

McCoy scowled at his door from his spot on the couch, and wondered if he’d be let off the hook if he didn’t answer. A few seconds of silence passed, and he became hopeful that maybe, this time, he’d be allowed to just wallow in his own misery.

 

But then more knocking came, and after a much shorter pause, it morphed into relentless pounding.

 

McCoy groaned loudly and tried to smother himself under one of his couch pillows, but when it became apparent that ignoring his door wasn’t making the pounding lessen any, he threw the cushion across the room. “Alright, alright! I’m getting up, just stop!”

 

He stomped to the door and threw it open, and frowned heartily at Jim on the other side. “The hell do you want?”

 

Jim gave him a huge grin before bulldozing his way into the room. “Grab your coat and shoes!” he commanded (actually commanded, the little shit) as he draped himself across McCoy’s couch, right where McCoy had been laying just seconds before. “And there might be a chance of rain, so be sure to grab a hoodie or umbrella.”

 

McCoy took a long moment to rub at his suddenly pounding temple. “Jim.”

 

“C’mon, we don’t have all day!” Jim sat up and clapped his hands together, like McCoy was some kind of dog that had to be spurred into action. “Time’s wasting!”

 

“Then let it waste,” McCoy grumbled, as he continued to glower at Jim.

 

Jim held eye contact with McCoy for a few seconds, a sense of anticipation never leaving him, before he sighed dejectedly. “Come on, Bones.” He lifted himself to his feet and started gathering McCoy’s things for him. “If we don’t leave soon, then we’re gonna miss out on time that could be spent at the museum.”

 

Huh?

 

Jim started shoving McCoy’s coat and shoes into his arms, and McCoy was so confused by Jim’s statement that he took what he was handed without thinking. “And why the hell would we go to a museum?”

 

“Advanced topics in anthropology.”

 

God— Why was talking with Jim always so Goddamn exhausting? McCoy felt like he was trying to decode some message in another language. “Would you just give me a straight answer?”

 

“It’s for our Advanced Topics in Anthropology class,” Jim said, shrugging. “It’s on our syllabus to visit some of the museums in the city, but there was no specific date given so I figured, why not today? And then I figured, why go alone when I share that class with a certain surly doctor? So!” He slapped a hand to McCoy’s shoulder, knocking one of the shoes out of the doctor’s arms. “Let’s go check out a museum!”

 

McCoy stared at him, and he could feel the vein on his temple pulsing. “And exactly what makes you think I’d even want to go today?”

 

Jim rolled his eyes like McCoy was the one being unreasonable and difficult. (Which, he was not.) “Bones, please. Why the fuck wouldn’t you? I mean, you seriously think I haven’t noticed how much time you spend in the library? You think I haven’t noticed what you’ve been reading?” He knocked a hand against McCoy’s shoulder again, but gentler this time. He smirked. “You, sir, are a top tier nerd. Museums are right up your alley. And besides, this is for class! Why not get a head start?”

 

God. He wasn’t exactly wrong. McCoy continued to frown for good measure. “And how do you know I don’t have better things to do than babysit you?”

 

“Well,” Jim raised his brows mockingly. “Do you?”

 

Fuck.

 

No. He really, really didn’t.

 

And, hell, if he didn’t go with Jim then there was a good chance he was just going to drink himself into an incapacitated stupor. Which would probably not be the best thing for him so early on in the semester. And… the kid was right. It was always better to get a head start on their class assignments.

 

McCoy dragged a hand down his face, as an ancient and lingering weariness settled around his shoulders. Well… at least he’d be going outside. “Fine,” he barked. “Fine, fine. I’ll go.” He sat himself down to get his shoes on while Jim did a little fist pump.

 

“Hell yeah!” The kid grinned and threw McCoy’s coat on top of the doctor’s head, apparently his version of helping McCoy get ready. “This is gonna be fun, I promise. And I won’t even fight anybody.”

 

McCoy raised a brow as he shimmied into his coat. “The hell do you mean? Do you just get into a fight every time you step off campus?”

 

Jim rolled his eyes skyward like he was thinking hard. “Well, I’ve gone off campus four times this year, and three out of four of those ended up in some kind of altercation. So, yeah, there’s a 75% chance for a fight to happen every time I go into the city.”

 

McCoy blinked at him. “Is it too late for me to back out?”

 

“Yup!” Jim grabbed McCoy by the shoulders and started shoving him to the door. “Definitely too late! Now let’s go!”




McCoy couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone to a museum. Maybe when Joanna was a baby? Maybe it had been longer than that?

 

Either way, McCoy had forgotten how much he enjoyed going to museums.

 

He and Jim had visited the Legion of Honor first, and had now found themselves at the De Young. He wasn’t sure when, but they got separated at some point in the past few minutes. McCoy wasn’t as concerned as he felt he probably should have been.

 

He eyed the painting in front of him, one of the few Picasso's left after the third World War, and sighed deeply.

 

It was too easy to forget how much art, how much history had been lost in the wars before the Vulcans.

 

All of those nuclear bombs… So much art had never stood a chance. So many humans had never stood a chance.

 

McCoy rubbed a hand down his face and walked towards the next room. An exhibition of restored European paintings. They were all kept behind tightly secured viewing panels, as their age and susceptibility only made them more fragile with every passing year. All art was displayed much the same way throughout every museum.

 

He allowed himself a few minutes to take in the sheer depth of importance the objects surrounding him held. They were glimpses of humanity throughout the centuries, pure and simple. And they were still there.

 

Proof that the people who had made these things had existed, and felt, and lived.

 

McCoy sighed again. He was always too prone to getting way too sentimental. Just call him an old romantic for humanity.

 

He never even knew any of these people personally. They were all dead.

 

Well... It was probably about time to locate Jim. McCoy shoved his hands into his pockets and took his time pacing through the next few rooms, keeping an eye out for Jim as he went.

 

When he eventually found the kid, he was in a room holding a temporary exhibit displaying art made during the Post-War Horror. McCoy hesitated as soon as he stepped past the threshold, the dimmer light in the room forcing upon it an immediate sense of solemnity that the other exhibits didn’t have.

 

It was probably because none of the other exhibits were quite as tangible in their realness. None were quite as close to their current place in history.

 

The Post-War Horror was the most recent—and hopefully final—ugly patch in humanity’s timeline.

 

McCoy eyed the large paintings of graffitied figures, screaming and burning and clawing at red skies. The realistic landscapes of wastelands and rubble. The sculptures made from scraps and charcoal, one notable imitation of Michelangelo’s David made out of chicken wire, concrete, and twisted bullet shells.

 

Jim was stood before a painting of a child crying on the steps of a burned house. McCoy stepped up beside him, and noted the pensive sheen in Jim’s eyes.

 

He turned his gaze to the painting before him and tried to imagine what it was about the painting that had captured Jim’s attention. The canvas itself was almost as large as the wall it hung on, its sheer size making its content feel so much heavier. The majority of the colors were grays and blacks, all save for the child—a beacon of pinks and blues and yellow at the center of the painting.

 

The boy’s anguished expression was one McCoy had seen few artists achieve. The hyper-realism of it all was only intensified by the resin drops used to make the child’s tears glisten and protrude from the canvas.

 

It was devastating. The Post-War Horror was devastating.

 

McCoy stared at the boy in the painting, who seemed to be about the same age as Joanna, and imagined his own daughter having to survive through the irradiated ruins of an Earth ravaged by war. It made him feel sick.

 

“It’s unbelievable what humans are capable of doing to each other,” McCoy muttered, keeping his voice just loud enough for Jim to hear.

 

Jim didn’t respond right away, but he did shift for the first time since McCoy found him. Without taking his eyes off of the painting, Jim turned away from McCoy and said, “It’s not that unbelievable.”

 

The certainty in Jim’s tone made McCoy pause. He watched Jim’s back as he approached the exit of the exhibit, and suddenly remembered how many scars were hidden beneath the dark clothes Jim had on.

 

Regardless of how sure Jim had been in his own statement, McCoy still found it unbelievable what humans were capable of doing to each other.

 

What humans had been capable of doing to Jim.




Since they were technically still in winter, the sun was already starting to set by the time they left the museum. Jim was getting them tickets for a bus ride, and McCoy was standing at the top of the hill beside the museum’s parking lot.

 

It rolled down in a blanket of grass, between shrubs and eucalyptus trees, before opening up to a view of the ocean with the orange sun settling upon it. It was warm and it was bright, and it was such a beautiful sight that McCoy was momentarily floored by it.

 

It was… strange to experience alone.

 

All of it was.

 

He had been so sure, not too long ago, that he would never have to experience anything by himself again. He had thought that Jocelyn would always be there, that Joanna would always be there. He had been married. He’d had a child.

 

He’d had a family.

 

And yet… there he was, overlooking a sunset on the ocean by himself, miles and miles from where his daughter was. Everything he’d ever known, everything he’d ever had, was behind him.

 

And it would never be his again.

 

The truth of the thought struck him hard in the chest and he choked around his own throat for a second. God, that fucking hurt.

 

He scowled against the searing light of the sun reflecting on the water and wiped a hand against his eyes. Fuck. He’d never imagined himself to be so alone.

 

Happy fucking birthday to him.

 

A really hard hand slapped him on the back, immediately followed by a too-cheery, “You ready to go, Bones?”

 

Fucking hell. Jim was so exhausting. McCoy sighed and glanced at Jim, before rolling his shoulders to get Jim’s hand off of him. That slap had fucking hurt. “Yeah, whatever.”

 

“Damn, you’re still brooding? Even after seeing all that nice art?” Jim tsked and shook his head. “You sad, sad man. But! Lucky for you, the night is not yet over!”

 

What? “The hell do you mean it’s not over?” Couldn’t he just go back to his dorm where could wallow? What else did Jim possibly want him for?

 

Jim grinned at him, his teeth practically glistening with mischief, and he ushered McCoy towards the bus station. “You’ll see.”




McCoy released a long sigh, the bustling crowds of Pier 39 immediately robbing him of all his energy. “What the hell are we doing here?”

 

“Jesus, Bones, don’t sound so happy about it,” Jim muttered as he wrapped an arm around McCoy’s shoulder and dragged him forward. He didn’t say anything as he led them down the pier and a few short flights of stairs, never straying from the bulk of the pier’s mob. Finally, as they followed a corner towards the main part of the pier, Jim spoke up. “We’re here to get matching tattoos on our ass cheeks.”

 

“What?!” McCoy threw Jim’s arm off of him, and gawked at the tattoo parlor Jim had stopped them in front of. “I am not doing that!”

 

Jim giggled like some sort of twelve year old. “Relax, I’m joking. We’re just here to get some food, maybe see some sights.” He nodded at the donut shop right next to the tattoo parlor. “You been here before?”

 

McCoy deflated, sick as hell at Jim’s constant joking. “I have not,” he grumbled. He frowned at the donut shop, more of a window in a tiny shed than anything. It was small, old-fashioned, and looked like it had been around for ages. Like it was well loved. And… it did smell pretty good. He hadn’t eaten much all day. “You?”

 

“No, but I heard they’re top tier.” Jim stepped into the line and stared at the menu. “What do you think, should we get a bucket of twelve or a bucket of twenty-four?”

 

“Twenty-four?” McCoy scoffed at Jim and raised a brow. “Do I look like I’m young enough to be eating twenty-four donuts?”

 

“Donut holes, ” Jim corrected, before glancing at McCoy and rolling his eyes. “And you’re seriously not that old. You’re not even thirty yet.”

 

No… but he was getting there. Just one more year until thirty, now that he had reached his twenty-ninth birthday.

 

It was a disparaging thought.

 

“Ah… Why don’t we just get the twelve,” Jim suggested as he stepped up to the window. “That way we’ll leave room for dinner.”

 

“Dinner?” Was Jim seriously planning on keeping him out all night? This was… not at all how McCoy had been planning for his birthday to go. He’d been ready to just suffer in the silence of his own dorm, with no company but himself.

 

And yet… Jim had gotten him outside, to some museums, and to the wharf that he had been avoiding since he moved to the area.

 

A chilled gust of January night air ruffled McCoy’s hair, and he closed his eyes to savor the scent of seasalt that came with it. It mixed nicely with the smell of all of the food being made in the immediate area.

 

When he opened his eyes again, he watched the lights of the city flickering across the spot of water visible just beyond the railing of the pier. String lights were hung above the pier, connecting the second level of small shops and attractions.

 

It was all very… peaceful. Nice.

 

“Oh, shit!”

 

McCoy glanced up at Jim’s exclamation, and noted how the kid’s cheeks were full of donut.

 

“Dude, you’ve gotta try this,” Jim moaned, holding out the bucket for McCoy to reach into.

 

McCoy took one, a crispy and greasy ball of soft dough coated in cinnamon sugar, and popped it in his mouth. “Oh, shit,” he echoed. When was the last time he’d let himself enjoy a sweet pastry? “Shit, hand me another.”

 

Jim did so with a broad grin, and chuckled, “Maybe we should’ve gone for twenty-four after all.”




McCoy shifted the doll in his hands, its brightly colored and apparently hand stitched body settling in his palm easily. It seemed like something Joanna would love. And even better, it seemed like something that could be washed if it ever got too dirty.

 

Which, knowing his baby, was more than bound to happen.

 

A heavy weight suddenly slammed into McCoy’s back, and he grunted and nearly doubled over  from the unexpected force.

 

“Bones, help!” Jim leaned over McCoy’s shoulder, while plastic eyeballs bounced in front of his face from where they dangled out of the gag glasses Jim had on. “I ran into a wall and knocked my eyes right out of my head!”

 

McCoy huffed in annoyance and shoved Jim away, and the fake eyeballs drooped pitifully. “More like you knocked your brains out.”

 

“Oh, Bones,” Jim removed the glasses and pouted at the doctor, “you’re no fun.”

 

“And don’t you forget it.” McCoy turned his back on Jim to get in line for checkout, and ignored Jim’s whiny mumblings as he went.

 

Jim definitely belonged in the toy store, he was just as annoying and immature as all the other kids. Hell, he was even picking at the strings of some neatly displayed puppets as if he’d never heard of self control.

 

McCoy rolled his eyes and just worried about getting his gift for Joanna. As he was checking out at the counter, he glanced around himself and quickly realized that Jim wasn’t in the toy store anymore. Damn it. Sometimes keeping track of Jim was like trying to hold onto a plume of smoke.

 

He mumbled a quick thanks as the clerk handed him his purchase, before making his way back out on the wharf.

 

They had gotten to the center of Pier 39, where the most popular storefronts and attractions were located. And since it was dark out already, everything was lit up bright as a Christmas tree, all vibrant and twinkling and blinding.

 

After squinting against all the lights and adjusting to the much colder temperature of the outside air, it didn’t take McCoy too long finding Jim.

 

He was at the edge of the carousel that sat as the centerpiece of the pier, staring at its top level quietly. McCoy stepped up beside him and followed his line of sight. It was a beautiful piece of work, incredibly old and kept in astonishingly good condition. It was a beacon of color and light, its long, sheer curtains twisted around its poles making it seem all the more whimsical. It had a third level added to it not long after the Federation was founded, filled with mounts of animals from other planets. They were designed to match the horses, rabbits, tigers and dragons of the other levels in style, and their sculptors had done a fairly good job. It was an impressive relic from the old country, restored as though it had always been new.

 

“I’ve never been on one of these,” Jim said, his voice soft.

 

McCoy glanced at him. “Never? Not even at a local fair?” He didn’t imagine that the midwest would be so different from the south that they wouldn’t have county or state fairs. It was an old American tradition, one that was well enough to hold on to. There’d be no reason for Iowa to not have fairs. Most states still did.

 

Jim shook his head slightly. “I’ve never been to a fair. At least, not that I can remember.” He was quiet for a moment longer, before adding, “There used to be one that would come into town at the beginning of summer, back when I was a kid. I only ever saw it from afar. At night, I always thought it looked like the stars had fallen right out of the sky and had settled in the fields at the edge of town.” He paused to run his eyes over the carousel in front of him, and the lights reflected in his baby blues like stars. Like they were trying to show what Jim had seen with his own young eyes so many years ago. “I always wanted to go.”

 

The quiet, honest earnestness in his voice made McCoy’s chest inexplicably ache. For what felt like the millionth time, the sight of Jim’s scarred body flashed through McCoy’s head. All he could think about was how much Jim had been robbed of.

 

He thought back to how the blond had been acting in the toy store, and felt a pang of guilt for not letting him have fun. So what if he acted like a kid sometimes? If he’d never had the chance to be a kid… Could McCoy really begrudge him the few times he felt safe enough to let loose a little?

 

He watched Jim a moment longer before swallowing around a dry throat. “Do you want to go on?”

 

Jim turned to him with wide eyes. “Huh?”

 

McCoy held his gaze before tilting his head at the carousel. It would be kind of weird for two grown men to hang out on a thing meant for kids, but honestly, you could never be too old to appreciate a piece of art from the old world. There were so few chances as it was, McCoy wasn’t entirely sure anyone else would really care.

 

Jim’s brows shot up. “You asking me if I wanna go on the merry-go-round?”

 

McCoy nodded.

 

Jim paused for a moment, before scoffing lightly. His bright eyes turned to the carousel and he bit his lip, before smiling and shaking his head. “That’s all right. Maybe some other time.” He grabbed onto McCoy’s elbow and started ushering him away. “Besides, we need to go get something to eat. Something other than donuts, as good as those had been.”

 

McCoy had to agree. He hadn’t eaten much of anything all day.




They ended up eating at a restaurant notorious for its bakery that was just off of the wharf. They each got clam chowder in bread bowls, since fresh seafood wasn’t much of something either of them would get from the midwest or south. It was a really nice meal, way better than anything McCoy would have come up with left on his own.

 

He had been damn near ready to eat nothing but leftovers for his birthday. He definitely hadn’t been expecting something hot and fresh.

 

While dinner itself had been nice enough, McCoy was ready to go back to his dorm. It had been a long day, longer than anything he’d have been prepared for. Not that it was bad—because it wasn’t. It was just, he was still feeling pretty shitty being on his own.

 

And Jim was helping. He was. Spending the day in the city—with Jim— was infinitely better than the alternative McCoy had been faced with. But he still couldn’t help but feel… sore.

 

Which was why he was ready to go home, go to bed, and let the day finally end. He didn’t want it to be his birthday anymore.

 

But of course, no matter how much he wanted to be elsewhere, it shouldn’t have been any surprise to him that Jim was still dragging him around.

 

They ran across the practically empty street and avoided puddles, while rain fell around them in a thin wall. He was just glad there weren’t any cars out. It was nearing 9 pm, so he could only figure that everyone was at home to wind down for the night. It was a Sunday, after all.

 

“Jim, where are we going?” McCoy sighed as they continued their trek underneath the awnings of what few stores were still open.

 

“I noticed it while we were eating,” Jim said, and nodded his head in the direction of the restaurant they had just come from. “And I thought it looked interesting, so we’re checking it out.”

 

Why— why couldn’t Jim ever just give a straight answer? “What are you talking about? What looked interesting?”

 

Jim stopped and grinned up at the glowing neon sign above the doorway in front of them. Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.

 

The building looked like it had seen better days. The condition it was in wasn't nearly as impressive as the Legion or De Young, not even the pier. There was just one worker that McCoy could see in the lobby, chewing gum and looking at their phone. The place didn’t seem to get much foot traffic. It was empty.

 

McCoy glanced at Jim sidelong. “Really? Why don’t we just go back?”

 

“Nah, come on! This’ll be fun!” Jim slapped a hand to McCoy’s back and gave him a smile, before stepping into the brightly lit lobby of what had to be one of the more rundown museums in town.

 

Well… It wasn't like McCoy could just go back without him. That would be rude. And plus…

 

He was just thinking that Jim deserved to have experiences that he hadn’t been allowed as a kid. If he wanted to have fun… Who was McCoy to deny him? “All right,” McCoy sighed, mostly to himself.

 

He stepped up behind Jim at the counter, and held a hand up when Jim was about to pay. “I’ve got this one,” he said, and took the tickets before Jim could argue. He handed the kid his, and then let Jim lead the way.

 

The outside of the museum had been misleading. He suspected that whoever owned it thought its tacky decorations and overall weathered look gave it character. Inside, he was astonished by how well preserved its artifacts were. As gimmicky as it presented itself, it took the actual curation and maintenance of its items as seriously as all of the other museums they had seen throughout the day. And for good reason. So much of the collection was incredibly rare, with pieces from time periods that were nearly completely erased. Hell, they even had a dinosaur egg and mammoth fur. Those were things McCoy had assumed could only ever be found at the Smithsonian.

 

Despite how seriously the preservation of the items was obviously being taken, the whole museum was still amusingly gimmicky. There were old fashioned animatronics and the rooms were themed, as though they were in a theme park. It was endearing how cheesy it was. And the complete lack of other patrons was a bonus for McCoy.

 

After spending all day around crowds, he was more than happy with it ending in a charming and interesting museum, just he and Jim.

 

His favorite part of the night happened near the end of the museum. There was just a regular walkway within a tunnel, except the tunnel spun in vibrant neon lights around the walkway. It reminded him of the cheap skating rinks McCoy used to go to as a teen, everything all blacklit and dim and colorful.

 

Jim went out onto the walkway first, and almost immediately tipped to the side. It was hilarious watching him grapple at the railing. “What the—What the fuck?!” Jim leaned against the railing, practically doubled over, and turned to face McCoy on unsteady legs. “Bones!” His voice was light and breathless with laughter, and his face was scrunching in delighted confusion. “Bones, what the fuck! How does this—How does this work?! Get out here! You have to get out here!”

 

McCoy shook his head, grinning despite himself. “That’s okay, I don’t feel like falling over tonight.”

 

“God, I feel like I’m drunk,” Jim laughed, before stumbling his way back over to McCoy. He exited the tunnel and landed in front of McCoy, leaned over with his hands out to keep himself upright. He blinked a bunch, until apparently the things around him stopped spinning. He straightened back up and gave McCoy one of the most devilish grins yet. “You have to try this.”

 

“No, that’s all right, I—”

 

Jim cut him off by grabbing his arms and yanking him into the tunnel, and something about the mix of low lighting, and spinning lights on all sides immediately made McCoy feel like he was careening sideways.

 

It was like his vision was upside down but his body was upright, like his feet were trying to stay on solid liquid, like he was high and drunk at the same time. “What the hell?” A shocked burst of laughter bubbled out of him, the task of staying upright so absurdly difficult that it was hilarious. “I’ve gotta get out of here!”

 

“No, Bones, wait, Bones!” Jim still had him by the arms, but now he was leaning his full weight into McCoy and that was just making everything so much more complicated. It didn’t help that Jim was laughing with his whole body, which was jostling McCoy and making the spinning worse.

 

“Stop pulling on me!” McCoy tried to pry Jim off of him as he stumbled his way to the other side of the tunnel, his breaths impossible to catch amid his own laughing. It was so stupid how susceptible the human brain was to optical illusions.

 

They got out of the tunnel and settled against the far wall, and took a few long seconds to laugh off the dizziness.

 

It felt good. McCoy hadn’t laughed in a long time.

 

“Ahem.” He and Jim looked up, into the annoyed gaze of one of the museum’s workers. “We’re closed. You two need to leave.”

 

“All right, all right, sorry. We’re leaving,” Jim said, his charming smile and laughter noticeably easing the tension in the worker’s shoulders. “C’mon, Bones, let’s get out of here.”




Campus was quiet when they got back.

 

It was nearing 10, which wasn’t that late, but… After their full day, McCoy knew he was going to be able to sleep soundly. He paused outside the campus gates and turned to the bay. The city’s light pollution hid most of the stars, but the reflection of lights across the water was a fine substitute.

 

McCoy listened to Jim step up beside him and toe quietly at the dewey mud at their feet. He was half expecting Jim to say something, since the kid usually took charge of most conversations. And most situations. Or days, apparently.

 

But McCoy wasn’t mad. He had been so ready for his birthday to be a miserable event. But… it wasn’t. Jim made it so it wasn’t. He slowly inhaled the night air, closed his eyes to savor it. “Jim.”

 

Jim hummed softly in acknowledgment.

 

McCoy turned to him, and only continued when Jim met his gaze in the dark. “Thank you for today. I think I needed it.”

 

Jim gave him a reserved smile, something about it so gentle and private the McCoy couldn’t help but be floored by its sincerity. “Think nothing of it, Bones. This is my way of saying thanks for spending my birthday with me.”

 

McCoy’s thoughts stuttered. “You knew it was my birthday?”

 

Jim shrugged, his little smile pleased as hell. “Of course, man. I’m Jim Kirk. ” Jim redirected his gaze to the water, and McCoy was once again shocked by how much the kid’s eyes reflected light. They always looked like they were filled with stars. “On my birthday…” Jim spoke softly, like he was telling a secret to the night’s breeze. “It helped not to be alone. I just wanted to return the favor.”

 

McCoy didn’t know what to say. Jim was so fucking thoughtful. He never gave any hint that he knew what day it was. He could have made a whole bunch of pomp and circumstance about it, but he didn’t, which McCoy was grateful for. And he didn’t tell anyone else, either. Didn’t make it a big event. Kept it as private as it could be.

 

It always shocked McCoy how respectful Jim could be. And he… he really did make it a memorable birthday. Maybe one of the better ones he’d had in years. Sure, he didn’t have his baby or family with him, but he wasn’t alone. Jim didn’t leave him on his own. “Thank you, Jim.”

 

“Ah,” Jim sighed, waving a hand dismissively. “It’s no big deal. Now, come on, let’s get you to bed. We’ve got class in the morning.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

YEAR ONE, SEMESTER TWO

ACT II

Part 2 of 3

 

McCoy rubbed his hand over his eyes for a long moment, in a feeble attempt to rid of himself of the headache he woke up with. It didn’t work.

 

He exhaled slowly through his nose and kept his hand pressed against his face, while he listened to the tap-tapping of the other cadets still working on the exam. He was too tired for this.

 

All of this.

 

They had somehow already reached the end of February. 

 

The whole month just sort of… rushed right past him. It was getting harder for him to keep track of time, harder for him to stay in the moment. It almost felt like he had sleep-walked through the entire month.

 

It was just… Everything was catching up to him.

 

The divorce. The moving. Starfleet. The loss of his daughter, the knowledge that she was growing up without her father in her life.

 

The death of his own father.

 

The six year anniversary of his dad passing was coming up, and McCoy was starting to feel the least prepared for it than he ever had.

 

It was only three days away. He wasn’t ready for it.

 

He didn’t… want any of this. He wasn’t equipped to be dealing with any of this.

 

His hand slid from his eyes and instead into his hair, and he gripped at a few locks while he stared at his PADD.

 

A low hanging cloud was starting to surround him, dark and deep, and it had been festering for weeks. McCoy was too tired to keep fighting it off, so he decided he didn’t want to try. Not anymore.

 

His PADD lit up with a message. 

 

“How do you think you did? I know I aced my test!! :P”

 

McCoy drew in a breath like it was a chore, and glanced at Jim beside him. 

 

The kid was watching him with bright blue eyes, and flashed him a wide smile when McCoy shrugged in response. Jim nodded at his PADD and started typing again.

 

McCoy’s PADD lit up.

 

“I think our trip to the museum last month helped a lot. Especially for the section on Neo-Classical paintings.”

 

McCoy simply shrugged again, this time not bothering to look at Jim. He wasn’t too sure how he did on the exam, but it was just Advanced Topics in Anthropology. It wasn’t that hard, at least not for him. He wasn’t worried. He didn’t care.

 

A knee nudged itself against McCoy’s thigh, and he glanced up at Jim, whose head was tilted and lips were pulled into a frown. Jim started typing again.

 

“You feeling okay?”

 

No. He felt like shit. 

 

Like his ribcage was pulling itself open and leaving his heart susceptible to the cold, nauseating blackness that was encroaching on him with every passing day. His bones were exhausted, his breaths foreign and inconvenient. He didn’t want to be there.

 

He didn’t want to be anywhere. And he certainly didn’t want to be interacting with anyone.

 

But he knew Jim wouldn’t take silence for an answer, and would keep pressing until McCoy acknowledged him. McCoy drew his PADD a little closer and sent back, “headache” . It wasn’t a lie.

 

Jim quietly breathed an, “oh,” beside him.

 

“Do you get those often?”

 

A reply of “only when I talk to you” manifested in McCoy’s head, but he couldn’t find the energy to voice it or type it out. So, he shrugged again. It was the most he could bring himself to do. Jim could deal.

 

Jim didn’t send him any other messages and settled back into the post-exam quiet he had been in before, but McCoy could feel that it was different. He could feel Jim’s eyes on him, their weight calculating and solemn, and McCoy got the sensation that Jim could tell it wasn’t just a headache McCoy was suffering from.

 

He didn’t like it. Jim was too intuitive, too smart, paid too much attention.

 

McCoy didn’t want his attention.






The whiskey burned on its way down and McCoy grimaced, savoring the warm dullness that spread into his veins. He hadn’t gotten this drunk in a while. His dad would be disappointed.

 

McCoy threw back another gulp in a desperate attempt to wash that thought away. He couldn’t think about his dad, he couldn’t fucking do it.

 

Not today. Not tonight. I can’t deal with this. Fuck it, fuck it, FUCK IT.

 

He slammed the bottle down on his table top and squeezed his eyes shut against the throbbing in his chest. There was a buzzing and an aching that was coursing through his muscles, painful and demanding and it wouldn’t fucking stop.

 

He pressed his hands against his face until it hurt, until the backs of his eyelids began to twinkle from the pressure. 

 

Images of his dad were flashing mercilessly through his head. The man’s broad grin, the way one of his front teeth was crooked and would cover the other one just slightly. His glowing pride when Leonard caught his first fish, the tenderness he had when taking a horse by the reins, the way he would always make Leonard and his sisters hot chocolate on cold, rainy nights.

 

Leonard remembers the way it felt to have his dad’s large hand at his back, warm and comforting, when he was eight and broke his arm after falling out of a tree. The sound of his laughter filling up a room, the unending well of patience he had for all of his kids, how happy he was when Leonard married Jocelyn.

 

He remembers the feeling of his dad’s withered skin as he held his hands in his own, the way the monitors displaying his frequencies practically drowned out any words David McCoy tried to say, the look in his eyes when he begged Leonard--

 

A knock at the door shocked McCoy out of his memories and he pulled in gasps of air. He stared at it, his vision waning and fuzzy, and tried to figure out why everything looked like it was warping. 

 

Another knock came, and without thinking McCoy got to his feet. He didn’t know who would be coming by at this hour. He’d already called in sick at the hospital.

 

He swiped a heavy hand against the doorway’s lock and let the door snap open, revealing a surprised looking Jim on the other side, the kid’s fist raised in preparation for another knock.

 

They just stared at each other for McCoy wasn’t sure how long, and he felt like he was trying to stand upright on a rocking boat the whole time the silence lingered. 

 

“Jim,” he eventually mumbled.

 

The kid blinked in response, like he was just woken up from a dream. “Bones,” he returned quietly. His brows came together and he drew in a quick breath. “Are you—?” His words stopped as abruptly as they started, and his tongue dabbed at his lips while he squinted at McCoy. “...Is this a bad time?”

 

McCoy couldn’t help but crack a smirk at that. “Worst fuckin’ time of my life,” he slurred, his accent kicking in a little harder than usual, before turning around to get back to his drink. 

 

Jim could follow if he wanted, McCoy couldn’t care less. He was so past caring about fucking anything. Caring did nothing but hurt.

 

He stumbled over to his small table—so much smaller than the one that his ma had given him and Jocelyn, the one that was still back in the house that Jocelyn was living in, the house full of his fucking stuff, his family heirlooms—fuck, fuck, time to drown that shit out.

 

He landed in his chair, and barely managed to stay upright as he gripped at the bottle. “You know, kid,” he slurred out, his tongue dragging through his mouth like it had been hit full of horse tranquilizer, “people say all the time that it gets better.”

 

McCoy somehow got the neck of the bottle to stay in his hand, and drew it close to his lips. He let the fuming musk of whiskey roll into his mouth like the fog in the bay, and let the taste try to settle on his numbed tongue, but didn’t drink yet. 

 

He could see Jim in his peripheral, barely, but he didn’t have the energy to analyze why Jim was still standing by the now closed door. He was in the apartment, but he hadn’t moved. Hadn’t gotten close. 

 

“They say it gets better,” McCoy muttered again, his words ending up mostly on the mouth of the bottle. “They’re lyin’. All of ‘em are lyin’.”

 

He inhaled deep and leaned back to take another drink. The heat of the alcohol burned through his skin and he wondered if he was flushed yet. Probably was. 

 

“It doesn’t get better,” he continued, forcing his delayed gaze to settle on Jim. The kid was watching him with an unreadable expression, one McCoy hadn’t seen on him before. “It gets bad, first. And then it gets worse. And then worse, and then worse, and then worse, worse, worse, worse.”

 

Jim continued to watch him, but he stepped forward. Just a little bit.

 

McCoy shook his head at his own words and closed his eyes, frowning. He leaned forward until his forehead landed on the table with a thunk. “People leave you. And people die. And there’s nothin’ you can do. It don’t get better.” He paused. “It doesn’t change.” 

 

He opened his eyes and realized that a pair of worn shoes were standing next to his own bare feet. He lifted his head as much as he could without getting nauseous, to stare at Jim who had approached the table without him realizing.

 

“I know,” Jim whispered softly, his eyes so clear and blue even in the dim light of McCoy’s kitchen. “None of this is news to me, Bones.”

 

McCoy might have been drunk off of his ass, but he could still see an endless abyss of sincerity in Jim’s eyes. The kid had experienced too much. Too much. McCoy didn’t know what Jim’s life entailed, but he did know that Jim was too young to honestly be agreeing with him.

 

McCoy’s thoughts weren’t healthy. He knew that. Drinking oneself stupid wasn’t something a healthy person did.

 

And it was… not healthy to think life never got better. The reason… the reason McCoy was so upset, so hurt, so angry that life was getting worse and worse, was because he knew life could also be good and so, so sweet. Joanna was proof enough of that fact.

 

But Jim… Jim was speaking as though life got worse, and only worse. Never better. 

 

“You’re too young,” McCoy slurred. “You’re too young to think like that.”

 

Jim’s face scrunched up. He kinda looked mad. Kinda cute, like a frustrated puppy or something. McCoy took another hard drink while Jim spoke.

 

“Don’t infantilize me, Bones. I’m not a kid, I’ve lived life. I know what it’s like.”

 

The way the light reflected off of the swishing liquid in the bottle captured McCoy’s attention. It was pleasant and fascinating and made him feel sea sick. “Sure ya do, kid.” But that’s not exactly a good thing.

 

A sort of cottony quiet built up around them, the only sound McCoy was hearing being that of the alcohol sloshing in his hand.

 

If there’s enough for you to play with, there’s enough for you to drink. Why’s it still here?

 

McCoy remembered that he was trying to make thinking a thing that didn’t happen anymore. With an urgency that wasn’t there before, McCoy threw the whiskey to the back of his throat. He ended up underestimating how much was still left, because he soon found himself choking on the searing alcohol clogging his throat.

 

“Whoah, whoah, okay big guy.” A pair of hands were covering his own and taking the bottle from his face, and McCoy groaned petulantly at the loss. 

 

“Give it back,” he growled around his tongue. “‘M not done.”

 

Jim took a step back, the bottle still in hand. “I think you are, actually.”

 

Little fucker. That wasn’t for him to decide. 

 

McCoy put his hands flat on the table. “I’m not. Not 'til I forget my own name.” He pushed up, intending to make a steady approach towards Jim, but instead all he managed to do was teeter and sway on the spot.

 

He blinked hard a few times, in the hopes it would clear up the haziness swirling around his head.

 

It didn’t work.

 

“Fuck,” he muttered, closing his eyes. “I’m so fucking tired.”

 

“Don’t sleep until you’ve had some water,” Jim said, his voice distant and quiet. Like a shadow.

 

“That’ll sober me up,” McCoy slurred, keeping his eyes shut. Staying upright was becoming a challenge, so he put his hands back on the table to lean on them. “Don’t wanna be sober.”

 

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but you can’t get through life wasted,” Jim sighed. He sounded closer this time. “And believe me, I’ve tried.”

 

A hand touched McCoy’s shoulder gently, barely, like too much pressure would make his whole body shatter. His eyelids fluttered open and his gaze wandered to Jim’s. 

 

Jim was looking at him with those sharp eyes of his. The ones that seemed to see everything. “And, plus, I don’t think Starfleet would appreciate you showing up to work drunk.” His brows furrowed, and he swallowed like talking hurt him. “You don’t want to mess up this chance, Bones. Not with Starfleet.”

 

Somehow, somehow, beyond everything that was clouding McCoy’s head and clogging his veins, Jim’s words hit their mark. And deep.

 

He was right.

 

McCoy slumped. “I know,” he whispered. “I know.” He dragged a hand across his face, noted that he felt sweaty and oily. He’d gotten himself all worked up. “Sobriety ain’t any fun, though. Don’t like it.”

 

Jim huffed a soft laugh. “I’m with you, man. But, it is better than the alternative.” His hand gripped McCoy’s elbow, and Jim took most of his weight as he led him to the bedroom. “I’m gonna get you some water, and then you’re gonna sleep this off, all right?”

 

McCoy grunted. He didn’t feel like giving Jim more than that.

 

“You’ll feel better after you get some shut eye,” Jim promised. “New day, and all that.”

 

New day. New day to feel shitty, new day to miss his daughter, new day to miss his dad, new day to hate his life.

 

Jim led him to his bed which McCoy plopped onto like a rag doll. He laid back, and— oh, he was actually very tired. Laying down felt nice. Why wasn’t he always laying down?

 

“Hold on, don’t pass out yet.” Jim smacked at his arm a couple of times, before grabbing onto it and using it to more or less pull McCoy upright.

 

Which McCoy did not like. It made everything spin and tilt and for a second he was afraid he was floating to the ceiling.

 

“C’mon,” Jim huffed, slapping at McCoy’s cheek lightly. “C’mon, eyes open, man. I’m not your mom.”

 

McCoy mustered up the fiercest glare he could at Jim. Jim merely raised his brows at him, before glancing pointedly at the glass of water he was holding out for McCoy to take.

 

Ah. Right. Water.

 

McCoy took it in an unsteady hands at drank it down with a lot less fervor than he had for the whiskey. 

 

Jim didn’t move or speak until it was all gone. “All right. Now you can sleep,” Jim said as he took the glass out of McCoy’s limp grip.

 

McCoy flopped back onto his covers and sighed. “Kid,” he croaked.

 

Jim hummed in response. It sounded like he was near the door to the room. 

 

McCoy focused on the sensation of air passing in and out of his lungs, before he remembered what he wanted to ask. “Why’d ya come here?”

 

“Oh,” Jim mumbled. “I was gonna ask you about homework stuff, but it can wait. I’ll see you around.”

 

It got a lot quieter in the room, and McCoy realized that that had been Jim’s goodbye. He didn’t hear the apartment door close, but he could feel that he was alone again.

 

Amid his body rocking in the waves created by the lingering alcohol in his blood, it occurred to McCoy that he didn’t feel as lonely as he did before.

 

And then he passed out.